Why Mums LOVE a cruise holiday!

Ship Shape…Escape!

If the idea of a holiday that includes NO shopping, cooking, cleaning, sitting in traffic or scooting around to after-school activities sounds appealing then read on Mums (and Dads)!

For most of us, family getaways over the years have involved packing up the car for that trip up or down the coast, a few nights here and there, trips to the airport, stopovers and jetlag… what part of that is a ‘holiday’?

Instead imagine starting your well-deserved break only a few minutes down the road while still being able to travel to new destinations, enjoy delicious meals (that you didn’t make), have someone else make your bed and even clean the bathroom – every day!  Yes, we are talking about a cruise holiday. Here are some points for you to consider when thinking about organising a local cruise:

Family Cruise

Close to home: Once those bags are checked in at the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay (or White Bay depending on which ship you are cruising on) you are officially ‘on holiday’. It’s that simple – all a little too exciting!

All inclusive: Experience twice daily cabin service, almost all day dining, 24/7 room service, entertainment around the ship day and night including live shows, a gymnasium, and many child-friendly activities – it’s all included. PLUS revel in spa treatments, high-end dining and local touring (at additional cost).

Kids Club: No surprises here! Kids Club is divided into age groups (from 3 years old) with age-appropriate activities, facilities and evening events. Some cruise lines such as Norwegian Cruise Line, Cunard, Disney Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International offer baby ‘club’ (usually from 6 months) and evening babysitting services – usually for a nominal fee.

 

Fun for the kids (meaning life is easier for you): At the end of the day, you want the entire family to have a wonderful holiday. Many of the ships cruising to and from Sydney have water slides, rock climbing walls, wave-surfing pools and zip lines which are huge hits with older kids. On these child-friendly cruises, there will be lots of kids onboard so your troops can make friends easily. A word of warning, if you actually want to spend lots of time with your children then cruising may not be for you!

Holiday festivities: Yes there are more children onboard in school holidays (although you’d be surprised how many cruise outside these times) but if you are able to sail during peak holidays such as Christmas and Easter, the experience onboard is out of this world. For example, during the festive season ships are decked out with all the trimmings and you might spot the odd roaming group of carollers! Or perhaps you might take part in a ship-wide Egg Hunt during an Easter cruise. Remember the onboard staff are also celebrating and are far from home, family and friends so be extra nice to them.

Intergenerational: Cruising is a great holiday option for three generations of the one family as you can be as independent or together as you like. There are so many activities onboard that everyone will have something to do from bingo to enjoying cocktails at a fancy bar to simulated skydiving.

Family

Room tips: If your children are small, sharing a four-person cabin with bunks is ideal but if they are older, you’ll be falling over each other. Many ships offer interconnecting cabins or you can opt for neighbouring cabins – next to each other – or an Oceanview or Balcony cabin and an Inside cabin directly opposite the hallway to save money.

Balcony safety: Some parents may worry about little ones falling off balconies – it’s actually not possible to ‘fall’ as they are high. It is hard to even access the balcony for littlies as your balcony door is so heavy. However, if your little monkeys are young (and love climbing), we still suggest a balcony cabin requires adult supervision at all times. An interior room with a virtual balcony or oceanview cabin with a window or porthole will be just as exciting for the kids and you won’t need to keep an eye on them as much.

 

  • family cruise

While cruises are available year-round to and from Sydney, during our warmer months (Nov-Apr) more ships visit our shores giving even more options. We can help you choose which ship is best for your family and then secure the best cabin/s available.

There’s nothing to lose and a whole lot of R&R to gain – contact us so we can organise your cruise, anywhere, anytime!

 

Time to Visit Antractica

When is the best time of year to travel to Antarctica?

We all know that wherever you journey in the world you will be impacted by the time of year. However, more than any destination, the time of year you travel to Antarctica will make a big difference. There is no perfect time to visit Antarctica – each and every day is inspiring and magical.

With the help of our expedition specialists’, we have highlighted what to expect during different months:

When to go to antarctica 1

October/November:

Early summer offers pristine conditions with more snow and the largest icescapes largely undisturbed from winter. It is still a very cold time of year however the polar ice has begun to break up. It’s important to know that some areas may still have limited access. The scenery is truly captivating, incomparable to any other time of year, yet the wildlife may not be quite as plentiful.

Chinstrap, Gentoo and Adélie penguins do come ashore to breed. Their courtship and nest building can be quite comical to watch. By the end of November, there are plentiful nests full of eggs. Other wildlife to enjoy include seabirds such as petrels, skuas and albatross. While there are no guarantees, the elusive Emperor penguin can sometimes be found during special icebreaker tours along the Weddell Sea.

At this time of year, South Georgia, known as the home of King penguins, is also the area where Elephant seals are courting and breeding.

When to go to antarctica 2

December/January:

This time of year offers the warmest days (as high as 5 deg C!). There is also a lot of sunlight (around 20 hours a day) so it’s also a great time for photography.

December and January are traditionally the most popular months to visit. There is the added bonus of plentiful penguin chicks beginning to hatch. With longer warmer days, this time of year is also great for more and longer land expeditions.

For history enthusiasts, the ice surrounding East Antarctica is breaking up enabling tours to the historic huts of Shackleton and Scott. While this is a spectacular time, travelling to Antarctica over Christmas and New Year’s are unfortunately the most expensive.

When to go to antarctica 4

February/March:

Now the temperature begins to drop again and while the land is more rocky and muddy, there is still a lot to enjoy. Penguin chicks have started to grow their adult coat and have begun to fledge. This can bring in predators such as Leopard seals which not ideal for the chicks but a spectacular sight for us.

Fur seals are more bountiful and their pups have become more independent, sometimes becoming quite playful with visitors. Much of the wildlife has retreated to the sea by this point. However these months are the peak time for sighting whales such as Humpbacks, Sperm and Orca which have returned south to feed.

The Sub-Antarctic islands such as South Georgia and the Falklands have a large and different array of flora and fauna. The islands can be just as spectacular if not more than Antarctica. Unfortunately, there is still no calm time for crossing the notoriously rough Drake Passage. Please read our blog on alternative suggestions on how to reach Antarctica if this concerns you.

Go on, what are you waiting for?

When to go to antarctica 3

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!