Voyager of the Seas cruise ship returns to Sydney after $80 million refit

Voyager of the Seas, the largest cruise ship to ever be based in Australia, returns to Sydney after a $80 million makeover.

If you spot someone hanging five by the Opera House, off the back of Australia's biggest passenger ship, around dawn on Monday, don't be surprised. It's merely the latest ripple in the battle against not just one of the cruise industry's most mortal enemies – boredom – but also for dominance of the nation's multibillion-dollar cruise industry.

At well over 300 metres in length, with 15 levels and weighing nearly 138,000 tonnes, Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas – more than matching the Opera House in bulk – arrives in Sydney on Monday morning after an $80 million "head-to-toe makeover" in Singapore, where it began its first post-refit voyage 13 days ago.

Among the newest features of the ship – which can accommodate nearly 4000 passengers making it one of the world's biggest cruise ships – is a FlowRider surf simulator. The surf machine attraction is part of the industry's efforts to shed its image as God's waiting room afloat and to appeal to younger passengers, including extended family groups.

Sean Treacy, commercial director of Royal Caribbean International, south-east Asia and Australia, says that his company has invested more than $US200 million in "revitalising" its Australian fleet "to ensure [that] Australians have the newest and most feature-packed ships on their doorstep".

"We are committed to giving our Australian guests the very best when they sail with us," Mr Treacy said. "We're excited to be back home in Sydney with even more incredible features."

Even more incredible is the growth that the Australian cruise industry has witnessed in recent years. It's been valued at $3.2 billion with market penetration second only to that of the US. Annual cruise passenger numbers in Australia are nearing the one million mark.

FlowRider is just one of Voyager of the Sea's attractions which include a new 3-D cinema, a scoreboard-sized outdoor movie screen, an at-sea ice-skating rink, a rock-climbing wall, a full-size basketball court, a nine-hole mini golf course, and a mini-Westfields-style shopping mall "boulevard".

Royal Caribbean has also sought to overcome the dilemma of potentially claustrophobic inside staterooms with no portholes and therefore no views, by introducing "real-time virtual balconies which show the outside vista. An 80-inch high definition screen, delivering actual "sights and sounds of the sea" framed to resemble a proper cruise ship balcony.

Captain Charles Teige, Voyager of the Seas' Norwegian skipper, said that when he first began working in the cruise industry over two decades ago the main attractions on passenger ships were confined to "a small Broadway-style show, sun-baking on the deck and dining."

Captain Teige, who has notably mastered the FlowRider since it was installed on the ship, said: "Now the ship has become the destination. In Brisbane [which Voyager of the Seas visited on Saturday en route to Sydney] we had 1100 people who decided not to go ashore."

Yet if you think the cruise industry in Australia has gone more than a bit overboard, consider the fact that the massive Voyager of the Sea is a minnow when compared to Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas, the world's largest super-liners which can carry nearly 6300 passengers, the size of a small town but with possibly more amenities.

The company also last month launched its first Quantum class ship, Quantum of the Seas, based in New York. The third largest ship ever built, Quantum of the Seas boasts never-before-seen features such as a London Eye-style viewing capsule, simulated sky diving and robotic bartenders.

INCREDIBLE BULK: VOYAGER OF THE SEAS' VITAL STATISTICS

137,276 Weight in tonnes

311 Length in metres

38 Width in metres

14 Number of guest decks

14 Number of elevators

1724 Number of staterooms

1176 Number of crew

The writer travelled as a guest of Royal Caribbean.

Explore Voyager of the Seas in the photo gallery above.

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