MSC Opera Northern Europe.
We arrived at Southampton at approximately 12pm after dropping our bags with the attendants we parked the car and jumped onto the shuttle bus to the terminal. Check in was quick and efficent and we were onboard 10minutes later and being shown to our cabin.
We picked the cheapest inside cabin available as all the cabins inside & out are the same size bar the suites on deck 12. The room was clean and had all the usual amenities although the shower is rather small (I must have cracked my elbow on the glass panel to the side at least 3 times every time I washed my hair!) Shower caps are provided along with Shampoo and Body wash in a dispenser in the shower.
There is double wardrobe with a shelf above, 7 narrow but deep drawers, 2 more shelves above. Plenty of mirrors gave a feeling of space. Behind the mirror above the dressing table there was more shelving along with the incabin safe, a long narrow drawer in the dressing table along with cabinets to each side. The bedside cabinets have 2 shelves each and a lamp attached to each one. Under the bed there is plenty of space for large cases.
After checking out our cabins we made our way up onto the deck and grabbed a coffee and some lunch in the buffet. When we returned to our cabin all our cases had been delivered.
We enjoyed the sailaway from Southampton and the weather was glorious.
We ate every night in L'Approdo where we had a table for 4 near the windows at the back of the dining room. As we sat down the assistant waiter automatically poured jugged iced water and brought round a selection of rolls and breads. We were on the early sitting at 6.30 and were rather glad seeing as the late sitting was not until 9.30pm and your average length of service was around 1.5hours
Our Waiter explained about the always available menu and the fact that a childrens menu was available if required. Each evening the choices were excellent and I sampled around 6 courses each night, my 11 year old daughter also did very well her choices whereas my son who is slightly more reserved in his eating habits generally opted for a margherita pizza to start with followed by steak or chicken with potatoes of the day.
The portions are quite small but this gives you balance when you are eating a starter, salad, soup, pasta or risotto, main course and a sweet. If you asked it was possible to have a larger portion and also extra potatoes with your main course. Coffee was brought at the end of the meal (tea was available upon request).
Through out the day you have a choice of eating in the main restaurant (la carvella), the buffet or at the pizza or Grill counters ~ the grill counter is also the place to get freshly cooked fried eggs of a morning.
Delivery of the Continental breakfast was good with plenty of coffee and hot milk provided along with croissants, Jams and rolls
Of an afternoon around the pool (or in one of the lounges depending upon the weather) at about 4pm each the entertainment team would organise silly games ~ throwing a ball into a bucket to win a lanyard, rolling giant dice and winning a lanyard if you got doubles etc, etc followed by a quiz at around 5pm (yes in 5 languages but English was always the first language)
Of an evening there were various artists in the bars La Cabbala had an excellent classical duo, whereas Sotto Vento had the atrocious Sebastiano and his guitar, the Via Condotti usually had a duo singing sometimes good, sometimes bad.
Given the reports about the number of smokers onboard I didn't actuallly think that many bars allowed smoking only the Sotto Vento pub and the casino of an evening.
The entertainment in the theatre lasted around 45 to 50 minutes but as drinks are not allowed in the theatre this was long enough. The resident dancers are really just stepping in time (but not with each other!) whereas the flamenco dancers and the acrobats are simply fantastic.
There was other entertainment provided in the Caruso lounge later in the evening.
The dealers in the casino were never really busy which wasn't unusual when you think the table minimums were €5 and to sign up for a poker tournament the buy in was €100. On sea days they dropped the table limits to €2 and this made a real difference to the number of players.
Important ~ Make sure you book all your shuttle buses when you board in Southampton!
Amsterdam ~ really easy to walk into town, make sure if you wish to visit the Anne Frank House you book your ticket online well before you are due to travel. If you don't you will find that the queue is around 4-5hrs long and is wrapped around the Westekerke, whereas online priority tickets have their own entrance with a buzzer where you are admitted immeadiately.
We wandered around the town in the rain and hoped that the weather would break ~ it didn't unfortunately.
The weather was atrocious as we left Amsterdam and the sea was quite rough (even with Stugeron the children took themselves off to bed after dinner!)
La Rochelle ~ You are not allowed by the port authorities to walk through the port so you either have to take a taxi at a cost of €20 each way or pay for the shuttle bus €9 per adult, €6 children aged 2 - 13. Tickets are given out in order from bus A to bus O we were offered tickets for M which was leaving the ship at 4.30pm for a half hour ride into town and the last shuttle was returning at 6pm. I did not take up the option and stayed onboard, the children disappeared to the childrens club and my husband and I sat and played cards.
Bilbao ~ It was raining heavily again. Shuttle buses were offered into town at a cost of €12 adults and €8 for children. The first bus was at 9am and the last bus returning was at 3.45pm again we were offered tickets on the bus at around 1pm. This is where my being an independant traveller fell apart I had forgotten the information regarding the route to the metro station and the route numbers required! Instead we wandered around Getxo which was interesting away from the port.
La Coruna ~ The day started off overcast but was reasonably warm. We walked from the ship to the Opera house then across to the beach before walking around the headland past the aquarium (you can see the seals in the pools outside) to the Tower of Hercules. All of the beaches which we passed were clean and had white pebbly sand. We came back to the ship through the centre of town where there were numerous small Tapas bars and Jamon shops. Maire Pita Square infront of the palace is good place to sit and take in the atmosphere. By the time we returned to the ship the weather was fantastic so after having a light late lunch we headed up on deck. When we came to sail out of the harbour we were escorted by a large pod of Dolphins to both sides of the ship.
We were told that during the evening of our following sea day that the ship would be stopping at Guernsey from 7.30pm till 12am, obviously not a lot would be open at that time apart from restaurants and bars. Limited numbers of tender tickets were available at €12 per person. The view from the restaurant that evening was stunning and numerous small boats came out of the harbour and buzzed around us. It is interesting to note that after having spoken to the staff that this stop is being offered on each sailing depending on the weather conditions and it has been added to the itinerary for next year.
Cherbourg ~ Disembarkation was effortless through the restored and very elegant terminal that brings to mind the days of the great liners. In the exit hallway there was an information booth and we pciked up a leaflet that enabled us to claim a small (€1 per person discount) for entry to la Cite del mer which is directly facing the terminal exit. Make sure that you pop in here as the entrance hall is free of charge and there are various submarines and Bathyscapes on display.
This was the one place the children really wanted to go to and I am so glad we did. We bought the full attraction ticket with entry to the Aquarium, the Submarine but also to the underwater adventure where you join in in training for an underwater adventure ~ UK guests are given an automated headset for this. The displays were well set out and had signage in French and English, the aquarium has a tactile tank where you can feel shark and rays. At the entrance to the Redoubtable nuclear submarine we were given headsets again which offered a guided tour in the slightly cramped spaces. An excellent day out and the tickets allowed for multiple entry to the aquarium meaning that we could pop back to the ship for lunch. This was the best €60 that we spent the entire time we were away and the children were most impressed.
Pool and beach towels have to be collected and your card is swiped a charge of €20 is levied for each towel not returned ~ so make sure your card is swiped upon returning!
Childrens clubs were good and well structured for children under 13 but non existant except from on sea days for the older ones apart from a disco at 11pm each night. My son who was 13 was allowed to join in with the younger children. They did a great show for the parents involving all the children and took them to more interesting shows each evening. The only extra charge was €2 for a t-shirt for the children to decorate one afternoon.
Space around the pools was good on the rare occassions when the sun was out and pool attendants were happy to bring extra loungers if you needed them.
The All Inclusive package made for an amazing saving but I also feel that we would have been more moderated in our drinking if we hadn't have had it! But with the children it meant that they had a large measure of freedom and could stuff themselves with ice cream all day between 10am and 6pm. It also covered all items in the mini bar including crisps and nuts.
If you are travelling with children and they are going to purchase from the shops whether it be a logo item or sweets and chocolates the it is worth getting the a Teen Card. If you place €30 of credit on it you get €5 free or if you place €50 on it you get €10 free this represented quite a large saving, we purchased one between the children and they bought various logo items and spent the remainder on chocolate (as if there wasn't enough food around!)
A massive choice of boardgames can be hired from reception (a charge of €26 is levied on your account but removed when you return the items), Golf clubs for the mini golf course are also available at the same rate but children are not allowed to hire these items themselves you have to accompany them ~ the mini golf was an interesting diversion in gale force wind and the rain.
All in all we had an excellent time and I would sail with MSC again although not on this itinerary. We paid the service charge at €7 per adult per day and also the Unicef fund of €1 per passenger and though this very fair as the ship was kept spotlessly clean, the staff were friendly and efficient, the food was excellent ~ where the moaners get their ammunition from I doo not know.
The staff speak English between themselves and all their information is in English.
The reception staff were pleasant and efficent each time I dealt with them and would happily supply taxi prices and the nearest rank information. Basic maps were available for each port from the excursion desk but better ones were always available in the terminals.
The disco was not for adults shall we say as the music was more thump thump techno than music you could enjoy yourself to, the evening that was advertised as 70s and 80s turned out to be about 4 tracks and then a return to the techno.