As the primary cruise and freight port for the city of Perth, the town of Fremantle just outside the city’s southern fringe teems with Australian convict history worthy of exploring in its own right, but more importantly sets the scene for an exciting port call on an Australian cruise.

If setting sail from “Freo”, as it’s commonly known, you could be heading out on anything from a weekend at sea to a multi-week repositioning cruise which may only be heading back to the east coast or may be venturing to the other side of the world.

The city is also the launching point of some of the most unique voyages in the world, but the historically significant port city for Perth can also be one of the most interesting cities you call upon in your travels.

How can I get to Fremantle?

Located around a 25 minute drive away from Perth, Fremantle is well served via train and of course taxis or transfer services from the airport. Situated at the mouth of the Swan River, the harbour and ocean wraps around most of the city’s edge, meaning in pretty much any direction, you won’t be walking far before encountering a beautiful waterfront setting.

Flights arrive at least once daily from all the major capital cities in Australia except for Hobart and several times weekly from regional centres, rural points and evening mining sites in the state’s far north.

The city’s main airport is in the closing stages of a massive multi-billion dollar redevelopment which has seen its flight handling capacity increased, a much larger terminal opened and a better overall experience for passengers. Part of this includes access for road transport, with many services having dedicated lanes and access points. Plenty of signage will help you find the right service depending on where you are heading after touching down.

Cruisers from Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide can also connect to the Western Australia capital by rail if they so choose, with services on the luxurious Indian Pacific and Overlander trains connecting the coasts via Adelaide.

Board a cruise in Fremantle
Looking back at Fremantle from onboard a cruise ship.

Where can I cruise from here?

Fremantle is already the home port for Cruise & Maritime Voyages’ boutique vessel MS Astor, which sails on a variety of voyages ranging from single night “dinner & dance” cruises to weekends at sea, round-trip adventures to Indonesia all the way up to a 42-night half world adventure to the UK, via Africa.

Largely from a geographic perspective, Perth is in quite a privileged position as it is often the first port in Australia to welcome relocating cruise ships entering our waters from Africa and the Northern Hemisphere. In many cases, these ships are visiting local shores for the first time, often on their way around the southern coast to their east-coast base. But if you’re a keen ship-spotter and eager to cast eyes first on Australia’s newest and most exciting sea-going hardware, Fremantle is the place to be.

On a more regular basis, many major lines are present in the city to varying degrees. Princess Cruises’ ships calls into the city mostly in the warmer summer months but can also be found visiting at other times of the year, offering an assortment of itineraries.

P&O Cruises usually sends at least one ship to spend an extended period sailing from the west coast port each year. Lately this has been Pacific Eden, which in the 2015 and 2016 called Fremantle home a number of times through the year, sailing both domestic itineraries along the WA coast to Exmouth and the Margaret River, into Indonesia and also to Singapore.

Those loyal to Royal Caribbean also can enjoy sailing into and out of the port with the line using Fremantle as the half way point on month-long circumnavigations of Australia aboard Radiance of the Seas, while sister line Celebrity Cruises also uses the city when Celebrity Solstice embarks on a similar journey.

Perth provides a great selection of pre and post-cruise accommodation.
Perth provides a great selection of pre and post-cruise accommodation.

Where should I stay before or after my cruise?

The general vibe in Fremantle is that of a very casual, relaxed, beach and harbour-side town. A number of exciting bars and dining outlets hug the waterfront and many more thrive in the centre squares and historic alleys only minutes away.

An extremely walk-able town even with luggage, Fremantle is in most parts flat or otherwise subjects walkers to very slight gradients. If staying on the other side of town from the cruise terminal, a taxi to get you to your ship will probably still only set you back $10 or so.

Perth and its immediate vicinity can typically be quite expensive, managing a thirsty demand for hotel rooms and a limited inventory to quench that. Fremantle on the other hand offers a good mix of comfortable hotel rooms ranging from perhaps its most prominent property, the Esplanade Hotel by Rydges, which occupies most of a city block and overlooks a beautiful park, with great restaurants and scenery only a few minutes stroll.

Fremantle itself also offers an abundance of affordable bed & breakfast or budget options, typically in historical terrace houses that have been renovated and fitted with all the modern touches. You can even stay in part of the old Fremantle Prison, which in recent years has been converted to budget accommodation while maintaining the eerie feeling or staying in a cell and meeting other travellers while surrounded by high, intimidating, stone walls.

Historic in its country charm on the outside yet modern on the inside, The Esplanade Hotel is well known in Fremantle.
Historic in its country charm on the outside yet modern on the inside, The Esplanade Hotel is well known in Fremantle.

What can I see and do before my cruise?

Intertwined with a dramatic historical past and a modern present, Fremantle provides an interesting snapshot of bygone eras with touches of each historical period the town has seen. Tracing back to the first settlement in 1829 is “The Round House”, the oldest building in Western Australia, built as the colony’s original prison.

The slightly newer Fremantle Prison, which opened in 1850 and only closed as a working jail in 1991, serves today as a major tourist attraction, with a variety of tour options and cultural performances aimed at taking advantage of the site’s unique acoustics.

Being such a walk-able city, the best way to get to grips with Fremantle is to slip into some comfortable shoes and head out on a walking tour with local brand Two Feet & A Heartbeat. Depending on your particular interest, you can select from a number of different tours which last for only a few hours and give you a great opportunity to learn more about the colourful history of the city.

If crime and punishment is your passion, try the ‘Convicts and Colonials’ tour which of course spends time at the prison. Nautical history and even the location of some famed shipwrecks are well explained in the 2 1/2 hour ‘A sailor’s guide to Fremantle’. It’s great exercise and very informative, then you can end your experience with lunch and a cold drink at one of many great watering holes around the city.

The history of Fremantle Prison is brutal but captivating and you can go deep inside to see how it all went down.
The history of Fremantle Prison is brutal but captivating and you can go deep inside to see how it all went down.

What should I expect of the cruise terminal itself?

Fremantle’s cruise ship terminal is one of the most accessible terminals in the country with easy access for all and strategically located elevators and escalators providing access to the less ambulatory. A busy road just outside the terminal is easily navigated via an overpass, from which you can take a gentle 15 minute stroll to the centre of town.

On most occasions, when a ship is in town, the city runs a free tram service between the terminal and the Visitor’s Centre. This is a great way to reach the beating heart of Fremantle if the walk is a bit much. This service runs direct and constantly throughout the day.

Take note there are no luggage storage facilities if you’re starting your cruise here, so be mindful to make alternative arrangements to store your belongings if you wish to explore.

Fremantle's cruise terminal is enormous and provides plenty of space for thousands of guests to embark in an orderly fashion.
Fremantle’s cruise terminal is enormous and provides space for thousands of guests to embark in an orderly fashion.