History and photo ops ... Heraklion, Crete. Photo: Getty Images
Sumer may be almost upon us, and the cruising season well under way in Australasia, but my thoughts have returned to my homeland, Europe. With our 15th wedding anniversary in May, my husband and I have been eyeing options for 2013 to celebrate, and the good news is there are plenty to choose from.
In the Mediterranean, MSC Cruises is set to capture an even larger share of the market in 2013 with the launch of its 13th superliner, MSC Preziosa. The huge 4345-guest ship will be named in Genoa in March, raising the line's capacity to 40,000 berths. One of its many appealing features will be an MSC Yacht Club, which is an entirely self-contained private club area at the front of the ship with sweeping sea views, butler-serviced superior suites, a dedicated restaurant, pool and private lift access to the MSC Aurea Spa.
Besides increasing its presence Down Under this summer, with no fewer than three ships plying local waters, Royal Caribbean also has a strong focus on Europe in 2013. The cruise line is sending the 3114-guest Adventure of the Seas to a seasonal home port of Harwich in Britain beginning on May 24, offering a calendar of seven-, 12-, 13-, 14- and 16-night cruises visiting ports of call in Britain, France and Spain. Fresh from a refurbishment, its sister ship, the 3634-guest Independence of the Seas, will be based in Southampton for a fifth season beginning the same month, cruising to Norway, Ireland and the Mediterranean.
The first of a new class ... Oceania Marina.
Looking further down the track, newly all-inclusive Azamara Club Cruises will be heading back to Europe in 2014. Highlights include a rendezvous of both ships, Quest and Journey, in Monte Carlo in May for the Monaco Grand Prix, and an 11-night Mediterranean Easter sailing on Quest, offering guests an overnight stay in Civitavecchia to attend Palm Sunday Mass in the Vatican, and spend Easter Sunday in Florence.
Package of the Week
Exclusive ... the MSC Yacht Club.
Journey on the world's most expensive train, stay in top-class hotels and cruise the Adriatic on a real sailing ship. This 14-night package from Cruise Express, priced from $9990 a person, twin share, begins on October 6, 2013, with a seven-night cruise of Croatia on Sea Cloud II, in a round trip from Venice. You then enjoy a three-night stay in Venice at the legendary Hotel Danieli before boarding the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express for an overnight trip to Paris. The holiday wraps up in the French capital with a three-night stay at the grand Hotel de Crillon. Book by November 30 for early-bird saver fares. 1300 766 537, cruiseexpress.com.au.
French luxury operator Compagnie du Ponant has released its brochure for the northern summer in 2013, including new itineraries in Asia in October on Le Soleal. Also new are themed cruises, with a focus on golf, music, food, wine and beauty.
Carnival Conquest has emerged from a multimillion-dollar Fun Ship 2.0 refurbishment in the Bahamas. New features include watering holes RedFrog Rum Bar and BlueIguana Tequila Bar, the Punchliner Comedy Club and Guy's Burger Joint. Entertainment features Hasbro, the Game Show and Playlist Productions open in December.
Star Clippers is venturing to Cuba in 2014. Tall ship Star Flyer offers four itineraries ranging from six to 14 nights, with the bonus of an option of a pre- or post-cruise stay in Havana to explore the Caribbean island in greater depth.
LAUNCHED 2011 PASSENGERS 1250 REGULAR HAUNTS Europe, South America, south Pacific, Australasia BEST FOR CouplesTHE DETAILS A 10-night Mediterranean cruise, a round trip from Barcelona departing on November 10, 2013, is priced from $2325 a person, twin share. (02) 9959 1371, oceaniacruises.com.
Need to know
1 The first of a new class of ship for Oceania Cruises, Marina is twice the size of its older siblings, with a main focus on fine dining. Its identical mid-size twin, Riviera, joined the fleet in May 2012.
2 Its decor is like that of a boutique hotel on the water, with designer touches throughout, from an impressive Lalique grand staircase dominating the atrium, to the lavish owner's suites furnished by Ralph Lauren Home.
3 Of its 629 accommodations, 591 have private balconies. There are many categories to choose from, featuring oversize bathrooms and a decor of dark, warm wood with a palette of soft colours. Amenities include a fridge with unlimited soft drinks and bottled water, a flat-screen TV and bathrobes.
4 Marina's cuisine is overseen by chef Jacques Pepin and six of its dining venues are open seating with no surcharge. Top picks include the traditional French Jacques, Pepin's first venue at sea; the Asian-fusion Red Ginger; Polo Grill steakhouse; and an elegant Italian, Toscana.
5 There is a Bon Appetit Culinary Centre headed by chef Kathryn Kelly, the Canyon Ranch SpaClub featuring a private terrace, pool with two jacuzzis and an Artist Loft for creative pursuits, and an internet centre.
Port watch: Heraklion, Crete
Need to know The largest city on the island of Crete, Heraklion is famous for the ruins of Knossos and a history dating from Minoan times. Cruise ships dock at the port, which is a 15-minute walk along the seafront from the old town, or you can take the free shuttle provided by the city.
Do not miss The heart of Heraklion is surrounded by an impressive Venetian wall and seven bastions. It's easy to explore on foot, with a must-see being the Martinengo Bastion, which is home to the tomb of renowned writer Nikos Kazantzakis. Shoppers should head for Odos 1866 Street, where the colourful open-air market is open in the mornings. For first-time visitors, a visit to the ruins of Knossos should be a priority. Just five kilometres south of the city, it's the most important Minoan palace complex in Crete and provides plenty of history and photo ops.
We know there are cruises to the south Pacific year-round now, but when is the best time to go?
- B. Rodgers, Liverpool.
The region's stunning landscape and tropical climate make it perfect for a high-seas holiday at any time. Many cruisers, however, prefer to cruise during the dry season, which is from May to October, because the winter trade winds keep temperatures cooler. November to April is the warmer and more humid wet season, when you can experience heavy rainstorms, but this is also the time of year when cyclones and tropical storms can form, which could interrupt your cruise and cause seasickness in anyone susceptible.