Cruise news: Virgin Voyages says 'hello sailors'

A month after opening bookings for Scarlet Lady's inaugural Caribbean season in 2020, Virgin Voyages' sales are going "incredibly well", according to Tom McAlpin, Virgin Voyages' president and CEO. He said, "We have been overwhelmingly pleased with the warm welcome we've received from our sailors. We crafted our itineraries based on feedback from potential sailors, so we're pleased to see that the research proved to be true."

Sailors is what Virgin calls its passengers or guests and it's just one of the things the new cruise line is doing differently. Doing away with a raft of extra charges, including the compulsory gratuity charge that irks so many Australian and British cruisers, is another. There will be no fees to dine at any of the 20-plus eateries onboard the 2770-passenger ship and 'basic bevvies' such as soft drinks, bottled water, tea and coffee will be free, along with WiFi and group fitness classes.

Fares for the four-day Havana After Dark round-trip cruise from Miami start from US$750 per person twin share in an Insider cabin sailing in September 2020, not including taxes and fees. Most mainstream cruise lines don't include taxes and fees in their advertised fare prices and they can add considerably to the overall cost – in this case US$372 for two people.

Scarlet Lady's other itineraries, all round-trip from Miami, are the five-night Dominican Daze, calling at Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic (from US$825); five-night Mayan Sol, calling at Costa Maya on Mexico's eastern Yucatán Peninsula (from US$775); and five-night Havana After Dark, with a full day and overnight in Havana (from US$1275). All Virgin voyages include a day at The Beach Club at Bimini, a tropical Bahamian island off Florida's east coast.

And for a voyage that promises to be like no other president's cruise, you can join Virgin Group founder, CEO and long-time party boy Sir (nobody seems to use his title) Richard Branson on board for his 70th birthday. Richard's Birthday Bash will be a four-night extravaganza, leaving Miami on July 15, 2020 – he will be staying in one of the 78 RockStar suites and although the rest are already booked out there's still space in the Insider, Sea View and Sea Terrace staterooms and suites.

Onboard entertainment will also revel in its rebelliousness from the cruise industry norm. The company says it won't have a traditional cruise director but rather a "dynamic group of individuals dedicated to making Happenings around the ship completely epic". Broadway-style shows will be tossed overboard and it's safe to say sailors can expect the unexpected. See virginvoyages.com [https://www.virginvoyages.com]

SHORE THING

THE PORT Benoa, Bali, Indonesia

WHO GOES THERE Azamara, Costa, Crystal, Cunard, Fred.Olsen, Hapag-Lloyd, NCL, Oceania, P&O, Princess, RSSC, Seabourn, Silversea, Star Clippers, Viking.

WHY WE LOVE IT The 'island of the gods' has become a massive drawcard for tourists, particularly Aussies, and appeals to families, couples and solo travellers. Whether you're looking for traditional culture and cuisine, indulgent spas, contemporary beach clubs or shopping opportunities, Bali has it all. Unless you're a fan of overdeveloped, noisy towns, avoid Kuta and head for Ubud or Nusa Dua.

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TAKE A TOUR OR GO IT ALONE? Most cruise ships dock at Benoa cruise terminal and a few smaller ships dock at Celukan Bawang on the island's north coast. Benoa is about 12 kilometres from Denpasar (the capital) and Nusa Dua, 11 kilometres from Sanur and eight kilometres from Kuta.

Take a taxi or bemo from the cruise terminal if you're doing your own thing, or join an organised tour; either way, there's nothing much in Benoa itself. Typical day trips to Ubud include visits to the artisan villages of Batubulan, Celuk and Mas, Ubud Monkey Forest, art market and palace, and Tegunungan Waterfall.

White-water rafting on the Ayung River and quad-biking tours will appeal to thrill-seekers and some tours combine both. A more peaceful option is Viator's water temples and UNESCO rice terraces tour, which takes in the temples of Ulun Danu Bratan, Tanah Lot and Luhur Batukaru, plus a visit to Jatiluwih Green Land to learn how paddy fields are created and farmed.

MUST EAT Try local versions of classic Indonesian dishes such as sate lilit ikan (fish satay), nasi campur (mixed dishes including beef rendang and grilled chicken with rice), nasi goreng (fried rice) and gado gado (salad with peanut sauce). Balinese specialties include babi guling (roast suckling pig) and bebek bengil (spicy duck).

NEED TO KNOW You can visit Indonesia visa-free for up to 30 days your passport needs to be valid for at least six months.

ESSENTIALS balitourismboard.org

CRUISEFACT

Coral Expeditions, whose new 120-passenger ship Coral Adventurer arrives in Darwin on its sold-out maiden voyage on May 12, started as Coral Princess Cruises in 1984.

NEWS

Solo-friendly Amazon

Luxury river cruise line Delfin Amazon Cruises has removed the single supplement for solo travellers on two of its vessels, Delfin II and Delfin III. Two cabins on every three- and four-night sailing on the Peruvian Amazon will be available to solo travellers without a single supplement charge. "We have seen more passengers travelling on their own in recent years and we want to make the Delfin experience more accessible to this growing market," said Lissy Urteaga, Delfin's co-founder and head of customer service. Delfin II and III accommodate 28 and 43 guests respectively and the cruise company is the first to join the prestigious Relais & Chateaux group of luxury hotels and restaurants.

Highlights include kayaking, guided rainforest walks, night safaris and skiff expeditions. See delfinamazoncruises.com

Life-changing Antarctica

Peregrine Adventures' new Antarctica expedition program reinforces the company's commitment to sustainability by doubling carbon offsets on behalf of all passengers. Peregrine carbon-offsets all land trips, adventure cruises and Polar expeditions, serves sustainably-sourced seafood, avoids single-use plastics and uses biodegradable and phosphate-free cleaning products onboard.

"We want the journey to Antarctica to be life changing, not earth changing," said Brett Mitchell, Peregrine's regional director, Asia Pacific. Peregrine charters the 199-passenger Ocean Endeavor for its Antarctic voyages and offers a range of optional activities led by specialised guides such as sea kayaking, snowshoeing, photography tours and ice- camping.

Antarctic expeditions for the 2020-21 season (October 2020 to March 2021) range from 10 to 21 days and fares start from $7090. See peregrineadventures.com .

Musical Joy

When Norwegian Joy – known for being the first ship with a two-deck go-kart track – starts its first Alaska season on May 4 it will showcase another first at sea, the Tony Award-nominated musical Footloose. Based on the '80s movie starring Kevin Bacon, the show is a "feel-good, positive show that encourages people to embrace new ideas, stand up for what they believe in and dance their hearts out", said Norwegian Cruise Line's president and CEO Andy Stuart.

Sharing the main stage with Footloose will be the aerial acrobatics show Elements, while the 'wine-tasting comedy' Wine Lovers: The Musical will be staged as part of NCL's innovative program of specialty dining performances. Guests get to taste wines during the shows at the Social Comedy and Wine Club. See ncl.com.

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