Antarctica: which cruise is right for you?

Every year more ships carrying more passengers make their way to Antarctica. Visitors will be up around the 59,000 mark in 2019/20, a long way from 1966 when just 57 tourists made the first trip.

Ships are now being designed just for the purpose of travelling to the land of the South Pole and they too have come a long way from the early Russian research vessels which were not known as luxurious – or for their ability to stabilise in rough seas.

For a rundown of the ships visiting Antarctica in the next season there is a really comprehensive article published in the Fairfax press last weekend and written by David McGonigal, author of several books on Antarctica, and veteran of over 100 voyages to the region.

One of the strangest looking vessels with some of the most innovative features is Aurora Expeditions Greg Mortimer, the video below will show you just how and why.

Cruising with a conscience


Hurtigruten Polarys at sea
The Norwegian line, Hurtigruten, which is both a cruise ship company and local ferries, has announced that it has successfully tested its biofuel. The ship Polarlys has been testing the fuel for some weeks and Hurtigruten’s aim is to lead the way in making sustainable choices.

Couple on board ship in Norwegian FjordsIn 2015 we cruised on Hurtigruten from Bergen to Kirkennes in Norway and back to Bergen. As a way to see the coast of Norway it is probably one of the best. The ships dive in and out of the fjords carrying cargo and passengers to local communities. Meanwhile those who are simply travelling, have the opportunity to explore local communities, food and customs and to visit places they would otherwise not be able to see. One of the highlights of our trip was the dog sledding, another the midnight concert in a Arctic cathedral in Tromso.

Silversea is another cruise line with a conscience. They have recently launched a fund to support conservation in the Galapagos Islands. The fund will build on the cruise line’s current strategy of aiming for a positive impact on the natural and economic environment of the Galapagos, including its contribution to the Floreana Island Ecolological Restoration Project. Silversea will launch a new ship Silver Origin in 2020 built with a ‘dynamic position system’ which enable it to position over delicate seabed ecosystems to prevent the anchor damaging precious coral and incorporate freshwater purification systems to convert seawater into drinking water. They will also drastically reduce the use of plastic on board.

It is to be hoped more cruise lines will see that the way of the future is keeping our environment sustainable.

New ships, new sailings

Silver at Sea

Silver Dawn is the 10th vessel of the luxury Silversea Cruise line. It will be launched in 2021 and the inaugural itineraries have just been announced.
The  596-guest vessel will depart Civitavecchia (Rome) on 22 September 2021, spending her inaugural season in the Mediterranean, before crossing to Fort Lauderdale.

Silver Dawn’s inaugural season will include the following itineraries:

  • Civitavecchia (Rome) to Venice—22 September–1 October 2021
  • Venice – Piraeus (Athens)—1 October–13 October 2021
  • Piraeus (Athens) to Barcelona— 13 October–23 October 2021
  • Barcelona to Lisbon—23 October–2 November 2021; and
  • Lisbon to Fort Lauderdale—2 November–15 November 2021.

New Princesses

Princess have taken delivery of Sky Princess, the fourth Royal-class ship for Princess Cruises.
This is the 17th ship Fincantieri has built for Princess at Monfalcone.
Sky Princess is the first vessel with Sky Suites, named because of their   enormous balconies.
4,610 passengers will be accommodated in 1,830 cabins with 1,411 crew. 
New Princesses to come are Enchanted Princess and Discovery Princess, to be delivered in 2020 and 2021, respectively.

Cunard Queen Elizabeth Australian Garden Journey 2021

flowers and watering can for Australian Garden Journey by congerdesign from Pixabay

Cunard has announced their first dedicated garden voyage for Australian garden lovers. Promoted as a way for those cruising to grow their gardening knowledge (their pun, not mine) this voyage will depart from Sydney and return 7 days later after visiting Hobart and Melbourne. The voyage departs March 1, 2021.

Guest speakers in include TV’s Graham Ross, native plant guru Angus Stewart and broadcaster Indira Naidoo, whose specialty is edible gardens. There are 9 experts in all covering topics from bee-keeping to landscaping. 

If you live in Sydney cruising in and out of  your home port is a very easy way to travel. No airports to negotiate and customs is a breeze.  If you have always wanted to experience a Cunard voyage this could be the one to try. Prices start at $1,399pp for an inside cabin twin share.

This cruise will probably sell out fast – even though it is a year and half from now. If you could like to know more contact us now,

The right suitcase: carry-ons

Woman with shoulder bag wheeling carryon suitcase towards airport gates

Choosing the right suitcase becomes really important when you get it wrong!  Recently my daughter travelled for 4 nights on a domestic work trip without a good carryon suitcase. Never again was the verdict.

The right suitcase depends oin where you are going – and for how long – no one suitcase will suit (pun intended) all your trips. With any suitcase it is important to remember that the weight of the suitcase is included in your luggage allowance so while a lovely old leather suitcase may be a sturdy friend, it won’t allow you to take as much as a wheeled, shell suitcase – and it will be more difficult to hoist into the overhead lockers. 

The carry-on

The carry on suitcase is perfect for a short interstate trip. The cheaper domestic airlines have the meanest luggage allowances. Qantas and Virgin Australia are the most generous with Qantas being top – and neither will charge for small amounts of excess weight – unless you arrive at the airport with more carry-on luggage than you are allowed and you insist on taking it with you! 

The general weight allowance is 7kg (including the suitcase)  – Qantas will allow up to 14 kg in total which means you can take a garment bag as well. But let’s not be silly about this – life will be easier if you can get everything into one carry on suitcase and take a handbag or backpack.

I confess to not being the best packer (I always add something I might just need… and then something else) I have a deal to learn – even though I have been travelling for over 45 years.  I have just discovered some great youtube videos with instructive titles such as ‘How to pack over 100 items into a carry on’  and ‘Winter Packing – How to pack everything into a carry-on’ – there are heaps more. 

Tips I discovered during this research 

  • make sure you mix and match with your wardrobe – this is something I did learn many years ago.
  • Another is to use shoe bags – something I always do too.
  • Split your toiletries into smaller bags
  • Use packing bags or zip lock bags for socks, undies, and other smalls. 

Do you have another tip? 

5 important things to do before you travel

  1. Make sure your passport is up to date. That means you have at least 6 months left after your planned return to Australia.
  2. Check if you need visas or vaccinations. Visas can be tricky and depend on the passport you are travelling on as well as where you are going. Your travel agent will be on top of this – and also will know if you need vaccinations.
  3. Travel Insurance. Essential. Check the fine print. Look for what isn’t covered as much as for what is, (what if you get hit by a bicycle, break a tooth and need dental care, get sick and miss your tour??)
  4. Copy the important documents (passport, itinerary, insurance details) and leave the copies behind with a relative or friend.
  5. Have a well-packed carry-on. Be prepared – if you are travelling budget you may need a pillow, eye shade, water, snacks, something to read, a screen. Take a few essentials in case your luggage is mislaid

Hurtigruten’s in Antarctica

If you are a regular reader you will know that we have just come back from a trip up the Norwegian coastline on Hurtigruten’s Kong Harald – and we loved it. Such a different experience with all the elements of a cruise, but because it is so important to the local community as a transport, you feel as though you are part of the community.
Now Hurtigruten is off to Antarctica. The ‘MS Midnatsol’ will visit Antarctica for the 2016-17 season with an interactive science lab. It will be based in Punta Arenas and explore the Chilean Fjords. ‘MS Fram will remain based in Ushuaia, that little bit of Argentina at the southern most tip of South America.

Istanbul in a day

We have another day in Istanbul after disembarking from the  ‘Minerva.. We disembarked early the next morning and head for a hotel which we have booked in the Old Istanbul.  We thoroughly enjoyed our time on  board ‘Minerva’, it has something no other cruise we have done has, though we believe that Saga (which do not sail to Australia, nor does Swan Hellenic) has a similar ambience. The cabins are quite simple compared to those on other ships – even the suites which have balconies, however the public areas are like an English country house, spacious and friendly with comfy armchairs and cosy sofas. There are a number of different areas to sit including an excellent library, classified in the Dewey system (though don’t look for a catalogue). There are two bars and two restaurants – both served by the same kitchen, but one casual buffet style and the other formal. Many of the passengers are serial travellers with Swan Hellenic and were discussing past and future cruises and making plans to meet up again at the next cruise. It felt like belonging to a friendly English country club.

After dropping our bags we headed for Topkapi. This was an option on the excursion program yesterday but we had already booked Old Instanbul. Topkapi Palace is like a small town. The residence of the Ottoman Sultans constructed in 1478 it was lived in until 1868 it has 4 courtyards and beautiful gardens in and around the buildings. There is a library, kitchens, and the famous harem – a town within a town. The Imperial Treasury has gifts to the sultans on display and there are audience galleries, schoolrooms and Turkish baths. While it is very splendid and well worth a visit, it is a little tedious after about an hour or two. This is because it is room after room beautifully decorated with tiles and marble. These rooms have little furniture except the occasional low ottoman sofa. It would be far more evocative if, for example,  the kitchens were set up as they are at Hampton Court Palace in England for example with models of the food and people who would have used them, actually acting out cooking and food preparation. 

It was a beautiful sunny day however and we enjoyed our time wandering through the gardens. After about 4 hours we set off the find the Spice Market. This was well worth a visit, though it is hugely disappointing not to be able to bring any sices home. I am even wary of bringing home Turkish delight unless it is sealed. The Spice Market or Egyptian Spice Bazaar, is in a very old part of town, under cover and seems to extend for miles. Dozens of stalls selling the same produce make it difficult to decide, but finally I settle on a few boxes of Turkish delight – after tasting it – and ask for them sealed. 

Our evening was planned to be in a meze house in Taksim, but after taking the tram and funicular to get to this part of town we decided it was too seedy – and that the area around the Agia Sophia and the Blue Mosque looked like they had better restaurants. Next time we need to know where to go as I am sure that Istanbul has some great innovative food. We ended up eating in a run-of-the-mill cafe… have an average meze plate and a meal cooked in a claypot known as guvec – not a meal to celebrate.
Tomorrow we begin our journey back to Sydney.


Istanbul Turkey – last port for Swan Hellenic Black Sea on Minerva

We arrived in Istanbul in the early morning with a mist on the Bosphorus, and a sunny day in store. Istanbul is a enormous city, growing from the around 1.5 million when Martin first visited in the late 1960s to around 14 million. With the two bridges connected the Asian and European sides of the town it is bustling and busy with ferries criss-crossing the Bosphorus and a very modern efficient tram system (very simple to use and well-worth using if you staying anytime and want to explore on foot). 

We had a day and a night on the ship before we disembarked finally so we took advantage of the tours and started with the tour of Old Istanbul.

This began with a tour of the Blue Mosque, with its intricate blue tiles covering every conceivable wall and roof space, 6 minarets and stained glass windows pointing to the huge dome. It was crowded even early in the day and as it is a functioning mosque it was necessary to take off one’s shoes and for the women to cover their heads with a scarf not a hat!). 

Then the highlight- the Underground Cistern which dates back to the 6th century and was built by the Emperor Justinian in 532 to enrues that the town had it’s own water supply that could not be ransacked by invaders.It is in amazing condition as it was ignored by the Ottoman empire who want use water uneless it is flowing and is now a mecca for tourists. If you do little else in Istanbul, visit the Cistern… it is wworth going down all the steps, queueing and standing under dripping water.

Finally we visited the Hagia Sophia, originally built as a Christian church under Constantine the Great, and rebuilt by Emperor Justinian. Justinian certainly left his mark on Istanbul, he was determined that this building would suprass all others in splendor and it is certainly awesome. Taken over by the Turks and turned into a mosque as it remained, being rebuilt and renovated until 1935 when Mustafa Ataturk had the foresight to turn it into a museum. It too is certainly worth a visit and will impress with its grandeur and incredible feats of civil engineering.

Our afternoon excursion was a more leisurely cruise on the Bosphorous. This took us up the European side of the straits and down the Asian side. With a stop at a waterside cafe for some local yoghurt (very good) and a Turkish coffee.
A beautiful sunny day made it all the more impressive.

Varna and Nessebur or Nesbar in Bulgaria

Our next ports of call were Varna and Nessebur in Bulgaria. We disembarked at Varna early in the morning after sailing through the night. Today Varna is a major tourist destination in the region.

A watery sunshine and a chilly breeze greeted us as we took a bus and walking tour of the sights of the city. As with so many towns around the Black Sea the history goes back to Roman times and earlier, and there are many Roman ruins around the harbour side. As with the other cities we have visited it too was an important link in the Ottoman empire, it see-sawed between control by the Bulgurs and the Turks for centuries,

We were taken to the Roman Baths where it is possible to get a picture of just what a big enterprise these were and how sophisticated Roman engineering was. We also visited a Roman market place where the mosaic floor was remarkably preserved despite a flood in recent years which had ruined some of the mosaic. On the down side it is all a bit fusty and in need of a clean, but it remains remarkable.

The Ethnographic Museum was another stop. This is in an Ottoman town house built by one of the upper classes almost entirely of wood. It houses local crafts and folk costumes and was an interesting overview of the culture of the region. 
Other tours we were offered today included the Balchik Botanical Gardens, Balchik being a coast town just outside Varna, and the tour included a tour of the palace built in 1936 by King Ferdinand of Romania for his English wife Queen Marie. But as we only had a half day in Varna only one tour was possible. Often we will take ourself off to explore, but when a ship only calls into a port for a half day, unlees you have made private arrangements, taking a town tour is really the only way to see a place – sometimes you will find the port is out of town and just getting into town can talk precious time.
We left Varna at lunchtime and headed to Nessebar, also known as Nesebar. Sailing into the port in the late afternoon sun was magical. It is a very pretty port and you can see why it is a major resort, not just for local but also British and German tourists. 

We had a night and a day in this town, so as soon as the ship had docked we set off to walk the old part of town, right beside the port. This town too is steeped in history – going back 3,000 years. One of the most important Byzantine towns on the west coast of the Black Sea in Byzantine times, it has many churches, Roman ruins and 19th century wooden houses. It is also has a vibrant tourist sector with many shops, cafes and restaurants.
The excursion we chose the next day was the Bulgarian Village. We set off in a bus which took us on a tour of the country side and gave us a quick look at the resort of Sunny which has around 500 tourist hotels and sandy beaches. The village we visited was Goritsa, a sleepy little village populated by many retirees, where we visited the tiny local Orthodox Church, located in a small house, as this was the only way these Christians could worship in the time of the Ottoman and Muslim domination. The priest and his wife spoke very good English and gave us an excellent overview of how their church operated and their lives.

There followed morning town at the home of a local family who greeted us with the traditional home-baked bread which you eat sprinkled with a mix of cinnamon and salt (delicious), home-baked sweets and cakes (a baklava of course and other sweets baked with filo, shortbreads including kourabiedes, and  homemade cheese. The master of the house also made very good wine and had a distillery making rakia. They were warm and welcoming and it was a delightful interlude.

A visit oto the local majoy followed and we were back at the ship by lunchtime. More time to explore in the afternoon then we sailed for Istanbul in the late afternoon