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Ship shape escapes to bliss

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WITH great value for money, the chance to experience a range of exotic ports and a raft of new options, it's little wonder that the appeal of luxury cruises is growing faster than ever before.

It doesn't matter if you're taking your first quick tour around the islands of the Great Barrier Reef or embarking on a monster trans-Atlantic journey - from the moment you cast off, the magical spell of shipboard travel begins to weave its way into your fibre.

Cruise ships have had a love 'em or hate 'em affair with the Australian public for many years - many can't wait to find their sea legs, while others think of them as floating RSL clubs, filled either with clinging rich widows or raucous teenagers looking to party night and day.

Well, for the latter group, it might be time to cast some fresh eyes over the possibility of ocean travel.

These days, there are products to cater to every group - from luxury, laid back jaunts to gourmet-inspired cruises to full on adventure expeditions.

Here we take a look at some of the cruise options available in upcoming months.

This is only a handful of the great products on the market - no matter if you're after a grand ocean liner, an ice-cutter, a small and intimate island cruise or a 'taste' of cruising, there's something to appeal to get you all at sea.

Queen of them all

Let's start with the big gun - Cunard's Queens.

Cunard, one of the world's leading and most prestigious cruise operators, is offering 82 voyages in total for its 2010-11 season, spanning Europe, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, the US and Canada, on board the big mamma, Queen Mary 2, her younger sister, Queen Victoria and, due for debut in October next year, the new Queen Elizabeth.

Jenny Lourey of Carnival Australia, which represents Cunard, says the program offers a wide choice of destinations plus a unique experience that harks back to the golden era of cruising.

“Australian guests can choose to explore European, Caribbean or North American cities while enjoying Cunard's true ocean liner sailing experience and signature White Star service,” Jenny says.

True. But be warned. This is serious cruising - the Queens expect a certain standard and, given that they've got a reputation for five star excellence, they are not likely to attract, well, riff raff, old chap.

Program highlights:

■ The new program will see Queen Mary 2 sailing 25 voyages between New York and Southampton from $1719 per person twin share.

Also, for the first time, there will be 10 longer seven-night voyages for $1859 per person twin share.

■ Also on offer are six new “Trans-Canada” crossings featuring spectacular scenery.

■ Queen Mary 2 will also offer her biggest ever European season from Southampton, sailing six voyages ranging between two and 14-nights exploring Northern Europe, and a 12-night cruise to the Mediterranean.

■ Queen Victoria will sail an inaugural 10-night voyage around the British Isles in July, 2010, visiting new ports including Cobh, Dublin, Liverpool, Belfast and Greenock.

■ Queen Victoria will also sail eight new Mediterranean voyages during 2010, with a seven-night sojourn visiting Spain, Portugal and France priced from $1749 per person twin share departing Southampton on April 22, 2010.

■ Meanwhile, Queen Elizabeth's maiden cruise season will see her visit 25 European ports traversing the Mediterranean and Atlantic seas in 2010.

While the new liner's maiden cruise sold out in a record 29 minutes last month, staterooms are still available on the other voyages including a five-night journey visiting France, Belgium and the Netherlands departing Southampton on November 26, 2010, is priced from $1459 per person twin share.

More details on Cunard's 2010-11 program are available via travel agents or call Cunard on 13 24 41, or visit www.cunardline.com.au.

Princess in waiting

While Queens offer regal settings, Princesses are open to a bit more relaxed fun.

Princess Cruises runs well known liners Pacific Princess, Ocean Princess and the new girl on the block, Ruby Princess.

These princesses will take you to 11 new ports this year with a range of fabulous Mediterranean and Greek Island itineraries, including a well priced seven night option from $1599 on Ocean Princess from Rome to Sorrento, Barcelona, Nice, Portofino and Florence/Pisa.

Ann Sherry, CEO of Carnival Australia, which represents Princess Cruises in Australia, said the record number of European itineraries reflected the region's popularity as a cruise destination.

"Europe is now the second most popular cruise destination for Australian passengers," Ms Sherry said.

"More and more travellers are realising that cruising is a great way to see the variety of cultures across Europe, as you can unpack once and let your ship take you from one beautiful destination to the next."

Program highlights:
 
■ Two new seven-night luxurious Greek Isles tours on Ocean Princess departing September 1 and September 8, 2010, take in Portofino, Barcelona and Santorini with maiden calls to Cephalonia and Itea. Fares are available from $1819 per person, twin share.

■ Pacific Princess will again be offering her popular Holy Land cruises in 2010, with 12-night voyages available from May 15, 2010.

With a choice of departures from Rome, Athens or Venice, this historic itinerary visits Sorrento, the sacred sites of Jerusalem, Galilee and Nazareth, the pyramids of Giza, the Roman temples of Ephesus and the tranquil Greek Islands of Patmos and Santorini. From $3909 per person, twin share.

■ The new Ruby Princess offers longer getaways with 17 exotic voyages ranging from 12 to 28 nights.

■ Guests can soak up the sun on a 12-night Mediterranean and Greek Isles journey with departures from Barcelona beginning May 5, 2010, and visiting Monte Carlo, Florence/Pisa, Rome, Naples, Mykonos, Istanbul, Kusadasi, Athens and Venice. Fares from $2689 per person, twin share.

For more information on Princess Cruises' new Europe program call 13 24 88 or visit www.princess.com.

How about taste?

Okay, so we've talked you into having a fresh look at cruises - but you're still a bit wary of signing up for a long journey?

Never fear - Pacific Dawn is here! P&O's cheerful liner will make the perfect introduction to you and the high seas - and keep your tastebuds happy at the same time.

Clever marketing, this one - P&O realised that sampler cruising could be just the ticket to win new patrons to sea faring travel, so they've come up with three night journeys for a gourmet themed long weekend of fun.

Teaming up with the Hunter Valley region to showcase the extremely fine food and wine of the area, Pacific Dawn's sampler cruises will feature two-hat chef Andrew Clarke of Pokolbin's Rock Restaurant.

"Preparing a six-course meal for 2000 passengers presents amazing challenges, but this is a great opportunity to bring the unique flavours if the Hunter to a new travelling public," says Andrew.

Departing Sydney on July 31 and August 14, guests will spend three nights cruising the Pacific Ocean while enjoying a weekend of unforgettable wine and food experiences.

Ann Sherry of Carnival Australia says the cruises are proving so popular that additional sampler cruises have been scheduled across the fleet for 2010.

Fares on the food and wine festival cruises start from $629 per person twin share for an inside cabin or $649 per person twin share for an outside cabin.

For more information call 13 24 69 or visit www.pocruises.com.au.

And closer to home...


We've got some of the world's best ocean adventures right on our doorstep, so find your sea legs with a trip around our Great Barrier Reef.

The people to help you are Coral Princess Cruises, with their Great Barrier Reef Winter Escape deals.

Coral Princess and her sister ship, Coral Princess II, cruise weekly between Townsville and Cairns over three nights, or over four nights departing Cairns and travelling north to Lizard Island and return.

The cruises show off some of the world's best snorkelling, swimming and coral viewing sports en route, such as Thretford Reef and Sudbury Reef.

The three-night voyage also visits Dunk Island and cruises through the Hinchinbrook Channel. And if you shy away from crowds, you'll love the fact that this is for a maximum of just 50 guests.

Coral Princess is equipped with a glass bottom boat and inflatable zodiacs for daily reef and shore excursions.

There's even an excursion to Coral Princess' own private island - Pelorus - with no-one else in sight except for Coral Princess passengers and crew.

Prices start at $1496 per person twin share for the four-night cruise from Cairns to Lizard Island and return.

For further information and reservations contact 1800 079 545 or visit www.coralprincess.com.au.

Just down the way a bit, you'll find the amazing beauty of the Whitsundays - and a product that's just for those who want small and luxurious.

DescaradA Charters offer a tempting island escape onboard a luxury yacht exploring the coral blue waters, sunny beaches and spectacular landscape of the amazing Whitsundays. DescaradA has a crew of three catering to a maximum of eight passengers aboard their luxury 70ft cruiser.

They'll look after your every need from fine food to fun activities and moment of complete relaxation.

The three day Whitsunday Getaway Package includes weekend cruise in selected cabin, full cruise menu with non-alcoholic beverages, complete tour itinterary with activities and one night accommodation in Airlie Beach, starting from just $2099 per couple.

For more visit www.descarda.com.au.

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