Oceania ships kick off Australia's record cruise ship season

New-look Oceania

Oceania Regatta and Oceania Insignia are among the record number of overseas ships heading our way for the summer cruise season. Regatta arrives in Sydney on December 13, kicking off its biggest season based in local waters – the boutique, 684-passenger ship will sail eight cruises to Bali, New Zealand and around Australia between December and March. Itineraries range from 14 to 19 days and less-visited ports of call include Exmouth, Geraldton, Busselton and Albany in Western Australia; Burnie in Tasmania; Geelong in Victoria; and Eden in NSW.

Regatta's sister Insignia, which is the first of the four smaller ships in the Oceania fleet to undergo a dramatic redesign in the company's OceaniaNEXT "re-inspiration" program, will leave Los Angeles on January 30 on a 32-day cruise that finishes in Sydney on March 4. It departs the same day for a 27-day cruise to Tokyo that calls at Brisbane, Cairns, Cooktown and Darwin before crossing the Timor Sea for Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Japan.

As Insignia is due for its makeover in early December, guests on these near-to-home cruises will be among the first to experience the benefits of new staterooms and suites and beautifully redesigned restaurants, lounges, bars and public spaces.

Oceania is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year and the line's president and CEO, Bob Binder, is understandably excited about the OceaniaNEXT program. "Our Regatta-Class ships are like second homes to our loyal guests and travel partners," Binder said. "They don't build ships like these anymore, which is why this re-inspiration project is such an important milestone in our company's 15-year history.

"We are maintaining the intimate surroundings and personal attention that our guests love, while at the same time setting a new standard of style and elegance for small ship cruising."

The numbers are certainly impressive: Oceania is spending $US100 million on the four R-class ships, which will involve more than 1000 craftspeople and artisans. All up, the ships will receive 1368 new suites and staterooms, 1400 new marble bathrooms, 8000 new light fixtures and 12,000 new sofas and chairs.

Oceania Marina and Riviera, the line's matching 1250-guest ships, are also in line for the luxury treatment. Their spacious, 185-square-metre Owner's Suites (six on each ship) will be stripped down and redecorated and refurnished entirely with products from the uber-stylish Ralph Lauren Home Collection.

Meanwhile, bookings have just opened for Oceania's new "Europe & The Americas" 2020 itineraries. By then, all four R-class ships will be sporting their $US100-million new looks and Marina and Riviera will have had more, yet to be revealed, enhancements. See oceaniacruises.com.

SHORE THING

THE PORT Budapest, Hungary

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WHO GOES THERE APT, Avalon, Crystal, Evergreen/Emerald Waterways, Riviera, Scenic, Tauck, Travelmarvel, Uniworld, Viking.

WHY WE LOVE IT Hungary's astoundingly beautiful capital is divided by the Danube, with Buda on the west bank and Pest on the east bank. The imposing Chain Bridge between Buda and Pest was built in 1849 and the two distinct areas officially became one city in 1873. Buda is the quieter, hilly side, home to the Royal Palace and the cobblestone streets and medieval houses of the Castle Hill district; Pest is the lively city centre, dominated by the grand riverfront Parliament building and packed with historic sites, cool bars and restaurants.

TAKE A TOUR OR GO IT ALONE? Ships usually dock on the Buda side, within walking distance of Castle Hill, or you can take a funicular to the top. Free walking tours of Buda and Pest operate daily (see the website below), as well as locally organised cycling, Segway and hop-on, hop-off bus tours. It's worth taking at least one guided tour as there is so much to see; another option is to buy a Budapest Card for 24 to 96 hours' worth of independent sightseeing by public transport. An evening scenic cruise is almost mandatory.

MUST SEE On the Buda side: Ottoman-era thermal baths at the foot of Gellert Hill; Fisherman's Bastion, for the views; Buda Castle and its museums; Hospital in the Rock, beneath the castle; and the 14th-century Matthias Church. On the Pest side: St Stephen Basilica; Szechenyi Baths; Dohany Street Synagogue, the biggest in Europe; 19th-century Great Market Hall; and ruin pubs in the seventh and eighth districts.

MUST EAT Goulash is Hungary's best-known national dish – most know it as a spicy beef, tomato, capsicum and paprika stew but the authentic version is more like a soup. Other savoury dishes to try include stuffed cabbage rolls; langos, deep-fried flatbread snacks served with sour cream and grated cheese; and all types of local sausage (kolbasz). Chimney cakes dusted with cinnamon or ground nuts are a popular sweet treat, especially at the Christmas markets.

NEED TO KNOW Although Hungary is part of the European Union its currency is the forint. Most big shops and restaurants accept credit cards but take some forint cash for taxis and street stalls.

ESSENTIALS budapestinfo.hu

CRUISEFACT

Cruise tourism was worth $4.8 billion to the Australian economy during the 2017-18 financial year, according to an independent assessment by the AEC Group.

NEWS

More ships for Silversea

Silversea and Royal Caribbean have ordered three new ships for Silversea – that's on top of the 596-passenger Silver Moon and Silver Dawn, which are being built in Italy and due to join the luxury fleet in 2020 and 2021. Silver Origin, originally ordered as a sister ship to the new Celebrity Flora, will start cruising in the Galapagos in 2020, and the first of Silversea's two new Evolution-class ships is scheduled to arrive in 2022. No details have been released about the Evolution ships, but Richard D. Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, said, "There is tremendous potential in the ultra-luxury and expedition markets of the cruise industry, and we believe discerning travellers will embrace the exciting designs Silversea is imagining for them." See silversea.com.

Luxury Down Under

Among the record number of luxury ships sailing in local waters this season is Crystal Cruises' newly refurbished Crystal Serenity. Crystal is spending millions on redesigning the ship's suites, restaurants and public spaces and the elegant grand dame will accommodate 980 guests rather than just over 1000 when it emerges from its three-week dry dock next month. As the crew numbers remain the same, Crystal Serenity will boast an even higher crew to guest ratio than before. There is still limited availability for Crystal Serenity's 15-day voyage from Auckland to Perth, departing on February 5, 2019. The ship will spend two days in Sydney before heading to Hobart for an overnight stay, then make maiden calls to South Australia's Kangaroo Island and Western Australia's Busselton. See crystalcruises.com.

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