A giant shadow looms over Durban's port, its white walls gleaming in the morning sun as passengers board the bobbing MSC Musica.
I have never been on a cruise before (just for a night while docket at port), and while it has never been that high up on my list (my proclivity to motion sickness has made it an unappealing option), I was excited for this adventure - with enough motion sickness tablets to get an astronaut to the moon and back.
After finally boarding and finding our room (remember even and odd numbers are in different hallways), you'll catch yourself staring at the waters next to the boat, the white foam contrasted to the deep blue of the ocean, leaving the city of Durban behind.
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A nook in the Crystal Lounge. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)
Finding your feet
The first thing you'll do on the ship is grabbing some food and your life jacket for the mandatory safety briefing, but don't worry - this goes by fast and won't cut into your cruising time.
Before you run around like a kid with a new toy, we had a long walk around the boat, up and down the levels just to get a feel for the boat, where everything is and making sure we know how to get back to our rooms.
The food situation
For dinner we were grouped together at one of three restaurants for a sit-down dinner with a set-menu - but don't let the fancy dress fool you. The buffet will satisfy your stomach more than the bland food at the restaurant - but to be fair to the ship, they are catering to almost 3000 people and flavour could take a backseat when you're more focused on what the plate looks like.
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Desert during a Captain's Lunch. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)
We also had a chance to try out the Kaito Sushi Bar, where your usual sushi fair also includes octopus, eel and pumpkin for the veggies. But note that this is an extra cost not included in your food package - and you have to book your spot beforehand.
Sushi from the vegetarian platter from Kaito. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)
Pre-book as much as possible
And that's the real art to saving money while on a cruise. The earlier you book, the bigger discounts you can get on drinks packages, spa treatments, private deck access and the various shore excursions. Don't think you'll just decide when you get there - the price is almost double on the ship and by the end of your cruise your going to lose all the stress-relief from your holiday as soon as you look at your US-dollar bill.
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Few things can beat that serene view. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)
Once you're a little more settled, a handy flyer that gets renewed each day in your room tells you about the next day's activities and schedule, taking out any serious planning on your part. If you want a jacuzzi or quiet swim in the pool, you're going to have to get up early to avoid the masses, who only really start crawling out of their rooms after a night of partying around 10:00 or 11:00.
The cruise staff will keep you entertained with deck games, dance-offs, lip-sync battles and trivia games - you can either participate or be a spectator - and they also have another schedule for kids and teenagers.
At night these activities turn into salsa lessons, a new theatre production and deck parties that's the only sign of life in the never-ending darkness of the ocean.
Cruisers entertained by the ship's dancers. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)
But all this can get overwhelming, and this is where a balcony room becomes quite precious to your sanity. You can relax on your own 'deck' with a book or some music, or just stare out into the cool blue with no land in sight, giving your soul a little rest from the chaos.
Returning to land
That is until you see land - in our case it was Mozambique's Pomene - a peninsula that's quite difficult to get to via car and is used by MSC as one of their shore stops.
You'll be surprised at how excited you are to be on solid ground that isn't constantly squirming underneath you - so much so that you haul yourself out of bed at 06:30 to make it onto the first boat (if you've got priority boarding).
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This is the beach when you get there early - it fills up fast throughout the day. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)
Pomene is as tropical as you expect it to be, with boundless options to keep you entertained. We opted to spend the morning on the beach before the crowds took over, and then went on our quad bike excursion to the Pomene Hotel ruins just before lunch. You're only going to really have time for one excursion, so pick one that will excite you the most.
Pro tip: If you want to spend time at the ruins - which are stunning - then rather take the transfer option than the quad bikes - on the latter they rush you through the ruins to get back for the next group.
Back at the cruise's cabanas, we had our buffet lunch and trawled through the local market - Tipo Tinto and 2M beer standing precariously on wonky tables and brick stones while sarongs flap in the wind.
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This is the perfect spot if you need to get out of the sun. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)
The local market has lots of souvenirs that you can take back home with you. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)
As you head back to the boat at the end of the day, sunburnt, tired and longing for a shower, you take in the size of the cruise ship more than you do in port - there its size is less conspicuous among the giant warehouses, but out on the open sea you can't help but marvel at human ingenuity.
Sunset from the MSC Musica. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)
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