The city of Brisbane as viewed from the river.

For all the potential and promise that the Queensland market offers to cruise lines, facilities appropriate to suit the larger ships are still on the way, meaning that for now, if you wish to cruise from the Sunshine State, you may find yourself somewhat confined to a smaller, more quaint ship such as Pacific Aria or a shorter itinerary visiting as few as three ports.

In coming years, all is expected to change as a brand new state-of-the-art cruise terminal is slated for development east of the Gateway Bridge, near Brisbane Airport, transforming the local cruising landscape with newer and bigger ships offering more and longer itineraries.

While sailing down the Brisbane River doesn’t necessarily have quite the same natural allure of Sydney Harbour, the journey out of the river and into Moreton Bay is still a picturesque transition between the industrial city and tropical islands that dot the bay, whether you’re heading up or down the eastern coast or farther afield on your cruise holiday.

How can I get to Brisbane?

Brisbane is a key airport for both Qantas and Virgin Australia, with Australia’s two largest airlines connecting the Queensland capital to all Australian cities and many regional centres. Jetstar and Tiger Airways also provide a lower-cost no-frills alternative to most capitals.

Brisbane Airport is located a short 15 minute drive from Portside Wharf, currently the main cruise terminal for the city. All cruise lines operating to and from Brisbane offer pre-bookable transfers from the airport to assist your transition onboard on embarkation day. Taxi fares are estimated between $25 and $40 dependant on traffic conditions, which can vary greatly dependant on time of day.

The Gateway Bridge, currently preventing larger ships from being able to navigate to the centre of Brisbane.
The Gateway Bridge, currently preventing larger ships from being able to navigate to the centre of Brisbane.

Where can I cruise to from here?

Brisbane offers a wide variety of cruise itineraries on a year-round basis, ranging from two-night sea breaks all the way up to multiple-month Pacific adventures taking in much of Asia. Week-long voyages also sail throughout the calendar from Brisbane, many operating with the advantage of being able to stop in three ports of call as opposed to just two when sailing from Sydney.

P&O Cruises Australia sails frequently from Brisbane on smaller vessels Pacific Aria and Pacific Dawn. The newly launched Pacific Aria generally runs longer South Pacific and Papua New Guinea itineraries ranging in length from 9-15 nights. On the other hand, Pacific Dawn operates routine seven-night New Caledonia and Vanuatu cruises. Both ships also intertwine these longer itineraries with shorter three and four-night sampler sailings which either head out to sea or call on ports such as Sydney or The Whitsundays.

Sister brand Princess Cruises also offers a wide selection of cruises from the city, ranging from four-night escapes to Hamilton Island to extensive 18-night voyages over Australia’s Northern coast all the way around to Fremantle. Also on offer are the only round-trip voyages to New Zealand, with 14-night itineraries exclusive to Princess in the 2017/2018 summer.

Royal Caribbean’s brief stint in Brisbane draws to a close with the final departure of Legend of the Seas in February 2017, with the line no longer featuring a ship small enough to dock at Portside Wharf – the only terminal capable of checking in guests.

P&O Pacific Aria is one of two ships home-ported by P&O in Brisbane.
Pacific Aria is one of two ships home ported by the line in Brisbane.

Where is the best place to stay before my cruise?

The Brisbane CBD is a short 20-minute ferry ride from Portside Wharf, opening up a great selection of premium hotels easily accessed prior to or following a cruise. Swankier options including the Hilton Brisbane and Hotel Next border Queen Street Mall – Brisbane’s premier shopping strip.

If you’re flying in, Brisbane can also be easily accessed by express AirTrain ($17.50 per adult one way) with a 20 minute express service from Brisbane Airport.

More budget-conscious options are also available closer to the terminal, with a range of three-star motel style accommodations on tap in suburbs close to Portside Wharf such as Hamilton, Ascot and Eagle Farm.

The Hotel Next - one of Brisbane's most stylish hotels overlooks Queen Street Mall.
The Hotel Next – one of Brisbane’s most stylish hotels overlooks Queen Street Mall.

What can I see and do in Brisbane before my cruise?

Brisbane’s status as one of the sunniest state capitals in Australia understandably leads to a lot of activities designed and built around being outdoors.

Attractions such as the South Bank Parklands and Brisbane Botanic Gardens enchant visitors with hectares of greenery and open space, all centrally located close to the downtown core. The Roma Street Parklands pay homage to everything Queensland, with large assortments of native Queensland fauna and flora.

Southbank Parklands feature hectares of stunningly manicured gardens.
Southbank Parklands feature hectares of stunningly manicured gardens.

Taking a ferry along the Brisbane River is also an exciting way to gain a different perspective of the city, with jet skis and other craft barreling around the ferries as they navigate the river. A complimentary tourist ferry also operates on a limited timetable, while many riverfront attractions can also be seen in a fun way from one of the city’s historical ferries.

Passengers looking to indulge in some fine Queensland cuisine can do so at Eagle Street Pier, one of the city’s finest dining precincts, which serves up a selection of top restaurants all co-located in the riverside setting. Further up the river towards Portside Wharf, the Brisbane Powerhouse is a new player on the Brisbane dining scene, boasting a range of restaurants and more causal eateries with modern flair. Both options are easily accessible by ferry from both the ship and the city centre.

Eagle Street Pier offers amazing food blended with stunning views.
Eagle Street Pier offers amazing food blended with stunning views.

Those with a thirst for retail therapy will be well quenched with no shortage of brand name outlets along Queen Street Mall. Most major brands have large presences located on or off the mall, while those looking for something a little more original should head towards the Fortitude Valley on the city’s North-Eastern fringe, where artsy boutiques mix with funky nightclubs and art galleries.

Guests only calling into Brisbane for the day mid-cruise should also keep an eye out for free walking tours offered by Brisbane City Council. Local hosts take guests for a leisurely look at the key sights, beginning from tourist information booths in the centre mall as well as in the South Bank Parklands. For more information or to join a tour, simply approach a “city host” at any one of the booths located throughout the city.

What can I expect of the cruise terminal itself?

Portside Wharf in Brisbane
Portside Wharf in Brisbane is a large multi-use facility.

Portside Wharf is a relatively modern mixed-use development with a range of shops and dining lining the outside of the terminal. Inside, large seating and check-in areas allow for a steady flow of passengers – should everyone adhere to zones designated by their cruise line.

In a bit of poor design, guests embarking are then subjected to a long walk over five minutes in duration and close to 500 metres in distance from the check-in and waiting area to the security check points. Guests with mobility issues should request assistance if embarking or disembarking in Brisbane as this walk is uphill with a few small sets of stairs awkwardly staggered throughout the walk.

The terminal is air conditioned, however on recent times when Cruise Advice has visited in summer, the air conditioning has struggled to keep up with the humid temperatures synonymous with a Queensland summer.

Progress though continues on the aforementioned brand new terminal, which is tentatively slated to be opened in 2019. So for the market in Queensland, it has moved past the ‘wait and see’ stage to merely ‘wait’ as they know what they can look forward to and now need to be patient while plans turn to fruition.