MSC Melody cruise ship and local small craft as seen from Portuguese Island, Mozambique

MSC Melody

Cruise from Durban to Mozambique

As part of my dissertation research on contemporary South African port culture, I booked passage on the MSC Melody cruise ship in November 2006. Though usually based in the Mediterranean, the Melody operates out of Durban during the southern hemisphere's summer. With the decline of passenger liners in the 1970s, the Melody offers most South Africans the only opportunity to experience shipboard life today. My wife Marjorie and I spent 5 days cruising the Indian Ocean, participating in all of the shipboard events and excursions. Below is a brief overview of the itinerary and some of my thoughts on modern cruising. Check out the other pages for what we did during the cruise.

Itinerary : Durban > Portuguese Island > Maputo > Barra Lodge > Durban

Like American cruise ships that sail from Miami to the Caribbean, the MSC Melody sails from Durban's "first world" harbor to Mozambique's "third world" getaway. Mozambique is South Africa's easterly neighbor, quite poor in comparison, and still a fledgling destination for tourists. After decades of war, Moz now charms visitors with its combination of relaxed tropicality and genuine hospitality.

From Durban, the Melody typically sails to Portuguese Island or Barra Lodge or Maputo, or some combination thereof. It sometimes goes further afield to Bazaruto or Mauritius and it occasionally offers short trips "to nowhere" in the Indian Ocean. We booked on one of the longer voyages for 5 days, with 3 Mozambican destinations.

From Durban, we sailed up to Portuguese Island, a nature reserve near Maputo and the Inhaca Kingdom (island). It is a tiny unspoilt ring of vegetation and sand.

Maputo is the energetic, yet ponderously quiet, capital of Mozambique.

Regrettably, the waters around Barra Lodge were too rough for a landing, so we had to make due on the ship for an extra day. We encountered 3 meter swells, which kept the ship pitching and rolling. But what a bummer: we missed quad biking and Moz's famous prawns!

Why cruising? What's the appeal?

First of all, for cruisers, Mozambique is not the real destination: the ship is the destination. This is where they spend most of their time, money, and energy. The excursions ashore are merely exciting interludes in an otherwise all-encompassing life-program that is constructed aboard the ship.

Second, most cruisers are upcountry people from Johannesburg and Pretoria. For these landlubbers, cruises offer a brief foray into a maritime milieu, but with few of the dangers or difficulties that beset seafarers (like long working hours, hazardous mechanical and chemical environments, and navigational responsibility). Aside from mild motion sickness, the most stressful moment on a cruise is choosing what to eat at the seven-course dinner. Cruises appeal because they harken back to an age of Trans-Atlantic ocean liner elegance (nostalgia); and yet they are also familiar, like going to the casino, shopping mall, and amusement park.

Third, everything is done for you. Unlike taking a trip to Europe or interior Africa, you need not pack a guide book with you, nor must you actually think much. For passengers, cruise ships are benign "total institutions," in that they provide many amusements that would otherwise be found in separate locales. Onboard, they have swimming pools, a casino, a cinema, discos, bars, lounges, duty free shops, video arcades, buffets galore, restaurants, cable TV, and so on. They are also surrounded by terrific views, fresh air, and an endless array of shows. The entertainment is low-brow, and pretty cheesy at times, but somehow it's still quite a bit of fun.

If you've never done it, I definitely recommend taking a cruise at least once. (I'm not sure about twice though.)