The "Royal Circumnavigation of Australia" is a first for Cunard (although "royal" only refers to the name, not the guest list) and is exciting for Australia, given that QM2, again, is the largest ship ever to visit the country. This will also be the longest the ship has ever been based in one country apart from its two homeports in Britain and the United States: Southampton and New York.
As well as visiting familiar ports of call such as Sydney, Fremantle, Adelaide and the Whitsundays, the ship will make maiden visits to Cairns, Darwin, Melbourne and Brisbane. The circumnavigation will also include a diversion to the Indonesian island of Bali.
Three different itineraries are on offer: a 20-night voyage departing Fremantle on 8 February, 2012; a 21-night voyage departing Adelaide on 11 February, 2012; and a 22-night voyage departing Sydney on 14 February, 2012. The cruises won't go on sale until mid-2010, although Cunard will be taking "expressions of interest" from this Friday, 12 March, for those who register at www.queenmary2.com.au. Incidentally, this doesn't guarantee you a place, merely a chance to be one of the first to receive the full information.
This dramatic departure from the norm by Cunard is a sign of the company's faith in the Australian market. "This one decision will generate at least AU$10m ($9.08m or £6.02m) for the Australian economy as the local cruise industry remains on track to contribute more than AU$3 bn ($2.72bn or £1.86 bn) and carry one million Australians annually by 2020," said Ann Sherry, chief executive of Carnival Australia, which represents Cunard in Australia, in a press statement.
Peter Shanks, Cunard's president and managing director, added in the same statement that the company was expecting strong demand for the itineraries from both the Australian and international markets.
And there's solid proof that Australians are crazy for cruising. The number of Australians taking a cruise leapt by 26 percent between 2007 and 2008 to 330,000, according to The Australian Cruise Sector, a report published last December, commissioned by Carnival Australia. This is massive growth compared to other sectors of Australia's travel industry. What's more, 59 percent of Australian cruise travelers departed from a port in Australia, New Zealand or the South Pacific, proof of the importance of homeporting to Australians.
Full details of the rest of QM2's 2012 world voyage haven't been released yet, and Cunard representatives couldn't share additional information with Cruise Critic today. What we do know is that QM2 will arrive in Sydney from Cape Town via Fremantle and Adelaide, as it will do on the 2011 world cruise, then loop around Australia before continuing on 7 March back toward Southampton and New York via Singapore.
We'll let you know as soon as Cunard's full 2012 itineraries are released, so keep checking back!
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor