Let’s catch up
Last night, we crossed the English Channel (towards the French side) and followed the internationally recognised TSS (Traffic Separation Scheme).
As the English Channel is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, there are various rules that ships must adhere to so they avoid any accidents (especially with the Dover – Calais crossing the opposite way to main traffic).
I didn’t check the weather before the cruise, as I have been to the ports before in the Winter and am happy to make adjustments based on rain or other factors.
However, the sea this time was especially calm – so much so that I never actually felt the ship move at all as we sailed into the English Channel and throughout the night – a delight for many that suffer from even mild seasickness! I prefer a bit of motion though, otherwise I may as well be on land!
As a seasoned cruiser, I like to think I have an idea of when is the best time to do things on a ship. Usually, on the first sea day after embarkation, you will find two things.
- People still have no idea where they are going.
- The buffet can be pretty busy – as it is the easiest to find!
On that basis, I usually either head to a restaurant for breakfast or (as it was a sea day and there was no rush to do anything) order room service breakfast the night before. You do this by hanging out a small card with your requirements on it before 2 am. Quick and easy.
If you book the Fantastica level MSC Experience (or above), you can get a continental-style breakfast for free in your cabin each morning by hanging out the aforementioned card – you are given 15-minute delivery slots between 7:30 and 10:00 am, and you can order coffees, teas, juices, cereal, toast, pastries, yoghurts – plenty!
Room service promptly arrived at 7:30am. I sat down and poured a coffee, looked out at the sea, still as calm as last night – but a bit hazy. All is good with the world.
Tip: You can actually use the room service breakfast just for coffee – so perhaps before you head to the buffet/restaurant or if you want a mid-morning coffee delivered post-buffet/restaurant! The ship doesn’t track where you have breakfast each morning – so you could, in essence, do all three (though good luck fitting into your clothes after a few days of doing that!)
A sea day
Today we will spend all day at sea as we make the long trek (437 nautical miles) between Southampton and Hamburg. We will join the River Elbe late tonight, around 11:45 pm and sail down the final 68 nautical miles of the River Elbe into Hamburg during the early morning hours.
The first thing I fancied doing after breakfast and packing things away was finding a good place to do some writing (for this blog) and editing the photos from yesterday.
I had looked at various deck plans before coming on board and noticed several different places which might be suitable – so off I went to visit them.
Now, on a sea day, you’ll usually find the most central bars/lounges are usually quite busy as people fill up those first – but what I have found on this ship is lots of small stool/breakfast bar seating in some of the lounges – this is perfect, as most people want a table of or more and these are usually in pairs.
I found myself a decent perch at Il Cappucino Bar (Deck 7 – ‘Rubino Deck’) – which, as the name suggests, is a coffee bar.
Someone quickly came round and took my order of a cappuccino (may as well try the bar’s namesake, right?), but around me, many were already drinking cocktails, spirits and beers.. it was just after 10:30 am, so why not?
A few cappuccinos later, I
was ready to take on the world had nearly finished the blog for yesterday and just had the photos left to edit and upload – awesome.
I took a quick wander around the main atrium (which is over several decks, adorned with glass elevators, sparkly staircases and various shops – more on those later) and then decided it might be time for a spot of lunch – but where to?
A more formal lunch
As it was, I had slowly but surely headed down each deck, looking around at what bars and lounges were where and I came across The Golden Lobster (Lower) restaurant on Deck 5 ‘Corallo Deck’. This is actually my assigned restaurant for my evening meals, but I have not been there yet.
On a sea day, it serves as the lunchtime main restaurant and is open from 12:00 until 13:30. The menus for lunch are posted outside the restaurant for you to read after breakfast, ideal if you are unsure if it will be something for you or not.
I choose a starter of Cardini’s Caesar Salad – which is actually an option from the ‘Always Available’ menu (i.e. nothing takes your fancy from the daily menu), followed by the Handcrafted spinach ravioli – which I must say, I always go for the pasta dishes on MSC ships because the pasta is made fresh, each day, on board!
For dessert, I had an Apple crumble pie with some vanilla ice cream – all food in this restaurant is included in your cruise fare (in fact, you could go to the buffet afterwards if you really wanted too..) – I had a nice glass of Pinot Grigio and some sparkling mineral water which was kept topped up by my waiter during my lunch.
View-wise – I had a fantastic 2-seater table with a huge porthole window of the sea going by – I truly love a sea day for experiences like this (beats watching the traffic queue slowly past the window out of a Zizzi’s any day)
Exploring the ship
After lunch, which I may add was a bit much for lunchtime for me really, I set about exploring some of the lounges that were mentioned in the Daily Planner.
The Daily Planner is delivered to your cabin every night and contains information on the port you are visiting next (unless it is a sea day), and a full timetable of everything you can do/watch/eat/drink/buy during the day – it is perfect as a reference and also includes daily special offers, some navigation information from handy internal phone numbers (Kids club, Spa, etc.).
As I was exploring the decks, I came across one of the many Cruise Card Activation points – these let you register a credit or debit card against your cruise account, which the ship will take payment from depending on what extras/shopping you buy onboard.
A quick swipe of my cruise card, a debit card and a push of a couple of buttons and 250 EUR has now been held against my card for anything I may spend onboard. Anything I don’t spend will be returned to me automatically at the end of the cruise (always worth checking your final bill on the last night, though – mistakes can happen, like at all hotels – hopefully in your favour, though!)
The evening & entertainment
This evening I decided I wouldn’t visit the restaurant again, as I had already had quite a large meal and the ‘I think I will go to the gym on this cruise‘ plan has not yet materialised. There is some still hope, it is early days.
Instead, I plan on visiting the buffet for a late-night snack!
I returned to my cabin after a spot of shopping (more on that in a later blog) and got changed before taking a nice 45-minute walk around the open decks. Looking out to sea was pretty much the same from all sides of the ship – hazy and with no amazing sunset due. I took photos of some of the exterior parts of the ship, and the inside pool, some bars and various ship things.
I went back to my cabin once again to drop off my camera, jacket and various other bits before a quick shower/change and set about visiting some of the bars/lounges and exploring.
I came across the Phoenician Plaza (Deck 6 ‘Diamante Deck’), which offers pastries and ice cream, live music and access to some shops.
I also visited (by accident – though it was on the ‘todo’ list) the La Locanda Pizzeria (Deck 7 ‘Rubino Deck’), which is a wine/pizza restaurant with little coves to sit in and had live music playing, too – there are certainly lots of little places to sit, enjoy music and some drinks/food on this ship. I hope 7 days is enough to visit them all!
A Late-night buffet visit
This is my first ‘Halloween at Sea’ – if you have never been on a cruise ship during a special holiday (Easter, Halloween, Christmas, etc.) – then you have certainly missed out – the ships LOVE to celebrate these events, and the crew particular find it enjoyable as it makes a big change to their usual day to day cruising (whilst one cruise is exciting for us, I expect visiting the same ports week in, week out will certainly feel more like a job than we would ever know!)
A good selection of the bars and screens around the ship are dressed up for Halloween – there are fake cobwebs everywhere, carved pumpkins, crew in costumes and many events planned for tomorrow evening (which is actually Halloween) – I love the fact the ship has really got into the spirit of it, and I am looking forward to seeing it in full swing tomorrow!
For now, though, I headed to the Inca/Maya buffet on Deck 14 ‘Smeraldo Deck’, where I am going to pick up some fresh pizza, and a drink and make notes for the next day’s blog.
On offer were four pizzas, ranging from Margherita, a charcoal-based pizza, one with four cheese (Formaggio) and a H*w*II*n Pizza (not to be talked about, because Italians don’t do pineapple on pizza!). Also offered were fruits, cheeses, cold meats and mini-club sandwiches – plus a full bar service.
I took a seat, and over time several tables filled up with people from the bars/clubs getting a late-night snack. The crew were still coming around at midnight asking if anyone wanted a drink and laughing and joking with passengers – it is a really lovely bond they make with you, and I have to say, I have never experienced anything like it with any other type of holiday. It’s great.
Internet & Bed
Before I head off to bed, I want to put down a quick note about the internet.
With MSC, you buy ‘devices’ – it isn’t per person, it is purely by device, and it is for the duration of the cruise (Tip: book before you go – save 15% service fee, which would be added onboard if you buy there).
When you buy a package, you can pick between two options – a basic ‘Browse’ package for reading news, email, etc. and a Browse and Stream package – for Netflix, YouTube and the like – I always pick the latter as I have no idea what I will need for work (I’ve not actually watched Netflix at sea, so can’t tell you how good it is – plus, it depends on so many variables – which ship, where you are sailing, how many passengers onboard and so on..)
The devices are locked when you register them – that means don’t register your Apple Watch and your Nintendo otherwise, you’ll be stuck with both of those only for the entire voyage – I always recommend at least one mobile is registered so that you can use Google for planning your next port and so on – you can’t unregister any devices, but you can buy additional if needed.
Usually, I have amazing internet service on MSC ships – I never have a problem uploading photos, being on Facebook and so on – but for this cruise, my cabin, unfortunately, seems to act as a faraday cage against all Wi-Fi signals – it really is a struggle to use Wi-Fi within this one cabin (that is not to say others suffer the same fate).
I have found a workaround, I can sit on my stool up against the door, and it works fine then – it is not the comfiest of places to blog or catch up on work, but it forces me out to one of the bars/lounges instead, and I can deal with it – it is a small price to pay realistically.
Before I retired to bed, I filled out my breakfast room service card again – I am going to get off the ship and explore Hamburg tomorrow, but want to be back early as I have some really important work I must do ready for something on Tuesday which I am sure you will all be excited about (I know I am, and I can’t drop a hint without giving it away – sorry!)
For now, though, we merrily sail along in the North Sea, barely rolling (that is, side to side) or pitching (that is, when the ship moves up/down front/back) – it is probably one of the calmest voyages I have ever experienced – let’s see if it stays that way!
Until tomorrow – good night!