AS MUCH as I love returning to favourite haunts around the globe on cruises - Hong Kong, San Francisco and Copenhagen being a few - there is nothing quite like visiting somewhere new. As high seas holidays continue to grow more popular, one way operators are upping the ante with their competition is with new or "maiden" ports of call.
Crystal Cruises is busy during this northern hemisphere summer, visiting seven new European destinations. Top of the list are Klaipeda, the third-largest city in Lithuania, picturesque Saint-Jean-de-Luz in the Basque country and the chic Corsican town of Bonifacio, famous for white sandy beaches.
The boutique adventure operator American Cruise Lines has recently launched a new series of cruises to the Pacific north-west's scenic Puget Sound and San Juan Islands.
Starting next April, with round-trip itineraries from Seattle, the 100-guest American Spirit will visit new sleepy waterside destinations including Anacortes, Friday Harbour, Port Townsend and Poulsbo. Seven of Holland America's ships will be plying European waters next year and venturing into new territories, with maiden calls planned for the popular resort of Alcudia in Mallorca, the historic island of Hydra and the port city of Igoumenitsa in Greece, and Germany's Sassnitz, gateway to the nearby Jasmund National Park.
Finally, P&O Cruises' 2013-14 program has highlights including themed cruises and a chance to view the Northern Lights from Oriana. Included in a line-up of seven new ports of call, however, are maiden visits to Scrabster in the Orkney Islands, which dates to the Norse era, untouched Saaremaa Island in the West Estonian archipelago, the Swedish port town of Karlskrona, and the resort town of Sarande on Albania's Ionian coast.
Package of the week
Cruise Express has a 17-day Mediterranean cruise package on offer on Celebrity Equinox and book by September 30 you'll benefit from a free upgrade to a balcony stateroom saving an additional $400 a couple.
The tour departs on May 14 next year, heading for Barcelona and a two-night pre-cruise stay including breakfast and local touring. Then you board the ship for a 12-night round-trip cruise with stops including Nice, Florence, Venice, Dubrovnik and Kotor. You'll have the services of a Cruise Express tour manager available and receive gifts including a backpack and cap.
Priced from $4990 a person, twin share, the package includes return flights with Emirates, accommodation in Barcelona and the cruise. 1300 764 509, cruiseexpress.com.au.
The International Cruise Council Australasia (ICCA) is launching the first national cruise week on September 3. Described as "Australia's largest cruise promotion", all ICCA member cruise lines and travel agents will be offering exclusive deals through its network for one week only. nationalcruiseweek.com.au.
Carnival Cruise Lines has started to crack down on cruisers who claim deckchairs with their belongings then leave them empty for hours. Stickers are being put on chairs by crew on Carnival Breeze to note the time they were saved; if they remain unoccupied after 40 minutes, staff can remove any items.
When the last of Celebrity's Solstice class ships, Reflection, launches in October, one of its suites, the huge two-bedroom Reflection Suite, will have an all-glass shower extending out over the edge of the ship for showers with a view.
LAUNCHED 1993 PASSENGERS 1258 REGULAR HAUNTS Australasia, Canada and New England, the Caribbean, Panama Canal, pictured, the Amazon, Europe BEST FOR Couples THE DETAILS A 10-day Eastern Caribbean cruise, a round trip from Fort Lauderdale departing on November 30, is priced from $899 a person, twin share. 1300 987 322, hollandamerica.com.au.
Need to know
1 Named for the Maas River in the Netherlands, it is the fifth ship in the company's history to have the name Maasdam and was launched by the actress June Allyson. In April this year the ship underwent a multimillion-dollar refit.
2 Maasdam has an interior motif paying homage to the Dutch East India and Dutch West India companies. The centrepiece of its three-story atrium is Luciano Vistosi's Totem, a sculpture comprising nearly 2000 glimmering pieces of glass.
3 There are five types of staterooms, from interiors to deluxe verandah suites, all of which received new furnishings and bathroom upgrades in the refit. Twenty-nine new Lanai staterooms were added and 16 staterooms across various categories were converted into new spa staterooms.
4 Maasdam has one main dining room serving international cuisine with an extensive wine list and the option of fixed or flexible dining. There's also the buffet-style Lido Restaurant, the elaborate for-a-fee Pinnacle Grill, and new to the line-up, the complementary Italian eatery, Canaletto.
5 Besides facilities including a pool, spa, showroom and fitness centre, the ship has free computer workshops powered by Windows, and the Culinary Arts Centre presented by Food & Wine magazine for cooking classes and presentations.
Port watch: Kristiansund, Norway
Need to know Located on the western coast of Norway across four main islands, the town of Kristiansund appears on Norway, Finland and Arctic itineraries, mainly in the northern hemisphere summer. Comprising vibrant island communities, and surrounded by deep fiords and steep mountains, it is an area of immense scenic beauty. Ships dock at its city-centre quay, with taxis available.
Do not miss If you are exploring independently, this part of Norway is famous for woodland and parks, many of which are close to the centre of town, offering views of the surrounding mountains. The islands in the area are easy to access, thanks to small local ferries. Other sights worth seeing include the old fishing district of Vagen, and Innlandet, which has some lovely coastal architecture. Further afield, the archipelago of Grip is a deserted fishing village and popular tourist attraction.
Our cruise ends in Miami but we can't get a flight to our next destination until the evening. Will the ship allow us to stay on board late?
- A. Russe, Neutral Bay.
You have several options. Large ships stagger guest departures, giving priority to people with early flight connections, so you can arrange to be last off. A tour ending at the airport later in the day might also be offered, cutting down the time you will have to hang around. Finally, check if any airport hotels offer a day room for a reduced fee. That way you can get off the ship early and relax in comfort until you need to be at the airport again.