Booking Australian Cruises for 2023 | Travel Research Online

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Booking Australian Cruises for 2023

I recently needed to choose the best Australian cruises for next spring. Australia is opening now, but I will probably take the better part of the year before cruising gets back to normal. Also, there have been some things happening with cruise lines you have to watch out for—even if you’ve been booking Australian cruises for many years.

Itineraries

I was selecting cruises for two couples who were both well-traveled seniors. One couple had never cruised in Australia before, and the other had been on five or six Australian cruises in the past 20 years. Before the pandemic, both couples were booked on the Silversea Silver Muse on a cruise going from Bali to Sidney by way of Komodo Island—home of the endangered dragons whose bites are poisonous and can weigh 200 pounds.

 

 

The requirements of the cruise were that: It had to visit the dragons before they became inaccessible, be the same quality as sailing on the Silver Muse, and travel through the Great Barrier Reef. They also wanted to go in March, since this is like September in the US, with tourist destinations relatively uncrowded and few weather extremes.

Price comparisons would be based on midship balcony staterooms. The usual prices on the small luxury ships were likely to be $500pp each night. The only substantial extras should be airfare, insurance, and excursions.

Using the Signature Cruise Finder, I found that all these requirements were met in March by only two small ships from Viking (the Orion and the soon-to-be-launched Mars) and two Seabourn ships (the Sojourn and the Odyssey). All these ships fell into the $500pp per day price range, and they’re also renowned for their service. All the others listed by Signature for March 2023 were either too large or didn’t have Berlitz ratings of at least four stars.

Since the experienced cruisers had previously sailed on the two Seabourn ships and had already booked on the Seabourn Quest for October 2022, the obvious choices were the Viking Orion and the Mars—essentially sister ships that carried about 950 passengers. The couples opted to sail on Mars because it was Viking’s latest ship. Both followed the same route and were 17 nights long and went to Komodo Island.

Some Cost Surprises

At $7,699 pp for a deluxe veranda stateroom midship on deck 5, both voyages cost $453 per guest per night. This was below my $500 expectations. But don’t take anything for granted when it comes to costs. Possibly because Viking is one of the youngest luxury cruise lines, they do things a bit differently than Seabourn, Silversea, and Regent. Sometimes they offer more generous arrangements; other times, their policies are a step backward. Also, the need to generate cash flow and give fewer refunds has undoubtedly affected their financial practices.

Tipping

Most small luxury ships have done away with tipping. To my surprise, Viking is probably the only luxury line left that adds tips to your bill. They levy $15pp a day and add 15% to bar tabs and other services.

Cruise Insurance

Viking’s cruise insurance is incredibly inexpensive. For this cruise, the $7,699 cruise fare results in a Tripmate Travel Protection Plan (Viking’s brand) cost of only $719pp (9 percent of the fare). Most third-party such as Allianz and Travel Guard are in the 9-11% range, but age penalties on seniors can drive the costs even higher. The Tripmate insurance does not include age penalties, and it has Covid-19 protections throughout the different sections of the policy.

It even includes Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) coverage! CFAR usually increases the cost of travel insurance by about a third, if you can even get it at all when you’re 75 or older. Is there a catch to this? There are a few of which you need to be aware of:

  1. If you want to ensure against pre-existing conditions (this is virtually a necessity for most of us), you need to buy the insurance within 15 days of placing a deposit on Viking cruises. The insurance must cover the total cost of the cruise, and it is non-refundable for cash or vouchers. In essence, this insurance serves as an additional non-refundable $1,438 deposit.
  2. The deposit itself is only $500 per person and, under CFAR, it’s fully refundable, along with most other pre-cruise expenses. There is not a deductible under CFAR of about 30 percent, which is a common practice.
  3. On the other hand, CFAR reimbursements are only made in Viking vouchers, not in cash.

Viking cruise insurance is available to anyone at the same price—regardless of their age—and includes CFAR and covid protection. Even though the commission paid to the advisor on the Tripmate product is only 10% vs. 20-25% on most third-party insurance policies, it is a genuine bargain!

Payment Dates

Probably because Viking needs the cash flow, full payment on this cruise (“Komodo & The Australian Coast”) that leaves on March 21 from Sydney, must be made by June 30, 2022, about nine months before the cruise itself. On the other hand, cancellations before four months out are only subject to a $100 penalty. The remainder of the refund would presumably be repaid in cash. The minimal price penalty on refunds made more than four months from sailing is about the same as the other luxury brands.

Air Arrangements

Viking will make air reservations on a wide variety of airlines and flights. Most are planned to arrive immediately in time for the cruise and depart the same day that you disembark. They include transfers to and from the ship. You can make other arrangements by paying a $100 air deviation fee or booking one of Viking’s pre-cruise or post-cruise tours. The $100 air deviation fee is like what you would pay other small ship lines.

The air arrangements for booking economy class through Viking are competitive with what you’ll pay by calling the airline or booking through companies such as Expedia. Still, the business class fares seem much higher. For example, going roundtrip Business Class from Los Angeles costs $8,000 pp through Viking, more than the cruise fare! The cost is about 25% more than some business class fares I was able to find on Expedia, but these or flights booked directly through the airlines can’t be insured through Viking.

Also, Viking’s airline contract doesn’t include any Premium Economy Class fares. However, these Premium Economy fares are widely available through Expedia and the airlines, starting from about $2,500 for a roundtrip (open-jaw) ticket. These too can’t be covered under Viking insurance.

A workaround that I’ve used before is to make the reservation through cruise line on a plane that includes Premium Economy Class seats. Expedia will indicate whether these are available and the price. Then call the airline and ask if you can upgrade your tickets to Premium Economy Class while keeping the reservation number provided by Viking. This will often be permitted, especially if you are partially disabled or plain old, and request a wheelchair to get to and from the gates.

Summary

These are the kinds of considerations you should consider if you book a client with a cruise line you haven’t worked with for a long time. I last booked with Viking Ocean in 2019, but I knew many things had changed. Now I’ll go through a similar process to ensure my clients learn about each port’s dining, entertainment, and cultural opportunities. Although I’m a Destination Specialist for Australia, it’s been four years since I was there. I fully expect that the changes in each port will be just as significant as the changes on the cruise line on which they will visit Australia.

 


Dr. Steve Frankel and his wife have cruised on most of the Seabourn, Silversea, Crystal, Azamara, Oceania, Regent, and Windstar ships. He writes a weekly column, Point-to-Point, for Travel Research Online (TRO) that’s read by more than 80,000 travel advisors and industry leaders. Steve is the founder of Cruises & Cameras Travel Services, LLC. He has been recognized as a “2021 Top Travel Specialist” by Conde Nast Traveler magazine and a “Travel Expert Select “by the Signature Travel Network. His specialties are luxury small-ship cruises and COVID-19 safety measures, and has a doctorate in Educational Research with minors in Marketing and Quantitative Business Analysis. He’s also earned a Certificate in Epidemiology from Johns Hopkins University. Previously, he managed qualitative and quantitative research in the private & public sectors. He’s a member of the Los Angeles Press Club, and has written 13 books and hundreds of articles. His email address is steve@cruisesandcameras.com.

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