Why are Kimberley cruises expensive?

“Wow, that’s a lot. I could get a holiday to Europe for that, with change”

Be honest…you might have the same thoughts as well? Occasionally we get this feedback when talking to people about small ship cruising along the Kimberley coast. And we certainly agree that a Kimberley cruise is not a cheap proposition. But the comparison with overseas holidays is not really fair. You cannot simply take the costs of travelling to Europe or the US or a cruising holiday on the big cruise ships and then simply contrast it with a trip to the Kimberley which is one of the most remote destinations in the western world.

I have been involved in helping people book their dream Kimberley cruises for over ten years and I am well acquainted with many of the vessel operators. It is a competitive market and none of them are making big profits.

Here are my four reasons why Kimberley cruising seems expensive  plus my one warning about ‘cheap’ Kimberley cruises.

Reason 1 – It is not really about ‘luxury’ – its ship size.

A common belief, we often hear, is that the cost of Kimberley cruises is because they are all presented as luxurious experiences. It is true that some of the vessels that operate along the Kimberley coast are certainly extremely comfortable and do market themselves as luxurious. But the real issue is ship size. In simple terms small vessels cost more to run (on a comparable basis) than large ocean-going cruise liners.

Those monster cruise cannot offer cruises close to a rugged coastline such as the Kimberley. For starters the huge tides (the second most extreme in the world) and other navigational hazards makes it way too difficult.

True Kimberley cruises, those that can take their guests right into the islands and estuaries of the remote Kimberley, are operated by small vessels. There is simply no comparison between experiencing iconic Kimberley sets such as King Cascade, Montgomery Reef and King George Falls to looking at the coastline from far out to sea.

Big ships with lots of passengers can offer cheap cruises
Cruise the Kimberley coast on vessels with small passenger numbers

Reason 2 – Small ships have a high staff to guest ratio

It can be a little frustrating when people compare the high cost of a Kimberley expedition cruise with a European or US cruise experience. Of course those huge ships with 1000s of passengers are going to be cheaper – more passengers means significantly lower per capita costs. It really isn’t fair to compare an ocean going cruise with several thousand passengers (and the vast bulk of crew from low cost countries) with a small ship with anywhere between 12 and 120 passengers.

“My partner and I sailed on the Mediterranean cruise a few years ago on a ship with around 4000 passengers. We got a deal, a real bargain, and so did every family in Europe – or that’s how it felt. There were 7 spas on board and we could never get near one at any time as they were colonised by large extended families. The announcements were made in 6 languages so a simple message would take about 20 minutes to complete over the public speakers. It was an awful experience. This experience was nothing like the serenity of a Kimberley expedition cruise”

Karen Walkley- Kimberley cruise specialist

(Karen has sailed the Kimberley on 3 separate occasions and would jump at the chance to go again)

Reason 3 – Australian owned and operated vessels have much, much higher expenses than international cruises (and one big advantage)

Virtually all of the vessels we represent for Kimberley cruising are owned by Australian companies; they have their offices in Australia and that means they operate domestic cruises that do not have to leave Australian waters. They pay Australian rates of pay for their Australian crew and the on-board staff. And they are subject to all the (numerous) laws and regulations of Australia; including the rigorous COVID protocols initiated by all operators in consultation with their state health authorities.

That is starkly different from international cruise vessels which operate under flags of convenience (such as Liberia and the British Virgin Islands) and have low paid (and very hard working) on board staff from India and the Philippines.

And don’t forget domestic cruise operators’ prices include GST whereas international travel does not.

Reason 4 – Because the whole Kimberley region is remote and therefore costly

Anyone who has travelled to the outback or remote regions of Australia in general knows that it is not cheap. The most obvious extra cost is fuel which can be almost double the rate found in the cities. High fuel costs feed into increased costs for food, replacement parts for machinery etc. Broome and the Kimberley are certainly not immune to this. Buy a coffee in Broome and you’ll instantly be aware that day to day living is more costly than the rest of the country. Basically; it is the tyranny of distance. Broome is over 2000km away from the WA state capital, Perth.

The fuel costs and generally high cost of provisioning in remote areas works its way through to all tourist activities.

You want to go there because its remote right? That comes with a cost.

Land at a remote Kimberley beach.
Or jostle with the hordes

Reason 5 – Because the price you pay is pretty much the whole price you pay

Kimberley cruise prices are very inclusive. If you have sailed with one of the big cruise lines then you know that the price you pay for your cabin is only just the start. For starters there is your incidental drinks bill and perhaps an optional upgrade to specialist dining. But the big expense is the off ship excursions. If you are adventurous that can add $1000s to your eventual bill.

“Kimberley cruises include all (or most) of the shore excursions. On cheaper large boat cruises, shore excursions are generally very expensive. If you do one in each port of call, you pay for shore excursions almost as much as the cost for the cruise itself. Every time we have travelled on small ships to remote locations, everything is included. Even drinks within reason. I’ve never regretted a cent. So much more enjoyable than large boats going to already popular places.”

Marilyn Pemberton

Kimberley expedition cruises are focused on the destination not the cruise itself – the emphasis is being off the vessel not luxuriating on board. Therefore, with the exception of occasional, optional, helicopter activities, all daily excursions off the ship are included in your cabin price. With most operators you’ll be getting two off ship excursions a day – often 2-3 hours at a time. If you have cruised on larger cruise ships you will instinctively know how much that’s’ worth.

Warning – there really isn’t a cheap Kimberley cruise option – at least not one that doesn’t have plenty of negatives.

Most of the costs associated with operating a professional Kimberley cruise are unavoidable. All operators need an appropriately paid crew including an experienced skipper who knows the Kimberley coast and its tides. And almost as essential as the skipper – all operators need a competent chef.

All ships need fuel and food. All pay port fees and other regulatory levies. All ships need repairs and maintenance in high cost ports like Broome, Derby or Wyndham.

So be careful of anyone offering really cheap options for a Kimberley cruise– there just has to be a catch somewhere. Or perhaps they might not be very good at working out their actual costs of running a business? Invariably in the last few years those Kimberley cruise operations that have gone bust (a handful) have been those whose sole marketing strategy was to offer “cheap Kimberley cruises.”

Budget Kimberley cruise operator Ahoy Buccaneers based all their marketing on cheapness and controversially closed business in June 2018.

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.

Here are a few of the most popular ones.

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Book a time and date that works in with your schedule and we will call you. Let us discover together the right Kimberley Cruise for YOU.