|Summer 1996||Round-trip-cruises to the Western Mediterranean|
|First cruise ship serving the South-African market year round|
|9.06.1997||One-week-overhaul in Durban|
|Mai - 23.10.1999||Cancellation of summers season´s Greece program. Instead round-trip-cruise to the Western Mediterranean|
|Durban-based short cruises (South Africa)|
|4.05.1999||Golden Sun Cruises announces, they will charter the ship in 2000|
|Millennium cruise to Mauritius|
Shortly later a new threat arose: MSC decided in January 1997 to buy the cruise ship STAR SHIP ATLANTIC from the American-based Premier Cruise Line for the price of $70 millions, which was renamed MELODY. It was twice as large as the SYMPHONY and a relatively new cruise ship, with tower-high superstructures, and she could accommodate twice as many passengers. The management of MSC hoped to be able to better compete against the megaships of Costa, because the competitiveness of a cruise ship grows with its size. This new flagship then superseded the SYMPHONY in her traditional cruise area in the MSC cruise program, and left the SYMPHONY searching for a new employment now.
MSC decided to give a
year-round employment in the South African market
a try. Being in South Africa already her positioning cruise to the Mediterranean
was already taken over by her new colleague MELODY. So far there had never
been a cruise ship, which cruised all year round for this rather small market,
let alone a profitable one.
Base port became Durban. There the SYMPHONY also met the heiress of her Mediterranean route, the MELODY, in the still fresh MSC colors and on the way to Genoa. The SYMPHONY settled down in South Africa in the meantime. The city of Durban had donated a new ship bell to replace the old one of the PROVENCE on the foredeck. On 9 June 1997 she received a one-week-refurbishment by a shipyard in Durban. She was marketed by the South African company Starlight Cruises. The program of South Africa-based cruises was extended from 36 to 117 cruises reaching as far as May 1998. Among these cruises the majority were short cruises of 3 or 4 days to Bazaruto and Portuguese Island, in order to adapt to the lower spending power of the South Africans compared to Europeans. Prices started at only 1515 Rand (about 330 $). In addition, some longer cruises were offered, e.g. a 9-nights-cruise to Mauritius and Reunion or a 17-nights-cruise to the Seychelles, Madagascar and Zanzibar. MSC hoped for approximately 50,000 passengers per year. These forecasts seem to have come true, because MSC decided to station the ship in South Africa for the whole year 1998 too. This year, her cabins received a refurbishment. Star Cruises now additionally offered Incentive cruises (enterprises could charter the ship to reward merited employees with a cruise), and made it available as swimming congress center on short cruises. A cruise for the Municipal and Allied Union in March 1999 caused a commotion, because some delegates from Cape Town brought their spouses, at the expense of the union. For 1999 MSC even hoped for 78.000 passengers.
In the course of the year 1998 the value of the
South African Rand dropped however from 4,60 Rand per $ to 6,60 Rand per
$, so that the shipping company obtained only an equivalent of 230 instead
of 330 $ for the most inexpensive cruise. Thus in autumn 1998 MSC decided
to use the SYMPHONY in the Mediterranean again during the summer of 1999,
after the years 1997 and 1998 had been the first in her long history, that
hadn’t seen her sail the Mediterranean. When she left the port of Durban
for the Mediterranean in April 1999, sailing via the Suez channel, again
weekly cruises were scheduled, this time starting from Venice to the Aegean
sea, a district, which was more suitable than the Western Mediterranean for
this small ship (compared with the new megaliners). But again a stroke of
fate hit the ship: In Kosovo the war had broken out in the meantime, which
made the Adriatic the marching-up area of the NATO fleet. MSC decided to
shift the entire summer program of the SYMPHONY
to the Western Mediterranean. The cruises now started in Genoa leading
to Naples, Malta, Tunis, Ibiza and St. Tropez. Thus it seems that her former
home port Genoa won’t let her go. Before the Genoa-based cruises she went
to the shipyard at the end of May for another refurbishment of her cabins.
Besides, South Africa should continue to be her second home, like it was
South America once. She cast of for this market again to go on with short
cruises on a 700-Rand-per-day basis. On 14 November 1999 she was based in
Durban again, in time to bring wealthy passengers safely into the next millenium
on a "Millennium Cruise"
. This journey took her to Mauritius for a 3-days stay and celebrating
the turn of the century, for a staggering amount of 12200 Rand.