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I had the wonderful opportunity to experience a cruise on the MSC Sinfonia in December 2012. The following account outlines my four night holiday with MSC.
My fiancée (Maxine) and I arrived at the Cape Town port, Berth E on the 10th December. With the help of MSC’s Facebook updates we found out that the ship was unable to enter port due to extreme winds and high swells, and understandably were not willing to to put the passengers and crew at risk. MSC Cruises announced that the last attempt to enter port had been aborted, and the ship would attempt to enter Table Bay harbour again at 6am the following morning. Due to this incident, the cruise (which was supposed to be a four night cruise to Lüderitz, Namibia; and back to Cape Town), was re-routed to Mossel Bay for a three night cruise.
The company gave passengers the option to claim their money back from the insurance or enjoy the provided cruise and accept a 30% discount on any future cruise in the season of 2012/13 or 2013/14. MSC also offered accommodation in Cape Town for the night as well as dinner and breakfast for the passengers not living in the vicinity of Cape Town. Maxine and I live in Stellenbosch and therefore decided to try and take MSC up on their offer. The MSC representative was kind enough to add us to the list of people needing accommodation.
Once we collected our luggage and had registered for accommodation, we decided to walk over to the Southern Sun (Tsogo Sun).
As I joined a queue I was fortunate to overhear a family in front of me talking about the Tsogo Sun being full and that we should rather go across to the Southern Sun – The Cullinan. After Maxine confirmed this with the Manager of the Southern Sun Hotel, we ran across the parking lot with our luggage and managed to be third in line for check-in. With refreshments being served by the hotel staff we could already feel ourselves relaxing. After a short wait (the MSC bookings had to come through at the reception desk) we were booked into a beautiful and comfortable room on the 6th floor.
Dinner was scheduled for 18:30 and when we went downstairs, we found yet another line coming out of the restaurant. We decided that we had queued enough for one day and asked the lady at the reception whether we had to eat in the restaurant or could order room service. Luckily, she told us we could also order room service and we had a delicious dinner (compliments of MSC, excluding drinks) in the comfort of our own room.
We woke at 6am, got ready for breakfast and luckily for us, there were a lot of tables for two available and we got to skip past all the families waiting in line. The breakfast buffet was exquisite and we ate a variety of food, ranging from fruit to eggs and bacon. After breakfast we went to the buses that MSC had organised to take the passengers back to the port. The MSC coordinator let us know that they were waiting for the go-ahead from the staff at the harbour, to find out if the ship was coming into the harbour today. By 8am we were rolling towards Berth E once again. According to MSC’s Facebook update, the ship was scheduled to come into port at 07:30. We saw the ship arriving in port as we were driving toward MSC’s embarkation point; by the time we got there, the ship had docked and dis-embarkation of the previous passengers was underway.
We were “taken aboard” in waves, with parents with babies being allowed to skip the queue and board the ship. This was understandable, as one cannot expect babies to stand in the sun for hours on end. MSC decided to transfer the whole check-in process to the theatre on board the ship. Even though we waited again, we were sitting in very comfortable chairs and not in the sun. During check-in we received our cruise cards; these replaced almost everything we had in our pockets or handbags on a day-to-day basis. All our relevant information (name, cabin number, the restaurant, the table number, life boat and muster station) was printed on the card and we could also use it to pay and get into our room.
When we arrived at our cabin (8216) on deck 8, we found our luggage next to the door. Our beds had been arranged into two singles, but a quick phone call to housekeeping sorted that out super-fast. The next time we came back to the cabin, we had a double bed to sleep in. Every time we passed one of the housekeeping staff in the hallway we were greeted with warm smiles and engaged in pleasant small talk.
By the time we were settled in the ship and had oriented ourselves, we went and found the Il Galeone restaurant and were just about to eat when the cruise host (Stephen) announced that there would be an emergency drill in the next few minutes. We abandoned our hopes of food, returned to our cabin and retrieved our life jackets. Afterwards, we assembled at the muster station assigned to our cabin to take part in emergency procedures. These included a demonstration of the proper fitment of the life jackets and an explanation of their features, as well as a viewing and Q&A session about the lifeboats.
The emergency drill only lasted a few minutes, but by that time the Il Galeone had closed to prepare for dinner. We decided to go to the top deck instead and indulge in the buffet available there. While we were eating, the ship left the port of Cape Town on its way to Mossel Bay.
We spent the rest of the day exploring the ship from top to bottom and front to back. There was so much to see and do on this massive ship (251,25 metres long, 28,8 metres wide and 54 metres high). Just before dinner we decided to enjoy a cocktail at the Manhattan Bar (deck 5) to get rid of the weird feeling we got from the movement of the ship. It seemed to work quite nicely and when we went up to the cabin to get dressed for the Gala Dinner that night, the unstable feeling seemed to have vanished almost completely.
We enjoyed a delicious supper at Il Galeone (table 190), where we were served by a waiter called William. He was from India and very helpful and friendly. The restaurant offered a wide variety of delicious meals, appetizers and desserts from which we could order anything.
After dinner we wanted to watch the theatre show of the night (Burlesque), but we were so tired from the queues, the sun, the exploring and the sea air that we decided to call it a night and retire.
According to the Daily Newsletter we received in our cabin every day, the ship arrived in Mossel Bay the next morning. By the time we woke up (6am), we were just passing the Mossel Bay point. Those who wanted to go on shore that day and explore Mossel Bay were scheduled to be ferried across by a continuous tender boat service. As we know Mossel Bay off by heart (Maxine’s grandmother lives in the vicinity) we decided we would rather enjoy a peaceful and quiet day on the top deck by the swimming pool.
We enjoyed a comfortable early morning buffet breakfast in the Il Galeone before heading up to the pool deck. As it was so early, the jacuzzis were completely empty and we made use of this opportunity in full. Towels were provided at the pool area on presentation of the cruise card (if you did not bring the towel back you were charged 20 Euros). While we were enjoying the empty pool deck an announcement was made that the captain (Ciro Pinto) had made an assessment of the weather and currents expected for the day. Due to expected increase in wind speeds in the afternoon and high swells, the shore excursions had to be cancelled. Instead the crew worked out a plan of fun day activities which the people could enjoy on the pool deck.
Even though the deck was not empty and peaceful that day, we took part in the games and events on offer and had a lot of fun. The first game we took part in, was balancing a ball on a piece of rope and dropping it into a bucket at the right moment. I managed to win myself a small MSC boat which is also a “stress ball”. The second game was called “popo volley” and was basically volleyball while sitting down. Our team managed to get into the final round, where we were knocked out by our opponents.
For the rest of the day we spent some more time exploring and tasting the different cocktails that the MSC Sinfonia had on offer, and had lunch at the Il Galeone. If you find the portions at the restaurant too small then join the buffet on the top deck, or the “snack shops” (that provide pizza slices and Burgers throughout the day).
In this evening we attended a show called Fantasia, which was mind-blowing and absolutely mesmerizing. The star, called the amazing Holber, almost instantly changed costumes and performed different magic tricks while in the respective disguises. At first we thought there were two identical-looking people doing the performance. That theory was proven wrong when he changed costumes while holding up a sheet (his hands never left the sheet), and when he lifted up a flag in front of him, then instantly threw it behind himself to show himself clad in yet another different costume. It seemed impossible for two guys to swap places so quickly in those instances. All in all it was a really impressive performance and we throughly enjoyed it.
Once again we got up quite early to enjoy the jacuzzi for a little bit before pax arrived on deck en-masse. We sat down for breakfast as the ship left Mossel Bay and made its way back to Cape Town. The sea was a bit rougher this time around and Maxine got a little nauseous and wobbly on her feet; even cocktails did not really help this time. There were times when she was fine and others when it was worse again (especially while at the front of the ship).
We attended the dis-embarkation briefing presented by the cruise director Stephen in which he explained what would happen tomorrow. He added some funny jokes and silly anecdotes to the entire presentation, which made the normally boring stuff quite entertaining. One anecdote I found particularly amusing: Stephen said he found this lady on the pool deck just staring at the water of the pool sloshing around with the movement of the ship. When he asked her if she was ok, she asked him if the pool contained fresh water or salt water. He explained that the pool is emptied out every night and refilled in the morning with water from the sea. To that she replied: “Sea water hey!? That would explain why it is so bloody rough.”
As the shops (and the casino) were closed while in port, we took advantage of our chance to buy souvenirs and German chocolate today. When Maxine went to sit on the floor in the Duty Free shop (it stabilised her), the Macedonian who attended the till told us in his accent, “This? Rough? This is not even close to rough” and smiled. After our shopping excursions we attended our last dinner at the Il Galeone. Our waiter, William, told Maxine not to drink water against sea sickness because it sloshes around in the belly. Instead he brought her an apple and promised it would help with the nausea. She felt a lot better afterwards and we could attend the evening show called “One Night Only”. It was a show of circus acts and lots of costumes. Some were very impressive and others amazing. All in all, a good show which ended with an official thank you and good bye by the crew of the MSC Sinfonia.
The Sinfonia was entering the Cape Town port at 6am. We still enjoyed a last hearty breakfast at the Il Galeone, said our farewells to William and the other waiters, and then made our way to the assembly point in the theatre. There we waited until our colour luggage tag was announced and made our way off the ship. Disembarking was a smooth procedure and we found our luggage waiting for us at the collection point.
I really enjoyed the cruise and will definitely make use of the 30% cruise discount offered by MSC for a next cruise. Even though there were a few weather related hiccups, the company excelled in accommodating hundreds of people. The MSC officials kept calm and friendly among any complaining and I have to say kudos to them for that.