I have never been on a cruise before so I had no idea what to expect. I don't have a lot of money so I never thought I'd ever be able to afford to go on a cruise, but I was told about a Â£99 2 night last minute "taster" cruise on MSC Opera by a relative.
Unfortunately, it was SO last minute that I couldn't find anyone to come with me so I ended up paying Â£168 for sole occupancy of a twin cabin. However, I could just about manage that so I booked it.
I live close to Southampton (why does this site describe it as "London Southampton" when Southampton is 65 miles from London?) so I took the bus to Southampton then walked to the departure terminal. I love ships and boats and I'm also a keen amateur photographer and even before I got on board I was taking photos.
When we were allowed on board I went up onto the upper deck and took more photos. MSC Opera is a nice ship, not too big. I decided to take the stairs rather than the elevators most of the time because I decided I needed the exercise and if I'd been able to afford a 2 week cruise I would have been able to lose at least 10 pounds with all the exercise I got.
I found my cabin, took my bag inside and unpacked. I kept getting lost until I realised that odd numbers are on one side of the ship and even on the other! We had the compulsory lifeboat drill, but they didn't take our names. If I hadn't told my name to the crew member in charge she would not have asked me and I would not have been marked down on her list.
I was very confused about the "extras". We were given a list of what was and was not included in what we had already paid and it said that non-bottled water was included, but I wasn't given a choice. It was bottled (extra) or nothing. Also, coffee in some places was extra but not in others and if, like me, you're on your first ever cruise it's not easy to remember which places.
I tried to find where to have my evening meal. We were all given a plastic card to use on board with the details of the restaurant, sitting number and the rest, but mine didn't have any of that so I had to go hunting around the ship to try and find where I should go. In the end one of the senior restaurant staff, after consulting with another one, scrawled an indecipherable hieroglyph on my card with a marker pen and escorted me to a table on my own. He apologised, saying that normally they tried to put people on their own with others in the same position but somehow they'd slipped up with me! I was talked into paying for a "package" so that I could have alcohol with my meals on both nights but I would have done better to have paid for my drinks individually because I only had one glass of wine per night and that wouldn't have amounted to 37 Euros.
The food portions in the restaurant were fairly small, but pleasant and well presented. The staff were attentive and pleasant and the surroundings were attractive.
Most of my fellow passengers seemed to be from New Zealand, some from the Netherlands and there were a few Americans, French, Italians and a scattering of other nationalities on board too. I speak several languages to a greater or lesser extent, but it's amazing how much you can communicate with a smile and a lot of gesticulation if you meet someone who speaks a language you don't.
I didn't sleep very well. I had to get up and put in my earplugs around 2 am because it sounded as though someone was moving heavy furniture around. I'm not sure whether it was cleaning staff changing shifts, but it went on for some time. I didn't want to put in my earplugs on the second night because I'd asked for a 5 am wakeup call so that I could put my nightdress and toiletries in my bag in time to put the bag outside the cabin for collection before 06:30 so I slept very badly indeed.
We docked in Ijmuiden on Wednesday 5th. I was meeting up in Amsterdam with a friend I know online so I didn't sign up for the excursion, just for the shuttle bus to the ferry terminal at Velsen and the ferry itself. That cost 18 Euros (8 for the ferry). The shuttle bus driver was very harassed because she was on her own so the group I was with had to hang around in a car park for almost 1/2 hour before she could take us to the ferry terminal at Velsen. Fortunately, I always allow plenty of time for catching connections so I managed to meet up with my friend in Amsterdam at our agreed time of 12:30. Then the ferry at 16:20 to be back at Velsen in time to catch the final shuttle bus to the ship. I'd tried that morning to send an email to my Dutch friend but gave up 12 minutes and 4 Euros later! My card didn't work so I dialled 99 on the internal telephone and was told to come to Reception and get a new one. The girl on Reception said my card must have become "demagnetised" because I'd "obviously" had it near a mobile phone or a camera. None of my other cards have ever been affected and it was in the same card wallet. She gave me another one which this time had a proper restaurant sitting printed on it. I tried the same terminal with the same result then the one next to it - which worked. THEN I realised that the keyboard was European and I couldn't find the @ key - the most essential key for an email! In the end I gave up trying. No, I'm not a "little old lady" who knows nothing about computers. I have a Master's degree in IT!
I didn't take advantage of any of the entertainment on board. If the cruise had been longer I probably would have done, but I'd started off early to get to Southampton to board the ship and by the time I'd unpacked and eaten it was almost 10 pm and I was tired. The same with the following night. After several hours wandering around Amsterdam in the hot sun and hanging around waiting for the bus all I wanted to do was eat and go to bed because I knew I had a very early start on Thursday.
I also didn't use any of the other facilities. I took one look at the price of the beauty treatments, massages, gym and other such things and had to lie down till I'd got over the shock! I had a feeling it would be expensive, but it was all WAY out of my reach!
On Thursday it was time to disembark in Cherbourg. We'd been told to muster in the Caruso lounge, but when I got there - on time - I found only 3 people. Over the next hour or so more people arrived and then we sat and waited ... and waited ... and waited. The excursion numbers were called. By then I'd got chatting to a small group of other people who were catching the ferry back to Portsmouth and we remarked that those people on the excursions with the designations ABCD would have 30 minutes more time than those with EFGH. We who were disembarking from the cruise didn't get off for another hour afterwards. There were no drinks available - not even water - while we were waiting.
We finally disembarked to find a waiting shuttle bus to Cherbourg town and the ferry terminal on one side and a horse-drawn carriage to Cherbourg on the other side. ALL were expensive. Since the ferry was tied up about 100 metres behind the ship and it was a pleasant sunny day, six of us decided to walk. That there was nothing in the Brittany Ferry terminal (all four shops were shut because "there is no staff available") was no fault of the cruise company so I won't complain about that. Suffice it to say that we bought a cold drink from a small van parked outside and lay on the grass by the car park till it was time to leave. The interior of the Cherbourg cruise terminal was almost deserted as well. It's a huge 19th century building with a newer part tacked onto it, but there was ONE staff member in the entire building - at least the bits we could see. There were some large ship models on display in the newer section, but no information with them and we were hustled past them at some speed.
I really enjoyed my cruise - most of it. I'll divide my comments into two halves.
Very friendly staff
Nice ship, not too large
Food - tasty and well presented
Cabin - surprisingly spacious, although it might not have been with two of us sharing
MIRRORS EVERYWHERE - even on the ceilings of the restaurants! If like me you don't like looking at yourself in a mirror, it's not a good experience!
Very confusing to try to work out what was included and what was not. I shouldn't have let myself be talked into spending 37 Euros on something I didn't need
Not very organised - as my experience with the restaurant, the bus and the computer demonstrated
Tiny pools. I didn't take my swimsuit because I knew I was only going to be on the ship for 1 full day, but I wouldn't have been able to swim in either of the pools at all. They were fairly deep (over 2 metres at one point), but not very big
VERY expensive extras! I suppose if I'd stayed on longer I would have worked out what I did or did not need but it would have been good to have had more details
Overall impression: lovely ship, nice and clean and well laid out. I like taking photographs so I spent a lot of time on the various decks snapping away.
Would I go again? Yes.
On the same ship? Yes
For longer? If I could afford it