If you have looked at taking a cruise to the sunny South Pacific, you’ll quickly discover there can be a somewhat overwhelming variety of voyages visiting different places, in different orders and over different periods of time.
But what are the major differences between the main cruise lines sailing the region? Each does things in their own way and knowing the answer to this question can impact how much you may enjoy your holiday.
Sailing on a seasonal basis from September to April, guests can embark on the three largest ships in the Southern Hemisphere as part of Royal Caribbean’s South Pacific program, mostly from Sydney (although departures from Brisbane are on sale for the 2016/17 cruise season on Legend of the Seas).
Voyager of the Seas and Explorer of the Seas both sail on a range of voyages from 7-14 nights, while larger fleet-mate Ovation of the Seas will itself run a select number of South Pacific voyages each season.
Radiance of the Seas and Explorer of the Seas both offer annual repositioning voyages from North America to Australia which call upon more exotic ports in places like the Tahitian Isles and Hawaii, giving guests more choice than the more readily available itineraries to Vanuatu, Fiji and New Caledonia. If discovering something off-the-beaten-track is more your style, Radiance of the Seas may be better suited to you as this ship typically visit smaller ports such as Port Denarau in Fiji and Lifou in New Caledonia.
Comparing like-for-like against main rivals Carnival Cruise Line and P&O Cruises, Royal Caribbean can be a little more expensive, however great deals are there to be had if you’re a craft consumer and shop around. The line also uses American dollars as the currency aboard its ships, which can add extra costs to any onboard purchases.
The American influences can also extend to the menus in the dining rooms and merchandise in the shops. For example, you may find a large selection of Caribbean rum brands on sale as opposed to the more local Bundaberg Rum varieties, although these should still be on sale.
P&O Cruises Australia
As Australia’s largest cruise line, it’s no surprise P&O offers the most comprehensive South Pacific program in the market. Sailing from Auckland, Brisbane, Cairns, Sydney and Melbourne – some year-round, some only seasonally – there is always a P&O cruise to the South Pacific to work for any dates.
With five ships in the fleet (becoming six next June), P&O typically has a wider assortment of voyages with many longer itineraries going outside of the commonly visited areas some which are exclusive to P&O such as Champagne Bay in Vanuatu and Norfolk Island.
These longer voyages, some up to 18 nights in duration, often attract a slightly older crowd than what is normally seen on P&O, the line generally being a popular choice for families and younger groups on a budget. Onboard purchases are conducted in Aussie dollars, removing the continuous need to work out exchange rates. The use of Aussie dollars is primarily because the cruise line isn’t widely marketed outside of Australia and New Zealand, which means pretty much all of your fellow passengers will hail from these two countries.
Voyages on P&O can often be cheaper than comparable voyages on Royal Caribbean or Carnival, however it’s important to check whether the price you’re reacting to is based on quad-share, triple or twin share, as most marketing will be based on four people to a room.
While its ships are generally older hardware, frequent and extensive investment in the onboard product sees P&O boasting one of the most modern passenger experiences at sea in Australia today. New sister-ships Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden are leading a new era in the guest experience offered by P&O. Pacific Dawn will see a comprehensive refurbishment in March 2017 as the ship is upgraded to the same standard as Aria and Eden.
Carnival Cruise Line
Sailing from Australia with one ship year-round until at least mid-2018 and a second during the peak summer season, Carnival’s two ships – Carnival Spirit and Carnival Legend – both sail regularly to the South Pacific, mainly from Sydney and soon from Melbourne.
Prior to entering the Australian market, both ships underwent a major transformation which saw customisation to dining options and bars to suit Aussie tastes. This included new beers, wines, coffees, snacks and desserts, not to mention burgers and other meals. Modifications were also made to Australian power points and Aussie poker machines throughout the ship.
Carnival, which uses the slogan “Fun for all and all for fun” attracts a large number of families and couples onboard with an average age group slightly older than that typically found on P&O, while still being younger than that found on Royal Caribbean. Guests are predominately Australian, however occasionally around Christmas and New Year, you may also bump into some American guests loyal to their favourite Carnival ship.
The line’s itineraries typically follow tried-and-true patterns, mixed in with the occasional off-the-beaten-track voyage to spice things up. Due to the younger nature of the passenger mix and the limited number of ships in the fleet, Carnival typically operate shorter eight and nine-night voyages, however the occasional 10-14 night sailing is also scheduled.