Answers sought

The drama is over and the investigations have begun into exactly what caused Carnival Triumph to become disabled for five days in the Gulf of Mexico, leaving nearly 3000 cruise passenger stranded at sea for five days in horrendous conditions.

Investigators have confirmed the ship lost all power because of an engine-room fire, but they want to find out how that happened and why Triumph was disabled without any back-up systems in place, particularly when its sister ship Carnival Splendor also became crippled at sea two years ago.

Already the company is facing lawsuits from aggrieved passengers. According to ABC News in the US, Cassie Terry, 25, of Texas, was the first to file suit in a Miami court on February 15, the same day it arrived back in Mobile, Alabama. Carnival Cruise Lines has offered passengers $500 in compensation plus a refund on their cruise, transport expenses and vouchers for another cruise.

Disasters aside, cruising is still growing in popularity. Figures from the Cruise Lines International Association show cruise ships carried about 20.3 million passengers last year. It expects numbers to rise this year.

Operators are opening up new territories to explore, or sending ships back to once-popular destinations. The Windstar line is one example.

The newly refurbished Wind Spirit is heading back to French Polynesia for the first time in more than a decade. The ship will operate 28 seven-day cruises starting in May next year; cruises will depart from Papeete and visit five islands, including Bora Bora and Moorea.

Princess has added several exotic options to its 2014 calendar, with a focus on South America and the south Pacific. Crown Princess will make its debut in South America with a 49-day voyage from Fort Lauderdale in February 2014, with highlights including an overnight stay in Rio de Janeiro, a navigation of Cape Horn and an overland tour option to Machu Picchu.

Meanwhile, Pacific Princess will be crossing the Pacific from the US to offer three additional cruises of French Polynesia and a 16-day cruise from Sydney to Tahiti in February next year.

Hapag-Lloyd's expedition ship, Hanseatic, is venturing into the famous Northwest Passage with a unique cruise this August. Departing from Kangerlussuaq in Greenland, the 24-day voyage will take holidaymakers north of the Arctic Circle, across the top of Canada and into Nome, Alaska, on September 9.

Finally, the Asia specialist Helen Wong's Tours has added a three-day cruise of Vietnam's breathtaking Halong Bay to its calendar for 2013-14. The cruise is on-board a ship operated by Au Co, and part of a small-group 12-day cruise package that includes land touring.

Package of the week

Explore the scenic coast of Norway with this 19-night package from Cruise Express.

Starting on June 10, it begins with a five-night stay in London. Then you travel to Dover to join Holland America's Ryndam for a 14-night cruise, visiting Stavanger, Hammerfest, Trondheim and Bergen, ending on June 29.

Priced from $4999 a person, twin share, the package includes return flights to London and accommodation there, with the option to delay your return flight home. 1300 766 537, cruiseexpress.com.au.

Shipshape: RV AmaLotus

LAUNCHED 2011 PASSENGERS 124 REGULAR HAUNTS The Mekong River, between Vietnam and Cambodia BEST FOR Couples THE DETAILS An eight-day Mekong River Cruise is priced from $2295 a person, twin share, on selected departures. 1300 278 278, aptouring.com.au or see a travel agent.

Need to know

1 AmaLotus was built exclusively for APT and cruises the Mekong River between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap from June to April. Highlights include butler service, a Luke Nguyen's Signature Banquet offered on every cruise, and cultural performances.

2 Ninety per cent of the ship's suites have APT's unique twin balconies. They consist of an outside balcony and Panoramic Balcony, a glass-sided indoor conservatory that opens to create a balcony itself.

3 Accommodation is among the most spacious on the Mekong River, and rooms have a rich, Asian-inspired decor and regional artefacts. Standard amenities include toiletries, a hairdryer, bathrobes and slippers.

4 The elegant Mekong Restaurant handles all meals, offering Asian and Western cuisine. Complimentary international wine, soft drinks, local beer and local spirits are served throughout the cruise, and there is a champagne breakfast each day.

5 Other facilities include a large sun deck with a swimming pool, two bars, two lounges, a library, a fitness centre and sauna, and a hair and beauty salon. There are also small group excursions, with personal audio headsets provided.

Port watch: Manzanillo, Mexico

Need to know

This is the largest seaport on Mexico's west coast, which is well known as a deep-sea fishing haven and tourist resort, with one of its beaches featuring in the Hollywood movie 10, starring Bo Derek and Dudley Moore. Ships dock in the commercial port close to town.

Do not miss

If you decide to explore independently, take a stroll along the waterfront boardwalk, Malecon, which stretches about 1½ kilometres, and stop by the Jardin town square to people-watch, or enjoy a spot of shopping or reasonably priced Mexican food. Besides tours that feature snorkelling, fishing and diving, you can opt for a day visit to the famous Las Hadas resort, which also features in 10. The picks of excursions further afield include the Cuyutlan Endangered Turtle Sanctuary and the El Salto waterfalls.

Q&A

I am single, in my early 40s and thinking of taking a cruise. Where do I start?

- T. Culshaw, Avalon.

Cruising has become a popular option for many solo travellers, being a great way to meet people.

A few things to consider include choosing a ship that has single staterooms, avoiding ships that are too large or too couples-focused, and opting for an itinerary with plenty of ports of call to enjoy on your own, as well as activities on board.

You can also consider booking with Companion Cruising (companioncruising.com.au), which aims to match single travellers to share a stateroom.

joanna@seahorsemedia.com.au

The story Answers sought first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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