2023 – The year in cruise

Cruise Weekly Associate Editor Myles Stedman looks at the good, the bad, and the unusual from this year on the water.


Crystal Cruises finally returned to making positive headlines in February after a horror 12 months, when it announced its relaunch under Abercrombie & Kent’s ownership, and its return to Australia in December.

Both Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony returned to service during the northern summer, with the latter ship eventually heading to Australia for three local cruises.

The two ships have been “reimagined” with larger, updated suites, including artisanal finishes, “cutting edge” onboard wellness, a spa, fitness facilities, a large pool, and nine dining and entertainment options for each vessel.

Appetites for the coming cruise season were further whet back in August, when Flight Centre Travel Group (FCTG) announced its planned relaunch of the Cruiseabout brand, which was first axed more than five years ago.

The relaunch is incorporating a national retail shop network, a local call centre, and online booking functionality, as the battle for the seas started to heat up on land.

Cruiseabout will be primarily focused on the fly-cruise segment, offering deals and exclusive rates, as well as special product with key suppliers, all of which will be leveraged under the FCTG global supply network.


The industry received another welcome vote of confidence in October when a report revealed the sector had injected a record $6.3 billion into the national economy the prior year.

The figure was an incredible 22.1% higher than the pre-pandemic 2018-19 number, according to The Value of Cruise Tourism, which had been jointly commissioned by Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) and the Australian Cruise Association.

Direct passenger expenditure for the year was almost $1.5 billion, up 10.6%, while average passenger spend per day on shore jumped even higher, up 15.2% to $446 per person.

The cruise industry kicked up its heels to celebrate later that month at the National Travel Industry Awards, where Viking and Uniworld Boutique River Cruises were two of the biggest winners.

Viking was named Most Popular Ocean Cruise Operator at the glittering event at Melbourne’s Palladium at Crown, while the latter company was named Most Popular River Cruise Operator.

The local Viking team fought off competition from Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean International, and Virgin Voyages, while Uniworld fended off a potential second gong for Viking, as well as APT, Avalon Waterways, and Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours.


The Sydney and Australian cruise industries were dealt a blow in May, when the Government of New South Wales ruled out the construction of a cruise ship terminal in Yarra Bay in the city’s south.

The proposal had been met with fierce opposition from the local community, including the regional Member of Parliament Michael Daley, who led a prolonged ‘Save Yarra Bay’ campaign.

A business case was undertaken pre-pandemic, as cruise capacity in Sydney Harbour had become strained, but Minister for Transport Jo Haylen declared the terminal is “not going to happen” under the Minns administration.

CLIA said the lack of a viable additional cruise berth in Sydney jeopardises the city’s standing as a world-class cruise gateway, adding its disappointment at the Government’s failure to announce an alternative solution.

The Australian cruise sector again came to somewhat of a standstill in November, when Cunard Line announced it will not be returning to the country following its 2024/25 season.

The news many within the industry publicly and privately feared – the departure of a popular, cornerstone cruise line – came to pass, with Cunard announcing it will instead sail in Alaska and the Caribbean during the 2025/26 southern summer.

Commercial Vice President Matthew Gleaves said Australia remains an important market for the cruise line, despite capacity constraints, the cost of doing business, the weak AUD, or something else entirely forcing the country’s popular queens elsewhere.


Helloworld announced later in the year it would be acquiring Express Travel Group (ETG), the parent company of Creative Cruising, in a move which shook the Australian cruise retail landscape.

ETG was owned by its Chief Executive Officer and Director Tom Manwaring, and Sintack Pty Ltd, who received $70 million in stock and cash in the sale.

Creative Cruising was on the hunt for a new General Manager just two months after the June announcement of the deal, with Caroline Hitchen shortly thereafter announcing she had joined Flight Centre’s newly launched CruiseHQ offshoot.

Carnival Corporation lost its fearless, pandemic-navigating leader Marguerite Fitzgerald in August, in news which was probably more accurately described as “sad” than “unusual”.

A Carnival spokesperson said Fitzgerald departed the role for family reasons, after returning to Australia to take the position in January 2022.

Fitzgerald helped successfully lead the return of cruise in Australia, with Carnival at the forefront of the revival of the local industry; her bold and at times outspoken leadership style was exactly what the company and the sector as a whole needed during the toughest times it had ever faced.

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