From Ireland’s green fields to the mangroves of the Sundarbans, new ports and maiden ship calls for 2017 and 2018 should whet travelers’ desires for a luxury cruise. So what’s new?
Galway, Ireland: A popular old Irish song goes like this: “If you ever go across the sea to Ireland, then maybe at the closing of your day, you can sit and watch the moon rise over Claddagh, and watch the sun go down on Galway Bay.” Well, in 2018, Oceania Cruises sails into Galway Bay for the first time on Nautica’s June 18 departure roundtrip from Dublin. The new itinerary also includes Waterford, Cork (Cobh) and Glengarriff (also a maiden call) in Ireland, as well as Londonderry and Belfast, Northern Ireland; Douglas, Isle of Man; and Liverpool, England and Holyhead, Wales in the U.K.
The Sundarbans has the world’s largest mangrove forest and 350 resident Bengal tigers.
On the 684-passenger Nautica, guests can enjoy Jacques Pépin cuisine, the Baristas coffee bar, upper-deck putting greens, a Canyon Ranch SpaClub and much more. Top digs? Six 1,000-square-foot Owner’s Suites on Decks 6, 7 and 8 offer butler service, a bathroom with oversized shower, private teak veranda, two flat-screen TVs, free unlimited Internet and a laptop computer and iPad for the guest’s personal use. We’d opt for No. 7114 or 7119 sandwiched up and down by similar suites rather than public areas. Also calling for the first time in Galway is Silversea Cruises’ Silver Muse, which departs September 12, 2017 on a 16-night transoceanic cruise from Southampton, England. The Irish ports of call include Galway, Waterford and Cork, along with Falmouth, England, New England and Canadian Maritime ports.
Bustling day and night, Galway City’s Quay Street is akin to Dublin’s Temple Bar area; on one end is a park honoring former U.S. President John F. Kennedy and on the other a Spanish Arch (part of the old city walls), and in between are restaurants, lively pubs, shops, live music and a farmers’ market. Why not shop for Irish Claddagh rings at Thomas Dillon or browse the sweater shops for hand-crafted woolens? It’ll be fun to click a “selfie” while sitting on Galway City’s bench, which has the statue of Oscar Wilde and his Baltic contemporary Eduard Vilde built into it.
Manila, the capital of Philippines, has a mix of Spanish colonial architecture and modern buildings. Windstar Cruises will make a maiden call here in 2018.
At lunchtime, one good choice is Tosnú, an eatery opened at 14 Upper Abbeygate Street by chefs Aidan Scanlan and Mark Cambell. It has locally sourced produce, cheeses and fish. We suggest ordering the Tosnú vegetarian salad with marinated vegetable ribbons, beetroot, quinoa, picked pear, beet and orange dressing, or, a full Irish breakfast. Advance reservations are a “must.” For nightlife, we’d visit the pub at Club Áras na nGael, an Irish-language social club, 45 Dominick Street, which often has Gaelic classes, step dancing or traditional music.
Beyond Galway City, travelers can visit Dunguaire Castle, the Cliffs of Moher or William Butler Yeats-related sites, such as his former summer home, Thoor Ballylee. Often, though, it’s the simple Irish countryside that impresses with bucolic fields, grazing sheep, the Twelve Bens (mountains) and the rugged Burren. To get a glimpse of Ireland’s rural past, hop on a day boat to the laid-back Aran Islands.
Galway’s restaurants, pubs and shops will be a huge draw for cruisers visiting this Ireland city. Seen here is William Street within the city center.
Maheshkhali Island & the Sundarbans, Bangladesh: Travelers enchanted with Sy Montgomery’s book, “Spell of the Tiger: The Man-Eaters of the Sundarbans” should check out Silversea Expeditions’ new 16-day “Colombo to Kolkata” voyage on the 120-passenger Silver Discoverer, departing February 11, 2017. It’s Silversea’s first foray into Bangladesh with a maiden call at Maheshkhali Island and the Sundarbans, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Bangladesh and India. At Maheshkali (also spelled Moheshkhali), cruisers will take rickshaws and motorized tuk-tuks to visit a Buddhist temple and school, and then a small community known for its traditional weavers.
During a two-day period, the ship will then call at these Sundarbans areas — Hiron Point, Kokilmori, Charaputia and Harbaria. Named after the local Sundari trees, the Sundarbans has the world’s largest mangrove forest and 350 resident Bengal tigers. Silversea Expeditions’ guests will explore the region on a Zodiac accompanied by an expedition team of marine biologists, ornithologists and historians. Travelers will float along or walk on boardwalks through mangrove forests to view saltwater-tolerant flora and birds, reptiles, deer and Rhesus macaques.
On Silver Discoverer, guests are pampered with personalized butler and room service. The Medallion and Verandah suites were wait-listed at press time, so we would suggest selecting a 269-square-foot Vista Suite, which accommodates up to three guests. It has a sitting area, writing desk, flat-screen TV with on-demand movies, music and satellite news, and a bedding configuration that’s either two twin beds or one queen-sized bed. The marbled bathroom has a walk-in shower.
Manila, Philippines: While travelers may think of the luxurious Windstar Cruises for a Greek Isles or Tahiti voyage, the small ship line has just announced that it is heading to Asia in a big way for 2018 with the 212-passenger Star Legend. As part of this new line-up spanning voyages from Southeast Asia to northern Asia, the small-ship oceangoing line is offering a 14-day “Best of the Philippines and Borneo” sailing from Singapore to Hong Kong via Malaysia, Brunei, Borneo and the Philippines on February 17, 2018. Calls include Palawan and Caticlan islands.
Ponant’s L’Austral will make a maiden call at Ulsan, South Korea, in 2018.
A new maiden call is the Philippines’ capital city, Manila, where sightseeing often encompasses the elegant Malacañang Palace, the National Museum of the Philippines and the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial. In Intramuros, the city’s oldest district, cruisers can peruse Spanish colonial architecture, including Manila Cathedral, Fort Santiago or the ancient San Agustin Church. Manila’s Binondo neighborhood is the oldest Chinatown on earth, while the city’s Rizal Park houses museums, a planetarium and ornamental gardens.
During the day, Windstar’s guests can opt for a shore excursion to Corregidor Island in Manila Bay, where the Allies surrendered to the Japanese in World War II and later U.S. General Douglas MacArthur triumphantly returned. Or, travelers can take a “Discover Old Manila” tour or “A Day at Tagaytay” excursion. As the ship overnights in the city, cruisers will have two full days of touring, plus they can head out on a “Manila at Night” evening ashore. Many of the crew on Star Legend are from the Philippines, so guests can also get firsthand “local” insight about what to see and do ashore.
On this new itinerary, the ship calls at the oft-overlooked — and infrequently visited by cruise ships — Hundred Islands National Park in northern Philippines, and also visits Brunei. Onboard Star Legend, the top digs are the two Owner’s Suites with private verandas. They’re just below the vessel’s bridge and have stunning views from the private verandah, living / dining room and separate bedroom; they also have a walk-in closet, marble bath and butler service.
Norfolk Island, Australia: Remote, green and compact in size, Norfolk Island was once a penal colony. Now this overseas territory of Australia is more idyllic but its history still beckons, as the island is within multiple (historic) Australian convict locales collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Crystal Cruises makes a maiden call at Norfolk Island during its 97-day “World Cruise 4: South Pacific Reflections” cruise, departing January 23, 2018, from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale. The voyage starts on Crystal Serenity and in Sydney, Australia, guests switch to Crystal Symphony.
What’s to do ashore? Cruisers can visit the seaside ruins of an early prison, a convict cemetery and Kingston, with many structures built by convicts. The infamous Captain James Cook of the Royal Navy anchored his ship at Norfolk and travelers can view the monument marking that anchorage point. Artifacts from both the H.M.S. Bounty and H.M.S. Sirius are displayed at a maritime museum, while Bounty Folklife Museum tells the story of the island’s settlements. We also recommend Fletcher’s Mutiny Cyclorama with its 360° panoramic painting, 3D effects, storyboards, background sound effects and music.
Norfolk Island National Park is a good spot for hiking, bicycle riding or horseback riding, but take time to admire the views from the park’s Captain Cook Overlook. Cliffside, Anson Bay beach is incredibly photogenic, but it’s not recommended for swimming. Instead, swimmers can head for Creswell Bay or Bumboras (Bumby), also popular for rock fishing, snorkeling and surfing. Other activities include four-wheel drive tours, snorkeling, golfing, horseback riding, scuba diving and whale watching. Birders should keep their eyes peeled for five species, including green parrots, not found anywhere else in Australia, while flora-wise, pines of Norfolk Island Pines are a key export.
Saint Helena, South Atlantic Ocean: A barren, wind-swept island in the South Atlantic Ocean, St. Helena is so remote that Napoleon was exiled here. It’s a good “bragging rights” call, and luxury cruisers can get there in style on Seabourn Cruise Line’s 152-day “Great Oceans Exploration,” departing January 4, 2018, from Miami to Vancouver. Don’t have that much time? Seabourn also has 110-day and 38-day segments that visit St. Helena.
Seabourn Sojourn calls not only at St. Helena for a full day but, weather permitting, both Nightingale Island and the aptly named Inaccessible Island are also visited the next day. All three are maiden calls. Seabourn says Inaccessible Island is one of the most remote and hard to reach UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world and it plans to offer “Ventures by Seabourn” excursions by kayaks and Zodiacs at Inaccessible and Nightingale.
Since Owner’s Suites and Penthouse Spa Suites were wait-listed at press time, travelers can opt for the Penthouse Suite (PH) category with 436 feet of space, plus a 98-foot private veranda. These luxury suites have a dining table seating up to four people, separate bedroom, private veranda, flat-screen TVs, a fully stocked bar and large bathroom. When it’s time to relax with friends, guests can head for their suite’s fully stocked bar or a second bar with spa drinks and snacks, or just ask the butler to serve pre-dinner cocktails on the veranda.
St. Helier, Jersey, Channel Islands: Many cruisers have been to Guernsey but few to Jersey, home to beaches, the Corbiere lighthouse and the 16th-century Elizabeth Castle. Regent Seven Seas Cruises has a maiden port call at St. Helier, Jersey, not far off the French coastline, on its 10-night London (Dover) to Lisbon voyage by Seven Seas Navigator, departing September 26, 2017. It also calls at Paris (Honfleur), Montoir (Nantes) and Bordeaux, France; Gijon and Ferrol, Spain; and Oporto, Portugal.
Regent offers several complimentary half-day shore tours. For those desiring to delve into Jersey’s rural lifestyle of the past, one tour visits Hamptonne Country Life Museum. Docents in period clothing will tell stories and “gossip” from past centuries, while cruisers view period furniture, working cider presses, stables, the bake house and more. History buffs can alternatively opt for Regent Seven Seas’ “German Military Occupation” tour; the Channel Islands (British) were occupied by the Nazis during World War II, and cruisers will learn about or see fortifications, war tunnels and an underground hospital. Another excursion includes a panoramic driving tour with a stop at Jersey Pottery.
We’d suggest taking the line’s tour to Gorey with a tour of the Mont Orgueil Castle. You’ll also have a bit of free time for shopping or strolling the waterfront area, which includes the “new pier” built two centuries ago for the oyster industry. In the 1800s, oysters were a hot commodity export, but over-fishing and vegetation damaged the oyster beds and production dipped. Recently, though, oysters are making a comeback. On Gorey Hill, casual Sumas Restaurant serves organically grown Royal Bay Oysters, natural or poached with white wine sauce, cucumbers and herbs. Cruisers should check with their tour guide as to whether the free time allotted is enough for a quick oyster sampling.
More Maiden Calls
Here are additional maiden calls and new port options across the globe.
Kilt Country: Dundee, Scotland is a first-time call for Azamara Club Cruises during Azamara Journey’s 13-night “Shamrocks, Kilts and Golf” voyage, departing July 11, 2018 from Southampton, U.K., to Leith (Edinburgh), Scotland. We’d check out the historic RRS Discovery, Robert Falcon Scott’s Antarctic exploration vessel, built in Dundee and now a museum ship. History buffs can peruse the 15th-century St. Mary’s Tower and tour a museum in Albert Square.
Asian Flair: Ponant’s new 10-night “Art and Culture of Japan” cruise departs May 29, 2018, from Otaru to Osaka on L’Austral. One new port is Ulsan, South Korea, gateway to the Yeongnam Alps and other eco-sites. Daewangam Park boasts pine trees, stunning sea views and rock formations, while the tranquil Naewonam Valley of Mt. Daeun has lovely waterfalls and the Naewonam Temple. Beyond the city, Bulguksa Temple, also called the Flying Horse Tomb, is one of South Korea’s most impressive temples.
Closer to Home: Not all maiden calls are at far-flung destinations. On a 17-day New York to Nassau cruise departing October 27, 2017, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ 500-passenger Europa 2 calls for the first time at Port Canaveral, FL, while Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2 makes a maiden call at Rockland, ME, during its transatlantic cruise, departing September 16, 2018, from Southampton, U.K., to Quebec, Canada. Within the Caribbean, Viking Cruises’ 11-day “South America and the Caribbean” itinerary roundtrip from San Juan calls at Oranjestad, Aruba and Willemstad, Curacao, on multiple 2017 dates.