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Culture on the high seas

Cape Town - When the first few buoyant bars of Bok Radio’s boere best joyfully came bursting forth from the pumping pool deck PA, I knew there’d been a mad mismatch somewhere.

Fully expecting a deep-sea opera cruise coloured by the heady highs of refined Brahms and Beethoven, it turned out that I and half of Potchefstroom had set sail for Mossel Bay for a three-night immersion of AfrikaansTop 40 hits.

THE MSC OPERA: On board its a cashless society and guests are given a cruise card on embarkation, which serves as a room key and  wallet.PARADISE: A tranquil Mauritian refuge.CHILL SPOT: The MSC Sinfonia's Buddha Bar.OLE: Various productions colour the high sea experience.

Alarmed by the sight of a kilometre-long queue of 2 000 of my fellow sun-blasted travellers jostling to board what would be our home for the next three nights (along with the 701-plus crew), I took advantage of priority boarding and headed for a dip in the saltwater pool, followed by what could be the only tranquil getaway for the next few days – the free thermal spa room with a cooking camomile grotto, tropical rain shower and Osman steam room.

Accepting that my nautical adventure would take a different turn than expected, and that I was trapped offshore with a wall-to-wall Afrikaans pop playlist, I softened to the jigs, and by day two had most of the lyrics down pat – cheerily humming along with “Frikkie van der Merwe, hy bly daar op die blou berge...”

On some cruises, wannabe MSC sailors can choose from a variety of themed expeditions. Here dedicated playlists amass medleys to devoted genres – varying from the much-adored Love Jazz Cruise to the sold-out electro Oh Ship! Island Invasion! tour captained by DJs Fresh and Euphonik.

While fellow party animals have stepped aboard for the bash of their lives, listening to the likes of Richard Ceasar playing George Benson, or Vernon Castle singing Al Jareau, there are also features like next week’s Oppiwater Kunstefees. So, a critical consideration when booking your ultimate overnighter is to choose your getaway carefully to suit your taste. This can’t be overstated.

Venturing out from my fabulous balcony suite to the Debussy Deck’s busy pool area (clearly HQ central), my Bok Radio getaway made for a mesmerising sociological study. There confident souls paraded with ballooning boeps, sucking hard on ciggies while slugging back impressive double tots. South Africans really are a sturdy bunch. Besides awesome vistas of a tranquil ocean stretching to infinity, one of my most memorable social sightings was of a pyramid of a woman bulging out of bikini top and hot pants, cigarette in one hand, blue cocktail in the other, peacefully anchored right under a heaving speaker just about ready to blow. But for this merrymaker, it was almost like a meditational space.

Most people were up for a good time. With the enthusiastic crowds fuelled on by trays of colourful cocktails, everyone stepped out for some serious country-dance moves. Night one saw punters hell-bent on enjoying themselves and festivities picked up into the wee hours. Come breakfast, a few solitary souls were still going at it hard. One bleary–eyed bloke, shot in each hand, was berating the exchange rate and how his triple shots had cost much of his hard-earned salary.

For solitary types needing solo downtime, escaping to a silent retreat has its challenges. Best bets are your cabin, the spa’s relaxation room or upstairs on the bow – Titanic style.

Disappointingly, all live music was propped up with backing tracks. Think Mama Thembu’s Wedding paired with a basic backbeat. The stand-out was the voice of Charmaine Daries from the band Just Us in Cape Town. She appeared with Ikeraam Rhode in Duo Charms.

Cabaret-type acts ranged from Fabulous, a variety show paying homage to Broadway stars, Fantasticats with the Sinfonia dancers and Night of Illusion at Teatro San Carlo. Let’s not forget the Noot vir Noot game show, plus Unforgettable by Eston and Azzurro in the Buddha Bar, a Fire & Ice Party in the Capri Bar and country and pop by Stefano and Lorenzo in Shelagh’s House.

Sociable types could also get into the groove at a Sail-Away Party, or upskill their dance skills trying out mambo, meringue or cha cha cha classes.

The Sinfonia offers a range of onboard facilities – from a gym to minigolf, a shopping area, bingo and San Remo Casino. Pampering at the MSC Aurea Spa includes Balinese, candle or volcanic-rock massages, plus time in Turkish baths and saunas.

An interview blitz with fellow passengers revealed that most were actually from Cape Town, and that they were having a blast.

When asked why they chose this cruise, responses ranged from access to a quick, short getaway, to quality family time, to a value-for-money experience, to celebratory events (birthdays/anniversaries).

Aspects they most enjoyed were the food, the party atmosphere, the dancing, “everything”, and the cocktails.

At arrivederci (farewell) time, taking stock, my ultimate blissful high was witnessing tranquil ocean sunrises, much like being in a still in the Life of Pi. All in all, a bit of heaven, and hell.

see www.msccruises.co.za

If You Go...

In 2014/15 only the MSC Opera will visit our shores.

DESTINATIONS

PORTUGUESE ISLAND. A protected island paradise with unspoilt beaches. As the ship’s chef prepares a beach braai, quench your thirst at an island bar. Optional excursions are snorkelling and sea kayaking.

MAPUTO. Mozambique’s sprawling capital has a cosmopolitan Portuguese/ African atmosphere. It offers shopping at markets and restaurants serving prawns and peri-peri chicken.

BARRA LODGE. Barra Peninsula is bordered by groves of coconut trees along a pristine coastline. The area has scuba diving, snorkelling and restaurants offering traditional Mozambique cuisine. Nearby Inhambane has much to excite historians and nature lovers.

MADAGASCAR. Anakao is a quaint fishing village with a soft, white sand beach. Colonial Fort Dauphin is gateway to a host of excursions including Andohahela National Park.

MAURITIUS. A peaceful oasis –with palm-fringed beaches, sightseeing, shopping and dining options.

REUNION. An island of geographical contrasts with volcanos, black sandy beaches, shops and fine restaurants.

NAMIBIA. Lüderitz offers colonial and German art nouveau architecture, penguins, sharks and seals in coastal waters and a nearby ghost town.

PROMOTIONS

KIDS CRUISE FREE. Up to two kids under 18 in the same cabin as their parents, travel free, paying only mandatory charges.

HAPPY FAMILY. Choose an interconnecting cabin if travelling with two kids under 18. Each child pays 50 percent of current adult fare for second cabin.

TANDEM. Give your kids the luxury of their own cabin at a special price.

ALL IN ONE. Share a cabin with up to three kids under 18.

EXTEND YOUR CRUISE. Book two consecutive cruises and get a 10 percent discount on fares of the second cruise. Valid for three-night itineraries.

YOUNG & YOUNG. If all passengers in the same cabin are 18 –to 29, you’re eligible for a discount per cabin.

SENIOR CLUB. If you are over 60, you can snap up a senior discount.

SOLO FARES. If you’re travelling alone, you can enjoy the luxury of having a whole cabin to yourself. A surcharge from 50 percent will be applied to current fares.

CELEBRATION FARES. Ask about honeymooner and 25th and 50th anniversary offers.

FARES

BOOK EARLY: Plan ahead to secure a saving of up to 40 percent.

BEST PRICE. Look for the lowest price of the day. MSC Cruises offer dynamic pricing, so an offer guarantees the best available price at the time you book.

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