I AM dreaming of Spain this week, in particular the picturesque Andalucia where my older brother lives. It's been 10 months since I visited, joining Oceania's new Marina in Malaga for a cruise to Copenhagen by way of Portugal, Morocco and western France.
Spain and its Iberian neighbour, Portugal, are rising in popularity in cruising circles, with industry pundits touting them as this year's hot spots. There are good reasons for this. Both countries enjoy a balmy year-round climate but they are also nations rich in culture, history, fine wines and distinctive cuisines.
More cruise lines are expanding itineraries in the Mediterranean to include ports of call in Spain and Portugal such as Cadiz, Lanzarote, Motril, Palma de Mallorca, Lisbon and Madeira. According to the latest news, however, it's not only high-seas cruising that is waking up to Iberia's charms.
Last year, Uniworld ventured into the region with the launch of the Douro Spirit. It offers cruises of the UNESCO World Heritage-designated Douro River from Porto and across the north of Portugal into Spain, through lands of rambling vineyards and native farms.
Recently, two more leading river-cruise operators have announced a push into the region next year. Viking River Cruises will offer 10-day round-trip itineraries on Viking Douro from Porto, including a stay in Lisbon, while AmaWaterways's new 108-guest river cruiser, AmaVida, will make its debut with two itineraries available.
The Port Wine and Flamenco includes a three-night stay in Madrid, a seven-day cruise of the Douro and a three-night stay in Lisbon, while the Enticing Douro includes a three-night stay in Lisbon and a seven-night cruise.
Package of the week
MSC is offering a free upgrade on selected 14-day Grand Mediterranean cruises this year. The voyages, combining back-to-back seven-night eastern and western Mediterranean cruises, are available on MSC Armonia and Sinfonia between July 20 and October 19, Splendida and the soon-to-be-launched Divina in October.
Complimentary transfers are available between Venice and Genoa. An example itinerary, priced from $1598 a person, twin share, is a round trip from Venice on Divina, with stops including Bari, Istanbul and Dubrovnik, followed by another round-trip cruise to Genoa on Splendida, with stops including Barcelona, Tunis and Messina. 1300 028 502, msccruises.com.au.
American Cruise Lines is offering complimentary shore excursions for guests on its Alaskan cruises. The week-long cruises are round trips from Juneau, with touring options including a jet-boat tour in Petersburg and a Mendenhall Glacier tour in Juneau.
Celebrity Cruises has expanded its wine program, offering guests more choice on menus, and more options to taste and learn. The program has more than 100 new selections by the bottle, including 20 half-bottles, and more varieties from Spain and South America.
Scenic Tours "Space-Ships" will be extended to France next year. The Scenic Emerald will cruise the Rhone and Saone Rivers in southern France starting in April. Also new for 2013 is a 12-day cruise from Chalon-sur-Saone to Arles.