FLOATING OVER shimmering water bodies, gourmet meals, world-class entertainment and immersive offshore excursions. All this and more is now possible on luxury cruises that Indians have taken to like, well, fish to water. According to a tourism ministry forecast, the Indian cruise market will surge from ₹20,000 crore at present to ₹35,500 crore by 2041, with passenger count doubling from two million to four million. Cordelia Cruises and Antara River Cruises are among the biggest, catering to a burgeoning clientele looking for everything from onboard shopping to facilities for corporate events and even Big Fat weddings. “The craze for cruising can be attributed to a blend of factors that cater specifically to the evolving preferences of modern travelers, especially Gen X and millennials,” says Jurgen Bailom, president and CEO of Waterways Leisure Tourism, which runs Cordelia Cruises. “This demographic seeks vacations with convenience, variety and opportunity for unique experiences which luxury cruises provide in abundance.” Bailom adds cruises serve as an “all-inclusive solution,” eliminating the hassle of planning every aspect of a vacation such as accommodation, transport and meals. In addition, cruises offer a plethora of onboard activities, ensuring there is something for every type of traveller from adrenaline seekers to those looking to unwind. “This comprehensive approach to vacationing, which combines convenience, diversity, exploration and eco-friendliness, as well as a strong emphasis on personalised service, is driving the segment’s growth,” says the cruise operator.

According to Varun Chadha, CEO, TIRUN Travel Marketing, a New Delhi-based travel firm, luxury cruise lines are reaping the benefits of ‘premiumisation’ across the economy on account of K-shaped recovery (when, following a recession, different parts of the economy recover at different rates). “Leading cruise lines have invested in their products and experiences to add value,” says Chadha. “From a product perspective, these brands have become all-encompassing with customisation such as spa packages, shore excursions and intimate dining experiences woven into itineraries. Paying more attention to customer needs has created a win-win for both parties.”

Image : Photo courtesy: Cordelia Cruises

Cruise operators say pandemic years have acted as a catalyst for the business. “Since Covid, travellers have been looking for newer and more exclusive experiences and ways to explore the country as they couldn’t travel abroad,” says Raj Singh, chairman, Antara River Cruises. He adds that when Antara launched the world’s longest river cruise, MV Ganga Vilas, in January 2023, it demonstrated the vast potential for river cruise tourism not only in India but also on the international circuit, providing tourists a new avenue to experience India and Bangladesh. “The traveller has to unpack just once over a journey of 3,200 kms and 51 days,” he says.

River cruise tourism in India is an untapped, unexplored market with immense possibilities and good return on investment, say the players. “It is one of the best and sustainable ways to experience slow travel. It offers a unique opportunity to be surrounded by nature as one glides over the waters and explores life in riverside towns and cities. In keeping with the demand for responsible luxury, the interior of our fleet is handcrafted by Indian artisans and equipped with pollution prevention technologies,” says Singh.


Epic Cruise on MV Ganga Vilas

Varanasi–Patna–Kolkata–Dhaka–Guwahati–Kaziranga–Nimati Ghat/Dibrugarh

49 nights / 50 days

The world’s longest river cruise aboard the 18-suite Antara Ganga Vilas starts from Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, moving on to Dibrugarh, Assam via Dhaka in Bangladesh. The cruise traverses two countries, five states and 27 river systems. In keeping with the theme of responsible luxury, each suite of Antara Ganga Vilas blends old school charm with modern elegance, and uses locally made fabrics, linen, furniture and serve ware. Large ceiling-to-floor guillotine windows bring enchanting river views into the ship’s expansive spaces. The ship offers bespoke meals with onboard kitchen curating meals around local and regional specialties as well as popular preferences.

Lakshadweep Cruise

Exciting excursions? Check. Bespoke meals? Check. Plush suites? Check. One of India’s most popular cruises sails to Lakshadweep, which has been voted in global surveys as one of the world’s most exotic destinations and a haven for enjoying a mind-boggling diversity of marine life, astonishing sights and velvety sandy beaches.

Lakshadweep’s magnificence lies under water with 4,200 sq. km. of archipelago lagoons and coral reefs, making it the only place in India where you can snorkel in the reefs. Its 36 islands, 220 kms from Kerala’s Malabar coast, are also perfect for water sports like boating, kayaking, jet skis, sea swimming, snorkeling and deep sea diving; jet skis and water scooters can be rented on the cruise. On some islands, travelers can disembark to enjoy turtle walking, coral reef walking and bird watching.

Visitors can also meet the locals to get a peek into their lifestyle. Unlimited onboard experiences and numerous onshore excursions offered by Cordelia Cruises make this sojourn one of India’s most sought after.

Image : Photo courtesy: Antara River Cruises

Sunderbans Luxury Cruise

Padma, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers combine to form a vast delta that is home to the Sunderbans, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sunderbans luxury cruise glides through this region, one of the largest mangrove ecosystems on Earth and a world of stunning natural beauty and astonishing sites.

Spotting exotic wildlife such as reptiles, invertebrate species, a variety of birds and, of course, Royal Bengal Tiger are par for the course as the ship navigates water channels, creeks and streams. Wellness seekers get to experience the onboard gym as well as exclusive Ayurveda treatments and therapies at a spa. Other amenities include a library, a well-appointed bar and a conference room with Internet facilities.

River Ganges Heritage Cruise

M.V. Paramhansa heritage cruise takes one along one of the greatest rivers in the world — the Ganges. The cruise ship is all about grandeur, comfort and style and lets you soak in the amazing local ambience around India’s most sacred river.

From a massage parlour to a gym and a well-stocked library, it boasts of all modern facilities. Guests can enjoy a languorous pace of life onboard, watch sundry entertainment and tuck into tasty treats rustled up by experienced chefs. The expansive itinerary covers historic sites nestling along the Ganges, including the battlefield of Plassey, the sacred site of Navadvip, the French-inspired town of Chandannagar, Dakshineshwar, Belur, Kalna, Mayapur, Murshidabad and Kolkata.

M.V Mahabaahu On the Brahmaputra

This sybaritic expedition takes one over the mighty Brahmaputra river, which flows through Assam and drains into Bay of Bengal under the shadow of the towering eastern Himalayas. The 55-metre-long, 10-metre-wide ship offers five decks with two suites, nine superior cabins with attached balconies and 12 superior cabins without balconies. As it navigates the glutinous river, experience the sounds and smells of dense forests, Assam’s scenic rice paddies and exquisite Buddhist monasteries and Hindu gurukuls.

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