Written by 2:05 pm Ports

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.

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