Visit our travel agent friends at MEI Travel

Australia & South Pacific cruise guide: Best itineraries, planning tips and things to do

09 Feb 2024
Jenna DeLaurentis

Australia cruises can take you to the most beautiful, exotic, and alluring places in the world. From the world famous beaches of Sydney to the turquoise waters of Bora Bora, each itinerary has hidden gems and beautiful places to visit.

Ovation of the Seas in Sydney Australia

Perhaps no itineraries are as diverse as those departing from Australia, where you can choose between a selection of diverse itineraries departing from Brisbane and Sydney.

There are three main itineraries offered in the Australian cruise market: Australia cruises, South Pacific cruises, and New Zealand cruises.

Whether you want to sail through Milford Sound, island hop through New Caledonia, or explore the rugged landscapes of Tasmania, you’re sure to find an itinerary to match your travel style.

beach on Lifou Loyalty Island

Royal Caribbean sails from Australia during the southern hemisphere’s summer season, and cruises are offered from November to early April each year. During the off-season, Royal Caribbean does not sail in this region.

Interested in taking a Royal Caribbean cruise from Australia? We’re sharing our ultimate guide for planning cruises to Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific.

Which Royal Caribbean cruise ships sail from Australia, and from where do they sail?

Ovation of the Seas in Sydney

Depending on the season, ship deployments to Australia can vary, but Royal Caribbean always sends at least two ships to Australia.

The most common ships sailing cruises in the Australia market are Quantum of the Seas and Ovation of the Seas, who call Australia home for several months each year. These ships are both in Royal Caribbean’s Quantum Class, one of the cruise line’s most modern and innovative classes of ships.

Related: All about Quantum Class ships

The two vessels were launched in 2014 and 2016, respectively, making them relatively new amongst others in Royal Caribbean’s fleet. Due to this, passengers can expect updated accommodations, entertainment venues, and restaurants onboard.

Ovation of the Seas indoor pool

Both ships feature Two70, an indoor entertainment venue with 270 degree views of the ship’s wake. By night, this venue transforms into a technology-focused production venue with robotic dancing television screens, floor-to-ceiling wall projections, and innovative song and dance performances.

Thrilling activities are another highlight of the Quantum Class, and each ship offers activities including bumper cars, an indoor skydiving simulator, and the North Star, a 360 degree observation pod rising 300 feet above sea level from the ship’s pool deck.

Currently, Quantum of the Seas sails from Brisbane, Australia whereas Ovation of the Seas sails from Sydney.

Other Royal Caribbean ships may occasionally be deployed to Australia, such as smaller Radiance Class ships, but passengers can always expect Quantum Class ships to offer cruises in the region.

Australia cruise itineraries

Sydney opera house

Cruising from an Australia cruise port does not mean you have to leave Australia and visit another country. Domestic cruise itineraries are offered from both Sydney and Brisbane, which visit ports only in Australia.

Most cruises within Australia take one of three routes. Cruises heading north visit Australia’s state of Queensland, a region known for the Great Barrier Reef, ancient rainforests, and diverse wildlife.

Cruising to Queensland means guests have the chance to snorkel amongst the world’s largest reef system, discover the magical Whitsunday Islands, and walk along the streets of Cairns and Airlie Beach.

scuba diving on the great barrier reef

Related: I tried my first Australia cruise: here are 7 things that surprised me

Another cruise itinerary offered within Australia is to Tasmania. Australia’s southernmost state, the island of Tasmania, is far different from the tropical beaches up north. The state features spectacular mountain scenery, such as the snow capped Mount Wellington, and British-inspired architecture and cuisine in the state’s capital of Hobart.

Lastly, Australia cruises are offered to South Australia, which visit cities such as Adelaide and Melbourne. Highlights of visiting South Australia include driving along the Great Ocean Road and exploring one of the country’s most famous wine regions.

Great Ocean Road australia

Royal Caribbean may sometimes offer cruises to other destinations in Australia, such as itineraries circumnavigating the continent, but these are not offered every season.

Most domestic cruise itineraries in Australia are between six and eight nights. Overnight port stops are common in some cities, including Hobart and Cairns.

South Pacific cruise itineraries

beach in Mystery Island Vanuatu

The Pacific Ocean is home to approximately 30,000 islands, and you can visit a select few of these islands on cruise itineraries to the South Pacific.

Cruises from Australia to the South Pacific visit the islands closest to Australia. Most commonly, these itineraries visit islands in the French territory of New Caledonia and the Pacific nation of Vanuatu.

New Caledonia offers breathtaking beaches along with linguistic, cultural, and culinary influences from France. Most itineraries visit Noumea, the capital and largest city of the region, whereas others may include visits to the smaller, lesser known Loyalty Islands.

Related: 15 countries you didn't know you could cruise to on Royal Caribbean

Vanuatu, on the other hand, is quite different from French New Caledonia. The island chain is an independent country and is part of Melanesia, a subregion of Oceania that has been inhabited by the indigenous Melanesian people for over 3,000 years. Today, most inhabitants speak both English and the local language of Bislama.

beach in Lifou Loyalty Islands

Most South Pacific itineraries stop in Port Vila, the nation’s capital, and others include a stop at Mystery Island, a tiny, uninhabited island that offers a picture-perfect day in paradise.

Notably, Royal Caribbean is set to launch Perfect Day at Lelepa in the coming years, a private destination in Vanuatu on Lelepa Island, just a few miles off the coast from Port Vila.

Regardless of the itinerary, all South Pacific cruises offer a tropical getaway for passengers, transporting them from the hustle and bustle of Australia’s cities to the region’s tranquil, white sand beaches.

While visiting the South Pacific, many passengers enjoy activities such as snorkeling, cultural island tours, and kayaking. Itineraries range from seven night cruises visiting two islands to longer, more port-intensive ten night itineraries.

New Zealand cruise itineraries

Milford Sound New Zealand

New Zealand is a dream cruise destination for passengers who love exploring the outdoors. The country’s volcanic landscapes, dramatic fjords, and quaint towns provide endless opportunities for adventures on each port day.

Royal Caribbean does not offer cruises departing from New Zealand; rather, cruises to the country depart from Australia. Traveling to New Zealand requires two sea days in each direction from Sydney and three from Brisbane, but it’s well worth the travel time.

Depending on the itinerary, a New Zealand cruise will visit a variety of ports in both the North and South Island. While visiting the country, passengers can discover Hobbiton in Matamata, skydive in Queenstown, see penguins near Dunedin, and enjoy a scenic cruising day along Milford Sound.

Most New Zealand cruise itineraries are between ten and fourteen nights. Itineraries include a mix of port days where passengers disembark the ship, but they also include sailing days where passengers can marvel at New Zealand’s natural wonders while staying onboard.

Transpacific cruise itineraries

Mo'orea French Polynesia beach

The last type of cruise itinerary offered from Australia are transpacific cruises.

Each October, Royal Caribbean repositions at least two ships from North America to Australia. In April, the cruise line returns the ships to North America after the Australia cruise season has ended.

Instead of sailing an empty ship from one continent to another, passengers can book these transpacific cruise itineraries, which are broken into two legs.

On route to Australia, the first leg is a cruise from Vancouver, Canada to Hawaii. The second departs from Honolulu and ends in Sydney or Brisbane, Australia, calling upon ports in the South Pacific and/or New Zealand along the way.

Related: Ultimate Hawaii cruise guide

In April, these itineraries are offered in reverse.

Transpacific cruises have many sea days, with the first leg around ten nights and the second up to eighteen or nineteen nights. They provide the chance to visit more remote destinations, such as French Polynesia, which you cannot visit any other way on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Land versus cruise vacation from Australia

Brilliance of the Seas pool deck

Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific are, arguably, best visited by cruise ship instead of a land vacation.

Most major attractions in this region of the world are conveniently located along the coast, whether the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, Dusky Sound in New Zealand, or island of Lifou in New Caledonia.

Despite that, destinations in these regions can be very far away from each other. Rather than booking expensive flights from island to island in the South Pacific, for example, you can visit multiple islands in one week on a cruise.

Because transportation logistics are handled by the cruise line and not yourself, you can enjoy leisurely evenings onboard as your ship travels from place to place. And, once you arrive in port, you will not incur lengthy travel times from the port to the city like you would in a destination such as Rome or Paris.

When is the best time to cruise to Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific?

Kuranda train Queensland Australia

As mentioned, Royal Caribbean only sails from Australia from early November to April each year, coinciding with the warmest weather in the region. Because cruises are offered to such a wide range of destinations, though, the “best” time to cruise in one region could differ from another.

If you’re planning a cruise to New Zealand, for example, you won’t find many cruise itineraries in the early part of November. Because November is still springtime in New Zealand, most cruises to the country are not offered until later in the month.

Related: When is the best time to go on a cruise?

Instead, most itineraries in November visit ports in the South Pacific and within Australia. During this month, temperatures are more comfortable than in the peak of summer. Additionally, ports may not be as busy as the school year is still in session.

beach in Mystery Island Vanuatu

Throughout December, January, and February, you can expect higher temperatures and humidity, along with higher crowds during the summer school holidays. These months offer the best weather for cruises to New Zealand, but you should prepare for hot, rainy port days in tropical destinations.

The late season, from March to April, brings lower prices and more comfortable temperatures.

What to bring on a cruise to Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific


Packing for a cruise vacation can be stressful, especially if you’re cruising to a destination you have not visited before. For cruises from Australia, packing needs will vary greatly depending on your itinerary.

If you're traveling to the South Pacific and Queensland, packing beach attire is essential. Be sure to bring several swimsuits along with a beach bag, comfortable sandals, and a sun hat. Some beaches may have rocky shores, so wearing sturdy sandals or sneakers is preferred over flip flops.

Although you can often rent snorkeling gear in these regions, packing your own snorkel mask and fins will be more cost-effective and convenient, especially if your itinerary includes several beach days.

snorkel masks

Related: 40 essential things to bring on a cruise

If your cruise visits South Australia and Tasmania, be sure to pack comfortable walking shoes for city tours. You’ll also want to bring a jacket, especially for Tasmania cruises, as weather can be quite unpredictable in this part of the country.

For cruises to New Zealand, it’s just as important to be prepared for unexpected weather. Packing layers is crucial, as the country is known for experiencing all four seasons in a single day! If you have cruised to Alaska before, you’ll find packing tips similar, with rain-resistant gear and warm layers required.

What currency do I use on a cruise from Australia?

Australian banknotes

Because cruises from Australia can visit ports not only within Australia but also in New Zealand and the South Pacific, it can be confusing to know which currency to use in each port.

In most case scenarios, the best situation when making purchases in several different countries is to use a credit card. Making card payments means you will not have to worry about converting currencies or taking out several types of currency at ATMs.

Yet while card payments will be widely accepted in Australia, New Zealand, and the bigger cities in the South Pacific like Noumea and Port Vila, you may need cash when visiting smaller islands.

Related: How much cash should you bring on a cruise?

Many ports in Vanuatu will accept Australian dollars, and the immediate port areas in New Caledonia will do so as well. However, you shouldn’t try to use U.S. dollars, euros, or other currencies in any port destination on a cruise from Australia, unless your tour operator specifies the currency will be accepted.

beach in Santo Island Vanuatu

If you’re cruising to the South Pacific, it’s recommended to bring Australian dollars to cover expenses such as souvenirs, food in port, and excursions not booked through the cruise line.

Be sure to take out Australian dollars at an ATM prior to embarking a Royal Caribbean cruise. ATMs onboard your ship will dispense U.S. dollars instead of Australian dollars, and the exchange rate offered at Guest Services is abysmal.

Check out our other guides to Royal Caribbean cruise destinations:

Jenna DeLaurentis enjoys exploring new ports of call around the world on a cruise ship, learning about new cultures, discovering beautiful landscapes, and trying diverse cuisine. She loves to get active while at port, whether cycling through mountains in the Caribbean or scuba diving under the sea.

Get our newsletter

Stay up-to-date with cruise news & advice

    We never share your information with third parties and will protect it in accordance with our Privacy Policy