Tropical Cyclone Debbie's impact on cruises in Queensland: New stops and 'cruises to nowhere'

Two cruise ships were unable to sail north as scheduled as a result of Tropical Cyclone Debbie which hammered Far North Queensland on Tuesday.

Thousands of passengers aboard P&O's new-look Pacific Dawn, fresh from a mammoth refit in Singapore, were told hours before sailing that their planned port call to Airlie Beach on Thursday would no longer go ahead. Captain Alan Dockeray informed passengers that instead they would be "on a cruise to nowhere" with the ship unable to organise a last minute shore day due to unstable weather. 

Further north, passengers aboard Azamara Club Cruises' Azamara Journey made a surprise call to Mooloolaba on Queensland's Sunshine Coast instead of sailing north to Hamilton Island, severely impacted by the cyclone, Townsville and Cairns. Between 500-600 passengers are onboard the ship believed to be on its way to Singapore.

Pacific Dawn's Captain Dockeray said they investigated several options, including sailing to Lord Howe Island, however this was ruled out "given the rough ride passengers would face on the return leg". He said the ship would do a loop before returning to Brisbane on Saturday morning. "We may have to amend our course further, however this is our planned schedule," he told the ship's 1946 passengers this morning.

Cyclone Debbie is being described as a catastrophic one-in-100-year extreme weather event with the Whitsunday Coast, including Airlie Beach, bearing the brunt of its wrath. Initial reports indicate both the marina and jetty were damaged in the cyclone, ruling out the ship's scheduled port call on Thursday. 

After coming ashore, Cyclone Debbie has become a tropical low tracking back to the coast to the south east to generate strong winds, rain and heavy seas off much of the Queensland coast.

"In the interests of passenger safety and comfort, Pacific Dawn sailed south, south east on departure from Brisbane seeking more favourable cruising conditions to enable passengers to enjoy the ship's attractions including dining and entertainment opportunities more fully," a spokesperson for P&O said.

"Our thoughts are with the people of Airlie Beach and other Queensland communities hit hard by this extreme weather system. Safety is always paramount – we avoid sailing into bad weather or visiting destinations that are struggling to deal with the aftermath of a natural disaster."

Instead of shore visits, passengers are being entertained on Pacific Dawn's two new 80m waterslides and at P&O's "Edge" offering a flying fox, climbing wall, laser tag and 'walk the plank'. Also being offered onboard are lectures on the' Titanic Story and the Role of Halifax Nova Scotia', animal towel parades, high tea in Luke Mangan's Salt Grill, origami workshops, napkin folding demonstrations, cocktail classes, lawn bowls, movies on the big screen, live music and shows plus the popular 'White Party' on Thursday.

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On Azmara Journey passengers called at both Brisbane and Mooloolaba, joining hastily organised tours of Queensland capital and the Sunshine Coast. Journey's planned shore visit to Cairns tomorrow (March 31) will go ahead.

Princess Cruises' Sun Princess, the ship on which the TV series The Love Boat was filmed, also went ahead with its planned shore visit to Cairns on Wednesday as part of its cruise to Papau New Guinea.

The writer is travelling on board Pacific Dawn as a guest of P&O.

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