MSC Lirica Review – Would I Sail Her Again?

MSC Lirica Review – Would I Sail Her Again?

mscMy husband recently declared that the test of a good cruise line is if you’d sail them again.  He said this as soon as we boarded the MSC Lirica for our very first MSC cruise.

We are avid cruises and have been for many years.  We’ve sailed with pretty much all the major cruise lines that cater to the US market including Princess, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, and NCL.  But this was our first cruise aboard an MSC ship which caters mostly to the European market.

Before I answer the all important question as to whether or not I would sail an MSC ship again, let me begin by telling you how this cruise came about.  It was mid-March, we had no intention of traveling anywhere, much less cruising the Med.  Our travel plans for the year weren’t  set to begin until July when we are to go on a reunion cruise aboard RCCL’s Adventure of the Seas.  But all this changed when my daughter Jaime decided to book an MSC cruise embarking from Venice.

You see Jaime and her family are currently living in an Italian town about 45 minutes away from Venice.  She decided that she’d take advantage of the great fares MSC was offering on their 7 day Med cruises; the added bonus was that she didn’t have to pay for airfare to get to Venice, the cruise terminal is a short €6.50 train ride away.  Of course as with everything in our family booking her cruise wasn’t as easy as it should have been, Jaime’s in the second trimester of  her second pregnancy.  We learned that she had to complete her cruise before she started the 24th. week of pregnancy, meaning the last cruise she could possibly take before she gives birth would be April 13.

She managed to book the last stateroom on the MSC Lirica’s April 13th. sailing.  She was quite happy and set about preparing for her cruise that would take her to Bari, Heraklion, Mykono, Corfu, and Dubrovnik.

Then my husband decided it would be a great idea if we booked a stateroom on that same sailing so that we could surprise Jaime and family by popping up aboard her ship.  Not only would my husband and I pop up on the cruise, but we’d take our grandson Devon  too.  Seemed like a tall order considering Jaime had booked the last stateroom the day before.  But some how the gods must have been smiling on us because on the last day of March a stateroom for 3 people became available.  Of course being a travel agent gave  me access to updated inventory so when it popped up I grabbed it!

As I mentioned I’m a travel agent; I’ve been wanting to try  MSC cruises.  I love their prices and their new ships look awesome.  So I figured this was a perfect opportunity to check things out.  I really wanted to recommend MSC to my clients, in fact as soon I as booked the cruise I let several clients know I’d be checking it out for them.  We were all very excited.

Now believe me when I say I boarded the MSC Lirica with high hopes.  I really wanted it to be perfect.  I sincerely wanted to recommend it to my clients.  I tried very, very hard to find positive things to say about the experience.  Sadly it was not to be, MSC fell short, very short of even my lowest expectations.  But of course there were some good things so let me begin with a list of the cruise line’s pros.

mscLoyalty Status match

MSC will match the highest status you have on ANY loyalty program including cruise lines, hotels, airlines, and resort.  Just send proof of your highest status on any of those programs and they will match it on your first cruise.  In our case they matched my Elite status on Princess and Celebrity so we were able to get the perks for MSC black status, their highest status level.

Before the cruise we received a 5% discount off the current cruise fare.  The difference was refunded to me after they verified my loyalty status.  I was pretty impressed with the discount and all the other perks they listed.

But did we get all the perks?  Well that’s another story!

Check in went smoothly and quickly – but only because you didn’t have to take a photo, register a credit card, or get your room key.  More on this later.[spacer height=”-20px”]

 

mscThe day we boarded was my grandson Devon’s 10th. birthday.  I purchased a birthday cake for him  on line before we left home and the staff served it after dinner in the main dining room.  They even sang him “Happy Birthday” .  He was pretty stoked!

Speaking of dining the reservation staff were pretty helpful.

They were kind enough to seat us all together on a nice window  table.  They promised we could have the same table at the same time every night we chose to dine at the dining room.  On this cruise we ended up dining there just 2 nights.  Again that’s a story for later as to how this came about.

We also tried the dining room for breakfast as we were told the dining room would be better able to accommodate my grandson Jett’s allergies, (better than the buffet), or so they said.  Again that’s a story for later as it did not turn out quite that way.

mscThey had a nice splash zone for the kids.

Unfortunately the weather during our cruise was pretty bad. The kids were only able to enjoy this splash area while the ship was at port.

Whenever the ship sailed it got very windy and cold.  The splash zone remained closed for most of our cruise.  I’m sure it will be better later in the summer when the weather is milder.  The splash area will probably remain open all the time and the kids should have a great time.

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mscThey have the Do Re Mi club and mascot which hosts some fun activities for the kids.

For this activity the children made Gnocchi with the chef and Do Re Mi the MSC mascot.

There were also lego activities as it seems that MSC partnered with Lego in some way.  Basically this meant that MSC was selling Lego kits in the gift shop.

I’m sure there were other activities, the kids just weren’t very interested.

We also attended a couple of dinner shows.  The Magic show and the Pirate show.  The Magic show was mediocre at best, but the Pirate show was pretty entertaining even though it made no sense.

Some of the staff seemed to be genuinely helpful and friendly.  I saw several crew members who went out of their way to help older folks carry plates to their tables after going thru the buffet line.

Most of the staff we interacted with at the children’s play area were very pleasant.  And many of the customer service people tried to be helpful.  But these folks seemed to be the exception and not the norm.

MSCSailings into and out of Venice were spectacular.

I’m not sure if it’s because MSC is an Italian cruise line, but this was the closest to the Grand Canal I’ve ever gotten on a cruise ship.  Perhaps it’s one of the perks of being locally owned.  Other Venice sail aways I’ve experienced were done much farther away, building along the Grand Canal were much further and a telephoto lens was needed to get a good shop of Piazza San Marco.

I took this photo of Piazza San Marco from the deck of the MSC Lirica without the aid of a telephoto.  Amazing!

mscOne of the perks of being a Black Card holder are these chocolate sculptures of the MSC Lirica.

They were delivered to our room sometime during the cruise.  We also got a draw string backpack and a bottle of prosecco to keep and thick terry robes and slippers to use while on the ship. [spacer height=”-20px”]

 

 

 

mscDuring the cruise we were invited to some member events including the Black party for Black Card holders only.  That didn’t go so well when other black card members found out it was my first MSC cruise and my loyalty status was matched by the line.

They made it very clear they thought this was unfair and spent the party glaring at me.  Not the most comfortable event for me!

Other perks including a dinner at their one and only specialty restaurant and chocolate covered strawberries never materialized.  Oh well!

Okay!  It’s sad, I know.  I can only name 8 positives about my MSC Lirica cruise. Believe me I’m digging deep!

Now for the list of cons, I’ll try to be brief and list only the most glaring things. But oh there are so many!  Where do I begin?

 

Guess I’ll start at the beginning, embarkation.  Remember I said check-in went fairly smoothly and quickly?  Well that’s because there wasn’t much to it.

We just showed our passport and boarding paper which was stamped at the check-in counter.  We proceeded thru security then on to the ship.  In the ship we were funneled thru a hallway and our photos taken.   Then we were told to proceed to customer service which was down the hall and one floor down.

We proceeded down the hall and were greeted by various crew members touting dinner and drink packages, spa treatments, and shore excursions.  Somewhere along this hall way we passed the kids’ club staff. They placed a plastic bracelet on Devon’s wrist and gave us a schedule of children’s activities which we could register for on deck 12 I think.

Anyway to say they were unorganized is an understatement.  When I asked anyone how and where I would get my cruise card I was told to proceed to customer service, presumably all would be made clear at customer service.

I finally made it to customer service via the central stairway.  I  had entered the ship on deck 6 and customer service along with shore excursions and shops were on deck 5.  At the bottom of the central stairway there was a crowded mess.

Cruisers were crowded between stachions that formed a zig zagging line from the bottom of the steps to the customer service counter.  When I reached the bottom of the stairway a crew member asked me what I need from customer service!

Ummm, I was there because I was told to go there.  When she pressed me for the reason I needed customer service it took a while to explain that I was  there because everyone told me to go there.

All I really wanted were our cruise cards and I had no idea where and how to get them.  You know that magical card that opens your  stateroom door and allows one to make on board purchases.   I was led to believe that the genies behind the counter would issue me my cruise cards.  But alas I was wrong.

I learned that I did not need to go to customer service unless I was going to put a cash deposit down on my cruise card!  I was told that our cruise cards were left on the bed in our stateroom; the stateroom door remained open until I retrieved my cards and locked the door.  Very interesting!

I was further told that if I did not put a cash deposit on my cruise card (which is bound to my on board account) I would not be able to purchase anything on board until I registered a credit card and linked it to the cruise cards.  To do this I must go to one on of credit card registration machines located on deck 5 not far from customer service.  Ok, so this was new and different.  But never mind I’d go get my cruise cards then look for my daughter, after all we were there to surprise them.

In my stateroom with the unlocked door I found our cruise cards.  I guess it didn’t matter if anyone else got a hold of the cards as I hadn’t put a cash deposit down nor had I registered a credit card yet.  In theory no one could buy anything using our cards.

After retrieving our cruise cards we went in search of my daughter and family.  Thru text messaging I determined she was at the lego play area.  We asked 3 different crew member where the lego area was, we got 3 different answers.  They ranged  from the location being on deck 6 to decks 11 and 12.  In spite of the faulty directions we somehow managed to run into my daughter and family.  So that turned out well, they were pleasantly surprised!

The disorganization continued.  The next day I went to register my credit card on the machine.  It didn’t work!

I proceeded to customer service (thankfully no long lines) and was told to keep trying on the machine.  Of course it didn’t work, so back to customer service I went.  This time a different lady told me I couldn’t register on the machine because they were also disembarking cruisers that day while we were docked in Bari, hence cruisers embarking from Venice the previous daycould not register on the machine.  It had to be done at customer service!  Ugh!

That night at dinner they mistakenly discarded our wine!  Talk about a comedy of errors!

We had purchased a bottle of Lambrusco  the previous night.  What we didn’t finish they stored for us.  At dinner the next day we were greeted by our waiter with the news that they had mistakenly tossed out our wine, but not to worry because they replaced it with a very  nice (cheap) bottle of  prosecco, you know the type I buy at Costco for $7!  (The Lambrusco was over €20 a bottle)

mscThe next day was a day at sea, unfortunately it was too cold to use the pools and the splash area, but the kids enjoyed making gnocchi with the chef and the MSC mascot.

It was also a formal night.  We  enjoy getting dressed up for dinner and Jaime, my daughter was very excited.  She wanted to take some formal photos.  Which she did and they came out pretty well.

mscThe formal dinner did not.  In fact that was a disaster!

On the MSC Lirica they offer an upgraded meal of either lobster or t-bone steak nightly.  This means that in addition to the regular menu whose offerings are included in your cruise fare you can order a lobster or t-bone steak dinner for an up charge of €18 to €22.  The €22 was for the lobster up charge.  Both meals came with a glass of prosecco. (Again with the prosecco!  They loved giving that stuff away!)

So during the formal dinner we decided to order 3 lobster meals, one each for Jaime, Devon, and myself.  That’s a total of €66 plus a 15% service fee.  Whatever, we wanted lobster.  The lobster dinner was served with asparagus and fried onions I think, it’s pictured above.

Anyway when my daughter sliced into it she immediately asked me if it was still raw because the meat was sort of grayish with a very strong ammonia odor.  In short it was very, very rotten.

We called the waiter over; he had no idea how to handle the situation, he just shook his head and smiled sweetly.  The head waiter was called in and asked me what the issue was, I couldn’t tell him, instead I had him smell the lobster which I  had skewered onto a fork.  You should have seen the look on his face!  It was apparent he knew something was very wrong.

He offered to make 3 new meals; no way that was going to happen, at least not at our table.  In the end he made up some excuse about the kitchen thawing the lobster very fast to serve it to us.  They had to do this because they don’t prep the lobster because not too many people order it.  Really?  Nah!  That lobster was mishandled.

They agreed to void our bill and not charge us for the 3 lobster meals.  Now don’t do us any favors!  Of course you will not charge for the lobsters we could not eat.  (The meals were not credited to us until 3 days later and then only after complaining to customer service!)

I told him and any other crew members who addressed this issue with me during the rest of the cruise that the lobster was mishandled and should never have been allowed to leave the kitchen!  Imagine serving rotten lobster to a pregnant woman and a 10 year old child! Unbelievable!

Needless to say we never returned to the dining room again.  We ate the rest of our meals at on shore restaurants  or at the buffet.

mscThe buffet, burger & hot dog bar, and pizza & pasta bar.  All were in adequate with haphazard service and appalling food options.

I’d have to say the pizzas were the best thing there.  This was proven by the fact that there was a constant wait for pizzas to come out of the oven.  Of course they only set out 2 large pizzas and 1 foccacia  at a time.  This would be grabbed by the first 2-3 people in line.

msc

The bufffet venue itself was tiny with a narrow walkway.  So narrow that you could barely fit 2 people standing  side by side.

There were 2 drink stations on either side of the ship in the very back.  You could serve yourself hot coffee or tea.  In the morning there were juices and hot chocolate available.  At any other time of day  if you want juice or ice tea it must be purchased from the small bar located at the back of the buffet.

If you want drink service at the buffet I can only say good luck at finding a waiter to help you.  Waiters were hard to come by, they much preferred congregating in the corners chatting with each other.  They seemed to treat the guests more as a bother and interruption.  Heaven help anyone who asks for service.

 

Seating was very limited in the buffet and tables and chairs were practically stacked on each other.  And did I mention the dirt?

Yes the tables were always filthy.  I had to ask a waiter to wipe a table for me.  Oh he wiped it all right.  He wiped the crumbs right onto the floor and the chairs!  I have never seen such lack of enthusiasm in a crew ever!

Oh and before I forget, on the MSC Lirica never touch the handrails on the stairways.  They are forever sticky and filthy.  I am as serious as a heart attack.  Not once during the 7 day cruise did I see clean and shiney handrails!  I was not the only one remarking on this, I saw many people look and touch them with disgust.

The public bathrooms were marginally cleaner, it depended on when and where you went.  The busier ones by the buffet were almost always out of order or out of supplies.  Don’t recall anyone cleaning public bathrooms either.  Perhaps they were all busy consulting with each other on how to keep handrails spic and span?

Speaking of bathrooms, public bathrooms were few and far between on the public decks.  I believe there were one set in the forward part of the ship by the theater and another set in the aft part by the photo gallery.  There were never any bathrooms midship, at least none that I could find.  And the public bathrooms were small, most of them only consisting of 2 stalls, one of which was almost always out of order.

Now back to the food, that’s an important part of cruising.  On our first day we went to the buffet for breakfast.  My daughter requested soy milk as her son Jett has milk and egg allergies.  We were told that from then on we should go to the sit down dining room for breakfast as they were better equipped to handle food allergies.  Although to be fair the buffet staff did manage to produce a cup of soy milk that morning after about a 20 minute wait.

So the next day we went to the dining room for breakfast.  We were given menus but were encouraged to get our own food at the mini buffet they set up.  We said we’d check out the buffet but wanted to order waffles as well as the cocoa puffs they had on the menu.  Well that went well, they said they had no idea what cocoa puffs were and they came up with waffles that were cold hard and had a thin drizzle of syrup.  When we asked for syrup they pretended they had no idea what that was.

My husband took himself to the buffet area for some cold scrambled eggs.  He asked  a waiter standing at the buffet for  ketchup.  The waiter snapped at him and said there was no ketchup period, sort of like the Soup Nazi on Seinfield – No Ketchup for You!

Fortunately for us a nice waiter had observed our problems; he went to the kitchen or where ever and came up with a bowl of cocoa puffs, a bowl of syrup, and a bottle of ketchup!  Guess it was a magic moment, he found the condiment pantry!  That was the one any only time we went to the dining room for breakfast.

mscFor pretty much the rest of the cruise we ate hash browns for breakfast, they were pretty good and available most mornings at the hot dog grill, and warm croissants which were served at the pizza bar.

We bought a coffee card and had coffee and pastries at the coffee shop on deck 6, then we ate pizza for dinner.  We tried to eat the burger and dogs, but they were just too disgusting to even bother with.

The buffet offerings were sparse and mainly unappetizing and after the lobster incident we refused to return to the main dining room.  Over all the food and service on the MSC Lirica are disgraceful.

Another part important part of cruising are on board activities, specially on days at sea.  On all the cruises I’ve ever been on the cruise director and his staff work very hard to find a variety of activities for guests to do.

On every other cruise I’ve been on I’ve always looked forward to the daily newsletter that my cabin attendant delivers to my stateroom every night.  This newsletter gives me all the information I need to plan my day.  It usually gives me the weather, date and port, opening times of ship board services and dining venues, and most importantly it lists the times and locations of all the activities on the ship.  This usually includes lectures, movies, bands, dance lessons, exercise classes, demonstrations, sporting activities and challenges,  trivia games, and much more.  There’s always something for everyone!  And of course the schedule of activities takes up about 2 pages of the newsletter.

mscWell it’s not quite the same on the MSC Lirica.  Sure the staff have some activities planned.  The schedule was a whole half page long!

It’s great if you love dance lessons.  On our day at sea they offered 5 different dance lessons and 3 fitness activities with the dance instructors.

Most activities were scheduled to take place by the pool weather permitting.  During our sailing the weather was not very cooperative so the activities ended up taking place in the Cabaret lounge on deck 6 I think.  It was very crowded.

Their biggest activity was called meeting point.  This was basically a portable booth they set up by the pool or where ever.  It was stocked with a few board games and cards that guests could check out and use on board for the day.

The staff, at least those who weren’t giving dance lesson, would dress up in funny looking costumes and juggle, sing, dance, and generally act silly.  I suppose the guests found this entertaining, we did not.  I think part of the problem was the language barrier.  English was not the main language, as expected Italian is the language of choice.  Don’t get me wrong I speak and understand basic Italian, and most of the crew spoke English; but at times it was hard to understand even their English.

If gambling is more you thing you could try your luck at the tiny casino on deck 6.  It had maybe 3 table games only one of which was ever open from what I saw.  There were also maybe 20-30 types of machines.  Not the most entertaining casino I’ve ever been to.  It was sorely lacking in fun and energy!

Now back to the original question “Would I sail them again?”  Surprisingly I would have to say YES!  Ok I’m not a masochist or a glutton for punishment, but hear me out.

Knowing what now I know after having experienced an MSC cruise I have much lower expectations.  I would sail them again more as a form of transportation and lodgings.  The cost of sailing can be as little as $500 per person for a 7 day Med cruise.  That’s cheaper than buying train or plane tickets to the ports of call!

I would use the ship to transport me from port to port, an easy way of getting around without the hassle of dragging luggage and going thru airport security.  I would also have a somewhat decent place to stay and someplace to eat, even if it’s only pizza and hash browns every day.  I would most definitely eat most meals off the ship it’s a great way to sample different types of cuisine at the ports of call.  Besides it’s a Med cruise, eating souvlaki, tzatziki, and baklava daily is not a hardship!

I’d also choose a sailing during warmer weather.  That way I could at least hang out at the pool during sea days.

I think the better question to ask me would be “Would you recommend MSC to your clients?”  I would definitely not! Unless my client wants to use the cruise as a ferry to hop around the Greek isles or where ever the ship sails to.

It would definitely not be anyone’s idea of a dream vacation.  I would never recommend it to  clients planning a honeymoon, anniversary, or luxury cruise.  It would fall very short!  However it’s a great choice for college kids on Spring Break and for anyone with a limited budget and is willing to settle for mediocre or less.

This was my experience on the MSC Lirica.  MSC has many other ships including the new MSC Seaside.  I can’t say for sure what type of experience you would have on other ships.  I can say that I’ve met several other cruisers who don’t give the MSC Poesia a better review.  One guy was kind and said they were understaffed, that was his way of saying the service was terrible.

On the record I was not paid for this review.  I purchased my own cruise ticket at the current rate less the black card member discount.  I am in no way affiliated with MSC or any other cruise line.

Let me help you plan your next vacation.  From budget to luxury travel we can help!  Call Savvy Nana Travel for all your travel needs!  808-372-7734

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Packing for Your Ocean Crossing Cruise

Packing for Your Ocean Crossing Cruise

packing

You’ve decided to try a Transatlantic or Transpacific cruise, and have actually booked it.  Yay!  Now let’s talk about packing for your ocean crossing.

It doesn’t take rocket science when packing for your ocean crossing, but there are some things you might forget to bring.  So here’s a list of things you should consider packing for your ocean crossing cruise.

  • Reading Material

Don’t rely on the ship’s library, they’re pickings a usually slim and are even slimmer during ocean crossings.  Unless you rush to the library the minute you step on the ship you’ll find that the books at the library go out fast.  You could keep checking to see if any good books have been returned, but to ensure you have something to read, bring your own.

It’s not hard to do, just load however many books you can read during your cruise on to your tablet.  Technology makes it much easier to bring books where ever you may go.

  • Appropriate chargers

That ipad, kindle, or tablet won’t do you any good if they aren’t charged.  So don’t forget to pack their chargers!

  • Bring your hobby or crafting supplies

If you love to knit, crochet, paint or whatever be sure you bring along your supplies.  You can get a lot of knitting done on an ocean crossing.  Not to mention there are on board gatherings for folks who share the same hobby.

I’d pack scissors, knitting needles, and other tools in the checked luggage.  TSA will not look too kindly on anyone attempting to bring anything sharp and pointy on board an aircraft.

  • Prescription and OTC Meds

It goes without saying that you’ll remember to pack your prescription meds, but don’t forget to bring OTC meds too.  Of course tylenol, cough syrup, dramamine, and other OTC meds can be purchased at the ship’s gift shop or medical center, but do you really want to pay $4-6 on 4 or 6 tylenol pills?  Or would you enjoy spending almost $20 on a small bottle of Robitussin?

So bring your own meds, 7 days at sea is a long time to have a throbbing headache!

  • Self laundry supplies

If your ship has self service laundrymats pack some travel size detergent, bleach and dryer sheets.  I know Princess and Royal Caribbean cruise lines have self service laundrymats on just about every floor, Celebrity does not.  But if you’re ship has them bring your own supplies.  Sure they sell them but many times they run out as everyone is thinking the same thing.

Also bring a roll of quarters.  Most times the change machine is out of order or has run out of change.  Bringing a roll of quarters saves you a trip down to the purser’s desk in search of change.

  • Work out gear

Don’t forget to brink some comfy work out clothes and shoes.  With all the food you’ll be enjoying hitting the gym or running track may not be such a bad idea.  It might just start you on an exercise routine you can take home with you!

  • Halloween Costume or other holiday gear

If you’re on a cruise ship on Halloween or other holiday pack your costume or holiday tshirt or sweater.  It’s fun to dress up and join the festivities!

Ready to book your next ocean voyage?  Call Savvy Nana Travel.  We’ll do the planning, you do the relaxing!

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What to Expect on Your Ocean Crossing Cruise

What to Expect on Your Ocean Crossing Cruise

ocean crossingSo you’re considering going on an Ocean Crossing Cruise, otherwise known as a Transatlantic or Transpacific Cruise.  Ocean Crossing happen  twice a year.  It’s when a ship is moved from its winter route to its summer route in the Spring and vice versa in the fall.

As its name suggests an Ocean Crossing Cruise does just that, it crosses an ocean.  Transatlantic cruises clearly cross the Atlantic Ocean and Transpacific ones the Pacific Ocean.  Ships that cross the Pacific general go from their winter routes in the Southern Hemisphere to their summer route in Alaska and up and down the US’s western coast.  Atlantic crossing ships come in from their winter routes in the Caribbean to their winter routes in either Baltic or Mediterranean Seas.

I’ve yet to go on an Oceaning Crossing Cruise across the Pacific, but I’ve been on some Transatlantic cruises.  Before you decide on which Ocean Crossing Cruise you should take you need to know that there are 2 basic routes; the northern route from the Baltic Sea that stops in Northern ports from England to New York or New Jersey before continuing on to their Caribbean routes; and the southern route that departs from either Rome or Barcelona stopping at ports in  Spain’s sunny Costa del Sol and Canary Islands or Portugal’s Azores.

Which ever Ocean Crossing Cruise you decide on here are a few things you can expect:

ocean crossing cruiseLots of days at sea.

Once you leave the shores of Europe and her islands there isn’t much land until you reach North America’s eastern seaboard.

If you’re on the Northern route expect these days at sea to be cold in windy.  This means not much pool time, actually not much outdoor time unless you really love cold windy weather.

On the northern route you should also be aware that some of the ports of call could be scrapped due to poor weather or sea conditions.

When we did the South Hampton to New York Ocean Crossing Cruise we first got stuck in Dublin for 2 days due to poor sea conditions and heavy rain.  This meant our stop in Belfast was cancelled.  The ship must remain on schedule!

Then the seas  were too rough to dock in Iceland.  We could see Reykjavik, we were that close.  But after a few hours of trying the port had to be scrapped.  Needless to say folks were pretty annoyed.  In case you were wondering, no you do not get a discount or refund because the shipped cancelled ports of call, it says so in your carriage contract.  To make up for the disappointment of missing a couple of stops the captain decided to take a side trip thru the ice fields of Greenland.  I thought it was pretty cool.  We got a peek at the polar ice cap.

Now the Ocean Crossing Cruise on the southern route generally has some pretty great weather the entire cruise.  This means lots of pool and other outdoor time.  On our Transatlantic cruise last year we had 7 glorious days at sea!

ocean crossingFewer Ports of Call

Remember the purpose of an ocean crossing cruise is to get the ship from its winter route to its summer route or vice versa in the most efficient way.

Yes they stop at ports that they usually don’t stop at unless it’s an ocean crossing, but once you leave the last port in either Europe or the Southern Hemisphere you’ve got nothing but ocean a head of you until you reach the next continent.

So unlike the very busy port intensive summer and winter routes these ocean crossing cruises are much more laid back and less hectic.

ocean crossingLessons, Talks, Trivia Games, sales, and other activities

Ocean Crossing Cruises can prove trying for the cruise director’s staff.  They’re in charge of keeping cruisers occupied.  To keep everyone happy and engaged the staff schedules lots of activities, some of them aren’t scheduled during regular routes.

One example is the Egg Drop competition.  I’ve never quite seen this one on any other cruises.  It’s pretty silly, but it keeps participants busy for several days building the perfect contraption to safeguard the eggs when dropped from like 9 floors up.  The actually event attracts most of the cruises who have nothing else to do but watch the interesting contraptions their fellow cruisers built.

Then there are all sorts of lectures.  Everything from Art to History to Geography.  Many are pretty interesting and worth while.

My favorite are the lessons, dance lessons, craft lessons such as scrapbooking and napkin folding, and art lessons.  I attended the daily water color lessons and came home having learned some new techniques and a few creations I made in class.

The cruise staff does an excellent job of keeping everyone busy and occupied, unless of course you’d rather not participate.[spacer height=”-20px”]

 

ocean crossingSailing during a holiday

If your ocean crossing is in the late fall chances are you’ll sailing during Halloween or possibly even Thanksgiving.

This can be a deal breaker for some, specially those who feel that holidays must be spent at home.  But if all you’re concerned about is missing some of the festivities, don’t worry.  The ship does holidays well.

I’ve been on several ocean crossings during Halloween ( I won’t go if it means spending Thanksgiving on a cruise ship) and it’s been pretty cool.

The ships decorate the main deck and the buffet.  They have Monster Bashes and more.  Trust me you won’t miss out on the festivities, well ok you don’t get to hand out candy, but you do get to dress up if you desire!

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ocean crossingA whole lot of R&R

Because ocean crossings have so many consecutive days at sea expect to catch up on your sleep, reading, and generally practice the delicate art of doing nothing.

If you’re a go, go, go type of person an ocean crossing may not be a great choice for you; but if you love to lounge around, curl up with a good book, or your knitting then these cruises are made just for you.

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ocean crossingExpect to gain a few extra pounds

No matter how diligent you are following your diet and exercise regime be prepared to gain a bit of weight.

Those long consecutive days at sea will get you!  The buffet and specialty restaurants will most definitely test your will power.

On the other hand it’s a great time to try one of the specialty restaurants you won’t always have the time to try when on a busy port intensive cruise.

So go ahead, enjoy!  One of the things I love about these ocean crossings are 2 weeks of yummy food prepared by someone other than me![spacer height=”-20px”]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ready to book your ocean crossing cruise?  Call Savvy Nana Travel!  We’ll help you plan the cruise of your life!

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6 Reasons to Take a Transatlantic or Transpacific Cruise

transatlanticYou might be wondering what exactly are Transatlantic and Transpacific cruises and why should you even consider taking one.  Both cruises are essentially ocean crossings done when cruise ships are repositioning from one route to another.

Transatlantic and Transpacific cruises are usually offered in the early spring and late fall.  The early spring cruises are done when ships are moving from their winter routes to their summer routes; late fall cruises are when the ships return to their summer routes.

Transatlantic cruises are generally from North American ports that serve as  gateways for Caribbean cruises in the winter to European ports that are gateways to Baltic and Mediterranean cruises in the summer.

Transpacific cruises are generally from Asian and Southern Hemisphere ports that serve as gateways to Asian and Australian/New Zealand cruises in the winter to ports located in North America’s western ports that are the debarkation ports to Alaska in the summer months.

transatlanticGot that?  Ok now you should know that there are basically 2 transatlantic routes.

The northern route  take ships from Florida to Northern Europe with ports of call in Greenland, Iceland, Ireland, and Scotland before ending up in either South Hampton, England or Copenhagen, Denmark.  These ships ply the Baltic route during the summer months.  Their late fall return usually includes stops along eastern Canada and the US eastern seaboard to view the colorful autumn foliage.

 

transatlanticThe southern route takes ships from Florida to ports in Spain, Greece, or Italy with stops at the Canary Islands, Azores, and possibly the Spain’s Costa del Sol.  These ships travel the Eastern and Western Mediterranean routes during the summer.  Their late fall return usually follows the same route they take in the spring.  [spacer height=”-20px”]

 

 

 

 

transatlanticTranspacific routes generally travel from Asia, Australia, and New Zealand to San Fransico, Seattle, or Vancouver.  They usually make stops in Mexico and Southern youCalifornia.

Having said all this there of course will be exceptions such as ships moving from their winter routes in South America and those that travel around the Middle East.  For the purpose of this article we’ll stick to the Transatlantic and Transpacific routes.

Alright, now you sort of know what transatlantic and traspacific cruise are, so let me give you six reasons why you should consider taking one or perhaps why you shouldn’t.

transatlanticThe Price is Right!

Transatlantic and transpacific cruises are generally a good value.  The ships have to sail to their seasonal routes anyway so it makes good business sense to fill them up on those crossings.  I’ve paid as little as $1200 per person for a 14 day transatlantic cruise in a balcony stateroom.  That’s less than $100 a day!  They also included perks such as paid gratuity and drink package!    [spacer height=”-20px”]

 

 

 

transatlatlanticRestful and Relaxing!

Cruises with many ports of call are exciting, but they can also be exhausting.  It’s go, go, go almost everyday!  Some cruises are so hectic you hardly get a chance to enjoy all the things the ship has to offer, not to mention you might need a vacation after your vacation!

Well that is not a problem on a transatlantic or transpacific cruise.  You will have plenty of days at sea to rest, relax, and enjoy everything the ship has to offer.  Most crossings have about 5-7 consecutive days at sea, plenty of time to catch up on your reading, learn a new dance step, or just catch up on your sleep.  [spacer height=”-20px”]

 

 

transatlanticNo Cooking for 2 Weeks!

This is one of my favorite reasons to go on a transatlantic cruise, or any cruise for that matter.

From breakfast to dinner and everything in between your meals are prepared by someone other than yourself, and you don’t have to clean up either!

You can indulge at the buffet, dine in the main dining room, grab a burger at the grill, or sample the different specialty restaurants.  Whatever you’ve a yen for you’ll probably be able to satisfy it at one of the ship’s dining venues.

Best of all you’ll have the time and the appetite to try everything because you won’t be filling up on local foods on shore!  [spacer height=”-20px”]

 

transatlanticInteresting Ports of Call

Transatlantic and transpacific cruises make stops at some interesting ports that they don’t normally visit on their regular routes.  Ports like Tenerife, the Azores, Greenland, and Iceland are not on Baltic or Med routes.  Ships only stop there during their crossings about twice a year.

On our transatlantic cruise last year we stopped in Malaga, Cartagena, and the Canary Islands.  All very nice cities! [spacer height=”-20px”]

 

 

 

 

 

 

transatlanticLearn something new or try something different or silly

Cruise staff really work overtime during these crossings.  They must come up with new and innovative ways to keep cruisers entertained.  They offer lectures, games, lessons, live shows, movies, and activities for just about everyone.

Last year I really enjoyed the free water color painting classes on the cruise.  Learned some new techniques and came home with a few pretty paintings.

We also enjoyed watching the Egg Drop event. It was amusing to see the contraptions cruisers came up with to save their raw eggs from getting smashed when dropped 6 decks down! [spacer height=”-20px”]

 

 

 

 

transatlanticMeet new people and make new friends

On many cruises you’re too busy running around to really meet anyone, much less have a conversation with them.  On ocean crossings this is not a problem.

It’s easy to be sociable when you see the same people everyday for 2 or more weeks!  Unless you prefer to keep to yourself you will find many opportunities to meet new and interesting people.  We’ve met many cruisers who’ve become great friends![spacer height=”-20px”]

 

Ready to book your transatlantic cruise?  Contact us at Savvy Nana Travel, we’ll help you plan your dream vacation!

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Family Cruising:  What’s Included and What’s Not

Family Cruising: What’s Included and What’s Not

CruisingFamily cruising has become popular and affordable. It can be a great value for your vacation dollars.  Cruise fares will take a big bite out of your vacation budget, air fare too if embarking far from home.  But that’s really all you have to spend.  You can budget around the “extras” by cherry picking activities and luxuries that are important to you and your family.

Our first cruise aboard the Star Princess was very costly.  We had no idea what to expect and purchased all sorts of tours and packages from the cruise line.  We’ve since learned to plan our own tours when possible and take advantage of free onboard activities.   We’ve learned that the chocolate covered strawberries that are part of the “celebration” package can be found for free at the buffet.  We’ve learned how to save money on the luxuries offered.  We’ve become very savvy cruisers, specially when we travel with our kids and grandkids!

It’s hard to budget vacation dollars when you don’t know what’s included and what’s not in the cruise fare.  Here is a list to help you budget for your cruise.

What’s included:

  •   All meals and snacks in “regular” dining venues.

Standard dining venues on most cruise lines are:

Family CruisingMain Dining Room – Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

Buffet – Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snacks & Beverages (coffee, tea & some juices are included)

Pool side grills for burgers & hot dogs, and on some ships an outdoor ice cream shop.

  •   Selected beverages – coffee, tea (hot & iced), lemonade, some juices – selections of free beverages vary by cruise line.
  • Standard room service menu is generally free.  Most cruise lines now offer upgraded menus that include balcony dining, champagne brunch, and more – those are not free.  Some cruise lines have started to add a service charge per delivery.  Check before you order.
  • All onboard entertainment including theater productions, lounge shows, movies, in room TV (some lines have pay per view premium channels)
  •  All onboard activities – trivia games, karaoke, dance lessons, port talks, pool games, themed parties, and more.

 Family Cruising

  • Pools, fitness center and some classes, walking/jogging track, library
  • Youth and Teen Programs and activities – Most ships have youth centers staffed by trained counselors for different age groups. Kids must be registered to participate. Activities include parties, games, arts, and crafts. Most activities are free.

 

 

What’s not included: 

  • Tips and gratuities – for guests’ convenience gratuities are added to shipboard accounts it’s charged per guest/day.  Services charges are also added to beverage, spa, and salon purchases.  Some cruise lines allow you to pre-pay gratuities before you sail, check with your cruise line for details.
  • Tipping is not mandatory, you may remove these charges from your account at the purser’s desk any time before the cruise ends and instead opt to tip specific service people like your cabin attendant and diningroom waiters.
  •   Specialty Dining – A cover charge is added to your shipboard account if you choose to dine at a specialty restaurant.  Venues vary by ship and cruise line, but can include French Cuisine, Trattoria, Creperie, Steakhouse, and popular franchises such as Johnny Rockets, Seattle’s Best, and others that are now onboard some ships.
  • Gelato, specialty coffees and teas, smoothies, and other specialty treats.  In some cases the specialty coffees and teas, and gelato are charged, but the snack foods(cookies, salads, sandwiches, and pastries)  are free.  This is true on Celebrity’s Cafe al Bacio and Princess’s cafe in their Piazza.
  •  Bottled Water, Soda, Beer, Wine, and other alcoholic Beverages
  • Personal Trainers, Special Fitness Classes (Pilates, Cycling, Yoga, etc.)
  • Spa & Salon Services
  • Thermal Suites and other special services and equipment found in the spa
  • Computer & Photography Classes
  • Language Classes
  • Cooking Classes
  • Arts & Crafts Classes (some are free check before you sign up)
  • Wi-Fi, Laundry & Dry Cleaning
  • Photos
  • Casino Gaming
  • On Board Shops
  • Wine Tasting
  • Art Auctions
  • Shore Excursions
  • Flowers from the Florist
  • Celebration Packages
  • Group Babysitting, In Stateroom Babysitting

The items listed here are by no means everything cruise ships offer.  These are just some of the services, activities, and “extras” common to most ships. Different cruise lines and ships offer varying “extras” for a fee.   It’s best to check with the cruise line and ship you will be sailing for their complete list.

Whether your idea of the perfect family vacation is relaxing at the pool, dining with your child’s favorite cartoon character, or a luxurious day at the spa, you’re sure to find it on a cruise ship.

Bon Voyage!

Money Saving Tips for Your Cruise

Money Saving Tips for Your Cruise

cruiseYay!  You’re going on a cruise!  How exciting!

Cruise  vacations have become very popular and for good reason.  Cruises are actually a pretty good value specially if you live close to a cruise port and don’t have to travel far to board the ship.

The biggest expense is of course the cruise fare, but once that’s paid there isn’t much more left to pay.  Now that doesn’t mean you will not spend any more money once you board the ship, far from it!  Cruise lines have come up with many ways to part you from your money.  Many folks are shocked and surprised how large their on board account is at the end of the cruise.

The time to argue and dispute charges on your account is long past if you wait until the last day of your cruise.  I suppose there are times when there are mistakes made on your account, but in my many years of cruising I’ve yet to see a mistake on my on board account.  So the best way to avoid unpleasant surprises on the last day of your cruise is to check your account daily.  That way you can adjust your on board spending.

Cruise lines make things very convenient with “cashless cruising”.  This means that your key card is also your “credit card”.  Everything you purchase on the ship is charged to that key card which is attached to your registered credit card.

Before you ever make an on board purchase you can count on the daily gratuity that is automatically added to your account; depending on the cruise line that can be $12 or more per person per day.  So on a 7 day cruise for two $168 or more is charged to your account; unless you pre-paid gratuities before you cruised.  Of course you have the option of removing these automatic charges from your account.  Just go to customer service and ask for those charges to be removed; you can tip who you want to (bartender, barista, waiter, etc.) at the end of the cruise.  (I’ve spoken to many cruisers about removing the automatic gratuity, some love it and some hate it.  Some like not having to worry about tipping while others prefer to tip their favorite crew members on their own.)

 

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cruiseAside from the automatic gratuities what else can you find charged to your account?  Let’s see, that frozen drink with the cute little umbrella you bought at the pool, that massage you had and the lovely products your therapist talked you into, those must have photos taken at every port and formal nights, the $20 you put in the cashless slot machine at the casino, that sushi or burger and bottle of wine at the specialty restaurant, the latte from the cafe, the shore excursion you took at your last port of call, the watch you bought at the one day sale, and the list goes on.

Yes there are so many things you can charge to your account and you’ll be surprised just how fast they add up!

So how do you avoid a shockingly large bill and the buyer’s remorse on the last day of your cruise?  Read on for some money saving tips I wish someone had given me on my first cruise!

If you gotta have your morning latte from the specialty coffee shop then buy a coffee card.

These are usually punch cards you can buy for about $30 depending on the cruise line.  They’re good for about 10 – 12 specialty coffees which cost about $5+ each without the card.  So that’s almost a 50% savings!

Consider buying a beverage package if you think you’ll be drinking enough to justify the cost.

Compare prices of beverage packages to the price of each drink and how many drinks you can realistically drink in a day.  If you plan on drinking more than the daily cost of the package is then it’s worth buying, if not it may be better to pay as you go.

Ask before you take!

You know those pretty drinks in take home glasses they walk around with on sail aways?  Yes some of those glasses are pretty cool, they might even light up or glow in the dark.  But they are not free!  Ask how much the drinks are in the cool glass and if you don’t want to pay the price you can order the same drink in a regular glass for a lower price!  BTW drinks in those cool glasses are not covered by any drink package.

Do you occasionally like to have wine with your meal?  Then BYOB!

Most cruise lines allow each guest to bring 1 bottle of wine on board.  Now when I say wine I mean wine, not beer, not gin, not any other type of liquor.  Any alcoholic beverage other than that 1 bottle of wine per person will be confiscated and returned to you when you disembark.

If you prefer not to bring your own wine then buy wine by the bottle, not the glass.  Unfinished bottles of wine will be stored for you and served to you whenever and where ever you want it.

Gotta have that Diet Coke or Sprite?

Consider buying a soda card, but again compare the price of the card with the individual price of sodas and how many you can drink in a day.  Also most cruise lines will allow you to bring soda and bottled water on board.  You can buy them from port and keep them in the mini fridge in your room.  This is much cheaper than buying sodas and bottled water on board.

The mini bar in your stateroom is not free.

Check the price list before you open any bottles or cans in your mini bar.  And remember whatever you drink out of the mini bar is also charged 15% gratuity.

15% gratuity is added to all beverage orders.

An automatic 15% gratuity is added to every drink you buy from the bar, this includes sodas and specialty coffees.  It is also added to coffee cards, mini bar items,  and drink packages.  You might consider this before you add on that extra tip for your server.

Look out for photo specials before buying your photos.

During the cruise they  may run specials on port photos, embarkation photos, formal photos, and more.  Or consider buying the disc or thumb drive and print your own photos.  Better yet take your own photos!

cruisePort Days are Spa Days!

The spa will offer specials or discounts on services while the ship is in port.  It might be worth having that massage before you leave for some sightseeing or return to the ship early enough to squeeze in a spa service before the ship sets sail again.  And don’t let the therapist pressure you into buying their over priced products, if you must have them buy them online when you get home, it will be much cheaper!  The spa will be less busy on port days too!

 

Do your homework on your ports of call.

Before you buy any shore excursions for any port read up on the port to find out the best way to see the sights you’re interested in.  Sometimes you can just get of the ship and do your own thing instead of buying an expensive tour.  If you want or need a tour guide consider booking tours from local tour operators, they are usually much cheaper than the tours offered on the ship.

Check before you watch TV in your stateroom.

Most cruise ships offer pay per view, so make sure you know what you and/or your kids are watching on TV.

Check room service times and charges.

Yes food ordered from room service is included in your cruise fare, but sometimes there is a delivery charge.  Depending on the cruise line room service charges can be $1 to $4 or more each time you order room service.  Others only charge during the wee hours of the night.  So check before you order.

Be aware of service charges when you take cash from your cruise card at the casino.

It’s so easy to play some cards at the casino, just give them your cruise card and tell them how much you want to cash.  Be aware that there is a service charge for taking cash from your on board account.

Use the ATM wisely.

If you need cash from the ATM try not to take it in small increments, you are charged a service charge for each withdrawal; that’s on top of whatever your bank might charge you.  So instead of taking out $20 at a time and paying a $3-4 service charge each time you withdraw take out $100 or what you think you will need, usually the service charge is the same regardless of the amount you withdraw. (This doesn’t appear on your on board account, but it will on your credit or debit card!)

Take advantage of freebies!

There are many things you can get for free, including a drink or two.  You just have to know when and where to go.  Here are some freebies you can take advantage of:

Captain’s Welcome usually held the first day after sailing serves free cocktails and wine – only the ones the waiters are passing out are free, if you order something else you will be charged.

The Captain’s Farewell held the night before the cruise ends also serves free cocktails and wine.

Liquor tastings at the shops – not to be confused with wine tastings which have a fee.  The duty free liquor shop on board usually samples different liquors nightly.

Art Auctions usually serve free champagne to everyone who attends, you don’t have to buy anything.

Loyalty club events – depending on your loyalty tier you will be invited to events that serve liquor like cocktail parties, nightly happy hour, and so on.

Trivia and other games – Participate in trivia and other games on board, winners always get prizes.  Usually logo items such as luggage tags, tote bags, t-shirts, or hats.

Arts & Crafts classes – some ships offer watercolor classes, origami classes, etc.  usually supplies are free, sometimes there is a small fee, but you get to take home your creation.

Have a money saving tip?  Share it with us please!

cruise                     Let Savvy Nana Travel help you plan your next adventure!