TRAILBLAZER

INCREASINGLY, cruise lines are taking passengers along a path less travelled. Smaller expedition ships already favour that remoter route, and now larger cruise ships also opt for greater diversity in ports of call.

Recently, the 1950-passenger Pacific Jewel became the largest cruise ship to visit the independent state of Timor-Leste (East Timor) which occupies half the island of Timor with Indonesian West Timor.

Passengers from P&O's Pacific Jewel check out the colourful local market in Timor-Leste's capital, Dili.
Passengers from P&O’s Pacific Jewel check out the colourful local market in Timor-Leste’s capital, Dili.

australiancruisingnews.com notes that Timor-Leste’s capital, Dili, may not have a swanky arrival terminal – cruise passengers travel by tender off Pacific Jewel – but were given a warm welcome by locals who were excited to see a cruise ship in port for the first time.

The visit came on a Pacific Jewel sailing from Singapore (the P&O Cruises ship home ports in Sydney year-round), and it was a chance to test Dili’s capacity to host a superliner as Timor-Leste is considered an attractive cruise destination with a rich cultural life, pocruises.com.au

Pacific Jewel, anchored off Timor-Leste's capital Dili is the first cruise ship to visit the port.
Pacific Jewel, anchored off Timor-Leste’s capital Dili, is the first cruise ship to visit the port.

Landmarks in Dili, speak of the country’s struggles for independence from Portugal and then Indonesia.

The travel bible, Lonely Planet, describes Timor-Leste as “home to a youthful population with a diverse international presence that adds just the right amount of spice.”

The publisher says that Dili, has all the bright lights, but travellers need to venture out of the city for wild cultural experiences on a photogenic journey.  Adventurers can travel down roads beside herds of buffalo, or along white-sand beaches with aqua waters that are rich in marine life. It is an opportunity to trailblaze  through an amazing country that offers adventure with a smile.

Read more: lonelyplanet.com/east-timor

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BESIDE THE MISSISSIPPI

SOMETIMES, australiancruisingnews.com finds that travel does not always work out as originally planned.

Take a recent trip to the United States to cruise along the Mississippi River from Nashville (Tennessee) to New Orléans (Louisiana). It was time to explore the Deep South on a traditional paddle steamer, but at the last-minute plans had to be changed.

A sighting of the paddle steamer American Queen from the banks of the Mississippi.
A sighting of the traditional paddle steamer American Queen from the banks of the Mississippi.

Instead, we took a coach tour along the same route in America’s Deep South, and were delighted with the experience. Everything we wanted to see, and much more, was included in the Insight Vacations’ itinerary exploring the land of country music, the Blues, and rock ‘n roll from Nashville to New Orléans where jazz rules.

It opened our eyes to how far coach travel has come, and how luxury and comfort are all part of this land experience. OK, we are still cruise crazy,  but will be far more open to taking a different way on some future occasions.

Indeed, many cruise lines are now looking at joint ventures so that travellers can take a cruise, land an in-depth land tour, before or after their voyage. It makes a lot of sense.

But back to that Deep South tour by coach. It offered a musical history, a culinary feast, and took us into recording studios, and  to the Grand Ole Opry where musical greats such as Carrie Underwood, Dolly Parton, and Keith Urban have been guest artists.

Preserved 19th century cotton plantations with grand colonial mansions, as well as Graceland, the home of the late, great Elvis Presley were other main attractions. And along the way our tour director filled us in on the rich history of the Deep South of the USA.

We closely followed the route of the slow flowing Mississippi River and occasionally spotted iconic paddle steamers making their way up and down the river. Some of our coach party  had added an Insight Vacations extension at the end of the tour and joined the American Queen paddle steamer for a week-long cruise on the Mississippi back to Memphis ,… but sadly we had run out of time.

More: insightvacations.com

 

BITS AND BOBS

Le Boat’s cruising fleet is far smaller than many the river cruise ships that australiancruisingnews.com usually writes about, but for some travellers  – especially a group of friends or an extended family – it is the preferred option. A perfect home-away-from-home could be floating gently along the River Thames while visiting England’s capital, London. A 7-day self-guided tour along the river, can take in the sights from Windsor Castle to Hampton Court Palace with its maze, to Legoland Windsor Resort, and Chessington World of Adventures. Accommodation and cooking facilities are on board Le Boat which carries up to 12 passengers, and it is possible to “park” for the night on the river bank and visit the local , leboat.com.au

One of Le Boat's fleet on the River Thames near London (UK).
One of Le Boat’s fleet on the River Thames near London (UK).

Sealink are teaming with Australia’s Northern Territory Government to run ferry services on the Tiwi Mantawi (it translates as Tiwi friend) to the culturally rich Tiwi Island that are known as “the islands of smiles”. About 80km north of the Northern Territory capital Darwin, the Tiwi Island are made up of Bathurst and Melville Islands. The 3-day UltimateTiwi Islands tour includes SeaLink ferry (or flight from Darwin), an art workshop with local artists, walking tour, accommodation, meals and non-alcoholic drinks, a wilderness adventure cruise, fishing options, turtle tour, a scenic flight to Melville Island, and a museum and art centre tour, sealink.com.au

APT’s Geoff McGeary, founder of award-winning luxury cruise company APT, will host the company’s 15-day Aegean Odyssey cruise of the Greek Islands and Turkish coast aboard the luxury small ship MV Tere Moana in July. Geoff’s 50-year travel career has seen him grow APT from domestic tour operator to one of Australia’s most successful international travel companies.Sailing from Athens to Istanbul, Geoff will share with guests his passion for travel as they explore the Greek Islands before sailing the length of the Turkish coastline from Bodrum to Canakkale and taking in the Anzac legend at Gallipoli before Istanbul, aptouring.com.au

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SAIL AWAY

Holland America’s new flagship ms Koningsdam’s maiden voyages are twelve months away, but guests have already made bookings for her first sailings in the Mediterranean, hollandamerica.com.au

It is no surprise as frequent cruisers love the kudos of sailing on a new ship, and this year some 22 new ocean and river cruise ships are making their debut.

Next month all eyes will be on P&O’s 3,311-passenger Britannia as she sails on her maiden voyage from Southampton (England) on a 14-night Mediterranean cruise. She  leaves no doubt of her British origins as there is a striking Union Jack on her superstructure, pocruises.com

The striking bow livery on P&O's new cruise ship Britannia which debuts next month.
Striking livery on P&O’s Britannia which debuts next month.

A much anticipated sailing in April is on the 930-passenger Viking Star, the first ocean going ship from Viking Cruises which is already a major player on the European river cruise scene. Within the next few years another two ships of similar size will be added to Viking’s fleet cruising the world’s oceans.

The chairman of Viking, Torstein Hagen, says, “It is our view that in the race to build bigger ships, many cruise lines have lost sight of the destinations to which they sail.

“With our new ocean cruises, we are applying the same principles behind our award-winning river cruises. We will focus on privileged-access excursions and onboard experiences, and make destinations the true focus of our cruises,” vikingcruises.com.au

Nonetheless, australiancruisingnews.com notes that mega liners continue to be built with Royal Caribbean’s latest giant, Anthem of the Seas, carrying almost 5000 passengers, sailing from Southampton (UK) on her maiden 7-day cruise to Spain and France in April, royalcaribbean.com.au

Another behemoth, Norwegian Escape makes her maiden debut in late October with an 11-night trans-Atlantic voyage from Southampton to Miami, norwegiancruiseline.com.au

 

 

LIFE ON THE NILE

CIVIL unrest slowed tourism to a trickle in Egypt in 2011, but calmer times returned with the presidential election last year, and River Nile cruises made a strong comeback. 

However, there was a brief return to unrest last month when 17 people were killed across Egypt on the 4th anniversary of the uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak. As a result tour operators continue to closely monitor the situation there.

Already back in Egypt, Insight Vacationsfirst tour from the capital Cairo included  a Nile cruise between Luxor and Aswan with the company’s CEO John Boulding.

Mr Boulding’s  first and overarching impression was just how pleased locals were to have international guests back. “We were warmly welcomed not just by our team there, but also by shopkeepers and stall holders, waiters, hotel staff and workers at the great archaeological sites.

     “I was reminded how inviting and  friendly the Egyptian people are.”

He added that recent political turmoil had not been swept under the carpet, “Local were very open and willing to share their thoughts on what had happened to their country, and there was a definite sense of stability and positivity pervading”, insightvacations.com.au

Trafalgar Tours (trafalgar.com/aus)  is also back in Egypt as is Abercrombie & Kent which has the luxury Nile cruiser Sanctuary Sun Boat IV, abercrombiekent.com.au

australiancruisingnews.com has been to Egypt and never tires of its  bustling bazaars, iconic pyramids, sandy desert (yes, you can ride a camel there), and all those epic tales of tomb raiders.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EARLY TO ALASKA?

Striking bald eagle sighting on an Alaskan cruise.
Striking bald eagle sighting while on  an Alaskan cruise.

AS Alaska’s summer cruise season winds down, many online readers are asking australiancruisingnews.com about the best time to cruise through that State’s celebrated Inside Passage.

Truly, the 49th State of the United States of America is a stunning beauty at any time during the summer cruise season from April, when the snow and ice are melting, to September when temperatures start to fall.

However, it is often a plus to be there early in the season when Alaskans are unwearied by the thousands of cruise ship passengers that  invade their shores in later months. Boats and planes are all ready for the season’s financial bonanza that is made taking cruise passengers on inland excursions that reveal even more of Alaska’s pristine wonderland.

There are opportunities to go dog mushing through snow country, take fishing trips to bag large salmon, as well as adrenaline adventures from zip-lining above fir forest canopies to kayaking in wild rivers.

Come September locals are often ticking off the days until the last cruise ships sail off and their lives return to normal.

This season almost 1 million passengers visited Alaska on 28 cruise ships that made several round trips from US and Canadian ports.

Disney Wonder (disneycruise.disneygo.com).made 16 sailings from Vancouver (Canada); Radiance of the Seas sailed 18 times between Vancouver and Seward (Alaska) and Rhapsody of the Seas made 16 sailings to Alaska, royalcaribbean.com.au

Princess Cruises is another regular in Alaskan waters with the 3028-passenger Crown Princess, (princess.com) as the largest cruise ship there this summer. Holland America (hollandamerica.com) is another major cruise line that sails to this scenic territory every season.

As well as stunning vistas, Alaska is the place for wildlife from whales breaching to seals hitching rides on ice, and sea otters heading off in follow-the-leader fashion to who knows where. There are sightings of moose on snow-covered peaks, woolly mountain goats clinging to sheer rock faces, bald eagles atop fir trees, and brown bears ambling along the water’s edge, travelalaska.com

 

AN ALL-TIME HIGH

A highlight of the summer cruse season Down Under will be the rendezvous of Cunard's Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria (with their distinctive funnels) in Sydney Harbour in March next year.
A highlight of the summer cruse season Down Under will be the rendezvous of Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria (with their distinctive Cunard Line funnels) in Sydney Harbour in March next year.

THE cruise industry continues its global growth with a 77% increase in passengers over the past decade. In that time passenger numbers soared from 12 million to over 21 million, according to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), cruising.org.au

The new data shows that 55% of global cruise passengers were from North America, 30% from Europe (including the UK and Ireland), and 10% from the Asia Pacific region where Australia accounted for more than  half the passengers.

The average length of a cruise was usually seven days with three or four port calls, but australiancruisingnews.com notes that Australian passengers often prefer longer cruises, especially after a long-haul flight.

As these new figures were released, Australia’s summer cruise season opened with a record-breaking schedule of 642 port calls by 36 cruise ships  in the next six months.

The ships (including seven cruise ships that are based in Australian year-round), will carry tens of thousands of Australian aw well as international tourists around the continent, and to New Zealand and the South Pacific in that time.

On her inaugural season outside US waters, Carnival Cruise Lines’ Carnival Legend (carnival.com.au) launched her season Down Under by sailing into Sydney Harbour today (September 22), with Ponant Cruise Line’s L’Austral (ponant.commaking her first call to Australian waters on December 24 when she sails into Cape York in North Queensland, and MSC Orchestra (msccruises.com.ausailing into Cairns (North Queensland) in March next year.

A highlight of the summer cruise season Down Under will be the rendezvous of Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria in Sydney Harbour on March 12 next year, cunard.com

LATEST CRUISE AWARDS

Norway's stunning coastline was named best destination in Cruise   International magazine's annual readers' awards for the best in cruising.
Norway’s stunning coastline was named best destination in Cruise International magazine’s annual cruise awards.

INVARIABLY, awards carry kudos, and help set even higher standards in the ever-growing cruise industry.

Interestingly, leaders in the cruising world often drop up and down  award ladders as shipping lines are so keenly competitive these days that it is often hard for one to stand out from another.

australiancruisingnews.com notes that the latest awards come from Cruise International, the British consumer magazine that focuses on cruise holidays. Its awards were voted by 25,000 readers, cruise-international.com

The magazine’s 2014 awards named  Princess Cruises (princess.com) as best ocean cruise line with P&O Cruises (pocruises.com) highly commended.

Cunard (cunard.com) was named best luxury ocean cruise line with Celebrity (celebrity.com) highly commended.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Getaway (ncl.com) carrying 4000 passengers, was named best new ship, with Princess Cruises’ Regal Princess (3600 passengers) highly commended.

On the river front, Viking (vikingrivercruises.com) was tops with Scenic Tours (scenictours.com) highly commended, and Uniworld (uniworldcruises.com.au) was named best luxury river cruise line with Scenic Tours highly commended.

Finalists as the best cruise destination were Alaska, Barbados, Norway, St Petersburg and Venice, with Norway topping the poll and Venice as the runner-up.

The editor of Cruise International, Liz Jarvis, says 2014 has been a fantastic year for the cruise industry, and that exciting new ships and itineraries offer even greater choices for cruise passengers in the future.

 

 

MEMORIES ARE MADE OF THIS

australiancruisingnews.com is as guilty as any other traveller of stocking up on souvenirs that trigger precious memories of cruise ports across the world.

travel souvenirs; memories
A collection of fridge magnets help recall cruise memories gathered in ports around the world.

A recent newsletter of the American discount cruise company VacationsToGo asked its online readers to share their favourite ways to keep track of past cruises.

Here are just a few of the responses edited for space and clarity.

  • “I keep track of my cruises by embroidering the routes the ships take on a dress that I made.”
  • “We bring back a bottle of water — not drinking water,- from the local water source. We’ve  bottles of Lake Titicaca water, Thames River water, Seine River water, Sharm El-Sheikh (Egypt) ocean water, Waikiki (Hawaii) ocean water, Mendenhall glacier (Alaska) water, and even water from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland (USA).  (It might be worth checking with Australian Customs before adopting this idea)
  • “We have a denim jacket from when my oldest son was a youngster – we purchased a big one – and all the patches and pins we collect wherever we cruise are sewn or attached to this jacket.”
  • “I use a scratch map. The map has a gold coating over every country, which I scrape off when I visit a new place.”

Alan Fox who is CEO of VacationsToGo which posed the question to its readers, says he’s heard from many people who trace their trips with push pins on large maps of the world.
He found that the most popular souvenirs gathered on travels included refrigerator magnets, Christmas ornaments, postcards and bracelet charms.

He also knows of one reader who has 74 charms so far, and that she has now transferred all of these to a necklace.

Another reader saves all her cruise ship ID cards to recall memories of those ships and the destinations visited, while another writes poems about the places she’s visited. And many others keep journals, both on paper and online, vacationstogo.com

TIME FOR SEA CHANGE

From now on there will be surfing action onboard Voyager of the Seas.
From now on there will be surfing action onboard Voyager of the Seas.

THERE is a distinct Aussie flavour on board the armada of international cruise ships sailing into Australian waters for a summer Down Under.

australiancruisingnews.com reports that Australia’s passion for cruise holidays has visiting ships pandering to local habits. They are stocking up on Aussie beer in bars, holding relaxed BBQs on deck, and training baristas to the demanding Australian coffee tastes. Onboard costs will also be in Australian dollars, there will be Australian power sockets in cabins, and new on-deck attractions will also be winners.

When Voyager of the Seas arrives in November she becomes Australia’s largest ship and will have the region’s first FlowRider surf simulator on deck, where guests can ride the perfect wave.

Passengers can surf, boogie board or wake board, to test their skills on the 12-metre long surf simulator, or watch others take on the challenge. There are also private lessons for those that want to hone their skills.

 Her first port of call in Australia will be in Darwin on November 30 as she sails on a re-positioning cruise from Singapore to Sydney.

Also appealing to active passengers will be Voyager’s ice-skating rink, rock-climbing wall, full-size basketball and sports court, and the Royal Promenade – an interior boulevard that runs nearly the length of the ship flanked by restaurants, lounges and boutiques where parades and dance parties will be held.

Voyager of the Seas will sail around Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific during her season Down Under, voyageroftheseas.com.au

Later this month Carnival Cruise Lines’ Australian based Carnival Spirit will be joined by Carnival Legend which will also have a water park with the heart-stopping Green Thunder water slide that is said to be the steepest and fastest at sea, carnival.com.au

 Luxury cruise lines Seabourn and Silversea are others heading south. Seabourn Odyssey is cruising Australian-New Zealand waters from December to February seabourn.com. Silver Whisper and Silver Spirit will have Australia, Bali, New Zealand, and Fiji in focus, silversea.com