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I went on one of the weirdest cruise itineraries possible. There were some major challenges, but I would do it again

Africa Cruise Cover

In January, I set sail onboard Norwegian Dawn for one of the weirdest itineraries offered by a mainstream cruise line. Far from the likes of Nassau and Cozumel, my cruise departed from a tiny African island in the Indian Ocean. Most had never even heard of the island of Mauritius before booking this cruise.

While the cruise was unforgettable, there were some bumps in the road with this weird itinerary that I wouldn’t mind forgetting. Sailing to an uncommon area of the world had its challenges - some of which the cruise line did not seem prepared for. 

One of the reasons that I am drawn to Norwegian Cruise Line is the availability of diverse itineraries. I love cruising, but I’ve visited ports in the Caribbean more times than I’d like to admit. As I get older, I am drawn to more destination-focused sailings. Cozumel doesn't do it for me anymore.


Over the course of 12 nights, I visited bucket list destinations in Madagascar and South Africa while sailing the Indian Ocean. Although Norwegian Dawn is one of the oldest cruise ships in Norwegian’s fleet, the small ship was perfect for visiting off-the-beaten-path ports of call.

Here’s what it was like sailing on a weird cruise itinerary, including all of the challenges that I wasn't prepared for. 

I booked this cruise for its unusual itinerary, although Norwegian altered the sailing multiple times before the cruise even began

Norwegian Dawn

When I saw Norwegian offered cruises to Africa, I was intrigued! Not many mainstream cruise lines offer sailings in Africa, as this is usually an area dominated by luxury cruise lines. I opted to book a 12-night sailing from Mauritius with stops in Reunion Island, Madagascar, Mozambique, and South Africa.

The original itinerary advertised only two sea days throughout the 12 nights onboard. We were set to visit two ports in Mozambique, which was very exciting for me! I figured that was a destination I would never visit on my own, and sailing on a cruise ship would be the perfect way to visit such a destination.

Shortly after final payment, Norwegian Cruise Line emailed that our itinerary would have adjustments. Citing “port congestion” as the reasoning, the cruise line removed Mozambique from the itinerary, added one sea day, and adjusted our ports in Madagascar.

Itinerary change

I was disappointed that Mozambique was removed from our itinerary. Additionally, all of Norwegian Dawn’s itineraries had Mozambique removed for the African season. 

I thought it was unlikely that port congestion was the reason for removing an entire country from all of the sailings, but Norwegian never clarified the actual reason for removal. Some suggested there was unrest or a Yellow Fever outbreak, but this was never confirmed.

As the cruise approached, we received further changes to the itinerary

Itinerary Change

Norwegian stated, “As we optimize itineraries for fuel efficiencies, we have modified Norwegian Dawn's itinerary as shown below. We understand that itinerary changes can be frustrating and sincerely apologize for any disappointment this may cause.”

The adjustments were minor changes to time, although the overnight in Richard’s Bay was removed. We also had reduced time in Reunion and Cape Town. Now, we would have four sea days from the original itinerary which only had two. In all honesty, this feels like a cost-cutting measure from Norwegian Cruise Line. 

Receiving this email with less than one month until departure was frustrating. I wondered whether we would have further changes on Norwegian Dawn, as it would not surprise me at this point. Considering many of us booked this cruise specifically because of the itinerary, any further changes would be disappointing.

After traveling over 30 hours to Mauritius for the cruise and barely missing a historic cyclone, the embarkation process was disastrous

Belal Cyclone

Although cruising from Florida might not be as exciting for me these days, the proximity for embarkation is wildly more convenient. For this cruise, we departed four days before the cruise embarkation date because we would have two days of traveling before arriving in Mauritius.

In the days leading up to our flight, a cyclone formed in the Indian Ocean with Mauritius in the direct path. Luckily, the cyclone moved through just two days before our flight landed. Many other cruisers had flight cancelations and delays, so we were grateful to arrive as scheduled.

Once we arrived in Mauritius, we enjoyed two days at a nearby resort before heading to the cruise port to embark on our safari adventure cruise! Our taxi driver arrived at the main cruise terminal in Mauritius only to be turned away. Apparently, our ship would be embarking across the port area in another area.

Read more: I went on an African safari by cruise ship. Not everything went as planned, but I would do it again

Boarding Line

As we arrived at the port, we were met with a big tent and an even bigger line of passengers waiting in the hot sun. It looked like everyone on our cruise was waiting in this long line. There was no terminal or building, just a large temporary tent. No one was there to help with luggage, so we had to haul everything on our own.

Now, I was prepared for these kinds of experiences. Traveling in Africa is different than traveling elsewhere. Infrastructure and operations are done differently on this continent, so this was not entirely surprising.

However, I do wish Norwegian Cruise Line would have warned us about the boarding situation. Enforcing the boarding times could have eliminated some of the chaos on the pier. I didn’t even have sunscreen on nor did I bring water for standing in the hot sun! Many of the older guests suffered from heat stroke and exhaustion during the two-hour boarding fiasco.


Needless to say, the start of our cruise was a little disappointing. Many of us had traveled across the world for this sailing, and it felt like our efforts were not worthwhile at this point.

While we loved our first port in Reunion Island, we encountered more disappointment when our first port in Madagascar was missed

Pool Deck

For this itinerary, we had one stop scheduled in Reunion Island with two more ports in Madagascar before heading to South Africa. The tail end of our itinerary was port-heavy with multiple stops in South Africa.

After sailing from Reunion Island, we were eager to arrive in Madagascar. This was a highly-anticipated port for both of us and we had scheduled a 4x4 outing to see the island’s red tsingy mountains.

As we headed up to the Garden Cafe for breakfast, the captain announced that we could not dock in Madagascar that day because of the weather. A storm system was moving through and the tides were too low for docking safely. You could cut the tension in the buffet with a knife! One older woman started to cry following the announcement.

NCL Dawn

Missing ports of call is unfortunately an inherent risk you take with cruising. Weather can change plans and alter itineraries without notice. Regardless, there is always some disappointment when a port is removed from your itinerary.

With the storm system moving through, I was worried that we would not be able to reach our next port of call, Nosy Be. This was a tender port, so if the weather was bad, we likely wouldn’t make it to Madagascar at all. Strong winds were forecasted and the captain announced he would reevaluate in the morning whether we could arrive safely.

Even with some fog and light rain, we were able to visit the island of the lemurs in Madagascar


I barely slept the night before arriving in Nosy Be, as I was worried about whether we would be able to actually arrive. Flying around the world only to miss both ports in Madagascar would have probably left me in tears.

Luckily, we were able to anchor and tender to the island safely. I had booked an excursion to visit the Isle of the Lemur on Nosy Komba. We tendered directly from Norwegian Dawn to the lemur island. I was so excited to finally get ashore after two sea days!

Exploring the island was an incredible adventure, albeit tough at times. We were able to see the wild lemurs native to Madagascar and even have the lemurs come to our shoulders! Visiting the island was unlike anything I’d experienced before.


When arriving at Nosy Komba, it was difficult emotionally to see the island’s poverty. Although I was expecting to see tough living conditions during this cruise, it was more than I anticipated. Seeing everything firsthand on the island, including how many of these children live, was very heavy.

I almost felt guilty being able to board Norwegian Dawn after with clean water and air conditioning. We had a renewed sense of gratitude for everything we had to be grateful for as we made our way to South Africa.

Read more: 17 kinds of cruises you didn’t know Norwegian Cruise Lines offered

Heading to South Africa, passengers began to fight during face-to-face immigration


While most cruises do not require face-to-face immigration, it’s not entirely uncommon for this to be required. After 40 cruises in my life, I’ve had to do immigration in person a handful of times.

All of my immigration experiences have been with Royal Caribbean, and I’ve never had any issues with the process. The experience on Norwegian Dawn was entirely different with a lack of organization. Since we had booked an excursion through the cruise line, we would go through immigration in a different process than those independently disembarking.

As we were guided through the casino for face-to-face immigration with South African officials, we were stunned to see other guests fighting, yelling, and screaming in the independent line. I have never seen anything like this before with guests pushing and shoving one another to try and get closer to the immigration line.


Unfortunately, it sounded like Norwegian Cruise Line was not enforcing any sort of line as guests approached the entrance for immigration. This created a bottleneck of passengers trying to get through immigration as quickly as possible. With many different cultures onboard, the concept of respecting a line didn’t seem to resonate universally.

Since we were on a shore excursion with Norwegian Cruise Line, we had a designated area for immigration. This alleviated many of the issues that others encountered. After navigating through the mess of immigration, we embarked on a coach bus to our first safari in South Africa!

Read more: 9 Easy Norwegian Cruise Line Tips you should try (2024)

Despite some of these challenges, we loved all of our excursions booked through the cruise line


Since I had never cruised to this area of the world before, I was unsure about booking independently operated tours. For ease of convenience, we booked our excursions through Norwegian Cruise Line instead for all of the South African ports of call - including three safaris!

Most of the ports where we docked would be classified as industrial ports. Unlike popular cruise destinations with beautiful terminals, we were surrounded by cargo ships. 

Read more: 10 tips for getting the best cruise shore excursion values


One of the ports, Richard’s Bay, was a coal port for exporting! While we had an excursion from this port, other guests complained about their clothes turning black from the dusty air. Because of this, many of the ports were not walkable like most cruisers might be used to.

Even still, all of our safari excursions were well-operated and we were able to see so many animals in the wild. I was in awe of the animals in their natural habitat, roaming freely across the natural parks and reserves. 


We were thankful that we had booked excursions through Norwegian Cruise Line since the ports were unfamiliar, and I believe this alleviated many issues that others might have encountered.

Unfortunately, disembarkation was very chaotic because of port congestion in Cape Town

Cape Town

Cape Town is one of the major cities in South Africa, so many of us expected there to be infrastructure at the cruise terminal. As luck would have it, Norwegian Dawn did not receive the prime spot at the terminal because Cunard’s Queen Mary II was rerouted around Africa due to disruptions in the Suez Canal.

Instead, our cruise ship docked at the far end of the Cape Town port where guests were not able to walk around the port. Our itinerary featured an overnight stop in Cape Town, allowing us to enjoy the city in the evening. A complimentary shuttle was provided from Norwegian Cruise Line directly to Cape Town’s Waterfront, which was appreciated.

Cape Town

However, disembarkation was disorganized. Norwegian Cruise Line told us that luggage would be transferred to the terminal near Queen Mary II, but we found our bags sitting outside of the ship on a gravel road instead! While I don’t mind handling my own luggage, the gravel made it very difficult to maneuver. Even though we had an organized disembarkation tour through the cruise line, all guests had to pick up their luggage and bring it to the nearby coach bus.

With three suitcases, I found someone to assist with my luggage as I couldn’t haul everything myself. To make matters worse, it was very windy on the pier. It looked like a sandstorm was blowing through! I will never take for granted the comfort of a cruise terminal again!

With some of these onboard challenges, the ambiance was very tense and, at times, awkward


Because the nature of this cruise was vastly different than your standard Caribbean cruise, the onboard environment was also very different. I am used to guests letting loose and having a good time on most cruises. This was far from that type of cruise, as many guests felt frustrated and disappointed with the challenges of the itinerary.

Personally, I also believe many guests onboard booked this cruise as a bucket-list vacation. While we snagged a pretty great deal, others spent thousands of dollars for this cruise to experience Africa. With these bumps in the road, many guests felt it necessary to complain often. Knowing this was a once-in-a-lifetime cruise for older guests amplified emotions and created tense moments.

Read more: I paid $4,300 for an obstructed view cabin on Norwegian Cruise Line - take a look inside


However, everyone experiences their cruises differently. One person’s dream cruise might be another’s nightmare. Everyone is different and has varying perspectives. I heard some guests say, “This was the worst cruise I’ve ever taken” and others say, “I can’t wait to get off this ship!”

While I had an amazing time sailing around Africa on Norwegian Dawn, others would disagree. Cruising on Norwegian’s weirdest itinerary certainly had its challenges, but I think this would be the same for any other cruise line visiting this part of the world. Managing expectations is important, and I tried to be emotionally prepared to embrace the unexpected.

Even with these challenges, I would not hesitate to book another cruise with a weird itinerary


As someone who loves cruising in general, this experience would never deter me from booking another cruise with a weird itinerary in the future. Being able to experience the world from the comfort of a cruise ship is my preferred way to travel. I love the onboard cruising experience and the ability to immerse myself each day in different cultures.

For guests who are simply booking a cruise to visit the ports of call, some of these challenges would be even more frustrating. I don’t mind an extra sea day here and there, as a cruise is always relaxing for me. But, those who want to be ashore each day in a new port of call would likely feel different.

Elephant Safari

Finally, not every cruise can be perfect. It’s important to remember that the unexpected can happen. If you cruise often enough, it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. The world and weather are constantly changing, and while it’s disappointing when itineraries do not go exactly as planned, most of these incidents are out of your control anyway. In fact, I would argue that cruising over the last two decades has taught me to be more flexible and adaptable.

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