By Rebecca Lee
I had always wondered what the fascination is with cruise holidays. As a travel journalist and broadcaster who visits many of the world’s most impressive liners when they dock in Dublin for the day, I was curious as to how I would find sailing the ocean seas for a week. Would I enjoy living, breathing and eating in a somewhat confined vessel for seven days or more? At just 29 years of age would I really be able to let my hair down and party in the presence of families, many of who were of an older generation? And would I be able to avoid waves of sea sickness which could strike? They were just some of the many questions I asked myself when contemplating my ocean voyage.
After much deliberation and weeks of research I finally decided it was time I gave cruising a try. My younger sister Ruth and I chose to go ‘la Dolce Vita’ as the Italians would have it and opted for a seven night sailing across the Mediterranean with established Italian cruise line MSC cruises.
Our 59 thousand tonne ship named the ‘Sinfonia’ (which rather aptly has a musical theme and is based on Europe’s most famous composers such as Bach and Tchaikovsky) set sail from the historical pretty port of Genoa. Just some of the spots we sailed to included Cannes, Salerno, Olbia and Mahon. Our attractive itinerary also featured an overnight stay in Ibiza which being the party animals that we are, we were delighted with.
Once booked we had a stack of optional extras offered to us such as drinks packages and excursions at each port. Alcohol offerings included bundle like deals on beers, wine and cocktails among others. We opted for MSC’s ‘Allegrissimo’ drinks package which we found to be great value as it meant we could pretty much drink and eat as much as we wanted without the worry of being faced with what could prove a rather daunting bill at the end. The liner also offered a wide range of excursions at each port, some of the most attractive being the jewels of Montecarlo (which went from Cannes), the Amalfi Coast (which left from Salerno) and an Island tour of Ibiza, all of which were available at an additional cost.
Captain Bex on the decks
Wanting to sample as many sights as possible, we decided to fly into Genoa the day before our cruise for some exploration. The city which is Italy’s largest seaport is home to around 631 thousand people, hence Ruth and I decided it would be a shame not to experience what it had to offer. On the day prior to boarding, we embarked on a 40 minute tour of the city on the ‘Pippo’ tourist train which stopped at many historical sites such as the house where the legendary Christopher Columbus was born and the Cathedral of San Lorenzo. We also visited the ‘Acquario di Genova’ which is the second largest aquarium in Europe. Dolphins aside, we were suitably impressed by the seafaring facility which plays host to over 500 marine species and welcomes a whopping 1.2 million visitors a year.
We set sail from Genoa the next day and we were blown away by just how big, white and shiny our vessel was. The 824 foot MSC Sinfonia consists of 783 cabins, 3 restaurants, 8 bars, a nightclub, a theatre and a casino (and believe it or not that’s actually considered quite small in comparison to the rest of the fleet!)
Holy ship! Ruth and I get ready to board
Wanting the best of both worlds, we opted for an ocean view cabin which while more basic than a suite but fancier than a standard room provided us with bunk beds, a dressing table, television, bathroom and window. Indeed our comfy sea bunker was just like a floating hotel room with us waking up somewhere different each day.
One of the nicest yet naughtiest aspects of our cruise and indeed any liner we found has to be the food. All kinds of everything were available at the buffet onboard from curries to pasta to burgers to salad so if like me you fancied being healthy one minute and bold the next it wasn’t a problem. We were also assigned to one of the ships two main restaurants on board named ‘IL Covo’. There the happy attitudes of the staff who celebrated Italia with some fine napkin swinging on two nights (yes I’m not sure why but we were waving napkins around over our heads!) music and flowing wine ensured we polished off numerous courses. It would also be a crime not to mention the pizzas on board. Let’s just say they were tastefully cheesy, plentiful and that the ship’s Master of pizza ensured we didn’t go hungry!
As fairly health conscious people recently turned pizza addicts, Ruth and I were delighted to see the ship offered a fully decked out gym in which we could work up a sweat after a morning of exploring. It also featured a spa called the ‘Aurea’ which meant we could pamper ourselves with hair and beauty treatments ahead of the ships many theme nights, two of which were gala evenings and had a formal dress code (which we felt was a really nice touch.) In addition to this, the ship had a Turkish bath, camomile suite and luxurious heated ceramic chairs which allowed us to kick back, relax and gaze out into the ocean.
One of the funny things about our cruise had to be the fact that there were so many facilities and so much entertainment onboard that we actually found it difficult to leave! Our seven days onboard saw us embark on excursions to the stunning spots listed on our itinerary each morning. After a few hours sightseeing we would then retire to the ship for a spot of lunch, head to a pool party (which resembled raves that one might experience in Ibiza!) go wining and dining and finish our day off in the ship’s nightclub ‘Pasha’ which was absolutely thriving with people of all ages all night every night.
Although our ship didn’t have as many restaurants or as many facilities as bigger liners we found it to be perfectly adequate and immensely enjoyable for what it cost. The little frills approach to our ship meant it was clean, the service was top notch, the food was fabulous and the party atmosphere was unreal. We thoroughly enjoyed our mad week in the Med (which was pretty much guaranteed considering the overnight stay in Ibiza was part of our intinerary!) It was also fantastic to experience people of all generations and nationalities onboard which resulted in the making of many friendships and memories.
Ruth and I with the Captain on gala night
Would I cruise again? Certainly! Would I change anything? I would probably try and stay on board longer if I could (we had plans to hide in the ships lower deck which unfortunately went to pot!) Would I have any advice for those interested in sailing the ocean seas? Bring your finest clothes, prepare to mingle and get ready to wave all your worries away.
The 12 ship MSC fleet sail year round across the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. They also have itineraries in South America, Dubai and Southern Africa.
Around 1.7 million people are expected to have travelled or travel on board the MSC liners this year alone.
The fleet consist of three different classes the Fantasia class (which is the highest) the Musica class and the Lirica class
Each ship has different characteristics. The MSC Sinfonia was based around musical legends while the MSC Divina was inspired by superstar Sofia Loren and the MSC Magnifica has its 16 decks named after some of the most famous Italian cities.
All four of MSC’s Lirica class ships are undergoing a makeover before 2015, with sections of nearly 24 metres being built into the middle of the vessels meaning more facilities and higher capacities.
For more information see www.msccruises.ie or visit your local travel agent.
As featured in The Sunday World