Travel SOS: can I ‘try before I buy’ a cruise?

Larry asks Kay O’Sullivan if he can ‘try before he buys’ a cruise.

cruise ship docked

Kay O’Sullivan is no accidental tourist. More than a decade ago, she decided to combine two of her favourite things – journalism and travel – and become a travel writer. Since then, she has written about travel for numerous papers, magazines and on the internet, both here and internationally.

Larry is keen to cruise but before he commits to buying a berth, he wants to know if there’s a way to check out a cruise ship while it’s docked. Kay O’Sullivan has the answer.

Q. Larry
Back in the day it was a big deal when a cruise ship docked in your hometown. Now there seem to be so many huge liners coming and going in our major ports. So, as a wannabee cruiser, I wonder if it is possible to visit a ship when it docks, have a look all over and decide if it is the right one for our first big cruise? Can you advise if any cruise lines offer this opportunity?

A. I am sorry to disappoint you. Just not possible. The world turned on its axis on September 11, 2001 – and that included the travel industry.

Boarding a ship is as tightly controlled as boarding a plane as a result of that black day. Only people who have legitimate business on the ship are allowed on board. And everyone, from the captain to the crew and all the paying passengers, have to provide photo IDs every time they embark or board and all manner of security devices are employed to keep the ship and her passengers safe.

people walking between cruise ships in port

That said, some industry folk, travel agents, for instance, and those of us in the media who write about the cruising industry, are lucky enough to have a gander when cruise ships come to town. Speaking from experience, it's quite a rigmarole. When you are invited, you are asked to provide your passport or license details with a request that you bring it on the day. No photo ID, no look-see is the norm. In Melbourne, my homeport, you are checked off from a master list not once but twice. You relinquish your ID for the duration of your visit and get a nametag in return that you have to wear the entire time you are on board. You go through scanners, as do your possessions, and finally your photograph is taken as you go up the gangplank and as you leave you will be marked off.

Yes, they are serious. Too much can go wrong with dire consequences if the wrong people get on board. (Just an aside, I have had conversations about on-board security in case of, say, pirates. It has been known to happen, not in our waters, but off the coast of Africa certainly, and not for a long time, thankfully).

No one will give specifics but you can take it as read that if a company is spending 1 billion on a ship then it will have the most sophisticated weaponry money can buy, and I would suggest highly trained personnel onboard to make sure everyone is safe.

I do have a suggestion for you if you want to have a look-see. Consider a short-segment or mini cruise, if you will. There are hundreds of options from two to five days. You can travel between capital cities, around the Whitsundays, or explore the West Australian coastline. They are a fun and economical way to dip your toe in the water. Just do a Google search and you'll find heaps of options. But, hurry, the cruising season is drawing to a close with many of the ships on their way to warmer climes.

Do you have a travel question for Kay? If so, email your Travel SOS to




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    8th Apr 2017
    Ask your travel agent or contact the cruise company of the ship you want to visit and ask if they have any days planned for visits. Another way might to buy shares in Carnival if you want you want to visit their ships as in the US they have sharehokder visits to certain ships. Not sure if they have them in Australia.
    8th Apr 2017
    Do they also have 'shareholder discounted' trips Bonny? I can get spending money on P & O and a small discount, but it is not shareholder discount though.
    8th Apr 2017
    Ive found most cruise line have a virturl tour of some ships on there sight you can walk through most of the ship ,and check out the different cabins.
    8th Apr 2017
    Thanks Dreamer. That is a great tip.
    8th Apr 2017
    There is a program on Foxtel called Mighty Cruise Ships which are also on YouTube. If you have access to a computer with internet access then try YouTube.
    As a seasoned cruiser I can verify that every cruise ship I have been on has been fantastic. A short cruise, ie 3 to 5 days, is a good suggestion for a starter.
    Happy cruising.

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