Cruise season has started this past weekend in South Africa with the MSC Sinfonia (in operation since 2002) from Cape Town (in SA waters since November 2009) and the MSC Opera from Durban. MSC (Mediterranean Shipping Company) is the only cruise operator in South African waters. Due to demand they have introduced bigger and more modern MSC Sinfonia a few years ago and now have also added the MSC Opera for the 2012 / 2013 season. The MSC Opera has been in operation since 2004.
Let’s paint a picture with some information on MSC in general and MSC Opera specifically in terms of technical attributes, food and other services / facilities as an example.
Cruising has become a very popular option for leisure as well as corporate groups during the past few years. Let me share some statistics with regards to MSC’s operations worldwide. MSC is Italy based. During 2012 MSC sails 158 itineraries, docking at 188 ports with a total of 3 572 times. The global operations is maintained by 15 500 staff serving 1.4 million guests. MSC plans to increase their guest count to 1 5 million in 2013.
The technical specification for the MSC Opera is a massive ship with a gross tonnage of 59 058 toms, 251.25metrs in length, 28.8 meters at its widest point and 54 meters high consisting of 9 passenger decks. Total number of cabins are 826, accommodating 1 712 guest on a sharing basis. The number of guests can increase to a maximum of 2 055 due to some cabins being able to accommodate a 3rd and / or 4th guest. The guests are being spoilt with food, entertainment and various other services by a maximum of 740 crew members.
One of the reasons why cruising has become so popular is the fact that the cruise fare includes all meals, actually food is available all the time. A variety of restaurant and bar options are presented to passengers, thus one is really spoilt for choice. The beverage station is open 24 hour, breakfast with early bird coffee is available from 06:00-12:00, lunch from 12:00-15:00 and dinner from 18:3-22:00. On top of this, the pizzeria & grill is open from 12:00-22:00 and the midnight snack buffet from 22:00-01:00. One can thus literally eat from 06:00 till 01:00 the following morning without any extra cost. Should you be hungry between 01:00-05:00 one can make use of the 24-hour room service. Note though that this is a charged service.
Now that your tummy is taken care of there is a vast array of complimentary facilities and services including various restaurant s and bars, 2 swimming pools, 2 Jacuzzis / spa baths, shuffleboard, mini golf, 200m jogging track, gymnasium, solarium, children’s playroom, theatre, karaoke, discotheque, library & play room. Charged facilities include beauty salon, spa, medical centre, hairdresser, internet café, video games room, casino, photo gallery (photographs are taken throughout your cruise which you can purchase at the photo gallery), various duty free shops selling liquor, cigarettes, clothes, jewellery, perfume, cosmetics, sun glasses & snacks.
Cabins are small but well equipped with air-conditioning, en-suite bathroom with shower, flat screen TV, telephone, mini bar and safe. Cabins are in different categories with inside cabins being the cheapest, outside cabins with closed window, cabin with balcony as well as cabin suite being the top of the range. The different cruise companies offer variations on these basic cabin categories. In my experience an outside cabin is a better route to go although more expensive, especially if you are leaning towards claustrophobia.
Cruising is mostly about relaxing and getting away for your day to day routine. It almost feels if you are in a different world, unreachable, where you do not have to deal with telephone calls, traffic and e-mail. Although this is also changing because technology is becoming more and more accessible, at this stage still quite an expensive facility in the cruise scene.
A few factors to keep in mind when considering a cruise holiday:
- Cruising is seasonal, thus you have to match destination with dates
- Various cruise operators world wide, thus decide if you want the biggest and the best with thousands of fellow passengers or are you interested in a smaller ship with a more bespoke cruise experience
- Ocean or river cruise
- Are you cruising with the intention of spending most of your time on board or are you looking for an itinerary where you will be able to disembark regularly to explore new destinations
- Duration of cruise
- How do you handle continuous motion & limited space. The last thing you want to do on your dream holiday is to feel queasy all the time!
- The concept of a cashless cruise card concept. MSC operates in Euro when in Europe and in US Dollar when cruising elsewhere
- Travel documentation, passport, travel insurance – make sure that your insurance cover is sufficient.
At the end of the day, cruising is considered to be a unique experience offering good value for money. I suggest that you try this at least once, preferably starting with a short cruise, which will also provide you with the insight to decide if you are a perpetual cruiser or not. Happy cruising!
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