Is it that time already? Spring begins on September 1 and soon after that, the 2014-15 Wave Season kicks off. It officially starts when the first overseas ship arrives on our shores. The frontrunner is Carnival Legend, which will arrive in Sydney Harbour on September 22.
The next ship, Rhapsody of the Seas, has been a fixture on the local cruise scene since 2007. This will be Rhapsody's last Australian season; at the end of April it will reposition to its new home in Europe.
Rhapsody is followed by Royal Caribbean family members Celebrity Century, arriving for its first season on October 10; Radiance of the Seas on October 11; Celebrity Solstice on October 23; and Voyager of the Seas will cruise in on December 8 following a $75 million refurbishment.
Cunard's three queens, Victoria, Elizabeth and Mary 2 will all visit Australia in 2015; QM2 and Victoria will have a "royal rendezvous" in Sydney on March 12 before QM2 departs on its royal circumnavigation of New Zealand.
Other ships returning include Holland America Line's Amsterdam, which will visit Australia on its Grand Pacific & Far East voyage; Oosterdam and Volendam will cruise Australia (including some circumnavigations), New Zealand and the Pacific islands.
Luxury lines Crystal Cruises, Oceania Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Seabourn and Silversea are sending Crystal Symphony, Oceania Marina, Seven Seas Mariner, Seabourn Odyssey, Silver Spirit and Silver Whisper Down Under and now is the time to book regional cruises with these lines.
Australia's home-based P&O Cruises' fleet is offering a record 143 cruises in its 2014-15 program. Highlights include its first round-trip sailings from Adelaide, an extended season of cruises from Melbourne to South Australia and Tasmania, new ports of call in Papua New Guinea and the new P&OSeaAsia cruises from Fremantle to Indonesia.
The ever-popular Diamond Princess will be based in Sydney for the Wave Season, while Pacific Princess will visit Australia in February on its world cruise from Los Angeles.
The Portuguese ship Funchal will be based in Geelong, Victoria from January to March, sailing to Newcastle and back before embarking on a special Gallipoli cruise on March 10.
ROYAL CARIBBEAN INTERNATIONAL RHAPSODY OF THE SEAS
LAUNCHED 1997; in March 2012, Rhapsody had a $US54 million refurbishment.
PASSENGERS & CREW 1998 (double occupancy); 765 crew.
ACCOMMODATION Of 1020 cabins, 613 are ocean view (233 have balconies); 407 are inside; 212 have third or fourth berths; and 14 are wheelchair-accessible.
REGULAR HAUNTS The upcoming summer season will be the last time Rhapsody sails in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific; it is repositioning to Europe in April 2015.
PERFECT FOR Couples, singles, multi-generation family groups.
DINING The main dining room, Edelweiss, can seat 1090 people, and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Windjammer Cafe is the buffet alternative, and Park Cafe, in the Solarium, serves breakfast, lunch and snacks. Specialty restaurants include Chops Grille (steak and seafood); Giovanni's Table (Italian); Izumi (Japanese/Asian); and the Chef's Table (degustation and wine-pairing).
PARTYING Rhapsody has eight bars and lounges, including the Schooner Bar and Viking Crown Lounge, which offer a relaxing atmosphere for drinks; the busy, 1960s-style R Bar; and cocktail specialist Champagne Bar. The Shall We Dance Lounge features live music for late-night dancing, and comedy and cabaret acts.
DOING Catch a movie on the big screen, swim in one of two pools (one is in the adults-only Solarium), take a fitness class and see a show in the theatre.
DID YOU KNOW? Babies from six months to three years old are looked after in the nursery (an hourly fee is charged); Adventure Ocean is for kids aged three to 11 (free); teen activities are for 12 to 14-year-olds and 15 to 17-year-olds.
THE DETAILS Fares for an 11-night Queensland cruise, round-trip from Sydney and visiting Newcastle, Cairns, Willis Island, Airlie Beach and Brisbane, start from $1374. Phone 1800 754 500, see royalcaribbean.com.au.
OFFER OF THE WEEK
ARANUI is offering savings on one of Aranui 3's final voyages around the islands of Tahiti next year. The package, including return airfares from Sydney, four nights' stay at the Manava Suite Tahiti and a 14-day round-trip cruise from Papeete, including shore excursions, costs from $8299, leaving on June 6. Phone Ultimate Cruising on 1300 485 846, see aranui.com.au.
TRAVEL ASSOCIATES has an eight-night Christmas markets cruise on the River Seine on board Uniworld's River Baroness, leaving December 6, 2014. Includes tours of Versailles Palace and van Gogh's Auvers-sur-Oise. Offer valid until October 31. Phone 1800 044 066, see travel-associates.com.au.
HOLLAND AMERICA LINE has an 11-day cruise from Rome to Venice on board MS Zuiderdam from $1899, leaving April 14. The Explore4 promotion adds an upgrade to a verandah cabin, free specialty restaurant dinner, reduced fares for third and fourth guests and reduced deposits. Phone 1300 987 322, see hollandamerica.com
Did you know several cruise lines offer discounts for seniors? The definition of "seniors" varies from 55-plus to 65-plus but it's definitely worth asking your travel agent or checking your favourite cruise line's website next time you book a cruise, to see whether you qualify. MSC Cruises, for example, offers discounts to its Senior Club members (65-plus), as well as a bottle of Moet in your cabin. Ecruising's seniors' deals apply to passengers aged 55-plus.