Monday, 28 June 2010

FRANKS FAVOURITES: Middle East Icons, Europe River Cruising, Fast Train, Whale Watching, Cycle Tours


It may not sound the cheapest, but its best-value for money for those interested in the iconic sites of some of the world's earliest civilisations in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Dubai – and the more-so as it will be escorted by one of Australia's most-respected travel industry identities, Adelaide's Phil Hoffmann with the support of local professional guides while sightseeing.

Created for just 15-guests and selling through Middle East travel specialists, International Destinations this 19-day package departs on October 29 with all accommodation 5-star, a 4-night Nile cruise from Luxor to Aswan aboard the Nile's new and very luxurious river cruiser, Sonesta St George, and with the extraordinary Abu Simbel temples as a side trip as well.

Phil Hoffman will escort the group from Adelaide and guests from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane or Perth will join him in Dubai for the flight to Damascus where sightseeing begins.

Price starts from $12,599pp twin-share (singles $16,600) including return air, twin-share 5-star hotels, a total thirty meals while travelling, the luxury Nile River cruise and deluxe motor-coach touring, and internal flights.

For full details phone International Destinations toll-free 1800 044 519.

THE package begins with two nights in the oldest inhabited city in the world, Damascus followed by Palmyra (Syria,) and then Jordon's Greco Roman city of Jerash, plus Amman and Petra with full days sightseeing ancient ruins, historic oases, medieval castles, bazaars, mosques and museums.

A flight to Cairo for an overnight and a day's sightseeing is followed by the luxury Nile cruise with daily escorted shore-side sightseeing; guests fly back to Cairo for a night, and then to Dubai for a stay at the spectacular Royal Mirage Resort on Jumeirah Beach and visits to forts, museums, mosques, produce markets, and the legendary Gold Souk.


BOOK now through and you'll not only be amongst the first in May next year to cruise aboard Europe's first river "Suite Ship" with two whole decks of all-suite accommodation, but you'll fly there for free to enjoy it.

Avalon Panorama will debut in May 2011 with suites 30 per cent larger than the industry average, and featuring a lounge area for entertaining and in-room dining behind a wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling panoramic window that offers sheltered viewing – or can be opened to create an open-air balcony feel. has a 14-night cruise along the Danube and Rhine Rivers aboard Avalon Panorama on May 18 2011, with a hotel night pre-cruise in Amsterdam and another post-cruise in Budapest, guided sightseeing tours in ports of call, superb dining, and regional wines with dinners each night.

There is also a night aboard ship in Amsterdam before sailing for Cologne, the Rhine Gorge-Rudesheim, Miltenberg, Wurzburg, Bamberg, Nuremberg, Regensburg, Passau-Linz, Melk-Durnstein, Vienna, Bratislava, and Budapest where there is another night aboard ship as well as the hotel night post-cruise.

Prices start from $6089pp twin-share for a standard cabin with window, and from $7319pp for a suite with floor to ceiling opening glass window; book and deposit for either before August 31 this year and will give you free return air (including taxes) from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane or Perth.

Full details phone 1300 369 848 or visit

FURTHER SHIPBOARD INFORMATION: Avalon Panorama has a spacious Sky Deck for optimum viewing, hair salon, fitness centre, complimentary coffee and tea throughout the day, onboard lectures, activities and nightly entertainment, and headsets are provided for included guided sightseeing.

Staterooms feature flatscreen satellite TV and radio, mini-bar, and hairdryer and safe.

GET ON YER BIKE…                                

Adventure holidays specialists Explore Worldwide have released a range of cycling tours which include explorations in Turkey, Morocco and India.

Typical is the eight-day journey through Turkey's Cappadocia region visiting rock-cut churches, tunnel networks and scenic valleys and villages, and costing $1060.(

Then there's an eight-day itinerary to the Kasbah or Morocco's Draa Valley, the High Atlas Mountains and the Sahara Desert for $1121.

Another option is a 14-day journey through Kerala in India's south-west riding through tea and spice plantations, along tranquil waterways and enjoying homestays in remote villages for $2116.

All tours are led by a tour leader plus a local guide and include use of a high quality cycle with pannier bags, separate luggage transport, and accommodation with many meals.

Venture Holidays has more information on Explore Worldwide activities at 1300-414151 or visit


RAIL Plus has a great deal on the Thalys high-speed trains linking Paris, Brussels, Cologne and Amsterdam – get a First Class full fare ticket for the price of a Second Class full fare for travel between now and August 29 if the booking is made before August 17.

As an example, where a first class full fare is $372, the sale fare is $230, the same cost as the second class full fare.

Comfort 1, as First Class is known, offers large reclining seats, free Wi-Fi connection, meal-at-seat service, free newspapers, sockets for laptops, taxi reservation service (additional cost) and access to VIP lounges (Cologne and Brussels stations).

Also known as the "Red Trains", the Thalys trains travel at 320 kph.

Thalys has a range of fare types, with this offer relating only to Full Fare type.

Comfort 1 meals include:
  • Breakfast from 6:00am to 9:00am including beverage, croissants, cheese or cooked meats, fruit salad or yoghurt
  • Snack from 9:00am to 11:45am, from 2:00pm to 6:00pm and later than 9:00pm (beverage, sandwiches, cakes and fruit)
  • Lunch from 11:45am to 2:00pm including choice of drinks, cold starter and mixed platter, bread and dessert
  • Dinner from 6:00pm to 9:00pm including choice of drinks, cold starter and mixed platter, bread and dessert
  • "Welcome drink" offered with a mini sandwich on the route Brussels - Amsterdam, in both ways.
Thalys trains travel from Paris to Brussels in 1hr 25m up to 26 times a day, Brussels to Cologne in 2hrs 32m up to six times a day, Paris-Amsterdam 3hrs 15m up to 8 times a day, Brussels-Amsterdam 2hrs 44m up to 8 times a day and Paris-Colgne 3hrs 15m up to six times a day. There are the same number of return trips each day.

Taxis can be booked from onboard trains arriving in Paris or Brussels on weekdays (not at weekends.) Upon arrival, chauffeurs meet passenger at the Thalys meeting point and an additional surcharge up to 15€ is applied to the taxi price (which is at passenger's own cost.)

For full details see


More than 11,000 prime-moving whales are expected to crowd Port Stephens' 'Humpback Highway' this winter as the local whale-watching cruise industry prepares for record business, with whale-watching packages offering discounts of up to 20 per cent if booked online.

As one of Australia's premier whale-watching sites, Port Stephens has three  cruise operators meeting the growing tourist demand, each scoring close to a 100 per cent sighting rate on every departure during the area's extended whale-watching season from May to November.

Situated north of Newcastle, 2.5 hours north of Sydney, Port Stephens and its marine park sit right next to the migration path of the humpback whales. Dubbed the 'Humpback Highway', the route is used by more than 11,000, forty-tonne humpback whales each year as they migrate north up the coast to breed and then return back to Antarctic waters later in the year.

Shoal Bay Resort and Spa at Port Stephens has a new whale-watching package from $488 per couple or $722 per family of four including two nights' accommodation, breakfast daily and a whale-watching cruise. Call 1800 18 18 10 or visit

Whale-watching cruises at Port Stephens all last between 2.5- 3.5 hours and leave from the marina at Nelson Bay:

Moonshadow Cruises is the largest whale-watching operator in Port Stephens, with the biggest boat featuring underwater video cameras. Whale-watching cruises depart at 10am and 1.30pm daily and cost $60 for adults, $25 for children and $145 for a family of four with a 15 per cent discount if booked online at Call 02 4984 9388.

Tamboi Queen Cruises' leave daily at 10am and 1.30pm and cost $60 for adults and $30 for children with families $150. Book online for a 20 per cent discount – or call 02 4981 1959.

Imagine Cruises' The Imagine catamaran features hydrophones – underwater microphones which allow passengers to hear the whales sing. Whale-watching cruises leave at 10.30am and 2pm daily and cost $60 for adults, $30 for children and $150 for a family of four, with free tea, coffee and biscuits. Call or call 02 4984 9000.

For general information about Port Stephens go to