Joanna Hall August 19, 2012
In the wild ... penguins on Paulet Island, Antarctica. Photo: AFP
IF YOU'VE ever felt the urge to head south to Antarctica, there's never been a better time. Although new legislation has been passed, restricting the size and number of ships cruising there at any one time, the number of visitors is on the up.
In May, the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators said 26,519 people visited Antarctica during the 2011-12 season. Although this is a 22 per cent decrease on the previous year, the number is expected to rise again by a similar amount this season. And there's more good news - there is plenty of choice when it comes to ships and itineraries.
World Expeditions has two new 31-day voyages on Ortelius early next year, guided by the Antarctica expert Greg Mortimer. There is a departure from Ushuaia to Invercargill on January 16, and a reverse itinerary on February 15, which follow the paths of early explorers through the Amundsen Sea, offering wildlife spotting and an on-board helicopter for aerial sightseeing.
Abercrombie & Kent also has an Antarctic voyage with a difference. The company's founder, Geoffrey Kent, will be on board the specially chartered Le Boreal for a 10-night cruise (and host a cocktail function), departing on November 28 from Ushuaia. Highlights include visits to penguin-filled islands in the South Shetlands and landings at Cuverville, Paulet or Goudier islands.
Heritage Expeditions is venturing into new territory later this year, with a rare cruise to the remote Heard and McDonald islands. Departing from Fremantle on November 8, the 25-day expedition will be accompanied by a team of scientists to the islands, both of which are closer to Antarctica than any other land mass, with highlights including Big Ben, the only active volcano on Australian territory.
Finally, APT has added an Antarctica itinerary to its South America holidays next year, including a cruise on the 28-guest expedition ship Akademik Ioffe. The 11-day voyage includes wildlife spotting at Half Moon Island, kayaking and an opportunity to camp overnight.
Save 30 per cent on published fares and enjoy the best of the Mediterranean with this 16-night package from Cruise Specialist Holidays. The 12-night cruise is on SeaDream I, leaving Piraeus on October 13 and ending in Barcelona, with ports of call including Sicily, Capri, San Remo and Monte Carlo.
The fare includes five-star dining, wines with lunch and dinner, drinks from the open bars and includes return flights from Sydney, a two-night pre-cruise stay in Athens, a two-night post-cruise stay in Barcelona and all transfers. Priced from $7495 a person, twin share. 1300 794 959.
Cruiseco has two new seven-night cruises on Rhapsody of the Seas for country music lovers. The Cruisin' Country voyages head for the south Pacific on November 4 this year and October 12 next year, with a line-up of performers including Kasey Chambers, Troy Cassar-Daley and Lee Kernaghan (cruising.com.au).
Recently retired Wallaby Nathan Sharpe will be aboard a North Star Cruises expedition of Papua New Guinea on December 8. Sharpe will join True North as a celebrity fishing guide and host informal after-lunch and after-dinner talks about playing rugby for Australia.
Venice might become off limits for large cruise ships if an Italian government bill is passed. The bill is being reviewed by an environmental committee, after a recommendation from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation regarding large ships and environmental damage, and would give the Venetian City Council control over the city's waterways.
LAUNCHED 1994 PASSENGERS 140 REGULAR HAUNTS Fiji BEST FOR Adventurous couples and singles THE DETAILS A seven-night Discovery Heritage Cruise, a round trip from Denarau Marina, is priced from $1537.60 a person, twin share, with departures on October 2, December 4 and February 5. 1800 804 843, captaincook.com.fj.
Need to know
1 At 73 metres long, and with a shallow draft of only 3.6 metres, Endeavour was built to cruise sheltered waters and reefs. It took over the line's Fiji itineraries from its sister ship, Reef Escape, after that ship was badly damaged by Cyclone Mick in December 2009.
2 A refurbishment has given the ship new carpets and furniture on the sun deck. The gym and Senikai Spa have also been revitalised, the spa featuring a new outdoor massage area and couples' massages.
3 Staterooms feature new bedspreads and families can choose between interconnecting rooms that sleep two adults and two children, or family cabins that sleep four in bunks. Tabua suites have separate bedroom and lounge areas, two bathrooms, a TV and minibar.
4 Endeavour has one dining room, which handles all meals in single sittings. The cuisine is good-quality modern Australian and there are tea and coffee facilities available 24 hours. Guests also enjoy a lovo feast and kava ceremony on most cruises.
5 Facilities include a swimming pool, spa, spacious sun deck, sauna and a small gym. There is equipment available for guests to use, including a glass-bottom boat, snorkelling and dive vessels, with optional certified and introductory scuba diving.
Need to know This ancient fishing port sits on the western coast of Sicily and is a gateway to the Egadi Islands. Most ships dock in front of the old quarter next to the ferry terminal, while larger ones anchor offshore and use tender boats to transport guests to a floating pier in town. The ferry terminal has various facilities, including taxis.
Do not miss Much of the town dates back to mediaeval times or earlier and is easy to explore on foot. Top picks and photo ops include the magnificent Basilica-Sanctuary of Maria Santissima Annunziata (home of the marble statue of the Madonna of Trapani), the fountain of the Triton and the baroque Palazzo della Giudecca. A main attraction is the hilltop town of Erice, which can be reached on an excursion from your ship or on your own by taxi and cable car. The town offers amazing views and beautiful cobbled streets to explore.
I have my eye on a cruise in Europe, but have seen different prices advertised. Why is this?
- A. Brindell, Gold Coast, Qld.
Some cruise lines, travel agencies and online cruise resellers sell the same cruise but might add extras or inclusions to a package, hence the difference in fares. These can be anything from tips, transfers, return flights, land accommodation pre- or post-cruise, stateroom upgrades, a free meal in one of the specialty restaurants on board and more. Check what is included in the fare with each outlet - you might find one is offering a much better deal than the others.