Cruis­ing through the ages

It’s never too early, or too late, to set sail for ad­ven­ture, ad­vises Ken­dall Hill

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

Sail­ing in Turkey can be a low-frills in­tro­duc­tion to cruis­ing

Cool views: Antarc­tic travel can be the ul­ti­mate ex­trav­a­gance

IN­TREPID ITIN­ER­AR­IES

ONE of the fastest grow­ing niches of the $40 bil­lion global cruise mar­ket is ex­pe­di­tion cruis­ing on small ships (about 100 pas­sen­gers) ca­pa­ble of go­ing where no mega-liner can ma­noeu­vre.

Their com­bi­na­tion of exclusive itin­er­ar­ies, ac­tive ex­cur­sions and lav­ish trim­mings has been dubbed ‘‘ the spoiled meet­ing the un­spoiled’’ by Celebrity Cruises, which op­er­ates high-end Gala­pa­gos voy­ages aboard the 98-passenger Xpedi­tion.

All the lux­ury lines are get­ting in on the act; Sil­versea’s new ex­pe­di­tion ship, the Prince Al­bert II, of­fers Re­lais et Chateaux­sanc­tioned cui­sine and mini­bars stocked with Pom­mery Cham­pagne.

Its itin­er­ar­ies are novel and sur­pris­ingly en­er­getic: swim with sea lions in Mex­ico’s Sea of Cortez or buddy-up to po­lar bears in the Arc­tic Cir­cle.

Antarc­tica by ex­pe­di­tion ship is the ul­ti­mate in­dul­gence, of­fer­ing all the re­mote won­ders of the white con­ti­nent with none of the usual pri­va­tions.

In­sider tip: Ex­pe­di­tion cruis­ing is pricey but it’s of­ten all-in­clu­sive so the only ex­tras you pay for are pre­mium ex­cur­sions.

Other op­tions: Aus­tralian-owned Orion Cruises charts ex­otic wa­ters such as the Kim­ber­ley coast­line of West­ern Aus­tralia and the Coral Sea in Pa­pua New Guinea. www.sil­versea.com; www.celebri­ty­cruises.com; www.ori­on­cruises.com.au.

BIG CAN BE BEAU­TI­FUL

LUX­URY on a larger scale is the hall­mark of cruise lines such as Crys­tal and Re­gent Seven Seas; their bou­tique-sized ships usu­ally carry 500 to 1000 pas­sen­gers in Egyp­tian-cot­ton com­fort. Life on board is all about stan­dards, hence the spas are suitably deca­dent, restau­rants of­fer true fine din­ing (star chef Nobu Mat­suhisa de­signs the menus at Crys­tal Seren­ity’s sig­na­ture restau­rant) and each cruise line tries to outdo the other with its so­called en­hance­ment pro­grams, rang­ing from lan­guage cour­ses to photography work­shops. Like­wise, shore ex­cur­sions are geared to de­liver the ul­ti­mate brag­ging rights: test drive a Cayenne at the Porsche fac­tory in Leipzig; strap in for a MiG fighter jet flight over Moscow; or trek through the finest vine­yards and es­tates in Bor­deaux.

This is the realm of all-suite, all-bal­cony ships (in­tro­duced by Re­gent Seven Seas) and im­pec­ca­ble ser­vice, in­clud­ing but­lers as­signed to pre­mium suites. Ex­pect an over-50s crowd and a coun­try-club vibe, or what the Amer­i­cans call ‘‘ the car­riage trade’’: those who are wealthy and proud of it.

In­sider tip: De­spite their rar­efied rep­u­ta­tions, even th­ese pre­mium ships of­fer sig­nif­i­cant dis­counts for early-bird book­ings. Check com­pany web­sites for dis­count deals.

Other op­tions: The smaller (fewer than than 500 pas­sen­gers) and ar­guably more exclusive Sil­versea line. www.rssc.com; www.crys­tal­cruises.com; www.sil­versea.com.

THE (VERY) GRAND FI­NALE

AN elite few get their first taste of cruis­ing aboard the undis­puted queens of the ocean, the Cu­nard girls. For the rest of us a voy­age from Southamp­ton to New York (or vice versa) aboard Queen Mary 2 is a dream that may or may not be re­alised in this life­time.

Cu­nard has been in the busi­ness of transAt­lantic cross­ings since 1854 and prides it­self on pre­serv­ing the full ro­mance of the ex­pe­ri­ence. For­mal sil­ver-ser­vice din­ners, grand balls, lav­ish state­rooms, ev­ery­thing ship­shape and Bris­tol fash­ion, that’s the Cu­nard way.

On­board in­no­va­tions in­clude a ken­nel mas­ter to care for pas­sen­gers’ pets and a 6000-vol­ume li­brary with two full-time li­brar­i­ans. Pas­sen­gers can take act­ing classes with Royal Academy of Dra­matic Art grad­u­ates or get down at the night­club, and chil­dren are catered for in the ship’s ded­i­cated Play­Zones. The gar­gan­tuan QM2 has 13 decks that en­com­pass five swim­ming pools, 10 restau­rants (one bear­ing the stamp of Bos­ton celebrity chef Todd English), a two­s­torey spa and the largest ball­room at sea.

In­sider tip: Cu­nard’s Queen Vic­to­ria and the QM2 sail into Aus­tralian wa­ters on world voy­ages.

Other op­tions: Cu­nard also has two adults-only ships in its fleet, the Artemis and Ar­ca­dia. www.cu­nard.com. www.sun­sail.com; www.sailingeu­rope.com; www.sead­reamy­acht­club.com; www.windstar cruise.com; www.star­clip­pers.com.

Pic­ture: Phil Hoff­mann Travel

Fa­bled coast­line:

Su­per lux­ury: The Seadream I in the Caribbean’s Vir­gin Gorda Sound

Ser­vice: Life on board is all about stan­dards

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