HAVING returned from a five-star cruise on Regent's Seven Seas Voyager, packed with fine-dining options including a Cordon Bleu restaurant, I know how easy it can be to overdo it when it comes to eating on the high seas.
Thanks to the culinary demands of cruise travellers, there are more dining venues on ships to choose from than ever, and food-themed cruises to whet your appetite.
Windstar's Wind Surf emerged from dry dock in December with an exclusive new dining room, the Stella Bistro. Described as a "contemporary dining room with a French twist", its menus draw on contemporary French dishes, with wines selected by the executive chef. Holland America's MS Prinsendam also has a new dining venue, the casual Italian Canaletto. Named for the famous 18th-century Venetian artist, it serves classic Italian fare with table service at dinner. If you enjoy cruising to a theme, Compagnie du Ponant has partnered French magazine Cuisine et Vins de France to offer an eight-night Gastronomic Odyssey on-board L'Austral. Departing from Malaga on April 13, and cruising Spain and the Balearic Islands, highlights include dinners prepared by Michelin-starred chefs and tastings of champagne and wines.
Yet to make its debut, Norwegian Cruise Line's new Breakaway will feature a brand new space called the Waterfront. It has eight outdoor dining and drinking options, including Norwegian favourites Moderno Churrascaria and Shaker's Cocktail Bar, as well as Ocean Blu on the Waterfront complete with outdoor seating and a takeaway menu, and a gelato bar.
Viking River Cruises will offer a wine cruise on Viking Forseti in Bordeaux as part of its 2014 program. The eight-day cruise will enable guests to enjoy the history of the region while exploring some of the world's finest wines, and will be the first time one of the line's "longships" is deployed in France.
Package of the week
Cruise on two of Cunard's "Queens" back-to-back in Europe with this package from Cruise Express. The 35-night package begins with a flight to London on April 26 and a four-night stay, before boarding Queen Elizabeth in Southampton on May 1 for a 14-night round-trip Scandinavia cruise. Returning on May 15, you transfer to the Queen Victoria for a 17-night round-trip cruise of the Mediterranean, returning on June 1 to fly home. Priced from $8999 a person, twin share, with a bonus $110 shipboard credit each. 1300 764 509, cruiseexpress.com.au.
Azamara Journey has emerged from an eight-day dry-dock stint in Singapore. The 694-guest refurbished ship has a new blue hull, upgraded interiors, and revamped culinary options including a caviar and champagne bar in Aqualina, and a Chef's Table dinner.
Guests on Norwegian Breakaway, which makes its debut in May, will enjoy a fireworks display on every cruise, the second-last night of each voyage, part of a 1980s-style deck party under the stars.
Carnival Cruise Lines is expanding its American west coast itineraries next year. The 2052-guest Carnival Imagination will leave Miami for Long Beach in January 2014, to offer year-round three-night cruises to Ensenada in Mexico, as well as four-night cruises to Ensenada and Catalina Island in California.
Queen of the Mississippi
LAUNCHED 2012 PASSENGERS 150 REGULAR HAUNTS The Mississippi and Ohio rivers, US BEST FOR Couples THE DETAILS An eight-day Mississippi cruise, a round trip from New Orleans, is priced from $US3995 ($3824) a person, twin share, with departures throughout the year. (07) 5575 8094, cruisetraveller.com.au.
Need to know
1 Operated by American Cruise Lines, Queen of the Mississippi was the first new authentic paddle wheeler built specifically to cruise the "mighty Miss". When it launched, the line was also celebrating its first season on the Mississippi.
2 The ship combines modern marine technology and first-class amenities with the historic grandeur of classic American riverboats. Features include the largest accommodations on the Mississippi River, and extended visits to historic destinations.
3 Accommodation highlights include elegant all-river-view staterooms, 66 with glass doors leading to private balconies, and corner suites with balconies wrapping around the bow. All have complimentary wi-fi, coffee-makers and a TV and DVD player.
4 The Grand Dining Room offers open-seating dining, while the Top Deck Cafe serves snacks, pastries and drinks throughout the day. Other culinary offerings include complimentary room service and high tea each afternoon.
5 Picks of the facilities include an exercise area, a partially covered top deck featuring an outdoor putting green, six lounges, an open sun deck with loungers, the Mark Twain Library and chart room, and daily entertainment and lectures.
Port watch: Itajai, Brazil
Need to know Located in the mouth of the Itajai River in southern Brazil, 700kilometres from Rio de Janeiro, Itajai was established in the mid-1800s by the Portuguese. Today it’s a commercial port blessed with old buildings, monuments and lovely beaches. Ships dock in the port in town, next to a local shopping district.
Do not miss Itajai’s location is ideal for enjoying aquatic pursuits. Popular beaches include the praias dos Cabeaudas and Amores, both of which are about six or seven kilometres from town and overlook the open ocean. In the town centre there are plenty of shops and cafes to enjoy, and the Museu Historico of Itajai tells the story of the early settlers. Pick of the excursions further afield includes the German-influenced Blumenau, home of the largest Oktoberfest outside Germany, and the cosmopolitan city of Florianopolis.
We're taking our first cruise to New Zealand, which stops in Tauranga, and can't decide between staying local or taking an excursion to Rotorua.
- A. Melba, Mollymook.
Both are good ways to spend your time. It's a pity you have to choose. If you like to walk, Tauranga has Mount Maunganui — you can walk the base comfortably at your leisure. Alternatively, if you're feeling more energetic, the hike to the summit offers stunning views. In contrast, the excursion to Rotorua is usually a long day that involves much time on a bus. However, the drama of the hot springs is well worth the drive.