Cruising South Africa and Namibia With NCL: A Review

Earlier this year, I got to experience a cruise on the Norwegian Jade out of Cape Town as part of Norwegian Cruise Line's inaugural Southern African season. Cruising out of Cape Town, the 12-day voyage took me to Mossel Bay, Gqerberha (formerly Port Elizabeth) and Richard's Bay in South Africa, and then on to Luderitz and Walvis Bay in Namibia. 

Whether you're an international visitor seeking to explore this part of the world or a local resident longing for a memorable getaway, here are some of the reasons why cruising is the best way to experience a vacation in Southern Africa:

(If you're the type of person who would rather watch the movie than read the book, click here.)

Cape Town's Table mountain in background as cruise ship pulls out of port
*I was a guest of Norwegian Cruise Line but all thoughts and opinions are my own.

1. It’s so convenient 

Not only is cruising a very safe and reliable form of travel but you only have to unpack once to get to see numerous destinations from your floating hotel. The actual act of travelling, of moving from one place to another, is not only tolerable but it has never been so much fun. There is an abundance of dining and entertainment options all within walking distance of your room which gets cleaned by some of the friendliest crew members around. 

You also don’t have to carefully plan each leg of your journey or worry about what you may have overlooked or been unaware of, you just enjoy yourself and wake up somewhere amazing. When you get there, an entire department exists to arrange tours that showcase different attractions in the destination you are visiting.

Relaxing on a cruise ship

When travelling in South Africa, there are a lot of safety factors you need to consider but it's hard to plan well when you don't know what you don't know. When you cruise with NCL their shore excursions have been vetted. All you have to do is pick from a list of exciting options how you want to experience a place and everything is taken care of. If you want to go off on your own and make your own plans for your time in port, that's fine too. Just be back before the ship sets sail.
What’s not to love?

2. You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to dining

As a crew member, I got to experience some of what was available to the guests but not all of it. When I was invited on this cruise, I knew what I was looking forward to:

  • The cookies that they serve at the buffet in the afternoons
  • The pizza
  • The crepe station
  • The molten lava cake
  • Teppanyaki 
  • Savouring all of the above and then sitting, staring into the distance, eyes glazing over with satisfaction and not having to think about being back at work by a specific time. 

I experienced all of these things and I enjoyed every mouthful. On one sea day, I even went to the dining room and had two molten lava cakes for lunch. That’s the type of thing that you can do as a guest on a cruise ship! (Sorry, pancreas.)

The Norwegian Jade has a grand total of 16 dining options and I believe I sampled all of them except room service (that’s how much of an extrovert I am.) The complimentary dining options include two dining rooms (Grand Pacific and Alizar), an Asian restaurant (Jasmine) and an Irish pub (O’Sheehan's). 

On the 12th floor at the aft of the ship (i.e. the back) is the buffet known as the Garden Cafe which includes a crepe station in the evenings.  I tried to eat in moderation but by the time I found the crepe station and realised they had Nutella, that ship had already sailed! 

There are also speciality restaurants where you can dine for an additional fee. These include Cagney’s Steakhouse, Moderno Churrascaria (a Brazilian restaurant where they serve meat on skewers) and Teppanyaki (where the chefs entertain you as they whip up impressive Asian meals in front of your eyes). There’s also a French restaurant, Le Bistro; an Italian restaurant, La Cucina and a sushi bar (located in Jasmine).

Jasmine restaurant on NCL Jade

Le Bistro, French restaurant on NCL Jade

Moderno restaurant on NCL Jade

3. The drinks are good too 

The best part about drinking on a cruise ship is you can’t always walk in a straight line anyway and the captain has already been designated as the driver. (Okay, technically he doesn’t actually steer the ship but he oversees a team of designated drivers (steerers?).

I am not the biggest drinker. In fact, I only drink at weddings and for work! (You can’t be a travel blogger in Cape Town without having to sample a fair amount of wine on the job.) Having said that, I still enjoyed my open beverage card. I sampled all the different virgin cocktails on the menu, and often told the bar staff to surprise me. 

There is nothing quite like a strawberry daiquiri (virgin or otherwise) on the pool deck of a cruise ship on a scorching hot beautiful summer day at sea. I made it something of a tradition to enjoy one at the pool each afternoon. 

Strawberry daiquiris on the pool deck of the Norwegian Jade

We were also treated to a Sustainable Cocktail Hour experience where all sorts of unlikely by-products of other things made on board were repurposed into a range of cocktails. From “Cafe Replay” which contained coffee grounds to the somewhat self-explanatory “Croissant Mai Tai” and even “Pineapple Surplus” (which was a way more creative take on the pineapple beer people attempted to make during the COVID-19 lockdown when alcohol sales were suspended here in South Africa), I sampled a lot of interesting things during that session.

Sustainable cocktail hour on NCL Jade

4. You will be thoroughly entertained 

From live shows with a cast of professional singers and dancers to a lineup of guest entertainers, there's always something in the Stardust Theatre. Then there are all the cruise staff activities (hosted by those in my former role) happening around the ship, such as trivia games, game shows, sports tournaments and that one guy who twirls around the dance floor singing his heart out to the sound of Xanadu (oh wait, that was Javier, he was a guest!). Either way, there is no shortage of entertainment available on this ship. 

Whether you seek the polished perfection of professional shows or the whimsical charm of unexpected guest performances during bandeoke (karaoke with a live band), there's no getting bored on board.

Stardust Theatre on NCL Jade

5. The parties are fun

I was so looking forward to the parties and getting to dance the night away — not because it was my job, as it had been before, but just because I could. There are a fair amount of line dances that they do onboard and I remembered them all! It’s like riding a bicycle! Except — and I’m ashamed to admit this — this was the first time I learned “Jerusalema”, the South African line dance that went a little bit viral internationally around the start of the pandemic.

The Glow Party is the highlight of any NCL cruise. Guests are encouraged to wear white or neon and party the night away under the stars on the open deck to the sounds of contemporary hits. If you are enthusiastic enough, you may be rewarded with a glow baton (a foam wand with flashy lights in it), that you can give to your four-year-old niece upon your return home (and she will love it far more than any over-priced souvenir you thought about getting her before buying yourself some duty-free perfume from the onboard gift shop instead). 

Glow party on NCL ship in South Africa

Not only did I thoroughly enjoy the party but I definitely reached my step count that day!

6. You can reach new levels of relaxation at the spa

Take a vacation from the non-existent stress of your vacation at the Mandara Spa.

From steam rooms to saunas and jacuzzis to rain showers, the Mandara Spa has it all. It also has a small polar plunge pool (I can't remember its official name) and an ice shower if you want to shock yourself awake to make sure that you're not really dreaming. And let's not forget the heated loungers that embrace you like a warm hug from a long-lost friend. It's like napping on a cloud while gentle heat caresses your weary limbs, — if that cloud was solid and covered in mosaic tiles, that is. 

Be warned that you can lose hours of your life in this place but the relaxation experienced probably extends it ... so I guess it evens out. 

Women's legs in Cruise ship Spa

7. You can maintain your fitness routine 

Which is exactly what I did! And by that I mean I walked into the gym to take this photo, almost burned a calorie then left.

Treadmills in cruise ship gym

8. The interiors are quite spectacular 

I have worked on quite a few ships in my career, some of which were from a less sophisticated cruise line including one particular ship that was launched in 1990 but looked like it had been designed in 1985. It was like a clown exploded all over the interior!  Everywhere you looked, your eyes were assaulted. Fortunately, you don't have to experience that ship (not that you could - it's been scrapped) to appreciate this one. 

Bliss Lounge on NCL Jade

The Jade’s decor was tastefully updated in 2021. From the chic Bliss lounge to the understated pool deck, each area sets the tone for fun or relaxation or both. I loved watching the elaborate colour-changing chandelier in the atrium while grabbing a late-night cup of tea at O’Sheehan's. I’d love to make a video of it and turn it into my laptop screensaver — Or maybe I already did and I got so distracted by it that that’s why it’s taken me so long to finally write this blog post! 

Colourful chandelier in NCL Jade atrium
Next time can I have one of these in my cabin?

9. The sunsets are even more magnificent

This picture doesn't quite do them justice.

Sun sets over Norwegian Jade pool deck

10. The adventures to be had in port

When people think about visiting Southern Africa, their first instinct is to book an inland safari, but when you stop to think about how many of this region’s most impressive attractions are accessible by sea, cruising seems to be an obvious choice. 

NCL has created a number of itineraries under the banner of "Extraordinary Journeys". These are cruises that enable guests more immersive experiences, enabling them to be truly changed by the trip. This itinerary falls under that banner and the shore excursions really do live up to the expectations set.

Mossel Bay

My cruise took me to Mossel Bay where I experienced the South African Cheese and Wine Experience, a tour that showcases why South Africa, and specifically the Western Cape, is known internationally for its wine. Because nothing screams "adventure" like sipping wine and munching on cheese, right? ...Well, for some of us, it does. 

We got to sample the traditional handcrafted cheese of the Kasselman family in a variety of flavours at Kasselhoop before tasting an array of tantalising flavours and wine pairings surrounded by potplants at The Succulent, an eatery and plant nursery in one, created by the award-winning chef, Michelle de Jager (before frolicking through the onsite vineyard ... as one does.)

South African Cheese and Wine Experience, Mossel Bay


In Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth), I experienced the abundant elephant population of Addo Elephant Park

The elephants even let me try some of their favourite treats: Spekboom. (In case I wasn't getting enough sustenance on the ship.) It never occurred to me that one of South Africa's most common succulent houseplants was edible and, as it turns out, quite delicious. — At least in the Eastern Cape it is. (Like Coca-Cola, I'm convinced it tastes different in different places.) Before I get too off-topic, it was definitely the elephants and not the snacks that were the highlight of the experience. 

Given the name of the park, I expected to see some elephants, I didn't expect to see so many - and from so close! The park was originally established as a reserve for 11 remaining elephants in the area. It is now home to about 600, as well as buffaloes, black rhinos, warthogs, various buck species, hyenas and lions.

If you're trying to choose between a coach tour and a 4x4 vehicle tour, the 4x4 tour is worth the extra fee as these vehicles can travel on rougher terrain and access parts of the park that the coaches can't. 

Elephant at Addo Elephant Park - cruise ship safari excursion, South Africa

Elephants at Addo Elephant Park on NCL safari shore excursion


Finally getting to experience the ghost town of Kolmanskop near Luderitz was a highlight of the cruise for me. The once opulent diamond mining town now being reclaimed by the desert has been on my bucket list for years, and it did not disappoint!

After diamonds were found in the area in 1908, the town sprang up quickly. With over 5 million carats of diamonds (that's a lot!) mined from the area before 1914, there was an abundance of wealth in this town. From a theatre that hosted international opera singers to a casino, a bowling alley, a sports hall and even a swimming pool, the local residents did more than just make the desert livable. Now these once lavish buildings are slowly being engulfed by desert sand. 

Kolmanskop ghost town - cruise ship shore excursion, Luderitz

Read more about Kolmanskop and why it's so worth a visit, here:  


Related post: 

Walvis Bay

The last stop of the cruise was Walvis Bay where I went on a 4x4 tour of the magnificent sand dunes of Sandwich Harbour. Not only was riding up and down those dunes adrenaline-inducing, but the views from the top of these literal mountains of sand overlooking the sea is something I didn't know I had to experience in my life until I did. 

It is known for being the home of some of the world's highest sand dunes and it is definitely the most dramatic landscape I have ever found myself in. Then, if the title of the tour was making anyone hungry, a picnic was included at the foot of the dune (the really really big one). 

Sandwich Harbour sand dune - cruise ship shore excursion, Walvis Bay
My new desktop pic, obviously

On a side note: Namibia became Rodrigo's 55th country visited. 

Plastic lawn flamingo travel toy in ghost town of Kolmanskop

Cape Town

Cape Town, with its own abundance of attractions, completes the experience as the departure point for this cruise. The ship overnights in the port here, allowing guests to experience it more fully.  I have been living here for 3.5 years now and even that hasn't been enough time to see as much of it as I would like. Cape Town is a bit like the Garden Cafe, you have to be selective because there are far too many options to ever fully experience all of the things that seem so amazing.

V&A Waterfront, Cape Town, cruise ship port

If you're looking for ideas about how to spend your time here, read this:

Related post: 

12. The service is next-level 

Yes, I know, I have moved on but some of the crew that remain are good too! Maybe I’m biased, but I really believe that the crew and their attitudes, and your interactions with them, contribute so much to your cruise experience. I think I tipped my cabin steward more than the average guest and wrote a ton of comment cards but they deserved it.

Cocktail at cruise ship restaurant

13. The staterooms are beyond comfortable

From window-less inside cabins to Haven suites that come with their own butlers as well as their own private access-restricted pool deck and public lounges, NCL's ships come with a variety of accommodation options for every budget. 

I used to think that balcony cabins were overrated, especially for extroverts like me who would much rather be spending their time in the ship's public areas, engaging in some of the many activities on offer, instead of chilling in their rooms alone staring out into the blue. Boy, was I wrong! 

I loved my stateroom and what felt like my own personal slice of infinity as I stared out at the horizon and beyond from the privacy of my balcony.  

Also, if you can literally see dolphins from your (temporary) bedroom, you are winning at life! (And I did.)

Unicorn onesie in cruise ship cabin

relaxing in cruise ship cabin

Unicorn on cruise ship balcony
Probably not the content they thought I would create when I was invited on this media trip but still embracing the NCL spirit of "Feel Free" nonetheless.

Why Norwegian Cruise Line? 

While I have not experienced NCL’s South African itinerary competitors (not that there are many) what I do know is that NCL is known in the cruise line industry for its “freestyle” concept. 

It was the first cruise line to do away with strict dining times. On most other cruise lines, you are assigned to an early or a late dining slot for dinner in the main dining rooms. On NCL, you can eat whenever you choose. Talk about culinary anarchy! A number of other cruise lines have since followed in their footsteps. 

Most other cruise lines also have a formal night, gala night or captain’s dinner, where a strict dress code policy is enforced if you wish to dine in the dining rooms. While you are welcome to dress up should you choose, this is not compulsory for access to a dining room on NCL. 

If you yearn for the freedom to dine on your own terms and the luxury of choosing your attire without judgment, NCL is the beacon of hope in a sea of conformity.

Norwegian Jade docked in Gqeberha, South Africa


How you can experience it too

After the success of the NCL's first Southern African cruise season with the Norwegian Jade, they will be back next season with the Jade's almost identical sister ship, the Norwegian Dawn. They will also be extending their offering to include cruises to Mauritius and back, stopping in ports in Madagascar, Reunion, and Mozambique. 

To find out more about cruising Southern Africa, see:  NCL - Africa Cruises


Cruising South Africa and Namibia With NCL - The Video: 


What it was like to cruise as a guest for the first time after six years as a crew member

Having spent six years working for two different cruise lines, when I was invited to be a guest of Norwegian Cruise Line, it felt a bit like the set-up for a reality TV show. While there are some ex-crew members who never want to step foot on a ship ever again, I am definitely not one of them. I fell in love with cruising as a guest, I fell more in love with cruising as a crew member and I still believe that it is the best way to travel. My obsession with seafaring is practically on par with Moana’s! 

It also felt quite surreal to be cruising out of a port 18 minutes away from my home in Cape Town.  After years of cruising the Caribbean from US ports, catering primarily to American guests, I often wondered what it would be like to sail South African waters with fellow South Africans. Finally, I would get my answer. (Well, most of the guests were international, but still.) 

Watching South African guests get their first taste of freestyle cruising helped me experience this through their eyes and seeing the seasoned foreign cruisers getting their first experience of a Southern African cruise was exciting too.  

Me standing on NCL Jade deck, table mountain in background

My cruise staff origin story:

It all started with my mom's dream of going on a cruise. So, when we stumbled upon a special offer in The Sunday Times, we couldn't resist. Ah, the power of newspaper ads and impulsive decisions!

Woman on cruise ship
My first cruise - 2006

That week, I discovered the job of cruise staff existed and practically started applying for it before I left the ship (which was hard because I don’t think there was even internet on board back then).

Posing with the cruise staff on my first cruise

I also met, befriended and karaokeed with a travel writer who was on board to cover the cruise for a publication that she wrote for. That planted another “That looks like a cool job” seed in my brain.

Cruise ship karaoke

After three years of applying for cruise staff, I accepted a job as a groups coordinator just to get on a cruise ship. Part of my job was to take care of bloggers, travel writers and other VIPs. 

After a year, I quit to pursue other things on land. Who needs endless ocean views when you can sit in an office cubicle, right? That's when I wrote my first article for The Sunday Times.

 It wasn’t long before I started applying for the role of cruise staff again.

In 2013, I finally got my dream job! I did for five gruelling but incredible years. I experienced things I will never forget and met the most amazing people. 

Hosting a game show as a cruise ship entertainment host

80s night when I was a cruise ship entertainment host

I also started a blog. This blog. Welcome!

Over the past few years, I have been working hard to up my game as a blogger and travel writer. When I was invited to cruise Southern Africa as a guest on the Norwegian Jade, it was so rewarding. The day my article about the experience appeared in The Sunday Times (alongside other special offers like the one that set me on this path), I felt my life had come full circle - three times over. 

I just want to say thank you to Norwegian Cruise Line for hosting me. 

My journey into the world of cruising has just begun! Okay, not really, we're well into it already but the point is there will be more adventures. Join me as I continue on my travels with laughter, adventure and more strange looks from people thinking "Why is she bringing a plastic flamingo on a cruise?"

Posing under the Norwegian Jade's chandelier

SA Cruise FAQs

(That rhymes) 

When is the best time to cruise South Africa?

The Southern African cruise season only runs in the summer months so any time you are able to book a cruise in this part of the world is a good time to do so. Being in the Southern Hemisphere, our seasons are opposite to those of the Northern Hemisphere. While the climate varies greatly from the dry and often windy west coast to the often humid east coast, I would suggest that between December and March is the best time of year to come. 

What to pack for an SA Cruise

I already answered that question when I was packing for this cruise. Read it here:


Related post: 

Which cruise lines sail from South Africa?

Norwegian Cruise Line is the cruise line I travelled with. MSC also cruises these waters, as well as a number of German-language cruise lines and some more upmarket alternatives like Oceania and Regent. 

Which international cruise lines offer itineraries to or from Africa?

As the Southern African cruise season takes place in the Southern Hemisphere's summer months, the ships reposition to other parts of the world during the winter months. Norwegian Cruise Line, MSC, their German-language (i.e. Aida) and upmarket competitors (e.g. Regent and Oceania) often reposition here and back at the beginning and the end of the season, usually from Europe or the Middle East.


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  1. What a great article with lots of info. I’m looking at going on my first cruise so this is really useful

    1. I'm so glad you found it helpful.

  2. I heard many great reviews about NCL, and I really want to try it. Also I would like to see Africa but my husband thinks it is very extreme idea. Maybe after seeing your article he will change his mind.

    1. Cruising is a very non-threatening way for cautious travellers to experience Africa. I strongly recommend it and I hope your husband comes around.

  3. Wow. The pictures are breathtaking and your experience sounds out of this world. I have not yet had the opportunity to travel in a cruise. But this post makes me want to. Also I love your writing style. -Ankita

    1. Thanks for the kind words. I really hope you get to experience a cruise soon.

  4. Love this post and appreciate your expertise as a former crew member! This seems like such a fantastic vacation option. Thanks for sharing!


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