Cruising Pros and Cons

Thinking of booking a family cruise? – Here’s everything you need to know.

I’ve recently stepped off a local (South African) MSC-operated cruise from Cape Town to Durban. I was under the impression that cruises are a wonderful, low-stress holiday for families – boy was I wrong! 

Sure, there are some pros to cruising… cruise companies wouldn’t be the profit-making conglomerates they are if everyone hated cruising… but after our first family cruise, I’ve decided it’s not for us. 

I’ve put together a list of pros and cons of cruise holidays below, trying hard to remain as unbiased as possible despite our negative experience. The information below is my opinion, yours may be very different. Also remember that I am solely looking at cruising from a family perspective i.e. travelling with kids. Adult-only groups may also find they have a different experience.

PROs to Family Cruising

 You get to see many places without the hassle of actually traveling.

Lugging around heavy suitcases, using public transport,and figuring out maps in an unfamiliar place are some of the travel hassles that are alleviated when travelling on a cruise itinerary. Your booking will clearly let you know which ports of call are included in your cruise, you get a pre-set amount of time at each port and excursions can be arranged in advance if you want to see a particular historical site at the stop over city. 

 

 All you can eat food – included in your ticket price

Technically, you don’t need to reach for your wallet once you board the cruise. Food is abundant and served almost all day at the ship’s restaurants and snack areas. Drinks are not included. Save for water fountains and coffee in the buffet area ONLY. No drinks are included at the restaurants.

 

 Entertainment – included in your ticket price

From deck parties to quizzes and games, the entertainment staff are there specifically to ensure people have a good time. They urge people onto the dancefloor in the clubs and lounges and facilitate competitions and games during the day. 

The ship’s onboard theatre normally schedules a different show each night and this is usually a highlight for me.

 

 Kids Clubs

Most cruise lines (local MSC included) have different age-appropriate kids clubs that can keep kids entertained, busy and SAFE, whilst parents enjoy some adult time.Our kids flat out refused to stay in a strange place with strange people without us present, and even the thrill of LEGO could not convince them otherwise. So if your children are also a bit clingy, this may not be an option. 

 

CONs to Family Cruising

 Crowds

If you loathe large crowds, I’d strongly recommend staying away from cruises.

Unless you decide to stay in your stateroom and order room service the entire time, you WILL find yourself surrounded by people anywhere you go on the cruise ship.

 

 Endless queues

There’s no two ways about it, if there’s thousands of people getting on the cruise, there’s will be queues to embark, queues to get into the restaurant, to activate your cruise card, to get a drink at the bar, to pay your bill at the end, to disembark etc etc etc 

And maybe your kids are different, but my kids are averse to queues…they just don’t understand why we had to stand in a 30-minute line to get into the onboard restaurant. Come to think of it, neither could we. 

We found queues just about everywhere, and most annoying, long lines at every single elevator. It became extremely frustrating after a while.

 

 Unpredictable weather conditions

When booking a cruise, please remember that you are at the mercy of the weather. The cruise company have significant terms and conditions that wholly cover them if they need to change/cancel itineraries and this can leave you with unexpected costs and lots of strife.

 

 Space

If your “kids cruise free” as cruise companies normally punt, it means your children (2max) will be sharing your cabin with you. Unless you plump for a balcony suite, you’ll struggle with cabin space. It’s shocking really just how cramped you are… imagine opening a large suitcase on the bed while your children and partner try to share the same tiny corridor you’re standing in. I could not cope with the lack of space to shower and dress in. 

 

 Motion Sickness

I think this depends on various factors, the speed the ship is travelling, sea winds, the captain’s skill, and your own body’s susceptibility to motion sickness. I’ve been on 2 Mediterranean cruises and have actually marvelled on how I felt nothing on the ship. The local MSC cruise however was dreadful in terms of sea sickness for me (and several of my family members). We were sick the entire time. The ship rocked and lurched so drastically, I could not stand in my cabin without holding on to something for support and safety. And now, two days since disembarking the ship, I still feel my head spin from that motion. 

 

 Communicating with family – lack of cell signal

One of the biggest gripes for me personally was not being able to send a simple message to our family WhatsApp group to let them know I’m going to breakfast or going to the deck for some sunshine. We were a big group so keeping in touch was a hassle. And looking for someone on a cruise ship is like searching for a needle in a haystack. Parents with older kids might also find this challenging if they needed to easily locate their teenager, for example.

 

 Kids Cruise Free

I mentioned this above but wanted to add this to the ‘con’ list, because even if you love your own kids and want to be around them all day…you most certainly don’t want to be surrounded by hordes of sugar-hyped kids for the entire duration of your holiday. And that’s precisely what I found on our cruise ship. Most people have taken advantage of the ‘kids cruise free’ offer and there were kids everywhere! Kids splashing noisily in the pools, pushing you at the buffet lines, babies crying as you try to read your book on deck…just kids literally everywhere. If you work at a daycare, it might just be your cup of tea, but otherwise…not so much.

 

 Terrible Food

I mentioned above that food is abundant, but what happens when you’re stuck on a ship and the food is just awful? That was my experience on our local MSC cruise. The food looked and tasted like mass produced fodder. Perhaps we were just unlucky with the food due to the delays, maybe the food was prepared for the ship in haste? I don’t know…but the buffet was inedible and I found the restaurant offering was actually just something from the buffet which was plated and brought to your table. I ate hardly anything at all. And to be honest I could not find a single passenger that enjoyed the food onboard.

 

 Price of goods onboard. 

Ok, I expected drinks, spa treatments etc to be quite costly onboard, but even I was shocked that an average cocktail could set you back $6 plus 15% tax. That’s over ZAR100 for a single drink. All onboard charges are in US Dollars which makes it tricky to work out the conversion rates before you charge something to your card. 

A single jumbo-sized photo costs $10, plus an additional $10 for the (single) digital version. I think many people got a very nasty surprise when they got their bills on the last night to realise their few onboard swipes meant they were liable to pay thousands of Rands. 

 

I’ll never say never, but I’d be VERY unlikely to book a cruise for our family again. Besides the nasty experience we had with MSC Cruise Lines (a story for another day), I found cruising extremely stressful and tiring, which is not what a holiday should be. The crowds and lines were impossible at times, and the lack of space was a definite turn off. Add to that inedible food and motion sickness…and well, no thanks!

 

 

 

 

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Afternoon Tea at the Oyster Box Hotel

Afternoon Tea became popularized in the 19th century when the Duchess of Bedford and her ladies of leisure would sit down with tea and cream scones to fill the long gap between meals. 

Today Afternoon Tea is an elegant experience to be savoured. I have had Afternoon Tea (sometimes referred to as High Tea) at some five-star venues around the world, but for me personally, nothing compares to traditional Afternoon Tea at the Oyster Box Hotel.

Tea is served at Palm Court, which is the heart of the Oyster Box’s dining scene. The venue is drenched in natural light and surrounded by lush palm trees. Four magnificent chandeliers set the ambience while live piano music cascades and mingles effortlessly with the leisurely conversations. 

The waiters are ever attentive, and that first glass of champagne materializes almost as soon as I sit down.

The palatial surroundings and the beautiful piano sounds just give you a sense of glamour and grandeur. The tables are laid with fine porcelain and a handwritten card to add a touch of personal charm. 

The centre console is laden with mouth-watering pastries, cakes and scones. For those who have less of a sweet tooth, and may prefer the savoury aspects of life, fear not. There are quiches, finger sandwiches, samosas and even sushi on offer.

The atmosphere is elegant and refined, yet totally relaxed. Groups of people enjoy sipping and chatting, not a care in the world. There are people celebrating all sorts of special occasions. 

Indeed, Afternoon Tea at the Oyster Box makes the perfect backdrop to celebrate everything from a baby shower to birthday, bachelorette party to graduation. 

Of course, we were celebrating our ten-year wedding anniversary, and were pleasantly surprised with a special cake from the team. 

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The selection of teas and coffees are as extensive as the food choices. We lingered over cheese plates and smoked salmon sandwiches before moving on to blueberry scones with clotted cream and preserves. 

The experience is a treat in itself, the opulent surroundingsand delicious delicacies will ensure you have an experience to remember. Worth every penny in my opinion! 

I would highly recommend Afternoon Tea at the Oyster Box Hotel whether you’re a local in Durban or passing through our beautiful city – put this one your bucket list! The experience would also make a special occasion/ celebration that much more memorable.

At the time of publishing this post, the Afternoon tea at the Oyster Box Hotel is R365 per person, and includes a glass of bubbly, tea/coffee selections and the all you can eat buffet of sweet and savoury offerings. I would highly recommend booking well in advance, especially for special occasions. 

 

Sample menu can be found here.

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Dining Options at The Oyster Box Hotel

The Oyster Box is South Africa’s number 1 Hotel, and as such you’d expect the food and drink at the hotel to be of the highest standard.

During our weekend away to this legendary establishment, we got to experience some of the dining options, and I’m happy to say, it does not disappoint.

Staying at the Oyster Box, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to dining. Whatever you choose, it will almost certainly be an extraordinary experience.

The Hotel’s two main restaurants are The Ocean Terrace and The Grill Room.

The Ocean Terrace

The Ocean Terrace is famous for casual al-fresco dining, and is family and pet-friendly. As such, the menu offers perennial favorites such as wood-fired pizzas, burgers, and fish and chip. We enjoyed buffet breakfast in the Ocean Terrace and were blown away by the variety of options available.  

The continental breakfast spread was a large table laden with everything you could ever dream of in your wildest breakfast fantasies. Fresh charcuterie, cereals, raw honey, all-butter croissants and a parmesan wheel to name just a few. 

 

 

The hot selection included bacon, sausages, poached haddock and eggs cooked to order. Guests were also able to order from a dedicated breakfast menu, and I enjoyed Eggs Florentine one morning – cooked-to-perfection medium-poached eggs on wilted spinach topped with the creamiest Hollandaise sauce ever; and Welsh Rarebit the next morning – cooked the classic way, with cheddar cheese, Worcestershire sauce, mustard and finished under the grill.

 

 

The dedicated pancake and waffle bar proved a hit with kids and adults alike. The cappuccinos flowed freely, and the service was extremely attentive. The perfect breakfast was complimented by the perfect view – looking out across the sparkling pool and onto the crashing waves and iconic lighthouse.

 

 

The Ocean Terrace serves al la carte lunch and dinners, and the incredible Curry Buffet is also on offer which includes and extensive selection of curries (meat, fish and vegetarian options), authentic tandoori chicken, naans and side dishes. The curry buffet is so popular they are usually booked out months in advance!

 

 

The Grill Room

The Grill Room at the Oyster Box is the hotel’s fine dining option and we got to experience a wonderful dinner to celebrate our anniversary. Steeped in history, the Grill Room is elegantly adorned with chic white linen and pristine silverware, which stand out brilliantly against the navy walls and mirror finishes. Beautiful candelabras give an ambience of old-world glamour and the vibe is one of timeless elegance and class, with a splash of luxury.

 

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We were warmly welcomed when we arrived and shown to our table. We marveled over the vibrant artwork and the intimate setting. Our sommelier helped us pick out a lovely white wine from the extensive and well curated wine cellar (we both decided on seafood mains), while our glasses were topped up throughout the night. 

 

 

The classic Gueridon service, where food is prepared and presented at the individual diner’s table and the classic Hors d’ Oeuvres trolley transport you back in time to an era of 1920’s glamour.

 

 

From amuse bouche to dessert, the beautifully plated and delectable offerings were expertly put together and tantalized our palates.

For my starter I had a Cipollini and Parsely Prawn dish: plump grilled prawns floating in a Chardonnay cream topped with caviar. Martin went for the Foie Gras pâté with red wine poached pear.

 

 

For our mains I chose the seared Norwegian Salmon with lemongrass butter (served on the side -so decadent!) whilst Martin explores the Dyad of Lamb: a crumbled lamb shank with minted butter and pan jus.

 

 

We both settled on the dessert tasting plates which included passionfruit and elderflower cheesecake, Chocolate custard brownies, green tea mouse, grape jelly and a raspberry macaroon. Additionally, we were treated to a slice of decadent chocolate cake for our anniversary, which was such a special touch.

 

 

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The Grill Room is fine dining at its finest. The service is second to none and the food is exceptional in every way. The partnership of head chef Kevin Joseph and Bea Tollen works like magic to make any experience at the Grill Room one you will never forget. It is the perfect place to celebrate a special occasion.

The dress code is semi-formal and no children under 12 are permitted.

Bars at the Oyster Box

The Oyster Box also boasts 3 bars serving light meals and world-famous cocktails. The Lighthouse Bar makes a wonderful spot to enjoy sundowners whilst watching the waves crash a few meters away.

 

 

Private dining can be accommodated in the famed wine cellar which is sunken just below the Oyster Bar (beneath a glass ceiling!) and makes for a unique setting for dinner parties, corporate functions, tastings or special events and offers a Chef’s Table for up to 10 guests. Bespoke menus are created for every occasion and the resident Sommelier will present a selection of wines from the Diners Club Diamond award-winning wine list, which boasts the finest selection of South African and international vintages.

 

 

As you can tell from my review, I’ve only just scratched the surface of what this impeccable hotel has to offer in terms of food and drink. Experiences are unique and will be fully catered to the individual tastes and desires of each patron.

All in all, the dining options at the Oyster box are many and varied, the only thing that remains steadfast is the quality of the food and drink, and the impeccable service.

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A Lux Weekend at the Oyster Box Hotel

Sandwiched between the crashing waves of the Indian Ocean and the hub of Umhlanga, the Oyster Box Hotel sits proudly amidst tropical gardens. Occupying prime position in front of the historic lighthouse, guests who step through the revolving front doors are immediately transported into a luxury experience like no other.

We recently spent a memorable weekend at the Oyster Box to celebrate our 10 year anniversary, and it’s bound to be an experience I’ll never forget.

Check-in was a breeze, with a chilled glass of sparkling wine in your hand. OBH sends out a guest preference card to all guests prior to arrival, so they know exactly how to make your stay special. You can choose your pillows, soap and other amenities even before you set foot on their property.

The lobby is an oasis of calm and luxurious touches. Giant flower installations and sumptuous sofas dotted the area with large collections of art and Art Deco objects drawing the eye.

We were welcomed with a “Good Afternoon Mr and Mrs Dewolf”, and was greeted by this salutation throughout our stay.

Our bags were whisked up to our suite, while we followed, still sipping on the bubbly. The suite was breathtaking, old world colonial charm.

A bottle of champagne sat chilling in an ice bucket on the antique console table. The suite comprises of 2 rooms, one a large sitting area with a flat screen TV, minibar and loads of closet space. There was fresh nougat cookies (made in house), hot chocolate and a Nespresso machine with various capsules.

The bedroom was a focal point with an extra large king size bed, beautiful desk and en-suite bathroom.

The bathroom was large by hotel standards, with a deep-soak tub and his and hers vanities. The shower was separate and had the most amazing rain shower that seemed to melt away the day’s stresses. Not that I expect one can be too stressed when staying at the Oysters Box. I particularly loved the B Africa bathroom products… forget typical hotel minis, the Oyster Box spoils guests with deluxe travel sized amenities… which I’m not ashamed to say I happily brought home with me! – I dare you to find a hotel conditioner that leaves your hair as soft and silky.

Both the bedroom and the lounge led out to a private balcony, equipped with table and chairs and loungers. The view of course, was breathtaking. The waves lapped steadily a short distance away as we stared out onto the famous lighthouse.

The hotels resident mascot, Skabenga graced us with his presence. He recently celebrated his birthday and his party was fit for a king! It seems that he thoroughly enjoys his prestigious status at the Oyster Box hotel… though honestly, who wouldn’t?

We returned from dinner on our first night to find a romantic turndown service.

Rose petals were strewn across the floor, arranged on the bed, and thoughtfully laid around the bath. Together with the bath crystals and bath milk, it was hard to resist!

The hotel has a 24-seat cinema that screens movies on schedule and on demand. The best part? Complimentary candy and fresh hot popcorn is served while you enjoy your movie. You may also order from the bar if you prefer. The plush leather seats and blankets provided by the hotel made for a movie experience like no other!

A total of 14 pools and ponds can be found on the property. All the Villas and a number of rooms have gorgeous garden views and face onto one of the two large fresh-water swimming pools.

There’s a choice of bars and dining options, as well as an award winning spa… both of which we got to experience on our stay… but more of that in another post.

From looking at the prime position, the gorgeous decor and luxury amenities, it’s easy to see why the Oyster Box Hotel is consistently voted the Number 1 hotel in South Africa… but I truly believe that what sets this establishment apart from other 5-star hotels is the staff. The warm smiles are more than welcoming, they’re genuine, and never in short supply. Every staff member went out of their way to greet us, even in passing, and there was never a request that was too big or too small. The warmth radiates through the team and makes every stay at the Oyster Box truly memorable.

I would recommend this hotel to anyone looking to celebrate a special occasion, but perhaps most importantly, to anyone looking to make memories that will last a lifetime.

A huge “thank you” to the team at the Oyster Box for hosting us!

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