As Australia Day festivities are about to kick off all over the country, two home-grown cruise companies, APT and Northstar Cruises, are celebrating special anniversaries of their own this year.
APT's story started in 1927, when a 24-year-old mechanic called Bill McGeary put a bus body on a truck tray and seized an opportunity to transport commuters during a tram strike in Melbourne. Ninety years on, the company operates upmarket river and ocean cruises around the world as well as its famous 4WD wilderness tours in Queensland, the Kimberley and South Australia.
Travelmarvel, Captain's Choice and Botanica are among the well-known travel companies under the APT Group umbrella, which is still very much a family business. Bill's son Geoff McGeary joined it in 1961 as a 19-year-old bus driver and is now APT's owner-director, while his children Rob McGeary and Lou Tandy have leading roles in the company.
Reflecting on the impressive 90-year milestone, Geoff said that he felt it was important to share the celebration with those that had helped the business to be where it is today. "We wouldn't be anywhere if it wasn't for our wonderful guests and loyal partners who have continued to support us through the years," he said.
In 2014 Geoff was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for services to tourism and in 2017 APT will continue to operate cruises and tours on every continent, including Antarctica.
Northstar Cruises' founding director Craig Howson is another trail-blazer in Australia's cruise industry and he has also received an OAM for his services to tourism. Northstar is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and its ship True North has fans all over the world.
Today's True North is Northstar's second ship with that name – it is a 36-passenger, 50-metre long ship with its own helicopter that was purpose built in 2005 for luxury expeditions on the remote Kimberley coast. When Craig started the company in 1987, he was running fishing expeditions in the region; 11 years later the first True North was launched for passengers who were looking for wilderness adventures served up with fabulous food and the sort of comforts most of us don't have at home.
While the onboard service and off-ship experiences – including fishing – remain as sought after as ever, True North's itineraries have expanded beyond the Kimberley to Papua New Guinea and Indonesia as well as Western Australia, Sydney Harbour and the Hawkesbury, and South Australia.
MEET THE CREW
NAME Martin Bell, Food & Beverage Director, from Scotland
POSITION Food and Beverage Director, P&O Cruises' Pacific Aria
MY JOB I have overall responsibility for all the food and beverage operations onboard the ship.
A TYPICAL DAY… starts in the morning with a full walk-round of all food and beverage outlets to check they're all ready for service. I continue to meet with heads of departments, crew and guests during the day to ensure everything is running smoothly and that our guests are having a great time.
FAVOURITE CRUISE MOMENT Talking to guests as I walk around the ship. I have had the privilege of meeting some amazing people. (Please come and say hello!)
FAVOURITE CRUISE PORT In Europe it has to be Venice. Sailing past St Mark's square is quite simply breathtaking. In the South Pacific I really enjoy visiting the Isle of Pines in New Caledonia. You feel as if you are relaxing in your own little paradise.
INSIDER TIPS Try all the food and beverage outlets onboard to make sure you get the full taste of what P&O Cruises has to offer.
Give wrinkled clothes a blast with IronFree (available in 100ml travel packs at supermarkets) if your ship doesn't have a self-service laundrette onboard – bringing a travel iron is strictly forbidden.
Hello and goodbye
When P&O Cruises' latest ship, Pacific Explorer, makes its debut in June its hull will be emblazoned with the Southern Cross. The ship, which is currently Princess Cruises' Dawn Princess, will head into dry dock in May for its multimillion-dollar transformation into P&O's 2000-passenger flagship. As well as sporting the striking Southern Cross artwork, the ship's interiors will be upgraded with the contemporary decor featured on Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden. New additions include a barefoot bowling green, waterslides and The Black Circus supper club venue. Pacific Explorer will sail Australian and Pacific island itineraries ranging from three to 16 nights out of Sydney. Meanwhile, P&O will be saying farewell to Pacific Pearl in March, when it sets sail on a 16-night cruise from Auckland to Singapore. After a refit it will be renamed Columbus and cruise for British line Cruise & Maritime Voyages. See www.pocruises.com.au.
More Fun Ahead
Carnival Cruise Line's 2018 program of cruises Down Under features a new voyage through Asia on Carnival Spirit as well as more sailings from Melbourne on Carnival Legend. There will be 35 itineraries on offer between April and December 2018, ranging from three-night short breaks to longer cruises exploring the islands between Hawaii and Sydney. A highlight of the program is the 19-night cruise through Asia on Carnival Spirit following her dry dock in Singapore in May 2018. Both Carnival Legend and Carnival Spirit boast multiple dining venues, 16 bars and lounges, two theatres, three pools, Camp Ocean kids' clubs, a fitness centre, the child-free Serenity retreat and a waterpark complete with the popular Green Thunder waterslide. See www.carnival.com.au.
Golden age rail-sail trip
Fans of vintage trains are in for a treat with Cruise Express' five-day rail-sail getaway in April. It includes a two-night cruise from Melbourne to Sydney onboard Princess Cruises' Golden Princess and a return trip to Melbourne on two historic trains, Melbourne Limited and Spirit of Progress. In keeping with the heritage theme, passengers will take a harbour cruise on the 19th-century tall ship James Craig during the two-night stopover in Sydney. The day-long rail journey south starts on the Melbourne Limited, an immaculately preserved 52-year-old 42101 locomotive. It will haul five cars dating back to the 1920s and '30s including compartment and rowed seating, a buffet car and a lounge car. At Seymour in central Victoria guests will transfer to the famous Spirit of Progress for the final run to Melbourne. See www.cruiseexpress.com.au.
DEAL OF THE WEEK
Enjoy a close-up view of all the Australian Day action on Sydney Harbour with Captain Cook Cruises. A new lunch cruise on MV John Cadman 2 has been added to CCC's Harbour trips on January 26; the ship leaves Darling Harbour at 10.45 and fares start from $99. Other Australia Day cruises include lunch and dinner cruises aboard MV Sydney 2000, BYO picnic cruises, Shark Island picnic ferry and Fort Denison mini-tours. Phone 1800 804 843, see www.captaincook.com.au.
ECRUISING.TRAVEL is offering a great deal for passengers aged 55 and over: an eight-night cruise to Queensland, round-trip from Sydney, on board Radiance of the Seas. Departing April 10, it visits Newcastle, Airlie Beach and Brisbane and includes four relaxing sea days. Book by April 6; from $2061.44; phone 1300 723 074, see www.ecruising.travel.
NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE Get in early for Norwegian Jewel's 13-day round-trip cruise from Sydney to New Zealand, departing December 23, 2017. Book by February 5 to enjoy up to five Free at Sea offers, which include free drinks packages, specialty dining packages, 250 minutes of free WiFi, reduced friends and family rates and shore excursion credit. Phone1300 255 200, see www.ncl.com.au.