Today we leave Avignon for Marseilles and our cruise on MSC Splendida We drop off the rental car at Saint Charles station and the kind Hertz assistant orders a taxi to take us to the Crosiers (cruise) port. The cost is 21 euros whereas the cruise shuttle from the same railway station is 30 euros each!!! A sensible move on our part and I recommend this mode of transport over the shuttle. Embarkation was easy, as we stepped into the terminal building MSC flags were set up to point us in the right direction, after a short wait we placed our bags on the carousel. The next step was the MSC desk to check passports and tickets, we also received our on board cards at this desk. Before walking up the gangway we had to pass through the myriad of offers such as drinks packages (we already had), spa treatments and so on. Our room would not be ready till 1.30pm so we were ushered to the Bora Bora buffet for lunch. The ship is huge and the buffet was massive as well…in fact it was 2 buffets. I was still a little queasy from our large meal the night before so opted for a small portion of salad and a coke.
Our balcony cabin is on deck 12 and is a little smaller than the balcony cabin we had on Carnival Spirit a couple of years ago. Guess it goes hand in hand with the European room size I assume. Our allocated restaurant was Villa Verdi on deck 6 and our waiter was Saiful from Djakarta. He was on a 9 month contract and worked from 7am till 11pm daily. He told us he was working on the ship for his children but was pleased his contract was almost over as he missed them. He’d only had a half day break in the past 6 months….the staff work 7 days a week. They’re keener than me…I can barely get through 5 days a week these days plus how can you visit these ports without getting off to take a look around? Oh, no, a crew member on a cruise line just wouldn’t do for this black duck!!
Drinks we’ve tested on day one:
2 bottles of water Espresso and cafe latte Purple rain cocktail (me)
3 glasses of wine each with dinner
Purple Rain cocktail , yes another one!!
Flat on my back asleep by 10.15pm
Ty has insisted I tell you how I managed to get undressed given I was out like a light or flat on my back asleep as I mentioned above. Well,…….my husband had to remove my fine clothing I’d worn to dinner, a long dress which needed to be taken off over my head. Apparently I was not very cooperative as he tried to get me to sit up and then almost stand or at least lift my legs up so he could pull the dress up over my waist. A fine way to treat a lady…..how embarrassing as well!!!! He eventually managed to remove it as I wasn’t wearing it when I woke next morning!!!
Surprisingly I didn’t feel too bad when I woke up. Ty was expecting me to have a headache but I’m a tough old bird…..I didn’t ‘t feel a bit queasy which was just as well because we had a 1.5 hour ferry ride to Portofino to contend with.
Genoa: The ship docked in Genoa at 7.30am and all passengers taking an excursion had to assemble in one of the bars by 7.45am. There were about 3,200 passengers and several thousand taking one of 5 possible excursions and we ALL had to go to the one small bar area!! What a mess this was…..with at least 6 bars on board I thought they could have split the excursions over a couple of bars. Obviously they have their reasons for squashing everyone into the one area. Eventually our tour group was called and we dutifully followed the guide down several flights of stairs to deck 5 where we headed out onto the dock area. It had been raining lightly so we were handed fabulous blue plastic ponchos. Several people proceeded to put them on….it wasn’t necessary at all. Onward we walked trying to avoid puddles where we could. Yes, I had sensible walking shoes on but they were beige in colour and clean….they hadn’t been out in inclement weather before. My lament “These shoes aren’t meant for walking in rain, dusty or muddy conditions” didn’t get much empathy from Ty and I suppose you’re thinking the same thing as Ty said “Can’t do much about the water on the ground you’ll just have to wash them when you get home”.
We finally reached the ferry that would take us to Portofino….a timber ferry looked like it had been built in 1950’s. I whispered to Ty “Hmm, all aboard SS Minnow?”. Of course I hadn’t done any homework on this half day trip, if I had maybe we would have taken the walk around Genoa instead!! The craft headed out to open water and almost immediately we were jumping waves. Ty tends to get sea sick (and so do I sometimes) so the course we were on was starting to worry me. The SS Minnow continued to rise, flop, fall off the wave and roll a little from side to side for the rest of the trip whilst the tour guides voices screeched through loudspeakers, from which there was no escape, in several different languages for the whole duration. The only thing that could lessen the pitch was for Ty to shred tissues so we could the pieces as earplugs. The tissue didn’t completely block out the screeches but certainly dulled the din. I prayed they’d be silent on the return journey otherwise I may be forced to jump.
Portofino is a quaint village very much like the villages of the Cinque Terre, a number of very expensive super yachts anchored in the harbour. The weather wasn’t the best, a little overcast and a tad cooler than the high 20’s we’d come to expect. It took 1.50 hours each way, very much the length of the our drive to work, and we stayed in Portofino for not much more than an hour!!
Probably not the most suitable tour to opt for but Ty did learn that Mintec tablets appear to stop him him suffering sea sickness…so, I suppose you could say, the trip was worth it!!
Every evening a crew member distributes the next days’ cruising information letter and excursion tickets (if you have any booked). The past couple of nights these items have been delivered well after 10pm….and they aren’t just slipped under the cabin door. Our crew member is a female of African heritage…on this ship the crew are made up of many nationalities…..anyway, the lovely lady bursts into the cabin to hand deliver the tickets. She probably knocks but obviously very lightly because the first time we were in bed, Ty was reading and wearing his best birthday suit, well, his only birthday suit, in she came to deliver the tickets and as my eyes were closed I’m not sure who got the biggest surprise!!! Poor lady, although, she did it again….about 11pm this time….we’d been out bar hopping but this time I only had 2 glasses of champagne and a Moscow Mule so I was relatively sober but the band packed up at 11 so we headed back to the cabin. This time I was removing my make up in the bathroom when she came in……Ty was in his birthday suit again!!! Perhaps this crew member enjoys surprising people at that time of night. Just seems odd that they wouldn’t put the information on the table when they turn down the bed.
This time Ty did say to her that it’s fine to put the documents under our door. Which brings me to something else…..I’ve been on 5 cruises now, different cruise lines, and this is the only one where your cabin attendant doesn’t leave a towel animal on the bed each night!! Probably because there’s too many cabins and not enough time in their day to make them.
Naples: We missed our Naples excursion because we went to the wrong exit deck so, we were a little disappointed but got over it quickly and went back to the ship to enjoy the relatively quiet front swimming pool area. It was very nice, only one other person in the pool and plenty of deck chairs available!! Later we decided to get off the ship and wander through some of the streets nearby, we found a bar with free wifi at the cruise terminal so we sat there, had coffee and took advantage of their generosity for half an hour.
Messina: We opted for the excursion to Mt Etna when we reached Sicily, unfortunately it was a little disappointing. Our guide/bus driver talked about how Etna had erupted again yesterday and what a great day we had to experience this…..made us think we would see the lava flow…no, not at all, we went to an area that had erupted in 2001. There was a cable car to take you to 2,500 metres (we were at 2000 metres) but we were told “Don’t take the cable car you have no time” by the driver who said we must be back at your ship by 1.30pm. We must be back on the bus by 11.50…less than an hour!! Must was his favourite word!!!! What a waste of half a day…we left the ship at 9.30am. Why wouldn’t you take people to the lava flow….yes, I know it could be dangerous but even a 5 minute look at a safe distance was better than this. On the return journey he said it would cost 56 euros to see that….we would have paid that happily. Oh yes, and he talked incessantly from the time we pulled out of the cruise terminal at 9.30 till 11am when we arrived at Crater Sylvestri. In his broken English, he sounded like a mix between Inspector Clouseau and Rene from ‘allo ‘allo.
Sometimes getting to the excursion destination takes double the time spent there. In the case of Messina we were told the ship sails at 2.30 when it actually sailed at 3.50pm which, had we known we could stay out till 3 it would have given us more time to explore Messina. I did suggest that the excursion organisers should look at giving a little extra time at Etna to enable people to take the cable car to the top. That’s one of the main reasons I like to ‘do my own thing’ where possible. Admittedly guided tours are good if you want a quick look at the main attractions of a city and as a ‘taster’ for a return sometime in the future. Others have told me they take the ships’ excursions so they can say they’ve been there.
Tunisia was our next stop but I thought it deserved it’s own blog so we move on………..
When we returned from Tunisia I noticed on the daily newsletter that there was a Zumba lesson at 4.30pm, Ty had just settled down to read when I said “Zumba is on let’s go and join the class” he looked unimpressed but he got into the spirit and we headed on deck for the 30 minute lesson. It was held in a small area and quite a large number of people joined in so there wasn’t any room to spread the arms or even step forward or back….they had other lessons on other days but we didn’t participate again. Why did I assume it might be like the Zumba classes we attend at home with plenty of space between each person to do the routine? It was not like our classes and I’m not fond of being stomped on, poked in the eye or hit on the head by other people who don’t understand the idea of personal space.
Thursday we had a day at sea on the way to Barcelona so we decided to sit by the pool for a short while. Good opportunity, we thought, to spend some time by the pool and enjoy the sun’s rays unfortunately so did everybody else! When we couldn’t find any sun lounges free Ty decided we should purchase time in the 18 solarium area. The 18 solarium area was for adults only and was a small section on deck 16 with sun beds and a spa. No pool unfortunately. The only time available to us was 3pm till 7pm….we took it.
We only stayed for an hour and a bit on the solarium deck….we didn’t want to cook. By evening parts of me had become quite red so I was an odd shade of red and white stripes. This was my first sunburn in many years. Ty thought it hilarious when he saw my colours…..yes, we’re Swans supporters (Aussie Rules team) however this was going a little too far in support of a sporting team and I certainly wasn’t amused. By morning areas of my body that weren’t often exposed to the sun looked like a lobster and quite painful…not happy Jan!!!
After dinner Thursday evening I decided we should go to the gym, I know, not like me at all but we had been eating so much we needed a extra little bit if exercise.
Barcelona: The last stop on the cruise, for us, was Barcelona, capital of Catalonia, Spain. All reports we’d had about this city had been positive and, for me, it was the Gaudi influence in architecture that interested me. The La Sagrada Familia, the church that seems to dominate the landscape of the city was unfinished before Gaudi’s untimely death. Gaudi was hit by a car whilst crossing a road in the city and because of his shabby attire people assumed he was a beggar so it took some time before the ambulance arrived and he died of his injuries 3 days later. We had taken the Barcelona Historical City Tour…it was ok to get a feel for this sprawling city. The tour took us through the main areas by bus and we had a couple of stops where we got off the bus, one was a cathedral from the 12th century, much like Notre Dam Paris inside but not as light and airy. Then it was a drive by Casa Milia an amazing building designed by Gaudi which I was lucky enough to snap successfully as the bus slowed to a crawl and then, the piece d’ resistance, the La Sagrada Familia. Although a little disappointing as far as I was concerned.
After Gaudi’s death the plans were lost (burned) in the revolution and, as is often the case, there were no copies. Building work is going on and is reported to be completed in 2026, however the new work is nothin like the original and I have no idea shot there are sculptures of fruit in several of the turrets. It was a slight disappointment for me, perhaps it should have been left unfinished and/or a smaller inconspicuous chapel built behind the original facade so as not to detract from the amazing structure already built. The structure appearing now is unattractive and looks like a ‘dogs breakfast’. Many may not agree with me and I’d love to hear your views but, hey, this is my blog with my thoughts and for years I’d been looking forward to seeing this church with the strange facade and the pictures I’d always seen did not show modern add ons.
After walking around the structure and then back to the bus for a view of the city as we headed to a Spanish Village. The village was a reconstruction of what they used to look like or what you might find if travelled outside Barcelona. We were given 45 minutes here and it was after midday so time for lunch….albeit a rushed lunch. Chicken Paella was ordered and when it arrived was wolfed down due to our time constraints. After this it was back to the bus and back to the ship however we were given the option of leaving the bus at La Ramblas and taking the shuttle back later. We opted to do this so we could spend some quality time shopping and experiencing a little bit of Barcelona. A worthwhile side trip as I managed to find a pretty white dress and, of course, some souvenirs as a reminder of the day.
Would we go back to Barcelona? , Yes, we would, it’s definitely on the list of places to spend more time. It’s appears quite clean, the main streets are wide, tree lined and the traffic is orderly and appears to follow road rules. The shopping district is pedestrianised. The weather in summer is not as dry as some of the places we’ve been…it was hot and humid. That’s manageable though!!!
Oh, I must tell you this. There was an Australian couple sitting in front of us on the bus and each time the guide pointed out an areas of interest the woman would say to her husband ” This only happened because of the Olympic Games” or “Barcelona wouldn’t have the tourist trade if it wasn’t for the Olympics”. I was beginning to think she didn’t like Barcelona!
Back to the ship, change for dinner ….
It was another gala night so dressing up was required but, even though we looked very elegant (I thought we did and Ty said I looked elegant), we waved away all ship photographers on our walk to our dining room….they were beginning to be tedious and we were not planning to spend any more funds on expensive photos. As usual the dinner was very good and we needed to go for a walk around the ship before heading back to pack as tomorrow morning we disembark and start the next part of our European vacation. Bags have to be outside our cabin door by 1am.
To close I’ve added a few likes and dislikes…..
Things we like about cruising with MSC:
Our waiter at dinner, Saiful,is extremely pleasant and friendly
The ship is very clean and there are hand sanitisers all around the ship
There are designated smoking areas and for the most part people adhere to those
The crew in general are polite and friendly…don’t always understand us but we get by with a smile. However, the Indonesian crew members seem to be more friendly and outgoing than others
The main staircases, some say they’re too glitzy, I love them, even the piano has Swarovski crystals around the edge of the lid. Love my bling!!
The menu in the dining room….it changes every night.
The Splendida is grand and all the lounges and bars have different colour schemes and the shopping precinct is glitzy as well with high end brand stores.
Things we’re not so keen on:
It is crowded so we tend to walk the stairs instead of waiting for a lift
Children cruise for free on MSC so there are probably the same number of children as adults on board, maybe even more children
Didn’t appear to be any adults only bars so at 10.30pm in most bars there are young children running around and babies crying.
The buffet area seating, although very large, can’t accommodate the large number of people which it needs to do when the excursions come back after 2pm and the restaurant closes at 2pm. When you have an early excursion the restaurant is not open to allow enough time for breakfast either.
Organisation of excursions seems chaotic and there isn’t enough time spent on excursions such as Etna and Portofino.
Not enough deck chairs when the ship is sailing and probably there would be many people who lay their towels out early with no intention of using the chair till later, if at all, as we saw in Sorrento a couple of years ago. There is a notice saying towels on chairs unused after 30 minutes will be taken away.
August is not the best month for cruising if you prefer a less crowded ship…Europeans are on summer holidays at this time..
Would we we cruise with MSC again? Yes, definitely, but outside peak time when I think most of, what I saw as issues, would be handled better.