MSC ORCHESTRA ANTILLES GRAND CRUISE, B2B, Trans-ATLANTIC GRAND CRUISE (28nights)
Choice of Itinerary
This was driven by a number of factors.
Most importantly was my wife’s desire to see where “Death in Paradise” was filmed.
Secondly was the fact that we didn’t cruise in 2015 because of the wedding of my younger daughter, which had to be moved from its original April date to September for reasons to do with the venue.
Thirdly I booked it in rather a rush as MSC decided to discard the 20% discount for Black card holders. They gave two weeks warning of the event.
So the first 14 night cruise was an easy choice and the dates fixed themselves when I realized I could make it B2B with the eastward repositioning cruise. The other important fact is that the repositioning cruise was such good value that the 20% discount on the first cruise paid for the major part of the second cruise.
The ship chosen MSC Orchestra
Gross tonnage:- 92409 tons
Length:- 293.8 m
Beam:- 32.2 m
Draught 7.7 m
Height 59.64 m
Decks:- 16, incl. 13 for guests
Voltage (in cabin):- 110 / 220 volts
Maximum speed:- 23 knots
Stabilizers Stabilized with 2 fins
Number of passengers:- 3,013 (on double basis)(max. 3,223)
Number of cabins:-1275
Balcony suites:- 18
Balcony Cabins:- 809
Ocean View:- 173
Inside Cabins:- 275
Disability Cabins:- 16 (11 inside; 2 OV; 3 balcony)
Crew members 1,054
Pools 3, 4 whirlpool baths
Choice of Cabin
Initially I wanted a balcony suite on deck 15 on the port side. There are only 9 on the port side of the ship and none was available for the entire 28 days, unless we changed cabin half way through. An idea my wife won’t go with. This was probably due to the rush pf Black cardholders getting their last discounts. There were 40 on the first two weeks and 205 on the second, and on the repo leg the ship was over 1,000 guests below capacity. That meant that over 10% were Black card holders.
This left us having to have a balcony. Again there were none available, at my preferred location, on the forward hump of decks 12 and 14. So we had a cabin on deck 12 in the recessed area. The cabin came with the “Aurea” experience, which comes with the all inclusive drinks package and other perks.
By comparing prices with the next level experience down, “Fantastica”, I worked out the AI package was £15pppd. If you purchased it as a Fantastica guest it was £22pppd, so it was a bit of a no brainer to have the better experience with the AI package and several other perks, which I’ll mention later.
The only drawback was we had to have a cabin on deck 12, which is below the pool deck, as the Aurea package isn’t available on any other balcony cabins on lower decks. This is probably why the cabins on the hump were sold out first.
We had the outbound flight, BA, through MSC, as I couldn’t get as good a price, independently, as they were offering, which was a surprise to me. It was an early morning flight from Gatwick direct to Bridgetown. We booked in to the north terminal Premier Inn so as to be close to the baggage drop off point which can be used the evening before the flight. I was very surprised that they had no parking for the night and only offered a discounted price on short stay parking. Next time I’ll use the Sofitel as it has its own car park.
We checked in and dropped our bags off and were told by the BA rep that we had been wise to do it as there would be chaos in the morning. How right she was, MSC had overbooked their allocation by six people. This was when we had our first bit of good fortune, the upgrade fairy allocated us seats in “cattle class plus” instead of cattle class. (World Traveler Plus in BA speak)
The flight was delayed by 1 hr as they changed a wheel, after everybody was on board, but before luggage and cargo was loaded.
Because our flight was delayed we found there was a long queue on the dockside and up the gangway and on into the ship.
There is no terminal building at Bridgetown so the queue was standing in quite a hot sunny area. As an MSC Black card holder I am entitled to priority embarkation, it is also a perk of the “Aurea” experience and there was no facility available.
Not to be deprived of my benefits I spoke to an MSC security officer and showed him my black card. He said he didn’t know of the benefit, so I got the table of benefit entitlements out of my information folder and proved it to him. He immediately radioed the guest relations manager, and in less than 1 minute a nice lady appeared from another gangway.
I called my wife who was dutifully queueing (she hates making a fuss and being different to others) and we were taken into the ship by the alternative gangway and led straight to the front of the queue at reception. The queue was the typical convoluted snake type rope system which had about 100 people in it and then tailed off out of the area and off out to the dockside, probably 250 – 300 people all told.
The guest relations manager, his assistant, the head waiter of the Aurea dining area and the nice lady all made sure everything was correct and spent at least five minutes with us. They spotted a mistake on our cruise card, no code for the drinks package, and had it corrected as well as operating the strange activation machine that links your credit card to the cruise card. The service we were given by all four of them was brilliant and I overheard quite a few people in the queue asking how we got that level of service. We also were asked by people who had spoken to my wife in the queue why we were taken away by a member of the crew.
The Aurea Experience
This is premium service level and the top level on Musica and Lirica class ships, only exceeded by the Yacht Club on the Fantastica class ships. The other levels are Bella (No frills service); Fantastica (what I consider standard service levels); and from next year a Wellness (for fitness fanatics).
The Aurea extra benefits include:-
All Inclusive drinks package
My Choice Dining
Spa package, including a complementary Bali massage
Access to a reserved sundeck
I was due to have one massage per person in the cabin per cruise, i.e. two in total. However due do some administrative errors we actual received four each.
This also affected the benefits we received as a Black card holders.
The error was that my wife was booked on two 14 night B2B cruises whilst I was booked on two 7 night cruises.
This became evident when I asked to have cruise cards that covered the entire 28 days instead of having two separate cruise cards for each 14 nights. I was stunned when reception told me my wife was booked on for 28 nights but I was only booked on for 14 nights. I was then asked if I had a ticket for the second 14 nights and having said yes was asked if I could produce it.
I duly fetched said ticket from my cabin and showed it to the reception manager. After a quick look at his computer and checking with sales at HQ he profusely apologised for the computer system error. As a result I received benefits for both the Aurea and Black card as if I had booked three B2B cruises and in the case of the massages as if I had booked four 7 night cruises B2B.
Still I’m not complaining about these MSC booking errors.
Dining on board
As we had My Choice dining we were asked at what time we would like to dine. They suggest that the same time each evening is best as you will have a designated table and waiting staff. This was fine for us for most nights, but on three occasions we chose to change our time. This is no problem to arrange, it is simply a case of informing the Aurea head waiter of your requirements. However, he did point out that he couldn’t guarantee our designated table.
As part of the drinks package we were entitled to dessert wine, which I like, so on the first night I had a very nice Sauterne. When I asked for it on the next night I was told it was out of stock and would I like the alternate choice an Italian wine. This was equally palatable so I asked for on the following night and was told this too was now out of stock.
Not good enough, so I went to reception, waved my Black card and asked if I could meet the Food and Beverages manager (FAB as he is known). The meeting took place the next day and I politely asked if he was aware that the two dessert wines for the AI package were out of stock. He immediately phoned his stockman and was told there was none available, so he then said to get a bottle from the premium AI package list and send it to the MDR for exclusive use at our table. This lasted well into the third week by which time they had replenished the other choices.
That’s what I call good service and possibly the power of asking politely, not complaining as such, and having a Black card.
Breakfast and most lunches we had in the buffet which does not have sufficient seating at full capacity, which was a problem on the first two weeks. The second two weeks were no problem at all as the ship was sailing with more than 1,000 guests below capacity.
We had the occasional lunch in the MDR, which on MSC ships is open every day for breakfast and lunch, with open seating and waiter service.
The only alternative dining was the “a la carte” Asian fusion (Chinese, Thai and Japanese) restaurant, which we used twice and had the set “taster” menu as a perk of the Black Card.
We could have gone four times but the taster menu twice was enough, four times would have been too much.
The big disappointment was that the quality of the food, in the MDR, has slipped to perhaps 2.5 stars (out of 5) from the usual 3.5 to 4 stars I would give to MSC food. This may be only on this ship rather than a general slippage throughout the fleet.
The buffet offerings were at my expected quality level.
For the theatre shows there was a production cast of 21 people, within his number were a three man tumbling act, a three-man gymnastic balancing / strength act, a male/female duo who were aerial artistes, 3 lead singers and 10 dancers. One couple from the dancers were the ballroom/latin experts.
The full production shows were:-
Mon Amour; a French style variety show which included the obligatory can-can sequence.
Gold; A lavish show with costumes based on ancient Egyptian styles.
Starwalker; a Michael Jackson tribute show.
Grease; from the film of the same name.
Samurai; again a lavish costume production.
Carnevale di Venezia; a modern tribute to Italian musical tradition.
Gotham; based on Batman
All the production shows included at least two routines from “gymnastic” acts as well as the resident singers/dancers.
Working tirelessly from early morning work outs by the pool, afternoon “party” games by the pool and hosting the evening after show “party”, where they acted as dancing hosts, until the early hours of the morning were the “Animation” team. A group of eleven young people with seeming boundless energy and enthusiasm which they used to encourage people to let their hair down and join in, but in a nice polite manner without being pushy.
Evening entertainment also featured live music in some of the bars and lounges as well as the atrium. There were eight acts:
Duo Italy, a guitar and mandolin combination who I thought were brilliant.
Alegria Tropical, A keyboard player and a singer who played a good mix of pop music both new and old.
Fransesco Medas, a pianist (with a computerised box of tricks) who played all sorts of music but specialised in playing the whole of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album which sounded as if it were the actual album being played. He was brilliant!, but then I love Dark Side of the Moon. He also did a Supertramp set.
Other acts were, Tropical box, Sabor Latino, Diego and Opera2band. None of whom I can comment on as I tended to stay with the three acts I enjoyed.
One act that was dire, and murdered every song they performed in English, were Duo Celine jazz.
They were always the alternate act in the atrium sharing either with Duo Italy or Francesco, and when they came in to change over I took it as a sign to move elsewhere.
The staff at reception, who were great people and with whom I had many good laughs as they tried to solve my sequencing puzzles and other table top puzzles; the type that involve moving matchsticks to change the number of squares or triangles, had to endure the caterwaul most evenings. I had a great deal of sympathy for them as they expressed the same sentiments about Duo Celinejazz’s performances.
For the crossing extra entertainers were brought onboard; a Classic Italian trio (soprano, mezzo-soprano and a great tenor). They did four classical shows with a touch of acting humour thrown in just to make it different. Three other acts were also brought on but were aimed at the predominately French speaking guests who made up about 80% of the passengers.
The tenor also did an impromptu singalong with “Duo Italy” in the atrium, which resulted in most jam-packed atrium I have ever seen.
The entertainment was of an excellent standard although most of the production shows were repeated but we still enjoyed them second time round.
For the crossing daytime “enrichment” activities were introduced and were organize by specialist people embarked for the purpose. The activities were diverse and included Tai Chi, Creativity (making small arts and crafts items), Bridge, Italian Lessons, English Lessons (with emphasis on pronunciation) and the 5-day team quiz (teams were for up to eight people). There were also table tennis and table football competitions. Al these events were additional to the usual dance lessons, stretching classes, morning walk, and a wide variety of cooking demonstrations.
All in All there was plenty of activities to occupy your time and the entertain was of a very good standard.
I’ve already mentioned how good the guest services staff were, and now I’d add that our waiters in the MDR were great as well and four of the bar services waiting staff were excellent, greeting us personally (without reading your name from your cruise card), as well as remembering our usual order.
There is a feeling among some MSC cruisers that the bar service is poor, I would not agree, the fact is they don’t pester you all the time but rather wait for you to catch their eye as the walk around their designated station. There were occasions when the bar tenders were working at full stretch, in the more popular bars, and there was a delay in getting your drinks brought to you, but by and large the service was efficient and discreet. They have a method of indicating that you have been asked for your order by putting the drinks menu flat on your table and putting small circular absorbent coasters in front of you. This acts as a signal to other staff so they don’t keep asking you and as a reminder where there should deliver the drinks to. tHe one odd thing is that even if you have a drinks package, which is a code on the front of your cad, you still sign for your drinks even though the total reads €0.00. It must be some sort of internal monitoring system, either of the staff or for stock control or both.
And finally we had an excellent cabin steward who seemed to work all the hours god sends and sorted out small issues and sent and fetched our laundry, even if we were outside the 10.00 am deadline for handing it over. He also became a convert to Sudoku as he noticed I had two books of puzzles. I showed him the rudiments and gave him one of the books of easy puzzles so he could get to grips with it. He was delighted to be given a small personal gift from a guest
PORTS OF CALL
This was our embarkation point and a port of call later on in the cruise. I’ll deal with it later
Port of Spain, Trinidad
This was our first port of call on the cruise and were we felt somewhat jet-lagged, but we dutifully got up, not too late in the morning, and went for a walk around the town which is close to the port.
On the way we found the lovely Trinity Cathedral, with its religiously significant maze, Woodford park, the National library which is built around the old fire station, and the old police station.
The inside of the Cathedral was refreshing cool, but that had a lot to do with the huge number of fans whirring away all around the nave.
Woodford park had plenty of trees for shade and was just bounded on two sides by the city hall and the cathedral, a pleasant place for a stroll and just adsorb the local feel of people having leisurely picnic lunches.
On the way back to the port we found the monument to all the Olympic medalists from Trinidad and Tobago. A nice idea and far better than a gold post box.
A short walk to outside the docks and we were able to join forces with four others, 2 French and 2 Swiss, and book a taxi for a tour of the town, a visit to the botanical gardens and nearby rain forest area which included a visit the Trafalgar Falls. The road system in Roseau is all one way streets and so a guided tour is inevitable as the driver works his way around the system to leave the town. Our driver only spoke English, so that was fine for us but meant that we had simultaneous translations into French and German from the couples with us.
The driver was keen to point out the severe damage done by Hurricane Erika in August 2015. One such sight was a crushed yellow school bus still lying under the tree where it had been parked, fortunately nobody was in it at the time. The other evidence left by the hurricane was the large amount of rock debris in the river beds. This is put to good use as all buildings are built from the rocks, so building material is free, you simply fetch your rocks from the local river bed and (re-)build your house with them.
There was a $5, (government agency), fee to walk to the water falls which were a brisk 5 minute walk down a good path.
On the way to and from the falls the driver pointed out the abundance of flowers, fruiting trees, and herbs growing everywhere. Locals are allowed to take as much of the fruit, flowers and herbs as they like but damaging or cutting down trees is a criminal offence.
The tour lasted about 2.5 hours and cost $20 each which was only payable at the end of the tour and if we felt it was worth it. That was information the driver gave us before we agreed to using his taxi. We all paid.
St. Georges, Grenada
Another port in which we walked out of the port and strolled around. Firstly to Fort George ($2 entry fee) up a steep climb were there was not a lot to see but had great views. Then we went and walked around the harbour where the sea life was abundant with brightly coloured fish next to the harbour wall.
Whilst walking around the harbour we heard a cacophony of car horns and watched as a long line of minis wound its way around the road. It was the Trinidad and Tobago mini owners club Easter week end jaunt. There must have been 150 - 200 cars, most in showroom condition.
A quite spectacular sight and it must have been a bumper payday for the inter island ferry.
We had no great plans for this visit as it was Easter week-end and we expected most things to be closed and this was the case, so we simply followed the blue line on the ground, put there for cruisers to follow to the small beach, paddled in the sea and walked back. We were due to return in a week.
This was what my wife had come for, a visit to the area used in “Death in Paradise” (DiP).
As we walked out of the port we were asking for a taxi driver who spoke English, not many did. Eventually one was pointed out to us and we went over to him. He already had two French ladies and was looking for two more passengers. We asked him if he would go to the area we wanted and he agreed but said the other two wanted to go to some “Cascades” and the botanical gardens. Everybody agreed to go to all the sights and the ladies said it would be €50, I said I would pay €40 each and to the surprise and glee of the ladies the driver agreed. It turned out that the ladies spoke no English at all, the driver only spoke a few words of English and our French is almost non-existent. Despite that we had a brilliant day.
First was a drive through the rain forest to the cascades, one set of rapids and one average waterfall. Then on to the North West tip of the Island to Deshairs which was our goal. Here the driver asked the locals for the sites used in DiP, and we were shown “Caroline’s Bar”, the Police Commissariat, the jetty, and the church as well as one of the restaurants used in the end “reveal”. In fact we all had lunch in the restaurant, we split the cost of the driver’s lunch between the four of us. During lunch we were in stiches as we tried to hold a conversation about DiP but somehow it worked and the ladies worked out why we wanted to see the place.
After lunch it was a short journey to the beach and the house used as Humphry’s abode.
A short stop to paddle and we were off to the botanical gardens, €10 entrance fee except the driver who was not charged.
The gardens were excellent by far and away the best we saw on the cruise, and we visited a lot of them on other islands. Finally on the way back the driver suggested a visit to the Rhum museum but sadly being Easter Sunday it was closed, so back to the ship.
We spent 7.5 hours in all with the driver and ladies on a most memorable and enjoyable day despite the language issues. I let the ladies pay the driver first then I gave him the full €100 and the ladies just laughed and expressed surprise that I’d relented on my own haggling rom which they had benefitted. But I felt that he deserved it.
Over the next seven days we bumped in the ladies many times and they always had a “conversation” with us.
Here we had a 15 minute walk to the botanical gardens, $5 entry fee, which although very nice were not a patch on the ones we saw on Guadeloupe. After about an hour we decided to return to the ship early.
A morning walking along the beautiful beach near to the port follow by some souvenir shopping, which ended up as bottles of Rhum for everyone, which certainly challenged our luggage allowance at the end of the cruise. Careful juggling of weighty items between hold luggage and hand baggage and we made full use of the generous BA allowances.
This is one of the few places where we went on a ship’s tour. The tour was to Las Maravillas caves which is the site of some cave paintings created by some of local populace about 1000 years ago and they depict animal forms, mainly iguanas, and the burial of tribesmen. The images showed how the dead were beheaded to allow the spirit to escape. Unfortunately no cameras were allowed, nor were guns!!
The tour then went on to a cigar factory, where I learned they were not rolled on “the thighs of dusky maidens” but rather they were rolled on a wooden table.
The main mode of transport in the Dominican Republic is the motorcycle, they have motorcycle taxis which lots of people were using, they can be distinguished as they wear uniforms. There were many instances of three adults on one m/c and even four and five people, presumably families, where there were two adults and two or three children.
We drove past shops which had literally thousands of them for sale, our guide pointed to shops and said 1,500 for sale in that one; 2,000 in the one across the road.
St. Kitts and Nevis
Here we had fun a games getting on an open sided tour bus, not an excursion, as we got on the bus we were told only to be told it was the wrong bus. So we changed buses. Then an Italian family got on and protested when the driver/tour guide said he only spoke English. They had been told he could speak their language. They decamped to the first bus we got on. Along comes the manager who told us to get back on the original bus, so the French people behind us shouted that “no way” were they going on the same bus as the Italians. In steps our driver and says he’s going to take our bus and overruled the boss. So some 50 minutes after first getting on a bus we set off.
We did the usual tour of the “White Egret’s” nesting site, (the birds are protected by law and it’s off to gaol if you harm one), the sugar factory and Rhum distillery, past the Rhum bottle tree and on to the end of the island where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean.
We’d done the sugar-line train before and it’s only possible to do it on a ship’s excursion as they book the train for the entire day. We didn’t think it would be the same second time round and the excursion was very pricy.
A beach day for us here, we caught a taxi and asked to go to Runaround bay a 10 minute drive away. The driver told us it was an OK beach but if we wanted a really nice beach then we should go to Jolly beach. We agreed and after a 20 - 25 min drive we were there. We arranged a time to be picked up, so far we had paid nothing to the driver, and were reassured that he would be back at the appointed time when he said payment would be when we get back to the port.
After walking and paddling the whole length of the of the beach in both directions we had just enough time to get a drink at the beach bar. Back to the car park any a sense of relief to see the taxi parked and waiting for us. On the way back we stopped off at a neighbouring beach to pick up other guests from our ship for the return journey. The extra taxi fare was well worth paying as the beach was far nicer than we had originally aimed for and the neighbouring beach where we stopped to pick up the others.
The weather was against us for our return visit to the island, with heavy showers at frequent intervals, so we had a quiet day on board ship.
Again another return visit so we caught a taxi to the aquarium, you will have gathered by now that Andie’s favourite places to visit are botanical gardens, beaches and aquariums (this will become apparent further on in the review). We had done our homework on the distance to the aquarium ( ~ 3 kms) and checked with the tourism office the fair price for a taxi which they said was about €5 pp each way. The bulk of the taxis were asking €10 pp each way. We did get one for €6 pp each way and again we arranged to be picked up. The driver left her business card with the entrance ticket seller and asked the ticket seller to call her when we were ready to go back. This worked well and we only had to wait around 5 mins for the taxi to arrive and take us back to the port.
This was one of the places we planned to take the ship’s excursion to the rain forest aerial tramway. It’s the next best thing to a botanical garden. The journey up the mountain was bumpy and the road was twisty which made Andie feel queasy which resulted in her being very sick into a plastic carrier bag whilst we were riding the tram. She felt a bit better after the event.
The gondolas carried eight people plus a guide and in order to keep them balanced you were allotted your seat by a member of staff. Heavy people in the middle with the lighter ones at the front and back. We were in the front.
Being the rain forest tramway it lived up to it name and the heavens opened up on us, which meant that we got very wet whilst the ponchos, which the guide in our gondola had available for such an event, were handed out to everybody.
At the end of the ride you could elect to go on a “hummingbird hike”, a twenty minute quite strenuous walk around the forest to see if you could catch a fleeting glimpse of humming birds. We did the walk and saw several humming birds at close range. Strangely enough if you decided not to go on the walk you had to sign a disclaim saying you had been offered the walk but had declined.
This was the end of the first cruise and the point where several people we had got to know disembarked. There were also major disembarkations at Martinique and Guadeloupe which meant a significant shift in the demography of the guests. Off got the Afro-Caribbean families who were mostly in their 30s and 40s with children of all ages, from babes in arms to late teens. These were by and large French speakers and made up about 85% of the guests on board. Embarking were older couples and singles, mainly Caucasian Europeans, again with many French speakers but there were now more Spanish, Italian and English speakers. The number disembarking far outweighed the number embarking and what was a ship at near full capacity became a ship with over a thousand guest below capacity. The feel of the ship changed, it felt a lot more spacious than before, and the number of child buggies you encountered dropped to almost zero.
As for doing things ashore Andie didn’t feel like doing our excursion so we cancelled her booking and I went on my own to the Atlantis submarine. We had looked at doing this DIY but it only worked out about €3 cheaper than the ship’s excursion which wouldn’t entail the hassle of finding a taxi in both directions. We first had to sign a disclaimer in block capitals, which seemed odd, but it became apparent why when we received “dive” certificates after the event.
Then we boarded a large tender and headed out to the sub which was nowhere to be seen. Suddenly the sub’s bow leapt out of the sea at about 20 degrees of angle before it slammed down on to the surface. A most impressive arrival. It tied on to the small surface command vessel and open the hatch and disembarked the people who had just had their journey in it.
Now it was our turn to board. I managed to get a seat just behind the pilot who went through all his checks and welcomed us on to the 14,867th dive before enquiring as to how many people spoke English, the only language used on board, and got two “Yes’s”. It had clearly stated on all the information and booking forms that this was the case., so nobody had grounds for complaint. We had a safety demonstration and told that the sub was rated for a 140ft depth of dive, remember that when you look at the images. We dived and disappointingly the water was quite murky and photos were hard to get with any clarity. There was an abundance of fish and the obligatory wreck to see. All too soon we were at the surface, climbing back on to the tender and speeding back to the “office” to receive our personalized certificates. Back on the ship for lunch and just in time before the rains started giving some spectacular rainbows.
The Trans-Atlantic crossing
We set sail from Bridgetown with full 6 days at sea ahead of us. This is where my choice of a starboard cabin was designed to maximize the amount of sun shining on to the balcony, which is what my sun-loving wife would really be pleased about.
This strategy would have been fine if we had had my preferred choice of a Balcony Suite on deck 15 or even a balcony cabin on the forward hump. Our eventual choice of an Aurea balcony, in the recessed portion of deck 12, which was 12 under the pool deck, but far enough forward so as to be under a quiet part of it, only partially fulfilled the requirement. The main factor for the disappointment came about because deck 14 overhangs these cabins, and so cuts out the direct sun for the major part of the day. The only times that the sun shone on the balcony was for about 1 – 2 hours after sunrise and in the early evening.
Sunrise varied a bit as on five of the days we had to put our clocks forward by one hour.
This was one small point that detracted from the holiday, but is what is to be expected on a long oceanic voyage going west to east.
Activities we did
We had been fortunate to be told that we could have four complimentary Bali massages during our cruise. As they were part of the Aurea experience you were supposed to have them during the day the cruise they are associated with.
This would have meant that we should have had two each in the first of the two week back to back cruises.
This is where the Black card came in handy. I had approached the head of guest services, on day two of the twenty-eight days, and asked if it would be possible to al four during the sea days on the crossing. He told me that it was perfectly OK to do that, especially as I had a Black card. He even rang the Spa and told them of the arrangement and suggested that we might like to go and book the appointments straight away, just to ensure we were given times that were suitable for us.
We went to the spa, who were waiting for us to arrive and chose the massages we wanted.
Now I was led to believe that the entitlement was for a straight forward Bali massage of about 45 minutes duration. I was delighted to find out we had a free choice from the many massages on offer.
“Hot stone” massage (1hr duration) for second sea day.
”Bali holistic” massage (45 minutes) for on the sixth sea day.
“Bali” massage (45 minutes) for the sea day between Funchal and Malaga.
“Bali massage with Reflexology” (1 hour) for the last sea day, between Malaga and Barcelona.
We both found the “Hot Stone” to be the most enjoyable but differed on our ranking of most enjoyable choices.
I had a tie between “Bali” and the “Holistic” with the “reflexology” a long way back in fourth. Basically it hurt or should I say was a tad uncomfortable.
Andie on the other hand had the reflexology as her second favourite and the remaining two equal third.
If we get them again we’ll both opt for the “Hot Stone” massage.
This was one of the “enrichment“ activities specially arranged for the six day passage across the Atlantic. Andie chose to attend the lessons, held twice a day on all the sea days, eight days in total. She thoroughly enjoyed them mostly because it complemented her yoga which she had missed during the first two weeks.
5 day quiz
This seems to be a standard thing to do on MSC’s repositioning cruises.
Teams of up to eight guests try to answer 10 questions each day filling in the answers on a sheet of paper which is handed in after each session.
It is run by the animation team in the theatre, where they patrol the event to ensure no electronic devices or crib notes are used.
There were 14 teams entered mostly complete strangers put together on language spoken as a first criterion. The quiz was held in 5 languages.
I was in a team with six Australians and one Swedish lady. Teams of people who knew each other had distinct advantage over the others. This showed up on day 1 when my answers to two of the questions, which I knew were correct, were voted down in favour of answers given by an Aussie. These questions involved recognizing a bank note as Egyptian, and the flag of Kenya. Consequently we only scored 5 instead of 10.
I had to miss the second day, when the team again scored 5, as I was involved in a wine tasting event.
I was a popular returner on the subsequent days when we averaged 7 points per day. This lifted us from a lowly 12 place to a respectable joint fourth by the end with 31 points. The third placed team scored 32 and the runners up scored 33 and the runaway winners 39 points.
Had my two answers been accepted on day one we would have been joint second.
This was a very popular event, so much so that they had to run it a second occasion. It was held in the MDR and there must have been 150 people in the one I went to.
There were six Italian wines to taste. (abv = alcohol by volume)
A Sparkling Prosecco (11% abv)
A white (12% abv)
Two Reds (13% and 13.5% abv)
A Rose (11% abv)
A sparkling Red (9% abv)
A plate of various morsels of food, some cheeses, breads and hams to accompany the various wines was provided.
The sommelier gave a brief lesson on the art of wine tasting then a description of each wine and what food types it should accompany. Assigned to our English speaking table was the English Speaking Hostess. She told us she would translate what the sommelier said. Well she did read a pre-prepared script, hardly translating for us.
Almost universally on our table was the verdict that the white was not very nice and the rose was terrible. The sparkling red was judged to be a BBQ wine, i.e. one that could be quaffed liberally at a BBQ and would go down well (in both senses of the word) with guests. A pleasant surprise from the sparkling red.
Other things of note for the sea days.
Because the hour changed five times during the six days, and in the direction which resulted in the loss of an hour’s sleep, we tended to get up later than usual and then have Andie would go off to Tai Chi, and we would forgo breakfast and have an early leisurely lunch.
We also made good use of our balcony to sit out and read and look out for wildlife. We saw plenty of flying fish, two smaller members of the albatross family, a couple of smaller seabirds which I thought were terns of some description.
But the highlight was the sighting of some dolphins, travelling at speed and a pod of whales, quite possibly pilot whales judging by the dorsal fin.
The use of the reserved sun deck, “Top 16” on deck 16, was limited by the high winds experienced when travelling at 20 knots into a headwind. On a couple of occasions access to the area was closed. There was however a smaller area on deck 15 which formed part of the “Top 16” area. It did get a bit crammed full on these occasions.
There was also King Neptune’s party for “crossing” the ocean. I thought that these ceremonies were just for crossing the equator, but obviously MSC use them for a bit of fun on extended periods of sea days. The participants were baptized with the usual concoction of “champagne” (Prosecco to you and me), raw eggs, flour, tinned tomatoes, cocoa powder and baked beans before being pushed into the pool. The state of the pool afterwards meant that five men spend the best part of the afternoon emptying, scrubbing clean and refilling the pool.
Ports of Call
The first landfall after the crossing was Tenerife and here we walked out of the port and got on the HO-HO bus doing the complete circuit and part of a second circuit before getting off and walking around a pleasant park, past the Auditorio de Tenerife and the Iglesia-Parroquia Matriz de Nuestra Señora de La Concepción. On the walk we were surprised to see that the trees had knitted and crocheted jackets. It seemed a nice way of decorating the park.
We did buy one souvenir, a fridge magnet in the shape of a bottle of wine. I used it to make joke “Special Offer” by creating a sign saying
I attached the fridge magnet to the sign and holding it, in the same fashion as our head waiter held the sign and bottle of wine when he came round the tables with that day’s special offer, presented it to the head waiter ,as we entered the dining room saying “ today’s special offer not 50% discount! Not even 75% discount; but to you a 100% discount on this magnificent 2016 wine bottle fridge magnet ; Look at the date, a very fine year for fridge magnets. This is especially for you and is only for today.”
He roared with laughter and proceeded to show all the waiters and head waiters and even the Maitre ‘d who happened to be near the door
He really got the joke as I had paraphrased the words he used. |The only thing missing was the chance for him to attempt to haggle the price down, as I did each time he tried to get us to buy a special offer bottle.
I would ask for an additional 20% off for the Black card holder discount.
He thanked me for offer adding that he thought he would be able to stick the poster to his cabin wall with the magnet as was sure it was metal.
As an addendum to this story, on a previous port of call he asked about our day ashore and said in his usual jocular fashion," You had a great day but forgot to bring me a fridge magnet."
Another port where we walked out of the docks and into the town, we’d been before and seen the botanical gardens and cable cars. Andie had no desire to try the downhill sled ride.
We arrived during the town’s Flower Festival and were treated to some beautiful floral displays and even a group of local folk dancers strutting their stuff.
Mid-morning we had a very heavy down pour, so we sought refuge in a café and indulged in the local madeira cake with a nice cup of coffee.
When the rain stopped we walked through the streets admiring the displays but were forced to go back to the ship by another series of heavy downpours.
Again we walked off the ship and out of the port to the to the Alcazaba fort, the Castillo de Gibralfaro fort and the Roman Amphitheatre. All three are close together about a mile and a quarter from the cruise terminal, a reasonably paced walk took 25 to 30 minutes to arrive at the ticket office. Price for entry was €3.20 for an adult and was valid for both forts. The Amphitheatre was free to enter. For senior citizens, who had a means of proving their age entry to the Alcazaba fort was €0.60, with another entry fee of €0.60 if you wanted to ego inside the Castillo de Gibralfaro fort.
The strenuous climb up to the latter was a steep zig-zag path and is not for people with mobility issues or heart or breathing problems. The HO-HO bus offers an alternative way of reaching the top. We walked to the top where we met one of my Team Greece Australian guests who enquired as to whether I’d walked and was amazed when I said yes. “Good on yer mate I came up on the HO-HO” was all he could say. After pondering a while he asked for directions to the zig-zag path and set off saying ”I think I might try the walk down”.
The gardens in both forts are well worth the visit and are reminiscent of the Alhambra Palace.
We have visited Barcelona seven times before on cruises and seen the sights we want to see, so as you can guess by now we walked out of the port and into the area around Las Ramblas.
MSC were charging €8.50 for an all day multi-use ticket on their shuttle bus or, the port bus cost €2.00 one way, €3.00 return. After a couple of hours roaming the back streets and squares on the North side of Las Ramblas went ventured along the marina where a replica of the first Russian frigate (1703) was docked.
Then we decided to catch the port bus back.
Again a port we’d visited many times, the weather was inclement and it was costly to get from the port to the old harbour area. A shuttle bus return ticket was €15.90, So as it was the day before disembarkation we just stayed on board and took our time over packing.
Because BA had cancelled our original flights for disembarkation day we booked a hotel for an overnight stay.
As Black card holders we were allowed to retain use of our cabin until 10:00 and could disembark at any time of our choosing up until late morning. Our cases would be with the first unloaded in case we wanted to be off with the first group.
We chose to get off about 10:30 and roll our cases the 600 yards or so to our hotel, the Grand Hotel Savoia, and get the at round 11:00. We had requested an early check-in time of 11:00 as part of the deal. We were finally checked in at around 12:15. This left us the rest of the day to explore the old city, visit the Aquarium (brilliant, but not cheap. €25 per adult) and have an evening meal.
The alternative scenario would have been to be first off, put our cases in the MSC left luggage room in the terminal. This is one of the good things about MSC’s Genoa Terminal. You have to collect your luggage before 14:30. This would have allowed us to do the sightseeing and visit the aquarium before checking into the hotel, but would have meant an extra walk from the town back to the terminal with time restraints to consider.
The route we rolled our cases (12 – 15 minutes), the dotted line is through the station.
The next day, after a good breakfast, we got a taxi to the airport (€31.50) at 10:30, checked in our baggage and then went to the special MSC lounge on the first floor. This is another facility that MSC offer at Genoa, reserved for MSC guests. I presume it’s only open on disembarkation days, luckily for us MSC Fantasia was in port that day. The lounge is manned by MSC staff and has very comfy chairs unlike the rest of the airport which has hard plastic chairs.
We had a great cruise which for the most part had only positives, the only real negative was the standard of food not being its usual good to very good rating.
The staff were excellent and the entertainment top notch.
Glitches in the system were speedily dealt with when brought to the attention of the relevant staff member and for the most part worked in our favour.
Would we sail again with MSC? We’re already booked on a cruise next year and who knows if the right offer comes up we’ll jump on one in between now and then. Read Less