Bon voyages French luxury cruise line Compagnie du Ponant will be venturing across to this part of the world for the first time with its newest vessel. Due to be launched in June, Le Soléal (above) is a comparatively small cruiser designed to provide an exclusive luxury yacht experience, and will carry a maximum of 264 well-heeled passengers in 132 very comfortable cabins. She will arrive in the northern Japanese port of Otaru from Russia on October 15, stop off in Osaka and then make the run down to Hong Kong from October 22 to 30. Le Soléal will then sail between Hong Kong and Singapore twice in November and make regional cruises until next March, when she sets sail for Colombo and the Middle East. The cheapest berths from Hong Kong to Singapore via Vietnam are on sale from about US$5,600 for 11 nights, but passengers willing to spend that kind of money might prefer to travel on a more unusual route, such as that from Bali to Singapore, putting in at Komodo, Makassar, Sandakan and Kuching (12 nights from US$7,495). If you can spare the better part of a month, then the combination of Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh City and Ho Chi Minh City to Kuala Lumpur cruises from February 19 to March 14 (from US$11,534) might also appeal. For full itineraries, downloadable brochures and reservations, visit en.ponant.com.
Costa effective More affordable cruise options are offered by Costa Cruises, which has just announced the arrival in Singapore next month of the Costa Atlantica. This is the largest ship that Costa has sent to Southeast Asia, and the kind of crowd-weary traveller who prefers not to share a ship with as many as 2,679 other pass-engers might be unimpressed by the ship's "Venice at Sea" concept and its Botticelli buffet restaurant (or the fact that every deck is named after a Federico Fellini movie, including La Dolce Vita). But for those out for a cheap, fun cruise, Costa Atlantica will be sailing between Singapore, various Malaysian ports and Phuket throughout May and the first week of June. Discounted fares are on offer from about HK$3,000 for three nights (not including flights) at www.ecruising.travel/HK.
Emergency call If you're heading over to Thailand for Songkran this week, you might want to grab a new iPhone app called Tourist Buddy. Created by the country's Tourist Police, it's supposed to be useful for visitors who get themselves into trouble with local villains, unscrupulous traders, corner-cutting jet-ski operators and the like. The free app features an emergency call button, a "send location" option, useful phone numbers, a map showing the nearest police posts and lots of safety advice. It's currently only available for iPhone but should be available across all platforms in the next couple of months.
Constructive idea Families with a liking for Lego might be interested in a two-night package that includes a visit to the recently opened Legoland Malaysia (right), on offer from Tiglion Travel from HK$3,290 per person, twin share. Half a dozen hotels are on offer, all of them in Johor Bahru. None of them is particularly spectacular, but the Thistle Hotel (HK$3,790 per person) is probably the best of the bunch. On a more positive note, this deal includes round-trip flights to Singapore with Singapore Airlines, round-trip bus transfers from the airport across the border to Johor and a one-day ticket to Legoland, with hotel transfers and daily breakfast. The package can be booked for travel until the end of June through the Malaysia section at www.tiglion.com.
Deal of the week Farrington American Express Travel's new Chiang Mai, Thailand, package starts from an affordable HK$2,690 for two nights at the All Seasons hotel, but better value are the bonus nights being offered for stays at the Four Seasons Resort and the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi (below). Priced at HK$6,490 and HK$6,590, respectively, both properties are offering a free extra night's stay with breakfast (normally worth about HK$2,000 per person). Flights are with Dragonair and the package will be available until the end of October but with a HK$250 peak-season surcharge from July 12 to August 25, and HK$700 surcharges over public holidays. For a full list of hotels and reservations, go to www.amextravel.com.hk or call 3121 3121.