When the biggest cruise ship to ever visit Australia arrives this December, she’ll be wowing crowds everywhere – except Victoria.
According to its owners, Port Phillip Bay isn’t deep enough and Station Pier isn’t well-enough equipped to handle the 168,666-gross tonne, billion-dollar mega-ship.
“Although we wanted to bring Ovation of the Seas to Melbourne, unfortunately Station Pier is not yet capable of berthing the largest and newest ship to sail these waters,” says Adam Armstrong, managing director of Royal Caribbean Australia and New Zealand (RCI).
“The reasons for this are related to both the depth and width of the channel in Port Phillip Bay and the load and wind-bearing capacity of Station Pier.”
Port of Melbourne Corporation CEO Nick Easy says: “Due to her size, any visit by the Ovation of the Seas to Station Pier would be subject to weather conditions,” he said.
“Unfavourable conditions could potentially impact her forward itinerary scheduling and we understand the vessel’s operators have considered this in their decision not to call at Melbourne this coming season.”
Either way, it spells disappointment for Victorian cruising fans – and there are many of them. Per capita, Australia has more cruise passengers than any other nation, making it the fourth-largest cruise market in the world.
According to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), 40 per cent of Australia’s cruise passengers in 2015 came from New South Wales, while Queenslanders accounted for 27 per cent of the market.
Victoria ranked third, with 174,321 cruisers (or 16.5 per cent).
Forty per cent of Australia’s cruise business is to the South Pacific, and because Melbourne isn’t within easy reach it is often not included on this popular route.
One disappointed cruise-taker is Morwell resident Carol Huffer, who along with husband Trevor has done upwards of 20 ocean cruises.
“I was hoping Ovation would come to Melbourne,” she said.
“I’d love to see more ships come into Melbourne.”
“Any city that misses out on a huge highlight like this would have a sense of disappointment,” says Meg Hill, managing director of travel agency Cruise Express.
“Not just for cruise guests. There’s an enormous attraction in standing on shore and watching her arrive or depart.”
While Hill is at pains to point out that Victorians are being catered for, with flights included in some packages, Ovation’s absence means a significant lost economic opportunity for Victoria.
“With over 6000 passengers and crew, a ship like Ovation of the Seas can deliver significant economic benefits to the ports she visits,” says RCI’s Adam Armstrong.
“In passenger spend alone, it’s estimated that a single call can inject up to $740,000 into the local economy.”
At 348 metres long, the 18-deck Ovation of the Seas can’t fit under the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
However, when Royal Caribbean announced last year that the ship would come to Australia for the southern hemisphere summer season (following her debut in northern Asia), Sydney Ports moved quickly to ready its facilities, as did Hobart.
“Should Melbourne have been ready?” asks CLIA commercial director Brett Jardine.
“The Ovation announcement came as a surprise to everyone, really. It was a pretty short lead time. She was still in Germany being built. She was barely launched and on her way.
“But Sydney added a ‘dolphin’ – a solid concrete pylon that goes down into floor of the harbour. The wharf was extended by 60 metres and the dolphin gives them stability, so hats off to the Port Authority of New South Wales for having been able to react.”
Despite the absence of Ovation of the Seas, the Melbourne cruise industry is set for a bumper year.
“The 2016-17 Station Pier cruise season will be a record one, with 84 visits scheduled, including 35 full turnarounds,” says Port of Melbourne’s Easy.
“In 2017-18 we are expecting an even bigger season with 104 visits scheduled, including 47 full turnarounds.”
Princess will use Melbourne as a home port from October 2016 to April 2017.
Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 will be in Australian waters for almost a month and will offer a round-trip cruise from Melbourne in 2017, while Carnival Cruise Line has also announced it will be offering its longest Melbourne season in 2018.
“Across our three brands – Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises – we will make nine calls to Melbourne in the upcoming 2016-17 season, and looking ahead to the summer of 2017-18, we will increase our number of calls to 13 in total,” said RCI’s Adam Armstrong.
“Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas and Voyager of the Seas, each carrying up to 3800 guests, are currently the largest cruise ships in Australia, and both call at Station Pier.”
By Julietta Jameson – The Age