Sea-ing is believing

2009-11-21 00:00

THE finest floating hotel to see South African shores has docked for the first time in the port of Durban and is already booked out for much of November and December. The MSC Sinfonia is here to play and it takes its business of doing so very seriously.

The nine-storey cruise vessel comes standard with great resources of luxury, supplies of fine cuisine and hordes of entertainers ready to knock the socks off guests.

To show their intent on providing a cornucopia of indulgence, the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) and Starlight Cruises hosted media and tourism practitioners to get a feel for life on board and to be a part of the crest exchange ceremony between the ship and the port authorities.

Finding myself in the finest of living quarters, complete with a lounge and balcony overlooking Durban harbour, I would have to recommend that this is the only way to travel. It comes with a high price tag, but it’s definitely worth while. There are smaller cabins, some that have no windows, if you want to save a little.

Taking a peek around the 2 100-passenger-capacity ship, I found the business section quite intriguing. With its luxurious lecture theatre, a corporate boardroom and added workspace, the concept of taking business partners for a weekend “bosberaad” sounds ideal.

For families, the Sinfonia is also a great idea for a holiday to one of the many destinations, which include Madagascar and Mauritius. With packages that let children under the age of 18 on board for free, there are countless venues to keep them entertained. These include a children’s play area, a nightclub for teens and sporting facilities on the deck.

Cruise packages come with free meals, which is a bad thing if you want to remain on the skinny side. As cruise director Stephen Cloete said, “You come on board as guests; you leave as freight.”

However, there is a well appointed gym and spa on board, which, if used in balance with overindulgence, might temper the freight side of life.

The dinner experience at Il Covo restaurant was something to write home about. I had smoked marlin starters, which I revelled in, because my brother had caught one in Kenya a month before and had to release it; and swordfish for mains, which really was delicious. The vegetarian fare was nothing to write home about, unfortunately.

Entertainment on the MSC Sinfonia is like being at an arts festival on steroids. The international revue show at the San Carlo Theatre was a spectacle to behold, with ta­lented Spanish juggler Angel Egea’s use of footballs prompting Cloete to call him up for Bafana action. That’s if comedian Cloete ever replaces renewed coach Carlos Parreira.

Every night has a different show when embarking on a longer journey — ours didn’t so much as reverse out the parking bay — and includes Ukrainian aerial acrobat Alyona Dakhnovskaya and English magician Craig Christian. Let’s not mention the feisty Glamour Dancers, with their Las Vegas attire enchanting many an audience member.

Luckily for a poor gambler such as I, who have never really cracked the roulette table, the casino was closed for business during our preview, but I’m sure it will be keeping many customers delighted, until the house wins.

What wasn’t closed were the numerous bars and clubs and their never-ending supply of piña coladas, Jägermeisters and its evil stepsister Red Bull. These I can recommend, way into the wee hours of the morning.

The top deck of the ship, modelled on a water theme park, was host to Tokyo Groove, a reggae outfit from Jo’burg who knew how to lure the late-night audience fresh from a Springbok defeat, both in national anthem singing and rugby.

As infamous as Ras Dumisani has become after his Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika rendition, Tokyo Groove lead singer Sangoma is famous due to his band’s number one status for five weeks on the Homebrew Top 10.

Even Sinfonia Captain Ciro Pinto got into the groove. Pinto, who has come to think of South Africa as a second home after some 30 years of regular sailing off its shores, was about to embark on his maiden voyage with the Sinfonia the following morning and was revelling in the evening with his “new baby”.

He was also keeping a close eye on his crewmen, who were getting jiggy on the dance floor with young Durbanites attempting to notch a seaman on their belts. They failed.

Partying on board were the gla­mourous Idols presenter, Liezl van der Westhuizen, and Spud author John van der Ruit, who was embarking on a two day-cruise with All Access cameramen filming his time on the boat.

The party continued in Pasha Club Disko, where I started having flashbacks to my Contiki tour of Italy.

Indeed, the Sinfonia seems to have brought the whole Italian way of life with them. So much so that even the service has a distinct Italian flavour to it.

There were definitely some irritable customers later in the evening, who seemed peeved at not getting their service promptly and with a smile. One feels a better grasp of the Italian language and culture might come into good use on board the ship.

The Sinfonia is sure to keep many sun-seeking travellers in their element over the next few years. The only concern was the language barrier and poor service over breakfast.

Get that ironed out, Captain Pinto, and your ship will be perfect.


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