From penthouse suites and butlers to caviar and champagne, luxury cruising is truly a different world. Even at the "pointy end", however, competition is rife to capture the dollars of well-heeled cruisers.
Take Seabourn, for example. Its 116-day 2013 world cruise on the five-star Quest, departing on January 6 from Fort Lauderdale, has a line-up of esteemed speakers to keep guests entertained. Notable names include the American comedian, actor and screenwriter Rita Rudner, the Everest mountaineer Paul Deegan, and the NASA engineer and astronomer Dr Norman Caisse.
When it comes to unusual itineraries, SeaDream Yacht Club is offering a rare circumnavigation of the Black Sea in August 2013 on SeaDream I. A round trip from Istanbul, it takes in fascinating destinations including Nessebar in Bulgaria, Odessa, Sulina in Romania, and three Turkish ports of call including Amasra.
The French cruise line Compagnie du Ponant also has plenty to shout about. Besides making a transition into becoming all-inclusive starting with the US, with a simplified fare structure including all tipping and alcoholic drinks, the line is set to launch a new ship next year. The sleek, yacht-like Le Soleal joins the fleet in July 2013, carrying just 264 guests and offering off-the-beaten-track itineraries taking in Iceland, Greenland and the Russian Far East.
The news at the five-star end of cruising isn't all about the high seas, however. Due to demand, the luxury river cruise operator Viking River Cruises has ordered two more longships to debut next year. The Viking Jarl and Viking Atlantic, both with 95 staterooms, will cruise the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.
Uniworld will also welcome two additional luxury cruisers in 2014. The SS Alexandra is set to cruise the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers, while the SS Catherine will cruise the increasingly popular waterways of France.
Package of the week
If you have time to spare next April, how about taking three back-to-back cruises on Celebrity Solstice? This package from CruiseAway offers a month of grass skirts, guacamole, glaciers and unmatchable variety.
The holiday begins with a flight to Honolulu on April 24 and an overnight stay, before boarding Solstice for the first cruise around Hawaii, then across the Pacific to Ensenada in Mexico. The second cruise heads along the west coast to Seattle, by way of San Diego and San Francisco, and the third takes in Alaska. The holiday ends back in Seattle before flying home to Australia.
This tour is priced from $5999 a person, twin share, including flights, accommodation and the cruises. 1300 887 590, cruiseaway.com.au.
Classic International's Athena will host a four-night rock'n'roll cruise next year in Western Australia. Departing from Perth on April 2, the cruise will feature daily gigs by the ship's band, Brisbane-based classic rock group the Deadliners.
Sydney's Garden Island naval base will be opened up this summer to large cruise ships. The government has confirmed three ship berths for the next two seasons; two ships said to have approval to use the facilities are Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas and Celebrity Millennium.
When Celebrity Solstice makes its debut this summer, well-being fans can enjoy a true spa holiday at sea. Guests booking one of 130 dedicated spa accommodations will benefit from many health resort extras, including unlimited access to the Relaxation Room and complimentary dining at the health-focused Blu specialty restaurant.
LAUNCHED June 2012 PASSENGERS 3690 REGULAR HAUNTS The Mediterranean, the Caribbean BEST FOR Couples, families THE DETAILS A 12-day Mediterranean cruise, a round trip from Barcelona departing on September 19, is priced from $US1449 ($1380) a person, twin share, for a balcony stateroom. 1300 857 037, carnival.com.
Need to know
1 The latest ship in Carnival's fleet brings together the best of the line's successful Dream Class facilities. It also represents the first full incarnation of Fun Ship 2.0, a fleet-wide initiative focusing on food and entertainment.
2 Popular features adapted from sister ships Carnival Dream and Carnival Magic include the adults-only Serenity area, the elaborate Cloud 9 Spa, the SportsSquare outdoor fitness area and the RedFrog Pub.
3 Accommodation has a tropical-inspired decor and ranges from spacious inside staterooms to elaborate balcony suites. There are also dedicated spa suites, featuring whirlpool tubs and other perks, and family staterooms that can sleep up to five.
4 New to an impressive line-up of culinary options include the al fresco Fat Jimmy's C-Side BBQ, the Taste Bar for daily light delicacies, Guy Fieri's Burger Joint, and the new BlueIguana Cantina for freshly made tacos and burritos.
5 Pick of the entertainment includes a 5D Thrill Theatre, which combines 3D projection with 4D elements such as squirting water. Hasbro, The Game Show, puts guests in the middle of popular board games and there's a Punchliner Comedy Club presented by George Lopez.
Port watch: Nome, Alaska
Need to know One of Alaska's oldest cities, Nome sits on the Seward Peninsula facing the Bering Sea. It's famous for its gold rush history and is the finish line for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Ships dock on the outskirts of town; the centre is walking distance, or you can opt to take a shuttle if offered, or an organised tour.
Do not miss If you are a history buff, head for the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum, which tells the story of the gold rush era. For shopping, the colourful stores on Front Street offer an excellent range of native arts and crafts, including paintings and carvings. Tours mainly focus on local gold rush history, gold panning on the beach and Nome's harsh environment during the winter months. For a tour with a difference, however, opt for a sled-dog experience with a real musher who has completed the Iditarod race.
A balcony gives you a private outdoor space of your own from which to enjoy the fresh air and views. There are some rules about using them, however.
An important one is smoking, with many cruise lines no longer permitting it.
Etiquette also includes being quiet early in the morning and late at night if outside, not drying clothes or towels on balconies while at sea because the items might blow away, and resisting the temptation to peek over the divider to see what your neighbours are up to.
Finally, you must never throw anything overboard.