COOK ISLANDS WELCOME LARGEST CRUISE SHIP YET

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By Ulamila Kurai Wragg

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, May 2) – Yesterday's one-day visit to Rarotonga by the Sapphire Princess—the largest cruise ship ever to visit the Cook Islands—was hailed as 'a very good day for business' and a big success for Cook Islands.

Well over 2,000 passengers and crew of the cruise ship roamed the island of Rarotonga as tourist operators went into overdrive to meet the demand.

Raro Tours spokesperson Jane Wichman says that they took out at least 500 tourists on their various tours and another 400 shuttled to beaches around the island for a swim or just to kick the sand.

The tour company was well prepared for the cruise ship's arrival with a lot of pre-visit planning that was successfully executed yesterday.

"We have been very busy but we have also been well organized for the day. We had done planning before today. Business was good and I look forward to more tours like this in the future," she said yesterday.

Apart from her own fleet of tour buses and cars, Wichman also provided hire vans from Budget and Avis rental car companies plus all Cook's Buses that were not scheduled to run yesterday.

"We were going flat out the whole day," Wichman said.

The Bond Store's Richard Barton says the number of passengers from the ship who queued up at the liquor outlet yesterday was unbelievable.

"They can't believe how cheap the stuff is here in the Cook Islands. Many believed we were the duty free shop," he said.

He says with the alcohol being expensive on the ship, the passengers were so keen to buy locally that there was a long queue at the store all day.

Rental car company Budget, a rare sight down at the wharf during any cruise ship arrival, was amongst the many stalls at the Avatiu wharf to meet the tourists. A total of 40 cars were hired out from their table.

"We had to move away from the wharf proper because the place was just too congested so we set up here (outside Aramoana). Our cars were hired mainly by young people who wanted to quickly drive around the island. We noticed that the older tourists preferred organised tours and not driving," a Budget spokesperson said.

Cruise ships coordinator for Destination Management Cook Islands Heiderose Henry says the ship is on a 31-day cruise starting from Australia and will end in Los Angeles.

Sapphire Princess is part of the Princess Cruise Lines which offers cruises to the Caribbean, Mexico, Alaska, Europe and South Pacific.

Sapphire Princess brought in 2,670 passengers yesterday. She weighs 116,000 tons featuring 750 cabins with balconies, four swimming pools, a casino, restaurants, a salon, a nine-hole putting golf course and has one of the largest internet cafes at sea with 29 computer stations.

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