How would you like to travel to Antarctica?

This ultimate bucket list destination has never been more accessible…

It wasn’t that long ago Antarctica was only accessible to explorers, researchers and scientists – fortunately, this mostly untouched southernmost frozen continent with its spectacular rich wildlife, can now be reached by almost everyone.

An exhilarating trip of a lifetime to one of the world’s most inhospitable and remotest of destinations can be achieved in several ways dependent on budget, tastes and other requirements. The options now available vary to suit intrepid explorers, to luxury cruisers with more time, or those who have limited time and prefer to fly directly. Alternatively you can just fly over the continent for several hours!

With so many options to choose from, there’s almost nothing stopping you… Outlined below are a few of our favourites:

EXPEDITION CRUISING

Imagine immersing yourself in the pristine beauty of Antarctica on a smaller, more intimate expedition ship. One of the beauties of this style of cruising is that it allows you to get up close and personal when seeing the icebergs, glaciers, seals, penguins and whales.

Carrying between 50 and 200 passengers, expedition vessels are able to travel through smaller waterways, and their zodiacs are take passengers right onto the shore. As they have less passengers (and tourist guidelines limit landings to 100 people at a time) everyone will ultimately have more visits to ashore.

If you love cruising with all the bells and whistles of parties, shows, discos dancing, gambling and shopping, then expedition cruising may not be for you.

  

Expedition holidays are more about immersion and education, suiting travellers who are there to really get into the destination and prefer a challenge. It’s important to keep in mind that expedition ships vary from ex-Russian research vessels with shared accommodation and facilities. Current expedition ships are much more modern and luxurious!

The luxurious Ponant line ships, including Le Lyrial and L’Austral, have onboard experts who know about the destination. These experts are available to you throughout your journey and they include naturalists, botanists, marine biologists, historians and geologists.

Super-fit and ultra-adventurous? We suggest you look into the cruises offering kayaking, scuba diving, cross-country skiing, hiking, helicopter rides and camping!

CRUISE SHIP VOYAGES

Large cruise ships are generally more comfortable in rough seas (particularly the Drake Passage) and offer more facilities and activities onboard. Approximately ninety percent of cruise ships depart from the very southern ports of Ushuaia in Argentina or Punta Arenas in Chile.

One of the downsides of the larger ships (those with less than 500), is that because there are very strict guidelines limiting the number of people that are permitted to embark onshore at one time, the opportunities for you to land are ultimately limited.

The ‘over 500-passenger’ cruise ships are not permitted to land passengers at all, so the views can be appreciated from the ship decks only. This may suit some (probably not most), particularly those with mobility issues.

Although the length of cruise holidays can vary, they are usually between 10 days and three weeks, with longer voyages incorporating South Georgia and the Falkland Islands.

FLY & SAIL

If you are time poor or suffer seasickness, the best way to see Antarctica would be to fly directly to the Antarctic Peninsula. By doing this you can save on the ‘lost’ days at sea and avoid notoriously arduous waterways. The best part is that you then get to enjoy sailing in the regions calmer waters.

Fly and sail is almost always a more expensive option, but it does cut out a lot of time and enables you to tick one off the bucket list in merely a week or so while still experiencing so much of the majestic landscape and wildlife.

The most popular departure option is from Punta Arenas in Chile, one of the southernmost cities in South America. From there it’s a mere three-hour flight to King George Island on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Although this is a highly appealing way to visit Antarctica, we do suggest you keep in mind that flights to Antarctica are less frequent and less predictable than regular flights.

FLY OVER

Chartered Qantas 747’s have been flying over Antarctica on day trips for over 20 years. The approximately 12-hour trip only operates in summer from either Sydney, Hobart and Melbourne. As the warmer weather brings temperatures that start to break up the ice, it’s a great way to put the grand scale of Antarctica into perspective.

It’s an easy way to enjoy the scenery as the planes can descend to around 11,000ft and slow to 240 knots. With a glass of bubbles in hand, you also have the opportunity immerse yourself with onboard Antarctica education, documentaries, as well onboard environment and history experts.

From Australia, it’s a mere three and a half hours until you’ll see the first glimpses of ice sheets and icebergs. Up for something even more remarkable? Go for a 31 December departure from Melbourne to welcome in the near year!

For more information on booking the trip that bucket list dreams are made of, call the travel experts at Cruise Express on 1300 766 537 or email info@cruiseexpress.com.au. 

 

River Cruising Beyond Europe

Our guide to river cruising around the world

While there’s no doubt European river cruising is hugely popular, if you’re not into cruising on large ships, there are many alternative river cruise destinations that just may make you re-think where you go cruising next.

SOUTH AMERICA

Peru, Ecuador or Brazil – The Amazon

At nearly 650kms long, the Amazon is the second longest river in the world. Surprisingly easy to fly to these days, this river offers what most don’t – truly unspoiled surroundings. The wild jungles are inhabited by isolated tribal villages where little has changed for centuries and tourists are rarely seen.

Luckily for today’s travellers there are several ships sailing this river and most offer comfort if not luxury, allowing you to get up close without leaving all creature comforts behind. The river itself, its tributaries and rainforests are rich with biodiversity. Have your camera at the ready and look out for monkeys, sloths and an abundance of birds. Most ships also have a naturalist at onboard so you’re not left wondering what that flash of colour was that just flew overhead!

Our tip? Avoid the height of the rainy season. There’s a reason the Amazon carries more water than any other river on earth.

ASIA

Vietnam & Cambodia – The Mekong

For centuries locals have depended on the Mekong for shelter, food, water and their livelihood. This tranquil river stretches some 4,300km and is the longest waterway in South-East Asia. With its headwaters in China and Tibet most cruises concentrate on the lower Mekong in Burma (Myanmar), Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and out to the South China Sea.

There are so many styles of ship, tours and destinations to choose from, suiting all tastes, time frames, abilities and budgets. With a little research – and the help of a good travel agent – you can match your cruise to what you want to experience. Expect to see ancient temples, vibrant markets and bustling cities. A stand out for our money is the UNESCO listed Angkor Wat temple complex that spreads over 400 acres. We suggest you allow ample time pre or post cruise to fully explore this incredible site.

Cruise Express

Launched in 2016, Scenic Spirit provides an exceptional level of luxury. Providing a boutique and intimate environment with just 34 balcony suites, you’ll enjoy the most personalised service with an almost 1:1 guest-to-staff ratio, with your shore excursions and beverages included – what’s not to love?

Burma – Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) River 

A cruise through the mysterious, once hidden land of Burma takes you deep into lands frozen in time with gilded pagodas, ornate monasteries and villages where friendly locals still follow a traditional way of life centred on farming. Flowing from the Himalayas, the Irrawaddy is Burma’s longest river, flowing the length of the country before emptying into the Andaman Sea.

With endless rice paddies, teak forests and dense jungle riverbanks, the countryside is also dotted with shades of saffron coloured robes worn by monks in and around the temples. You’ll also see an abundance of animal and bird life and may even be fortunate to catch a glimpse of the scarce Irrawaddy dolphin!

Most notable are the locals. You’ll be stunned with their gentle and friendly nature. Remember, tourism is relatively new here. We also suggest you do your homework – photography and certain types of clothing can be frowned on. Don’t miss the temples of Bagan located roughly 600km from the capital Yangon. The hundreds of ancient temples and stupas are easily accessible from most river cruises. Burma is one destination you should see before the world catches up with this unchanged land.

Want to go? Belmond operates the much-loved colonial-style Road to Mandalay river ship. It offers three, seven and 11-night itineraries including longer journeys downstream to Yangon and upstream to Bhamo on the Chinese border.

The 82-passenger ship offers the luxury services of a European rivership with countless opportunities to engage with local people. As well as giving lectures, each guide takes care of a small group of passengers for village and temple visits. The best time to visit Burma is during the dry season from November to April. At this time the warm and sunny days are ideal for sightseeing throughout the country.

NORTH AMERICA

Columbia and Snake Rivers

Often overlooked for nearby Western Canada and Alaska, those looking for the next big thing are often surprised to find there are more, just as spectacular, options less than an hour’s flight south of Vancouver or Seattle. The Pacific Northwest is fast gaining attention for its stunning Cascade Range with immense volcanoes including the famous Mt. St Helens and nearby Mount Hood. This is also wine and craft beer country. Portland, Oregon has more micro-breweries than any other city on the planet, and nearby Willamette Valley boasts over 500 vineyards.

Winding all the way from the Pacific Ocean to the prairies of Idaho, the Columbia and Snake rivers offer something very different. Expect to see sights such as Multnomah Falls that drops 189m into the river. There are bridges aplenty too – from the 6.5 km long Astoria Bridge to the Bridge of the Gods that Charles Lindberg actually flew under. What you may not expect is a series of locks that will either raise or lower your ship as it travels to or from Clarkston on the Washington / Idaho border.

Taking just 86 passengers, the ss Legacy, operated by UnCruise offers something that other cruise lines don’t – a round trip cruise from Portland. There are a couple of itineraries that focus on cruising at either end of the river systems – the main advantage being no necessity to travel to Clarkston which is some two hours south of the nearest major airport. Regardless – this spectacular area of the world should be on your list.

Mississippi – the Ohio and Cumberland Rivers

Snaking its way through 10 states, the Mississippi isn’t all blues, jazz and plantations, Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. With its headwaters close to the Great Lakes, the river winds it’s way to the Gulf of Mexico via a series of locks much like those on the Panama Canal.

Travellers short on time can sail the lower stretches on paddle ‘steamers’ visiting cities like New Orleans, Memphis and Nashville. Expect to be immersed in all things Elvis, military history, antebellum architecture and the wonderful French-influences of creole and Cajun cuisine in New Orleans.

Those who are a little more adventurous can sail further, almost as far north as Minneapolis. Taking two weeks, you’ll see more of America than many locals ever do.

AFRICA

Botswana and NamibiaThe Chobe River

For many, a journey through Africa involves 4WD vehicles and patiently scouting for wildlife. However, this completely misses one spectacular side to wildlife spotting – the water ways. If you really want to get up close and personal, our pick is the Chobe River. Close to the mighty Zambezi and the iconic Victoria Falls – the Chobe offers some of the best water based viewing in Africa. Hippos, buffalo and birds are the highlight but also expect to see elephants and other land based animals too.

Never heard of it? Our tip is to go before everyone else finds out too!

Egypt – The Nile

Cruising on the Nile conjures many visions – Agatha Christie mysteries, feluccas, camel trains, pyramids shimmering in the desert heat and teeming bazaars. Travellers these days won’t find themselves sweating genteelly under the waft of a palm frond. There are many options to cruise on the Nile with most cruises visiting the ancient sites including Luxor, Giza, Aswan and Abu Simbel – all with much needed modern comforts. 

Our choice is the ss Sudan. Not only is this century old vessel a rare survivor of the past, Ms Christie herself sailed aboard, later penning her famous Nile based novel. Think brass beds, pleated lamp shades, deep wicker chairs, gold framed portraits of famous past guests and flutes of hibiscus tea. You may not be Hercule Poirot but this is an experience that should be on everyone’s bucket list!

India – The Ganges

Colourful, chaotic and spiritual. India is ideal for the intrepid traveller wanting to immerse themselves in this incredible culture – however you don’t just have to explore on land. A great way to see rural India, the Ganga Mata (Mother Ganges) and her tributaries, has and continues to provide life to millions of people. Cruises tend to focus on the human side of India, while unveiling scenery filled with temples, tea gardens, incredible palaces, bustling bazaars and national parks that protect India’s wildlife.

A river cruise on the Ganges can also take you through historically significant towns and villages that were once important as provincial or imperial capitals. With so many options to choose from, some will travel to UNESCO World Heritage sites including the Taj Mahal and Nalanda, the archeological ruins of an ancient university, dating back to the third century BC.

India – Brahmaputra River

For those really wanting to venture off the tourist trail, the little known Brahmaputra in north eastern India should be on your ‘must do’ list.

With its origin in the Angsi glacier, the river drains the Himalayas east of the Indo-Nepal border and travels some 3,848 km to the Bay of Bengal. The Brahmaputra is the only navigable river in the world from which you can see 7400 metre high, snow covered Himalayan mountains. It is also the only river, apart from the Zambezi in Africa, from which elephant jeep and boat safaris are conducted. It is a river that spans 3 kms at it’s narrowest and 40 kms at it’s widest.

Many come here to see the “Big Four” which include the great single horned rhino, elephant, wild buffalo and tiger as well as fresh water dolphins in the river and birds like the Great Hornbill, Great Adjutant Stork and the Black Necked Crane. Together with over six hundred varieties of migratory and domestic birds, other mammals like deer, apes like the Hollock Gibbon, turtles & tortoises, this as one of the greatest natural habitats with the greatest variety of wildlife outside Africa.

 

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Married at Sea

With same-sex marriage recently legalised in Australia, we believe there’s never been a better time for any and all couples to plan a truly unique wedding experience – getting married at sea.

Everyone loves a destination wedding, and even more unique is making the ultimate commitment on a ship or in an exotic location. While saying your vows you’re already heading to that romantic destination with friends and family, or on your own as newlyweds.

Anything is possible, and, like all weddings, it comes down to personal preference and budget. A cruise wedding can still be significantly cheaper than many land-based weddings and you have the ability to already be on your honeymoon!

But before you send out your nautically themed invitations, there are a few things we suggest you consider.

Pretty as a Picture

So now you and your partner are fully onboard that this is the way to spend your dream day… the next decision to make is where and how you would like to tie the knot to capture memories that will last a lifetime.

While many larger ships will have a dedicated wedding chapel, all ships will have superb photogenic locations including sweeping staircases with crystal chandeliers, floral archways (on request) and ocean backdrops.

There are a wide variety of wedding packages and options to choose from, some with additional charges. It’s all simply a matter of research and finding the plan that suits your needs and budget (most cruise lines have a dedicated department or person to help you manage this).

For couples up for something more unique, why not take your vows 300 metres above the ocean on Royal Caribbean’s ‘North Star’ observation pod or airborne, skydiving in iFly!

Portside Weddings

While your ship can head off to any destination, another option for an all-inclusive celebration, enabling almost everyone you invite to attend, is a home-town portside wedding!

As long as the bride and groom are sailing, your guests will be permitted to join onboard for the ceremony and celebrations, and either join you for the cruise or disembark and leave you to enjoy your honeymoon alone as newlyweds.  

Another alternative for those sailing is to arrange the quirky location ceremony; on a beach or in a winery, a European castle or cathedral, or on a glacier in Alaska… the choice is yours!

Please be mindful to choose your destination carefully for legal recognition of your marriage, same-sex or otherwise.

The Wedding Planner

Most cruise lines offer wedding planners and packages, that can manage everything for you. This can range from an onboard to an onshore wedding and everything in between, freeing up your time and energy, so you can sit back and enjoy getting married rather than worrying about the planning.

Aside from arranging the photographer, music, cake and flower arrangements, wedding planners can also help with your overseas visa and nuptial legal logistics. 

A celebrant or even the Captain of your ship officiate the legal nuptials. If you’re lucky you may come across a romantic Captain who will offer you the opportunity to renew wedding vows.  Anything is possible in the romantic world of cruising.

The Unique Touches

While nothing much beats a great wedding, there are the little touches that can create a lasting impression. Below are a few additional offerings that some of the cruise lines offer: 

  • Bartenders will create a special wedding cocktail in honour of the big day
  • Live cam footage so those at home can feel like they are part of the ceremony
  • Turn-down with chocolate coated strawberries and rose petals on the bed
  • In-room champagne and flutes, with his and her robes
  • Online gift registries
  • Priority check-in
  • Onboard credit or even upgrades for the bridal party

Legal Mumbo-Jumbo

It’s really important to check that while most cruise lines do offer wedding services and packages, some are not legally permitted to officiate while in open waters or, if they do, it can take up to eight weeks for the legal paperwork to be approved. You have considered how and when the license marriage certificate is registered and recognised by Australian authorities such as your state’s Registry of  Births, Deaths and Marriages.

All of these things need to be looked into and with the help of your travel specialist, you’ll be able to find the perfect cruise for your big day.

Call Cruise Express today on 1300 766 537 to discuss your dream wedding!

 

   

 

Ultimate Antarctica

Why We Love Expedition Cruising in Antarctica

 

Antarctic cruiseIt wasn’t that long ago that Antarctica was accessible only to explorers, researchers and scientists. Fortunately this mostly untouched southernmost frozen continent with its rich wildlife is now accessible to almost everyone.

There are a number of ways to reach this inhospitable and remote destination depending on your needs. The options vary to suit either intrepid explorers, luxury cruisers with more time, or those who have limited time and prefer to fly directly, or even just fly over for a day.

Despite all the options, our absolute favourite way to see Antarctica will always be on smaller expedition style ships. While we appreciate this may not be everyone’s ‘cup of tea’, we’ve outlined below just a few reasons why it is so incredibly awesome. 

Absolute and intimate

antarctic cruiseWithout all the bells and whistles of big ship shows, discos, casinos and shopping, expedition cruising is all about the immersion and education.

Expedition ships, taking between 50 and 200 passengers, offer a more personal style of service. They are able to travel through smaller waterways, and the Zodiacs (rigid inflatable boats) take small groups of passengers right onto the shores. Tourist guidelines limit landings to 100 people at a time so with fewer passengers onboard an expedition ship everyone will ultimately have more visits and more time on shore. Immersing yourself in the pristine beauty of Antarctica on smaller expedition ships, allows you to get up close and personal with a parade of wildlife, including seals, penguins, pods of whales, and so much more.

Depending on the size of a larger cruise ship, they may not be able to send passengers ashore at all, or you may only have a few hours on your allocated day to ensure everyone onboard ‘gets a go’.

The luxurious PONANT line of ships including Le Lyrial and L’Austral, have onboard experts for each destination. They are available to you throughout your journey and can include naturalists, botanists, marine biologists, historians and geologists.

Why expedition cruising?

antarctic cruiseMany expedition cruise ships suit travellers who are there to immerse themselves in education and the experience, preferring to do whatever it takes to really get out amongst it all. This can be challenging but at the end of the day you are able to come back to luxury and comfort.

While expedition ships upfront seem more expensive, the benefit is that almost everything is included. There are no hidden surprise charges such as shore excursions and activities, with drinks (excluding top shelf) and gratuities usually also included (check with your Travel Specialist).

Research, research

antarctic cruise

Whichever way you decide to visit Antarctica, it is important to do your research, particularly when choosing the right time to visit. The tourist season lasts only about five months – typically from November to March.

During each of these months, something unique happens ranging from pack ice starting to break up, mating, breeding and hatching seasons for penguins and other birds, to when it’s the best time to spot whales.

antarctic cruiseOften mistaken for Emperor Penguins, the slightly smaller but almost identical King Penguin colonies can be found in vast numbers in South Georgia and Crozet Islands, as well as the Falkland Islands and have even been spotted in Patagonia. 

It is very rare to see Emperor Penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula.  If it was your main goal to see Emperor Penguins, we recommend a voyage to Commonwealth Bay, known as ‘Deep Antarctica’.  It is a lot further south and a whole different kettle of fish to the Antarctic Peninsula.

For lovers of nature and all things wildlife including penguins, please click here to look at our Ponant L’Austral 2020 journey.

 

Going one step further

For the super-fit and ultra-adventurous, some cruises also offer kayaking, scuba diving, cross-country skiing, hiking, helicopter rides or camping… just ask your Travel Specialist at Cruise Express and they’ll find a perfect trip to suit you.

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For more information on booking the trip that dreams are made of, contact us at Cruise Express on 1300 766 537,

 

Agency Manager & Expedition Cruising Specialist, Joanna Schuetz

Cruise Express Agency Manager, Joanna Schuetz has over 15 years experience in expedition cruising. Having travelled across all continents on many forms of cruise ships, Jo has a particular passion for and specialises in polar expeditions having been to the Arctic and Antarctica on numerous occasions.

Email Jo today on jo@cruiseexpress.com.au.

 

Griffith Foodie Haven!

Riverina Tourism Boom

Thanks to ‘foodies’ travelling from afar to the unsuspecting food mecca of Griffith, the Riverina region of NSW has seen significant growth in tourism and revenue over recent years. Many young chefs have even headed or returned home to take Griffith’s food and wine culture to the next level.

WHY GRIFFITH?

Griffith has always been proudly abundant with Italian heritage and culture, showcasing good food and wine. 

The focus on the outstanding quality of local produce and high-end restaurants dedicated to getting back to the roots of Italian cuisine are behind this boom, with several hundred visitors flocking to Griffith every day.

Located in Griffith’s old Rural Bank is Zecca Handmade Italian, dedicated to nourishing the community with the highest quality locally sourced produce. Working closely with local farmers and producers, the food must be seasonal and authentic to regional Italy, showcasing the best of what Griffith and the surrounding area has to offer.

We asked Daniel of Zecca what his thoughts are on the increase in ‘Foodie Tourism’ to the region – “People’s thoughts are changing on what’s a tourist attraction, and we’re finding that people are interested in getting back to more authentic experiences. They also now see eating and drinking as a leisure activity.

People have busier lives in general now, so relaxing over good food and wine while on holidays is very appealing. Consumers also now have more interest than before in what they’re eating. There’s more awareness of where the food comes from and the story behind how it’s grown and prepared. People are no longer willing to accept just anything – they want a fresh product and love finding out more about it.”

“Griffith’s multiculturalism and agricultural diversity have offered people from all over the world, especially Italians post-WWII, an opportunity thrive. At the time that many immigrants arrived, the area was prosperous. Even if they arrived in Griffith with nothing, if they had a good work ethic, they could build something. And Griffith is still a great place for new migrants. We are always welcoming new people to our town and they’re able to get ahead. You can see the cultural diversity right throughout the town,” said Daniel D’Aquina of Zecca.

McWilliam's

Limone is an intimate dining experience of pure artistry and is run by local Chef Luke Piccolo. Luke returned to Griffith after training at restaurants in Sydney and Michelin starred restaurants in Italy. Much of his quality produce is picked daily from his local family farm.

There are many outstanding wineries and cellar doors not to be missed in Griffith, many of them family-run including De Bortoli Wines, McWilliams Hanwood Estate, Calabria Family Wines and many more.

The main street of Griffith is lined with thriving Italian cafes, restaurants and delis, bakeries, bars and shopping galore. There really is something to do for everyone, every palate is sure to be satisfied!

TASTE RIVERINA

Since 2012, this month-long series of events runs annually throughout October – beautiful Springtime! Taste Riverina is a collaboration of the region’s finest food producers, showcasing much of the local agricultural produce and food, wine, beer and most importantly, local experiences throughout the Riverina.

Ultimately, the event is designed to inspire visitors to eat healthy fresher food, effectively becoming ambassadors to experience, understand and celebrate locally produced food.

Some of the produce The Riverina is known for includes rice, citrus, lamb, beef, wheat, canola oil, olive oil, grapes, potatoes and pistachios.

2018 events throughout the region will include agricultural tours, cooking classes, food treks, dinners, cafe specials, recipe competitions, local festivals, degustation menus, picnics, and live music.

For more information on how you can immerse yourself in this year’s Riverina food and wine extravaganza click here or call one of Cruise Express’ Travel Specialists on 1300 766 537.