Why exploring the world by sea is all the rage right now – and a unique way to play more courses. 

According to Chinese zodiac, we’re living in the Year of the Dragon. Ask anyone tied to the tourism industry and they’ll probably inform you 2024 is the year of the cruise. Such is the demand for exploring the world by sea right now.

Australia, as it happens, is waist-high in one of its biggest-ever periods for cruise tourism. According to a recent report by Cruise Lines International Association, more cabins are being made available to Aussies in 2024, on more ships, with many of those voyages destined for ports within a stone’s throw of internationally recognised golf courses.

“We will see 81 cruise ships operating in Australian waters over the course of 2024, which is 14 percent more than last year,” CLIA Australasia managing director Joel Katz told Aussie-based travel specialists KarryOn.

“Many of these ships will be staying longer and offering more local sailings, which means Australia will welcome more than 3,700 port calls around the country – an 18 per cent increase over past year.”

Why the cruise industry is booming
Like the sport of golf, the cruise industry has become an accidental beneficiary of lost time. With the worst of the pandemic – and its worldwide lockdowns – seemingly behind us, wanderlust is sending Aussies on a mission to make up for lost time, particularly those in their senior years. Translation: more travel and, consequently, more golf.

“During the pandemic our new Prima-Class ships were in production, whilst other vessels, such as Norwegian Spirit were being refurbished to ensure we could return even better than ever,” says Damian Borg, Norwegian Cruise Line’s director of sales for Australia and New Zealand. “The key takeaways from that extended pause in cruising have been the strong bounce-back in demand – many people spent time during lockdowns planning their dream holidays and now they are booking and taking those trips.”

For others, particularly young families, 2024 is a time for more astute purchasing when it comes to holidays and extra-curricular activities. Cost-of-living pressures have made many forms of international travel unfeasible, with some also put off by the stress of organising logistics.  

“Cruising has always been popular and a growth industry and post-COVID we have seen a surge in demand,” says Michelle Black, Viking’s ANZ managing director. “Part of this is because cruising is quite cost-effective compared with land-based travel. The cost of flights, trains, taxis, restaurants, accommodation, entertainment and attractions can add up fast. Cruising, particularly on Viking, offers excellent value, where everything you need is included in a single fare, with the added benefit of only having to unpack once.”

For golfers, an adventure that crosses borders where you unpack and hang your golf shirts only once has serious appeal. But while demand for cruises has exploded, so too has customer expectations, according to Borg. 

“Value-for-money is particularly important for today’s travellers,” he says. “We have seen an increase in demand for longer itineraries, which is why we have extended our typical sailings in popular destinations such as the Mediterranean, and extended our time in port and overnight stays and increased our pre- and post-cruise land programs with our Cruise Tours. Cruising is an ideal way to explore more off-the-path destinations or to try a new region for the first time because it’s hassle-free with no need to constantly pack, unpack and navigate transport between destinations.”

Why should you consider a cruise?
At first glance, golf and cruising may seem like a walking-floating contradiction. After all, isn’t the mega-convenience sought by cruisers at odds with whatever golfers are after? Fast greens, thick rough, quirky hazards – we’re deviants who like just the right amount of pain. Not that we’re against the idea of kicking back on a chaise lounge with a beverage in hand watching a watery horizon slip between our toes, but add to this golf and, well, why?

First thing’s first: variety. According to Black, the great thing about the cruise industry is there is product for everyone. 

“The diversity across all the brands means with a little homework, you should be able to find a cruise to your likes and needs,” she says. “Our guests like to know that everything is taken care of when they step on board a Viking ship. As an all-inclusive offer, once you are on board, there is nothing more you need to pay.” 

Another thing to consider is on-board entertainment, Borg adds. As the age-old saying goes, it’s not the arrival that matters, it’s the journey.

“NCL is renowned for its high-quality entertainment offering on-board, which includes dynamic, world-class productions on many ships as well as magic, comedy, dance and live music performances,” he says. 

The culinary offering across the NCL fleet is also outstanding, with a wide range of both complimentary and specialty restaurants, such as Onda by Scarpetta, Le Bistro, Hasuki and Palomar. Plus, the new Indulge Food Hall concept on NCL’s Prima-Class ships is an innovative space where guests can choose from 11 distinctive dining destinations in a laidback atmosphere with indoor and alfresco dining. 

Viking’s point of difference is it is designed for “the thinking person”. The company prides itself on creating meaningful travel experiences for the curious traveller. Its on-board offering includes a cultural enrichment program hosted by guest lecturers and resident historians who present on topics from art to architecture and astronomy. In the afternoon, guests can enjoy “Munch Moments” in the Atrium accompanied by a live classical musical performance, explore Viking’s Nordic art collection, indulge in a sommelier-hosted wine tasting or relax in the Heywood Hill curated library. 

“We know our guests enjoy our culinary offering as many participate in our onboard cooking classes and enjoy Viking’s destination-focused dining,” Black says. “Our shore excursion program follows the same principles for cultural enrichment, bringing our guests closer to local life, cultural treasures, and world-class museums. Our guests also enjoy Viking’s no-kids policy, which can make a significant difference to the onboard experience.”

Why golf and cruising are perfect playing partners
Playing golf while a cruise ship is docked involves some logistical considerations but is nearly always worth the effort. Some cruise lines often partner with local golf courses near the port to offer excursions for avid golfers. Participants usually disembark early in the day, with transportation provided to and from the golf course. Some cruises will leave customers to do whatever they wish in an allotted time period, including booking their own tee-times and transportation that fits within the ship’s departure schedule. Golf equipment can be rented, eliminating the need for travellers to carry their clubs at all. 

Then, of course, there are specialists like Trendsetter Travel Golf Tours that take peoples’ love of golf and cruising to a whole new level, offering specific golf cruises with everything packaged in. Such is the case with their 18-night journey from Lisbon to Copenhagen aboard Crystal Serenity, which includes a golf program of up to 12 golf courses, with six games on each of the two cruise sectors. Importantly, you can choose as much or as little golf as you prefer to play. 

“We play the best golf courses available to us within 20 to 60 minutes’ drive of each port,” says Trendsetter’s Adrienne Witteman. “Many of these courses rank in the top 10 of the countries we visit, including France, the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark.

Witteman and fellow tour host David Cooper have played extensively throughout the world and have organised and hosted many successful golf cruises. Unlike many other golf tour operators, they deal directly with the relevant service providers. “This enables us to provide competitively priced golf at the best available courses and with no reduction in quality,” Cooper says. “We price our golf programs at approximate cost and thus the average cost of our golf games is priced at less than 50 percent of the level charged by our international competitors.”

Crystal Cruises is a company that sees the value of incorporating golf into its sailing itineraries and it doesn’t force customers to wait until they reach dry land to play. “I’m well aware of the potential market that golfers represent,” says Tony Archbold, vice-president of sales (APAC) at Crystal and a keen golfer. “We are the leading golf cruise line, always travelling with a PGA professional who runs free clinics on all sea days. Our pros are also available for private coaching.” 

One of our favourite fellow cruisers is Evelyn Gruber, a golf-travel specialist from Austria. She could be The World’s Most Interesting Woman if a beer company ever decided to run such a campaign. Decades ago, she nearly died from a snakebite when she was living in the Amazon rainforest with her photographer boyfriend. Certified as a skiing and fitness trainer, she has climbed several of the world’s high peaks. She has been on several golf cruises, including one in which she had to brace her clubs tightly against ocean spray as they motored a Zodiac dinghy ashore to Nova Scotia from an expedition ship. 

“It’s all about correctly managing expectations,” Gruber says about golf cruises. “There’s a difference between cruisers who want to play golf and hard-core golfers who want to experience the cruise concept.” 

Get that part in check, and golf and cruising can only be a win-win. 

Tickets, Please!

Three of our favourite cruises with your name on them

Hawaii: Inter-island 
From Honolulu, Oahu (7 days)
Immerse yourself in the rich culture, incredible landscapes and delicious cuisine of Hawaii on this one-of-a-kind, seven-day cruise from Honolulu on Pride of America. See ncl.com/au/en/cruises for the full itinerary.

Copenhagen, Lisbon, Portsmouth
Crystal Serenity (up to 18 nights)
Trendsetter Travel Golf Tours is offering a comprehensive golf cruise of 18 nights from Lisbon to Copenhagen – alternatively, those with less time can select either the 10-night Lisbon to Portsmouth leg or the shorter eight-night Portsmouth to Copenhagen leg. Full schedule includes up to 12 golf courses. See crystalcruises.com/cruises for the full itinerary.

Malta, Morocco & the Mediterranean
Explore historic cities and scenic treasures (15 days)
One of Viking’s fastest-ever selling itineraries when it launched it in 2023. In 15 days, guests stop at 10 ports across seven countries and have access to nine included excursions. This epic voyage takes guests to the most historic sites of the French Riviera and neo-Moorish North Africa and explores the treasures of Andalucia. See vikingcruises.com.au for the full itinerary.