My Epic Sail On The MSC Sinfonia From Venice To Cape Town


By Elsa Dixon


ON BIG BLEND RADIO: Travel writer Elsa Dixon talks about her cruising adventures on the MSC Sinfonia. Watch here in the YouTube player or download the podcast on PodBean.

Arrival In Venice
One look at the itinerary, and I signed up. The 30-day cruise from Venice to Cape Town on the MSC Sinfonia checked quite a few places on my bucket list. Being a regular contributor to PlayStayEat, I pitched some ideas to Scott Kendall, reached out to tourism boards, and secured four press trips.

Four days before the start of the cruise, my companion, Karen, and I flew to Venice via Lisbon. We arrived late at night in a rainy and dark Venice after struggling to find the vaporetta at the Marco Polo airport. We dragged our wet cases and ourselves over the deserted square, canals, and small bridges and miraculously arrived at our destination, the 18th Century Hotel Ateneo near Piazza San Marc.

After a few glorious days in “The Floating City”, we boarded the MSC cruise liner. We took a water taxi to the harbor, where we registered before boarding a small vessel to reach the MSC Sinfonia. We happily settled into our spacious ocean-view stateroom with a balcony before exploring the open deck, restaurant areas, and different amenities.

Our First Two Ports
The sun rose to a beautiful view of Split, Croatia, early the following morning. A charming young tour guide showed us around the palace built by the Roman emperor, Diocletian, in the 4th century AD. We had an unexpected treat when a male trio performed a cappella. Their voices soared through the onion dome with its beautiful acoustics.

After a day at sea, we reached Katakolon, Greece, a seaside town overlooking the Ionian Sea. We took a local tour bus to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Archeological site of Olympia, about a 40-minute ride away. Olympia pays homage to where the ancient Olympic Games originated in 776 BC in honor of the god Zeus. The excavations are a truly humbling sight. It is worth visiting the neighboring Archaeological Museum of Olympia, within short walking distance from the ruins.

Suez Canal and Egypt
Early morning, we entered the Suez Canal along the Egyptian coast from Port Said, two tugboats steering us the entire journey. The narrow passage allowed only one-way traffic, except for 22 miles where a widened section created a two-way option. This caused the temporary closure of the El Ferdan Railway Bridge, the longest swing bridge in the world.

The following day, Karen and I took a taxi to a beach at Sharm El Sheikh. There were Tourism police buildings at regular intervals. We spent a few hours luxuriating on padded sun beds under umbrellas and swimming in the salty, warm ocean.

Our third port of call was Safaga on the Red Sea. My excursion was to Luxor, an ancient walled city, about 155 miles from the port. We passed a desert with rocky hills before reaching the green, irrigated pastures, neglected farmhouses, and a city called Qena. The principal mode of transport seemed to be donkeys, donkey carts, and tuk-tuks.

Next, we reached the Valley of the Kings dating back to about 1500 – 1000 BC with tombs of at least 63 pharaohs such as Thutmose 1 and Ramesses X and X1. I marveled at the Egyptian hieroglyphics and the brightly colored drawings on the walls and roofs. The impressive tomb of Tutankhamun reminded me of the archeological museum in the basement of Highclere Castle (Downtown Abbey of TV fame) in London. The 5th earl of Carnarvon was the patron of the 1922 Egyptological expedition that opened the Tutankhamun crypt.

  • MSC Cruise Ship - Elsa DIxon
    MSC Cruise Ship - Elsa DIxon

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Two days later, we arrived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The night before, crew members removed all alcohol from the mini-fridges and bars, leaving only fruit juices on the shelves. Alcohol sales and consumption are forbidden here. After some confusion, Karen and I finally had the necessary stamps in our passports and boarded the escorted bus to the customs building, where we were photographed and fingerprinted. Though masked and formal, the customs officials were polite and friendly. We took a taxi to the old town.

Only the jewelry stores were open since it was prayer time. We marveled at the balconies boxed in with wooden shutters for women to peep outside. We saw only men buying vegetables and fruit at the markets. The visit made an indelible impression on us both.

Three Islands In The Indian Ocean
Seychelles, Mauritius, and Reunion are volcanic Indian Ocean islands in fairly close proximity to each other. They are famous for their beautiful white sandy beaches, tropical waters, and coral reefs. All three have dark histories of colonial domination, slavery, sugar plantations, and indentured Indians in common.

Each island has a mosaic of people from India, China, Africa, and Europe, speaking French-based Creole. We enjoyed tasting the typical Creole cuisine.

Seychelles has two UNESCO world heritage sites: the Mai Valley and its indigenous coco de mer palm trees, and the Aldabra Atoll, home to Seychelles’ giant tortoises. Mauritius claims two as well, Le Morne Cultural Landscape and Aapravasi Ghat, while Reunion has an impressive five: all Pithons, cirques, and ramparts found in the Reunion National Park.

Durban and Cape Town, South Africa
Our last two stops were Durban and Cape Town in South Africa. We had a tour of Durban Center but were disappointed at the neglected state of that city. However, we woke up to a stunning view of Table Mountain as the ship pulled into Cape Town harbor.

We took the Ceres Rail steam train over Sir Lowry’s Pass, enjoying the mountains, fynbos vegetation, coastal vistas, and fruit orchards. We explored different stalls and produce at the Elgin Railway Market, and enjoyed the live music before having lunch and boarding the train back.

Reminiscing about the MSC Cruise
Karen and I spent the last night together reminiscing about our experiences on the MSC Sinfonia cruise ship. We can attest to the excellent resident entertainment team and the variety of acts we enjoyed. This amazing cruise certainly checked all the anticipated boxes.

Travel Planning Sites to Visit:

Seychelles Tourist Office, Cape Town, South Africa 

Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority 

Ile De La Reunion Tourisme 

Ceres Rail Company 

Author, travel writer, and tour director, Elsa Dixon, loves to explore the world and share her experiences. She specializes in custom-made small group tours, especially safaris to South Africa and Tanzania. Her international travel has led to many adventures and misadventures, making her travel articles compelling reading. She is a member of IFWTWA as well as Travel Writers University. She has published two books under her maiden name, Elsa van der Byl, the latest being “Hippos, Hotspots, and Homelands.” Follow her blogs and publications at 



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About the Author:

Author, travel writer, and tour director, Elsa Dixon, loves to explore the world and share her experiences.

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