MSC OPERA - JUNE 2013 Holiday Inn Hotel Pleasant welcome, asked if we were cruising and whether we would like to face the port so we could see our ship arrive in the morning. Very good disability-friendly room for Nik, our 38 year old son, with parking directly outside the hotel. Expensive parking at £7 per night.
Meal at Indian Melody - a vegetarian Indian restaurant. Unaware that this was the case when we ordered our drinks, we decided to have these and leave. However, the owner had other ideas. He came over and persuaded us to try two starters between us before we actually left. These were delicious so we ended up ordering our main meal from here, on the recommendations of the owner. This was quite an experience, with many different spices used and Nik and I really enjoyed it, although Danny was not so enamoured.
We then went to Weatherspoons for a drink, but the beer and atmosphere was not so good and we went back to the Hotel, even though the bar prices were higher than the local pubs, as you would expect.
Hard pillows on the bed (firm) means that I had a disturbed night's sleep, but overall it was a good start to the holiday.
Set off for the ship at about 11.15 am and joined a long queue to drop off our luggage prior to Nik's car being taken on the 'meet and greet' basis. I was with Nik in his car along with all the hand luggage and Danny had all three cases in our car to drop off. We managed to circumvent quite a bit of the queue and handed the car over. There was quite a walk back to the embarkation shed but we did get called forward when the attendants saw Nik in his wheelchair. We probably saved at least 90 minutes as we were taken through to the Express check-in.
Really helpful service from the start, especially from a young man who took charge of Nik and his chair as the gangway was very steep. He took us all the way to Nik's specially adapted cabin, which is exceptionally suitable for wheelchairs.
Our cabin next and it was quite a contrast to Nik's as ours was much smaller. The bed configuration was single beds, which Danny requested to be changed to a double and this was done while we were at dinner. I was disappointed that there was no safe in the cabin as this is a big 'must' for me. Should have known better than to give up looking for the safe - every cabin has a safe according to the information manual so I had another look and this time remembered that the mirror over the dressing table opens and lo and behold, there is the safe.
As the cases had not yet arrived, so we decided to get a snack and drink and then come back to the cabin in readiness for the lifeboat drill. When we get back from thr bar our cases are waiting for us, so we unpacked in record time. Nik's case had not yet arrived, so we couldn't do his unpacking. It finally arrived just before the drill was expected to start, so I decided to unpack his case after the drill. We then realised that we would be at separate muster points, but decided that we would do the drill as we were but confirm with the crew that we would muster all together in any real situation. (Perhaps we should explain at this point that Danny and I had booked this cruise some 9/10 months earlier, but Nik had decided, when he came into a bit of extra cash, to join us. However, we were booked with Planet Cruise, who were closed on the Sunday that Nik decided to join us, so he booked via Iglu Cruises)
After the boat drill we also went to see the Excursion Staff to see whether we could get a place on the Amsterdam Sightseeing and Canal Boat trip that we received as a complimentary package. We could, so Nik paid his €52, which seemed a lot, but it was the best option.
We left Southampton at about 16.00 on a smooth sea, with hardly any movement.
We then returned to the cabins to get ready for evening meal, which was slightly earlier than we would like at 5.45, but better than the late option of 8.15.
Good table at the restaurant, Nik's chair stored quite close to the table by our waiter Wayan. Good selection on the menu, choice of Appetiser, Salad, Soup, Pasta, Main and sweets. Also a list of dishes available every day, if nothing on the main menu takes your fancy. We had an appetiser, soup, main and sweet and were pretty full. We then spent the evening in the Piazza di Spagnia with a few drinks before wending our way back to the cabin.
Sunday 2 June
We arrived into Ijmuiden as planned, at 10.00 am and after a leisuiely breakfast of Croissants and coffee, we went to get our bus tickets ready for our tour. Special disembarkation for Nik, with help with his chair when needed and off on the coach for an hour's drive to Amsterdam, with excellent commentary on the way from our guide for the tour. Excellent English, loads of historical titbits about the Netherlands in general and information on our surroundings. We then left the coach and went to the Canal for embarkation onto a canal boat, via a wheelchair lift from the canal wall onto the landing area, and the chair was stowed safely in the company's office for the duration of the trip. We spent an hour taking in numerous canals, each with a different origin and character. We went on Gentleman canal, so called because the houses lining the sides of the canal were owned by very wealthy 'gentlemen of leisure', who owned the canal that stretched in front of their houses, there were other canals that were for the poorer population who rented from the gentry who owned the properties and so on. It was interesting that the government sets the 'per square metre' price for renting, so it was possible for less well off people to live in very select properties along the canal system. The captain of the boat was exceedingly skilful, manouveuring the long boat seemingly effortlessly when smaller pedaloes appeared to unable to move out of the way in time. This was a great trip, with the same guide whose sense of humour lightened some of the more serious information . We passed through what had been the Jew's Quarter, which had been mainly demolished after the war, because of 95,000 who had lived there before the war, only 5000 returned and the properties of the 90000 who did not return were left to rot and eventually demolished as they had become unsafe - I found this fact exceedingly upsetting.
The return the the ship was punctuated by a visit to a diamond-cutting factory, where a tour and demonstration was offered alongside free coffee and a chance to buy souvenirs. This was the only actual comfort break as such, although the coach and boat had toilets, these would not have been suitable for Nik. By this time, it was also about seven hours since we had eaten, so we were all starving and tired by the time we got back to the boat.
As the tide had risen since we left, two wheelchair helpers appeared to assist with getting Nik back on board, but he managed to walk up the Ramp slowly and carefully with his chair being carried. After a quick drink, we went off to the cabins to prepare for dinner - another casual evening thank goodness. Another good evening, although we both waited for one number each on the bingo, prize being about €190.
Monday - day at sea, relaxing. Gala night dress up. Visit to library to get James Patterson books for both of us.
Tuesday 4th June - Flam. Couldn't get tickets for Flam railway, because the first one available was too late for us to get back for the last tender. Nik managed well on the tender, although the gangway was steep as we left the ship to board the tender. We then went on a little motorised train, 45 minutes around the Fjord, seeing some of the most fantastic, awe-inspiring scenery, with a little commentary as we went. It did give us some concern as it broke down halfway into the journey, but a back-up car soon had us on our way again after about 8 -10 minutes. It was good to see that people were not allowed to queue-jump as they checked on the time on the tickets and people were made to get off if they were on a later train. It was very tight in the little carriages but we sat with some very nice English people. We have taken some stunning pictures, Nik has posted a fantastic one on Facebook. More stunning photos, this time of the sunset after dinner. Lucky win on the Bingo, followed by an evening of chat and singing along in the Cotton Club.
Wednesday 4th June - Stavanger. Early arrival at the port, sun shining. Had Speciality coffees and croissants for breakfast and then a short stroll around the port. Reasonably easy to disembark, although we do have to confirm to staff a couple of times that Nik is able to do his own thing when traversing the gangway. The staff are very good about being helpful, often carrying his chair when he is walking. Ship is being constantly cleaned and today was no exception. Good lunch in the Caravella Restaurant, which was packed today as the ship left port at 2.30, ready for our trip down to Oslo, a journey of some 222 nautical miles. Wind is forecast as 6 mph, so it should be quite calm. Got back to the cabin this afternoon to receive an invitation to the Captain's Exclusive Cocktail party this evening, which we did not attend as Nik didnt get an invitation.
Thursday. Today we are in Oslo, no trips planned, so went ashore to see what options were available. Only a short walk away from the ship, there were both Hop On and Hop Off buses and the City Sightseeing buses as well. We were given very good assistance on the City Sightseeing bus, so off we went with them. Slightly more expensive at 20€ each, but the trip was also longer and more detailed than some others we have been on throughout Europe. After about an hour and a half, we were back alongside the ship, having had a really good tour around. Again, we have reasonable weather for our time ashore. As we are back in time for lunch, we detour to our cabins to drop off coats and put our currency back into the safe before making our way to the Caravella to eat.
Friday - our final day of the cruise, spent at sea. Some good weather today, with lots of people sunbathing on the upper decks. We managed to get in some reading and relaxation, ready for the trip home on Saturday.
Overall we had an excellent holiday. The cabins were adequate, storage space was better than adequate. The entertainment in the bars was good, we didn't go to any of the shows even though the Entertainment staff did ask us to on numerous occasions. Food was tasty, especially the Pasta dishes, but may not have suited everyone - it is always a case of personal preference - but there was always plenty of choice. Staff were always as helpful as possible and they made sure that Nik specifically was very well looked after. The free parking received as part of our package, along with free all-inclusive Allegrissimo package was very much appreciated. Nik also got free parking - in his case a ''Meet and Greet" package, but he had to pay for his Allegrissimo package at a rate of £20/day. There was no doubt that these packages were well worth their money, especially as Specialist coffees and soft drinks were included as well as a good selection of alcohol.
Tendered into Port as MSC Musica was already berthed. Unable to get onto the famous train because it was fully booked until after 14.45, which would not get us back in time for our last tender back to the ship. Instead, we took the motorised train, which took us away from the shore and gave us some fantastic, breath-taking, awe- inspiring scenery - a photographer's paradise. I would definitely recommend this as a great alternate to the train. Our round-trip took about 45 minutes and cost 95 NOK (about €14)
My adult son took his wheelchair in the tender and left it in the train's little kiosk during the trip. The trains are sold in strict time slots and people who tried to queue-jump were not allowed to. Th trains run at about 15 minute intervals.
We jumped onto the nearby City Sightseeing HOHO bus, although we stayed on for the whole trip. A little more expensive than those we have taken in other European cities ((150 NOK/20€) but it was certainly one of the best ever. Lasting about 90 minutes and with a good commentary, we thoroughly enjoyed this and would probably do it again, visiting some of the attractions en route.
Again we were with our disabled son, and his wheelchair was loaded and stored safely for us.