All on board… for the summer cruise season

By Stef Terblanche

It’s summer, which means it’s cruise season along South Africa’s 2,800km-long coastline and onwards to Namibia, Mozambique and the Indian Ocean islands beyond. So, for the ultimate getaway this summer, get on board any one of a number of fabulous cruise ships for an unforgettable experience.

If you have never before experienced the let-your-hair-down, non-stop-fun-in-the-sun treat of a cruise on board a giant floating 5-star hotel, this summer may be the time to do so. A number of cruise ship companies each year send a number of their ships this way for the South African summer cruise season. This season they will offer dozens of different cruise packages providing thousands of tourists with the opportunity to enjoy a holiday option that has become one of the most popular in the world.

The South African cruise ship season runs from November until April. As part of the local tourism sector, the demand for cruise ship holidays has grown in leaps and bounds, in line with the cruise sector’s phenomenal growth worldwide. So popular has this become with South Africans that the brand-new Durban Cruise Port Terminal costing more than R200-million is currently being built. It is scheduled to open in 2021. The Port of Cape Town already upgraded its passenger ship terminal in 2017, with most ships now docking at this terminal in the world-famous V&A Waterfront section.

Floating hotels

These giant multi-storied floating hotels with their multiple decks, swimming pools, restaurants, nightclubs, bars, deck games, theatres, boutiques, non-stop entertainment and staff that cater for your every whim, are criss-crossing the oceans with stops at the most exotic locations. And that will be their mission in local waters too this summer.

During the local season the ports of Cape Town and Durban serve as home ports for a number of cruise ships that offer cruise packages ranging from three to fourteen nights. These can take you anywhere from going on a trip to nowhere (out to the middle of the ocean and back), or just up the coast to the next port of call. Alternatively you can travel all along the South African coast to the Namibian ports of Luderitz and Walvis Bay, or up along the Mozambican coast visiting various little islands, or across to the islands of  Madagascar, Reunion, Seychelles or Mauritius. There are also much longer cruises that go, for instance, all the way to Croatia.

To give you an idea of its popularity, the Port of Cape Town was host to 22 passenger liners this past season, while Durban and Port Elizabeth both welcomed 15, Richards Bay and East London had seven each, and Mossel Bay had four visiting cruise ships. For this 2019/2020 season, some 30 vessels are expected to make 49 stops in Cape Town, with even more ships scheduled for the following season.

Gone are the early days of cruise ship tours in South African waters when the ships were generally old and tatty, and sometimes not so safe, as the sinking of the Greek-owned Oceanos in 1991 and the Itialian-owned Achille Lauro in 1994 attested. Being 39 and 48 years old respectively, those two ships were long past their prime, and poor maintenance as well as negligence may have played a role. Today’s cruise ships are modern, have the latest safety features and equipment, are much safer in general, and can withstand even the most extreme weather conditions and are manned by capable and highly experienced crews. In any event, you are unlikely to encounter anything but calm waters and bright sunny days in South African waters over the summer months.

Only the best

These days it is only the best for South African cruising. For instance, the Swiss-owned, Norwegian-flagged Viking Sun sailed South African cruise waters for the first time during the last season. Built in 2017 the ship, which is 227 meters long, has a beam of 28.8 meters and can accommodate 930 guests, is part of Viking Ocean Cruises’ fleet of 6 ocean liners and some 60 river cruise ships. Last year the global travel magazine Travel & Leisure named Viking Sun Cruises the world’s number one ocean cruise line for ships carrying up to 2 000 guests and also named it the World’s Best River Cruise line. In 2018 Viking Sun Cruises added South Africa to the itinerary for its 128-day World Cruise from Miami to London, which includes 44 port calls in 21 countries on five continents.

The rapid growth of demand in South Africa for cruise ship experiences has prompted shipping companies to deploy more and bigger ships here during the local season. Ross Volk, the managing director for MSC Cruises South Africa was recently quoted in an interview with Business Insider SA as saying his company saw a 25% increase in guests last season compared to the previous year. That is why MSC Cruises – the world’s largest privately-owned cruise company – decided to add more ships for the South African season and also invested alongside a consortium in the Durban terminal currently being built.

From parties to sun, food, peace and quiet

So what does one do on a cruise ship, you may wonder. Well, there’s something for everyone. For some, as you may have heard, it’s non-stop partying, starting with a ‘sail away’ party on the main deck as your ship departs from your boarding port, continuing daily on the pool deck or in one of the lounges or pubs, and continuing through the night in the ship’s night club. But that’s by far not all.

The cruise ships that ply our local coastal waters each year offer so much more. To start with, cabins are comfortable and well appointed, while those on the outside have ocean views and some have private balconies. Venture forth from here and visit the many little boutiques on board that sell anything from clothing, to books, art, jewellery and a variety of curios.

Thirsty? There are usually a variety of bars, lounges, juice bars and other areas on board, like the pool decks, where you can order anything to drink. Nurture a long, cool cocktail while lounging in a jacuzzi on deck, or while watching from one of the lounges how the sun disappears behind the horizon.

For breakfast, lunch and dinner there are a variety of restaurants and snack bars, inside the ship and outside on the pool decks, or just order something in your cabin. A variety of cuisine offerings in different settings and menus from around the world will have your mouth watering. Overeating is one of the biggest hazards of modern cruise ship sailing!

For entertainment you will be spoilt for choice. The ships usually have experienced entertainment staff and employ well-known and popular entertainment artists from around the world. Entertainment can range from bands and orchestras, to shows by comedians, magicians, or cabaret acts. Your ship will have at least one nightclub – more if it is a larger ship, or you can join a deck party and dance the night away under starry skies. Cruise ships may also offer art auctions, talks by interesting or famous personalities, theatre, movies and music concerts.

Fun games and activities are hosted by the entertainment crew on the decks, usually around the main pool. And there are plenty of deck games and other activities, games arcades and more to keep the kids busy. Health and beauty treatments, spas, massage rooms, and gyms are all part of the regular offering. You can also join in fun activities ranging from yoga to karaoke. Each night your cabin staff will leave a schedule in your cabin of the next day’s activities, games, entertainment and parties.

Of course, you don’t have to do any of these things. Simply find a quiet deck or corner away from the crowd, plonk down on a comfortable deck lounger, order some tea and scones or a cocktail, and finally read that book you never had time for all year. It won’t be long before the gentle motion of ship and ocean, the mixture of sun and sea breeze, and the fresh smell of sea air will have you dozing off.

From Orchestra to Queen

Some of the ships that will be seen in South African waters this summer include the MSC Orchestra, a 92,409-ton ship with 13 decks and 1,275 cabins built in 2007 and carrying 2,550 passengers and 1,050 crew. The ship boasts, among other offerings, a sports centre, a kids’ club, 3 pools, a spa, and a range of 6 exquisite restaurants. No attention to detail has been spared with décor that ranges from the leopard-style décor of the Savannah Bar to the glimmering lights of the Covent Garden Theatre.

A great eating experience will be had with a visit to the Shanghai Chinese Restaurant, or enjoy first-class entertainment ranging from cabaret-style shows, concerts to magic shows in the three-tiered Covent Garden Theatre. As usual, one of the highlights this season will be the 14-day New Year cruise around Southern Africa.

The MSC Orchestra departed Genoa, Italy on 18 October 2019 to arrive in Durban on16 November. Along the way she would have been stopping at Civitavecchia, Chania (Greece), Suez Canal Transit (Egypt), Eilat (Israel), Aqaba (Jordon), Salalah (Oman), Male (Maldives), Port Victoria (Seychelles), Port Louis (Mauritius), and Pointe des Galets (Reunion). On 17 November she leaves Durban for the first of her local coastal and island cruises this summer.

Another option is the glamorous MS Queen Elizabeth, one of the Cunard Line’s three ocean liners. The ship with her 16 decks can carry well over 2,000 passengers and undertook her maiden voyage in 2010. She was refurbished in 2014. With Cunard and their ships steeped in history and tradition, a voyage on board the Elizabeth is sure to let you step back somewhat into the glamorous hey-day of cruising. (Also read here about David Hughes’ experience on board the Queen Victoria for the Mauritius-to-Cape-Town part of her world cruises.)

Some of the quaint British traditions you will enjoy as a passenger include afternoon tea (with cakes), playing a game of croquet and attending a formal royal ball. But the ship also has plenty of modern features, including a state-of-the-art Computer Centre, relaxing whirlpools and karaoke, for some fun at night. Enjoy your Afternoon Tea in the Queens Room which is also where the Royal Nights Themed Balls take place. The Royal Court Theatre is home to the on-board Queen Elizabeth Theater Company, known for their exquisite musicals and gripping productions of Shakespeare classics. There are a number of excellent restaurants to choose from too, among so much more on board this truly royal floating resort.

Another option is the Azamara Quest, a 686-passenger liner belonging to Azamara Cruises. She will be departing Cape Town on 20 February 2020, docking along the way at Port Elizabeth, Durban and Rihcards Bay, before heading to Tulear (Tolagnaro) in Madagascar, then on to Seychelles, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Mumbai (India) and Dubai in the United Emirates where she arrives on 17 March.

The cost

A cruise holiday also need not bust the bank. Prices range anywhere from around R3,300 for 2 nights ex-Cape Town, to around R5,500 for a cruise from Durban to Portuguese Island, to about R5,900 for 4 nights inside cabin Cape Town to Durban, and all the way up to over R50,000 for 24 nights on board Cunard’s Queen Mary from Cape Town to New York.

For more information on cruises, itineraries, ships, cruise companies and prices, use the contact details provided below.

Find out more…


MSC Cruises: Call 087 630 0333; website

Cunard: Call 0344 338 8641; website

Cunard/Whitestar Cruise & Travel: 011-4633293; website

Pentravel: Call 087 094 0011; website

Flight Centre: Call 0877 40 50 55; website

Cruiseabout:   Call 0860 144 721; website

SouthAfrica.TO: Email; website