The only experience Kaustubh Shejwalkar, a 40-year-old technical writer with an IT firm in Mumbai ever had with sea travel was taking a boat ride from Mumbai to the Andaman Islands a few years back. In December 2007, Shejwalkar headed to the South Pole on a luxury liner. For him this was a dream holiday because not only was he going to a destination that was adventurous, but he was also making this trip in style.
A trip to Antarctica would have been unthinkable for most Indians a few years ago because travelling to these destinations by land and air is an expensive proposition. But now that Indians have been introduced to cruising, the world is open to us. Gautam Chadha, the CEO of Tirun Travel Marketing, which has been associated with the Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd for over a decade now says that Indians are excited about cruising more than ever before because they know that a cruising holiday is value for money. “You get to stay in one place, the ship takes you from port to port, almost everything is paid for in one shot. It can’t get better than that.”
A cruise ship
Cruise veteran Sumitra Senapaty, 48, who has been on five cruises (four sea and one river) feels that cruises offer a wonderful opportunity to explore many countries in one trip which is not possible if you were to visit each via air. “In my last cruise, I visited England, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Astonia and finally Russia where I spent two full days and nights. There was no hassle of checking in, checking out of hotels and airports, visa issues etc. Being on a cruise is like living on a five star hotel — only this one moves,” she says.
It is little wonder then that “the number of Indians wanting to include a cruise in their travel itinerary has doubled in the last few years,” says Chadha. Anahita Avari, business head, SOTC, Do It Yourself Holidays, feels that while cruises are a big hit with Indian travellers, unlike Americans or Europeans, we still plan cruises as part of a larger holiday. That’s why three to four day options are more popular with Indians rather than 12-day cruises. “Most of our clients want a mix of land and sea travel, especially if they are travelling to the southeast Asian countries. It works out more cost effective and our clients believe that this way they are packing in more into a vacation.”
A great plus about cruising is that it can be a year-round activity and many Indians look forward to a cruise holiday even during the winter break. But like Shejwalkar, most do not spend any time preparing for it. For those of you who have never taken a cruise earlier, Shejwalkar’s stance is pretty much what you are likely to adopt too. After all, chances are that you have booked yourself on a “luxury cruise liner”, so wouldn’t everything be provided for? Yes and no, said the cruise veterans we spoke to. Here are their tips:
Plan in advance
What you are looking from your cruising holiday? Is it relaxation, a chance to see many places at one go or just an additional must-do experience on your travel itinerary? For some people like Sunil Sahni, a 50 plus Delhi-based construction entrepreneur who is a two-time cruise veteran going on a cruise is an ultimate stress-buster. “I play golf, go rock climbing, swimming, all in the same place. I don’t get off to explore, the ship is my vacation destination.” Others like Shejwalkar and Senapaty want to see places they have never been to and a cruise gives them this option. Which cruise you book yourself on to and what its length should be will depend on what your individual expectations are from it.
Next on the list is getting yourself a good deal, and believe us if you book at the right time, you are likely to get great bargains. The key is usually to book at least six months in advance say Chadha and Avari because most cruise companies announce their plans in advance. Supreet Jain, a 46-year-old Delhi-based entrepreneur whose company deals with aluminium castings, travelled in mid 2007 on the SuperStar Virgo from Singapore for a three-night cruise with his family of 12. While on the cruise, he found that many of the other people had better deals than them. “The price difference was up to 40% and that made me green with envy,” says Jain whose family decided to include the cruise as a last minute must-do in their holiday plan.
Nitasha Devasar, 40-year-old director, academic publishing, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, went on a three-night Nile cruise three years ago. If, like her, claustrophobia is a concern, then you’ll have to opt for cabin on the higher decks which cost more. However, “in retrospect, it really makes little difference where your cabin is because you tend to spend most of the time outside your cabin. In fact I felt uncomfortable on one night only, when I had to rush to the deck, but otherwise there was no problem,” she says. As for sea sickness, Senapaty says that in her five trips she has met only one person who suffered from it. The journey is usually is so smooth, that you don’t even feel that you are on water unless you look down.
This is one vacation where grunge dressing will just not do. Cruise culture demands a certain dress etiquette and if you do not want to feel like a fish out of water, pay attention to what you pack. In India, companies like Lacoste have introduced cruise wear lines and designers such as Malini Ramani and Wendell Rodricks have complete resort wear lines (which can double up as cruise wear too).
Rodricks, the Goa-based designer, who takes “almost two cruises” a year, says he follows a simple rule while packing for a cruise. For formal dinners which are part and parcel of this holiday, he always carries a sherwani, a Nehru jacket and a good-looking kurta with a shawl. “I prefer Indian formal clothes because they look exotic and set you apart in a crowd of suits.” For day wear, a few linen shirts, good-looking, comfortable trousers (“but no jeans because they are heavy”), comfortable walking shoes, headgear or some sort of cardigan are must-haves. However, if you are planning a trip to cooler climates, then make sure you carry extra pairs of socks and thermals, in addition to “six layers of clothing in four sets” like Shejwalkar is. If you are not keen to carry too much formal gear, make it a point to ask your travel agent or the cruise company if they have the facility of hiring a tuxedo on board.
For women it is a must to carry formals for dinner time, since every luxury liner does organize at least a couple of formal sit-down dinners, where “you wouldn’t want to show up your jeans and T-shirt,” says Devasar. Follow the Rodricks rule and carry Indian formal wear like an elegant sari, or salwar kameez. In addition, garments meant to be worn on a cruise should be fluid and not too structured or stiff. Opt for fabrics like linens, chiffons and georgettes and for cuts and silhouettes that show off your tan. “For women, bare arms, wide necklines, free flowing garments with perhaps a slit on one side are ideal choices. Do stick with lighter colours though,” says Rodricks. He also recommends including big accessories like hobo bags, oversize sunglasses, necklaces and earrings with bling factor in beaten gold shades this season. “But let your footwear be sensible. No point in struggling with heels on a beach or on a wet deck.”
If you intend to take a short cruise as part of a larger holiday, then as Jain says dressing formally is not not big issue. “We attended the buffets, and while shorts and singlets are not allowed, casual outfits like what one wear to a family restaurant were not frowned upon.”
Though many cruise regulars will say that you must carry minimal luggage on a cruise, don’t get worried if you are have two or more bags. It is easy to accommodate two medium-size suitcases per person under each bunk. “We were four (my wife, two children and I) to a cabin and between us had three large bags and a big-size duffle bag. There was no storage problem,” says Jain.
Once you are aboard the liner, do unpack and use the wardrobe space to hang up your clothes. It will save you the headache of ironing and also pulling out your suitcase from under the bunk on a daily basis. Senapaty adds that laundry charges on a cruise are exorbitant. “If it is a long cruise then you will need to wash some clothes. Check at the time of booking if the cruise liner has the option of a laundry room with a dryer on your deck. It’s best, of course, to take clothes that are made from wrinkle-free material.”
Now that you are all set to enjoy your holiday, make the most of this time also to check out different work-out options. Most luxury liners offer a range of activities such as swimming, aerobics, gym, golf and rock climbing at no extra charge.
Do fix an exercise schedule for yourself on the onset of the cruise or else when you disembark you will find that you have gained a couple of unwanted kilos. “There is so much to eat on a cruise vacation, that if you don’t hit the gym you will put on weight. I know I did,” says Senapaty. Participate in a sporty activity or take a brisk walk around the deck everyday. It’s best to pencil in exercise of some sort during the first half of the day, according to Dr Shikha Sharma of Clinique de Rejuvenation, New Delhi because post-lunch most people like to take a short nap to prepare for the evening festivities.
Food — a must-ask question by all Indians who book on a cruise according to cruise operators, is surprisingly not much of hassle. “We are pure vegetarians (no eggs) and we found that the cruise had enough options for us. In fact we were told some cruises even offer Jain food,” says Jain who suggests that vegetarians should avoid dinning halls which serve Oriental food because, “it’s tough to stomach the smells”.
From lavish breakfast spreads to heavy dinners, a cruise vacation can be a health nightmare but if you make conscious choices. “And this doesn’t mean you have to eat boring food: just avoid cakes, muffins, over-the-top dips and dressings, pasta salads, heavy gravy food,” says Dr Sharma. Also, stock up on fibre; stick to wines and don’t binge.
Though meals are a part of most cruise liner packages, prepare to spend on your own drinks or paying for special entertainment shows, which you would not like to miss. “One way to save money is to purchase alcohol at duty free shops on the liner rather than lugging bottles, which, in any case, port officials may or may not allow,” advises Sahni. As far as tipping the staff is concerned, Devasar says she tipped the steward at the end of the trip while Jain says he adhered to Star Cruises’ no tipping policy.