Getting There is Half the Fun?
Oy... you'd think it would be easy to get from the #1 US vacation destination to a major US port, but it isn't. The only direct flights eastbound were red eye ones, anything else entailed a long ... Read More
Getting There is Half the Fun?
Oy... you'd think it would be easy to get from the #1 US vacation destination to a major US port, but it isn't. The only direct flights eastbound were red eye ones, anything else entailed a long layover. So I opted for the red eye and I will say that Song did a fairly good job with it. Since I haven't heard anyone mention them, I thought I'd take the opportunity to say a few things about it.
First, this is an airline with a sense of humor. The safety lecture was actually a bit amusing, I don't remember ever smiling at one of those. There is some food available for sale, this can be arranged for on line or in flight. Menus are available. Television is free, as are the headsets. The ones they use have a single prong and fit into the ear so can't be used with ear plugs (I had ones to help with cabin pressure since I had hoped to sleep). Individual screens, many entertainment choices including PPV movies, customizable playlists for music and games along with flight info. No pillows, plenty of blankets. Each of them sealed in a plastic bag. One pass of the food/beverage cart early in the flight, another of water near the end.
Flight was without incident, luggage arrived promptly and I went upstairs to await my cabin mate.
It is not a lot of fun to be in a airport alone for an extended period of time. These days one has to lug their luggage everywhere... and there is no room in a bathroom stall for it... AND the chances of finding a seat when one returns is slim.
But we did eventually meet up and shared a cab to the pier.
A pleasant surprise when we arrived... we were allowed to check in immediately and then to sit in a large comfortable waiting area. Juice and water were available to drink and this was our first chance to see the excursions information. They were also showing (and trying to sell) their wine packages.) Most of the group met up here and the wait to board seemed very short.
On the ship a white gloved cabin attendant took my carryon and escorted us to the elevator where we were given instructions as to how to find our cabin.
Having been in various inside cabins, I didn't expect too many surprises. Worthy of note is the fact that there's a large mirror over the bed instead of the usual curtain in an attempt to simulate a window. There was another mirror over the desk and a full length one on another wall. There were two closets and to make our clothing fit all I had to do was remove a few of their large hangers. Six drawers and some shelves behind another door. Shelves in the bedside tables. A lap drawer in the desk with enclosed shelf space on either side. Outlets in both 110 and 220, no adapter necessary (I had needed one on Melody). Two shelves over the bathroom sink and storage below it. Two shelves in the shower too. All in all plenty of storage. Lighting MUCH better than I had experienced on Melody. Enough to be able to read in bed. Wall mounted hair dryer in bathroom. The sort of shower I've come to expect with a moveable, removable hand held head and a temperature sensitive control. The shower drained well and even though we had rough enough seas to encourage holding on at times I never had water slosh over into the rest of the bathroom. Most of what was available on the television was news. There were several movies running continuously, one in each language. I couldn't find a way to get subtitles on the non-English ones (on Melody a movie was always subtitled... of course neither language could be counted on to be English)
Nadia was our cabin attendant and she stopped by to introduce herself and check to see if we had any special needs. She seemed to be a nice young woman, but that was the only conversation I had with her all week.
By then I was getting hungry (remember that red eye... I had brought Cheerios with me and that was all I had had to eat since leaving home) and we went in search of lunch.
Our first clue about "Opera time" came with our docs. Initially we had been told that the dinner times were (roughly) 6 and 8, but the docs said 7 and 9. IMO 7 is pretty ideal and on most cruises I'd "settled" for late seating (a bit late for my taste) rather than dining "too early". When we saw the times in the docs several of us opted to change from late to early.
My happiness with that only lasted from the time we got our docs until shortly after boarding though, as it turned out that the times were indeed 6 and 8.
The next incidence of Opera time was on boarding day. The Daily Program clearly said what time the buffet would be open, and lots of pax were there, but it didn't open until a half hour later. We kept being told it would open "soon" or I suspect that many of us would have gone away and come back. (To be fair, there were inspectors doing their thing and that may have been the cause of the time difference.)
The last "annoyance" along those lines had to do with luggage.
Two of us shared a cab and so our luggage was handed over at the same time to the same person. My cabin mate's single bag arrived promptly, my two were very delayed. As long as I see active signs of luggage being delivered I don't concern myself too much about such things, in fact this time I made jokes within earshot of the crew that it might be an interesting week with me naked. Of course I was actually well prepared, with enough clothing etc. for a full day in my carryon.
When I was no longer seeing new bags in the hall and the door to the crew access was closed I called the desk. Nice lady asked how many bags and the size and color. She assured me that they were still distributing luggage. She called back later to make sure I had them (and I did).
These were the ONLY examples of such things and were quite minor and were I not trying to be thorough I probably would have forgotten them by now. Opera Nights
This trip confirmed my feelings about a couple of things on a cruise... the first is that I prefer late seating and the second that I really prefer a large table.
I like the quiet time on deck while the early seating folks are getting ready for dinner and missed that the nights that I was one of them. And as I've often said the "dining experience" is a large part of why I cruise, a small table doesn't afford me the conversation and exchange that a large one does. Most of my meals at home are eaten right where I am now, in front of the computer, so I relish listening to live people and interacting with them. A large table shares the "burden" of that so that no one feels as though they have to carry the conversation.
Portions for some courses at dinner were considerably larger than necessary. Pastas were enough for three or four people unless one intended them as an entree. Risottos likewise were in portions that were much too large for most people and the times I had them I shared. Even the night I intended my ravioli to be an entree I didn't finish it and instead had two things off of the dessert menu (gotcha... I had cheese and then a sweet)
The menu itself required a careful eye since there was an "International Menu" on the left that sometimes had items that weren't listed elsewhere. One of the changes I saw that I liked was that MSC now had cold soups a few times. I tried and liked a couple of them.
Cappuccino and espresso are bar drinks and not available at all in the dining room.
The wine list looked to be pretty extensive and ranged from inexpensive wine by the carafe to over $100/bottle. There is no sommelier. I didn't see any bar service in the dining room and suspect that there isn't any.
A wide variety of music is available in six different venues starting just before dinner and ending in the disco "whenever". (Speaking of the disco, it's the largest one I've seen on a ship. It's located on Deck 12, aft, with lots of windows. It's a beautiful place to be during the day and there's even some deck space outside.)
Teatro Dell'Opera is a real theater and the shows were well attended and very much worth seeing. I would categorize most as "variety" shows, with dance, music, magic and acrobatic acts. All were a delight. The Animation team did pre show "things" some nights, and they were very funny. I'm not going to give anything away here. They also entertained in a couple of the lounges, putting on shows and dancing with the pax.
Buon Giorno Opera
There were several early risers greeting the dawn each day. You could tell it was early, there wasn't any hot milk next to the coffee and we had to help ourselves to what was there, but despite the hour there was a selection of teas available. I was a bit surprised that cocoa was not among the offerings.
Breakfast began at 6:30 in the cafeteria and grills, 7 in the dining room. I looked at the dining room menu and decided that I would stick with the buffet for breakfast.
My personal choice was fresh fruit, a piece of whatever frittata they offered, cheese, smoked whatever and (usually) a chocolate croissant. The idea (for me) is to eat something other than what I would have had at home.
The buffet included scrambled and hard cooked eggs, sausage, bacon, hot and cold cereals, (including mueslis), various bread type things, fresh, dried and canned fruit, juices, yogurt and other less easily identifiable foods. Outside they had an omelet station and pancakes. I never got close enough to be sure of the exact offerings, but what I saw people eating looked pretty good.
(I found it of some passing interest that the food in the buffet was labeled in English and ONLY in English. The dining room menu was in whatever language seemed to fit.)
The Animation team did games and crafts in the mornings, along with some group exercise and there were fitness classes held in the gym (for a fee).
The cabin attendants put out Do Not Disturb signs on the cabin doors, flipping them up in such a way that they would drop into a normal position when the cabin was vacated. I guess this was "nicer" than putting a piece of paper in the door, but the signs did sometimes fall onto the floor rather than remain hanging. If someone put a Do Not Disturb sign out themselves they ran the "risk" that it would be taken when the room was made up. (Someone told me that they had a problem hanging onto their sign)
Baseball Greats on an Italian Ship?
It does sound just a bit odd, but the cruise did originate in the US.
Stan Bahnsen has been organizing and facilitating these groups. He was joined on Opera by Greg Luzinski, Pete Mackanin, Graig Nettles, Frank Howard and Gary Peters. They each had their wives and other family members with them. I had a chance to speak with each and invariably they were quite charming. There were several activities aboard that involved them such as clinics, video presentations, Q&A sessions, trivia and of course autographs. I am not particularly a baseball fan, but I'm the mother of one, so made sure I got everyone's signature and that's why all the photos with the players. I would suggest that anyone who goes on one of these in the future bring along a couple of baseballs as they were $25 in the gift shop.
Where Does this Cruise Start?
Apparently that depends on where one lives. For us it originated in Port Everglades, but for others in San Juan.
There were more shops with more choices than I had seen on Melody. They now have some MSC Crociere goods in the boutique, although nothing with any specific ship's name. They don't have magnets and they don't have made in China items with the names of the various ports on it. The DO have expensive Italian clothing which doesn't seem to be selling and some reasonably priced items such as polo shirts for $13 and baseball type caps for $4.80.
There is a Duty Free shop which seemed to do a brisk business in liquor and cigarettes. The prices seemed good and alcohol could be purchased and taken back to one's cabin (although everything in writing said otherwise).
There is also a pretty upscale jewelry store which sold 18K gold and diamond jewelry along with some less expensive items.
Finally they had a perfume and cosmetic shop which was usually pretty quiet. While I did go in, I don't know how the prices were, maybe someone else did?
You Call This Art?
I don't usually go to these things, but did last week because the subject comes up so often... They said frames were included, with upgrades (for a fee of course) available. Shipping $35. "Fee" of (I think) 15% (I don't get that one) Most things were available in almost endless numbers, but some were supposedly originals. There was a viewing and only those pieces that someone had expressed an interest in were presented. There was almost no real bidding, prints were sold at the price that was presented, only bidding on the originals. I enjoyed my glass of champagne and didn't buy anything nor did I go to any other of their presentations.
As I've mentioned, I cruised with MSC before and knew that there was going to be a repeat cruisers' party. Since I had passed the info on my status along when I booked I had expected an invitation which never came. When I asked about it I found that I wasn't the only one who didn't automatically get an invitation, that several people had only been invited because they had spoken up in time. I guess I missed out on a glass of champagne.
There was a meeting for the Singles at 11am on the second day. This was attended "mostly" by women. Champagne was served and it was just an opportunity to meet and chat. I'm not sure why men don't seem to go to these things as I know that there were several single men aboard who didn't attend. Formal Nights
As is typical on a 7-night cruise, there were two of these.
The first was the Captain's Welcome Aboard Party. Only thing of note was that this took place in two venues. The Captain and Staff were in the Caruso Lounge. If one didn't care about that aspect of the party, they could go to the Sotto Vento Pub.
This is one of the things I wish they hadn't changed. Opera is handling photos the way other lines do. They print them and try to sell them. Of course since most are thrown away, the ones which are sold are at very inflated prices. (On Melody only a few were printed and pax selected what they wanted from a computer. Because that kept their costs down prices were lower.) But the photographers seemed to be less intrusive. For example they didn't stop people on the gangway to take pictures, they were taken on the pier and it was very easy to avoid them.
Good, but as happens most times with limited hours. One or two in the morning, two in the afternoon.
Towels and Chairs
Opera has the same type of chairs that impressed me on Melody. There were more than enough for the number of pax aboard. Beach towels were available on deck. One was supposed to give the pool attendant their cabin number and sign for them.
This is another thing that they did very well.
Colored luggage tags were distributed the night before we left and we were assigned to a place to wait between vacating our cabins and when we left the ship. Because they had some control, there wasn't the crowding I'd experienced other times and everyone was assured of a comfortably seat.
I saw one of the young ladies from the Animation team during this time and she appeared to be on the verge of tears. I suspect this was all very new for her and every bit as difficult as any farewell could possibly be.
When my color was called, I walked off the ship, quickly found my luggage exactly where it was supposed to be and headed out. Every 15 or 20 feet a smiling person was stationed to keep us headed in the right direction. You all know the drill... show your passport... hand over the Custom's declaration and out the door. I got onto a 12 pax van almost immediately and was at the airport in a matter of minutes. A full TEN hours before my flight was scheduled.
Some of you may be aware that there was a lot of wet weather in the Eastern part of the US Saturday. So many flights were delayed that even those that started out on time got caught up circling FLL long periods of time.
I tried to check my luggage when I got there and was told that I had to wait, inside they would take bags within two hours of flight time, outside four. As much as it was a pain for me, I understood why it was that way. At about 2:15 I asked (inside) about checking in and since there wasn't a line I was able to. Took just a few minutes and I headed right to security, commenting that it felt as though I were skiing when I was zigzagging through where long lines had earlier snaked. The man at the x-ray machine said they had been waiting for me... so you get the idea.
But on the other side... what a mess! People all over. Most seats taken, people laying on the floor. I heard stories of flights that had been canceled, delays of hours.
I met people from all over the country and just as I had done the Saturday before, spoke with both of my sons while waiting.
My flight (Song again) came from NY and while it was in FLL air space on time, it circled a long time and was about an hour late landing. They changed over as quickly as possible and even thanked us for our cooperation once we were ready for take off. I hope that when the Song/Delta dust settles they don't lose what's good about Song. I did read that they might be adding a First Class to their planes. The present cabin configuration will make that very easy, in fact the planes appear to have been built with that intention.
The rest of the trip home was uneventful although it had been a VERY long day.
My Final Thoughts
To get the obvious out of the way, I'm a fan of MSC Crociere. That's what got me to book my first GGC and I have no regrets about having gone. It was good to see that ships are still being built that I find esthetically pleasing. Good to see people again that I hadn't seen in a long time, good to see others that I hadn't met before.
Another thing they seemed to do well was how they handled large groups. While we certainly knew that the polka group was aboard, and there were 400 of them, their activities were kept separate from the rest of the pax.
There were so many smaller groups aboard that the ship had one large cocktail party for all of them in the disco.
Our group had a wine and gift exchange the last day, also in the disco, and there didn't seem to be a problem with our having brought bottles in. I don't know what Cal did to arrange it, so I wouldn't suggest anyone try to walk around overtly with their own alcohol.
I went ashore at Cayo Levantado. Since I haven't been to any other lines "private island", I don't have anything to compare it with... but I can tell you that it was BEAUTIFUL! Soft clean sand... long curving beach. Shade. Plenty of chairs. Live music. Bar. I went early and left before lunch was served, but I know others from the group were there later so maybe they will comment.
There is an ice cream bar open in the afternoon... they had fancy ice cream based drinks for $6.50 (I think) and sundaes topped with cookies for $3.50. People were eating them, so they much have been pretty good... but there was ice cream and sherbet in the dining room at lunch and dinner every day.
You may have thought to wonder how I dealt with my dinner issues. Those who know me won't be surprised to learn that I started going to both seatings, usually eating at the late one. Our group had three tables early and one late, so it was a simple matter to join them. I was much more relaxed once I'd started doing that.
We saw several versions of their tipping policy prior to sailing. They applied $12/pp/pd to our accounts. I noticed that several in our group had it taken off and tipped directly.
If/when I were to decide to cruise again, MSC would be a likely line for me. It supplies a combination of things that fit me reasonably well.
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