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.

 

How to Choose the Right Cruise

Are you plotting and planning to spend a small part of next year on a cruise ship?

With an ocean of cruises now available worldwide, Cruise Express is here to help you navigate your way on how to choose the right cruise.

There are more than 70 ocean-going cruise lines in the world operating over 300 liners on the seven seas – so which cruise line and which ship is best for your dream holiday? Each and every one is subtly different, delivering a distinct experience to match a certain type of passenger.

There are many factors to consider when choosing a cruise, so let’s explore a few of them…

Size Matters
One of the biggest factors in choosing the best ship for you is the size of the vessel. Ships today range in size from small yacht-like vessels carrying less than 100 passengers to mega-liners five times larger than the Titanic, accommodating over 6,000 passengers.

Smaller ships – boast more exclusive and intimate atmospheres. You get to know the crew and fellow passengers very quickly and it’s easy to find your way around, and if you’ve forgotten your sunglasses as you hit the pool deck, it’s a quick stroll back to the cabin. Smaller ships can also dock in smaller ports near the center of town with embarkation/disembarkation usually being quick and crowd-free.

Keep in mind though that smaller ships are less stable than bigger ships – an important consideration if you are prone to seasickness. By economies of scale, cruises on smaller ships are typically more expensive than cruises aboard larger liners.

Larger ships – offer affordable fares and a bigger range of facilities and activities, with more choices for entertainment and dining.  However, they tend to be less personal with, for example, boarding and disembarkation being more regimented.

Just like the children’s story about ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’, there are also mid-sized ships carrying between around 1,000 passengers that you might find are just right for you!

Classic versus Modern
Would you like to sail aboard the latest and greatest ship with all the mod cons or a classic liner built 30, 40 or 50 years ago? There are some beautiful older ships that offer a traditional cruise experience without the bells and whistles of today’s mega ships. But the latest liners offer lots of affordable balcony cabins, a vast array of gourmet dining venues and lots of activities and attractions to entertain including ice skating, flying foxes and rock climbing.

Sea or Port Days
This issue divides many cruise fans. Some love visiting lots of ports during a cruise while others prefer lots of long and leisurely days at sea. A mix of both is usually ideal. Some seven-day cruises in Alaska, the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean offer just two days at sea so it’s best to pick a cruise itinerary wisely.

Port-intensive cruises take you to lots of destinations but you will be busy and you may end up spending more during your many trips ashore. Meanwhile, cruises with fewer ports tend to be more relaxing and ideal if you like nothing more than basking in a deck chair and staring at the boundless ocean.

Style of Ship
Just about everyone loves the idea of a luxury liner but it‘s important to consider how comfortable and relaxed you will be on a five-star ship with black tie balls, dress protocols and fine dining. It suits some discerning cruise fans but not others who may like to sail aboard a more relaxed, fun-focused ship with a broader range of passengers and late-night show lounges and discos.

Some ships and cruises are more suited to older passengers while others are geared to young couples or families with extensive kids clubs so it’s vital you know something about the ship you plan to spend your holiday on.

Typically, the longer the cruise, the older the average passenger. Cruises in peak seasons like Christmas and school holidays attract younger passengers. The style of Ship you cruise on is also influenced by the nationality of the cruise line operator. Many cruise lines are American which suits most Aussie cruisers but others are English, German, Japanese, Spanish, Italian or French.

Of course, there are locally based cruise lines here in Australia tailored just for Australians. If you like your spa treatments or gym workouts, there are some ships that have bigger and better health and beauty facilities than others.

Some ships have traditional, fixed dining times, which certainly have their appeal – while others allow you to dine anytime you like and other ships offer both systems. And then there are ships (mostly older vessels) with mostly twin beds instead of double beds. Some ships have no balcony cabins and a handful of suites while others have all balcony cabins or whole decks of suites. And there are cruise lines which offer enrichment and learning via numerous onboard lectures and workshops while on others bingo and belly flop contests are the go.

So you see there is a LOT to consider when choosing a cruise, especially for novice cruisers. The key is to let the experts help you select the right holiday and at Cruise Express, our experienced staff have collectively experienced hundreds of cruises right around the world. Our team is trained to match each client to the right ship so that you enjoy exactly the type of cruise holiday you want, expect and deserve. Cruising is our passion and we know our ships and all their different personalities and it’s our mission to ensure you end up on the ship and the cruise that provide memories you’ll always cherish.

So when you next choose to cruise, contact us at 1300 766 537 at Cruise Express and let us help you find the cruise just for you.

Cruisin’ with the Family

Booking a cruising holiday for families with young or not-so-young children is a wonderful experience with so many options on offer.  Outlined below are a few of Cruise Express’ favourite suggestions to help parents and children have the best holiday possible!

1. Size Counts – Choose a larger resort-style ship which offers more facilities for kids and teenagers and more clubs for different age categories. Bigger ships also carry more kids so your brood can make friends more easily.

2. School Holidays – If you can and your kids are young enough and not in senior years at school, take a cruise outside school holiday periods when there are more cabins available and fares (even airfares) are more affordable. You’ll be surprised at how many other kids there will be onboard for your children to mix with.

3. Activities – Many larger cruise ships today have water slides, rock climbing walls, wave-surfing pools and flying foxes which are huge hits with older kids.

4. Package – Before you leave or as soon as you board, buy a soft drink/ice cream package for your kids so they can enjoy unlimited refreshments during the cruise, saving you money in the long run.

5. Rooms – If your children are small, sharing a 4-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 to get neighbouring cabins – next to each other or one outside/balcony cabin and one inside cabin directly opposite the hallways to save money.

6. Balcony – If your kids are young, a balcony cabin is not recommended for safety reasons. An outside 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 constantly.

7. Kid’s Clubs – Encourage the children and allow yourselves to take advantage of the Kid’s Clubs. That way they can have lots of fun and you as parents can enjoy relaxing time together, meeting up as a family at times throughout the day for meals.

8. Dinner Sittings – If your kids are under 12, opt for the first sitting dinner or book earlier dinner times if your ship offers open dining.

9. Ashore – When ashore don’t try to pack too much into the day, particularly in hot, tropical zones, as the kids will tire quickly. A morning excursion could work best before returning to the ship for a late lunch and afternoon siesta!

10. Duration – Shorter cruises of under 10 days are better suited to families. There are weekend and 5-day cruises from Australia or longer 7-10 day cruises to Queensland or through the South Pacific which the kids will love.

Call us today on 1300 766537 or visit our website to find out the most suitable options for your family holiday!