South Pacific Islands are the big winners from the boom in cruising Down Under this summer.
As more cruise lines add Australia and New Zealand to annual itineraries, the search is on to find new regional ports to excite cruise passengers. There is no doubt that most of those on board cruise ships are in search of sun and sand, as well as a dash of culture to show the cruise has been “to another country”.
Pacific islands such as New Caledonia, Vanuatu, and Fiji, have all experiencing a growth in visitor numbers with more frequent cruise ship arrivals, and have lifted their tourism game to meet the needs of this new breed of traveller.
The South Pacific has long been a favourite with P&O Cruises’ five ships – Pacific Aria, Pacific Eden, Pacific Pearl,Pacific Dawn, and Pacific Jewel – which are all based in Australian waters year-round.
Now they are being joined by ships from Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Holland America, and Norwegian Cruise Line’s fleets.
Australian-based Caroline Brunel, of New Caledonian Tourism, says that 20,000 visitors fly into the capital Noumea annually for a holiday. However, recent figures show that over 400,000 visitors also arrive on cruise ships to spend time in Noumea, the capital of the main island Grand Terre, as well as at the port of Lifou on the Loyalty Islands, and on the Isles of Pines.
Caroline says it is great to see so many visitors arriving by ship, but their short time in port means that they do not see a great deal of the islands.
“Often they arrive on a Sunday or Monday when many places are closed, so they do not have time to experience New Caledonia’s culture which is rich in French and Melanesian flavours. However, they are have a taste of island life and often come back for a longer holiday on land.
Caroline says those who return can easily drive around the main island, Grande Terre, which it is about 350 km in length and about 70 km wide in most places. Many visitors will stay overnight in a Kanak (traditional islander) village and enjoy a bougna feast of meats and vegetables soaked in coconut milk and wrapped in banana leaves, and buried in the ground to cook for several hours.
australiancruisingnews.com’s favourite fare when visiting the French territory is to head to the marked to buy the crustiest baguette, the ripest cheeses, and a reasonably priced bottle of French wine to create “a picnic made in heaven”.
Cruise ship guests are a fickle bunch. There was a time when all they wanted was a holiday at sea.
Of late, they have expected restaurants aboard to be on a par with those on land. That happened.
Then they wanted Broadway-style entertainment. That came too.
Currently, the requests are for more time exploring ports on cruise ship itineraries. That is happening too.
The boutique cruise brand Azamara Club Cruises (Royal Caribbean is the parent company) has long made destinations the hero of its world-wide itineraries. Now Azamara has expanded that programme further with longer stays in port, more overnight, and night tours.
This year alone Azamara will take guests on its two recently revitalized ships Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest– which each carry 690 guests – to more than 200 ports, in 68 countries, including 195 late night stays and 82 overnight stays.
Azamara’s President and CEO Larry Pimentel says, “Our land product will be curated to ensure guests get to connect, in a personalised and unique way, with the people in the destinations they visit. This may occur through people-to-people interaction, cultural experiences, or by enjoying local food and beverages, music and others events.”
There will be country intensive voyages to allow guests to travel deeper and experience more of a given country such as Japan, Italy, Spain, Norway, New Zealand, Australia, Greece, or Croatia.
Expanded world events and themed voyages are also scheduled, such as the Monaco Grand Prix, the World Cup, British Open, Venice Redentore Festival, and wine and yoga themed voyages.
Experiences, such as a visit to a theatre, or pub, or a local home, farm or villa are also scheduled, with the option of overland tours during the voyage as well as pre or post voyage experiences.
In Australasian waters this season, an example is Azamara Journey’s executive chef taking guests to a market in Hobart, Tasmania, to choose the freshest ingredients, while the ship’s sommelier will go with guests to a local distillery for an insight into making and tasting spirits.
In Napier, New Zealand, some guests will ride off on the ship’s bikes to visit fishing villages, enjoy the dramatic landscape, and stop at the country’s oldest winery for refreshments.
That highly commercialised St Valentine’s Day has arrived, but romance really is an option at any time of the year.
Some holidays at sea really do pull the romantic strings big time.
Having sailed on Star Clippers’ ships, australiancruisingnews.com believes these fully masted vessels tick all the romantic boxes, and really are akin to private yachts.
Right now Star Clippers operates three of the world’s largest and tallest full-crewed sailing vessels, where half the fun comes when passengers “help” the crew hoist the sails to catch the wind.
Star Clippers has put together some of the romantic experiences on tall ship itineraries.
Champagne fireworks: If the timing is right, guests can sip champagne on the teak deck of a tall ship while watching the rosy glow from Italy’s Stromboli (off the coast of Sicily) during a late evening sail-past. Showers of fire and molten lava are often sighted from this active volcano.
Fresh footprints: Voyage on the four-masted Star Clipper, under thousands of feet of billowing sails, to explore exotic Indonesian islands where virgin white sand beaches, haloed by crystal clear turquoise sea, offers a taste of Robinson Crusoe’ lifestyle.
Loving Venice: Truly one of the world’s most beautiful ports, a sail along Venice’s Giudecca Canal on a clipper ship offers views of majestic old palaces and churches, and that’s before a gondola ride when guests are serenaded by a rich-voiced gondolier.
La Dolce Vita: A clipper cruise along the Italian Riviera offers time on shore to wander the narrow streets of Portofino, a former fishing village that is now one of Italy’s most fashionable and romantic towns. And once exploring is over there is time for a cooling limoncello granita.
Caribbean rhythm: Discover seductive Cuba – the current hotspot on every travellers’ wish list – where samba, salsa and swaying palms rule. This must-see tropical destination has to be visited right now, before too much of the island’s authentic Caribbean lifestyle changes.
Star Flyer andStar Clipper, each carry 170 guests, while Royal Clipper carries 227 guests. Flying Clipper, with 300 guests, will join the fleet next year, starclippers.com
It is hard to ignore the cruise bargains that are floating around the internet and the print media right now. Whichever port a traveller wants to cruise to, there seems to be a bargain cabin (they are called suites these days) waiting to be snapped up.
In Australia the offers are reaching their peak as school holidays have ended – increasingly families are taking their brood on cruises during the summer break – and the loads have eased.
Cruise line websites offer special deals, so do wholesalers, and travel agents. It is just a question of where to cruise to, and when.
Those who are free to go at a moment’s notice will often wait for last-minute sales, or book around 90 days before a cruise to snap up a good price, and a reasonably situated cabin.
And let’s face it, a cruise holiday is great value. Often prices start around $A100 a day which includes accommodation, all meals, entertainment, and most facilities on board. Where on land is such value offered?
Australians have taken to cruising like ducks to water and are one of the world’s fastest growing passenger markets. Tentative first-timers usually book their first cruise holiday from the port nearest their home, then look further afield, often taking a long haul flight to join a cruise with an itinerary of ports that really appeal.
As australiancruisingnews.com notes, word-of-mouth has played a huge role in the success of cruising Down Under where more than 1-million Australians (just over 4 per cent of the national population) took a cruise in the past 12 months. The popularity of cruising among Australians has not gone unnoticed by the major cruise lines that now send many more ships from their fleet Down Under. Until recently only the locally based P&O Cruises based ships permanently in Australian waters, but now other shipping lines stay in local waters for many months through summer.
Indeed, the major problem in Australian ports right now is capacity, particular in Sydney – the main attraction for international visitors – to accommodate more and larger ships at existing terminals, especially as some mega liners are unable to sail under the iconic Harbour Bridge.
Today’s cruise passengers are spoilt for choice when it comes to entertainment on board ships.
There was a time when a comedian, a pianist, and a singer – who could belt out the blues as well as the latest hits – were the sole entertainers on a cruise ship.
Such a dearth of performers would not make the cut these days when Broadway style productions are the nightly fare in cruise ship theatres.
The productions have eye-popping sets and visual effects, as well as a large cast of singers, dancers and special entertainers filling the stage.
Versions of popular musicals such as Cats, Mama Mia, and Priscilla Queen of the Desert, have all found their way on to cruise ships where they are a free part of the onboard entertainment.
One cruise line with a big reputation for entertainment at sea is Norwegian Cruise Line that recently added the high voltage ballroom extravaganza Burn the Floor to its repertoire. The show, which sets the stage on fire with swivelling hips and steamy embraces, is already on Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Getaway, and Norwegian Epic, and will be the star turn when Norwegian Jewel sails into Australian waters in November.
A new version of Burn the Floor with a distinctive Aussie flavour is being created for the Australian market by choreographers, Jason Gilkison and Peta Roby, who both hail from Perth in Western Australia.
This duo started out as junior ballroom dancing partners and went on to win World Ballroom Championship titles before joining the first cast of Burn the Floor two decades ago.
Since then the company has travelled the world, performing in more than 300 cities in over 29 countries, including seasons on New York’s Broadway and London’s West End.
More recently Burn the Floor has been to China, and to Japan where the dancers were given the sort of reception normally reserved for rock stars.
By coincidence, choreographer Peta Roby met her husband Nic Notley more than 30 years ago on a cruise, and he is now Burn the Floor’s executive producer.
Over the festive season break australiancrusingnews.com has checked out the growing number of international celebrity chefs that have linked their names to cruise lines with signature restaurants that now rule the waves.
Japan’s Nobu Matsuhisa, America’s Thomas Keller, Britain’s Marco Pierre White, France’s Jacques Pepin, and Australia’s Curtis Stone are just some of the high-profile culinary stars in the ocean-going mix.
Their restaurants at sea usually offer similar menus to those they run on land, but at far less cost. And the added bonus is that the celebrity chef is sometimes on board the cruise ship for special events, and may even give cooking classes.
Here is the link to a more detailed article by Veronica Matheson, (author of australiancruisingnews.com) that appears in the winter edition of FWT (Food,Wine,Travel) Magazine.
THE recent death of former Cuban president Fidel Castro has ramped up interest in this laid back Caribbean island where tourism continues to grow.
For many, a cruise to Cuba is a much welcomed option with more companies setting their sights there in recent weeks. True, the people of this tropical island are mainly poor, but they love life and dancing to lively salsa music. And somewhere in the background someone will always be tuning up a much-loved ‘50s Cadillac to keep it movin’.
Cuba was a country off-limits to American travellers until recent times when US President Obama eased restrictions on a 50-year old embargo between the two countries.
Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, and Regent Seven Seas Cruises have just announced that they will be sailing to Cuba in coming months, with overnight port calls to the island’s lively capital Havana.
The news is a real joy to Frank Del Rio, CEO of the Norwegian fleet who says, “As a Cuban-American and founder of Oceania Cruises, I am incredibly proud that one of Oceania’s vessels, Marina, will be our company’s first ship to sail to Cuba in March. This is truly a dream come true for me and I cannot wait for our loyal guests to experience the sights and sounds of my hometown Havana, and to get to know its rich culture and its warm and welcoming residents.”
Swiss-based MSC Cruises already has MSC Opera home porting in Havana, and Adonia, under Carnival’s Fathom line, started sailing there earlier this year. However, Carnival will end Fathom cruises in May with plans to have Cuba on itineraries of some of the other ships in its fleet at a later stage.
Royal Caribbean has also had approval from the Cuban government for Empress of the Seas to sail there from April, and Azamara Club Cruises is also scheduling cruises to the tropical island.
Cruise ships sailing to Cuba offer “people-to-people” exchanges between Americans and Cubans as allowed by U.S. rules governing visits to Cuba. But, President-elect Donald Trump may undo the US-Cuba relationship if certain conditions are not meant.
♦♦♦♦australiancruisingnews.comis taking a festive break and will be backon deck on January 18, 2017.
It’s that time of year when the awards come thick and fast in the travel industry, including some focused on cruise lines.
With hundreds of cruise ships to choose from australiancruisingnews.comwas surprised to see two of the best known guides for cruise ships – the annual Berlitz Cruise Guide for 2017, and Stern’s Guide to Cruise Vacation 2017 – had both rated the same ship as “the best” on the high seas.
The Berlitz Guide awarded Europa 2and her sister ship Europa its highest distinction as the only 5-stars-plus cruise ships worldwide. Out of a possible 2,000 points, Europa 2 was awarded 1,860 points to lead the category “top 5 small ships with 251 to 750 passengers”. Europa scored second place with 1,852 points.
Both luxury cruise ships, each carrying 516 passengers, are with the German Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, which is currently celebrating its 125th anniversary year.
Berlitz guide author Douglas Ward, who spends more time at sea than on land, judged 295 cruise ships from large to small and scored them on a range of criteria such as ship fittings, accommodation, food quality, service, crew, entertainment and the cruise experience.
Ward says Europa 2 is an ultra contemporary ship that is only a few years old, and very traditional in its style, catering for guests, predominantly Germany, “who love to dress for dinner”.
In Stern’s Guide, Europa 2 took top ranking with the highest distinction, 6-stars-plus for cruise ships worldwide, and Europa was also honored with 6-stars.
“Having cruised on over 800 ships, I can honestly say that no other ship was as exquisitely beautiful as the Europa 2,“ author Steve Stern said.
Commenting on the success of his ships, Karl J. Pojer, CEO of Hapag-Lloyd, says the company’s aim is to create unique cruise experiences for guests.
Right now Europa 2 is cruising from Tahiti to New Zealand and will cruise on to Australia over Christmas-New Year, while Europa is sailing from Mumbai to Singapore, hl-cruises.com
Cruise passengers are so relaxed on a cruise ship that they often lose their normal inhibitions. Let’s face it, they are unlikely to meet their fellow passengers again when back on land.
Take the evening australiancruisingnews.com was heading off to her cabin to pick up a warm wrap before heading out on deck.
Along the corridor she sighted a male passenger who was stark naked. The temptation was to turn back, but she continued walking. As she passed the man he nodded, “Good night!” with a cheerful smile
Later, heading back along the corridor she found he was still standing “starkers” and still smiling.
Turns out the man accidentally locked himself out of his cabin as he retrieved a message that had been left on the rack outside his door. He was waiting for a crew member to let him back in.
“Starkers” can also be the sight in hot climes where passengers want an all-over suntan and prefer facecloths from their cabin as cover-ups for vital parts rather than a slightly more modest bikini or speedos.
Sometimes the offenders just happen to be the very overweight, who should be covering up big-time and not exposing their wares.
Then there are the unawares who leave cabin curtains open, jump out of the shower and go to the window to check out the weather, only to find someone gazing in at them port side.
Some passengers dress just as they might alone at home. They even turn up to meals in PJs and fluffy slippers, or in dressing gowns. Their excuses range from having a spa treatment later, or running out of time to change for lunch.
australiancruisingnews.comwould love to hear from readers about their onboard cruise ship “sightings”.