When Ponant's Le Laperouse arrives in Cairns this month, it will be the youngest of this summer's bumper crop of smaller, luxury and expedition-style ships to cruise in local waters. Silversea's Silver Muse and Seabourn's Encore are among the elite fleet and it is great news for cruisers who are keen to experience a greater variety of ships, particularly newer ones, in our own neighbourhood. Their presence and popularity reflect a worldwide trend that will see an unprecedented number of small ships making their debuts throughout 2019.
Among them are Le Laperouse's third Explorer-class sister, the 184-passenger Le Bougainville, which sets sail in April. Le Dumont d'Urville follows in August and two more are due in 2020. Le Laperouse's inaugural Kimberley season runs from May to August and like all the Explorer ships it features the stunning underwater Blue Eye Lounge and all-balcony cabins and suites.
Coral Expeditions' first new-build, the 120-passenger Coral Adventurer, makes its maiden voyage in April, from Singapore to Darwin; from there it cruises to West Papua and will then be based in the Kimberley for a series of 10-night cruises between Darwin and Broome from May to October.
Another Australian new-build, the ultra-luxury "discovery yacht" Scenic Eclipse, is due to launch in April, after a series of setbacks at the shipyard. Its inaugural cruise is scheduled to be in the Mediterranean, followed by itineraries in northern Europe, the Arctic and Iceland until it repositions to America and then Antarctica.
Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Flora, custom-built for sailing in the Galapagos, will set sail with a maximum of 100 passengers in May. It has some of the innovative features that appeared on just-launched Celebrity Edge and is designed to be environmentally friendly. May also sees the delayed arrival of Hurtigruten's 530-passenger MS Roald Amundsen, the first cruise ship to be powered by hybrid electric technology.
Aurora Expeditions' (yet another Aussie company) first new-build, the Greg Mortimer, is scheduled to make its maiden voyage to Antarctica on October 31, in time for the penguin nesting season. Aurora's co-founder, renowned explorer Greg Mortimer, will be expedition leader; kayaking and camping are among the many activities on offer. The ship accommodates 100 passengers in Antarctica and the Arctic and 160 when it cruises in destinations such as Costa Rica.
German luxury and expedition line Hapag-Lloyd Cruises' Hanseatic Inspiration is due to launch in October. It will be an international ship, operated in German and English, and promises to be every bit as fabulous as its award-winning fleetmates while having the highest ice class rating (P6) for polar exploration.
THE PORT Rotterdam, The Netherlands
WHO GOES THERE CMV, Costa, Cunard, Fred.Olsen, HAL, MSC, Mystic Cruises, NCL, P&O UK, Princess, RSSC, Royal Caribbean, Saga, Seabourn.
WHY WE LOVE IT Although Rotterdam doesn't have the same historic charm as nearby Amsterdam, it is Europe's biggest sea port and has plenty of its own attractions. As some cruise lines are diverting from Amsterdam to Rotterdam this year because of a new passenger tax, it's a city worth getting to know. It is renowned for award-winning modern architecture such as the striking Erasmus Bridge and famous Cube Houses, world-class museums, a vibrant arts scene and lively night life. The 17th-century, canal-side Delfshaven district survived WWII bombs, along with the lovely City Hall and St Lawrence's Church, the city's only remaining medieval building.
TAKE A TOUR OR GO IT ALONE? Most cruise ships dock at Rotterdam Cruise Terminal by the old Holland America Line headquarters (now Hotel New York), 10 minutes' walk from Erasmus Bridge and another 30 minutes' walk to the city centre; Wilhelminaplein metro station is nearby. Bigger vessels dock at the Holland America quay, about two kilometres from the centre. Water taxis are a great way to get around and there is a terminal next to Hotel New York. There are numerous day tours to Amsterdam but if you're going independently, trains to Amsterdam run from Rotterdam Centraal and take 45 to 60 minutes. The Rotterdam Routes app provides a range of audio walking tours and there are various locally operated bus, cycling, Segway and walking tours that take in the major sights.
MUST SEE SS Rotterdam (1959 ship, now a hotel), for a tour, meal or overnight stay; Maritime Museum; views from the 185-metre-high Euromast Tower; Delfshaven.
MUST EAT From coffee bars and organic cafes to traditional pubs and Michelin-starred restaurants, Rotterdam has everything a keen foodie could desire. The huge indoor Markthal (market hall) complex has some 100 market stands, shops and restaurants; Fenix Food Factory specialises in local beers, cheeses and bakery goodies and has an on-site eatery.
NEED TO KNOW The Rotterdam Welcome Card (€12 for one day) provides a minimum 25 per cent discount on 50 attractions, plus unlimited travel on RET buses, trams and metros.
Cruise ships call at more than 40 regional ports and anchorages around the Australian coastline, according to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Australasia.
Christmas cruising 2019
Even though we've only just got through the last festive season, now is the best time to book for this year's winter river cruises. Riviera Travel will offer a record 16 Christmas market cruises on the Rhine from December 1 to 18, with good deals for solo travellers. The five-day cruises are round-trip from Cologne on-board Riviera's fleet of new ships and the itinerary includes sailing through the castle-studded Rhine Gorge; calls to Rudesheim and Koblenz to browse the markets; a morning in the one-time capital of Bonn, birthplace of Beethoven; and an afternoon and night back in Cologne, which boasts seven Yuletide markets, not to mention one of Europe's biggest and most beautiful Gothic cathedrals. See rivieratravel.com.au
Explorer Down Under
In the wake of this summer's record number of new and luxury ships sailing in local waters, Regent Seven Seas has announced that Seven Seas Explorer, billed as the most luxurious ship ever built, will cruise in Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific and Asia during its 2020-21 season. The 750-passenger Explorer, launched in 2016, will offer nine regional itineraries between November 2020 and April 2021. RSSC fares include free shore excursions in every port, dining in all restaurants, free fine wines and premium spirits and free Wi-Fi. Free three-night pre- or post-cruise land programs are also included on select cruises. Explorer is the first RSSC ship to feature the Culinary Arts Kitchen, for hands-on cooking classes and new Gourmet Explorer Tours. See rssc.com