We have wanted to go on a cruise for absolute ages and, when we sold our house to travel around South Africa, I immediately set some money aside because, you know, when will you have that kind of money again, right?
I had made enquiries with MSC before and learned that the 4 sleeper, family cabins sell out, FAST. Which means, if you try and take advantage of specials or buy cheap tickets closer to the time, you may have to buy 2 two-sleeper cabins for a family of 4 and your family will sleep in separate rooms. If you kids are older than mine, and you can trust them, this could work for you. Since our kids are still young, there was no way in hell that this was going to work for me. Also, when I asked for a quotation, the price for the 2 rooms was super expensive. It was like the “kids under 18 cruise free” no longer applied.
So, this time around, I made contact with CruiseAbout and made my bookings through them. Claudia is a STAR. She went out of her way to help us with every step of the process and it was smooth sailing (yes, I went there) from the word go. I have since learned that booking through MSC directly is a mission so, please take my advice and use a travel agent.
Cruise South Africa: What you need to know
- Families with young kids should book at least 6 months in advance. We made our booking for our November trip, in April.
- Get your paperwork in order. You will need your passport information very early in the booking process. Don’t wait until you want to book, to get your paperwork up to date.
- Parents who want to cross the borders in and around South Africa with their children, need unabridged birth certificates. The printing of unabridged birth certificates for under 18s takes FOREVER. We applied for both certificates while we were in Bethlehem and to date, we still only have the certificate of one child. Fortunately, you are allowed to travel with a letter from the Department of Home Affairs, stating that you’ve applied for the certificates so, we should be fine. (Oh please let it be fine!!)
- About 3 months before your trip, you will start receiving emails suggesting you add additional packages to your cruise. For example, MSC has ground services which will help you to find a hotel to stay the night before and/or after your cruise. If you book through a travel agent, the bookings will have to be made through them though. We did find that ground services had special offers that the travel agent didn’t know about. So, pretend that you don’t know you need to book through the travel agent, ask ground services to give you a quotation and send that through to the travel agent to make the booking for you. To illustrate this point, ground services found accommodation for R1200 per night(yes, for 2 adults and 2 kids) but when the travel agent got the quote, it was suddenly R3700 for the 2 nights. (We will be staying over the night before and the night we arrive back).
- In case you haven’t noticed already, the prices add up. To date we have paid for the cruise tickets, the plane tickets to get to Durban and back to Cape Town and the hotel stay. This past weekend, I also paid for a drinks package, a water package and a special occasion package so that we don’t have to pay in USD on the ship.
Now let me explain why we bought a drinks package. After scrolling through the horror stories on the MSC Facebook page, I noticed a trend. A number of people mentioned that, while you can get water from the water fountains dotted around the boat, you are not allowed to fill up a water bottle from the water fountains. Weird, I know. The thing is, we really enjoy drinking water. And there is nothing worse than having to count your pennies when you’re thirsty so, we bought a water package. This will give us 10 x 1 litre bottles of water that we can enjoy with our meals or before bed.
We also bought a non alcoholic package (for Anton and I) and a ice cream and milkshake package for the kids to share. Our package has 10 vouchers for non alcoholic cocktails, milkshakes and smoothies while the kids have 10 vouchers to enjoy their ice cream and milkshakes. Since I didn’t want to pay around $4.50 every time the kids asked for a shake, I’d rather cough up ZAR now.
Now, I have no idea whether we could do without this. I’d rather be safe than sorry but I will do another post when we get back, so you’ll know whether or not it’s essential. I haven’t been able to find any blog posts on this issue, but maybe I’m looking in the wrong place.
Since we will be offline from the 11th to the 18th of November, I won’t be live Tweeting, Instagramming and Facebooking while we are cruising on the MSC Sinfonia. I will try and schedule a post for that week, and I will do a few in depth posts, in the weeks following our return.
If you have any questions, feel free to let me know so that I can address any concerns you may have. I found that information around South African cruises seem to be scarce, so I will use this costly cruising exercise as a way to address that problem. I don’t mind making a mistake, as long as everyone can learn from the experience