Royal Caribbean buys Silversea

Just as supermarket chains Coles and Woolworths are taking a long-overdue step towards eliminating single-use plastics by no longer offering free plastic bags, cruise lines are establishing plastic reduction strategies on their ships. An estimated 12 million tonnes of plastic enter the oceans every year, killing about 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine animals.

Plastic straws may not seem to be a big deal but according to Get Green Now's statistics, they are the 11th most found type of rubbish in the ocean. It takes up to 200 years for a plastic straw to decompose and they can't be recycled in most places. So, any move to abolish them is at least a start in the war against plastic waste

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd has pledged to rid all 50 ships in its fleet of plastic straws by the end of 2018, as part of its comprehensive plastics elimination program. RCL – which operates Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Azamara, TUI, Pullmantur and soon Silversea – already has a ''straws upon request'' policy and in 2019 guests requesting a straw will receive a paper straw rather than a plastic one.

After straws, stirrers and picks, the company will focus on other single-use plastics such as condiment packets, cups and bags. A full plastics audit is under way, with the overall plan to be completed in phases by 2020.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings announced on World Oceans Day in June that the company has joined Ocean Conservancy's Trash Free Seas Alliance, an organisation that is working to mitigate plastic waste entering the ocean. NCLH, which operates Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas, also has its own Sail and Sustain campaign dedicated to sustainable sourcing and minimising waste to landfills, among other programs.

Carnival Corporation's P&O UK and Cunard lines are also set to abolish single-use plastics, including straws, water bottles and food packaging, from their ships by 2022; P&O and Carnival Cruise Line in Australia now only provide straws on request; and Princess has redesigned its packaging requirements to cut down on plastic items. The corporation's Carnival Foundation is giving $2.5 million over five years, from 2014, to support the Nature Conservancy's global marine protection efforts.

Some smaller cruise lines are already on board with getting rid of single-use plastics; Hurtigruten, for example, is banning all unnecessary plastic across its fleet from July 2. Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam said: "By getting rid of single-use plastic on board all ships this summer, we will hopefully get others to follow. It is possible to act now, and the oceans do not deserve more hesitation."

SHORE THING

THE PORT Belfast, Northern Ireland

WHO GOES THERE Azamara, Celebrity, CMV, Crystal, Cunard, Fred.Olsen, HAL, Hapag-Lloyd, NCL, Oceania, P&O UK, Ponant, Princess, RSSC, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn, Silversea, Viking, Windstar.

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WHY WE LOVE IT Famous for being the birthplace of the ill-fated Titanic, Northern Ireland's capital is full of surprises and hidden gems. Lonely Planet says it's the best place to visit in 2018 – for its ancient and more recent history, fine Victorian architecture and its emergence as one of Europe's most cosmopolitan cities.

TAKE A TOUR OR GO IT ALONE? Ships dock in the Port of Belfast, about three kilometres or five minutes by bus or taxi from the city centre. The main attractions and shops are within 15 minutes' walk of Donegall Square - among the square's architectural treasures are City Hall, dating back to 1906 and Belfast's oldest library, the 18th-century Linen Hall Library. Book a hop-on, hop-off bus tour combined with Titanic Belfast entry to save queueing or check out Paddy Campbell's Famous Black Cab Tours for a more fun, personalised experience. Half- or full-day tours visit the Giant's Causeway, Game of Thrones' locations and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge; Carrickfergus Castle, a spectacular Norman castle built in 1180 on the northern shore of Belfast Lough; and the Royal Family's Hillsborough Castle, a Georgian manor house set on 39 hectares of woodlands, waterways and gardens.

MUST SEE Titanic Belfast, which comprises interactive galleries, SS Nomadic, original slipways and more; Crumlin Road Gaol, dating back to 1846; CS Lewis Square; Belfast Castle; traditional Victorian pubs, such as the famous Crown Liquor Saloon, McHughs Bar and Robinsons.

MUST EAT Bread and potato staples, such as soda bread, potato bread, boxty, colcannon and champ; local salmon, eel and seafood (Mourne Seafood Bar is a local favourite); Ardglass potted herring; Ulster fry; and barmbrack, a sweet fruit loaf.

NEED TO KNOW Northern Ireland uses the British pound sterling (£). Larger stores accept euro (€) notes and usually give change back in sterling. Credit cards are widely accepted.

ESSENTIALS visitbelfast.com

CRUISEFACT

MSC Cruises has three ships being built simultaneously by STX France: MSC Bellissima, Grandiosa and Virtuosa, due to launch in March 2019, November 2019 and 2020 respectively.

NEWS

Royal Caribbean buys Silversea

The biggest news in the travel industry recently is that cruise giant Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd (RCL) is buying a majority stake in the privately-owned luxury line Silversea. Unlike its competitors Carnival Corporation and Norwegian Cruise Line, RCL hasn't operated a luxury or expedition line (Carnival has Seabourn, NCL Regent Seven Seas) but with its $1 billion stake in Silversea it now has both. "Silversea is a crown jewel, and the acknowledged leader in luxury and expedition cruising, two key markets that are poised for growth," said Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of RCL. Uniting the two companies means there is more opportunity for expanding Silversea's operations and RCL will have new options for existing and new cruisers – its portfolio includes Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Azamara.

Starry night

Viking's fifth ocean ship, Viking Orion, was christened in Livorno, Italy, by former US astronaut Dr Anna Fisher. The 930-passenger ship was named after the constellation and in honour of Fisher's work on NASA's Orion exploration vehicle project. Viking Orion's new features include the Explorers' Dome, a planetarium-like theatre where guests can view special panoramic films about exploration; the Explorations in Space Collection, a photographic journal of space exploration comprising a broad range of vintage photographs and documents produced by NASA and captured by National Geographic photographers; and an onboard astronomer, who will lead lectures and stargazing sessions. Viking Orion will cruise the Mediterranean before heading east in August to sail new itineraries in Asia, Australia and Alaska; it will arrive in Sydney in November for a short season of cruises to New Zealand and Asia. See vikingcruises.com.au/oceans

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