Australia's 2018-19 cruise season starts with a bang

The arrival of Princess Cruises' Majestic Princess in Sydney last week marked the official start of the 2018-19 cruise season, one that promises to be the busiest yet for Australia's ports.

Looking at the main cruise lines, 2017's Majestic Princess is one of 20 ships under the Carnival Australia umbrella to sail locally – it will be the newest and biggest Princess ship to cruise here. Carnival Australia represents seven cruise lines (Princess, P&O, Carnival Cruise Line, Cunard, Holland America Line, Seabourn and P&O UK) and their ships will make 696 calls to ports around Australia, a 13 per cent increase from last summer's record-breaking season.

Several ships are staying longer than before; Majestic Princess will be in Australia for six months and Cunard's Queen Elizabeth will cruise out of Sydney and Melbourne for two months between February and March.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, which operates Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas, will have four ships visiting this summer: Norwegian Jewel, Oceania's Insignia and Regatta and Seven Seas Mariner.

Norwegian Jewel is back for its second full season in November, fresh from a major makeover; it will be based in Sydney until February. Jewel's new itineraries include a 13-day Pacific islands cruise, a round-trip from Sydney departing in January, and a 19-day cruise from Sydney to Singapore, departing in February.

Oceania Insignia will be in local waters in early 2019. Oceania Regatta is sailing from Bali to Sydney on December 28, calling at several ports in WA as well as Burnie, Tasmania and Eden, NSW, on its 19-day itinerary, and will be cruising between Australia and New Zealand until March.

Seven Seas Mariner is sailing a new 36-night circumnavigation of Australia and beyond from Sydney, departing on December 15; ports of call include Alotau and Port Moresby in PNG, Benoa in Bali and a first-time visit to Broome.

Ships from the Royal Caribbean family cruising locally include Ovation, Radiance and Explorer of the Seas, Azamara Quest, and Celebrity Solstice, which is homeporting in Sydney for the seventh year running. Between them, the three Royal Caribbean ships will offer 61 cruises ranging from three to 23 nights, in Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, Singapore and the US.

Among the luxury lines heading our way are Seabourn's Seabourn Encore and Seabourn Sojourn, Silversea's Silver Whisper and Silver Muse, Crystal Cruises' Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony. And while Viking doesn't class itself as luxury, the arrival of the stylish Viking Orion in December is eagerly anticipated by thousands of avid cruisers.

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SHORE THING

THE PORT Rouen, France

WHO GOES THERE River cruise lines: APT, Avalon Waterways, Croisi-Europe, Evergreen, Riviera, Scenic, Tauck, Uniworld, Viking.

WHY WE LOVE IT Set on the Seine between Paris and Le Havre, Rouen is the capital of the northern French region of Normandy and dates back to Roman times. Cathedrale Notre-Dame was portrayed by Impressionist Claude Monet in dozens of paintings and the city has many beautiful Gothic churches – Victor Hugo called Rouen "the city of a hundred spires" – and cobblestoned streets lined with medieval half-timbered buildings. The historic Place du Vieux-Marche, where St Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake, is today a great shopping, eating and people-watching spot.

TAKE A TOUR OR GO IT ALONE? Port Rouen is about 25 minutes' walk from the city. The Tourist Centre opposite the cathedral offers excellent self-guided audio walking tours that take in key sites such as the contemporary church and exhibition centre dedicated to St Joan of Arc; Rue de l'Epicerie, famously painted by Camille Pissarro in 1898; the magnificent Courthouse; the churches of St Ouen and St Maclou; and the cloisters of St Maclou, a former plague cemetery that is now an arts centre. Day tours to the World War II landing sites in Normandy are offered from Rouen by most river cruise lines.

MUST SEE La Couronne in Old Market Square, the oldest auberge in France and where famous cookery writer Julia Child ate her first French meal; Gros-Horloge, the ornate 14th-century clock above Rue du Gros Horloge; Musee de Beaux Arts, which houses a vast collection of works from the 15th to 21st century.

MUST EAT Typical Normandy cuisine includes oysters, foie gras, rich creamy cheeses, apple and pear tarts, crepes and omelettes. And don't miss sampling locally produced calvados and cider.

NEED TO KNOW You don't have to be a fluent French speaker but it's polite to use the basics – bonjour, au revoir, s'il vous plait, merci – when you're shopping and ordering food and drinks.

ESSENTIALS en.rouentourisme.com

CRUISE FACT

Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen was the first to sail through the Northwest Passage, in 1903-1906; in 1984, Lindblad Explorer was the first cruise ship to make the journey.

NEWS

Melbourne Cup winners

P&O Cruises will have three ships sailing to the 2018 Melbourne Cup this November – Pacific Dawn from Brisbane and Pacific Eden and Explorer from Sydney. Fashionistas can attend styling workshops and dress up in their best race-going outfits for fashion parades on the ships and at the races, while racing experts such as Cup-winning jockey John Letts will be on hand to share tips and stories. Madeline Stuart, the world's first professional adult model with Down syndrome, will open Pacific Explorer's Fashions at Sea catwalk show featuring more than 20 local and international designers and brands such as Leona Edmiston, Alannah Hill, Swarovski, Nicola Finetti and Sportscraft. P&O will also hold its annual seahorse racing event where thousands of dollars will be up for grabs in a sweepstake race. See pocruises.com.au

Riviera revolution

British-based Riviera Travel is a relative newcomer to the European river cruise scene but in the two years since the line opened reservations for the Australian market it has more than doubled its numbers of local passengers. Riviera has 10 modern ships in its fleet, many named after famous British writers, and is launching two more next year – the George Eliot and William Wordsworth. The line offers fares that are up to 50 per cent cheaper than other major cruise lines plus supplement-free cabins for singles on every cruise and four sailings in 2019 reserved exclusively for solo travellers. Gratuities and drinks packages are optional. Next year Riviera will operate a record 327 sailings across 14 itineraries, with fares starting from $2079 for an eight-day Danube cruise. See rivieratravel.com.au

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