Our visit to Elephanta Island and Elephanta Caves of Mumbai, India. It’s a fairly long boat ride, but the caves and ancient temples are more than worth it and Mumbai itself is a must-visit destination in India.
Let me start by saying that I’m crazy about India. Just standing on her soil, catching a waft of incense, hearing an accent or a “What is your good name please?” puts me in my happy place and brings me joy like little else on the planet. For me, India is it, there is nowhere better to be. However, a cruise ship shore excursion in Mumbai, India was a great opportunity, but not something I’d ever do again.
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I haven’t been back to India since before the boys were born. At 8 and 10 years old we think they are big enough to take on this diverse and fascinating wonderland and come out with smiles on their faces. We haven’t been back sooner because independent travel in India IS HARD. Even for me, sometimes I just want to get out, scream, run away from the constant bombardment and sensory overload.
I’ve never been sick in India but Chef, my large, muscular Iron-Man husband shrank to skeletal proportions when he was hit by something nasty in Varanasi. No parent wants to put their kids through that.
UPDATE: We HAVE now spent a month in India with the kids. Read that series of posts by clicking through.
So the story goes like this. We were planning 3 months in India in 2015 when we were offered this amazing almost-round-the world trip. The first two stops were in India. How could we say no?
Elephanta Island from Mumbai
We had little time in Mumbai itself, under an hour, but that time was so special for me.
Balloon sellers accosted us as we got off the bus. I was a sitting duck, the only person with kids. First question, “Where are you from?” At the mention of Australia a lively list of cricketing superstar names poured forth.
This is familiar, this is it. India, a country of many religions with a unifying faith in cricket.
Vendors’ calls put a silly smile on my face and, as my 8 year old says, “ I almost had tears.”
“Pani, pani, pani!”
We walked from the bus to the magnificent Gateway to India and Taj Hotel, ready to catch our little ferry to Elephanta Island.
Our Elephanta Island Tour
This post is primarily about the experience of taking a one day shore excursion tour in Mumbai, when I’m back on dry land I can talk more about how wonderful India is.
At each port passengers on cruise ships have the choice of doing their own thing or taking a shore excursion arranged by the cruise company. There was a fairly long list of excursions to choose from and I picked a full day tour taking us to the 1,500 year old cave temples of Elephanta Island. Our group would also visit a village and its school and be served an Indian lunch.
That sounded good to me and I thought the kids would get a lot out of it.
This was our first ever cruise ship shore excursion, another new experience for us to discover.
Shore excursions are not normally included in the price of the cruise, I believe this one cost around 100 Euros each. Children paying slightly less.
I like to do my own thing in my own time and I love independent travel, so I knew I’d face a few challenges being part of a group. I’m discovering that I really am quite anti-social, I don’t like group activities and sharing tables for meals at all.
This tour involved a short walk and climbing over 100 stairs to and from the temple. The cruise line suggested that passengers with walking difficulties should avoid this trip. I thought that would put us in a fitter group and one that might suit us better. There are a lot of very elderly passengers on board and they just don’t do things at our normal break-neck speed nor with our exuberant over-enthusiasm .
For the record, I’m 48, a fit almost-boomer, I can mix in with older people OK, but the kids need high-energy and don’t like hanging about. They got on really well with a few of our co-passengers, finding grandparent-like characters to chat to. It was nice, I loved to see them socialising like this ( Thanks Tony and Sheila!) but not all of our co-passengers are so nice. It’s certainly something to consider before taking a cruise like this where sometimes, you just can’t find your own quiet space.
This trip had a particularly elderly demographic, I guess a 33 day cruise is too long for most families with jobs and school to think about. This is our 3rd cruise, passengers’ age ranges have previously been far more mixed. There are no other children my boys’ age on the ship and there were no children on this shore excursion.
I also put together a list of awesome reading for India lovers, see that collection by clicking through.
The Overall Shore Excursion Experience: Good, But.
We had a wonderful local guide, Lakshmi. Our group all spoke English, as did she, perfectly. Other groups, French, Italian, German, travelled separately.
We were group 29 and there were around 30 of us. We had our own bus and Lakshmi was responsible for looking after us along with helpers who trailed the group to round up stragglers . All the local organisers did a great job and were very patient with the more difficult passengers.
As well as making sure nobody got lost, Lakshmi, was our source of knowledge, she gave us a great tour of the caves and talked about everything we encountered. The caves were stunning.
The tour was pitched at a good level for absolute India beginners; my 10 year old was fascinated for much of the time. My 8 year old, as always, just wanted to run around, he has no time to stand and listen. That said, I still think he gets a lot out of these experiences and will draw on them later in life.
Despite warnings about the walking involved, some of our group struggled. However, this being India, a solution was at hand.
We had a lot of waiting and hanging around for people and the pace was very, very slow.
This would be my only criticism of the day, the wasted time, we could have seen so much more. It also meant we were late getting to lunch, 2pm, by which time the kids’ blood sugar levels had dropped through the floor and my eldest looked ready to pass out. He picked up once he had some lunch inside him. I had searched the breakfast buffet before we left looking for something to take with us, anticipating this problem. A couple of muffins wrapped in a napkin was the best I could do. My children don’t normally snack between meals, they eat properly, but 7 hours between breakfast and lunch was too much for all of us.
Lunch was superb, an Indian buffet, beautifully cooked and presented with plenty of veg and non-veg options. I was massively impressed by the local company. Unfortunately, I was so concerned with getting some food into D, who was white as a sheet by now, that I didn’t take any pictures.
There are around 3,000 people on the ship, 800 of them visited Elephanta Caves on this day. Groups were staggered but, as you can imagine, there were a lot of people around. A shore excursion is never going to be anything like independent travel.
We had a good day, with a little whinging when the kids were starving. I had to carry my 8 year old for a while, but nothing unexpected there. I quite enjoy the extra exercise and I’ll certainly miss it when he’s too big to piggy-back. I think the rest of the group enjoyed their tour too, everyone seemed in good spirits when we got back to the bus. I heard a few complaints about the Indian ferry being rather more “local style” than most of the cruisers were used to.
I should mention that the previous day we’d had to deal with Indian immigration formalities on the ship. I have never heard so many people complain so much in my life. The boys and I waited an hour for our papers to be rubber stamped, which I thought wasn’t too bad at all. The ship staff had worked all night to get all the papers ready and 2 Indian officials sat all day to see 3,000 passengers. Some passengers didn’t bother to turn up, leaving the crew having to search for them late into the night and to our in-cabin announcement system waking us up until 9pm as the culprits were tracked down. A genuine oversight I hope, not an inconsiderate queue jumping ploy.
Would I Recommend Shore Excursions Based on This One Experience?
I would recommend these tours for nervous travellers, they are a good way to get a 1 day taste of a country without having to do any organisation or research yourself. If you have more travel smarts and a little time to research, I would suggest you do your own thing, waiting for the other passengers was a waste of time when we could have been enjoying more of Mumbai. But, if you’re not back at the ship on time it WILL leave without you.
I enjoyed the day and the boys said they enjoyed the “interesting parts”. There was too much hanging around for all of us, but this was really out of the organisers’ control.
It was India, I love India and I came back to the ship with my usual Sub-Continent happy buzz. Laksmi congratualed the boys on being so awesome and I treated them to a chocolate mocktail. They did extremely well to be so patient.
I probably wouldn’t take a group shore excursion through choice, I’d do my own thing, but for solo travellers, the elderly or new travellers, it must be very reassuring to have this sort of back-up and a local guide.
For children, well, it was OK. The pace was way too slow but the content was good. A smaller, faster group would have been brilliant. These days I search for guided tours for the boys, they’re starting to really listen and enjoy, but the waiting was too much for them. But, so far so good, both boys are starting to love India just as I do, both thirsting for more.
I’m not your average punter, so maybe I’m not the best person to judge. I can only look at things from the perspective of a very experienced family, single or couple traveller, for that is what I am, or have been. I’ve never wanted to take coach trips, so I haven’t. This is alien to me.
Cruise ship excursions are a very easy way to get a taste of a destination. At the end of the day you just walk back onto the ship, take a shower in your freshly cleaned cabin and order a pre-dinner cocktail. No hunting for accommodation, no finding a restaurant, no catching a train or bus. It’s simple and everything is taken care of for you. But I’d far rather be on a local bus with smiling Indian people than on a coach tour and I can’t help that, it’s what I love and who I am.
We have another group tour in India tomorrow, Cochin and the Kerala backwaters. There will be less walking on this one, so, hopefully, less waiting for others. I know Fort Kochi and Kerala well, I’ve spent weeks there, we’re taking this tour for the kids as it’s their first time. I’m looking forward to being back in this beautiful part of the world and I’ll let you know how it goes. Our full guide to travel in India is here on the India Travel Blog.