Welcoming the Alaskan Wilderness

By Sally MacMillan

Sailing out of Canada’s spectacular port city of Vancouver on a crisp spring evening, toasting the occasion with a glass of perfectly chilled Champagne, sets the tone for a leisurely seven-night cruise to Seward, Alaska.

We’re onboard the recently refurbished Regent Seven Seas Mariner, an exceptionally spacious and luxurious ship for only 700 passengers – and, of course, the 445 crew members offering an uncompromising level of service.

A day’s scenic cruising through the Inside Passage allows time to explore the ship, take in an entertaining lecture by anthropologist Terry Breen about the history, culture and wildlife of the vast 49th state, then meet the captain and officers for cocktails in the evening.

Seven Seas Mariner is elegant, inside and out. Over the course of the cruise, we sample just about every restaurant, cafe, lounge and bar; I didn’t manage to squeeze in a massage or facial, but the Canyon Ranch Spa is a beautiful, calm space and offers an extensive spa menu.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises (RSSC) has invested US$125 million on ‘Explorer-ising’ its fleet of sister ships – Seven Seas Mariner, Voyager and Navigator – since launching its uber-luxury flagship Seven Seas Explorer in 2016, and Mariner looks and feels magnificent.

While the entire ship received a facelift, its restaurants were stripped to the steel and completely rebuilt – the main dining room, Compass Rose, is decked with crystal chandeliers and chic marble walls; Prime 7, the ship’s specialty steakhouse, features dramatic lighting and a rich cream-and-blue colour palette; and Chartreuse, the French restaurant that made its debut on Seven Seas Explorer, replaces Signatures. The standard of wining, dining and service in all venues is exemplary, although being something of a Francophile, Chartreuse is my favourite.

Mariner’s luxe all-suite accommodations range from two extraordinary 260-square-metre master suites through 13 categories of beautifully appointed sanctuaries.

All suites have private balconies, 24-hour room service, a minibar that’s replenished daily and free WiFi; guests staying in Concierge Suites and above have a free night’s pre-cruise accommodation and those in Penthouse Suites and above have a personal butler.

Our deluxe veranda suite on Deck 8 is gorgeous, decorated in stylish, restful shades of blue – and it’s always lovely to be greeted with a bottle of Champagne and a bowl of fresh fruit when you embark.

At our first port of call, Ketchikan, a few hardy sun-lovers bask by the newly minted mosaic-tiled pool, even though we are surrounded by rugged snow-streaked mountains.

RSSC offers an impressive range of complimentary shore excursions at every port (plus optional ones for an extra cost if you want to elevate your onshore experience).

In Alaska, the focus is on adventurous activities such as fishing, flightseeing, wildlife-spotting, dog-sledding, canoeing and hiking as well as cultural tours encompassing ancient Native Indian culture and more recent history.

Ketchikan, like two other ports we visit – Juneau and Skagway – is a former gold-rush town. It’s also known as the salmon capital of the world, so fishing expeditions are popular; floatplane and boat trips to nearby Misty Fjords, part of the massive Tongass National Forest, are among other exciting excursions on offer.

The Totem Heritage Center is a short walk beyond Ketchikan’s busy waterfront boardwalks and well worth a visit. It houses one of the world’s largest collections of original, 19th-century totem poles along with contemporary Northwest Coast art and traditional artefacts made by Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people.

Alaska’s intriguing capital, Juneau, has a smaller population than Anchorage and can only be reached by sea or air, but its citizens have long resisted attempts to move the capital elsewhere.

The Russians famously sold Alaska to America in 1867 for US$7.2 million, or about two cents an acre. Evidence of both cultures abounds, from the Russian Orthodox St Michael’s Cathedral to Totem Park, a battleground where Tlingits fought the Russian fur hunters in 1804.

Seven Seas Mariner offers 24 signature excursions: the helicopter glacier trek, which drops guests on the mighty Mendenhall Glacier for a two-hour guided walk on the ice, is a thoroughly exhilarating experience. Even more popular is dog-sledding on the glacier, which also involves a scenic helicopter flight (make sure you sign up well in advance).

Then there are brewery tours, canoeing on Mendenhall Lake, salmon bakes and gold-panning adventures. Whale-watching in the evening is another unusual option – Mariner stays in port until 11pm when it’s still light in midsummer Alaska. Local operators guarantee whale sightings and give guests a US$100 refund if the humpbacks don’t come out to play.

The historic White Pass Scenic Railroad is Skagway’s main attraction. Built between 1898 and 1900, the railway winds its way from sea level to about 915 metres at the summit.

Immaculately maintained trains haul vintage and reproduction carriages along 32 kilometres of vertiginous mountain passes and gorges, through tunnels and past what was once the world’s tallest cantilever bridge.

It’s a thrilling journey, and humbling to learn how thousands of desperate gold prospectors in the 1890s made their way on foot along the hazardous Chilkoot Trail.

Our final landing is at Sitka, a picturesque port that only allows a limited number of smaller cruise ships to dock there. Sitka’s history is a rich and bloody entanglement of thousands of years of Tlingit ownership and a century of Russian colonisation.

The Russians famously sold Alaska to America in 1867 for US$7.2 million, or about two cents an acre. Evidence of both cultures abounds, from the Russian Orthodox St Michael’s Cathedral to Totem Park, a battleground where Tlingits fought the Russian fur hunters in 1804.

Our guide takes our small group in and out of misty bays, where silence drips from ancient spruce and hemlock trees and reflections hardly waver on the still water. It’s magical, but sadly we don’t spot any bears.

Over the past few days we have seen bald eagles, ravens, porpoises, sea lions and dozens of Dall sheep, but I’m still hankering for a bear-sighting.

While we are sailing close to the magnificent Hubbard Glacier the next day, I’m advised by Dagmar, Mariner’s destinations services manager, that the best time for bear-spotting is late July, when the salmon are running – which gives me the perfect excuse for booking a return voyage on Mariner to one of the world’s most awe-inspiring wilderness areas.

 

The Details

Regent Seven Seas Cruises is offering an array of seven-day Alaska sailings aboard the newly renovated Seven Seas Mariner between Vancouver and Seward from June to September 2019.

Fares start from $6480 per person (twin share), based on a Deluxe Veranda Suite. For more information and fares on all Regent Seven Seas Cruises, call 1300 455 200 or visit rssc.com.

Why you Should be Booking an Alaskan Cruise Right Now

Few experiences can top seeing the stunning U.S. state of Alaska up close from the comfort of a luxury cruise liner on the high seas, and now is the perfect time to book

By Staff Writer

More than 37,000 Australians took an ocean cruise to Alaska in 2017, according to CLIA’s Cruise Industry Source Report. This scenic destination is more popular than ever, and with the 2018 Alaskan May-through-September cruise season complete, 2019 voyages are cruisers’ radar, with the peak booking period for Alaskan cruises for next year already underway.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises has responded to this traveller demand by offering 17 Alaskan voyages aboard Regent’s Seven Seas Mariner vessel from the 16th May through to the 30th September, 2019, ranging from seven to 12 nights.

During the voyages, Seven Seas Mariner will cruise the Inside and Outside Passage, visiting ports in Anchorage, Icy Strait (Hoonah), Juneau, Ketchikan, Sitka, Skagway and Wrangell, as well as the majestic Hubbard Glacier. As the only cruise line to offer free unlimited shore excursions in every port, this is one of the most magical and memorable ways to see Alaska.

“Luxury travellers are increasingly interested in visiting Alaska and a cruise is truly the best way to see all of the beauty the destination offers,” said Regent Seven Seas Cruises President and CEO Jason Montague. “Guests who voyaged to Alaska return home and post their awe-inspiring pictures and stories on social media, prompting people who haven’t yet sailed to The Last Frontier to book their own luxurious Alaskan cruise for next year. It’s a trend that becomes more pronounced every year, especially after the season ends. No camera lens, Facebook post nor tweet can truly capture the beauty and sheer awe of what it feels like to sail up close to a glacier or see an eagle soar overhead.”

In 2019, the cruise line’s Alaskan voyages will feature guest lecturer Terry Breen, a renowned, published Alaska specialist who has been sailing the Inside Passage for over 20 years. And off-board and back on solid ground, Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ immersive land experiences create a deep connection between the guest and the destination. The plethora of adventure-style shore excursions, all included in the voyage’s one all-inclusive price, include:

Mendenhall Glacier River Float

Guests experience Alaska’s spectacular natural beauty on a scenic rafting adventure down the Mendenhall River, with stunning views of floating icebergs and mountain peaks.

 

Tongass Rainforest Nature Hike

Passengers can discover the diverse flora, fauna and history of the world’s largest temperate rainforest, on display as one of Earth’s vital ecosystems.

 

Ocean Raft Adventures

On this exciting and memorable ocean rafting adventure in Sitka, guests board an Adventure Raft, flying over ocean swells at speeds up to 80 kilometres per hour, and feel blasts of fresh air in the open seating raft. Along the way, seabirds, whales and sea otters appear en route to the ravaged volcanic coastline of Kruzof Island.

 

Spasski River Valley Wildlife and Bear Search

Regent Seven Seas passengers will get to observe bears, deer and bald eagles in their natural habitats from an elevated observation area in the remote Spasski River Valley.

 

Craft Beer and Spirits Tasting Adventure

Guests can sample a wide selection of beers and spirits at a brewery and a distillery, both of which use glacial water and local ingredients to produce remarkably flavourful beverages.

 

Regent also offers pre- and post-voyage land programs for Alaskan cruises, with an all-new Ultimate Rocky Mountaineer Land Program being introduced to the 2019 program. A five-to-six-night experience, guests will embark on a train ride through the iconic towns and cities of the Pacific Northwest, along the spectacular Canadian Rockies. Soak-up dramatic scenery from the comfort of custom-built glass-domed carriages, complete with award-winning service and exquisite five-star dining thoughtfully created by executive chefs and presented in astonishing surroundings.

To make this peak Alaska booking season even more appealing, recently Regent Seven Seas Cruises has introduced special youth rates on Alaska sailings and a special limited-time package when guests combine their Alaska voyage with a pre- or post-cruise land program.

Young travellers can enjoy Regent’s Club Mariner  Youth Program aboard all 2019 Alaskan sailings, while children ages 5 to 17 can participate in a range of specialised enrichment activities that educate youth on Alaskan culture, wildlife and nature, and includes games and movie nights. Each program is designed and supervised by friendly and professional youth counsellors.

The Details

All-inclusive Alaskan fares start at $7,370AUD per person, which include unlimited shore excursions, WiFi, fine wines and spirits, fine dining, pre-paid gratuities, and a host of other amenities.

Youth age 17 and under can sail free on select 10- and 11-night Alaska voyages, and for $675AUD on select 7-night Alaska voyages in 2019.

For more information about Regent Seven Seas Cruises or to receive a brochure, guests can call 1300 455 200 (AU) or 0800 625 692 (NZ), or visit www.rssc.com.

Regent Seven Seas Sets Sail to Cuba

By Staff Writer

Luxury Cruise Line Regent Seven Seas has released a second voyage to Cuba, after the first voyage, which was released just last month for a March 2019 sailing, sold out. The ten-day Miami to Miami Cuban Immersion cruise  aboard Seven Seas Mariner will set sail on 22 October 2019 and will be one of the most comprehensive Cuban itineraries currently available in luxury cruising. The voyage will include visits to four Cuban ports of call, three of which are overnight stays in Havana, Santiago de Cuba and Cienfuegos, plus a maiden call to Isla de la Juventud.

“Luxury travelers are demanding to experience Cuba in a deeper, more meaningful and culturally-relevant way,” said Jason Montague, Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ president and chief executive officer. “Regent Seven Seas Cruises is moving rapidly to meet this demand… We are excited to make these additional Cuban destinations beyond Havana accessible to luxury cruisers and their travel advisors.”

It’s all about immersive travel these days, and Regent Seven Seas’ shore excursions in Cuba won’t disappoint. Passengers will get to experience the usual visits to museums and historical sites, but also connect with Cuba’s local art and culture scene through exclusive shoreside activities. On board, guest lecturers will inform passengers about Cuba’s history, society and modern-day politics to help them connect with the country’s past and present.

While there are slight variations in the itineraries between the two Cuban voyages, both the Seven Seas Voyager in March and the Seven Seas Mariner in October will sail to these Cuban destinations:

 

Havana

Guests will have the chance to see the real Havana both by day and night with Regent’s OFAC-compliant tours. Tour the city’s cobbled streets, stroll down the iconic Malecón, and perhaps get that quintessential Cuban photo of coloured building and vintage cars. As the sun goes down, purchase hand-made authentic Cubans, order a mojito at Hemingway’s favourite bar, El Floridita and dance the night away at a salsa club. Take a private visit of the F.A.C. – Fabrica de Arte Cubano – a unique art and photographic gallery and cultural centre, dance space and cinema – outside of normal operating hours, and then meet and chat with currently showcased artists.

Santiago de Cuba

The capital of Cuba for almost 100 years before the Spanish decided to shift it to Havana in 1607, Santiago is Cuba’s second largest city and a cultural epicentre, having played an instrumental role in the evolution of Cuban music, literature and architecture. Among Regent’s OFAC-compliant tours, guests will be able to visit Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca and the Cementerio Santa Ifigenia, where Cuban hero José Martí and Emilio Bacardí Moreau of the famed rum dynasty are both buried. Travellers will get to feel the rhythm and energy of live musical performances at the pioneering Iris Jazz Club, one of the few venues in Santiago de Cuba that only features jazz, and experience Plaza de Marte, also known as Freedom Square, which pays tribute to the independence of Cuba.

 

Cienfuegos

A UNESCO World Heritage Site on the southern coast of Cuba, the historic and glamorous Cienfuegos is peppered with Spanish colonial buildings and long stretches of oceanfront, palm tree- trimmed promenade. A Regent OFAC-compliant tour will see Regent passengers head off on a tour of the Anastasio Cardenas tobacco factory, and visits to the colonial downtown; architectural treasures such as the Arch of Triumph and Casa del Fundador; and the grand Tomás Terry Theatre overlooking Cuban national hero Jose Martí Park are on the agenda here.

Those lucky enough to book a spot on Seven Seas Voyager’s March 2019 journey will also call on the Caribbean nation of Isla de la Juventud. Once home to pirates, natives and the American Crocodile, Cuba’s second largest island known as the fabled “Island of Youth” is believed to have been the inspiration for both Treasure Island and Peter Pan. Today it is home to the historic Presidio Modelo cultural museum, which was originally a prison that held both Fidel and Raúl Castro prior to the Cuban Revolution, then their adversaries in the years following.

In addition to these two Cuban exploration cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises is offering over 20 voyages that call on Havana through 2021.

The Details

The 10-night Cuban Exploration voyage in October 2019 aboard Seven Seas Mariner to the Caribbean country is roundtrip from Miami. All-inclusive fares start at AU$7,250 per person, which include unlimited shore excursions, WiFi, fine wines and spirits, fine dining, pre-paid gratuities, and a host of other amenities.

For more information about Regent Seven Seas Cruises or to receive a brochure, guests can call 1300 455 200 (AU) or 0800 625 692 (NZ), or visit rssc.com.

The Cruise Critique

True North

Guests: 36

Crew: 20

Passenger Decks: 3

Length: 164 feet

The smallest ship in the region might lack the facilities of mega liners, but it more than makes up for it with the places it can go. With a shallow draft it can reach stunning waterfalls in the Kimberleys or cruise down jungle rivers in Papua New Guinea. There’s also a helicopter onboard if you want to venture further afield. This is the ship for adventurous cruisers, so expect to be snorkelling, diving, fishing or exploring rather than flopped by the pool. 

northstarcruises.com.au

 

MS Caledonian Sky (APT)

Guests: 110

Crew: 75

Passenger decks: 5

Length: 297 feet

This all-suite ship has been through a few incarnations and was branded the Caledonian Sky in 2012. Suites are spacious and around half have balconies. While entertainments are limited, there are a couple of sun decks for lounging (though no swimming pool), a lounge and bar, a small gym and a salon/massage room. Expect super fresh seafood in the dining room – the crew will either catch it themselves or buy it from local fishermen. 

aptouring.com.au

 

Silver Discoverer

Guests: 120

Crew: 96

Passenger decks: 5

Length: 338 feet

Silversea’s newest ship joined the fleet in April this year. Accommodations are all suites and come with extras like butler service, mini bar stocked to your preference and evening turn down service. This is a vessel built for adventure with a fleet of 12 zodiacs and a glass bottom boat for excursions, and a diving programme for experienced divers. There are three dining options onboard and all operate on an open seating policy, meaning you can dine where and when you want. 

silversea.com

 

National Geographic Orion

Guests: 102

Crew: 75

Passenger decks: 6

Length: 338 feet

The Orion joined the National Geographic fleet in March this year and has recently undergone a refurbishment of the public areas. Toys onboard include tandem kayaks, a glass bottom boat and an underwater remotely operated vehicle that can go hundreds of metres below the surface. Education makes up a big part of journeys on the Orion, so there’s a large lecture theatre and well stocked library, and a photography instructor accompanies every voyage.

nationalgeographicexpeditions.com

 

Wind Spirit

Guests: 148

Crew: 90

Passenger decks: 4

Length: 360 feet

This four-masted sailing ship is designed to feel like your own private yacht. The atmosphere onboard is casual with no formal or theme nights and no scheduled activities. None of the staterooms have balconies and outdoor space is limited because of the complex sail machinery, but there are plenty of water sports on offer to keep you entertained including a banana boat, kayaks, sunfish sailboat, windsurfing boards, scuba and snorkelling equipment, and four Zodiacs.

windstarcruises.com

 

Aranui III

Guests: 200

Crew: 65

Passenger decks: 6

Length: 386 feet

This is not your average cruise ship. Part passenger ship and part cargo freighter, the Aranui III plies the waters between Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands, delivering food and fuel to remote islands without an airport on a two week journey. There are plenty of creature comforts onboard, including a swimming pool, sun deck, two bars, restaurant and a small shop. The rooms are fairly basic, but most of the suites have balconies where you can watch the palm trees glide by. 

aranui.com

 

L’Austral

Guests: 264

Crew: 139

Passenger decks: 6

Length: 466 feet

There’s a distinct French atmosphere onboard L’Austral, from the deck names to the interior design. It’s one of five ships operated by Compagnie du Ponant and feels like a sleek super yacht. Rooms are quite small compared to other ships in the class, but most have balconies and the transparent glass walls (with a sliding privacy panel) in the bathroom mean you never lose sight of the view.

en.ponant.com

 

m/s Paul Gauguin

Guests: 332

Crew: 217

Passenger decks: 7

Length: 517 feet

This ship was specially designed to sail the shallow waters around French Polynesia and is one of the most spacious on the market with a passenger space ratio of 58 (classified as excellent). Most of the staterooms and suites have balconies, and there’s an onboard retractable watersports marina for a host of activities. The staff are local Tahitians, meaning that the Polynesian experience permeates throughout the whole ship from the butlers to the wait staff and entertainers.

pgcruises.com

 

Seven Seas Mariner

Guests: 490

Crew: 345

Passenger decks: 8

Length: 566 feet

This ship was the first all-suite, all-balcony ship in the world when it was launched in 2001. The spacious suites are seriously plush with king size beds, walk in wardrobes, marble bathrooms and L’Occitane amenities. The Mariner and its sister ship the Voyager are both home to Signatures, the only permanent Le Cordon Bleu restaurants at sea, and on some cruises gourmet workshops themed around the ports of call are run by Le Cordon Bleu chefs.

rssc.com.au

 

Seabourn Odyssey

Guests: 450

Crew: 330

Passenger decks: 8

Length: 650 feet

The largest ship in the Seabourn fleet (at triple the size of its sister ships), the Odyssey came into service in 2009. More than 90 per cent of the staterooms have balconies and the ship has the second highest passenger space ratio in the industry. With all that space you can expect more features including two swimming pools, four restaurants, casino, theatre for performances, nightclub and a large spa. All suites have a large bathroom with separate shower and bathtub, a separate living area, nightly turndown service and champagne on arrival.

seabourn.com

 

ms Volendam

Guests: 1,432

Crew: 615

Passenger decks: 10

Length: 781 feet

There’s a garden theme onboard the ms Volendam and you’ll be surrounded by fresh flowers as well as floral motifs on the walls and furnishings throughout the ship. It’s also known for its art collection with paintings, sculptures and even Renaissance-era Italian fountains in the public areas. Passengers staying in the top two suite categories have access to the private Neptune Lounge, which has refreshments, a personal concierge, lounges and a library.

hollandamerica.com

 

Crystal Symphony

Guests: 922

Crew: 545

Passenger decks: 12

Length: 781 feet

Amulti-million dollar refurb of the Symphony was completed in 2012, so everything onboard feels brand new. It’s one of the few luxury lines in this region to offer a dedicated space for children and teens, and youth staff are onboard during school holiday and summer sailings. Menus at the Japanese-Pervuian Silk Road restaurant and the Sushi Bar are designed by celebrity chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, and Nobu-trained chefs are in the kitchen.

crystalcruises.com

 

Oceania Marina

Guests: 1,250

Crew: 800

Passenger decks: 11

Length: 785 feet

The largest ship cruising in the region, the Marina has a few ultra luxe touches like a grand staircase designed by French jewellery and crystal house Lalique, and three Owner’s Suites furnished with Ralph Lauren Home products. There’s a Canyon Ranch Spa onboard from the famed American health retreat and Jacques restaurant, the first restaurant from French celebrity chef Jacques Pépin anywhere in the world.

oceaniacruises.com