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!

cruise

 

MSC Cruise – Never Again!

MSC Cruise – Never Again!

Last spring my family and I had the misfortune of going on an MSC Cruise, NEVER AGAIN!  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let me begin by saying that we are a family of avid cruisers.  We’ve all gone on many cruises with various cruise lines particularly Princess, Celebrity, and Royal Carribbean.  And this was NOT our first MSC Cruise, in fact it was our second.  We sailed on the MSC Lirica in Spring 2018; that was pretty bad!

So why you ask did we go yet again on another MSC cruise if the first one was so bad.  I guess the answer is price, MSC has some amazing cruise deals and most of the time kids sail free.  This is a huge deal when sailing with our daughter and son-in-law who have 2 kids and we usually take along one or two of our other grandsons.  So free cruise fare for kids staying in the same room with their parents or grandparents is a very big savings.

We also figured that due to our first bad experience on an MSC cruise our expectations were pretty low but because of the great price we could still go on MSC if only to get from port to port.  It’s definitely cheaper than flying to all those different places not to mention dragging kids and luggage, sorting out transfers to and from airports, booking hotel rooms, and finding a place to eating after a tiring day running around.  We figured as bad as an MSC cruise was it at least got us from port to port without schlepping luggage, provided a reasonably clean room to sleep in, and fed us after a long day at port, even if the only thing we found palatable was the pizza.  In short we were prepared to use the cruise sort of like a bus/hotel.  Sounded like a great idea at one time; but after this past experience I wouldn’t take an MSC cruise even if they gave it to me for free!  Yes it was that bad!

We sailed on the MSC Meraviglia on a 7 day round trip cruise from Rome’s port in Civittavechia.  At first glance w thought Wow!  This ship is amazing!  And it was!  the Meraviglia is one of MSC’s newest cruise ships that features state of the art technology, an amazing play area and pool for kids and adults, Cirque de Soleil shows, a chocolate shop, an awesome arcade complete with 3D simulators and F1 Racers, and first of it’s kind on sea digital display ceiling!

And that was where the Wow factor ended.  Everything else was mediocre at best and terrible most of the time.

The food was mediocre at best, the buffet served the same thing pretty much the whole 7 days.  Breakfast had bland made to order omelets (assuming you could fight the hoards and actually order one), runny tasteless scrambled eggs, under cooked bacon swimming in fatty oil, and only sunny side up fried eggs.  The best thing at breakfast was the croissants and other pastries at the bakery section.  Lunch pretty much consisted of pasta, pizza, and some type of ethic food like paella one day which everyone fought to get to.  And dinner was a rehash of the same things.

 

The buffet layout was weird to say the least, it had a narrow aisle which everyone squeezed thru and blind corners where the ethnic foods were so that one pretty much had to claw one’s  way to.  And as huge as the buffet area was there were never ever enough tables and that’s because service was so bad.  Buffet staff took their time clearing off tables during the meal rushes.  Yup there were tables but you pretty much had to clear the plates yourself or find personnel willing to do so.  Of course if you were Italian you got much better service than guests of other nationalities, it is after all an Italian company.

Now I talked about service, actually I should say the terrible service.  Again we noticed if one was Italian it seemed they got better service than the rest of us.  The bad service was every where, in any dining venue except possibly the main dining room because you did get to know your waitstaff if you had fixed dinner seating.  If you didn’t have fixed dinner seating all I can say is good luck finding someone to help you make reservations and find your table.

Bad service abounded from every bar and cafe on board, to the shops, to the specialty restaurants whose menus and packages were out right confusing and the pricing highway robbery!  Even the customer service desk and the shore excursion desk had very bad customer service.  If you complained (we complained daily because our neighbors in the next cabin would pound on the walls, run down the hallway, and scream and yell every night between 2:30 to 4:30 am!)  it was never dealt with.  In fact we were never believed, because it seems they decided that I loved getting up every night at 2:30 am to call customer service to tell them my neighbor was knocking on the door.  And then there was the time those same neighbors spent an afternoon on their balcony while we were docked in Barcelona tossing bread at the seagulls.  Yup everyone just loves to have frantic seagulls dive bombing their balcony as the birds fight for the bread.  Of course customer service didn’t believe us.  Did I mention our neighbors were Italian?

And the shore excursions!  They sold us round trip shuttle bus tickets to Marseilles, unfortunately they didn’t tell any of us, there were fellow passengers with us at the shuttle stop, that there would be no MSC shore excursion staff to help you at the shuttle stop in the heart of Marseilles, and that the buses don’t stop to pick up returning passengers at the shuttle stop if they don’t feel like it and they don’t follow the posted schedule unless they want to.  So yes we all appreciated waiting almost an hour for a return bus that was scheduled to pick up every 15-30 minutes.  We especially loved the fact that it as very cold and raining while we watched the buses pass by without stopping to pick us up.  It was a great experience for the infants and toddlers that were there too.

Of course those of us who had to wait at the bus stop marched over to the shore excursion desk to complain.  In a nutshell we were told that there was supposed to be MSC staff at the bus stop but he’d have to check out why they weren’t there (could it be because it was cold and raining?), and that the shuttle bus was contracted to a local company by MSC and therefore MSC has no control over what they do.  Really?

Ok all this was pretty bad and we had already decided this would be our last MSC cruise, the free cruise fare for the kids just wasn’t worth the aggravation of everything they put us thru.  But the final straw came on the last day after we disembarked from the ship.  We were already on the train to Rome when I handed my grandson Devon what I though were his new airpods which I had found the night before on his pillow.  At that time I thought how nice, the cabin attendant (I don’t know who it was because said person never introduced his or herself and I saw several different people cleaning our room during the cruise) kindly placed the airpods and the case on the pillow so that we wouldn’t forget them.  I put them in my purse for safekeeping.  (mind you Devon wasn’t allowed to remove the airpods from the room.  He only used them while in our room to avoid loosing them.)

So on the train I gave them to him to use during the ride.  He immediately told me that someone had switched his airpods for a broken pair.  And sure enough they had been switched.  How do we know?  Well his new pair were in excellent condition and paired to his iphone as Devon’s Airpods, the pair that I had thought were his popped up on his iphone as John’s Airpods; Devon’s Airpods were not on the train with us.  Not to mention there are no Johns in our family and John’s airpods would not charge up.  So I can only deduce that one of the people servicing our cabin was a thief and switched the airpods for  his broken pair.

As many cruises as we’ve been on, well over 30, we have never had anything stolen from us.  Bad enough to steal but even worse when you’re stealing from a child!

This was the final straw I will NEVER sail on an MSC Cruise EVER AGAIN!

All I can say is that if you do sail with MSC keep your valuables locked up and your expectations very low!

 

 

3 Tips for Renting a Cool Airbnb Apartment

3 Tips for Renting a Cool Airbnb Apartment

Have you heard about Airbnb? This is a platform that allows you to rent other people’s apartment or home, especially when you are away on a trip. It enables you to save a few bucks that you would have spent renting an expensive hotel somewhere in town. An Airbnb coupon code allows you to pay further less money than other individuals who rent houses using the platform. It is, therefore, one of the perfect means of ensuring that you experience an enjoyable stay at your place of visit at a pocket-friendly price. But you wouldn’t want to feel cheated after finding that you’ve actually overspent instead of saving some funds? There’s a perfect way of ensuring that your experience with Airbnb is a blessing rather than a frustrating moment. On that note, you need to check on the following tips of renting an apartment on Airbnb.

  1. Negotiate the price before settling

Your primary aim of renting an Airbnb apartment is to ensure that you spend as little as possible on accommodation to free up funds for use in other activities during the trip. Therefore, you need to negotiate for the lowest possible price before making a payment. On the Airbnb website, there’s a button that indicates “Request to Book” where you need to click when making a booking. If you intend to negotiate the price, don’t click on the button first. Instead, click “Contact this host” and it will prompt you to indicate the dates that you are willing to stay in the house. Put this data in the necessary slots, and this will guarantee you of a place in the house that you are booking even though you don’t pay at first. From here, you can then negotiate with the house owner for the best price, and once you’ve agreed, you can proceed to make the payment.

2. Booking for more days than you need can be cheaper

You can save a lot of money while booking on the Airbnb platform if you are keen on the special offers they have for their users. At times, there are particular offers that enable you to save more if you book a number of days, say, one week. For instance, if you intended to stay for five days at a standard  price of $ 800, you might find a similar home with a special offer of 7 days at $ 750. In such a case, it’s evident that you stand saving $50 should you pick the special offer.   So, consider checking out such special offers before you select an apartment on Airbnb.

3. You can visit the place before you book

If you happen to be already at the area that you intend to stay in during your vacation, you can pay a physical visit to the place that you intend to stay in after identifying it on Airbnb. This will enable you to evaluate whether it is exactly where you would like to stay and has the facilities you need in an ideal apartment. Remember, booking first can be tricky as you may find out that the place is not as attractive as you thought. After visiting the apartment and you are satisfied that it is perfect for your stay, you should pay via Airbnb platform. This is a precautionary measure to ensure that you are not scammed which is a possibility if you pay directly to the house owner.

When you follow the tips mentioned above, you might save some bucks and will be able to choose a perfect home away from home through Airbnb.

3 Reasons to Sail Around Europe

3 Reasons to Sail Around Europe

Europe

It is without a doubt that Europe is one of the most beautiful continents in the world. The continent is a haven for sailing, from the beautiful scenery to its historical richness, Europe is a continent oozing of natural beauty. There are also many glamorous sailing destinations to choose from.

If sailing around your Europe is part of your bucket list, then check out SailingEurope.com for amazing deals and packages. We help to make the decision to cross it out from the list sooner rather than later. Here are some of the top three reasons why you should definitely look forward to sailing around Europe.

Europe

1. Beautiful Sailing Destinations

When deciding to sail around Europe, you will be spoilt for choice with the many beautiful destinations to choose from. Depending on your preference and budget, to mention but a few, here are a couple of destinations you can choose from.

I.            French Riviera, France – This is one of the most beautiful sailing destinations in the world. You will be treated to the Celebrity Haunt Saint-Tropez, Coastline stopping off the Cannes and the Millionaire Playground.

II.            Ionian Island, Greece – This would be a great place to begin with sceneries such as whitewashed beautiful villages, traditional taverns, and rugged mountains

III.            The Dalmatian Coast, Croatia – Offers beautiful sun-soaked beaches, rich cultures from the beautiful traditional way of life of the people and hidden coves

IV.            Sporades Islands, Greece – Located in the East Coast, you get to sail through the beautiful Islands with rich vegetation, maintained green-blue waters and experience the people’s traditional rich cultures.

V.            Bay of Naples, Capri and Amalfi Coast, Italy – If you are a lover of wine and great traditional food, this is the place to start. You will also experience beautiful sunny shores, towns, and Isles.

Europe2.   Multiple Destinations Immersion

Imagine hanging out in the Volcanic Island of Ischia in the morning, wine tasting in Montalcino, Mecca in the afternoon and an intimate setting to recharge from a long day of discovery in the evening as you sail through to the next destination. This is most definitely possible when sailing through Europe. You are exposed to multiple destinations and cultures to choose from and experience at your leisure.

Europe3. Exposure to Many Different Cultures

 

Europe is a fairly large continent with 50 countries and numerous ports. It is, however, small enough to sail around. Every destination you chose offers a different experience from the people and their way of life to the food and drinks. You get to learn and appreciate the different traditions set by the locals and passed from generation to generation. You will get to learn new expressions, experience foreign languages and visit some of the famous cultural places like Ireland. All these aspects will bring you one step closer to all the great and beautiful things in the world and also influence you positively to appreciate the different ways of life.

Well, there you have it. All that is left now is for you to get your traveling gear ready, choose your first sailing destination in Europe and you are good to go.

 

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.

[spacer height=”-20px”]

 

 

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

cruise

 

 

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!