THIS morning I cruised into Sydney Harbour on Celebrity Solstice as it finally arrived at its new summer home port.
For both of us, it was the end of a 16-night repositioning cruise from Singapore through Bali, Darwin and Queensland. Between now and April next year, it will continue exploring our backyard, as well as New Zealand and the south Pacific.
Solstice has many attractive features new to local cruisers, including dedicated spa accommodations, multiple dining options and a live-grass Lawn Club on the top deck. So popular are the Solstice-class ships that Celebrity is sending them around the globe, including Europe, with the last of the Solstice class, Celebrity Reflection, having made a debut there in November. In the world of new-ship launches, however, it's not just the high seas expecting a bumper 2013.
When it comes to river cruising, Europe remains a top pick for many cruisers, with a number of vessels set to launch.
APT has two more ships joining its fleet. One is the 164-guest AmaPrima and highlights include five dining venues, staterooms with twin balconies, and a pool with a swim-up bar.
The other is AmaVida, set to carry 106 guests along Portugal's popular Douro River. Scenic Tours is also adding a new name to its fleet. Following the launch of Scenic Crystal in April this year, Scenic Jewel will be the line's seventh "space ship", undertaking its inaugural voyage next year along the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers from Amsterdam to Budapest.
When it comes to numbers, however, the hands-down winner in 2013 is Viking River Cruises. Eight "longships" will make their debuts in Europe between April and August, starting with Viking Forseti. Highlights of these vessels include French balcony staterooms with floor-to-ceiling glass sliding doors, and a new indoor-outdoor Aquavit Terrace for casual dining.
Package of the Week
Cruiseco has early-bird fares for a large collection of European fly-cruise-stay packages on Holland America Line ships. Cruises range from the Mediterranean to the Baltics, Norway and the Black Sea, including flights and pre- and/or post-cruise deluxe hotel stays.
A 22-night package, including a cruise from Istanbul to Civitavecchia (Rome) on MS Noordam, with ports of call including Kusadasi, Alexandria, Athens, Venice and Dubrovnik, is priced from $6764 a person, twin share.
The package includes a two-night stay at the Empire Palace Hotel in Rome and return flights with Emirates. (02) 9492 8520, (02) 9492 8506, cruising.com.au.
After a successful maiden season in Europe, the new Carnival Breeze has made its debut in North America. Following a 15-day transatlantic crossing from Barcelona to Miami in November, it will now operate a range of port-intensive six- and eight-day Caribbean cruises from Florida.
Movenpick Hotels and Resorts has added five new river cruisers to ply the waters of the Nile, making it the largest international cruise operator on the famous river. Options include the SS Misr, once the royal yacht of Egypt's former ruler, King Farouk, and the luxury sailboat Movenpick SB Feddya.
Coral Princess has revealed details of its new loyalty program, Xplorers Club. After completing their first cruise, guests are automatically admitted to the club as silver members, with down-the-track perks including discounts on normal cruise prices.
LAUNCHED 2011 PASSENGERS 166 REGULAR HAUNTS The Rhine and Danube rivers BEST FOR Couples THE DETAILS A 15-day Magnificent Europe cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest, departing on October 2, is priced from $5783 a person, twin share. Book by December 31 to save an extra $150 a person. 1300 230 234, avalonwaterways.com.au.
Need to know
1 The first of a new class of river cruiser for Avalon, it has a contemporary design and 64 unique Panorama suites, which can be transformed into an open-air balcony thanks to a three-metre wall of floor-to-ceiling sliding windows.
2 Such is the popularity of Panorama that Avalon launched two more "suite ships", Vista and Visionary, in 2012, and has another two, Artistry II and Expression, set for debut in Europe in 2013.
3 Eighty-three staterooms are distributed across three decks, with the Panorama suites spanning two decks. All the accommodation is spacious; staterooms have a stylish decor with chocolate-coloured wood, woven carpets, plush beige coverlets and facilities such as wi-fi and a flat-screen TV.
4 The single dining room is open seating and serves cuisine focusing on seasonal specialties and local produce. There are 24-hour self-serve tea and coffee facilities (with biscuits) in the rear lounge and, weather permitting, a top-deck bistro opens for grill lunches.
5 Other facilities include a large lounge and bar at the front and a more intimate Club Lounge at the rear with a small library, a fitness centre and hair salon, and a Sky Deck featuring sun loungers, shade and a small whirlpool.
Port watch: Bari, Italy
Need to know On the Adriatic coast in Italy's "heel", Bari is the second most important economic centre of the region after Naples, and is known as the city of St Nicholas. Ships dock at a new cruise terminal in the north-west, which is about a 20-minute walk from the old-town area, with transport options including shuttles.
Do not miss Bari can easily be explored on foot because the main sightseeing is found in the historic old town, an area of narrow, winding streets sitting on a peninsula between two harbours. Top of your list to see and photograph should be the Basilica of St Nicholas, the Cathedral of San Sabino and Castello Svevo of Frederick II. If you fancy venturing further, the Murattiano quarter in the south is also the city's modern heart and main shopping area, and a good place to stop for lunch or a quick coffee.
We're taking a cruise in Japan and want to visit Kyoto, which we're told is close to Osaka, one of our ports of call. Is this true?
- L. Mangiani, Ryde.
Yes, it is about 42 kilometres away from Osaka. If you want to explore on your own, Kyoto is connected by trains that take about 35-45 minutes in travel time. As there are many amazing sights in the city, however, I would strongly recommend an excursion, rather than going it alone. Most will be a full day and cover the big sites, including the impressive Kiyomizudera Temple, Nijo Castle and the Golden Pavilion.