Update, 6:40 p.m.: An MSC spokeswoman in the U.S. tells that the information we were provided earlier about Portofino being a "technical call" is not accurate, stating that the term is used in Europe to describe a non-turnaround (passengers coming and going for the day). So if it's not a technical call and it's not a "regular" port call -- because you can't simply walk off the ship -- what is it?
"In developing our itineraries it became apparent that we could further enhance our guests' experience relocating the ship off the shore of Portofino," spokeswoman Julianne Carelli shares via e-mail. As to charging passengers to disembark the ship, the tender fee exists in this case, spokesperson Julianne Carelli continues, because the service is provided by a third party (in Portofino) and not by MSC.
"This situation in Portofino is unique. Whenever the ship is at anchor, MSC Cruises provides tender services at no charge to guests." Again, the same fee exists whether you book the excursion from Genoa (which includes transportation to Portofino and use of tenders in Portofino) or purchase the tender once the ship arrives in Portofino.
(July 21, 12:30 p.m. EDT) -- Have you ever heard of having to pay for a tender ashore? We hadn't -- until we received an e-mail from Cruise Critic member Heinbloed questioning MSC Cruises' policy of charging for a tender ride to go ashore to the Italian port of Portofino.
Shocking though this may seem, it turns out that this isn't a new practice; MSC was also charging passengers for tenders to Portofino in 2009, according to a Cruise Critic reader review chronicling a Mediterranean cruise from last summer.
What's going on? Here's the Italy-based cruise line's logic, explained in a statement sent to Cruise Critic today (and also posted on MSC's Web site): Portofino isn't an actual port of call, but a "technical stop" on certain itineraries -- therefore, visiting Portofino is treated as an "excursion" rather than a regular port visit.
This excursion is only offered on certain sailings -- in the case of summer 2010 and summer 2011, MSC Lirica's "Roman Holiday" and "Ancient Treasures" cruises. Passengers embark during the day in Genoa, located along the coast from Portofino, and the ship sails at 4 p.m. It arrives off Portofino and drops anchor at 6:30 p.m. and stays there until 11:30 p.m., after which it sets sail for Ajaccio, Corsica (a regular visit).
According to an MSC spokesperson in the U.S., on embarkation day in Genoa, passengers can opt to take a morning "excursion" to nearby Portofino. The excursion costs 13 euro per adult and 10 euro per child, and includes transportation between Genoa and Portofino as well as use of the tenders once the ship arrives in Portofino.
Passengers who do not travel to Portofino from Genoa but want to go ashore once the ship arrives in Portofino are still considered to be taking an excursion -- and so have no choice but to use the tender service for the same fee (13 euro per adult and 10 euro per child).
An MSC spokeswoman in the U.K. assures us that the cruise line does not charge passengers for tender rides ashore in scheduled ports of call. However, we're still waiting for clarification from MSC as to what makes this a "technical stop" as opposed to a port of call. Normally, a technical stop is for refuelling or taking on provisions, neither of which would seem likely just two hours after leaving the ship's homeport, in this case, Genoa. And passengers are generally not allowed to disembark the ship during such stops.
Cruise Critic members are unimpressed by the situation (and likely just as confused as we are). Century21diane, who sailed with MSC last summer, writes in the above-mentioned member review: "Never, never in all my years cruising did I have to PAY to take a tender to shore. And, on top of this, there were only 2 tenders for 800 people. We waited an hour and a half to get off the ship -- there was practically a mutiny on board, no organization whatsoever! We arrived at the pier in Portofino at 8 p.m. -- we had to leave to get on line for the return to the ship by 10 p.m. So we only had an hour and 45 minutes to explore and relax in this quaint little town. Absolutely ridiculous!"
Could this be the beginning of yet more hidden charges on cruise ships? Or is it justifiable in this unique situation? Weigh in and have your say!
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor
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