The cruise itself is what’s known as a repositioning cruise, which is where a ship operates in different areas in the summer and winter seasons. Our cruise ship (never call it a boat!), the MSC Orchestra, operates in the Mediterranean during the summer months and from Durban, South Africa in the winter. Such cruises are often longer duration than most cruises and usually very good value, though you do have to factor in a long flight for either the start or end of the cruise. Nevertheless, including hotels and flights I reckon it cost me about £2,100 overall which is not bad for a solo price for a month away. It was a bit more for Gloria as she had a balcony cabin whereas I just had an inside cabin. My thinking is that I’m only in the cabin to sleep, so why pay a few hundred pounds more for a balcony. All meals on board are included but we did have to pay for drinks and a couple of excursions.
Our outward flight to Genoa was from Stansted, which was not very convenient for either Gloria or I to get to, so we decided to have a pre-flight night at a hotel close to the airport. Also, we needed to get a covid test within 48 hours of joining the cruise so we had it done at Stansted just before boarding our flight. We arrived in Genoa mid afternoon and enjoyed a pleasant red-wine infused evening and a morning exploring the attractive old town before boarding our ship at midday.
The Mediterranean section of the Cruise: click on a photo below for a slide show of all the images
The MSC Orchestra is a lovely old mid-size cruise ship with many art deco style features. There were a number of things that could have been better but I won’t dwell on those as overall I did enjoy my experience of the ship. Before the cruise, I had set up a Facebook event page for solo travellers for the cruise and had arranged to meet up with a number of them on the cruise. However apart from Gloria, they others would be flying into Rome the next day to join the cruise at the next port of call, Civitavecchia. So the first evening on board it was just Gloria and me, but we did meet and dine with four others of that Facebook group, plus one we met on board, for the rest of the cruise.
With such a long cruise, I will not give a day by day account of all the ports we visited but the photos show them all. However, only a couple of days before the cruise, I heard rumours that the ship would not be visiting the Seychelles as planned and this alarmed most of us because that was one of the highlights of the trip. It was confirmed by email only the day before I was due to leave home. Apparently, the Seychelles were not allowing ships with over 300 passengers to visit owing to fears of covid. We were told that we would go to Oman instead and there would be an extra day at sea. No one was happy about that. So a great cheer went up when it was announced on the ship just before heading to Oman that the authorities had relented and we would be going to the Seychelles after all.
Another contentious issue regarding the ports we were to visit was whether a visa would be required to visit Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. Some passengers thought you would not be allowed on the ship if you did not have the visa at the time of boarding, even if you did not intend to go ashore. I did not get a visa as I did not believe that to be true and had decided I would not go ashore as being trans is illegal in Saudi Arabia (same for being gay). Those who did want to go ashore could have got a visa on board the ship a few days before arrival in Jeddah at less cost than getting it in advance, but the system was so overwhelmed that many people, including Gloria, just gave up. I don’t think we missed much.
The Suez to Equator section of the Cruise: click on a photo below for a slide show of all the images
When the ship is in port, I usually prefer to do my own thing, as the excursions provided by the ship tend to be expensive. If there is a particular place that I want to visit, it is usually cheaper to get a taxi, especially if a few of us share the taxi. At most ports, there are many taxis waiting offering fixed prices to popular places of interest. There are occasionally horror stories of unscrupulous taxi drivers demanding extra money when at some remote location but these are rare and most taxis are regulated with prominent registration details.
On our second day in the Seychelles, Gloria and I took the local bus around the coast to a beach on the other side of the island. The bus cost 12 Seychelles rupees (about 80p) each way and at the beach we saw many of the ship’s orange towels of people who had taken the ship’s excursion costing considerably more than what it cost us! And I am sure our bus ride with the locals was a lot more exciting than being stuck in a coach.
I did do a couple of the ship’s excursions though: one in Mauritius and the other in Reunion. The Mauritius one was good but the other was a bit disappointing as clouds over the high mountain obscured what should have been an amazing view of a caldera (a collapsed extinct volcano). Apparently, the clouds had cleared half an hour earlier and we would have seen the view had our coach not been late leaving the port. The latter part of the tour was to a facility that distilled essential oils from the local geranium plants. This was of particular interest for Gloria, but not so much for me.
Whilst at sea it was generally hot sunshine with calm seas except for one spectacular thunder and lightening storm during our last night before arrival in Durban. But each of the islands in the Indian Ocean did attract clouds. We even had heavy rain on our second day in Mauritius but took shelter enjoying some powerful Mauritian cocktails in a waterfront café.
The Seychelles to Durban: click on a photo below for a slide show of all the images
A typical sea day (and there were a lot of them) started with Gloria going up to the sun deck by one of the pools to lay claim to a sun-lounger with her towel. I did not bother, as I preferred to stay out of the sun but I usually met up with Gloria at or near the base that she had set up. We usually got breakfast from the buffet or occasionally we’d go to the restaurant. Then we’d meet up with the rest of our little group at the morning quiz and again later for the afternoon quiz, not that I particularly like quizzes but there is not much else to do on sea days. There were deck games and dance lessons on the main sun deck but these were not of much interest to me. Some days there would be a talk about the next port we were to visit by a German quy who had done the cruise before. He rather took a fancy to Gloria and towards the end of the cruise; I lost her on a few occasions when she went on dates with him.
There were solo travellers’ meets organised by the cruise line on many of the sea days but they were badly timed to start just half an hour before the first sitting for dinner, so most times when I had a look, there was no one there. Most of these meets were ‘unhosted’ but a couple of them were, when a host would give everyone who attended a free glass of fizz. Several solo persons attended those times but with most of us doing first sitting dinner, the meets were very brief. There were also several other occasions during the cruise when free drinks were handed out, such as parties for the welcome on board, meet the captain, and for those who had cruised with MSC before. Otherwise, we had to pay for drinks, unlike on the Caribbean cruise where we had a drinks package included with our cruise deal. As a result, Gloria and I were more sparing with what we drank on this cruise, but nevertheless we usually shared a bottle of wine or Prosecco over a couple of meals and ended spending much less than a drinks package would have cost us.
Our group of seven would meet up each evening for dinner at our allotted table, after which there would be about an hour to fill before the evening theatre show. The shows that featuring the full cast of performers were very good, but many times, they were clearly low-budget with only a few performers or sometimes only one. Apart from the shows, there were several bars around the ship and lounges were there would be music and dancing. But I was not happy that there would often be breaks for silly games, dancing lessons, or nothing at all. Some nights there would be themed parties and I particularly enjoyed the Halloween party (see video).
Our time in Durban after the Cruise: click on a photo below for a slide show of all the images
The cruise ended when we arrived in Durban where we would spend three nights in a lovely apartment before flying home. People kept telling us how dangerous it was in Durban but our apartment was in a very pleasant area that felt very safe (there were security police all over the place). It might have been different in downtown Durban but we never felt the need to go there. The apartment was within easy walking distance to the cruise terminal and the beach. It was also close the Ushaka Marine World, where we spent a good deal of our time. Gloria went snorkelling there and got some good shots of the colourful fish with her new underwater camera that she had purchased on the ship (that’s another story!).
On one of the days, we went on a safari to a Lion sanctuary and the Tala game reserve, which was a great experience. We got really close to some big game, providing us with the opportunity to take loads of wonderful photos. Then, on the last morning before going to the airport, Gloria tried paddle boarding on the waterways between Marine World and our apartment building. Finally, it was two long overnight flights via Dubai back to a very cold and wet UK.
Crossing the Equator
More videos will be added here when I get around to editing them