Piazza San Marco Photo by Savvy Nana
Last summer we took the fast train from Rome
to Venice, one of our favorite cities. We left Rome on the Frecciargento #9406 at 07:50 and arrived at the Mestre Train Station by lunch time.
The kids love taking trains around Italy. The seats are comfy and the passing scenery is beautiful. The dining car helps too!
Train travel in Europe is fun and can be economical with train passes. I always buy ours on Italia Rail
. You can get several types of passes for 1st. and 2nd. class seats. I always check their specials before I buy passes, sometimes it’s less expensive to buy point-to -point tickets, specially if you will mostly be taking the Eurostar or fast trains. Seats on those trains require you pay a 10 Euro reservation fee per person per train ride. If you have a pass you must buy the reservation before you board the train, city-to-city ticket prices already include the fee.
First Class Seats on the Eurostar Trains Photo by Savvy Nana
Photo by Savvy Nana
Photo by Savvy Nana
A trip to Italy wouldn’t be complete without a visit to this magnificent city. From its opulent mansions to the grandiose Basilica, Venice is a city of Byzantine splendor.
But a trip to Venice does not come cheap. Hotels, even the lower rated ones cost a pretty penny. If you feel like a splurge the Danieli, Cipriani (where George Clooney and his guests stayed on his wedding weekend), or the San Clemente Palace are high end luxury hotels.
San Clemente Palace Dock
I love the San Clemente Palace
, built in the late 1700’s as a monastery, the hotel is located on a private island in the lagoon. It retains the ancient atmosphere and some rooms have awesome views of San Marco. The hotel, as all other hotels in the lagoon, have their own private boats to ferry guests to San Marco Square.
A more family budget friendly alternative are hotels on the mainland in the town of Mestre. This year we stayed at the Novotel Venezia Mestre Castellana
located just 4.3 miles from the city center of Venice. It has larger rooms that accommodate 2 adults and 2 children. Kids under age 16 stay free in their parents room and breakfast in included. The hotel has a small pool and playground as well as a couple of video game stations in the lobby for kids to use. The hotel is around the corner from the bus stop where you can hop a Venice bound bus for the 15 – 20 minute ride.
Novotel Venezia Mestre Castellana Photo by Savvy Nana
Photo by Savvy Nana
Photo by Savvy Nana
Another plus to staying in Mestre is that you don’t have to drag your luggage on the cobble stoned streets of Venice, or hire a porter, to your Venetian hotel. Cars are not allowed in Venice. Buses drop you off at the Piazzale Roma which is a short walk from Venice’s Santa Lucia train station.
Where ever you decide to stay here are kid friendly things to do in Venice. Some can be done for little costs, others not so little. Approximate costs are given to help you plan and budget.
1. Buy a 1 Euro bag of corn nuts from one of the feed vendors in Piazza San Marco and feed the pigeons. The kids love it! You get great pictures. The Piazzetta di San Marco is right off the main square towards the lagoon, try feeding the pigeons there it is usually less crowded. Keep away from and do not feed the big seagulls, they can be very aggressive and will “bite”.
Pigeons in Piazza San Marco Photo by Savvy Nana
Piazza San Marco
2. Visit San Marco Basilica to see it’s magnificent mosaics. When inside you can visit the Treasury, Museum, loggia, the tomb of St. Mark, and the spectacular high altar – each attraction has its own entrance fee, I believe we paid about 5 Euro per person for each attraction..
Entrance to the Basilica is free, but you will have to stand in line for a long time. Skip the que, make online reservations for a 2Euro service fee per person, kids 6 and under are free. To book your ticket click here
You can get some great photos out on the loggia, you have an awesome view of the piazza in front and the piazzetta and lagoon from the side. Photography is not allowed inside the Basilica or in any of the attractions, having said that I will share some photos my kids took in spite of my scolding. To be accurate they took them in full view of staff, everyone else was taking photos, and at least they did not use flash.
3. Ride a gondola in one of Venice’s side canals. A must do for first time visitors although it is a bit pricey. About 100 Euro for a gondola that seats 6. Otherwise you can book a shared gondola tour for 30 Euro per person. Click here to book your tickets.
Gondolas in the Lagoon
4. Hop on the slow moving Vaporetto #1 (public “bus”) for a scenic cruise down the Grand Canal, this is the best deal in Venice. It cruises by many landmark buildings. Get on at one end, I prefer getting on in front of the train station Venezia Santa Lucia, and getting off the other end at Piazza San Marco. You can buy a one way ticket or a 24 hour pass if you will use it to get around during your stay, or want to go to other islands such as Murano and Burano.
5. Make your own mask. Visit Ca’ Macana one of the oldest and finest mask making workshops in Venice. They have mini-mask making courses, at the end you get to take home the mask you made.
6. Hop on a Vaporetto to visit a glass blowing studio on the island of Murano. These fine craftsmen having been making beautiful glass jewelry, figurines, and more for 700 years. You can also pick up strings of glass beads here at half the price as those in the shops and vendors in the city.
Murano glass factory
7. Take a day trip out of the city to the Brenta Canal (towards Padua). Take a bus to Stra or Mira, you can rent bikes (they will deliver the bikes to any bus station) and bike alongside the canal to Villa Pisani, its hedge maze in the gardens will surely interest the kids. You can get lost in one of the most difficult hedge mazes in the world, Il Labirinto. The maze is made of a dozen concentric rings of tall hedges that surrounds the tower in the center. The tower is climbed by a double-spiral staircase — someone is usually posted there to direct those who are hopelessly lost.
8. Walk up to the center of the Rialto Bridge for classic views of the Grand Canal. Then wander thru the shops and markets around the bridge.
Grand Canal as seen from the Rialto Bridge
Peppers at the Rialto Market
9. Enjoy a gelato and listen to music in Piazza San Marco. If you feel like a splurge have at seat at Caffe Florian or GrancaffeQuadri they’re located in the Piazza across from each other. Their outdoor diners are entertained by the orchestra, my husband calls them the dueling orchestras. Both are iconic landmarks in the piazza having been around for over 300 years. My husband usually grabs a table and sits with the grandkids while the rest of us go shopping. The good thing is once you’re seated you can occupy the table for the whole day.
Expect to pay 14+ Euro for a few scoops of gelato plus a 6.25 Euro coperto per person. A snack for a family of 4 will cost about 80-90 Euro.
A pleasant surprise we found in the Cafe Quadri ladies’ room was a nice clean IKEA baby changing station. These are hard to come by in Italy in general.
For a budget friendly option buy a gelato from one of the gelaterias in the piazza and enjoy the music standing up. Unfortunately there is a lack of public seating in and around the piazza. If you try to sit at one of the café’s tables someone immediately appears to tell you about the cover charge to sit and if you don’t agree to pay they make you leave, they can be rather rude about it.
Relaxing at Caffe Quadri
Refreshments at Caffe Quadri
Gelato at Caffe Florian
10. Have a nice meal by a quiet canal, away from the pricier places along the Grand Canal. Try Trattoria da Giorgio ai Greci or one of the restaurants behind San Marco at the Fundamente ai Greci. Or Trattoria Pizzaria da Roberto on Campo San Provolo not far from St. Zaccharia church.
Whatever you decide to do in Venice I’m sure you will have a memorable vacation. Venice is truly a magical city.A word on restrooms, this is crucial when traveling with kids! There are public restrooms located throughout Venice. Look for the sign that says “W.C.” there will be arrows pointing you to them. Some may have a small fee of about .50 cents Euro to use.
M Most cafes and restaurants have bathrooms, they are usually very nice about letting tourists use them even if you aren’t purchasing anything from them. I found Italian shop owners very helpful when you have kids that need to use their bathrooms. But ask first to avoid problems.
Italy is a great place for a family vacation. There is so much to see and do, and Italians love kids! That’s why the towns are filled with parks, amusement centers, and other venues that are very family friendly. Of course a trip to Italy would require visits to museums and churches, but when you’ve go kids you’ve got to add in some fun kid friendly activities.
What better way to add a bit of hands on fun than a children’s cooking class!aLast week my grandson Jett and I spent half a day at a children’s cooking class in Vicenza. The class is offered by these two lovely ladies, Monica and Silvia. It’s held at Silvia’s house in Rettorgole a small town in the province of Vicenza. The Province of Vicenza is located in north eastern Italy in the Veneto region, It’s just a 45 minute train ride from Venice and is home to some of the greatest examples of Palladio’s architecture.
Monica and Silvia offer cooking classes for children and adults. We attended the children’s cooking class along with 5 other children and their moms.
For the children’s cooking class Monica and Silvia planned several easy dishes including gnochetti, little rolled pasta balls similar to gnocchi but made with durham flour instead of potato. We also made bread balls stuffed with cheese and prosciutto, dough pinwheels stuffed with zucchini and prosciutto, and a delicious tartlet.
The ladies were very helpful and helped the children with the preparation of each dish. Actually in our case they were extra helpful and very vigilant. Jett is allergic to eggs and dairy so they provided him with egg and dairy free alternatives. Monica and Silvia were also very careful with the cooking utensils. They made sure that Jett’s utensils did not come in contact with the other children’s things to avoid cross contamination.
The children’s cooking class was about 4 hours long. After the children made the dishes Monica and Silvia cooked everything and served it all to us for lunch. It was a wonderful experience. In fact Jett and I had such a good time I’m looking forward to doing a cooking class with these ladies next time I’m in town.
Here are some of the highlights of our class.
Making the prosciutto and cheese stuffed bread balls. We used Vegan cheese for our bread balls as well as the pinwheels we also made.
We rolled out the dough for the pinwheels stuffed with zucchini and prosciutto.
Jett really enjoyed using the rolling pin! [spacer height=”-20px”]
Making gnochetti using the wooden mold. Jett was and expert at making this tiny rolled pasta. He caught on real quick and made the entire tray by himself!
Monica helping Jett roll out the cookie crust for the tartlet.
The kids all took turns slicing up fresh fruits to top the tartlets with. Jett of course managed to snack on a few berries.
Ready to reserve your Children’s Cooking Class with Monica and Silvia? Let Savvy Nana Travel help you plan your family’s Italian vacation!!
Venice, a city in northwestern Italy’s Veneto region. It’s situated across 118 small islands separated by canals and linked by bridges. It’s a city of mystery, romance, culture, art, and so much more. Not all of its islands are linked to the Venetian “mainland” by bridges, there are many islands including Murano and Burano that due to their distance are linked only by watercraft.
Venice is one of our favorite cities. We try to get there at least once a year. So of course we’ve done the touristy things like hanging out at Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge. We’ve done the Basilica and Doge’s Palace tours, checked out Harry’s Bar and of course ridden the gondola. These are all worthwhile endeavors, don’t get me wrong, they are definitely the first timer’s must see and do things. But if you find yourself in Venice for the third or fourth time (believe me this is not a hardship!) or if you have an extra day or two in the city, it might be time to explore the Venetian Lagoon; particularly the islands of Murano and Burano!
First let me say if it is your first time in Venice and you only have a day or so then stick to the beaten path and enjoy the main attractions of the city.
Hang out at Florian’s or Quadri’s at Piazza San Marco. It’s pricey I know, but it’s part of my Venice routine. We splurge about €100 on drinks and snacks at one of these cafes and people watch. I can do it for hours!
Then check out the Basilica and Doge’s Palace, the Secret Itinerary tour is fascinating! Explore the markets by the Rialto bridge and yes go on that gondola ride! And don’t forget to hop on vaporetto #1 for the best ride on the Grand Canal! For more things to do on Venice click here!
Now that you’ve got that out of the way let’s explore further afield. There’s more to Venice then Piazza San Marco, the Rialto, and gondolas. Venice has islands! Lots of them in the lagoon and along the southern coast. In fact if you want to go further a field we can explore the Veneto!
But for now let’s just go to Murano and Burano. They’re pretty easy to get to via public transportation and are both picturesque little villages with local specialties to offer even the most avid shoppers.
Murano is a series of bridge linked islands in the Venetian lagoon. There are 7 islands linked by bridges over 8 channels. In 1291 Venetian glassmakers were forced to move to these islands due to the risks of fires. It quickly became known for the exquisite glass chandeliers, sculptures, and beads produced by the talented glassblowers.
To this day Murano is well known for its glass and crystals. Many of the companies that own historic glass factories on the island are some of the most important glass companies of the world.
Even if you’re not a glass enthusiast you won’t be able to resist the items you’ll find on the island.
Over the years I’ve brought home many Murano glass pieces including jewelry, vases, and even a huge tree with colorful birds perched on the branches. Oh, and I’ve also go a set of Murano glass pendant lamps. I’m working on acquiring a glass chandelier, I’ve just go to find a place for it in my house![spacer height=”-20px”]
Although shopping is a big part of Murano there are also churches and museums one can explore.
Murano is home to the Museo del Vetro or Murano Glass Museum in the Palazzo Giustinian.
We stumbled upon this giant glass abacus on display in one of the alleys leading to a restaurant. The kids thought it was pretty cool.
We passed this blue glass display in one of the piazzas on the way to the glass museum. Lot’s of surprises along the walkways of Murano!
And don’t forget the restaurants and gelatarias along the way. I’m sure you could use a cool drink or a creamy gelato during your wanderings!
Unless you’re a real big Murano glass fan and want to shop for some serious pieces a visit to Murano should take about 2-3 hours at best. Honestly we were there for under 2 hours before we made our way to the Faro station and hopped the vaporetto to Burano. A much more picturesque town in my opinion.
Further north in the Venetian lagoon closer to the island of Torcello is the small island of Burano. It’s about a 30 minute vaporetto ride away from Murano and is linked by bridge to the island of Mazzorbo.
Burano was likely settled by Romans in the 6th. Century. It became an important island in the 16th. Century when women on the island started making fine lace with needles. The lace was exported across Europe and in 1872 a lacemaking school was opened.
Today Burano is known mostly for it’s richly painted houses and of course lace. There are many shops offering lace but most of the lace is no longer handmade as it is a very time consuming method and very expensive.
It’s also known for it’s seafood restaurants that serve fresh seafood brought in everyday by the local fishermen. It is after all a fishing village as well.
Try the seafood linguine or the frito misto. You can’t go wrong![spacer height=”-20px”]
There’s not a whole lot to do on Burano other than eating, shopping, and wandering.
Wandering’s the best part! Just cruise around the islands crossing over bridges and enjoy the colorful homes in the different neighborhoods. I promise you won’t be disappointed!
Did you know that “The colours of the houses follow a specific system, originating from the golden age of its development. If someone wishes to paint their home, one must send a request to the government, who will respond by making notice of the certain colours permitted for that lot.”
If your more energetic and a stroll thru the village is too mundane you can explore a few other attractions including the Church of San Martino, with a leaning campanile and a painting by Giambattista Tiepolo (Crufixion, 1727), the Oratorio di Santa Barbara, and the Museum and School of Lacemaking
For me strolling thru the town with a yummy cone of gelato is more my speed.
It’s easy to get to Murano and Burano on the public Vaporetto water bus or ACTV. You can do both islands easily in a day. Some day trippers add Torcello to their day but I find it just too tiring specially with kids. (Torcello is an island in the northern lagoon. It was first settled in 452 and is often referred to as the island from whence Venice began. Today it’s a sparsely populated island with some old churches and homes.)
The easiest way to get to Murano is from the Vaporetto stop by the railway station Venezia Santa Lucia.
As you walk out of the main station go to the vaporetto stop on your right. You can purchase a ticket good for 70 Minutes heading in one direction, cost is €7.50 per person, kids under 6 are free. Or I find it cheaper to buy a day pass for €20 for adults and €15 for children over 6. It’s good for 24 hours from the first validation. You must validate it every time you board a vaporetto.
If Murano is your first stop take the #3 vaporetto, it’s known as the “Diretto Murano” and connects the 5 stops on the island to the railway station and Piazelle Roma. It runs about every 30 minutes. You can get off at any of the 5 stops on the island, the first one being Colonna.
If you miss the #3 water bus you can take the 4.1 or the 4.2 which are both circular routes that run from the railroad station to Murano stopping at Fondamente Nove, San Zaccaria (close to Piazza San Marco and the Doge’s palace), San Michele the Cemetery island, and a dozen other stops.
If you’re adventurous you could hop off at the Cimitero stop and explore the cemetery for a bit.
I’ve heard you can find some interesting old graves and vaults on the island as well as the church of San Michele.
If you’re on the 4.1 or 4.2 the Murano stops are Colonna and Faro. I like to get off at Colonna and stroll my way to the center parts of the island eventually making my way on foot to the Faro stop.
If you find your self far from the railroad station then make your way to the San Zaccaria stop to take the 4.1 or 4.2. Or you can make your way to the Fondamente Nove stop and catch the #3. 4.1., 4.2, or 12.
If you’re around the train station then take the 4.1 or 4.2 to Fondamente Nove and transfer to the #12 to Burano, if you want to go to Torcello stay on the vaporetto after the Burano stop and get off on Torcello.
If you’re on Murano then make your way to the Faro stop and hop aboard the #12. It will take you to Burano, the ride is about 30 minutes.
For a great view of Burano get off at the Mazzorbo stop and walk over the bridge to Burano. It’s a nice walk and a great introduction to the picturesque island of Burano.
The easiest and least crowded way to get back from Burano to the train station or even the Piazza San Marco area would be to take the #12 from the Burano stop heading towards Murano. Get off at the Faro stop in Murano and transfer to the #3. This gets you to the train station or Piazelle Roma. If you take the 4.1 or 4.2 it will take you to San Zaccaria, from there it’s a short walk to the Basilica or the Doge’s Palace.
Ready to plan your Venetian adventure? Let us at Savvy Nana Travel help you with all your travel needs. From budget to luxury travel and everything in between, at Savvy Nana Travel we are passionate about travel! 808-372-7734
My 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.
Loyalty 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”]
The 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.
They 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.
They 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.
Sailings 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!
One 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”]
During 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)
The 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.
The 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.
The 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.
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.
For 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.
Well 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
Family 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.
- All meals and snacks in “regular” dining venues.
Standard dining venues on most cruise lines are:
Main 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.
- 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
- 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.
Yay! 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.)
Aside 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!
Port 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!