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Food & Travel: Cruising into 2011

Dusty Miller

AGAINST many professional pundits’ predictions, possibly provoked by the global economic downturn, ocean cruising is still one of the strongest sections of the international travel industry and southern Africa is reasonably well served with affordable sea voyages during the northern hemisphere’s continuing biting winter.

The MV Melody of Mediterranean Shipping Company arrived in Cape Town last Saturday for a month’s sailing from the “Mother City,” after which she will re-position to Durban to join her sister ship, the MV Sinfonia.

Many of the two cruise ships’ voyages will be relatively economical short South African coastal trips, plus visits to Mozambique, Namibia and “nowhere journeys” just restfully cruising the warm Indian Ocean, enjoying magnificent Italian cuisine, fine wine, entertainment, wonderful sunsets and sunrises, good companionship and excellent weather.

I recently immensely enjoyed a whistle-stop three night trip on the Sinfonia from a spruced-up, post-World Cup soccer Durban, to Portuguese Island off Maputo, the Mozambique capital. Incredibly, similar vacations listed in the company’s cruise catalogue start at the Rand equivalent of just US$220.

And for last minute bookings of previously unsold state-rooms (“distressed inventory”) as the trade calls it, I happen to know discounts of up to 30% off quoted South African prices can often be available to landlocked Zimbabweans, Zambians and folk from Botswana. (Speak to local agents, Fulela Dreams, of Avondale, who recently took over Mitchell Cotts Travel.)

Fulela are also agents in this part of the world for Royal Caribbean International ships and I was fortunate enough to be invited by them to try what I think is a new venture featuring seven night cruises from Dubai, visiting ritzy-glitzy duty-free ports in the United Arab Emirates, plus breathtaking Mutra Harbour in the ancient slave-trading capital Muscat, in Oman, seeing much of the maritime Middle East.

This happens (in my case) early in February, but sailing on the Radiance-class Brilliance of the Seas began on January 12 and continues until April 12. Radiance-class ships are 293 metres long, with gross tonnage of 90 090 tonnes. They whisk 2 501 passengers (“guests” is the new word!) and 859 crew through the sea at up to 25 knots (46,3kph.)

I was a bit worried about my Persian Gulf voyage as, while lying on a beach on Egypt’s Red Sea, recently, I heard the BBC World Service say she’d taken a pasting in enormously — and unusually –– heavy seas just off  Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt and was high-tailing it back to Europe for repairs.

Thankfully, everything must have been OK, because the monster 13-deck floating city of a ship was on station at Dubai for the first of this season’s Emirates cruises on January 12.

I suspect the upcoming voyage may be filled with déjà vu, as I sailed on her big sister ship Independence of the Seas (then the world’s largest cruise liner) from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to two ports in Mexico and the former capital city of Belize (ex-British Honduras) a couple of years ago.

(Independence has a displacement of 160 000 tonnes and carries 3 634 guests served by a crew of 1 356, but she and her twins Liberty of the Seas and Freedom of the Seas have been dwarfed by Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas.)

Launched in December 2009 and November 2010, respectively, these virtual leviathans weigh-in at 220 000 tonnes apiece, each carry 5 402 passengers with 2 115 crew.

So you can see there are an awful lot of cruise-line cabins (sorry, “staterooms”!) around, which take an awful lot of filling/selling in a recession.

But sold they are, with owners and agents offering grand bargains.

Further displaying confidence of ship owners in the future of cruising in particular, leisure in general, comes the following news:

Disney Dream, the new flagship of the Walt Disney fleet has arrived in her home base, Port Canaveral, Florida, from the German builder’s yard and has her maiden voyage, to The Bahamas, on January 26. With a displacement of 128 000 tonnes, she will carry 4 000 passengers and has a mini nine-hole golf course on board.

Carnival Magic makes her official debut on May 1, sailing from Barcelona, Spain with 3 690 passengers.

Costa Favoloso will make her maiden voyage on July 4. She will carry 3 000 passengers, has a 114 000 tonne displacement and features a poolside 4-D (not 3-D!) cinema and Formula 1 driving simulator.

Seaborn Quest, much more sedate and blue-chip rather than blue-collar makes her official debut on June 20, sailing from Barcelona. She carries just 450 passengers and displaces 32 000 tonnes and will probably be as expensive as she is exclusive. She “boasts” if that is the right word, she’s the first ship to offer a “grill-your-own-dinner facility” on the ship’s on-deck Lawn Club. (That will be a dear braai!)

Celebrity Silhouette makes her maiden voyage, from Hamburg to Rome, on July 23, carrying 2 850 passengers in her German-built 122 000 tonnes.

Meanwhile, nearer home, the Zambezi Trader is plying Kariba, our own inland sea, offering 50 overnight passengers or 150 day-trippers a memorable experience. She displaces 200 tonnes!

And competitors in the recent Siavonga Tiger Fishing Tournament in Zambia over the holidays saw the previously Zimbabwean-owned Southern Belle steaming away from the tiny Zambian harbour.

After a major refurb, she is now owned and operated by Protea Hotels of Zambia, after being auctioned here in a bankruptcy case.


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