(9:50 p.m. AEST) -- After over two years of continued suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic, cruising is finally returning to Australia.
The Australian Federal Government announced its decision not to renew the country’s cruising ban, which has been set to expire April 17, 2022. The ban has been in place since March 2020, the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cruise Lines International Association Australasia has welcomed the news following the extended suspension period, during which cruises in both North America and Europe have already successfully resumed.
Additionally, P&O Cruises has announced its 2022 season, which will begin in May, and Princess Cruises has confirmed 2022 itineraries for its Coral Princess and Majestic Princess ships.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszcsuk confirmed the state will be the first to welcome cruise ships back to its waters with a restart date of June 2, 2022.
The announcement, made at the new cruise terminal in Brisbane, confirmed all passengers and crew need to be fully vaccinated and wear masks at embarkation and disembarkation.
She confirmed there would need to be"a lot of communication between cruise lines and passengers about the health protocols" ahead of the restart.
Princess Cruises has already confirmedCoral Princess will return to service on June 16, 2022 offering two- to 11-night roundtrip voyages from Brisbane, with calls to ports in Queensland and New South Wales (see below).
"Today’s announcement is a huge breakthrough for more than 18,000 Australians who depend on cruise tourism, including travel agents, tour operators, food and produce providers, entertainers, port workers and many other industry suppliers," said Joel Katz, CLIA Managing Director Australasia in a March 15 statement.
"Cruising has changed enormously in response to the pandemic and the work our industry has done with medical experts internationally has resulted in health protocols that are among the most extensive to be found anywhere in world tourism.
"These protocols span the entirety of the cruise experience and provide some of the highest possible levels of prevention, detection, and mitigation, including vaccination and testing requirements for all passengers and crew before boarding."
Katz added that the "suspension of cruising over the past two years has cost the Australian economy more than $10 billion (Australian dollars)" and now the cruise industry has an opportunity to work on revival.
The Next Step is to Reopen Major Cruise Ports, Including Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide
The next step toward that revival is for state governments to reopen their ports to cruise ships. Plans are currently underway by eastern states -- including Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia -- to establish health protocols and guidelines ahead of any restart.
"The uncertainty of the past two years has been replaced with hope and a belief that the lifting of the cruise ban at last heralds the return of cruise operations in Australia," said Marguerite Fitzgerald, President of Carnival Australia -- which includes brands P&O Cruises Australia, Cunard, Carnival, Holland America Line and Princess Cruises.
"Overseas experience, where hundreds of cruise ships have returned to service, more than seven million people have cruised and more than 80 countries have reopened to cruise ships, has confirmed that cruising can operate safely in the new environment with comprehensive health protocols that can support the return of cruising here."
Following a long series of setbacks and cancellations, P&O Cruises Australia plans to resume sailing from May 31, 2022, with a brand new program from Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne.
Pacific Explorer will sail from Sydney on May 31 on a four-night, round-trip cruise to Brisbane, where the ship is scheduled to make the first-ever call at the city’s new cruise terminal on June 2.
Pacific Explorer will then sail from Sydney on a series of Queensland and South Pacific cruises until late October, replacing Pacific Adventure’s scheduled program, before switching to Melbourne and Adelaide for the summer 2022/2023 season.
Pacific Adventure’s maiden season will begin in Sydney on October 22, while the Brisbane debut of Pacific Encounter has been rescheduled from June 4 to August 20, 2022, prompting the cancellation of 15 cruises.
"Unfortunately, the shifting landscape over the past two years made it very difficult for us to anticipate when and where we would return to cruising," said Fitzgerald. "Now we have more clarity and growing confidence, we have reset our plans to stagger the resumption of cruising in a way that enables us to bring our ships and crew back to Australia as smoothly as possible."
P&O Cruises Australia, which operates a large number of cruises to the Pacific islands, is working closely with the governments of Fiji, New Caledonia and Vanuatu on its planned return.
Fitzgerald added, "Our new schedule anticipates a return to the South Pacific from August, but we will be working closely with governments throughout the region, as well as our industry partners, to ensure this is possible and that we meet all local protocols."
Princess Cruises has confirmedCoral Princess will return to service in June 2022 offering two- to 11-night roundtrip voyages from Brisbane, with calls to ports in Queensland and New South Wales. In August, the ship will also offer a brand-new 11-night cruise from Sydney calling to Queensland and the Conflict Islands in Papua New Guinea, before resuming the previously announced 2022/2023 Australia & New Zealand.
Additionally,Majestic Princesswill sail roundtrip from Sydney on a new Queensland itinerary in February 2023, at the end of the already published season.