Tuesday, 30 April 2013

G Adventures West Africa. Day 23 and 24: The Gambia

entrance to the historic Albert Market in Banjul
Zodiac convoy along the Gambia River,
UNESCO-listed James Island showing ruins of the slave-era fort

Day 23 and 24: The Gambia

A curious political kerfuffle thwarted our landing in Guinea Bissau.
Something to do with the US DEA capture of a renegade military officer for
drug offences and the presence of fifty-odd American citizens aboard being
sufficient motivation for the authorities to deny us entry into their
territorial waters. This bypass however allowed us to recover some of the
lost time accumulated due to unfavourable winds and currents off the coast
of Liberia and Ivory Coast. So be it.

Our morning arrival at the wharf in Banjul saw another local dance and
musical troupe turn out for us with a short but energetic performance before
we boarded buses for the now ritual tour of the city and its sights. Our
most northerly landing to date reminded us that the vast deserts to the east
were not far away. Rains are not due until June or maybe July, so the wide,
tree-lined but dusty streets bore resemblance to the southern ports we
encountered in Namibia and Angola. Mercifully the roads were sealed and
better maintained although the heat began to take a toll as the day
progressed.

A bird and mammal spotting stroll through the Abuko Nature Reserve on the
edge of town turned into a long wait as our local guide lost us and departed
for the next venue without us. Reunited, we continued to more gardens,
Makasutu for lunch and a tie dye factory for the obligatory shopping fix.
Not much for such contrived creations, however one could help not but be
impressed by some of the eye-catching designs on display – evidenced by the
many extra shopping bags boarding the buses in that dusty side-street. Those
not exhausted by the cultural, natural and retail events were set loose in
the Royal Albert Market. Running on something of a Sunday skeleton staff, those
vendors who opened their stalls nonetheless pursued us with all the vigour
of a full-fledged market day.

Back aboard, the charity auctions and raffle raised $5000 for the Planeterra
fund for Sierra Leone baby packs before a hard core contingent set out for a
some night life in downtown Banjul.

The following morning comprised Zodiac excursions along The Gambia River and
a visit to the UNESCO-listed James Island, known colloquially as Kunta
Kinteh Island. The fort, now in ruins, was the scene of numerous occupations
during its 200 year history with the last occupiers abandoning the tiny, but
vastly strategic site in 1870.



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Monday, 29 April 2013

Hurtigruten Sensational Norway Summer Solstice Fares Offer EXTENDED until 31 May 2013

Discover the World Cruising have extended their Hurtigruten Sensational Norway Summer Solstice Fares for new bookings made and deposited by 31 May, 2013!

To celebrate Norway's endless summer, Discover the World Cruising is offering special Summer Solstice

Fares on selected Hurtigruten cruise dates from 01 May to 31 July 2013 on the following itineraries:
  • 12 Day Classic Round Voyage – Bergen Round Trip
  • 11 Day Classic Norwegian Discovery Voyage – Bergen - Trondheim
  • 7 Day Classic Voyage North – Bergen - Kirkenes
  • 6 Day Classic Voyage South – Kirkenes - Bergen
Prices start from only $1,376 per person based on 6 Day Classic Voyage South, so hurry, book by 31 May 2013 to take advantage of these fantastic savings!

PLUS, book any Classic Norway Voyage departing between 01 April & 30 September 2013 and receive a special 120th Anniversary Shipboard Credit of GBP120 per cabin.

Australia Leads the World as Cruise Passenger Numbers Surge to New High

A new report has confirmed that Australia's cruise industry growth continues to lead the world, with passenger numbers surging 11 per cent last year to hit a record high of 694,062.


For the second consecutive year, the growth of the Australian cruise passenger market has surpassed other major cruise markets, with last year's 11 per cent increase equalled only by Germany. By comparison, North American passenger numbers grew by 2 per cent in 2012 and the UK remained steady.


The 2012 Australian Cruise Industry Report also shows that the local industry now has the second highest population penetration rate in the world, with the equivalent of 3 per cent of Australians taking a cruise last year. Only the long-established North American cruise market had a higher penetration rate at 3.3 per cent.


Releasing the report in Sydney today, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Australasia's Chairman Gavin Smith said 2012 was the eighth consecutive year of double digit growth for cruise passenger numbers, underlining Australians' increasing enthusiasm for cruising.


"In only four years, the number of Australians taking a cruise holiday has more than doubled from 330,290 in 2008 to almost 700,000, while over the past decade we've seen an average annual growth rate of 20 per cent - a remarkable result for any industry," Mr Smith said.


"Clearly Australians are responding to the growing number of cruise holidays on offer from Australian ports, as well as our strong dollar, which is encouraging more people to cruise overseas.

"There's also an increasing awareness among Australian holidaymakers about the tremendous value of cruising and the wide range of cruise holidays available, from relaxing river cruises to fun family breaks and adventurous expedition voyages."


Mr Smith said while the outlook for the cruise industry remained buoyant, a focus on appropriate port infrastructure and supportive government policies would be crucial to the continued growth of Australian passenger numbers.


The 2012 report includes its first breakdown of cruise passenger age, which reveals almost half of Australian cruise passengers in 2012 were under the age of 50, while a quarter were aged under 40 and one-third were over 61 years.


The report also found 43 per cent of cruise passengers came from New South Wales in 2012, while Queensland accounted for 22 per cent, Victoria 16 per cent and Western Australia 9 per cent. On a per capita basis, the Australian Capital Territory had the highest population penetration rate with 5.5 per cent of residents cruising, while NSW followed with 4.1 per cent and Queensland with 3.3 per cent.


Meanwhile, a new insight into the passenger mix onboard roundtrip cruises from Australia as well as transTasman and transPacific cruises shows Australians accounted for 84 per cent of passengers on those voyages, with international travellers representing 16 per cent, or close to 100,000 passengers.


Other key findings of the CLIA Australasia 2012 Australian Cruise Industry Report include:

• The most popular destination for Australian passengers was the South Pacific which accounted for 36.4 per cent of the market in 2012 (252,555 passengers)

• Europe is now the biggest fly-cruise market for Australians with passenger numbers rising 26 per cent to 57,719 (8.3 per cent of the market)

• River cruising numbers continue to expand with 12 per cent more passengers (39,275) opting for this niche holiday experience

• The Caribbean achieved the highest growth rate with a 36 per cent rise to 17,316 Australian passengers

• Collectively, US destinations including Alaska and the Caribbean account for 8.3 per cent of the market (57,396 passengers)

• Shorter cruises of 1-4 days experienced the greatest growth in 2012 rising 38 per cent, with 76,719 Australians opting for a short break cruise.


The Australian Cruise Industry Report looks at key trends drawn from data supplied by CLIA member cruise lines carrying Australian passengers around the world.


Formerly the International Cruise Council Australasia, CLIA Australasia is one of 11 regional cruise associations which joined together in December 2012 to form a common global cruise organisation under the CLIA banner. CLIA associations around the world are committed to industry training, raising consumer awareness of cruising and assisting with regional advocacy issues.

Sailing the Seychelles Seas


The Seychelles Archipelago remains one of the world's most prestigious holiday destinations with unparalleled natural splendor, convenience, accessibility and an exclusive vacation experience for any discerning travelers fortunate enough to find themselves in this paradise of a place.

Lush tropical forests give way to magnificent ocean vistas whilst powder white sand is lapped by the crystalline and tranquil waters of the Indian Ocean. An array of tropical fish and marine animals abound on its shallow coral gardens, whilst big game fish swarm in its deep, offshore waters.
Seychelles Yacht
Charter

A vestige of untouched natural beauty: an oasis of wonder far from the maddening chaos of the modern world, Seychelles's 115 islands and its inviting waters are just begging to be explored. And the best way to do this, of course, is aboard your own private charter boat. Sailing around the 115 islands that make this archipelago often brings the saying that these islands were conceived with sailors in mind as they remain the ideal sailing destination.

Seychelles Yacht Charter (SYC) has been operating in the Seychelles since 2011 and has established itself as one of the industry leaders. From bareboat to luxury full service, the company's fleet is at your disposal and the team is on hand to assist you from first contact through completion of an unforgettable vacation experience. From tranquil island cruising, magical beach and forest excursions to memorable diving encounters the SYC will let you in on some of the Seychelles' best kept secrets. If fishing is your game, SYC's expertise and experience are there to ensure you land the big one.

The diversity of the Seychelles is today renowned as the group of islands offering two holidays in one. They have both granitic islands with their high mountains and they also have coral islands that are flat and surrounded with some of the most amazing marine life.

The Seychelles Yacht Charter recently announced the international launch of its fleet and are inviting business partners, travel specialists and travel agents to come and discover for themselves the magic that is the Seychelles Yacht Charter experience. Visit www.seychellesyachtcharter.com to view their products and package or contact them directly at sales@syc.sc.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Pirates vs Tourists vs Economists

 local skiff comes under scrutiny
With our three-man security detachment ashore in Sierra Leone, it can now
safely be assumed our highest risk of pirate attack is behind us. Even then,
that risk was only ever assessed as slight despite the knowledge that pirate
attacks were taking place against vessels near the Niger Delta at the very
time we were sailing through.

Talking confidentially to the ex-British Armed Forces men from a high
profile security firm I have agreed not to name, they never conveyed the
sense of real or imminent danger. That said, like any security precaution,
it is wise never to take matters for granted and clearly the ship owner's
risk assessors coupled with the advice of their insurers meant that it was
decreed we would be prepared to meet any threat regardless.

From the data available, it is clear that attacks are currently aimed at
unprotected vessels, mainly tankers while at their most vulnerable, namely
at anchor. Firsthand accounts were available too. One of our Filipino crew
members has been aboard a vessel subject to pirate attack in these waters –
twice.

While no attacks or attempted attacks have been mounted against passenger
vessels, that is not to say such a modification in pirate tactics may not
occur at some stage. The greatest defense any vessel can mount is a display
of preparedness. Sea pirates, like most common bandits, are looking for easy
pickings against vulnerable targets. With our coils of razor wire at the
only point of possible entry, fixed fire hoses and men with visible weapons
ready for action, the level of difficulty is more than sufficient to deter
the majority of opportunistic raiders.

While the causes and motivation for piracy can be discussed at length, there
is one catalyst that can not be ignored. Here in West Africa the vigorous
exploitation of oil, unchecked deforestation and depletion of fish stocks by
foreign trawlers is impacting on the centuries-old subsistence lifestyles of
the local people. Their resentment coupled with loss of food and already
meagre income will turn some to wage a quasi-war against those they see as
interlopers – an example already very clear in Nigeria.

guest enjoys interaction with local village children in Togo
While tourism may not create the lure of fantastic wealth like mineral
resources, it can nevertheless play a part in delivering funds directly into
the hands of those who need it most and may otherwise be missing out, namely
at the village level. On this G Adventures expedition, there have been
numerous examples of how our visits have directly benefited local
communities and how the development of responsible and sustainable tourism
practices can go some way to alleviating the sense of loss and isolation
traditional social systems may feel in a rapidly globalised world
threatening to pass them by. The most memorable example, in my mind, being
the very personal interaction we had with the villagers and paramount chief
at Akato Viepe in rural Togo.

"Apart from the obvious revenue benefits, such displays maintain the
viability of local culture, providing an incentive for both its remaining
alive and vibrant, but also a framework for it to continue evolving, bearing
in mind that culture is fundamentally organic," says Peter Baxter, an
African eco-tourism expert along as part of the expedition team. "A lack of
formats such as this for cultural display will obviously result in many
cultures stagnating and ultimately disappearing under the weight of modern
influences."

Let's hope the relatively recent interest in West Africa as a cruise tourism
destination draws attention to the plight of the ordinary people and their
struggle for a fair go.



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Saturday, 27 April 2013

G Adventures West Africa. Day 20 and 21: Sierra Leone

Freetown's closely-packed waterfront almost topples into the harbour,
well-behaved chimps enjoy amorning snack of mangoes
Day 20 and 21: Sierra Leone

For anyone who's seen the film 'Blood Diamonds' it's hard to imagine
anything beyond the brutal anarchy of Sierra Leone depicted in that film set
during the civil war which finally concluded in 2002. Now, according to
those who know such things, Sierra Leone is one of the safer countries to
visit in West Africa.

Our schedule had been muddled somewhat by a delayed arrival into the
capital, Freetown, due to unfavourable currents and winds off the coast of
Liberia and Ivory Coast. The country's First Lady, Mrs Sia Nyama Koroma, was
there to greet the ship when it eventually tied up mid-afternoon at the
wharf in Freetown. She came aboard to address guests on the issue of her
program to kerb infant and maternal mortality in Sierra Leone. G Adventures,
through their Planeterra Foundation, are backing her initiative and raising
money for 'baby packs' for new mothers. Entertainment from the national
dance troupe followed.

Still wanting to make some use of our abbreviated time, our convoy of
minibuses set out on an evening crawl through the claustrophobic streets to
the national stadium where are a trade fair was in full swing. Arriving well
after dark, a street party more than any commercial event was in full swing.
Beers were flowing, music blaring and locals parading in their festive best
made for surreal scene against a backdrop of businesses touting everything
from traditional medicines, financial services, family planning and plastic
buckets.

One of the overwhelming first impressions of this frenetic port city
perched, ledge-like on the sliver of flat land along the shore of the
natural deep water harbour, is the impossibly narrow streets. This is
especially evident leading away from the port where massive trucks attempt
to haul shipping containers through alley-sized lanes. Needless to say our
transport came to a standstill several times in the crowded thoroughfares in
a fashion that would have close personal protection agents in apoplexy.

The next morning the scene was repeated as we split into two groups, one
staying for a town tour, the other with myself aboard, heading into the
nearby hills to visit the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary [www.tacugama.com].
After a laborious drive several hundred metres in elevation passing through
distressing examples of clear-felling for urban development, we arrived at
the complex, hidden inside an increasingly isolated pocket of forest.

Described euphemistically by our naturalist Steve Boyes as a 'chimp refugee
camp', over 100 animals are housed mainly in open range compounds with
others in temporary quarantine. While the goal is to release these animals
back to the wild, the issue of how they got there in the first place
remains. Most are confiscated as illegal pets or from wildlife smugglers,
while others are orphaned by bush meat hunters and loggers. Sending
rehabilitated animals back to this perilous environment seems ridiculous and
it is clear some of the more adversely effected apes will live out their
days at Tacugama. While no contact with the apes was permitted, we could see
them being fed such food as mangoes by keepers who would drop the fruit into
the outstretched, imploring hands of the group. One troupe seemed
particularly mischievous, chasing each other around, wrestling and throwing
pebbles at us, an action that had our guide urging us behind a protective
net. The other, being fed the mangoes, sat in an orderly ensemble leaving
their colleagues to enjoy their fruit in peace. Perhaps the presence of two
nursing mothers added a degree of tranquility and discipline clearly missing
from the neighbouring pack of rock tossing hooligans.

Predictably, our return journey elbowed and squeezed through the same
streets to the port, all the while we were able to exchange curious, arms'
length gazes with locals who mixed with the trestle table hawkers lining the
labyrinthine maze of Freetown's streets.

++ more images at www.flickr.com/photos/rodeime ++



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Friday, 26 April 2013

Windstar Introduces Star Pride

Travel the World are pleased to announce the name of the first of the three new Windstar, all-suite, power yachts: Star PrideStar Pride, (formerlySeabourn Pride) which will launch May 2014 spending her first season in Europe.

Exciting new Windstar voyages will go on sale Tuesday, May 14, 2013. The names of the additional two yachts (formerly Seabourn Legend and Seabourn Spirit) will be announced in the coming weeks.

For bookings contact Travel the World on 1300 950 622 or visit www.traveltheworld.com.au


SEAB_Pride_2


Thursday, 25 April 2013

G Adventures West Africa. Day 16 and 17: Ghana

pics: fish market on the shore in front of Cape Coast Castle, inside the
courtyard of Cape Coast Castle

Day 16 and 17: Ghana

Two ports in Ghana gave us valuable additional insight into one of the most
rapidly developing countries in the West African region. Like so many
relatively new nations along the former, so-called 'slave coast',
independence brought many new challenges. Unlike its Francophone neighbours,
English-speaking Ghana was a little easier to travel in and deal with the
rigours of market negotiations.

Our first stop at Port Tema, which is the access point to the capital,
Accra, was a lower key affair with simple visits to a glass bead factory and
the Shai Hills Wildlife reserve where our late morning arrival meant we
wouldn't see many of the animals out and about. Semi-tame baboons and
ostriches greeted us at the gate before we drove through the park and
managed sightings of antelope and not much else. Our first day culminated in
a stop at a novelty coffin workshop where Ghanaians seem to have embraced
the fad of themed caskets for their final departure. Wooden cars, oversized
bottles, tools, fish and even a film projector were under construction
awaiting their clients' final request.

The Accra craft and handicraft market sharpened negotiation skills as
enthusiastic hawkers descended on us like locusts with all manner of wares
and products. David Conrad demonstrated his years of skill and ethnographic
knowledge and emerged from the hurly-burly cradling a magnificent
century-old Benin bronze figurine acquired for a fraction of any Southeby
valuation. The rest of us made do with shirts, postcards and run-of-the-mill
wood carvings. Steve Boyes, our naturalist, sadly reported the discovery of
many illegal wildlife products like hyena hide belts and even a full jaguar
skin.

Day two exposed us to the sad history of slavery and colonial servitude in
the region of the vast Takoradi port. Here two massive, UNESCO World
Heritage-listed castles serve as a tragic reminder to the era when huge
numbers of slaves were shipped out to their final destinations. Many guests
emerged from the pitch black underground dungeons visibly moved, some even
reporting an eerie presence and faint supernatural mutterings in the empty
subterranean chambers.

While some of our party chose to venture out to Kakum National Park for the
famous forest canopy walk, I chose to hang back for a more in-depth look at
these solemn monuments.

The Cape Coast Castle and Elmina Castle are both surrounded by bustling
fishing villages, especially the latter where fleets of little vessels
venture out through the surf to fish. The vivid spectacle of traditional
wooden boats with colourful banners, surrounded by throngs of eager mongers
created a scene much like a medieval market or fête. Against the ominous
backdrop of the castles, the only modern giveaway was fishermen wearing
modern soccer jerseys and fluro flip-flops. Centuries ago, it would have
been a similar scenario, except that lines of forlorn and manacled Negroes
would be seen shuffling onto those same boats for transport to
God-only-knows-where.

For more detail on this itinerary, see www.gadventures.com > West Africa
More images at www.flickr.com/photos/rodeime



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G Adventures West Africa. Day 15: Togo

pics: drummer greets our ship in Lome, the king and queen, village girl at
Akako Viepe, shriveled baboon heads at the fetish market

Day 15: Togo

The prospect of visiting Togo always held some trepidation if for the only
reason that here we were going to see a step-up in the voodoo stakes and our
tour kicked off at the deep end – the famous Akodessewa fetish (voodoo)
market in Lome, our port of arrival. Part of the once notorious 'slave
coast' Togo became a model German colony until 1914, after which it
developed into a Francophone nation comprising several dominant ethnic
groups, all of whom still cling to superstition, animalism and voodoun (aka
voodoo). Not all of our contingent could stomach the display of desiccated
wildlife laid out for display. It seems an entire zoological catalogue was
laid out for us in a grisly array on makeshift trestles and on the ground of
the dusty courtyard about the size of a large basketball court.



We were immediately set upon by hucksters of all ages eager to make a meal
from the goggle-eyed tourists. The few of us buying the macabre little
trinkets snapped up tiny nail-riddled tourist dolls and talismen for all
kinds of ailments, woes and protection. A few, including myself, even
ventured to the rear stalls for the "good stuff" and readings by oracles.
With the valuable assistance of our resident ethno-historian, David Conrad,
I left with a genuine, blood-stained sacrificial item from one of the
darkened and decidedly spooky back booths. Just exactly what it does, we're
not sure yet!

The afternoon was spent at the traditional village of Akako Viepe where,
again, we were treated to raucous and vibrant song and dance. All this was
in preparation for a meeting with the paramount chief and his court of
officials – quite a novelty and an event that will last in our memories fo
some time. Entertained by the residents and bewitched by the gorgeous kids,
we were feted like a regal delegation before a presentation of school
materials was made by our team at the feet of the chief. The little
mud-brock and tin huts formed the basic dwellings of this traditional
community who showed us such warmth and welcome. Song and dance continued
for an hour or more before the 'king' bade us farewell



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G Adventures West Africa. Day 14: Benin

la porte du non-retour (the gate of no return)
the departure point for local craft on Lake Nokoue
exploring the wetlands by local ferry
Day 14: Cotonou, Benin

After a quick sprint across the pirate waters of the Gulf of Guinea and into the Bight of Benin, we arrive at the port of Cotonou in Benin for the first of a series of rapid-fire excursions along what was once known as 'the slave coast'. The ports themselves are becoming somewhat monotonous, simply container handling yards with a mix of international ships awaiting their respective tasks. No oil vessels here though. This rapidly growing port rose from a small fishing village of some 70,000 people 50 years ago to the point where some estimates now tally the population at over 1 million.

Aboard our buses and out into the dusty metropolis we set out for, firstly, for a lap of the city, each thoroughfare lined by the seemingly endless rows of pop-up stalls and shanty shops plying everything from laundry powder to motorcycle tyres. En route to our first stop, the sacred forest of Kpasse in Ouidah, our police-escorted transport is waylaid by roadworks, but the gods are smiling and we're soon on our way.



The sacred forest may be a bit of a tourist stop, but it introduces us to some of the ways of voodoo and the significance of the various idols and icons. We're met, predictably, by vigorous song and dance before the witch doctor and his entourage meet us and bless our onward voyage. Playfully, I'm encouraged to touch the doctor's tree and make a wish, but as soon as my palm caresses the century-old bark, my hand is momentarily frozen to the trunk - almost as if the tree is saying "hang on, I'm not finished". The brief experience leaves me with a lingering tingle which I try, unsuccessfully, to dismiss as nothing. "You're looking a little pale," remarked a fellow passenger.

Next, the temple of snakes, a powerful and persistent figure that manifests itself in many West African belief systems. We drape ourselves in pythons before posing at the sombre Gate of No Return, a tragic jumping off point for many thousands of slaves on their way to only God-knows-where.



After a seaside lunch, it's to the famous floating village of Ganvie which houses some 20,000 residents on stilt homes above the wetlands of Lake Nokoue. The people live from agriculture and fishing in a scene not too dissimilar from those of Borneo or the Mekong Delta. Clearly nonplussed by the stream of camera-toting tourists, they shield their faces and flick water at us when lenses are pointed their way.

On the return trip we note with some curiosity the abundance of motorcycle taxis and their yellow-shirted riders known as Zemidjans, meaning 'take me quick'.

++ more images at www.flickr.com/photos/rodeime ++


Wednesday, 24 April 2013

American Cruise Lines Debuts Puget Sound Cruise on April 27

American Cruise Lines (www.americancruiselines.com), the largest U.S. cruise company, introduces Puget Sound and San Juan Islands itinerary to the American Spirit's 2013 schedule with a debut journey sailing on April 27.


This new voyage is a one-of-a-kind experience that provides a glimpse into the pristine environment and captivating scenery only found in the Pacific Northwest. This is the company's newest addition to a growing portfolio of cruises in the Pacific Northwest which includes Alaska and Columbia & Snake River itineraries.


AMERICAN CRUISE LINES AMERICAN SPIRIT

The eight-day roundtrip voyage from Seattle explores the hundreds of islands, many of which are uninhabited, nestled betweenCanada's Vancouver Island and the U.S. mainland. While aboard, guests enjoy elegant accommodations, personalized service, fine dining, nightly entertainment and daily lectures and seminars from local experts on the region's rich history. The Puget Sound itinerary will run from April 2013 through October 2013 and then again from March 2014 through November 2014. Rates start at $3,750 per person.


"We are excited to offer the Puget Sound cruise to our guests and to provide a unique experience in that location," said Timothy Beebe , Vice President of American Cruise Lines. "We recognize that cruisers have many options these days and we are proud they choose to sail with us and identify our brand as a leader in the cruise industry."


The Puget Sound and San Juan Islands cruise will feature a variety of excursions:

  • Victoria, Canada: This adventurous day begins with a ferry ride to Victoria, Canada from Port Angeles, WA. On a guided tour guests can visit Butchart Gardens - one of Victoria's most famous and popular attractions. After the gardens, guests can participate in a narrated tour of the city before taking the ferry back to Port Angeles.
  • Anacortes, WA: Located between Seattle and Vancouver, on beautiful Fidalgo Island, Anacortes is known as the gateway to the San Juan.  A thriving seaside town with a past that mirrors the fascinating boom and busy history and entrepreneurial spirit of the area, a walking tour is a great way to get a true feel for the town. Guests can admire the extensive, colorful murals depicting the history of the city while taking in the town center and the W.T. Preston stern wheeler.
  • Friday Harbor: Guests can visit The Whale Museum and learn about the natural history of marine mammals in the museum's Gallery of the Whales, with a special focus on orcas that live in the surrounding area.
  • Olympic National Park and Hurricane Ridge: Known as a land of beauty and variety, guests can explore the home of some of the largest remnants of ancient forests left in this country while at Olympic National Park. While at Olympic National Park, guests can marvel at the spectacular view at Hurricane Ridge.
  • Port Townsend, WA: Guests can experience the 19th century Victorian buildings, historic charm and striking natural setting in Port Townsend by taking part in a guided walking tour through the town.

The American Spirit carries 100 guests in 200 square foot staterooms, which feature large opening picture windows and hotel-style bathrooms, various unique panoramic lounges and amenities including an exercise area and putting green.

Bigger, better, best - Royal Caribbean wraps up monumental season

This evening, Rhapsody of the Seas departs Sydney for the last time this season, marking the official end to Australia's summer cruise season and wrapping up a season full of superlatives for Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises – bigger, grander, more beautiful and more popular than ever before.


Australians enjoyed the biggest and most innovative ships ever to be homeported here with features never before seen in the region – like ice skating on Voyager of the Seas – as well as a real life lawn on Celebrity Solstice, the newest and most stylish superliner based down under.


In all, the cruise company had five ships from two cruise lines in Australia for the summer, carrying 170,000 guests – nearly twice as many as the previous season.  With three ships sailing in the region, Royal Caribbean International became the largest cruise line in Sydney while sister brand Celebrity Cruises had two ships here for the first time. 


"Just three years ago we had one ship offering 15 sailings from Sydney; today we have a fleet of five world class superliners and almost 70 cruises on offer," said Adam Armstrong, commercial director, Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited Australia.  "This season we also introduced the two largest and newest superliners ever based in Australia.  The arrival of Voyager of the Seas and Celebrity Solstice made headlines across the country and redefined Australian cruising forever."


Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the SeasRadiance of the Seas and Rhapsody of the Seas, and Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Solstice and Celebrity Millennium sailed a total of 67 cruises and visited 54 ports in 14 countries. Compared to the previous season, the number of cruise nights doubled while the total number of cruises sailed increased by 50 per cent.


During the season, the three Royal Caribbean ships sailed 53 cruises and called on 49 ports in 14 countries, including new ports calls to Singapore,Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and Picton, New Zealand. Celebrity Cruises' 2012-13 Australian season featured 14 cruises calling on 35 ports in nine countries. This included first visits for the cruise line to Port Douglas, Port Hedland, Noumea, Singapore and Bali.


Guest Nationality

Australians and New Zealanders made up three quarters of all guests sailing on the two cruise lines over summer.  Overseas guests came from 116 countries – including some unexpected nations like Botswana, Uzbekistan and Guatemala – with a large 176% growth in guests from China.  Overseas guests were particularly drawn to Celebrity Solstice, accounting for some 55% of guests.  "This is one of the unique selling points of our ships in this region; we offer a very international cruise experience in which Aussies and Kiwis will holiday alongside a diverse mix of interesting nationalities," said Armstrong.  "It creates a fantastic, cosmopolitan atmosphere onboard."


Popular Cruises

South Pacific itineraries proved the most popular on Royal Caribbean ships, while New Zealand itineraries were the hot favourites on Celebrity Solstice.  "Demand was very strong for Fiji and New Year cruises, as well as Voyager of the Seas' repositioning cruise from Asia to Perth, which attracted a large number of newcomers to Royal Caribbean from WA.  Several Voyager of the Seas sailings were over 90 per cent filled six months prior to departure – demonstrating strong demand for the maiden season of Australia's first megaliner," said Armstrong.


The 2013-14 Season

Royal Caribbean will be back for another big summer this October, with Rhapsody of the Seas the first ship off the mark, arriving in Sydney on 5 October 2013, followed closely by Radiance of the Seas on 11 October and Voyager of the Seas on 7 November. Celebrity Solstice arrives in Sydney on 23 October and Celebrity Millennium calls in for a brief visit on her way from Alaska to Asia.


According to Armstrong, "Booking momentum is solid for both cruise lines – and prices are increasing –although it's not too late to book for next summer, with cruises available from under $1,000 per person for seven nights."


A seven-night Tasmanian cruise on Radiance of the Seas departing 27 January 2014 starts from just $899 per person, while a pre-Christmas seven-night cruise on Rhapsody of the Seas departing 12 December to Tasmania starts from $999 per person.  If you want to experience the many attractions on Australia's largest cruise ship, Voyager of the Seas, 11 nights on a New Zealand cruise departing 24 January 2014 will give you plenty of time to explore – and fares start from just $1,399 per person.  If modern luxury is more your style, then try the 12-night New Zealand cruise on Celebrity Solstice departing from Sydney on 28 November 2013 and sailing to Auckland, with fares from $1,309 per person.

Zegrahm Expeditions Launches 2014 Small-Ship Cruise Line-Up



Expedition Schedule Features New Trips and Past Guest Favorites to All Seven Continents

Zegrahm Expeditions, the world leader in small-ship cruising and overland adventures, is pleased to announce their 2014 ship-based expedition schedule. The line-up of adventure cruises features 14 extraordinary voyages that reach all seven continents aboard the Sea Adventurer, Isabela II, Island Sky, and Caledonian Sky. Accommodating between 40-100 guests, the vessels are staffed by an exceptional expedition team of scientists, naturalists, and historians.  
 
“From Antarctica to the Black Sea and Madagascar to the Galapagos, we are offering travel to some of the world’s most remote and exotic places in 2014,” stated Edwin Blythe, Zegrahm’s President. “Not only are we introducing new itineraries and bringing back a few past favorites, but with more voyages aboard the Island Sky and Caledonian Sky, we can simultaneously be exploring several different regions of the world and capitalize on the best time of year to be there.” 
 
Highlights of Zegrahm’s 2014 season include:
  • Circumnavigation of New Guinea: This two-part voyage received great reviews in 2009 and Zegrahm is excited to include it on their line-up once again. Travelers can explore the underwater wonders of the region’s vibrant coral reefs and visit remote villages in the Trobriands, Rabaul, and the Asmat. Voyage I sails March 8 - 23, 2014 and Voyage II follows March 19 – April 5, 2014
  • Mysteries of the Far North: Russia’s White Sea: This new itinerary exposes travelers to an area long closed to Western travelers. Taking place July 20 – August 6, 2014, the itinerary features sublime beauty, magnificent architecture, and fascinating history.
  • Pearls of PolynesiaFiji to Tahiti: In 2014, this always-popular itinerary is featuring an exciting new “voluntourism” opportunity that allows travelers to contribute to ecological preservation efforts on Suwarrow Atoll in the Cook Islands. In addition, the 17-day adventure, September 15 – October 1, 2014, offers a great mix of culture and natural history from searching for rare endemic species to learning about traditional island life.
  • Ultimate Aldabra: A Journey through the Seychelles: For the first time, Zegrahm is offering seven full days exploring the island group, which is a world heritage site and has remained largely untouched by humans due to its remoteness. The expedition sets sail November 16 – December 2, 2014.  
For more information about Zegrahm or to make a reservation on an upcoming expedition, please visit www.zegrahm.com or call 1-800-628-8747.

Seattle-based Zegrahm Expeditions Inc., founded in 1990, is a leading adventure travel company specializing in small-ship expedition cruises, tours, and safaris to remote and intriguing destinations around the world. Led by expert guides and lecturers, Zegrahm itineraries are carefully crafted and all-inclusive, feature deluxe accommodations, and operate in all seven continents.




Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Into Africa: Shore excursions on the dark continent

Scenes from Togo
Young woman in Togo (R Eime)
from Cruise Weekly
23 April 2013

As we begin the second leg of the inaugural G Adventures West Africa itinerary aboard MS Expedition, we have already ticked off South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Congo, Sao Tome & Principe, Benin, Togo and Ghana. It's a chance to reflect on some of the favourite shore excursions enjoyed so far. From my own impressions and a most unscientific straw poll of passengers, here are the favourites (in no particular order):

Angola: The instant charm of the people and a quaint train ride in historic carriages along seaside from the port of Lobito to the town of Benguela was great kick-off for what was to follow. Professional ground operation from www.ecu-tur.com enhanced the whole experience.

Sao Tome & Principe: Again, a former Portuguese colony and former slave port, opened their arms to us with this tiny coffee and cocoa producing nation delivering a full and enriching day of cultural and historical insight. Decidedly Caribbean in feel, the people smiled broadly as they sang and danced for us. The doe-eyed and cheery children just melted passengers hearts. On nearby Principe we luxuriated at Mark Shuttleworth's Bom Bom Island Resort where I encouraged our Zodiac driver to drop me at the beach to explore some ruins which turned out to be an overgrown 15th century Portuguese church.

Togo: In the true West Africa of legend and fable, Togo is a nation with a balanced and confident persona. Part of the once notorious 'slave coast' it became a model German colony until 1914, after which Togo developed into a Francophone nation comprising several dominant ethnic groups, all of whom still cling to superstition, animalism and voodoun (aka voodoo). The famous Akodessewa fetish market in Lomé was always going to be a highlight and did not disappoint. Chock full of desiccated animals of all sorts and thronging with hucksters eager to make a meal from the goggle-eyed tourists, we snapped up little nail-riddled tourist dolls and talismen for all kinds of ailments, woes and protection. Some of us ventured to the rear stalls for the “good stuff” and readings by oracles. With the valuable assistance of ethno-historian David Conrad, I left with a genuine, blood-stained sacrificial item from one of the darkened and decidedly spooky back booths. Just exactly what it does, we're not sure yet! The afternoon was a village visit with a twist. We were presented to the local 'king' and feted with more robust song and dance. Here the (post-menopausal) 'power women' attend to the serious affairs of the village and they preside over proceedings from a position of undeniable authority.

Ghana: While in itself Ghana may not have offered the most startling assortment of attractions on first impression, who could not be impressed with the quirky concept of fantasy coffins, where you can have made a casket to represent your wildest desire, be it a beer bottle, bible, boat or movie projector. True. The wild hurly-burly of the craft markets kept most to a few hard-fought trinkets, but David excelled again and returned with an exquisite 19th century Benin bronze figurine easily worth four-figures which he acquired for a song.

We continue on to Sierra Leone and Senegal before wrapping up this time next week.

For more information on this itinerary, see www.gadventures.com > West Africa


Popular Lau Cruise gets Second Departure


Captain Cook Cruises, Fiji has released a second departure date for is its 11 night Lau cruise after the first departure scheduled for October 22, 2013, immediately sold out. The second departure is scheduled for 22 April, 2014.

The Lau cruise, which visits the Northern region of the Lau Islands, visits a part of Fiji never seen by tourists before.

Captain Cook Cruises, Fiji
"We are so happy that we can offer a second Lau cruise, due to the first cruise being so popular and filling so quickly. This is a really unique cruise and we have worked so hard, using local knowledge and advice, to put together a fantastic 11 night itinerary that will allow passengers to experience a remote and unspoilt part of Fiji." Says Jackie Charlton, Managing Director of Captain Cook Cruises, Fiji.

Invited to visit these incredible islands by locals eager to share their beauty, the 11 night Lau cruise will visit the untouched northern island of Lau - Wailagilala, Lau's largest Island - Vanuabalavu, the most beautiful Island in the Lau group - Fulaga, the uninhabited Vuaqava, Kabara - known for its wood turning and Tongan heritage and the untouched white beaches of Totoya Island.

On the way to and from the Lau group the cruise will stop in at Yanuca Island, Savusavu Bay and Kadavu, famous for its wildlife and underwater world.

Passengers can also sit back, relax and enjoy the spectacular views as they cruise through the Bay of Islands, renowned for its beauty, pristine waters and spectacular scenery and the central Lau Group, passing Islands such as Lakeba, Oneata, Komo, Namuka-i-Lau and Yagasa.

Exciting activities over these 12 days include Kayaking or river tubing on the Nasakawa River, mountain bike riding through hills, valleys and villages in Savusavu Bay, visiting a crater of an extinct volcano at Cobia, fishing at Wailagilala, visiting Fijian and Tongan influenced villages and schools, attending a local church service, exploring the flora and fauna of the Vuaqava region, a traditional Meke, Sevusevu and lovo feast and endless swimming, snorkelling and diving in the clear blue ocean water off picturesque islands and in beautiful lagoons.

If a day trip isn't for you, passengers can also stay on-board and be pampered at the ships Senikai Day Spa offering a range of body treatments, work out in the ship's mini gym or simply relax on the sun deck by the spa or pool or grab a cocktail at the pool bar.

Dining is another vital ingredient of these amazing cruises. Whether it is an alfresco luncheon, a casual barbecue or table d'hote dinner, all food is prepared on board from fresh local and imported produce and cultural on-board entertainment adds a special flavour to the mix.

The Discovery Lau cruise departs Tuesday 22 April 2014 at 1.00pm from Port Denarau and disembarks on Saturday 2 May, 2013 at 9.00am at Port Denarau.

The 11 night cruise is priced from $3430 per adult twin share and includes accommodation, all meals, daily stopovers and water activities, guided village, school and island tours, glass bottom boat excursions, Marine Biologist and cultural talks, on-board entertainment and use of the ship's facilities including swimming pool, spas, pool bar, sun deck, sauna, cocktail bar, day spa and library.

Save up to 35%* with Discover the World Cruising on selected 2013 Europe & Exotic Corners Voyages


Discover the World Cruising and Variety Cruises are pleased to announce their latest special saving on selected 2013 Europe & Exotic Corners voyages.

Clients can save up to 35% per person off the cruise fare on bookings made by 31 May 2013, however space is limited per cruise departure!

Mediterranean Cruising with Variety Cruises and Discover the World Cruising
Santorini
Mediterranean Cruising with Variety Cruises and Discover the World Cruising
SAVE 25% PER PERSON OFF THE CRUISE FARE ON SELECTED 2013 MEDITERRANEAN SUMMER VOYAGES *

Experience small ship, intimate yacht style cruising aboard Variety Cruises, by booking the following selected Mediterranean 2013 summertime cruises by 31 May 2013 and save 25% off the cruise fare! Single travellers are also rewarded with a reduced single supplement of only 25%*:

 2013 Classical Greece - Fares from $1,940^, per person/twin share (including 25% savings) 
Departing May 10, 17 & Aug 16, 23

 2013 Jewels of the Cyclades - Fares from $1,505^ per person/twin share (including 25% savings) 
Departing May 10, 17, 24; Jun 28; Jul 12, 19, 26; Aug 09, 16 & Oct 11, 18

 2013 Adriatic Odyssey - Fares from $1,515^ per person/twin share (including 25% savings) Departing Dubrovnik Jun 26; Jul 03; 31 Aug 14 & Sep 18 Departing Corfu Jun 23, 30; Jul 07, 21; & Aug 04, 11 

 2013 Dodecanese Mosaic - Fares from $1,575^ per person/twin share (including 25% savings) Departing Crete Jun 01, 08; Jul 06, 13, 20 & Aug 03, 24, 31 Departing Rhodes May 14, 28; Jun 04; Jul 23 & Aug 27 

 2013 Treasures of South Italy & Malta - Fares from $2,435^ per person/twin share (including 25% savings)
Departing June 19, 23 & Oct 13, 20

 2013 Romantic Rivieras - Fares from $2,435^ per person/twin share (including 25% savings) Departing Jul 21 & Aug 04, 18 

SEYCHELLES WINTER ESCAPE FARES SAVE 35% ON ALL CRUISE FARES* Clients looking for the ultimate escape from the winter chill can cruise the quintessential tropical paradise of the Seychelles with Variety Cruises on any voyage departing from 18 May to 26 October 2013, and if they book before 31 May they'll save an incredible 35% on the cruise fare. Single cruisers are also rewarded with a Single Traveller Supplement of only 20%*! These savings are available on Discover the World Cruising's 8, 5 or 4 Day Seychelles - Garden of Eden itinerary - See page 27 of our 2013 Europe & Exotic Corners Brochure for itinerary details.


Cruise Fares from* (per person, twin share, including port charges and 35% saving) Cabin Type
7 night cruise
4 night cruise
3 night cruise
C – Outside Cabin
$1,766
$1,141
$905
B – Outside Cabin
$1,976
$1,275
$1,006
A – Outside Cabin
$2,271
$1,444
$1,200

*Special Saving Fares are in Australian Dollars and are valid for new bookings only, are capacity controlled, subject to availability and may be withdrawn at any time without notice. The savings are calculated on the cruise fare only, excluding port charges and taxes and are available on selected cruise itineraries. Bookings must be received and deposited by 31 May, 2013. Cruise sailing dates, shipboard cabin type and cruise fares subject to availability at time of booking. Excludes Owner's Suite on Variety Voyager cruises and group bookings. ^Cruise fares are based on category C outside cabin, including port charges and inclusive of 25% promotional saving.

National Geographic Orion 2014 Calendar of Sailings Released


Orion Expedition Cruises has released its Calendar of Sailings for 2014 when, as part of the Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic fleet, Orion will be renamed National Geographic Orion.

All new Voyages of Discovery

National Geographic Orion will venture further afield in 2014 with new itineraries that include destinations in Micronesia and the Islands of Moluccas - a heady mix of island cultures, World War II naval and military sites and brilliant snorkelling and diving. All new South Pacific island voyages include the Loyalty Islands, Fiji, Samoa, Millennium Atoll, Tahiti, Pitcairn, Easter Island, while voyages to Antarctica will for the first time focus on the Antarctic Peninsula and the wildlife sanctuaries of South Georgia and the Falkland Islands.

Popular favourite, Borneo, will again include visits to Camp Leakey for exclusive orangutan and wildlife experiences, and hallmark National Geographic Orion voyages to Australia’s Kimberley coastline remain - one with a variation that includes Rowley Shoals. Additionally, there are expeditions that include Komodo, Flores, Asmat, the Spice Islands, Torres Strait and the Great Barrier Reef.

The itineraries are a carefully constructed blend of undersea (for snorkelers and divers) and terrestrial natural history highlights, along with diverse and fascinating culture, history and anthropology.

In announcing the new itineraries, Sven Lindblad, Founder and President of Lindblad Expeditions, expanded on the new expeditions, “In March 2014 we will begin a new chapter in exploration with three remarkable inaugural voyages into unusual cultures, beautiful islands and some of the world’s finest diving and snorkelling. The National Geographic Orion will be equipped with a full roster of exploration tools, including kayaks and a state-of-the art ROV (remote operated vehicle reaching depths of up to 1,000 ft.), full snorkeling gear for all, and a SCUBA program that can accommodate up to 24 divers at a time.”

The first expedition sails from Auckland to Cairns, through Melanesia (Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea) with time on the Great Barrier Reef. The second voyage includes the Great Barrier Reef before heading up through Melanesia (Papua New Guinea) to Micronesia, visiting Chuuk Lagoon, Yap and many other spectacular islands en-route to Palau. The last week of this voyage presents some of the more spectacular undersea opportunities available on the planet. Here our newly installed onboard scuba facilities will come into their own. But there are also plenty of options for dry-landers, too. The third voyage runs from Palau down through Raja Ampat and the Spice Islands of Indonesia, ending in Darwin. Like the previous two, the undersea is a highlight, but the culture and diversity of options on land is also extraordinary. Put simply: you will see many things on any one of these voyages you cannot find elsewhere on earth; they embody the word ‘exotic’.

Following the Kimberley season, between May and August 2014, National Geographic Orion will undertake two expeditions to Borneo voyaging between Bali and Singapore, both including visits to the orangutan sanctuary Camp Leakey.

It will then take an eastward journey with four voyages starting from Bali travelling all the way across to Easter Island - from the Spice Islands and Great Barrier Reef to New Caledonia, Fiji; then up to Samoa and across to Kiribati and French Polynesia, and the fourth itinerary departs Tahiti to visit Ducie, Henderson, Pitcairn and other very hard-to-reach islands, ending in Easter Island.

National Geographic Orion then positions to Ushuaia for expeditions to the Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands.

Full details are available at www.orionexpeditions.com or a convenient 2014 Calendar of Sailings is available through Orion Expedition Cruises. This is to be followed by the release of our full 2014 brochure featuring details of all itineraries, inclusions and pricing.

Combination Savings

Following high demand in 2013 for back-to-back expeditions there are again a number of voyages created especially to appeal to those seeking longer expeditions.

Plus from the 2014 calendar Orion is doubling the back-to-back savings to 10%.

Solo Travellers

Recognising the growing solo traveller market Orion will be offering dedicated staterooms for solo travellers on each voyage with solo pricing.

Pricing for 2014 (examples)
  • All pricing per person twin share:
  • 10 night Kimberley Expedition: Cat 1/B Stateroom $7,965, through to Owners Suite/Category 6 $16,675
  • 10 night Camp Leakey: Cat 1/B Stateroom $8,420, through to Owners Suite/Category 6 $17,635
  • 16 night Mysteries of Polynesia: Cat 1/B Stateroom $17,410, through to Owners Suite/Category 6 $35,910
  • 18 night South Pacific Adventure: Cat 1/B Stateroom $18,420, through to Owners Suite/Category 6 $38,065
Further information on Orion Expedition Cruises can be obtained by visiting the website www.orionexpeditions.com

For reservations or to obtain a brochure call Orion Expedition Cruises: 61-2 9033 8777 (Sydney callers) 1300 361 012 (regional and interstate) or your travel agent. Email: info@orionexpeditions.com