Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Whale Watching - With a Difference

It should be fairly clear by now that we are big fans of adventure cruising here at Time Spent At Sea, hence we're always pleased to see new initiatives and offbeat cruises that focus on this growing trend (like the Adventure Cruise Collection, which we've featured several times).

The latest news to arrive in our Inbox comes from Orion Expedition Cruises in Australia, and highlights a wonderful opportunity to go whale-watching. Here's what they say:

Late July through to September in the Kimberley is prime time to view pods of migrating whales. And, what better way to see the largest humpback whale population in the world heading north from the Antarctic to rest and calve than from onboard the luxury expedition cruise ship, Orion?

With 3,000km of undeveloped shoreline and over 1,000 rarely visited islands, this land, so ancient it pre-dates the existence of fossils, ranks as one of Australia’s, and the world’s, truly remarkable destinations.

Join Orion’s specialist Expedition Team to view pre-history Gwion Gwion and Wandjina rock art, land on remote islands and beaches, explore gorges, venture into a labyrinth of waterways in search of saltwater crocodiles or climb to the plateau next to the highest waterfall in the Kimberley, King George Falls.

With embarkation/debarkation in Darwin or Broome, Orion’s 10-night voyages combine the contrasts of exploring the ancient and magnificent Kimberley wilderness, incredible at-sea experiences and the historic pearling town of Broome with its cafes and art galleries. All this plus the chance to see migrating humpback whales, estimated to exceed 20,000 individuals, breaching, tail slapping and blowing.

Orion offers seven 10-night Kimberley voyages between 20th July and 16th September 2010 starting in either Darwin or Broome and visiting, typically, King George River and Falls, Vansittart Bay, Hunter River (for Mitchell Falls), Montgomery Reef and Raft Point, Talbot Bay/Horizontal Waterfalls, Cape Leveque and the Lacepedes.

Prices start from £5,325 per person, cruise only, based on twin share. Price includes 10 nights onboard accommodation, all meals, entertainment and educational programmes, use of the ship’s sporting equipment and facilities, Zodiac excursions, port and handling charges, tender transfers and government fees and taxes. Also included is one night’s accommodation in Broome pre- or post-cruise plus a complimentary Bungle Bungle sightseeing flight.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Whoever decided that Dubai was the ideal place for a new cruise hub is probably giving themselves a hearty pat on the back about now.

The opening of their Port Rashid cruise terminal in February, and the decision of the likes of Costa Cruises and Royal Caribbean to base ships there for prolonged periods, indicates that someone really knew what they were doing.

It had to start with Dubai themselves, of course, and the splendid new facilities of the Port Rashid terminal, which gave the Middle East its first purpose-built, year-round and high-quality cruise capability in keeping with the bigger ships being built today.

But it also needed a fair leap of faith on behalf of at least one of the major cruise lines to invest some of their key tonnage in an area not previously known for anything other than the more occasional visit.

As recently as 2004, Dubai received just 10,000 passengers, nearly all of them on fleeting visits by the likes of Cunard, Holland America, Seabourn and Silversea on various legs of world cruises or similar long, one-off voyages. This year, an estimated 325,000 will step through the doors of Port Rashid.

Today comes the news that Royal Caribbean are extending their commitment to Dubai with a longer winter season in 2011/12 for their 2,501-passenger Brilliance of the Seas.

Brilliance debuted in the United Arab Emirates this January, with the ship operating a series of 8-night voyages, mainly for the UK and European markets. And, according to Royal Caribbean, sales were some 30 per cent ahead of target for the line’s first four-month season from Dubai.

According to agent feedback, there is even stronger interest in Middle East cruises in future, along with increased airlift to Dubai, hence the ship will return to the UAE two months earlier than planned, in November 2011. Royal Caribbean will also offer an increased range of itineraries, including longer cruises up to 12 and even 18 nights.

Jo Rzymowska, Royal Caribbean's associate vice president and general manager for UK and Ireland, explained: “Dubai is very popular with UK and Irish travellers, and cruises consistently offer significant value for money. We have adjusted the itinerary based on our trade partner feedback and replaced Bahrain with an overnight stay in Muscat. Also included within this itinerary is an overnight stay in the city onboard the ship at the end of the cruise, which makes this an affordable way to enjoy this fascinating Emirate. The chance to explore more of the Middle East, Arabian Sea and even India make these additional longer sailings truly exciting options."

The enhanced 2011-2012 season will be the ship’s third year based from the destination, following its winter cruises from Jan-Apr 2011. New itineraries during the longer 6-month season include a 12-night Dubai and India cruise featuring calls at Muscat in Oman and Cochin, Goa and Mumbai in India.

Brilliance will also feature the first ever call by a Royal Caribbean vessel to the New Mangalore port in Panambur on the west coast of India. The town is famed for its beautiful beaches on the Arabian Sea, the Nandaneshwara Temple and the Gurupura River.

The 2011-12 season will continue to offer double the number of regular 7-night cruises, with minor changes to the route, including an overnight in Dubai at the end of the voyage rather than the beginning, and a revised order in the other ports of call to simplify visa processing. The featured ports include Fujairah and Abu Dhabi in the UAE and Muscat in Oman. The 7-night itineraries for the upcoming 2010-11 season also will reflect these changes.

The repositioning cruise from Barcelona to Dubai will be an 18-night option via the Suez Canal and calls at Alexandria, Aqaba and Safaga.

Friday, 25 June 2010

New World of Cruising

The new edition of World of Cruising is now up and running and available for order, for anyone who is not already a subscriber.

The Summer issue is packed with great destination features and ship reviews, plus some superb historical perspectives on the evolution of cruising. We start with our in-depth look at the region of Chilean Patagonia with Nomads of the Seas (as we've previewed here on Time Spent At Sea), and then journey out take in The Nile, the Gulf of Arabia, the Brahmaputra River in India and on to the Galapagos.

We highlight the world's largest ship, Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas, and one of the smallest, the unique British-flagged Patricia of Trinity House. We also have another of our special Cruise Cuisine features, focusing on the large-scale but high-quality offerings of Cunard's Queen Mary 2.

Staying topical, we have an in-depth look at the subject of 'Green' Cruising and what makes a ship eco-friendly, while we obviously also have our usual array of regular features, like The Admiral, Aft View, Cruise Fashion and the Passenger Perspective view.

The essential World of Spas section visits the top spas of the Mediterranean, as well as offering the latest News and Beauty File treatments.

It all adds up to the very best reading anywhere in the wide World of Cruising, so make sure you're on board this summer!
PS: To subscribe click here!

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Louis Cruises let the train take the strain

With a dozen different cruise itineraries sailing from Marseille this year Louis Cruises reports that more of their passengers are choosing the train to reach their embarkation point.

“A London to Marseille journey by Eurostar and TGV can take less than seven hours, making rail a genuine alternative to flying – and a great deal more civilised,” says the cruise line’s Peter Adamou.

Louis Cruises are always sold on a ‘cruise only’ basis allowing travellers to tailor-make their own journey to Marseille, Genoa and Athens – the embarkation points for the line’s variety of Mediterranean cruises.

For example, a seven-day/six-night ‘Mediterranean Highlights’ cruise on the Louis Majesty sails from Marseille on 29 August, 29 September and 10 October (with the option to depart a day earlier in each case from Genoa). The ship visits the islands of Menorca, Malta and Sicily as well as Tunisia during the cruise.

Prices for this cruise start at just £319 per person based on two sharing a Standard Inside Stateroom. This includes full board accommodation, on-board entertainment and all port taxes and charges but not drinks or shore excursions.

Other sailings from Marseille include an eight-day ‘Spanish Odyssey & Tangier’ itinerary on the Louis Majesty (from £349 per person) and an 11-day ‘Adriatic Coast, Italy and Ionian’ cruise on the Orient Queen from £519 per person.

NB: is currently advertising return travel to Marseille from £119 return.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Zegrahm's 20th Anniversary

Zegrahm & Eco Expeditions Celebrates 20 Years with Expeditionary Firsts, Faithful Travellers, and Future Voyages

SEATTLE, Wash—2010 marks the 20th anniversary of Zegrahm & Eco Expeditions. To celebrate, the Seattle-based adventure travel company recounts their 20 years of industry-leading accomplishments, salutes their loyal travellers, and looks forward to an expedition-filled future.

When Zegrahm Expeditions started 20 years ago, there were seven founders and four office staff. Today, Zegrahm has 32 employees, more than 70 expedition staff, and has hosted over 31,000 passengers on nearly 1,000 one-of-a-kind journeys to the far reaches of the Earth, from Africa to the Amazon, Antarctica to the awe-inspiring North Pole.

And, while those numbers are impressive in their own right, the company also salutes not one, but two loyal travelers who have reached 50 expeditions with Zegrahm and a special onboard party celebrates each traveler’s monumental milestone during their 50th trip.

Establishing itself as a leader early on by achieving a number of adventure travel firsts, Zegrahm helped organise the first expedition to visit emperor penguin colonies in the frozen Weddell Sea; the first passenger dives to the undersea volcanoes of the Azores and to the wreck of the majestic Titanic; the first expedition retracing the historic 1899 Harriman Expedition to Alaska; and the first adventure travel company to circumnavigate South Georgia, Newfoundland, and New Guinea.

Their thoughtful journeys are designed to educate and enlighten travelers about the natural and cultural world and in the last 20 years, they’ve opened a window to the incredible wonders of Easter Island; Iran; the Galapagos; Uganda; Madagascar; Uzbekistan; the Philippines; New Guinea; Indonesia; Micronesia; Melanesia, Patagonia, Kamchatka, the Kuril Islands, and beyond.

Looking ahead to 2011, Zegrahm is certainly not resting on any laurels with a series of new and unique journeys which include circumnavigating Sumatra and Sicily; in-depth trekking expeditions to Bhutan and Uganda; and sojourns that combine the urban with the ancient in the Persian Gulf, Black Sea, and Mediterranean.

It is hard to argue that Zegrahm & Eco Expeditions has found a winning combination; company president Jon Nicholson says: “Small expeditions, crackerjack leaders, environmental conscientiousness, and an ever-changing mix of intriguing adventures are what make Zegrahm unique and what keeps people coming back for more.”

If true adventure and exploration are what you seek in our ever-shrinking world you will want to take note of Zegrahm & Eco Expeditions. If the last 20 years is any indication, the next 20 are set to be a wild and highly enlightening ride.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Tahiti In Focus

Paul Gauguin Cruises, who operate the boutique little Paul Gauguin based in Tahiti (formerly owned by Regent Seven Seas and still one of the most stylish small-ship offerings), have just announced a couple of exclusive photography workshops taking place on two voyages this August.

And, if ever there was a time when I would be keen to take up a serious study of taking pictures, this is it.

Celebrated photographers Jesse Kalisher and Roger Paperno will share their knowledge of the photographic art as they lead a series of photo-expeditions covering everything from flowers, beaches and pineapple fields to magnificent coastal views (definitely take some time to peruse those two website links for the photographers, by the way - just stunning images).

At the same time, they will reveal professional secrets such as when to use a wide-angle lens versus a telephoto lens, how and where to add perspective, how to find the perfect shot, how to capture the majesty of the spectacular landscape and how to control light to create beautiful portraits in this magnificent setting.

As if the lure of the South Seas isn't enough, this adds real appeal to any cruise, to my way of thinking. It's an area I have yet to visit among the 50-odd cruises I have taken, but it is definitely the kind of possibility that would catch my eye these days.

The cost of the photography workshop is $350 per person, including all lectures, exclusive shore excursions, private portfolio review, a hosted dinner and round-table discussions.

The August 7 sailing is a seven-night 'Tahiti & Society Islands' voyage starting in Tahiti and visiting Raiatea, Taha’a, Bora Bora and Moorea before arriving back in Tahiti. The August 14 sailing is a 10-night 'Society Islands & Tuamotus' voyage starting in Tahiti and visiting Huahine, Raiatea, Rangiroa, Bora Bora, Taha’a and Moorea before arriving back in Tahiti.

NB: Prices from £4,116 per person, including return scheduled flights from London (half-price flights between Los Angeles and Papeete), transfers, all meals, soft drinks, selected alcoholic beverages and gratuities.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Ready, Shrek, Go!

Once upon a time, there was a little cruise line. And the little cruise line had a Big Red Boat. And on the Big Red Boat were Disney characters. And all the little children on the Big Red Boat were happy.

Then Disney started its own Cruise Line and all their characters jumped ship, leaving the Big Red Boat to struggle along with Loony Tune characters....

But, in the big wide world of cruise ship marketing, a major trend had been started, and everyone took notice. While Disney Cruise Line officially set sail in 1998, 'Fun Ship Freddy' joined Carnival Cruises in 2002 and a trend had become a major onboard entertainment feature.

Then, earlier this year, NCL announced a major tie-up with Nickelodeon to use their characters aboard the forthcoming Norwegian Epic. And now comes another move in this direction as Royal Caribbean staged a major press conference yesterday to unveil a marketing alliance with DreamWorks Animation.

The details - which add the likes of Shrek and Donkey; Kung Fu Panda; the characters from the Madagascar series (notably the hysterically funny penguins); and an Ice Show based on the recent film 'How To Train Your Dragon' - reveal that Royal Caribbean believe they need to not only acknowledge this trend but take it to a whole new level.

To that end, the new Allure of the Seas - due to sail this December - will be the line's trailblazer for this new tie-up between one of the world's biggest cruise lines and one of the most successful animated film studios.

The alliance will see a whole raft of new children's programming and activities (naturally enough) for a cruise line that already boasts a fantastic option for families with their Adventure Ocean kids areas (for 3 to 11-year-olds), but DreamWorks boss Jeffrey Katzenberg made it clear they really wanted to push the possibilities with this deal, and that has led to some interesting additions to Allure's onboard entertainment quotient.

As well as the themed Ice Show, there will be DreamWorks characters added to the AquaTheater show in the ship's signature after show area; there will be a new 3-D film capapbility in the main theatre, so passengers can see the latest movies in 3-D as well as past DreamWorks favourites.

Add in character breakfasts, parades, special events and other photo opportunities (weith the DreamWorks options also being added to Oasis, Freedom and Liberty of the Seas after Allure) and you have an amazing new package - and a whole new style - of cruising from Royal Caribbean, and just one more reason to consider taking a holiday with them next year.

Whether you have kids or not!