MAL­COLM GINS­BERG

Fancy try­ing a cruise? From lux­ury lin­ers to in­ti­mate river boats, Mal­colm Gins­berg of­fers tips for first-timers

Business Traveller (India) - - CON­TRIB­U­TORS -

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

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