On a Continental drift

Europe is one of the most popular cruising regions in the world, for good reason. It's a rare place where you can visit a different country almost every day of the week and enjoy a rich diversity in culture, cuisine and sightseeing.

Many cruise lines are responding to the demand for more ships and more interesting itineraries. This year, Holland America is upping the ante by deploying seven ships to the region. Among them is the intimate MS Prinsendam, which will cruise the eastern and western Mediterranean. Its maiden visits will include Albania's second-largest city, Durres, and Castellon de la Plana in the Costa del Azahar region of Spain.

Celebrity Cruises will increase its presence in Europe next year. The popularity of Eclipse's first season, cruising from Southampton, has encouraged the line to base the Infinity there next year, making a total of six ships in the region, including the yet-to-launch Reflection, which makes its debut in October. Carnival Cruises is sending two ships to Europe next year, with Legend operating an extended program from Britain and the recently announced Destiny joining it under the new name Carnival Sunshine.

The action isn't all on the ocean, however. Uniworld is launching new itineraries along the Po River and the Venetian Lagoon in Italy from April next year, with 13-day packages including three nights in Rome and a seven-night cruise on the remodelled River Countess.

Tauck has a new focus on France, with a range of packages on the Rhone River starting this month. Its 10-day epicurean itinerary, which kicks off in Paris, features a seven-night cruise on the MS Swiss Emerald. Highlights include cooking workshops, a market visit in Provence with local chefs and wine tasting in Beaujolais.

Package of the week

If you fancy an extensive tour of nine countries in eastern Europe next month, and saving up to 30 per cent on the fare, consider this cruise, coach and stay offer from Cruiseco.

Two tours feature three nights of pre- and post-stays in Prague and Istanbul, a 14-night cruise on the Danube on River Beatrice - chartered exclusively - and a nine-night escorted tour of Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey on a luxury chartered coach.

The 26-night package has two departures. The first is on May 24 from Prague to Istanbul and the second on June 1 in the reverse order, priced from $7999 a person, twin share, including the saving. 9492 8520, 9492 8506, cruising.com.au.

In brief

Priscilla Presley, the former wife of the King of Rock'n'Roll, is godmother of the new American Queen. She will name the newest steamboat for the Great American Steamboat Company in a ceremony in Memphis on April 27.

The former twin-hull Radisson Diamond is taking on a new identity. It has been reported in Asian media that it will be transformed from a gambling ship into the new China Star cruise ship. After a $US20 million renovation, it will make Zhoushan, China, its home port and operate cruises to Taiwan.

Rugby league fans won't miss out on live NRL games while cruising with P&O. The line has secured the rights to broadcast three live games each round on its Big Screens and other locations on its ships.


LAUNCHED 1995 PASSENGERS 1872 REGULAR HAUNTS The Mediterranean, northern Europe, the Middle East, world cruises BEST FOR Adults only THE DETAILS A seven-night Norwegian fiords cruise, departing from Southampton on June 9, is priced from $1489 a person, twin share. 13 24 28, pocruises.com.

Need to know

1 Oriana was named by the Queen in Southampton and dubbed the first "superliner" built for British cruisers. The on-board currency is British pounds and its atrium has a Tiffany glass ceiling.

2 A multimillion-dollar refurbishment completed in February reassigned the ship for adults only. The overhaul added 27 new staterooms, thermal loungers in the Oasis Spa, refreshed public areas and a dedicated aerobics floor in the gym.

3 Accommodation spans five categories from inside to balcony staterooms and suites, and all benefit from a neutral decor. Perks for mini-suite and suite guests include coffee machines, daily canapes and, in some cases, butler service.

4 Two new additions to Oriana's line-up of dining choices are Ocean Grill by chef Marco Pierre White, which serves modern British cuisine, and Sorrento, an Italian restaurant that offers pizza and pasta as well as seafood.

5 Pick of the facilities include a cinema, an ocean-view gym, three pools, four whirlpools and the Crow's Nest bar and lounge. In the overhaul, a new space for an alfresco bar was created at the back of the ship.

Port watch: Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda

Need to know

The second largest of the British Virgin Islands after Tortola, Virgin Gorda was discovered by Christopher Columbus. Spanish Town is at the southern end of the island; ships either dock at Road Harbour on Tortola and provide water shuttles, or they anchor off the island and use tender boats to get guests ashore.

Don't miss

The most-visited natural attraction for a swim or walk is The Baths, where huge boulders have formed rock pools and grottoes on the beach. The Copper Mine Ruins, dating from the 19th century, are a fascinating attraction on the south-eastern coast. Nearby Tortola has beautiful beaches for snorkelling and swimming.