When Princess Cruises president Jan Swartz was in Sydney recently to talk about the line's latest news, Diamond Princess was docked at Circular Quay, making the perfect backdrop for media interviews in the Shangri-La Hotel in The Rocks. While the focus of Swartz's visit was Majestic Princess' inaugural Australian season and the new Ocean Medallion technology, it also coincided with the announcement of Diamond Princess' Captain Graham Goodway's retirement after 15 years as a Princess captain and nearly 45 years service with P&O and Princess.
Captain Goodway is a familiar face to many Princess cruisers; his first command was sailing Pacific Princess out of Sydney and his last will be bringing Diamond Princess to Sydney on March 2. He said he is looking forward to spending his retirement travelling. "I can never stay in one place too long and there's always more to see in this world. I have been lucky to have had a wonderful career doing something I enjoy."
Swartz, who has worked with Princess for more than 20 years, is excited to be bringing the line's "newest, latest and greatest" ship Down Under this September. "I love the fact that Australians and Kiwis spend more nights on Princess cruise ships than on any other cruise line in the world," she said.
The 3560-passenger Majestic is the same size and class of ship as Royal and Regal Princess but has several distinctive new features. Launched last year, it has the biggest shopping space at sea, two restaurants designed by Michelin-starred chefs (Harmony by Richard Chen and La Mer by Emmanuel Renaut) and karaoke booths. Although the karaoke was designed for Chinese guests, Swartz said that when Majestic sailed in Europe before it went to China, the booths were packed with Australian, British and American guests.
During its inaugural Australian season, Majestic Princess will sail 16 cruises to destinations including Fiji, New Zealand and Tasmania as well as two Asia voyages between Shanghai and Sydney, and Sydney and Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, the versatile new Ocean Medallion technology has been installed on several Princess ships and has "gone live" in one area on Regal Princess. Swartz said that feedback so far has been very positive and that ship-wide access to Medallion Net has proved that it is the fastest internet connectivity at sea. Can't wait to experience that!
As the full Ocean Medallion program is developed it will be rolled out across the fleet; it promises to streamline everything from embarkation to ordering drinks from your poolside lounger. We will keep you posted.
THE PORT Juneau, Alaska
WHO GOES THERE Carnival, Celebrity, Crystal, Disney, Princess, Royal Caribbean, NCL, HAL, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, Silversea, Windstar.
WHY WE LOVE IT Alaska's capital is adventure central – surrounded by mountains and the Gastineau Channel, it's the only major US city that is inaccessible by road. It was named in 1881 after gold prospector Joe Juneau but for thousands of years before it became a gold-rush town it was a popular fishing spot for native Tlingit Indians.
TAKE A TOUR OR GO IT ALONE? Most large ships dock in the city centre, near the Mount Roberts Tramway, while small ships dock at the Alaska Steam Ship Dock. When the port is busy some ships anchor off and tender passengers ashore. South Franklin Street, where historic buildings house gift shops, restaurants and pubs, is an easy walk from the ships. Shoppers should look for the polar bear symbol for goods made in Alaska and the Silver Hand label for genuine native crafts. Take the tram to Mount Roberts for amazing views, or hike the trail to the top. There are lots of tours to Mendenhall Glacier, 19 kilometres out of town, ranging from helicopter trips that land on the glacier to guided hikes and kayaking to the glacier from Juneau. Some tours combine whale-watching, wildlife-spotting, a glacier hike and a salmon bake; zip-lining over Alaskan rainforest is another adventurous option.
MUST SEE Alaska State Museum, for displays covering Alaska's cultural and geographic history plus gift shop and cafe; Macaulay Salmon Hatchery to see how the salmon industry works; Alaskan Brewing Company, for tours and tastings.
MUST EAT The best-known Alaskan specialties are salmon, halibut, and crab, but locally caught scallops, spot prawns and Dungeness crab are a must for seafood lovers. Tracy's King Crab Shack is handily placed for cruise passengers.
NEED TO KNOW Be prepared for variable weather – dress in layers and bring your rain gear. Helicopter tours are cancelled if visibility is poor.
Karin Stahre Janson was the first female captain of a cruise ship – Royal Caribbean's Monarch of the Seas – and Celebrity Cruises' Kate McCue was the industry's first American female captain.
Ovation's third season
Royal Caribbean's Ovation of the Seas is sailing out of Sydney for another month before it heads off to China – and if you've missed the chance to cruise on the high-tech megaship this summer, you'll be happy to know that it is returning in October for its third local season, which has already been extended due to demand. Royal Caribbean has added two new itineraries in March and April 2019. A new 10-night New Zealand round trip will depart Sydney on March 30, 2019, calling at Dunedin, Wellington, Napier and Picton, with a day of scenic cruising through Milford, Doubtful and Dusky Sounds. The eight-night Pacific Islands round trip departs Sydney on April 9, 2019, and visits Noumea in New Caledonia and Mystery Island in Vanuatu. See royalcaribbean.com.au
Seven Seas Mariner makeover
Since it launched the uber-luxury Seven Seas Explorer in 2016, Regent Seven Seas Cruises has spent $US125 million on refurbishing the rest of its fleet. Seven Seas Mariner is the last to receive a bow-to-stern makeover – the 700-passenger ship will go into dry dock in April and when it arrives in Alaska for the 2018 season, it will sport some lavish new features. The pool deck will receive the most comprehensive redesign, with teak flooring, a new mosaic-tiled pool and expanded lunch menus at the Pool Grill, but all dining venues, lounges, suites, the atrium, spa and library will get the luxury treatment. Modern-French restaurant Chartreuse, which first appeared on Seven Seas Explorer, will be installed and classic steakhouse Prime 7 will be redesigned. Special Alaska upgrades are available until March 31. See rssc.com