Words by Bindu Gopal Rao
My first cruise holiday in the post pandemic era happened when I recently received an invitation to cruise from Mumbai to Kochi and Lakshadweep, aboard Cordelia Cruises’ The Empress.
The ship cruises from Mumbai, and is massive with 796 cabins, 11 decks, a food pavilion, fine dining restaurant, speciality restaurants, bars, lounges, business centres, spa, salon, dive in theatre, casino, marquee theatre, non-stop entertainment, musical performances, live bands, adventure activities, shopping, and Indian and international cuisines.
With the new Covid-19 norms, all passengers are required to be fully vaccinated and carry a negative RT-PCR test (no older than 48 hours) to board the vessel. I checked into the vessel at the Mumbai port and, once aboard, I noticed that there were hand sanitizing stations everywhere on the ship. There are also messages to reinforce Covid appropriate behaviour including masking up and practising social distancing.
I stayed in an ocean view room that had a large window facing the ocean. You can choose to book a luxurious room with a private balcony, a suite that has butler service and in room dining as well as the chairman’s suite, a top-of-the-line accommodation with private butler service, in-room dining and access to exclusive chef’s table for dining. The budget-friendly interior staterooms are also available.
As well as the ocean view, my room held a small desk and plenty of storage that was useful on the six-day cruise from Mumbai to Kochi, Lakshadweep and back to Mumbai. The room was comfortable and had a television, a small study desk that doubles up as a dresser and an attached bathroom with a small shower cubicle.
Being on a six-day long cruise may sound like a daunting task, but there is much you can do to pass the time. The cruise has a charter of events daily and as my tour had two whole ship days, I scanned the events carefully and noticed that there was a lot to do with a selection of paid for and complimentary activities.
There are interesting workshops like napkin folding and towel art and even a scintillating magic show. The cruise has a few shows that are its own production which I recommend that you must watch. A dance show which pays tribute to various dance forms of India as well as Oye Balle Balle a dance romance, are great picks when you are aboard. There is also an adult-only show (open to 18 years and above) which is a paid event.
Other on-board activities include reading at the library, enjoying a spa session, playing housie, a card room, table tennis, rock climbing (you must have the right sports shoes) and casino activities. Apart from this, there are a lot of activities that the staff conducts from contests to line dancing and kids’ activities that are sure to keep every family member engaged. My favourite place was the outer deck which was great for taking a walk. I noticed one round is equal to a quarter of a mile and this is also the best place to catch some stunning sunrise and sunset moments over the ocean.
All meals are served at the Windjammers Cafe and the Starlight restaurant where there is breakfast, lunch, evening snacks and dinner service available as buffet service. If you are in the mood for a fine dining experience, I suggest that you book a meal at Chopstix, the speciality Chinese restaurant that serves a delectable selection of Indo Chinese fare that is executed perfectly to your specifications. There is also a paid Mediterranean meal of pizzas that you can have for lunch.
I recommend you try the chaats on board during snack time = the selection of dishes includes Bhel puri, sev puri, paani puri, dabeli, pav bhaji, onion pakoda that will surely have you asking for more. The food includes an eclectic selection of Pan-Asian, tandoor specialties, Jain food and Indian fare – separately for vegetarian and non-vegetarian and a selection of mouth-watering desserts. If you are keen on a thaali meal, you will need to book in advance by paying for it.
If you like your drinks, there are several choices for your favourite cocktails and beer here whether it is at The Pool Bar, Connexions Bar or The Chairman’s Club. There is an extensive selection of wines, premium and super premium liquor accompanied by live music as well. If you are on board do take the bridge tour which is a paid service that will take you to the captain’s deck where you can speak to the people in charge of navigating the ship and get to see the best view of the ocean.
One of the primary reasons I cruised was to visit Lakshadweep, a destination that has been on my travel bucket list for a while. The ship does not dock so tender boats ply to take you ashore and, much like I had imagined, Lakshadweep is a picture-perfect postcard. I visited Kadmat Island as part of the excursion where a bus takes you to the only resort on the island where a range of water sports like scuba diving, banana boat and snorkelling are offered.
We were welcomed with a traditional dance and orange juice. I opted for a glass boat ride and saw some of the most amazing corals of my life. The ship however sails on several itineraries and makes stops at other places like Goa, Diu, and Chennai as well. Shore excursions are a great way to get a slice of life in a new city but are on a first come first serve basis and you would be in good stead if you book them in advance. I suggest you check with the shore excursion counter soon after you check in to avoid disappointment.
I took the Kochi Harbour tour which was a great way to experience a slice of God’s Own Country, Kerala. The tour starts with a coach ride that drops you to a harbour from where a motorboat takes you on an hour-long ride to see the islands of Vypeen, Gundu, Vallaradam and Bolgatty. The tour also takes you to see the Chinese fishing nets and the oldest European church of the state St. Francis Church. You can also visit the Pardesi synagogue here, a one of its kind Jewish synagogue.
After this there is free time to shop and eat and most spaces here come with a little café so you can enjoy a quick bite amidst art and culture. I grabbed a cold coffee at Café Mocha and had it all by myself in what seemed like an art gallery surrounded by some beautiful paintings. The Jewish town is dotted with shops selling local arts and crafts and it is a great place to take back a souvenir.
In a nutshell
My first cruise after the pandemic was a great experience and one that I recommend you take too.
For more information, visit cordeliacruises.com