I had a week to fill in over the Christmas period, and I thought that a week-long cruise would be a good and convenient option. I boarded and disembarked MSC Grandiosa in Genoa, and thought that I would be visiting Civitavecchia, Palermo, Valletta, Barcelona and Marseille. However, after boarding in Genoa, there was a letter in the cabin advising that the two ports I was most looking forward to visiting were not able to be visited because of sea conditions, and as a result, the itinerary was changed so that there was an extra day spent in Civitavecchia (the port of Rome), and port stops in Ajaccio (Corsica) and Palma de Mallorca were arranged.
I arrived in Genoa by train about two hours before the posted time of embarkation but I was able to board the ship and go to my cabin. Both embarkation and disembarkation at Genoa were among the best that I have experienced. The walk between the cruise terminal and railway station is not very long, but can involve some steps and narrow pathways.
Compared to other cruises that I have been on, this was the first cruise where the passenger composition changed at each port. This in itself was not a problem, but it meant that each afternoon from about 3.30 pm to 5.00 pm there were 5-6 announcements in multiple languages over the loudspeaker for new passengers to attend the mandatory lifeboat sessions. There must be a better way (perhaps an electronic bracelet) to get passengers to attend the sessions without the constant loud reminders.
I was disappointed by the lack of information about the ports that were being visited. The information given was only about MSC shore excursions, and there wasn't anything about public transport, maps or other features that would assist those not who opted not to participate in MSC shore excursions. Prior to sailing I had planned my activities for each port, but when the itinerary changed, it was not so easy to plan for the time in the new ports.
I purchased the standard internet package and found that the internet speed met my needs. However, the cost of the internet package is quite expensive and it would be worth investigating other alternative means of accessing the internet.
The ship was only a month old and so all the furnishings were in pristine condition. My cabin was an interior studio, the cabin at the lower end of those available. I was travelling alone and the cabin was adequate for my needs. Given the very limited floor space and the fact that one side of the bed was against the wall, I think that it would be unsuitable for more than one person to occupy the cabin.
The sailing was over the Christmas period and the ship was completely full with many family groups and numerous nationalities. The buffet was very busy and crowded at breakfast and particularly at lunchtimes. On Christmas Eve, the buffet was not open for dinner as a special meal was arranged for after midnight instead, but this was poorly communicated.
I appreciated the presence of a Catholic chaplain being on board during this cruise to lead Mass on Christmas Day and other days.
Overall, the size of the ship, the constant change in the composition of the passengers, and the lack of activities such as port venue information sessions and trivia sessions made it feel more like being on a train rather than on a cruise.
Based on what I had read and seen on the MSC website, the cabin was what I expected. There was little free floor space around the bed. The wardrobe was adequate and the bathroom good. I was expecting a facecloth/flannel to be provided but this was not the case. There was room underneath the bed to store suitcases. The bed and pillows were very comfortable, and the cabin attendant was efficient and friendly. On several occasions I was woken up about 3.00 am by ship (rather than passenger) noises, but I did not have the inclination or the energy to find out the source of the noises.
I walked from the entrance at the cruise port to the Civitavecchia railway station and this took about 40 minutes. I caught the local bus back to the cruise port, and in hindsight this would have been a better option both ways as it is cheap and quite quick. The train to Rome was late and took over an hour. I have been to Rome previously so did not have an extensive list of places to visit. I had to use the Metro to get to some places and discovered that coins are needed to purchase tickets. I nearly missed my train on the return journey as the platform number was posted on station information screens only a short time before departure, and the walk to the platform was considerable. On this occasion (and I guess on a regular basis) trains from Termini to Civitavecchia depart from platforms located at the far end of the airport train platform.
The ship berthed at a pier close to the town, so it was easy to walk around the town and the harbour. The lines to re-board the ship were very long and the process took over an hour. There was no MSC presence to monitor and control what was happening in the lines, and this aspect spoiled an otherwise pleasant visit to the Ajaccio.
The ship visited Palma de Mallorca on Christmas Day, so there were few sights such as the cathedral open during the time spent in port. I walked to and from the cruise terminal to the city centre along the waterfront pedestrian pathway on a beautiful day, and this ended up being a good way to pass the time and get some exercise.
As I had previously visited Barcelona, I planned beforehand to visit Montserrat by public transport. I walked from the cruise port to the Drassanes metro stop near the Christopher Columbus memorial, caught the metro to Placa Espana, and then caught a train to Montserrat which departs from Platform R5 (direction Manressa) on an hourly schedule. There is a choice of travelling up the mountain by cable car or train. I took the cable car, but had to wait about an hour for a ride up the mountain to become available. If I was to do the visit again, I would probably choose the train. My visit coincided with a public holiday so there were many tourist at the site. The setting of the monastery is spectacular. The return journey went smoothly although I was anxious about not getting caught by long lines at the cable car on the descent from the mountain and allowed plenty of time so that this would not happen.
I had originally planned to visit Aix-en-Provence by train when in Marseille, but a French railway strike meant that this was not possible. Instead I visited the Church of Notre Dame de la Guard which dominates the Marseille skyline and I was not disappointed. I walked for about 10 minutes to the entrance to the cruise port (following the green line) where a free shuttle bus took me to a stop near where the ferries to Algeria are berthed. Note that this free bus does not start service until after 9.00 am. I then walked and visited the Cathedrale de Major which opens at 10.00 am, and then went further along the road to the Mucem St Jean where I caught Bus 60 to Notre Dame. The church is a large and interesting complex, and the views of the city are spectacular. On the way back from Notre Dame I spent some time wandering about the Old Port before returning to the free shuttle bus. There was a large crowd waiting to board the shuttle bus back to the cruise terminal as there were two large MSC cruise ships in port.
Genoa was my port of embarkation and disembarkation. As I checked in early for the cruise I went for a wander along the main road, but there was not too much to see. The lines for security meant that it took longer to get back on the ship than it it did to check-in. The walk between the station and the cruise terminal was relatively straightforward after checking out the route on Google.