Giant megaliner Voyager of the Seas returns 'home' to Sydney

The biggest cruise ship to be based in Australia, the Voyager of the Seas, returned "home" to Sydney on Thursday morning to begin its second season operating from the harbour city.

Three-and-a-half times larger than the Titanic, the 137,000-tonne Voyager can carry up to 3800 passengers and is staffed by about 1200 crew. The ship, 311 metres long and with 15 decks (serviced by 20 lifts), is about twice the size of the other ships based in our region, according to owner Royal Caribbean. It is too big to fit under the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

After dwarfing the Sydney Opera House on its arrival, the Voyager of the Seas will take a two-night "sampler" cruise before embarking on a 14-day cruise taking in Pacific Islands and New Zealand before returning to Sydney.

The ship has an ice-skating rink, a 1350-seat theatre, a casino, cinema, mini-golf course and rock-climbing wall, along with shops, restaurants and swimming pools.

When finished in 1999, the Voyager of the Seas was the biggest ship in the world. It has been overtaken by Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, which weigh 225,000 tonnes and carry more than 6300 passengers. Both cruise the Caribbean.

Cruise director Luke Aerowsmith says the ship's offerings are tweaked for the Australian market to suit passengers' tastes.

"We have fewer deck chairs out on deck for Australians," he said. "Brits like to spend all day lying in the sun but Australians don't. But they do like to have a barbecue out on the deck so we'll do that."

Australian entertainers are also on board for the local market – comedian Simon Palomares, for example, performed on the Sydney-bound cruise.

The Voyager of the Seas is based in China during the northern summer and travelled to Sydney via Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Darwin and Brisbane.

The Australian cruising market is booming and this year's season, which began last month and will last until April, will be a record breaker with 588 ship visits from 38 ships. The cruising scene in Australia has seen extraordinary growth in recent years, with close to 700,000 trips taken by Australians last season. The figure is estimated to hit 1 million by the 2016-17 season.

Adam Armstrong, Royal Caribbean's commercial director for Asia-Pacific, says the company would like to bring more big ships to Australia, but the country's infrastructure lags behind the needs of modern megaliners.

"We really need to be catering for more of these big ships," Armstrong said. "Rather than them being an anomaly, making one call every two weeks as it is with this ship, we want the facilities in Sydney to be capable of taking big ships every day of the week, every year. So there is a bit of catch-up to be done."

The biggest ship to visit Australia this season will be Cunard's 151,400-tonne, 345-metre-long Queen Mary 2.

The writer travelled as a guest of Royal Caribbean.

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