By Mohammed Abdullahi
With memories of the Costa Concordia and Costa Allegra tragedies, there was some fear in my bowels as I came face to face with my dwellings for the next four days. But my apprehension was also mixed with deference as the imposing all-white ship called the MSC Sinfonia beckoned on that March morning.
Standing at 54 metres high and approximately 252 metres long, the gigantic cruise liner dwarfed all other structures within a 1,000 metre radius of the Durban Port in South Africa. But with such imposing features, it is just the second smallest ship in the 11-ship fleet owned by MSC Cruises. This view was revealed by the company’s entertainment director, who joined the five-day trip from Durban to Cape Town by sea rather than taking the shorter air route.
He added that the company, which is the fourth largest cruise company in the world, operates in the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, the Caribbean, parts of South America including South Africa and Mozambique. As it is, the deployment of the luxurious passenger liner, MSC Sinfonia to Southern Africa in 2009 proved a turning point for local cruises and established a new trend on the continent where they became an increasingly popular vacation of choice for exquisite holiday makers.
Referred to as the "finest floating hotel" ever to operate out of South Africa, MSC Sinfonia returned for a second bumper season in November 2010 and for the 2011/2012 summer cruise season which featured a full schedule of exciting cruise destinations in the Indian and Atlantic Oceans out of Durban and Cape Town.
Everyone seemed to be a VIP in the pristine ship. A range of free Italian snacks and English coffee was served round the clock to the 777 cabins housing 1,983 passengers and the 700-strong crew. MSC Sinfonia also boasted bespoke restaurants and bars that sold according to orders. An assortment of beers and wines including largely Italian and Mediterranean foods were available to suit discerning passengers’ choice. This was a pleasing distraction from the initial sea jitters that is common with many passengers that have not adapted to travelling long distances by sea.
Interestingly, all transactions on the cruise were strictly cashless. The US Dollar and South African Rand which are the acceptable legal tenders were transferred into passengers’ personal cards for transactions. The cards also doubled as cabin automated keys while a special charity initiative dedicated to UNICEF deducted $1.50 from each passenger’s account.
At full passenger capacity, the cabins could take up to 2,100. Other perks were nights out at the Pasha Disco Club, and hilarious musicals and theatrical shows in the San Carlo theatre which can seat about 600. Guided excursions inside the cruise were included in the long list of freebies that are intended to make the long sail pleasurable.
The view of the sea was also settling as the refreshing Indian Ocean breeze massaged the sensibilities as the liner cruised assuredly to its destination. This was visible from my cabin on Deck 9 called Tchaikovsky and named after the 19th century Russian composer, who was famous for his Swan Lake ballet in 1876. A complementary decor involving a twin-bed setting, a television set with several customised information channels, work station, wardrobe, mini bar, modern shower and lavatory closet all made up the comfortable cabin.
The first day included the fire drill. After a clear tone from the tiny speaker in the cabin gave instructions, an alarm saw everyone rushing out with their safety vests in a coordinated fashion. It was followed by a poolside welcome party on Deck 11. The same deck also had a children’s play room for toddlers to mingle.
A large crowd gathered to savour drinks while dancing to salsa tunes displayed the liner’s capability as a melting pot for people of different cultures. Much of the fanfare does not end at night, though. Other parts of the cruise liner were usually abuzz with entertainment. A humorous dance drama and the bingo show attracted laughter from passengers. There was also a Miss Sinfonia pageant amongst other activities. This melange of entertainment offerings all through the cruise made the whole idea of alternative travel a good decision.
Every morning, passengers woke up to find a four-page newsletter slipped into the cabins. This highlighted all the activities for the day, and it became a regular all through the five-day cruise. Fitness addicts also had a swell time on Deck 12 with the jogging facilities while an opportunity to stretch “sea legs” was offered on Deck 13 where a handful enjoyed the football and Golf game simulators. Just as many passengers took to the gym and spa for fitness and massages respectively, while others went shopping at the large jewelry and other deluxe accessory shops.
MSC Sinfonia berthed in Port Elizabeth on the third day and passengers had guided tours around the coastal city famous for the beautiful outlay of Nelson Mandela Bay. A few missteps inside the Green Acres shopping complex confirmed I had developed “sea legs” but I definitely enjoyed the cruise.
After finally reaching my destination in Cape Town in the early hours of the fifth day at sea, the reality of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s statement dawned on me: “Life is a journey, not a destination”, and cruising on the MSC Sinfonia was one surefire way to enjoy life’s ride.
•Mohammed Abdullahi, Public Relations/Media executive, wrote from Lagos.