When MSC Cruises' 5714-passenger Meraviglia sets sail on June 11, it will be the biggest ship ever built by the company – which is the world's largest privately owned cruise line – and the biggest ship to launch this year. It is the first in a series of four megaships that are being built by the line and the first of 11 that will make their debuts over the next 10 years.
MSC Cruises has 12 ships in its fleet at the moment and by the end of 2017 will have 14 – the 5179-passenger MSC Seaside will be christened in December. High-tech toys and operating systems are among the new ships' many features; in keeping with the move of towards greener technology, they are all designed for maximum fuel efficiency, with scrubber technology to neutralise carbon dioxide emissions, LED lights to reduce energy consumption and new waste-compacting systems.
Onboard Meraviglia, passengers will be able to use wristband technology for everything from opening their staterooms to booking dinner and "geo-locating" their children. There will be 300 interactive screens for booking shows and shore excursions and iBeacon technology will beam information and special offers direct to passengers' mobile devices. The ship will have a 96-metre promenade, complete with bars, restaurants and shops; it will also boast the longest LED Sky Screen at sea that will broadcast light shows and entertainment 24 hours a day.
A big highlight in the entertainment arena will be twice daily Cirque du Soleil shows. There will also be a huge theatre, seating nearly 1000 people; a TV studio, for broadcasts of games and talent shows across the ship; 10 dance venues; a full-size bowling alley in the Sports Bar; a full-size indoor basketball court which turns into a party venue at night; two F1 simulators, a Star Wars pod and a flight simulator.
The ship will also have a double-deck indoor amusement park and a double-deck aft lounge and entertainment space. Traditionalists will be relieved to know that there is a library and 24 musicians will play at venues around the ship every day.
MSC is famously family-friendly and Meraviglia will have seven kids clubs, plus a dedicated teens area and a baby club. "Family cluster" cabins can be joined together to accommodate groups of up to 10. The Polar Aquapark boasts three waterslides and the Himalayan Bridge that spans the ship, 82 metres above sea level, will attract daredevils of all ages.
MEET THE CREW
NAME Joff Eaton, Cruise Director, from the UK
POSITION Cruise Director, Royal Caribbean's Ovation of the Seas
MY JOB I am responsible for onboard entertainment and guest activities. Planning begins months in advance to create the ultimate voyage program for our guests, which includes guest entertainers, fun parties, theme nights and interactive game shows. It's the most incredible job.
A TYPICAL DAY… no two days are the same. A morning meeting and strong coffee come as standard, followed by… well, engaging with guests, recording a TV show, inspections, conference calls… and that's all before breakfast! I'm always out interacting with the crew and our guests, ensuring we are delivering the most entertaining cruise imaginable.
FAVOURITE CRUISE MOMENT Surprise moments! I have been a part of many engagements over the years. There's a very special way of ensuring that "she" is where you need her to be in front of an audience so that "he" can magically appear and pop the question. To date, they have all said yes!
FAVOURITE CRUISE PORTS I have recently just connected the final few ports to officially say I have circumnavigated the globe, but the two ports I most look forward to are without a doubt Sydney and Villefranche (French Riviera).
INSIDER TIPS Speak to the crew. They can offer the most amazing information that will enhance any cruise experience. Where to go, what to do and how to do it – they really know their stuff.
According to booking.com, more than one in 10 travellers say their top tip is to stash $300 in cash or a spare debit or credit card in case you lose your wallet. Keep it in a money belt or zipped away in a secret pocket.
In 2014, Australian cruise company Cruiseco built its own ship, the 56-passenger Cruiseco Explorer, specifically for cruising Myanmar's Irrawaddy River. In 2017 and 2018, the boutique luxury vessel is operating 11, 14 and 17-night itineraries from Mandalay, Yangon or Inle Lake. Highlights of the cruise include exploring Kyaukhtatgyi Pagoda, home to the 70-metre-long reclining Buddha; Myat Than Lun Paya, a 1929 pagoda made of solid gold bricks; and Bagan's markets, where you can shop for a wooden carvings, fabrics and rattan products. Fares start from $5299 and include return economy airfares from Australia; deluxe hotel accommodation at Mandalay Hill Resort in Mandalay and Sule Shangri-La Hotel in Yangon; and sightseeing with expert guides. See cruising.com.au
The Kimberley à la Francaise
Demand for Kimberley cruises is hotting up. French luxury adventure cruise line Ponant is sending L'Austral to the Kimberley this July for four 11-day expedition cruises, which have proved so popular L'Austral will return in July 2018 for four more.
Expeditions will be led by well-known photographer and adventurer Mick Fogg and a team of 12 experienced marine biologists, naturalists and conservationists, including Harry Christensen, Mark Watson and Brad Siviour. Revealing the geography and geology of this vast land is one aspect of the voyage but Ponant adds guest experiences with Indigenous communities to share their stories of the dreamtime. L'Austral will be the youngest, most environmentally friendly ship to sail in the Kimberley; it has 132 balcony staterooms and a swimming pool (a major bonus in this region). See au.ponant.com
Get in quick for next season's NZ cruises
"Aussies, if you're considering a cruise on Celebrity Solstice to New Zealand next season, we urge you to book while there's still space. Don't let the British and Americans 'trump' us!" says Adam Armstrong, managing director of Celebrity Cruises Australia and New Zealand. "It's well known that if you're taking a holiday in another hemisphere, you tend to plan and book a long way ahead, which means that later in the year, when Australians are planning their summer holidays, our New Zealand itineraries have very limited remaining space." Celebrity Solstice will return to Sydney on October 20, 2017, and will operate nine cruises between Australia and New Zealand until March 5, 2018. Earlybird bonuses apply if you book by April 3. See celebritycruises.com.au
DEAL OF THE WEEK
Ecruising.travel is offering big savings on its 35-day Mediterranean fly-cruise-stay package when two people book together. The package covers return airfares from Australia, luxury pre and post-cruise accommodation for two nights in Athens and Rome and a 31-day cruise from Athens to Rome on board Azamara Quest. The all-inclusive discounted price a person for two people is from $15,549 with up to $US3000 onboard spending. The ship will call at 24 ports in Greece, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, France, Spain, plus five days in Venice and three in Barcelona. Phone 1300 369 848. See ecruising.travel
UNIWORLD Pay in full at the time of booking to receive 10 per cent savings on all 2018 cruises booked before June 30, 2017. The new collection features each of Uniworld's 2018 itineraries, in Europe, Russia, Egypt, India, China, Vietnam and Cambodia. Phone 1300 780 231. See uniworld.com/au
BOTANICA The specialist garden and culture tour operator has released a range of airfare deals for its 2018 garden tours and cruises in Europe and the British Isles. Itineraries feature more than 100 private gardens and 10 flower and garden shows. Book by July 31, 2017, for free international economy flights or $4995 business class fares. Phone 1300 305 202. See botanica.travel