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Cruising windfall: high-end ships to make 'unexpected' detours to our shores

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The Sunshine Coast is about to net an unexpected tourism boon, as the premium cruising market puts down anchor off our shores in growing numbers over the next few years.

The region is set to take advantage of a Brisbane terminal closure to ensure cruising helps us enter a new phase in our post-pandemic tourism fightback.

Before Covid shut down the industry world-wide, our region had put out the welcome mat for passengers’ shore excursions and independent day trips for several years, as the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane featured on a growing number of cruise ship itineraries.

But the shock decision to close Brisbane’s Portside Wharf cruise terminal at the start of the 2022/23 cruising season has forced major cruise lines including Viking, Regent Seven Sea Cruises and Silversea to make other arrangements.

And some are heading towards our coastline instead – adding up to a total of 23 cruise ships visiting the Sunshine Coast between now and 2025, and most of those making their maiden visit.

The Viking Orion, sailing at sunrise.

The first of those, Viking Orion, arrives on Monday, December 5, with up to 930 passengers disembarking in Mooloolaba.

She has sailed from Vancouver via Asia to Australia and will move on to New Zealand where she will homeport out of Sydney and Auckland for the 2022/23 cruising season.

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The Portside Wharf accommodation, shopping and dining precinct at Hamilton is undergoing a major refurbishment. Ships up to 270m in length usually dock there.

Cruise operations are scheduled sometimes years in advance, and Luggage Point’s Brisbane International Cruise Terminal – that takes larger vessels due to the Gateway Bridge height restrictions – has only limited remaining berth capacity.

Portside Wharf at Hamilton, Brisbane. Picture: AAP Image/Heather Faulkner

The Wharf Mooloolaba operations manager Sue Canavan said that with the Portside Brisbane dock closure, some vessels that included the state capital on itineraries for the near future were now anchoring off Mooloolaba.

The Viking Orion tenders will dock for disembarking at The Wharf Mooloolaba commercial dock.

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“Visit Sunshine Coast will be greeting them on the day and providing information to all passengers,” Ms Canavan said.

“Staff from The Wharf will also be on hand.

“We look forward to receiving the guests from the cruise ship.”

The Sunshine Coast will turn on the charm when high-end cruise ship passengers disembark at The Wharf Mooloolaba.

On the local cruising calendar are two arrivals for the remainder of this year and 11 ships next year (nine for the 2022/23 summer season, injecting an estimated $2 million into the local economy):

  • 2022 – December 5, Viking Orion (930 passengers); December 15, Oceania Cruises’ Regatta (675)
  • 2023 ­– January 29, Regent Seven Sea Cruises’ Seven Seas Explorer (809); January 30, Windstar Cruises’ Star Breeze (312); February 6, Phoenix Reisen’s Amera (835); February 7, Silversea’s Silver Muse (596); February 19, Viking Neptune (930); February 26, Silversea’s Silver Whisper (388); March 5, Viking Orion (930); December 2, Viking Orion (930); December 15, Star Breeze (312); December 19, Seven Seas Explorer (809); and December 24, Regatta (675).

A further six ship visits to Mooloolaba are planned in 2024 and four in 2025.

Visit Sunshine Coast chief executive officer Matt Stoeckel believes the return of cruising comes at a key time for regional tourism – the “missing link” in our recovery.

But this time, there’ll be one major difference that will act even more in our favour.

“We have had great success in the intra- and interstate domestic markets, our international markets are slowly returning, and now cruising will expose us to a new, high-yielding market,” Mr Stoeckel said.

“Passengers are paying up to $50,000 a berth, so they are discerning travellers and with the vessel anchored in such a picture-perfect location and with an attractive range of onshore tours available, we are confident that once passengers get a ‘sunshine moment’, many of them will return for longer, dedicated visits.

“The Sunshine Coast will be attracting the smaller vessels, most between 500 – 900 passengers, and that suits our destination.

“We are attracting premium vessels looking for a more boutique tourism experience.”

Visit Sunshine Coast CEO Matt Stoeckel.

Mr Stoeckel said Tourism and Events Queensland estimated that prior to the pandemic, the cruise industry generated $832 million in revenue and supported 2658 jobs for the state.

With cruising returning to popularity so strongly, he believed the Sunshine Coast would be an integral destination in the industry’s Australian expansion and was working towards shoring up support from our tourism operators.

“We are developing the range of tour activities offered to passengers, and that range will depend on the timing of the vessel’s arrival,” he said.

“We want to showcase our natural attractions, and also our popular tourism attractions such as Australia Zoo, The Ginger Factory and Flame Hill Winery.

“Previous cruises saw over 80 per cent of passengers disembark and take part in tours or spend time around Mooloolaba.

“We have excellent restaurant and entertainment facilities at The Wharf, great shopping along The Esplanade, and a fine patrolled beach at Mooloolaba.

“We know that passengers will have a memorable introduction to the Sunshine Coast as they approach the Mooloolaba coastline, and that will be complemented by our wonderful volunteers, who will be greeting all the cruise vessels, assisting with onshore activities and providing our trademark sunny welcome.”

Do you have an opinion to share? Submit a Letter to the Editor with your name and suburb at Sunshine Coast News via: news@sunshinecoastnews.com.au


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