I HAVE just returned from San Francisco, which is not only a major cruising hub but also one of the US's "greenest" cities, embracing organic dining long before it was cool and proud home of the first solar-powered Major League Baseball park in the US.
When it comes to cruising, it may be hard for some people to imagine where the word "green" fits into an industry that has long been accused of polluting both the seas and the sky. Over the years, however, several operators, including Princess, Carnival and Cunard, have been making efforts to improve the industry's environmental reputation. Going beyond mere recycling, they are saving water and energy on board.
Royal Caribbean International implemented its Save the Waves program back in 1992 and environmental activities across its three brands, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Azamara, include an advanced purification system that treats all wastewater on board.
The French line Compagnie du Ponant has two ships that are internationally recognised for being eco-friendly. Le Boreal and L'Austral feature several innovative systems, including the use of optical underwater detection to avoid collisions with sea life and engines that run on marine diesel oil, which is lighter and less polluting.
On Europe's waterways, Viking River Cruises is a frontrunner in green river cruising. This year and next, it will launch 12 new Longships - vessels that have quiet and environmentally friendly hybrid engines, solar panels for energy on board and organic herb gardens.
And just recently, Holland America Line earned another environmental accolade from the US Coast Guard; a gold 2012 Rear Admiral William M. Benkert Environmental Protection Award.
The ports of call are also chipping in. San Diego is one, with a voluntary vessel speed reduction program in place that requests ships travelling to and from San Diego Bay to obey a speed limit of 15 knots to help reduce air pollution and save fuel.
Package of the week
Enjoy back-to-back cruises in Europe on board the Cunard sisters, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth. The trip begins on April 23 with a flight to Dubai for a three-night stay, then continues to London for four nights before boarding Queen Elizabeth on May 1 in Southampton for a 14-night Baltic cruise visiting Estonia, Germany and Russia.
Returning to Southampton on May 15, guests then join Queen Victoria for a 14-night round trip cruise of the Adriatic, visiting Italy, Croatia, Greece and Spain, and fly home on June 1. The 35-night package is priced from $10,999 a person, twin share, including flights, seven nights' hotel accommodation and the two cruises. 1300 764 509, cruiseexpress.com.au.
APT has become the first European river cruise line to be inducted into the La Chaine des Rotisseurs. Membership of this prestigious French culinary society is by invitation only.
The Special Olympics ambassador Paula Duncan will host a fund-raising cruise on Holland America's MS Oosterdam departing from Sydney on January 2. Book the 10-night Pacific Islands cruise with Travel the World and you will save up to 47 per cent, with 5 per cent of the fare donated to the Special Olympics.
Fred Olsen's Balmoral will embark on a world cruise next year, featuring a wider range of shorter segments and single staterooms. The ship departs from Southampton on January 5 on the 112-night cruise.
Rhapsody of the Seas
LAUNCHED 1997 PASSENGERS 1998 REGULAR HAUNTS Australasia, Alaska, Hawaii BEST FOR Families THE DETAILS An 11-night tropical Queensland cruise, a round trip from Sydney, is priced at $1195 a person, twin share. 1800 754 500, www.royalcaribbean.com.au.
Need to know
1 Rhapsody is one of the line's Vision class of ships. Although midsize by today's standards it has many wow-factor features, including a seven-deck high atrium and a huge outdoor film screen.
2 After a four-week refurbishment in March, the ship has new additions drawn from the line's Oasis class of ships, including dining options, digital information screens in public areas and ship-wide wi-fi.
3 All of Rhapsody's accommodations were included in the makeover and 21 new staterooms were added. New amenities include flat-screen televisions, iPads, new bathrooms and remodelled interiors featuring luxurious new linens and furniture.
4 Five new specialty dining venues were added to the line-up, including a Chops Grille steakhouse, the Italian Giovanni's Table and Izumi for Japanese cuisine. The ship also has a new Park Cafe deli and the private dining option, Chef's Table.
5 Besides two pools, six whirlpools, a signature rock-climbing wall, a jogging track and a spa, Rhapsody now has a Royal Babies & Tots Nursery and new watering holes including the 1960s style R Bar in the atrium.
Port watch: Rangoon, Burma
Need to know Rangoon is Burma's largest city. Located on the Yangon River, 40 kilometres from the Andaman Sea, it has an eclectic mix of cultural influences including British, Indian and Chinese. Ships dock at Thilawa Port, an hour's drive south of the city centre. Take a ship's shuttle or an organised tour; but if you opt for a taxi, settle the fare before setting off.
Do not miss Top of your sightseeing list should be the Shwedagon Pagoda. Rangoon's Zoological Gardens contain the largest collection of wild animals in the country and the Mahabandula Garden is famous for roses. If you are keen to shop, souvenirs to look out for include lacquer wear, tribal bags and puppets in traditional costume, and the best place to buy them is the Bogyoke Aung San Market.