Tuesday 23 February 2010

Announcing Cruise West's Galápagos in 2011

Cruise West (www.cruisewest.com), the world's leading provider of small-ship explorations to the most fascinating destinations on earth, has added three additional Galápagos Island departures in 2011 for total of five voyages.   Discover the natural paradise that inspired Darwin to rock the scientific world and discover new wonders everyday.  Take advantage of the savings -- pay in full by April 30, 2010 and save up to $600 per person.

In the company of naturalist guides, aboard the gracious 50-suite Galápagos Explorer II, sister to ship to the lines Spirit of Oceanus, guests will scout for breaching whales, pink flamingos, blue-footed boobies, giant tortoises, marine iguanas, tiny penguins and flightless cormorants, to name just a few of the many species that call the Galápagos home.  Much of this extraordinary wildlife has never developed a fear of man.  The stunning wildlife viewing combined with exploring the volcanic shores of the remote islands and relaxing at pristine beaches makes the journey remarkable.

The 9-night journey starts at Latin America's best-preserved colonial historic center, Quito, with a city tour, welcome dinner at the Theatrum Restaurant & Wine Bar in the National Theater and two included overnights at the centrally located Hilton Colon Quito. Guests continue via plane to San Cristobal Island to board the Galápagos Explorer II for the next 7-nights, where the island adventure begins.

Guests will visit all the 'hot spots' to search for the wonderful creatures that Galápagos is known including: the southernmost island Española (Hood) that offers an amazing assortment of wildlife; Santa Cruz to visit the renowned Darwin Station and Puerto Ayora, the largest town in the islands; Rabida island with its startling red sand; desolate yet breathtaking Bartolomé Island that features a tuff cone known as Pinnacle Rock; Santiago (James) Island, the only island where fur seals can be found in the Galápagos; and Fernandina Island, where marine iguanas bask on every plausible surface and penguins can be found diving into the water.

Continue onto Isabela Island with its massive volcanoes and where intrepid sea-goers can snorkel at a cave that boasts a dazzling array of marine wildlife; ending the journey back at Santa Cruz Island to search for the 40 giant tortoises that live in the highlands.

Guests have the option to add a fully guided, post-cruise 5-night Land Tour of Cusco and Machu Picchu.  Spend one night in Lima en route to Cusco for two nights to explore the lively markets and significant monuments of the Inca Fortress, Citadel of Ollantaytambo and the Pisac ruins in the Sacred Valley of the Incas.  Then it's onto a scenic train ride to Aguas Calientes, the gateway to one of the Seven New Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage site, Machu Picchu.  Guests will be welcomed to the charming Inkaterra Machu Picchu Hotel for a two-night stay.

Galápagos cruises depart March 14, 21; August 15, 22; and October 10, 2011. Prices begin at $4,999 per person, double occupancy.  Save up to $600 per person by paying in full by April 30, 2010.  For further details, visit www.CruiseWest.com, call 800-296-8307 or a travel professional.

Hurtigruten, Spitsbergen And Polar Bears - Combined For 2010


Savings of 15% on Cabins and 25% Plus Free Air on Suites Offered on 11-Day Sailing

Spitsbergen, the largest island in the Svalbard archipelago, located above the Arctic Circle, is populated with more than 4,500 polar bears, making it one of the best places in the world for sightings, albeit without guarantees. And Hurtigruten is making every effort to accommodate that opportunity for its guests by offering itineraries that explore the far flung reaches of the islands where the King of the Arctic reigns supreme: the nine-day "Svalbard Explorer," nine-day "Kingdom of the Polar Bear" and the groundbreaking 11-day climatology expedition "Climate Pilgrimage."  The departures are between May 29 and August 19, 2010, with prices ranging from $4,016 to $9,516 (CAD $4,220 - $9,340) per person, double.  Most sailings are aboard the relatively new deluxe expedition ship, MS Fram, built purposefully for the Arctic and Antarctic waters.

                Spitsbergen's stunning landscape of jagged peaks and arctic tundra and abundance of wildlife ranging from polar bears, Svalbard reindeer and arctic foxes to whales, walruses and ringed and harp seals makes for an ideal location to study climate change - the theme of a groundbreaking 11-day expedition cruise being offered May 29. And to make it even more enticing, Hurtigruten is offering a 25% discount and free air from NY for those booking suites by April 30 - other cabin grades enjoy a 15% savings offer (no air). Guests aboard the MS Fram will have the opportunity to visit research stations, track wildlife, participate in field studies and meet with some of the field's top research scientists - getting the climate story from those who are best informed. Highlights include Norway's Tromso; Honningsvag, Europe's northernmost city; a visit to the North Cape; a stop in Gjesvaerstappen, a unique birding cliff where the Norwegian Polar Institute has studied a host of seabirds; exploration of Spitsbergen; and possibly crossing the 80th parallel. The focus of the research is on the effect of climate changes on wildlife - sea birds, polar bears, auks, Arctic foxes, walruses - as well as the phenomenon called surging glaciers. Fares range from $4,823 to $9,516 before the savings. (11-day sailing is marketed in the U.S.)

                The "Svalbard Explorer" encompasses the entire west coast of Spitsbergen all the way up to the 80th Parallel. After spending a day in Longyearbyen, Svalbard's largest settlement, the MS Fram takes its guests to a variety of stunning places: beautiful fjords such as Hornsund Fjord, Magdalenefjord and Krossfjord; Bear Island with its famous cliff Stappen, home to hundreds of thousands of Brunnich's guillemots; landings on the Ahlstrands Peninsula or Calyposbyen; guided walks in Ny-Alesund, the world's northernmost settlement; and spending time at the edge of the North Pole ice edge. Prices range from $4,016 to $7, 403 (CAD $4,220 - $7,780) for the nine-day adventure.

                There are two nine-day "Kingdom of the Polar Bear" itineraries. Itinerary 1 explores the northern and eastern regions of Spitsbergen, always on the lookout for the king of the Arctic animals. Besides the day in Longyearbyen, guests take in Ny-Alesund; several fjords - Magdalenefjord, Smeerenburgfjord, Woodfjord, Wahlenbergfjord, Murchinsonfjord, Hornsund and Icefjord; Hinlopen Strait and the bird cliffs of Alkefjellet; with numerous Zodiac landings along the way. Itinerary 2 is a variation -- adding a visit to Kvitoya, where the ice cap covers 98% of this easternmost island, and where the remains of the 1897 Andree Arctic balloon expedition were found in 1930. Fares range from $5,403 to $8,887 (CAD $5,680 - $9,340).

Saving offers include a10% "Repeater" discount - for passengers who sailed on any Hurtigruten ship in the past three years; "AARP" and "AAA" members receive a $50 shipboard credit; and guests booking a voyage within five weeks of their last sailing receive a 10% "Welcome Back" discount, combinable with the 10% "Repeater" discount. 

All Spitsbergen itineraries include daily lectures from onboard naturalist guides, expedition leaders and Zodiac landings, all meals aboard and some on land, cabin category selected, shore excursions, transfers and port charges. Round-trip flights from New York via Oslo are available as are add-on airfares from dozens of other North American cities; optional excursions, gratuities, and fuel surcharges and taxes are additional. Itineraries are subject to change due to weather and ice conditions and may differ from one departure to another.

                Hurtigruten is a world leader in expedition cruising, sailing to the most remote of destinations including Antarctica, Greenland and the Arctic's Spitsbergen. Information, brochures and reservations can be obtained from Hurtigruten Inc., (800) 323-7436; fax (954) 486-9340; for brochures (800) 582-0835, 24 hours a day; www.hurtigruten.us.

Thursday 18 February 2010

Reef Endeavour hosts Fijian Prime Minister Bainimarama on Maiden Fijian Voyage

Reef Endeavour hosts Fijian Prime Minister Bainimarama On Maiden Fijian Voyage

Captain Cook Cruises MV Reef Endeavour departed on her inaugural Fiji Cruise on Saturday 6th February with special guests Fiji's Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama and his wife. The cruise celebrated the return of Fiji's largest shipping export.

At 73 metres in length and 3,000 tonnes, the MV Reef Endeavour is the largest vessel to have been built by the Fiji Government Shipyard. She was launched in 1994 and sailed to Cairns Australia to operate weekly cruises of the Great Barrier Reef.

In January Captain Cook Cruises announced MV Reef Endeavour would relocate back to Fiji to replace the 120-passenger vessel MV Reef Escape which had sustained damage during the Cyclone Mick in December 2009.

Prime Minister Bainimarama was joined on MV Reef Endeavour's inaugural Fiji cruise by other dignitaries including The Defence Minister -Honourable Ratu Inoke Kubuabola and The Commissioner for Police -Commodore Esala Taleni 

The MV Reef Endeavour has taken over the MV Reef Escape's four itineraries - the three night Southern Yasawa Islands cruise, four night Northern Yasawa Islands cruise, the seven night Yasawa Islands cruise and the seven nights Northern Fiji Dateline cruise continuing the cultural cruises that have proved so popular with passengers.

Featuring 75 staterooms and cabins the MV Reef Endeavour has the ability to nearly double the passengers Captain Cook Cruises have been carrying on their Fiji itinerary for more than 14 years.

The deployment of the Reef Endeavour to Fiji demonstrates Captain Cook Cruises commitment to the Fijian Tourism industry.

"We believe the delivery of the Reef Endeavour to Fiji demonstrates our commitment to developing Tourism in Fiji and giving tourists the best opportunity to experience the real Fiji. We are very grateful for all of the assistance that our industry partners and the Fijian Government have given us in bringing the Reef Endeavour back to her home." Said Mr Nick Hortle, CEO, Captain Cook Cruises.

For further information and bookings, please contact Captain Cook Cruises toll free from Australia on 1800 804 843; Int +61-2-9206 1111, Email: fiji@captaincook.com.au or visit www.captaincook.com.au.

Tuesday 16 February 2010

Follow Elysium's Extraordinary Explorers As They Document The Impact Of Climate Change On Antarctica

And Prepare For The 100th Anniversary Of Shackleton's 20th Century Trans-Antarctic Expedition

On 10 February 2010, a 57-member team of explorers from 18 countries will meet in Ushuaia, Argentina – the world’s southernmost city – to embark on a benchmark expedition to Antarctica. The Elysium Epic expedition has two purposes: to provide an in-depth scientific photographic survey of Antarctica’s flora and fauna and the impact of climate change on the planet’s last wilderness, and to produce a documentary commemorating the 100th anniversary of Shackleton’s Trans Antarctic challenge in 1914.

Polar dive and expedition cruise expert, Waterproof Expeditions (waterproof-expeditions.com) has organized for the team to sail onboard the modern ice-strengthened Russian research vessel, Professor Molchanov. As the experts in operating polar dive trips, Waterproof Expeditions will also manage the dive operation for the full expedition.

The 21-day voyage will follow the route Shackleton and his crew travelled after the loss of the Endurance on their epic 20th century expedition - from the Weddell Sea, across the notorious Drake Passage to Elephant Island where Shackleton’s men waited for more than four months and on to South Georgia and Grytviken, where Shackleton is buried. You can follow Elysium Epic’s progress from 10 February through to 2 March 2010 as the explorers update their blog several times daily at ElysiumEpic.org.

Project director, Michael Aw of the Ocean Geographic Society (oceangeographic.org) says, “Elysium Epic is about extraordinary explorers using advanced imaging technologies to document the last wilderness on our planet. The aim of the project is to provide a visual library that documents the flora and fauna of Antarctica, and to produce a documentary feature and a limited edition book to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the heroic legendary expedition of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Trans Antarctic challenge in 1914.”

The 21st century team is no ordinary group of explorers; they comprise some of the world’s best wildlife photographers, film-makers and marine scientists. The principal members include: BBC Wildlife photographer of the Year winners Michael Aw, Goran Ehlme, and Amos Nachoum; David Doubilet, photographer in residence of National Geographic; Titanic and deep-sea vent discoverer Emory Kristof - also a National Geographic photographer in residence; eight-time World Underwater Pictures festival Winner Leandro Blanco; and the master of black and white underwater imagery, Ernest Brooks II, acclaimed as the Ansell Adams of the Sea; UK award-winning wildlife photographer, Heather Angel; chief scientist Cabell Davis, PhD from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute; Steve Nichol, PhD of the Australian Antarctic Division and a specialist in the dynamics of Southern Ocean ecosystems; and fine-art artist Wyland, renowned as the Michelangelo of the Sea.

Jonathan Shackleton, cousin of his legendary Irish forebear is also part of the lead team and will be on site to tell the story of Ernest Shackleton – revealing how the explorer managed heroic feats in one of the most inhospitable regions of the world. Other team members comprise medical doctors, geophysicists, oceanographers, marine biologists, professional film-makers and technical diving practitioners. By any visual or scientific standard this is the ultimate dream team.

The production shoot will begin where Shackleton and his team fought to survive their unexpected situation. What will it be like 98 years later? Will there still be the expanse of ice shelf in this time of global ocean change? Or has man’s destructive hand already irreversibly changed the landscape forever?

The Antarctic Peninsula has increased in temperature by 3°C in the last 50 years; that is more than twice the world’s average and the greatest increase in temperature of any place on Earth. It makes the Peninsula an important and poignant indicator for climate change. But what implications does this rise in temperature have for the organisms that call the Antarctic home? Elysium scientists and photographers will document the present state of global warming as it affects this vulnerable and volatile region. Visual records will be taken every step of the way: photographic testimony, video documentation, samples and population estimates. In addition, a collection of photos and videos of penguins, seals and seabirds will be collated into a publicly accessible index as a reference in time for future generations.

Elysium Epic aims to be the world’s only expedition of its kind, and will be entirely carbon neutral. The project team is working with experts in climate change science to calculate the carbon footprint of the expedition and to offset by means of purchase of carbon credits or by investing in offset schemes that yield measurable results.

Follow Elysium Epic’s progress from 10 February through to 2 March 2010 as the explorers update their blog several times daily at ElysiumEpic.org. The team welcomes questions about the adventure, climate change and ecological science of the Antarctic region. They will respond live whenever they can.

About Waterproof Expeditions

The Elysium Epic expedition has been facilitated by Waterproof Expeditions. Waterproof Expeditions specializes in unique photography, diving, snorkelling and cruise experiences to some of the world’s most remote and exotic destinations. From ice-diving in Antarctica’s polar waters and underwater filming in the Canadian Arctic to cage diving with great whites in Guadalupe, swimming with sea lions and penguins in the Galapagos and snorkelling with sailfish in Mexico – Waterproof’s fascinating destinations and marine life make their trips popular for divers and non-divers alike. All Waterproof Expeditions’ departures have an expert guide ranging from renowned underwater photographers and wildlife cameramen to conservationists, explorers and naturalists. For more information please visit www.waterproof-expeditions.com

The Jayavarman - launching a new era in luxury Mekong cruising

Heralding a new era in boutique cruising on the Mekong River, The Jayavarman, the most luxurious vessel in Indochina, is now operating a full schedule of cruise itineraries between Vietnam and Cambodia following its launch last December.

Operating between its home port of My Tho, a short drive from Ho Chi Minh City, and Cambodia's Siem Reap, the jump off point for the famous Angkor Temples, those wishing to immerse themselves in the region's unique culture in the lap of luxury can now choose from a medley of distinct itineraries.

These include an eight-day program linking My Tho with Siem Reap, and vice versa.

For those who prefer a shorter voyage, options include a four-day/three-night program showcasing the Vietnamese section of the river and a five-day/four-night cruise sailing between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.

Daily shore excursions offer passengers the opportunity to engage with local communities. These include early morning visits to fishing villages and an outing to a rural school in Kampong Cham.

On board experiences range from lectures on local agriculture and culture through to a hands-on cooking demonstration of Vietnamese and Cambodian cuisine.

Optional activities while in Phnom Penh include a detailed account of the Khmer Rouge period given by a local professor and a traditional 'Apsara dance' performance with cocktails.

The cruises also provide The Jayavarman's passengers with a chance to help Cambodian children by donating to the Cambodia Literacy Project which is sponsored by The Jayavarman's company Heritage Line.

The Jayavarman's Chief Operating Officer Matt Masson, said forward bookings for 2010 were looking very positive with many high season departures (October - December) filling up quickly however there was still some availability throughout the low season.

Papua New Guinea adopts new cruise development strategy

Coral Princess Cruises's Oceanic Discoverer on the Sepik River. Photo: Roderick Eime
Peter Vincent, Chief Executive of Papua New Guinea’s Tourism Promotion Authority, announced today the adoption of a comprehensive cruise development strategy for the nation. The strategy will be released in full on March 30. Key elements will be available to cruise lines and others for whom PNG is destined to become a focus of interest over the next five years.

Read full story

Friday 12 February 2010

It's the Quality of the Experience that counts

Dear Expedition Cruisers,

Smart travellers know that the more planning they do before they arrive, the more time they have to enjoy their trip when they get there. If your holiday time is precious - and whose is not - then make sure you put yourselves in the path of the best quality experiences.

Mary Rossi Travel is well known for the creative itineraries we have been designing for travellers since the early 70's. In the spirit of giving in this our fortieth anniversary year, we want to share with you some insider knowledge and ideas in the snippets and links below. Italy, Spain, Australia and the Galapagos Islands - places we know well and where we have friends.

Let us help you to get the best out of your next trip.

Claudia Rossi Hudson

Sunday 7 February 2010

African-American Matthew Henson The First Human to Reach the North Pole

As we honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, icy cold Arctic blasts will drop temperatures across the nation this long weekend. More than weather reports connect African-Americans to the Arctic, although many may be unaware of the exploits of explorer Matthew Henson.

Maryland native, Matthew Henson was born in 1866 to freeborn African-American sharecroppers. Orphaned at 11, by 13, he was a cabin boy. The captain of the vessel schooled Henson in reading, writing, geography and history, as they sailed to Asia, North Africa and the Black Sea. Eventually Henson settled in Washington, DC, working as a clerk to a furrier.

Arctic explorer Robert E. Peary met Henson at his place of employment, when Peary sold some of the furs he brought from Greenland. Peary invited Henson to join his expedition to Central America. When the men returned two years later, Peary had come to rely on Henson's skills as a navigator and carpenter. For 22-years the pair charted remote coastlines and glaciers in Greenland and in the Canadian Arctic.

He and Peary set the farthest north record twice, as they attempted to be the first men to reach the North Pole. Then in 1906, Henson, with Peary and four Inuit, made a final attempt to reach 90N. Henson arrived before the others, thus becoming the first human being to stand at the top of the world, April 6, 1909.

The triumph destroyed their friendship. Controversy clouded their success. Neither had collected sufficient data to support their individual claims irrevocably. Unfortunately, the bitterly contested title of first man to reach the North Pole overshadowed their unquestioned successes: In 1895, Henson with Peary charted the entire Greenland Ice Sheet, and discovered the island's most northerly point.

In recognition of his outstanding 22-year career as an Arctic explorer, Henson was posthumously awarded the National Geographic Society's Hubbard Medal in 2000.

Reaching the North Pole in 2010

Quark Expeditions operates a nuclear-powered icebreaker from Murmansk, Russia to the North Pole. There is one departure in 2010, July 9 to 23. The vessel carries a maximum of 128 travelers in cabins with facilities, with outside views. The cost per person, in twin occupancy, is $22,690, plus airfare from Helsinki to Murmansk at $1,650 per person. Travelers can book online at www.quarkexpeditions.com/arctic/north-pole or they can call 1-888-892-0171.

Thursday 4 February 2010


At its mid-July meeting in London, the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of IMO (International Maritime Organisation) has decided to move forward by advocating in July 2011 the implementation of a new regulation, which will ban the use and carriage of heavy and intermediate fuel oils in Antarctic waters.

However, the two new yachts of Compagnie du Ponant, Le Boréal (launching May 2010) and L’Austral (launching May 2011) are equipped with diesel engines using MDO (Marine Diesel Oil). This new kind of diesel oil is permissible for navigation in Antarctic waters.

Le Boréal and L’Austral - both eligible for the international “Green Ship” label - will carry forward with implementing eco-friendly features such as:

* dynamic positioning, so there is no need to drop anchor, thereby protecting seabed
* optical underwater detection system : quiet and economic
* waste and sewage treatment on board
* low energy bulbs for lighting
* reduced exhaust emissions

Reducing the impact on the environment has always been and will remain a Compagnie du Ponant priority. Indeed, the company selects its ships’ itineraries really thoughtfully, uses eco-friendly hull coatings, respects local people when visiting countries and guarantees its crew and passengers’ awareness regarding this topic. “At Compagnie du Ponant, onshore teams, crew and passengers are nature lovers: discovering the environment and protecting its beauty are our daily issues”, said Isabelle Vareille, Planning and Operations Director, Environmental Officer IAATO.

COMPAGNIE DU PONANT is a member of the Charte Bleue d’Armateurs de France, requiring ship owners to protect marine and coastal environments. It is also a voting member of IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators). This organisation aims at advocating, promoting and practising safe and environmentally-responsible private-sector travel to the Antarctic. In this framework, Compagnie du Ponant rigorously applies its recommendations and guidelines for preserving the environment through responsible behaviour.

Tauck announces 2010 early bird cruising specials

Tauck World Discovery has released early bird specials for three of its popular European cruises. Cruisers can enjoy savings of AU$1,125 per couple off the brochure price on these itineraries, with departures starting from April 2010. As with all Tauck tours, guests who travel on a Tauck at Sea itinerary can look forward to luxurious accommodation, superb dining, private city tours and exclusive sightseeing excursions. Tauck's knowledgeable Tour Directors also accompany guests every part of the way to ensure that they enjoy a seamless and insightful journey.

Tauck is offering early bird specials on the following Tauck at Sea itineraries:

11-day Mediterranean Discovery

This unforgettable itinerary takes guests to some of the most popular destinations along the Mediterranean coast, from Spain's magnificent Costa Brava to the glamorous Cóte d'Azur. The 7-day cruise on Le Levant begins in Barcelona and calls into the ports of Palma de Majorca, Mahon, Ciutadella (Menorca) and Palamos, Spain; Port la Nouvelle, Port Saint Louise du Rhone, Porquerolles and Nice, France. Shore excursions are a unique part of this itinerary and guests can look forward to exclusive experiences such as a private farm visit and cowboy demonstration in the Camargue. The itinerary ends in Monte Carlo where guests will enjoy a guided tour and farewell dinner. Prices start at AU$7,293 per person twin share. Departures are available in June and July 2010. Price includes AU$929 worth of shore excursions, all-day soft drinks, wine with dinner aboard Le Levant and most meals on land and at sea.

11-day Istanbul & the Black Sea

Spend three days in exotic Istanbul, exploring such fabled sights as Topkapi Palace, Süleymaniye Mosque, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site Hagia Sophia before boarding Le Levant for a voyage to spellbinding ports of call in Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine. Take in the architecture of Nessebur, Bulgaria, visit the former secret Soviet submarine base in Sevastopol, Ukraine and explore the seaside city of Constanta, Romania. Departures are available in April, May and August 2010, with fares starting at AU$6,730 per person twin share. Price includes AU$990 worth of shore excursions, all-day soft drinks, wine with dinner aboard Le Levant and most meals on land and at sea.

13-day Cruising Mediterranean Shores

This Tauck itinerary combines two nights in Rome with a 10-day Mediterranean cruise onboard Le Levant. In Rome, guests will enjoy an exclusive after-hours guided visit to the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. Onboard Le Levant, guests will sample the pleasures of Spain in fabulous Barcelona, discover Tunisia and the ruins of ancient Carthage and enjoy guided tours in Monte Carlo, Tuscany, Naples, Pompeii and Sicily. This itinerary is priced from AU$8,303 per person twin share. Departures are available in May, June, September and October 2010. Price includes AU$1,079 worth of shore excursions, all-day soft drinks, wine with dinner aboard Le Levant and most meals on land and at sea.

To obtain further information about Tauck or to make a booking, please contact Travel the World on 1300 766 566 or visit www.traveltheworld.com.au

*AU$ price indicative only and subject to exchange rate fluctuations.

Tuesday 2 February 2010

Branson's New Adventure: Virgin Aquatic Prepares for Launch

Very soon the term ‘adventure travel’ will have a whole new meaning.

Once the coveted tag of the '70s 'overland through Asia' set, then the trekking in Himalaya crowd, Antarcticans and expedition cruisers, now the playboy of extremes, Sir Richard Branson, introduces his deep sea submarine 'cruise'.

Not content with sub-orbital space flight, Branson has revealed his next daring plan to thrill well-healed adventurers like himself, the Necker Nymph.

The name 'Necker' is derived from Branson's private Carribean Island and is becoming a trademark for Virgin Limited Edition, his uber elite collection of outrageously expensive things to do and places to stay.

Looking something like a Star Wars Speeder or a Jetson's runabout, the positively buoyant Nymph travels through the water like an aquatic aircraft. The pilot uses a joystick to steer the Nymph and the control surfaces are similar in look and operation to an aeroplane wing. Normal submarine use ballast to sink, the Nymph "flies".

Designed and built by renowned marine engineer, Graham Hawkes, of Hawkes Ocean Technologies, he calls it by its real name: DeepFlight Merlin.

But the three-seater Merlin, with open cockpit, is constrained to normal scuba limits (about 40m) and is merely a plaything compared to Branson's plan to introduce a pressurized version for ultra deep sea work.

Hawkes constructed a super deep-sea version for the late Steve Fosset, called the Deep Flight Challenger, and it is this design that Branson is eyeing for his next commercial venture. Fosset intended to break the solo dive record using this craft by descending to the unfathomable depth of 37,000 feet (11.3 kilometres) but he disappeared before he could attempt the feat.

The Challenger has been sitting idle under lock and key in Hawke's facility for over twelve months and Branson has had his eye on it all the while.

"The oceans are in their own way as beautiful as space, and this is something Virgin is seriously looking at," Branson said at the time.

According to Hawkes, the breakthrough with this design is the ability of the craft to function independently of an expensive mother ship, thus allowing the cost of the craft and its supporting technology to be slashed by up to 90 per cent compared to submersibles currently in operation.

"A pressurised submarine is nearly completed. But the real challenge is to explore what's going on at the bottom of the oceans," Branson is quoted in UK's The Sun.

I have my entry in for the new product name: "Virgin Atlantis"

Save 20 per cent off Tasmanian private charters

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Contact Platinum for a comprehensive quote on what promises to be some of Australia's best cruising

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0428 545 271

Fly the Drake Passage, Cruise Antarctica

Photos: Ben Cooper
Quark Expeditions takes the shake out of the Drake!

Travelers to Antarctica can skip the Drake Passage when traveling to Antarctica with Quark Expeditions. This time saving addition to the polar specialist’s extensive selection of Antarctic cruises reduces the Drake Passage crossing from over 2 days to less than 2 hours!

A flight from Punta Arenas, Chile, to Antarctica is the key. The BAE 146 jet aircraft carries 62 passengers and is built to land on short runways, essential in Antarctica. The Antarctic fly and cruise program saves travelers approximately 100 hours of sailing time when compared to traditional expeditions!

A quick crossing does not mean reduced time in Antarctica. Travelers spend the same amount of time exploring the Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetland Islands as they would on traditional Antarctic expeditions – 5 days – they just get there more quickly! They board the expedition vessel, Ocean Nova, directly in Antarctica, off the Chilean Research Base Presidente Eduardo Frei Montalva, on King George Island.

Ocean Nova, with an ice-strengthened hull, was built for navigating the ice dotted waters of coastal Greenland. All cabins have exterior views and bathrooms en suite. A glass-enclosed observation lounge converts to a modern presentation room. The vessel has navigated Antarctic waters with unparalleled success, including the challenging Weddell Sea.

Quark Expeditions offers this 8-day, Antarctica Fly and Cruise program operated by Antarctica XXI, beginning December 13, 2010. There are seven departures available. Per person prices, inclusive of the roundtrip Antarctic flight, are $8,990 for triple occupancy and USD$9,990 for twin occupancy. Travelers can book online (www.quarkexpeditions.com/antarctic/antarctica-flights) or call 1-866-961-2960 to speak to a polar travel consultant.

Plancius to Visit Palmer Station in Antarctica

Palmer Station is located at 64°46' S, 64°03' W, on a protected harbor on the southwestern coast of Anvers Island off the Antarctica Peninsula. Palmer is the only U.S. Antarctic station north of the Antarctic Circle. The temperature is mild, with monthly averages ranging from minus 10°C in July and August to 2°C in January and February. The annual mean is minus 3°C. The extreme range is minus 31°C to 9°C.

The station, built on solid rock, consists of two major buildings and three small ones, plus two large fuel tanks, a helicopter pad, and a dock. Construction was completed in 1968, replacing a prefabricated wood structure ("Old Palmer," established in 1965) two kilometers away across Arthur Harbor. Old Palmer has been disassembled and removed from Antarctica. Somewhat over 40 people can occupy Palmer in the summer. Wintering population is about 10, although Palmer does not have a long period of winter isolation as do McMurdo and South Pole.

Palmer Station is superbly located for biological studies of birds, seals, and other components of the marine ecosystem. It has a large and extensively equipped laboratory and sea water aquaria. In 1990 it was designated by the National Science Foundation as a long term ecological research (LTER) site. Ocean and climate systems, aeronomy and astrophysics, glaciology also have been pursued at and around Palmer. The station operates in conjunction , with a research ship, the R/V Laurence M.Gould.

Palmer Station is named for Nathaniel B. Palmer, a Connecticut sealer who, on 17 November 1820, during an exploratory voyage ranging southward from the South Shetland Islands, may have been the first person to see Antarctica. (British and Russian ships were in the area at about the same time.)

Our programme during the visit on 09 March 2010:
A small group from the station will come out to the ship to give a brief overview of the US Antarctic Program to our passengers. Following the presentation, we can begin sending passengers ashore.

The Palmer Station area has two sites typically visited by tour groups: Palmer Station itself and Torgersen Island. 40 people at each of these sites are allowed to visit at one time. There are numerous scientific study sites in the area, and we ask passengers to avoid these due to the risks to the wildlife under study.

When our passengers visit the station, they will be divided into groups of 10-12 people to be given a tour. A tour guide from Palmer Station will walk them through the route, which includes a look around the outside of the station, a view of some local sea creatures in an outdoor aquarium, and an opportunity to purchase souvenirs. After the tour, passengers are invited to come to the dining room where they can meet some of our staff, enjoy refreshments, pick up literature, and sign our guest book. Each group will spend approximately 60 to 90 minutes on station.

Passengers' passports can be stamped with the dated Palmer Station stamp. Palmer Station does not have a post office, therefore no stamps or postal services.

Passengers are encouraged to bring a bag with them to hold literature and souvenirs, since this helps reduce the number of plastic bags used. For the shop, only U.S. cash and Visa or Master Card credit cards are accepted.


AMA Waterways announce new ship for Mekong

Just months after launching the Mekong River program, AMA Waterways announced it is building a second ship that will sail to Vietnam and Cambodia starting in late spring 2011. When completed, the ship will join La Marguerite in offering seven-day Mekong river cruises between Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and Siem Reap, Cambodia. The two vessels will depart on the same day of the week, one sailing downstream from Siem Reap, and the other sailing upstream from Ho Chi Minh City.

“The Mekong is a magnificent river, ideal for river cruising for a number of reasons,” said AMA Waterways President Rudi Schreiner. “The first advantage of the Mekong is its size. The river is huge, in most places almost a mile wide, so it has a whole lot of potential. The scenery is incredible, with many small villages, islands and temples. The other remarkable thing about the Mekong is that it includes three major cities. You have Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon, the metropolis of Vietnam, and Phnom Penh, the capital and largest city of Cambodia, located on the riverfront with beautiful cafes and restaurants. And, then you have the fascinating town of Siem Reap, with the temples of Angkor. It’s the perfect backdrop for river cruising.”

Launched in September, AMA Waterways’ 15-day “Vietnam, Cambodia & the Riches of the Mekong” itinerary highlights historical and cultural treasures of Southeast Asia. In addition to the Mekong River cruise, the program includes two nights in Hanoi, an overnight cruise on a luxurious traditional junk in Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay, three nights in Siem Reap, Cambodia, gateway to the Angkor Archeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the legendary Angkor Wat; and an overnight in Ho Chi Minh City.

The new Mekong vessel will be larger than the newly-built La Marguerite -- it will be 295 feet long, as opposed to 246 feet long, and will accommodate 124 passengers in 62 balcony cabins. It will feature 10 junior suites as well as two suites. Cabin layout and décor will be similar to that of La Marguerite, featuring tropical woods, textiles and regional Khmer artefacts.

For more information visit www.amawaterways.com.