I have enjoyed cruising all over the world for the last twenty years or so and, although I occasionally hear an ill informed comment about it being a snobbish and elitist holiday choice, most people seem quite interested in cruise and cruise ships – even if its not a holiday choice for them, they can understand why it appeals to others.
So I was completely blindsided by a conversation with an acquaintance the other day, the highlights of which were:
What a terrible choice to make….
Huge carbon footprint …
No wonder everyone hate cruisers!’
Now I’d already been thinking about the protests against cruise ships that we’ve been seeing – in Barcelona and Venice for example – and I’d been thinking about the phrase Concious Cruising and how we should consider changes to our behaviour ashore to make us more in tune with local people and the local economy ( please read https://portexplore806233846.blog/2019/07/31/meet-nate-my-cruising-epiphany/ ). However I really had assumed that cruising was better for the environment that flying, I was certain that it must have a smaller carbon footprint – it but turns out that I was completely wrong!
The figures actually that show that on a Transatlantic crossing the QM2, for example, gets about 45 passenger miles per gallon when running at its most efficient whereas an Airbus A321, in comparison, gets just over 107! This is because traditionally ships burn a much worse fuel than planes – in fact its the heavy, sulphurous sludge oil that’s left once aircraft and other higher-value fuels are refined. Even while docked, cruise ships usually keep running their engines – burning fuel to provide electrical power for its passengers and crew.
Southampton, UK is one port that has had enough – Christopher Hammond, leader of Southampton City Council is quoted as saying “Communities find it difficult to see the benefits of these big cruise ships, it’s a very visible thing: a big funnel chucking out black soot and smoke. People think, I’m breathing all that in.” His suggestion is that cruise ships plug into on on shore electricity and turn off their engines while docked to avoid the problems but what else can be done? And is anybody doing it?
Over the last few years many ships have installed ‘scrubbers’ which reduce smoke emissions but whilst they reduce air pollution they work by contaminating and discharging waste water- which is just swopping one pollution problem for another! Battery power isn’t an answer, except for some smaller ships, as batteries couldn’t last for several days at sea. Other options are cheaper, less polluting fuel options such as Liquified Natural Gas, Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) systems, even trials of wind powered generators! (Sails anyone?!)
Wastewater and pollution from onboard sewage brings another huge set of problems so as the Green Movement grows there is obviously a huge need to Cruise Companies to address this before cruisers become the pariahs of the tourism industry! Alaska already has a series of environmental targets for cruise ships in the area and now Europe is being advised to do the same – “With friendly words you will not get any changes,” said German environmental group NABU CEO Leif Miller “so port cities and coastal communities are now asked to ban dirty ships – like Norway is doing for some of their fjords – to protect the people and the environment.”
Happily it does appear that these messages are getting through…
CLIA announced today that 44 percent of new cruise ships are planning to use LNG fuel for propulsion and the industry is taking its responsibilities towards safeguarding the environment seriously by investing more than 22 billion dollars into new technologies such as exhaust gas cleaning systems, LNG fuel and shore-side power. Obviously new ships can be designed to take advantage of new technology but what about older ships? Well things are looking hopeful there too… Earlier this week MSC Cruises, the world’s largest privately-owned cruise line, announced that their ship MSC Magnifica is having a major refurbishment for its 2021 season when out will be based in Southampton, with itineraries in the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, the Baltic and the Norwegian Fjords. Environmental improvements include ….
“two new major and important onboard environmental advances to complement a wide range of existing leading-edge environmental technologies across the company’s entire fleet: a state-of-the-art Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) system and next-generation Advanced Wastewater Treatment (AWT) system. SCR technology helps reducing nitrogen oxide into pure nitrogen and water through advanced active emissions control technology. MSC Cruises also took the opportunity to install a state-of-the-art advanced wastewater treatment system on board that meets the highest standards and that purifies used wastewater to near tap-water quality… state-of-the-art environmental technology, including hybrid exhaust gas cleaning system (ECGS), as part of MSC Cruises’ longstanding commitment to minimize and continuously reduce its impact on the environment.”
– oh and they will be fitting Magnifica so that she can plug into the shore supply in Southampton! So well done to MSC – lets hope other cruise lines really start to take their environmental responsibilities seriously too!
One of the crucial elements of planning a cruise is the preparation – it’s important not to underestimate the amount of background work that needs doing beforehand so that things flow smoothly and you have the relaxing and enjoyable cruise you deserve!
Apart from anything else once you’re onboard you will be amazed at how much it costs to use the internet and you really don’t want to waste valuable time ashore looking for free WiFi so you can check out Tripadvisor for things to do! Get all your excursions and trips ashore planned and sorted before you go!
Then there’s all the information you need to keep at your fingertips – flights, reference numbers, logins, transfers, packages, upgrades, loyalty level perks. hotel booking, excursion bookings & DIY plans all need keeping track of!
This is why we wrote the Cruise Planner – its a great way to keep all your information to hand. It shows you what still needs to be done and planned as it keeps everything neatly in one place. Grab a Planner as soon as you book your cruise and get things organised!
But its more than just a place to record all the information and details that you need – it actually helps you plan what you are going to do ashore.
Firstly there is the cruise arc planner – this gives a complete overview of the cruise with space to note times of arrival, departure, sunrise and sunset time, currencies amongst other things. Its really helpful when you’re looking at a the whole cruise experience as you can see if you’re in danger of overload by planning too many archaeological sites or full day excursions on consecutive days.
Other things you will find in the Cruise Planner are Port Excursion Brainstormers which help everyone decide what the focus of each day ashore should be, a list of apps to download which will be useful onboard as well as comprehensive packing lists & worksheets.
The diary pages have space where you can make a note of any invitations or bookings for a specific day – there is also have a Journal section to record all the special moments of your cruise. With a section to note down all the details about your cabin and about the staff and crew the you meet The Cruise Planner eventually becomes a permanent Travel Journal which you can see keep, both as a handy reference of arrangements that you made and as a reminder of a perfect cruise
We’ve been overwhelmed by the lovely feedback we’ve had since the first Cruise Planner was published last summer. People say it both enhances your cruise experience and ensures your memories of it stay fresh. This is a recent message from one happy customer…
“I’m having so much fun preparing for our February cruise using The Cruise Planner! I always do a Journal of each trip, but this is special and so helpful with keeping everything together. I don’t want to rush the cruise, but I can’t wait to use it onboard nightly and then to complete it at cruise end. Since it’s signed by Cathy Rogers, the author, I may add a few more autographs from Crew. I Love The Cruise Planner.” Debi B-M
At present there are two editions of the Planner – the original portExplore Version and the new limited edition Cruise Addicts Planner which is very similar but has an added section of puzzles – cruise related word search, sudoku and Travel Dingbats – to while away the time!
More versions will be coming out in the spring – some targeted at a specific Cruise location – Alaska for example and some of the original design but in different colours – we’ve been asked for this so that if you have more than one cruise in preparation you will be able to know quickly which Planner is for which cruise!
We visited Muscat, Oman on a repositioning cruise last year and wrote a Port Profile for talkExplore group https://www.facebook.com/groups/talkExplore/ which is worth a read if you’re headed that way on cruise. I really like Muscat,it’s clean air and low rise buildings are a real change from Dubai. If you have a chance to visit then grab it!
This years cruise only had a relatively short six hour stop in port and with sunset falling about 4 hours after arrival we really weren’t sure what to do. Som discussion in talkExplore Facebook group led to a suggestion from group member David Innes on the best spot for a bit of exploring and a perfect sunset view. I’m happy to report that he was spot on with his advice so am sharing her for you too!
Muttrah is the area of Muscat nearest to the ship and within easy, flat walking distance of the port gate. We docked at 14.00 so had lunch on board before taking a leisurely walk along the Corniche (sea front) to the shops and Souks of Muttrah.
The markets which we had visited last year were firmly closed but we found shops aimed at visiting cruisers and other tourists were all open in and around the Souk even though those aimed more at the local market didn’t open until 16.00.
Wandering the lanes of the Gold Souk and the more general Grand Souk is a great way to spend an hour or so soaking up local culture even if you don’t want to actually spend any money! There are nice cafes (no alcohol) just outside the Souks and all along the Corniche – we enjoyed fresh coconut water straight from the nut for less than 50p – very refreshing!
David’s advice was to head to Muttrah Fort which is at the opposite end of the Corniche – about 20 minutes walk from the port gate. Built by the Portuguese in 1580 the fort is a wonderful spot to look down on the port and the town – especially as the sun sets.
The 300 odd steps to the very top of the fort are achievable and well maintained but there are good views even from the lower levels.
As the sun goes down it becomes easier to spot the guard towers in the mountains above which formed a protective ring around the port. David advised us to wait until the muezzin begin the call to prayer from all the mosques below, it bounces off the surrounding hills and you seem to be in the centre of a 360* wall of sound!!
There is a ticket office which was closed (apparently it usually is!) but the fort itself was open so we didn’t pay anything at all for a really lovely experience. Thanks for the recommendation David, we loved it as much as you did!
Interesting new research from CLIA UK & Ireland has resulted in the publication of its top ten cruise destinations for 2020.
The recent UK research also found that almost two thirds of the 409 UK cruisers surveyed return to a destination they first visited on cruise holiday. I’m sure this is true, we definitely use a cruise to identify ports that we want to return to as well as those we can probably live without ever visiting again – Mumbai is a recent example that springs to mind! In addition 60% of those surveyed said that they would add a pre or post cruise stay – pretty essential when travelling long distance to meet a cruise as it helps with both fly delays and jet lag.
CLIA’s top ten list of ‘must visit’ destinations for 2020, includes both cities and more remote regions all of which can be visited on a cruise holiday. Not quite convinced about some of them, see what you think…..
CLIA’s Top 10 destinations are:
1. Canadian Rockies, Canada – usually combined with an Alaska cruise and often a shore trip
2. Singapore – an easy city to get around and acts as a hub for both air and cruise travel in Asia and Australasia
3. Kimberley, Western Australia – an expedition cruise destination described by CLIA as “ simply breathtaking”
4. Porto, Portugal – a popular southern European city with a warm winter climate – personally I think I’d prefer Cadiz…
5. The Svalbard – a Norwegian archipelago is between mainland Norway and the North Pole – an expedition destination as well as a cost effective way to visit the country.
6. Panama Canal, Panama – the iconic link between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans features in the list although I would argue strongly for the inclusion of the more picturesque Suez Canal in its place!
7. Castro, Chile – a picturesque lake city built above the waters on stilts
8. Tokyo, Japan – another good destination to visit on a cruise as local accommodation and food costs are so high.
9. Cape Town, South Africa – all I can say is that if this is at nine then the others must be awesome!
10. Bozcaada, Turkey – East meets West in this historic town, important in the Trojan wars as mentioned by Homer in the Iliad and by Virgil in the Aeneid – I’ve not been yet so can’t comment but I would definitely suggest Split, Dubrovnik or Trogir in Croatia for a similarly historic and lovely location
Oddly we’ve visited the top two destinations in the past six months and totally agree with both – presumably we should now start to work our way down the list! Or maybe its time to discover new destinations for the 2020 survey!
We had so many lovely messages about our cruise competition round up last month and I set out to do another list for you but I think we’ve hit a bit of a low patch!!! Cruise Competitions seem in very short in supply this month – I’ve added some that finish in December and suspect that our next roundup will be in January – prime holiday booking time, so we will probably be inundated then!!
PS. Tiny little reality check… most of these are UK only competitions but if you are from elsewhere you can always check and see if you can enter!!
CLOSING THIS MONTH…
November 6th. The awesome Floating Festivals, is offering a chance to win a balcony cabin for two on next years special seven-day voyage, aboard RCI Anthem of the Seas, the Sail Away with Jane McDonald Cruise. The prize is worth £3,000 and takes place in September 2020, you never know you might even have the chance of a cocktail with the Queen of Cruise herself! https://www.worldofcruising.co.uk/win-jane-mcdonald-cruise
December 9th. If you are a member of MySaga …. they are running a couple of good competitions … ( there are age restrictions obviously and you also need to have previously cruised with them or bought another of their products such as insurance) you can enter to win one of five prizes of a balcony cabin on a four-night fully inclusive mini-cruise aboard Spirit of Discovery from Dover to Sandringham, Norfolk and Amsterdam https://www.saga.co.uk/membership/ballots/2020/apr/escape-to-the-continent-spirit-of-discovery
December 31st Vote in the Wave Awards to win a luxury seven-night cruise in the Greek islands with Celestyal Cruises, including flights and transfers, through World of Cruising Magazine, in exchange for your for your email signup to their mailing list. hhttps://www.worldofcruising.co.uk/vote/
January 3rd. If you are a member of MySaga they are running a couple of good competitions … ( there are age restrictions obviously and you also need to have previously cruised with them or bought another of their products such as insurance) you can enter to win one of five prizes for two people sharing a standard balcony twin/double cabin, on the Norway’s Ancient Fjords cruise aboard Spirit of Discovery for seven nights, from Dover on 26 May 2020. https://www.saga.co.uk/membership/ballots/2020/may/cruise-norway-ancient-fjords
Good Luck with these though and please do let me know if you win a cruise – especially if you need someone to come with you, I’m always ready to help out!!
Have you noticed how many last minute cruises there seem to be this year? It’s funny how cruisers start off split into two groups – maybe you’re in the ‘book it as soon as the brochures come out’ brigade and perhaps the ‘gosh that’s cheap – let’s do it” gang? We definitely used to be the plan ahead types – we still are in terms of our ‘big’ cruises – but over the last couple of years that we seem to be tempted by more and more last minute bargains too – I blame Facebook! My feed lately has been choked with a lot of last minute deals in the Mediterranean for late November and December. So is cruising out of season a good idea?
We’ve taken a few November/ December cruises in the Med and found them to be very enjoyable. On one we cruised from Southampton and, although we expected a couple of rough days enroute, we were lucky and they never materialised (obviously don’t rely on that!). We went armed with Stugeron and wrist bands for seasickness but never needed either. Another time we flew to Civittavecchia and, whilst our flight was on time, we watched flights to Barcelona and the south of France were being badly disrupted. I think it is more reliable to cruise rather than fly, as flight schedules can get badly disrupted by bad weather, either in the UK or elsewhere. If you do choose to fly then definitely go out the previous day so that you don’t risk missing the cruise altogether! I think on balance if your holiday is under a week then fly as you get to the nice weather sooner but if you can take a fortnight then definitely cruise out and back.
The first thing you notice is that the days are shorter but there was still lots of sunshine and sunny corners to sit in on deck, I even went swimming a few times in the outside pools! I found the shorter days made for a gentler, more relaxed cruise. The darker mornings and evenings seemed to promote a less frenetic feel to a day spent ashore with everyone generally safely back on board in time for tea. The shorter days made for some spectacular sunsets too, often as we were leaving port – a lovely end to the day!
We might have been lucky but we had pretty good weather every day – from Cadiz where we had bright blue skies but a chilly wind to Cagliari where we actually managed to get a little sunburnt over an alfresco lunch! We carried rain jackets and umbrellas everywhere but didn’t need them anywhere but Gibraltar! We did notice though that its very easy to make yourself a bit silly ( as well as becoming a bit of a target for pick pockets and the like) by wearing summer clothes! Just because its sunny and almost as warm as a summers day in the UK doesn’t mean you should go ashore in shorts and T shirts – its a bit of a giveaway when all the locals are in jeans, boots and winter jackets – if you want to blend in then wear similar!
One of the real advantages was that everywhere was so quiet – an unexpected bonus! Our midweek stops felt as if they were a different era with very few tourists around – in Cagliari we seemed to be the only tourists in town as we wandered the high town and its cobbled streets. As its low season it is worth double checking the opening times of anything you specifically want to see, especially mid week, but most attractions seemed to be open. We stayed in town in Naples but friends who visited Pompeii said it was an empty as it had been in the 1970’s! The weekend was noticeably busier but we enjoyed Gibraltar and Barcelona without any of the usual crowds and with shopkeepers who seemed genuinely pleased to see us! Most tourist shops were open when we were in port and anything related to the cruise ships, such as HOHO and shuttle buses, seemed to be running as usual.
Christmas played its part in our early December trip too – we found Christmas Markets in various places, notably a very surreal experience with fake snow in Monte Carlo, which was a nice surprise and made for a very different cruise vibe! We were lucky enough to be in Naples for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception – a public holiday that marks the start of Advent and the Christmas shopping season.
We enjoyed watching the street parades featuring the traditional Neopolitan figures, looking at the amazing Christmas decorations and tradition nativity second everywhere and eating the Christmas specialities of Susamielli, honey and sesame biscuits and Zeppole di Natale – orange doughnuts – awesome! We fell across a local ceremony in Piazza del Gesù where the Mayor of the City brings a garland to the Blessed Virgin Mary which is place on her head by the local firemen who then shower the crowd below with rose petals.
Our winter cruises have given us unforgettable experiences, bright sunny days, spectacular dawns and sunsets, uncrowded attractions and a lovely break without any jet lag – so if a last minute cruise is calling to you my advice is DO IT!!!
We had great responses to our cruise competition round up last month so set out to do another list for you! Cruise competitions are very short in supply this month!! I’ve only found a few plus a couple of others that might be interesting…. Most of these actually close in November but get entering now!! Good Luck and please do let me know if you win a cruise – especially if you need someone to come with you, Im always ready to help out!!
PS. Tiny little reality check… I think most of these are UK only competitions but if you are from elsewhere you can always check and see if you can enter!!
October 14th Exodus Travels and Classic fm have a chance to win a Northern Lights trip tp Norway. Its flying and four nights in a cabin but you do get a chance to get out on the water for some whale watching and in a very sparse competition month its worth a try! https://www.classicfm.com/win/trip-for-two-northern-lights-norway/
November 6th. Floating Festivals, the music themed company that runs its on festivals on RCI cruise ships, is offering a chance to win a weeks cruise in balcony cabin for two. This is for next years special seven-day voyage onboard RCI Anthem of the Seas, the Sail Away with Jane McDonald Cruise. The prize is worth £3,000 and takes place in September 2020; you never know you might even have the chance of a cocktail with the Queen of Cruise herself! https://www.worldofcruising.co.uk/win-jane-mcdonald-cruise
December 31st Vote in the Wave Awards to win a luxury seven-night cruise in the Greek islands with Celestyal Cruises, including flights and transfers, through World of Cruising Magazine, in exchange for your for your email signup to their mailing list. https://www.worldofcruising.co.uk/vote/
Im really sorry not to have found more for you this month!! hopefully next month will be a little more exciting !
Blog Travel with Intent has One Word Sunday Challenge – this weeks word is Volume.
Just a small section of the incredible 8000 pipes being used in the construction of the organ of La Sagrada Familia, in favourite cruise port Barcelona – due for completion by 2026: the centennial of Antonio Gaudí’s death. It will be awesome in the true sense when 8000 pipes fill this unique acoustic space with sound…
MSC Bellissima – the literal translation from the Italian means Beautiful; so a very confident name for an enormous, great big new ship. We wanted to find out if she deserved such a compliment so were thrilled be able to join Bellissima for a short section of her Inaugural cruise from Southampton to Genoa – embarking in Barcelona for just two nights aboard.
First impressions… ok, yes she is HUGE – from the outside at least! Im not going to write about cabins and amenities as that will be well covered elsewhere although I just want to mention that there is a large overhang above balconies in some higher levels of the ship and other balconies are set well back and will have limited views. Bellissima is definitely a ship that will reward studying your deck plans before booking! Our cabin was right at the bow on Deck 8 – 8002
So yes Bellissima is large but yet, oddly, I felt that she was a bit like a reverse Tardis! She felt much smaller on the inside than you expected. Thats not a criticism, rather a tribute to the clever way that the designers have used the huge amount of space at their disposal to give you a feeling of spaciousness without making you feel small or insignificant. The cruise was completely full yet pretty much wherever we went and whatever we did we didn’t have to queue or wait for a seat. You really can’t say that about much smaller ships!
Some of this has been achieved by very clever use of the ‘dead’ areas of public space… for example the lift lobbies on each floor feature large leather sofas, electronic boards featuring ships guides and event planners, even a model of the ship that the deck is named after! So even while you wait for others at the lift there is plenty to occupy you and stop you feeling stressed. I would say ‘while you wait for the lift’ but we honestly never really did – these must be the fastest ships lifts at sea as even when luggage was being moved and some lifts were out of action we never waited more than a couple of minutes.
As you move around the ship you transition from one area to another through an individual entrance hall – this helps thin out crowds obviously but it also adds to the sense of theatre and occasion…I would particularly single out the entrances to the restaurants, the Cirque de Soleil lounge and most notably the casino, where the clever use of glass and mirrors made me feel as if I was spinning into a different world!
Outside the restaurants, wine bottles cleverly feature almost as an art installation, which is an innovative, interesting and efficient use of space.
That brings me to the thing that most impressed me about Bellissima, the use of clever and innovative lighting and illuminated panels. The most obvious of these is the huge illuminated ceiling in the arcade which changes constantly and even features in its own show! The quality of the pictures and animations is literally jaw dropping when you see them in the full size.
The same technology is also used in some bars and in the theatre for some of the most impressive backdrops I have seen anywhere. I’m not sure the theatre team is making the fullest use of them yet but once they do just watch out, as even now the sudden appearance of a tree surrounded with butterflies or a full height waterfall is spectacular.
The lighting designers have done a brilliant job with outside lighting at night too. My pictures show just one evening but apparently the colours and moods can be changed constantly to give a different feel for different events.
We thoroughly enjoyed our two days on board and can’t wait to go back for a longer voyage. We were particularly impressed by the staff of all departments who went out of they way to tell us how proud they were of their lovely new ship that is Bellissima indeed!
This blog was originally published in March 2019 as a guest blog for Cruise Excitement.
This portExplore Blog was originally published in May 2018 as a guest Blog for Cruise Addicts…
My daughter and I were looking for a short break away when we fell across an absolute bargain 5 night section of a repositioning cruise on MSC Opera, the following weekend. After upgrading to an Aurea Suite (of which more later) and upgrading the all inclusive drinks package to Premium it was still cheaper than a pampering weekend for two at a spa in the UK! We added two Easyjet flights ourselves as there were no MSC flights available and we were ready to go!
The landing in Funchal Airport was an experience & all I can say is that if you are a nervous passenger then maybe best not to go there! We had very little time to see anything in Madeira so had booked a very reasonable transfer to Reids Hotel where we had lunch on a sunny terrace overlooking the ship before asking the hotel to get us another cab down to the port. It was the oddest embarkation ever as although the man on the gate appeared to have our names on a list of the four people joining the ship they didn’t appear to actually be expecting us on board. There was a slightly heart stopping moment as various levels of crew were called to decide what to do with us but eventually the Head of Security arrived, scanned our bags and waved us off to Customer Services for instructions. The staff there were great, they went through our paperwork and sorted us out in no time, ten minutes from stepping onboard we were in our cabin!
MSC Opera is a middle sized ship, built in 2004 and extended in 2015 by chopping a piece into the middle, it now has berths for 2142 passengers. As with all the MSC ships it is well maintained and sparking throughout with constant repainting and revarnishing going on. We had an Aurea S3 Suite which although it is as good as it gets on board Opera, there are no Yacht Club or ‘proper’ suites, would only have been classed as a Mini suite on most other ships. Nicely laid out with a separate sitting area and lots of floor to ceiling mirrors, it is not too boxy as the dressing table is set at an angle across the end of the room. The ‘walk in’ wardrobe is on the opposite side of the cabin to the bathroom which was great as on a previous cruise it was quite hazardous to be getting something out of a drawer when your partner left the bathroom! We had asked for twin beds and it took no time for the steward to remake the double as soon as we spoke to the Desk, in fact he was extremely efficient and helpful at all times and always seemed to be around to make sure we were happy. The ship is quite glitzy and flash with lots of mirrors, lights and brightly coloured artwork, only a small atrium area but lifts and stairs sensibly placed with not too many bottle necks (apart from one odd set of lifts thats only served a few floors and didn’t go up onto the upper deck !) Not exactly subtle or understated!
Madeira seemed quite warm and sunny to us but the ship was coming home from a season in Cuba and most people on board had been in the Caribbean for at least week or so before beginning their Transatlantic crossing so they were starting to feel that it was quite chilly – it is quite surreal watching waiters in thermal jackets and hats serving people in bikinis around the pool! All the decks are named after operas & all Aurea Suites are on Deck 12 La Boheme which is above the spa and the pool deck and below the designated private Area sundeck. This was quite a nice perk, there staff to look after you, sun beds, cold towels, complementary sunscreen and a bar (also 2 cabana type beds that oddly had an extra charge and so were never occupied!), so they are really pleasantly quite with no noise from above or below and no smells form cooking or engines. A few of the cabins on the starboard side (12031 to 12023) are above the kids club so probably best avoided! Aurea privileges also included a separate dining room and spa access, so free use of the spa, sauna and steam room, as well as one included massage each and discounts on other treatments. We booked in for our free massage and were given the usual upsell but it was pretty half hearted which was quite a refreshing change! I think this was many because the 21 night repositioning cruise was nearly over and everyone had settled into a routine and everything seemed pretty chilled.
After spending sail away in the peace of the relaxation area of the spa we settled in to our room, unpacked (which didn’t take long as we had travelled hand baggage only – really!) and went off for supper. The Aurea dining room is L’Approdo which is at the stern, our table had a lovely view through panoramic windows of Madeira as it disappeared over the horizon. The tables were set out for 2 and obviously everyone had had the same table every night, the tables were close enough together to talk to people around you and we practised our French (me) and German (my daughter) and smilingly nodded at our Italian neighbours – in fact the only people who seemed a bit unfriendly were British which was odd! Our main waiter was Cuban ( as were many of the staff on board) and he was obviously thrilled to have new faces aboard and we had excellent service. Wine was by the glass on our package but our waiter brought us a glass of sparkling wine to welcome us every evening and then a very nice Sauvignon Blanc which we continued with for the rest of our trip even though he was keen to find us something else! The food was a bit hit and miss, the first nights menu was Portuguese themed for Madeira and contained salt cod in three different disguises which was a bit weird, we were both tired so opted for a nice simple risotto which was extremely bland but quite nice once we’d tipped a load of parmesan into it and lots of seasoning! The food on the next two nights was ok but on our last night there was a Gala (formalish) evening and the food was extremely good. This restaurant was supposed to be a much higher standard than the main restaurant La Caravella but I really hope that isn’t true as it would be pretty bad! I suspect that the food is much the same but the level of customer service is higher. The food was generally not great, the pizza and pasta from Ill Patio was good & we never tried the hamburgers but the food in the buffet was really quite weird in places, I did wonder if they were running out of things as it seemed quite hard to find something simple to eat. I really don’t do roast meals or casseroles for lunch but a simple roll with some ham and salad or something seemed impossible to source. The ice creams were great and included in our package and we also enjoyed the two Nutella filled crepes which we are ashamed to have bought on our last afternoon (extremely scrummy though!).
The Entertainment Crew were fun and worked very hard, we joined in some games on deck on our first day and also a dance class. We never got around to the mini golf of the shuffle board because we just found too much else to do! An extremely macho dance troupe from Cuba were running a Salsa class which was very popular and well attended, although we were two weeks behind & slightly out of our depth we thoroughly enjoyed it. We weren’t huge fans of the shows in the theatre but enjoyed the Karaoke which was multilingual, hugely supportive and great fun. We took part in MasterChef at sea which was great and the crew had a lot of fun with all the different languages that had to be used on board, managing to make light of what can be a very irritating part of a multi national ship as every small announcement seems to go on for ever! It was only on our first morning that I realised that we hadn’t done a Drill when we came on board, which was quite a relief as I imagine would be extremely wearing in five languages, so we located our muster station and checked our lifejackets like good passengers and carried on having fun. There was a lot to do on board, none of it exactly intellectual because of the language barrier. There was a lot of live music but mainly very amplified and we did find it odd that although there were pianos in many of the bars you really only ever heard people playing keyboards! There were the usual shops, offers and photographers which we largely kept away from although apparently the Aurea package also gave us one free portrait so we were happy to accept that!
The passage from Funchal to Cadiz wasn’t exactly rough but the transatlantic swell rolling underneath us was quite noticeable and I noticed that a few people were quite uncomfortable with it. The pool was drained and the hot tubs closed because of the ships motion, I’m not sure if its always a feature of that part of the world or if we were particularly unlucky but it was a relief to turn towards Spain and put the swell beneath rather than across us. We docked at Cadiz and had a lovely sunny but windy day ashore in the town, getting back onboard a little early for our massages. These were slightly disappointing, not unpleasant in any way but just a bit perfunctory, maybe because we hadn’t booked any other treatments or maybe just because of the end of season feeling that was becoming a bit noticeable. The Cuban dancers had a big good bye party, various things were being tidied up and put away, bars were running out of bits and pieces….the crew continued in very good humour and I suppose its always the same at the end of a cruise but it was more noticeable because we still felt new! That was one of the funniest things on board, every time we did something or met someone they wanted to know why they’d missed us for the previous fortnight, and then were even more confused when we said we had only just got on! It was quite nice to be a novelty on board for once, everyone wanted to talk to us because we were new. People found it even more confusing when they realised we were getting off at Barcelona rather than finishing the cruise in Genoa with everyone else! The other couple who had joined at Funchal said that they had experienced the same, they told us that they get sent very very special offers because they spend so much in the casino, they reckoned that what they gambled on one cruise basically paid for their next one! I’m not sure thats a budgeting tool I want to try – they were lovely though!
Leaving Cadiz and passing through the Straits of Gibraltar was a special moment, everyone gathered on deck to watch. The next day was the final sea day of the cruise with a Gala night. The dress code on ship generally was ‘European smart’ which is glitzier than UK smart and most of the men were in jackets or very smart shirts even on the non gala nights. We were invited to the Captains Cocktail party and that was pretty glitzy but cocktail dress and heels rather than long frock, no bow ties. Excellent entertainment in the bars that night with a lot of people dancing late into the night. We were off in the morning but continued to be an object of curiosity, even as we waited for our nightcap hot chocolate to take to bed on our last night we were questioned about where we’d been hiding for a fortnight!
Next day a bright sunny morning saw us arriving in Barcelona with two other MSC ships so there was a lot of waving and cheering as each one came in, a really family atmosphere. There are a lot of things I really liked about MSC- the crew in particular, the ship, the atmosphere, the layout of the room and the main dining room. Others not so much…the food, the buffet area and the multi national announcements mainly. Joining for such a short section of the repositioning cruise wasn’t a problem at all and we would definitely do it again.