>  Advice   >  10 tips for cruising in Australia

Cruising is growing in popularity with additional ships traveling to Australia and more cruise ship companies basing ships here for the Australian cruise season than ever before. If you’re thinking about taking your first cruise holiday, these top tips for cruising in Australia are for you. The first thing to do when you’re thinking of going on a cruise is planning and asking yourself some essential questions.

What’s my budget? What type of cruise do I want to go on? And what destination do I want to visit? More than once I have been on a cruise where someone is complaining about the ship, the itinerary or their fellow passengers, and the list goes on. This is often caused by the fact they didn’t do any research before they booked their cruise rather than something being wrong with the cruise itself.

Doing research and looking at reviews and write ups on sites like Cruise Critic will help you get an idea about the different ships sailing out of Australia, the typical passenger age and best cruising destinations. All of this helps tremendously when it comes to having a good cruise holiday. Don’t be seduced by a bargain offer for a cruise that isn’t really a good fit for you. Here are our top tips for getting the most out of your next cruise departing from an Australian cruise port.

Cruise ship dining room
Is this your style or do you prefer a casual vibe?

1. Choose the cruise ship and itinerary that’s right for you

As mentioned above you need to choose the right ship and itinerary to suit your style. For example, if you have a young, active family a ship like Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas and Quantum of the Seas have plenty of onboard fun to keep everyone entertained. The same goes for the newly refurbished P&O Cruises’ ships which have loads of activities for kids and also parents. 

Alternatively, if you’re a mature couple who enjoy dining and entertainment, Celebrity Solstice or Holland America Line’s Nieuw Statendam are ideal. Cruise lines sailing from Australia offer itineraries ranging from Papua New Guinea to New Zealand and around Australia. Have a think about what interests you and what type of ship you would like and plan accordingly. This advice also applies if you’re cruising overseas.

One of our most recent cruises was on an older ship that had an excellent well-priced itinerary which included an overnight stop in Venice. We did plenty of research and decided that even though the ship was older and showing some signs of wear according to the reviews we found online, its smaller size and excellent itinerary made it worthwhile for us to book the cruise. Some passengers grumbled continually about the fact the ship was older but we didn’t mind as we had made an informed decision and were delighted with our choice.

Sailing in to Venice on a cruise ship
We chose this cruise for the itinerary which included Venice

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Venice from a cruise ship
View from our balcony sailing into Venice

2. Have a passport with more than six months until it expires

I have seen this sad tale in action. A family arrived at the cruise check-in to discover that one person in their group had a passport that was due to expire in less than six months. Even though the passport was still ‘valid’ for the entire cruise they were about to do, they were not allowed to board. If the ship is travelling from Australia to an international destination such as the South Pacific, your passport must be valid for a minimum of six months from the date of departure. The same goes if you don’t have the required visas, even if you’re not planning on getting off the ship when the ship is in the ports you don’t have a visa for.

Check your passport

3. Buy travel insurance for your cruise

There’s a saying that if you can’t afford travel insurance you can’t afford to travel. Even a simple trip to the South Pacific or New Zealand can get expensive if the unexpected happens. I don’t want to even think about how much it costs to be evacuated from the ship for an urgent operation. With some countries like Australia, we do have a reciprocal medical cover via Medicare for New Zealand and some other countries. However, this does not cover things such as emergency evacuations at sea.

4. Get to the departure port in plenty of time

Arriving on the day of departure for any cruise is a recipe for disaster if you are flying in from overseas. Bad weather, cancelled flights, or other unforeseen circumstances can happen and make you too late to catch the ship. If you are flying to your ship, take an early morning flight to allow for delays. Also, make sure you arrive at the correct cruise terminal. With cruising getting more and more popular, there are now multiple cruise ports in Sydney which makes it easy to arrive at the wrong port.

Sydney Harbour
Cruising from Sydney? Not all cruise ships leave from Circular Quay

5. Choose the right cabin

Even if you can afford the penthouse on the top deck of the ship, you might not want it. If the seas get rough you will be rocking and rolling more than Elvis in his heyday. It’s simple physics: the more the ship rolls and pitches at sea level, the more it’s going to roll higher up. This is important if you’re prone to motion sickness. If you’re on your first cruise and nervous about feeling seasick, save money and your stomach and book a cabin on a lower deck in the middle of the ship where there is less movement.

The other question is whether you should book a guarantee cabin. This can seem like a good deal as these are cheaper and you’re guaranteed at least the minimum cabin grade you booked. So, if you book a balcony this is what you’ll get plus there is the chance of a possible upgrade. However, with a guaranteed cabin, the ship can put you anywhere so you might find yourself under a kids club filled with jumping kiddies or one of the ship’s noisiest bars. Regular cruisers often skip a guarantee cabin for this reason.

Cruise ship
Great view but the ship’s movement is greater here too

6. Check your bill regularly

With a few thousand people on board, errors do happen, and you don’t want to pay for someone else’s drinks. Always check your bill daily and have any mistakes reversed straight away as trying to get money back after leaving the ship is next to impossible. Also, check if you’re paying in Australian or US dollars. Always choose the option that the ship uses onboard, mostly this is either US or Australian dollars. If you choose the option to pay in your own currency, the ship will use their own exchange rate which is typically lower than the bank rate and never in your favour.

7. The ship is not a crime free zone

Be it a crime of opportunity or a pre-planned robbery, there are dishonest people everywhere, and the same goes with cruise ships. Be mindful of your property and belongings, put valuables in the safe in the room. This isn’t to keep them safe from the staff but so another passenger can’t slip in and help themselves if your stateroom door is accidentally left open. Always keep your cruise card on you as this can be used as a credit card on board.

8. If you miss your ship’s departure time you are on your own

If you get the sailing time wrong, the ship can sail without you. We have almost seen this several times with pier runners returning late to the ship and barely making it in time. You’ve only got to Google ‘people missing cruise ship’ to see how often it happens. While the ship will usually find and hand back your passport for the port agent to give you when you finally turn up, you’re probably not going to have much else with you.

If you’re lucky, the port agent will help you to arrange to fly to the next port at your expense. However, this can be an extremely costly exercise and isn’t something you want to experience first hand. If you think you can claim your additional travel expenses on your travel insurance, think again. Apart from some very exceptional circumstances, you probably won’t get any of this money back.

Cruise ship
Arrive back onboard in plenty of time

9. Shopping on board a ship is expensive

When you are browsing the boutiques on board the ship, you might be enticed to spend up big with offers of major discounts, super sales and duty-free prices. However, be wary of items such as jewellery, liquor, watches and alcohol as the savings can be very little, especially if you’re an Australian paying for purchases in US dollars. I have to admit that I’ve been guilty of spur of the moment onboard purchases that in hindsight were a waste of money. If you are determined to get that must-have item, wait until the last day of the cruise as there is often a big sale on the second-last day with more significant discounts. This also gives you time to think about whether you really need it.

10. Read the fine print at the spa

I am a spa and massage junky but, to be honest, I find most ship spa treatments are overpriced and not worth the spend, especially on sea days. The average price of a 50 minute massage on board a ship is typically around US$130 dollars. This doesn’t include the mandatory 15 per cent gratuity which is usually added to the bill. So that onboard massage could end up costing you more than to A$200 dollars. You can sometimes get a cheaper price if you book a treatment on a port day when prices drop by around 30% if bookings are slow. Just be warned that while this deal might be advertised as a Port Day Special, the discount often only applies to treatments booked before 1pm. Read the fine print or you might not get the cheap deal you thought you had booked.

Disclosure: The writer has been cruising around Australia and beyond for more than 20 years and loves the adventure and relaxation that comes with being on a ship.

Want more great cruise advice? Check out our tips for choosing the perfect cruise, cruising with grandchildren, cruising with tweens and cruising with kids of all ages, solo cruising, the best activities on Ovation of the Seas, doing a Transatlantic cruise with kids, cruising in Australia or Papua New Guinea, Iceland cruise tips, cruising on a megaship, scoring a bargain cruise fare, cruising the Mediterranean, making the most of a cruise ship kids club, luxury cruising with kids, and the Byron Beach Club onboard P&O Cruises. We have also reviewed Disney Wonder, Pacific Adventure, Celebrity Edge, Quantum of the Seas and Ovation of the Seas, Pacific Encounter, Carnival Splendor, Voyager of the Seas, Nieuw Statendam, Viking Helgrim, Pride of America, Coral Expeditions in Tasmania and the Great Barrier Reef, Celebrity Solstice, and Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth.

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Dr Tiana Templeman is an award-winning food and travel journalist, travel author and media industry academic. She is the creator of The Travel Temple, writes for Australian and international media outlets and appears on radio talking about where to go, what to see and travel industry trends.