Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Whitsunday Dreaming

Article from: escape

MV Ammari

“I see her as a sort of floating beach house, “ says Hume Campbell of his latest vessel, the sleep-aboard MV Ammari, “somewhere where guests can slow down quickly and relax.”

Campbell, the current patriarch of the 80-year-old Brisbane-based family company Riverside Marine Pty Ltd, has seen the firm grow from humble coal barges and tugs to this: luxury leisure cruising.

The laid-back side of this good ol’ fashioned maritime concern is Fantasea Adventure Cruising, purchased mid-2006 by Riverside for a reported $25 million. The 26-year-old company’s current activities include a fleet of air-conditioned, high speed catamaran ferries plying the waters of the Whitsundays and the award-winning tourist attraction, Reefworld, where visitors can actually overnight on the reef. Novel underwater accommodation is also planned.

This latest acquisition, the catamaran MV Ammari began life in the Freemantle yards of Austal Ships in 2000 as “Rivage St Martin”, destined for boutique cruising in the French Caribbean. Austal’s shipbuilding business is designing and constructing some of the most advanced vessels, both civilian and military, to ever come out of Australia.

During the March official launch, the decks were awash with government ministers, tourism heavyweights and local business big hitters. Flash bulbs blazed as the plaque was unveiled and the virtues of the venture extolled by Queensland Tourism Minister, Margaret Keech.

"In the past five years, the cruise shipping industry has surged by more than 600 per cent, producing enormous economic gains for Queensland," Mrs Keech said in a prepared statement.

"The introduction of a new leisure cruise ship opens the Great Barrier Reef and stunning Whitsunday islands up to more visitors, creating opportunities for these destinations to grow even further."

Every year around 2 million visitors travel to the Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest living structure. Whilst marvelling at the 2000 species of fish inhabiting its 2000 kilometre long mass, they snorkel, dive and frolic in the crystal clear waters and kick around 6 billion dollars into Australia's economy. Campbell avows support for the Reef’s preservation, and why wouldn’t he? The eco-certified cruise company allocates over $100,000 for monitoring and management of its own activities on the Reef via the Fantasea Foundation.

Those that make their way to the Whitsundays and Hamilton Island, MV Ammari’s home port and base, are largely the hedonistic, escapist holidaymakers drawn by preferred travel agent packages and last minute Internet deals. But the island’s owner and champion yachtsman, Bob Oatley, has well-progressed plans for premium resort developments that will bring the exceedingly well-heeled to Hamilton. But just where the MV Ammari falls into this plan is not immediately clear.

MV Ammari is a modern, well-presented and capable vessel crewed by Australians, but not currently ticketed for international voyages. It’s not in Orion’s class for absolute luxury, nor Oceanic Discoverer’s league for expedition ability, so without further modification and certification, Ammari looks assigned for sedate duty in the Whitsundays and surrounding marine park. The sailing schedule is set until January 2008 at least and, if the marketing is any indication, will be closely aligned with the sales teams at the several nearby island and mainland resorts like Daydream, Lindeman and Hayman.

Straight-talking Campbell is no fly-by-nighter or corner-cutter either. His character is defined by the two generations before him, stamped from the mould of stereotypical hard-working, can-do men of the sea. His first job in the company, he says, was cleaning toilets and making tea. He’s not looking for instant riches or some superficial gratification, Campbell is an empire builder.

With the Australian expedition and soft adventure cruise market still in adolescence, it remains to be seen just how MV Ammari will find its niche in the wider scheme of things. MV Ammari at 60m, joins the likes of Oceanic Discoverer (63m), Reef Endeavour (73m), True North (50m) and the opulent Orion (103m) in a energetic market where the players are in deep.

Will it, as Campbell believes, expand its influence beyond the Whitsundays to the outer islands and beyond or will it consolidate its home turf with its staple three-night, $1500 per person (and up) wine-and-frolic excursions and the occasional incentive group? Only time will tell.

Fact File:

MV Ammari
Length 60m
68 passengers in 32 cabins
Amenties: Kayaks, gym, snorkelling, spa, salon, pool and three bars, one with dance floor.
Tender: Jet powered, high speed, tender/runabout for transfers and excursions.
Website: www.fantaseaammari.com
Phone: 1800 662 786

Cruise details:

MV Fantasea Ammarì offers one cruise a week, departing Hamilton Island and Daydream Island Resort & Spa on Sundays, returning Wednesdays.

Prices for the three night cruise start at $1485 per person, triple share up to $2,394 per person twin share on a premium deck. Sole use is extra.

Both Virgin Blue and Jetstar fly to Hamilton Island.