Cruise Facilities in Cape Town: Experiences of a traveller

A recent report, “Cruise Liner Study for Southern Africa” commissioned by the National Cruise Liner Steering Committee notes that for Cape Town, the “immediate challenge is to improve visitor reception especially in the Table Bay Harbour and ensuring that smaller ships that are moored in the V&A Harbour receive a pleasant reception in the Mother City”. Future Cape Town has interviewed a cruise traveller to Cape Town to gather some information on the current state of visitor reception facilities which may help to contribute positively to this “immediate” challenge. Please note that all views expressed here are those of the Cruise Ship traveller.

Mark, has travelled to Cape Town twice and both times has arrived by sea. His first time in 2007 aboard Back Watch, which was docked in the V&A basin, which he describes as “brillliant” and “utterly marvellous” for smaller ships. His second, less impressive experience was disembarking from the massive QM at the Duncan Dock. According to Mark, “it sucks as a tourist spot!”.

I had one free day before disembarking and I enquired beforehand by e-mail to CT Port Authority if there was a shuttle to the V&A and he said “depends on the cruise line”. So I booked a tour instead because I couldn’t risk the hassle and it’s too far to walk anywhere. As for disembarkation, the “marquee” looks a bit Heath-Robinson but in fact it all worked fine for me and pre-clearance on board the day before meant that Customs were fairly non-existent. It was a bit chaotic outside the tent though, trying to find a taxi to get to my hotel, but even that wasn’t so bad really. All in all, it looked worse than it performed actually and I’ve experienced far, far worse in the USA in fact!


Disembarking is probably less of an issue; all you need is somewhere to organise and store the luggage for 3000 + passengers who want simply to be on their way.


I did not embark in Cape Town and would need to experience it to be a true guide but I would imagine that 3000+ passengers queueing in a hot tent with poor toilet facilities, no seating and no possible way of segregating the “gold” class passengers from the others (for speedy check-in etc.) it would probably be something close to a nightmare.

Disincentive for a cruise terminal?
The thing is, like all things these days, it comes down to money and shrewd politics. They want people to come to Cape Town but it is such an “exotic” and attractive destination that there is no problem getting people to join a ship that calls at or disembarks in Cape Town. And as I said already, disembarkation isn’t the problem. People intending on embarking a cruise in Cape Town will more than likely have flown in and spent a few days there already.

They will have to leave on the ship – by which time, the city has already got out of them all that they’re going to get! So what’s the incentive to spend millions on a new terminal building when the passengers will come already?

Lessons for IRT Airport Shuttle?

It’s (Airport Shuttle) a gesture, true – but personally speaking , someone checking-out of a hotel doesn’t want to have to man-handle their luggage half-way across town in order to catch the shuttle – or vice-versa on arrival. For example, in Vancouver, the dedicated shuttle bus runs every 20 minutes or so and does a circuit of all the main tourist hotels (as well as the Cruise Terminal) in-between shuttles to the Airport. It’s a busy service and a bit of a fight to get on sometimes but it’s a workable system that could be improved by just being more frequent at certain times of the day. In Cape Town, I believe that some of the outlying or better hotels provide shuttles of their own, so there may be conflicting issues of vested interests and difficulties getting hotel owners to participate in a scheme but it’s an idea I could favour.

In New York on the other hand, there is a one-stop shuttle service from Newark Airport to the central bus-station, so I can see where Cape Town have got the idea from but in New York, there are too many hotels and they are too far-flung to make a circuit route viable. Personally, I feel that perhaps the Cape Town City Fathers are using the wrong example?

Return cruise ship travellers

The only critical point comes when enough people have been already and would like to go back but they remember the bad memory of embarkation, and it puts them off. Although I am that passenger, I have not yet reached the point where I would be put off – wary maybe but perhaps it’s worth it?

Cape Town as a homeport?

When the cruise lines want to start seriously marketing cruises that commence in Cape Town on the big ships all year round instead of just a few stops in the winter, that’s when either Carnival or RCCL will sit down with the city fathers and lay their cards on the table; that’s when a terminal will be built. Until then, some proper toilets and a shuttle service to the V&A and the Airport would be a start!