The Benefits of Booking your Holiday with an Agency

 

As online influence and purchasing have increased exponentially in the last few years, it seems that personal interaction with your reputable Travel Agency is falling by the wayside – but is it?

Agency or DIY?

When it comes to important decisions like our large purchases and big-ticket holidays, we still crave a human at the end of the line, or shock horror, even face to face!

Outlined below are a few reasons why we believe developing a long-term relationship with a travel agency is so important to achieving your best holiday, for the best price without any unsuspecting traps for holiday disasters.

Expertise – just when you need it

Like any professional, whether it be a lawyer or doctor, a Travel Specialist is just that, a specialist. Highly trained and in most cases with many years if not decades of experience, they are fully invested to get to know you, to listen well, know what questions to ask, and to offer advice on how to make your holiday the best it can possibly be.

They also have all the inside knowledge of visa and passport requirements, port details, embarkation and so much more.

Most agents can also help you with little insights and tips – like where to find the best pizza in New York or a great bar in Santorini!

Great prices and value

With so many offers out there, it can be really confusing to know if you are getting the best deal and value for money. Remember that your Travel Specialist has access to exactly the same deals cruise lines directly offer, and in some cases are able to offer even lower pricing, intervening with suppliers on your behalf.

It pays to ask – depending on allocations and offerings for different ships and destinations, Cruise Express can be as much as 10 percent lower in price than the actual cruise line!

What you see online is not necessarily the best price, and prices do fluctuate frequently. We recommend that you simply always ask the question.

They get to know your personal needs and preferences

They aren’t just selling you a product, it’s also a service, and you can’t have one successfully without the other. Once a relationship has developed, your Travel Specialist will know so much more about you and will do everything they can to meet your needs within your budget.

Many clients return year after year knowing they will be taken care of so that their holidays are stress-free.

Although on occasion you may pay a slight amount more for agency expertise, the time and money you spend with them will be returned to you many times over in the form of perks, upgrades, convenience, great service and someone to call if things go wrong on your holidays.

Added peace of mind

Price isn’t everything and sometimes what you need is really good after sales support. If something goes wrong you have the peace of mind knowing you can call 24/7 and speak to someone.

Remember, if you buy online, you aren’t dealing with a faceless online booking agency or a website provider making it hard to contact anyone.

Escorted tours offer experiences like no other

Escorted tours are another travel agency specialty. Enjoy having a highly experienced tour leader who knows the ins and outs of your destination, insider tips on where to go, special access to places, special contacts with inside local knowledge, and touches that are not available to other travellers.

While most of us would like to spend much more of our lives travelling, for many it isn’t really an option, so when we do embark on these inspiring journeys, it’s important to do it to the best of your capability, utilising the best of the best available to you.

We recommend chatting with friends and family about their positive travel experiences and the travel agency they use and have developed a rapport with.

Call, email or drop in – and trust your instincts. And, of course, we are always here to help!

Click here for an ultimate holiday experience or call us 1300 766 537

 

Magnificent Birds of the Kimberley

An extremely geographically diverse region, twice as large as Victoria, many bird-watching enthusiasts would regard the Kimberley as an absolute bird paradise. While there are over 500 species throughout Western Australia, Broome is home to 330 of them and is consequently regarded as the most important region in the country for shorebirds (home to nearly a quarter of the world’s total population). This destination is a must on a bucket-list for everyone who loves these magnificent creatures.

While some are unique to certain areas, many species can be found throughout the Kimberley. One of these is the spectacular Eastern Osprey, the ultimate predator along the Kimberley Coast skyline. When you visit we also suggest you keep an eye and an ear out for the Sacred Kingfisher with their distinctive calls. This region is also home to the Eastern Reef Egret and if you are lucky you may spot a dancing Brolga!

Ashmore Reef

Located on Australia’s North West Shelf, 610 kilometres north of Broome is Ashmore Reef. This incredible life-sustaining reef provides several marine habitats and species in and out of the ocean.

It is here you will find around 50,000 breeding pairs of various kinds of seabirds, including colonies of bridled terns, common noddies, brown, red-footed and masked boobies, eastern reef egrets, frigate birds, tropic birds, roseate, crested and lesser crested terns.

The Rowley Shoals

Another stunning destination to observe birds is The Rowley Shoals, about 260 km northwest of Broome. The Rowley Shoals is a group of three atoll-like coral reefs on the edge of one of the widest continental shelves in the world. It is home to many ocean bids as well as a nesting site for the red-tailed tropic bird, home to one of only two of Western Australia’s colonies, and the rare, newly discovered white-tailed tropic birds.

Other beautiful species found at Rowley Shoals include the wedge-tailed shearwater, brown booby, eastern reef-egret, white-breasted sea eagle, ruddy turnstone, large sand plover, crested and sooty terns and the white-throated needletail.

Browse Island

Browse Island also is a spectacular destination to observe breeding seabirds and migratory shorebirds including the brown booby, frigate bird and eastern reef egret.

As the Kimberley is so extensive, it’s important to keep in mind that many species migrate or are nomadic and move with the seasons, so if you are really keen on spotting a particular species you may need to do a lot more in-depth research.

If you have extra time and are feathered friend keen then we recommend you take a look at the Broome Bird Observatory in Roebuck Bay, a super passionate organisation dedicated to educating visitors about the birds that live and visit the area. They also provide tours, accommodation and camping/tent facilities.

Click here to find out more about our life-changing journey in 2020 with Ponant and National Geographic.

The Enchantments of Japan

 

For several years now Cruise Express has been traveling throughout Japan, escorting hundreds of clients who have returned with cameras full of stunning imagery and minds full of unforgettable memories.

While Japan has increasingly become a bucket-list travel destination, our travel specialists are asked what the key attractions are for this somewhat mystical island nation. In no particular order, outlined below are a few of the sights and sounds our clients time and time again treasure:

Shrines & Temples

Two of the most common historical buildings you will find in Japan are temples and shrines, with over 2,000 in Kyoto alone, there are literally millions of different sizes and significance scattered throughout. They are not the same but what is the difference between the two?

Basically, temples are Buddhist, while shrines are Shinto. Temples have monks and often many Buddhist statues and sometimes have a graveyard attached on the site. Buddhism was originally brought from India to China during the Heian era, then spread throughout Japan.

Shrines are easy to identify as they generally have a large, often vermilion red sacred gate, standing in front of them.  Unlike Buddhism, Shintoism is indigenous to Japan, and is as old as Japan itself. It is believed that everything has a spirit, even stones, trees and mountains. It is believed there are millions of gods throughout Japan. Spirits of nature and ancestors are highly revered above all else.

A large number of wedding ceremonies are held in Shinto style. Death, however, is considered a source of impurity and is left to Buddhism to deal with. Consequently, there are virtually no Shinto cemeteries, and most funerals are held in Buddhist style.

Mount Fuji

No trip to Japan is complete without a visit to the country’s most symbolic geographical landmark, revered since ancient times, culturally, spiritually and physically. At 3,776 metres high, Mt Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan and a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site since 2013.

It’s not always easy to see this dormant volcano (no eruptions since 1707) though, as the weather and seasons can sometimes keep the mountain shrouded in clouds for days or weeks. While it seems that on average, early morning is the best visibility from Tokyo on a clear day (approximately 100km away) typically from autumn to winter – in particular, December and January are usually the best months for visibility.

Undoubtedly, Mt Fuji is the most popular tourist site in Japan, for both foreigners and Japanese, particularly in springtime when cherry blossoms frame the snowy mountain in full bloom shades of pinks and whites.

Upwards of 300,000 people every year embark on what many call a gruelling eight-hour climb to the summit, but the achievement and stunning sunrises are well worth it. It is often regarded as a sacred pilgrimage to summit the mountain with thousands of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples along the way. Naturally, these climbs are usually done in the warmer months particularly between July and August, with lots of ‘huts’ to rest and refresh, so if a good hike is on your agenda then this may be the perfect destination for you!

Sumo Wrestling

Sumo is Japan’s national sport and the only country in the world where it is practiced professionally. Although many consider it a modern form of martial art, this unique style of wrestling (men only in competition and ceremonies) actually originated as a Shinto religious ritual over 1,500 years ago to ensure a bountiful harvest and to honour the spirits – known as kami.

It is considered a trial of strength in combat and the rules, although having changed throughout history, are relatively simple. The first wrestler who has any part of his body touching the ground (soles of feet excluded),  thrown to the ground or who steps out of the ring, is defeated – game over – many matches only last for a handful of seconds!

Most of us are curious as to why Sumo wrestlers are so ‘fat’ – can’t be healthy surely? In fact, the early wrestlers were more wiry and muscular than today. This has occurred only in the 20th century since there are no weight divisions in professional sumo, every wrestler wants to be as big as they can be to use their weight in the ring.

These tournaments really do sell out quickly so please ensure you buy your tickets before you leave home unless you are on a Cruise Express escorted tour as this will be managed for you.

Cherry Blossom Time

Every spring in Japan the country comes alive in clouds of delicate pink and white as cherry trees blossom with new life – The Sakura Season – a truly symbolic image of this island nation.

The cherry blossom season is undoubtedly the highlight of the Japanese calendar and has been celebrated for hundreds of years. In addition to innovation, neon lights and sushi, the Japanese have long been known as leaders of cherry blossom appreciation.

It is really hard to predict when they will open and be at full bloom as it really is weather dependent – that week fluctuation of earlier or later is impossible to guess. Fortunately, geographical location is a reliable factor in determining blossom-time. The south always begins a lot earlier, often in January, while in the very north, it can be as late as May!

At the end of the day, picking the exact time to see cherry blossoms is not easy or guaranteed, particularly on a short trip. To avoid disappointment, we recommend you plan your holiday around so many other fabulous things Japan has to offer, and if you happen to time the blossoms right then consider it a wonderful bonus!

Shinkansen Bullet Trains

Shinkansen, translated to “New Trunkline” and quickly dubbed globally as the “Bullet Train” for obvious reasons, was originally built and operated by government-owned Japanese National Railways in 1964 and has been part of the Japan Railways Group since 1987.

The first 515km section of the original line between Tokyo and Osaka was opened in 1964, just before the start of the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games. The many innovations including kilometre long welded sections of track and prestressed concrete ties were internationally acclaimed.

Although very expensive, one incredible invention has been ‘Maglev’, a railway based on magnetic levitation. Electromagnets levitate the train slightly above the tracks and without the friction of typical rail, it’s these magnets that create the thrust that moves the train.

Interestingly, the initial concept pre-WWII was to run lines to Beijing, a tunnel to Korea and Singapore, and build connections to the Trans-Siberian Railway and other lines throughout Asia. Due to the worsening of Japan’s position in 1943, these plans were abandoned.

What did continue to develop was 2,765km of railway throughout Japan connecting distant towns, islands and cities to the capital to promote growth and development. Since inception, and now with speeds up to 320km per hour, the Shinkansen has carried over 10 billion passengers and there has never been a fatality due to a train accident such as a collision or derailment, despite all the typhoons and earthquakes Japan endures.

Sushi Making

Last but not least, what’s a visit to Japan without a class in how to make sushi. This is always a hit with Cruise Express clients, even those that don’t eat sushi have a great time, learn new skills to take home to impress family and friends, but most importantly have a lot of laughs. Ask about gold leaf painting classes too!

Click here to find out more about our 2020 escorted holiday to Japan that is selling fast!

A Little Rail with a Big History!

Spectacularly Australian

Although we are relatively young, Australia is full of rich diversity and intriguing history, and our railways are a testimony to that!

Here are some interesting facts about what was happening in Australia in 1907:

  • NSW Rugby Football League was formed in Sydney, introducing League to Australia for the first time
  • The first telephone call was made between Sydney and Melbourne
  • The first Australian exhibition of art by women was held in Melbourne
  • Edward VII was on the throne and Alfred Deakin was Prime Minister
  • The Bondi Surf Lifesaving Club was formed
  • Traveling to London took 5-6 weeks one way
  • And, the Victorian Railways A2 Class steam locomotive was introduced (see photo below)!

A few other key dates for Australian railway history buffs are outlined below:

1907 – ‘Yarra’ Parlor Car

Built in 1907 for the Sydney or Melbourne Express, this is one of two cars built for the service where first class passengers paid extra to be seated in the Parlor Car. The car has an observation balcony at one end, a large lounge and two compartments.

Placed in storage in 1937 until the late 60s this car is a rare and spectacular survivor.

 

1907 – Locomotive A2 986

Entering service in 1907, A2 986 is the sole operable survivor of 125 locomotives in the class. For over forty years, the A2 class was the main express passenger locomotive on the Victorian Railways, hauling intrastate and interstate services.  

A2 986, was withdrawn on 2 December 1963. Put on display in a park in Warragul it was rescued in the mid-80s and taken to Newport for restoration – a process that took nearly 30 years!

Today, this former express locomotive is back in top form and ready to take Cruise Express passengers travelling on The Rail Spectacular in July 2019, for a full day of steam hauled fun. On this tour, the A2 986 will become the first A2 class in over 56 years to haul by itself between Ballarat and Melbourne via Bacchus Marsh.

 

1912 – State Car 4

Built in 1912, State Car 4 was based on the then state of the art wooden E type carriage design. It features an observation balcony at one end, Governors and Ladies bedrooms, dining room, kitchen, Gents and Ladies bathrooms and accommodation for Ladies in Waiting and other support staff.

Ride in a car that has literally been used by royalty!

The Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth), on the balcony of State Car 4 in 1927.

1956 – Locomotive 4204

Based on an American design, the 42 class entered service in NSW in 1956 as the first ‘streamlined’ locomotives in the state. Hauling well-known passenger trains of the time including the ‘Brisbane Limited’ and ‘Intercapital Daylight’, by the late 70s they had been superseded by more modern and powerful locomotives.

The 4204 was withdrawn in 1983 and entered preservation with Lachlan Valley Railway. One of two remaining in service, this locomotive represents a long-gone era when style mattered and everyone travelled by train.

If you are interested in experiencing any and all of these locomotives and carriages, Cruise Express runs steam and diesel Heritage Rail (& Sail) journeys throughout Australia throughout the year. If you are lucky you will have the opportunity to visit heritage rail yards where you can go behind the scenes and meet the volunteers who dedicate countless hours to keep these remarkable trains going – for our pleasure!

Click here for more information about this tour.

 

Japan in Full Bloom

Lasting for only a week or two, every spring with clear blue skies, Japan comes alive in clouds of delicate pink and white as cherry trees blossom with new life – Sakura – a truly symbolic image of this island nation and a dream destination for any photographer. We love the cherry blossoms of Japan!

The cherry blossom season is undoubtedly the highlight of the Japanese calendar and has been celebrated for hundreds of years. In addition to innovation, neon lights and sushi, the Japanese have long been known as leaders of cherry blossom appreciation.

Japan Cherry Blossoms

Increasingly, the people of Japan celebrate this beautiful change of seasons with cherry blossom (and also pretty but to a lesser extent, plum blossoms) appreciation parties, picnics and even street festivals called ‘Hanami’ (flower viewing). Families and friends get together in these blossoming gardens to stop and reflect on the beauty of life and its changing nature. This is not a new tradition, there are records dating back to the eighth century of imperial courtiers celebrating with picnics and poetry.

Japan Cherry Blossoms

So, when is the best time to see Sakura in full-bloom? While the temperatures coming out of winter is a factor, the geographical location is key to determining blossom-time.  In the north, this can be as late as May while in the south of Okinawa, it can open as early as January! Typically for the rest of the country including Osaka, Hiroshima and Kyoto, very late March to early April is a safe bet to see mother nature at her utmost prettiest!

We love ‘Hanami’ (flower viewing) in so many areas of Japan including Tokyo and Osaka, as well as Mt Fuji and her Five Lakes, yet one of the most outstanding has to be Hiroshima, a city that quietly demands reflection and appreciation. With hundreds of shrines and temples, Kyoto is home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites and is also a truly magical destination during the cherry blossom season.

Japan Cherry Blossoms

Truly steeped in culture and tradition, Japan is increasingly a popular tourist destination. If you are planning on visiting this stunning nation, there is of course much more to see and do other than the cherry blossoms, depending on what time of the year you plan to visit. We love the ski fields of Hokkaido or Honshu, Onsens, snow monkeys in Nagano, sumo wrestlers, sushi making classes, tea ceremonies, Shinkansen bullet trains and of course the countless shrines and palaces.

To join one of our fully escorted tours to Japan please call 1300 766 537 or click here.

To see more photos of one of our recent 2019 tours, please click here.

Japan Cherry Blossoms