Cruise Guide: Vibrant cities, nature, await South American cruise guests

By Mike Coleman

The world’s best cruise lines have not only unveiled a host of new ships in recent months, they’ve also introduced a series of global itineraries and that’s good news for savvy travelers.

Over the past two weeks, Cruise Guide has bypassed the obvious – Caribbean and European sailings- to take a closer look at what’s in store for passengers who seek exotic voyages. We conclude our three-part series this week with a look at South America. 

Whether sailing to vibrant, culturally-rich ports or viewing Antarctica as it sails past your porthole, cruise vacations to South America run the gamut. The continent and its 15 countries offer superb cosmopolitan charm and a dizzying array of natural attractions from the world’s highest waterfall (Angel Falls) to the largest river (Amazon), longest mountain range (Andes) and driest desert (Atacama).

Getting there has never been easier as the world’s best cruise lines continue to offer more itineraries than ever before.

Several members of the Cruise Lines International Association, the chief marketing arm for 19 premier cruise lines and some 17,000 North American travel agencies, offer sailings departing from Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro, Chile’s Valparaiso and Argentina’s Buenos Aires. Voyages, some of which depart from U.S. ports, range from three to 72 days and typically sail from October through April.

The luxury lines -Crystal, Cunard, Oceania, Regent, Seabourn and Silversea- are sure to take you in style. Crystal visits South America during Crystal Serenity’s world cruise in January, including a 15-day Miami to Valparaiso itinerary, and an 18-day Valparaiso-Buenos Aires itinerary. Highlights include cruising past Chilean Fjords, Cape Horn, and Antarctica’s Palmer Station and Elephant Island.

Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2 calls in the ports of Rio de Janeiro; Montevideo, Uruguay; and Valparaiso (Santiago), Chile, during a 26-day segment of her maiden world cruise, which travels from Fort Lauderdale to San Francisco, departing January 10.

From December through March, Oceania Cruises’ Insignia sails South American waters with three 10-day cruises from Rio to Buenos Aires calling at ports in Brazil and Uruguay, and four 16-day Buenos Aires-Valparaiso itineraries that cruise the Chilean Fjords and Cape Horn.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Seven Seas Mariner offers a 59-night voyage in January, offered in 11- to 19-night segments. Seven Seas Voyager calls at South American ports on a 25-night world cruise segment from Fort Lauderdale to Cape Town.

Seabourn Cruise Line’s Seabourn Pride, meanwhile, circumnavigates South America on a 72-day voyage starting in January. Seven- to 18-day segments include Fort Lauderdale to Valparaiso, Valparaiso to Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires to Rio, Rio to Manaus, and Manaus to Fort Lauderdale.

Silversea Cruises’ Silver Wind sails a 16-day Valparaiso to Buenos Aires itinerary in January to the Chilean Fjords and Falkland Islands. Ports include Puerto Montt, Puerto Chacabuco, Laguna San Rafael and Punta Arenas, Chile; Puerto Madryn, Argentina; and Punta del Este and Montevideo, Uruguay.

Perhaps a premium brand line – Celebrity or Holland America – is more to your liking? Look for Celebrity Cruises’ Infinity to feature five South American itineraries in 2007. The 14-night cruises include three that sail between Buenos Aires and Valparaiso, one from Valparaiso to Fort Lauderdale, and another roundtrip from Buenos Aires with two nights in Rio de Janeiro during Carnaval. Holland America Line ships -Prinsendam, Rotterdam, Ryndam and Veendam- offer itineraries from 16 to 66 days, visiting 60 ports on 26 sailings.

If an Antarctica sailing tops your wish list, look for Norwegian Coastal Voyages to offer 19-day “Antarctica and Chilean Fjord” itineraries between Santiago and Buenos Aires from November through February and 21-day “Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica” voyages in October and February.

Additionally, look for the cruise lines to offer a series of optional shore excursions ranging from flight-seeing trips to Antarctica to view penguins, sea lions and marine birds, to Amazon River exploration via native canoe.

Cruise guests may also explore Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world, where they can journey through Tierra del Fuego on horseback. Other excursions are being offered in cities including Rio de Janeiro, home to Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, Sugarloaf Mountain and Botafogo Bay, all located within Rio’s downtown district.

Costa Cruises, MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Orient Lines, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean are also offering itineraries to what is quickly becoming a cruise destination favored among travelers young and old alike.

Cruise Guide: South Pacific charm beckons guests Down Under

By Mike Coleman

There’s more Down Under than meets the eye. 

Upcoming cruises to Australia, New Zealand and the Polynesian islands will feature a combination of cosmopolitan cities, jungles, snow-capped mountains, fjords, white-sand beaches and coral reefs.

It’s almost hard to believe that such diversity can be found in a single vacation but travelers booked on any one of six major cruise lines heading to the South Pacific over the next few years are in for a real treat.

“Cruise vacations Down Under feature a multitude of destinations that are a study in contrasts,” said Terry L. Dale, president and CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association, the chief marketing organization for 19 premier cruise lines and some 17,000 North American travel agencies. “Each has its own distinct cultural appeal.”

Princess Cruises, premium brand lines Celebrity and Holland America, and luxury operators Cunard, Regent and Silversea are offering itineraries that will bring the region to life for first-time cruisers or veterans of the high seas.

Wide-ranging itineraries

Celebrity has introduced six 14-night sailings between Auckland and Sydney from December 2007 through March 2008 aboard Mercury. Highlights include New Zealand’s Auckland, Tauranga, Napier, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin, and Milford Sound; and Australia’s Melbourne, Newcastle, Sydney and Hobart.

Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth 2 calls at New Zealand’s Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch; and Australia’s Hobart, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Cairns during her 2007 world cruise. Sister Queen Mary 2 calls at Auckland and Sydney during her world cruise in 2007.

Holland America Line’s Statendam sails the South Pacific half the year on Australia and New Zealand cruises during summer Down Under, as well as 24- to 28-day sailings that add Fiji, American Samoa and Hawaii. Ryndam’s 30-day itinerary incorporates ports in French Polynesia.

Four Princess Cruises’ ships offer a comprehensive South Pacific program in 2006 and 2007 featuring itineraries to Australia and New Zealand, Hawaii, Tahiti and an extended Pacific crossing. In addition, the popular “Islands of the Pacific Theater” cruise features a new port – the WWII battle site of Chuuk (Truk) in Micronesia.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Paul Gauguin, based in Tahiti, offers year-round cruises to French Polynesian ports. In November 2006, Seven Seas Mariner features two itineraries between Singapore and Sydney and Sydney and Auckland and again in November 2007.

In December and January, Silversea Cruises’ Silver Cloud offers 15- and 16-day itineraries that call at ports in Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand and Melanesia. Two Silver Shadow world cruise segments visit ports in Australia and New Zealand in February.

Down Under exposed

Australia encompasses the vast desert expanses of the Outback, home to kangaroos, koalas, wombats and the platypus, then becomes cosmopolitan with the hustle and bustle of cities like Sydney and Melbourne. Look for the cruise lines to offer a variety of onboard enrichment programs to complement optional shore excursions, including flight-seeing trips which afford guests stunning views of the Daintree Rainforest, Tasmania’s Mt. Wellington and the Great Barrier Reef.

Though tiny compared to its neighbor, New Zealand boasts an abundance of natural attractions and recreational opportunities. In Auckland, visitors can board an America’s Cup yacht for a cruise past the America’s Cup Village with its syndicates and super yachts. Travelers can also retrace the Lord of the Rings trilogy, visiting some of the best-known sites from the highly-acclaimed film series.

And, if cruise passengers are seeking romance, some sailings can’t be missed. Since the first ships from Europe dropped anchor centuries ago among French Polynesia’s turquoise lagoons and coral atolls, the 118 magical islands have symbolized romance and natural beauty. Visitors can take in volcanic peaks shrouded in clouds or walk through mysterious rainforests enroute to white-sand beaches and a profusion of flowers, including Tahiti’s spectacular black pearls.

Cruise Guide: Asia bound – Cruise lines unwrap exotic Far East itineraries

By Mike Coleman

Southeast Asia. The name alone conjures up a host of images from giant Buddhas and gilded temple spires to neon-lit cities.

Look for eight of the most popular and luxurious cruise lines in the world – members of the Cruise Lines International Association, the chief marketing arm for 19 lines and some 17,000 North American-based travel agencies – to offer itineraries ranging from nine- to 30-plus days aboard 14 ships in 2006 and 2007.

Cruise travelers will enjoy varying opportunities to sample local cuisine, explore ancient cultures, witness landscapes and survey unexplored regions dating back thousands of years on a series of itineraries calling at ports in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, China, India, Korea and Japan.

Luxury operator Crystal Cruises will be returning to Asia in 2007 after a two-year hiatus with four destination-rich itineraries, including its first Singapore-Dubai cruise. From March through May, Crystal Symphony offers two 14-day journeys exploring China, an 11-day cruise spotlighting Vietnam and the 16-day Singapore to Dubai itinerary with three days in Myanmar (Burma).

In 2007, Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth 2 will call at Chan May, Vietnam; Bangkok; Cochin and Mumbai (Bombay), India; and Sri Lanka on her 108-day world cruise. Queen Mary 2 also visits Asia as part of her 80-day maiden world cruise. Ports of call include Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Cochin.

In spring 2007, Holland America Line’s Statendam sails a 20-day Australia, Southeast Asia and China itinerary followed by three 14-day Hong Kong to Osaka cruises that feature overnights in Beijing and Shanghai. Amsterdam features Asia segments on its 105-day world cruise and its 64-day Asia, Australia and Polynesian Explorer itinerary in fall, 2007. After a successful inaugural season, look for Oceania Cruises’ Nautica to return to the Far East later this year through 2007. From late November through March, the ship sails on 15- to 35-day itineraries with more than 40 overnight calls, including Bangkok and Vietnam’s Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).

Princess Cruises, meanwhile, will be offering a series of 16-day voyages that visit China, Japan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia departing October 26, November 11 and 27, 2006.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Seven Seas Mariner calls in Southeast Asia on two segments of its 96-night Grand Asia Pacific voyage, departing Vancouver Sept. 13, 2006, and three segments of its 107-night voyage, departing Vancouver Sept. 5, 2007. Seven Seas Voyager offers a 14-day Singapore to Hong Kong segment during its 2007 world cruise. 

Seabourn Cruise Lines’ Seabourn Spirit will again be offering its popular 14-day Asian Capitals and Vietnam voyages between Singapore and Hong Kong, offered from December through April 2007. The itinerary features the line’s caviar in the surf beach barbecue at Ko Kood, Thailand.

And, from late November 2006 through March and again in December 2007, Silversea Cruises’ three ships will sail on itineraries of nine to 16 days that call at ports in Singapore, China, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam. Offerings include routings between Singapore and Hong Kong; Hong Kong and Bangkok; and roundtrip Singapore sailings.

Still can’t get enough of the region? Look for a number of cruise lines to enhance their onboard programming with local cuisine, entertainment and enrichment lecturers.