Cruise Guide: Expedition-style voyages bring nature to life

By Michael Coleman

While Europe and the Caribbean beckon cruise travelers like never before, expedition-style voyages to some of the world’s most captivating natural locales are drawing Baby Boomers in droves. 

Those seeking a respite from the packed, mass-market cruise experience need to look no further than two intimate, soft-adventure sailings to the Great Barrier Reef and the west coast of South America.

Coral Princess Cruises offers tours through October to the outer Great Barrier Reef including visits to Thetford Reef, Sudbury Cay, Coates and Nathan Reefs, Dunk Island, Hinchinbrook Channel and Pelorus Island. Guests will sail aboard the 54-passenger Coral Princess, an expedition-style cruise ship.

It won’t be a totally rugged outdoor experience, however. Onboard facilities include a dining room, a modern air-conditioned lounge, sundeck and pool; reference library; phone and fax facilities; cocktail bar and shop. There’s even a marine biologist and a glass bottom excursion vessel to bring the experience to life.

Meanwhile, a 20-day expedition cruise which follows the path of the Humboldt Current along the coastline of Peru and the Chilean fjords to Cape Horn, aboard Polar Star offers wildlife fans an opportunity of a lifetime to observe and photograph up to 50 species of seabird, 20 species of cetacean, endemic land birds and ancient creations. 

The 100-passenger vessel, a former icebreaker converted to expedition cruising, features outside cabins and private facilities. The ship also has a fleet of Zodiacs for shore excursions and cruises. 


Great Escape 

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest complex of coral reefs and islands in the world, covering an area half the size of Texas. It has more than 2,900 individual reefs and about 900 islands, fringed by white-sand beaches and turquoise water.

Coral Princess, based in Cairns, Australia, has partnered with the Orpheus Island Resort to create the six-day land and sea package. The privately-owned resort, nestled in the coral-fringed Orpheus Island Marine National Park, will serve as a three-day hideaway. With a limit of just 42 guests, privacy is assured and the company policy of no telephones, televisions, nightclubs and children is a plus for those seeking a true getaway Down Under. Seven-course meals are featured, nightly.

The resort also offers ecologically sensitive, educational programs from picnics on secluded beaches to snorkeling, kayaking, guided walks and sunset cruises.

The trip includes two nights in an air-conditioned stateroom aboard Coral Princess and three nights at the resort; a seaplane transfer; all meals; complimentary scuba experience; onboard presentations by marine biologists and unlimited use of motorized dinghies, paddle skis, catamarans, canoes, snorkeling equipment, local snorkel trips, fishing gear, tennis, bushwalking and selected interpretive activities on Orpheus Island.

 The trip departs Cairns on alternate Saturdays until October 7 or Townsville on alternate Sundays through Oct. 8, 2006.


South America Bound

Adventure-seeking nature lovers may instead look to Polar Star’s South American voyage. Guests can book passage on either the November 3, 2006 trip from Lima, Peru to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world, or the scheduled November 2, 2007 expedition. The package includes accommodation aboard the Polar Star, onboard meals, transfers, services of expedition leaders and shore excursions.

 The sailing includes a visit to Valparaiso, Chile, a day trip to the national park in Puerto Montt, Chile and a visit to Puerto Eden, a small community only accessible by sea and home to Kaweskar Indians, once a nomadic tribe of hunters and gatherers.

The voyage is presented by UK-based wildlife tour operator, WildWings. 

Since opening its doors 14 years ago as a travel agency for bird watchers, the company has since designed exclusive travel products ranging from space and deep sea expeditions to bird, whale and dolphin watching tours.

Cruise Guide: Princess helps couples tie-the-knot at sea

By Michael Coleman

Tying the knot at sea is as old as cruising itself. Gentle ocean breezes and picture-perfect sunsets put many a couple in the mood to say “I Do.”

Whether sailing off the coast of an idyllic Tahitian island, cruising the Amazon or exchanging vows in the sun-drenched Caribbean, what’s not to like about getting married at sea?

Crew members at Princess Cruises have just upped the ante, making it even easier for would-be brides and grooms to walk the aisle with an expanded “Tie the Knot At Sea” wedding program on all 15 of their ships.

 Offered originally on the line’s larger vessels – those with formal wedding chapels – the romantic option is now available aboard Sun Princess, Dawn Princess, Sea Princess, Regal Princess, Pacific Princess and Tahitian Princess. The ships have all been reflagged to a Bermuda registry, the authority under which each marriage is legally certified. 

“Our wedding program not only gives couples the opportunity to be married by the captain, but they can also customize the wedding of their dreams,” said Jan Swartz, Princess’ senior vice president of customer service and sales. 

“We joined about 1,000 couples in matrimony last year with only part of our fleet involved in the program. Now, every ship in our fleet can offer weddings – including those that sail to some very exotic worldwide destinations.” 

The line’s wedding-at-sea program began in 1998 with the launch of Grand Princess and has grown each year, said Swartz.

Princess offers a variety of ceremony options, including, on larger vessels, an onboard wedding chapel decorated in flowers and candlelight for the special day. Other romantic shipboard locations are available, as well, and ceremonies include a number of special touches that bring together the talents of the ship’s chefs, musicians and photographers.
Each wedding includes live music, champagne, bridal bouquet and groom’s matching boutonniere, a photo package with canvas portrait, a wedding cake, a souvenir wedding certificate and the services of Princess’ onboard wedding coordinators to make sure the day runs smoothly.

The happy couple can also customize their event with a variety of food and beverage, floral, photography and video choices. They can also choose to add pre-ceremony spa treatments for the bride or take advantage of the ship’s tuxedo rental program for the groom, among a host of other options.

Of course, once the ceremony and reception are over, the honeymoon cruise is just beginning. Couples can enjoy the start of their married life lounging in a tropical paradise, visiting a cosmopolitan city or just spending time together on their own private balcony.

Not ready to get hitched just yet?

Princess is also offering a new “Engagement Under the Stars” package where couples can enjoy movie-star status when they agree to tie the knot. Men, or women, can pop the question with a personal video proposal shown on a giant, 300-square-foot outdoor LED movie screen on select vessels – Crown Princess, Caribbean Princess, Grand Princess, Sea Princess and Emerald Princess scheduled to debut in April 2007.

They’ll also enjoy a special romantic dinner, amenities, and keepsake items to remember the special, at-sea engagement.

Could the line’s wedding package and honeymoon cruise be far behind?

Cruise Guide: Cunard bids farewell to seafaring icon

By Michael Coleman

IBM introduced the floppy disc. Monday Night Football was born. The Beatles broke up. Kansas City won a Super Bowl. Brazil knocked off Italy for the World Cup. 

It was 1970, a year full of promise and a time when a young seaman joined the Cunard Line.

My how times flies even on the high seas.

Later this month, Commodore Ronald Warwick will retire from arguably the most famous cruise line in the world after 36 years of service. He will step down on July 31 after his final transatlantic crossing from New York to Southampton.

The Commodore and his wife, Kim, will host a variety of functions onboard Queen Mary 2 during the six-day voyage, departing July 24. Special lunches will be held in the Commodore’s honor in both New York and Southampton and passengers will take part in a ‘Commodore’s Dinner’ during the voyage complete with commemorative menu.

Captaining Cunard Queens is something of a Warwick family tradition. Commodore Warwick holds the unique distinction in Cunard Line’s long history of notable Captains by following in the footsteps of his late father, Commodore William Warwick, who sailed as Master of the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, was the first Master appointed to Queen Elizabeth 2 in 1968, and was also promoted to Commodore of the fleet in 1970.

Commodore Ronald Warwick joined Cunard Line as a Third Officer in 1970. Frequent Naples cruisers have no doubt shared a table with the bearded icon, much less an onboard photo opportunity, while plying the global seas in luxury.

He first sailed as Captain in 1986 onboard Cunard Princess, and also sailed in command of the Cunard Countess and Cunard Crown Dynasty before his appointment as Master of Queen Elizabeth 2 in July 1990. From April 1996 he sailed permanently as Senior Master on board Queen Elizabeth 2 until his appointment as Master-designate of Queen Mary 2 in 2002. At the time it the biggest (151,400 tons), longest (1,132 feet), tallest (236 feet), widest (135 feet) and most expensive passenger liner ($800 million) ever built.

In December 2003 he was promoted to the rank of Commodore of the Cunard fleet. In June 2005 Commodore Warwick’s service to the Merchant Navy was recognized. He was awarded the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth. Commodore Warwick also holds the rank of Captain in the Royal Naval Reserve and is a Fellow of the Nautical Institute.

Cunard Line ships have crossed the Atlantic every year since 1840. Even onboard the Queen Mary 2 today the past comes to life through the Maritime Quest exhibition, the first permanent exhibition on an ocean liner where deck upon deck and corridor upon corridor trace Cunard’s proud history since its founding in 1839.