Ship boat

Pacific Explorer Leads Cruise Ship’s Triumphant Return to Sydney…and Australia

Cruise ships returned to Sydney today in a stunning and symbolic display of one of Australia’s most popular tourist sectors.

Just a day after the government’s two-year ban on foreign-flagged vessels expired, a flotilla of small boats and three tugboats with water cannons accompanied the P&Os Pacific Explorer as she sailed for an hour through the harbor and docked at the Overseas Passenger Terminal.

It was a major gesture of confidence from an industry that once attracted 1.6 million Australians a year, created 18,000 jobs and more than $5 billion in annual revenue.

Two years ago, P&O owner Carnival Australia was forced to move its ships overseas by a government order issued at the height of the pandemic. The ships left the port accompanied by police boats.

Today, government ministers and a host of travel agents and passengers were at the docks to welcome the ships back.

Transport Minister David Elliott said: “The day has finally arrived for Sydney Harbor to reclaim its rightful place as the epicenter of local and international cruising in Australia.”

Carnival Australia’s new chairman Marguerite Fitzgerald said emotions were running high among her staff and crew aboard Explorer as they returned home.

“It was always going to be an emotional comeback for PAcific Explorer and her crew,” she told a group invited aboard a rented Sydney party boat to come out and watch the ship come in.Pacific Explorer Going through Sydney Heads after two long years was a magical moment and I’m proud to say there was hardly any dry eye among our suppliers, guests and staff.

In the audience were some of those who had fought so hard to bring cruising back to Australia: Joel Katz, CEO of Cruise Lines International Association, Sandy Olsen and David Jones of Carnival Australia’s corporate communications team, Paul Nicolaou, Executive Director of Business Sydney, Philip Holliday, CEO of NSW Ports and agents like Dan Russell of Clean Cruising.

Explorer will spend a few days in White Bay receiving crew and supplies before making an “activation” voyage at sea to test its services and procedures on May 27 before its maiden voyage on May 31 to Brisbane, where a new Cruise has been waiting more than a year to welcome its first ship.

The best suites are sold for travel and interest has been strong, according to travel agents.

Today’s port entry signals the start of a new era of cruising for Australians.

The New South Wales government has agreed new health protocols with cruise lines, including:

  • All passengers over the age of 12 and crew will need to be fully immunized to board domestic and international cruises
  • All passengers and crew members will be required to have a negative COVID test before boarding and wear masks when boarding and disembarking;
  • A Covid safety plan will be developed for shore excursions, which will take into account the specific needs of local communities
  • Covid safety plans have been developed for the disembarkation of all COVID-positive cases and close contacts;
  • Cruise operators will provide information to travelers on covid safety practices, including social distancing, enhanced cleaning and the availability of onboard Covid-19 testing.

Passengers will be required to take a test before arriving at the cruise terminal and will have the choice: a PCR test 72 hours before or a RAT test on the day of departure.

Before the pandemic, the cruise industry contributed an estimated $3.3 billion in total spending and 11,000 jobs to the New South Wales economy alone.

Ms Fitzgerald said there would be changes as the world is different after two years. These changes would affect many areas, from food to activities. “You’ll see new products, entertainment that we’re testing – there are things that we need to make sure are much more relevant to where people are.”

Princess will likely be next to return in May. Royal Caribbean is unlikely to be back in Australian waters before October.