(11:15 a.m. ET) -- When it comes to picking a sunshine-filled voyage in tropical waters, South Africa doesn’t normally spring to mind -- but it should.
The country's myriad attractions, from jaw-dropping scenery and glorious landscapes to incredible wildlife and fascinating tribal culture. adds up to an intoxicating mix that is ideal to discover by ship, especially as many major attractions are on the coast or within easy reach of it.
Yet, despite such rich and untapped potential, South Africa has yet to hit the mainstream cruise market as few mass market lines offer voyages here.
Norwegian Cruise Line is one of the exceptions, having just finished an inaugural season of sailings in the region with Norwegian Jade , its first ship to homeport in Cape Town during December and January for round-trip departures exploring ports in South Africa and Namibia.
The company plans to follow this next winter by basing sister ship Norwegian Dawn for its "Extraordinary Journeys" itineraries, some of which will also include Mauritius and Madagascar.
Cruise Critic was able to get onboard Norwegian Jade for one of its 12-night Africa sailings last month (January), topped and tailed with an overnight stay in Cape Town.
Here's our verdict on a South Africa cruise on NCL's Norwegian Jade cruise ship:
It was all so easy and welcoming. Arriving from the chill and rain of the Northern Hemisphere winter to endless blue skies, brilliant sunshine and temperatures coasting in deliciously warm 70s and 80s degrees Fahrenheit.
The port is just a 30-minute drive from the airport and slap-bang next to Cape Town's popular Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, which makes this delightful tourist hub a natural for pre- or post-cruise stays.
Sailing out of Cape Town, with Table Mountain framing the horizon made for an unforgettable departure as we cruised eastwards around the Cape of Good Hope to Mossel Bay, an attractive town on the Garden Route -- a beautiful 190-mile stretch of coast that stretches into the Eastern Cape towards Port Elizabeth.
This city, which was renamed Gqeberha in February 2021 (though its former name is still in widespread use) was our stop the following day and was followed by Richards Bay near Durban.
Then Norwegian Jade turned around and retraced its steps during three sea days, swapping the Indian Ocean for the South Atlantic along Africa's western coast to Namibia where it stopped at Luderitz and Walvis Bay before cruising back to Cape Town.
It's worth noting that the sea can get a little choppy -- South Africa's Eastern Cape isn't known as the Wild Coast for nothing, while Namibia's coastline is littered with shipwrecks from centuries past -- but modern ships are well equipped to cope with the strong currents and stiff breezes.
For anyone concerned about South Africa's reputation for crime, exploring the country amid the protected confines of a cruise ship, with organised excursions, offers peace of mind.
The sailings also shield guests from the worst effects of the nation's "load-shedding", countrywide power blackouts that happen every day lasting for several hours, to take pressure off the electricity network.
The biggest attraction has to be the chance to see a line-up of game animals -- elephant, buffalo, zebra, rhino -- roaming wild in their natural habitat. This cruise offered animal excursions at every stop, ranging from trips to the Cape peninsula from Cape Town to spot ostriches and penguins to spying Namibia's wild horses at Luderitz, but taking centre-stage were numerous trips to game reserves.
I would recommend doing at least two such excursions to ensure you get to see the widest variety of animals. The Addo Elephant Park near Port Elizabeth boasts more than 600 of the majestic creatures, which we saw in abundance, while at the Thula Thula game reserve near Richard’s Bay we spotted rhinos, giraffes, but there was no trace of the park’s elephant herd.
Spending a few nights before and/or after the cruise really showcases some of the best of what South Africa has to offer. There are smart hotels in the buzzing V&A Waterfront, which is full of waterside cafes and restaurants, tourist shops selling local crafts and the smart Victoria Wharf shopping mall.
It feels very safe here during the day and into the evening and there's enough to keep visitors occupied for a few days with numerous boat trips, helicopter flightseeing jaunts and the ferry to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned.
There's also the hop-on hop-off city sightseeing bus which follows three routes, including one to Table Mountain where it's definitely worth taking the cable car to the summit, at more than 3,500 feet, for the astounding views.
A short drive from the city are some of the Western Cape's wine regions where tourists can stay at beautiful Cape Dutch-style estates set in breath-takingly pretty countryside of craggy mountains and lush rolling slopes criss-crossed with rows of vines. The university town of Stellenbosch is one of the most famous, and most beautiful, while Franschhoek, settled by French Huguenots in the 17th century, is also renowned for its glorious surroundings and is home to some of South Africa's most famous wine estates.
Set against NCL's larger, modern ships with their roll-call of waterslides, racing tracks and other adrenaline-filled attractions, it's easy to forget the appeal of the smaller, older ships in the fleet.
Yet the 2,402-passenger Norwegian Jade, the second of the line's Jewel-class ships, has an intimate feel that comes from its smaller size, but it still boasts a good selection of dining spots, complimentary and paid-for, and varied entertainment.
Built in 2006, Norwegian Jade's basic design reflects this, though it benefited from a major multi-million pound upgrade in 2017.
More recently, this was followed by a three-week dry dock last summer that saw new carpets and soft furnishing fitted throughout, bringing a more updated ambience.
The most significant changes are to the Stardust Theater, with updated staging and lighting, and the casino where there is a new island bar in the centre, and extra gaming machines.
The atrium has more of an open feel after a partition was taken away to create additional space for a new jewellery boutique called Tides. There is additional seating with two island seats and a jazzy new colour-changing chandelier, and this area has become more of a place to sit and enjoy drinks from the nearby Java coffee bar, listening to the pianist and other musical performers.
The Garden Cafe buffet restaurant has a refreshed modern look and feel thanks to the cream and lime colour scheme, while overlooking the main pool deck is the Pit Stop Bar & Grill, decorated with vintage car licence plates, garage signage and monochrome décor reminiscent of chequered flags.
The lounges have also been updated with the Bliss Ultra Lounge, a popular spot for bands and karaoke, adding more glitz with mirrored pillars and silver ball lights, while disco haunt, the Spinnaker Lounge has a more updated ambience thanks to decorative chandeliers, LED lighting and a dedicated DJ booth.
The staterooms and ensuites still carry the wood panelling from the original design that makes them a little dated, but new soft furnishings, fresh artwork and the welcome addition of USB sockets has given them a lift.
It's a great refurbishment, with the modern additions going a long way to maintaining Norwegian Jade's appeal, combining this ship's cosy ambience with a more up-to-date vibe.