By Donna Tunney
March 15, 2011
Big ships have been making big news in Australia lately.
Last month, Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary 2 came together in Sydney for what the line called a Royal Rendezvous. The meet-up was part of the Queen Elizabeth’s inaugural world voyage and preceded the ship’s maiden calls to other Australian cities: Melbourne and Fremantle.
Meanwhile, Celebrity Cruises has announced that its Celebrity Solstice will replace the smaller Celebrity Century on Australia and New Zealand sailings next winter, and Holland America Line said it plans to strengthen its commitment to the Australian market by deploying its Vista-class Oosterdam to the South Pacific for the 2012-13 season, again replacing a smaller ship, the Zaandam. The positioning will boost the line's capacity in the region by close to 25%.
It’s all good for Australia tourism. But these major cruise lines aren’t the only ones looking to capitalize on the lure of Australia. Expedition ships are getting in on the act, too.
AdventureSmith Explorations is one of them. The Tahoe City, Calif.-based cruise broker markets three ships: the 46-passenger Coral Princess, the 50-passenger Coral Princess II and the 72-passenger Oceanic Discover. Their relatively diminutive sizes enable the vessels, which are being marketed to North Americans for the first time this year, to maneuver into hard-to-reach places such as the Great Barrier Reef.
"Smaller boats mean more activity for guests," said Todd Smith, founder and director of AdventureSmith Explorations. "It’s a lot easier to get 46 snorkeling-bound passengers onto the reef than it is to get 100 there."
Smith added that small-ship cruising in Australia is up, "and 2011 is promising to be a banner year."
Australia small-ship cruise business has increased by 30% each year for the past two years, he said, and Tourism Australia, the national tourism organization, anticipates an even larger increase this year.
Among this firm’s just-announced offerings is one cruise built around the solar eclipse of 2012. It’s the Great Barrier Reef Solar Eclipse Itinerary aboard Coral Princess and Coral Princess II, and the company said it fully expects both ships to sell out for this itinerary in 2011.
"On the morning of Nov. 14, 2012, the eyes of amateur astronomers and the scientific community from around the world will focus firmly on Northern Australia and the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef," said company spokesman David Wiggins. "Tropical North Queensland lies [at the center] of the prime eclipse viewing area."
The seven-day trip is scheduled for Nov. 10 to 16, 2012; an optional five-day is offered Nov. 13 to 17. Prices start at $1,996 per person, double, for the five-day cruise.