A Brief History of Australia’s Most Popular Cruise Line


With a new captain at the helm and an all-Aussie ship in the pipeline, it seems P&O Cruises can do no wrong in the Australian cruise market. Over the last twelve months alone, P&O’s Australia division has come along in leaps and bounds — surpassing Royal Caribbean as the cruising tour de force down under.

But what makes P&O so popular in Australia, and what can passengers expect when they travel with the once named Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company? To find out, we’re taking a look at P&O’s long history — from its days as a humble shipping fleet to the imminent launch of its new Australia-exclusive mega liner.

P&O Australia — The Past


First established in 1837 by Brodie McGhie Wilcox and Arthur Anderson, P&O (or the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company as it was previously known) began life as a small shipping fleet operating between the British Isles and parts of Spain and Portugal. During the company’s early years, Wilcox and Anderson worked hard to deliver mail to ports across the Mediterranean Sea, but they soon realised there was more to sailing than just getting from A to B.

Thus, in 1844, P&O launched what was to become one of the world’s earliest leisure cruises — a sailing which ferried paying passengers between London and the Mediterranean by sea for the first time.

In the proceeding decades, P&O’s leisure cruise service really found its feet, fast surpassing shipping as the brand’s main breadwinner. Some ninety or so years after P&O made its first foray into leisure cruising, the 23,000-tonne mail steamer, Strathaird, set sail off the coast of Australia carrying 1,100 passengers on a tour of Norfolk Island. The cruise sold out in a single day, showing Australia’s appetite for affordable ocean travel.

Later, between 1945 and 1972, P&O cruise ships carried over 1 million British migrants to their new home down under — an initiative pioneered by the British and Australian government to better populate the region.

P&O Australia — The Present and The Future

P&O Ships Rendering

Today, P&O Australia is the largest cruise operator in the South Pacific, sailing to some 80 ports in Australia, New Zealand, Southeast Asia and the remote islands of the South Pacific. The celebrated cruise line has become a household name for cruise fans across Australia and beyond, and offers affordable cruise travel from a broad selection of ports across the country, including Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Fremantle, Melbourne and Sydney.

After starting life with just one aged relic from its mail steaming past, P&O Australia now has a local fleet of five ocean liners, including:

  • Pacific Dawn: 70,285 tonnes, 1,950 passengers
  • Pacific Jewel: 70,310 tonnes, 1,900 passengers
  • Pacific Pearl: 63,786 tonnes, 1,800 passengers
  • Pacific Aria: 55,280 tonnes, 1,500 passengers
  • Pacific Eden: 55,280 tonnes, 1,500 passengers

In 2017, P&O Australia welcomes Pacific Explorer (77,441 tonnes, 2,000 passengers) to its local fleet. Explorer will remain P&O’s largest liner until 2019, when the arrival of a purpose-built, 135,500 tonnes mega-liner capable of carrying some 4,000 passengers will be integrated into the line’s Aussie-exclusive fleet.

As well as new ships, P&O Australia is also responsible for pioneering a range of new itineraries to destinations never-before-visited by cruise vessel. These new destinations include Fraser Island, Hamilton Island, Mornington Peninsula, Portland, Eden and Busselton in Western Australia.

If you’re keen to book a break with Australia’s leading cruise line, visit the Cruise1st Australia homepage today to browse our latest P&O Australia cruise deals. Should you need any further help, call our team on 1300 306 318.

Images sourced via Wikimedia Commons.  Credit: George Jackman


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