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Carnival Corp. to Discontinue Storied P&O Cruises Brand in Australia

P&O Cruises Australia
One of the two P&O cruise ships arriving in Sydney that will transfer to Carnival when the brand sunsets in 2025 (P&O)

Published Jun 3, 2024 9:02 PM by The Maritime Executive

 

Carnival Corporation will sunset the P&O Cruises Australia brand in March 2025, marking the first time the corporation has ended one of its historic brand names since it began acquiring cruise lines in 1989. The Australia operation, which is one of the most historic in the annals of cruising, will be folded into the Carnival Australia brand transferring two existing cruise ships while a third will exit the fleet.

Carnival Corporation CEO Josh Weinstein explains the decision to discontinue the brand as a step to “further optimize the composition of Carnival Corporation’s global brand portfolio.” He said it would “strengthen the corporation’s performance in the South Pacific through numerous operational efficiencies.” Weinstein also said it was part of an effort to continue to expand Carnival Cruise Line, which he called the “highest-returning brand” in the corporation.

Storied History

The end of P&O Australia comes 93 years after the steamship line operated its first cruise from Australia and a brand name that has been associated with ocean travel to Australia since the 1800s. The operation from the UK via the Suez Canal to Australia maintained passenger and freight service long before the invention of the modern airplane and was also an immigrant service to Australia. Indeed, the operation became so well-known that it is said to have invented the word “posh.” According to the likely apocryphal story, a shipping agent started abbreviating the code for the best accommodations on the liner voyage out of the afternoon sun while in the area around the Suez, which was said to be Port Out Starboard Home or simply POSH.

 

P&O liner (left) and Orient Line's Orion part of the long history in cruising dating to the 1930s (courtesy P&O Cruises)

 

P&O reports it started cruising for Australia in December 1932 when its liner Strathhaird (22,544 GT) made a holiday sailing followed the next day by Orient Line’s Ornosay (20,000 GT). P&O resumed cruising from Australia after World War II in 1953 and in 1960 P&O and Orient Line merged bringing together two of the most storied names providing liner service between the UK and Australia. 

The Australia operation is also the last link to another historic shipping line in Australia called Sitmar, started by father Alexander Vlasov and his son Boris Vlasov (which also would spur the formation of the modern V.Group). Sitmar was an Italian operation providing primarily immigrant service but in 1965 also started to use its liners for occasional cruises from Australia. Later, after Sitmar ended liner service it continued to cruise year-round from Australia. When Sitmar merged into P&O’s Princess Cruises in 1989, the Sitmar operation although rebranded continued to provide the Australian cruises and a direct link to the modern Australian cruise operation. Although many years out of service, Sitmar's cruise ship Fairstar retired in 1997 is still fondly remembered as the innovator in Australian cruising.

 

Fairstar cruised from Australia starting in 1965 till her retirement in 1997 and is fondly recalled as a pioneer and the original "fun ship" (Courtesy Fremantle Ports)

 

Consolidating due to “Strategic Reality”

The modern cruise operation has struggled to achieve the corporation’s efficiency goals. Ships were moved in and out of the brand from other companies in the corporation and before and during the pandemic the decision was to replace the fleet with ships from Princess Cruises in the United States. Australians have criticized the operation for constantly sending them dated, second-hand ships. It is the only part of Carnival never to have a newbuild.

“Given the strategic reality of the South Pacific's small population and significantly higher operating and regulatory costs, we're adjusting our approach to give us the efficiencies we need to continue delivering an incredible cruise experience year-round to our guests in the region. Carnival Corporation & plc remains committed to Australia,” said Weinstein.

 

P&O and Carnival Australia ships will all be sailing for Carnival Cruise Line (P&O)

 

The current P&O Cruises Australia fleet consists of three cruise ships, of which two that came from Princess Cruises will continue to operate rebranded for Carnival Cruise Line. The Pacific Adventure, 108,865 gross tons, 2,636 passengers, entered service in 2001 as the Golden Princess and moved to Australia in 2022. Her sister ship, Pacific Encounter, 108,865 gross tons, 2,600 passengers, entered service in 2002 as the Star Princess and moved to Australia in 2022. The third cruise ship, Pacific Explorer, 77,441 gross tons, 1,998 passengers, entered service in 1997 as the Dawn Princess and moved to Australia in 2018. She will exit the fleet in February 2025 following her sister ships which were sold during the pandemic.

The former P&O ships will merge into the Carnival Australia brand which began cruising from the country in 2012. The company today has one cruise ship seasonally in Australia, Carnival Luminosa (92,720 GT), herself having been transferred after the pandemic from Costa Cruises, and a second year-round cruise ship Carnival Splendor (113,573 GT). Having entered service in 2008 for the American line, she has been cruising from Australia since 2019. As a four-ship fleet, it will have about 10,500 berths.

The corporation was quick to note that P&O Cruises (UK) is a separate Carnival Corporation brand. Dedicated to the UK market, it will not be impacted by the ending of the Australian brand of the same name.