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By Hein Kaiser


Take a Splendida adventure on high seas

Embarking on a cruise across the open seas is actually more affordable than you might initially imagine.

If you ever want to switch off the world, cruising is how to do it. There is something about getting onto a giant ship, feeling it shove off into the deep blue yonder, and having every need taken care of. It’s irresistible, it’s romantic, it’s decadent.

The MSC Splendida will be by far one of the largest and more luxurious cruise ships to sail into Mzansi. It’s due to port at Durban for annual cruising season next month. The ship carries a smidgen over 4 000 people on an 18-level, gigantic floating do not-lift-a-finger-yourself resort. Aboard, there are well over 1 000 staff members who will rush to you with a tissue when you sneeze and fill your drink before you know that it’s half full.

And that is what a holiday should be all about. Once the crew relieve you of your luggage, it’s time to kick back. The MSC Splendida has lounges and bars from forward to aft, all, in different themes and décor. There are poolside retreats for cocktails and sunsets, or when it gets hot and nothing but an ice cold brewski would do the trick? Served, with a smile. That is what makes part of the cruising experience so wonderful: nothing is ever too much trouble for a crew member, and everyone tries to be of assistance, all the time.

Picture: Hein Kaser
Picture: Hein Kaser

Seamless client service amidst high demand

This, despite the staffers having to deal with trip after trip of passenger demands and requests. Think about it: 4 000 passengers times 30 cruises – you do the math. It’s really a feat to up the ante on client service to such an extent that everything is met with a wide grin.

Segue aside, and back to what’s important: sunsets and cocktails. The MSC Splendida has an impressive list of the latter, and while the sun isn’t always out, the indoor pool and sports centre affords some shelter from the weather.

There are whirlpools, a large swimming pool and on the upper deck, table tennis and other fun stuff to do when you’ve had enough of the tan-brush. Unlike some of the previous ships that South Africans cruised on, the MSC Splendida has four pool areas – the undercover, the main deck outside pool, and aft of the ship, another swimming area.

Picture: Hein Kaser
Picture: Hein Kaser

Yacht Club residents have their own private pool area in the forward area. Sometimes, though, all you want to do is stand on one of the many decks, listen to the ship cut through the swells and take in the horizon.

It’s said that water has a calming and regenerative effect on the mind and with an ocean of it around you, even a top-deck cocktail, breeze rushing through your hair, the sun shimmering off a deep blue sea … well, you get the picture.

Cocktails to try are Tunisia (prosecco with vermouth and a bit of chili), the Queen (a gin concoction of the highest yum) and the Aperol Spritz. But the list is extensive and if your cruise is long enough and your liver brave enough, get through the whole menu during your cruise. While the ship can pack a substantial bunch of travellers, it never feels close to the tight fit of a sardine can.

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Picture: Hein Kaser
Picture: Hein Kaser

Culinary extravaganza and fine dining delights

There’s enough to do, enough to not do, for you and your mother-in-law never to cross paths. Dining isn’t just a necessity on a cruise, it’s the Olympics of gluttony.

There’s food available, always. On the MSC Splendida, there are two restaurants for regular cabin dwellers where dinner is served in the usual cruise configuration of two sittings a night, a Yacht Club exclusive dining experience as well as two side-by-side buffet restaurants called Pago-Pago and Bora-Bora.

Here, choosing what to eat can be as intimidating as the load you’d want to pile onto your plate. Because the food is good. Especially the pizza. There are also Thai selections, healthy stuff like salads, and, importantly, a big variety of desserts in between bucket-loads of other options. L’Olivo is the eatery reserved for Yacht Club cruisers.

Its menu comprises about three each of starter, main and dessert options every night, plus some almost always available dishes, like the superb fillet mignon. It’s fine dining every night, paired with wines from around the world. It’s a truly special experience with service akin to some of the finest silver-service restaurants on land.

After dinner there are several entertainment options. The shows in the 12 000-seat capacity theatre are of high entertainment value, a casino, a cigar lounge and, of course, on-board retail therapy with prices that aren’t too bad, not even for an abused South African wallet. The MSC Splendida’s kids’ area is also a massive step up from previous ships that anchored in SA.

Picture: Hein Kaser
Picture: Hein Kaser

Culinary delights and exquisite service

The Lego-themed play area is supervised by minders who go to great effort to entertain kids. It was wonderful watching them in action, and their kind demeanour rests any parent’s heart assured their offspring will be well taken care of while they catch some rays or a massage in the Aura Spa. But, back to the food… There is a restaurant called the Butcher’s Cut.

It will be one of the best steak houses you’ve dine at: meat cooked to absolute perfection, an array of sauces that each have a distinct flavour and character, the chimichurri sauce a must-try.

Picture: Hein Kaser
Picture: Hein Kaser

So, too, a side of creamed corn and jalapeno, a combination that sounds odd, but it tastes deliciously off the wall. This is not a steak and chips kind of place, but a restaurant where Oscar, a waiter from Honduras, explains every dish, the ingredients and the origin. He recommends wines to pair with each course or simply with mains. Do not hesitate to ask for the Argentinian Malbek. It is wine like the gods intended it to be.

The cabins are well appointed and come in various configurations. There are inside cabins with no windows and outside cabins with a balcony. But it’s not as if you’d spend much time in the cabin. There’s stuff to do all the time.

The daily programme can fill a day faster than anyone can say boredom. Cruising is affordable. Consider what a hotel, a guest house or even self-catering accommodation could cost. Then look again at cruising. When you get on board, you’ll be grinning like a Cheshire cat.

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