The gaggle of cruise journalists gathered today at New York's Pacific restaurant -- which specializes in Australasian cuisine -- probably got a pretty good idea that the Celebrity Cruises press conference here today would have a Down Under flavor. Indeed it did, as Celebrity chief Dan Hanrahan announced that, for the first time ever, the line will offer a series of Australia/New Zealand cruises on Celebrity's Mercury.
To top that, Celebrity Mercury, while repositioning from Honolulu to Australia and New Zealand, will hop, skip and jump at ports such as French Polynesia's Tahiti, <a href="../ports/newport.cfm?ID=37"
Moorea and Bora Bora, which are situated along the way. These calls are also first-evers for Celebrity (and the ship will repeat the repositioning itinerary at season's end).
Celebrity's inaugural Australia/New Zealand season runs from December 2007 - March 2008 and will consist of 14-night sailings between Auckland and Sydney. Ports on the itinerary include New Zealand's Tauranga, Napier, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin, along with a day of scenic cruising in Dusky Sound, Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound. In Australia the ship will call at Melbourne, Newcastle and Hobart (for Tasmania).
If the event today is any indication, Celebrity's foray to the land Down Under promises to offer an original experience. Guests were treated to a performance by the members of Kahurangi Dance Theatre, who represented the culture of New Zealand's Maoris, that country's original settlers. Australia, which is a burgeoning wine producer, was represented by wines served at the lunch such as a sparkling rose from Tasmania called Taltarni and a Barossa Vines shiraz.
Both countries shared in the culinary treats passed around, such as New Zealand venison, Tasmanian Sea Trout ceviche, sea urchin custard with Australian rock lobster and fried Coromandel oysters. Kangaroo, an Australian specialty was, alas, not available.
At the event, Hanrahan noted that the choice to expand Celebrity's horizons toward the west was part of an effort to create a more globalized range of itineraries (though purists may recall that Celebrity made a much ballyhooed announcement about offering Asia itineraries a few years ago and then suddenly backed out).
He expects that 50 percent of passengers will be Celebrity veterans looking for new and different territories to conquer.
Beyond cruising, Celebrity will also offer on-land tours that include an extended stay in Sydney and a five-night trip to Australia's northeast -- where highlights include a pre- or post-cruise stay in Sydney along with a trip to Ayers Rock and a visit to the Great Barrier Reef.