P&O Melbourne Cup cruises: Thousands of cruise passengers arrive in Melbourne for Cup

Cruising punters may not back a winner at the Melbourne Cup this year but many will go home with a souvenir photo of themselves with the 1999 winner's Cup, while a few lucky passengers had the chance to cradle and even kiss the famed chalice as they sipped champagne aboard P&O's Pacific Jewel.

A Melbourne Cup cruise is certainly a relaxing and stylish way to arrive at Flemington; this year 6000 passengers boarded three ships in Sydney – Pacific Jewel, Pacific Pearl and Carnival Spirit - and headed south to the race that stops a nation.

Passengers onboard the 'Jewel' were treated to a 'rags to riches' tale by Wendy Green, owner of the 1999 Cup winner Rogan Josh, who grew up in Western Australia, worked as a school teacher for disadvantaged kids in Darwin and bought the horse for just $7500 from her brother who was trying to hide his asserts during a costly divorce settlement.

A true raconteur Ms Green had the crowd enthralled as she told of her trip across the Nullarbor with her beloved horse, her first meeting with the 'King' – training Bart Cummings - and how a psychic from Darwin's Mindil Beach Markets Markets gave her tips on finding the perfect hair-stylists and make-up artists in Melbourne. 

During the Hats & High Tea event in the ship's elegant Salt Grill restaurant Ms Green let punters embrace her Cup, while she also read tarot cards for a few lucky folk who were keen to hear their fortunes. 

Oh, and she's tipped number 8 today (the favourite Admire Rakti), with Fawkner her selection to take out second place.

(I think I'd better heed her words, as Ms Green knows her horseflesh!)

Similar racing events took place on board Pacific Pearl where legendary Melbourne Cup jockeys Wayne Harris and Malcolm Johnston were sharing their stories.

Jewel and Pearl cruised out of Sydney Harbour on Saturday afternoon and tied up stern-to-stern at Melbourne's Station Pier; the third ship Carnival Spirit sailed out on Monday to arrive bright and early at 5am on Tuesday November 4.

P&O Cruises has been visiting the Melbourne Cup since 1969, when Orcades III made the trip to Port Phillip Bay, however this year the company sent its first trifecta of ships, with 2000 passengers aboard each vessel. The sold-out cruises has prompted Carnival Corporation, which owns both P&O and Carnival Cruises Lines, to send four ships to the race next year.

The cruise company says its 6000 passengers  this year represents about 10 per cent of the total number of interstate visitors attending the Cup (and about 5 per cent of all punters at Flemington.

Around 100,000 people go to the Cup every year, about 50,000 from Melbourne itself, the Carnival Corp's three ships represent 10 per cent of all interstate punters, and about 5 per cent of all people attending the Cup.

All passengers aboard the three ships received race tickets as part of their fare and this year the cruise line added the option of buying entry into a VIP area, the P&O Cruises Lawn, at around $400 a head.

The trio of ships were appropriately decorated with racing bunting and screened racing movies (The Cup and Sea Biscuit), while the onboard shops were doing a brisk trade in Cup pins and discounted handbags and jewellery for those wanting to snap up last minute accessories.

With Jewel and Pearl arriving in Melbourne on Monday morning, passengers had a full day to explore the city and soak up the pre-race atmosphere. Several women said they were going downtown to have their hair done as the Jewel's hairdressing salon was well and truly booked out!

Wardrobe tips were dispensed by leading milliner Kim Fletcher, who had plenty of feathers at the ready for her fascinator-making workshop held in the Dome disco. Ladies could buy the standard or premium fascinator making kit and try their hand at creating a stylish head-piece and then don their creations in the MYER Fashions of the Deck parade and best-dressed competition.

Carnival Australia is obviously onto a good thing with these fun six-night Cup cruises.

As Carnival Australia CEO Ann Sherry puts it: "Australians love cruising and sports and by combining the two, we know we're backing a winner - that's why we're sending a record quaddie of ships next year, including all three P&O ships."