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With more ships plying our waters and a new attitude to ocean adventure, cruise holidays are taking off.

More than one million Australian passengers strode up the gangway to board a cruise ship in 2016.

The industry has undergone a metamorphosis over the past decade, launching ships that appeal to the young and the young at heart, with improved amenities and accessibility, more adventurous itineraries and a level of luxury few could once afford.

These factors may explain why the average age of passengers on cruise ships has dropped from 65 to 45.

Australians are at the forefront of the resurgence, and we are one of the world’s fastest-growing cruise markets.

Spring is the perfect time to start planning a cruise for 2018–19 as the local cruise season runs from October to April. Active retirees are spoiled for choice with 18 cruise lines, about 50 ships and 700 cruises from two days to two weeks, or more, on offer.

Cruising is especially appealing to older people and people with disability. There are no airport difficulties, transition and access to new destinations are hassle-free and daily living expenses are often cheaper than land-based travel.

Ships are generally categorised as either large (2500–6000-plus passengers), mid-size (750–2500) or small (250–750). Boutique ships range from private motor yachts for up to 50, or expedition ships for 100 or 200.

Luxurious smaller ships are popular for their exclusivity and passenger–crew ratios, but they might lack the non-stop entertainment, leisure and multiple restaurant choices of the larger resort-style vessels. Some ships are child-free, but generational cruising is also growing. It is not unusual to see three generations at sea, with some resort ships providing family cabins for up to 10 people.

Booking through an agent ensures cruise participants end up with the type of experience best suited to their holiday preference and budget. Agents can also guide cruisers to last-minute deals.

Improved facilities for people with disability, now available on many cruise lines, include access ramps for scooters and wheelchairs, accessible cabins with automatic doors, accessible rest rooms and dining facilities, lower playing tables in gaming areas, theatre wheelchair seating and lifts for swimming pools and hot tubs.

Agents say short cruises and weekend getaways that travel along the Australian coastline are an ideal way for people to sample the cruising life.

Increasingly, Australians are flying to Europeto cruise along its magnificent rivers rich with history, grand vistas and calm waters. Australianowned travel company Scenic, which has five popular river ships, will start ocean cruising in 2018. Its Scenic Eclipse has 114 suites, two twinengine helicopters, custom-built zodiacs, a 240-seat theatre, heated pools and its own submarine.

More adventurous expedition cruising is growing strongly, particularly among active seniors who board expedition ships to the Arctic or Antarctic, to see the northern lights and unspoiled landscapes.

They seek experiential travel, wildlife encounters and photo opportunities aboard rigid inflatable boats that ferry them to and from the mothership. A measure of the enormous popularity of the expedition cruise is that ships are being built to polar-cruise safety standards, with some designed for up to 1000 passengers and promising six- and seven-star accommodation.

Douglas Ward, author of Berlitz Cruising and Cruise Ships 2017, spends more than 200 days a year on the water and has completed more than 1080 cruises for the guide over the past 32 years.

He says he fell in love with cruising on his first cruise in 1965 aboard Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth, at the time the world’s largest passenger ship.

His latest 736-page guide is meticulous in detailing and rating 295 ships according to six criteria: the ship, accommodation, food, service, entertainment and the cruise experience.

“A cruise is a change from everyday life on land. It is a (mostly) pre-paid, hassle-free vacation. You sleep in the same bed every night, the ship moves the scenery for you, and only one currency is used on board,” Douglas writes.

Words: Graeme Kemlo

Facilities for people with disability

Most cruise ships, particularly large ocean-going ships, offer wheelchair access to dining and entertainment venues and accessible cabins. However, each ship and line is different and factors including the age of the vessel can affect the accessibility of cabins and common areas. Always check with the cruise line before booking.

At Sydney’s White Bay Cruise Terminal, there is a Wheelchair Registration Desk that provides extra assistance for passengers with disability as they are embarking and disembarking.

Beyond the ship itself, passengers with disability are also advised to consider the destinations their cruise will visit during shore excursions. Disembarkation is often easier for passengers with disability at larger ports.

At smaller ports, such as some in the South Pacific, ships often moor offshore and guests are taken ashore on tender boats, which are not always able to accommodate wheelchairs.

A highlight of cruising is the service from on-board staff, who are trained to provide special assistance to people with disability, including in the unlikely event of an emergency situation. David Jones, from Carnival Australia, says canine life jackets for guide dogs are available on its ships.

The company has made special arrangements for groups of passengers with disability in the past, he says.

“On a recent cruise, we had a group of about 30 passengers who were hearing impaired, so arrangements were made for a person skilled in signing to sail with the group, so that they could more fully enjoy their cruise experience,” David says.

Words: Lucy Siebert


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