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 guest to staff 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.

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.

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

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.

Jenny Flower is an expert in small ship cruising in the Kimberley and has completed four cruises on different vessels along this spectacular coastline. To book in a no obligation ‘discovery call’ about Kimberley cruising click here. If you are confused about all the different ships and itineraries in the Kimberley and just need some general information to start your research then download Jenny’s free guide to Kimberley cruising here.