Travelled from central London (Victoria Coach station) on the 1030 National Express coach to Dover to join our mini cruise on the MSC Magnifica that was relocating to Europe from a season in South America.
The train from St Pancras International would have been much quicker - but coach option was only 5! Shuttle buses were running from Dover town centre to the ship but opted to walk.
Check-in for our cruise didn't officialy open till 3pm so I wasn't expecting to board until 4pm at the earliest.
G4S were the security company entrusted with the check-in/embarkartion procedure. They had bad press for last year's Olympic debacle - but couldn't have been more friendly or efficient!
Having gone through security, I fully expected a long wait in a departure lounge. No! We went straight onto the ship! (I don't think many people were embarking at Dover).
Registered a credit card at the purser's desk (no queue) and were led to our cabin by a young Italian girl.
Immediately impressed by quality of ship - nice mirrors in the lifts! Lovely carpets too - hey, ship is only just over two years old and I'm used to older ones.
Allocated cabin was great - a disabled one on deck 12 - one deck below the buffet and swimming pools and right next to the lift for trips down to lower decks for restaurant and theatre.
Only problem was that it had a double bed rather than two single beds!
Reported this to Reception - no problem - they would get 'housekeeping' department to re-arrange the furniture before we retired for the night.
Pleasing to have a late lunch in the buffet long before I even expected to be on board - more on the buffet later.
Grim weather as we sailed from Dover - heavy mist and stong winds - two tugs holding us against the quay so we didn't drift as soon as last mooring ropes detached.
Sailed bang on time with some tannoy announcement that I missed as I was on the phone.
I had read somewhere that MSC cruises are marred by incessant announcemounts in five languages. Hmm, this was the first of only two announcements on the entire cruise!
And therein, lies my only complaint about this cruise - total lack of contact from the Captain or any other officers.
Went for a walk round the ship before first sitting for evening meal at 1930.
Impressed at the indoor pool with retracting roof.
Had specified first sitting for evening meal, but left table size open.
Allocated a table for eight with my father in the corner of our appointed restaurant. Two English women joined us and then moved to another table without so much as an apology - how rude!
Nice meal - Italian style - ie lots of courses but none over-powering in size. Be aware that all drinks are extra - even water! And 15% service added too! Would have been nice to have a post-meal coffee included...
Show in the theatre didn't start until 2145 for first-sitting diners - quite late.
Plenty of nice bars on the ship, but my father I just wanted somewhere quiet to sit without being pestered to buy a drink.
So went to theatre to get a good seat. Hmm - thwarted with it being quiet though - a bingo session in progress!
Lovely theatre though - very comfortable seats and amazing lighting in the ceiling.
Evening show was very good - cultured bit of Italian opera!
Returned to cabin - now made up, as promised, as twin beds.
Woke up the next morning to find us docked fairly centrally in Amsterdam - still uninspiring weather though! Sun broke through mid-morning.
Quite heavy security to get into the country.
Ship due to sail at an early 1500 but quite pleased to see that last boarding wasn't until 1430 - leaving us enough time to do what we needed in the city.
Fun to see the tourist boats being held as we sailed.
More on the buffet:
Covers a lot of deck 13 - almost symetriccal on port on starboard sides - but not completely! Lots of 'foreign' passengers having breakfasts that didn't appeal to me!
Not to worry, eventually found the 'egg station' and then added bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes, fried bread and other essentials!
Downsides of the buffet - a free-for-all with no guaranteed seat, some options slightly cold or run-out.
Upsides of buffet - long opening hours - no need to rush back to ship just to eat! Amazing wrapround windows - a restaurant with a view!
Second night in the theatre was a bit uninspiring - a bit like a poor night on Britain's Got Talent!Best but was a Russian who did impressive things with what looked like a camp bed!
Our Italian waitress had abandonded us in Amsterdam to fly back to parents in Naples. Replaced by an Indonesian for our last night. I am used to Indonesians and
Phillopinos as staff - I was surprised to see so many Italian crew.
Had great night's sleep. Woke up the following morning well up the river Elbe.
Annoyingly missed the point on the river where you are greeted by the National Anthem of your ship (Panama?). Was in cabin when heard ship's hooter going off as acknowlegement of this!
However, after another nice breakfast, we were on deck for final run into Hamburg. Had the honour of a water-cannon escort into port on a glorious morning.
Docked out in Altona - not a problem as ferry quay right next door!
Very messy disembarkation though. Assuned we'd be first off ship as only had hand baggage for flight back to UK the next day.
Massive queue to disembark - Brazilans had strange idea of what hand-baggage self-disembarkation was - surely this size of luggage should have been placed outside cabin doors the night before?
Was off ship within an hour of docking - perhaps average for a ship of this size?
Entry into Germany much easier than the Netherlands. Walked past a nice Oom-pah brass band and straight into country - not sure if I even had to brandish my passport.
Had great two days in Hamburg before flying back - but am reviewing the ship rather than Hamburg or EasyJet, so must conclude:
Bit of a minicruise really - but long enough to get the ambience of the ship and the MSC experience.
1) Nice to have benefits of a newish ship
2) Great cabin - much larger than I'm used to - albeit a late booking disabled bonus!
3) Bargain price
4) Great embarkation, messy disembarkation
5) Good food - expensive drinks
6) Italian ship crusing in European waters - and yet on board prices were in US dollars...
So would I sail with MSC again?
At the price I paid, certainly!
Ship has been a luxury North Sea ferry since I got off - see she is now bound for Queensferry in Scotland - look forward to following her progress!