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Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Best Dining and Best Suites awarded to Oceania

Ship Marina and Riviera - Restaurant Jacques_Credit Oceania Cruises
Jacques Pépin's namesake restaurant
Cruise Critic 2012 Editors’ Picks were announced on December 4th, and Oceania Cruises sailed away with two prestigious awards: Best Dining and Best Suites. The Cruise Critic Editors’ Picks are chosen by the editors of Cruise Critic’s based on the cruise lines they identify to best represent excellence in designated categories.

“We are thrilled to be recognised by the editors of Cruise Critic, particularly in these categories,” said Kunal S. Kamlani, the line’s president. “Extraordinary cuisine and luxurious accommodations have always been hallmarks of the Oceania Cruises experience”.

Master Chef Jacques Pepin_Credit Oceania Cruises
Master Chef Jacques Pépin
“Oceania Cruises does an exceptional job on its cuisine, whether it’s gourmet, grill or the buffet,” said Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief of Cruise Critic. “While its new ships, Marina and Riviera, feature even more options, including Jacques Pépin's namesake restaurant and Red Ginger, a contemporary Asian restaurant, its smaller ships also offer an array of new dishes on their Grand Dining Room menu”.

Cruise Critic editors also singled out Oceania Cruises for the second year in a row for its Owners’ Suites noting that they “are the most sumptuous at sea”.

“Bigger than some New York apartments,” Spencer Brown continued, “these feature furnishings from Ralph Lauren Home, a large living and dining room, bedroom with king-sized bed, his and hers walk-in closets, and even a media room with a professional entertainment system and a whirlpool on its wrap-around balcony”.


About Oceania Cruises

Oceania Cruises® offers unrivalled cuisine, luxurious accommodations, exceptional personalized service and extraordinary value. Award-winning itineraries visit more than 330 ports in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, and the Americas aboard two pairs of mid-size sister ships: the 684-guest Regatta and Nautica, and 1,250-guest Marina and Riviera.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Luxury Ocean Cruising: Blame the Germans


Written by Roderick Eime



When we think of the great liners of the world, there is a tendency to think British. QE2, Queen Mary, Titanic and Great Eastern have all taken centre stage in some great historic maritime event. Britannia rules the waves, indeed.

But while researching another story, I was reminded that the Germans have a lot more nautical heritage than just the Bismarck and U-Boats. The voluminous Hamburg Passenger Lists read like a Doomsday Book, containing the names and final destinations of over five million migrants who dispersed to the USA and Australia -including this writer’s descendents – on a vast fleet of vessels.

Beside their preoccupation with fastidious records (which miraculously survived WWII) the Germans were a major force in the rapid development of luxury ocean-going passenger vessels. The Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien- Gesellschaft (Hapag) began in the mid-19 th century and drew criticism from rivals for luring business with lavish facilities aboard their fleet of passenger-focussed ‘packet’ vessels.

By the beginning of the 20th century, the proud and competitive Germans were producing class-leading ocean liners such as the SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, SS Kronprinz Wilhelm (pic above) and SS Deutschland which regularly competed for the grand prize of ocean liners, The Blue Riband. Awarded for the fastest westbound crossing of the Atlantic, the Germans dominated with crossings of just five and a half days.



The fine-living Germans are widely credited with producing the first vessel dedicated to the hedonistic pleasure of cruising, the exquisite Prinzessin Victoria Luise (above). Styled more like a private yacht, she was fitted out in a style befitting royalty and included a library, gymnasium and photographic darkroom. In fact the Kaiser himself was mildly displeased after inspecting the vessel as it rivaled his own yacht for luxurious appointments. The Princess’s career was sadly short and she ran on rocks near Kingston in late 1906. The devastated captain shot himself.

By the 1920s, these great ships were either lost or scrapped, making way for a new wave of German liners. In 1928, the Norddeutscher Lloyd line (NDL) launched two state-of-the-art vessels, Bremen and Europa, both capturing the Blue Riband on their respective maiden voyages.

Cruising and zeppelin flights to South America were very popular for the Germans prior to World War II and in the mid- and late 1920s, the Hamburg Sud commissioned the Monte class vessels, noteworthy because they were ‘classless’ in their passenger configuration. Cost of the cabin depended on its size and location. One, the Monte Cervantes, was used for adventure cruising. It struck an iceberg near Spitsbergen, was repaired, then struck rocks near Ushuaia and ultimately sunk in January 1930. The single life lost was again that of the captain.

The great German ships of the 1930s were tainted with Nazi propaganda, but still retained impressive style and proportions. Ships were launched as pleasure vessels for German workers. One, the 25,000 ton Wilhelm Gustloff would feature in the single greatest loss of life ever in a maritime disaster when she was torpedoed carrying 10,000 refugees in January 1945.



Today, the pride of German cruising is on display with the consistently top-rated vessels of the Hapag-Lloyd line; Europa, Bremen, Hanseatic and Columbus, names which are anything but co-incidental.

For information on the current HL ships, see www.hl-cruises.com for bookings, visit www.discountcruising.com.au

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Deck 10: Getting into the ‘Carnivore’ Spirit

Carnival Spirit arrives in Sydney (Carnival)
Roderick Eime

The arrival of Carnival Spirit into Sydney has set the city abuzz and media is all a-twitter about the largest ship ever to home port in Australia.

This middle-aged writer joined hundreds of excited young travel agents and a number of media for a one night sampler cruise last Friday and it was clear from the outset, it was going to be party time.

We’ve heard all about the “Aussification” (pro’s and con’s) and Green Thunder, but what about some of the less obvious aspects of this massive vessel?

Nouveau dining - Carnival CruisesI seldom cruise on the large ships and even less frequently with Mrs Travel Reporter (a big ship debutante) in company, so it was an enlightening experience in many respects. One of the most anticipated events was dining in the newly re-christened Nouveau Restaurant, otherwise known as Supper Club or Steakhouse throughout the Carnival family. This is the bookings-essential, $35-surcharge, fine dining, vegetarian-free experience way up on Deck 10 and accessible via a breathtaking, transparent staircase from the deck below.

Guests are greeted by immaculately coiffed and attired hostesses and seated at all correct, silver service tables, so I’m glad I ironed my shirt and brought a tie. Dress up for this occasion, it won’t hurt. Dress code: Cruise Elegant

While the menu remains consistent with other Carnival vessels, the wine list has certainly been tweeked for local (read: parochial) tastes with the addition of AU and NZ reds and whites.

“The Australian and NZ wines are the first to sell out,” laments the sommelier, “no-one seems interested in the French or Californian wines.”

Maybe because most Aussies know nothing about foreign wines and are a bit nervous to venture outside our comfort zone. Talking about ‘comfort zone’, bring on the steaks!

Our waiter manoeuvres a weighty trolley up to our table, full of prime cuts and proceeds to recite a carnivore’s anthem. I listen politely and then declare cowardly “Let chef decide. Whatever he’d cook for himself.” Madame rolls her eyes. She’s heard this before, but with such a daunting array, it’s a timid strategy of mine that never fails. An Ahi tuna tartare with Houghton’s Wisdom Sav Blanc to begin, followed by the [drum roll please] 500g spice-rubbed, prime rib eye with pepper sauce. Medium rare, of course. Good call chef. Mme chooses the petit 250g filet mignon with lobster tail. “Perfect”. A Rufus Stone Shiraz chases it down. It turns out to be one of the best steaks I’ve ever had, perfectly cooked, ideally seasoned. My only wince was it came on a cold plate, although every other plate on the table was piping hot. Desserts are to die for. Chocolate ‘sampler’ be damned, it’s a dish for two.

Thinking this must be several cuts above the regular dining experience, I am able to consult cruise veteran, John Pond, who just sailed in with Spirit from Hawaii.

“I can tell you,” John declares with some authority, “the meals downstairs are none too shabby either, particularly the prime rib and roast duck, plus the thin crust pizza (on the buffet deck) is always fun at midnight.”

Takeaways: Choose ‘anytime dining’ before you board, try room service (small charge) and you MUST do Nouveau at least once.

Book early at : www.carnival.com.au

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Not So Subtle Seattle

Proposed upgrades to Seattle waterfront


Port update by Roderick Eime

I last visited Seattle in May 2009 when the city was on the verge of a major overhaul and it was interesting to see one of the world’s Top 50 most livable cities transform in this short time.

The new light rail was under test along the waterfront ahead of its official opening last December and I had the chance to test it on my trip to Hotel Five on Fifth Ave near the Seattle Center. Up until 2005, historic ex-Melbourne trams ran along the waterfront but plans for their return are unclear.

The biggest news from the home of Starbucks is the demolition of the unsightly Alaskan Way, a 60-year-old overpass that rang along the waterfront much like Sydney’s Cahill Expressway. The heavy machinery moved in last October and reduced the quake damaged roadway to rubble to make way for a massive rejuvenation project along the waterfront from Century Link Stadium, past the aquarium and Pike Place to the Bell Harbour cruise terminal.

According to the developers, www.waterfrontseattle.org, the waterfront program will include ‘continuous’ and ‘event-based’ activities. Strolling, jogging, biking, driving, and parking are supported along the entire length of the waterfront, whereas event-based programs will happen in strategic locations to maximize synergies with existing destinations. Pier 62/63 will be the focus of much activity including rollerskating, sun bathing, concerts, ice skating, swimming, events, market and views to the bay. See the website for comprehensive details of the development.

All this refurbishment will hold the city in good stead as it continues to win more business from its nearby rival port, Vancouver, across the border.

Brad Jones, director of tourism development for SCVB, tells me Seattle now has more sailings than its Canadian rival and has essentially captured the market for Alaskan cruise departures. This is due, Jones says, because of the perception that it is easier for US citizens to use a domestic port and the relative cost of airfares to Seattle.

This year, the Port of Seattle expects in excess of 200 ship visits delivering more than 430,000 passengers, a number that seems set to rise. This year and next, new and returning ships to include Seattle in their itineraries are Celebrity Cruises' 2850-passenger Solstice, Oceania’s 684-passenger Regatta, Norwegian Cruise Line adds a third vessel while Disney returns to Seattle after two seasons in Vancouver. The famous Rocky Mountaineer railroad also begins routes to Seattle in 2013.

Port of Seattle spokesman, Peter McGraw, added that “because the Port of Seattle also includes Sea-Tac International Airport, we are able to provide the added convenience of boarding passes for passengers disembarking from cruise vessels along with handling their baggage. Furthermore airfares into Sea-Tac (SEA) tend to be lower than at our competitor’s closest airports.”

Australians wishing to reach Seattle will need to fly into either Vancouver (eg Air Canada), San Francisco (eg United) or LAX (eg Virgin, Air NZ or Qantas) then connect with a local airline, probably Alaskan, which hubs out of Seattle.

Seattle, I’ve found, is an Aussie-friendly city with familiar transport systems, like-minded and enriching tourism attractions in, or close to the city centre and excellent quality accommodation at reasonable prices.

Stay: www.hotelfiveseattle.com More Info: www.VisitSeattle.org

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Massive liner once carried 12,000 Passengers


By Roderick Eime

Even as the band aboard RMS Titanic struck up their final rendition of "Nearer, My God, to Thee", the finishing touches of an even larger ocean liner were being added.

At 261m and more than 46,000 GRT, the Titanic and her sisters Olympic and Britannic, were about to be surpassed by the massive German vessel, SS Imperator, which would stretch to 276m and weigh an unheard-of 52,117 gross tons. On her bow a massive bronze eagle figurehead was hurriedly installed to counter the new RMS Aquitania which would otherwise be 12 inches longer.

4,234 passengers could travel aboard her in four classes, with some 900 in first class alone. Among her luxury appointments were a twin-deck swimming pool and Ritz-Carlton Restaurant, complete with orchestra. Her four massive propellers ran smoothly and silently at a distance from the hull – a problem recognised in earlier designs that created worrying vibrations.

Her maiden voyage took place on 10 June 1913 and to much fanfare, she sailed out of Hamburg. Despite the press acclaim and much chest-beating by her owners, the Hamburg America Line (HAPAG), there was trouble with the ship. She sailed uncomfortably in heavy seas, swaying awkwardly from side to side and it turned out she was top heavy. The unkind nickname of "Limperator" was soon applied.

In October she was back in the new AG Vulcan Hamburg shipyard for urgent remedial work which included stripping out the marble bathrooms, shaving three metres off the four funnels and replacing heavy furniture with wicker. The most radical action was pouring 2000 tons of concrete between the double hull.

When she returned to service in March 1914, the route ahead looked promising, but came to an abrupt halt with the declaration of war. HAPAG Director, Albert Ballin, had campaigned doggedly to avoid war, but events escalated during Imperator’s July eastward crossing. She made full steam for Hamburg and sat out the conflict under crude camouflage.

After the signing of the Armistice in November 1918, Germany was stripped of assets and territories, with the Imperator renamed USS Leviathan and going into service as a much-needed troopship. On one journey she carried 12,000 passengers.

By August of 1919, her military duty was complete and she reverted to Britain, being renamed again. From now until the end of her days, she would sail as RMS Berengaria with Cunard and White-Star. There was more urgent work carried out in Liverpool and she did not return to service until July 1920, where Sir Arthur Rostron, the heroic former captain of the Carpathia, was assigned command. The German-built vessel served as Cunard flagship until 1934 when, in a further twist of irony, she was replaced by another larger (291m) ex-German vessel, the former SS Bismarck.

Her final days were not bathed in glory and like other once magnificent liners, she suffered the ignominy of cut-price, prohibition-dodging cruises where she earned the new nickname “Bargain-Area”. In the end, her aging wiring was prone to catch fire and her owners retired her in 1938. By 1946, her scrapping was complete.

For more detail on SS Imperator, see www.freewebs.com/ultimateimperator