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New look to US voyages
American Queen on the Mississippi. Supplied picture

With the US now ranked as the top destination for Australian travellers, international cruise lines are introducing diverse itineraries to capture even more of the Aussie market.

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The timing coincides with the latest Roy Morgan Research survey, which reveals that in the next few years more Aussies are planning a holiday in America than in any other country. The figure is largely driven by east- coast populations but the strong growth is linked to the strength of the Australian dollar and to competitive fares among airlines on the Pacific route.

The survey places New Zealand as the second most-favoured country for future travel, followed by England, France, and Italy, which make up the top five destinations.

This is supported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics' most recent monthly figures, which show that 74,000 Aussies crossed the Pacific to the US in May.

San Francisco welcomed 228,000 visitors from Australia last year and this is likely to increase in the next 12 months with the staging of America's Cup yacht races there.

Princess Cruises will base the 2600-passenger Grand Princess in San Francisco year-round from May for departures to Alaska, Hawaii and along the Californian coastline to take in wineries in the Napa Valley and the rugged cliffs of the Big Sur.

The east coast of America is also firmly in Aussie travel plans, particularly cruises out of New York that go north to New England and Canada, as well as south from Miami to cruise the sun-kissed Caribbean islands.

A new option down south is a cruise on a paddle-wheel steamer from New Orleans to Memphis along the Mississippi River, which is firmly back on the map after the devastating Cyclone Katrina in 2005. Insight Vacations' eight-day voyage on the paddle steamer American Queen takes in the history, nostalgia and tradition of the Mississippi, with the on-board focus on all-American hospitality, including lively showboat-style entertainment, and the sounds of Dixieland jazz and big swing bands.

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This cruise is part of a 17-day Southern Tastes and Dixie Tunes tour from $6415 per person twin share (inside stateroom), with flights extra. Tours run from mid-April to mid-November, with the coach sector including visits to Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame, a performance in the Grand Ole Opry and a visit to Sun Studios where rock'n'roll royalty have recorded. insightvacations.com

An 11-night cruise aboard Crystal Symphony is part of Wiltrans' 22-day tour, taking in the autumn colours of New England and Canada, with sightseeing in Los Angeles and New York before cruising north.

The opulent mansions of Newport, historic Boston, the Canadian ports of Saint John and Halifax, and the French-speaking Quebec City and Montreal, are all part of the experience from September 15 to October 4.

Economy flights from Australia to New York City via Los Angeles, and flights from Montreal to Australia via Los Angeles, as well as airport transfers, luxury hotels, such as The Ritz Carlton (Los Angeles) and The Plaza (New York), and several special dinners are included, from $13,270 per person twin share.