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    Romance in the Bahamas, culinary adventures, wedding parties — with our requirements on the high seas varying, we get specialists to talk trends and ocean liners

    Since the release of the Bollywood blockbuster Dil Dhadakne Do and the Tamil film Vai Raja Vai, the folks at Thomas Cook have seen a 35 per cent increase in interest in cruises from last year. Promising laid-back travel, luxury, gourmet food and unlimited entertainment options, cruise companies are getting bookings from across the country (especially Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad) for everything from budget liners like Star Cruises and Royal Caribbean to the ultra-luxe Crystal Cruises and Seabourne Cruise Line. We decode these “floating cities”—for family getaways, honeymoons, thrill-seeking expeditions and more.

    Value for money
    According to MakeMyTrip’s chief business officer, Ranjeet Oak, Indians like all-inclusive long-haul cruises of a minimum of seven nights as they provide the most luxury for the money they pay. Popular liners that fit into the budget category include Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises and Costa Cruises, which sail through European destinations like Monaco, Southern Italy and Spain. He also advises potential holiday-goers to keep an eye out for online deals and discounts, with savings of up to 20 per cent.
    Meanwhile, Bhandari of CruiseClub Vacations believes that for the Indian consumer “it’s not the lack of money, but the lack of information” that had made it a not-so-popular concept until now. In fact, he says on-board entertainment comes at “a fraction of the price charged on land”.
    Something that holidayer Vivek Bahl agrees with. For him, the all-inclusive aspect of his Mediterranean cruise was the best part. “Everything felt like it was on the house! From meals, to the shows, to the off-shore activities, it was all taken care of,” he gushes.

    Food
    20150204_193450Earlier this year, when actor Karanvir Bohra and wife Teejay Sidhu went on the Royal Caribbean Mariner of the Seas cruise, they loved their dining experience. “It was fine dining and the gourmet quality remained the same, even if we took the meals in our room,” says Bohra.
    Reiterating this is co-founder of Pune-based CruiseClub Vacations, Kiran Bhandari. Food is the top priority for Indians, he says. “While some like to go for exotic dishes, others want vegetarian,” he explains, pointing to Crystal Cruises’ Serenity that is popular for having a Nobu, the famed Japanese restaurant, on board. Thakurdas, however, observes that river cruises are favoured for being intimate and allowing passengers to sample cuisines from various regions. “Often there are celebrity chefs on board, and wine and cheese tasting sessions are popular,” he says, recommending Avalon Waterways and Viking River Cruises on the  Danube and the Seine.
    Winner: The Marina Cruise Ship from Oceania Cruises has 10 restaurants to choose from, including Jacques, world-renowned chef Jacques Pepin’s first namesake restaurant that is  famed for its authentic French cooking, and Red Ginger, which serves Asian-fusion cuisine. From Rs 88,000 onwards. Details: oceaniacruises.com

    Romance
    If you thought romance on the seas was an expensive proposition, Nikhil Thakurdas, director of Indian cruising website CruiseBay, says otherwise. “Oceania Cruises, Princess Cruises and Holland America Line are great options for couples because they offer all-inclusive deals with plenty of activities,” he says. For honeymooners, Thakurdas adds that the Bahamas is a popular destination—for its  idyllic setting and the ability to offer “premium cruising experiences at cost-effective prices.”
    Winner: Windstar Cruises’ Wind Star cruise ship provides a romantic experience for 74 couples on its featured voyage, Green Isles and Turkish Delights. For seven days, guests can embark on dreamy excursions at ports-of-calls between Istanbul and Athens, and, on board, couples can dine under the stars at their restaurant, Candles, which seats only 30 guests each night.
    From Rs 1.9 lakhs onwards. Details: windstarcruises.com

    Luxury
    Indian tastes are not different from that in the West. Big ships are in fashion and we love luxury—from great service and entertainment to good food,” says Ratna Chadha, CEO of Tirun Travel Marketing (the Indian representatives of the Royal Caribbean Cruises). The cruise industry offers options to suit all pockets, but she notes that first-timers often choose luxury over experiential cruises. Chadha adds that celebrity cruises is popular, attracting “mature and sophisticated” audiences on their seven-night voyages through the Mediterranean—with up-scale on-board boutiques and top-notch in-room amenities to sweeten the deal.
    Winner: Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Seven Seas Explorer promises to be the biggest, most luxurious and most expensive ship in the world. Making its 14-night maiden voyage on July 20 next year—from Monte Carlo to Venice—it has suites that span 3,875 sq ft (the Regent Suite) on 10 vast decks, and luxe  Red Flower body treatments at the world-renowned Canyon Ranch SpaClub. From Rs 7 lakhs onwards. Details: rssc.com

    Adventure
    Poseidon-in-NorthPoleAvid holidayer Shreevidhya Murali insists that on her recent cruise in Croatia, her experience went beyond luxury. “We visited more than seven islands in six days, toured the land at our leisure and even swam in the sea,” she explains. With a niche market slowly gaining popularity, Shanthini Manohar, general manager of marketing for Expedition Voyages, says adventure and expedition is  attracting high-net-worth individuals, usually aged 50 and above. “Though we get some honeymooners coming to see unique destinations, the average expedition-seeker is a well-seasoned cruiser,” she notes. Hurtigruten Cruises seems to catch most Indians’ attention, with their seven-day journeys from Bergen and even to parts of Russia. Bhandari of CruiseClub Vacations notes that “people in Chennai seem to go in for the Northern Lights cruises”. Winner: Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic’s newest voyage to New Guinea will take 102 passengers through the Raja Ampat and Trobriand Islands on the National Geographic Orion, to observe the Asmat tribe and Trobriand islanders. They’ll even meet National Geographic photographer Jason Edwards, who will share tips with photography enthusiasts. Rs 11 lakhs onwards. Details: expeditions.com

    Entertainment
    For 51-year-old Bahl, who sailed the Mediterranean on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas last month, the sheer number of things to do on board was overwhelming. “From acrobatic shows to 16 pools, group activities for the kids and theatre performances for adults, there was just so much happening that I forgot which day of the week it was. It also made us feel independent because we had the freedom to try everything,” he says.
    That’s not to say good things don’t come in small packages. CruiseBay’s Thakurdas says smaller ships (like the Windstar Cruises fleet) can navigate to more niche areas for interesting land-based and water-sporting activities. “Indians are active travellers and like to leave their children on board to explore destinations for three to four hours at every dock,” he says, adding that activities like jet-skiing and snorkelling rank high on their lists.
    For Daniel D’souza, head of sales of Kuoni India, the leisure travel planners, it’s the itineraries that matter the most. “Clients look for overnight stops at ports of calls. This provides flexibility with the choice of exploring the destination’s evening entertainment, sightseeing and nightlife,” he explains.
    Winner: Norwegian Escape is Norwegian Cruise Line’s largest boat to date, and will star two  Tony Award-winning Broadway musicals. The Million Dollar Quartet and After Midnight performances explore major genres of music and Broadway-style dancing, with headlining acts by Jeff Dunham, Amy Shumer and Daniel Tosh. At the Headliner’s Comedy Club. From Rs 36,000 onwards. Details: ncl.com

    Celebrations
    G509It’s no secret we love to party. With weddings, Diwali and summer holidays being the yearly highlights on our calendars, it turns out cruises are popular choices for hosting celebrations. Especially the ones plying between Singapore and Malaysia, perhaps because their culture and food reminds us of home. Chadha, of Tirun Travel, says she receives up to 15 three-day cruise wedding inquiries a year, and organises roughly seven weddings annually for groups as large as 800. Similarly, Diwali is celebrated on this route “because the rest of the world is often shut for the coming winters.”
    D’souza of Kuoni India also sees a rise in incentive MICE cruising parties. “Today, the MICE market is becoming increasingly sophisticated, with evolving preferences and interests,” he says.
    Winner: Set sail on Star Cruises’ SuperStar Virgo, which sails from and to Singapore, Hong Kong, Phuket and Langkawi. Take MakeMyTrip’s advice and book either 60 or 45 days in advance to get great discounts. Starting from Rs 15,000 onwards. Details: starcruises.com

    Sakshi Kaushik

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