I have never been on a cruise before, but have always wondered what it would be like to have your entire holiday prepped and planned - you just show up.
The idea of travelling without having to pack and unpack at each destination has been appealing, but wondered if it wasn't a little too manicured for my tastes. Also, I would probably roll off the boat because a round-the-clock buffet would be deadly to my waistline.
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But finally the cruise gods smiled upon me and gifted me with the chance to board a cruise ship for a night - the MSC Musica - even though it never left the harbour. It was the launch of the cruise season in South Africa, and MSC wanted to bring in summer with a big bash and showcase of their new entertainment offerings.
Too bad my first cruise experience didn't start off with a bang. More of a chaotic explosion of confusion and waiting in queues that went nowhere.
I was supposed to receive my ticket before I got there, but there was a 'ticketing issue' and was assured that I would be sorted out once I got there. Unfortunately, that memo wasn't sent along to the staff on the ground, and no one knew where I was supposed to get it.
The catch-all response was that I have to stand in this general information queue and wait for the booth to open (which for some reason wasn't open when we were supposed to start boarding). A few people came and take me out of the queue repeatedly because I just need to go to these other places or people with tablets - all of which would send me right back to the queue I've been standing in.
I don't mind waiting if there's a problem, but what I couldn't handle was the lack of communication and coordination. If they made me stay in one queue instead of being corralled all over the place in absolute confusion, I would have had a more relaxing embarkation experience.
Once we got on the ship, things became less chaotic, and I could finally start settling into that suite life on deck.
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Here are a few tips I picked up as a first-timer:
Have a snack and water on hand when waiting to board
Honestly, waiting in that confusion for hours with no water or snack in sight was a battle, and there wasn't anything nearby to grab or risk losing your spot in the queue. Especially if you're not VIP, the cruise isn't going to offer refreshments until you're on the boat, and even if everything runs smoothly, you'll never know how long you're going to wait. So take a cue from Scar and be prepared.
The cabin numbers aren't sequential
Now this was a complete rookie error on my part, but I didn't know that odd and even cabin room numbers were in separate corridors. I was walking along the never-ending hallway until I got to my number - and it got skipped. I thought that I was slightly insane going up and down, until a more seasoned cruiser took pity on me and indicated that I'm in a different corridor.
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Plan your meals
Think about your holiday food needs, and when you want to buffet and when you want to experience some specialised dining in one of their many restaurants - from Italian to Sushi. The buffet runs almost all hours, even offering chips and burgers as midnight snacks, so it's a good idea to have a little plan on when to eat where - otherwise you end up in a panic and just wolf down some buffet pizza and curry together at four in the afternoon.
Pack a fancy outfit
I may have underestimated a little the dress code for dinner - when they say formal, expect ballgowns, fur coats, tuxedos and diamonds. Not everyone was this dressed up, but close enough. Being on a cruise is definitely the chance to whip out that old Matric dance dress you've never worn again.
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You will get lost, but it's not a bad thing
MSC Musica is by far not the biggest ship - but it's still massive. There are more than 14 floors, and you can't access all of them from every side of the ship. The 'handy' ship map at the elevators was designed by Houdini, but despite being lost most of the time, it's quite fun to discover the ship. There are so many bars, music lounges, activity centres, shops, theatres and mini golf courses around the ship, and many you might only find by being lost.
Fun is organised for you
The best part of a cruise? You don't really have to think too hard about how to entertain yourself. While my stay was a bit chaotic, I can easily see how you could find yourself completely relaxed and not worrying about being on time anywhere. Their Wonderland extravaganza on stage is a lovely spectacle to watch where people bend their bodies into unimaginable shapes, you can dance in almost every corner of the ship and can even relax in a topside Jacuzzi, getting that proper cruise tan.
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