Our first port call
Today we are in Le Havre, France. The ship travelled just 78 nautical miles across the English Channel last night and we were awoken by the ship performing a 180-degree turn in the port and slowly going astern (backwards) into her berth. The ship tied up and gangways were lowered.
Today, some of MSC Magnifica’s guests will leave the ship for various excursions, including Honfleur and Paris. Although most Europeans would never dream of visiting Paris from Le Havre, if this is your only visit to France and you are from afar, then it makes sense. For us, we’re staying local in Le Havre.
We headed up to the Sahara buffet and helped ourselves to a delicious breakfast. The choice is pretty big. Both sides are a mirror of each other, with the addition of one side having an egg station (boiled, scrambled or fresh omelettes). It wasn’t too busy (we visited at around 8am) and we choose to sit out on the terrace on the rear of the ship. The forecast for Le Havre is sunny with a high of around 16c, a pleasant change from 6c in Southampton the day before!
After breakfast, we headed to the Le Gocce bar on Deck 6, located near the reception and grand stairway and each enjoyed a cappuccino, before heading back to our cabin and picking up our equipment ready to explore.
Leaving the ship is a relatively simple process. Head to Deck 6 and follow the signs dotted around the venues. Eventually, you’ll come to the security point and gangway. Here you show your cruise card and are swiped out (make sure you make note of when you should be back on ship!) – It is handy to note that taking a copy of the daily program with you is useful, as it has the ship’s port agent contact details on it – this is especially useful if for whatever reason you are going to be late back to the ship.
Like planes that need to leave an airport, most ships have a time they have to leave the port by – this is not just dependent on them getting to their next destination, but also their slot with the pilot who helps guide the ship out of port and more importantly, if the port is tidal it may only be able to enter or leave at certain times.
There are several options when leaving the terminal to get to the city. You can get a taxi (there are normally a few waiting right at the terminal entrance) it is a very short ride (5-8 minutes). You can also use the Le Havre shuttlebus – tickets are available at the terminal and cost 4 Euros per person (return). Finally, you can walk into the city from the terminal, this takes around twenty minutes and is ideal if you’ve found the buffet on the ship with ease, but not explored the gym onboard yet (like us!). The walk is fairly straightforward; head out of the port gates and go left at the roundabout – the city is in front of you. There is usually someone from Le Havre tourist board handing out free city maps as you leave the ship or you can pick one up from inside the terminal.
Exploring Le Havre
We headed out of the port and walked past the city marina and along to the beach. Today (1st May) is actually Labour Day in France and the French acknowledge their holidays quite seriously – hence everything was closed apart from a street market in the centre and the odd cafe! It is unfortunate, but that is just how port visits fall sometimes. I can’t tell you how many times I have cruised into Stavanger (Norway) on a Sunday by chance – everything is closed there too!
As you walk alongside the marina, you’ll see many apartment blocks lining the shore, offering fantastic views of the port and out to sea. Pass the marina, you’ll see the beach, which is mainly pebbles, rather than golden sand, but you can still sit there quite comfortably. Next to it is also a popular skate park.
We found an unpopulated area of the beach and unpacked the drone. The flying conditions today were absolutely perfect, visibility was over 10 miles, no wind and everything was good to go. We took the drone up and out to sea, spun around and took some shots of the marina, the port and the city itself. We’ll have a video for you when we get back but for now a couple of quick photos (plus the one at the top of this post!)
After sitting on the beach for a while and people-watching we decided to have a wander through the city centre to see if there was any activity. As we headed into the city, we noticed a number of roads closed off – the city had an open-air market that day and it was a mixture of second-hand goods and a few food producers from the region combined with plenty of stalls selling fabrics.
We took a couple of photos of the city and then headed into the main square. There is a monument to those lost in the Second World War and an open stretch of water that is topped up twice a day with the tide. Talking of the tide, Le Havre is an extremely tidal port, with the water level changing by around 4.5m each tide. This became apparent when we left the ship down a fairly steep gangway, but on return, it was only a small incline back onboard!
Enroute back we visited The Container Cantene (The Container Chain) – a modern art sculpture installed in 2017 that was only meant to last a year, but has proved so popular that it may stay for good! It is built from 36 brightly coloured containers that form two chain links 25m high. They symbolise Le Havre’s important link to the sea. The name Le Havre actually means “the harbour” or “the port” and its inhabitants are known as Havrais or Havraises.
We headed back to the ship, getting some clear views of MSC Magnifica brightly shining in the hot sun. As we entered the port, AIDAmar sounded her whistle three times and set sail from her berth. We entered the terminal building and joined the security line. Coming back on board is a breeze, show your cruise card to the security staff at three checkpoints (one to get in the port, once in the security queue and finally again as you enter the ship) you are then back onboard.
Back onboard and sail away
We headed to La Barchetta bar on Deck 13. The bar itself was quite quiet, but a few people were enjoying the pool and jacuzzis. We enjoyed a couple of Sea Breeze cocktails – which were highly refreshing after all the walking around Le Havre.
Returning to our cabin we plotted our evening activities, due to the late sail away it meant we’d have to skip dinner in the main restaurant again if we wanted to capture any of it. I wonder if our tablemates are wondering why we’ve never shown up once? (sorry if you are reading this!)
We headed back to up Deck 13 for the sail away – passing via the outdoor pool, which has just had several days of the crew working hard on it, painting and varnishing the teak surroundings – it looks absolutely stunning and will be made available to passengers tomorrow on our first sea day. Plenty of people were all sat around the pool and upper decks, enjoying the heat with hardly any breeze. The temperature actually crept up to 21c yesterday afternoon, a nice welcome!
We made our way to the rear of the Sahara buffet and outside to the terrace seating area. This really is a hidden gem, I don’t think the majority of cruisers on the ship are aware if you keep on walking to the very back you can access this area! We set up our equipment and enjoyed a cold drink whilst waiting for the sail away.
At 7pm, MSC Magnifica let go of her lines forward and aft and slowly started her journey out of the port. The Le Havre pilot boat followed us close behind ready to take the pilot off when he had finished guiding our ship back into the English Channel. The view from the stern of the ship was beautiful, Le Havre was basked in the evening Sun and it started to set as we gently sailed out of the harbour waters.
You could tell that we were now back into the English Channel by the familiar gentle movements of the ship rolling very slowly side to side. As we were located by the Sahara buffet we decided to eat there again. This time, we both enjoyed fresh lasagne with a side of salad. Table service for drinks was quick again, you just press a button on the table and someone comes over to take your order for you.
After dinner, we got changed and went to explore the ship. We caught the tail end of the opera that was on and the audience engagement was noticeable, everyone seemed to be having a great time. We visited the Atlantic City Casino on Deck 7 to see what games were on offer, the usual fare of Blackjack, Roulette and Slot machines were there and the nice thing about this casino is how spacious and well laid out it is.
After that, we headed to the shops on Deck 6 and saw what was on offer – from bags and watches to jewellery and even lego – there is something for everyone on here. The MSC Logo shop is worth a visit – you’d be surprised at how many different MSC-branded goods you can get!
After a quick drink in the Purple Bar on Deck 7 (next to the shops), we headed back to our cabin for the evening. After setting up our many devices to charge overnight we felt the ship starting to move a little more than before. Checking the weather information on the TV it became apparent we now had 60-70km/h headwinds against the ship, as they aren’t directly on the bow they are causing the ship to move in a strange motion, a little like a corkscrew effect. This was exaggerated by the fact we are at the front of the ship, high up on Deck 12.
MSC Magnifica is now making her way to her next port of call, Leixoes, Portugal which is 737 nautical miles from Le Havre. We will sail out of the English Channel tomorrow and through the Bay of Biscay, on our first sea day.
Thanks for reading and don’t forget you can ask us any questions via our social media channels whilst we’re onboard!