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Friday, 21 November 2014

Aboard the newly refitted National Geographic Orion


National Geographic Orion in new livery (R Eime)
The 103m, 106-passenger Orion is a ship that grabbed the attention of the public and industry and won many hearts among travelling Australians when she launched under the stewardship of Sarina Bratton almost a decade ago.

I first travelled aboard Orion in 2008 to PNG and as this was my only voyage under the previous configuration, I didn't have the emotional attachment many past passengers built up, some from over a dozen or more repeat voyages.

The change in ship operators has been well-documented elsewhere on this site but now it's my chance to see the structural, cosmetic and operational changes first-hand.

Section of main lounge showing new 'pulpit' for lectures
with new flatscreen TVs 
The most obvious change is to the lounge area, where Lindblad have installed a central 'pulpit' with AV controls for the lecturer whose presentations are streamed to the six flatscreen TVs installed around the expanded space.

“The stage has been removed and the space converted to more seating,” says Tracy Greiner, hotel manager who has been aboard Orion since the beginning, “and as you can see the whole lounge has been transformed to suit Lindblad's style of daily pre-dinner recap and drinks.”

Looking around the lounge, the memories come back despite the alterations. The chairs, tables, carpets, lighting, wall hangings and bar itself have all been changed or modified to ensure the full compliment of passengers can fit into the area with unrestricted viewing of any screen.

The old lecture theatre is currently not in use as the seating was not really adequate if all passengers aboard a full ship wanted to attend. That space is also being considered for repurposing, perhaps to a larger spa or gym facility as the current treatment room is only really a booth off the existing small fitness room.

New chart table in the Deck 6 Observation Lounge
The Observation Lounge on Deck 6 is now the home to the library and now includes a large chart table. The bar has been removed and converted to a self-service refreshment area with tea, coffee, soft drink and snacks. It seems to work well as a quiet space for those wanting to read and perhaps nod off for a bit. Two iMac computers are installed for guest use.

self serve refreshment bar
Dining is largely unchanged with meals served alternatively in the main deck (3) restaurant and outdoor café on the upper deck (4). The Serge Dansereau menu has been updated and rotates daily with the same cheerful service from many of the long-serving Filipino staff including executive chef Lothar.

A dive deck is now on the uppermost level above the unused lecture theatre with storage of vests, tanks and sundry equipment for a maximum of 24 certified divers at a ratio of eight divers per divemaster. Orion is now fully self-sufficient as a live-aboard dive vessel with three compressors including one for Nitrox and several days emergency oxygen if required. A Zodiac is also equipped with ladders for exclusive use of divers.

Divers now fully catered for aboard NG Orion
Of course, not all these changes are to the universal delight of the many past passengers. Several repeat cruisers are aboard for this voyage and the loss of after dinner entertainment and dance floor is one factor cited although the observation deck seems to have gained much wider acceptance.

I will be aboard until Tahiti, so please check back regularly for more news and updates.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Are Expedition Cruisers the ultimate travel snobs?


Opinion by Expedition Cruising editor, Roderick Eime

Expedition cruisers may still be a rare species, but their numbers are on the rise.

It’s the perennial barbeque stopper in which I always find myself embroiled. Is expedition cruising really cruising? The question is almost Darwinian. Where does expedition cruising fit in the taxonomy of travel? It’s like saying a dolphin is related to a hippo. Oh wait, you mean they are? Okay.

In trying to explain this conundrum, I usually say something pithy like big ship cruising is akin to staying at a resort where everything is laid on while expedition cruising is ‘adventure at sea’ and you have to go discovering stuff.

These discussions started a long time ago when the distinction between expedition and regular cruising was easier to define. In my pompous imagination, big ship cruising was for unimaginative types who needed their hand held and, like Pavlov’s dog, only ate when the dinner bell rang.

Expedition cruising, on the other hand, was for direct descendants of Shackleton and Scott, who would cheerfully withstand katabatic winds and live off soggy pemmican just so they could tick off a lesser speckled shag from their species list.

These days, just like the increasingly homogenised world in which we live, work and travel, the dolphins and hippos are less distinct. While there are still dolphins and hippos at either end of the evolutionary spectrum, like Darwin’s little finches, peculiar sub-species are evolving in between.

Just as some cruisers are drawn to the massive ‘Gigantors’ of the seas, others prefer a mid-size, calmer ‘gentle wind’. Others still will opt for a flowing Scandinavian river experience or a private and intimate charter.

Akademik Vavilov en route to South Georgia (Roderick Eime)
Having conversed with hundreds of passengers aboard the small ships in ridiculously remote locations, one thing can be almost universally counted on: those who consider themselves true expeditioners heap scorn on the masses who throng the big ships.

I can count on one frostbitten hand the number of travellers who have regaled me about their last cruise on the RMS Queen Gwendolyn and how they were absolutely mortified the caviar was only salmon roe and not Russian sturgeon. I mean, honestly!

Sometimes these mismatched voyagers will find themselves on the wrong ship in the wrong place, often with comical results. Poor expedition staff find themselves dealing with some bizarre events and behaviour.

Zodiac excursions can get a bit wild sometimes (Coral Princess Cruises)
The passenger who dolled herself up for the shore excursion, indignantly arranged herself in the grubby Zodiac, then promptly returned to the ship when it was clear she would have to get her feet wet and sandy.

Or, the horrified passenger who returned, trembling, to the ship because they had come face-to-face with ‘savages’ living in ‘poverty’.

Savages! (David Kirkland)
Another guest was bitterly disappointed at the lack of shopping opportunities on an Antarctic trip. Although I have to say, this guest clearly had not visited Port Lockroy recently which has, in the decade between my visits, evolved from a quaint folk museum into an antipodean emporium full of T-shirts, keyrings and snow globes.

The tiny shop at the British Antarctic base, Port Lockroy,
has grown into a mini-emporium for polar cruisers
But the greatest number of complaints, according to my sources across virtually all expedition cruise companies, is the small ships’ inability to visit the advertised ports or stick to a publicised schedule.

As the most developed branch of the order of primates, the species homo sapiens (IUCN conservation status: ‘least concern’) has developed a distinct aversion to disruption of routine. When things don’t go to plan or the unexpected occurs, this flighty mammal is prone to fits if pique and paralysis of decision rendering them pretty much useless. How they landed a man on the moon or split the atom is beyond me.

So, if you are of the genus that wants to huddle in the cocoon of security, safe in the knowledge that the midnight buffet will be served before pumpkin time, expedition cruising is definitely not for you.

For more information about Small Ship, Adventure and Expedition cruising, see Adventure Cruise Guide

Silversea Cruises Silver Discoverer in the Kimberley



Explore the incredible landscape of the Kimberley on board Silversea's latest expedition ship, Silver Discoverer. This 10 day voyage takes guests through this largely inaccessible location and uncovers the natural wonders of this beautiful part of the world.

Departing Darwin on 19 April 2015, Silver Discoverer sets sails for Western Australia's northernmost town, Wyndham, where guests can view the breathtaking World Heritage listed Bungle Bungle mountain range in Purnululu National Park, a World Heritage Site, during a scenic overflight.

The voyage then continues along Kimberley's coastal region for six days of exploration. Famous for having the second largest tidal range in the world after the Bay of Fundy, Silver Discoverer's flexible itinerary enables the Expedition team to take advantage of this natural phenomenon. Each day the Expedition Leader and Captain will determine Silver Discoverer's best course, depending on tide, weather and sea conditions.

Ports of call may include: Nares Point and Crocodile Creek, where guests will explore the superb location by Zodiac and enjoy a swim in the natural pool; Montgomery Reef, a river surrounded by cascading waterfalls and filled with an abundance of reef birds and sea creatures; and King George River and Falls, one of the Kimberley's most magnificent natural wonders, with amazing landscapes of near vertical red rock formations and a parade of wildlife. After six days of exploration and discovery, this voyage continues to Broome, with guests disembarking on 29 April 2015.

Prices are per person starting from AU$10,950 in an Explorer Suite, double occupancy. Silversea Expeditions' fares include: all shore and Zodiac excursions hosted by an expedition leader; all-suite accommodation with butler service; gourmet meals with menus inspired by Relais & Châteaux; complimentary wines, Champagne and spirits served throughout the ships; and all gratuities.

This voyage is subject to availability. Terms and conditions apply. For more information, contact your travel professional or Silversea Cruises on +61 2 9255 0600 or 1300 306 872 or visit

Photo credit: Tourism Western Australia

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Fly free to Kimberley with Silversea Cruises


Economy or Business Class Flights Included at no extra charge on Luxury Kimberley Expedition

Includes Complimentary Beverages, Butler and Spectacular Bungle Bungles Flight

Free return flights from every mainland state capital are being offered by Cruise Express on two luxury cruise expeditions along the rugged Kimberley coast in April, 2015, with guests booking verandah suites receiving return flights in business class.

Each of the 10-night voyages between Broome and Darwin are aboard the deluxe Silversea Expeditions ship, Silver Discoverer. Carrying just 120 guests who are pampered by 96 crew, the ship is the only vessel on the Kimberley coast boasting a swimming pool and all cabins are suites with ocean views, butler service, flatscreen TVs and a complimentary mini-bar. Beverages onboard Silver Discoverer are complimentary throughout the ship.

The first voyage sails from Broome on April 9, 2015, and traces the Kimberley’s soaring, crimson-coloured cliffs, towards Darwin, with guests boarding the ship’s zodiacs to visit the famous, 100m-high King George Falls and ancient Aboriginal art sites and search for wildlife, including crocodiles. A complimentary flight over the spectacular beehive formations of the Bungle Bungle Ranges is also included in the package.

The second voyage from Darwin to Broome on April 19 follows the same itinerary.

The package is available from $10,950 per person, twin-share, including complimentary, economy-class flights from Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide or Perth to Broome and back from Darwin for the first cruise departure or to Darwin and back from Broome for the second departure.

Guests booking a verandah suite with its own private balcony from $22,050 per person, twin-share, will receive the return flights in business class, offering a luxury holiday the whole way.

For bookings, call Cruise Express on 1300 764 509 or visit

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Star Clippers 2015/16 tall ship sailing program

Tall ship sailing specialist Star Clippers has launched its 2015/16 programme, featuring romantic cruises from three to 24 nights on its three stunning true sailing ships, with sailings between November 2014 to March 2016.

The three ships will sail in the Caribbean in winter (Star Clipper from St Maarten, Royal Clipper from Barbados and Star Flyer from Cuba) and in the Mediterranean and Aegean in summer. In addition, there are one-off sailings between Barbados and Panama (on Star Flyer); transatlantic crossings on all three ships in spring and autumn; and mini-cruises in the Mediterranean from three to five nights in addition to the longer sailings.

New for 2015

Ten-day Cuba cruises from $3415pp

Star Flyer will operate two new ten-day Cuba itineraries in March 2016, sailing between Cienfuegos, its winter base, and Havana, the capital. Ports of call include Maria La Gorda; Isla de la Juventud; Cayo Rico; Cayo Largo; Georgetown and Cayman Brac in the Cayman Islands; and Trinidad.From $3415 per person including port charges, cruise-only, departing March 6 and 16.

Venezuela and the ABC Islands

Royal Clipper will spend winters operating her usual enticing Windward Isles and Grenadines itineraries out of Barbados but two new, exciting cruises have been added, circling the entire southern Caribbean. Departing Barbados, the 14-night voyage calls at four ports in Venezuela (the coast of which is scattered with beautiful, unspoiled islands); the 'ABC' islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao in the Dutch Caribbean; and the Grenadines and St Lucia, with departures on March 28, 2015 and March 26, 2016. From $4849 per person including port charges and gratuities, cruise-only, departing March 28, 2015.

Farewell Balearics season from $2365 pp

Star Clippers will be introducing new itineraries, yet to be announced, for summer 2016, so summer 2015 will be the final season sailing the Balearics, with six sailings on Star Flyer in July and August round-trip from the glamorous port of Palma, calling at ports including Formentera, Ibiza, Valencia, Mahon and Soller. From $2365 per person including port charges, cruise-only.

Taster cruises from $1015 pp

Once again, Star Clippers will be offering mini-cruises, ideal for those who would like a taste of life on board a true sailing ship. Choose between three nights round-trip from Venice; four nights round-trip from Rome; or five nights from Malaga to Rome, all on Royal Clipper. Star Flyer, meanwhile, offers three- or four-night sailings from Cannes; and a four-night one-off cruise, taking in the practice day of the Monaco Grand Prix.

From $1015 per person including port charges for a three-night cruise from Cannes on Star Flyer, calling at L'Ile Rousse in Corsica and St Tropez, departing September 23.

Themed cruises

Yoga and meditation

Star Clippers offers regular yoga and meditation themed cruises, with three highly qualified teachers offering two daily complimentary yoga and meditation classes on board. All classes take place on deck in the fresh air, early morning and just before sunset and all are suitable for any level of experience and conducted in English. The eight yoga cruises for 2015 include:

January 18 and 25: Christel Vollmer, sailing on Star Flyer from Cienfuegos, Cuba

January 24 and 31: Inge Schöps, sailing on Star Clipper from St Maarten

May 16 and 23: Raphaella Rose, sailing on Royal Clipper from Rome

August 1 and 8: Christel Vollmer, sailing on Star Flyer from Palma

From $2365 per person including port charges, excluding flights, for a seven-night round trip from Palma on Star Flyer.

Star Clippers is offering an early booking discount of up to 35% until January 31, 2015 for the European summer sailings and until April 30 for winter Caribbean 2015/16 sailings.

To book, call 1300 295 161 or your travel agent or visit

Star Clippers operates three of the world's largest and tallest sailing vessels. Visiting ports often untouched by larger cruise ships and offering passengers the activities, amenities and atmosphere of a private yacht, Star Clippers is recognised as one of the premier speciality cruise lines.

Passengers can enjoy the romance of sailing on board a true tall ship in a relaxed atmosphere with high standards of service provided by an attentive crew. All three ships have expansive teak decks, swimming pools, informal dining, a convivial Tropical Bar on deck and a comfortable piano bar and are large enough to offer first class accommodation and dining, but small enough to call into intimate ports, untouched by large cruise ships.

The two smaller ships, Star Flyer and Star Clipper, take 170 passengers each, with a crew of 74, while Royal Clipper carries 227 with a crew of 106.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Un-Cruise awarded best expedition cruise line by Porthole Magazine readers


Porthole Cruise Magazine readers chose Un-Cruise Adventures as best expedition cruise line in the magazine’s 16th annual Readers’ Choice Awards in 2014. The small ship adventure cruise line explores remote and scenic destinations with an emphasis on flexible itineraries, wildlife viewing and active pursuits outdoors.

“It’s especially meaningful to be recognized by Porthole readers—a discerning group of travelers,” said Captain Dan Blanchard, CEO. “We’re happy to be growing, innovating and offering more adventures including Costa Rica, Panama and Galápagos in 2016.”

Porthole Cruise Magazine’s Reader’s Choice Awards are determined by thousands of readers and online fans of Porthole Cruise Magazine who voted for their favorite cruise lines and ships in 54 cruise-related categories.

“We take expedition cruising seriously, and we mean to make it easy and fun,” said Tim Jacox, principal and executive vice president. “Custom made kayak launch platforms are one example of our approach; people feel safe and comfortable and can go kayaking without any experience. Exceptional onboard amenities such as hot tubs, included massage and yoga/stretching classes complement the outdoor activities.”

In business since 1996, the company has expanded from operating yachts in Alaska to operating a fleet of eight vessels carrying 22-88 guests. Boutique yachts, expedition vessels and small ships sail adventure and river cruises in Alaska, Hawaiian Islands, Mexico’s Sea of Cortés, coastal Washington, British Columbia and Columbia and Snake Rivers. In 2016, eight departures will be offered in the Galápagos Islands and adventure cruising begins in Costa Rica and Panama.

Adventure activities guided by expert naturalists are included on all adventure cruises and may include kayaking, snorkeling, paddle boarding, skiff excursions, whale watching, polar plunge, hiking, beachcombing and cultural encounters. Flexible itineraries allow time to seek out and view wildlife up close, explore deeper into wilderness areas and take advantage of current weather and wildlife. On river cruises, guided tours to points of historical interest are included each day along with crew in period uniform and onboard living history presentations.

See the full list of Porthole Cruise Magazine award winners online. Winners will be published in the November/December 2014 issue of the magazine. To book an Un-Cruise adventure or to request additional information, contact your travel agent or Un-Cruise Adventures at 888-862-8881 or sales(at)un-cruise(dot)com.

Friday, 31 October 2014

New owners, new ships for Hurtigruten


Hurtigruten expediton vessel, Fram
A group of British investors is poised to take ownership of the historic Norwegian cruise and ferry service, according to a report in Barents Oberserver.

The paper goes on to  report that Hurtigruten announced on Wednesday it recommends a takeover bid from the London-based investment group, Silk Bidco AS.

With headquarters in Tromsø, Hurtigruten operates daily voyages along Norway’s scenic coast from Kirkenes in the northeast to Bergen in the southwest.

After the announcement of the takeover bid, Hurtigruten officials are reported to have said the company would get a better financial stand to consider construction of new vessels, including ships for expedition cruising.

A new destination for expedition cruising in Russia’s White Sea region with the Solovetsky archipelago, often entitled the secret pearl of the Barents Region.

“We have agreed on starting developing the cruise itinerary from Tromsø via Kirkenes, Murmansk, Solovetsky Archipelago to Arkhangelsk,” says Olga Gorelova to BarentsObserver.

Gorelova is Deputy Head of the Agency for Tourism and International Cooperation of the Arkhangelsk Region.

The itinerary was discussed at a meeting between Russian and Norwegian tourism representatives in Arkhangelsk in October.

If successful, it is proposed that the the expedition vessel, Fram, begin cruises in 2017.