In July this year, Christine Okoth, 30, flew from Nairobi to Italy to board a cruise ship for a sailing safari across four countries.
Once she landed at the departure port of Civitavecchia in Italy, together with her friend Maryam Shikanda, they explored France, Monaco and Spain aboard a luxury ship—Norwegian Epic.
‘‘Sleeping in one country and waking up in another thrills me. Cruising through the Mediterranean hotspots beats all my other travelling escapades. I fell in love with the cities that I had never been to and met people I have never met,” she says.
Christine and Maryam’s desire to holiday at sea for days started when they were browsing the Internet for a destination— particularly Santorini in Greece.
Maryam stumbled upon a cruise package online that would cost the same amount as visiting Greece.
“I had been picking all our previous destinations so I let her (Maryam) visit her dream destination which was France. It happened to be among the countries on the cruise ship safari package,” says Christine.
After settling on the package, Bonfire Adventures, their tours and travel company made all the arrangements and within a month they had their visas and ready to go.
With yacht ownership being ultimately for the super wealthy, few Kenyans take cruise safaris. It is also seen as a sport for retirees, but it appears to be growing, thanks to millennials, adventurous generation X travellers and increased use of travel agents.
Simon Kabu, the founder of Bonfire Adventures says booking for a cruise safari is just like any other package.
“You make a 30 per cent deposit to secure a cabin then once you get a visa, you make the balance payments,” he says.
The cruise package that Bonfire sells, however, is not from Mombasa port.
Theirs are international cruises sailing from the Mediterranean, Singapore, Dubai, Caribbean among others destinations where a traveller has to fly to the port of departure.
A cruise travel is not only for millionaires.
“A Sh200,000 cruise ship safari package—for a side cabin—includes a return flight ticket to the departure port,” the Bonfire chief executive says.
However, Christine says they paid more after opting for a luxurious ship — the Norwegian Epic.
The port of Mombasa has been Africa’s leading cruise port three years in a row since 2014, according to the World Travel Awards, but tours firms are yet to create packages from Kenya to other overseas destinations. It is also a favourite among international cruise lines.
Denis Mailu of Carlson Wagonlit Travel, Africa’s leading business travel agency, says they also arrange for cruises around the region for business-cum-leisure travellers.
Mr Mailu, the leisure consultant of Bunson Safari which operates Carlon Wagonlit, says they do not offer group cruise packages.
“We do not do it as a group from Kenya but on individual basis. We get about 10 and 15 cruise ship travellers once a year,” he says.
The number of global cruise passengers is set to rise, according to the largest industry trade group. The Cruise Lines International Association estimated that 25.3 million passengers sailed this year.
“Sailing in the deep seas is where good life begins. It is luxurious and simply extraordinary,” says Christine, adding that you can be on the deck mesmerizing as the ship docks at a port while sipping a cold drink or sleep as you watch the moon.
Cruise ships have 24-hour restaurants with food and drinks flowing.
“Oh! the food. There were so many choices and everything was really good, and in plenty. There are little things on the cruise ship that are exciting,’’ Maryam says.
The ship had many bars and lounges ranging from coffee bar, jazz bar, piano bar, wine bar, whisky bar, sports bar, cigar lounge, solo travellers lounge and a pool bar—all under one moving roof.
When the ship docks in different towns, travellers can experience local cultures, customs and shop, activities organised by the company that organises the pleasure voyages.
Most travellers love experiencing local cuisine at the ports that they visit.
For Maryam, the history of different cities, the landmarks and the culture of Europe intrigued her more. They saw the Vatican City in Italy, Saint Nicholas Cathedral, Monaco and the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy, attractions they explored in 10 days.
“My assumption while on tour was that English is universal. I was wrong,” says Maryam. “I remember I had to speak broken English in some countries to be understood…Travelling has taught me the importance of learning a few phrases of each country’s official language.”
Travelling is Maryam’s second hobby after cooking.
“I love travelling. It is food for the soul,” she says.
She has visited Sentosa Island, Universal Studios which is southeast Asia’s first theme park, the Singapore Flier, the Three Tower (Marina Bay Sand) in Singapore to the Swiss Alps, but nothing beats the cruising experience.
“This was just a different experience from our previous travels. But if you want a more exclusive luxury cruise trip, then it comes with a price,” she says.
The two friends are set for another cruise safari in December but on a different route.
For five nights, they will sail from Singapore through four ports after paying about $972 (Sh100,116) per person.
According to Bonfire’s senior tours and travel consultant, Emma Njoki, the firm, has booked 10 passengers on the December safari so far, with the Mediterranean cruise being the most preferred for its favourable weather periods.
“Depending on a destination and season, the most expensive route would be Hawaii because of the high flight costs to the expensive state of Alaska,” says Emma.