In just under two weeks’ time, Nieuw Statendam will officially become the 15th member of the Holland America Line fleet. On December 5, it will set off on its maiden voyage from Civitavecchia (Rome) to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and, along with 2665 fellow passengers, I’m looking forward to being on-board this elegant new ship.
Ahead of the cruise, HAL released 30 fun facts about Nieuw Statendam – among them, at 297 metres long, the ship is the same length as 12 blue whales; on a seven-day cruise the Grand Dutch Cafe will serve 1250 beers and 9331 towel animals will be created; crew members represent 33 countries; and in its first year, Nieuw Statendam will sail 92,723 nautical miles, more than four times around the globe, and will visit more than 75 ports.
The arrival of Nieuw Statendam is the culmination of a busy year for HAL, which celebrated its 145th anniversary in April. Following the success of Frozen Planet in Concert it introduced Planet Earth II in Concert, a spectacular show that combines music played by a live orchestra with footage from the BBC Earth TV series Planet Earth II. “Frozen Planet in Concert has been one of our most popular shows, and Planet Earth II will be the perfect encore,” said HAL’s president Orlando Ashford.
Itineraries and shore excursions were ramped up with the introduction of EXC In Depth Voyages on the 1258-passenger Maasdam, one of the smallest ships in the fleet that can access ports off the beaten track. On EXC (Explorations Central) In-Depth Voyages (cruises from 12 to 34 days), passengers are offered a variety of themes and choices to tailor their journey: photography; science and nature; arts and culture; food, wine and spirits; history and perspective; and active exploration. Experts in these fields lead the sessions and Maasdam is equipped with zodiacs for shore tours in places as diverse as Easter Island, Thailand, French Polynesia and Fiji.
Maasdam is making its way through the South Pacific to New Zealand and Australia, arriving in Sydney on December 21 for a 16-night cruise to Fremantle. If you haven’t made plans for Christmas, there are still spots available for this itinerary.
HAL is also adding new culinary-themed shore tours to its collection. In Asia, Australia and New Zealand over the summer there will be 14 Food and Wine EXC Tours on select cruises aboard Westerdam, Maasdam and Noordam. Highlights include winery tours in New Zealand and Tasmania and a combined Opera House tour and dinner at acclaimed restaurant Bennelong in Sydney. See hollandamerica.com
THE PORT Darwin, Australia
WHO GOES THERE APT, Azamara, Carnival, Coral Expeditions, Crystal, Cunard, Fred.Olsen, HAL, NCL, Oceania, P&O, Ponant, Princess, RSSC, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn, Silversea, Viking.
WHY WE LOVE IT It’s the smallest Australian capital city (population 138,000) and closer to the capitals of five other countries than it is to Canberra. The greater Darwin area is the ancestral home of the Larrakia people and the city has been almost totally rebuilt four times since 1897, most recently following devastation caused by Cyclone Tracy in 1974. Today, Darwin is a modern, multicultural tropical city and the gateway to some of the Northern Territory’s most spectacular natural attractions.
TAKE A TOUR OR GO IT ALONE? Cruise ships dock at Fort Hill Wharf, close to the main town centre and the Wharf Precinct, a shopping, drinking and dining hub with a man-made beach and wave lagoon. You can walk to town in about 15 minutes or take the free shuttlebus that runs between the cruise terminal, Stokes Hill Wharf, hotels and various other Darwin Waterfront precinct locations. It’s well worth taking a day trip to Litchfield Park (about 1½ hours’ drive each way); closer to town are Sweets Lagoon, Berry Springs Nature Reserve, Mary River (for jumping crocodile cruises) and Robin Falls.
MUST SEE Royal Flying Doctor Service Tourist Facility, Stokes Hill Wharf; guided tour of WWII oil storage tunnels, near the Waterfront Precinct; Museum & Art Gallery of the NT; Australian Aviation Heritage Centre; and Indo Pacific Marine, a living marine environment centre.
MUST EAT Take your pick of seafood, modern Australian takes on kangaroo, emu and crocodile and a variety of Asian cuisines at eateries that range from food trucks and market stalls to fine-dining restaurants. Top dining locations include the Waterfront Precinct, Stokes Hill Wharf, the Nightcliff foreshore, Cullen Bay and the Mindil Beach sunset markets (the markets are open between April and October, out of the main cruise season).
NEED TO KNOW Between December and March (the Wet) the weather is extremely hot and humid, so expect tropical downpours in the afternoons and evenings.
This summer, Royal Caribbean’s Ovation, Explorer and Radiance of the Seas are sailing 60 cruises from Sydney, ranging from three to 21 nights.
Bookings are now open for Princess Cruises’ next new ship, Enchanted Princess, which will cruise the Mediterranean after its christening in Southampton in June 2020. The line now has five new ships arriving between 2019 and 2025: Sky Princess (a 3600-passenger Royal-class sister to Royal, Regal, Majestic, Enchanted and an as yet unnamed ship due in 2022) is due to launch in October 2019, and two 4300-passenger LNG-powered ships are scheduled for 2023 and 2025. Enchanted Princess will feature new Sky Suites on the top deck with the largest private balconies – 65 square metres – ever offered by Princess Cruises. It will also have a Wakeview pool on its aft decks and the Sanctuary area will have more private cabanas than its Royal-class sisters. See princess.com.
Acclaimed Asia experts Paula Swart and Ken Hammond will be on-board Scenic Aura’s 11-day cruises from Yangon to Mandalay in December and February, as part of the new partnership between Scenic and National Geographic. They will share their considerable knowledge and insights with passengers through presentations and informal discussions. Highlights of the itinerary include meeting local nuns and novices in the ancient city of Sagaing; exploring sandstone caves filled with hundreds of Buddha statues near Monywa; and seeing the extraordinary temple complexes of Old Bagan. Scenic National Geographic river cruises now run on the Irrawaddy in Myanmar and on Europe’s waterways and contribute funds to the National Geographic Society, which supports researchers and experts engaged in protecting the planet and its various species and populations. See scenic.com.au/nationalgeographic.