MV Kalangala has long been one of Ssese Island’s most popular Motor Vessel (MV), but now there is another reason for weekenders to visit Bugala Island, MV Vanessa.
The vessel managed by Evergreen Nyanza Waterway has been operating as Ssese Island’s private vessel since its launch in March, 2019. Departing from Waterfront Pier, Entebbe passengers aboard enjoy the Lake Victoria breeze en route to Kalangala. The vessel carries 54 passengers in a closed cabin with a possibility to be on the outside deck. It features air conditioning, lounge seating and this space is fitted with power sockets for working travellers. The wooden interior and curtains on the windows gives an impression of travel in your living room. The boat is powered by two 500 horsepower engines.
We arrived an hour past the agreed departure time. Thank God it was an exclusive hire for travel journalists. Donna Ayebare, the communications manager, cautioned us and advised that to ensure enough time for check-in, we ought to arrive at least 20 minutes before we embark on a journey. Meanwhile Waterfront Club has ample and secure parking space. It is advisable to contact the management before you park your personal vehicle overnight to avoid holding them liable in case of any damage.
It is advisable for passengers to have a reservation in advance. Ayebare was on standby to ensure that all the journalists fill in the registration form that includes personal details. She says it enables the management to keep records of their clients and easily identify passengers in case of any unforeseen incidents. Before boarding, luggage is stored first in the cabinet and before disembarking, it gets off first.
Upon registration, security checks of the journalists and their luggage was done. Items such as firearms, explosives, are not allowed on board. We were told the boat is compliant with all international safety standards. It is fitted with life jackets, life rings, fire extinguishers, fire-horse, sonar, GPS, and high frequency radios. I saw a safety inflatable raft with capacity for all passengers and cabin crew of about five persons.
“We are all about safety first and that is why all the features and measures were put in place. Passengers have to be comfortable and know that they can arrive at their destination with comfort and safety,” says Ayebare.
Although we did not have any children on board, all children must be accompanied by an adult. They charge children from four and above.
On either side of the aisle is a row of three seats fitted with blue cushions with ample leg room though insufficient for hand luggage. Every end of the row has an in-seat power supply. Below, every seat is a life jacket to enhance safety standards on water and in every cushion pouch is a set of guidelines and information about the water vessel.
The entertainment comprised a stereo sound system and a 32-inch screen clamped at the front cabin. The music, Ayebare chose played nonstop.
Food and drink
The crew only serves a free bottle of water since it is a short-haul and the departure times are always after lunchtime. Do not expect a bar or canteen service, however the boat is fitted with two refrigerators for preservation of your foodstuffs. For exclusive hires, one can bring snacks and drinks on board.
Unlike small boats to nearby islands of Koome and Ngamba that are hampered by changes in weather out on Lake Victoria, MV Vanessa movements are rarely affected by weather. Ayebare says in case of a rare occurrence, she will contact her passengers.
On the left-side of the cabin entrance is a restroom fitted with an ablution unit, mirror and sink. The toilet flush system is controlled by a switch. The time I went in to ease myself, I was disappointed with the earlier user who might have been puzzled with the set-up away from the ordinary.
Besides exclusive hires, the standard departure day and time is every Friday at 4pm and arrival at Kalangala is 5.15pm. The ‘voyage’ lasts one hour and 15 minutes. The Vessel leaves Kalangala every Sunday at 2pm and docks at Waterfront Club at 3.15pm.
Saturday tour and service
The MV Vanessa Management and Panorama Cottages management teamed up to give passengers the ultimate experience of the sunset cruise on the secluded virgin island. The Island, whose original name is ‘Semuganjjo Omutono’ is an eco-conservation project. Arnold Asiimwe, the proprietor said it was named Virgin because the lush forest cover is in its dramatic natural setting.
The 30-acre forest is a habitat of birds, monitor lizards, civet cats and other reptiles. It is growing into a hub for day visitors, campers and researchers. The Sunset cruise to the Virgin Island is Shs30,000 per person which caters for the cruise, access to and activities on the island.
The cabin crew were efficient, friendly and always at hand to help. Some journalists requested that next time, they would like to see Donna smile more often. Explore the picturesque Bugala island, a significant historical legacy of Buganda.
Charges: Adults pay Shs35,000 for a one-way ticket and Shs65,000 for a return trip. For children above four years, it costs Shs30,000 for a one-way ticket and Shs55,000 for a return ticket. Children below three years travel free. Exclusive hire is on a case to case basis which depends on the destination, and duration.
Accessibility: The vessel lacks features to enable the handicapped get on board. One has to be carried onto the vessel.