Holland America Oosterdam in Melbourne

The Holland America Oosterdam has arrived in Australia for its summer season. I was lucky enough to walk around the ship while it was in Melbourne. Each of the Holland America ships are themed, the Oosterdam honors Explorers of the 19th and 20th century. Upon boarding the ship we viewed a few cabins and the first impression was a sense of space. Most of the cabins have a shower over a bath in the bathroom and room for a couch in the main cabin.

Oosterdam

We were then shown around the ship and it was interesting to learn about a few of the activities that set them apart from other ships.

Culinary Arts Center features intriguing programs

Offers a groundbreaking experience that combines a love of food and wine with unique and engaging programs. There is a theater-style venue and state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen for the following experiences:

Hands-on cooking classes:
Unleash your inner chef and learn new culinary skills alongside award-winning chefs and culinary guests.

Appearances by special guest chefs:
Some of the world’s leading culinary experts will join you on board for live cooking shows, book signings and special menu offerings.

Winetasting and mixology:
Delight your palate with innovative food and wine pairings handcrafted by visiting vintners and Holland America Line cellarmasters. On selected cruises, take home Food & Wine recipe cards and wine tasting notes along with copies of the magazine.

Regionally inspired workshops:
Discover the secrets and unique traditions of regional cuisine, from the flavors of Alaska to pasta making in the Mediterranean. Local market tours are available in selected ports of call.

Another interesting extra is the “Dancing with the Stars at Sea” experience. You are able to participate in complimentary dance classes based on dance routines from the smash hit show “Dancing with the Stars.” This is your chance to learn the basics or new steps. You can also compete in the Dancing with the Stars: At Sea competition. Following an early elimination process, finalists will have the opportunity to take to the main stage with Holland America Line professional dancers. One Cruise Champion will emerge, based on the highest combined point total from our panel of three judges as well as audience participation.

We ended the tour with dinner at The Pinnacle Grill, a Holland America standard. With only 144 seats getting reservations early is a must. There is a $20 cover charge to dine in the Pinnacle. The food was excellent and I would recommend up to two nights dining in the restaurant.

The overall impressive I received of the Oosterdam is of refined elegance without the sometime stuffy tradition of a Cunard ship. The Oosterdam is in Australian waters until April.

Visit www.cruiseoffers.com.au for the latest deals.

Expedition Cruising – A Journey to the Kimberley

After having traveled on several of the bigger cruise ships, most recently on the Oasis of the Seas, a 225,282 tonne, 5,400-passenger floating island, it was a nice change of pace to be on the Orion – a smaller 100 passenger ship. I boarded the Orion in Broome for a 10 night luxury expedition cruise along the Kimberley coast to Darwin. After I was shown to my cabin, a spacious suite with quality furnishings (all cabins on-board are suites), the cruise started with an enjoyable sail away party as we left Broome and commenced our journey along the Kimberley coast. The first night’s dinner was also a pleasant surprise with the menu created by award-winning Sydney chef Serge Dansereau of ‘The Bathers’ Pavilion’ fame.

Each day we explored and discovered another part of the epic beauty of the Kimberley. We were able to get up close to wildlife, secluded beaches and river inlets on Zodiacs, led by an expedition leader who talked about the history and geology of the area. There were many highlights during the cruise, the wonderful staff and facilities on-board the ship, the spectacular waterfalls and the fascinating indigenous rock art. There were a number of optional activities including fishing and sightseeing flights. The fishing trips were a great success with most passengers catching a number of fish, which were brought back to the ship for dinner. The optional flight over the Mitchell falls in a helicopter was a fantastic experience. We landed on top of the falls and enjoyed spectacular views and a refreshing swim. There was also an complimentary flight over the famous Bungle Bungle ranges.

I have previously traveled through the Kimberley by land, so it was a great experience to cruise along the coast and see the world’s last unspoilt land in a different perspective. I would recommend the cruise to anyone looking for a more active and adventurous holiday but still travelling in luxury.

Visit www.cruiseoffers.com.au for the latest Orion cruise deals.

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A comedy cruise on the P&O Pacific Pearl

P&O Cruises offers a range of short cruises with different themes such as comedy and food & wine, which is perfect for the first time cruiser. I decided that comedy would be a good distraction for three nights while the ship sails up the Australian coast to nowhere. My first impression of the P&O Pacific Pearl was very good, cabins were spacious with nice wood furnishings, the public rooms also has a good open feel to them. As a first night treat I was booked into the Celebrity chef Luke Mangan restaurant ‘Salt Grill’. For a nominal fee you are treated to first class restaurant food in an excellent environment, definitely a  must do. Each night they had a range of comedians in the main theater, a highlight was Peter Rowsthorn from Kath and Kim fame. For those that wanted to kick on, the night club in the Dome was a highlight. Each day there were many activities to attend, from trivia sessions to driving a V8 car simulator. It really was up to you how little or much you did each day. The staff onboard was excellent, a nice touch was the towel animal that appeared on my bed at night. Overall I would recommend a short cruise with your family or a group of friends, a fun three days.

Visit www.cruiseoffers.com.au for the latest P&O cruise deals.

P&O towelP&O balconyP&O atrium P&O pool P&O dining room

Royal Caribbean’s ship Quantum of the Seas

Royal Caribbean cruise line dazzled cruise aficionados with details of its forthcoming Quantum of the Seas ship, which will be the first at sea to offer attractions like bumper cars, simulated skydiving and an observation capsule called The North Star, with a bird’s eye view 300 feet (91 meters) above the water.

“Without a doubt, Quantum of the Seas is a game changer with technological innovations never imagined aboard a cruise ship,” said Stewart Chiron.

Quantum will launch in November 2014 and will homeport in Cape Liberty, in Bayonne, N.J., with winter sailings to the Bahamas and Caribbean.

Royal Caribbean executives said The North Star was inspired by the London Eye. The capsule can hold 14 people and is attached to a crane-like arm.

The skydiving attraction, called RipCord, uses a powerful wind flow to keep participants aloft while floating and spinning over an outdoor deck. “You’re not touching anything but the air,” said Adam Goldstein, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International.

An indoor complex called SeaPlex will host basketball, table tennis, trapeze instruction and bumper cars. The space converts to a dance floor for roller-skaters, with a DJ hovering above in a see-through pod. Another space, Two70, has a 270-degree panoramic view and will host aerialists and other performances.

Quantum of the seas

Cabins have modular features like interior doors so that adjacent bedrooms can be connected for large families or multi-generational groups.

Not everything on Quantum is new to the industry. Norwegian’s Epic ship introduced rooms designed for solo travelers, which Quantum will also have. Disney’s Dream and Fantasy ships have “virtual portholes” for windowless staterooms offering live views of the sea, and all of Quantum’s interior cabins will also have “virtual balconies” consisting of LED screens with projected ocean views.

Tickets for Quantum’s first sailing will go on sale to the public June 4, with Royal Caribbean regular cruisers getting an early shot at tickets starting May 27. Prices were not announced but cruise lines typically charge more for new ships than for other cruises. Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., said there would be no extra fees for many of the ship’s attractions, including The North Star and skydiving.

Royal Caribbean also owns the largest cruise ships in the world, the Oasis of the Seas and the Allure of the Seas, which carry more than 6,000 people apiece. Quantum will carry 4,180 passengers.

For all of the best cruise deals visit www.cruiseoffers.com.au.

Queen Mary 2 in Melbourne

While the Queen Mary 2 was in Melbourne I was lucky enough to enjoy lunch and a walk around on this lovely ship. The first impression is the size of the ship. At 151,400 tons and  nearly four football fields in length it is an imposing ship. When walking onboard it is like stepping back in time. Cunard, the owner of Queen Mary 2, is aiming to bring back the classic age of cruising back. Highlights of a cruise onboard include afternoon tea served in the Queens Room, the Royal Court Theatre, where you can enjoy nightly Broadway style shows and dining in one of the restaurants onboard. Each cruise includes a number of formal nights when you get to dress up in black tie.

Queen Mary 2‘s facilities include fifteen restaurants and bars, five swimming pools, a casino, a ballroom, a theatre, and the first planetarium at sea. There are also kennels on board, as well as a nursery.

Visit www.cruiseoffers.com.au for the latest cruise deals and itineraries

Carnival Spirit Arrives in Australia

When the Carnival Spirit cruise ship sails into Sydney Heads today, winding up a 16-night voyage from Hawaii, its contingent of Australian passengers will be visible. Many will be on the vessel’s top decks, drinks raised, leading a welcome-to- Australia party. “The Aussies are ready,” says the senior vice-president of guest operations for Carnival, Mark Tamis. “They’re going to bring the ship in for us.”. Carnival, the world’s biggest cruise company, has spent $US7 million ($6.9 million) stripping the vessel of American apparel to fit with the needs of Australian passengers, including installing Australian power points and switching the on-board currency to our dollar. The changes extend to the drinks menu. VB, New and Carlton Draught is on tap, bottles of Pure Blonde and Crownies are in fridges. The “sav blanc” is from Marlborough, the “cab sav” from McLaren Vale. Advertisement Fat Jimmy’s, a barbecue on the ship’s highest deck, is tipped to be the hot spot on board this summer. Here, passengers can order slow-cooked pulled pork, smoky chicken breast or Black Angus beef sausages, with salads, jacket potatoes and onion rings. A few steps up – literally and gastronomically – is the Spirit’s Nouveau Steakhouse, the only restaurant on board that attracts a surcharge ($35 for four courses). The steakhouse is worth every cent: prime cuts are wheeled to your table prior to cooking, seafood options include lobster tail and ahi tuna tartare, and service is excellent. Another change is the launch of theme nights. Beyond the usual fancy dress parties that are held on cruises, Spirit staff start the fun at dinner. Meals and drinks match the theme, and waiters break into choreographed dance moves. Then the party moves to the pool deck, with live music, themed cocktails, games and giveaways. Breakfast aboard Carnival Spirit. Interestingly, when Carnival asked its Australian Facebook fans to vote on favourite themes, locals expressed the same preferences as American passengers: Mexican fiesta and Caribbean beach party. Pack your sombrero and practise your reggae moves; these party styles are set to be held on every cruise. Spirit’s most advertised attraction, Green Thunder, is billed as the world’s steepest waterslide at sea. It lives up to the hype. The almost vertical drop induces shock and awe in equal measure.

Best spots on board

Head for the ship’s Serenity adults-only retreat before everyone else works out where it is. Just before sunset is another ideal time to curl up on a cabana or have a spa at Serenity. Plus, Serenity’s outdoor bar is open later than most (until 3am or 4am, if people are still buying). At breakfast, fresh omelets are also available at La Playa Grille buffet’s back counter – where the queue is shorter. For lunch, be pampered by waiters in the Empire Restaurant (12-1.30pm). At dinner, choose “any time” seating or help yourself at La Playa Grille. The Green Thunder waterslide is busy between 11am-3pm, or try it on port days, when most people are on land.

For all of the latest deals visit cruise offers

Rhapsody of the Seas gets a new look

After five summer seasons in Australian waters, Rhapsody of the Seas has enjoyed a month long refurbishment in March 2012. All of the cabins have been redecorated from floor to ceiling and has raised the vessel to a more sophisticated level to appeal to passengers who wanted affordable cruising but were propared to pay a little extra for finer cuisine and exclusive retreats. There is also extra dining options, more entertainment and new carpets, curtains and furniture. New specialty restaurants are Giovanni’s Table – serving Italian food – the Chops Grille steakhouse – and the Park Cafe, which serves light and healthy food.

The Rhapsody of the Seas returns to Australia in October and there are some wonderful specials including free upgrades and buy one get one 50% off. Visit Cruise Offers for all the latest specials.

What are the highest rated ships?

Each year Berlitz releases their comprehensive annual ranking of cruise ships. This year Hapag Lloyd’s Europa retained its number one spot for the 13th consecutive year. The reviews are compiled by British cruise critic and author Douglas Ward, who has been reviewing cruise ships for 28 years and has spent over 6000 days at sea. He takes into account 400 items including accommodation, cuisine, entertainment, spa/fitness/recreation and service.

SeaDream I and SeaDream II were the next highest scorers, followed by Seabourn. The Queen Mary 2 dominated the large resort style ships followed by joint runners up Celebrity Solstice, which will be based in Australia this summer and Celebrity Equinox.

Please visit Cruise Offers for some great specials.

Countdown to the Pacific Dawn

1 week of fun & relaxation, here I come!

I am counting down the days to my cruise on the Pacific Dawn this weekend!

My tickets are in my travel wallet, my shore excursions are booked and my skin is ready for a tan (spf 30+ will be involved).

Luke Mangan’s Salt Grill is on my list of things to experience, hello juicy steak.  After a night burning up the dance floor in the Dome you will most likely find me chilling out in Oasis.

When back from my wonderful week I will give you an update on the ship and all the great facilities and activities.

Bon Voyage!

Alicia

Cruise Offers
Cruise Specialist

Dubai to London on Dawn Princess 2011

Dubai is one of the most changeable and changing cities in the world. Blink and you might miss another architectural marvel fill the skyline. You can walk for miles in shopping malls that are outrageous, fabulous and jaw dropping.  Go skiing on a black run, ice skating, find your perfect gold and diamond bracelet, see fountains that light up at night and ‘dance’ to music or sit at one of the many cafés have a cuppa watching the world go by.  

Our 2011 group of travellers were amazed and delighted with our first destination and while we had several activities as a group, many spent hours exploring this city with new friends.  Some took the opportunity to visit the Burj Al Arab for a sumptuous afternoon tea with million dollar views and also Burj Khalifa, tallest building in the world.   

On our last night in Dubai we visited a Bedouin camp enjoying a sumptuous feast while relaxing in traditional Bedouin style on cushions and carpets.  The ladies tried henna tattoos and all enjoyed the excellent belly dancer.

Boarding the Dawn Princess for the cruise section of our holiday is always a joy. As always, staff are welcoming, cabins well appointed and cuisine excellent, our home away from home for the next 4 weeks.  Easing into shipboard life with a few sea days before our first port of call encourages people to wind down into holiday mode while familiarising themselves with the ship.

Salalah, Oman is a non tourist type of town yet it appears the Queen of Sheba may have lived nearby.  We toured the ruins of an ancient palace, overlooking a lagoon, watching flamingos feed.  Off out into the rugged rocky desert to view 2000 yr old frankincense trees, along a jagged coastline with blowholes and soaring cliffs.  Returning to town we visited the souk for frankincense and myrrh, oils and perfumes, with many other delights available.

More sea days to enjoy the many activities of the ship and those organised by tour leaders Amanda, Gretha and Leeanne.   

Petra, Jordan is hidden in one of the many folds of the mountains of the Negev desert.  Walking into Petra along the narrow winding canyon it’s easy to see how this community was kept secret for so long.  Finally we stepped out to view the treasury building made famous in the movie, Indiana Jones and the last crusade.  But there is more to see of this hidden city, a roman amphitheatre, Nabataean rock tombs and amazing geological features.   

Following sea days include a transit of the Suez Canal and an early arrival in Port Said.  The canal is an awe inspiring piece of engineering; all dug by hand with shovels. 

Cairo, Egypt is the biggest city in Africa, busy, bustling, bursting with life and home to the mighty Pyramids of Giza.  Nothing can prepare you for your first visit it is everything you imagine and more.

Jerusalem, Israel, historically fascinating and of great religious importance to many people the world over.   A walking tour through the old city finishing at the Western (wailing) Wall and a stop in Bethlehem on the West Bank opened our eyes to the differences and similarities of people and religions.

Mykonos, Greece an island of blue and white buildings, clear blue water on golden beaches with the hot sun in a wide expanse of blue sky.  Picture perfect and we all took lots of pictures.  A day to drink Greek coffee, send postcards or just laze away your time shopping, snoozing, or visit the beaches where swimsuits are optional!

Istanbul, Turkey a city thought to be the jewel in the crown of so many empires, as it is the gateway to Europe or the Orient depending which side of the Bosphorus you stand. A walking tour though the home of Sultans, St Sophia, Blue Mosque and the roman ruins highlight the richness of over 1000 years of history.

Anzac Cove, Gallipoli Peninsula allowed us to see what our soldiers saw in that early morning in April nearly 100 years ago.  A moving service and wreath laying was held with a performance of the Dawn Princess Choir, made up of over 150 passenger volunteers, who  practised every day for the service.  Nearly the whole ship attended with standing room only.

Athens, Greece, settled as a place to worship the goddess Athena and birthplace of democracy but only if you weren’t a woman or a slave!  However both women and men made it to the top of Acropolis with great city views and temples that amaze the mind and lift the spirit. Of course we also made time to wonder the plaka, the old part of the city with interesting shops and restaurants       

Citivecchia, Italy, gateway to Rome the eternal city. The Vatican and the Colosseum are highlights for many, so stops were included but we also travelled through the city like locals; on foot. A walking tour lets you discover the treasures hidden down cobbled lanes and squares no bus could ever reach.

Livorno, Italy, stepping-off port for the Tuscan countryside and the picturesque village of San Gimignano.  This hill top village is everything you imagine a Tuscan village could be.  City walls built to protect the village. Cobbled narrow streets which twist and turn with unexpected vistas across rolling hills covered in sunflowers, wheat fields or vineyards.

Monaco, a tiny principality surrounded by France made famous when Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier and put it on the jet set map.   We landed by Tender going past multimillion dollar yachts anchored in the harbour some with helicopters! Touring along the corniche gave us extensive views, while walking past the ‘Palais du Prince’ less than a week after Prince Albert got married with all the decorations still in place was a treat . We also crossed the border to Nice for coffee and a chance to sample local delicacies at the market such as socca, cherries and flat peaches.

Barcelona, Spain, famously home of many Gaudi architectural wonders including the Sagrada Familia.  Strolling along La Ramblas to see the ‘living’ statues, sampling tapas and sipping sangria filled many peoples time on a hot lazy afternoon. 

Lisbon, Portugal, a city shaken to near obliteration but rebuilt into a people friendly city with verdant green gardens and ‘wild’ lands through and around the city and a short drive to Sintra the home of palaces, castles and luxury homes. Returning to the ship via the coast road allowed us to gasp with wonder at windsurfing skills this area is world famous for.

Le Havre, France a huge bustling container port but it took only minutes to leave the hustle behind heading for Giverny and Monet’s Garden.  Our only day of rain for the whole trip didn’t dampen our spirits.

Dover, England, white cliffs of ‘that’ song fame and rolling green downs of southern England are a delight to drive through on a sunny day heading to one of the most iconic cities in the world, London.  Disembarkation off the Dawn Princess was a breeze with just a short holdup due to misplaced luggage.  Located a short stroll from Harrods, our hotel was welcoming and comfortable which eased some of the sadness we felt as out amazing journey was coming to an end. Our final organised activity was a tour of London with some of the famous blue badge guides. These guides hold so many interesting stories and facts in their memories that any question asked was answered with ease.

On our final day there was time for shopping before the small group who were returning to Australia headed to the airport.  The majority of the group took the opportunity to extend their stay in Britain and Europe to visit friends and family or visit that special place on your bucket list.