Jaw-dropping: Aussie cruise prices slashed
Aussie holiday-makers are snapping up last-minute cruise bargains as some of the world's biggest ships divert to Australian waters in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
Luxury line Cunard is extending Queen Elizabeth's season by two months, offering fares from as little as $1799 for a 27-night Australian circumnavigation - that's a jaw-dropping $66 a night.
Six new Australia and New Zealand itineraries with 29 extra port visits have been announced for the 2000-passenger ocean liner.
"The extension of Queen Elizabeth's Australia and New Zealand season is a result of the current uncertainty due to travel restrictions and port closures in Asia and their effect on cruise operations in the region," says Katrina McAlpine, Cunard's Australia and New Zealand commercial director.
It follows Cunard flagship Queen Mary 2, which was diverted from Singapore to Australia, offering last-minute deals on 17-night cruise from Fremantle to Sydney for less than $1000.
Princess Cruises will bring newly refurbished 2670-passenger Sapphire Princess to Australia in May, six months earlier than planned, for an extended year-long season, including 44 new cruises from five major Australian cities. Special launch fares, on sale from February 27, start from $249 for a three-night West Australia Getaway cruise, while a 12-night Fiji cruise departing Sydney starts from $999 a night.
And Royal Caribbean is bringing one of the world's biggest ships, the mammoth 4000-passenger Spectrum of the Seas, to Sydney. Custom-built for the Chinese market, the ship's planned Asian cruises for this season have now been cancelled.
The ship will run two four-night cruises specifically for Australian volunteer firefighters, departing Sydney on February 29 and March 7.
"We are in a fortunate position to offer these brave and selfless members of the Australian community the opportunity to join us for a few days and let them relax and unwind in the company of other volunteers and first responders," says Michael Bayley, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International.
Princess Cruises' Asia Pacific senior vice president Stuart Allison says the redeployment of Sapphire Princess would also be a boost to domestic and regional tourism.
"With the ongoing uncertainty of travel restrictions and port closures in Asia impacting our cruise operations in the region, we hope that this extended deployment in Australia will benefit local tourism, particularly in regional areas with 102 visits to regional ports around the country during her year-long deployment," Mr Allison says.
P&O UK ship Arcadia has also removed scheduled Asian ports from its world cruise itinerary, in favour of more time at Australian ports.
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the peak body for the global cruise industry, has welcomed the redeployments.
"These new itineraries are great news, especially at a time when the tourism industry is focused on recovery. The extra deployments cruise lines have announced in Australia will boost visitation and provide new economic opportunities for destinations around the country. This is especially welcome in many of our regional communities impacted by the summer bushfires, so it's great to see destinations like Eden and Kangaroo Island included in some of these new cruises," says Joel Katz, CLIA's Australasia managing director.
"It's also good news for cruise travellers, who now have greater choice and new options in this region."
P&O Australia has also cancelled Pacific Explorer's upcoming Indonesia Explorer cruise, which due to depart Singapore on February 28. No alternate plans for the ship have been announced.
But not all ships are cancelling their Asia cruises just yet. After wrapping up its inaugural Australia/ New Zealand season, Dream Cruises' Explorer Dreamwill be returning to Asia, as planned, on March 1, a spokesperson confirmed.