(Warning: This article contains a lot of FRIENDS references)
The idea of cruising has always been a romantic one. But a five-day, four-night cruise on the MSC Orchestra from the port of Durban to a beach in Pomene, Mozambique and back again, should rather be enjoyed with friends.
Luckily, my cruise partner, Jacques and I met four like-minded strangers who soon became our ‘cruise besties’. It all started over a Lamb Rogan Josh lunch on day 1, just as we arrived on the ship. That's right, we traded in Central Perk for Villa Borghese - the resident breakfast and lunch restaurant. After a delicious meal and a few glasses of white wine, the dessert arrived. By then, it was settled in all our minds: the six of us would hang throughout the trip.
From embarking as strangers to disembarking as friends, doing it any other way now seems completely ludicrous.
Meet the gang
She's your lobster…
Jen – As beautiful, cute and funny as Rachel.
Rudolph – The delightful (not ridiculous) version of Ross.
How you doin'?
John – A single guy as prone to striking out with women as Chandler, this Durbanite actually has charm dripping from every pore.
The best friends
Marisa (Me) – As highly-strung as Monica at times, minus the incessant need to clean.
Jacques – Ditsy and open-minded like the one and only Phoebe Buffay.
I’ll be there for you
Richard – The smarter, more grounded version of Joey. He'll be there (for you), as he'll undoubtedly be the last or second last man standing on any given night.
With over 3 000 passengers and crew onboard the MSC Orchestra, the ship is stampvol.
During the day the deck resembles a beach bar during Matric rage! Think live shows, swimming pools, hot tubs, bar service at your sun lounger and music pumping – this is, undoubtedly, a party boat. If that’s your vibe, excellent. If not, you’re in trouble.
If you're anything like me, you are able to "PARTY" like Ross and Chandler’s friend Gandalf for at least one night a week. However, keeping this up for a few nights in a row is taxing on the 30+ year-old body. I am no longer in Matric. Nor do I care to be.
The trick? Remove yourself from the busybodies that walk this plank every day, and retreat to your cabin - an almost noise-cancelling pod where you'll hear only the gentle white-noise of the waves crashing. A balcony room is the only way to go, my friend.
And there is even more "Me-time" to be had! Go to the spa for a pamper or sizzle in the Jacuzzi in their Thermal Room; be sure to watch the evening theatre shows that take place every night, and don't forget to try your luck at the casino.
Taking a break amidst the chaos is very possible. And necessary to avoid cabin fever.
Our group of friends did just that.
Here is our unintentional cruise itinerary:
Day 1: The One in Vegas
Tequila! Tequila Sunrise! Mojito!
Everyone knows that Long-island ice teas in bulk, and dancing the night away is the ultimate recipe for lasting friendship. Right?!
This brought us closer together on the night, as well as the next day when knocking back motion sickness tablets over breakfast juice. Cruising and hangovers make for a killer mocktail.
Day 2: WE WERE ON A BREAK!
On this day, we all did our own thing for the most part. We broke away and retreated.
First things first: Indulge in the insanely delicious bacon at the buffet. Rehydrate and replenish destroyed electrolytes.
Second things second: Nap, swim, repeat.
Try to obtain a balance despite the rocking of the boat.
Day 3: You’re over me? When were you … under me?
By this point, you’re over the motion of the ocean and head to dry land. Pomene beach here we come! On day 3 you disembark early (a bit of a logistical nagmerrie tbo), to spend the day in Mozam. The beach is beautiful. Though, with 3 000 people on it, a bit less so.
However, if you walk down the pristine white sandy beach, solace can be found. Frolic in the warm waves, lounge by the resort pool with a cold beer in hand or shop from locals selling baskets, fabric and coconuts laced with the famous local rum and raspberry, or R&R.
Day 4: The one where the hangover finally ends
By day 4, I was finally ready to party again. Yet, because disembarking at Durban the next day takes place from 6 am, a late-night jol was never an option for our group.
Instead, we had a few drinks by the pool, lounged some more and indulged in our final dinner - three courses of Italian deliciousness at the divine L'Ibiscus restaurant. Fitting as the MSC is an Italian family-owned business.
In the end, I realised that a cruise or any environment where you are forced together (willingly in this case) to be with tons of strangers, it can be the best or absolute worst experience of your life. You see each other at your worst and at your best. Our group of six strangers saw each other at all the stages of cruising: and we still liked each other. Which is why, the FRIENDS theme song rings so very true in this case:
It's like you're always stuck in second gear
When it hasn't been your day, your week, your month
Or even your year
I'll be there for you
(When the rain starts to pour)
I'll be there for you
(Like I've been there before)
I'll be there for you
('Cause you're there for me too)
*Marisa Crous was hosted by MSC Orchestra for 4 nights.