Australians and New Zealanders have long had a love affair with ocean voyages. This can, in part, be traced back to the both nations’ long history with ocean liner travel – with thousands of people over the decades arriving to start a new life after a long ocean voyage.
However, when Ovation of the Seas arrived in Fremantle, Western Australia last December, it brought a new standard of cruising ‘down under’. Ovation is the largest passenger ship to visit these waters, and her deployment represented a significant investment from owners Royal Caribbean.
“At USD$1 billion, Ovation of the Seas represents the single largest investment in Australia and New Zealand cruising by any cruise line,” said Sean Treacy, commercial director, Royal Caribbean International, Australia & South East Asia.
“This ship truly ignites the imagination about what is possible on a cruise holiday – from skydiving in the middle of the ocean, robot bartenders, to North Star, an observation capsule that transports you more than 90 metres above the sea providing stunning 360 degree views.”
Throughout the 20th Century, cruising was an enjoyable pastime for those living in Australia and New Zealand. It grew in popularity in the 1930s when P&O introduced the “White Sisters” – otherwise known as the “Strath Liners”.
The popularity of cruising was bolstered again in the 1980s thanks to popular vessels such as P&O-Orient’s first Oriana, and Sitmar’s Fairstar. However, by the 1990s there were very few locally based cruise ships.
Internationally renowned vessels, the likes of QE2 and Canberra, did make annual visits during their respective world cruises; however year round cruising was a simple affair and international ships were rarely deployed in local waters for more than a few weeks over the southern hemisphere’s summer period.
At this time, the most popular ship in the region was the Fairstar. Having been acquired by P&O Cruises, the Fairstar offered short ‘party’ voyages from Sydney to the South Pacific.
Fairstar was basic. She offered a casual and fun experience for a party-minded traveller; yet lacked the sophistication of services or range of amenities that many cruising aficionados were growing accustomed to.
Both Australian and New Zealand based travellers seeking luxury, adventure or culture often travelled abroad; taking voyages in the Caribbean, Bahamas, Mediterranean or even north to Alaska. Fly cruise packages with lines like Cunard, Royal Caribbean and even Carnival were regular sights in travel agency windows; and both Qantas Holidays and Air New Zealand offered fly-cruise brochures to capture this market.
However, the home market was still struggling to catch up. Its somewhat unsophisticated offering endured until the late 1990s. And yet despite a growing desire for choice, the Australian market of the time was unable to sustain a wide variety of ships.
Proof of this can be seen in the failure of Cunard’s Crown Monarch; as well as NCL’s short-lived stint ‘down under’ with Norwegian Capricorn Line; both of which were unable to attract enough patronage to maintain the ambitious Australian-based schedule planned for these cruise ships.
It’s not that these newcomers weren’t offering quality or value for money; in fact quite the opposite. But the luxury market in large, opted to combine a cruise holiday with travel aboard rather than stay in local waters. As a result, Fairstar remained the only successful locally based ship for the rest of her career.
OVATION DOWN UNDER
Today, the picture has changed dramatically. Starting in the late 90s and building over the first decade of the 21st century; cruising has become big business in both Australia and New Zealand. Local options abound, with Carnival, Royal Caribbean, P&O Cruises Australia and CMV (among others) all competing for a permanent presence in the market. Add to this a plethora of seasonal visitors with names such as Queen Victoria, Aurora and Celebrity Solstice, and the offering truly stacks up against the most popular international options.
This growth, which has seen over a million Australians cruise locally in the past year, culminated in the 2016/17-summer season with the arrival of Ovation of the Seas. One of the largest and newest cruise ships currently in service, Ovation arrived in Fremantle on 7 December, smashing Queen Mary 2’s record as the largest passenger ship to visit the region.