Nothing like a breath of fresh sea air

Brett Adkins

“OKAY. So here’s the deal. A couple of rounds of golf this morning – and the loser foots it for a couple of rounds of beer at the pub later.”

“Sure. There’s just one problem.”

“What?”

“There are 11 of them. Pubs, that is. It’s going to be a mission choosing one.”

“Easy. The Spinnaker or Il Patio – on the pool deck. You can’t go wrong with two pools, whirlpools and a couple of pubs.”

You would be forgiven for thinking that this genuine conversation was taking place at some ridiculously expensive country club with impossible membership fees.

Quite the opposite in fact.

We’re as far as some 200km from any dry land and, no, there aren’t even any green fees.

Did I say golf?

Sure, it’s not 18 holes – a leisurely nine – and it’s mini Adventure Golf, but playing a round on the upper decks of the magnificent MSC Opera – which has arrived in our waters for the festive season – is quite literally a breath of fresh sea air.

The luxury cruise liner is aptly named – it hits all the right notes from the moment you are welcomed aboard by the most courteous (and plentiful) of crew who go about their job of what staff captain Guglielmo Siviero describes as their commitment to ensuring you experience a “dream” getaway.

We embarked at Port Elizabeth Harbour for a two-night cruise to Durban – a “quickie” by cruise standards, but enough time to explore this glamorous floating hotel which, in addition to those 11 pubs, offers you an array of food emporiums and pampering facilities to quickly whip you into another world.

The marvellous thing about a cruise is that you really do get away from it all.

Limited – if any – cellphone signal, and just the Big Blue all around you, so you simply have no choice but to forget about all the hassles back home. I mean, you can’t exactly paddle back to shore.

When I was a kid we occasionally were treated to a similar cruise (between East London and Durbs) on the old mail ships like the Union and Pendennis Castles. They were great, but you certainly had a sniff of what cabin fever could be like – a compact design all round is a nice way of putting it.

However, the feeling of airiness and spaciousness that you feel aboard a vessel like the Opera – enhanced by a myriad glass walls – makes it feel more like a sprawling seaside resort than a ship.

There is absolutely nothing cramped about the lounges, restaurants, cocktail bars and other recreational areas which belie the fact that it can accommodate up to 2200 passengers and 700 crew (a ratio of one crew member to every three passengers).

The Italian-themed decor – first evident in the handsome marble reception area – is carried through to the culinary side of things with a generous dash of other Mediterranean and international influences on enticing seven-course menus.

Being spoilt for choice takes on a whole new meaning when you dine in the two elegant – but not too formal – restaurants, as well as the other even more relaxed eateries.

Flavourful, piquant pasta dishes naturally abound, but the range of seafood, poultry, Italian meat and vegetarian dishes – with a supporting cast of appetising starters, salads, and desserts – will leave you wondering how you will ever make up your mind.

Think eggs benedict with hollandaise sauce and smoked salmon for brekkers, and later at dinner, mussels in the shell smothered with a creamy white wine sauce followed by a succulent seafood skewer of prawn, calamari and pomfret.

Fresh bread on the high seas? Don’t worry, they bake their own.

And here are some figures to help you understand what those kitchen maestros are having to produce. On a typical five-day cruise, the Opera will go through 10800 eggs, 3240kg of meat, 2660kg of fish and 2300kg of potatoes.

Seconds, anyone?

Our stateroom with a private balcony – which lends it a terrific beachfront hotel suite feel rather than a simple cabin – has all the touches and conveniences which make it the ideal comfort zone as you are gently rocked to sleep after a sun-drenched day at the pool and a dazzling night of music, dance and slick entertainment at the theatre and cocktail bars.

“The passengers want to feel this atmosphere,” says Siviero.

“And it is the crew members who are so important to that special cruise – they can make the difference.

“They provide the dream.

“And it is wonderful to wake up in the morning in one country and then the day after in a different country.”

Enjoying sundowners on the deck beneath twinkling lights, it’s quite apparent that all aboard the Opera are soaking up that atmosphere.

And, funnily enough, we’re not the only ones.

Right alongside the liner, others are having just as much fun.

Joining us for the magical twilight, a massive pod of racing dolphins are surfing the Opera’s wake, soaring through the air – adults and their young alike – and splashing down in the heaving swell in what looks like the ultimate ocean party.

NEED TO KNOW

The MSC Opera is offering a variety of cruises until early February, which include Maputo, Portuguese Island and Barra Lodge, with a variety of cabin options.

For more information, visit www.msccruises.co.za

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