25 February 2014

CRUISE NEWS: New river-cruise line to launch

Artist's impression of the rooftop
swimming pool on Emerald Sky.
Photo: Emerald Waterways
Emerald Waterways

Last year, Cruise Captain was given a sneak peak at details for the Emerald Sky, the first ship launched by Emerald Waterways, which is itself a brand-new cruise line. Emerald Sky starts boarding passengers this April and will cruise the Rhine, Main, Danube and Moselle rivers on itineraries that range between eight and 15 days. It will be followed by twin ship Emerald Star.

The new cruise line will be known as Emerald Waterways in the USA but marketed in Australia under the already-known Evergreen Tours. Both companies are spin-offs of the much bigger and better-known Australian-owned river-cruise company Scenic Tours which (confusingly) is known in the USA as Scenic Cruises.


Artist's impression of the owner's suite
on Emerald Sky.
Photo: Emerald Waterways
You can see a rather corny promotional video on YouTube here, which provides a series of rather fake-looking artist’s impressions will at least give you some idea of what the new ship looks like.  According to the company, deluxe interiors will include a revolutionary 24-square-metre pool with a retractable roof, which transforms into a cinema at night, and an al fresco dining terrace for breakfasts and lunches. Some of the suites will feature the retractable glass walls that some passengers might known from Scenic Tours’ ships, which can drop down to create an indoor-outdoor space.
It looks as if Emerald Waterways is pitching itself at the four-star all-inclusive market for the somewhat more bugdet conscious; it claims that even the tipping will be included in the overall price. Keep your eye on this space, and we’ll see how well the new company sails.

If you have any further information about Emerald Sky or have booked a journey on this ship, why not let us know? Your comments are always appreciated.

20 February 2014

RIVER-CRUISING MUSING: Nordic Walking

If you ask me, jogging is horrible, doing pool laps a little solitary, and walking so pleasurable it can’t really be counted as exercise. If only something existed that combined the benefits of all three, I might actually slip off the sofa and into a fitness regime.
Nordic walkers in Austria.
Photo: Austrian National Tourist Office
Alarmingly, on my last trip to Europe, I ran out of excuses. In the flower-filled Austrian meadows near Innsbruck, shoals of cheery, chatty people where speeding along practising the latest fitness crazes: Nordic walking. It looked enjoyable and sociable but – to judge from the puffing and perspiring – a reasonably good workout as well. So I was delighted to find out later that several river-cruise companies (including Uniworld and Avalon) carry Nordic walking sticks on board for passenger use.
Nordic walking originated in Finland as a method to train cross-country skiers in summer. It’s best described as dynamic walking with the aid of poles, used not for support but for propelling you forwards (experienced Nordic walkers move almost as fast as a jogger). 
You also get an upper-body workout on the chest, shoulder and abdominal muscles. Nordic walking burns up to 20 percent more calories than ordinary walking, significantly raises the heart rate and reduces muscle tension in the neck and shoulders. And because some of the walker’s weight is on the poles, there is less pressure on the back and lower joints, especially the knees.
An Austrian walking sign explains
the best techniques for Nordic walking.
Photo: Cruise Captain
It might soon be all the rage: this is the world’s fastest-growing recreational activity. After all, Nordic walking is pleasant, an ideal group activity, and a more efficient exercise than mere walking. It’s easy to learn and easy to practice; the proper technique can be acquired after just a few lessons, even for the terminally uncoordinated such as myself.
It’s great value too: all you need is poles and decent runners. Nordic poles have a metal tip for use on grass, sand or snow. Even here, couch potatoes will be hard-pressed to find excuses: if you have none of the above, poles are fitted with rubber pads for hard surfaces such as footpaths.
I’m not a Nordic walking fanatic, but find it hugely enjoyable. On a river cruise, it’s the ideal counterbalance to all those delicious buffet lunches. It has certainly improved my physical fitness and – am I imagining things? – made me more cheerful as well. Maybe it’s because it’s an outdoor exercise. Birds cheep, the sun shines, my poles click along, and all’s well with the world. If this is vigorous exercise, how can it be so nice?

Have you ever tried Nordic walking? You may want to give readers an insight into your own experience and whether you think it's worth a go. Add your comments below and join the conversation.

18 February 2014

CRUISE NEWS: New experiences for Scenic passengers

Passengers on a Scenic 'Tailormade' tour.
Photo: Scenic Tours
The GPS-guided systems that allow guests to explore in their own time while travelling on Scenic ‘Space-Ships’ are providing over a 100 new sightseeing tours in 2014. After receiving their device on board, guests can choose to join Mozart for a historic walk through Vienna’s alleys or take a walk on the dark side of W├╝rzburg on a witch tour. They can pedal through the orchards, meadows and lavender fields of Provence on electric bicycles; or discover the artistry of Europe on the ‘Van Gogh and Arts Trail’ through Arles and ‘Rembrandt Tour’ through seventeenth-century Amsterdam.
Other tours include a Pustza horse show in a Hungarian village, lunch in a Czech winemaking town, the Chernobyl Museum in Kiev, Moscow’s State Tretyakov Gallery, and a tour of Vienna’s Seegrotte underground cave system. Guests visiting Hoorn will also enjoy a new experience in this northern Dutch city with residents showing some of the city’s most historical sights before opening their doors for a home-hosted dinner.

Have you travelled with Scenic or used its 'Tailormade' GPS system? Why not share your experiences by commenting below.

14 February 2014

SHORE EXCURSION: Forbidden City

Beijing, Yangtze River land extension, China
Eastern courtyards of the
Forbidden City, Beijing, China.
Photo: Cruise Captain
The Forbidden City, political and imperial heart of China for 500 years, is vast. The vermilion walls that encircle it are nearly four kilometres in circumference, punctuated with vast timber doors that dwarf visitors below. Behind the Meridian Gate, the first courtyard you encounter fits 10,000, and even the thronging tour groups, obediently following their leaders’ flags, seem lost in its vastness. As for the rest, with 178 acres and 900 rooms, the Forbidden City is so large that the last emperor of China took to pedalling around it on his bicycle.
Tour groups tend to gallop through the Forbidden City in an hour or so, which is a shame. Count on at least a few hours to truly appreciate the splendour – some cruise companies offer you the chance to linger afterwards once the guide has departed. The palace isn’t only big but oozes atmosphere, and is best appreciated in its amazing attention to detail, from the turquoise dragons writhing on ceilings to intricate sandalwood screens and bronze incense burners. Don’t expect furnishings and treasures, however. Most of its artefacts were carted off to Taiwan, and have to be seen at the wonderful National Palace Museum in Taipei.
Tourists resting inside the
Forbidden City, Beijing, China.
Photo: Cruise Captain
It is possible to hire your own guide, though few go beyond parroting in poor English. Seek out a university student, and preferably a girl, if you must. The boys are apt to be obsessed with Forbidden City size and statistics, but the girls will chat about daily Beijing life when you ask. The self-guided audio tour, narrated by Roger Moore, is excellent if you want to get an idea of the history and culture behind the palace. 
Just don’t forget to wander off the beaten track to some of the more intimate side courtyards at the eastern side of the complex. Few tour groups venture here, and you can often find yourself quite alone with pink walls and stone lions. Listen carefully and you can hear bicycle bells and the honk of traffic from the far side of the Forbidden City’s walls.
Photographing the courtyards of the
Forbidden City in Beijing, China.
Photo: Cruise Captain
Finish your visit among the 300-year-old trees of the imperial gardens at the northern end of the Forbidden City, where you’ll also find an exit gate. You can relax in the gardens with some mediocre tea from the teashop, which was once the home of Pu Yi’s British tutor, Reginald Johnston, played so memorably by Peter O’Toole in The Last Emperor


If you’ve been to the Forbidden City or Beijing and feel you have something to add, please do so. Our readers appreciate your tips and memories.

10 February 2014

CRUISE NEWS: AmaWaterways' new dining options for 2014

An Erlebnis Chef’s Table Restaurant is being introduced as standard on board all Aria- and Concerto-class ships as part of AmaWaterways' (APT's) new ‘Royal Experience’ European river cruises in 2014. It will be complimentary to guests, with no additional charge beyond the cruise cost.
A chef at work on board AmaBella.
Photo: APT
Seating just 24 people, the restaurant features a glass-enclosed kitchen through which diners can observe their private chef preparing a special six-course degustation menu, served to guests accompanied by free-flowing drinks.
The menu will be designed by AmaWaterways' Executive Chef, Primus Perchtold. With multiple awards to his name, including three gold medals at the European Championship of Culinary Art, we might imagine that guests will be treated to some fine European flavours. Incidentally, AmaWaterways is also the only river-cruise operator inducted into La Chaine des R├┤tisseurs, one of the world’s most prestigious culinary organisations.

Also new on board in 2014 will be a River Bistro restaurant serving quick, simple and fresh made-to-order fare. The bistros will also make an appearance on Aria- and Concerto-class ships, including the two new launches for AmaWaterways in 2014, AmaSonata and AmaReina, which will sail the Rhine and Danube.

More: AmaWaterways (APT in Australia and New Zealand)

Have you travelled on an AmaWaterways (APT) ship in the past? Why not leave your comments about the on-board dining experience to share with fellow readers.

5 February 2014

SHORE EXCURSION: Temple of Horus

Edfu, Nile River, Egypt


Caretakers at the Temple of Horus,
Edfu, Egypt.
Photo: Cruise Captain
The caretakers in this photo were skulking in the shadows dressed in colour-coordinated long robes and turbans, as if playing bit parts in some period movie. I was immediately taken by their lined faces, full of character, and by the fact that slanting light was coming down from the ceiling and illuminating them like biblical figures. They sat on rickety wooden chairs and spent the time shouting “No flash! No flash!” at visitors, or alternatively, “Who flash? Who flash?” when a flash went off. They were guarding two exquisite small rooms inside the Temple of Horus covered in wall paintings depicting the pharaohs and gods. The colours are delicate and fading, though you can still see the washed-out greens and reds of 2,000 years ago. The caretakers didn’t seem to mind being photographed and, remarkably, didn’t even ask for baksheesh.
Temple of Horus, Edfu, Egypt.
Photo: Egyptian Tourist Authority
Edfu is a bustling little centre for sugar and pottery production on the banks of the Nile north of Luxor. It’s a stopover for river-cruise ships plying the Nile between Luxor and Aswan, and one that's a Captain Rivers favourite. As tourists disembark, touts go into overdrive, hawking mini obelisks and cats and masks of Tutankhamen. Calash drivers prod their horses into action: “Temple of Horus! Twenty pounds sir! Come, come!” and off you clip-clop.
Granite statue of the gold Horus,
Temple of Horus, Edfu, Egypt.
Photo: Cruise Captain
You approach the temple from the rear through a glut of T-shirt and postcard shops, buy a ticket from a little wooden shed if you have to (most cruise lines include them) and straggle across a dusty courtyard. Then the majesty of ancient Egypt takes over. The Temple of Horus is a vast project that occupied the reigns of six Ptolemies and was formally dedicated in 142 BC. The gateways are flanked by brooding statues of falcons in black granite (Horus is the bird-headed god of the sun). At the core of the complex, the Hypostyle Hall has soaring pillars ending in frothy representations of papyrus buds. If you visit, bring a torch to study the interior, because there are colourful reliefs and hieroglyphs everywhere. And don’t forget your camera, because sometimes the most ordinary encounters make the best of photos


If you’ve been to the Temple of Horus and feel you have something to add, please do so. Our readers appreciate your comments or memories.

1 February 2014

CRUISE NEWS: Avalon to cruise the Amazon in 2014

Avalon Waterways will operate its first itineraries on the mighty Amazon this year with the introduction of an 11-day Peruvian adventure.
Aria on the Amazon River in Peru.
Photo: Avalon Waterways
Joining Avalon’s program in 2014 is the 45-metre Amazon explorer Aria, a contemporary 16-suite ship designed for cruising South America’s greatest river in style. It features floor-to-ceiling windows, an outdoor Jacuzzi, an exercise room, indoor and outdoor lounges, a bar, a boutique, an elegant dining room and an open-air sun deck.
From this month, Aria will offer three-night cruises as part of an 11-day itinerary from Lima. Guests will venture deep into the Amazon jungle in search of wildlife including rare pink dolphins, as well as visiting indigenous communities and the remote Pacaya Samiria Reserve under the guidance of a local naturalist. Other highlights include the ancient Andean city of Cusco, the Sacred Valley of the Incas and the extraordinary mountain-top ruins of Machu Picchu. An optional two-day extension provides a chance to see the mysterious Nazca lines. One of the world's more exotic river cruises? Captain Rivers certainly thinks so.

Have you cruised on the Amazon or visited Peru? Why not provide your recommendations in the comment box below. Readers always appreciate extra feedback.