Heartbreaking images of the catastrophic bushfires that are devastating vast swathes of Australia have shocked the world, prompting many travellers to ask if it remains safe as a cruising destination.
Massive fires are still burning across NSW, Victoria and South Australia -- three states where cruise ships make regular calls in summer. Since the fires started in November, people have died along with half a billion animals, and thousands of homes have been destroyed. Other areas of the country, and even New Zealand, are also suffering from poor air quality as a result of the smoke.
Cruise lines have confirmed to Cruise Critic that they are closely monitoring the situation and adjusting itineraries to avoid affected areas. According to Cruise Lines International Australasia (CLIA), only minor changes have been considered necessary to a small number of cruises visiting specific parts of south-eastern Australia.
“The country’s major cities and the majority of its coastline remain open to visitors and most cruises are continuing unaffected and as scheduled,” a spokesperson said.
Carnival Australia spokesperson David Jones reassured travellers that Australia remains a “safe cruising destination”, but cruise lines were also mindful to not put affected areas under additional pressure from cruise visitors.
"We are vigilant and working in very closely with authorities," Jones said. "The safety and security of guests is always paramount but the objective is to also ensure we don't put pressure on specific destinations that are dealing with localised bushfire situations as part of the wider bushfire emergency."
Norwegian Cruise Line said it is monitoring the situation in order to protect the safety and security of its guests and crew on NCL, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas ships in the region.
Although Tourism Australia pulled its latest campaign as the bushfires continue to rage, the tourism body issued a statement stressing that many areas are unaffected and that most tourism businesses are still open.
“It is more important than ever that we rally around our communities and the tourism sector who may have been impacted,” managing director Phillipa Harrison said.
“We would encourage all travellers coming to Australia to seek the most up to date information prior to departure, and remain informed about changing conditions whilst on the ground.”
Meanwhile, a number of cruise lines have pledged support including the donation of funds for bushfire recovery efforts. Carnival Australia will donate $350,000 to support the Australian Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund, with contributions from P&O Cruises, Princess Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line, Cunard and Holland America Line.
“The cruise industry joins Australians in thanking firefighters, volunteers and other emergency services personnel for their dedication,” a CLIA spokesperson said.
“We hope for a swift recovery in affected communities and our thoughts are with those who have suffered losses during these tragic events.”
Below are the confirmed changes to cruise itineraries in 2020. Updates will be provided throughout the summer as bushfires continue to burn across southern Australia.
Oceania Cruises: Regatta bypassed Eden, NSW, on January 7 as a result of ongoing bushfires and instead headed straight to Melbourne. Regatta is scheduled to return to Eden on February 4.
Norwegian Cruise Line: Norwegian Jewel is expected to call at Eden on January 24.
Holland America Line: Noordman called at Burnie last week instead of Eden on its way back to Sydney.
Princess Cruises: Golden Princess did not proceed with Monday’s call to Kangaroo Island and instead stayed overnight at Port Lincoln. Sun Princess is scheduled to visit Kangaroo Island on January 19.
CMV: Vasco Da Gama cancelled its schedule call at Kangaroo Island’s port of Penneshaw on January 4, instead proceeding that afternoon to next port of call Port Lincoln. In the morning the ship was on standby for a possible evacuation of residents and tourists. Passengers reported the strong smell of smoke.
Silversea: Silver Muse was on standby to assist the people stranded on the beach at Mallacoota. The ship turned back to help but authorities were not ready for an evacuation so the ship continued on its course.
Cunard: Queen Elizabeth skipped Kangaroo Island on January 8 and spent an extra day at sea.
AIDA: AIDAaura skipped Kangaroo Island on January 5 and diverted to Adelaide.
February sees multiple dates booked in Kangaroo Island and Eden by P&O, Dream Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, Holland America, Oceania and Silversea. These future visits have not yet been cancelled.
The latest fire warnings and information about the changing weather conditions can be found at: http://www.bom.gov.au/.
For more information about cancelling your cruise and whether you will be covered by travel insurance, read our interview with an industry expert.