In October 2016 my daughter and son-in-law told us about their intended cruise in October 2017 - they investigated the different options, but soon found that the southbound cruise (Venice to Durban, South Africa) offers the best value for money. We were intrigued and immediately started planning towards our once-in-a-lifetime cruise vacation!
Being practically virgin travelers (we only did a few 3 and 4 night cruises from Durban previously and were never overseas as a family) we made a few mistakes in planning our trip. The major mistake was making use of a South African travel agency. Although we received excellent service, they could not assist us - as Namibians - in specific visa queries.
We decided - as embarkation would be on a Saturday - that we would take an extra week's vacation to visit Italy. This was our second 'mistake' - as Italy has no embassy in Namibia and we would have had to travel to Pretoria to obtain our Schengen Visa, had it not been that the Italian Embassy in Pretoria visited their Consulate at the beginning of August. Although we saved a lot on airplane tickets, by waiting for the embassy to come to Windhoek we were stretched for time to obtain our Israel and Jordan visas. In the end we received our passports (without success with the Jordan visas) less than 24 hours prior to our flight - an unnecessary stressful situation!
However, we had a wonderful six days in Italy prior to our cruise. We spent two nights each in Rome, Florence and Venice and thanks to extensive planning we had the most wonderful time and memories to last a lifetime. We managed to visit the highlights in each city and even paid a visit to Pisa and Volterra.
Embarkation in Venice was somewhat confusing at first. In hindsight I am convinced that it was due to the many different nationalities and as soon as everyone understood the numbers in which embarkation took place, everything went smoothly. Because it was such a long cruise we did not experience the usual congestion at the guest relations desk because there was ample time to register your credit card later. We were able to visit our cabins immediately to collect our cruise cards and make use of the bar facilities while the remaining guests were still embarking.
We planned our cruise in great detail. We made use of various packages: the all-inclusive drinks package proved to be our best decision as we have enjoyed a large variety of cocktails, wines, beers, specialty coffees and ice cream. We purchased a spa package which included a Bali massage that we all enjoyed but in the end we made very little use of the spa facilities. The laundry packages worked out well and the internet package enabled us to make contact with our family and friends at home - we could send pictures of our ongoing trip and could join in the celebrations on the day my son got engaged back home while we were in Jordan. Although MSC warned us that we could be without internet connection for a few days while at sea, it was kept to a minimum and we could connect whenever it was necessary. My children also purchased a photo package but have no idea what to do with their 100 enlargements now! (Only joking!)
From the start we decided to do a shore excursion in every port because we were going to visit countries where we never were before and very likely will never visit again. We planned to accommodate most of our different needs into one shared excursion per port and everyone of them was very well organized. The excursions which included lunch were of a very high standard and we really enjoyed the different cultures portrayed through their meals.
Due to engine problems we lost a few hours at sea and our Mauritius excursion was two hours shorter than planned. Although we were refunded a percentage of the excursion, we were very disappointed because the one facet of the tour we looked forward to the most, could not occur.
Although we went on the cruise without our Jordan visa, the excursion desk was extremely helpful. They were able to establish that we really did apply and pay for the visa and therefore Jordan granted us a visa and we could visit Petra - an absolute highlight of the cruise! (Thanks again, Joline!)
Both couples decided on the Fantastica experience - we booked a seaside cabin and our children an inside cabin and we were equally satisfied. We were also extremely satisfied with the outstanding service rendered by our cabin stewards. We experienced overall friendly and efficient service. All employees seemed satisfied - some of them were nearing the end of their contracts and were looking forward to visit their families and homes, but most of them already planned to return for their next contracts.
With the wonderful weather we have experienced, sunbeds were often not enough - at least not in the shade. However we realized that we should get up earlier in the mornings or otherwise just be happy to sit at the various tables - no problem there!
We tried a variety of meal options: once we had breakfast delivered to our cabin, a few times we opted for the breakfast in the bistro. Dinner was a variety of carefully prepared restaurant meals (fine dining) and the buffet restaurant. Sometimes we even had hamburgers, pasta and pizzas - and we were very seldom unsatisfied!
Shopping on board was probably too inviting - the shops and displays were a feast for the eyes and with regular special offers also a huge temptation!
The average age of the travelers was 70 - which made us (in our fifties, and my children in their early thirties) the youngsters! It was a very relaxing trip but still with so many opportunities to participate in activities, which we never even did. We spent hours in the swimming pool and had numerous conversations with mostly fellow Afrikaans-speaking guests.
The various theater shows were of outstanding quality. We enjoyed the company dancers and performers and were especially impressed with the opera group.
Disembarkation in Durban was smooth and efficient and we made use of the MSC shuttle service to the airport.
I can recommend the southbound cruise without any reservations!
I was impressed by the amount of cupboards and storage space in the cabin as well as the neatness and regular daily services.