Life on board a cruise ship

Life aboard a cruise ship (Photo: J. Mahugu)

Of all the dreams I’ve ever had, being a nautical tourist turned out to be the best experience of my life.

The journey from Sun International Sibaya Lodge in Durban was breathtaking. Beautiful views the whole way, but I was not prepared for the rush that filled me when the massive ship, the MSC Splendida, came into view as we arrived at the Nelson Mandela Cruise Terminal.

The ship has the most stunning interiors I have ever seen. And that’s interiors in plural, because all the different sections have completely different designs. The grand staircase in the middle of it all was basically the staircase to heaven – crystals on the bottom, gold on the railing. I wanted to stop and take it all in but there would be time to do that – so I kept walking.

And walking, and walking – Later on, I bravely attempted find a friend in her room and I walked for so long without ever reaching, I gave up mid-trek and decided we would meet in one of the common areas. 

I fell in love with my cabin on sight. It was on Deck 10 (10th floor). The balcony curtain was open, so the minute I walked into the door, directly in front of me was the ocean. I dropped everything to go outside and have a look. We were still docked at the port – we wouldn’t be leaving until evening – but it was already looking like the best time of my life.

Partial view of the cruise ship, MSC Splendida, docked at the Nelson Mandela Cruise Terminal (Photo: J. Mahugu)

So I went exploring. We were still docked, and my first port of call was the Aqua Park on Deck 14. High-octane entertainers dressed in beautiful pink and black getups were already rocking the excited crowd gathered, and I nearly lost it when they did a live rendition of Great Balls of Fire, which I first learnt from the movie Top Gun. There were many more performances and the MC said it was just a taste of what they had in store and boy, did I discover, she was not joking!

An announcement then came through the ship’s public address system that everyone had to go back to their cabins for the mandatory safety drill. Without everyone’s participation, the ship could not set sail. This safety drill enables you know what to do in case of emergencies. Lessons learnt from past ship tragedies mean that today, there are many safety measures, making cruise ships one of the safest modes of transport.

When the drill was over, we finally set sail. It took some time to get used to feeling like I was swaying all the time before getting my sea legs, which happened by day two. On the bright side, when in bed you feel like the ship is rocking you to sleep! I didn’t get seasick myself, but a few people did. Most people were fine by the second day, and you can get seasickness medicine on the ship.

Pictures of the interiors of the ship (Photo: J. Mahugu)

We were truly spoilt for choice when it came to dining. Not to beat the superlatives to death but the buffet that was open 24/7 was also the biggest one I have ever seen. Very extensive, with so much variety at every meal I just cannot imagine even the most picky eater with whichever kind of diet restrictions or proclivities, not being satisfied with the options.

There are also several restaurants you can choose from, so on the first night we had a formal dinner at one of them, the stunning Villa Verde. The meals were exquisite wherever we dined, and we would later on also dine at the buffet and the La Reggia restaurants.

The amount of entertainment available just blew my mind. Every day, a program of activities that you cannot exhaust running from 7am to midnight is delivered to your cabin – catered to everyone’s palate, from the chill to the very high energy options.

For instance, there’s 24-hour Sudoku at the Library, different kinds of trivia, beer pong, live music of all kinds, parties, fun dance lessons, yoga, game shows, arts and crafts - and other exercise activities, broadway-style theatre shows, basketball shootouts it goes on and on. There are numerous activities for children as well.

We checked out the epic welcome night party on the Aqua Park on Deck 14, open-walled and overlooking the vast ocean on all sides. It’s a wide space with pools, hot tubs, whirlpools, loungers all around, a main screen and so much more.

Cabin on the cruise ship, MSC Splendida

Music plays here throughout the day, with all kinds of parties, be-it themed parties, live music, dance sessions, snow parties complete with a snow canon and so on.

Several parties going on at the same time meant that we had to check out others also, so that night we checked out two others with different themes. There was even a rock show going on at the Strand Theatre has a sitting capacity of 1,600 guests, spanning two desks and features worldclass broadway-style shows among others.

We also had a wonderful cabin steward on our corridor called Ivan who made our stay so comfortable we couldn’t think of how to thank him and, ever the wonderful human, at the end he said he was genuinely just happy that we had enjoyed out stay and that he could help. The world would be a much better place with more Ivans in it, that’s for sure.

A surprising thing happened when I went to a country dance lesson - in the midst of it I realized that the trainer was Kenyan! Her name was Whitney I met her afterwards and she introduced me to other Kenyans working on the ship and I ended up having the time of my life as Maggie and Joel showed me even more places I could have missed, such as the incredible 4D theatre and the spa.

It was with Maggie that I also got to experience the farewell show at the Strand Theatre, which featured different acts from magic to acrobatics. Singing the final song, “We are the World,” at the end with the crowd was such a bittersweet moment as it heralded the curtains closing on the cruise. 

South Africa is really the gift that keeps on giving because when we arrived in Cape Town on the morning of the fourth day, we were greeted by the breathtaking view of Table Mountain.


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