P&O Cruises 86th birthday: Cruise line announces new ships to join fleet

P&O Cruises has been cruising in Australia since 1932 and the line is marking its 86th birthday year with some dramatic changes. A week after Pacific Aria emerged from its dry-dock refurbishment in Singapore, P&O announced that Star Princess will join the fleet in 2021 and Pacific Jewel will retire in March 2019. Golden Princess, a similar 2600-passenger (3100 at full capacity) Grand Class ship to Star Princess, is scheduled to join P&O at the end of 2020.

Sture Myrmell, president of P&O Cruises and Carnival Australia, said welcoming two Grand Class ships was part of the evolution of the P&O fleet and that Golden Princess' initial P&O itineraries will be available at the end of this year.

"Pacific Jewel has been a jewel by name and by nature. I feel sentimental farewelling a much-loved ship but excited for the future because the addition of two bigger ships is a game-changer for P&O Cruises and its guests."

Pacific Jewel was refurbished in March and will make its final voyage from Melbourne on February 24, 2019. Meanwhile, Pacific Eden is moving to Cruise Maritime Voyages (CMV) in April 2019, to cruise under the name Vasco da Gama. P&O is offering passengers who have booked cruises on Pacific Jewel or Eden after those dates a rebooking on equivalent or near equivalent cruises on other P&O ships, a choice of alternative cruises on another P&O ship if a near equivalent match is not available, or a full refund.

So that means the fleet will be down to three – Aria, Dawn and Explorer – until Golden Princess starts sailing for P&O in October 2020, but P&O has said it will continue to base ships year-round in its key home ports of Sydney and Brisbane as well as offering seasonal sailings from other Australian states and New Zealand. Pacific Aria will sail from Auckland from April to July 2019, then return to Brisbane from August 2019; its Sydney season from October 2019 to January 2020 has been cancelled. More details are available on the website; see pocruises.com.au

Pacific Dawn and Explorer were refurbished last year – Explorer is another former Princess ship – and as mentioned earlier, Aria has just had a major refresh. The ship's 28 suites, 120 balcony cabins and penthouse have been fitted with new carpets and outdoor furniture and the versatile day-night venue the Dome has been redecorated on a nautical blue-and-white theme. The Elemis Spa has also had a makeover and the ship's hull now sports the Southern Cross livery seen on all P&O ships.

SHORE THING

THE PORT Montreal, Canada

WHO GOES THERE CMV, Crystal, Fred.Olsen, HAL, Oceania, RSSC, Saga, Seabourn, Silversea, Victory Cruise Lines, Viking, Windstar,

WHY WE LOVE IT Set on an Island in the St Lawrence River, Montreal is named after Mount Royal, the hill at its heart. It's Canada's cultural hub – it holds more than 90 festivals every year, most famously the Montreal Jazz Festival – and blends French heritage and contemporary architecture with immense flair and an infectious joie de vivre.

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TAKE A TOUR OR GO IT ALONE? Ships dock at the Montreal Cruise Terminal, a short walk from Old Port of Montreal and Vieux (Old) Montreal. A hop-on hop-off bus tour is good for getting your bearings and local operator Fitz and Follwell (fitzandfollwell.co) operates guided cycling tours of the city's south and north or a combination of the two. The south route covers Mount Royal, McGill University, downtown, Old Montreal, Notre-Dame Basilica, the Old Port and Plateau side streets; the north route goes to the arty Mile End district and North America's biggest open-air farmers' market, and focuses on local life in areas beyond downtown Montreal. Bateau-Mouche cruises take you on a 1½-hour tour that starts at Jacques-Cartier Pier at the Old Port and passes Montreal Olympic Stadium, Clock Tower, the Montreal Science Centre, Jacques Cartier Bridge and Habitat 67.

MUST SEE Panoramic city views from the top of Mount Royal Park, which you can reach by bus, taxi or on foot; Basilique Notre-Dame, in Old Montreal; boutiques along the neon-lit corridors of the Underground City; Musee des Beaux Artes; Jardin Botanique, the largest Chinese garden in North America.

MUST EAT Canada's favourite dish, poutine, is a gooey mix of French fries, curd cheese and gravy. Montreal also has a thriving multi-cultural culinary scene that includes French, Haitian, Japanese, Portuguese and Jewish restaurants.

NEED TO KNOW The official language is French, but most Montreal residents also speak English.

ESSENTIALS mtl.org

CRUISEFACT

The 2918-passenger Celebrity Edge, launching in December this year, will be the 13th in the Celebrity fleet and the first of four in the new Edge class.

NEWS

Royal trifecta

Cruisers for whom a single voyage on a Cunard Queen merely whets the appetite are in for a treat next year. Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary 2 are sailing back-to-back cruises over 35 nights in a remarkable package that starts in Southampton on July 28 and finishes in New York. The first sector of the cruise onboard Queen Victoria visits ports in Iceland and the British Isles on a 14-night round trip from Southampton. The second cruise onboard Queen Elizabeth takes in the highlights of the Baltic region and includes two days in St Petersburg, while the final leg onboard Cunard's flagship QM2 is a classic transatlantic crossing from Southampton to New York. Fares start from $9777 per person. See cunardline.com.au.

Ponant partners with Nat Geo

Luxury expedition line Ponant and renowned media and travel company National Geographic Expeditions have teamed up to develop a new specialist cruise program, offering 130 adventurous itineraries over the next four years. Key destinations will be the Antarctic and Arctic, which will be complemented by a range of global expeditions covering all continents. Sarina Bratton AM, Ponant's chairman Asia Pacific, said, "This partnership brings together two highly respected global organisations with shared values and a common goal to inspire guests to live curiously, explore our planet and become ambassadors for sustainability." National Geographic Expeditions will provide a range of expedition resources onboard, including leading experts and National Geographic photographers. The co-branded cruises are now available for booking; fares start from $4730. See nationalgeographic.com.au/ponant

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