The big day is finally upon us. We are going cruising!
|MSC Sinfonia insignia (Photographs courtesy MSC Cruises )
We arrive in South Africa's coastal city of Durban harbor at about 11 on a February morning in what seemed 40-degree heat to board the ship MSC Sinfonia for a weekend of indulgence and undiluted fun en-route to Mozambique. I have been fortunate enough to travel on MSC cruises before and on the first cruise, not knowing what to expect, I had visions of ladies and gentlemen in perennial fine "cruise" fashion wear, mingling on deck, enjoying stilted affectations and champagne in a tornado of streamers and balloons and cries of bon voyage, as they wave ta-ra to the proletariats left behind far beneath them on the dock.
Nothing of the sort, on this MSC Sinfonia. The boarding process alone, while much improved, is still quite long, arduous, chaotic and hot. Well, they do have to get about 3,000 people on board in a matter of a couple of hours - through customs, luggage check-ins, searches for contraband such as alcohol, which will be confiscated so be warned. As soon as you see the majestic 12-story colossus in front of you and walk the gangway into the capacious, air-conditioned lobby, your heart starts racing and you know you are on the verge of a marvellous adventure...
Upon check in you get a cruise card since the ship is a cashless society. You load however many dollars you think you might need - and can afford - and if you go over that limit, you settle the bill at the end. And then to our cabins. Ok, that's the official euphemism for this article since "luxury suite" is far more descriptive than "cabin." Located on the ninth floor of the ship, the cabin is luxurious, albeit small with incredible panoramic views. There are 130 Suite cabins of 27 square metres each, with private balcony and a double bed that can be converted into two single beds (on request). You also have air conditioning, spacious wardrobe, bathroom with bathtub, TV, telephone, wireless Internet access (for a fee), mini bar and a safe in your cabin.
Then there are 94 smaller Balcony cabins, 341 Ocean view cabins, 64 Outside cabins with partial view and 346 Inside cabins with no view, the most cost-effective option.
We drop our luggage and promptly go exploring the top floors where the pool and all outside areas are located. There is a compulsory safety drill, which requires you to meet at certain points on deck with your life jacket, but it's a very efficient affair and doesn't take ages. At about 2:30 p.m. we are all gathered on deck and I laugh at the others as they nearly fall off their deck chairs in fright at the deafening sound coming from the ship's horn, signalling our departure. Finally we're off! A voyage at sea is one of life's great pleasures - how often do you experience thousands of people around you all laughing and chatting and having fun? It's exhilarating....
All life's luxuries
And there isn't much this ship doesn't offer, including a state-of-the-art virtual golf simulator that allows players, especially beginners, to practice their swing while sailing. Other state-of-the-art amenities are found in the video games room and teen area.
But there's more. With an array of shows, music, discotheques, casinos and duty-free shopping, the Sinfonia offers a "symphony" of sumptuous activities to indulge in. Cooking classes, salsa classes, quiz games, arts and craft workshops, photographic workshops... there is almost nothing they haven't thought of to keep guests occupied.
She also underwent a face-lift last year with renewed amenities and enriched on-board spaces. Ten weeks later she emerged with more balcony cabins, more spacious public areas, a greater choice of restaurants and new clubs dedicated to younger guests, including the outdoor Spray Park with exciting waterfalls and splashy water slides.
|Comfortable cabins (Photographs courtesy MSC Cruises )
And they can afford it. MSC Cruises has gone from strength to strength globally, growing by 800 percent in capacity since 2004, carried 1.67 million guests in 2014, with a turnover of $1.6 billion. They achieved an additional 10-percent growth in 2015.
After a leisurely afternoon spent exploring the boat, we gather for dinner. You can choose between an early or late sitting.
The menu offers a great variety. We partake of wonderful Italian cuisine - I have the stunningly fresh shellfish medley - but you will also be able to enjoy dishes that are typical of the countries you will visit, prepared with specially selected, fresh ingredients. Restaurants include the Il Galeone which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner as a sit-down and served option. The Il Covo is open for dinner only, which is where we enjoy dinner for the next three days.
There is food available 23 out of 24 hours on this vessel so forget your diet plans.
If you would prefer to be on deck, an outside breakfast and lunch can be enjoyed on deck at the Cafe Del Mare.
There are also no less than six bars and lounges to choose from for drinks, beverage and light snacks.- from the singers, dancers, magicians, comedians and even trapeze artists, it's all simply marvellous. Three theater shows are presented daily, with seating for the preferred show times having to be reserved once on-board. Kiosks are available throughout the ship to pre-book your preferred show time. The next morning everyone is up and about early for island excursions in Mozambique.
We were booked into the early sitting and "took in" a show afterward. The song-and-dance extravaganzas on the ship really are world-class and the performers are some of the most talented and skilled I have seen anywhere in the world
Boats from Inhaca collect passengers from the vessel and take you to the landing point on Inhaca which is a favourite location for bird watching. Return to Portuguese Island on the regular shuttle at your leisure and then return to the ship on the ship's zodiac craft. You can also snorkel or rocket across the water on a three-person fun craft. Sea kayaking, whale watching and game fishing are also included in your choice of excursions in and around the islands.
|The MSC Sinfonia (Photographs courtesy MSC Cruises )
I decided to forgo the island heat and instead opt for the wonderful complimentary room-service continental breakfast. What a treat. Later I go for complete self-indulgent hedonism in the form of a spa treatment.
Saunas, steam rooms, post treatment heated chairs, beauty salon, massages - this boat is equipped! The cruise experience is taken even further by taking advantage of the Le Terme Spa and the Solarium. I indulge in the steam rooms and Turkish bath with a view of the entire Indian Ocean stretched out before me.
After lunch and an hour lazing around the pool, we play a round of Putt Putt followed by an obligatory nap. Dinner is again a superb affair and afterward we decide to dance at least half the night away at Pasha's night club.
The next day I do literally almost nothing, enjoying the view of the ocean from my sumptuous bed and reading. That, I think, is the true beauty of this voyage. You can do everything or nothing at all, just resting and recuperating from the stresses of reality.
That evening after dinner I take a long walk around the decks, lost in reverie looking the restless ocean. The night is hot and sultry, a soft breeze sways to sounds of the Latin music and the full moon smiles down on us. I think of tomorrow, of disembarking and allowing the real world back The MSC Sinfonia is a dreamscape luxury ship that you simply have to experience. So play it again, Sam...
Air China now operates direct flights from China. The Beijing-Johannesburg flight is equipped with a Boeing 777-300ER and departs from Beijing for Johannesburg every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday, and returns every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Mango Airways operates direct daily flights from Johannsburg to Durban - https://www.flymango.com/