The lowdown on the best cruises

Demand from Australians is opening the door for more sophisticated options when it comes to high seas and river cruise holidays.

Australia's fondness for cruising shows no sign of abating, with 20 per cent growth in the sector every year for the past 11 years, according to industry body Cruise Lines International Association. Operators in local waters including Carnival, P&O Australia and Royal Caribbean are deploying increasing numbers of vessels to Australia to meet growing demand, and an increasing number of premium and luxury international ships are making maiden visits to our shores, along with new vessels launching in popular overseas markets including Europe.

Here's a snapshot of the latest and greatest. P&O World Cruises' Britannia is a recent débutant. The vessel, which carries 3647 guests, was christened in Southampton in March with food and wine curated by British food identities - restaurants by Marco Pierre White and Atul Kochhar, wine expertise from Olly Smith, and cheese selections from Charlie Turnbull. The 14-night round-trip West Mediterranean cruise departs from Southampton on October 9.

France's Compagnie du Ponant ventured into Australian waters for the first time this season with a visit from L'Austral and is aiming to attract Aussie cruisers with sleek new yacht Le Lyrial. It carries just 264 guests and features a chic nautical décor.

The May début of 930-guest Viking Star in Europe marks the first foray into high seas cruising by Viking River Cruises, with highlights including a dramatic glass-backed infinity pool off the ship's stern and Tuscan cuisine by Sydney's own Stefano Manfredi.

In river cruising, new to Australian Pacific Touring's fleet this year are the AmaSerena and AmaVista, with highlights including twin balconies and a heated pool with swim-up bar - rare in this market.

Scenic Tours expanded its fleet of "Space Ships" last month with the launch of elegant Scenic Jasper; features include the lavish one-bedroom corner Royal Panorama Suites, with complimentary minibar, private balcony, butler service, chauffeur service from the airport in some destinations.


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