With Australia’s friendly people, engaging wildlife, pristine beaches, and only one case of COVID-19 reported last week; this is the nation the small luxury ships will visit in December 2021.
In the first half of December 2021 (just a year from now), you’ll have the choice of boarding the Viking Orion, Silversea Silver Muse, Seabourn Ovation, or Crystal Symphony — arguably the finest collection of luxury ships ever assembled anywhere – for 15 or 16 night “all-inclusive” Australian cruises. In this case, “all-inclusive” covers all essential expenses on the ship except for insurance, airfare, and shore excursions. On one ship, in which at least one shore excursion in every port is free, the calculated cost was reduced by 10 percent.
By next December, the ravages of the pandemic will be largely behind us, but we will still have to take precautions and be very cautious. It’s likely that masking, vaccination certificates, and COVID-19 tests will be required to cruise and fly, and certainly to enter largely coronavirus-free zones such as Australia and New Zealand.
These cruises are stellar winners. All of the ships have been awarded 4+ stars by Berlitz Cruising & Cruise Ships (© Douglas Ward, 2020) and all are in a very tight price range: From $1,173 to $1,327 a night for two-persons; including insurance, airfare, shore excursions, and a night in a hotel before your cruise. Berlitz has awarded each ship a 4+ Star rating. Fewer than 40 of the more than 300 ships that are marketed in the United States enjoy this level of service. All 4+ star ships offer accommodations, attentive staff, and dining that is among the world’s finest. All will generate a lifetime of memories as they cruise the Australian coast and other places that the ships visit.
Here are the four cruises. We eliminated several other ships cruising in Australian waters in early December because the ships didn’t have 4+ stars, or their cost was far above the price range of these voyages. They’re arranged by their daily adjusted cost for the least expensive verandah stateroom, as calculated by me using the latest published price data.
Viking Orion (December 12, 2021 – 15 nights)
The Orion entered service in 2018 and carries 928 guests. The guest/crew ratio is 1.7. Viking offers one free excursion in every port. As with the other lines, almost everything is available at no extra costs except for spa and dry-cleaning services, some excursions, a night in a hotel before the ship arrives, and very expensive wines and liquor. A new feature will be an onboard lab that is able to process COVID-19 saliva tests daily (if desired) for all guests and crew. The tests can be taken in staterooms, without medical supervision, and results will be available within four hours. Viking Cruises is independently owned and operates 76 riverboats and six ocean-going ships.
This is a 15-night cruise that starts in Sydney, Australia, and ends in Auckland, New Zealand. The first night is spent in Sydney Harbor. The ship serves as your hotel, and you can use this overnight stay to enjoy Sydney’s nightlife. Ships usually dock at “The Rocks,” which is a lively, historic area with lots of bars, restaurants, and high-end shops. It’s within walking distance of the ferry terminal and the Sydney Opera House. Consider reserving a spot on the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb, or reserving one-on-one cuddle time with a koala in a private photo session at the Sydney Zoo. Be sure to set up both of these events online, well in advance. The ship then sails to Melbourne and to Hobart, which is known for Tasmanian devils and trendy restaurants. Orion crosses the Tasman Sea to New Zealand. Be sure to take lots of photos of the awesome glaciers. Then you sail up the New Zealand coast, visiting small, friendly ports. The last two days you’ll overnight in Auckland, where the America Cup sailboat trials will be underway. The entire town will be jumping.
The minimum cost per couple for a verandah stateroom is $13,598. Adding 30% for essentials (airfare, insurance, and a night in a hotel before the ship arrives), my adjusted cost for the entire cruise is $17,600. Since the cruise is 15-nights, this works out to $1,173 a night.
Seabourn Ovation (December 5, 2021 – 16 nights)
The Ovation entered service in 2018 and carries 604 guests. The guest/crew ratio is 1.3, the lowest and best in this group of ships. Two of its specialty restaurants are among the finest afloat: The Grille, which is a Thomas Keller (of The French Laundry fame) restaurant, and Sushi, a superb Japanese restaurant that’s open for lunch and dinner. You will also get a kick out of “Caviar in the Surf,” the signature Seabourn experience where everyone goes ashore to a deserted beach, and they have caviar and champagne on silver trays, served by the ship’s officers while both you and they are wading in water up to your waists. This experience will hopefully be included on this cruise. Seabourn has an unblemished reputation for great service, fantastic lecturers, and safety. Seabourn is the most prestigious brand of Carnival Cruise Lines, which means it has lots of resources behind it. Carnival Cruises have sold off many of their older ships, but none of Seabourn’s, to fund operations during the pandemic.
This cruise starts in Bali. Relax from your flight by enjoying a day or more at one of Bali’s fine hotels. The evening before your flight, be sure to have a lobster dinner cooked outside, on the coals, at one of the many restaurants that offer inexpensive dining on the beach. Then it’s on to two other Indonesian islands between Bali and Australia. One island you’ll visit is Komodo, home of the carnivorous 10-foot Komodo Dragon lizard, that weighs up to 150 pounds. Take lots of photos, preferably with a telephoto lens. Then it’s on to the Australian coast that you’ll follow through the Great Barrier Reef. After stops at little beachfront towns that will tempt you to emigrate, you’ll get off the ship in Sydney, a few days before Christmas in the middle of summer.
The minimum cost per couple for a verandah stateroom is $13,998. Adding 40% for essentials (airfare, insurance, a night in a hotel before the ship leaves, and shore excursions), my adjusted cost is $19,597. Since the cruise is 16-nights, this works out to $1,225 a night.
Crystal Symphony (December 6, 2021 – 15 nights)
The Symphony entered service in 1995 and carries 848 guests. Its guest/crew ratio is 1.7. The ship is famous for its Nobu Matsuhisa specialty restaurant. While this is the oldest ship of the bunch, it doesn’t disappoint in its itineraries, meals, or service. Dinner at the Beverly Hills or Malibu locations of Nobu will set you back at least $300. Crystal is owned by Ganting Hongkong, which also owns two cruise lines that serve Asian nations. Surviving this year’s shutdowns has caused them some difficulties, but the company has announced that it can cover the cost of being closed down until cruising resumes.
This ship’s itinerary is really exciting. You might as well call this an International Wine Cruise. You start in Perth, Australia, on the west coast, which has more yacht clubs than Los Angeles and Miami combined, and a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. You proceed along the southwest coast of Australia, which is renowned for its white-sand beaches and wonderful, modestly priced wines. You stop at Kangaroo Island, another great place for beaches and wineries. The ship overnights in Adelaide, home of the Barossa Valley, whose wines are among the finest in the world. Then it’s on to Melbourne and Sydney for city life. In Sydney, you’ll layover for a day and use the ship as your hotel. But you don’t end the cruise here. Instead, you’ll cross the Tasman Sea to New Zealand, renowned for its white wines. You’ll leave the ship in Auckland, just in time for The America Cup trials. This itinerary goes halfway around Australia and to New Zealand as well. You’ll taste wines from half a dozen outstanding wine regions and participate in the festivities for the leading sailing race in the world.
The minimum cost per couple for a verandah stateroom on this cruise is $13,746. Adding 40% for essentials (airfare, insurance, a night in a hotel before the ship leaves, and shore excursions), my adjusted cost is $19,244. Since the cruise is 15-nights, this works out to about $1,283 a night.
Silversea Silver Muse (December 2, 2021 – 15 nights)
Silver Muse entered service in 2017 and carries 596 guests. It’s guest/crew ratio of 1.4. The ship doesn’t have a main restaurant. Everyone eats at a half-dozen specialty restaurants, which include La Dome (Relais et Chateaux French cuisine), Atlantide (seafood), and Silver Note (supper club with dining and dancing). With their new dining facilities, Silversea is challenging Seabourn for the title of “Best Food Afloat.” Silversea is the top brand of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, a darling of the New York Stock Exchange that can spend big bucks on becoming the leader in this category. They have also been able to test out some of their COVID-19 mitigation practices through tryout cruises in Saudi Arabia, Germany, Italy, and Singapore.
This cruise starts in Bali, makes one other stop in Indonesia, and then follows the Australian coast through the Great Barrier Reef. Silversea is known for its outstanding lecturers, and its curated art collections. Most of the prints, photos, and sculptures exhibited on the ship can be purchased from galleries at good prices. You’ll stop at some great ports along the way, including Brisbane, which has one of the world’s healthiest lifestyles. There will be lots of places to snorkel and enjoy Aussie beach life. You’ll leave the ship in Sydney in time to enjoy Christmas in one of the most exciting cities in the world.
The minimum cost per couple for a verandah stateroom on this cruise is $14,220. Adding 40% for essentials (airfare, insurance, a night in a hotel before the ship leaves, and shore excursions), my adjusted cost is $19,908. Since the cruise is 15-nights, this works out to $1,327 a night.
Summing It Up
While spending a projected $1,172-$1,327 a night is outside many persons’ budgets, it is no more than you might pay at a Disneyland Resort or on a Tauck Tour, when airfare, insurance, entertainment, gratuities, wine and cocktails, meals, excursions, and other costs are thrown in.
Any of these ships will make sailing on most other cruise lines comparable to vacationing in the Catskills. Unless you opt for informal dining or avail yourself of room service, the evening dining will be on a par with many Michelin-starred restaurants. Also, there is close to one staff member for every guest to tend to your needs and idiosyncrasies. The places you’ll visit will be spectacular, and most of the locals are friendly and treat you as equals.
I used a detailed multi-page matrix to ensure that I’ve described these cruises consistently and accurately. If you would like a copy of the complete matrix and the prices that I used, email me at email@example.com. Use AUSTRALIAN CRUISE DATA as the subject line in the email.
All of these cruises are terrific. I’ve already reserved a verandah on one of these sailings. I’ll leave it to you to guess which cruise my wife and I selected. On ours, other than a deposit of $1,360 for both of us that I’ve already paid, no more money is required until August 2021. The deposit is fully refundable in cash until then.
Dr Steve Frankel and his wife have sailed on most of the Seabourn, Silversea, Crystal, Azamara, Oceania, Regent, and Windstar ships on more than 40 cruises. For the past six months, he has been writing a weekly column, Point-to-Point, for Travel Research Online (TRO) that’s shared with more than 70,000 travel advisors and industry leaders. Steve is the CEO of two companies: Travel Intelligence Associates (TIA), and Cruises & Cameras, LLC (C&C). TIA provides writing, consulting and White Box services. C&C specializes in small ship cruises and is associated with LUXE Travel (a FROSCH company) and the Signature Travel Network. Steve has a doctorate in Educational Research and Marketing from Indiana University, He is one of the first travel advisors to complete a five- course sequence of courses in epidemiology from Johns Hopkins University. In his former life, he was the director of several organizations specializing in public policy studies. He’s the author of 13 books and a former Contributing Editor of The Washingtonian magazine. His email address is Steve@CruisesAndCameras.com.