A birthday surprise on the ocean

I planned 3 days on the ocean as a surprise 30th birthday gift for my husband, Simon. I wanted to do something he’d never done before and that he’d remember, something he’d love! He loves wildlife, I thought…nope, I’m not camping! He loves the ocean and boats…mmm…what can I do with that? A cruise!

I found a 3 night cruise on the MSC Sinfonia from Durban to the Portuguese Island! His birthday was smack bang in the middle of it, so it was perfect! What a happy coincidence and a total no brainer! I booked it 10 months in advance and told him that it was a surprise. Yes, I kept it a secret for 10 months, throwing him off track every time he fished for clues. Exhausting, but so worth it!

I patted myself on the back until cruises came up in conversation somehow and he said, “I hope you didn’t book a cruise for my birthday!” … I replied with shock and horror, “Of course not, you know I hate deep water!”… I turned away from him and cringed …O M G, what have I done?! It was too late to cancel! I was terrified at the thought of him hating his birthday surprise! Especially since I would be facing one of my fears to pull it off! I mean, we could have stayed ashore!


MSC Sinfonia

Yes…I have a fear of deep dark waters…All the excitement about finding the “perfect” gift made me forget all about that small issue…astounding what love does to your brain…


In the blink of an eye, the wait was over. The trip began with a flight to Durban. Poor Simon was so confused, he thought we were driving to a place on the outskirts of Johannesburg, not far from home. When Uber showed up at our doorstep, he had a suspicion we would be going to the airport, but I told him that the hotel was close, so it would make it more exciting if we didn’t have a car. He totally bought it…but only for a while, haha! Still, it totally confused him!

At the airport, I made him close his eyes while I printed our plane tickets at the self service counter. I was so determined to keep each step of the trip a surprise! He only found out where we were going once we were in the air, thanks to my wide brimmed hat I told him to wear while boarding! Talk about extreme, but I love going all out with surprises!

When we finally touched down, a driver was waiting for us at the airport to take us to the lovely Maharani Hotel on the beach front. We spent our first evening having a lovely dinner, walking on the peer under the moonlight and enjoying a couples massage at the Mangwanani Spa as a night cap.


Maharani Hotel – Durban, South Africa


Off to sea

Simon thought we’d be spending all 4 nights at the Maharani Hotel, but when morning came, I told him that we were taking an Uber to the outskirts of Durban for the next part of the trip. We were all packed by 10am when I handed him a white pill. I can’t even begin to explain how confused he was! He had no clue what the pill was for! He confessed later, saying he thought it was a Malaria pill, haha!

We checked out of the hotel and were off to the harbor, which was only 5 minutes away. As we pulled up to the entrance,  there were boat signs everywhere. I heard Simon shuffling as we drove up to our drop off point, where MSC flags were clearly visible. He was onto the real surprise!

As we jumped out of the Uber and joined the long line, I yelled “Surpriiisssseeeee!” and I held my breath waiting for his reaction! His eyes lit up and he squeezed me tightly! He loved it! Phew! Priceless! I think I may love surprising him more than he loved the surprise!


Embarking the MSC Sinfonia – Durban Harbor, N-Shed

The boarding process was a long one…if you ever do decide to go on a cruise, try get there 30 minutes before they tell you to! We stood in line for 2 hours! I’ll give you more tips a bit later on.

All aboard

As we stepped onto the ship, it looked as if we were on the set of Titanic, the movie. Rich carpets, wooden finishes and velvet…everything was luxurious. Oh and the food! The food!


The restaurant on board the MSC Sinfonia  

We plonked our bags in our room and went straight to the welcome buffet, which was absolutely amazing! They have such a variety and best of all, they had my favourite…pizza! Fresh slices of pizza were available throughout the day and we often had some after our plated dinner…can you believe it?!

Yes! There are plated dinners every evening, which I loved! It’s a 3 course meal with a selection of starters, mains and desserts! I guess you can tell I’m a sucker for food!

We spent the rest of our days lounging on the pool deck and eating. There are lots of fun activities for kids and adults, like Kids Club, theater shows, dance lessons, themed parties, shops, a coffee bar, a spa, a basket ball court and a gym with a beautiful view of the ocean!

There’s also putt putt, which becomes very interesting as the boat sways side to side! Simon beat me when we played…but I’d like to think that I let him *eye roll*, it was his birthday after all!


Putt Putt on the MSC Sinfonia

The highlight of our trip, apart from the 24/7 pizza of course, was the day we spent on the Portuguese Island!

Portuguese Island

We left Durban harbor on Friday afternoon and on Saturday morning we had breakfast with a view of the island. We could see the Mozambican mainland just on the other side. I was amazed that we had traveled from South Africa to the Portuguese Island in one day!


On a boat from the MSC Sinfonia to the Portuguese Island


We took a smaller boat from the MSC Sinfonia to the island and had an amazing time on the beach for Simon’s birthday! The water was warm and the sun was welcoming and toasty. It’s been a while since I had such a lovely time on a beach!


Birthday boy – Portuguese Island

Packing for a cruise

Having never been on a cruise before, I had no idea about what to pack, except for my Ma Ashuma shirt dress! There’s so many activities on the boat that you need to pack for, so the versatility of my shirt dress came in handy!

I asked people I knew who went on cruises before to get a feel of what to expect and came up with a packing list that served me quite well!


White and yellow stripe Ma Ashuma shirt dress


I love travelling light, so if that’s you too, this packing list is ideal.  If you’d like to dress up for dinner, the best thing to do is to pack versatile dresses that can go from day to night with a quick change of shoes and accessories.

You want to be comfortable for lounging on the boat so most of the items I packed are great for relaxing. I kept my looks easy, simple and stylish. With just 11 items of clothes, 5 accessories, 3 pairs of shoes and two swimsuits you’ll be set for any activity that may arise! These items will give you variety!


These 3 bottoms (skinny jeans, black beach pants and black shorts) are versatile and can be worn during the day with casual tees and flats or dressed up with heels, black top, long earrings and a shawl.


These are casual tees to wear with shorts, skinny jeans or beach pants during the day. Pair them with casual shoes (espadrilles or sandals), hat and sunglasses for an easy stylish day time look. Also pack a light cardigan in case it gets chilly.

I didn’t wear any makeup during the day, but if you want to wear a little something something, a natural makeup look will be perfect.

Black tops are great for evenings. It’s a perfect canvas for accessories. Wear it with skinny jeans, black beach pants or black shorts when you don’t feel for a dress. Dress it up with a shawl, long earrings and a smokey eye or bright lip!


These dresses are easy and versatile. You can lounge in them by the pool or dress them up at night with heels and long earrings. A sarong is a great alternative to wearing a tunic to the pool, especially because there are 4 different ways to tie them! You could actually get away with only packing sarongs!


Remember to pack accessories! They are essential for taking your looks from day to night! I packed sunglasses (make sure to choose the right pair for your face shape), hatearrings and two scarves (one print that can double up as a sarong and one black). I love scarves, there are so many ways you can wear them to change up an outfit!

I packed 3 pairs of shoes: Rubber sandals for pool lounging, it also looks great with a maxi dress and long earrings for dinner. Nude heels to dress up tunics, skinny jeans, beach pants and even shorts. I packed flat Espadrilles for day time.

Remember your swimsuit! Best to pack two! I like packing in a one-piece, not only is it a swimsuit, but you can wear it as a top with the black shorts or beach pants!


Cruise tips

For first time cruisers, these are a few tips:

  • Your boarding ticket tell you to not to be at the harbor earlier than the time stated on the ticket, to be honest, I wish we had arrived earlier!
  • We ended up standing in a queue for 2 hours with our two backpacks. They may look light weight in the photo…but after a couple hours of queuing, it’s not! There’s a bag drop off available before queuing, please use it!

Simon and our backpacks


  • Your bag may take a while to get to your room. Make sure to take a small carry on with essentials so that you can enjoy the boat in the meantime. Essentials being – a swimsuit, sunscreen, a change of clothes and toiletries. Towels are provided on the boat.
  • Photographers take photo’s of you throughout the trip. If you like any of it you can buy them while on the boat. Just a heads up though, they are quite pricey!
  • The indoor areas of the boat have air conditioning and it can get quite chilly! So, remember to pack a pashmina or cardigan.
  • There are odd numbered rooms on one side of the boat and even numbers on the other side of the boat. We thought our room had disappeared when we landed up on the wrong side *giggle* it was so bizarre!
  • Not everyone dresses up for the plated dinner. Jeans and tees are fine for men. On most nights, I would wear my skinny jeans or beach pants with a black top. I dressed it up with a scarf, earrings and heels. The only rule – no shorts and slops to dinner!
  • Don’t think you’re fat if you can barely move in the shower on the boat…it’s so tiny and the taps are weird.
  • I get car sick, but sea sickness was not a problem. Get the right pills and you’ll be fine. We took Stugeron. All you need is one pill in the morning for sea sickness. Don’t take it 3 times a day as directed on the box, that’s only for people who suffer with Vertigo.
  • Once you’re off the boat, you’ll still feel like your swaying from side to side for about 2 or 3 days after. It took me 4 days!

Would I recommend it?

If you’re looking to unwind and just have a relaxing holiday, this is perfect! I have never got back from a trip so rested! There’s barely internet connection, so no access to people or social media. It’s a great as a couples trip because of the uninterrupted time you have together!

Also, be prepared to have the best sleep! Your cabin is super dark and with the rocking of the boat…we slept like logs! Probably the best sleep I had in years, no kidding!


Enjoying the romantic sunset


If you are a parent looking for a holiday that you can enjoy with your kids, this couldn’t be more perfect! There’s just so much to do for the whole family!

It was amazing and I would totally do it again!

As for a cruise longer than 3 nights, I don’t think so…Personally , with my fear of deep dark water, 3 nights is enough for little old me!

Hope my story inspired you to try a holiday on the ocean!

Until next time, stay stylish!



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3 thoughts on “A birthday surprise on the ocean

  1. Nuri says:

    Love the story taking me on the journeyand some good down time reading material and not forgetting the good traveling and fashion tip A+. . You such a romantic at heart. 🙂


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