Carnival Cruise Line has made the shock move of pulling its Australian-based ship, Carnival Spirit, out of Australia during the cooler winter months from 2018, opting to send the ship to be based in the Chinese port of Shanghai.

Following the ship’s next scheduled dry dock refurbishment in Singapore after the peak Australian season in autumn 2018, the popular 2,680-passenger ship will head north to China, becoming the Carnival brand’s first ship to be based in China. At this stage, the move applies only to the 2018 Australian winter, with Carnival indicating it will keep to its original plan to deploy the 3,000-passenger Carnival Splendor in China full-time from 2019.

The move means P&O Cruises Australia and Princess Cruises will be the only Carnival Corporation brands to be based in Australia during the 2018 winter, with Carnival Spirit having remained in local waters year-round since it arrived here in late 2012.

Carnival Cruise Line president and CEO Christine Duffy says the move was due to the ship’s proximity to China and availability during winter 2018, adding the company’s desire to establish itself in the booming Chinese market was best served sooner rather than later by redeploying Carnival Spirit to the region. The ship originally earmarked for the Chinese market – Carnival Miracle – will now remain based in North America, sailing from Los Angeles.

After its brief Chinese sojourn, the ship will return to Australia to resume its normal spring/summer/autumn season, joined once again by Carnival Legend for the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons. More details about Carnival’s 2018 Australian season will be announced later this month, with the ship’s Chinese itineraries coming down the track as well.