Tauck's European river cruising plans for 2018 include the launch of new itineraries, the debut of two radically redesigned ships and additional shore excursions across the fleet. The new itineraries are the 14-day Berlin to Krakow, 11-day Milan to Amsterdam and the 10-day Paris and Rhone river cruises, all of which feature pre- or post-cruise stays in the historic cities with guided sightseeing tours. In Milan, for example, guests stay for three nights at the Hotel Principe di Savoia and take a day tour to Lake Como for a cruise and six-course lunch at a family owned trattoria on Isola Comacina. Shore excursions include exclusive pre-opening visits to Versailles, after-hours tours of the Louvre and a private dinner at the German Parliament building. See tauck.com.au
Due to the strong demand for cruises to the Caribbean island nation, Royal Caribbean and Holland America Line have both announced they are running more cruises to Cuba. Royal's newly refurbished, 1602-passenger Empress of the Seas will sail 58 cruises of four and five-night itineraries from January 2018 to March 2019, more than half of which will offer overnight stays in Havana. HAL's 1350-passenger MS Veendam will start cruising to Cuba later this year, kicking off with a 12-day itinerary from Fort Lauderdale on December 22. Nine seven-day itineraries will call at Havana, and three of these will add another Cuba call at Cienfuegos, known as the model of early 19th-century urban planning in Cuba. The 12-day cruise showcases both Cuban ports.
Literary world cruise
Silver Whisper will set off on its 132-day voyage from San Francisco to London on January 6, 2019, calling at 52 ports in 31 countries across five continents. The cruise includes 16 overnight calls and numerous late-night stays in port; there will be two days in Tokyo, a circumnavigation of Africa with an overnight in Cape Town, a double overnight in Bordeaux to enjoy the region's famous wines and a stopover in Saint-Malo, gateway to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mont Saint-Michel. Silversea has invited famous authors to join the voyage and write short stories about their experiences, which will form an anthology called The Tale of Tales. Renowned travel writers Paul Theroux and Pico Iyer are already on board; seven more will be announced in coming months. See silversea.com
DEAL OF THE WEEK
Cruise Traveller's seven-night New Zealand fly/stay/cruise package, departing Sydney on January 21, 2018, includes the flight to Wellington, a three-night stay in the city plus a full day tour to Cape Palliser and a four-night cruise from Wellington to Sydney on board Ponant's L'Austral. Starting from $2995 ($3895 for a single balcony cabin); the offer ends on July 31, 2017. Phone 1800 507 777, see cruisetraveller.com.au
MICRO-CRUISING Book Quark Expeditions' 33-day voyage from South Georgia to Cape Verde departing March 10, 2018, by September 1, 2017, to save up to 25 per cent on Ocean Adventurer's premium cabins, plus receive a $US500 flight credit. The single supplement is waived for the first 10 solo travellers to book a premium cabin. Quote promotion code CAPE25; from $13,995. Phone 02 7903 0314. See micro-cruising.com.au
CELEBRITY CRUISES Save up to $200 and receive a free drinks package on more than 200 cruises when you book by July 5, 2017. Destinations include Asia, Alaska, Europe, New Zealand and the South Pacific; for example, fares for Celebrity Solstice's 14-night Sydney-Auckland cruise, departing November 25, 2017, start from $2245. Phone1800 754 500. See celebritycruises.com.au
NEW SHIP: MSC Meraviglia
MSC Cruises 13th and largest ship, MSC Meraviglia – which means "wonder" in Italian – was christened in Le Havre, France, earlier this month by the equally wonderful Sophia Loren, star of dozens of classic movies and godmother of every MSC Cruises' ship since 2003's MSC Lirica. The screen siren, looking as glamorous as ever in a slinky beaded gown that showed off her famous decolletage, sent the traditional bottle of champagne flying against the ship's bow in a ceremony that featured comedy, emotional speeches, music, dancing and a grand finale of fireworks.
The performance by French band Kids United highlighted the cruise line's involvement with UNICEF – it has raised more than €6.5 million so far and pioneered RUTF (ready to use therapeutic food) packages for starving children in Malawi, Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan. A spectacular can-can session showcased the skills of dancers from the Spanish show Paz, whom we had seen performing on the ship the previous night, and sexy French singer-actor Patrick Bruel and his band had the entire audience on its feet.
Entertainment plays a big part on board MSC Meraviglia. As well as six different shows that will be staged in the 985-seat Broadway theatre (three performances each evening), the ship is the first in the fleet to present two Cirque du Soleil shows, Sonor and Viaggio, which are exclusive to Meraviglia. MSC's CEO Gianni Onorato said the €20-million Carousel Lounge, where Cirque du Soleil at Sea is staged, was the "most expensive space on the ship" as it is equipped with specially designed rigging and cutting-edge sound and lighting technology. Guests can book a three-course dinner show for €35, or a cocktail show for €15 – either choice is a bargain when you consider the price of Cirque du Soleil tickets in major cities. Both shows will be presented in the 413-seat lounge six nights a week.
MSC Meraviglia offers a huge choice of wining and dining venues: 20 bars and lounges and 12 restaurants and cafes. During our whirlwind tour of the ship on the day before the christening, we sampled mini-servings of dishes from specialty restaurants The Butcher's Cut (an American-style steakhouse) and Ristorante Italiano & Eataly Food Market; Kaito Teppanyaki is a new addition to the line's popular Kaito Sushi Bar. The Marketplace Buffet even has a fresh mozzarella production area where you can watch the cheese being made; another "food as entertainment" area is the chocolate atelier.
Tagged "the ship for all seasons" by the cruise line, MSC Meraviglia is sailing in the western Mediterranean for the rest of this year, and adding northern Europe to its itineraries in 2018. See msccruises.com.au
Sally Macmillan travelled courtesy of MSC Cruises
MEET THE CREW
NAME Juan Carlos Cortes, from Malaga, Spain
POSITION Executive concierge, Oceania Cruises' Oceania Insignia
MY JOB … is similar to that of a guest-relations manager on bigger ships; I am in charge of the front office, embarkation operations and I report to the general manager.
A TYPICAL DAY I get up at 7.15am, and I'm on duty from 8am to midday, then again from 4pm to 8pm. After checking emails I co-ordinate guests' transfers and follow up their requests (there's always something unexpected); organise the captain's invitations for dinner; work with our social hostess and cruise director on special events, such as vow-renewal ceremonies. During my break I go ashore when I can, or head to the gym.
FAVOURITE CRUISE MOMENT I love being at sea and mornings are special – everything is fresh, it's a new day. My hobby is photography so my cameras are always at the ready.
FAVOURITE CRUISE PORTS Venice, for the spectacular entrance; Barcelona, because the city is so easy to reach from the port; and Rangiroa in Tahiti for its natural beauty.
INSIDER TIP Get to know where everything is on the ship so you don't waste time looking for a restaurant or lounge – you want to make the most of your holiday.
Remember to pop a portable device charger in your daypack in case of battery fail when you're taking lots of photos or videos ashore.