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By Brendan Seery

Deputy Editor

MSC Cruises – Off to have a splendid time

Feel the call of the ocean.

You’d think that, with your company dominating the South Africa ocean cruise market, you’d be looking at other lines as your main competition.

But Ross Volk, managing director of MSC Cruises SA, believes the company’s biggest competitors are other local holiday options.

“Yes, we’re competing with other cruise liners, but we’re also competing with a trip to the bush, or to the beach, anywhere people might spend their money relaxing and having fun.”

Relaxing and having fun is the very essence of a cruise and for decades, MSC Cruises has been the go-to choice for South Africans who want to experience the carefree life on board a cruise liner.

Picture: Victoria Balabaeva
Picture: Victoria Balabaeva

Challenges and prospects for MSC Cruises and the travel industry

Life has been tough for MSC Cruises in South Africa – but also for the cruise industry globally, thanks to Covid.

“For a long time there was no cruising at all and MSC Cruises was one of the first to resume operations – with ‘voyages to nowhere’ around the Mediterranean in the second half of 2020.”

The trips were literally going nowhere from their base in Italy because so many ports were closed to cruise ships at that time, says Volk.

Cruising, and travel generally, is picking up again – although it does vary from area to area.

“The Americans are queuing up to go travelling again, but the recovery is slower in some markets,” he adds.

In SA, we were first battered by Covid and then the economy was further tortured by the ongoing decline of the rand against major currencies, as well as load shedding and political instability.

“People are almost gun shy – they are wary about spending money in this current climate and travel is one of the first areas where people are cautious about committing themselves.”

PERSONAL BUTLER. MSC Splendida’s Yacht Club. Picture: Victoria Balabaeva
PERSONAL BUTLER. MSC Splendida’s Yacht Club. Picture: Victoria Balabaeva

Unpacking once and letting MSC Cruises take care of the rest

One of the attractions of a cruise like those offered by MSC Cruises, both here and abroad, is that just about everything, with the exception of your drinks, is included.

“When you start adding up the costs of a holiday – transport, food, entertainment – then it can seem never ending. On a cruise most of that is taken care of.”

Volk acknowledges there is criticism of drinks packages on cruise lines and the collapse of the rand, coupled with spiralling inflation, don’t make it any easier for cruise operators.

However, he says MSC Cruises is working on a package which could “take a lot of the sting out of that … we will be announcing the details shortly”.

Apart from the peace of mind of knowing the major expenses are taken care of up front, cruising is so relaxing because “you unpack once and you move around without stress. Everything is there and you don’t have to think about it”.

That is one of the major attractions of some of the cruises the company does around the world, especially for South Africans who might be intimidated by the idea of arranging their own itineraries, transport and food in foreign countries where they may not even speak the language.

Picture: Victoria Balabaeva
Picture: Victoria Balabaeva

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MSC Cruises’ appeal to South African travelers

MSC Cruises SA has seen a growth in business from those South Africans who have got their “sea legs” on one of the line’s local cruises, such as the hugely popular one up the Mozambique Channel from Durban.

“People have seen what we can offer, they’ve enjoyed themselves and they trust us when they want to go further afield,” he notes.

What appeals to local customers, says Volk, is the sense that they are “getting a luxury experience for an affordable price”.

In particular, the dining experiences aboard surprise many who don’t expect such variety and quality or the different dining options, from casual to formal.

The food, presentation and service are well up to top-rated restaurants ashore, which means that people can feel they are spoiling themselves. Another characteristic of the MSC local cruises is that “people really get on so well together”.

South Africans, of whatever background, like to relax, let their hair down occasionally and enjoy themselves.

Certain cruises, though, have special focus, which is often around music and, generally speaking, places such as these are in demand by fans.

MSC Cruises, says Volk, is “justifiably proud of the fact that our ships are inclusive places where everybody is equal and gets the same first-class attention”.

Talking about first class, Volk reveals that when the company’s 140 000-ton MSC Splendida arrives for the 2023-2024 season, it will, for the first time, offer MSC’s exclusive Yacht Club premium offering.

BLESSINGS. MSC Splendida is christened. Picture: Victoria Balabaeva
BLESSINGS. MSC Splendida is christened. Picture: Victoria Balabaeva

MSC splendida’s unforgettable voyage

This offers first class accommodation and amenities, which includes the use of a butler dedicated to each cabin.

Volk says MSC Yacht Club concept is very popular in Europe and he believes it will start to take off in South Africa, “once more people get to know about it…”

He says that, by the end of this year, local cruising will be back in full swing again and the company is going all-out to promote its offerings.

“I’m very positive because cruising offers very good value for money and, even when times are tough, that good value is very attractive … and, of course, so many people just want to sail away and leave their troubles ashore.”

Eco-ship MSC Splendida aims to carry you in stylish luxury to the most desirable cruise destinations in the world, while being a beautiful destination in her own right.

There’s live music and the extraordinary variety of designer themed bars and restaurants with many gourmet choices to explore, from authentic Mediterranean specialities to American steakhouse beef cuts.

Complete the night with a world-class show in The Strand Theatre, a winning streak in the Royal Palm Casino or dancing in the Club 33 Disco.

There’s also a vast array of sports facilities including four swimming pools, a jogging track, squash court and ultramodern gym.

Picture: Victoria Balabaeva
Picture: Victoria Balabaeva

MSC splendida’s MSC Aurea Spa and MSC Yacht Club experience

After your exertions, you can relax in the MSC Aurea Spa with pampering Balinese massages, thalassotherapy, advanced beauty treatments, a Turkish bath, sauna, whirlpool and solarium.

Or sunbathe in the peace and privacy of the Top 18 sun deck, offering stunning sea views, its own dedicated spa service and bar menu with complimentary fruit skewers.

Kids and teens can also enjoy fabulous facilities and clubs of their own.

Nestling in the prestigious foredecks, there’s the exclusive MSC Yacht Club, a luxurious ship-within-a-ship with 71 suites with its own concierge reception, 24-hour butler service, private Top Sail lounge, pool deck and bar.

The MSC Splendida will be operating in Southern African waters for the 2023-2024 season.

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