New darling of Indian Ocean cruising to our shores
This is the cruise ship MSC Musica, which is replacing an old favourite and visitor to South Africa and Durban for the past nine years, MSC Sinfonia. The reason for changing the ship is to make cruising available to an even greater number of passengers.
MSC Musica has a capacity of 3223 passengers, compared with 2679 for MSC Sinfonia. The 92409-gt MSC Musica is 294m long and 32m wide, whereas the 58174-gt MSC Sinfonia in her stretched rebuild is 251m long by 28.8m wide. Sinfonia has just over 700 crew members while Musica employs almost a thousand.
Obviously MSC Musica also boasts more pubs and lounges, restaurants, more swimming pools, more balcony cabins, more areas of entertainment - and importantly, more space.
When Musica departs from Venice on Sunday, October 14, she will head first to Brindisi, an Italian port. Then she sails to Heraklion in Crete, before heading for a Suez Canal crossing followed by visits to Eilat in Israel and Aqaba in Jordan. Both offer differing histories and different attractions.
Leaving Aqaba the ship heads down the Red Sea and through the Gulf of Aden for seven days of non-stop cruising at sea, before reaching the Seychelles on October 29. Another two days at sea brings the ship into our own area of familiarity, Port Louis in Mauritius, for an overnight stay (two days to explore November 1-2) then sailing to nearby Reunion on November 3.
From Reunion it’s another three days at sea before MSC Musica sails into Durban harbour on November 7 - after 24 nights on board during the ship’s repositioning to South Africa for the summer season.
According to MSC Cruises South Africa managing director Ross Volk, MSC Musica’s arrival in Durban is an indication of South Africa’s growing desire for local cruises.
“South Africans fell in love with MSC Sinfonia. She enchanted many of her guests into coming back for more and played hostess to countless symbolic wedding ceremonies, honeymoons, anniversaries, and vow renewals as well as glamorous events, high-stakes charity auctions, and unforgettable corporate functions.”
Volk said MSC Cruises will leave South African cruise fans awe-struck. “We have no doubt that MSC Musica will very quickly become their new darling of the Indian Ocean.
“Her first cruise in our 2018-2019 season is a four-night cruise with both Portuguese Island and Pomene Bay on the itinerary,” Volk said.
The emphasis from Durban this summer is going to be the three- and four-night cruises to Portuguese island and to Pomene - the latter is MSC’s own hard-to-get-to resort some 600km further north. But a drawback to both of these is the possibility of not going ashore when sea conditions are unsuitable, particularly at Pomene.
That has certainly been my personal experience with both venues, though no doubt MSC will point out the incidents of this are not high.
It is a great pity, however, that the cruise to Mozambique Island in the north of Mozambique appears to have been canned, at least for this season. This historic destination provided a more sheltered mooring and a visit to a Unesco World Heritage Centre, including the inspiring San Sebastian fort - the tiny island paradise that time forgot, as the UK’s Daily Telegraph once described it.
The coming summer cruise season is not all about MSC Musica, however. Although the list is not complete, and further bookings or announcements are likely, Durban and Richards Bay will play host once again to an attractive array of cruise ships.
What is significant is an increasing number of other cruise lines that are only visiting South African ports as part of general cruises, but are stopping over for several cruises along the southern African coast.
This trend began to manifest in the last summer and even more lines are now taking an interest in South Africa as a destination, which means real growth in the local cruise market that is likely to intensify once the Durban cruise terminal has been built.
Work on this is expected to commence early next year.
So far at least 14 other cruise ships will come visiting our port and several more may still be announced. This is an increase on previous years and promises well for the future of this industry - an important cog in the wheel of tourism in these parts.