Cruising is starting to resume in Australia — but there’s a catch

Sep 28, 2020

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Cruising finally is getting going again in Australia — at least in a small way.

Australian expedition cruise specialist Coral Expeditions this week said it planned to restart nature-focused sailings out of Cairns, Australia, on 14 October.

The trips will take place on the 72-passenger Coral Discoverer, which will become the biggest vessel to resume sailings in Australia since cruise lines around the world halted departures in March. The halt came amidst a sharp upturn in coronavirus cases.

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Only one other small cruise vessel, the 36-passenger True North, has resumed operations in Australia. The yacht-like vessel has been running trips to Australia’s famed Kimberly coast since July out of Broome, Australia.

The new Coral Expeditions sailings will take small groups of passengers to the outer reefs and lesser-known islands of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The focus of the trips will be on the marine life of the area as well as the natural and cultural history of Far North Queensland.

Coral Discoverer
The 72-passenger Coral Discoverer is an expedition-style vessel that carries Zodiac boats for landings in remote locations. (Photo courtesy of Coral Expeditions)

Alas, if you’re thinking about booking one of the trips, there’s a catch. For now, due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions, they’re only bookable by residents of Australia. The country remains closed to outside visitors including Americans.

Based in Australia with ships that are registered in the country and operated by Australian crew, Coral Expeditions and True North are some of the only cruise operators currently allowed to restart operations in Australian waters.

In addition to banning foreign tourist arrivals since early this year, the Australian government has banned the arrival of all but the tiniest foreign-flagged cruise ships. That has prevented nearly all cruise vessels that normally operate around the country from restarting operations.

The biggest lines with regular operations in Australia, including Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises and P&O Cruises Australia, all operate ships flagged outside of Australia.

Earlier this month, Australian health minister Greg Hunt announced an extension of the ban on such cruise ship arrivals through at least 17 December.

Coral Expeditions said its soon-to-start Great Barrier Reef trips would include diving and snorkelling at such well-known spots as Osprey Reef, Escape Reef and the Ribbon Reefs; birdwatching; a stop at historic Cooktown; and visits to the beaches of isolated Sudbury Cay and Hope Island. Visits to the Great Barrier Reef Research Station also are planned as well as stops for snorkelling over the giant clam gardens of Lizard Island.

Coral Discoverer is an expedition-style vessel with a shallow draft to allow for access to remote locations. It carries small Zodiac boats for landings in hard-to-reach areas.

Coral Expeditions operates four small vessels that carry 120 or fewer passengers apiece, with a fifth vessel on the way.

In announcing its restart to operations, the company said it hoped to resume cruises in more parts of Australia in the coming months, including trips around Tasmania and in the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia regions.

“We are planning a staged restart across the next six months which will be in collaboration with authorities from Australian states and territories”, Jeff Gillies, Coral Expeditions commercial director, said in a statement accompanying the announcement.

Australia is just the latest region of the world to see the beginnings of a cruising comeback. In recent months, limited ocean cruising has resumed in the Mediterranean and a handful of other regions including French Polynesia. There also has been a resurgence of river cruising in Europe.

But, as will be the new sailings in Australia, most of the voyages restarting in Europe and elsewhere only are open to local travellers for now. One notable exception: cruises that have resumed in French Polynesia, which are open to many nationalities including Americans.

Cruises out of U.S. ports remain on hold for now due to a “no-sail” order by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the order is set to expire next week. It’s unclear for now whether it will be extended.

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Featured image courtesy of Coral Expeditions 

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