TO THE uninitiated, cruising may appear a one-dimensional kind of holiday, floating on the seas somewhere exotic with many people, eating too much and sunbathing with a cocktail in hand.
Over the years, however, cruise fans have had a hand in changing what's on offer, demanding more enriching experiences, perhaps providing the opportunity of a lifetime, enabling something to be ticked off a personal bucket list or creating a cherished memory.
At one end of the scale there's food. It's huge on TV, thanks to programs such as My Kitchen Rules and MasterChef, and it has become an integral part of many holidays, and that includes cruising.
Luxury line Silversea Cruises, for example, has this year announced 14 cruises with culinary pursuits, giving guests the opportunity to rub shoulders with acclaimed trainer David Bilsland. A former instructor at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in London, Bilsland will host hands-on cooking schools, share the secrets of his skills in workshops and, where possible, take guests on market visits ashore.
Newly rebranded Un-Cruise Adventures is also steering away from the traditional sun-sea-cocktails experience. It is offering a range of naturalist-themed cruises in Hawaii and Mexico's Sea of Cortez through to April, with a focus on marine biology or photography, some of which cater to children of 12 years and younger.
For a one-of-a-kind experience, expedition operator Hurtigruten offers guests on Antarctic cruises the opportunity to camp out for a night on the white continent, just like the explorer Roald Amundsen did on his expeditions.
And if philanthropy is more your thing, Holland America Line has launched On Deck for a Cause to mark World Cancer Day. A new shipboard program benefiting six international charities, including Australia's Cancer Council, invites guests to participate in a non-competitive five-kilometre fundraising walk on every cruise.
Package of the week
You can combine a two-week luxury cruise with an overland tour of India in this package from Cruise Express. The 23-night deal includes a nine-night tour of Rajasthan from Delhi to Udaipur, with highlights including a visit to the Taj Mahal, a jeep safari around Samode and stays in five-star hotels, and a 14-night cruise on SeaDream II from Mumbai to Singapore. Priced from $12,990 a person, twin share, the package includes flights to India and back from Singapore, and a flight within India to Mumbai. There are two departure dates: October 18 and a reverse itinerary on April 10 next year. 1300 766537, cruiseexpress.com.au.
Celebrity Cruises is offering guests another way to keep fit and work off their cruise food. The premium line has partnered with the Zumba fitness brand to offer classes at sea, including options such as Aqua Zumba, Zumba for kids and Zumba for older adults.
Children aged 17 and under cruise free on some trips in Europe with Crystal Cruises if they share a stateroom with two adults. There are four itineraries in June and July, including three 10-day Baltic cruises on Crystal Serenity, and a seven-day Mediterranean cruise on Crystal Symphony (must be booked by February 28).
Shipshape: Pacific Dawn
LAUNCHED 1991 PASSENGERS 2020 REGULAR HAUNTS Australia, New Zealand, the south Pacific BEST FOR Families THE DETAILS A seven-night Pacific Islands cruise, a round trip from Brisbane departing August 24, is priced from $679 a person, quad share. Contact a licensed travel agent, 13 24 94, or pocruises.com.au.
Need to know
1 Designed by the world-famous Renzo Piano, Pacific Dawn is the largest ship in P&O's Australian fleet. It has been based in Brisbane since 2009 and in April 2012 underwent a major makeover.
2 Pacific Dawn began its life as Regal Princess, christened by former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. It was renamed Pacific Dawn by Olympic gold medallist Cathy Freeman in Sydney in 2007, also marking P&O's 75th anniversary in Australia.
3 Of the 795 accommodations, 134 have private balconies. In the recent makeover, a number of interconnecting standard staterooms were added, and all accommodations were upgraded with new furnishings, carpets and artwork by photographer Tony Rea.
4 The primary restaurant, the Waterfront, offers traditional and open-seating dining, with a menu of international cuisine. Besides a Luke Mangan Salt grill, also new to Dawn's culinary line-up is the Asian degustation venue La Luna.
5 Facilities include excellent kids' clubs, an adults-only Oasis, Aqua Health Spa Fitness, bars and lounges, including the huge Dome on deck 14, an outdoor Big Screen, a theatre with a new LED screen wall, and two pools.
Port Watch: Prince Rupert, Alaska
Need to know
On Kaien Island, north of Vancouver, this charming town is known as the "fishing capital of Canada's north-west coast", and is a popular port of call on many longer Alaska Inside Passage cruise itineraries. Ships dock in town at a new cruise facility, and it's a 10-minute walk uphill to the centre. Most of Prince Rupert is easily accessible on foot.
Do not miss
If you visit only one museum here, make it the Museum of Northern British Columbia, which has spectacular views of the harbour, as well as interesting ancient artefacts from the indigenous peoples of the past. Cow Bay is an attractive waterfront area, with plenty of cute shops and restaurants. There are many excursion options, from kayaking to heli-hiking, but top picks include salmon and halibut fishing, flight-seeing by plane, and whale- and bear-watching tours.
My husband isn't keen on cruising, so I need to convince him. What are the key points in favour?
- E. Adaire, Darlinghurst.
There are so many! Cruises offer great value for money, with accommodation, food, entertainment and travelling between ports included. Another big plus is that you see multiple destinations on a trip but have to unpack only once, and it's a fun holiday for all ages, with myriad on-board activities to choose from. Finally, there are ships to suit all budgets, and with internet and mobile phone access on most, you no longer have to be entirely out of touch.
Offer of the week: Avalon Waterways Single supplements are waived, saving up to $4031, and discounts are available for couples, on selected European river cruises. An eight-day Tulip Time Cruise from Amsterdam costs from $3123 for solo travellers. Book by March 31, for departures April-October 2013. avalonwaterways.com.au.
Cruiseabout Book by February 28 to shop until you drop with this cruise package, featuring a 16-night cruise on Azamara Journey from Dubai to Singapore. Priced from $6035 from Sydney, departing on November 9, it also includes flights with Qantas. 1300 450 133, cruiseabout.com.au.
Cruiseco Book by February 26 for extras on Princess packages, including early-bird airfares, a 12- to 14-night cruise and hotel stays. A 16-night package departing May 18 including a 14-night cruise from Civitavecchia to London on Ocean Princess, flights and two-night pre- and post-cruise stays is priced from $5785 a person, twin share. (02) 9492 8520, (02) 9492 8506, cruising.com.au.
Silversea Cruises Last-minute fares available on a seven-day cruise of Thailand and Malaysia on Silver Shadow, a round trip from Singapore departing March 15. Priced from $2950 a person, twin share. (02) 9255 0600, silversea.com.