Viking's new direction
Debut ... Royal Princess's Sea Walk.
VIKING River Cruises is making headlines this week, with news that it is building two new luxury ocean-going ships. The first is due in late 2014 and the second a year later, both weighing in at 45,000 tons and carrying 998 guests.
What makes this news is not only that Viking is evolving into ocean cruising but the size of the ships. They're bucking the growing trend towards big and although there are no details about their design, you can guarantee this innovative operator is planning to stir things up at the luxury end of the scale.
When it comes to size and design, Royal Caribbean set a new benchmark with Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas back in 2009 and 2010. Besides taking pride of place as the biggest cruise ships in the world, both introduced innovations never seen before at sea, including a moving cocktail bar, a park with real plants and an aqua theatre complete with a diving show.
Elegance and romance ... the Royal Crown.
Since then, competition among the big players has heated up and next year two more ships are launching, which will further up the ante in design wars.
Norwegian Cruise Line will bring new meaning to the phrase "floating resort" in April when Breakaway makes its debut. The 4000-guest ship is the first of two of a kind for the line, with an impressive line-up of accommodation akin to a land-based resort, ranging from studios for single travellers to lavish suites.
Princess Cruises will also debut the first of its two new sister ships next year. Launching in June, Royal Princess will be the largest ship in the fleet with 3600 guests and has features including SeaWalk - a top-deck, glass-bottomed, enclosed walkway that extends more than eight metres out beyond the edge of the vessel. In an industry first for such a ship, all outside staterooms will have private balconies.
Visby ... a mediaeval town on the island of Gotland, Sweden. Photo: Getty Images
Not to be outdone, however, Royal Caribbean is creating another new class of cruise ship. Called Project Sunshine, the first will debut in late 2014, with a second in early 2015.
Package of the week
Cruise Express has a new 29-night Indian Ocean fly-cruise package on Swan Hellenic's boutique ship, Minerva. Offering "soft adventure" cruising from Dubai to Singapore, the cruise departs on December 5, visiting Oman, five ports of call in India, two ports of call in Sri Lanka, Port Blair in the Andaman Islands and Yangon in Burma. You'll spend Christmas Day relaxing at sea, New Year's Eve in Penang and the first day of 2013 in Malacca, colonial Malaysia. Priced from $6999 a person, twin share, this package includes the cruise and return flights from Sydney. 1300 764 509, cruiseexpress.com.au.
Celebrity Solstice will spend more time in Australia in 2013-14 with its season extended by two months, beginning on October 4. Its schedule of 15 cruises features 10 new itineraries, including a three-night sampler cruise from Sydney and the line's first South Pacific cruises with maiden calls at Lifou and Suva.
Aurora Expeditions' ship Akademik Shokalskiy will be visiting Novaya Zemlya and Franz Josef Land in the remote Russian Arctic on a 14-day cruise departing from Murmansk on September 8.
American Cruise Line has a new seven-night cruise of Chesapeake Bay, focusing on American history. A round trip from Baltimore, the cruise visits ports of call that were key in the Revolutionary War, the war of 1812 and the Civil War, including Colonial Williamsburg, Yorktown and Cambridge.
LAUNCHED 1996 PASSENGERS 90 REGULAR HAUNTS Europe BEST FOR Couples THE DETAILS A 15-day Grand Europe Journey from Vienna to Amsterdam, departing on October 6, is priced from $4999 a person, twin share. 1300 503 669, ewaterways.com.au.
Need to know
1 Although a young river ship, Royal Crown captures the elegance and romance of Europe in the 1930s, from its art nouveau lamps and polished bronze accents to its mahogany wood.
2 The ship cruises the great rivers of Europe. Guests have complimentary use of bicycles and international newspapers while on board, with headphones provided for tours.
3 Crown's 45 elegant, art deco-style accommodations include six royal suites, four premium cabins and 35 deluxe cabins. Standard amenities include luxury toiletries, a hairdryer, television and safety deposit box.
4 All meals on the ship are served in The Restaurant in the one sitting, with dinner an elegant four-course affair including mineral water and house wines, and featuring international cuisine using locally sourced ingredients.
5 Facilities that are available to passengers include masseurs, a sauna, fitness room, hairdresser, library with internet access, spa and sun deck, bar, and a lounge that doubles as a reading room.
Port watch: Visby, Sweden
Need to know This mediaeval town is on the island of Gotland and encircled by impressive fortifications dating to the Hanseatic League. Formerly a meeting place for merchants across the Baltic region, it has been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1995. Ships anchor offshore and use tenders to get to the pier. The town is compact and best explored on foot.
Do not miss Dominating sightseeing in Visby are the 200-odd buildings and church ruins inside the Hanseatic town and wall, some dating to the 12th and 13th centuries. Check out the majestic merchants' houses, which are more than 300 years old, Gotlands Fornsal Museum, which offers an account of the island's 8000-year history, and the Sancta Maria cathedral, the only surviving church inside the town wall.