Kenyans are increasingly seeking holiday destinations off the beaten paths and some are discovering these magical places by ship.
Peter Njeru and his wife Dr Dorcas Njagi are some of Kenyans who have fallen in love with cruise holidays. Every August for the last three years, they have been boarding a ship and cruising on it for weeks.
“We usually travel with four or five other couples,” says Peter.
Their friends had been doing the cruises way before the Njagis but after their first cruise on board the ‘Harmony of the Seas’, they too got hooked.
“It is an exciting adventure and you get to holiday in a relaxed manner. You don’t have to keep packing and unpacking as all your luggage is in your room yet you get to experience the joys of visiting different cities!” explains Dorcas.
“A cruise is very comfortable and you do not even feel the movement. There is lots of quality entertainment on board ranging from movie theatres, plays, gyms, different sports and all manner of entertainment. You sleep and wake up in a different city!” Peter adds.
The couple’s first cruise was to the Caribbean where they spent 14 days and nights. It was a massive cruise ship with a capacity of 6,000 guests and 2,500 crew members. Their next cruise was aboard the ‘Anthem of the Seas’, which took them to the US and Canada.
“We are looking forward to our next cruise on the ‘Celebrity’ this August when we will explore Europe,” says Dorcas.
“The cruise ship docks in different cities and we enjoy all the perks of the different stopovers. We go on bus tours, plays sports, sample different cuisines, or just go to museums. All this without packing and unpacking!” Peter adds.
Cost of travel
But, isn’t it expensive? I asked them.
“Think about it, some local destinations cost you Sh25,000 or more a night while on the cruise ship it could be as low as $100 (Sh10,000) a night. I would advise Kenyans to learn the culture of planning early. Take advantage of low seasons when booking for the cruises and airlines is cheaper,” says Peter.
The Musembis are also in love with sailing as they get to sample the beautiful scenery and sights along the way.
Eric Mwanzia and his wife Debra Musembi made their maiden voyage on board the ‘Symphony of the Sea’ in September last year. Eric, a business lead at Arts Group-Kenya and Debra, an IT manager at Sarova Hotels were celebrating their eighth wedding anniversary and decided to celebrate it on the high seas.
“Eric figured a cruise holiday was a brilliant way of touring the world without paying for different flights to every city the ship docked at,” says Debra.
“The experience is one of those things every person should have on their bucket list!” exclaims Debra, who says one would have to experience it to fully grasp how it felt.
“The activities on board are back- to-back and there is no chance of getting bored. I had my first zip-lining experience on a cruise ship,” she says.
The Pilot’s Ball is one event that she still remembers. She says it was such a joy watching the women in exquisite ball-gowns and the gents in crisp suits. “Cruises expose you to people from different cultures and you get to enjoy the various cuisines the world has to offer,” she adds.
The couple enjoyed a bottle of champagne and a surprise dinner cake from the crew to mark their anniversary.
“They also took time to romantically decorate our bedroom,” she says.
But on board a cruise ship with a 5,000 guest capacity and 3,000 crew capacity, is there a risk of security lapses?
Debra says the thorough security briefing and evacuation procedures make one feel safe on water.
The trick though is to plan for the holidays early. “If you decide to go on a cruise holiday, start saving towards it and you will be surprised how doable it is,” advises Debra.
As Kenyans warm up to idea of vacationing on water for days, enterprising travel fixers are paving an easier path to book cruise holidays. Nishma and Jinal Shah, directors, of Holiday Bazaar & Cruise and Travel Planners have set up their first cruise shop in Kenya, opening up a whole new world of voyaging opportunities targeted at the Kenyan traveller.
“We have noticed a steady rise of local cruise holiday bookings lately,” says Nishma who has been selling cruise packages for the last two decades.
“When we started selling we had 20 customers, today we have at least 1,000 a year. More Kenyans are opting to go sailing. We have girl trips, investment clubs, couples celebrating anniversaries or birthdays and corporates that offer cruises as incentives for good performance at work. ” Nishma, who says she has been driven by her passion to travel, has been on over half a dozen cruises, with the most recent one being in May this year.
In the past, there has been a lot of concentration in the Mediterranean and Caribbean. However, planners are seeing a trend of sailing around the Indian Ocean’s exotic islands like Seychelles, Mauritius, Zanzibar and Lamu.
She says she endeavours to change misconceptions associated with sailing.
“I want Kenyans to appreciate and enjoy cruise tourism. It is basically a floating resort right in the middle of the ocean! And it comes with various fun activities like rock climbing, ice skating, zip-lining and entertainment that you cannot get bored,” says Nishma.
Cruise planners usually assist with travel documentation, reservation and any clarifications one needs before travelling.
“We encourage people to book in advance, which enables us to freeze the cheapest cruise for them. The closer it is to the sailing date, the more pricey it gets,” explains Nishma.
“Oh! And if you decide to bring the children on every voyage, no worries at all. There is a designated area where you can leave them with caregivers. There is also a Teen Disco for the teens,” she adds.
Seymour Brugger, a sales and marketing manager of Cruises International South Africa who attended the launch, said he was excited that the Kenyan market is growing. Cruises International offers cruises around Europe, the Caribbean and other destinations around the world.
The rates range from $100 (Sh10,000) a night per person and most of the cruises run for seven days and nights.
Too broaden the cruise appeal, companies can also organise for six-star all-suite luxurious enclaves fit for the pickiest of premium passengers.
Crystal Cruises, the world’s most awarded luxury cruise, for instance helps wealthy passengers charter their own yacht. The yacht with a submarine can accommodate 62 guests with 90 crew members.
Helen Beck, vice president, international sales and marketing of Crystal, who was in Nairobi, said they offer a luxurious sea experience that allows a traveller to follow the sun around the world.
Yacht travellers get to enjoy the best cruises without being surrounded by crowds and indulge in the world’s finest alcohol at sea.
“Crystal Cruises is a luxury cruise line popular with European and American clients but we are expecting to have more Africans on board and discover some of the seven exotic islands on the Indian Ocean,” said Helen.
“The rates range from $600 to $800 (Sh60,000 to Sh80,000) a night per person,” she said.