Embarkation This was the strangest one that I've ever experienced. I should probably say that first of all this cruise actually commenced 3 days earlier in Copenhagen but MSC were selling it as commencing in Dover for the UK market. When I arrived at the port by taxi, I asked the driver where I should drop off my luggage and was told that it was normally just beside the entrance but it was closed. I then went in to the terminal itself, only to discover that there were no check in desks open (Check in was from 2pm onwards and I arrived at about 2.15pm). There were signs pointing to the ship and a steady stream of passengers returning to the ship. I decided that there was no other option but to follow them onboard along with my luggage. When I reached the port security just before the gangway to the ship, I explained that I didn't have my cruise card yet and there had been no one downstairs to check me in or take my luggage. He radioed to the ship and they told him to let me through as they were checking in onboard as they were only expecting 10 passengers in total to embark in Dover. As soon as I stepped onboard, one of the security staff came over to assist me, showed me where to leave my luggage and got another member to escort me to reception where they checked me in, in just a few minutes. Within 15 minutes of arriving at the port I was in my cabin. My suitcases were delivered to me 5 minutes later. Although this was the fastest embarkation that I've ever experienced it was certainly also the most unusual Ports of Call I don't do shore excursions. This is not a reflection on those provided by MSC but rather my aversion to getting up early whilst on holiday and being shepherded about in a group. I'm far too independent and I prefer being on my own or with a few friends to being in huge groups. I've also travelled fairly extensively in Europe over the past 30 years so my preference now is just to wander about for a few hours and feel the atmosphere of a place, rather than rush around trying to see every monument or tourist site listed in a guidebook. So anyone expecting lots of detailed information on any of these ports had best read someone else's review! After departing from Dover we had another day at sea before arriving at La Coruna on the morning of day 3. The seas had been a bit rough at times, but I was fully expecting this. La Coruna - we docked right in town. so no local transport required. It was only a few minutes walk to reach the waterfront promenade and as it was a lovely sunny day, I chose to wander along it for a few hours rather than head in to all the hustle and bustle of the shops in town. Lisbon - we were meant to arrive at 11am but didn't arrive until 12.30 as we'd made slow progress the night before due to heavy seas. The captain agreed to stay longer in port so we still had the same time in port. I've been to Lisbon many times before but this was the first time I'd arrived by sea and I particularly enjoyed the sail up the Tagus River which gave great views of the city skyline. It was amazing sailing under the 1966 Ponte (Bridge) 25 de Abril. As we approached it, it looked like we did not have much clearance room but we passed under just). I was standing on my balcony and being on Port side had a fantastic view all the way in. Lisbon is a beautiful and old city albeit extremely hilly. The best way to get up some streets is the trams or the public elevators dotted around the city. Most scenic tram ride is the 28 east from Baixa up to Graca and passing the magnificent 12th century Se cathedral and Igreja de Santo Antonio the 15 takes you along to the Torre de Belem and the fantastic Monasteiro de Jjeronimo (not to be missed). Other things of note are the Castelo de Sao Jorge (great views from up there) and the Panteao Nacional. If you are interested in things equestrian, you may also enjoy the Coach Museum which contains numerous Royal Ceremonial Coaches dating back several hundred years. If you have time to spare and are in port long enough, take the train out to Sintra. It's an absolutely beautiful place, so much so that it's classed as a world heritage site. There is a tourist bus service that leaves from the station and takes you up the very steep hill to first of all the Moorish castle ruins that have a great lookout over the valley below and then on to the fantastic Palacio de Pena (a Disneyland fairy tale castle has nothing on this) It closely resembles a many tiered pastel colored wedding cake. Unfortunately the inside is not as spectacular as the outside. It's very pleasant at the outdoor cafe on one of the esplanades near the top. The bus then heads back in to the town itself where you can not only enjoy the Palacio Nacionale but just wander around the many beautiful winding streets. You can also do the route by horse drawn carriage ride if you prefer. If you prefer the beach then catch the train along to Cascais or Estoril Gibraltar - didn't go ashore here as we docked in the evening and I didn't want to miss dinner and then later on didn't want to wander about in the dark on my own. We docked right in town and it looked just a short walk along the waterfront to the main part of town. I was a bit disappointed as it just seemed to have modern concrete buildings. Perhaps there were older ones with more character lurking behind! Malaga - we docked as expected at 8am, although I did not go ashore until later. I was glad I'd purchased a ticket for MSC's shuttle bus service (4 euros and you could use it as many times as you wanted to and from town). The docks were very large and industrial and I doubt that I'd have found my way out easily to the port Entrance. The ride in the bus (or rather buses) took about 10 minutes and ran every 15 minutes or so. Malaga is a very beautiful old city and I decided to treat myself by having a horse drawn carriage tour of the city and waterfront. It was well worth the 30 Euros. The commentary was in Spanish but I quite enjoyed this as I'm learning the language and was good practice for me. El Parador and El Castello were particular beautiful as were the many parks and the beachfront.... Another day At Sea followed and I stupidly had thought that now we were in the Mediterranean and well clear of the infamous Bay of Biscay, that would be the end of the rough seas. Boy was I wrong. We had the worse weather this day, so much so I ended up having to take seasickness tablets and lie down for a couple of hours. What was most annoying was it was the second gala night and I adore dressing up and having the cocktails, champagne and all the razzmatazz. I made it to dinner (minus the high heels, fortunately had a full length dress to hide the flat sensible sandals) but could not have any alcohol because of the tablets so had to forgo the champers. Dinner was great though Olbia (Sardinia) - as my research had informed me that Olbia was a commercial town with not much to interest a tourist; I'd planned on a taxi ride to a nearby beach. Unfortunately the weather although dry and sunny just wasn't warm enough for a day on the beach, so I decided to have a quiet lazy day onboard instead Genoa - final destination. As I've been here before, I decided to book a lunch time flight so I could get back to Edinburgh the same day without the need for an overnight stay in London. Cabin I booked a suite as these are the only cabins to have a balcony. It was located port side towards the front of deck 10. The balcony has 2 chairs and a table and is fine for 2 people but would be a bit of a squeeze if there were more than that. Unlike some suites it doesn't have a separate bedroom from the living area, just one long room (about the same width as a standard cabin but double the length) There is a sofa which I think converts to a sofa bed), coffee table, mini bar with cupboards either side and the TV. The bed is queen size (although can convert to 2 twins). It has a bedside cabinet either side. The wardrobe is much larger than the standard cabins and is the walk in type. There is also a dressing table that is fitted with 2 European and 2 US power sockets. The mirror opens out to reveal yet another cupboard and the mini safe. Along side the wardrobe are 2 further full height shelved cupboards with a large mirror and glass shelf unit in between. The bathroom is the same width as a standard cabin but longer, so has an additional cupboard in the vanity unit below the sink and has a bath rather than just a shower. The bath is not huge but at 5'7" was absolutely fine for me. I certainly appreciated it the days we had extremely rough seas, as I don't think I'd have managed to stay standing up having a shower! In addition to lots more space, other extras in the suite are a real hairdryer with diffuser attachment (rather than the horrible wall mounted variety with the bendy hose) and robes. I found the bed extremely comfortable and whilst I would have preferred a duvet rather than sheets and blanket, the bedlinen was of a good quality. The cabin was well maintained and my cabin steward kept it spotless. I liked having a fresh fruit bowl too which was regularly replenished. Bars and Lounges There are a number to choose from both day and night. La Canzone del Mare, La pergola & vitamin bar - all deck 11 on the pool deck and open air. La pergola opens from 7am- 8pm and the others open a little later. They serve a range of soft drinks, beers, virgin cocktails, cocktails and spirits and coffees. You can also get smoothies and juices at the vitamin bar. You can either sit at the bar or sit nearby and have waiter service. Coffee Corner - deck 6 aft above the reception area. Wide range of teas and coffees (including hot, cold and liquor). Also serves full bar menus of soft drinks, spirits and cocktails. It's a nice meeting point and a great place to people watch I strongly recommend the Amaretto cappuccino. Sometimes has live music in the evening. It's open 6.30-1.00am and is completely non smoking Lord Nelson Pub - deck 5, stern below the theatre. It closely resembles a British pub but I would not recommend it, unless you are a smoker as it is the smoking bar. Opens 7.00-1.00am The Beverly Hills bar - very pleasant lounge that has a programme of live music and other entertainment (musical quizzes, art auctions etc) It is surrounded by the shops. It has a small dance floor and opens from noon until 1am. I quite liked this lounge pre or post dinner as I enjoyed the live music, especially the classical trio that often played here. Non smoking Las Vegas Casino Bar - on deck beside the casino (as I'm sure you will have guessed) It also has live music, especially for dancing too. It has a reasonably sized dance floor. It's open from 7pm until late (anytime after 1am depending on how many passengers are still around). Although it doesn't serve drinks during the day, it's quiet a nice place to sit in peace and have a chat or read. Also non smoking L'Atmosphere piano bar - midship deck 6 handy for the smaller Ippocampo dining room and directly above the entrance to the main dining room la Bussola, It specializes in Martinis and has live music all evening (but just to listen to as there is no dance floor). Open 5.00pm-1.00am. This was my favorite as I loved the atmosphere (pardon the pun) of it. The bar staff were exceptional here and nothing was too much trouble for them. As well as having an extensive list of cocktails, they'd also create ones for you based on what they knew you liked. Non smoking. Lirica Lounge - the main show lounge directly above the theatre. Has live music and dancing every evening as well as a variety of other entertainment hosted by the young and energetic Entertainment team (cabarets, competitions, games, talent shows etc). The captain's cocktail parties are also held here. Opens 9.00pm-1.00am. Non smoking The Blue Club Disco - aft deck 12. Opens from 6pm until late (after 1am depending on when passengers leave). It has a chocolate bar. The disco music doesn't start until 11.30pm though. Drink packages Soft Drinks - 28 euros - 14 drinks Small beers - 32 euros - 14 beers Large beers - 63 euros for 14 Honeymoon Special - 2 cocktails, 6 non alcoholic cocktails/smoothies and a bottle of Asti spumante served in your cabin - 61 euros There are also wine and cocktail packages available but I did not note the prices. Restaurants and Food Breakfast - You can choose from continental served in your cabin 7-10am but needs to be ordered before 3am), buffet in le Bistrot on deck 11 (6.30-10am)or a la carte breakfast in the main dining room (6.30-9.30am). If you can't wait for your caffeine intake there is early birds coffee served from 6-6.30am or if you rise too late then try either the lord Nelson Pub or La pergola (deck 11) where they serve croissants and brioches 9-12.00, I didn't use the buffet at all on this cruise as I prefer waiter service of the dining room. The choice there was reasonably extensive with a variety of fruit juices (carton variety rather than fresh squeezed), fruits, cereals, variety of bread, rolls and pastries (I particularly recommend the pain au chocolate - avoid toast as they don't make it like you'd expect - stick to the fresh bread, rolls etc). You can have eggs pretty much anyway (the omelettes are very nice as is the scrambled eggs), bacon (bit on the crispy side for British tastes, ham, sausages, potatoes of the day usually sautEed), grilled tomato. They also have smoked salmon which you can have on its own or with cream cheese and a bagel. You can have pancakes too and they also have yogurts. Lunch - if you want to dine in the open air on the pool deck, then your choice is the pizzeria which makes a variety of excellent pizzas or the grill serving hamburgers, hot dogs, and salads both open from 12.00-6.00pm. There is also a gelateria at the opposite end of deck 11 serving a selection of fresh made ice creams (very good but are not complimentary) from 11.00-5.00pm. There is also the buffet on deck 11 from 12.00-2.30pm or the main dining room 12-1.30pm. or occasionally 2; Lunch in the dining room has a selection of 6 courses available - appetizers; salad; soup; pasta and rice: main; dessert. Meals at lunch time tend to be more international than in the evening. I particularly liked the variety of soups especially the chilled consommEs and fruit soups (very varied and absolutely delicious). Appetizers were invariably good and very varied. Pasta was always good too, although the rice dish which was usually some kind of rice salad, which could be a bit bland or dry on occasion. Main courses would always include eggs (e.g. omelette. Eggs Benedict; a fish dish; meat and a sandwich (which could be on ciabatta, foccacio or just bread) they always have hamburgers, cheese burgers etc available too. Desserts always include the ice cream of the day as well as sugar free alternatives and fruit is also available. On the whole I enjoyed most meals. Sometimes the food was warm instead of hot. I was less keen on the chicken dishes, simply because they do not use boned pieces and I can't be bothered trying to get the meat off the bones, especially when it is smothered in a sauce. Afternoon tea - is served 4-5pm. They have a selection of teas (Prince of Wales; Assam; English; camomile; peppermint and a few others) Coffee is also available. The cakes, and biscuits are Italian and may not be what Americans or the British are used too. Dinner is served in the dining rooms at allocated tables. There are 2 sittings; I chose the second at 8.30pm as the first at 6.15pm was too early for me. Dinner also has 6 courses available which are less international, usually with the food from a different region of Italy each night (although on a longer repositioning cruise of 18 nights earlier this year, they did do themed dinners from other countries e.g. Mexico, Asia, France, Spain etc) they also have grilled salmon, chicken or steak available every evening and spaghetti Bolognese, if you don't fancy the main courses available. We had 2 gala dinners in the 8 nights we were onboard. I had a fantastic waiter who looked after me extremely well. I was closest to his station, so this may well have been the reason that my food was far hotter than I'd experienced on previous cruises with MSC. I'm also pleased to report that the beef was greatly improved. I was almost reluctant to order it as I'd experienced the shoe leather variety on previous sailings but am pleased to report that I had it 3 times (filet mignon; cooked in wine and cold roast)( and it was tender and tasty on all occasions. Like lunch my favorite courses were the appetizers, soups and pasta although I also enjoyed the risotto too. Most main courses were either good or ok. I rarely had a dessert but when I did, usually the ice cream or something lighter like mousse or crème brulee, I enjoyed them. Midnight buffet - served from 11.30pm every night had a different theme. Can't comment on this as having just finished 4 or 5 courses an hour earlier, could not contemplate eating again. Crew For me the real stars 9as always on MSC) were the dining room, bar and cabin crew. My waiter was exceptional, he always was waiting to greet me and assist me to be seated. He went out his way to make me feel special with a variety of napkin sculptures rose, peacock to name but a few). If I left anything on my plate or seemed to be eating slowly, he'd be over in a shot, offering to get me something else. One night, I stupidly told him that crème brulee was my favorite dessert and ended up with 2 which I just could not mange after 4 other courses). He'd always give me recommendations as to what was best that evening. One night my main course arrived at his station a little bit early as I was still finishing my previous course. Rather than serve it anyway, it was discarded and he sent for another one, to make sure I had a hot meal. The bar staff were exceptional too, especially Arif in the piano bar who made friends with all passengers regardless of age or nationality. He was very skilled at making cocktails and would invent a few others for his regulars. He also made animals out of straws and played games with the children. He managed all this and kept the bar running incredibly efficiently often unaided by his assistant who was sent away on breaks or to help out elsewhere. My cabin steward done a great job too, cleaning my cabin twice per day and regularly replenishing my fruit bowl (he noticed which kinds I preferred and started to give me more of those and less of the others) and always took time to talk to me. Even the other stewards on my deck always spoke when you passed them (and usually more than just a Good Morning or Afternoon). They would ask what sort of day you'd had and when the weather was rough if I was feeling ok. Form previous cruises with MSC I knew that the Italian Officers and Reception staff were usually aloof and often unhelpful. However on this sailing that had improved too. Whilst I would not say that the reception team were as friendly as the other crew, they'd certainly thawed their frosty attitude to pleasant and were also helpful and polite. I also had to see one of the officers about my account and he was absolutely charming. Entertainment There were 2 showings of the main show in the Broadway theatre each evening to coincide with the end of each dinner sitting. The theatre itself is beautiful and has good sight lines regardless of where you sit. The shows had to cater for 6 languages so tended to be either visual acts (such as cirque oleil style acts; magicians; dancers; or musical (also includes a classical concert). I only went to a few shows but enjoyed the ones that I went to. My favorite was the classical concert which consisted of a good Italian tenor accompanied by a trio from Eastern Europe (pianist, violinist and flautist). Have to say this was my favorite. There is live music ever evening, throughout the evening in a variety of lounges. Some just to listen to and some to dance to. On the whole they ranged from ok to good. There was usually some kind of entertainment hosted by the very energetic group of young Italians forming the Entertainment team going on day and night. Day time tended to be dance lessons, quizzes and bingo (in 5 or 6 languages); competitions and games on days at sea there were also Italian lessons, arts and crafts and other demos and talks) Gym, Spa and other facilities The gym had only 3 treadmills (and 1 was broken) and 3 bikes, so you often had to wait a while to get on them at busy times. They had a good range of free weights and weight machines and here were never queues to use them. The gym is situated right at the front of deck 11 beside the spa and you got great views from up there. It did however mean it also felt the motion of the ship the worst when the sea was rough. Next door was a sun lounge which most passengers had not discovered as it was usually always quiet. The sauna and steam room were here too. I used the spa a few times and can recommend the Balinese massages especially the hot stone one. Not cheap but very good. Watch out for specials in the daily programme. They have a hairdresser too, the pool is salt water and not heated, so is fine when in hot weather but can get a bit chilly. The pool area itself and deck above have lots of sun loungers available (which are all fitted with an adjustable face shield). At busy times it can prove difficult to find a bed as passengers hog them by leaving towels on them. It can also get fairly noisy around the pool area as much of the day time activities take place here. If you fancy some peace and quiet, then head for the small deck areas aft from deck 8 upwards to 12. It is much easier to find a bed there. There is also a small library (although only a small selection of English books) card room, very well equipped medical centre (with extremely proficient and friendly staff), casino; slot machine area; cyber cafe; photo shop and a variety of other shops (clothing; Colombian Emeralds; duty free; perfumery; electronics and a limited range of toiletries) There is also a children's club on deck 11 but as I don't have children, can't tell you anything about it. There is no self service laundry onboard, but they do have a laundry service which is quick and good. They do a special on the last few days of the cruise where they drastically reduce their prices in their (let us do your laundry for you before you go home promo) Disembarkation We were supposed to vacate our cabins and be in our meeting points by 9am. Breakfast was being served from 6.30 onwards in the dining room as normal and slightly earlier I think at the buffet. Room service was suspended that morning (which is the norm with MSC). We docked at 9am as expected and they started allowing groups to leave around 9.30am. I knew that I was in one of the last groups, so expected to have a bit of a wait. My group was called at 10.15am. getting off was relatively simple as the system of only allowing so many off at a time, stopped hold-ups at gangways and in the baggage hall, so all went relatively smoothly up to this point. The next part was a complete nightmare. I made it outside the terminal and headed for where I'd been told the taxi ranks was. Only it wasn't a rank with the usual orderly queue of passengers waiting. Instead it was a complete free for all with no qs - and taxis stopping all over the place and just picking up whoever managed to push themselves to them first. As one of the few single passengers and with 2 cases and slightly visually impaired, I had absolutely no chance against the groups of passengers. I lost count of how many times I was pushed out the way. At first, I was not too worried as I thought "well, I'm just going to have to wait until last". However more and more passengers kept coming out of the terminal and I needed to be at the airport by around 12 and it was already just after 11. At this point I started to get really worried and a bit upset that I was going to miss my flight and have to find a hotel for the night and hope that I could buy another flight for the following day. Fortunately at this point 3 Italian ladies noticed that I was getting upset and offered to share a taxi with me as they were also going to the airport. Now that I was part of a group of 4, we got a taxi within 5 minutes and I arrived in good time for my flight home to Edinburgh via Gatwick. So anyone making their own arrangements to leave from Genoa be prepared to do battle in a scrum or be incredibly patient if there are a lot of passengers also making their own arrangements to get home. Overall Opinion Great cruise despite the sometimes uncooperative weather. Had exactly what I wanted a very relaxing time, being waited on hand and foot by fantastic friendly staff who could not do enough for me. Also pleased to observe the improvements in the quality of the food especially the beef) and the temperature at which the food was served was much hotter than previously. Only small blot on a wonderful experience was the debacle at the taxi rank in Genoa which MSC could hardly be blamed for.