THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Cruise liners have more or less avoided the old port of the Ay Kings this tourism season - at least, that’s the story so far. Only two floating palaces have graced Vizhinjam since October, and a couple of cancellations too marred hopes during this period.
After the ‘Spirit of Adventure’ offloaded passengers out at sea on October 26 - though a mid-sized ship, it was still too big for the wharves - only one other cruise liner visited Vizhinjam - the much-smaller ‘Clipper Odyssey’ which made its appearance on December 16. It returned on Christmas eve.
"The ‘Spirit of Adventure’ was the bigger of the two - with 333 passengers and 201 crew. ‘Clipper Odyssey’ had just 74 passengers and 71 crew,’’ a Vizhinjam port official said.
The big disappointment was ‘Le Ponant,’ a French-registered ship that was due on January 1 and January 6. According to port officials, the visits have only been postponed, but they aren’t too confident.
As per the original schedule in October, ‘Le Ponant’ was to call at Vizhinjam five times, which included a tentatively scheduled visit on December 23, 2011. Port officials hope that the mid-sized liner would not skip its remaining scheduled visits at Vizhinjam on March 8 and March 12 during a Maldives-Kochi voyage. The ‘L’Austral’ would be the last to call at Vizhinjam, if no surprises pop up in the meantime.
‘L’Austral’ plans a stop over here during a Colombo-Kochi cruise on April 23. Vizhinjam - though a prospect for the future - is not really a big draw for the more serious cruise liners and it is not equipped to handle big vessels. The old and new wharves have only a depth of 4.5 metres and 6.5 metres respectively.
The ships are forced to off-load tourists some way off onto small boats, which is not an enjoyable experience for the mostly elderly passengers. Ships calling at Vizhinjam barely feature in the State Tourism Department map. ‘’They are not a regular feature. So, we don’t yet have facilities there. The big port is yet to be constructed,’’ said Tourism director Rani George.