Saturday, October 9, 2010

Great Escape for a destination afloat - but at what price vs rewards

Eight travel agents help an imaginary Australian couple choose a cruise to remember
SELECTING the right cruise can be tricky. Go for river or ocean, fun in the Caribbean or adventure in the Antarctic, a week touring the South Pacific or six months circumnavigating the globe?
So T&I invited eight travel agents to match an imaginary cruising couple with the destination that best suits them. T&I readers Jan and Michael are Australians in their mid-50s, educated, well-travelled and interested in cultural travel. Both are fit but not super athletic, enjoy a little pampering and are knowledgeable about food and wine. They're cruise novices, have three weeks to spare and a budget of $25,000.
Martyn Ellis, Diploma World Travel, Brisbane: We recommend the 14-night Secrets of South America cruise with Oceania Cruises from Valparaiso, Chile, to Buenos Aires, Argentina, in a Concierge Veranda stateroom on board Insignia. Depart Australia in February next year, stay one night in Santiago before sailing from Valparaiso along the Pacific coast to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in South America, then north on the Atlantic to Buenos Aires. Two days cruising through the majestic Chilean fjords is a highlight.
Cost: From $12,296 a person twin-share. Includes return airfares from Brisbane to South America with LAN, cruise, pre-cruise accommodation, transfers, port charges and gratuities. More:

Oceania Cruises offer a casual, friendly ambience, much like a private country club, with only 684 passengers, which would suit first-time cruisers. The ship offers the finest dining at sea in four distinctive open-seating restaurants complemented by an extensive wine cellar.
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Toni Chambers, Broadway Travel & Cruise Centre, Perth: I recommend Silversea's 10-day Tokyo to Shanghai cruise with mid-ship veranda accommodation aboard Silver Shadow. The ship offers an excellent selection of food and wine and Silversea has a reputation for indulgence.
The cruise visits Tokyo and Hiroshima, Pusan and Cheju in South Korea and Beijing and Shanghai. The itinerary includes three days at sea when passengers can take advantage of a range of activities.
I suggest Jan and Michael take shore excursions that specialise in the history, culture and customs of the region, such as the overnight excursion to Beijing visiting Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Great Wall. I also suggest they spend three nights pre-cruise in Tokyo, staying at the InterContinental Hotel and three nights post-cruise at the JW Marriott Hotel in Shanghai.
Flights are economy class Perth to Tokyo, Shanghai to Perth with Singapore Airlines, with airport transfers courtesy of our agency.
Cost: $23,900 for two; includes airfares, taxes, cruise, port charges, Beijing excursion, additional accommodation and travel insurance. More:;
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Julie Hogben, Jetset Rowville, Victoria: APT's 15-night Magnificent Europe river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest would be perfect for this couple. APT is Australian owned and operated and its cruising packages are designed for Australians in their 50s so Jan and Michael will be with like-minded travellers. We have upgraded them to a Twin Balcony cabin.
Jan and Michael will be impressed by the selection of gourmet cuisine and regional wines included on all itineraries.
They can learn something of the history and culture of the places they visit through audio guides provided by APT. Excursions include a visit to Austria's famous Schonbrunn Palace.
To help them stay in shape there is an onboard fitness centre and bicycles to explore ashore at their own pace if they choose.
Cost: $23,554 for two. Includes airfares, Twin Balcony cabin, meals, Freedom of Choice touring ashore, taxes and port charges. More:
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Richard Davey, Harvey World Travel, Mosman, Sydney: I recommend Seabourn's Kingdoms of the Sun cruise to Dubai, Oman, Egypt, Jordan and Rome aboard Seabourn Spirit in a French Balcony suite.
When considering a first cruise, the choice of ship can be as important as the destinations. Jan and Michael will enjoy being pampered by the crew aboard Seabourn Spirit who will quickly attune to their likes and dislikes and preferences in food and wines (champagnes and spirits are included in their fare).
Fellow passengers (no more than 200) are an interesting mix of Australians, North Americans, Brits and Europeans and the ever-popular Norwegian captain Dag Dvergastein will be in command. He's known for running Captain's Water Polo on afternoons at sea and a video was recently posted on YouTube showing him towing his waterskiing cruise director behind his ship as it rounded Cape Horn.
This 18-night voyage is an opportunity to visit some of the wonders of the world in comfort and with ease at a time of year when it's not too hot.
We have included an overnight tour from the Egyptian port of Safaga to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. In Jordan, the port of Aqaba is near to Petra and Seabourn Spirit is able to call at the closest port to the Pyramids at Giza, the Sphinx and Cairo before transiting the Suez Canal.
Nights pre and post-cruise are included at Sheraton Dubai Creek and Rome's St Regis Grand. Flights are with Emirates and include 30kg baggage allowance each. Departs March 19.
Cost: $12,500 a person twin-share from Brisbane, Melbourne or Sydney, $12,250 from Perth. More:
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John Hancock, City Beach Travel & Cruise, Perth: We recommend the 15-day Wonders of the Ancients cruise from Rome to Athens with Oceania Cruises for Jan and Michael's maiden voyage. This premium line offers excellent cuisine, luxurious accommodation and exceptional service.
The ships, Insignia and Nautica, are mid-sized, with a guest capacity of 684 to 400 staff. The recently refurbished interiors create a casually elegant country-club ambience.
All meals are open seating, a great way to meet new friends. It's ideal to allow at least two nights in Rome before departure in case of jet lag and possible flight delays.
The itinerary will suit the couple's interests. The ships visit ports steeped in history: Sorrento and the Isle of Capri; Cairo (with excursions to the Pyramids, Jerusalem and Bethlehem); Tartous in Syria, with the double-walled fortress of the Knights Templar dating from 1291; and Kusadasi, Turkey, with an excursion to the ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus, and the final port is Athens. We recommend Jan and Michael then travel to the island of Santorini for three nights' relaxation before journeying home. Cruises depart April 23 and June 13.
Cost: From $9240 a person twin-share. Includes accommodation, meals, soft drinks and 24-hour butler service, port charges, gratuities and onboard credit from $150. Valid for bookings to December 31. Emirates has a combination business-economy fare from $5440 plus taxes with 30kg luggage allowance. More:
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Di Blackwood, Andrew Jones Travel, Hobart: Choosing a voyage for the first time can be daunting so I've chosen an itinerary to suit any new cruise traveller wishing for a mix of adventure and luxury. Oceania Cruises' 12-day Glacial Wilderness tour aboard Regatta offers culture, beauty and style.
This inaugural cruise for Oceania offers stunning scenery and an intimate on-board experience. The voyage from Vancouver to Anchorage calls at nine new ports for Oceania, which will create a sense of occasion.
Oceania has a gourmet culinary program created by world-renowned chef Jacques Pepin. Restaurant dining is casual with no set dining time or place. The couple will stay in a Veranda Stateroom.
I have combined this cruise with two nights in Vancouver at the Sutton Place Hotel before departure and a three-day post tour Wild Bear Viewing Experience (offered through Oceania) that begins in Anchorage, visits Turnagain Arm and Alyeska and includes a tour of Alaska by float plane. That will complete the three-week itinerary. Cruise departs June 17.
Cost: From $7345 a person twin-share for a deck B1 Veranda Stateroom (no on-board tipping required). Vancouver accommodation from $245 a night. Wild Bear Viewing Experience from $2125 a person.
Flights with Air Canada from $2295 a person including taxes. More:
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Peter Williams, Phil Hoffman Travel, Glenelg, Adelaide: My suggestion is a 21-day package on APT's Magnificent Europe river cruise, taking advantage of a companion flies free earlybird special (valid to October 31 for travel in April) in a Twin Balcony cabin (category T).
The tour begins with three days in Prague in luxury accommodation before embarking in Budapest for 15 days on APT's ms Amabella.
The vessel offers twin balconies (private and outside), four dining options including the impressive chef's table menu at Erlebnis Restaurant, wine with lunch and dinner, complimentary internet and a selection of shore excursions. Jan and Michael can visit medieval villages such as Rothenburg, Nuremberg and Passau as well as Cologne and Vienna. They will disembark in Amsterdam, then stay in Paris for three days.
Cost: From $14,165 for first person, $12,140 for companion inclusive of flights, cruise-land package, taxes and transfers. More:
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Claudia Rossi Hudson, Mary Rossi Travel, Sydney: There is only one cruise line Jan and Michael should consider, SeaDream Yacht Club.
"It's yachting, not cruising," the brochure says, and we agree. Travelling on these smaller ships (112 passengers) is like a holiday on a friend's private yacht.
The casual outdoor feel attracts active couples who love good food and wine, superb service, pampering and the opportunity for more energetic activities. There is an array of watersports available on board, bicycles for touring ports and plenty of chances to swim in the crystal-clear Mediterranean.
We've chosen the seven-day round-trip cruise departing September 17 from Civitavecchia, the port for Rome, and visiting Corsica, Sardinia and the Amalfi Coast, an itinerary that would be expensive and impractical to do any other way than by sea. The water and the days are still warm but the tourist crowds have gone.
When other ships have cruised away from the port of Capri, Sea Dream still bobs at anchor while you have a romantic meal ashore. Jan and Michael also may ask the crew to make up a bed on the deck to watch the moonlight sparkle off the water without lifting their heads from the pillows.
We recommend private shore excursions with guides to maximise time ashore and experience the culture and history of these ancient shores.
Shorter cruises are ideal for first-time cruisers who are not sure of their sea legs.
However, from our experience, they always disembark wanting more and many have already planned their next trip.
Cost: From $US6046 ($6400) a person twin-share (taking advantage of early-bird discount), in a Deck 4 suite. Includes meals and all drinks on board. Discounted return airfares between Sydney and Rome on Singapore Airlines are available for $1967 (economy) and $7745 (business). More:

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