India and Nepal via Tauck or Gate 1

TajMahaldawnRecently, I spent an hour looking for group tours to India and Nepal. I could only find two, a BBC Earth Trip through Tauck and a Discovery Tour via Gate 1.

Theses are two very different trips.

The Tours

The Tauck tour BBC Earth Journey of Northern India & Nepal is 17 days. The cost is from $10,640 pp, double occupancy, plus air.  This seems to be one of Tauck’s most popular trips as it is always sold out. The tagline is that it immerses you in the Earth Journeys experience, featuring custom-made BBC Earth on-tour film vignettes and when the opportunity arises, the use of field equipment. There are game-viewing safaris in search of the elusive tiger, a flight over the landscapes of Mt. Everest, a visit to a Buddhist monastery in Kathmandu, and visits to the wonders of Northern India.

My question was can I have a similar experience for a fraction of the Tauck trip price.

The Gate 1 tour, Incredible India and Nepal, is 19 days. The cost is from $3500 pp based on double occupancy, airfare not included.  This trip has no tagline. It is a tour focused on the Wonders of Northern India and Nepal. Unlike Tauck, there are additional expenses for optional tours and meals.  This journey includes stops in Pokhara and Samode, neither place is usual for itineraries to Nepal or Northern India.

Comparing the Tours

I am not going to spend time comparing things we already know. The hotels, meals, and transportation methods will be better on Tauck.  They use five-star hotels and cater to a mainly North American clientele. However, I decided to create a spreadsheet and really look at the differences in these trips day by day.
Capture india 44

 

The spreadsheet helped me to decide that I do not like how the Gate 1 tour is organized, you change hotels ten times.  This is exhausting and for someone like me, it means something might be left or lost.

Also, while I have read Pokhara is a pretty place, I have also read there is nothing to do. Bhaktapur is a preferred stop in Nepal for me.

I am also confused about the purpose of the stop in Samode.  According to Gate 1, you are to join a village jeep safari.  Safari to me means hunting. Therefore, a  village jeep safari to have a glimpse of the village life followed by lunch at a hotel seems dumb.

The Tauck tour is also rigorous but it changes hotels less, eight times.  Also, the tour is consistent with the theme,  you go on two safaris of animals, you are contained by the theme from BBC Earth.

I think the Tauck Tour is a better tour.  It is more comprehensive.  The Gate 1 tour does not make sense to me.

 

 

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Azamara, Oceania and Crystal Cruises: Indian Ocean 2018

In Spring 2018, three cruise lines, Azamara, Crystal and Oceania, each have 18-day cruises and the itineraries include stops in Yangon, Phuket, Mumbai, Colombo, and Cochin.

The question is which line has the best trip.

Azamara

Azamara is the newest of the cruise lines that will be reviewed and has the most inconsistent reviews.  Loyalist to the brand, swear by the AzAmazing Evenings, the smaller ship size, the service and the white party. Others have been less than impressed with the size of the rooms, the age of the ships and the branding of luxury.

Azamara Cruises is part of the Royal Caribbean brand. This line is more inclusive. Included with the price of the cruise is:

  • Select standard spirits, international beers and wines
  • Gratuities
  • Bottled water, soft drinks, specialty coffees and teas
  • Self-service laundry
  • Shuttle service to and from port communities, where available
  • Concierge services for personal guidance and reservations

The Azamara Journey cruise sails on April 8, 2018, to the Indian Ocean.

VOYAGE ITINERARY

 
DATE PORT/CITY ACTIVITY ARRIVAL DEPART
SUN 8-APR Singapore, Singapore Embark 5:00 pm
MON 9-APR Port Klang (Kuala Lumpur), Malaysia Docked 8:00 am 6:30 pm
TUE 10-APR Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia Docked 8:00 am 6:00 pm
WED 11-APR Phuket, Thailand Tendered 8:00 am 2:00 pm
THU 12-APR At Sea Cruising
FRI 13-APR Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar (Burma) Docked 9:00 am
SAT 14-APR Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar (Burma) Docked
SUN 15-APR Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar (Burma) Docked 6:00 pm
MON 16-APR At Sea Cruising
TUE 17-APR At Sea Cruising
WED 18-APR At Sea Cruising
THU 19-APR Colombo, Sri Lanka Docked 7:00 am 4:30 pm
FRI 20-APR Kochi, India Docked 1:00 pm 6:00 pm
SAT 21-APR At Sea Cruising
SUN 22-APR Mumbai (Bombay), India Docked 8:00 am 6:00 pm
MON 23-APR At Sea Cruising
TUE 24-APR At Sea Cruising
WED 25-APR Dubai, United Arab Emirates Docked 5:00 pm
THU 26-APR Dubai, United Arab Emirates Debark

Pricing starts at $4009 for an inside cabin.  One potential drawback of this cruise is the amount of time at sea, 7 days. Another potential drawback is the time in ports like Mumbai and Colombo.

Crystal

This all-inclusive cruise line has won every award for luxury. Crystal Cruises is known for consistently delivering an exceptional onboard experience with the best entertainment in its class.

Crystal’s all-inclusive cruise features:

  • Fine dining in eight elegant and distinct venues
  • Six-star service and all gratuities included
  • Innovative modern cuisine and globally inspired specialty menus
  • 24-hour room service
  • Exclusive 360° teak Promenade Deck with sweeping views
  • Fitness Center with state-of-the-art equipment
  • Golf instruction with PGAinstructors
  • Kimonos, Frette bathrobes, and 100% Egyptian cotton linens
  • Unlimited fine wines, champagne, and premium spirits
  • Crystal Visions® Enrichment Series and interactive Ocean Views™
  • Magic Castle® at Sea offering special performances and classes.

On March 28, 2018, Crystal Serenity sails to the Indian Ocean.

VOYAGE ITINERARY

DATE PORTS ARRIVAL DEPART
Mar 28, Wednesday Singapore聽(overnight) Embark pm
Mar 29, Thursday Singapore 5 pm
Mar 30, Friday Kuala Lumpur/Port Kelang, Malaysia 7 am 6 pm
Mar 31 – Apr 01 Phuket, Thailand聽(overnight) 4 pm 5 pm
Apr 02, Monday Cruising the Andaman Sea
Apr 03 – Apr 05 Yangon, Myanmar (Burma)聽(overnight) 4 pm* 4 pm*
Apr 06 – Apr 07 Cruising the Indian Ocean聽(Overnight)
Apr 08 – Apr 09 Colombo, Sri Lanka聽(overnight) 12 n 4 pm
Apr 10 – Apr 11 Cochin, India聽(overnight) 12 n 6 pm
Apr 12, Thursday Mangalore, India 8 am 6 pm
Apr 13, Friday Cruising the Coast of India
Apr 14, Saturday Mumbai (Bombay), India聽(overnight) 7 am
Apr 15, Sunday Mumbai (Bombay), India Disembark am

Pricing starts at $8000 for an outside view cabin.  This is the most expensive cruise reviewed. The potential drawback is that with only four sea days will you get to experience all of the onboard amenities.

Oceania

This cruise line is known as the retiree line although their clientele is no older than Azamara or Crystal. Oceania is also known as the foodie line.  Jacques Pepin is the chef and it consistently delivers intriguing menus. But Oceania is also known for having poor onboard entertainment. Unlike the other two cruise lines, gratuities and alcohol are not inclusive.

On April 11, 2018, Oceania Nautica sails to the Indian Ocean.

VOYAGE ITINERARY

DAY PORT ARRIVE DEPART
Apr 11 Wed Bangkok, Thailand Embark 1 PM 5 PM
Apr 12 Thu Ko Samui, Thailand 10 AM 6 PM
Apr 13 Fri Cruising the Gulf of Thailand
Apr 14 Sat Singapore, Singapore 8 AM 8 PM
Apr 15 Sun Cruising the Strait of Malacca
Apr 16 Mon Phuket, Thailand 8 AM 6 PM
Apr 17 Tue Cruising the Andaman Sea
Apr 18 Wed Rangoon, Myanmar 8 AM
Apr 19 Thu Rangoon, Myanmar
Apr 20 Fri Rangoon, Myanmar 1 PM
Apr 21 Sat Cruising Bay of Bengal
Apr 22 Sun Cruising Bay of Bengal
Apr 23 Mon Colombo, Sri Lanka 2 PM
Apr 24 Tue Colombo, Sri Lanka 3 PM
Apr 25 Wed Cochin (Kochi), India 10 AM 6 PM
Apr 26 Thu Mangalore, India 9 AM 6 PM
Apr 27 Fri Goa (Mormugao), India 8 AM 5 PM
Apr 28 Sat Mumbai, India 9 AM
Apr 29 Sun Mumbai, India Disembark 8 AM

Pricing is different for this cruise. The cruise-only fares for an inside cabin are $4199.  The cruise fare with OLife Choice for an inside cabin is $5699.  The Olife Choice fare includes Bonus Savings, Airfare & Unlimited Internet plus either FREE – 8 Shore Excursions, FREE – Beverage Package or FREE -$800 Shipboard Credit.

The potential drawback of this cruise is paying for gratuities. However, I have seen some cruise specialist offer it as an added amenity for booking through them.

Which is the Best?

Oceania is the winner. Crystal and Oceania have a very similar itinerary. The separator is the Crystal experience. However, based on the port intensity of the cruise, I am not convinced that a cruiser would recognize the value of a Crystal cruise. Also, even with an upgrade to a deluxe ocean view cabin, Oceania is almost $3000 cheaper than Crystal.  Finally, with only 5 non-consecutive days at sea, cruisers avoid boredom with Oceania’s lackluster onboard activities.

 

 

India: Why I am not going in 2017

Image result for taj mahalPart of defining where I wanted to go in 2017 included research on India.  This is the first time I am mentioning that research;it didn’t result in a planned trip for 2017.

Research

As part of my research,  I reviewed a few options for traveling to India and found issues with all except one.

The criteria for the best trip to India included:

Gratuities : must be included in overall price

Entrance fees: must be inclusive of the tour price

Itinerary: if a tour, it must be reasonably paced

Transport:private and air conditioned vehicles only

Meals: 90% must be included in overall price

Occupancy: pricing for solo and double

Travel Options

Budget Tours    I looked at budget tour companies such as G Adventures and Intrepid and I quickly discounted each for two reasons.

  1. While each advertises a flexible approach for solos, the cheapest option involves a willingness to board with a stranger. Otherwise, there is an additional fee that seems to be approximately $1000 extra. I don’t want to share a room with a stranger. Also, paying more removes each operator from the budget category.
  2. Did not meet most of the criteria listed above

Cruises    After researching several cruises,  I realized that none of the ports are close to famous landmarks.   For example, to see the Taj Mahal you have to buy a 2 or 3-day land discovery that costs an additional $2500 – $3300.  Honestly, that is the cost of a full tour of India for a budget tour operator.

Luxury Tour Operators   Of the group tours in this segment, I found Tauck Tours Portraits of India to have the best reviews from past travelers. Tauck Travel is a Connecticut-based agency that focuses on all-inclusive high-end tours and cruises.

The Portraits of India tour cost about $10,000 for double occupancy or $13,000 for solo occupancy not including international airfare.  The price for this tour means it takes saving and planning. This is the major reason why India is not a planned trip for 2017 but there were other concerns.

 

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tauck-portrait-of-india

 

Concerns

india

The above image was taken from Smartertraveller.gov.au. It illustrates where there is a high need for caution. Unfortunately, it seems to be the whole of India. The risks are not just potential terrorism and civil unrest but also misogynistic assault.

Interestingly, the US does not have a travel warning or alert  for India. However, buried within the US State Department Travel site, in country content, under Safety and Security, are more disturbing facts. I have extracted the piece that impacts women below:

Sexual Assault: Travelers should be aware that there have been reported cases of sexual assault, including rape, of U.S. citizens traveling throughout India.  U.S. citizens, particularly women, are cautioned not to travel alone in India. Women traveling in India are advised to respect local dress and customs.  Customary everyday dress for Indian women throughout the country is conservative, and even more so in non-urban areas,  with women wearing clothing that covers their legs and shoulders. Exceptions are vacation resorts catering to foreign clientele and some neighborhoods of the major cities of New Delhi and Mumbai. Western women, especially those of African descent, continue to report incidents of verbal and physical harassment by individuals and groups of men. Known locally as “Eve-teasing,” these incidents of sexual harassment can be quite frightening and can quickly cross the line from verbal to physical. Sexual harassment can occur anytime or anywhere, but most frequently has happened in crowded areas such as in market places, train stations, buses, and public streets. The harassment can range from sexually suggestive or lewd comments to catcalls to outright groping.

 I started paying attention to travel warnings after  an Emirates flight to Dubai.  On the flight, I met an American couple  on their way to India to visit family. The wife, originally from India, warned me that she would be concerned for her safety if not traveling with her husband. In general, she didn’t feel that India was safe for women.  For that reason, I spent a lot of time researching to see if her opinion was valid.

I also spoke with a friend, Indian female, who recently traveled in India alone and was fine.  She said accurately that India is a big country and there are places to avoid just like in America.

Re-Planning India

I have put India on hold until 2019.  At that time, I might be willing to part with $15,000, tour +air, to see India with Tauck or have reduced my concerns feeling more comfortable with a cheaper option.