PICS AND VIDEO: Sailing the MSC Orchestra to Pomene is one big party
The engines of the MSC Orchestra rumbled to life as the impressive cruise liner slowly made its way out of the N-Shed Passenger Terminal at the Durban Harbour.
This signalled to the nearly 3 000 people on board that their four-day cruise was about to officially begin.
Not that it mattered much as some guests on board had already been in party mode for at least five hours by the time the Orchestra left the harbour at 3pm.
On the top deck, a party is in full swing. People are swimming in the two pools, they are lazing around in the four jacuzzis and there is an endless stream of revellers at the bars buying everything from cocktails and beers to cooldrinks and ice-creams.
We are at the beginning of a four-day cruise to the island of Pomene in Mozambique and the atmosphere is electric.
Earlier, we had lined up in fast-moving queues to board the Orchestra. With the spectre of the novel coronavirus hanging over the global travel industry, we were asked to fill out a mandatory health questionnaire.
Have you or any person travelling with you travelled from or through China, including Hong Kong or Macau, in the last 30 days?
Have you or any person travelling with you been in close contact with any person who is under investigation or treatment for 2019-nCov?
In the last 14 days have you or any person travelling with you had a fever or symptoms of lower respiratory illness for example Cough or Shortness of Breath?
If one answered no to all these questions you were good to go.
As an added precaution, however, thermal imaging cameras were used to ensure that passengers boarding the ship did not have unusually high temperatures.
Welcome to the global traveller’s new experience as the coronavirus continues to spread world-wide unabated.
A balcony room on the MSC Orchestra. Picture: Lee Rondganger
As the Orchestra slowly navigated its way out of the harbour and the Durban skyline faded away in the distance, cellphones and cameras captured the breathtaking moment.
In the several restaurants on the deck-level that catered for every palate including Halal, Kosher and vegetarian eaters, people piled their plates with burgers, chips, hot-dogs, pizzas, pastas and curries. Sometimes all of the above in one go.
As the younger crowd partied on the 13th-floor deck, cocktails and beers in hand, an older crowd settled into the lounges on level 5,6 and 7 where live entertainers performed music from yesteryear.
Once you get to the island of Pomene in Mozambique, guests can wander through the local market and explore a variety of goods on sale. Picture: Lee Rondganger
Wandering through the Orchestra, you cannot but think of it as a floating city.
A couple getting married, others were on honeymoon, some were celebrating anniversaries and birthdays. The well-heeled were shopping in the high-end boutique stores that sold jewellery, watches and clothing.
People spent their time sipping coffee in the morning and in the evening gentlemen retired to the cigar lounge to explore its offering. This while teenagers mingled in the teen room and children played with gay abandon in the well-equipped children’s area.
Within a few short hours, the melting pot of life had transformed the MSC Orchestra into a vibrant, multi-cultural city on the sea.
When night fell the city on the sea once again morphed. Guests dressed up a little, donning ball gowns and suits for three-course dinners.
The view from the balcony of the MSC Orchestra as it leaves the Durban Harbour. Video: Lee Rondganger.
It is at night when the theatre comes alive too, with a variety of shows. The lounges are filled with laughter and entertainment while the bright lights of the casino on deck 7 draw punters like moths to a flame.
For the young at heart, the top deck is the place to party at night, especially after 11.30pm when the R32 night club opens and the dance floor gives way to revellers of all shapes, sizes and hues.
After a full day of sailing at sea, we arrive at Pomene island early on Wednesday.
The view of the majestic MSC Orchestra from the ferry boats as it makes it way back to the ship after a day on Pomene. Picture: Lee Rondganger
Eager to get onto the island, people were divided into groups for times of departure on ferry boats.
Carrying around 50 people at time, the boats thundered through the waves and onto Pomene island, spilling people onto the golden sands.
The boats streamed from the ship which anchored off the island that provided a beautiful backdrop.
The island is a holiday-maker's paradise.
This little exclusive beach has been established by MSC who have installed loungers, built two pools and bars that have been elevated on wooden decks.
No attention to detail is spared as they have even built a playground for children on the islands for their guests.
As Pomene islands swelled with people from the city on the sea, the languages of isiZulu, Afrikaans, Sotho, Xhosa and English filled the beach.
If it were not for the uniformed policemen who patrolled the beach - a visible reminder that this is Mozambican soil - one might have been forgiven to think that you were in South Africa.
On the island, the drinks flowed and countless Instagram worthy selfies were taken as South Africa’s rich, upwardly mobile, retirees and aspirational rubbed shoulders and took over.
By 3.30pm people had to make their way back onto the ship.
A ferry boat thunders through the waters as it makes its way to Pomene island from the MSC Orchestra. Video: Lee Rondganger
It was another day and a half of sailing back to Durban which allowed guests on board the opportunity to eat, drink, play and shop.
"It seems this is all we do," a first time guest said. "We just eat and drink."
Put into perspective, on a journey to Pomene, the MSC will serve over 10 000 meals, over 6 000 litres of beer is consumed while over 15 000 litres of soft drink is drunk.
This is all made possible by the 956 crew on board that ensure that every need of their guests are catered for.
Looking after all the guests is no easy feat, but the staff of the MSC Orchestra do it with ease. Everything works with military precision from when meals are served to when passengers embark and disembark.
For example, it takes just 90 minutes for the staff to disembark more than 3 000 passengers once it arrives back in Durban. And no sooner has the last person left when people start queuing for the next trip.
The MSC cruise season in South Africa starts in November and ends in April. So popular has cruising become in the country that the MSC has decided to add a second cruise liner to the South African season in 2020/21.
The MSC Musica will be based in Durban doing trips to Mozambique’s Portuguese Islands and Pomene - and the very popular New Year’s trip to Seychelles, Madagascar and Mauritius - while the MSC Orchestra will operate out of Cape Town, cruising the west coast to Namibia.
If the numbers on this cruise were anything to go by, South Africans have embraced what social media influencers call the #cruiselife.
And it is no wonder.
As Eric Brouman, the entertainment director of the MSC Orchestra said, “It is basically a 5 star floating hotel."