G’day mate: Cruise lines head Down Under

Why would anyone choose to cruise Australia when there is so much to see in the interior? Two reasons: 1) Australia’s coast is spectacular, and some of the continent’s best-known cities — Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane Darwin and Perth — dot the coastline; and 2) cruise packages are designed to put passengers off the ship and into the Outback.

The latter packages feature so-called cruisetours, which are nothing more than a cruise and a tour combined. Cruise lines create these seamless excursions to allow passengers to have a full experience beyond the shoreline.

Both Celebrity Cruises and Holland America Line have developed a number of cruisetours to tie in with the deployment of their ships in the region next year.

Celebrity’s guests can select from four packages ranging from four to five nights. On the list of attractions: Ayers Rock, the world-famous giant red monolith, and the Great Barrier Reef.

Holland America Line also has Alice Springs as an alternative, the remote town in Australia’s Northern Territory. Among the experiences I had while in Alice Springs was ingesting witchetty grub, pictured above (for the delectable details, see Australian Outback Buffet: Garnish The Grubs, Pass The Maggots Please).Cruise lines are headed Down Under in record numbers. Remember, the seasons are reversed from the Northern Hemisphere, so itineraries get cranking in earnest around Christmastime.

Early next year, Silversea’s Silver Shadow departs Sydney on a 30-day circumnavigation voyage of Australia. It will be a first-ever for luxury cruise operator Silversea, which plans to visit Australia’s major cities as well as lesser-known ports.

Holland America Line will send not one, but two cruise ships to Australia in 2011. The Seattle-based cruise line will deploy its ships on itineraries that take in Australia and New Zealand.

Likewise, the two sister companies Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises plan to put more emphasis on cruises around Australia and New Zealand. Following suit with Holland America Line, Royal Caribbean will deploy two ships instead of one in the region next year. Celebrity Cruises will return to the land Down Under after a two-year absence, when the Celebrity Century begins cruising the region late next year. Century also will offer a circumnavigation of Australia, divided into two combinable 18-night sailings.

In 2012, Cunard Line’s flagship Queen Mary 2 also will circumnavigate Australia, a first for Cunard.

Carnival to feature brew pub on new Carnival Magic

Long known for its piano bars, wine bars, sports bars and wildly themed lounges, Carnival Cruise Lines will feature its first pub at sea on Carnival Magic, which is set to debut in May 2011.

In addition to a bunch of Caribbean beers, the Caribbean-themed RedFrog Pub will have its own micro-brewed draft beer, Thirsty Frog Red, and a menu that includes conch salad, spicy chicken wings and other bar food favorites as well as an array of the region’s finest rums for those whose taste runs more toward spirits than brews.

To, er, gin up interest in RedFrog Pub, Carnival is holding an online contest where barstool poets can enter their own creative slogan for the pub’s coasters. Running through Sept. 7, the contest is for those 21 and older.

Ten finalists will be chosen – nine by Carnival and one wild card entry selected by votes – and visitors to the site will vote to determine three winning slogans. The winners will receive a commemorative version of their winning slogan, a digital camera, RedFrog bar paraphernalia and, of course, eternal bar bragging rights.

For details or to enter your own clever coaster catchphrase, visit the Carnival Magic contest website.

Cruising Greenland: An inconvenient, but worthwhile trip

In 2007, it was possible to board a flight in Baltimore and set foot fewer than five hours later in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland’s largest commercial airport.

From Kangerlussuaq, it was a short hop to board Hurtigruten’s (a Norwegian cruise company) Fram to cruise Greenland’s dramatic coastline. But in 2008, Air Greenland ceased operations from North America, and today, a trip to Greenland is indeed an inconvenient one.

Getting there from the U.S. requires connecting through Reykjavik or points beyond in Europe, primarily Copenhagen, so that you board a plane in the U.S., fly over Greenland, disembark, board another plane, and fly back in the direction from which you came. Returning home requires the same travel in the wrong direction and flying once again over Greenland.

Despite the inconvenience, Greenland is well worth a visit, and one of the best ways to see the world’s largest island is by ship. While Fram operates the most extensive Greenland itineraries (ranging from 11 days to 14 days), other cruise lines typically include Greenland on repositioning cruises from Europe, across the North Atlantic, to North America. The Faroe Islands, Iceland and Newfoundland are often included on these itineraries as well. Among the cruise lines that call on Greenland: Crystal Cruises, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Silversea Cruises.During the summer months, glaciers disperse chunky icebergs that choke Greenland’s idyllic bays. Point a camera in any direction and snap to your battery blinks. With 80 percent of its surface covered in ice, Greenland is a spectacle to behold.

I cruised Greenland earlier this month on All Discovery Cruising’s mv Discovery. The ship itself was no-frills, as old as it was English. Anglophiles will no doubt enjoy the on-board ambience, where it’s possible to belly up to the bar for a pint of Bass Ale or shimmy up to the table for such British Isles favorites as Shepherd’s Pie, porridge, tea and scones.

The star of the show, of course, was Greenland itself, and though our feet were ashore fewer than 10 hours during the six full days we were on board, the trip was one that imprinted indelible images of icebergs and rugged coastal landscapes. Meeting native Greenlandic people and visiting their homes was a bonus in the ports of Nuuk and Qaqortoq, the only place name in the world, I am told, boasting three of the letter q.

We missed a full day in the UNESCO World Heritage region Disko Bay and the icefjord of Ilulissat. For an explanation and photos of icebergs, see Icebergs in Ilulissat, Greenland: A day in Disko Bay on my site, Avid Cruiser.

Greenland is also what National Geographic referred to in a recent issue of its magazine as “ground zero” for measuring the impact of global warming. If there is significant melting of the icecap, coastal dwellers worldwide should plan on moving to higher ground.

You can’t help but visit Greenland and be reminded of the premises that Al Gore laid out in “An Inconvenient Truth.” And though Greenland itself is “an inconvenient trip” for North Americans, it can be a life-changing one in small, but not insignificant, ways.

Size matters when it comes to cruise ship spas

Spas are becoming increasingly important to both cruise lines and cruise line passengers who want to pamper themselves.

For their part, cruise lines not only are engaging in the battle of the biggest but also are working to heighten anticipation among cruise passengers.

This year, two new cruise ships laid claim to having the largest spas at sea.

First out was the German operator AIDA Cruises. In February, the line boasted that the brand new AIDAblu’s 28,000-square-feet Body & Soul Spa took the prize for the biggest sea-going spa. Then in June, Norwegian Cruise Line took the lead with the 31,000-square-foot Mandara Spa (pictured) on Norwegian Epic.

To give its passengers a taste of what they might experience on board, one of Italy’s major cruise lines has put its offerings online. Costa Cruises has developed a mini-site that allows visitors to browse the line’s Samsara Spa menu.

The site, www.samsaraspa.com, features videos and more from the Samsara Spas found on five of Costa’s ships. Costa’s Samsara site offers detailed descriptions of the varied treatments and spa stateroom alternatives in the Samsara Spa area on Costa’s ships.

Hey Superstar, Get rockin’ on a Carnival karaoke cruise

Get ready for the spotlight cruisers. Carnival Cruise Lines has introduced Superstar Live Karaoke, where Carnival cruisers can live out their rock-star fantasies on stage.

This isn’t a one-time cruise but rather a new program on board Carnival ships. Combining live music with vocal accompaniment by backup singers, Superstar Live Karaoke encourages cruise passengers to channel their inner rock stars, pop idols, Motown legends and country crooners.

While nearly all cruise ships offer karaoke of some sort – or at least, the opportunity to perform in front of your audience – Carnival has amped up its version of Superstar karaoke by including the band and the backup singers.

Choose from more than 100 song tiles, ranging from ABBA to the Zac Brown Band. The program, which recently debuted aboard Carnival Conquest and Carnival Valor, premieres on the Carnival Pride this week.

By year’s end, Superstar Live Karaoke will be rolled out to Carnival’s 12 “Fun Ships” that operate itineraries of seven days or longer.