I hope this fills in some gaps for those intending to take the new MSC Preziosa cruise through Venice, Bari, Katakolon, Izmir, Istanbul, and Dubrovnik
My husband booked this cruise last August for the two of us and our 11yr old grandson. My husband currently has mobility problems but hey we couldn't disappoint the little fella (or ourselves) so off we went. Husband had assistance at Gatwick and Venice airports and boarding the ship, which worked fairly well. You do have to spend quite a while waiting around but it saves you the walking. We had a prepaid taxi right up to the ship from Marco Polo €45. Most people were boarding the cruise at Venice and it seemed they were trying to do this all at once! We had good weather the whole cruise.
The ship was what I expected - modern, large, busy and noisy. We were looking for a cruise that included Venice during the Easter school holidays and this one seemed to fit the bill. I looked at reviews and decided there were enough good ones for us to go ahead. What I didn't realize however was what short port times MSC (and Costa) have. With over 4,000 people trying to get off and on it made our shore time even smaller. I know I could have looked up the port times before we booked but it didn't occur to me and as the cabins were practically sold out we booked. The itinerary was superb and this was the first time that the Preziosa had sailed it
We had a sofa bed for our grandson which when opened out at night gave us all a challenge moving around the cabin. Shower room was good - shower gel and liquid soap in dispensers plus shower caps and washing line. Could have done with more towel rails tho - cabin steward quickly worked out that we did not have enough rail space for nine towels plus face cloths (which were inclined to run out). The shower room was surprisingly ample and maybe better arranged than particularly the Cunard Queens where one has to be a contortionist. One thing that irritated was the connecting door to the next cabin. It was ill fitting and despite us trying to seal up the gap we could hear more of the noisy Italian neighbours than we wanted. By and large there was some noise from other passengers but not after midnight which has to be expected in any multi occupation, land or sea.
At dinner we were very fortunate in being paired up with a fun young English family their daughter being slightly older than our grandson. We all decided the dining room infinitely better than the buffet scrum, Le Arabesque having the more sophisticated decor. Both dining rooms had superb staff - food less so. There was plenty of choice and one can still expect to gain weight but there was a certain something missing. A dining room is not always available during port days on other cruise lines, so we were very pleased this one was. We were very fortunate in having the first sitting for dinner at 6.15pm as there was a queue of about 500 people on stand by who also wanted this! More drinks packages were available on board than I could see beforehand eg a book of prepaid tickets for soft drinks. Water cost approx three euros for a large bottle which you could eke out with a bucket of ice and even take back later to the restaurant if not finished.
There was the now traditional Safety Drill before we sailed. Always a nuisance but beware don't try ducking it! One family we met said they didn't bother and also the staff in the buffet said they needn't. They were rather put out the next day to find that they, along with others, had to limit their time ashore to attend a compulsory Drill. You have been warned
Bari - There was a lovely welcome band and as we knew there was a twenty minute walk to the town (mainly to the exit) we booked a ship's shuttle. There was also a road train and a HOHO bus within the port gates and a little a further on another road train at half the cost of the other one. We had a lovely potter around the city and then took the shuttle back.
Katakolon - we pre booked the Katakolon Express to Ancient Olympia (without guide) and couldn't praise Stephen enough for his help. Forty euros for the three of us. Others picked up transport on the day at the port for less, and, of course, considerably less than the MSC excursion - from memory about €8 for an adult and €5 for up to a 14 year old
There were certain unknowns as this was the Preziosa's first visit to this area. There was a port shuttle to the gate and we had an arranged taxi to the coach. The coach took around 35/40 minutes through some lovely country side. Look out for kilometre road markers built like mini churches.
We had a great time wandering around the huge Olympic site, and have memorable short video of GS running on the fabled track. Very, very busy. €6 entry €3 for over 65s and children free - additional €3 for museum. Toilets in the grounds. There was a horse and carriage back up the hill, cost €2 each way. He had been given the incorrect time for the return and when the buggy eventually arrived my husband was not able to get on so had to struggle up on his own. It was only 200mts or so and fairly gently sloping for the able
Izmir - had decided on the HOHO bus here, which was very close to the ship - single decker open top taking one hour. As with everywhere where there were over 4,000 passengers alighting it was a mad scramble to buy the tickets, which were ten euros each and nothing else would do. Enjoyed the ride, which didn't follow the route for some reason and we got off for a short potter at the clock tower then back on again at the next stop. Didn't need a Turkey visa or even to fill in the form handed to us by the crew - just had to show the Cruise Card. We had been told by MSC beforehand that a Visa was necessary and obtainable at port entry, but fortunately we didn't go online and buy one. On a previous visit to Istanbul we paid specifically a ten pound note for a Visa at the airport
Istanbul - had been before so knew the tram system. Put Turkish note into the machine and out come tokens and change. You need one, €2, however long/short your journey. Others did a HOHO tour which worked well for them (2 1/2 hours but one of the more expensive ones) We visited the Grand Bazaar (which wasn't fully open due to the early hour) Süleymaniye Mosque, the Spice Bazaar, the Binbirdirek Cistern (the Basilica Cistern we visited before is much larger and with water and koy fish to enjoy), had photo stop at Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia where we heard the eerie calling to prayer over the speakers and walked through the park next to Topkape Palace. The gardens to the side but outside the Topkape were particularly beautiful with tulips at this time of year - the national flower I think. The pathway meandered down, in the sun, towards the bridge area at the Enimomu tram stop. Finally we visited the Yeni mosque, which was unexpectedly beautiful and so back to the ship.
Dubrovnik - again booked the ship's shuttle that was around €13 for adults and €9 for children. We thought this worth it for the return trip, in view of the limited time available and my husbands walking difficulties. Our dinner companions paid €1 each catching a local bus outside the port! Noticed there were taxis waiting close to where the ship docked or it was a 30min walk into town. Great wandering around, reflecting on the town’s recent struggles and sacrifices, then a relaxing drink beside the clear watered harbour.
Another drawback with short port times is being unable to spend long on finding email facilities or spending long using them. We had urgent financial and medical matters to consider. The ships packages were a waste of time - spending ages and getting nowhere despite the cost. A connection of just one minute meant my husband entered into the hour package he bought for €17. 30 mins were spent trying to connect to Yahoo and the remainder he gave up on. The connection is unstable which means that if you try to enter passwords etc and if there is an interruption then hew passwords have to be devised and so on and on. Better to buy the 'by the minute' from the ships IT room if you just wish to check emails
Finally we had a two night stay in Venice. From the ship there was a free shuttle bus to the People Mover - wish we had known earlier as we struggled over pulling our cases. My husband and grandson got in one carriage of the PM but as I was slow (pulling two cases) I missed it - altho others quickly took my place. And I missed the next as it came in on a platform where I was not waiting! Then I hit on the idea of getting on an empty one to the end of the line then just sitting there until I finally arrived at Piazzale Roma. Result, and found the other two patiently waiting. Cost of People Mover to Piazzale Roma €1.30 one way. Cost of taxi €25....... You could walk it in about 20mins but with cases that can be a struggle
We stayed again at the Canal Hotel right on the Grand Canal, which we knew to be convenient and more than adequate for a short stay - about 200 metres distance from PR over two small bridges. Plenty of reasonably priced bars and restaurants in the area but do keep an eye on the extras.
After dropping off our cases we took the water bus to San Marco's Square, cost €6 and took our time wandering back to the hotel visiting the famous Fenice Theatre on the way. Only one box was open for all, so you could only briefly view the stage but not much of the theatre. It was possible to visit some pretty rooms but I wish we could have seen more of the theatre itself. It cost around 12€ for me and my grandson which was pretty pricey for what it was, and basically disappointing
The next day we wandered the quiet back streets on the more northern/eastern side of the GC, including the Jewish Quarter, a bit of an eye opener because of it's history, which was well worthwhile. Then on to San Marco's again, taking the water bus the other way back to PR - always a lovely experience, seats at the front of some of the craft presenting wonderful views. We paid for our tickets then waited at the front of the queue, deliberately not getting on until a boat came along with well worth waiting for seats vacant. This will only work at each end of the trip since those seats are in demand and it gets quite competitive. Don't be shy, it's normal Latin behaviour
Be prepared to jostle with your elbows out. Politeness doesn't get you anywhere in Venice nor sadly on much of the Preziosa especially at the buffet, battling onto and off buses and the ship. Even around the magnificent atrium with its stunning Swarovski type staircase my husband was pushed out of the way by one of the many intrusive photographers at the top of the staircase. Very dangerous and complaints were made at the reception desk.
We took the bus from Piazzale Roma back to Marco Polo airport at around 6.30am. The bus runs every 20 mins or so and costs €6, but make sure you buy the tickets before getting on the bus, or face paying more. The tickets can be bought from the main Actv transport office canalside
The theatre shows were good to start with but tailed off. Even our GS, who is adverse to any music found the concert pianist brilliant and his choice of the classics kept everyone toe tapping and reflective as appropriate. Each night there were acrobats, singers and dancers in elaborate costumes performing to recorded music but through a superb sound system, appropriate the 1000 seater venue. It was full every night at the second show. The last three days were repetitive though, despite the costume changes, and the final show billed as The Best Of was actually a repeat of earlier performances rather than other more entertaining compilations. My wife and I are fans of Queen but their particular presentation was very poor with some of the most famous songs missing, understanding that they couldn't perform every one. We also felt it was a little restrictive offering Queen to the entire multi cultural/linguistic audience. A compilation of popular music would have been better. The Chinese contortionists were always amazing. Can any fellow passenger on this cruise please tell us how the four Chinese girls appeared from an 'empty' box?
The Cruise Director, on stage every night, had to speak in seven(?) languages which was very tedious for all the audience and though necessary, I guess, other cruise lines don't make such a meal of it. Like him or not he was a character.
The worse thing about the theatre was the total lack of parental control. Children were running up and own the aisles, even up onto the stage, lifting up the curtains, running across it behind the curtains and re-entering the auditorium through side doors. Despite the instructions to the contrary many passengers were recording the shows and drinks were being taken into the theatre.
To sum up we all had a great time with good value for money - we were glad to have a balcony tho so that we could avoid the heaving masses on the open decks. We saw dolphins in the water several times from ours. A memorable and hopefully more than a little educational for our GS and an immaculate bonding experience for us all. In a little over 12 mths he will be a teenager!!! On this occasion he took over 800 photos on his new camera so we have to assume it was a success
Would we go on MSC again? As always our priority is the itinerary so maybe!