Sydney Harbour is becoming something of a literal example of the paradox ‘the irresistible force meets the immovable object’. The force clearly being the booming cruise industry and the object being the stalemate on available berth space for them to dock, and the issue is already showing evidence that cruise ships are now looking outside Sydney for home ports.

The release yesterday of industry report “Contribution of Cruise Tourism to the Australian Economy” showed that while Sydney still held the lion’s share of the market from cruise ships choosing to start and end their itineraries in the city, this share had declined from 68% last year to 63% now.

In turn, the share held by Melbourne climbed from 7% to 8% while growth was even higher in Brisbane, which saw its slice of the pie increase from 18% to 21%, indicating more cruise ships had their eye on the Queensland capital as an alternative home port to Sydney. This was due to the lack of availability at the Overseas Passenger Terminal in Circular Quay and an inability to fit underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge to access alternative facilities at White Bay across from Darling Harbour.

Two P&O Cruises ships and one Carnival ships all berthed together in Melbourne.
Granted, its harbour allows it, but Melbourne is not short of space for visiting cruise ships.

As ships continue to get bigger, the ‘House Full’ sign will likely go up further in advance as the cruise lines scramble to book their ships in at Circular Quay, with no city alternative possible.

If you live in either Brisbane or Melbourne or these cities are your preferred points to begin a cruise, the news is all good for you as officials in Sydney continue to recognise but not act on the issue.

In recent years, more ships which generally only visit Australia during the peak season (which is basically everybody except for P&O Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line & Princess Cruises) will opt to base their ships in Australia’s second and third largest cities instead.

Brisbane is expected to offer a brand new terminal for newer, bigger cruise ships from 2019.
Brisbane is expected to offer a brand new terminal for newer, bigger cruise ships from 2019.

For example, over the coming months which make up the peak 2016/17 cruise season, if you live in or near Melbourne, you do not need to fly anywhere in order to join enormous and modern ships including Golden Princess (Princess Cruises), MS Maasdam (Holland America Line), Crystal Symphony (Crystal Cruises) or Queen Mary 2 (Cunard), just to name a few. Carnival Legend (Carnival Cruise Line) has also been squeezed out of Sydney for part of its short summer season, deciding recently it will relocate to Melbourne for part of next year.

In Brisbane the story is similar. Royal Caribbean’s Legend of the Seas is about to arrive for its final summer home porting in the city before it relocates to Europe, however the promise of newer and greater ships is on the horizon with a state-of-the-art terminal in the pipeline and due to open in 2019. Once open, the world’s biggest and best ships will be lining up to dock.

Two Cunard ships meet in Sydney Harbour - the problem is that there's only room for one at a time.
Two Cunard ships meet in Sydney Harbour – the problem is that there’s only room for one at a time.

Before then however, international ships you can join from the Queensland capital in the next few years include Arcadia (P&O World Cruises), Queen Elizabeth (Cunard), Golden Princess (Princess Cruises) and MS Maasdam (Holland America Line).

The industry economic report revealed Australia’s economy benefited to the tune of $4.58 billion over the 2015/16 season – a 27% increase on the previous year. The result was achieved through bigger ships spending more days in ports around the country, restocking on local produce and their passengers spending money onshore either prior to a cruise on hotels and restaurants, or mid-cruise on transport, tours and merchandise.

“Our challenge is to make sure that this growth is not taken for granted by government and other stakeholders,” Norwegian Cruise Line Australia managing director Steve Odell said.

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