Hot spot ... Waikiki Beach, Honolulu.
I'M FINALLY back on dry land again, and wrapping up my last column of 2012. It's been a busy year for the cruising world with plenty of news, from exciting new ship launches to innovations at sea including new on-board restaurants.
Having just returned from Celebrity Solstice's repositioning cruise a week ago, including its debuts in Australia and Sydney, and looking ahead to 2013 and beyond, a growing number of ships seem to be following its example and heading to new regions or home ports.
Responding to demand, the SeaDream Yacht Club is offering a series of 18 cruises exploring Asia and northern Australia starting late next year. SeaDream II will reposition to Asia after its Mediterranean season in October, with a cruise from Athens by way of the Suez Canal, India, Singapore and Thailand, and will remain there until April 2014 offering itineraries ranging from seven to 15 days. Across the Pacific, Norwegian Cruise Line is returning a ship to the Texan city of Houston for the first time in six years, to use it as a home port starting late in 2014.
Traditional cruising experience ... MSC Orchestra.
It's repositioning the 2374-guest Norwegian Jewel for three years to the Bayport Cruise Terminal, to offer seven-day western Caribbean voyages.
Disney Cruise Line is also venturing to the Caribbean, and Jamaica for the first time, in late 2013. Disney Wonder will operate a range of seven-night western Caribbean cruises from Galveston, Texas, calling at Jamaica's new hot port of call, Falmouth.
Royal Caribbean's Legend of the Seas was the first ship for the line to be based in Australia 12 years ago. After completing its final season in Asia in April next year, however, the ship will be relocating to a new home in the Mediterranean for the northern hemisphere summer months, and the Caribbean over the winter.
Deep in the southern Caribbean ... Bequia. Photo: Getty Images
The traditionally styled Saigon Pandaw will be renamed Sagaing Pandaw, and move to Burma to cruise the country's waterways from July 2013.
Happy Christmas, cruise fans, and bon voyage until next year!
Package of the Week
Cruise to Hawaii through the South Pacific, and fly back to Sydney in comfort with this new package from Cruise Express. The 17-night cruise is on Celebrity Solstice, joint runner-up in the 2013 large ship category by the international guide Berlitz, and one of the highest-rated ships to cruise Australia. It departs Sydney on April 8. Disembark in Honolulu and spend two days exploring. Accommodation is oceanfront at the Outrigger Reef Hotel; then fly home StarClass with Jetstar. This package is from $4699 for an inside stateroom to $7999 for a Sky Suite, all fares per person based on twin share. Call only for this offer on 1300 766 537; full payment will be required.
Expedition operator Hurtigruten is adding a new fiord exploration to its itineraries in Norway between September 1 and October 31. Hjorund fiord, in the Sunnmor Alps, has a dramatic landscape of steep rock walls, villages, mountain farms and sweeping green meadows.
MSC Cruises has transformed its buffets on MSC Splendida, Fantasia and Poesia. Home-made bread, a Mediterranean corner of traditional cheeses and cured hams, and healthy foods adapted for kids' tastes are among the changes.
Seabourn Quest's 116-day world cruise in 2013 will feature prominent names from the culinary world, among them "Grape Goddess" Catherine Fallis from the US, one of the few master sommeliers in the world. She will be on the luxury yacht for its Australian sectors.
LAUNCHED 2007 PASSENGERS 2550 at double occupancy REGULAR HAUNTS The Mediterranean, South AmericaBEST FOR Couples, families THE DETAILS A seven-night western Mediterranean cruise, a round trip from Genoa visiting Civitavecchia, Catania, Tunis, Ibiza and Villefranche, is priced from $679 a person, twin share, with departures in April and May 2013. 1300 028 502, msccruises.com.au.
Need to know
1 Orchestra is one of four ships in the Musica class, a venture into bigger ships for MSC, with smaller accommodations but offering port-intensive itineraries. Orchestra's decks are all named after musical instruments befitting its name.
2 Although it has plenty of Italian style, Orchestra offers a slightly more traditional cruising experience. Fellow guests are largely European with a healthy contingency from Britain and Italy, and small numbers from the US.
3 There are four basic types of accommodations; about a quarter are inside, there are only 18 suites, but the majority of staterooms are outside with either picture windows or balconies. The decor varies, but is modern with standard features including a mini-bar, television and safe.
4 Orchestra has two main dining rooms offering Mediterranean fare. There are three alternatives including the elegant 4 Seasons a la carte Italian offering panoramic views, the Shanghai Chinese, and the casual La Piazzetta cafeteria.
5 Facilities include a music hall and theatre, two outdoor pool bars, a jogging track, mini golf, tennis court, solarium and fitness centre. There's also an art gallery, a large pool, casino, children's area, disco and video games.
Port Watch: Bequia, the Caribbean
Need to know This tiny island lies deep in the southern Caribbean and is the second-largest island of St Vincent and the Grenadines. With a long history dating back to the 16th century, it has French and British influences. Ships anchor in Admiralty Bay and use tenders to transport guests to Port Elizabeth.
Do not miss The main town is small and has little sightseeing beyond a quaint waterfront with bars, restaurants and shops. Good options for a day in port include hitting one of the island's beautiful swimming beaches, or taking a tour with a focus on sailing, diving or snorkelling. You can also hire a local open-truck taxi for a tour of the island, and, if travelling with children, pay a visit to the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary. With a long day in port, consider the hour-long ferry ride to St Vincent.
Do drinks packages on cruises save you money?
- C. Mendez, Caringbah.
They can, depending on what you drink and how much. Packages come in many forms, covering just bottled water or soft drinks for kids, right up to all-encompassing packages including specialty coffees and premium wines and spirits. The best way to ascertain their value for money for you is to make a rough calculation of how many coffees, bottles of water, soft drinks or alcoholic drinks you are likely to consume in a day, and how much this would cost. If there's a package covering your needs for a lesser amount, it's worth considering.