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Review: MSC Musica Durban to Portuguese Island

We booked a cruise from Durban, in South Africa, to Portuguese Island; a tiny uninhabited island in the Bay of Maputo, some 7km in circumference.

We caught a Kulula flight from Johannesburg to Durban, landing at 10h00 on the morning of our cruise. It was a bit of a risk, as if the flight was overly delayed we may have missed our cruise - best advice is to fly into your port city the night before the cruise and stay at a hotel close to the embarkation point; thereby almost certainly climbing onto the ship on time.We booked a transfer bus from King Shaka International Airport to Durban Harbour with Dreamweaver Holdings (the company MSC Cruises uses). There is also the option of parking your vehicle at Durban Harbour on a first come first served basis; and paid for onboard.

The transfer bus to the harbour left a bit late, due to the Musica arriving late in Durban because of strong winds - the first task of the days for the buses was to move disembarking passengers from the previous cruise from the harbour to the airport. Traffic at Durban harbour was heavily congested, and it took about half an hour to drive the last kilometre.

We had purchased Easy Onboard and swiftly passed the queues to get to immigration; where we provided unabridged birth certificates for the children to board (a special South African requirement). There was a slight hard sell of drinks coupons, with a crew member urging us to buy more, as there were only a limited number available on the ship. Once on board, we made it just in the nick of time to eat in the restaurant on the 5th floor, at 13h30.

Portuguese Island

Portuguese Island is a marine sanctuary; and MSC Cruises has built the only structure on the island, a non-permanent structure made of wood, called the "MSC Beach Club", and for the exclusive use of MSC Cruises.

Panoramic of the MSC Beach Club on Portuguese Island, taken whilst standing in the sea water in front of it

It is worth it to get to the island as early as possible, as this allows one to choose the best spot to sit in the structure - in my opinion this is at the palm bar area, which has cushions on the seats and overlooks the beach. The barman at the bar were friendly, enjoying joking around about their "sex on the beach" drink, and sent our son on a "mission" to get them some meat in exchange for a round of free drinks.

Barman at the Palm Bar on Portuguese Island striking a pose

I was impressed at how clean the toilets were - I expected the usual beachside filthy toilets - but they were spotlessly clean and fresh (mostly the same onboard the Musica, with the exception of the toilet near the disco which flooded on the last night).

An incremental improvement which MSC Cruises have made to the Portuguese Island setup which stood out was the way in which the meals are organised - previously there had been a single queue to all the foods; now the foods are split up into several areas: meat grill, seafood, salad and sweets; each of which had their own queue.

There are numerous Mozambicans hawking their products on the island - mainly booze and food. I recommend the fresh coconut juice. The hawkers were both male and female and were persistent, and some of them smelled a bit of not having washed for a while. I claimed I was already drunk so couldn't buy more alcohol, and this gave them a bit of a laugh and they stopped following me.

After returning to the Musica we climbed to the top deck and watched the sun set over Maputo; and as it darkened the lights of Maputo slowly lit up.

View of Portuguese Island's beach from the deck in the Palm Bar area

On the Musica

Cabin

We enjoyed cabin 9202, a balcony suite over the rear end of the Musica. In the mornings we woke up to the smell of breakfast wafting up through our balcony door (the dinning rooms are on the 5th and 6th floor below us).

A number you wont find on any of the cabins (or lifeboats) is 17, which is considered an unlucky number in Italy.

Our friendly cabin attendant, Rajeev, hailed from Karala in India, and chatted to us about the Indian Premier League and how much he enjoyed AB de Villers's batting. He was taken by surprise that we'd seperated the main double-bed, as most guests requested it be done rather than do it themselves, and we laughed about that! He told us that there were 4 people in his area of the boat who had vomited from seasickness, and there were a number who were bedridden. He said he got paid USD1400 per month; but had to work every day for that. This was Rajeev's first ship, he started on the 7th November 2018 and was going to return to India in July 2019.

Cabin attendant, from India, in a suite on the MSC Musica

Phone the MSC Musica

If you need to telephone the Musica, its satellite number is +870 76461 351/56.

Food and Drinks

If you are a bad boy who had alcohol confiscated on boarding in Durban or at Portuguese Island; it's returned to youon the night before disembarkation. There was a bit of a line of shame at embarkation from Portuguese Island - the kid before me had his 2 litre sparletta and a bottle of rum taken from him. Other confiscated goods (e.g. wooden art bought at Portuguese Island, where the risk is of a wood boring bettle infesting the ship) can be collected from the duty free shop from 21h00 on the night before disembarkation.. A little aside: an elderly afrikaans gent queueing up before me on embarking from Portuguese Island, was insistent that the main thing security was worried about was ammunition being smuggled on board - I'd love to know whether this is a genuine concern, or merely braai talk.

MSC announced that they no longer use any single use plastics, and this was clearly seen when cardboardy straws were provide; but why do they still use plastic spoons for the ice-cream? I have seen little wooden spoons, so there is an alternative.

We had purchased a drinks package, as it works out 15% cheaper; entitliing us to 18 drinks: cocktails, liquor other than top-shelf brands, sodas, fruit juices, coffee, hot chocolate mineral water or ice cream.

On a daily basis there are 470 pizzas prepared. The quality of the pizzas is unfortunately low; with them being little more than dough with a measgre helping of cheese & and tomato sauce.

Love is in the Air

Our daughter met a young Afrikaans lad, Hendrik. To her chagrin, I waved them over and he gave me a "pleased to meet you, Sir", before nervously reverting to his mother tongue. I invited them for drinks but our daughter said they were on their way to play putt putt. Staying in different geographics, their trist was doomed to end as quickly as it had started. This was far more appropriate than on the first evening when she was trailed by a man double her age telling her how beautiful she was; eventually she stood by a group of strangers until he left her alone.

Crew

There are some 1000 crew members living and working on the Musica, looking after about 3200 guests maximum. We found all the staff incredibly friendly, catering to our every need. It was clear that for some of them english wasn't a first language, and they made an outstanding effort to understand our accent.

The crew ranged from 10 professional dancers working in the theatre to 22 staff working in the main laundry. Just washing the laundry is a major job, each day 7,300 white towels are washed and 3000 orange beach towels; with 9 washing machines there; 5 taking up to 100kgs, 3 taking up to 75kgs and 1 machine taking up to 5kg, the latter being the captain's washing machine. Speaking of the captain, on this cruise it was the highly experienced, ever-present and hard-working Ciro Pinto, who has sailed many cruises for MSC from Durban and Cape Town.

 

 

Onboard Special: Future Cruise Special

It feels like death in the family when the cruise ends, and the best antidote is to book the next cruise; and there may be some onboard specials.

Whilst onboard the ship MSC sent us a "flash promo" for an MSC Orchestra 4 night cruise on the 14th April 2020; from Cape Town to Durban. The price was R13,552 for 2 adults; with USD40 onboard credit, price matching (ie if you find a cheaper price later advertised by MSC, MSC would match it), the flexiility to change booking details at any time before final payment and double Voyagers Club points.

Cellphone Reception

Along the coast of South Africa on day 1, day 3 and day 4 there was intermittent reception; which was enough for me to receive WhatsApps, and even one phone call (chrystal clear). I created a hotspot so that others could enjoy my data, and I could connect my laptop up. Next to Mozambique there was also intermittent reception, but I didn't try connect, as I was afraid of what international roaming rates may be.

 

MSC Musica leaving Durban at dusk

Travel Documents Required

Travellers from SADC countries (Southern African Development Community) do not require visas, only a passport. South Africans must travel using their South African passport. Children under 18 required their unabrdiged birth certificates; and if not travelling with both birth parents extra documentation is required (beyond the scope of this writeup!). You'll first need your travel documents to get through immigration at Durban Harbour in order to board the ship. Passports are taken from you at the start of the cruise, and returned on the last full day of the cruise (delivered to us personally by our cabin steward, and not left unattended, and we signed that we had received them; or alternatively collected from guest services at 23h00). During the disembarkation process you naturally need your travel documents to get through immigration back into South Africa, so you need to keep your passport on you, rather than placing it in your main luggage.

Sunsets & Electricity

On the first evening it was overcast, not allowing for great photos. But on both the 2nd and 3rd nights we were treated to spectacular sunsets, and wandered around deck 14 testing different angles to try take the perfect photo. There was friendly banter between ourselves and other passengers about the beautiful sunset, and offering to take photos of each other's group - and naturally there were some stunning ladies modelling along the handrail. About 5m before the sun set on the third night we cruised through a threatening but beautiful electric storm; and whilst on top deck mulled over whether this posed any danger to us, and where the safest spot was to stand. Ultimately, we took refuge in our cabin, turned the lights off, and watched the dramatic lightning strikes.

Disembarkation

On the last evening I put on shorts and a t-shirt, packed my luggage but left out my toothpaste, toothbrush, floss and pyjamas; as I'd need them before I pick up my luggage at the Port of Durban. I'd keep those in my backpack. Since I only had shorts and a t-shirt I was not smart enough to go to the formal restaurants, and had supper at the buffet. I handed back the adaptor plug I'd borrowed from reception, and got my USD35 deposit back. I also settled my bill - it is important to settle your bill, even if it's in credit, as anything owed or being owed will result in you not being able to exit the ship. My luggage labels were light blue, and I attached one to my suitcase which I wanted to be carried off the ship by the crew. It wasn't necessary to attach luggage labels to my hand luggage, but as a precautionary measure I did so anyway. Before I went to bed, I left my suitcase, which I wanted carried off by the crew, outside my door (this must be done before before 00h30; otherwise the crew wont take it offboard for you). After disembarking we collected our luggage from the terminal in the Port of Durban, finding it amongst the group of luggage which had light blue labels.

If you are disabled and require assistance in getting off the ship, you should meet in the morning at the Golden Bar on decks 6.

Durban Harbour's Rubbish Dump

Harbours, in general, are unattractive; and Durban Harbour is no exception. Look at the mess in the water. Watching the screws of the ship churn up the rubbish in the harbour, as the ship leaves, is rather depressing - like taking a trip to a rubbish dump. Come on Durban - you can do better!

Rubbish in the water at Durban Harbour, with flats in the background, and long-term parking