It's been a busy time for Carnival Cruise Line's Miami-based president, Christine Duffy. She was in Melbourne to mark the start of Carnival Legend's first season of cruising from the city's Station Pier, then in Sydney a day later – on-board Carnival Spirit – to announce that Carnival Splendor will be joining the local fleet next year.
When it arrives in Sydney in December 2019, Carnival Splendor will be the newest and largest ship to be home ported year-round in Australia. Duffy said, "We've had [more than] 800,000 Australians cruise with Carnival since we launched in Australia just five years ago – a number that would fill the Sydney Cricket Ground 17 times over.
"The arrival of Carnival Splendor to Sydney represents a 66 per cent capacity increase for Carnival Cruise Line in Australia, meaning we will be in the best position to give even more Australians the opportunity to enjoy the fun of a Carnival cruise."
Before it arrives in Sydney, Carnival Splendor will get a significant bow-to-stern upgrade. Accommodating up to 3900 passengers, the ship launched in 2008; Carnival Spirit is seven years older and accommodates 2124. Splendor will receive some of the features that have proved most popular with Aussie cruisers, including a range of new dining experiences tailored to local tastes and a brand-new waterpark.
Regular Carnival cruisers will be familiar with the line's Wiggle for Westmead program, which helps raise funds for The Children's Hospital at Westmead. In a first for the cruise line, Duffy introduced six-year-old Matilda Jenkins, a patient at the hospital, as the official Goddaughter of Carnival Splendor. After an initial bout of understandable stage fright, Matilda posed for photos with Duffy, Captain Binacchi and the crew.
Duffy also talked about Carnival's contribution to the local economy. "We estimate up to $1 million is contributed to the Australian market each time a ship of this size turns around in Sydney. For example, for a 10-day cruise, we'll purchase almost 20,000 locally grown tomatoes and over 3000 melons – just some of the produce we source from across the country."
Bookings for Carnival Splendor's 2019 cruises will open in March and cruises for 2020 will open in May/June this year. Meanwhile, the cruise line is spending $57 million on refurbishing Legend in May, adding the Alchemy Bar, the Mexican-inspired BlueIguana Cantina and Tequila Bar, and Guy's Burger Joint. Legend will be back in Sydney on October 13 for a Great Barrier Reef cruise and two Pacific Island cruises, then sails out of both Sydney and Melbourne for the rest of the season.
THE PORT Monte Carlo, Monaco
WHO GOES THERE Azamara, Celebrity, Crystal, Cunard, Fred.Olsen, HAL, Hapag-Lloyd, MSC, NCL, Oceania, P&O UK, Princess, RSSC, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn, SeaDream, Silversea, Star Clippers, Viking, Voyages to Antiquity, Windstar.
WHY WE LOVE IT Monte Carlo is one of four districts (not the capital!) in Europe's smallest state after the Vatican. It is home to some of Monaco's best-known landmarks – the Casino, Opera House and most of the Circuit de Monaco, where the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix is held every May. It has long attracted rich and famous visitors and inhabitants and as well as jaw-dropping displays of wealth the principality boasts a stunning natural setting.
TAKE A TOUR OR GO IT ALONE? Ships dock at the modern pier adjacent to Port Hercule, where you'll see billions of dollars worth of super yachts bobbing in the harbour. The main tourist attractions are within walking distance of the port and handy escalators take the strain out of tackling steep roads on foot. There's also an excellent public bus system (buy a day pass) and the Bateau Bus (also public) crosses the harbour from Monte Carlo to the Old Town regularly. It's worth taking a half-day tour to the medieval town of Eze, or a day trip that visits Eze and/or Nice and St Paul de Vence.
MUST SEE Changing of the guard at the Prince's Palace (11.55am daily); the Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium; Monaco Cathedral; and Jardin d'Exotique.
MUST EAT You can spend a small fortune at superstar restaurants such as Joël Robuchon and Alain Ducasse's Le Louis XV, or seek out more modest eateries. Barbaguian is a Monegasque fried pastry stuffed with spinach, cheese and rice; other things to try include pissaladière, a pizza-style tart with onions, anchovies and olives; socca, a chickpea-flour pancake; and pan-bagnat, salade niçoise in a roll.
NEED TO KNOW The climate is mild and there are about 300 days of sunshine a year. Summer temperatures are generally in the mid-20s and it stays warm until mid-October.
Thirty thousand jokes have been delivered by more than 600 comedians to entertain more than 170,000 guests on P&O's comedy cruises since 2009.
Scenic Eclipse mark II
With just six month to go until Scenic Eclipse sets sail in the Mediterranean, Scenic has announced it is building a second luxury expedition ship, Scenic Eclipse II, to launch in 2020. Itineraries, which are open for bookings in April, will include destinations such as Russia's White Sea; the Northwest Passage, which represents the pinnacle of Polar exploration; Southern Greenland, which offers some of the most spectacular scenery anywhere on earth; and Alaska to Russia across the Bering Sea, to experience the stark beauty of this remote region. Scenic Eclipse II will be a similar design to the first vessel, including 114 all-balcony suites, nine restaurants, eight lounges and bars, a luxurious Spa Sanctuary, separate fitness areas and indoor, outdoor and plunge pools, as well as a marina deck, helicopters and a submarine. See scenic.com.au.
Return to Egypt
Lindblad Expeditions is the latest travel company to announce it is returning to Egypt. It will operate two 13-day land-cruise journeys this year (departing October 28 and November 25) and two in 2019, departing January 20 March and March 17. "Things are very much on the upswing and there is a pervasive optimism there about the future," said Sven Lindblad, chief executive of Lindblad Expeditions. "And the resplendent antiquities remain." Lindblad's "Passage Through Egypt" combines stays at the Nile Ritz-Carlton and historic Mena House with a six-night cruise on the Nile aboard the elegant, 42-guest Oberoi Philae. A team of Egyptologists who are experts in culture, art, history and archaeology will accompany the departures and guests will have privileged access to some of the country's most important sites. See au.expeditions.com.