New ships, new ports

I CELEBRATED my birthday two days ago and was fortunate to be in Darwin on-board Celebrity Solstice.

It was not only a special day for me but also the ship; Solstice was making its debut Down Under, arriving at its first Australian port of call.

This season, four new ships have debuted in our backyard, with Solstice being the fourth, offering cruise fans a wider choice of experiences. Across the globe more new itineraries have been announced for next year and 2014, which will mean more cruise ships making maiden calls and venturing into new territory.

The family fun cruise line Disney is one, heading back to the Mediterranean in 2013 for a three-month season, starting in June, offering four-, seven- and 12-night cruises departing from Barcelona on Disney Magic.

Across the pond in the Caribbean, MSC has a new Antilles program beginning next year on MSC Lirica from Fort Lauderdale. The seven-night cruises visit ports of call including Philipsburg on St Maarten, Pointe-a-Pitre on Guadeloupe, and Road Town on Tortola. If you have time on your hands, you can add a back-to-back cruise elsewhere in the Caribbean on MSC Poesia.

Looking forward to 2014, Oceania Cruises has new Grand Voyages on Marina, Regatta and Nautica, from 24 to 63 days in length. Options include a 46-day cruise from Cape Town to Hong Kong by way of Mozambique, Madagascar and Mombasa, and a 38-day voyage from Miami to Buenos Aries taking in the Chilean fiords.

Silversea Cruises has added an impressive 95 new ports of call around the globe to itineraries across its fleet for 2014. New names include Melilla and Almeria in Spain, Kavala in Greece, Haugesund in Norway, Eskifjordur and Djupivogur in Iceland, Ponce in Puerto Rico and Koror in Palau.

Package of the Week

Cruise specialist eCruising has a new 17-night Mekong River cruise package that will appeal to lovers of fine food. Departing on September 14, it begins with stays and sightseeing in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, including a private overnight stay on the Bhaya Classic junk boat in Halong Bay. Then you board privately chartered river cruiser the Jahan for a seven-night cruise to Cambodia.

During the cruise, Adam D'Sylva, of Melbourne's Coda Bar and Restaurant, will host cooking classes and create special menus for dinner.

The trip finishes in Siem Reap, with three nights at the Amansara Resort. Priced from $7939 a person, twin share, the package includes flights, the cruise and nine nights' land accommodation. 1300 369 848,

In brief

Silversea Cruises' Silver Cloud has completed a major refurbishment in Italy. The 296-guest boutique luxury ship has a renovated interior including dining venues, a new decor for suites and The Grill al fresco dining venue.

Heritage Expeditions is venturing to Melanesia in 2013 with the 50-guest expedition ship Spirit of Enderby. Complete with a fleet of Zodiac boats ideal for exploring, the ship will depart from Honiara on October 24 for an 11-day cruise, visiting islands and villages in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

To better cater for cruisers with special dietary needs, Royal Caribbean is introducing more heart-healthy, gluten-free and lactose-free food options across its fleet. Among the changes will be daily gluten-free bread, available on request in all dining venues including specialty restaurants.

Grandeur of the Seas

LAUNCHED 1996 PASSENGERS 1950 REGULAR HAUNTS The Caribbean, the Mediterranean, Central America BEST FORFamilies THE DETAILS A seven-night Bahamas cruise, a round trip from Baltimore departing on May 10, is priced from $775 a person, twin share. 1800 754 500,

Need to know

1 Built in Finland, Grandeur is one of six Vision class ships, famous for a grand art-deco-inspired dining room, a huge theatre and an impressive six-level atrium. From 2013 it will cruise from Baltimore in Maryland, US.

2 In June, the ship completed a $US45 million makeover in Spain. The overhaul included the addition of five dining venues, technological upgrades, the installation of a poolside big screen and new entertainment options.

3 Grandeur has a wide range of accommodations. More than half have ocean views, 212 have private balconies and 403 feature third and fourth berths ideal for families. Besides a bright, modern decor, standard amenities include a flat-screen TV, mini-bar and hair dryer.

4 Pick of the new dining venues include the Italian Giovanni's Table, Asian-fusion cuisine at Izumi, the Chops Grille steakhouse, and a new Viking Crown Lounge with an a la carte menu featuring bite-size portions of classic dishes.

5 Befitting its size, the ship has six whirlpools and pools, eight bars and lounges, a Vitality Spa, a fitness centre, jogging track and rock-climbing wall, excellent clubs for kids, and a new Royal Babies and Royal Tots program.

Port watch: Nha Trang, Vietnam

Need to know Famous for sandy beaches and a lovely climate year-round, this Vietnamese coastal city was a popular recreation spot for US soldiers during the Vietnam War. Ships dock in the port or anchor offshore and use tenders to ferry passengers to the Cau Da Port pier. The port is 11 kilometres from the city centre; if you're not on a tour, you can pick up a taxi or rickshaw from outside the port gates.

Do not miss The two main drawcards of Nha Trang are white-sand beaches and the Po Nagar Cham Towers. If you're not feeling energetic, the palm tree-lined seafront has cafes and food stalls, a lively market and uncrowded beaches that are good for swimming. If you're a first-time visitor, take an excursion to the Cham Towers, a complex of temples dedicated to different deities. The tallest one is 23 metres high, dating to AD817.


A friend says that Seabourn's Odyssey class ships are not the same as the others in the fleet. What are the main differences?
- A. Oliver, Wahroonga.

You're right. Seabourn's older sister ships, Pride, Spirit and Legend, are tiny by today's standards, weighing 10, 000 tonnes each and carrying just 208 guests apiece. In comparison, the three ships in the Odyssey class — Odyssey, Quest and Sojourn — are more than double in size; they weigh 29,000 tonnes each and carry 450 guests. The Odyssey class also has more private balconies, and the extra space allows for four dining venues versus three, and a two-level spa with private villas.