Fancy trying a cruise? From luxury liners to intimate river boats, Malcolm Ginsberg offers tips for first-timers
first went to sea at the age of eight in 1950, his parents being “Ten Pound Poms”. It was six weeks to Australia, and six weeks back when they found that Sydney did not suit them. Malcolm has been cruising ever since. For this issue, he covers the key things to think about when picking a cruise
Cruising is big business around the world – with almost 23 million passengers carried in 2016, as per data collected by US-based Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). India isn’t far behind either — the cruise market here estimated at 1,00,000 guests per annum is expected to grow threefold in the next five years.
Costa Cruises entered India last year offering holidaymakers a vast array of domestic and international embarkation options including Goa, Cochin, Maldives and Colombo. The country is embracing cruises in alternative ways too; operated by Monarch Cruise, this year a unique cricket and Bollywood themed cruise will set sail from Mumbai to Singapore. Royal Caribbean sent its latest Quantum-class vessel the Ovation of the Seas to Cochin last June. MSC Cruises also calls at Goa and Cochin on its longdistance “Grand Voyages” tours.
“The Indian upper middle class has great travel aspirations and the segment which travels abroad for holidays are now also considering cruising as an option. This is why all cruise liners are present in India,” says Gavin Smith, regional vice president, Asia Pacific, Royal Caribbean Cruises. According to Smith, Indians prefer travel to North America and Europe for their jaunts amidst international waters. The choices of Indian travellers have definitely evolved. For passengers boarding cruises for the first time, there’s choice from various ports worldwide, irrespective of your preferences. Read on to find out.
SPOILT FOR CHOICE
There are essentially two ways to take part in a water-borne holiday – deep-sea or river cruising.You can book direct with the operator or via a specialist cruise agent. And, conveniently, you can spend two weeks abroad without changing money. Your ship docks, you join a tour, or just take a walk, and then return.
When choosing a cruise, there are a number of factors to consider. How much do you want to spend? Would you prefer deepsea or river cruising? Are you happy to fly to or from your start or end port? Or maybe you want to fly to one destination? It usually takes two days to sail to warmer weather from these shores.
Ship choice is vast, ranging from big liners with 2,500-plus passengers and medium-sized
“The Indian upper middle class has great travel aspirations and the segment which travels abroad for holidays are now also considering cruising as an option.”
vessels holding 1,250 upwards to something in the boutique class, which can mean from 50 guests to 750. Whatever size you choose, boarding and departure are swift and easy, and usually much better than airports.
You can cruise across the North Atlantic, Scandinavia, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, Alaska, North and South America, the Far East, Antipodes Islands and the Pacific. New areas are being slated for sea holidays all the time, and world cruises are proving more and more popular.
Do you want a cruise that takes in a new port every day, or that has a day at sea, and then a day in port? Do you want to holiday with children, or without? Both markets are catered for. Would you rather dine at a fixed time with the same company each meal time, or at a time that suits you? Some offer both. Note that smoking is usually restricted to certain deck areas or a cigar lounge.
Would you consider a budget cruise or do you want five-star luxury? The requirements of both are well catered for. Would you be happy with an inside cabin (with no windows), or would you want an outside one with views? Be aware that a cabin with a balcony can easily double the cost of the trip.
As part of their marketing efforts, many companies offer specialised cruises, typically dedicated to cooking, wine tasting, music, theatre, history, politics and sport. Crystal Cruises often has a golf professional on-board who will plan ahead to visit major venues at each port of call. Royal Caribbean offers golf simulators on ten of its vessels, each with a selection of 20 courses. Most ships have putting greens, too.
Don’t be put off if you have a disability – the cruise companies were among the first members of the holiday trade to realise there was a big market for people with limited, or no, walking ability. The same goes for those with dietary requirements; chefs are keen to cater for guests’ personal needs,
and the latest ships have some spectacular restaurants.
There’s no need to worry about falling ill at sea, either.You must be covered by adequate travel insurance, but the medical facilities on modern ships are exceptional – better than in many UK regional hospitals in terms of the equipment provided. Virtually every ship, of any size, has at least one full-time doctor on-board, and helicopter evacuation is not unknown in emergency cases.
GO WITH THE FLOW
River cruising is an entirely different concept, with the largest vessels, certainly in Europe, limited to 200 passengers. It should really be compared with car, coach or train tours, except with no unpacking and packing every night and accommodation that travels with you. It also scores in another respect – you can’t get seasick – although, in fairness to the deep-sea fraternity, the latest ships with advanced technology offer very smooth sailing.
The Danube and Rhine (and its tributaries) were the great commercial waterways of Europe in centuries gone by. The Volga, for example, links Moscow and St Petersburg, and great medieval cities were built at European rivers’ bridging points. They also pass through spectacular scenery, including the Black Forest Gorge and the wine country bordering the Douro and Rhône.
Most river packages are fully inclusive of daytime excursions, on-board meals and the service of an expert cruise director. Cabin sizes are limited, but you will have at least a private shower/ washroom, and private balconies are much in vogue.
Some ships squeeze in three restaurants, but evening activities tend to be limited to a lecture on the next day’s programme, a resident pianist, or regional entertainers joining for a few hours. Emerald River Cruises has introduced an indoor pool with a roof that folds back, becoming a cinema at night.
All river ships have large, unencumbered top decks suitable for sunbathing, the occasional buffet dinner and, sometimes, a pool. But the design has to be clever, and as economical with space as possible. This is because the vessels have to pass under bridges when rivers are flowing at their peak – usually this problem occurs in the winter, but not always. Squeezing underneath when the water has risen to its maximum level can prove entertaining.
It’s impossible to get lost on a river cruiser, as it comprises only three decks and a single corridor between the cabins. Embarking and disembarking could not be simpler, as the boats often dock in the centre of a city – Dusseldorf or Avignon, for example. Amsterdam is at the head of the Rhine, but also the starting point for trips through the Dutch canals and the Elbe. The port of Amsterdam is close to the city’s main railway station, with the big sea-bound ships nearby towering over you in comparison.
In a survey carried out for the Cruise Lines International Association last year, one of the questions was: “Which is of greater importance to you, the quality of the facilities or the choice of destination?” The ship and its facilities topped the poll with ease. So make sure you choose carefully.
Left: Cunard Queen Mary 2 Above: MSC Cruises
Left and right: Royal Carribean and Crystal Cruises