Panda sculptures on Ovation of the Seas

Short cruises from Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide are ideal for times when you're short on time or cash. Mini cruises and weekend cruises, from two to five nights, require only a will to sail and (possibly) no more than a carry-on. You don't need a passport if there are no international ports, but do bring a government-issued photo identification such as a drivers licence.

P&O, Princess, Carnival and Royal Caribbean are among the lines with 'taster' cruises departing from Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth on a variety of ships, from big to small. Not all sampler cruises are bargain-priced -- that depends on the desirability of the ship and the sail date.

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Ovation of the Seas

Ovation of the Seas

Ovation is so packed with features we're surprised it can stay afloat. Think on-ship surfing, sky-diving, roller-skating, dodgem cars and an amazing moving observation pod 90 metres high above it all, for starters. Happily, itineraries start from only 3 nights, so you can sample what Australia's first Quantum-class cruiser has to offer, and the 2017/18 season has been extended due to popular demand. Take a 5-nighter from Sydney to Hobart, or a 3-night nonstop sampler cruise. Really, with a ship like this, the stops are beside the point. You'll need maximum sea days to try it all.

Itineraries

  • Departure Port: Sydney. This 3-night sampler cruise spends all days at sea, and then returns to Sydney.
  • Where: At sea
  • When: 23 March, 2018
  • From: $581 per person

More ship highlights

  • Robot bartenders in the Bionic Bar are hypnotic -- but they won't listen to your woes. Skydiving in a special tube called the iFly, soaring at the top of the ship.
  • The Seaplex is the largest indoor space at sea and a lifesaver in bad weather: dodgems, roller skating, dance parties, sports and trapeze lessons, just another way to fly through the air on this ship.
  • Two70 shows are spectacular and state-of-the-art.
  • Scannable wristband door keys make for seamless movements around the ship.

Pacific Jewel

Pacific Jewel

One of P&O's party ships catering to the middle market, the Jewel is a smaller ship but no less dedicated to fun -- its P&O Adventure Park was a fleet first, as was its Aqua spa facility. This casual, more affordable ship offers plenty of short-break itineraries, making it especially attractive to first-time cruisers who don't want to spend a fortune. Jewel spreads the love too, heading out on short trips from 2 to 5 nights, from Sydney or Melbourne to popular spots such as Moreton Island, Kangaroo Island, Hobart, and whale-watching hotspot, Eden.  

Itineraries

  • Departure Port: Melbourne
  • Where: A 5-night Tasmania cruise roundtrip from Melbourne visits Hobart, Port Arthur and Burnie.
  • When: 20 November, 2017
  • From: $524 per person

More ship highlights

  • The new all-ages Laser Tag on the top deck is perfect for families wanting to have some fun.
  • If alone time is more your thing, the adults-only Oasis space is two decks of pure peace.
  • Celebrity chef Luke Mangan's Salt Grill is still hugely popular.
  • The Segway obstacle course in P&O Edge (the onboard adventure park) is a fun fresh alternative to a simple walk.
  • The onboard Comedy Club provides a point of difference from other lines.
  • The four P&O themed parties are alive and well on the Jewel, from Gatsby to all-white themes, and dress-ups are taken very seriously -- pack accordingly. 

Pacific Aria

Pacific Aria

P&O's newer and more upmarket ship was only introduced to Australia at the end of 2015, having been transformed into a high-profile P&O ambassador (along with sister ship Pacific Eden) from its former life sailing for Holland America. Sixteen dining options, a climate-controlled retractable roof over the pool and a revamped children-free Oasis area with its own hanging chairs and small swimming pool add a bit of va-va-voom to the usual P&O experience. Aria offers a raft of short breaks, from a 2-night Brisbane to Sydney reposition to a 5-night journey from Sydney to Tasmania, also counting Hamilton, Fraser and Moreton Islands to its visited ports, all on 4-night itineraries.

Itineraries

  • Departure Port: Brisbane
  • Where: Visit heritage-listed Fraser Island to explore freshwater lakes, rainforests and ancient, giant ferns growing in the sand.  
  • When: 10 November, 2017
  • From: $649 per person

More ship highlights

  • The fully renovated and plush Chef's Table experience is now one of the best in the fleet.
  • That top-deck pool area is stylishly furnished and the retractable roof makes it a day-to-night, all-weather space.
  • Accommodations aboard are some of the most spacious in any P&O ship.
  • The velvet-and-chrome Blue Room keeps the jazz beat going all day and night, New Orleans-style.
  • The super-cool furnishings and cocktail-friendly cabanas in the Oasis succeed in making it a hot hangout.

Carnival Spirit

Carnival Spirit

The original home of the Green Thunder, famously the steepest, fastest waterslide at sea, the colourful -- some may say tacky -- Spirit was revamped a couple of years ago to really make Australian travellers feel at home, with local beer, an outdoor barbecue and a convincing pub. Carnival's 12-deck Fun Ship does a good line in shorter itineraries, all out of Sydney, to Moreton Island, Tasmania, Mooloolaba and a 3-night sampler that simply travels out to sea and back. With all the diversions onboard, it's a great choice for a long weekend getaway for the family.

Itineraries

  • Departure Port: Sydney. The 4-night Moreton Bay cruise is roundtrip from Sydney with a sea day between the two ports in each direction.
  • Where: Moreton Bay, Queensland
  • When: 2 August 2018
  • From: $619 per person

More ship highlights

  • The Green Thunder never loses its thrill as it curves over the side of the ship.
  • Over-the-top theming of public spaces, from the Egyptian-themed show lounge to the retro-Shanghai piano bar, lend a little Vegas to your trip.
  • The Chocolate Extravaganza buffet is reason enough alone to book on the Spirit.
  • As on every Carnival ship, the mini golf course is surprisingly fun.
  • A 24-hour pizza and ice-cream service demonstrates this ship has some great priorities.

Carnival Legend

Carnival Legend

Some of Legend's 3- to 5-night itineraries take advantage of the ship's speed by accomplishing a bit more -- Melbourne to Sydney via Hobart, for example. There are also 3-night sampler cruises looping from either Sydney or Melbourne, for those just wanting some sea-day time to enjoy the ship (which is slightly different to Carnival Spirit). Both water park and adventure park are there for families, complete with the Green Thunder waterslide, and it also has Bonsai Sushi, the Red Frog pub, and interactive game shows.

Itineraries

  • Departure Port: Melbourne. The shorter 4-night cruise departs on a Saturday and stops at Hobart for a day before returning to Melbourne
  • Where: Tasmania
  • When: 17 February, 2018
  • From: $599 per person

More ship highlights

  • We said slightly less gaudy -- the eponymous legends around the ship include nods to Medusa, Merlin and Grecian urns throughout the vessel.
  • Hasbro, the Game Show is still a hoot -- giant Connect 4 basketball, and Yahtzee bowling included.
  • The Green Eggs and Ham breakfast, as on all Carnival ships, is well worth the small surcharge. Stripy pancakes!  
  • The Art Deco piano bar is a genuinely pleasant spot to relax, with its stainless-steel bar and retro-styled microphones.

Rendering of Pacific Explorer

Pacific Explorer

Pacific Explorer is making its voyage for P&O in June 2017 so you'll probably smell the fresh paint from the refit from its former life as Dawn Princess. For a taster, a short cruise is perfect. Explorer is set to offer two waterslides (one complete with lights and sound effects), P&O's signature water park and adventure park including a flying fox, barefoot bowls and a refined supper/cabaret club called The Black Circus. The Salt Grill will be aboard alongside P&O's usual Waterfront restaurant and two eateries already aboard Aria and Eden: Dragon Lady (Asian dining) and Angelo's for Italian food.  

Itineraries

  • Departure Port: Sydney
  • Where: Melbourne. The 6-night Melbourne Cup cruise departs Sydney directly for Melbourne then returns to Sydney. It includes general admission to the Emirates Melbourne Cup Day and transfers to the racecourse.
  • When: 4 November 2017
  • From: $1,099 per person

More ship highlights

  • The poolside Lobster & Burger Bar will serve on-trend lobster rolls and pulled-pork burgers.
  • The cruise line have hinted at a 'stunning hidden bar'.
  • The Chef's Table is set for seven-course degustations hosted by the Executive Chef.
  • Thoughtful and up-to-the-minute design throughout the restaurants and public spaces makes Explorer feel extra-elegant -- Instagrammers will go wild.

Golden Princess

Golden Princess

Golden, Dawn, Sun and Sea Princess operate many 'Australian Getaway' itineraries, and there is even a 4-night international option from Auckland to Sydney departing 16 September 2018. Other short sailings are scheduled from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, with South Australia's lesser visited Port Lincoln featured on the Golden Princess cruise below. Or you can take a quickie on Sea Princess, the ship that usually does the line's longest cruise -- an epic 106-day voyage around the world. Princess is the ultimate all-rounder with a focus on service, romance and dining, on top of features such as three show lounges, four pools, and great kids clubs, as well as adults-only and teenager-only spaces.

Itineraries

  • Departure Port: Melbourne
  • Where: One-way to Adelaide with a stop at Port Lincoln, SA.
  • When: 4 January 2019
  • From: $269 per person

More ship highlights

  • The Piazza offers roaming entertainment, food, wine, art, and just a spot to sit and enjoy ship life. One of the best shipboard 'hubs' in the business.
  • The unusual feature hanging across the stern is actually a space-themed nightclub, worth it simply to enjoy the view crossing the bridge to get there.
  • The 'wine flights' at Vines Wine Bar offer a sophisticated way to pass an evening.
  • The Voice of the Ocean karaoke competition gets pretty serious -- anyone can enter the heats and perhaps go through to perform in front of an audience.  
  • Book early for a behind-the-scenes ship tour to see the engine room and bridge.

Princess Cruises - Sea Princes

Sea Princess

It may also be in the Princess fleet but the much more intimate Sea Princess gives a completely different cruising experience to the Golden Princess. Set to be refurbished late 2017, the Sea Princess's size lends both an exclusive vibe and the ability to try different itineraries such as Fremantle to Margaret River or Brisbane to the Whitsundays that mega ships simply can't do. There are still 2- and 3-night Sydney to or from Brisbane journeys, a 2-night Sydney to Melbourne quickie and a 4-night Sydney to Auckland all in the ship's books. The ship offers both anytime dining or set dinner times, origami-making to specialty lectures, great wellness facilities and adults-only spaces plus good usage of leather sofas and wood panelling through bars and lounges.

Itineraries

  • Departure Port: Brisbane
  • Where: Roundtrip with a visit to Airlie Beach.  
  • When: 8 March 2018
  • From: $199 per person

More ship highlights

  • If you do have a balcony with your cabin, the Ultimate Balcony Dinner, including cocktails, flowers, Champagne and a private four-course meal is worth the extra cost.
  • The adults-only Sanctuary includes cabanas for massages and stewards on call to furnish you with signature cocktails.
  • Princess's Movies Under the Stars screen operates day and night.

Norwegian Jewel

Norwegian Jewel

Norwegian Cruise Line has finally returned to Australian waters, with the Norwegian Star popping in at the end of the 2016/17 summer season, and Norwegian Jewel beginning its new sailing life Down Under for the 2017/18 season. It's this latter ship that will offer a short itinerary of five nights from Sydney to Tasmania, for those who'd just like to try it out rather than commit to the cruise line's longer meanders. The journey offers Norwegian's 'Free at Sea' program, too, allowing passengers to choose from a free open bar, free specialty dining, free prepaid service charges, or 250 minutes Wi-Fi included. The ship has exclusive Garden and Courtyard villas on offer for that extra resort feel, but also extreme family-friendliness with an excellent kids' club and themed deck play areas.

Itineraries

  • Departure Port: Sydney
  • Where: Tasmania. The 5-night Tasmania cruise departs Sydney and visits Burnie (overnight) and Hobart before returning to Sydney.
  • When: 12 November, 2017
  • From: $1,050 per person

More ship highlights

  • The kids aren't the only ones with great places to play -- Bar Central keeps all the bars together for a 'night out' feel. There are 15 bars and lounges on board too.
  • If you're considering splashing out, the Jewel boasts some of the largest suites at sea.
  • Passengers also have a 24-hour pizza delivery service on call.
  • Try on the 'signature million-dollar diamond ring' at onboard shop Colombian Emeralds International.

Astor

Astor

This 620-passenger, seven-deck cruiser has what Cruise & Maritime Voyages likes to call 'an intimate country-house style', swanning off to hotspots such as Acapulco, Cape Town and Bali on longer-journey itineraries for much of the year. However, Astor also spends time out of Fremantle and Adelaide in 2017 and 2018, on 3- to 6-night jaunts exploring west and south coast highlight such as Esperance and Kangaroo Island. There are even one-night 'in-port celebrations' to simply enjoy the ship while in dock. In that party spirit, the ship has five lounges, shows and the alfresco Sun Terrace, four eateries (with two specialty), an indoor pool, an outdoor one and two whirlpools and a versatile sports deck.  

Itineraries

  • Departure Port: Adelaide
  • Where: Fremantle via Albany, with two full days at sea. Albany is home to the Gap and Natural Bridge in Torndirrup National Park, and a world's only museum in a former whaling station. .
  • When: 7 March, 2018
  • From: $1,079 per person

More ship highlights

  • The traditional walk around the promenade deck is lovely on this stylish ship.
  • The Wellness Centre, including hair salon and indoor pool, are surprisingly well appointed for this size ship.
  • Arts and crafts classes allow you to relax and channel your inner child.
  • The giant chess set on deck gives a different option to the usual sports or pool time.
  • The gallery arcade gives you a chance to buy duty free, even on a short cruise.
  • The Astor Lounge holds both full-tilt shows and cool late-night cabaret.