In November I went on my last trip abroad for 2014. It was a ladies’ trip: my sister, mom, mother-in-law and I packed our bags for a 2 day cruise and a few days in Milan! I’ll talk about Milan next week, but how ’bout that cruise?
We booked our trip with Thomas Cook and because we were only looking for a short getaway we could combine with our desire to go to Milan, we chose to sail away on the MSC Poesia. It would take us from Barcelona to Marseille and Genua where we could take the bus to Milan to have a few more days there.
I had never been on a cruise before, I had briefly visited a ship (not a boat, people, a ship!) once but this was my first real cruise experience and boy, was I looking forward to it! The experience on a cruise is much like that in an all-inclusive hotel, however, there are some specific differences which I will address throughout this post.
After a short flight from Brussels to Barcelona, we boarded the MSC Poesia, our home for the next few days.
This already a difference with a regular hotel visit, you don’t just check in on a ship, there is whole procedure to follow. For instance, the worst thing that could happen on a cruise ship would be the break out of some contagious disease, so they actually checked our temperature with some kind of thermal camera. I don’t know if this is standard procedure or if this was because of recent Ebola breakouts. But better safe than sorry!
We got 2 balcony cabins, each on a different side of the ship, so we could compare views.
Our cabin was way more spacious than I expected!
We had arrived on the ship in the afternoon and the ship set sail from Barcelona to Marseille at 7 pm. So for the rest of the afternoon we could enjoy this lovely view of Barcelona. The weather was amazing, this is November! Of course, we also had to take part in the muster drill. This is when you get all the instructions in case something goes wrong. This is mandatory, but why wouldn’t you go? Safety first and it doesn’t take that long!
Another thing about the cruise experience is that you are assigned a time and place for dinner. There were 2 seatings, and we got the last one (I think it was 8:45 pm) and were assigned a table for the 4 of us. It is possible that you are seated with other passengers. Keep in mind that this can be different for every ship and shipping company. Sometimes you have the option to choose flexible dining. So this is definitely something to talk about with your travel agent! Another thing to discuss is the beverage packages, there a million options to choose from (with varying levels of the quantity and quality of drinks you can consume). We got the Allegrissimo package, which meant that, to kill time before dinner, we were exploring the cocktail menu.
I have to say: these cocktails were good. Sometimes when they’re included in a package and they are making tons of them, the quality of a cocktail can suffer, but these were very nice!
Next up: dinner! MSC is an Italian shipping company and Italian food rocks, so yeah, the food is good. You get to choose several courses (up to 5, I think?) and for each course there are different options to choose from. I don’t understand how they do it, but they actually succeed in serving their delicious pasta perfectly al dente for hundreds of people all at once. Well done, MSC Poesia chefs! The desserts were a bit disappointing, compared to the other dishes, but let’s be honest: breakfast buffet, lunch buffet, several courses for dinner,… Who needs dessert after that?
Dinner on a cruise ship also means… dress codes! Every day we got a little “newspaper” in our cabin, with information about excursions and activities and also the dress code for that evening. We all made sure we had clothes for a formal evening, but there was no formal dress code during our stay. So we dressed formal for the casual dress code, because… why not? I didn’t pack my heels and dress for nothing!
The next morning I woke up bright and early (I’ve been having trouble sleeping recently and wake up at like 5:30 am on non working days!) and at a hotel I would take advantage of the WiFi to entertain myself until the normal people wake up. There is the possibility to buy credit to gain internet access but I felt it was too expensive and we were only on the ship for 2 days, so I figured I would survive (I did!). So no internet to keep myself busy, but what a ship does provide (if you get a balcony cabin, which I recommend, more on that later) is awesome views of sunrises and sunsets. So I sat on the balcony, in my pj’s, with some lovely music on my iPod and just enjoyed the view of Marseille. It was awesome. It was cold, but I loved every minute of it.
At this point we were actually moving as well, I found this to be really relaxing and felt very zen at that moment.
We decided not to leave the ship because we were only here for 2 days and Marseille isn’t going anywhere, right? We had breakfast, which is buffet style. The options are endless and it was scrumptious! Lunch is the same concept and at the same restaurant. Great pasta and pizza, people!
Since we were not out exploring Marseille, we had time to explore the ship. Let’s take a look…
The weather was beautiful! I had the greatest nap ever on one of the deck chairs, to catch up on some much-needed sleep. Bliss! After that I continued the exploration of the ship and its many bars, restaurants, etc.
As you can see, there’s plenty of places to go, no need to get bored here!
There’s also a spa, gym, kids’ club,… Something for everybody. The duty-free shops are open when the ship is at sea, so for us this meant only at night. I didn’t buy anything. Really! (Just wait until the Milan post…)
After another great dinner we headed back to the cabin and made our bags. Unless you want to carry bags off the ship yourself (which would be a bit of a hassle) you need to put your bag outside your cabin door at midnight before your disembarkation. I had to really think this through, seriously. What products will I use tomorrow? Can I fit all of it in my hand luggage? Such struggles… But I managed to get through it!
We arrived in Genua the next day, where the weather was far from good. What a difference with that gorgeous weather we’d been having… We were suddenly reminded it was November after all.
After a great breakfast it was time to say goodbye to our ship. Once again, this is where a cruise is different from a hotel. You don’t just leave when you feel like it. You’re assigned to a group (with corresponding colour) that is going to the same location you are (a bus to Linate Airport in Milan in our case). You then assemble in one of the bars or the theatre (read the “newspaper”!) and just wait until they announce your colour and follow the crew member off the ship to collect your luggage and make your way to the bus (or wherever you’re heading). This was all organized perfectly!
So that was my first experience on a cruise, and as you can tell, I really enjoyed and would definitely do this again. I already have some destinations (Alaska! Greeks Islands! Fjords of Norway!) in mind , of course… We didn’t have any day at sea, I would love to experience that, it must be really relaxing and beautiful.
Some things to keep in mind…
I would opt for a balcony cabin if your budget allows you to. Especially when you’re spending a lot of time at sea, the public areas (bars, lounges, decks,…) will get really crowded because every passenger is on that ship at the same time. I think a balcony would be very nice then… However, if you’re in a new place every day and plan to do excursions every day, it might not be necessary.
About the excursions… They are not cheap. Do some research on the places you really want to visit before you leave. Sometimes you could easily get to the centre of a city with a taxi, which could be a lot cheaper than participating in an excursion. But remember… Be back on time, the ship will not wait for you!
Do consider that you only have a limited amount of time to spend in each place. This is perfect if you’ve already been to a city and just want to soak up the atmosphere again or if you’re happy to get a “quick” impression of a place.
It’s a lovely way to travel if want to see a variety of places without having to drive around or hop from plane to plane the whole time. Or if you’re scared of flying! (I feel your pain, but you gotta do what you gotta do to see the world…).
I do recommend booking a cruise via a travel agent, especially if it’s your first time, there are plenty of things to consider and they are the experts!
So, are any of you tempted to go on a cruise? Or have any of you been before? Please tell me in the comments!
Next week I’ll tell you about Milan, but until then… Merry Christmas!