Australia cruising season 2015/2016: All you need to know for the cruising season

Get a jump on the upcoming season with our guide to what's happening in the world of cruising.

More than a million of us took a cruise last year, reaching this "magic milestone" five years earlier than the cruise lines anticipated. And the rush to holiday at sea shows no signs of slowing. Although summer might seem to be a way off,  it is only weeks until the next cruise season starts. It will be heralded by the arrival of the first overseas ship to arrive in local waters –  the Diamond Princess, due to sail into Sydney Harbour on September 29.

The  2015-16 cruise season promises  to be another record-breaker, particularly  with the  expansion of locally based P&O Cruises' fleet to five ships. The fully refurbished, redesigned Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden (take a look at the two ships in the gallery above) will join Pacific Dawn, Jewel and Pearl in November. There will be a spectacular party on Sydney Harbour to celebrate the event with all five ships on parade on November 25.

"The maiden visit of one ship is always a big occasion, but to have two ships make their first Sydney call together, accompanied by their three big sisters, will make history. It's going to be amazing," says Sture Myrmell​, P&O Cruises' senior vice-president.

P&O is not the only line tooting its ships' whistles. Royal Caribbean will have four ships sailing in Australian waters for the first time. Explorer of the Seas will join Voyager in Sydney and the two  giants will stage a splashy rendezvous on the Harbour on November 28. Explorer is slightly larger than Voyager, so will claim the title of the largest Australia-based ship for the season. 

However, you will have to wait until December 2016 for Royal Caribbean's new Quantum-class Ovation of the Seas to arrive. Bookings opened in June and  Royal Caribbean commercial director Sean Treacy says   there were thousands of calls within the first 24 hours.

"We knew Australians would be excited about Ovation of the Seas, but the response we've seen has exceeded our expectations and is testament to the strength of the demand of the Australian market for our style of cruising, and the newest, largest and most technologically advanced cruise product Australia has ever seen," Treacy says.

Meanwhile, with five of its 18-strong fleet cruising Down Under, Princess Cruises ranks Australia as its biggest market outside the US. Golden Princess is this season's newcomer and it will home-port in Melbourne from October until April. It's also the cruise line's 50th anniversary this year, so special events will be held on every ship.

Having more ships sailing from more ports around Australia is great news for those wanting to cruise from our doorstep. This year there is  more choice of itineraries, from short breaks to longer cruises, to Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Singapore, as well as the popular Pacific Islands and New Zealand routes.  

As more people are  discovering, cruising can offer excellent value. While it's always debatable whether you should book in advance or wait for a last-minute deal, most people book between six and 12 months ahead to make sure they get what they  want in the way of ships, cabins and itineraries. 

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This  is why we are looking at what's on the horizon now, so you can make an informed decision about your next cruise holiday – and don't forget that Cruise Week 2015,  beginning on September 7, offers some incredible bargains.  

THE HOME FLEET

As ships steam in and out of  ports around the country, it can be hard to keep track of who's who. Carnival Cruise Line has two ships, Carnival Legend and Carnival Spirit, home-ported in Sydney year-round; P&O Cruises' Pacific Jewel is in Sydney year-round, and the line's four other Australia-based ships (Pacific Aria, Dawn, Eden and Pearl) will cruise out of Adelaide, Auckland, Brisbane, Cairns, Melbourne and Sydney. 

Princess Cruises' Golden Princess will be based in Melbourne for its first Australian season, from October to April; the ever-popular Diamond Princess joins Dawn Princess in Sydney, staying until March; Sea Princess is sailing from Brisbane, and Sun Princess from Fremantle. This means Princess will now offer year-round cruising from  the east and west coasts.

Royal Caribbean's Legend of the Seas is going to Brisbane for its first Australian season, while Explorer, Radiance and Voyager will all  cruise out of Sydney. The other visitors  here for the season are Celebrity Solstice and MS Noordam (both in Sydney) and CMV Astor, which is returning to Fremantle. At the smaller end of the scale, Coral Expeditions (formerly known as Coral Princess) is expanding its operations from the Kimberley and Great Barrier Reef to Tasmania for the first time this summer. The line's 50-passenger ship, Coral Expeditions I, will sail 16 seven-day itineraries around the island state's rugged coastlines between November and February.

"Our Australian-flagged ship is well suited for Tasmania," says Mark Fifield, the group general manager. "With her shallow draft and manoeuvrability , she can hug the coastline and go where few cruise ships can.  Her tender vessel allows all our guests to disembark in remote areas throughout."

Cruise control

Here's our at-a-glance guide to the key cruise lines and the ships you can cruise on Down Under.  

CARNIVAL CRUISE LINE

2056-passenger Carnival Legend, 2124-passenger Carnival Spirit 

BEST FOR Active, multi-generation families, groups of friends, singles.

ONBOARD HIGHLIGHTS Green Thunder waterslides, two-deck fitness centre, sports court, three pools, three kids' clubs plus Night Owls program that allows parents to "go out" in the evening, child-free Serenity Retreat, eight restaurants and cafes, 16 bars and lounges. 

GOING TO Pacific Islands, New Zealand, Hawaii, Singapore, Australian coast.

CRUISE DIRECTOR'S PICK Carnival Legend's eight-night Pacific Islands, round-trip from Sydney departing December 12; from $999. 1300 385 625, carnival.com.au.

CELEBRITY CRUISES

2850-passenger Celebrity Solstice

BEST FOR Couples, singles, families with older children.

ONBOARD HIGHLIGHTS Real-grass Lawn Deck (featuring the Sunset Bar, lawn bowling and Hot Glass show), 10 restaurants and cafes, 11 bars and lounges (try a cocktail at Molecular Bar), Canyon Ranch spa, three pools, 18 shops.

GOING TO Pacific Islands, New Zealand, Bali, Singapore, Australian coast.

CRUISE DIRECTOR'S PICK 17-night Fremantle to Sydney departing March 3; from $2630. 1800 754 500, celebritycruises.com.au.

CORAL EXPEDITIONS

50-passenger Coral Expedition I

BEST FOR Active couples, mature singles

ONBOARD HIGHLIGHTS Menu showcasing fresh Tasmanian produce and local wines; open-bridge policy, Zodiacs and 50-passenger expedition boat, spa pool, sun deck.

GOING TO Tasmania cruises from Hobart.

CRUISE DIRECTOR'S PICK Seven-night round-trip from Hobart departing February 1; from $3990. 1800 079 545, coralexpeditions.com.

HOLLAND AMERICA LINE

1924-passenger MS Noordam

BEST FOR Couples, mature singles, multi-generation family groups.

ONBOARD HIGHLIGHTS Culinary Arts Centre (for cooking demos and classes), Microsoft Digital Workshops program, four restaurants (including specialty venue Pinnacle Grill), 10 bars and lounges, Greenhouse Spa & Salon, fitness centre, two pools, 170-seat cinema, B.B. King's Blues Club.

GOING TO Pacific Islands, New Zealand.

CRUISE DIRECTOR'S PICK 15-day New Zealand Discovery, round-trip from Sydney departing January 15; from $2098.95. 1300 987 322, hollandamerica.com.au.

P&O CRUISES

1500-passenger Pacific Aria, 1500-passenger Pacific Eden, 2000-passenger Pacific Dawn, 1950-passenger Pacific Jewel, 1800-passenger Pacific Pearl

BEST FOR Multi-generation families, groups of friends, singles.

ONBOARD HIGHLIGHTS New restaurants (at least eight on each ship, including Salt grill by Luke Mangan​), four age-specific kids' clubs, child-free Oasis area (which includes a pool on Aria and Eden), new shops, nightclubs, day spa, bars such as MIX Cocktail Bar and Splash swim-up bar.

GOING TO The five ships will sail 250 itineraries that include short breaks (comedy, food and wine, Melbourne Cup), Australian coast, New Zealand, Pacific Islands, Papua New Guinea.

CRUISE DIRECTOR'S PICK Pacific Eden's nine-night Pacific Islands round-trip from Sydney, departing December 7; from $824. 13 24 94, pocruises.com.au.

PRINCESS CRUISES

1998-passenger Dawn Princess, 2670-passenger Diamond Princess, 2600-passenger Golden Princess, 1998-passenger Sea Princess, 1998-passenger Sun Princess.

BEST FOR 50-plus couples and singles, multi-generation family groups.

ONBOARD HIGHLIGHTS Movies Under the Stars, adults-only Sanctuary, Lotus Spa, Chocolate Journeys edible and drinkable treats, a variety of specialty restaurants including the Chef's Table, wide range of classes in the scholarship@sea program.

GOING TO New Zealand, Pacific Islands, Papua New Guinea, Australian coast.  

CRUISE DIRECTOR'S PICK Golden Princess' six-day round-trip from Melbourne to Tasmania, departing February 5; from $1049. 13 24 88, princess.com.

ROYAL CARIBBEAN INTERNATIONAL 3114-passenger Explorer of the Seas, 1832-passenger Legend of the Seas, 2143-passenger Radiance of the Seas, 3114-passenger Voyager of the Seas

BEST FOR Active multi-generation families, groups of friends, singles.

ONBOARD HIGHLIGHTS Explorer and Voyager feature FlowRiders and ice rinks; all have two or three pools, rock-climbing walls, between six and 10 restaurants and cafes each, numerous bars, lounges and nightclubs, age-specific kids' clubs, shops, Vitality Spa & Fitness Centres. 

GOING TO The four ships will sail more than 70 cruises in the Pacific Islands, New Zealand and around Australia.

CRUISE DIRECTOR'S PICK Explorer of the Seas' four-night Sydney-Hobart round-trip, departing March 17; from $883. 1800 754 500,  royalcaribbean.com.au.

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