Rishi Kajaria is a cricket buff. Just how much he loves the game is evident from the fact that he has not missed a single World Cup since 1995. “I saw the matches in India, then travelled to the UK in 1999 and flew down to attend the final match in South Africa in 2003. Now I am getting ready to travel to the West Indies in April,” says the 29-year-old cricket enthusiast who is a director with Kajaria Ceramics in Delhi.
But this time, there will be no long-haul flights or hotel hopping for him. “My trip to South Africa was kind of unplanned and I did not enjoy the whole experience very much,” he reminisces.
This time, he is travelling to the World Cup venues in style with his wife (“who loves cricket as much as I do”). The couple has booked a passage on Silver Wind, a luxurious “148 suites only” cruise liner that has been chartered specially for World Cup 2007 by The Geographical Company, an outbound travel and tour operator based in Delhi.
“What I like best about the Silver Wind package is that everything has been organized to the last detail. Tickets to matches, food, entertainment and even golf has been thrown in—what else can one wish for?” asks Gaby Juneja, a passionate traveller, who is also taking this cruise not just because she is interested in cricket but also “because I’ve never been on a cruise before and this one seems just too luxurious to miss.”
Juneja, who is travelling with at least 10 friends this time, says she learned her lessons well from the last World Cup in South Africa. “I travelled with eight friends at that time and we had to make all the arrangements ourselves—from flights to match tickets to hotel bookings—and that was quite a task,” she recalls. “This time, my husband and I decided on this cruise without any hesitation as everything has been planned in detail. That was an added incentive since it has made our life easier. It also allows us to see a lot of the Caribbean and we will get to do scuba diving, play golf and even spend time with friends.”
Gautam Chadha is CEO of Tirun Travel Marketing, which has been associated with Royal Caribbean Cruises for a decade now. He says Indians are now more excited about cruising than ever before. “The cruise market has seen a considerable expansion and now the option has become so popular that a cruise starting from Mumbai has been introduced.” Chadha, whose company chartered the Silver Wind liner from the Silversea fleet for The Geographical Company, says: “The islands are used to tourist traffic from North America, and what happens is that these tourists spend their whole vacation on one island. This will not be the case for those travelling for the World Cup. They will need to travel between the islands. Since inter-island traffic (in terms of flights or ferries) is not the most efficient, taking a cruise is a better option because you can travel along with your favourite team, in a manner of speaking.” He also opines that Indian travellers love to pack in as much as they can on a vacation. So on non-match days, if you are on board a cruise which is travelling between the islands, you have the option of seeing a lot more of the Caribbean rather than being held hostage on one resort on one particular island or on a ship which docks at one port.
Silver Wind is not the only World Cup cruise on offer for cricket fans from India. Travel companies like SOTC and Thomas Cook are also offering packages on the Carnival Destiny cruise liner.
“We have been appointed by the International Cricket Council (ICC) as the official travel agent (OTA) from India and so we can sell packages together with match tickets for the World Cup. For the last World Cup in South Africa, we handled about 3,000 passengers, and this time for the Carnival Destiny cruise alone we are likely to get at least 1,000 cricket enthusiasts on board,” says Shyam Kartikeya, business head, SOTC Sport Abroad, Mumbai. Air India has started direct flights between Mumbai and Barbados and SOTC will fly its passengers out for the cruise on these.
So why choose a cruise instead of just flying all the way to the Caribbean? For one, the matches are being held on different islands and to get from one to the other is a tough task because flights carry only 50 passengers at a time. “Hotel accommodation in the Caribbean is in short supply,” adds Ritika Modi of The Geographical Company. The reason is that it is peak travel season for the regular tourists to this part of the world. “It was proving difficult for tour operators and hotels to block rooms for cricket fans because the ICC match itinerary was not available in advance,” explains Chadha. “Food is another hassle, especially for Indians who are vegetarians. Also staying put on one island is boring as they are small and don’t offer much in terms of entertainment,” says Kartikeya.
When Rishi was planning his World Cup 2007 itinerary, he found that hotel room rates and airfares to the Caribbean were indeed expensive. Also, there was the added bother of booking tickets for the matches separately. “With the cruise I get a luxurious holiday all around the West Indies, plus I get to see the matches as well. Even though it does not come cheap, it is value for money,” says Rishi who will be flying to Puerto Rico in April to board Silver Wind. For Gaby, the fact that she can see the World Cup and also enjoy a cruise to the Caribbean has made this a very exciting holiday option.
Modi and Kartikeya say the cruises they are promoting are booked and the rest will fill up towards the end of March as the World Cup dates draw closer. “Indians tend to confirm at the last minute. I am optimistic that we will sail totally full up,” says Modi.
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