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. 

 

Smooth Sailing

Our Tips to Consider Before Departure Day

The first day of your holiday sets the foundation for your voyage and can be the make or break for the rest of your time spent on board. Although each cruise line and ship vary with their offerings, over the years we have learnt a few general tricks and tips that will help ensure you set off into the sunset oh so smoothly!

Book Shore Excursions Online – You may miss out if you don’t look into these prior to your cruise, especially the popular tours. Don’t worry, there may be more released for onboard bookings but be warned, this will most likely involve long queues that CAN be avoided with a bit of planning.

Online Cruise Check-in – Most cruise lines will now request you complete this to release final traveling documentation. It helps to ensure the line keeps moving on embarkation day, so a much better experience for everyone involved. Information required will include ID and an emergency contact.

Drinks Package – These can be great value but do your sums to ensure you are going to get maximum value out of this for adults and/or children. Keep in mind that a service charge (approx 15%) is often applied to drinks on board and not all cruises offer this, particularly for the shorter length cruises. Many ships also now allow passengers to bring a limited quantity of wine and soft drinks, your travel specialist will be able to give you more details if this is applicable.

Adaptors – Many ships will have international, primarily US power sockets, often at a lower voltage, so please look into what you may require for an adaptor. Power boards and most electrical appliances including hair straighteners are banned, so don’t bring them. Many of the newer ships have USB points, making bringing power cords is unnecessary. Research into your ship is key here.

Specialty Dining – Many cruise lines offer discounted package deals to make reservations at one of their fine dining ‘specialty’ restaurants. It’s a good idea to purchase these packages and make your booking prior to boarding, although you can wait until you board if you are more flexible on which days and times you’d like to take up the offer.

Tip: You are more likely to get a reservation in one of the specialty restaurants on the first night. Occasionally there is even surprise a perk, gift or discount for doing so!

Register a Credit Card for Onboard Spending – Streamline your spending, in particular seamlessly settling your account upon departure. Throughout your cruise you will be able to monitor your onboard spending, often via in-room technology on your TV. On departure day, by having set up your credit-card payment, you can avoid often long queues of passengers looking to pay with cash to settle their accounts.

Pack a Carry-on Bag – Depending what time you check-in, you may require things such as a swimsuit and sunscreen, medication, books or ipads throughout the day. Access to your room is usually late afternoon or early evening, sometimes after dinner so be prepared.

Pack Appropriately – Research your ship, destination and activities. For example, if you are hunting the Northern Lights, pack warm clothes as you’ll be more than likely standing on deck for a long time.

There are often theme nights or formal nights on board, and activities such as ice skating require thick socks, and rock climbing walls need tennis type shoes.

Where possible, bring clothes that don’t require ironing. Remember also – at some point, you will need to move your own luggage – so pack light!

If you have any questions about preparing for your trip please call one of our Cruise Travel Specialists on 1300 766 537 or visit our website.

 

Why We Love Alaskan Huskies

More than a working dog

We all know and love a sleigh-pulling cuddly Alaskan Husky, but they are not all the same, very far from it. Below are some interesting facts and figures to enjoy, particularly if you are heading on a trip to Alaska.

The Northern Lights

Did you know…

  • Alaskan mushers bred the dogs they found in Inuit villages with Siberian Huskies, Greyhounds and German Shorthaired Pointers to create the Alaskan Husky.  
  • Because they were bred as working dogs they are classified as a category rather than a breed.
  • There is no standard breed; each breeder selects for the qualities that are most important including speed, stamina, a particular gait, and a particular size or coat type.
  • They have a larger and leaner body than the Siberian Husky.
  • Alaskan have brown eyes, while the Siberian has blue eyes.
  • They Are renown for being one of the fastest dogs in the world: recorded as traveling at 45km per hour!
  • Alaskan Huskies are also known for extreme endurance, with particular breeds able to race for up over 1,500kms.
  • Unsurprisingly, being from Alaska where temperatures can drop as low as -62.2°C, Alaskan Huskies can’t live in very hot climates and shouldn’t be exercised in temperatures above 20°C.

Working Dogs

  • Different types of Alaskan Huskies do different jobs and are bred for different types of sledding.
  • Freighting dogs pull heavy loads. Sprinters go fast for short distances. Other dogs have the stamina to go longer distances. They are used to haul logs, deliver supplies to remote locations, transportation in general, and even competing in races for money.
  • Alaskan Huskies who are top sled racing dogs may be worth US$10,000-$15,000 or more.Alaskan Husky

Just for Fun!

  • The howl of an Alaskan Husky can be heard up to 16kms away and they can be particularly talkative!
  • Their claws help them grip on the ice and they will scoop out holes in the snow for a place to burrow and shelter themselves from the wind.
  • Huskies are NOT all the same – the Alaskan Husky is much more chilled and playful than Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes – many believe making them a wonderful family pet.
  • They are very friendly and love strangers so don’t count on them being a good guard dog.
  • An odd fact but here goes anyway – NEVER shave an Alaskan Husky. It may seem a good idea to help cool down but it will only increase their risk of sunburn and eliminate her ability to regulate temperature.
  • Because Alaskan Huskies are highly intelligent, gentle with people and have a strong pack instinct, they make excellent companion dogs.
  • HOWEVER…like any wild animal if provoked, not disciplined or mistreated, they can become aggressive.

Alaskan Husky

 

For more information on several of our cruise packages for Alaska and the region, please call one our Travel Specialists on 1300 766 537 or visit wwww.cruiseexpress.com.au

 

Why I think Alaska is the World’s Best Cruise Destination

Cruising to Alaska – Like No Place on Earth

We all have our favourite cruise destinations and for me, with over 60 cruises around the world under my belt, Alaska is the best place on Earth to explore by ship.

Just thinking about the three Alaska cruises I have done with Princess Cruises makes me wistful and wanting to return soon. I even bought an Alaskan CD of nature-infused music on my last visit so I could relive the magic of this amazing place back home.

The Alaska summer cruise season runs from May to September during the warmer months in the northern hemisphere. Over one million people annually visit Alaska by cruise ship, with over a dozen cruise lines touring, including Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises.

Because so many cruise lines sail to Alaska, competition is fierce, making fares very affordable. Seven-night cruises are often available from under A$1200 per person, twin-share, but the price is not the only reason to cruise to Alaska.

Alaska Cruise

Here are some other reasons why Alaska is an ideal cruise destination:

Best way to see Alaska – Due to the rugged nature of Alaska’s mountainous coastline, cruising is the best and easiest way to explore the USA’s biggest State. In fact, the coastline of Alaska is longer than the coasts of all the other US States combined. The Alaskan capital, Juneau, is so hemmed in by snow-capped peaks and the sea that there are no roads in or out of the city from other centres making cruising the best way togo. Cruising in Alaska is so accessible, simply fly directly from Australia into Vancouver and you’re onboard your cruise to Alaska.

The Scenery – Breathtakingly spectacular sums up Alaska. Abundant pine forests, towering, snow-cloaked mountains, mighty glaciers plummeting into the sea, glistening lakes and frontier gold towns with ‘wild west’ saloons. The famous Inside Passage that almost every Alaskan cruise traces is a maze of beautiful waterways lined by a thick green blanket of pines, cedars, firs and hemlocks. Your cruise ship will stop in front of a massive glacier in Glacier Bay so you can watch the awe-inspiring process of ‘calving’, where giant pillars of ice tumble into the ice-blue water in front of you.

The Wildlife – From the ship or ashore you are bound to see some of Alaska’s rich bounty of wildlife including whales, otters, bears, deer, caribou, moose, bison, eagles and salmon.

The Culture – Alaska boasts a rich fabric of native Indian and Eskimo cultures, showcased in recreated villages and colourful song and dance shows that cruise passengers can visit.

Short Cruises – Most Alaskan cruises are seven nights long, with three ports (such as Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway) and three days at sea (including sailing close to glaciers) so there’s an ideal mix of days ashore and relaxing time at sea – the perfect cruise as it were. You can choose from round-trip cruises from ports such as Vancouver and Seattle or one-way cruises between Vancouver/Seattle and Anchorage (using the ports of Seward or Whittier), with a connecting flight back.

Great Ports – There may be three or more ships docked at the ports but each destination is filled with colour, excitement, wonder – and lots of shopping. A stroll along the restored frontier-era storefronts and saloons of Skagway will take you back to the days of the Klondike Gold Rush. Lofty peaks loom over beautiful Juneau where a stop at the traditional Red Dog Saloon with its straw floor will have you singing along with the guitar player. While in Ketchikan, we recommend visiting the river brimming with Salmon, and take a stroll along historic Creek Street, a former red light district during the Gold Rush.

Alaska

Great Shore Tours – You are spoilt for choice when it comes to land excursions in Alaska – everything from native Indian cultural parks filled with colourful totem poles, kayaking trips with whales and sled rides on glaciers to salmon bakes at remote lodges, a scenic ride on the historic White Pass Railway, seaplane flights to far-flung fjords, glacier climbing and trips to see wild bears catch jumping salmon.

Land of the Midnight Sun – Because Alaska is so far north, you can enjoy extra long days of sunlight, daylight 24 hours a  day during the summer solstice on June 21. Walking around the deck at 11pm after dinner and seeing Alaska in all her glory in muted daylight is a real thrill. Despite what you may think, Alaska is not that cold in summer, with average temperatures up to 18 degrees Celsius.

Add-on Tours – After travelling to North America for a seven-night Alaskan cruise we recommend visiting Canadian Rockies from Vancouver or Seattle. Alternatively, the wild interior of Alaska, including the wildlife-rich Denali National Park, from Anchorage is stunning. You could also bookend your cruise with both destinations! The major cruise lines run their own rail and coach tours through Alaska – and several run their own wilderness lodges. No matter which tour you add on, this is an unforgettable holiday!

Alaska Cruise

Top 10 Alaska Cruise Tips

1. Vancouver is my tip for boarding your Alaskan cruise – spend a day before you board to explore this beautiful harbour city.

2. One of the best itineraries is the seven-day Gulf of Alaska cruise, one-way between Vancouver/Seattle and Anchorage. This cruise takes you further north to the fascinating city of Anchorage as well as the stunning College Fjord, renowned for showcasing the world’s biggest collection of tidewater glaciers.

3. The shoulder seasons of May and September can be colder and wetter but also more affordable but June-August are warmer, with lots more daylight – but also busier.

4. In Juneau, buy your own ticket up the Mt Roberts tramway to the top of the mountain for panoramic views. Enjoy a helicopter flight that lands on the glaciers and before returning to the ship, but make sure you stop off for a pint of local lager at the foot-stomping Red Dog Saloon.

5. When visiting the tourist strips of ports like Ketchikan, take time to stroll along streets back from the main shopping centres so you can get a better, more authentic feel for how Alaskans live.

6. Ride the White Pass Railroad in Skagway up through the mountains and if you can make the take time to walk through the nearby pine forests, dotted with lakes throughout – you won’t be disappointed. Quench your thirst at the fun Red Onion Saloon in town before heading back to your ship.

7. Although you see lots of snow and ice in Alaska, the pools onboard your ship are warm and the jacuzzis are hot. There’s nothing like soaking in a steaming, outdoor spa, drink in hand as you watch the spectacular scenery float by. You might get funny looks from other rugged-up passengers but you’ll be the one having all the fun!

8. Bring some binoculars with you so you can look out for bears and whales from the ship.

9. Highly recommended before or after your cruise is an add-on rail/coach tour through the Canadian Rockies and/or the interior of Alaska to the wonderful Denali National Park – home to North America’s highest mountain, Mt McKinley.

10. Book your Alaska cruise holiday, including your flights, through Cruise Express who can organise all the details and book you the best deal – and take time also to also check our 24/7 self serve ‘look and book’ page on our website.

Call our team on 1300 766 537 or visit our website for more information!

Top Tips for Planning a Cruise

Regardless of age, family situation, destination desire or budget, cruising can meet everyone’s requirements and is a terrific way to enjoy your holidays.

Whether you have taken cruise holidays before or are a complete cruise rookie, outlined below are some top tips for planning your cruise to ensure you get the most out of any and every cruise holiday.

What sort of cabin would I like?

The first of our top tips for planning a cruise is that there are essentially four types of cabins to choose from. From cheapest to most expensive they are an inside cabin with no ocean view, an outside cabin with sea views, a balcony cabin and a suite. It’s really a myth that you don’t spend much time in your cabin and that any cabin will do.

You do spend much of the cruise in your cabin and it can define your whole holiday so it’s important to select the accommodation that you will enjoy. If you’re on a tight budget and you’re motivated by the destinations then, yes, an inside cabin is a good choice. But since you’re on a sea holiday we think it’s a good idea, if the budget permits, to see the sea from your bed – waking up to see where you are is a real treat.

A balcony allows you to enjoy the fresh sea air and relax outside in private and if you really want to treat yourself, or if you’re celebrating a special occasion, then a suite will indeed be sweet. We know our ships so ask us at Cruise Express for our advice. We can help you find cabins with the best views and positions and away from noises, and we can often organise free cabin upgrades if they are available so booking through a travel agent like Cruise Express is a good idea.

Do I want to go on a group trip or on my own?

Cruise Express offers its own hosted cruise tours but we can, of course, book you on any cruise so you can enjoy a voyage on your own or with a partner, your family or a group of friends. Regardless of how or who you go with, there are lots of ways to plan for this – some ships cater better for families, some for adults only, and some to the single traveller.

The advantages of a hosted group tour include:
– Group savings/lower fares/many inclusions such as transfers
– VIP/express entry into major attractions
– Assistance at hand if you get sick or lose your passports or money, etc
– Camaraderie with as much or as little group interaction as you want
– Your host looks after all the paperwork, directions and details so you can relax and have fun

You might feel safe and confident holidaying on your own in many places but perhaps destinations such as Egypt, Africa, the Middle East, South America and parts of Asia are best explored as part of a group led by experts in the region.

What is my budget?

Let us know your budget so we can tailor a holiday that suits, with enough money left over for spending along the way. Factor into the budget items like souvenirs, gifts, photos, tips, spa treatments, drinks, snacks, meals ashore local sightseeing and specialty restaurants on your ship.

What is included?

Your Cruise Express consultant can help you find out exactly what is included in your holiday cost so that there are no nasty surprises. Sometimes it can be more affordable and relaxing to sail on a luxury liner that includes drinks and often shore tours in your fare. We can do the sums for you.

Of course, when you join our escorted cruise tours, more is included in the fare with flights, transfers, sightseeing, pre or post cruise accommodation and some shoreside meals often all covered for peace of mind. – decide what works better for you.

Who do I book through?

The cruise line, a website company or a travel agent? Of course, we’re biased, but a travel agency specialising in cruising like Cruise Express can offer you independent advice and the best deals from ALL the cruise lines, not just one. And we feel it’s important when it comes to holidays to speak to a real person, not a website address, for the best personal and friendly advice, and fast answers to all your questions.

Do I book early or should I book closer to the cruise?

For peace of mind, it’s always better to book in advance so you can choose the best cabin for you, lock in your holiday dates, reserve your place on the cruise (which might book up later) and take advantage of early booking fares. Of course, last-minute booking specials do pop up but your choice of cabins and dates can be limited. Booking connecting flights is also cheaper in advance than at the last minute.

Do I have travel insurance and all the right visas/documents?

Cruise Express can advise you on all the documents, visas and vaccinations you need for your trip so that everything goes smoothly. Of course, your passport needs to be up to date (with up to 12 months validity depending on the destination) and travel insurance is always a must because sometimes things in life just don’t go to plan!

What do I bring?

To ensure you are comfortable onboard, it’s important you find out, in advance, what dress codes are expected. Most ships have smart casual and formal nights and some add fancy dress or semi-formal nights as well so do your research to find out what is expected so you can join in the fun and look the part.

Of course, we can assist with all these important matters!

Please call us on 1300 766 537 or visit our website to see all of our great adventures…