Escape's resident Doc Holiday answers your travel questions. This week: Is it OK to book a Top End cruise?
Escape's resident Doc Holiday answers your travel questions. This week: Is it OK to book a Top End cruise?

Is it OK to book a Top End cruise?

Escape's resident Doc Holiday answers your travel questions.


When to book a Top End Cruise?


I was hoping to celebrate my 60th with a luxury cruise around the Kimberley region and the Northern Territory, but the new cruising caps in the NT have me worried. Is there much chance of my cruise getting cancelled if I book one for July?

As much as I empathise with cruise lines battling to overcome yet another hurdle, I can appreciate your hesitation. Among the new Northern Territory regulations, ships may now only carry up to a total of 100 passengers (including crew) and limits have also been placed on the number of vessels allowed in territory waters at any one time.

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A Cruise Lines International Association Australasia (CLIA) statement says operators are reviewing itineraries hit by this order, and that individual cruise lines will contact customers regarding any affected trips. Certainly, as operators are working with NT Health and the NT government to arrive at a workable solution, most are hesitant to provide comment, but alternative arrangements, refunds and credits will be made in line with each operator's terms and conditions.

As you've yet to book, it's worth noting that Coral Expeditions' Coral Discoverer - with a capacity of 72 passengers and 23 crew - remains unaffected for their 2021 Kimberley and northern Australian sailing season and will operate as scheduled. Coral Adventurer and Coral Geographer will continue to run the Kimberley season, with the vessels embarking and disembarking between April and May from WA's Port of Broome instead. Whether this extends into July depends on how the situation in the NT unfolds.

Having sailed on Coral Discoverer, I can recommend the vessel and its crew. Best of all, you can book your Kimberley trip with confidence. APT's Kimberley cruise itineraries, as originally published, travel between Broome and Wyndham, WA, meaning that APT can operate exclusively within WA waters as necessary. And APT's MS Caledonian Sky, with capacity for just 99 passengers, is exempt from the current Australian government ban on larger cruise ships.

Coral Discoverer at Silica Beach  on Hidden Island, WA.
Coral Discoverer at Silica Beach on Hidden Island, WA.


Best way to navigate sales?


I was excited when half-price airfares went on sale, but I'm discovering that in many destinations, it's next to impossible to find accommodation, car hire and in some cases even activities. Any suggestions?

Personally, I think it's fantastic you've been so thorough with your research; all too often we hear stories of those who've hit the "book now" button only to discover they'll be spending their week in sunny Uluru or Port Douglas sleeping on a park bench and eating two-minute noodles because they're unable to book anywhere.

If travelling domestically in a post-Covid landscape has taught us anything, it's the importance of booking everything - car hire, restaurants, cafes, tours, activities - well in advance. By this I don't mean weeks, but many months ahead. Currently, we're hearing cases of travellers booking some destinations for early next year already just to get "the good seats".

I'm not sure how flexible you are with leave, but I would recommend booking the latest dates possible with the sale airfares offered and avoiding popular periods such as long weekends and school holidays. It's also worth putting together a detailed itinerary of what you'd like to do at your destination and calling each operator to see whether they'll be able to accommodate you.Consider accommodation just outside the popular hotspots (not only do they tend to be easier on the hip pocket but you're likely to find greater availability) and vehicles that are a little less conventional, such as Juicy or Camptoo. Depending on your destination, you may also have options such as Car Next Door or, if you'll only need the car for the odd day here and there, Go Get. Only once you have all your ducks in a row should you book your flight.

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Originally published as Is it OK to book a Top End cruise?