“I am on a ski holiday,” announced my fellow passenger, an elderly Durban gentleman, balancing his walking stick between his knees.
“Ski holiday?” I repeated incredulously; we are on an ocean liner, after all…
“Yes,” he grinned, “Spend the kids’ inheritance!”
So, this is what my ocean cruise is going to be, I wondered. Filled with funny geriatrics sunning themselves on decks?
I am all for peace and quiet, but maybe not quite on their level, I mused, squinting out over the ocean swells. I need not have worried. It became clear enough that a cruise on the MSC Sinfonia is a fun-filled experience for all.
We embarked in Durban the afternoon before for a four-night cruise to Cape Town. The old man forgotten for a moment (I was to encounter the pair several times during the journey, always cracking jokes and having the time of their lives) I gazed out over seemingly never ending waters, the warm sun on my skin, a cooling breeze in my hair, a continuous supply of lovely food, combined with friendly, unhurried people in a holiday atmosphere.
No wonder passenger ships have grown increasingly popular as a holiday destination in itself; it is the ultimate getaway from the rat race and related stresses. And here’s the secret – once on the ship, you can go absolutely nowhere. Internet connection is limited and you are effectively cut off from deadlines, clients, pressing assignments.
Stress left behind in harbour
And so I soon found myself lounging on a deck chair, drink in hand, completely relaxed, all rat race related stress forgotten for now, all left behind in Durban’s busy harbour. Forgetting where the ship was taking me, just being in the moment, floating on the wide open ocean and letting it all go. Luxurious bliss.
Boarding a passenger ship can be a long and quite exhausting process. It entails waiting in queues, lots of stamping of documents, organising of luggage. Be prepared to spend a few hours in administrative hell before you start your long-awaited cruise. This should be no surprise, taking into account that the Sinfonia can accommodate over 2100 passengers who have to be boarded within three hours, and is also home to 730 crew members.
My companion and I opted for priority boarding (R500 per couple), which made the process much shorter and more pleasant.
We also opted for a spacious balcony suite featuring a double bed, spacious wardrobe, bathroom with bath and shower, television (which we never even switched on), telephone, availability of internet connection by your own laptop (on payment), a mini bar and safe and air conditioning. We were going to enjoy this journey to its very limit, an escape in luxury and style!
The best part of an ocean cruise must be the food, and on the Sinfonia you get great value for money. Breakfast, lunch and dinner can be enjoyed buffet style, or you can join your fellow passengers in the dining rooms, which we, as true gastronomes, preferred: no queues and the meals are indefinitely better than at the buffet counter.
Fine dining can be enjoyed in the Il Galeone and Il Covo restaurants, while casual meals can be enjoyed at the Caffe de Mare out on deck and the La Terrazza Buffet.
If that is not to your liking, you can visit any of the seven indoor cafes and bars, among them Shelagh’s House Irish Pub, the Sinfonia Karaoke Bar and the Buddha Piano Bar. Outside, on the pool deck, you will find the Capri Bar.
Add to this the traditional afternoon teas, fresh fruit carving demonstrations, an evening pizzeria and Chocolate Bar and the captain’s famous gala dinner.
Enough about the food already, except to mention that most of it is included in your ticket price, so no worrying about mounting expenses once on board.
For those travelling with children, an ocean cruise is the ideal destination. Not only do kids under 18, who share a cabin with two adults, come along for free, but there is ample entertainment to keep the young ones occupied.
For children aged between four and 12 years there are special programmes every full day at sea, including treasure hunts, fun sports, creative activities and games. An evening activity programme is available from 8pm – 11pm
A children's play area is available for children aged 2 - 4 years of age, however a supervising parent must be present at all time. There are no babysitting facilities on board due to insurance regulations.
Teenagers have their own get-togethers, including supervised disco’s, a video game arcade and a special teen area.
While the youngsters are being entertained, you can do as little or as much as you like.
A lazy day on the pool deck
I could choose to spend a lazy day on the pool deck, or get active enjoying lecture presentations, creativity classes, fun activities on the deck and indoor game shows. Daily crosswords, Sudoku, brainteasers and word search puzzles are also available. Other facilities include jacuzzis, a gymnasium, a jogging track, casino, duty free shops and in-cabin movies. After sunset you can choose from live bands, the disco and deck parties.
As for me, I chose to spend lazy days reading on deck and some entertainment in the evenings – live cabaret shows and Bingo. I preferred the decks right at the back of the ship where few people hang out and you can have uninterrupted peace and quiet with the ocean whispering its secrets in the background. Truth be told, I couldn’t even get myself to read, I was so spaced out!
After only four nights on board the MSC Sinfonia, I found myself in another world. In fact, it took me another three days at home to recover and get myself into action mode again. Small wonder I felt a wee bit green towards the few who were continuing their cruise from Cape Town towards the Mediterranean. Another 18 days of blissful relaxation awaited them.
For us it was back to the grinding mill of deadlines and assignments, but not before we’d made a firm promise to ourselves: We will be back!
What to remember: Your ticket, passport, spending money, camera, sun cream, essential medication, and something for motion sickness if you are prone.
How much money do you need: Meals and entertainment are included in your cruise fare. You will need spending money for drinks (15% Bar service charge is levied on all bar and on all restaurant bills), duty free shopping, photos, gambling (including Bingo), your laundry, visits to the beauty salon and optional shore excursions.
Find out more about ocean cruises on the MSC Sinfonia at www.msccruises.co.za.