Our cruise was 28 march from Marseille, then Barcelona. Tunis,. Malta, Sicily, Rome, Genua and back to Marseille. I am Carina, 32 years old travel agent from the Netherlands, with my husband Erik, 34 years old IT specialist. Together with my Dad (65) and mom (64). We had 2 inside cabins category 3 on deck 10, numbers were 10047 and 10035
DISCLAIMER: This will be a very personal review. It is coloured by the fact that we travelled under special circumstances, as well as the fact that I am: A) European, from the Netherlands, and therefore not used to certain things like tipping, free water etc etc B) a first time cruiser, so I have NO comparison whatsoever. I will have comparison to AIDA in a few weeks, but that's hardly a common cruiseline as well. My opinions are thus based only on this MSC experience C) a flexible, happy-go-lucky person who is easily pleased, and who is easily impressed (eg we are not used to SUPER luxury travel etc) D) we travelled with my father who is terminally ill. This made some thing more difficult, more fun and more special than they would have been otherwise. E) I am a very overweight person which sometimes also may affect my level of activity and my perception of things, although I hope not too much It surely affects my appetite and liking of the food on board!
That being said, let's start this review.
TRAVEL On the very early morning of 28 march we were picked up by a taxi to drive us to Lille in Northern France. We had spent the night (well, the few hours that were our night) at my parents house and the kids were at home with my inlaws, who watched them the whole week. The taxivan drove us in 1,5 hours to Lille, and we arrived WAY to early, the train station was still closed! Luckily the driver stayed with us till it opened at 5:20- am so we could sit in the warm van. I am sure dad would have frozen to death otherwise, he is so skinny and so easily cold since his illness. At the station it was a short wait untill our TGV arrived (Train Grande Vitesse). We were VERY comfortable in our first class seats! The train wooshed us thorugh France in a heartbeat: in only 4,5 hours we arrived in Marseille. A very comfortable and fast way to travel. Of course the plane would have been faster, but dad can not travel by plane anymore, so train was our best bet. At 85 euros per person for a return in first class, I thought it was a bargain! When we neared Marseille, we came out of a tunnel and there she was! We could see our MSC SPLENDIDA ship in the sunshine in the distance! I jumped and yelped from excitement, to the frowning dismay of our fellow passengers LOL.
At the station, Erik (my husband) and I lugged all the luggage, we wanted to make this trip and doable and easy for mum and dad as possible. We looked for the taxis and were told it would be 30 euros. Let's do it. In the end, it was 25 when we got to the ship, so that was a good cab driver. We were simply stunned by the beauty and the largeness of the ship; it promised to be a very special week!
EMBARKATION Marseille is not a main port for MSC embarkation. First we stood in line for our luggage. No porters here (at least not at 11:30 am). We delivered our bags in the terminal, where they would be scanned and handeled later. In this port, you are not present if (or when?) they are scanned. In my suitcase I had some cans of pepsi and some cans with mix-drinks like bacardi cola. No problem, The suitcase turned up intact around 5:30 pm by my cabin, with all the goodies inside. After leaving our suitcases, we went up to the check in area. We registered our creditcard and recieved our board-card. We went to an information stand on drink packages. We bought the cocktail package, the small beer package and the soda package. We could not buy a wine package, this would be handled later with dinner. No worries: you can buy these packages later on also, so no need to buy A LOT at once! I was sure we would need multiple packages, but turned out we had enough. The cocktail worked out to be 12 for the price of 10 compared to buying them apart. The softdrinks (cans! big ones too) worked out to be 2,20 euros per can in stead of 2,70 euros apart (excl 15% service charge) The savings on beer was comparable, thus good deals I think. Anyway, more on drinks later.
We had to wait 15 minutes and at about noon we could enter the ship. We were not met by a crewmember for a photo shoot nor to show us to our room. Maybe because we were so early, because later on we always saw people having there embarkation picture taken with a not-so-handsome sailor and a lifesaver (how do you call those rings things in english?). And we saw a lot of people throughout the week being escorted to their cabin by a white-gloved crew member. Not so for us: we just found our own way to our cabins on deck 10 to leave our handluggage. TIP: please put your lighter clothes or even bathing suit in your handluggage! I was so hot with my winter clothes untill I finally had my suitcase at 5:30 pm! Really stupid, as I have read this tip so many times before...
So, check-in was a breeze but not as 'complete' as we saw later on with other passengers. (although I did not need a picture and we found the rooms pretty quickly ourselves)
THE CABIN We had 2 inside cabins. I tried to get an upgrade/upsell on several levels (since I work in the industry) but failed. The ship was full or almost full so none to be had. When I saw the inside, I was not dissapointed! I found the cabin quite large (for 2 people!) with a nice big and VERY comfy bed with a mirror on the wall behind it. A little bench and table and a dressoir. Enough closet space and IMHO also enough clothes hangers. But hey, I 'only' brought 8 or 9 different outfits, and some for my husband. The bathroom was also adequate, I had expected much smaller! Water pressure and temperature was always nice. I sometimes clinged a bit to the curtain, but that is to be expected with my size LOL. The minibar was stocked and had enough room for the cans I brought from home (and the butter that was requested by our sicilian guide, more on that later) We never used anything from the minibar. The roomservice menu was not very expensive and also very small. Not many choices. Only in-room breakfast was for free (albeit not so elaborate) but we nevfer tried this. All in all, very happy with the cabins! Every night we received the newspaper for the next day. The first one in French but I asked the steward for english ones and he did so after that. I just had to 'train' him to put them under the door! He had the habit of knocking to deliver them at or after 10:30 pm, when we were usually just getting to bed or already asleep. After instructions he understood and just slid the thing under the door. (his knocking was persistant!) I also instructed him to make up our beds with seperate blankets (we just hog them otherwise and we fight about them) It took him a full day to understand what I wanted. First he thought I was cold and needed more blankets so he turned up the heat! He did his job, not more, not less. We did not have a special bond with him. My mum had only one little gripe: when she wanted to go to her cabin for a bathroom and shower visit, they were cleaning and they let her wait outside for a long time. She thought they should have let her in and resume the cleaning later, but that's debatable.
We left our hand luggage in the nice cabins and went on to explore the ship. Man, it is big! And so beautiful! We were just walking around with huge smiles and sometimes with open jaws of amazement. Of course it was my first time on a cruise-ship, so I was bound to be amazed anyway I guess. The pools, the sundecks, the bars,: it all looked SO nice in the sunshine! We looked for the buffet restaurant on deck 14, BoraBora (and PagoPago, they are one and the same). In this restaurant buffet breakfast and bufet lunch is served every day (breakfast from 6:30 till 10 and lunch from 12 till 14:30) and also a teatime (from 15:45 till 16:30) conmsisting of cakes, cookies, some tarts, some sanwiches, coffee and tea.
The BUFFET LUNCH was really quite OK, I thought. No way can you cook a buffet for 4000 people and have everythin piping hot! If you want hot, freshly made food, you are better off lunching in the dining room. Always a salad bar. Always some meat and cheese, some cold dishes like pasta salad or rice salad. Always some hot pasta options, pizza slices (not many varieties but nice), potatoe/meat/veggie options, a carvery station (recommended, was nice EVERY day!) and one buffet line with fries, hotdogs, hamburgers and the like. This line was only 1, and all the others were repeated. This line was therefore the busiest and sometimes took a long time to get something, especially with lots of rude people (sorry, mostly Italian) jumping in line, pretending there was no one there with them. There was also dessert stations with jello and tarts and cakes, very nice. No ice cream. I liked the food, there was always something good for me to find. !!!!! At lunch no drinks are included. You just order and get served a drink. HOWEVER: there ARE water stations that are sometimes being used by people hidden between the buffets. It is not really meant to be used at lunch, but I saw people using them anyway (and sometimes even using brutal force to try and use the locked juice machine as well! ) I have no opinion on this, as I am never used to free drinks with my lunch anywhere. I just buy them. But this is how it was anyway.
Now we are on this subject anyway, let me tell you about the WATER SITUATION Yes, it is true, no free water except for breakfast. No ice water, no free water bottles. I heard recently that US passenghers now get water coupons, check with your TA! I dod not get any free water. My dad just asked for a small glass of tap water for his medication sometimes and he got it every time at no charge. So maybe if you ask friendly enough... The bottled water in your room is at charge (maybe except with those coupons) and also at dinner. Not expensive, but if you are used to free water it is a let down I guess. However consider this: MSC is usually cheaper than the american lines. If free water, iceatea or coffee is very important to you, consider that you are probably paying for it with other lines. I am not used to free anything, so had no problems with it whatsoever. The water in the stateroom is drinkable. I did and survived
THE SHIP we finished our lunch and went on to explore the ship. We went up to deck 15 and saw the Playa del Sol, the so-called ZEN area, adult only pool and sundeck at the aft of the ship. Wow, it was beautiful! I could not wait to go and sit in one of those jacuzzis, unfortunately had left my bathers in my suitcase, so this day it was not going to happen. The ZEn area was very nice and if the wind on the aft had not been so cold, we would have sat there many times! This time of year, if the wind comes from behind, this area was a bit too cold, especially for my dad who is easily cold since he is ill (and lost a lot of weight). Luckily the ship is fitted with screens so that on deck 15, there are enough spots where one can relax and sit in the sun. We all had a small hour orso on the sunloungers and we were already burnt! Man, 18 degrees in Marseille sure enough is hot when you are in a windless spot. B)
What we noticed all the way when we were checking out the ship, is the degree of detail everywhere. I love mosaic tiles, which are used a LOT at the pool areas and everywhere, so I was very happy. But not only those; everything was just perfectly finished. My dad worked as a tiler some years ago, and we was always looking down in amazement at the beautiful Italian tiles in all colours and shapes ans sizes, laid perfectly, cut sharply according to him. Even in the lifts! It is a ship with very elegant decor, at least to my taste. Every bar or lounge is different in shape and decor, so everyone can find his or her favourite spot! The purple bar with all purple and stripes, the piano bar for a more nautical elegant atmosphere, the sports bar with sports memorabilia, TV screens, bowling etc, the Aft lounge with wavy chairs and a nice dancefloor and so on, and so on! if you can not find a favourite spot on this ship, I do not know what WOULD be nice for you. Our favourite was the cigar lounge, later more on that.
Around 5:30 pm our suitcases had arrived and it was time to unpack, have a nice hot shower and put on some evening slothes for our next adventure:
DINNER We had requested early seating and a table for four at booking, and we got what we requested. There are 3 dining rooms: Villa Verde on deck 6, and 2 different floors of La Reggia, lowed (deck 5) and upper (deck 6). We were assigned La Reggia lower and it is an elegant restaurant, although all the velvet and dark yellow took some getting used to from my side. First seating is 6:30 pm and second at 9 pm, which was just way too late for us with two parents who are on medication and who are used to eat at 5, like all older dutchmen. Only on 1 night, Tunis, the seatings are 1 hour later both, because sail away from Tunis is only at 7 or 7:30.
Our waiter was Mahmudi from Indonesia, a little nice man who was quite serious. He was very polite and friendly, but he never grew as close to one of his tables (as far as we could tell) as some of his colleagues. He did a very good job however and we were happy to be served by him. We got a menu which was themed on a region in italy, and we could choose from six courses (appetizers, salad, soup, pasta/rice dish, main course, dessert). It was perfect. My dad can not eat very much anymore since his radiation treatments, so he was fine just ordering a soup and a pasta dish in stead of a main course. The rest of us ate mostly 4 courses. One day I tried 6, but I felt stuffed for hours! The best appetizer I had all week was a pate with tangy orange marmelade, loved that! The best pasta dish was pumpkin risotto. The best main course IMO was a turkey dish and the best dessert was the baked alaska on Gala Night 2! (more on that later)
Now this on the food in the Main dining room. It was hot enough for me, never got cold food. It was also not bland for me, as I sometimes read. Everything tasted nice and pure, not overly salted (which I do not like but may be your preference). I was SURPRISED that they managed to get difficult dishes like turkey or risotto on the tables for so many people, still tasting pretty good! It is difficult to make a not-too-dry Turkey or a not-over-stirred risotto anyday, let alone for 1000 people or so! I was impressed. Make up of the plates was not always overly pretty, but hey: it went down fast enough so who wants pretty curly basil leaves and drizzles of balsamic vinegar on the plate? For me, the food in the MDR got a 8 out of 10, some nights even a 9.
As stated as an answer on one of the questions above, the MDR is the only FREE option at night. The rest are pay restaurants (more on those later). This did not bother us, we had fun and good food.
We bought the WINE PACKAGE which consisted of 7 bottles of wine and 7 bottles of water, so one of each every night. This was 129 euros plus 15% and it was a good choice for us. No hassle with 'What shall I drink tonight?' We just opened a wine and a water and this was enough for the four of us every evening.
About the other DRINK PACKAGES we had: if you drink by the pools, you get plastic glasses. That is OK with me, would not eant it any other way with kids running around. What we noticed, was that the SMALL beer package we pruchased was officialy for 12 small beers of 0,2 litre. This happened only in the pool areas, there indeed the glasses were tiny and 200 cl approx (and too cold according to my father). But in all other bars we went, the coupon for a small beer gave us a big bottle of 330 cc and a glass! so a TIP for BEER DRINKERS: purchase the small beer booklet, no need to buy the big beer one. You get big beer anyways in all bars except by the pools. We also had a lot of fun with the cocktail package 12 for 69 euros plus 15%. I LOVED their frozen cockatils like Strawbery Margartia and MSC Colpa di Fulmine. Thouroughly enjoyed these.
BARS AND LOUNGES We used our first night to scoop out all the bars and lounges, but I am guessing it took us three days to get a total overview in our head of what was really available. There is so much to chose from for every occasion or taste! One of our favourite hang outs sinc day one was the cigar lounge. It was a quite corner of the ship, not many people there and very serene. A Great place for us to unwind after dinner and have a drink before bedtime. We are (unfortunately!) early sleepers so never made it past 10 o'clock. I think my roll call members are still angry with me for never showing up at their meetings 10:30 and 11:30 pm... I hope they understand my explanation on the roll call, I really was beat every evening, especially from guiding and helping my parents a lot.
Another favourite was the Piazetta, the little Italian square in the middle of deck 6 where people meet and mingle all the time. Beautifully tiled, with painted skies and some fun shop surrounding it. I always enjoyed sitting here watching people and waiting for the cigar lounge to become empty at 9 pm, when all the pre-dinner-smokers rushed to their second seating. Too bad there was a marketplace going on every night on the Piazetta. I understand, stalls sell more than shops, especially iof they create the impression that things are cheaper that way. But it took up a lot of space I thought. There are some shops here for jewelry and clothing but also sweets and cakes and icecream. The italian iceacream on this ship tastes very good! Try it as dessert at dinner or here for a small fee in the Piazetta. If you love your icecream, like I do, you will not be dissapointed!~So creamy., hmmm! (By the way, I did not gain nor lose a pound this cruise, so I am happy with that result LOL) I also liked the aft lounge and so many more. You will for sure find a favourite spot yourself.
SHOW The first night we skipped the show since it was Marcel Mimo and I sincerely HATE mime players. Can't help it, I dislike them (and clowns). I just glanced at it, got the shivvers (spelling?) and went back. The second night we did see most part of the show (USA show) but after 30 minutes we decided we preferred to do other things like have a cocktail and play some cards, or go to the casino. The show was good, well preformed, don't get me wrong. But it is all very visual due to multiple nationalities. As was the mime player, now also this USA show was singing and dancing. Very good, but not to my taste for every evening.
BREAKFAST The first breakfast we had was fine. We never tried the dining room for breakfast so can't comment on that. Our sailing was full, but if you walk to tha aft of teh restaurant, there are usually spaces enough. A waiter will bring coffe/thee/ hot chocolate, another one brings juices. The buffet is one long main line (like lunch) where the frieds eggs and omelets are. The rest of the buffet area has multiple of the same lines. With scrambled eggs, bakes beans, sausages, bacon, tomatoes, boled eggs (hit and miss those boiled eggs!), fresh fruits and canned fruits, yoghurts, cereals, cold cuts and cheese, bread, jams etc, little focacia pizaa thingies, muffins and cake. I think that sums it up. OF COURSE, breakfast is the same everyday, like many complain. But what more do you need? Okay the only things missing are bagels, pancakes or waffles and maybe salmon for the fishlover. Maybe those ARE present on american lines, I don't know. I found the selection good enough to enjoy myself every morning and to eat differently every day.
BARCELONA The port area is too far to walk from the city. You can either take a shuttle bus at 6 euros per person that takes you to the bottom of La Rambla, or you can take one of the long line of cabs that are waiting. Be sure to queue for this, we witnessed some Italians cutting line line and some Brits getting really upset about it. If you are 4 people, the taxi will work out cheaper (about 7 euros per taxi one way to the same location as the shuttle) We wandered la Rambla with guidebook in hand and also wandered through the narrow streets of Barrio Gotic. We have seen barcelona many times so we were able to just take stroll and take it easy. My dad got really tired very soon, so after a coffee we headed back to the ship around 1 pm. If you never been to Barcelona, I would suggest you take a taxi from the ship to Parc Guell or the Sagrada Familia (I love parc guell but both are very must-see) Maybe if time allows, you can take in both. Than let them drop you at placa de Catalunya. Taxis are abundant and cheap and metered. They might not have much small change though! At Placa de Catalunya, go inside El Corte Ingles store all the way to the top, have a coffee there with the best view in town. Then walk down la Rambla taking in the side streets and a bit of Barrio Gotic, and you will end with the Columbus statue again, where you can take a cab to the ship.
The afternoon was OK, we sailed towards better weather so we were able to explore a bit more and catch some rays. The Barcelona day is half day and therefor also:
GALA NIGHT These are in Barcelona and Messina. About half of the people were dressed in Gala clothing (long dress, suit with tie or tux), a quarter was a bit toned down (semi formal) and another querter did not care at all. So either way you will not feel really out of place. This is also the day of the captain meeting and cocktail, there is FREE champagne in lounges to be had Gala night had a special menu but I thought not so different from other days. It was most of all nice to just enjoy being all dressed up together! Lots os pictures are being taken but no one is obligated to buy any. We took our own on the sprakling Swarovski staircase. Would love to share it here but do not know how to add pictures
DAY 2 TUNIS Well, you do not arrive in Tunis till 2 pm, so the morning was spent sunbathing and relaxing and sleeping in a bit. I even finally had a chance to sit in the aft jacuzzi! On arrival in Tunis, we were greeted by a Tunesian band an some camels that walked alongside the ship when we docked. They were there for a good atmosphere and of course if you wanted you could have your picture taken on a camel for a small fee. Now maybe a dissapointment for you: we did not go ashore here so can't comment on Tunis. We decided to enjoy the relative quiet on the ship and lay by the pools. It was 20 degrees so qarm enough for that, allthough had to stay out of the wind. It was a lovely afternoon, they even opened up the retractable roof of the indoor pool. Around 5 pm I decided to go ashore for some souvenirs. I did not need to clear customs as there is a shop with souvernis at the port. Good enough to get a fridge magnet and some herbs and perfume On Tunis day, all seatings are one hour later because of the late sail away. So we had first seating at 7:30 pm and second was at 10 pm. I was really knackered after first seating and a cocktail, so I did not make it to the meeting our roll call had around midnight, yet again. sorry guys! By this time in the cruise I was getting really worked up about some of the behaviour of some of the :
ITALIANS 80% of the ship's clientele is Italian and while there certainly are lots of nice Italians people on board, we just seemed to encounter all the rude ones! I admit: when I read reviews beforehand I thought: what are these people complaining about? Lift behaviour, rude Italians, how bad can it be? Get a life! Well, after 2 days I was getting high blood pressure myself and shaking my fist in anger at the umpteenth time we were shoved aside by an Italian family who took the lift before our eyes. I just had to tell myself to relax and deal with the lift situation. We had the bow lifst, so those were not as crowded as the center ones. But it just seemed that most of the Italian guests did not see other people at all. They get in and out any lift, no matter if it is going up or down. They get in before people have a chance to get out (my mom was 'stuck' like this several times! No amount of 'scusi, need to get out here!' made them notice her. And she can be LOUD if need be! ) they cut in lines, shove you aside (also at the buffet by the way) and lost of their kids were just running around amok, playing with lifts, making lots of loud noises. I never thought I would get so bent out of shape over such a thing, but I did. It was highly annoying and one of the reasons I would consider taking another line than MSC even! Not the line's fault, but less Italians. Of course, I do not mean to generalize, I am sure not all people are like this, but we just had so many rudeness upon us... The lowpoint was when mom and dad waited for a lift. One stopped and a big rowdy Italian family with stroller came out. Mom and dad went in the lift. As the doors cloesd, the Italians realized they were on the wrong floor, so he put his foot between the lift door, SCREAMED at my mom and dad to get the hell out (in Italian obviously) and after mom and dad were so shocked they actually listened to him, they got in and left my parents standing there with their jaws on the floor. I think that was the moment my mom decided a cruise is very nice but if she ever goes again, it will be on another line, PURELY due to the high % of rudeness she encountered by, I am sorry, mostly the Italians on board. I am just saying this so you can prepare for it en try to be relaxed about it, as we did. It did NOT ruin our cruise, but it is the ONLY thing we would consider leaving MSC for. However, on our sailing the majority was Italian due to a Italian holiday period. THUS the rude people I was to encounter had to be Italians, due to the law of average. I am sure there are rude people drom any nationality, we just had back luck! If you encounter rude people of whatever nationality, just be polite and smile and think your holiday is more relaxed than theirs
MALTA On the 3rd day we arrived in Malta and I was up at 6 to see us sailing into the Grand Harbour of Valletta. It was just breathtaking: on the one side we were closing in on the very surreal island of Malta, on the other side a sunrise over a practically empty ship. Those hours were beautiful, just me and the sunrise and the nearing new exciting harbour! By the time we really sailed into the harbour, a lot more people had gathered on deck 15 and 16 and were watching it with me. It REALLY is like you are sailing back into time, into some kind of Tolkien world. Very bizarre and beautifull.
At breakfast we were enjoying our docking in Malta from the window and we must say: it is the most pittoresque docking place of this cruise, with the nice coloured doors and terraces We got out and walked along the dock, where we were greeted by people from the HoHo bus and taxi-service. The Hoho cost 10 euros per person, but we were not sure how comfortable it would be for dad, and how frequent, since it was a holiday (maltese liberation day I think) So we decided to go with the white taxi service. at 80 euros for 4 hours for 4 persons, it was also not expensive! The person told us that we could visit such and such and make the drive al custom made as we wanted.
Full good vibes we got into a taxi with a big guy called Mario. It started out good. He took us to the presidential gardens in Valletta (I think) where we walked around for a bit. We even saw the president drive by with escorts. They were beautiful. Then he drove us to the church of Mosta, which was a nice place to visit, but very crowded with many MSC busses there. After that we wanted to go and have coffee somewhere in Mdina, but Mario wanted to take us to the arts and crafts village first. That is where mom decided she was not liking this cab driver In this so called village, tourists get dropped and pay hefty prices for handicrafts, of course the driver gets a commission I am sure. We saw a tile that cost 52 euros, which we once bought in Spain last year for 12 (and in Mdina, still a pricey tourist place, we saw the same tile later for 22). So Mario kind of wanted us to go to the glass factory as well in that village, and I said: no thank you, we want to go to Mdina now. He kind of instisted it was not to be missed etc etc, and I really had to put my foot down to skip the glass factory. In Mdina, he dropped us and announced that we would need at least an hour and he was not expecting us any earlier. ? We had coffee in Mdina and dad got tired of the steep streets very soon, so he had to go and sit down somewhere with Erik. They drank a Cisk beer, (proudly stating on the can that it was chosen australia's dfavoruite foreign beer in 1995 LOL) while mom and I explored the rest of Mdina. It was very nice. After that we were supposed to be taken to the blue grotto and see some of the coast line but all of a sudden Mario did not think we would not have enough time for this. Then I said to just do blue grotto and skip the visit ti Valletta, and all of a sudden he said blue grotto was closed today because of wind. He obviously did not want to go there. So, for our bit of coastline, he took us to see st Julians. I must say: not really what I thought we would see. I thought with coastline more in terms of cliffs and dramatic views. After a rush through st Julians he rushed us back to the ship and dropped us there a half hour early! (after 3,5 hours of sightseeing) I did not even bother to discuss this with him, as he had had enough of his way of working, but he even dared to give me an 'open' handshake. (pretending handshake, actually opening hand for tip) I cordially threw my hand into his open hand and shook it saying goodbye. He left grumpily. Hey, I do not mind tippting if service was exceptional (as you will read later on in Sicily) but this time the guy had done nothing special
To the defense of white taxi service: we did see a lot of people with different drivers that had better luck than we did. I saw drivers going into the church with their people, explaining stuff and being a guide. But our driver was just that: a driver who wanted to make his own route and be done with it.
Well, we did not regret it because we saw the highlights of Malta I guess in a comfortable manner, and the rest of the afternoon was free for us to laze around teh pool once again! We really got a bit of a tan there and I enjoyed the BEST Italian icecream, hazelnut flavour, it was SO creamy... JUMMM
That night we had decided to go to
THE TEX MEX RESTAURANT Just for a change. I had heard high praise of it. I must say: the waiter was very friendly and nice, the setting was lovely and so peaceful compared to the MDR, but the food... Nah. Not as good as the dining room IMHO. We ended up with a bill of 71 euros for 4 people for 2 courses and a drink, which was not bad, but not really worth it also. We just got the food differently then we usually have Mexican. Quesedillas were not the flat tortillas with cheese melted in them but they were rather some fried pastry thing with cheese in them. And so on. We decided to just use the MDR from that point onwards.
After dinner we sat around in the AFT LOUNGE A very nice spot with great view. We got some snacks with our drinks, which was a surprise to me. Nice and comfortable chairs and live music going on. probably dancing later in the evening.
After that we played at the CASINO Very nice, adequate for our liking and very shiny We all played on the machines and all of a sudden my dad's machine started the bells and whistles. He had won 180 euros! The picture I have of him next to that machine, with a HUGE smile on his face, I will cherish forever! The 180 euros went towards the bar bill
We finished of our night as usual in the cigar lounge and went to bed at 10 pm (I know, we sound like elderly!)
Day 5, we woke up in MESSINA For this day, I had arranged a private tour beforehand with Mario Astone on recommendation of somebody on this board. Mario quoted us 45 euros pp first for a trip to Taormina and some sightseeing, but if we could get more poeple price would be 35. He ended up mailing me that some american family also was on our ship and asking for his services, so we got in touch with each other and decided to share the ride. (35 per person, the 3 kids of the family for free)
We got out the ship at 8 am, and Mario was waiting for us. I had brought him butter from Holland on his request , and got a big hug for it immediately. After a short while, the american familiy joined us: 4 adults and 3 kids. It was gonna be tight in his van! We all managed to get in the van and he drove us to the other side of the island, commenting on what we saw. What a difference with the other Mario! He took us first to Castelmola, a place the ship's excursion does not because the busses do not reach there. It was BEAUTIFUL! I must say, the whole Sicily day was for us (and the americans, I heard later) the highlight of our cruise, due to the weather, good trip and guidance of Mario From Castelmola we had stunning views on Taormina, the coastline and on mount Etna. The village was so picturesque, you would not believe it. And we were the only tourists there. After this, Mario dropped us in Taormina where we had 2 hours of free time, as per my request. I just wanted time to do our own pace and own thing in Taormina. My dad had been there 30 years ago and wanted to go back, that is why I organised the whole tour. More meant as a transfer originally, although the day turned out like an excursion. In Taormina, the american family went their way and we went ours. What a beautoful village once again, so unique and pretty. We wandered through the streets and ended up on what must be the BEST terrace with view in southern europe. We sat next to a view on Etna on one side and the coastline on the other side. All this in a lovely 20 degree sunny weather! We enjoyed an (expensive) cappuccino there and just sat there enjoying the whole atmosphere. We really could feel, smell, hear and see Sicily at it's best at that place. It is one of my fondest memories of this cruise, sitting there enjoying everything, and especially seeing my dad enjoy!
After our time in Taormina, Mario took us to a lookout point where the ship's bus does not go and we enjoyed yet another splendid view. After that it was back to Messina, where we saw a church and also a viewpoint from which to see the ship, and take pictures of it. He took us to the Big Duomo (e special church with astronomical clock) where I had like 5 minutes to get some souvernirs VERY fast; we needed to get back to the ship! We said our goodbyes like old friends, paid Mario (with a good tip for this unforgettable day) and then scurried on to the ship. We entered it 2 minutes too late, and our american friends left something behind, so they were REALLy too late; I think the doors of the ship hit their butts on the way in!
(funny fact: this almost-missing-the-ship experience made Erik as well as Shane (the american father) so nervous that the next day in Rome they were both, independently, nervous wrecks about getting back on time!)
Well, just a GREAT day! The ship sailed at 2 pm and we sailed along the coastline of Italy. Beautiful weather, but strong wind so we had to look for a wind free spot on board. It was crowded with people sunning.
Dad and I had something special planned this afternoon. I had written a polite letter to captain Mattia Manzi, explaining the special nature of our trip, and asking if we could see the bridge. We got a reply that we were expected on the bidge that afternoon! It was very fun to see the briidge and how it all works (can you believe it, such a BIG ship is mastered by a little joystick of 5 cm long???) although too bad the captain was not there. I guess the guy needs to rest sometimes LOL Our luck was that we were on the bridge at the moment that we were sailing right onto Stromboli (or so it seemed). Unique sight!
That evening was the SECOND GALA NIGHT Everyone got dressed up again and we had a lovely dinner, this time with a very special dessert. The lights were dimmed and with music the waiters came in a row with flaming desserts (baked alaska) Then when this music finished, the music of VOLARE started, and the whole dining room was waving their napkins; very nice! And, I must say, the baked Alaska tasted JUMMMMM I still regret that I did not have seconds...
We strolled around the ship after dinner and visited our 'usual' hangouts: the piazetta (untill 9, when all the 2nd seating fols would go to dinner) and then to the tranquil cigar lounge. Went to be again at 10 for our big day in Rome!
Day 6 of our cruise, we woke up in CIVITAVECCHIA, port of ROME We had breakfast and watched the first 1000 people orso get off board to ctach their excursion busses. We got off the ship at around 8:30 and took the FREE shuttle bus to the end of the port area. (a good 1,5 km i think) From there, we walked along the water towards the station of Civitavecchia, about 1 km. There was a long line at the station, but I remembered reading on CC that you can also get the BIRG tickets inj the newspaper kiosk at the station. I quickly got 4 birg tickets there at 9 euros each. a BARGAIN compared to the rome on your own excursion from MSC at 45 euros, which is basically a transfer only. We took the 9:41 train and were in rome at 10:50. We got out in Roma Termini and bought 4 tickets for the hop on hop off bus. The only thing that would allow us to see the most of Rome above ground, within the limited time that we had. The bus (was another 1 km walking) took us past all the major sights. We could not get out everywhere, but we went out at St Peter's square and later at the Trevi fountain. There, we had lunch in a local taverna. Spagetti bolognese, what else when in rome? At the fountain, I guess 5000 people were there wanting to see it or throw a coin in it. We had to throw from a distance (hope nobody got it in the eye! ) And who did we see there? Our american friends from the day before! Unbelievable. After Trevi we finished the rest of the HoHo loop and went back to the train station. We got the 15:39 train back which was overcrowded. Dad was VERY tired after all that walking (i was so proud of him!) but luckily he could sit, and my mom a bit later also. Erik and I had to stand the entire way, pressed together with 20 other people in a tiny hot compratment, and the train was getting delayed and standing still... We arrived at Civitavecchia around 17:00, with a delay of 30 minutes. Then the long walk back to the port entrance, the shuttle bus back to the ship... PHEW what a long day! But again: sunshine and 18 degrees and VERY nice, not to be missed. We had a nice dinner once again in the dining room and we were hopefull for a last fun day in Genua
well GENUA was a disspointment, mainly because it was raining cats and dogs when we got there! We did not even go out, so much rain was pouring down. A bit of a let down after all that sunshine Mom and I ventured out in the rain, but we were soaking wet and did not find iot attractive at all. Maybe we saw the wrong part of town. It seemed rather seedy. The rest of the time we filled up by playing cards, visiting the lounges and bars, having icecream and doing a nap. We enjoyed our last supper on board and were kind of sad. But I was also happy to get back the next day to my kids! We bought some sweets for them at the Caramella sweets shop on board, and some souvenirs from the Logo shop and had alast cocktail in the cigar lounge. Then it was time to pack our suitcases and put them outside.
Of, I forgot! That Genua day we had a life drill at 5:15 pm! A bit late for us, who disembarked the next day. But hey, we participated anyway/
DISEMBARKATION We had breakfast and were outside the ship at 9 am. We took a cab to the TGV train station in Marseille (30 euros) but it was easter sunday so everything in Marseille was closed. Therefor we had to wait at tha train station till 1:30 pm for our train. We found a cafe to wait it out and unfortunately the train was delyed by 1 hour. When we finally WERE on board, there was no coffee and tea and the bar closed in the middle of the trip, so no food for us. And to make things worse, the train did not stop at Lille Europa, weher our taxi driver was waiting, but made an unscheduled stop at Lille Flandres. Long live mobile phones! The taxi driver picked us up there and in 1:45 hours he took us home. I think it was 10 pm when we finally got home.
It was a GREAT cruise, with GREAT memories! I do not know what I enjoyed more, the cruise, of seeing my dad enjoy it so much! Read Less