To Sea on the Rhapsody

26-03-96 to 30-03-96. Durban-Bazaruto

Faced with the seemingly plethora of cruise ships visiting our shores, Rudi and I were faced with two possible affordable vessels. Namely Russ or Rhapsody. Of course there has to be an ulterior motive to everything, so we chose our voyage with care, finally deciding on a Bazaruto cruise on the Rhapsody, sailing from Durban on the 26th of March and returning on the 30th. The reason behind this particular voyage? well, the Island Princess was due in on the 25th while Rotterdam was due to call on the 30th! we could kill three birds with one stone.

Unfortunately by the time we made our booking (Early January), the ship was full and we struggled to get a berth. In an effort to bring the cost down, we opted for a third person to go with, namely Neville himself! As per usual time dragged on and after 3 centuries passed we were on our way to Durban in a rainstorm on Sunday night. Our arrival coincided with the change of shift at the pilot boat. Rudi had been doing some pre-preparation and soon we were on our way out to drop the pilot on the Island Princess. I had always taken a fancy to her, there is something about that design which is really attractive. She was outside awaiting our arrival, spotlessly white with only a dark green portion to her funnel and upper deckhouses. What an incredible sight she was!

Island Princess arrival in Durban

After being dropped off at the small craft harbour, we hurried across to have a closer look and prepare for our visit which had been ably organised by Rudi. Soon we were on board the “love boats” sister and in for quite a surprise. The ship is reasonably plain, obviously comfortable but slightly different to what we are used to over here. There is a strong American influence on board with much of the show type lounge effect in the public rooms. Her upper decks are quite nice except for the AstroTurf which was 2 inches under water above the Lido area. Alas for the poor passengers, our tummy rumblings were too much and Rudi persuaded the chief steward that he needed to feed us! The omelettes and waffles went down great! Incidentally, the coffee had to have been the strongest that I had ever tasted! After a thorough look around the ship we had to disembark and we quickly popped into visit the Port Captain and obtain our permit for a visit to the Port Signal Station.

This we achieved with no quibble at all and soon were were climbing up to one of the more well known and inaccessible landmarks in the harbour. The view, needless to say is stupendous and we spent the next few hours admiring it and talking ships with the guy on duty. From our vantage point we even got to see Island Princess sail!

The next day there was no sign of Rhapsody, she was delayed! Our embarkation was due to start at 12h00 but the ship only arrived at the pilot station shortly before.

Naturally chaos reigned at N shed as embarking passengers got in the way of disembarking passengers and vice versa. Of course in that heat things were not very pleasant. Rudi licked his way to the front of the queue, much to the chagrin of those whom we had to shoulder out of the way! We then found out that our cabin had been upgraded again, from three deck to four deck!

Things were looking up. Late that afternoon we sailed into nice weather with three days of food, relaxation and entertainment.

For those unfamiliar with the ship, she has most of her accommodation on the three lowest decks, with the restaurant midships on 5 deck, showboat lounge forward on 6 deck, 8 bells disco/lounge aft on 6 deck and the outrigger cafe aft on 5 deck. The Topsail lounge sits above the bridge with the pool midships on 7 deck. The ship is quite easy to find your way around and generally quite pleasant inside. She was not an unattractive ship, but she did not really endear herself to me, even though she was an ex-Cunarder. I think if anything she seemed to be lacking character, or maybe I was not used to more “modern” ships?

One of a pair of identical sister ships, she was built in  1975 by Burmeister & Wain in Denmark for Cunard Line as MS Cunard Conquest. Her interiors were then installed at the Navali Mechaniche Affini in La Spezia, Italy. 

Cunard Countess/Princess as built

In 1977 the ship was renamed MS Cunard Princess. She entered service with what was then StarLauro (later rebranded MSC Cruises)  in 1995,  and renamed Rhapsody.  The ship was sold to Mano Maritime in 2009 under the name Golden Iris (

Postcard available on board

Daily program (1500×789)

We even spotted quite a few faces from Symphony and quickly settled into the shipboard routine. The most popular place on board was obviously the 8 bells disco/lounge with hordes visiting the outrigger cafe for lunch and breakfast.

The midships pool and jacuzzi’s were always crowded and the spacious decks were always populated by cancer seeking sun-bathers. Generally the food was adequate, however it tended to get monotonous at the buffet.

Our cabin was reasonably large, with a fold up Pullman berth, double window and very small bathroom. On the first day out we had lifeboat drill and did as little as possible. That night we met the Captain, while Neville tried to burn the cabin down while ironing his shirt. The next day our arrival at Bazaruto was late and once there they found that there was a swell running and the landing was unsafe. We shifted anchorage but it didn’t help so we all dumped our goodies back in the cabin and resigned ourselves to a day at anchor. From the ship Bazaruto looked like a pretty dismal sort of place, a lighthouse, tree, sand, sand and scrub seemed the only features, it was not my idea of paradise and frankly I could not understand how this was considered a destination. 

With much tugging Rudi persuaded Neville and myself to join him in a shady spot by the pool where we did some talent scouting and serious criticising. I was even persuaded into the Jacuzzi and pool (shock! Horror!).

Later that day they started to land passengers, but by then we were no longer interested in going ashore and spent the rest of the time around the ship. Shortly before 15h30 the passengers were recalled as the weather was getting up and by 17h00 we were underway once more. That night the swell increased and the Rhapsody was sending spray over the bridge. It didn’t dampen the spirit at the tropical evening though and by the next day the weather had cleared, much to the relief of one of the women at our table.

On our last day we were booked for a bridge tour, and with a bit of persuasion we had managed to swing an engine room tour as well. The bridge tour was very short, just a quick in and out before we scuttled below to meet up with the chief engineer who would take us on our own personal engine room tour. There is something very special about being in the engine room of a ship while it is at sea.

Bridge tour handout

That night we had our farewell dinner and packed our junk, and said our farewells. The next day we were hoping to see Rotterdam at sea and take some great shots. However the next morning she was nowhere in sight and we sailed into Durban more tired than when we had left! Luck played into our hands once again as Rotterdam had arrived early the previous night to bunker and was awaiting us. We found Howard in the crowd and headed for her. Rudi had organised the visit as well and by 09H30 we were on board this great ship.

On board she is like a time capsule of 50’s and 60’s life. The furniture is from the past, the wooden panels are real! and the ship is spotlessly clean. We quickly made friends with Hans Hoffman, the 2nd officer who proved to be an amiable ship enthusiast with a love of tugs. An engine room visit was quickly arranged and we descended into the greasy bowels of the vessel. An impressive engine room and a starting platform straight out of history! Then a bridge visit and lunch in the lido cafe was appreciated, and the food was astounding!!! We were very sorry to get off and we headed for North Pier to watch the Rhapsody sail

She was so different to Rotterdam, almost insignificant. And I remember Island Princess and Rotterdam more than I do Rhapsody. She just did not really leave an impression on me, and while she was comfortable she was not special. Most of the other ships I sailed on had something that made them stick out. Rhapsody stuck out as having nothing to remember her by.

Shortly thereafter the Rotterdam sailed from Durban, lit by the setting sun, into an uncertain future. She was sold out of the Holland America Stable and served with Orient Lines before going to Premier Cruise line under the name Rembrandt, aka “The Big Red Boat IV”. Ships will never be built like that again. Sadly, in our plastic world we will be hard pressed to produce such a fine ship. (The Rotterdam was laid up for many years before she was towed to Gibraltar for restoration and then finally back to her home in Rotterdam where she is now restored). Pacific Princess went to the breakers in 2013, while Rhapsody’s sister Cunard Countess suffered an accommodation fire also in 2013 and was scrapped in 2014. Island Princess went to the breakers in November 2014. 

Rotterdam sailing from Durban

However for us there was no reason to stay and we set off for home.

DRW. © 1992-2022. Last updated 14 July 2011. Moved to blog 17/12/2013, moved to Musings 26/7/02/2021, tagged at 14/11/2008

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