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.