Banquets and budgets rule the seas

It's steady as she goes despite the economy, writes Mike Heard.

Tighter economic conditions have sparked a change in the cruising habits of Australians, with many choosing to tour closer to home.

Demand for some fly-cruise holidays, particularly to North America and Europe, has also slumped in recent weeks.

Cruise Express in Sydney, one of Australia's biggest travel agencies specialising in cruising, has experienced some cancellations among the more than 300 customers booked on sectors of next year's Queen Mary 2 world voyage.

Agency director Hardy Schneider says it's clear some people have had to reconsider their finances since they made their bookings earlier this year.

Anne Rogers of Melbourne agency Wings Away Travel agrees there have been cancellations at the top of the market, where people are paying $12,000 to $15,000 for a cruise package.

"We're seeing cases where clients are now taking only one cruise during an overseas trip, instead of two," she says.

But sales are "bubbling along" at the lower end, particularly with sailings closer to home.

She says cruises are seen as better value than other holidays in hard economic times because of their all-inclusive pricing system and the fact many can be bought in Australian dollars.

Around Australia

Are currency markets so volatile that cruise companies can't decide what fares to charge?

Holland America Line has just announced that it will operate a circumnavigation of Australia from Sydney in 2010, using the liner Volendam.

A departure date of March 19 has been set for the 29-night voyage and the itinerary, westbound to Fremantle via Melbourne and Hobart and back via Indonesia's Komodo Island and northern Australia, has been outlined.

But fares won't be announced until February. At this stage the cruise line is seeking only "expressions of interest".

Funnel of love

QE2 is due to end its final voyage in Dubai next week. But back in its home port of Southampton, efforts are under way to retain part of the legendary liner. There was fury earlier this year when it was announced Cunard was selling the ship to Dubai interests, with plans to turn it into a floating hotel and museum.

Residents of Southampton, who regard the ship as their own, couldn't believe it was being sold to foreigners.

There was more anger when local newspaper the Daily Echo reported the new owners planned to remove the iconic red funnel and replace it with a penthouse.

Now the newspaper is asking its readers if they believe the funnel should be returned to Southampton and displayed as a reminder of the vessel that made Southampton its home for 40 years.

Take in Antarctica

Antarctica is soon to be a destination on a major cruise line's annual world voyage. Holland America Line's Amsterdam will cruise the polar region during a 114-day voyage departing from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on January 6, 2010.

The ship will head through the Panama Canal and down the west coast of South America to Antarctica before crossing the South Atlantic to Africa and sailing through the Indian Ocean to ports in Asia and the Pacific. Fares from $US21,000 ($32, 427).