River Cruising Makes Waves in India

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The Maharaja Suite on the Ganges Voyager.
The Maharaja Suite on the Ganges Voyager.

Your clients have traveled up and down the rivers in Europe, cruising on the Danube, the Seine and the Rhine. They’re itching to explore new rivers in slightly more exotic locales. For these seasoned river cruisers, Haimark Ltd. is creating a new product on the Ganges River in India deploying in January 2015.

The 28-cabin, 56-passenger Ganges Voyager will make Haimark the first U.S. owned-and-operated company to deploy a river ship on the Ganges (there is one vessel currently on the river that is sold primarily to the European audience).

“It is a big deal for us and it is a big deal for river cruising in general because most river cruise companies are looking for what’s the next new river. The response has been very good early on,” says Tom Markwell, the managing partner, sales & marketing, for Haimark Ltd.

The new product in India will follow two other ships deploying in Sept 2014 and part of five in total deploying in 2015. The intimate-sized river cruise will offer 24 sailings in a season with 7-night cruises leaving roundtrip from Calcutta up the Ganges. The new-build ship will feature a style that replicates the British colonial style of India with cabins that Markwell says are “huge in comparison to other river ships.” Rooms range from 261 sq. ft. for the lead-in category and go up to 400 sq. ft. in the Maharaja Suite.

Haimark established a 7-night cruise program with the option of adding a pre or post land program such as the Taj Mahal, Delhi or Bhutan. “Most Americans prefer to stick with a 7-night cruise. They will do ocean cruising for longer durations, but on river cruises they are usually most comfortable with seven nights,” Markwell says, explaining why the company created the itinerary that is also paired with five-star hotels on the land programs.

Markwell says that India is a bucket list destination, but travelers are afraid to travel to India because of sanitation or safety. “With that in mind, the concept of a river cruise in India is very appealing because we allow them to see an off-the-beaten path part of India but in a very controlled environment, a five-star hotel kind of environment with good cuisine and a comfortable stateroom or suite,” he says. “It’s a great way for people who have done a lot of river cruising in Europe that are looking for something a bit more exotic to migrate to. Which is part of our success in Southeast Asia as a whole.”

He also points out that the Ganges is a great river for cruising not only because it is known to be sacred and holy for Indians and Hindus, but also that a section of the river they cruise is very navigable for such an intimately sized ship and the government has placed jetties or dock facilities all along the river where the ship stops.

“That is our approach—intimate, boutique-style, five-star luxury river cruising. With a small-sized vessel, it is very navigable because the water levels of the Ganges are very volatile like they have been in Europe this year,” Markwell says.

The ship will feature cuisine that not only highlights local Indian fare, but also provides Western options. The culinary director is from Uniworld and has just finished the menu for the Ganges creating a diverse, well-balanced menu. “It is important for us because we know many people love Indian food and enjoy having the choice of trying local fare on board, but one of the things we want to be careful with is making sure there is a balance,” Markwell says.

Guests can also expect full daily itineraries with shore excursions and a great guest-to-guide ratio (one guide per 18 passengers); evening onboard entertainment like movies, as well as morning yoga on the sundeck and cooking classes; an internet library and lounge; and a full spa with two treatment rooms connected to a gym.

Aspects such as the gym and full-service spa were important since the target clientele, as with many river cruises, is passengers in their 50’s and above who are still very active and looking for a “luxury expedition,” as Markwell likes to call it. “It is going to be an expedition because you are traveling in India, on the backroads and in areas that haven’t been touched.”

Rates start at $2,799 pp for a signature stateroom and $3,699 pp for the Maharaja Suite. Rates include excursions and listening devices on tours, meals on board, cocktail receptions, and welcome and farewell dinners.

For more information, visit haimarktravel.com. For more on Haimark Ltd., see New River Cruise Product in Southeast Asia with Haimark Ltd.