New flavours afloat

This week I'm on-board Holland America Line's Oosterdam in New Zealand. Carrying 1916 guests, the Vista-class superliner crossed the Pacific from the US in late September, making its debut in Sydney on October 24.

Aboard for four days, we've had plenty of time to explore many of Oosterdam's attractions: the Culinary Arts Centre for cooking demonstrations; the Greenhouse Spa & Salon for a spot of pampering; and the Crow's Nest lounge, with its sweeping 270-degree views.

Another highlight has been dinner at the reservations-only Pinnacle Grill, a specialty restaurant featuring beef and seafood dishes. It's a lavish culinary experience, which is fast becoming a more popular part of high-seas cruising.

When it emerges from a spell in dry dock this month, Royal Caribbean International's Serenade of the Seas will have four new dining options: the Italian Giovanni's Table, the Izumi sushi restaurant, Rita's Cantina Mexican eatery and the private dining experience, Chef's Table. Not to be outdone, Norwegian Cruise Line introduced an intimate gourmet dining experience this year. Also called Chef's Table, it's a 2½-hour-long, nine-course degustation dinner, beginning with a champagne reception hosted by the ship's executive chef.

However, when it comes to high-seas cuisine, the news isn't all about alternative dining venues. American Cruise Lines is offering food-and-wine-themed cruises on the new Queen of the Mississippi, including seven-night Savories of the South cruises from New Orleans.

Famous for voyages featuring chefs from Relais & Chateaux, and Michelin-starred chefs from across the globe, Silversea Cruises has expanded food and wine themes to its expedition vessel, Silver Explorer. In April, a Flavours of Europe cruise from Lisbon to Portsmouth will explore Portugal, Spain and France.

And, finally, if you're heading to Juneau next season, Alaskan Food Tours can take you on a three-hour culinary adventure through Alaska's capital, with highlights including fresh seafood at a waterfront restaurant and locally made fudge.

Package of the week

Cruise Express has a package featuring a voyage to northern Europe on Cunard Line's Queen Elizabeth in May next year. The package begins with a one-night stay at the Waldorf Hilton in London, followed by a 14-night round-trip cruise from Southampton, including visits to Copenhagen, Helsinki and Stockholm, and two days in St Petersburg. Priced from $6480 a person for an inside stateroom, the package includes accommodation, the cruise and premium economy return flights. Book by December 31 and receive shipboard credit of up to $US150 ($145) a person. 1300 557 941,

In brief

Avalon Waterways has added the Mississippi to its calendar next year, offering itineraries on the American Queen steamboat. Choose from two: a 12-day cruise from Nashville to New Orleans between March and December; and an 11-day seasonal fall foliage cruise from Chicago to St Paul in September and October.

Azamara Club Cruises starts its AzAmazing Evenings program next year. On selected cruises, guests will be invited to a complimentary evening event ashore, such as a trip to the ballet or a gala dinner at a leading museum.

MSC Cruises' MSC Preziosa has undergone a traditional maritime ceremony in a shipyard at Saint-Nazaire, France, during which two commemorative coins where welded to its mast radar. The ship, which will be the 13th in the line's fleet, is set for launch in Genoa in March.

Seven Seas Navigator

LAUNCHED 1999 PASSENGERS 490 REGULAR HAUNTS The Caribbean, Alaska, Canada and New England BEST FOR CouplesTHE DETAILS An 18-night Panama Canal cruise from Miami to San Francisco, departing on April 22, is priced from $US7649 ($7400) a person, including a one-night pre-cruise stay and a shipboard credit of $US800 a suite. 1800 251 174,

Need to know

1 A former Soviet research vessel with a specially strengthened hull capable of navigating ice, Seven Seas Navigator was completely rebuilt by Regent with luxury in mind, launching as the line's first all-suite cruise ship.

The ship had a spell in dry dock earlier this year for a multimillion-dollar refurbishment. All suites and public areas were upgraded, including the spa, and several new dining venues were added.

3 The ship's spacious accommodations all have ocean views, many with private balconies, and range from standard suites with picture windows to a lavish master suite. In the upgrade, all staterooms received new furniture, wall coverings, plush carpeting and new teak on the balconies.

Navigator has an impressive line-up of five open-seating dining venues. Compass Rose is the primary restaurant, with La Veranda a casual part-alfresco option for breakfast and lunch. The Prime 7 steakhouse was enlarged and updated in the refurbishment, now featuring new artwork.

5 Pick of the facilities include a Canyon Ranch spa and fitness centre, a well-stocked library, the internet cafe, a show lounge and several bars. There's also a decent-size outdoor swimming pool with two jacuzzis.

Port watch: Avignon, France

Need to know

A popular river cruising port of call in Provence, Avignon is known as the "City of Popes". A famous region for French artists, it's located on the Rhone River and is a gateway to southern France. Ships dock in the town centre, making exploring on foot easy. If you want to venture further afield, you can easily hail a taxi.

Do not miss

Top of your list should be the building that gave the city its nickname, Le Palais des Papes, or Palace of Popes. Other significant sites to see include the Notre-Dame des Doms cathedral, the Rocher des Doms, the Musee du Petit Palais and La Chartreuse de Villeneuve. Shoppers will love the designer boutiques and department stores stretching along Rue de la Republique, and save time to indulge in some local wine and cuisine, or relax with a coffee and people watch.


We haven't cruised before and can't stretch to an all-inclusive one. What extras are we likely to incur?
- J. Milton, Sydney.

On most ships you pay extra for drinks, including alcohol, soft drinks, bottled water and specialty coffees such as a cappuccino, although you can sometimes buy packages to reduce the cost. Other services you pay for typically include laundry, although larger ships have laundrettes, also internet use and phone calls, dining at specialty restaurants, spa treatments, some exercise classes, port shuttles and shore excursions. On some ships you may also have to tip, or pay daily service charges, so you need to keep these in mind for your budget.