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India offers a grand experience in cruises
October 28, 2006
When Star Cruises' SuperStar Libra started its operations in September 2006, for the second consecutive year, it relied on the success in the previous year. Over 70,000 Indians travellers boarded the cruise last year, averaging about 50-60 per cent occupancy.
According to Chong Chee Tut, COO, Star Cruises, the company hopes to better that to an average of 80 per cent this year. The ship that has 740 cabins and can accommodate 1,480 passengers will operate in its second year till May 2007.
Clearly, cruises are becoming a favourite means of holiday options for Indians. While Indians once travelled to Singapore, Hong Kong and other countries to experience the joy of cruises, things changed when well-known cruise companies started docking on Indian shores.
And while Star Cruises' SuperStar Libra (as we've already mentioned) started operations from Mumbai, there are other companies that are arriving along the western coastline of India (along the Arabian Sea).
That explains why international liners like Silversea, Costa Cruises, Queen Elizabeth-2 of Cunard Lines, Amsterdam of Holland-America, Oriana of P&O Cruises, Noble Cealedonia, Phoenix Reisen, Compagnie Cruises, Japan Cruise Lines, Crystal Cruises, Holiday Kreuzfahrten and Saga Shipping are showing keen interest to tap the Indian market.
Gautam Chadha, Silversea's representative in India, explains that four Silversea ships will pick up passengers from India in the months of December, February, March and April. The high-end cruise liner, Silversea has 300-400 rooms and the best pick is the Mumbai-Goa-Kochi-Phuket-Penang-Singapore cruise that is accessible to customers at $600-700 per person, per night.
While Star Cruises has more one-night cruises by way of weekend getawaya from Mumbai this year, customers can also opt for a three-night cruise to Kadmat islands (Lakshadweep). Then there is an option for a two-night cruise from Mumbai to Goa too.
The 14-day cruise starts from Goa and follows the ancient spice routes of the Malabar Coast, calling at coastal trading ports and the untouched islands of Lakshadweep before the emerald gem of Sri Lanka.
It costs $3,857 upwards for 14 nights, depending on your time of travel. One can also opt for Ocean Odyssey, a small four-star vessel for 250 passengers that has a swimming pool, Internet facilities, fitness centre, spa and jacuzzis, besides other attractions.
New liners that will launch themselves in India are also keen to cruise along the east coast (in the Bay of Bengal) during the period when the west coast is hit by the monsoons.
Let's move northwards where Srinagar's famed houseboats at Dal Lake still enchant us. While prices for renting houseboats may vary, usually companies charge Rs 3,000 for two people per night (this includes all meals).
If shikaras are a must in Srinagar, kettuvallam (houseboat) cruises in the amazing backwaters of Kerala are fabulous too. Houseboats from CGH Earth Spice Coast can be hired at a rate of $250 per day (single bedroom) and $350 (two bedrooms). These come equipped with functional kitchens and bathrooms. A staff of three and cooks are always onboard.
Take a trip on this very private cruise and stop anywhere to get a slice of the local life in the villages while also admiring churches, local markets and temples there.
Premium hotel chains like The Taj Group and Oberoi are already offering some irresistible cruise offers in Kerala.
While Taj has a luxuriously furnished two-bedroom, air-conditioned "kettuvallam" designed to cruise around the Vembanad Lake from the Taj Garden Retreat, Kumarakom, Kerala, Oberoi Motor Vessel Vrinda, another luxurious cruise option, has tastefully appointed luxury cabins, all with king size beds and large picture windows overlooking the lake. A three-night, four-day Oberoi cruise will cost $1,750 for single occupancy, and $2,000 for double occupancy, per cabin.
Cruising options extend to the Brahmaputra too where one can also include visits and attractions such as wildlife viewing (both by jeep and on elephant back), village walks, visits to tea gardens, exploring country towns in cycle rickshaws, barbecues on deserted river islands, dance performances and visits to crafts workshops.
Assam Bengal Navigation is offering the first luxury riverboat, the Charaidew, complete with 12 air-conditioned en-suite cabins.
The company has added one more boat to its fleet this year. One can opt for a four-night, seven-night or a 10-night cruise for $150-245 per person per night. Wildlife and wilderness are the staple features of a Brahmaputra cruise and a majority of cruises have access to Kaziranga National Park and even Manas, a tiger reserve forest on the Bhutan border.With India having a 7,500-km-long coastline and numerous rivers spread across the country, wading through the waters in luxury liners is perhaps the best possible way to experience the next vacation.