As our taxi approached Genoa cruise terminal our ship Opera looked small to her larger and newer sister the Meraviglia. I was not interested in size but service and a good time to coincide with our 25th silver wedding anniversary. Embarking went very smoothly and we were on the ship in no time. The excitement started immediately. After our light lunch, time to explore the ship was next on the agenda. The weather was perfect especially in mid-October. As we waited to sail out the backdrop of Genoa was incredible. This is what makes cruising that be more interesting. Ironically the couple next to us on the muster drill told us that they can see their house from where we stood on deck 6.
The inside cabin was spacious and clean and as clockwork our suitcases were ready for us to unpack for our journey.
Our busy voyage itinerary consisted of six stops, albeit I do like a day at sea, and the itinerary was somewhat of a historical nature which is why we chose it. Marseille, France was our first stops. To visit one of France’s oldest cities you will have to use one of ships shuttle services at €15 per person. Highly recommended as the city centre is about 20 minutes’ drive. Most folks opt for an excursion and this shuttle service is for those like me who want to explore this beautiful city. The best way to see any city is on the hop on hop off service. I was not disappointed I learned more about Marseille in my 90 minutes than any day at school. Always go light, don’t carry any visible expensive jewellery or branded bags. As we departed this French icon we noticed the “High Winds” signs blocking deck 6 doors. As the ship sailed south towards our second stop, Mahon, Menorca our lovely ship was battered by the tail end of hurricane Leslie which caused havoc across the Iberian peninsula the day before. Our cabin was on deck 10 and this storm was rather strong and from time to time our bed or me jumped, which adds excitement to the journey.
Regrettably I missed the entry into Mahon as it arrived very early, but I saw it on our departure which reminds me of Stockholm. As the ship was docked in front of the town itself, this was overwhelmingly impressive. I’ve not heard much of this place, but my first impression was "wow". Not exactly big, but very embracing. Again we decided to explore by foot as it was mostly pedestrianised. Many shops, at reasonable prices saw us spending a few euros. Well worth it as its cheaper than Italy and France. The most magical sight is seeing your ship from the top of the town and with the sun blazing down Leslie was now forgotten.
Tip - On MSC, drinks packages are one of the most reasonable priced (£26 per person per day), It may sound a lot at first but with each cocktail at £7, you do the maths.
On our second night we decided to try our Fantastica service on the waiter service dining at 'L’ Approdo'. Here you get to meet fellow passengers which can be fruitful. Again with the drinks package your water and wine is included.
By the second night you start to get a feel about what is hot and what is jazzy and relaxing. The most busiest part was the 'Piazza de Spagna'. A great setting but as the weather was very windy all the themed parties were held here. This made it very cramped and at times annoying when folks stood in front of your seat/table. From what I understood weather permitting these parties are held on deck 11 next to the swimming pool. 'The Cotton Club' was more laid back and they played some great oldies. For those who like smoking there is a designated area in the Sorrento pub. Here you can also catch up on the latest sports on their TV screens.
Other parts of the ship were much quieter, the casino was surprisingly always full. At the theatre we went to a couple of shows, both very good, one Flamenco and the other Dirty Dancing including the famous jump. Tip - Arrive early, the 650 theatre was packed at least 20 minutes before show started.
I was very excited to see Sardinia, a place steeped in history and beautiful in many ways. Many great monuments, but the day was very hot and comfortable footwear and clothing was essential. On our return it gave us time to relax on deck 12 on the sun loungers, so with my MSC cap I decided to lie down and think of my evening meal.
The most amazing part of the ship has to be the gym, right in front of the ship. Doing your treadmill as the ship enters our next stop Valletta, Malta can’t be matched anywhere.
Tip - If you can, always get a place on the upper deck if entering a port like Valletta. The whole harbour opens up before you, deep in its rustic, golden sandy colour all the buildings etched in history. This was one of the best entrances to a place anywhere in the world.
Unfortunately for us we arrived 90 minutes late and the poor chaps were having problems when we arrived with the gangway so we lost nearly three hours in total as our departure was 7pm. My mistake here was to go on one of the hop-on hop-off buses, the trouble is that it lasted 90 minutes as it went to Mosta at the centre of the island. As the audio guide rattled on I noticed all the overhanging balconies, sadly most of them in disrepair, but they added character to the place. You certainly can’t beat the Romans for their ingenuity, the Aqueduct in Valletta was built from underground rivers as Malta has no rivers or lakes.
Not to bore my wife with a historical lesson, we decided to hop off and venture by foot. It’s a mixture of cultures in Valletta, even UK’s telephone booths and post boxes in traditional red were present. Very Templar and Knights of St John feeling about the place. As we gazed from the top of the castle we saw the battery part where every day at noon they fire (blanks). As another day draws to an end on this interesting city the sun reflecting of the buildings was magical, shame our phone cameras could not match this spectacular sight. What did go down well later that night was the traditional white party.
We arrived in Messina Sicily mid-morning. As the ship did its magnificent 'sixpence turn' and slowly docking in between Oceania’s Riviera and a Windstar cruise ship I was like a school kid in a sweet shop. My wife opted for the SPA whilst I marvelled at this manoeuvre phenomenon. The MSC SPA is one of the most reasonable at sea and highly recommended to all those who want to pamper themselves.
I noticed the city skyline was very symmetrical and I later found out why. In 1908 a massive earthquake/Tsunami devastated both Messina and Calabria in Southern Italy. So all buildings were built in the 20th century.
The hop-on hop-off bus was not one of the best, but still highlighted the earthquake and filled in a few missing points. I could not resist humming the Godfather tune and to my part every souvenir shop had a Godfather gift. There were even Godfather tours to the centre of the Island. My tip is to go to Mount Etna for a planned excursion as Messina was as basic as any modern city. One God I had to see was the statue of Neptune, with trident, at the edge of the port to thank him for looking after us.
Our last port of call was one that has been on my bucket list for a long, long time, Naples-Pompeii. Being a history buff I am always fascinated by the architecture of the place I am visiting, and you can't get any bigger than Pompeii. Larger than what I thought and so well preserved, a great tribute to all those who painstakingly helped un-earth this once great Roman metropolis, closed to the world for nearly 1700 years.
As in any great place a guided tour is always the best option. For just over two hours our guide explained in great detail about this jaw dropping place. It resembled a “Photograph frozen in time” from the Roman era. Ironically the place where the longest queue was in the well preserved but small brothel. Fascinating place including frescos. As in any excursion comfortable footwear is a must as well as water.
Our day in Naples was short, we departed at 1pm. As we steamed out I stood on the aft part of the ship gazing at the city of Naples which whilst our ships wake literally saying goodbye to our last stop.
On every port as we departed the ship’s entertainment team were great, every day they entertained and made everyone who wanted to take part welcomed. Although one or two waiting staff were not to the same calibre, I was not disappointed.
Disembarkation is always a bit apprehensive, but I must say it went so smoothly that I was on the coach within 10 minutes of us departing the theatre where we had to meet.
In a nut shell I was very happy that I chose MSC, for its value for money and destination rich itinerary, which was our main purpose.