Go With The Flow

Cruising is back, but not all ships are multi-storey giants. Travel editor Winsor Dobbin looks at some of the options for taking to the water in 2023.

I am not a big fan of those mega-sized cruise ships that are bigger than a shopping mall.

To be honest, I am much more tempted by small ship cruises, or my favourite, river cruises, with small numbers of passengers and no long lines to get on and off board at each port.

One such small craft, Windstar Cruises’ 312-passenger, all-suite Star Breeze yacht, is making its first-ever visit to Australia with several Australia-based sailings over summer.

Itineraries include first-time ports in Mooloolaba and Phillip Island.

Windstar will leave Australia on February 7, returning in December. I jumped on board a couple of weeks ago for a close-up look – and was impressed.

“In addition to expected Australian tourist highlights like the Sydney Opera House and the Great Barrier Reef, Windstar strives to take its guests down the road less travelled to immerse them in the region’s history, traditional culture, and incredible wine country,” says Windstar president Christopher Prelog.

“Windstar goes to rarely visited small ports like Thursday and Middle Percy islands, and offers a series of thoughtfully curated shore excursions ranging from meeting with researchers at the Lizard Island Research Station, to sampling Tasmania’s best produce.

“We are all about getting our guests away from the crowds, up close with wildlife, and tasting the best flavours of the region.”

The Tasman Sea Treasures cruise departs on January 10 from Auckland to Melbourne, followed by a Melbourne to Cairns journey on January 25 called Deep Dive Down Under; the Great Barrier Reef & Beyond.

The newly renovated Star Breeze was cut in half/lengthened with 50 new suites and has two new restaurants, a spa/fitness centre, and more efficient engines, among other improvements.

I was impressed by the attention to detail, spacious all-suite accommodation, friendly staff, and culinary options. There also seemed to be plenty of spots on board for those looking for some privacy.

Windstar Cruises operates a fleet of six boutique all-suite sailing yachts carrying between 148-342 guests. 

Small ship cruises sail throughout Europe; the Caribbean; Costa Rica and the Panama Canal; Asia; Alaska and British Columbia; New England and Eastern Canada; the US West Coast and Mexico; Arabia, and the South Pacific, including a ship based year-round in Tahiti.

More details on Windstar’s Australia and New Zealand itineraries can be found here: www.windstarcruises.com/destinations/australia-new-zealand/

MSC Bellissima

One of the most important factors on any cruise is the ports to be visited – and for those looking to explore Asia, MSC Cruises is the opportunity to discover Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan onboard MSC Bellissima between June and September.

I had an excellent experience with MSC a few years ago and these new itineraries promise guests “a fascinating insight into the many different facets of the Japanese way of life, from gleaming high-rise cities to exquisite gardens, traditional ceremonies and crafts, ancient temples and castles”. 

There are also trips on offers to hot springs, forests, and rivers – that chance to check out the iconic snow-capped cone of Mt Fuji. 

MSC Bellissima itineraries include a six-night departure from Yokohama visiting the ancient buildings of Gangjeong, Korea; the fascinating trading town of Fukuoka and the local delicacies of Yatsushiro in Japan. Prices start from $1,769 per person.

Other options include a nine-night departure from Yokohama visiting Kumano and Kagoshima, the mountainous surrounds of Busan, Korea, and a castle garden in Kanazawa.  Also departing Yokohama is a nine-night trip with stops in Kobe and Shimonoseki, Busan in Korea, Yatushiro and Kagoshima, with fares from $1,519.

MSC Cruises is the world’s third-largest cruise brand and a market leader in Europe, South America, the Gulf region, and Southern Africa.

Its fleet comprises 21 modern vessels. For full details see https://www.msccruises.com.au/

Alternatively, you could spend your children’s inheritance on a luxury barge cruise through the vineyards of Champagne, exploring some of the most picturesque waterways in France.

Coquelicot is a new vessel from Belmond (formerly Orient-Express Hotels) to be launched in May.

This ultra-luxe barge is part of the Bateaux Belmond fleet and has just three cabins. It offers a selection of exclusive experiences in the Champagne region.

The Coquelicot is being launched in partnership with the world’s oldest Champagne house – Maison Ruinart – and guests will be treated to a private five-course tasting lunch matched with Champagnes.

They will also enjoy access to the 18th-century Taissy vineyard and learn all about Maison Ruinart.

Fully crewed Coquelicot will have just those three glam cabins, all with marble en suite bathrooms. The interiors are designed by rockstar duo Humbert and Poyet.

The newly refurbished craft will also feature an indoor salon, a large deck, and a Champagne bar.

Guests can craft their own itinerary. Perhaps they want an art-focused tour of Champagne, an active adventure, or a series of epicurean visits.

And, of course, the boat has its own private chef, as well as a sommelier.

The cost to charter the barge for a week is an eye-watering €82,000 ($129,500). 

See www.belmond.com if your numbers come up.   

Discover Winsor’s wine and travel recommendations at www.gourmetontheroad.com.