Why a Kimberley “cruise” is not really a cruise at all

“We’re not really cruise people”

I hear this phrase quite frequently when I am speaking to people who want to see the Kimberley coast from the sea.

It comes down to perception. Some people hear the word ‘cruise’ and can only conceive of those huge, ocean going vessels that we see in the TV adverts and travel shows.

But these are nothing like the vessels that I work with for Kimberley coastal cruising.

Here are the main reasons why:

These Kimberley vessels are small ships – not floating cities!

The world’s largest cruise ship was launched this year (2022). Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas, accommodates almost 7000 passengers (that is not a typo -seven thousand passengers!!!) and features nightclubs, shopping precincts and 19 swimming pools. It even has an ice rink.

This style of cruise has absolutely nothing to do with Kimberley cruising. For starters the remoteness of the Kimberley means the coastline is unsuitable for huge cruise ships who need port facilities to disembark their passengers.

This is NOT a Kimberley cruise vessel!

The vessels that we work with generally range in passenger numbers between 12 and 120 maximum. The international expedition ships operated by Ponant and Silversea do have larger numbers but usually no more than 200.

There are no casinos and nightclubs on a Kimberley cruise. There are no long queues,deckchair squabbles, shopping precincts etc. 

And don’t worry too much if your cabin is next to a stairwell – you really won’t be bothered by late night noise. With the regular activities (often involving early mornings) most vessels are quiet by 10pm

The whole trip is about getting off the vessel not staying on board

These cruises are about experiencing the Kimberley – not just seeing it.

The big cruise ships make a lot of money from port excursions. But Kimberley cruises are expeditions. The emphasis is on getting off the vessel and onto shore as often as possible.

An example of a Kimberley shore excursion

The whole point is to experience the Kimberley coast and so you will leave the vessel for the shore (or an exploratory cruise up a river or estuary) twice a day. These are all included in the fare – no extra to pay unless you opt for the occasional helicopter excursion such as a scenic flight over Mitchell Falls or similar.

Or a zodiac cruise at Montgomery Reef

You need to be reasonably fit.

Actually it would be more accurate to say that you need to have a good level of mobility. The attraction of the Kimberley is the remoteness. All excursions require landing on rocks and beaches and, whilst there will always be help if you need it, you do need your own balance at the very least. Unlike traditional ocean cruises this experience is not really suitable for people with significant mobility issues.

How’s the serenity?

There are no families

Similarly these are not suitable for most families. There are no facilities to look after young children – no kids club or on board entertainment. And the cost of these trips is prohibitive to take children anyway. You are unlikely to see young children on an expedition cruise. 

Very occasionally I book families with older teenage children on the smaller, very active Kimberley vessels but no child under 10 or 11 is going to benefit from a Kimberley cruise.

There is an appropriate degree of informality on these cruises

Dress is informal in the Kimberley – shorts, tees shirts etc. Some of the smaller vessels actually prefer that you don’t wear shoes on board! There is no requirement to dress up for dinner. Of course after the last of the day’s excursions most people go back to their cabins for a freshen up, shower and change but informality is the rule. There are definitely no formal, black tie events in the Kimberley.

One exception – the larger, international ships operated by Silversea and Ponant do require (well ask at least) that men wear a collar at dinner.

No long days at sea

Before I specialized in expedition cruising I was a general cruise travel consultant so I booked all sorts of cruise vessels. I used to be astounded at some of their itineraires with lots of consecutive ‘days at sea’. 

This is not the case in the Kimberley. The only ‘at sea’ crossing with domestic carriers is between King George Falls and Darwin (for those ships that start or finish in the NT). otherwise you are in the Kimberley, hugging the coast, for most of the cruise with daily off vessel activities. 

No shopping centres, souvenir shops, no tourist precinct 

And this also means that there is very little overnight sailing on a Kimberley cruise. Most nights the vessel will arrive in its next location in the evening and anchor for the night.

Again the one exception to this general rule is the international ships do usually have more time at sea as they are obliged to make an international stop to justify their status as international vessel (and therefore not have to pay Australian maritime pay).


About Jenny

I’m an expert in small ship cruising in the Kimberley and have completed four cruises on different vessels along this spectacular coastline. With a family I now work part-time so if you would like to have a chat with me about Kimberley cruising at a time that suits you book in a call here  and I will call you then.

Cruises in the Kimberley are not ‘one size fits all’ scenario; there are different ships and itineraries each offering their own special elements.  If you would like some general information to start your research then download my free guide to Kimberley cruising here.   I have also written some really interesting blogs (if I do say so myself) click here to have read.