Like river cruising, luxury adventure cruising is a fast-growing segment of the overall cruise market.
The good news for Australian cruisers is we're now seeing more action in our part of the world. Silversea's new expedition ship, Silver Discoverer, is being christened in Singapore in March and heads to the Kimberley in April, and then to various remote destinations in the Asia Pacific region for the rest of the year.
Silver Discoverer is the third ship in Silversea's expedition fleet, joining Silver Explorer and Silver Galapagos. Silver Discoverer carries 120 passengers, along with Zodiacs and a glass-bottomed boat, and is the only ship operating in the Asia-Pacific to boast an onboard swimming pool.
Also this year, French luxury cruise and expedition line Compagnie du Ponant is sending its 132-passenger ship L'Austral Down Under for the first time (see Shipshape, right). The stylish young ship will sail a series of voyages in Australia and New Zealand between December and February.
Sarina Bratton, who is renowned for founding Orion Expedition Cruises and who received the Order of Australia for her "significant service to tourism, particularly the cruise industry", was recently appointed chairman Australasia for Compagnie du Ponant.
In her new Sydney-based role, she spearheads Compagnie du Ponant's international development, with a specific focus on the Asia-Pacific region. Future plans for the company include the launch of the line's new expedition ship, Le Lyrial, in April 2015.
Le Lyrial will be almost identical to its sister ships, L'Austral, Le Boreal and Le Soleal, the key difference being that Deck 6 is being redesigned to accommodate some larger suites so the passenger capacity is 122 rather than 132.
Bratton says she is thrilled to be working with the youngest fleet of luxury and expedition ships afloat. The cruise line's expedition ships, along with its elegant three-masted motor-sailor Le Ponant, sail the globe from Antarctica to the Arctic.
L'Austral's inaugural schedule in Australasia kicks off with a 15-night cruise from Bali to Cairns on December 12. Passengers will visit tiny villages on Sumba and Mudakaputu, see Komodo dragons, and have the chance to see traditional ceremonies rarely witnessed by Westerners.
COMPAGNIE DU PONANT: L'AUSTRAL
LAUNCHED: May 2011; visiting Australia for the first time this year.
PASSENGERS & CREW: Passenger capacity 224 (double occupancy); crew 139.
ACCOMMODATION: 132 outside cabins, including 125 with balconies and three wheelchair-accessible.
REGULAR HAUNTS: In 2014, South America, Scandinavia, Iceland, Japan, south-east Asia, Australia, New Zealand.
PERFECT FOR: Sophisticated couples and singles.
DINING: L'Austral has a main dining room, Le Coromandel, and Le Rodrigues, a casual indoor/outdoor grill for buffet breakfast and lunch, and al fresco dinner. Wines are included at lunch and dinner.
PARTYING: Open-air bar Le Comptoir is the place for sunset cocktails and on some evenings there's a disco there. The Karikal Lounge has a dance floor and there's another bar in the Panoramic Lounge.
DOING: It's all about the destinations. L'Austral and its sisters are all ice-strengthened, so they can sail in the Arctic and Antarctica. They carry Zodiacs for landings and sightseeing in remote places and have a marina platform for swimming, kayaking and windsurfing.
DID YOU KNOW? L'Austral's ("South Wind") fleetmates are Le Ponant (a three-masted motor-sail ship, launched 1991) and identical sisters Le Boreal (2010) and Le Soleal (2013).
THE DETAILS: Ponant Bonus fares (a saving of 30 per cent when booked by March 31) start at $2750 for a seven-night cruise from Cairns to Sydney, departing December 27. Phone 1300 737 178, see ponant.com.au.
OFFER OF THE WEEK
Cruise Express is offering a new 22-day, hosted cruise-tour of North America's New England that takes in the region's famous autumn colours and the lighthouses and fishing villages of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Departing Australia on September 15, the package includes three nights each in San Francisco and New York City, a 14-night cruise on Celebrity Summit, and return flights from Sydney or Melbourne. Prices start at $6990; phone 1300 764 509, see cruiseexpress.com.au.
SEADREAM YACHT CLUB has half-price spots on its seven-day round-trip from Stockholm to St Petersburg on the five-star SeaDream I, departing June 21. A highlight is spending two and a half days berthed a few hundred metres from the centre of St Petersburg. Fares start at $US4124 ($4600). Phone 02 9958 4444, see seadream.com.
CARNIVAL CRUISES fares for quad-share cabins start at $771.50 and inside twin-share cabins at $824 for an eight-night Pacific Islands cruise, round-trip from Sydney calling at Noumea, Mare and Isle of Pines, departing May 10. Phone 13 31 94, see carnival.com.au.
Transiting the Panama Canal, the 77.1-kilometre waterway that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, is high on the wish list of many cruisers.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the canal's opening, which makes it the perfect excuse for going now.
Holland America Line is offering itineraries that feature ports with attractions such as walking the ramparts of a colonial Spanish castle, exploring ancient Mayan ruins or going on a skywalk in the Costa Rican rainforest.