BAN ON BIG SHIPS

AHHH…Venice. Unquestionably, Queen of the Adriatic and a not-to-be-missed UNESCO World Heritage site.

Mega cruise ships will no longer be able to sail close by Venice's St.Mark's Square.
Mega cruise ships will no longer be able to sail close by Venice’s St.Mark’s Square.

Right now cruise ships can pass within 300 metres of Venice’s St. Mark’s Square, giving those onboard spectacular views of some of the city’s greatest Byzantine architecture.

All that changes next year as the Italian Government is banning large cruise ships – known as the skyscrapers of the sea – from Venice’s historic centre

International celebrities Sir Michael Caine, Michael Douglas, Rob Lowe, Susan Sarandon, Isabella Rossellini, and Cate Blanchett were among those who signed a petition calling for the giant cruise ships to be banned.

Also among the petitioners was actress Julie Christie whose film – the 1973 thriller Don’t Look Now – was set in Venice.

Mega ships have long been blamed for threatening Venice’s medieval buildings with corrosive smog and questions have long been raised about the effect of the ships’ vibrations on the foundations of centuries-old buildings.

Now, the Italian government has set guidelines that ban cruise ships exceeding 96,000 tonnes from Saint Mark’s basin and the Giudecca Canal, as well as  severely restricting visits by smaller ships.

The new guidelines come into effect next year, and Italy’s transport minister, Maurizio Lupi, calls it a balanced solution to save a world heritage city that is the envy of the world.

Itineraries of more than 40 cruise ships from lines including Carnival, Celebrity, Costa, Cunard, Disney, MSC, NCL. P&O, Princess, and Royal Caribbean may be affected.

Larger ships can still dock in Venice by making a far less scenic approach to the city, cruisetimetables.com/

 

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NEW ERA FOR PANAMA

A camera on Azamara Quest shows the cruise ship moving through the Panama Canal.
A camera on Azamara Quest shows the cruise ship moving through the busy Panama Canal.

BIRTHDAYS come, and go, but it is hard to ignore this month’s 100th birthday of the Panama Canal in Central America.

What’s more the canal is set for a new era with the construction of another lock for today’s mega ships – too big to fit into the present canal for a short cut between the Atlantic to Pacific Oceans.

 australiancruisingnews.com recently had a prime viewing position on the deck of Azamara Quest as a Panamanian pilot was welcomed on board to guide the luxury cruise ship through the canal.

A view from the deck of Azamara Quest surrounded by jungle in Gatun Lake on a cruise through the Panama Canal.
View from Azamara Quest surrounded by jungle in Gatun Lake on  cruise through the Panama Canal.

Our 10-day cruise from Miami (Florida) sailed to Cartagena (Colombia), and Panama with eco-friendly Costa Rica as the next country on our itinerary. But it is the Panama Canal that is the real drawcard for everyone on board.

Its sheer scale makes the canal transit so thrilling. Everything is vast from the ships to the locks with towering walls and mighty gates, enclosing chambers where millions of litres of water pour in and out to raise and lower the vessels transiting the canal.

Panamanian port officers attach ropes to “mules” – the mini locomotives that ride along on rails beside the canal – to keep Azamara Quest in a straight line while moving through the canal’s Gatun, Pedro Miguel, and Miraflores locks.

The mechanical clatter of “mules”, the constant activity on the ship’s bridge, the musty smell of the lock chambers, the bird song and howling of monkeys in surrounding jungle, and the sighting of crocodiles sun-baking on nearby banks, all add to the experience..

Regarded as an engineering marvel, the Panama Canal shaves thousands of km off sailings around the treacherous Drake Passage at the tip of South America.
Within 10 hours – it passes in a flash – Azamara Quest sails slowly through the 80 km canal. Passengers are transfixed as our cruise ships is raised 26 metres above sea level by a succession of three locks to the man-made Gatun Lake, then crossing the 24-km lake before returning to sea level via the canal’s descending locks.

Our gregarious Portuguese Captain Jose Vilarinho – says it is a decade since he last transited the Panama, “and it is as exciting today as it was then. Perfect!” he enthuses.

The canal is operated by the Panama Canal Authority, and every year about 14,000 ships sail through it.

More: azamaraclubcruises.com

WAS TV SHOW A TURN-OFF?

Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, naming the Royal Princess cruise ship last year.
Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, naming the Royal Princess cruise ship early last year.

WERE would-be cruisers turned off a holiday at sea by the documentary The Cruise Ship that recently aired on British TV?

Set on board Princess Cruises’ Royal Princess, the 3600-passenger cruise ship (launched by the Duchess of Cambridge early last year), the show gave insight into life on board for passengers and crew.

Now, australiancruisingnews.com finds there are murmurings that some would-be cruisers might be put off by the 4-part series.

The UK’s newswire travelmole.com reports that the client of one travel agent was considering a group cruise, but after watching the show felt a cruise looked like “her worst nightmare”.

The agent asks “Why do cruise lines allow cameras on board, when they should know that editing will paint them in a light to entertain viewers, not always to their advantage?”

cruisecritic.coms forum has one couple, new-to-cruising, asking, “We’ve just watched The Cruise Ship and now we’re slightly worried. We are in our mid-thirties and this documentary shows a cruise out of Florida (USA) made up of an almost exclusively 60+ age group, eccentric crew and passengers… We were lured into the idea of cruising by shows like Mighty Ships, but The Cruise Ship has left us concerned.”

A forum member  replies, “Take a deep breath! You will be fine! This is a documentary edited for maximum drama so they will have picked the most outlandish characters out of the possibly 1000s of hours of footage to hone in on.”

Princess Cruises’ managing director for the UK and Europe, Paul Ludlow, says that overall the cruise line was delighted with the response from The Cruise Ship programme.

“We’re 50% ahead of sales target for 2015,” he says. “Our weekend web traffic has doubled and enquiries have spiked, particularly from those new to the brand. We hope this effect is being felt across the industry and we’ve received a number of comments from travel agents that the series led to a sharp increase in new-to-cruise customers.”

He says the cruise line decided to take part in the show as it had ‘complete confidence in our brand and staff, and wanted more people to be made aware of cruise holidays’.

“Our role was to only to support the television production company and their filming of the show. We had no say in content nor in the guests who appeared,” he adds, princess.com

IT’S A REAL DILEMMA

READY to take a cruise and wanting to know where to go, and on which ship?

Such requests frequently drop into the australiancruisingnews.com digital letterbox, and there is no easy answer as everyone is so different.

Take this request that arrived recently:

“I’m considering a cruise next year, mid-year perhaps.  I look to your blog to get some inspiration for ships and destinations as there is always a plethora of information. Put simply, if I could go on one ‘must-go’ cruise which one would it be? I will probably be travelling alone and am after the ‘wow’ factor to keep the mid-life crisis at bay.”

It would be wonderful to have a single, perfect answer for this reader, but  sadly that  is not the case.

Even a cruise to one spot on the same ship is  different every time, depending on changing factors such as the weather, the mix of passengers, even the dynamics that come with a change of crew.

If  looking for that elusive “wow” factor one should also consider “bragging rights”. Being able to say you have just sailed on one of the biggest, newest ships on the planet certainly carries kudos. What’s more, these floating cities have something to suit every taste, and there will be so much to talk about later.

Below is a taste of Anthem of the Seas which has yet to make her maiden voyage.

 

Anthem of the Seas (with almost 5000 passengers)  makes her debut in Europe in May next year. and will be a hot contenders in the “wow” factor stakes as is Quantum of the Seas, which makes her maiden voyage in November this year with 4000+ passengers. On board either ship you’ll find a sky diving simulator, surf simulator, bumper cars, a glass capsule that soars above the ship for 360 degree views, as well as ground breaking entertainment including Broadway shows.

There will be enough passengers on board to find kindred spirits, and itineraries that range across the globe. Initially Quantum will be based in New York for Caribbean cruises, but by next May she will be Shanghai bound via Europe, the Middle East, India, and South East Asia. Anthem will be based in Southampton for European cruises, royalcaribbean.com.au

 

 

10 TIPS ON CRUISING

Hiring a bike on a Univworld river cruise a;llows guests to explore a new port and keep fit at the same time.
Hiring a bike on a Uniworld river cruise allows guests to explore and keep fit at the same time.

LIFE on board your floating hotel can be as busy or as laid-back as you want it to be. Being active, or in flop-and-drop mode, can be as easily done on a river cruise ship as on an ocean liner.

Here are some pointers from australiancruisingnews.com

1.   Read the daily newsletter – delivered to staterooms every evening – for details of scheduled activities, opening times of restaurants, bars, and theatres, as well as information on the ship’s officers and crew.

2.  Book shore excursions early as they fill quickly, or decide to explore independently and plan those outings in advance. River cruise ships have bicycles on board for energetic passengers to use at ports of call. Ask crew members where they eat, drink and shop, and what else they like to do when ashore.

3,  Book beauty appointments early as these also fill quickly, especially before special events such as a cruise ship’s formal nights.

4.  If available, cabins with balconies are worth considering for relaxing and enjoying the freshest of air

5.  Pack sun hat, sunscreen and sunglasses as the sun’s reflective glare can be much stronger on the water.

6.  Also pack a camera to capture holiday memories and binoculars for close-ups of the passing scenery

7.  Pack at least one special outfit, as well as mix and match casual clothes,   and bathers for pool and spa time. Some river ships now have a pool as well as spa treatments onboard.

8.  There is always competition for sun lounges around the pool so when travelling with a partner or friend bag one of those early in the day and share lounging time. One can be off working out in the gym while the other sunbakes, or vise versa.

9.  Take plenty of reading material as a ship’s library is not always well stocked with the latest books and magazines

10.  On most cruises the alcoholic drinks usually cost extra, so keep track of how much you indulge or you could be in for a shock when you see the final account.

PICK OF THE COASTS

Head to the waterfront in Miami to sight cruise ships arriving or departing the busy Florida port.
Head to the waterfront in Miami to sight cruise ships arriving or departing the busy Florida port.

THE Australian dollar may have lost some strength against the America dollar, but that country remains a  favourite destination for Aussie travellers.

A recent Roy Morgan holiday tracking survey shows Australians want to holiday in the United States rather than any other country overseas. New Zealand was formerly front-runner for Aussies with England not far behind.

Survey figures show that over 14 per cent of Australians (2.8 million) plan to take a holiday in the United States in the next two years, up from 10 per cent five years ago.

australiancruisingnews.com notes that many of those surveyed have been to the USA before, most often on a family trip to Disneyland, and are likely to consider a cruise holiday on their next visit. So what cruise options are available out of America ports?

West coast cruises:  Los Angeles is the gateway for many Australians heading to the USA, ships from there cruises along California’s Pacific coast from sun-kissed southern ports to the cooler northern climates San Francisco, Vancouver (Canada) and Alaska.

Celebrity Century (celebritycruises.com.au)Norwegian SunNorwegian Pearl and Norwegian Jewel (norwegiancruiseline.com.au), and Crown Princess (princess.com), regularly take this Pacific coastal route.

Those sailing south of Los Angeles take in Catalina Island, San Diego, and Ensenada, a sleepy  port.across the Mexican border. This sun-kissed peninsula, know as Baja California, is where Hollywood celebrities have hideaways in places such as Cabo San Lucas (cruise ships here sail past impressive arched rock formations) and Puerto Vallarta.

East Coast cruises: New York is the hero port for cruises that sail north to New England, particularly in autumn (when falling tree leaves are a show stopper), and on to Canadian ports such as Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Quebec City and Montreal. Carnival Splendor (carnival.com.au) and Norwegian Gem (norwegiancruiseline.com) are regulars on this northern route.

Cruises south sail to Florida and on to the Caribbean islands to chase the sun.

Australians visiting Disney World in Florida often add a Caribbean cruise to their holiday from the port of Miami or Fort Lauderdale to see if the islands there are any match for their own sun-kissed Queensland islands.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

THERE are hundreds of cruise ships with monikers through the alphabet from Admiralty Dream to Zuiderdam.

australiancruisingnews.com notes that two more names – Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden – will soon be added to that diverse list.

Travellers were asked, via Facebook, to rename two ships, ms Ryndam and ms Statendam, now sailing under Holland America’s flag, and due to transfer to P&O Cruises’ Australian fleet by November next year,  facebook.com/POCruises

Not surprisingly 93% of nominations featured “Pacific” as the  three ships already in P&O’s Down Under fleet are named– Pacific DawnPacific Jewel and Pacific Pearl.

P&O Cruises’  was searching for names that were modern and fresh and captured the spirit of a cruise holiday. Hence, the choice of Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden that have that distinctive ring about them.

Below is a brief  look at life aboard a P&O cruise ship on sea days in Australasian waters.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Ms Ann Sherry, CEO of Carnival Australia,, which operates P&O Cruises, says  more than 30,000 names were suggested for the fleet’s newcomers.

“We were overwhelmed by the volume of names suggested by travellers who wanted to put their stamp on our latest ships, which we hope will become as adored as our current fleet.”

 

 

FALLS SAVE THE DAY

UNIWORLD RIVER CRUISE
Uniworld’s River Princess in the medieval German town of Passau on the Danube River.

RECENT heavy rain in Europe cured a growing headache for river cruise lines as hot weather had seen river levels fall and raised concern about ship access.

As australiancruisingnews.com discovered the cruise lines have made huge efforts to ensure their passengers experienced as little inconvenience as possible. This involved extraordinarily inventive ways to keep the cruise schedules afloat on the Danube River between Regensburg and Passau in Germany.

On board guests who left on sightseeing tours from Regensburg finished the day by joining another ship at Passau, while passengers from Passau joined their other ship in Regensburg.

It made no difference to the passengers as they boarded  an identical ship, and settled into an identical cabin where their luggage was already waiting. And to ensure continuity, the cruise director also changed ships with the guests.

Nonetheless, it was an extra busy time for the crew who relocated the luggage from ship to ship.

The ships affected were mainly on cruises between Amsterdam and Budapest along the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers – an itinerary that remains one of the most popular river cruises in Europe and takes in fairytale villages where Christmas markets flourish, as well as medieval towns and classic cities.

Last summer many Central European river cruise schedules were also disrupted, but that time by heavy rain that was the worst in decades, which saw rivers rising to dangerously high levels.

Worst affected then were the Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers through Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

This time around major cruise operator Scenic Tours (scenictours.com.au) organised one ship “swap” on the Danube River before the rains came, as did APT,(aptouring.com.au) while Viking Cruises (vikingrivercruises.com.au) notified its guests that there was the possibility of ship “swaps”, and  Uniworld (uniworld.com.au) was also monitoring the rivers closely.

Fortunately, the rain has brought most rivers back to normal levels and it is now safe for cruise ships to navigate smoothly through rivers with numerous locks in Central Europe.

 

TOP OF THE CHARTS

p1020858.jpgAUSTRALIA is punching well above her weight on the international cruise scene.

The comment comes from Gavin Smith, Australasian chairman of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), on the release of a report that shows Australian cruise passenger numbers soared by 20 per cent in 2013.

According to the Association’s Cruise Industry Source Market report, a record 833,348 Australians – that’s almost 4 per cent of the population – took a cruise last year.

australiancruisingnews.com notes that this is more than double the growth of any other major cruise market.

Australia now has a larger number of cruisers per head of population than the world’s largest cruise passenger market, North America where 3 per cent of the population took a cruise in 2013.

The CLIA’s Gavin Smith says Australia is a relatively young cruise market, yet the number of Australians taking a cruise has grown by an enviable 20 per cent a year for the past 11 years.

Key findings of the Cruise Industry Source Market report for Australia include:

The South Pacific continues to dominate as a cruise destination, with almost 80,000 more Australians cruising the region in 2013, taking the total number to more than 330,000 (40 per cent of the Australian market)

River cruising numbers leapt 25 per cent as almost 50,000 Australians took to inland waterways around the world.

 Asian cruising is on the rise with passenger numbers up 28 per cent to a record 44,000.

 The number of Australians cruising to New Zealand has reached almost 100,000

 Europe continues to be a favourite overseas destination for Australian cruisers with numbers surging by 34 per cent to more than 77,000 Australian cruisers, with Mediterranean ports the strongest drawcard.

MORE: cruising.org.au

 

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RIO BY THE SEA

The towering statue of Christ the Redeemer looks down on the city of Rio de Janiera.
The towering statue of Christ the Redeemer looks down on the  Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro.

TENS of thousands of soccer fans fly into Brazil this week for the FIFA World Cup, but it is those who arrive by cruise ship that are the real winners.

Their sea vista is stunning, taking in major tourist sights while sailing into Rio de Janeiro’s sheltered harbour.

australiancruisingnews.com has been lucky enough to cruise to Rio on Celebrity Millennium from Buenos Aires (Argentina) calling into Montevideo (Uruguay) en route, and has never forgotten that celebrated vista of Rio which sits in one of the world’s most picturesque settings, celebritycruises.com

From the ship’s deck we saw in the distance the outstretched arms of the statue of Christ the Redeemer that sits atop Corcovada Peak, and is reached by cog train before 220 steps to the statue’s base. Also in our sights were Sugarloaf Mountain (reached by glass walled cable car for panoramic views), and the golden beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema.

In no time we were off the ship to explore a glorious city with a lively Latin atmosphere. There was also time to relax in the Lapa district which is packed with Samba bars selling the national drink of caipirinha, a tangy lime cocktail. Nor could we resist dancing the samba as we had learnt the intricate steps in classes while cruising up to Brazil.

Our ship had by-passed Rio the previous day to make a relaxing port call at the beautiful small coastal town of Buzios, about 150 km to the north. These days it is a buzzing tourist centre and a popular weekender for Rio residents. Back in the 1960’s it was a remote fishing village until the French sex kitten Brigitte Bardot put Buzios, on the international map by staying there with a Latin American boyfriend and the world’s paparazzi in pursuit.

These days Buzios honours the French actress with a bronze statue sitting prominently along the sea promenade. And the town is still known as the Saint-Tropez of South America as Bardot hailed from Saint-Tropez in France.

It is not the cruise season in South America now as that usually runs from November to March, and winds up soon after Rio’s dazzling annual carnival is over. As a result MSC Cruises’ MSC Divina is the only cruise ship to sail into Rio’s port this month  in time for guests to be in Sao Paulo for FIFA’s World Cup’s opening match later this week (June 12), www.msccruises.com.au