There are plenty of people who ask: why cruising? Having departed by ship from Port Vila in Vanuatu last week, for me it's easy to see why it's so appealing. The lush island archipelago in our wake, a warm breeze wafting across the deck, and a magical sunset on the horizon ... the pleasures of the high seas are many.
I'm smitten by cruising and, if a new report on global traffic is anything to go by, I'm not the only one. Figures compiled by the Cruise Lines International Association, the European Cruise Council, Passenger Shipping Association, International Cruise Council Australasia and an industry analyst confirm that the number of people globally who took a cruise last year grew by 10 per cent on the previous year. That's an increase of almost 2 million, topping 20 million for the first time.
Australasia is a key growth area, and the good news for anyone planning to cruise our backyard this summer is that there are plenty of ships to choose from. Besides four huge ships making their debuts here starting next month - Carnival Spirit, Holland America Line's Oosterdam, Voyager of the Seas and Celebrity Solstice - there are also plenty of small-ship and five-star options.
Seabourn Cruise Line has two of its fleet in Australasian waters next year. Seabourn Quest makes its maiden visit in February on a 116-day world cruise. Seabourn Odyssey will cruise local waters for almost three months, visiting Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand.
Silversea Cruises is also offering two 14-day journeys between New Zealand and Australia in the new year. The five-star Silver Shadow will depart Sydney on January 4 to visit Victoria, north-western Tasmania and New Zealand, with a return cruise departing Auckland on January 18.
Finally, Crystal Symphony returns Down Under for the holiday season. Besides a 16-day Christmas cruise from Auckland to Melbourne, the revamped ship also has a 13-night themed cruise from Auckland to Sydney with a focus on bridge. Departing on January 28, it's hosted by legendary teacher Joan Butts and player Paul Wyer.
Package of the week
Fancy a Christmas cruise with a difference? Consider this South America package featuring a cruise on the Oceania Marina, from Cruiseco. The package begins with a two-night stay at the Caesar Park Ipanema Hotel in Rio de Janeiro with breakfast, then you join the mid-size Marina on December 12 for a leisurely cruise to Santiago, including a stop at Buenos Aires, Boxing Day in Valparaiso and a two-day exploration of the Chilean fiords. Priced from $7785 a person, twin share, the package includes flights, transfers and a bonus $US500 ($478) a stateroom to spend on board if you book today. 1800 225 656, cruising.com.au.
The 28th edition of the Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships hits shops tomorrow. Written by Douglas Ward, this new edition has 284 candid reviews and a greater focus on hot-topic issues including safety and stateroom choice. The app for iPhone and iPad can already be downloaded from iTunes.
Next year, every river cruise on River Cloud II will feature experts lecturing on topics from culinary to cultural. The river cruiser explores some of Europe's most beautiful waterways and highlights next year include a maiden visit to Maastricht in the Netherlands.
Norwegian Cruise Line is introducing a new dining package, "Signature Trio", allowing guests to pre-purchase dinner at three specialty restaurants at a special rate, $US47 a person.
MS Caledonian Sky
LAUNCHED 1991 PASSENGERS 114 REGULAR HAUNTS The Arctic, South America, Australasia, the Pacific Rim BEST FOR Couples THE DETAILS A 27-day Rockies and Alaska Discovery Cruise, departing from Vancouver on June 16, and including escorted rail and coach touring on land, is priced from $20,495 a person, twin share. 1300 229 804, aptouring.com.au.
1 The 4200-tonne ship was originally built for Renaissance Cruises, then operated as the Hebridean Spirit for Hebridean Island Cruises, and the Caledonian Sky for Noble Caledonia. APT Touring launched a new association with Noble Caledonia in June.
2 APT has a number of exclusive sailings in 2013 on Caledonian Sky, including an 85th anniversary celebration cruise from the Philippines to Darwin to explore rarely visited regions of Indonesia and Borneo.
3 There are seven categories of suites, 23 of which have private balconies. All of the suites have ocean views and sitting areas, with many featuring walk-in closets and bathrooms with tubs. The decor is traditional, comprising lots of dark wood and rich fabrics.
4 Meals are served in a single sitting in the elegant main dining room. Breakfast is buffet-style, lunch has some items cooked to order, and dinner is a la carte. Weather permitting, a buffet lunch and dinner can be served on deck.
5 Pick of the facilities includes the small gym, the travel library, the elegant lounge, the main bar featuring a pianist, a 24-hour tea and coffee station, and the Club Lounge on the Panoramic Deck, which also has a bar. There is also a sun deck.
Portwatch: Riga, Latvia
Need to know The capital of Latvia, Riga is an important seaport and commercial centre in the Baltic Sea. The city lies on the Gulf of Riga, at the mouth of the River Daugava. Ships dock at the ferry and cruise terminal, about a kilometre from the old district, which is a 15-minute walk along the waterfront. Other transport options include a shuttle or trams.
Do not miss Riga's Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, famous for art nouveau and 19th-century wooden architecture. Most sights can be covered in half a day. Top of the list are the area's many museums, the famous Cat House, the Three Brothers collection of mediaeval buildings, and Riga Castle, which dates back to 1330. For a glimpse of unseen Riga, Eat Riga is a walking tour operating daily from St Peter's Church.
We're taking a cruise in Asia and want to explore onshore independently. Should we take currency for each country?
- D. Vance-Williams, Point Piper.
There are several options. One is to buy a little of each currency before you leave home, and the other is to exchange on board. Most cruise lines will trade US dollars for local currency in each country, or they invite an exchange service on board on arrival. Be aware, however, that they often will not take the currency back. Take some US dollars with you as a back-up; you should be able to change them in each destination, and will probably get a better rate.