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Sunday, November 17, 2019

MSC: Is this the future of cruising?


[updated]

Our committed cruiser casts a critical eye over one of the world's most advanced cruise ships, the newly launched MSC flagship, the 6000-passenger Grandiosa. Words: Roderick Eime

We all know the cruise industry has attracted criticism in recent times for some environmentally unsavoury practices. Whether it is the discharge of wastewater, air pollution or overuse of single-use plastics, the global multi-billion-dollar cruise industry certainly has some questions to answer.

I'm here in Hamburg for the very festive launch of MSC Grandiosa, the brand new180,000 GT, 331m flagship of the world's largest privately-owned cruise line. We are fed and refreshed in regal style as this giant ship is welcomed into the world's luxury cruise fleet and screen idol, Sophie Loren, is on hand as usual for the ribbon-cutting in front of the world's travel media and more than 14,000 travel agents.

Sophia Loren is the godmother of MSC's entire cruise fleet (supplied)

But apart from her staggering statistics, the cruise line has integrated some of the latest maritime technology into Grandiosa's design, making her one of the most environmentally friendly such vessels afloat despite her ample proportions.

Grandiosa is the first of three MSC's Meraviglia-Plus ships, all of which employ state-of-the-art exhaust scrubbers to remove 98 per cent of such harmful emissions as sulphur oxide and nitrogen oxide. As something of a tech geek, I was impressed to learn that extra catalytic converters (similar to those in your car) turn harmful nitrogen oxide into harmless nitrogen gas and water.

While most large cruise ships continue to burn Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) at the rate of about 200-250 tonnes per day, others are converting to light marine diesel, a fuel identical to that which we pump into road vehicles. Unlike HFO, it floats and evaporates if spilled and produces much less harmful byproducts when burned. New generation cruise ships currently under construction by MSC and others will employ Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) exclusively, vastly reducing - but not eliminating - emissions.

“Our focus on innovation since we built our first cruise ships only in 2003 ensures that we have one of the most modern fleets at sea as well as one of the highest environmentally performing, “said  Pierfrancesco Vago, MSC Cruises executive chairman in a press conference at the launch, “And, thanks to our long-term planning, this will allow us to already achieve a fleet-wide 29 per cent reduction in carbon intensity (rate) by 2024 vs. 2008, well on our way to meet the 40 per cent reduction target set for 2030.”

We don't need to be mathematicians to work out that MSC Cruises will not meet its promised carbon neutral status by January 2020 while continuing to use fossil fuels, so an intensive carbon offset campaign is underway to supercharge their carbon neutrality efforts. Now obviously I haven't audited each of these initiatives, but I can report MSC's stated strategy.

“We will work with leading providers in carbon offsets able to offset CO2 emissions with the highest level of integrity,” said Mr Vago, “Our vision is to also invest in projects that provide quantifiable community benefits, protect the environment and support the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”

From press materials obtained from MSC and my own independent enquiries, I've been able to find out more about these 'green' mechanisms.

MSC Grandiosa and her environmental features. CLICK TO ENLARGE

No Discharge 

One thing I can confidently report is that you won't see any ugly images of MSC ships emptying their bowels into the sea as has been seen elsewhere. All wastewater is processed on board with their Advanced Wastewater Treatment System  (AWTS). The system separates solids that are removed from the cycle and treated separately. This bio 'sludge' is dehydrated and compacted into high-grade ‘pellets’ which can either be burned as a fuel source or offloaded to a certified shore facility. Because of their high-grade organic quality, these soil-like pellets can be added to landfills to enhance composting action or even used as agricultural fertilizer. The reverse osmosis filtered and UV-treated water is close to municipal 'tap' quality and is perfectly safe to return to the sea. I'm told that MSC executives even drank the water in a demonstration of its purity. Wish I'd seen that.

Silent Running

As evidenced by my own experience on board, Grandiosa is a silent ship. This is achieved by isolating and insulating the otherwise noisy machine spaces eg engines, generators etc. The massive engines themselves are mounted on 'silent blocks' and the whole space is insulated with sound deadening material. This not only creates a more comfortable space for guests, but also for marine mammals who are bombarded by ship-generated noise. The propellers too have a bubble generating feature that counters the noise created by propellers at full speed.

Slippery Ship 

We've seen several new hull designs appear on the scene recently. MSC's state-of-the-art hydrodynamic hulls are not so much revolutionary, but rather a refinement of existing 'bulbous bow'  design, where computer modelling has helped create the optimum shape that offers the least water resistance or 'drag'. Like in cars and airplanes, a 'slippery' design allows higher speeds without using extra power and hence emissions. The industry standard 'bulbous bow' is that big round protrusion at the front of a ship that sits below the waterline and guides the water around the hull, greatly reducing the engines' effort in propelling the vessel, hence less fuel consumed and less emissions produced. Non-toxic anti-foul paint is also used on the hulls to prevent marine growth build-up.

Power Play

All ships generate their own electricity using generators powered by the same fuel as used by the engines. Obviously, the less work these engines need to do, the more efficient and the cleaner is the whole package. In the case of most modern cruise ships, the main engines are used to generate electricity for the electric motors that drive the propellers. These propellers are housed in massive rotating pods (Azimuth Pods or just 'azipods') beneath the stern that removes the need for old-fashioned rudders and makes the ships much more maneuverable, especially at low speeds when docking. If Titanic had installed azipods, there's a good chance she would have dodged that iceberg!

Other power-saving measures include ultra-low-power LED lighting throughout the ship and intelligent air-conditioning that monitors interior temperatures and redistributes heat instead of regenerating it. The 26 intelligent elevators fascinate me too. You select your floor and the next elevator is indicated. The computer system optimises elevator movements, vastly reducing wait times and minimises unnecessary lift travel.

One of the topical issues with ships in port is their burning fuel while berthed. While most modern ships have the emission controls already discussed, it nevertheless is beneficial if ships can switch off their oil-burning generators while in port. All MSC ships are shore power ready, meaning they can 'plug in' just like you would do with a caravan at a powered site. The problem is, as I've discovered, is that there are only about two dozen ports in the whole world able to offer shore power to cruise ships. This is a complex discussion for another time, but obviously needs to be addressed.

Plastic Fantastic

It seems every day there are heated discussions and finger-pointing in regards to plastic reduction, disposal and recycling. MSC and the other big lines are feeling consumer and regulatory pressure and responding – some more effectively than others. From my own superficial investigations, MSC does not yet have a perfect scorecard, but I'm pleased to report many of the most offensive single-use plastics like straws, cutlery and bottles are almost gone. Almost.

MSC have instituted many procedures to deal with this waste sensitively for example, I was told that the supply chain was intimately examined to identify where waste can be reduced if not eliminated. For example, many of the bulk cleaning liquids and detergents used behind the scenes are now delivered as solid concentrate, eliminating hundreds of tonnes of plastic packaging in one fell swoop.

Sea Change

An artist rendering of Ocean Cay 

Of particular note is MSC's concern with the health of the oceans. To this end, they are embarking on projects which protect and restore ocean and coastal habitats while also absorbing more CO2 than current levels. These so-called Blue Credits are earned by dealing directly with the health of our seas and rivers, bearing in mind that the ocean is a very efficient absorbent of atmospheric carbon dioxide, accounting for the absorption of more than one-third of human-caused emissions thus far.

To this end, MSC in conjunction with marine biologists and conservationists, are rejuvenating a derelict sand mining island in the Caribbean, to be called Ocean Cay, turning it into a marine sanctuary that guests can enjoy during their cruise as an enriching shore excursion.

Geek Solutions and Tech Fun

Aboard ship, numerous hi-tech features makes guests' experience more enjoyable including Zoe, the virtual assistant that keeps tabs on your schedule, bill and children; smart elevators that direct you to the next elevator going your way; extensive adults and children's entertainment including a full-size F1 simulator and head-spinning VR games – all of which could easily be the subject of their own feature.

In summary, when you add in superior dining and guest service levels, well-appointed cabins and suites as well as class-leading theatrical shows including the only Cirque du Soleil at Sea, you have very near the perfect combination of features for the best possible cruise experience. But hey, don't take my word for it.

For more information on the MSC Cruises, visit www.msccruises.com.au  or www.msccruises.co.nz 





Friday, November 15, 2019

Lonely Planet's Wonders of the World Reveals 101 Great Sights and How to See Them



Includes Great Barrier Reef & the Daintree Rainforest, Uluru, and Lord Howe Island

From Antarctica and the Amazon to Victoria Falls and the Great Wall of China, Lonely Planet's Wonders of the World showcases 101 spectacular sights – and how to experience them on any budget.

Published November 2019, Lonely Planet's Wonders of the World is both inspiring and practical, with expert advice, best-value itineraries, beautiful photography, and local secrets.

Australia is represented by Great Barrier Reef & the Daintree Rainforest, Uluru, and Lonely Planet's number-five region to visit in 2020, Lord Howe Island.

The book features human-made wonders that people may already know, such as the Taj Mahal and Angkor Wat. But Lonely Planet's destination experts have also selected less famous sights that are equally captivating: the entwined tree bridges of Meghalaya in India, the intricate Islamic architecture of Naqsh-e Jahan in Iran, and the massive Buddhist temple of Borobudur in central Java. Museums with remarkable collections of wonders have also been included, such as the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands and the British Museum in London.

The natural wonders chosen for the book are no less impressive: giant trees in California, cascading lakes in Croatia, multi-coloured hills in China, great waterfalls, the world's biggest cave, and such natural phenomena as the wave of cherry blossom (sakura) that sweeps across Japan each spring, and the light show of the auroras across the planet's northern and southern extremities.

Thanks to Lonely Planet's network of travel experts and 45 years of experience, the book also includes guides to each of these wonders, with recommendations on the best times to visit, how to get there, and where to stay and eat - however deep your pockets. Two sample itineraries cover short and longer trips to allow travellers to make plans based on the time and funds they have available.

To celebrate the launch of Wonders of the World, Lonely Planet in conjunction with G Adventures will be giving away a trip for two, including flights, to one of four destinations featured in the book. Consumers simply need to purchase a copy of Lonely Planet's Wonders of the World from any participating retailer, visit the competition website at
lptravel.to/wonders and enter their details to be in the running to win. The competition runs from now until 31 January 2020, and the winner will be drawn in February 2020.

LONELY PLANET'S WONDERS OF THE WORLD

Published: November 2019
ISBN: 9781788682329
368pp, hardcover
Price: AU$44.99

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

‘Being Well’ at Great Value in Bangkok During Holiday Season


#onlyinthailand

Outstanding Three-day, Two-night stay for two offer with a focus on well-being

The upscale lifestyle wellness 235-room and suites Well Hotel Bangkok Sukhumvit 20 is offering guests a $378 three-day, two-night ‘Being Well’ holiday season package for two.

Focused on well-being, the offer includes a 60-minute wellness activity with a choice of Aromatherapy Massage, Ancient Thai Massage, Muay Thai Class and Personal Fitness Training.

Also included are a daily buffet breakfast, complimentary in-room minibar, 15% discount on standard menu at Well Spa, 35% discount on food on a la carte menu at Eat Well Café, complimentary access to Well Fitness, outdoor salted water swimming and group exercise classes, and a special rate on extended nights. One free date change is available at least seven days prior to the original check-in date.

Available from now until 31 March 2020 with a supplement charge of $24 net per night applied for stays between 25 December 2019 and 10 January 2020.

More than half a million Australians visit Bangkok each year for holidays and business.  Many like to stay where they feel welcome, at a home away from home, in the world’s most popular travel destination.

The Well Hotel Bangkok Sukhumvit 20, supports good living in a city that rarely sleeps and is providing a distinct advantage for visitors looking to maintain healthy lifestyles.

The hotel is located in central Sukhumvit, a global tourism destination where you can experience everything Bangkok has on offer – restaurants and bars, clubs, retail malls, food markets, bespoke tailors, handicraft outlets and more. The Well Hotel is an easy walking distance from the BTS Skytrain (Asok), MRT Subway (Sukhumvit), Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre and luxury malls such as The Emporium, The EmQuartier and Terminal 21. On the pavements and streets in between, hawkers sell souvenirs and knock-off designer goods, luggage and footwear as well as roadside eats, beauty and massage.

From here, long walks can be launched, Yoga, Muay Thai or workouts hosted at the Well’s open-air pool and fitness centre where high stress and demanding work lives are put back into balance. 

Around the corner at the EmQuartier, guests can access Bounce, one of Bangkok’s newer fitness and fun experiences.  It is an adrenaline playground comprising interconnected trampolines, adventure features, padding and airbags.  Suitable for all ages – pre-schoolers and teenagers through to fitness enthusiasts and corporate groups.

Nearby Benjakiti Park is one of Bangkok’s most popular parks offering space for joggers, walkers and cyclists.  Further afield is Lumphini Park providing 2.5-km of paths for walkers, joggers and cyclists who exercise at sunrise and sunset to avoid the heat of the day. Here you will find children’s playgrounds, beautiful flora and magnificent trees, boats on lakes, hundreds of birds and even monitor lizards.

The RSM Academy at Rajadamnern Stadium, the original home of Muay Thai, offers a welcoming platform for enthusiasts of all ages and abilities to explore the art of Thai boxing.

The three-year-old Well Hotel Bangkok has five-room categories to suit all guest needs. All rooms and suites have comfortable beds, work desks, mini-bar, personal electronic safety box, 46-inch smart TV, telecoms, complimentary high-speed Wi-Fi throughout and LAN cable in room and mobile device charging stations. 

Each Executive Suite and Executive Room is equipped with an exercise bike, yoga and Pilate’s equipment. Guests can also join the free group exercise classes daily. In addition, a microwave and printer on request are provided in all Executive Suites.

Other facilities include the Eat Well Café, The Twist Bar & Bistro, Pool Bar, Well Spa, Fitness Centre and an outdoor rooftop swimming pool. Meeting and event spaces are available for corporate meetings or small to mid-sized events. For security, the hotel has HD CCTV in public areas and a key card system for guest areas and elevators. A 24-hour room service, in-room dining, baby-sitting service, currency exchange, laundry and dry cleaning, valet parking and shoeshine service are also available to ensure a relaxed and pleasant stay.

The Twist Bar & Bistro is located on the ground floor of Memory Wing. It is a perfect place for an intimate dinner, or with friends just to catch up for a chat, a memorable cocktail and a wealth of appetizing Thai and Western meals.  The restaurant has a touch of Art Deco design with a modern twist evoking the glamour and romance of the prohibition-era of the 1920’s and 30’s. Besides the comfortable and cosy dining area inside, there is also an outdoor terrace where patrons can take in the scene. The menu changes seasonally and daily specials using fresh ingredients are offered with a main focus on Western cuisine.

Open during the day the Eat Well Café focuses on traditional fare and Asian fusion. The café features only healthy fresh ingredients. Breakfast is also served daily in the café.

The Pool Bar is located on the Level 7 of Welcome Wing offering, herbal drinks, juice, cocktails, beers and light snacks.

The hotel has the magic mix to bring to life the hotel mantra of “live a healthy lifestyle while travelling. The Wellness Centre has a Well Spa, Fitness Centre and Rooftop Saltwater swimming pool. Well Spa is offering 100% natural therapies with natural products and essential oils in all treatments and massages. The hotel prides itself as a lifestyle wellness hotel. The concept is highlighted by the three main messages which are sleep well, eat well and stay well.

Designed by leading Thai architectural and design company, BEGRAY. The project started with the renovation of a post-modern building which is now Memory Wing. Later the second building was built in the same fashion, named the Welcome Wing featuring the lobby. The architect was inspired by the old houses and buildings in Sukhumvit area that portray the classic Thai twist design harmonizing the old and the new with the touch of art deco. It is aimed to bring an exceptional hotel experience to the guests who appreciate classic design but do not want to compromise on the ideal location of the Well Hotel Bangkok.

A combination of health and wellness, comfort and style plus responsive staff are corner stones of the Well Hotel Bangkok Sukhumvit 20.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

See More Icebergs than People on Greenland Kayaking Getaway


Despite being the largest island on the planet, Greenland continues to retain a quiet air of serenity, offering the opportunity to enjoy an authentic wilderness escape in the midst of spectacular icy scenery, inhabited by seals, whales, caribou, arctic fox and hare.  

For adventure lovers hoping to visit the island's most scenic waters, specialist tour operator, Swoop Arctic, welcomes both experienced and novice kayakers to join its 15-day South Greenland Kayak Expedition, with departures June through to September 2020.

Travelling via Reykjavik or Copenhagen to Narsarsuaq Airport, the kayaking adventure begins with a crossing of the great Narsaq fjord, with its many icebergs, low mountains, waterfalls that flow in to the sea and numerous seals for company along the route.

Throughout the trip, kayakers will marvel at the gifts provided by Mother Nature as they paddle past ice sculptures, under arches and alongside floating ice, sometimes venturing in to areas such as the Torsukattak fjord zone which, hitherto, have been relatively uncharted by kayakers.

Among the sights that leave a lasting impression on every visitor, are the three massive Qaleraliq glaciers, gateway to the 2,500km icy plateau leading to northern Greenland; the omnipresent Inlandis ice sheet and the second largest glacier in the world.  The roar of ice cracking or collapsing from the glacier in to the sea is a colossal reminder of why halting global warming is imperative.  

Paddling is interspersed with hiking and exploring on foot, with participants having the chance to trek to Lake Tasersuatsiaq, where they will be rewarded with panoramic views across the Greenlandic ice cap.  Undoubtedly, local wildlife such as caribou, arctic fox and hare will be spotted along the way.

The final day of the expedition is spent exploring the striking agricultural town of Narsaq, where the houses are painted in vibrant hues of red, blue and yellow, kitchen gardens provide the locals with plentiful fresh produce, and inhabitants jokingly refer to themselves as cowboys, as a nod towards their sheep and cattle farming roots.

Paddlers may choose to take optional excursions (available at an additional cost) to Qaqortoq, described as Greenland's most charming town, and the norse ruins of Hvalsey Church.  

In addition, following a boat transfer from Narsaq to Narsarsuaq, there will be time to explore the Bluie West One museum, the former US military base, where time has stood still since it was used in WWII.

Prices for the South Greenland Kayak Expedition start from £1916 per person, based on twin share.  Accommodation is in hostels for two nights and under canvas for 12, with all meals, expedition guides, kayaking equipment, transfers and return travel to Narsarsuaq included.  

For further information, visit https://www.swoop-arctic.com/greenland/south/kayak-expedition

www.swoop-antarctica.com

 

Monday, November 4, 2019

Chiva-Som Reopens for a New Era Of Wellness

The Chiva-Som International Health Resort in Hua Hin, Thailand, has reopened its doors, marking the completion of the fourth and final stage of its renovation - the first major works since its launch over 24 years ago - and welcoming a brand new era of wellness.


Famed as a pioneer of the wellness industry, guests return to Chiva-Som year after year for its world-class facilities and the wellness team's unparalleled skill and depth of knowledge.  Spanning the course of five years, the highly anticipated refurbishment has seen the resort accommodation and all of the facilities and public areas redesigned and transformed to enhance the 'hardware' offering and cement its status as a leader in the wellness industry.

 

Chairman and CEO of Chiva-Som International Health Resort, Mr. Krip Rojanastien, said of the launch:  "Embarking on such an transformation was a major commitment, but the time was right to ensure the 'hardware' is in place to take Chiva-Som into a new era of wellness.  We are immensely proud of the results and are very much looking forward to welcoming our guests back to the rejuvenated resort, which nonetheless retains the Chiva-Som DNA.  As the resort embarks on its 25th anniversary year in 2020, we hope it will continue to inspire wellness for clients old and new".

 

The new-look resort will unveil the final improvements to the Health & Wellness area, the Bathing Pavilion, Niranlada Medi-Spa, and its much-loved seaside restaurant, the Taste of Siam.  New signature interiors feature teak, Thai silk and bamboo complemented by a calming, contemporary colour palette, offset by plenty of natural light. The Spa and Physiotherapy treatment rooms have been refined and refreshed to include a new hydrotherapy suite and flotation chamber, whilst the Bathing Pavilion now incorporates a sunbed area, separate male and female changing rooms plus a brand new hydro pool delivering new hydrotherapy functions. The Niranlada Medi-Spa has been transformed to offer a warm and welcoming space, home to a discreet facial analysis room, various treatment rooms and a make-up room.

 

The Taste of Siam showcases the renowned wellness cuisine which has been developed over many years by Chiva-Som's accomplished culinary team.  Skill and technique are combined with the freshest of organic ingredients - many grown in the resort's own organic gardens - to deliver masterful cooking that is packed with flavour and nutrients in equal measure.  The restaurant can now accommodate up to 100 guests with additional seaside seating, whilst the open kitchen has been brought indoors to create a casual, interactive dining experience.  An improved layout ensures guests can always enjoy uninterrupted sea views, come rain or shine.

 

For Chiva-Som bookings in Australia contact your travel agent or a Chiva-Som Specialist on 1300 857 437. 



Doors open at Hotel Chadstone Melbourne, MGallery by Sofitel



The ribbon has been cut to mark the unveiling of Hotel Chadstone Melbourne, MGallery by Sofitel, with the first guests arriving last Friday (1 November) to enjoy Melbourne’s newest luxury destination.

Qatar Airways A350-1000 makes its Australian debut



The first A350-1000 aircraft to touch down in Sydney and Canberra

Qatar Airways was the global launch customer of the A350-1000 in 2018

Canberra and Sydney today welcomed the first scheduled state-of-the-art Airbus A350-1000 flight, with Qatar Airways QR0906 Doha to Sydney-Canberra route landing at Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport just after 6:00am on Friday morning, before making its way to Canberra Airport and touching down at 8:40am.

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The Expeditionist

The Expeditionist
Venturing to the world's special places