First Cruise Ship Returns to Australia After Two Years

first cruise ship returns to Australia
Pacific Explorer making her way into Sydney harbor

Published Apr 18, 2022 3:50 PM by The Maritime Executive

The first cruise ship in two years returned to Australian waters today marking an important milestone as the industry continues efforts to overcome the pandemic and restore operations. Australian media reports indicated more than a thousand people lined the shoreline and were on small boats to see P&O Cruises’ Pacific Explorer arrive and dock in the shadow of the famed opera house in Sydney harbor. 

Australia’s ban on international cruise ships ended on April 17 just past the two-year mark from when the Australian Border Force Commissioner ordered cruise ships to depart after several cruise ships were linked to the spread of COVID-19. Australia ultimately held an investigation into P&O Cruises’ sister company Princess Cruises after its cruise ship the Ruby Princess was blamed for contributing to more than 900 cases of the virus including more than two dozen deaths in 2020. Passengers were permitted to disembark from the ship despite the presence of the virus creating community spread.

The 77,441 gross ton Pacific Explorer made a ceremonial return to Sydney surrounded by small boats and tug boats sending water up into the air as her horn responded to greetings. Hung across the front of the superstructure was a large banner reading We’re Home while on the ship’s projection screen in the pool area the message read G’Day Sydney.




Australia’s federal government dropped the restrictions on cruise ships making it one of the last major cruise markets to permit the ships to resume service, although the actual cruises are dependent on the individual states granting permission when they feel adequate health and safety protocols exist. Before the pandemic, Australia was one of the largest source markets for cruising with an estimated annual contribution of more than $5 billion to the economy. China remains the largest market still closed to international cruise ships.

Australia’s first cruises are due to start at the end of April when the French company Ponant will launch cruises aboard its smaller, exploration cruise ships in the Kimberly region of Australia. The Le Laperouse which carries a maximum of 350 passengers is due to arrive in Darwin next week and kick off the cruises on April 28.

The Pacific Explorer arrived in Sydney with just 250 crew aboard and like other major markets, the cruise line has agreed to require all crew and passengers to be fully vaccinated in order to resume operations. During the next six weeks, P&O will complete restaffing the cruise ship toward its normal complement of 600 crew in preparation for the first revenue cruise on May 31. The vessel will continue to cruise from Sydney till October 2022 when P&O plans for a larger ship to take her place as she moves to Adelaide and Melbourne for cruises.

In addition to marking the return of large cruise ships, it is also the beginning of Carnival Corporation’s efforts to rebuild operations in Australia. During the pandemic, the corporation sold three of the cruise ships that it had been operating from Australia. They are being replaced with two larger cruise ships transferred from Princess Cruises in the United States. P&O Australia has already refitted the ships as Pacific Adventure and Pacific Encounter, and the 101,000 gross ton ships will begin cruises from Australia in October and August, respectively. 

Most of the large cruise ships are not expected to return to Australia until September and October in time for the Australian summer season. Carnival Cruise Line which repositioned its two ships from Australia to the U.S. market said the first ship will return to Australia in October 2022. Other lines however as expected with much of Asia still closed to cruising to forego their return to Australia until at least 2023.