G’day mate: Cruise lines head Down Under

Why would anyone choose to cruise Australia when there is so much to see in the interior? Two reasons: 1) Australia’s coast is spectacular, and some of the continent’s best-known cities — Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane Darwin and Perth — dot the coastline; and 2) cruise packages are designed to put passengers off the ship and into the Outback.

The latter packages feature so-called cruisetours, which are nothing more than a cruise and a tour combined. Cruise lines create these seamless excursions to allow passengers to have a full experience beyond the shoreline.

Both Celebrity Cruises and Holland America Line have developed a number of cruisetours to tie in with the deployment of their ships in the region next year.

Celebrity’s guests can select from four packages ranging from four to five nights. On the list of attractions: Ayers Rock, the world-famous giant red monolith, and the Great Barrier Reef.

Holland America Line also has Alice Springs as an alternative, the remote town in Australia’s Northern Territory. Among the experiences I had while in Alice Springs was ingesting witchetty grub, pictured above (for the delectable details, see Australian Outback Buffet: Garnish The Grubs, Pass The Maggots Please).Cruise lines are headed Down Under in record numbers. Remember, the seasons are reversed from the Northern Hemisphere, so itineraries get cranking in earnest around Christmastime.

Early next year, Silversea’s Silver Shadow departs Sydney on a 30-day circumnavigation voyage of Australia. It will be a first-ever for luxury cruise operator Silversea, which plans to visit Australia’s major cities as well as lesser-known ports.

Holland America Line will send not one, but two cruise ships to Australia in 2011. The Seattle-based cruise line will deploy its ships on itineraries that take in Australia and New Zealand.

Likewise, the two sister companies Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises plan to put more emphasis on cruises around Australia and New Zealand. Following suit with Holland America Line, Royal Caribbean will deploy two ships instead of one in the region next year. Celebrity Cruises will return to the land Down Under after a two-year absence, when the Celebrity Century begins cruising the region late next year. Century also will offer a circumnavigation of Australia, divided into two combinable 18-night sailings.

In 2012, Cunard Line’s flagship Queen Mary 2 also will circumnavigate Australia, a first for Cunard.