First-Ever Expedition World Cruise On Sale

By Staff Writer

Travellers can now book their spots for Silversea’s Uncharted World Tour 2021. Spanning 107 destinations in 30 countries, the ocean endeavour will set sail on Silversea’s Silver Cloud ship from Ushuaia, Argentina on 30 January 2021, and is the first-ever expedition world cruise. The 167 day-long expedition will cover a total of 39,000 nautical miles and offer a range of immersive travel experiences along the way.

“The Expedition World Cruise 2021 has been specially crafted to unlock the world’s most amazing deep travel experiences for our guests,” said Conrad Combrink, Silversea’s Senior Vice President Expeditions and Destination Experiences.

In Antarctica, guests will witness incredible landscapes and rare wildlife species, while in the South Pacific, they will meet the descendants of the famous Bounty Mutineers on Pitcairn, after spending two days on Easter Island. The journey continues in the French Polynesia, with Bora Bora and Aitutaki’s lagoon, followed by on-water exploration of Australia’s Kimberley region. The stops continue throughout Malaysia’s Borneo, Egypt — including a sail through the iconic Suez Canal — Greece, Albania, Tunisia, Spain, France and the United Kingdom. The lengthy trip concludes with some of Northern Europe’s most remarkable destinations, featuring Iceland, Svalbard and Norway’s North Cape and more.

Silversea’s 70-member expedition team, Artist in Residence Antony Smith and 20-plus guest speakers will join the voyage, offering workshops, lectures and accompanying shore excursions. Guests include Felicity Aston MBE — explorer, scientist, speaker and author; Tim Severin, explorer and gold medalist of the Royal Geographical and Scottish Geographical Societies; and Jo Ruxton, co-founder of the Plastic Oceans Foundation.

A number of exclusive events will additionally enhance the voyage, allowing guests to gain access and insight into the fascinating cultures across various destinations. The cruise will start off with a special bon voyage reception on the rooftop of Palacio Concha, a grand mansion in Chile’s Santiago. Later special occasions include privileged access to Robert Louis Stevenson’s former home in Apia, Samoa Islands, for a private dinner; a night at the illustrious China Club, where guests will enjoy a private dinner on the 52nd floor of Singapore’s Capital Tower and a bespoke banquet on the walkway of London’s most famous landmark, the Tower Bridge. Concluding the world cruise, a Viking farewell will offer an authentic culinary experience in Iceland’s Kjarnaskogur Forest.

Silver Cloud’s two-bedroom owner’s suite costs AU$704,000 per person for the duration of the 167-day voyage while the ship’s vista suites begin at AU$138,000 per person. As part of the voyage’s all-inclusive pricing, world-cruising guests will each receive complimentary expedition gear delivered directly to their suites. The kit will include a commemorative World Cruise Polar exploration parka, a waterproof backpack, and various other items of clothing and accessories.

See here for more details and inclusions.

silversea.com/world-cruise

Sailing the Pacific with Ponant

By Madeleine Stratton

I flew from Sydney to Noumea to join Compagnie du Ponant’s ship L’Austral for part of the New Caledonia to Australia leg of a voyage that commenced from Marseille. I arrived at lunchtime on Saturday, a few hours before L’Austral’s embarkation commenced at 4pm, to a tropical ghost town. Most of the shops closed, hardly any people about, Noumea was having a siesta – so I was itching to explore the ship and get out onto open water.

Stepping out of the tropical heat of Noumea onto the sleek, grey and air-conditioned L’Austral was heavenly. Although L’Austral was built in Italy, she is thoroughly French (the friendly “Bonjour”s echoing from the sta­ are a dead giveaway) and so too were most of the guests on board (over 90 per cent during our seven-night voyage). The staff­ speak French (and many of them are) but they do also speak English, and it wasn’t long before most of them were reverting to a “hello” for me instead.

L’Austral is built in the style of a super-yacht and has been internationally recognised with a “Green Ship” label for its eco-friendly practices like reduced exhaust emissions, onboard waste treatment and a dynamic positioning system which allows it to avoid dropping anchor in sensitive marine areas. With only 132 staterooms and suites onboard she carries no more than 264 passengers meaning you receive plenty of attention from the staff­, and there’s always someone nearby who can attend to any query or whim you might have.

The ship’s interiors, designed by architect Jean-Philippe Nuel, are elegant with luxurious details, from the chandelier at reception comprised of threaded crystals suspended between two decks, to the twinkling Swarovski Pearl ceiling of Le Coromandel restaurant on deck two. And from within the ship’s restaurants, bars and guest rooms, a muted neutral palette is the chorus behind the lead, expansive views of the richly blue coral sea.

My Prestige Stateroom was elegantly appointed and comfortable, albeit more snug than your average five-star hotel room at 200 square feet (about 18.5 square metres). Plenty of storage space and cleverly arranged furniture means you stop noticing very quickly (and if you require or desire more space two staterooms can be converted into a suite with one remaining a bedroom and the other becoming a lounge area). A special mention has to go out to the supremely comfortable bed – that, combined with the gentle rocking of the docked ship, was a recipe for a heavenly sleep on the first night. And all but eight of the staterooms and suites have private balconies, mine was the perfect spot for relaxed reading and an opportunity to enjoy the fresh air and refreshing salty spray from the sea.

Throughout the journey the days would be peppered with loudspeaker announcements from Captain Jean-Philippe Lemaire or cruise director Kamel Hamitouche, keeping guests aware of the times, meeting points and procedures for onshore activities (each night after dinner I’d return to my room to and the next day’s schedule waiting for me). After a night and another day in Noumea our first stop and onshore activity was the stunningly beautiful Ile des Pins. I grabbed a snorkel and flippers from Kamel and headed out on a tender across the clear turquoise water and was greeted on the dock with a traditional dance by the local islanders. The island is lush and green, the waters are warm and the snorkelling fantastic, particularly in the waters of sheltered Kanumera Bay where tropical fish were teeming amongst an array of coral formations.

Having worked up a suffcient appetite, it was back on board for lunch at Le Rodrigues, the ship’s second restaurant up on deck six (the pool deck). Lunch is buffet-style and themed daily – one day I was dining on Mediterranean style cuisine and the next day it was Asian (breakfast at both restaurants is also buffet).

Everything is freshly made onboard (even down to the croissants and pain au chocolat at breakfast) and fresh produce is sourced at nearly every port. There’s an extensive wine selection (and there are some excellent house wines included in the fare). Le Coromandel is down below on deck two, and its windows are just above the water level, making for one particularly exciting dinner when the ship was making a sharp turn and the waves were crashing against them. Le Coromandel was my favourite of the two restaurants – the dinners there are à la carte and the menu changes daily. Highlights for me were the Potage Parisien parfume au gingembre (ginger, leek and potato cream soup) and the mignon de veau de lait (milk veal tenderloin, served with mushroom ragout and port wine veal jus).

L’Austral spent three days at sea after Ile des Pins. She may be a small ship but I certainly had no trouble keeping myself occupied. Between the fine dining there were trips to the hammam at the ship’s Sothys Spa, sessions with the Nintendo Wii in the gaming area, several good books and organised fun like “Bingo bingo bingo”. (I thought it might be a bit cheesy but it turned out to be good fun, and my fiercely competitive streak took over leaving me disappointed when I did not emerge from the lounge with the jackpot winnings.)

The ship was due to arrive first at Townsville but had to change course as a mini-tornado had passed through the city causing damage. It was straight on to Cairns, and there I said my goodbyes to L’Austral – the ship would go on through the Great Barrier Reef and up to Darwin over another seven nights but for me, tanned and thoroughly relaxed, it was time for a short flight back home.

 

au.ponant.com

Chasing the Sun in the Mediterranean

By Rob Mills

It’s a perfect spring evening on the Adriatic as our ship pulls away from the ancient preserved medieval Montenegrin port of Kotor bound for Dubrovnik, just 83 kilometres up the Croatian coast.

We’re sipping champagne at the pool deck bar, watching the fortified old town at the foot of the limestone Dinaric Alps grow smaller, when the gentle words of Captain Etienne Garcia are broadcast, urging his 250 “dear guests” to savour this “beautiful navigation”.

His ship, the French small luxury liner, Le Soléal, glides through the glassy, turquoise waters of the 28-kilometre long Bay of Kotor. It may look like a fjord but is, in fact, a ria or submerged river canyon. As we continue, two exquisite islets can be seen from the port side. One is Our Lady of the Rocks, which bears the 17th-century church of the same name. The other, Ostrvo Sveti Đorđe, is home to the 12th-century Saint George Benedictine monastery. Both are important pilgrim destinations.

Captain Garcia circles the striking islands before leaving the Bay of Kotor via the Verige Strait and its narrow 230-metre wide opening, giving some idea of the strategic importance of what was once thought to be Europe’s southernmost fjord. Fourteen days aboard Le Soléal exploring the ancient ruins of Southern Europe from Istanbul to Venice is a feast for the eyes, the intellect and – because this is a sophisticated French ship after all – a feast of the literal kind.

We are in fact being enthusiastically spoiled on APT’s 17-day Ancient Mediterranean luxury cruise from Athens and Istanbul to Venice. As well as two nights at Athens’ magnificent Hotel Grande Bretagne with its Parthenon, Parliament, Syntagma Square and Mount Lycabettus views, a packed itinerary includes Santorini, Mykonos, Canakkale, Gallipoli, Troy, Assos, Istanbul, Kepez, Kusadasi, Ephesus, the Corinth, Canal, Itea, Delphi, Kotor, Montenegro, Dubrovnik and Venice.

There’s another aspect to this 3,471-kilometre experience. APT has chartered Le Soléal, one of French cruise company Ponant’s four exploration and discovery ships, for Gallipoli’s 100th anniversary. This means Gallipoli is front and centre for a few days, before Le Soléal continues her Aegean (Aegean) and Adriatic exploration.

But while this cruise is a one-off, it is also a dry-run for APT’s 2016 Boutique Collection Cruising program between Venice and Istanbul, which includes the 15-day Aegean and Adriatic Seas cruise aboard Ponant’s newest ship, Le Lyrial (almost identical to Le Soléal), and the 15-day Adriatic & Aegean Odyssey aboard APT’s even smaller, 114-passenger luxury ship, MS Island Sky.

Gallipoli will still be on the itinerary but the emphasis will swing towards the Aegean and Adriatic ports, with an itinerary very similar to Le Soléal’s. It’s tempting to lounge around this sleek ship – thankfully casino-free – but Le Soléal and APT, with its “Freedom of Choice” excursions, focus on providing a sophisticated experience that includes an active engagement with its destinations.

And so we find ourselves diving from a traditional wooden caïque into the bracing Mediterranean to swim 60 metres into Santorini’s Nea Kameni, where sulphurous gases heat the water to 37 degrees. Next, we’re hiking to the top of nearby Palia Kameni, an active volcanic centre in Santorini’s circular archipelago. The awe-inspiring site was once a single volcano that erupted catastrophically 3600 years ago.

In Montenegro, we choose between kayaking, swimming and snorkelling in the picturesque Bay of Kotor, speedboating to the Lustica peninsula’s luminous Blue Caves to swim and sunbathe, walking the walled old town of Kotor, then climbing the zigzag path to St John’s church.

In Croatia, we must decide between a fascinating cycle in the wine and olive-growing valley outside Dubrovnik (including lunch, wine tasting and a crash course on Croatian history and culture), walking the old town, or navigating the ramparts Game of Thrones aficionados might recognise. It’s serious FOMO territory.

And don’t get me started on Istanbul. From the moment we glide into the Golden Horn, with the city’s minarets silhouetted against the sunrise, and dock beneath Topkapi Palace, we’re offered a cornucopia of choices.

Something we can all experience is a dawn crossing of the Corinth Canal. Our 18-metre-wide ship navigates the 21.4-metre wide, 6.4-kilometre high-walled channel that cuts through the narrow Isthmus of Corinth, slicing the Greek mainland from the Peloponnesian peninsula. Few cruise ships are small enough to manage the journey, making this a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

It would be remiss to omit what some consider the raison d’etre of this cruise – the total immersion in the ancient world’s diverse civilisations that produced such wonders as Ephesus, Troy, Delphi, Assos and Delos. Not to mention Athens’ Acropolis, Parthenon, Emperor Hadrian’s Temple of Zeus, the Temple of Poseidon and many more.

It would be remiss to omit what some consider the raison d’etre of this cruise – the total immersion in the ancient world’s diverse civilisations that produced such wonders as Ephesus, Troy, Delphi, Assos and Delos. Not to mention Athens’ Acropolis, Parthenon, Emperor Hadrian’s Temple of Zeus, the Temple of Poseidon and many more.

It would be equally lax to gloss over shipboard life. Le Soléal’s interiors are sophisticated, with good use of neutral colours – sand, caramel, chocolate, pale aqua and cream. Paintings and sculptures have a nautical or galactic theme, with an eye-catching, two-deck sculptural “shoal of fish” in the role of central atrium light. And I defy you to stay awake in the theatre’s luxurious armchairs.

The 132 private-balcony cabins spread over four decks accommodate 264 guests (there’s lift access). Prestige staterooms are 22.6 square metres, with decent storage space, flat screen TV, desk, safe, air-conditioning, fridge and a shower with an optional glass screen so you can enjoy the view and your L’Occitane products simultaneously.

There’s butler service for Deck 6 guests and room service for all others. The ship’s spa operates in association with French beauty brand Sothys As the Med races past, Restaurant L’Eclipse serves excellent degustation-style a la carte dinners, with matched European wines and champagnes. Restaurant Le Pytheas, boasting outdoor seating on the pool deck, is more casual. Buffet-style dining is complemented by made-to-order hot meals and to-die-for desserts including delicate crèmes brulees and, a piece de resistance, chocolate and sugared-pistachio tart.

Breakfast is another treat – one you can order to your bed! Amazing croissants and pastries are a highlight. Room service is also available for dinner, though the lure of fine food and good conversation beyond your door is strong, which brings me to the bars. Galilee resides in the main lounge but it’s the airy Observation bar that lures us most strongly. Its huge skylight and wraparound glass offer the perfect setting for Bruno’s magnificent pre- and post-dinner cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, accompanied by the delicate sounds of concert pianist, Valentyn Smolianinoff

Le Soléal’s name is a combination of the French “sun” and “the one who shows the way.” It’s appropriate for this wonderful experience.