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Australia Cruises to Nowhere

A 'cruise to nowhere' -- with no ports of call -- used to be a big party cruise. The ship departed Sydney on Friday afternoon and returned to shore 72 hours later after a wild weekend of dancing, drinking and eating.

These no-stopping cruises do not exist in the United States anymore, but they are going strong in Australia, with cruise lines now calling them 'sampler' cruises or 'short breaks'. Several of the offerings are themed around topics such as food and wine or comedy.

Typically, they depart from and return to the same port and spend three days cruising up and down the coastline, far enough out to sea to legally operate the casino and duty-free shops. Other short cruises depart from one Australian port and cruise for one to two nights to another port for disembarkation, with no calls in between.

While a record number of Australians are cruising, there are still many Aussies who have never taken a cruise, and it's those people the cruise lines are targeting. Sampler cruises are a way to test the waters and allay the fears of non-cruisers who are turned off by the thought of seasickness or being trapped on a ship with thousands of people.

Most sample cruise itineraries operate on weekends with Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights at sea. However, there's also a sprinkling of three-night Thursday-to-Sunday cruises, while Royal Caribbean has two- and three-night cruises that run over weekdays.

Who Does It?

Pacific Aria (Photo: P&O Cruises)

P&O Cruises operates the lion's share of these cruises, while Royal Caribbean Cruises, Celebrity Cruise Lines, Carnival Cruise Line and Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV) each have a handful.

P&O has been running cruises to nowhere for many years, but it was only in 2009 that it launched its themed SeaBreaks and added more one-way short cruises. The decision paid off, as P&O has seen passenger numbers increase significantly. Carnival Cruise Line ran its first Australian weekend sampler in 2014.

Departure Ports and Itineraries

Brisbane (Photo:Thomas Hansson/Shutterstock)

Traditionally, most weekend cruises to nowhere departed from Sydney, generally in daylight, around 4 pm or 5 pm and returned at dawn. The sea days were spent cruising up and down the NSW coast. These days, cruises to nowhere also depart from Brisbane, Melbourne, Cairns, Adelaide and Fremantle.

Choosing a Cruise to Nowhere

Kangaroo Island, South Australia (Photo: Andrea Izzotti/Shutterstock)

Themed cruises P&O is the only local line operating themed cruises to nowhere. In 2020, music will feature on the program, with two 1980s Tribute Cruises and a Country Music Festival at Sea; Brisbane travellers can hop aboard earlier as Pacific Dawn runs a Country Music cruise in December 2019. Elvis fans have two Tribute to the King cruises aboard flagship Pacific Explorer sailing from Sydney May 2019 and May 2020.

Comedy SeaBreaks feature several well-known Australia comedians who perform in P&O's adults-only Sit-Down Comedy Club as part of the cruise fare. Also, on offer are ticketed comedy workshops for aspiring comedians, who later get a chance to show off their routines in a talent quest, known as the Comedy Gong Show. Three ships -- Pacific Explorer, Pacific Dawn and Pacific Aria -- have scheduled comedy cruises throughout 2019 and 2020 from ports including Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane and Auckland. Food and Wine cruises are also setting off from Adelaide and Auckland in March and May 2019. While not themed as Art Deco, fans of the 1920s and 1930s will be in their element aboard the Pacific Aria, which will operate two cruises – in April 2019 and in April 2020 -- to Napier (from Auckland). The city is billed as the Art Deco Capital of the World for its profusion of intact retro buildings constructed within a few years of the devastating 1931 earthquake.

Lifestyle SeaBreaks offer a variety of different workshops and classes for various interests. They may cover arts and crafts, fitness, wellness and health, cocktail-making, crochet and even juggling. The line-up changes, and most of the workshops are ticketed. (Small charges apply.)

P&O's Short Destination Cruises are on the rise throughout 2019 and 2020. The choice includes four-night return cruises from Sydney to Moreton Bay Island; from Melbourne to Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia and from Brisbane (and occasionally Darwin) to Airlie Beach in the Whitsundays.

One-way cruises to nowhere P&O's one-way SeaBreaks (usually two nights) run between Sydney and Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, and Brisbane and Sydney. Some of these itineraries offer 'scenic cruising' where the ship sails close to a particularly prominent land feature with commentary from an onboard expert.

Other Lines

Port Lincoln in South Australia (Photo: Atosan/Shutterstock)

Cruise & Maritime Voyages This relative newcomer to the Australian cruise scene based in Western Australia will operate short hops of five to six nights to Bali, two-day Australia Day cruises (the holiday is celebrated on January 26) and five-night south-eastern cruises calling at Esperance and Albany all departing from Fremantle. Over the years CMV has operated short breaks from Adelaide to Tasmania and coastal cruises that call at Kangaroo Island and Port Lincoln and may schedule these coming years.

Carnival Cruise Line The company has two-, three-, four- and five-night 'sampler' and short destination cruises departing from Sydney and Melbourne throughout 2019 and 2020. There are two and three-night samplers (or cruises to nowhere) and four- and five-night destination cruises to Moreton Island from Sydney and to Tasmania from both capital cities, along with a four-night one-way cruise between Adelaide and Melbourne. They are operated by both Carnival Spirit and Carnival Legend and Carnival Splendor from 2020.

Royal Caribbean has a handful of two-, three- and four-night sampler cruises to nowhere on both Ovation of the Seas and Voyager of the Seas departing weekends and mid-week.

Celebrity Cruises has just a handful of short cruises on Celebrity Solstice, including two-night samplers from Sydney and a four-night return cruise from Sydney to Melbourne.

Best Time to Go

Pacific Jewel

P&O Cruises themed SeaBreaks and one-way SeaBreaks operate throughout the year. However, there are less in the long Australian school holiday season (from late December to end January). The other cruise lines operate their limited number of short cruises in the warmer months (from September to April).

Cruise to Nowhere Tips

Moreton Island, Queensland, Australia (Photo: Darren Tierney/Shutterstock)

Board early to make the most of your two- to three-night break.

Don't take too much luggage, as you might want to party into the wee hours of the morning on the last night and then carry (or wheel) your bags off the next day after breakfast. This saves packing at night and putting your bags outside the cabin door.

Think about gathering a few friends together to make it a weekend event. Cruises to nowhere are popular with hens' night groups (female stag parties), birthdays, girls' get-togethers, family and colleague reunions and other parties.

Children are welcome on themed cruises, as the kids' clubs still operate. Passengers don't have to get involved in any of the themed activities if they don't want to. The ship operates normally, and cocktail-making classes and food-and-wine pairings, for example, do not hinder the normal flow of the ship.

Make a long weekend of it and take Friday and Monday off work. No one wants to return to the office on Monday morning still rocking.

Book as soon as you can for the ticketed events on themed cruises, as they tend to sell out quickly.

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