Johannesburg - Ginger and apples. Sounds arbitrary, I know, but according to the maitre d’ at one of the fancier restaurants onboard the MSC Opera, chewing on tiny bits of ginger, or chomping on a fresh apple are sure cures for sea-sickness. Staff on board the Opera reckon that around 10 percent of passengers generally suffer with doses of the dreaded illness, which usually only sets in a good few hours after leaving port.
Personally, I don’t know what the fuss is all about. Unless the weather and ocean get really grumpy the stabilisers on the liner keep things quite steady. In fact I quite enjoy that slight rocking motion at night; I find it helps me sleep.
My partner on the other hand, who, to her credit, did her best to ignore the digestive dilemma wreaking havoc on her balance and appetite, battled a bit.
I realised it was a problem when we were seated overlooking the rear of the ship at dinner on the first night, and she looked liked Jack Sparrow after a litre of rum.
Obviously this is no news for the medical centre on the ship, and they happily issue hard-core medicine and suggest you head up to the top deck for the ongoing party. But if you’re really under the weather they may rush you a few hundred rand for a consultation, so best you take these tablets with you. And seriously, none of those little ones in the happy boxes. Ask for the industrial strength ones at the pharmacy. Or look around for some ginger and apples, which we didn’t try, but apparently work a charm.
Now before we go any further, I want to make it clear that if you want to get all Queen Mary, dress to the nines, and enjoy high tea while Phillip cheats at backgammon, this ship is not for you. The Opera, and I would imagine other ships in the MSC arsenal, are for the young and young-at-heart.
As much as the crew try to at least suggest formality at the carpet-floored restaurants, and that guests adhere to the strict seating times (there are almost 2 000 revellers on the ship), a fair number either rock up in their semi-dry shorts, or dodge anything formal in favour of various 24-hour casual eating options.
I didn’t realise my world record-challenging ability to eat pizza, and the pizza counter on the top deck, which runs 12pm to 12am, probably employed one chef to look after just me. I actually had withdrawal symptoms from the stuff after the cruise, wondering if perhaps I should keep a pizza or two in my fridge at all times as a snack.
Then there’s your fellow cruisers, who it seems sign a pledge in their minds when stepping off terra firma that they will simply eat, drink and be happy. I’ve been on two of these MSC cruises now, and unless they’re putting happy pills in the drinking water I reckon it’s impossible for people to be this chilled for, in this case, three nights.
The crew, it would seem, are only paid a salary if people have a good time. And they keep you on a non-stop programme of revelling, to the extent that you may need a holiday to recover from the holiday if you’re not careful. There’s the welcome party, and the farewell party, and the themed parties, and basically the non-stop party.
Balance is the key, I guess, and to make the most of the experience I strongly suggest you attend the induction talk, which nobody really does as it takes place just after the welcome party. But it’s here that you learn about the various island excursions, the daily programme which is slipped under your cabin door, and a bit about the restaurants and entertainment.
Pool deck parties aside, the main theatre is where you’ll attend the daily shows, and play a bit of bingo. The shows seem to get better night on night, with the final show on the third night having a very Cirque du Soleil feel to it, with proper world-class acts. You have to remember that these artists contend with an unbalanced stage, which makes the balancing and finer acts that much harder.
For the rowdier lot there’s the disco up top, which when the weather turned foul on the second night offered more than suitable respite for the party animals. It also provided a venue for the crew to move the pool deck’s Fire and Ice party to, and you have to wonder where they get the energy.
The Opera has 856 cabins, of which 172 are balcony cabins and 28 are balcony suites. I’d recommend, especially with the Jack Sparrow element, that you spend a little more and have a window, or spoil yourself with a balcony.
If you’ve never been on a cruise before, get used to small rooms but you’ll be surprised at how well the designers use the space.
The highlight, in the case of this three-night itinerary, was the one-day trip to the Portuguese Islands on the second morning. My partner loved the little zodiacs that bullet you from the ship to the island, and once there it gets very postcard. Most South Africans know how clean and warm the oceans in Mozambique are, and it’s no different here. Warm currents run past your legs every now and then, like Neptune opening and closing a hot water tap, and the water is crystal .
Dotted along the beach are shaded areas for you to chill, but for $20 (R200) a pop I suggest the private area with loungers, umbrellas and exclusive bar area. There are various activities on offer from dolphin-watching to snorkelling to getting strapped into a tube and jetted around by a speedboat (because being seasick is fun), but activities are not cheap. Everything is priced in dollars, with snorkelling costing 36 greenbacks, dolphin watching $40, and the five-minute tube rides $16.
While we’re on the subject of costs, the MSC bonus is that from the time you board the ship it’s a free for all in terms of food. I think it’s fact that not a single person leaves lighter than when they boarded, with the four restaurants (some al a carte, some buffet) making sure you have a proper stomach lining to tackle the 11 bars scattered across the various floors.
Where it gets a little tricky is in terms of drinks and other entertainment. You’re not allowed to take your own booze on board, and they scan your bags to ensure the bar staff realise their targets. Unless you stick to the softer stuff, like beer and wine, it can get expensive.
Entertainment in the form of the shows and kids’ activities is free, but naturally you pay to play in the casino or try your luck at bingo. The duty free shops are well stocked, too.
Overall, though, the MSC formula is value for money for families. Where else can you go where kids stay, eat and play for free, with cabins at rates below most mainstream hotel family rooms? - Saturday Star