Cruise Guide: Eco-friendly cruises on rise

By Michael Coleman

Passengers may choose a cruise vacation for a host of reasons but in todays green world the sheer size and scope of Mother Natures canvas remains a top drawing card.

Chilean fjords, the tropics, Alaskas wilderness and even Antarctica beckon cruise ship passengers like never before as do the untouched landscapes, rare ecosystems and extraordinary plant, bird and animal domains which span the planet and a port – near you.

As more and more global citizens act to become stewards of the environment, cruise lines have unveiled itineraries to foster an even greater appreciation of the natural world around us.

For instance, guests aboard Azamara Cruises will enjoy some 20 varieties of hummingbirds and 227 species of birds on bird watching eco tours in the wetlands along the Copalita River in Huatulco, Mexico, during Panama Canal itineraries. Other nature thrills in the region include ziplining in the canopy forests of Costa Rica in search of tropical butterflies, exotic birds and other creatures of the rainforest. 

Carnival, meanwhile, offers whale watching and an eagle preserve adventure in Alaska; ecological snorkel tours in Cabo San Lucas; white water rafting near the jungles of Costa Rica, exploring the waterfalls and sulfur springs of Dominica in the Caribbean; and a nautical adventure in the Bay of Fundy, home of the legendary “reversing falls.” 

The 92-guest Celebrity Xpedition offers all-inclusive, environmentally-conscious cruises in the Galapagos Islands. A guided tour and onboard naturalists certified by the Galapagos National Park are features of every itinerary, as are hikes and walks to provide an in-depth exploration of the islands unique fauna and flora. 

Luxury operator Crystal Cruises offers several opportunities worldwide for guests to get to know the wildlife and environment of the exotic destinations they visit. Guests might want to swim with dolphins in the Bay of Islands in New Zealand; visit Siberian sled dogs in Russia; ride elephants at the Bali Elephant Safari Park or spot dragons at Komodo National Park in Indonesia. 

With more than 60 years experience offering cruises in Alaska, Holland Americas nature themes feature opportunities to experience such wildlife as orca and humpback whales, puffins, dolphins, Dahls porpoises, bears, seals, sea otters and the full extent of Alaskan marine and land birdlife. Shoreside activities can include everything from leisure walks through northern rainforests to kayaking with a pod of whales, dog sledding and a snorkeling adventure in the clear waters of Mountain Point in Southeast Alaska. 

The mysterious wilderness of the White Continent, Antarctica, with its icebergs, whales and orcas feeding only feet away, and penguin populations in the thousands, is the featured adventure attraction aboard Fram, an expedition ship operated by Hurtigruten (formerly Norwegian Coastal Voyage). Guests even explore the rarely visited Marguerite Bay, with its ice-covered islands and surrounding icebergs to discover the only known breeding colony of emperor penguins on the west side of the Antarctica peninsula.

Cruise Guide: Cunard liners set for epic voyages

By Michael Coleman

Cunard Line has unveiled a pair of 2010 world cruises fit for a queen.

The voyages might still be 15 months away but the companys two modern luxury liners, Queen Mary 2 and  Queen Victoria, are gearing up now for the ultimate cruise experience.

Queen Mary 2s  Royal Route of Exploration will chart a new, eastbound-westbound sailing featuring a 101-day itinerary, 19 maiden calls, three overnight stays (in Hong Kong, Sydney and Cape Town) and her inaugural visit to South Africa. 

Queen Victorias 99-day  Voyage of Discovery circumnavigation, meanwhile, includes 11 maiden ports of call, three overnights (in Sydney, Hong Kong and Dubai) and three U.S. embarkation gateways: New York, Ft. Lauderdale and San Francisco. 

In addition to the world cruises each ship offers a wide range of shorter segments, ideal for travelers who wish to explore a specific part of the world or those whose busy schedules preclude an around-the-world journey.

Queen Mary 2 is scheduled to depart New York on Jan. 4, 2010 east through the Mediterranean to India, the Far East and Australia and New Zealand before returning to New York westbound via South Africa, South America and North America. The ship will visit 35 ports – more than ever before on a single voyage – including Dubai, Mumbai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo (Yokohama), Auckland, Sydney and Perth (Fremantle). 

In addition, she will make 19 maiden calls, including her inaugural visit to South Africa (calling at Durban and Cape Town), and first-ever calls at Phuket (Thailand), Vung Tau (Vietnam), Guam, Rabaul, the Whitsundays Islands and Mauritius. 

Look also for the shorter voyages, ranging in length from 35 to 80 days, including a 63-day New York to Sydney voyage and a 57-day Dubai to Cape Town voyage. Five even shorter trips of 17 to 23 days include a 23-day New York to Dubai voyage (which includes three maiden calls: Port Said, Safaga and Muscat) and  17-day Dubai to Hong Kong voyage (including four maiden calls: Mumbai, Phuket, Penang and Ho Chi Minh City).

Cunards newest vessel, Queen Victoria, will begin her third full year in service with a traditional 99-day westbound circumnavigation of the globe from New York to Southampton. The ship departs Jan. 12, 2010, embarking guests in Ft. Lauderdale on Jan. 15 and San Francisco on Jan. 27. 

The ship will traverse the Panama and Suez Canals, visiting 41 ports including Acapulco, Melbourne, Shanghai, San Francisco, Cartagena, Phuket and Sharm El Sheikh

In addition, the ship will offer 11 shorter voyages, ranging in length from 32 to 82 days, including a 52-day San Francisco to Bangkok voyage and a  67-day New York to Bangkok trip. Five even shorter trips of 15 to 29 days include a 23-day San Francisco to Sydney sailing. 

Both ships will soon set out on their respective 2009 world odysseys. Queen Victoria departs Jan. 10 from New York on a 99-day cruise while QM2 leaves Ft. Lauderdale Jan. 13 on an 84-day voyage.

Cruise Guide: Guests to christen Seabourn Odyssey

By Michael Coleman

A new ultra-luxurious yacht, set to debut in June 2009, will be christened by each of its guests prior to its maiden voyage.

Typically the role of a woman to ceremoniously wish the ship and all who sail on her good luck Godmothers of ships have ranged from queens to movie stars – Seabourn Odyssey has chosen its 450 passengers to serve as Godparents.

Those joining Odysseys maiden voyage will not only be treated like a celebrity, but will become a part of the vessels history, said Pamela C. Conover, president and CEO of The Yachts of Seabourn. 

Each passenger aboard Odysseys maiden voyage, scheduled to depart Venice, Italy, on June 24, 2009, will have his or her name engraved on an onboard plaque. 

An early-evening ceremony to christen the new yacht is planned to coincide with the summer sunset over the domes and steeples of Venices skyline. The ship will then commence a 14-day voyage exploring the Dalmatian coast, the Greek Isles, and Turkey. 

Highlights of the cruise will include sailing into the dramatic fjord of Kotor in Montenegro, a day of water sports from the yachts marina while anchored off the Greek Isle of Mylos, and an evening reception and concert in the torch-lit ruins of Ephesus in Turkey. 

The cruise industrys first ultra-luxury vessel to be launched in six years, the 32,000-ton yacht will feature luxurious all-suite accommodations measuring from 290 to over 1,600 square feet, more than 90 percent outfitted with private verandas. 

The yacht will offer guests five dining alternatives, five lounges and bars, an expansive pool and sunbathing area, and a two-deck, indoor/outdoor spa facility of more than 11,400 square-feet. 

Odysseys maiden season will include voyages from the grand cities and romantic isles of the Mediterranean to the Caribbean, before embarking on the lines first-ever world cruise in January, 2010.

The ship will visit some 42 ports between Ft. Lauderdale and Athens in a 108-day voyage January 5 to April 24, 2010.

Shore excursion highlights run the gamut, from whale watching aboard a catamaran cruise in Cabo San Lucas and a featured performance at Sydneys Opera House to stops in Hong Kong and Thailand for special, Seabourn-hosted shoreside events.

Look also for an afternoon tour of cultural Cartagena in Colombias venerable Caribbean port city (a UNESCO World Heritage Site); a rousing re-creation of the classic Aloha Boat Days at Honolulus Royal Hawaiian Hotel; a Maori cultural discovery experience at Lyttelton (Christchurch), New Zealand; an introduction to the arts and cultures of Borneos 32 diverse ethnic groups at Kota Kinabalu; a visit to the Sanctuary of Truth at Pattaya, Thailand from Bangkok; an evening at an oasis near Dubai; and a sortie from Sharm el Sheikh into a sheltered valley in the Sinai desert for tea and traditional folkloric music and dance at a Bedouin encampment.