Recently, travel survey after survey seem to point to the same findings: After more than a year of being largely grounded, Americans are yearning to travel again. And when they do finally go on that much-needed and well-deserved vacation, they’ll go bigger, bolder and better than ever.
AAA hears you and is heeding the call for adventure with a once-in-a-lifetime cruise created especially for AAA members. The 11-night AAA Member Appreciation Cruise to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef aboard the Celebrity Eclipse, hosted by AAA Senior Vice President Brenda Hunsberger, will set sail from Sydney on February 8, 2022, immersing you in the dazzling city sights and awe-inspiring natural wonders of Australia, taking in Brisbane, Willis Island, Port Douglas, Cairns, Queensland and New Castle before returning to Sydney on February 19. (Remember, February is summer in Australia.) And for those wishing to delve further into The Land Down Under, you have the option of a 4-night pre-cruise tour package with 2 nights staying in luxurious accommodations on the harbor in Sydney and 2 nights visiting Uluru (Ayers Rock) in the unspoiled outback, for an extended 15-night vacation that delivers the perfect balance of excitement and relaxation, on land and at sea.
“I love Australia. Australians are very warm and open to travelers, and they love Americans,” says Hunsberger. “You really get the experience that you’ve gone somewhere different, but yet, it’s so accessible because there’s no language barrier and it’s easy to get around. There’s also lots to do—everything from the mountains and the wilderness to the beaches and the cosmopolitan cities.”
Set against the backdrop of the Sydney Harbour skyline, the Sydney Opera House is an architectural marvel. Photo by F11photo/stock.adobe.com
AUSTRALIA FROM ALL ANGLES
While this much-anticipated voyage brims with a bucket-list-worthy itinerary and optional shore excursions galore, it also offers plenty of flexibility for you to choose what you want to see and do—and how you want to experience it.
Starting in Sydney, imagine touring the architectural masterpieces of the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. You also can fill your day with upscale shopping, museum hopping and sampling the globally inspired cuisine of this ethnically diverse city.
The iconic koala is among Australia's most beloved animals. Photo by Daphot75/stock.adobe.com
Next, Brisbane brings everything from art galleries and unique shops to sandy beaches and wildlife sanctuaries. At the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, you can cuddle a koala and feed a kangaroo. North of town, consider a stop at the famous Irwin family’s Australia Zoo. More wildlife viewing awaits as you cruise Willis Island, home to thousands of seabirds and turtle nesting grounds.
The bustling seaside village of Port Douglas is your home base for the starring attraction of the cruise: the Great Barrier Reef—the world’s largest coral reef and one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World—with opportunities to explore the reef on guided snorkeling and diving tours or to get an aerial view of the reef from a helicopter or small plane during a special excursion (the reef is so massive that it’s visible even from space).
Your following cruise to Cairns offers another ideal launching point for exploring the reef’s myriad of marine life. Inland, journey through a rainforest via cable car or scenic railway, and visit a village to watch traditional Aboriginal dancers perform cultural demonstrations and artisans create pottery, fabrics, jewelry and more.
In Queensland, Airlie Beach beckons for a day of sailing, skydiving and shopping at seaside markets. Next, Newcastle, which was developed in the 19th century by convicts who worked the coal mines and timber forests, is now celebrated as the gateway to Australia’s wine country. Head to Hunter Valley, home to more than 100 vineyards, for a taste of the region’s award-winning Hunter Valley sémillon. World-renowned surfing beaches and a 450-acre reserve comprising natural bushland, nature trails and wildlife exhibits also share the stage in Newcastle.
The mammoth sandstone rock formation Uluru is said to be more than 600 million years old. Photo by Beau/stock.adobe.com
For those opting for the pre-cruise package, Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, is a jaw-dropping spectacle to behold. This colossal sandstone rock formation, which is part of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, rises 1,142 feet in the desert and changes color with the sun’s rays, ranging from dramatic shades of brown, orange, red and gray. Here, you can indulge in an al fresco dinner with views of Uluru at sunset; sample such Australian delicacies as barramundi, emu and crocodile; venture on a sunrise and sunset tour of Uluru; and learn about the cultural and spiritual significance of Uluru to the local Aboriginal people.
Cruise ship Celebrity Eclipse, photo by Nan/stock.adobe.com
ON BOARD WITH THE PROGRAM
Between ports, the Celebrity Eclipse is your home away from home for four delightful days at sea. Among the long list of onboard amenities are spa-inspired staterooms, gourmet dining venues, welcoming bars and lounges, a European-style piazza with posh boutique shops, a state-of-the-art fitness center, a basketball court, a lifelike lawn for leisure sports (croquet, anyone?), a hands-on Hot Glass Class and a Camp at Sea program with some 500 activities for younger guests.
All along the way, you’ll also benefit from the expert knowledge and travel know-how of a dedicated AAA Travel escort in addition to your AAA Travel host. Exclusive AAA member experiences include a private welcome party, Champagne brunch and farewell cocktail party. Plus, you’ll receive up to $100 in onboard credit, the classic beverage package, prepaid cruise gratuity, WiFi access for two devices and a special gift to commemorate your cruise.
“As people are coming off of the last year-and-a-half, we really wanted to give them the opportunity for an adventure as they come back into travel,” says Hunsberger. “We know that a lot of our members have been saving up, whether it’s their time or money, to do this kind of a great trip. It’s a nice type of celebration after what we’ve all been through.”
The AAA Member Appreciation Cruise to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is, indeed, bigger, bolder and better. That leaves us with one departing travel wish: bon voyage!