Vernon Buxton's Cruise News & Views

Aug 22, 2007
Author: Vernon Buxton

Hi again, and welcome aboard!
My additional comments are in red.

Whither world cruisers to South Africa?

South Africa seems to be all but excluded from these 105-day world itineraries these days?

Does anyone know why?

Today these routes seem to focus on the Suez Canal, to Dubai, followed by the major Asia-Pacific ports, before heading down to Auckland and Sydney. Essentially bypassing the Indian Ocean ports!

Or, in the reverse direction, they tend to chart a course from the Asia-Pacific ports to Dubai and Mumbai, before clearing the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean.

As a former resident of Durban, I was always down at the harbour mouth to watch world cruisers arriving. Now that I live in Johannesburg…well, frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!

But I hope someone is taking cognisance of the fact. Cruise liners contain the bearers of hard currencies, invariably the sort who willingly dispense of same. A lot of people benefit locally.

World cruises also offer segment possibilities to South Africans, and local airlines benefit from that. So, when you add tour operators, shore entertainers and curio producers, taxi drivers and retail shops to the equation, there is much to lose from not having cruise liners calling at our ports.

I do know that Fred.Olsen’s ‘Around Africa’ itinerary on BLACK WATCH is extremely popular with the Brit market. They love the sunshine, exotic islands and eclectic mix of cultures.

The rest is a mystery. Do enlighten us if you can.

To our publisher, Terry Hutson….anything to add here?…
Watch this space for a list of cruise ships visiting these shores during the coming year. By then maybe we'll have a better idea if any are of the round the world- type cruisers - Terry


Cunard’s QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 was almost an annual caller at Durban (pictured at the old N Shed, now used as an adequate passenger terminal) and Cape Town. Most of the significant cruise lines, Cunard, P&O, Holland America, Crystal, Silversea, et al, used to include at least Cape Town and Durban in their itineraries. For whatever reason, these two ports are now missing out? Perhaps passengers simply get more bangs per buck in other destinations? Is anyone asking any questions?

MSC now a cruising force to be reckoned with!

MSC’s European programmes for Summer 2008 are already in the marketplace…amounting to 78 different itineraries and calls at more than 120 ports.

The once-insignificant line will have all its ships in Europe for the summer season, and when you see all nine of them all together like that, you realize what a force MSC is becoming in the industry.

All nine ships will be in the Mediterranean for at least some part of the summer, most spending the entire season there. The bulk of the programmes are 7-night itineraries, eastern or western Mediterranean, but some of the newest ships will also switch off and do a series of 11-night cruises. Those longer cruises generally take them to Egypt, the Canary Islands or the Black Sea. I dream of sailing up through the Dardanelles and into Istanbul and on into the Black Sea.

Three of the ships will reposition to northern Europe for the mid-summer season, operating cruises to Russia and the Baltic or Scandinavian Fjords, on 7- or 10-night itineraries.

There are already some very attractive lead prices in the $799 to $899 range in the Mediterranean…which are just about unbeatable value.

MSC Cruises is the world’s fourth largest cruise line and the largest European-owned cruise operator.

The rapidly expanding company has a fleet of nine ships, which include two recently completed Panamax vessels, a quartet of mid-sized newbuilds, and two smaller ‘classic’ liners. This, in addition to more Panamax and two post-Panamax vessels on order that will be the largest European-owned passenger ships ever built

Its well-funded owners, the Switzerland-based Mediterranean Shipping Company, are the world’s second largest container shipping business and the world’s large privately owned container shipping line.

MSC was founded in 1970 when Neopolitan sea captain, Gianluigi Aponte purchased two elderly German-built multi-purpose cargo, ships, renamed them PATRICIA (1,750 tons) and RAFAELA (2,696 tons) and placed them in service between the Mediterranean and Somalia.

By the late 1970s, MSC’s operation had expanded to Northern Europe, the Red Sea, and Indian Ocean. Continuing an aggressive strategy of buying second-hand tonnage with low mortgages, MSC was able to keep overhead costs at a minimum and grew at an astounding rate, which put it in the world’s top ten container companies within a decade.

In 1989, MSC entered the passenger shipping business when it bought Starlauro Cruises…and the passenger shipping empire founded by Achille Lauro went into the hands of that other entrepreneurial maestro, Gianluigi Aponte.

Aponte’s first major move toward expanding and upgrading the MSC-owned Starlauro fleet was to undertake a long-term charter of the-then laid-up cruise liner MONTEREY.


The long-serving MONTEREY enjoyed a career of more than half a century before being scrapped in 2006. She became the company’s favourite ship and helped propel Starlauro/MSC to the head of the European cruise market. Most of the current senior officers on MSC’s state-of-the-art newbuilds began their seagoing careers on MONTEREY. Your correspondent cruised on MONTEREY as a guest of Allan Foggitt of Starlight Cruises. I had expected that MSC took care of its beloved old steamer, but I was not prepared for just how pristine she looked on the day I boarded her at the N Shed passenger terminal (pictured) in Durban. Her paintwork was nothing short of perfection…only the occasional rivet revealed that this was the hull of a more than 54-year-old ship. A failing boiler prompted MSC to quietly cancel MONTEREY’s sailings from South Africa only this time last year. After completing a Swiss charter cruise, she departed Genoa under the name MONTE on 11 October, arriving at Alang for scrapping on 5 November. An era in MSC’s fascinating history had indeed ended! Thanks to Allan, I have indelible memories.

There were sunny, breezy times on her upper decks during our cherished sea days on MONTEREY. A plume of brown smoke would flow from her shiny blue funnel, casting a translucent blanket of shadow over the after lido area. Most of the deck chairs were filled with sunbathers, while the smell of fresh garlic and Parmesan wafted up from the al fresco pasta station overlooking the stern.


MONTEREY’s teak-covered lido, spacious cabins, lovely sheltered promenades (pictured), and solid sea keeping qualities were extremely well received in the Mediterranean and on her South African charters.

Continuing the company’s steady growth, ANGELINA LAURO and ACHILLE LAURO were introduced in 1966.

A major refit was planned for ACHILLE LAURO after her 1994-1995 season of sailing out of South Africa. But it never came to pass, since she succumbed to an engine room fire on a positioning voyage to Cape Town while off the coast of Somalia in 1994, sinking under tow two days later. Three lives and one of the world’s most fascinating ships were lost in the incident.

The first ship in the fleet to be given a music-oriented name was SYMPHONY, the former ENRICO C.

The 19,596-ton CUNARD PRINCESS was purchased and renamed RHAPSODY in 1995, the year the company become known as Mediterranean Shipping Cruises.

MSC bought the 35,143-ton MELODY in 1997, and she became MSC’s first US-based cruise liner in 1998.

In 2001, MSC bought two European Vision class ships from the financially-strapped Festival Cruises and they were restyled by MSC’s architects into the MSC LIRICA and MSC OPERA.

In 2001, Mediterranean Shipping Cruises revised its name to MSC Italian Cruises, and in 2004 the company adjusted its name once more to MSC Cruises, and placed an order for two 89,000-ton Panamax ships, MSC MUSICA and MSC ORCHESTRA. Their sister, MSC POESIA, is due for delivery to its owners.

Also in 2004, the 58,625-ton EUROPEAN VISION, acquired from the collapsed Festival Cruises, was renamed MSC ARMONIA.

Soon after, MSC bought Festival’s EUROPEAN STARS and renamed her MSC SINFONIA.

In 2005, MSC Cruises announced its first post-Panamax vessels, the 133,500-ton MSC FANTASIA and MSC SERENATA.

In March this year, MSC Cruises finally took its option on the fourth Musica class ship, to be named MSC MAGNIFICA, for delivery in 2010.

MSC ORCHESTRA made its debut in June this year, and its first post-Panamax vessels, the 133,500-ton MSC FANTASIA and MSC SERENATA will debut in 2008 AND 2009 respectively.

Even even more and bigger ships will likely follow these as the company prospers even further.

The Italian screen legend, Sophia Loren, is the godmother of all MSC cruise liners, and presents herself glamorously at all christening ceremonies.

Perhaps you have now also realised what a force MSC Cruises is becoming in the cruise industry.

South Africans are the direct beneficiaries of the MSC MELODY in local waters, home-porting in Durban from this coming November to April next year.

The November 21-day repositioning cruise from Genoa to Durban is, in this humble correspondent’s opinion, the cruise choice du jour, in terms of length of voyage, the ports of call and the prices…which are infinitely affordable.

Last season, MELODY carried 45,000 passengers out of Durban, and Allan Foggitt, MD of local agents, Starlight Cruises, expects even more for the coming South African summer season.

This year the 3,500-ton RAZZMATAZZ is also soon to be operating a programme of short itineraries out of Durban.

Ahoy there, South America…here comes Royal Caribbean!

With its tentacles stretching internationally, Royal Caribbean International’s 2008/2009 South American programme will include ENCHANTMENT OF THE SEAS being posted to Panama, and the VISION OF THE SEAS will operate from the Dominican Republic.

SPLENDOUR OF THE SEAS will be based Sao Paulo (Santos, Brazil) from December 2008 through March 2009, on 3- and 4-night cruises, as well as 6- and –8-night departures.

RADIANCE OF THE SEAS will also operate in South American waters, but information to hand does not reveal from which port?

MARINER OF THE SEAS will be repositioning from Florida to Southern California in January 2008 via a set of cruises around South America, and that programme is still not yet available for sale.

Wonderful cruise opportunities these…Latin. Sexy. Tango. Tequila. Yes, please!

Of course, the MILLENNIUM-style logistical problems exist if anything goes wrong on a cruise…meaning the costs of cancelled cruises, and getting passengers home to America. If, indeed, North Americans will be booking these cruises? One imagines there is a rapidly growing South American market?

A “mobile” home for the super-rich!

FOUR SEASONS OCEAN RESIDENCES is a new permanent accommodation cruise liner, due to sail the seven seas from 2010.

According to The Citizen newspaper in Johannesburg, “The vessel offers 112 wholly-owned private residences – along the same lines as THE WORLD of Residensea, and is hoping for an international client base, including one or two South Africans.

To this end, top-end property purveyor, Pam Golding, has been offered the South African mandate for sales.

Prices for the FOUR SEASONS OCEAN RESIDENCES start at nearly four million dollars, US, and a penthouse suite will set you back a mere 40 million. I’ll have four of those! If I’d written Harry Potter my order would already be in.

Each unit includes floor-to-ceiling windows, a gracious entry hall, spacious living room areas with sea views, master bedroom suites with walk-in dressing rooms and en suite bathroom, expansive terraces, a full-size gourmet kitchen, and a private staff entrance.

The ship features four restaurants, a spa, concierge services, a helipad…I’ll need that for my chopper…art gallery, boutiques, library, driving range, pool deck and cabanas, business centre, medical centre and – most essentially – a wine cellar.

The Citizen reveals that the itineraries will “follow the sun for optimal climates”… and the schedule takes in some of the world’s major events, such as the 2012 London Olympics, Cannes Film Festival, Carnival in Rio and the Monaco Grand Prix.

Oh, and if you rent one of these apartments from an owner, you have to do so for a minimum of a month. How’s THAT for keeping the ‘great unwashed’ at bay?

Seriously, this could be just an idyllic lifestyle? Your home will be sufficiently spacious, with your own décor and personal touches. You’d get to know fellow travellers really well, and be able to invite them around for canapés (ordered from the main kitchen, course) and drinks (poured by your butler, naturally) before repairing to one of the restaurants with your guests.

Would one actually COOK on such a vessel?…maybe the odd breakfast, I don’t know? Some people really enjoy cooking, and may even choose to prepare daily meals.

Keeping oneself truly fulfilled must be the real challenge? I suppose that’s why prime ports of call will be the focus of all itineraries…at least you could go ashore for a few days, and then enjoy coming home. The ship will spend many more days at any port than a regular cruise liner does.

Clearly, you’d have to be worth a LOT of money for this lifestyle to be even vaguely viable. Yet, there will be no shortage of takers. Mind you, THE WORLD was not immediately fully subscribed in the beginning…it took a year or two to reach that point.

There is no truth in the rumour that a banner will hang over the side each time the ship enters port reading…‘EFF THE POOR!’


THE WORLD showing expansive verandas leading out from private apartments…something similar to what we can expect on the planned FOUR SEASONS OCEAN RESIDENCES.

A sharing of knowledge on the QUEEN MARY 2

Cunard’s QUEEN MARY 2 now boasts an upgraded enrichment programme on trans-Atlantic cruises…called Cunard Insights.

Besides a new name, the programme has a dedicated manager, Caroline Mathieson, who searches out the interesting personalities who will annually make a collective 500 presentations on board.

This will involve more than just lectures. Passengers will have a chance to interact with experts in various fields.

If you ain’t got no Spa Centre, you’ve got to do something else to attract passengers, not so folks? At every turn, the passenger is the winner! I bet that any Cunard newbuild will include a Spa Centre and Spa cabins. The line circumvents the idea at its peril!

Spa or no spa centre, oh for a trans-Atlantic crossing on the QM2 right now. I wouldn’t call the Queen my aunt! I honestly confess that this is the brand that attracts me the most right now. And it’s all built on perceptions…one of the most powerful forces in advertising and marketing.

Upcoming speakers include people in show business such as British actress Victoria Tennent (who crossed The Pond only last week) British actor/comedian/writer John Cleese (September 4 eastbound crossing) as well as adventurers such as former astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman (September 22 westbound crossing) and polar explorer David Hempleman-Adams (August 23 and September 4 crossings), and experts such as oceanographer Susan Humphris (October 25 westbound crossing) and Emmy
Award winning sports commentator Frank DeFord (October 7 eastbound crossing).

Haven’t heard of half of them…so what about me? I’d talk about anything to get another ride on Cunard.

The complete list of programmes is available on the Cunard website at

Until next Wednesday then…let us brace ourselves to our duty!

In Johannesburg



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