Eastern Mediterranean Cruise
We booked this cruise about a month before leaving. It was kind of a spur of the moment decision. At the time we booked this cruise we already had one booked for July 2005 onboard Celebrity's Constellation. This cruise was meant as a consolation for the hardships we went through in the last months. Two days after booking and sending a check to MSC's reps (they didn't want a credit card), they called me with the good news that MSC was selling this cruise at two-for-one rates and they sent me back half of the money I already paid.
We left Tel-Aviv on April 21st which turned out to be the busiest day at the new Ben-Gurion 2000 airport (which, typically, opened in late 2004 instead of 2000) as many folks were departing for a Passover vacation. Our connection from Milan to Venice was scheduled to leave at 8:40 PM. Since this was a smaller aircraft they used busses rather than a jetway to get us from the gate to the plane. At 8:30 there was no bus in sight but we were assured that in 5-10 minutes the busses would arrive. When we were finally on the plane there was a delay. The captain came over the PA to tell us we were waiting for a passenger whose luggage was already onboard. We waited. At 9:20 PM the crew made an additional head count. Turned out they mis-counted the first time and everyone was onboard. So we were 45 minutes late for this 25 minute flight.
We landed just before 10 PM but the luggage from the flight didn't start to arrive until 11:15. Our suitcase (we had only one) arrived torn, twisted and broken. The Alitalia rep issued us a voucher for a new suitcase, gave us a list of stores where we could get one, and gave us some masking tape to wrap the suitcase and keep our clothes inside. After a short taxi drive we reached our hotel in Mestre around midnight. The night clerk assured us one of the listed stores was only 5-10 minutes walk from the hotel.
The next morning we got a new suitcase. The entire ordeal took about 2 hours and we were ready to take the bus (we bought a day pass for busses & vaporetto) to Venice. The bus company was on strike from 10 AM to 1 PM so we crossed to the railway station and took the train.
Venice is so beautiful. We did not get into any museum but strolled the streets and did our own town tour with the Vaporettos [ed: water taxis] including the Lido and a round trip around Venice. It was late evening when we got back to our hotel.
The next morning, after a leisurely breakfast, we finished packing and took a taxi to the cruise terminal in Venice. We arrived around 10:00 AM. Many passengers were already in the terminal but the counters were not yet open. Although we were told the counters would open in 5 to 10 minutes, they were finally opened at 11 AM. The procedure was very quick and included taking our photos for the sail card. The passport officers were still absent. Again, we were told it would be 5-10 minutes until they arrived. Finally at noon they came and a few minutes later we were on the ship.
Passengers MixMostly Europeans with French, Italian & German speaking being the majority. We also "spotted" Spanish, Argentineans, Moroccans, Algerians, Dutch, Turkish, Americans and New-Zealanders.
ItinerarySaturday - Venice, Italy
Sunday - Bari, Italy
Monday - Katakolon, Greece
Tuesday - Kusadasi, Turkey
Wednesday - Istanbul, Turkey
Thursday - Sea day
Friday - Dubrovnik, Croatia
Saturday - Venice, Italy
The stops in each port were short with Bari being the shortest (10AM-2PM) and Istanbul the longest (8AM-3PM).
As we regarded this cruise as a relaxation cruise, we only took one excursion - a Bosphoros sailing in Istanbul. This boat tour was very scenic and allowed us to get a glimpse of this huge city.
In Bari &anp; Dubrovnik, MSC provided shuttle busses to the old city. In Katakolon and Kusadasi we strolled on our own.
There were passengers boarding the ship in Bari and in Istanbul and they start their week long cruise at those ports. Accordingly Saturday & Sunday were casual, Monday was Gala (formal), Tuesday was formal (seems semi-formal to us), Wednesday was casual, Thursday was Gala (formal) and Friday was casual.
The CabinOur cabin, 9168 balcony, was small. There was just enough clearance between the bed and the mirror wall to go around the bed to reach the balcony. On the other side of the bed there was a desk and one chair that was squeezed between the desk and the bed, not really a sitting area.
There was a 3-door closet, two for hanging and one with shelves & drawers. There were three drawers in the desk and more drawers and shelves in the two night stands. The bathroom was typically small and the shower was triangular-shaped and tiny. I imagine a large person would have to squeeze in.
The ShipThe MSC Opera is a beautiful ship with many brass decorations and railings. The ship is spotless and constant cleaning and rubbing is going on.
There are many public places to hang out on decks 5 & 6, one on deck 7 (The Caruso Lounge which seems to us to be under-utilized), the pool area and Il Patio dining area on deck 11 and the disco on deck 12. The impression of the public lounges is that there are many of them, more than on the Summit. However, since the ship is 84' wide (compared to 105' on the Summit) the passageways between each of them tended to get crowded.
There are almost no announcements on the PA system except checking for late passengers when about to leave a port.
Some elevators go between floors 4 and 12, some between 5 and 11 and one to floors 5,6,8,9 (no 7).
There were some instances showing a lack of efficiency and some attitude issues that can be improved.
STAFFThe officers, when we saw them were aloof. The waiters in the lounges were courteous and fun. All other staff, cleaning personnel, cabin attendant etc were friendly and smiling. Room service was very fast when we ordered coffee.
DININGThere are two restaurants on the ship (the larger La Bitta (La Caravella) on deck 5 and the smaller L'Approdo on deck 6) in addition to a buffet (La Vele on deck 11) and Pizza & hamburger/hotdog stations on the open Il Patio (deck 11).
In the morning and at lunch time the L'Approdo is closed and the hamburger/hotdog station serves as an omelette station in the morning (only one variety of scrambled eggs in the buffet).
The buffet & the Il Patio are closed in the evening so it's only traditional dining in the evening.
We were assigned to the L'Approdo. The structure of this restaurant is that the center part of it is in a circle surrounded by brass railing outside of which are the stations for the waiters. We were sitting next to the railing. This was a somewhat noisy spot but we were able to see how the waiters operate.
The first evening was chaotic (see note 6 above). Our waiter ignored us until my wife got up and started walking towards him with that killing look in her eyes. From that moment, we had superb service every night. Our waiter Rafaello was always with us first and he was very attentive to our needs. On the third night he and my wife were already on hugging and kissing basis. Italian style?
With seven courses dinner (appetizer, soup, salad, pasta/risoto, main, cheese, dessert) it is inevitable that some people will skip some courses. To accommodate this, the cutlery is changed every course with the waiters looking at their card for the next course for each person and pick the needed cutlery from a drawer at their station. This process takes time and adds to the total meal time. To save some time, our waiter gave us some courses through the railing instead of going around and placing the plates from the appropriate angle. Italian style?
The waiters also show some initiative. One evening, one of the pasta dishes that came to the station was big. The waiter looked at it, took about a third and put it in the "soiled" position and proceeded to serve the reduced portion to the unsuspecting passenger at a nearby table. Italian style?
We saw many wearing jeans for dinner, even on Gala (formal) nights. None were denied entry.
The daily states that no one will be allowed in the restaurant 15 minutes after dinner starts and the doors will be closed. Not so. A table of 8 French speaking passengers next to our table were late every night, sometimes 45 minutes late. This didn't bother us but on Baked Alaska night we had to wait until they were on their main course before the parade started and I suspect the same went on at other areas of the restaurant.
FOODFirst of all - Italian food is GOOD.
It is our impression, from previous visits to Italy and from this cruise, that Italians don't handle meat as well as they handle fish and vegetables. I took the fish dishes every night (except the lobster) and they were outstanding. My wife took some of the meat dishes and some fish and while the meat was good, she didn't rave about it. The sauces were less intriguing than they were on the Summit. The soups (not chilled ones) were not hot when served. The pasta dishes were excellent and the risoto dishes were superb. The desserts were not heavy, and they were interesting. The ice cream was good but not Italy's best.
One night they had a Buffet Flambé in the buffet area. They had some fruits (melon, pineapple, watermelon, grapes) and they would caramelize some of it for you. The impression we got was that they wanted us gone ASAP.
We did not attend the Grand Buffet.
LIQUIDSIn the Il Patio there was a large coffee container. When the coffee level became low the staff filled it with hot water! This container was emptied daily at around 4 PM so in the evenings there is no coffee except in the dining room, room service and in the Aroma cafe (for a fee).
Next to the coffee container are juice containers. They were empty and dry the entire cruise.
Alcoholic drinks in the bars & lounges are cheaper than those on Celebrity. A typical drink is 4.70 Euro (about $6.10) but they already include the tip. The catch is the glasses are smaller by 40%-50%. "Tropical" drinks tend to be weak (lots of juice and not much alcohol).
ENTERTAINMENTAh, the Animation Team. A bunch of kids, full of energy. They do games, shows, dance lessons, craft lessons and much more till the wee hours of night. Maybe it was just coincidence, but out of three times we were at the pool deck in the morning, only once were they there to entertain. They are so enthusiastic that during their games they "forget" to call in English, sometimes in other languages too. At least the Italians can always understand them.
We saw three shows in the Teatro D'ell Opera. I guess they were OK. I have a thing about hearing English songs in a heavy Italian/Spanish accent. On the first night the only thing worth taking picture of - at least for me - were the lights on the ceiling before the show started. There was also a habit of starting the 9:15 PM show at 9:30 or 9:45. The show featuring a tenor singer and a violinist was good.
There's live music in the evening at the Cabala, the Cotton Club, Piazza de Espagna and Caruso Club. During lunch there's music at Il Patio. (Los Paraguayos with the same sequence every day).
Photos courtesy of NBP (boten)
CLICK HERE for much more information and MANY MORE PHOTOS of MSC Cruises MSC Opera.
NBP & Dalia reside in Israel and are frequent visitors to the SeaLetter Cruise Forum. This was their second cruise and they are completely hooked as you can tell!
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please