THIS week I am on-board Pacific Dawn, cruising to the South Pacific islands of New Caledonia and Vanuatu. The ship has not only had a recent major makeover, with updated staterooms and new facilities, including a New Zealand Natural ice-cream parlour, but it is also cruising a new itinerary featuring an overnight stay in Vila.
Many of the destinations on this itinerary are new to me, including the stunning Isle of Pines and Champagne Bay, on the other side of the Pacific.
The increasingly popular Canada and New England cruising season is about to start, with a growing number of lines venturing there to view the autumn foliage, including Princess, Royal Caribbean and Holland America.
From Montreal and Quebec, to the eastern seaboard from Boston to New York, itineraries range from seven to 14 days, with new ports of call including Saint John, Charlottetown and Charleston.
American Cruise Lines has announced new seven-night itineraries exploring Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands from Seattle on the American Spirit, and has another unusual cruise of the Columbia and Snake rivers on the Queen of the West. Departing Portland, Oregon, highlights include Astoria, the oldest American settlement west of the Rockies, a scenic cruise of Volcano Alley, and a taste of the real west in Pendleton watching cowboys at work.
The big news this year, however, is the resurgence of cruising on the mighty Mississippi River. Once the most historical cruising region in the US, its demise began in 2005 when New Orleans was catastrophically damaged by Hurricane Katrina, followed by the closure of the Majestic America Line. Fast-forward to 2012, however, and there are two new river ships to choose from, one of which is American Cruise Lines' Queen of the Mississippi, a glamorous new-build paddle-wheeler. The other is the American Queen, an old favourite relaunched by the American Queen Steamboat Company.
Package of the week
Cruise Express is offering special fares and a host of bonuses on a 51-night package on Oceania Nautica if you book before September 30. Departing on April 4, the package includes a 46-night cruise from Bangkok to Rome, visiting exotic ports of call, including Singapore, Colombo, Mumbai, Dubai, Luxor, Jerusalem and Santorini. Besides return flights from Australia, there's also a two-night pre-cruise stay to enjoy in Bangkok, and a three-night post-cruise stay in Rome. Priced from $12,199 for a deluxe oceanview stateroom, you will also receive a shipboard credit of $US500. 1300 766 537, cruiseexpress.com.au.
Seabourn Cruise Line is adding Antarctica to its itineraries for the first time next year. Seabourn Quest will offer a series of four 21- to 24-day voyages between Valparaiso and Buenos Aires starting in November, featuring five days in Antarctica.
For a front-row seat to view the Australia Day action next year, consider P&O's Pacific Pearl. The ship embarks on a three-night cruise from Sydney on January 25, cruising out through the heads before returning the next day to anchor at Athol Buoy for the celebrations.
Orion Expeditions returns to Papua New Guinea next month, and March and April 2013. Its 11-night itineraries, which are round trips from Cairns and include charter flights to or from Rabaul, have a focus on photography and wildlife.
LAUNCHED 1998 PASSENGERS 1870 REGULAR HAUNTS South-east Asia BEST FOR Families THE DETAILS A seven-night south-east Asia cruise, a round trip from Singapore with various departures through to March 24, is priced from $1109 a person, twin share. 1300 369 848, ecruising.travel.
Need to know
1 Virgo is the second in the Star Cruises' Leo class of ships and was the second new build for the line specifically designed for the Asian market. It is a colourful and fun blend of East and West, offering an authentic experience of cruising Asia.
2 After home porting in Hong Kong, the ship returned to Singapore in late 2008 to offer short cruises, including two-night Malaysia Short Breaks from Singapore, three-night Penang and Phuket getaways, and seven-night Asia cruises.
3 Accommodation spans five categories, from inside staterooms to suites. Although nicely decorated, all but those at the top of the scale are a bit cramped and don't have much storage. Three-quarters of staterooms have ocean views and families are well catered for. Many feature third and fourth berths.
4 Virgo has an impressive line-up of dining venues catering to Asian tastes. Pick of the alternatives include the 24-hour Blue Lagoon for Asian favourites, the Noble House Chinese restaurant, the Italian gourmet Palazzo and the Japanese Samurai.
5 A 100-metre water slide was installed in 2009. Other facilities include a swimming pool, an Aquaswim jet exercise pool, four jacuzzis, a gym, champagne bar, karaoke club and a computer arcade. There's also a childcare centre.
Port watch: Oporto, Portugal
Need to know Overlooking the Douro River in northern Portugal, Oporto is a jumping-off point for Douro River cruises and a port of call for cruise ships. River cruisers dock in the heart of the city, while ships dock several kilometres north, usually at the commercial port of Leixoes. If you are on a cruise ship, you can take a taxi to the city for about €10 ($12.45), or take the metro.
Do not miss Dating from Roman times, Oporto is a scenic jumble of mediaeval alleys, architectural styles, baroque churches, squares and boulevards. It has UNESCO World Heritage status, with sights to see including the alluring Cais da Ribeira waterfront district, the Casa da Musica — the city's irregular-shaped marvel — and the Sao Francisco Church, with its opulent interior. Make time to drop by Cais de Gaia to snap views of the city skyline and sample port wine.
I want to see the vine divers on Pentecost Island, but who cruises there and when is the best time to go?
- A.J. Miller, Palm Beach.
Pentecost Island is the spiritual birthplace of bungy jumping, or land diving as it was originally called. It is quite a spectacle. On Saturdays between April and June, local men in the south of the island climb towers 30 metres high, tie vines to their feet and jump. P&O Australia's Pacific Dawn, Jewel and Pearl are regular visitors, but if you want to cruise specifically to see the land divers in action, book early because these itineraries are popular.