The biggest cruise ship to visit New Zealand is about to head our way.
The 168,666-tonne Ovation of the Seas leaves Sydney tonight bound for Tasmania then will cross the Tasman Sea to reach Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound and Dusky Sound next Wednesday before making its first port call at Dunedin on Friday.
Ovation is longer than three rugby fields and is too long to berth in Auckland where it will arrive on December 27. It will have to anchor in the harbour off Queens Wharf with passengers ferried about 800 metres on tenders to the Viaduct area.
The ship will also visit Tauranga, Wellington and Picton.
The ship's owners, Royal Caribbean, says it is a "game changer" and has been stopping traffic in the Australian cities it has visited in the past week.
"In Adelaide a traffic jam at 9am; there's a lot of interest around the country,'' said Australia and New Zealand managing director Adam Armstrong.
"It's a game changer. It's such a different animal to what we've had in the market before."
The ship is the fourth biggest in the world, with up to 4905 passengers and 1500 crew.
It is part of a new generation of ships stacked with amenities and attractions, and will cruise around Australasia this summer.
It has a stand-up surfing pool, sky diving simulator, rock-climbing wall, dodgem cars, a circus school, and an observation gondola on a hydraulic arm rising 90m above the ship.
It has eight speciality restaurants, some bars are set up with robotic bartenders which help deliver 127 kinds of cocktails.
During a seven-day cruise passengers will chomp through 3.3 tonnes of chicken, 5.1 tonnes of beef, 6.8 tonnes of potatoes and 714 kilograms of lobster tail.
Consumption onboard the Ovation of the Seas
Ovation is one of a record 33 ships cruising New Zealand waters this summer, up from the 28 ships that visited during the same period last year.
Among them, the ships will make more than 600 calls to ports around the country.
The visits will include close to a dozen maiden port calls for cruise lines at destinations including Stewart Island, Wellington and Kaikoura, as well as more than 60 inaugural port calls for individual ships.
Last season cruise ship visits injected $484 million into the New Zealand economy.
In Auckland the sector provided a $220m boost to the city's economy, up 15 per cent on the previous season.
During this season there will be 104 ship visits into Auckland.
Ovation of the Seas specifics
Armstrong said while the tender arrangements for Auckland were going well, the company was disappointed the ship wouldn't be able to tie up alongside Queens Wharf this summer and next.
It had hoped a mooring dolphin, a pontoon-type structure off the end of Queens Wharf, would be in place next summer. Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has questioned the need to spend up to $12m on the structure, and a consent application has been delayed.
The Auckland council group, which includes Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED), Panuku Development Auckland (Panuku), Auckland Transport and the Ports of Auckland Ltd (PoAL), is keeping the consent to build a dolphin mooring on hold until the first quarter of 2017.
"This will give the group more time to pull together more detail to support the consent including a risk assessment provided through PoAL around the implications of excluding the gangway, and an independent economic impact benefit report commissioned by Panuku," said ATEED's general manager visitor and external relations Steve Armitage
The council group was also undertaking a refresh of the planning for the central wharves, Viaduct and Wynyard Point and will provide the strategic context for how all these parts of Auckland's waterfront work together. As such, the mooring dolphin would be considered by the planning committee in March as part of the wider waterfront planning and a refreshed cruise strategy.
"Given this delay it will mean the proposed infrastructure will not be in place in time for the 2017/18 season but instead ready for the 2018/19 season, dependent on obtaining the relevant consents and completing construction," said Armitage.
Ovation of the Seas guest utilities
Armstrong said it was important to go through the consent process but said it could influence Royal Caribbean's approach in the future.
"That's disappointing for us because we want to be in Auckland and have an operation alongside [the wharves]. We're just looking into the future to see whether it will impact our calls going forward. The cruise industry continues to grow and we don't want to jeopardise the growth of the industry by being too slow with infrastructure."
Armstrong said the Ovation's Wellington visit had been affected by the earthquakes last month.
The cruise terminal in the city had suffered damage and the ship was having to berth in part of the cargo port with passengers bused into the city.
''We want to keep coming. That's a common response from the tourism industry globally. When these incidents happen the tourism industry is very important to these populations."