Three years after its last voyage in South African waters was halted due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the iconic Queen Mary 2 ocean liner arrived at the Port of Durban on Monday. Belonging to Cunard Lines, the ship is considered one of the largest ocean liners in the world, undertaking transatlantic and longer “line voyages” rather than short cruises.
The vessel spent the day docked in Durban, South Africa‘s busiest port, before proceeding to Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth/Nelson Mandela Bay) in the Eastern Cape. On Friday, it is expected to sail into Cape Town’s port. The Queen Mary 2’s return to local waters and visits to major coastal cities highlights the ongoing recovery of cruise tourism in the country.
MSC Cruises, South Africa’s primary cruise tourism company, resumed its operations last year, enjoying a successful 2022/2023 summer season. Nevertheless, the group primarily serves the domestic market, whereas the Queen Mary 2 attracts wealthier pound and euro-spending tourists.
Over 2,000 guests were expected to disembark from the Queen Mary 2 in Durban, according to Durban Tourism and eThekwini Municipality officials. Tour shuttle buses transported visitors to various tourist attractions, such as the Valley of 1000 Hills and game and wilderness tours in Hluhluwe and the Isimangaliso/St. Lucia Wetland Park UN World Heritage site in northern KwaZulu-Natal. Similar excursions are planned for when the ocean liner docks in Nelson Mandela Bay and Cape Town.
The last time the Queen Mary 2 visited South Africa was in March 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic first emerged. Cunard Lines had to obtain special clearance from South African authorities for some of their crew to disembark at the Port of Durban and enter quarantine as a precaution. While the company restarted some cruises in 2021, cancellations occurred due to subsequent Covid outbreaks internationally. Cruise tourism worldwide only began to rebound in 2022, with Queen Mary 2 not visiting South Africa during that period.
Since its maiden voyage to the country in 2010, Queen Mary 2 has been a frequent visitor to South African shores. Interestingly, the ship did not dock at Durban’s new Nelson Mandela Cruise Terminal but used the old N-Shed instead. The new terminal, costing over R200 million, is owned and operated by KwaZulu Cruise Terminal (KCT), with MSC Cruises as its majority shareholder.
The facility, named Nelson Mandela Cruise Terminal, has been operational for several months, but its official launch was postponed due to flooding in KZN last year. KCT secured a 25-year concession from Transnet National Ports Authority to finance, construct, operate, and maintain the terminal, located next to the Durban Point Waterfront and Ushaka Marine World.
In the 2022/23 summer season, MSC Cruises operated two ships in South African waters: MSC Orchestra and MSC Sinfonia. Durban served as the group’s primary homeport, with approximately 40 trips for MSC Orchestra, mainly to Mozambique and a longer New Year cruise to Mauritius, Seychelles, and Reunion. From Cape Town, MSC Sinfonia had 22 trips planned to Namibia‘s west coast.
Looking ahead, MSC Cruises announced it would deploy the MSC Splendida, its most modern ship ever to serve South Africa, for the 2023-24 summer season, commencing in November. Capable of accommodating up to 4,363 passengers, the 14-deck vessel will operate out of both Durban and Cape Town ports, further signifying the ongoing recovery of the cruise tourism industry.