For those of us in Melbourne who love looking at and travelling on cruise ships it’s been a long time since the 2019-2020 season was brought to a premature end by Covid on March 19th 2020. Then nothing for two and a half years until we had a visit from the Coral Princess on September 15th. She was welcomed with fire hoses as media helicopters overhead reported her arrival. But then nothing ….
… until this week – the first Tuesday in November being Melbourne Cup day – when the cruise ship season proper restarted, the Pacific Adventure, Pacific Encounter and Carnival Splendor bringing in thousands of visitors to watch the big race – just sad for our visitors that the weather was so cold, wet and generally unwelcoming. But that’s Melbourne for you – we’re now forecast to have temperatures in the mid-20s all this coming week.
Of particular interest to me, last Friday morning (Nov 4th) the Grand Princess arrived from Sydney. She’ll be based here all season, running thirteen cruises from Melbourne, the most important of which is the one I’ll be on in January, my first cruise since 2020. That evening I watched her sail for Port Chalmers, Dunedin, the first post-Covid cruise originating from Melbourne. After circumnavigating New Zealand she’ll be back here on Nov 17th. Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth, which will also be homeported here all season arrives next Sunday Nov 13th. I’ll be there to see her.
Melbourne’s cruise terminal is Station Pier, Port Melbourne. From its opening in 1854 it was linked to Flinders Street Station 3mi/4.5km away, by Australia’s first railway, replaced in 1987 by tram 109. During WW2 huge numbers of troops passed through Station Pier. After WW2 it was the arrival point for emigrants to Victoria: between 1949 and 1966, an average of 61,000 passengers arrived every year, peaking at 110,802 in 1960.
With the development of aviation this trade disappeared and the pier saw fewer and fewer visitors, the main source of traffic being the daily ferries to Tasmania. On 23 October 2022, TT-Line moved its Victorian terminal from Station Pier to a new terminal just outside Geelong, leaving Station Pier as a dedicated cruise ship terminal.
One of my regrets is that cruise ships can’t come up river and dock in Victoria Harbour below my balcony. Why not? Because the 1990s Bolte Bridge was constructed with a clearance of 25m, far too low for today’s cruise ships (the Queen Elizabeth, now classed as a mid-sized ship rises 56.6m above the waterline). But cruising was very much a minority interest then. The Melbourne 2004-05 cruise season (the first for which PoM statistics are recorded) saw just 16 ship visits with 34,839 passengers and crew. Ten years later this had grown to 75 and 242,854 respectively. This season we’ll see more than a hundred ship visits with 120 visits provisionally booked for 2023-4. Hopefully our shortly-to-be-elected new state government will work with all interested parties to ensure that continuing growth is catered for and our visitors enjoy their time here.