This morning we sailed down the River Elbe, but whilst I was awake at 6:30 AM to try and capture some of the interesting scenery as we entered the city – the weather (and season) were not in my favour.
However, I did manage to take a photo of the Hamburg Pilot Boat as it dropped off its pilot to us last night.
A foggy beginning
It was not only pitch black (which I kinda expected) – but the fog was so thick that I couldn’t even see the edge of the river! I have no idea how the ship managed to safely navigate the river to the port, but I expect that not only is it something the Port Pilots are used to, but they have had to adapt to over time with Hamburg being the 20th busiest container port in the world. A few hours’ delay can have a big knock-on effect.
Either way, I went back to bed for a bit until my breakfast room service arrived just after 7:30am – we were slowly pulling into our terminal at this point, and the fog was just as heavy as before.
Hamburg is considered the main turnaround port for this ship during its short season when it calls into Southampton.
What does that mean? Well, traditionally, cruises start and finish at the same port and do not embark or disembark passengers along the voyage anywhere – which means you are literally all in the same boat when it comes to experience, time onboard and so on.
However, MSC Cruises do something a little bit different – they offer multi-embarkation or ‘legs’ with a vast majority of their cruises (not usually any in the US because of various laws and also not the majority of MSC Virtuosa‘s sailings) – but in the Med, you can usually get on one of their ships for as little as one night if you wanted (i.e., Genoa > Marseille) or perhaps board in Genoa for four nights and get off Palma, there are loads of options.
What this means is that for many people, their start and finish dates for their cruise are totally different – some people don’t like this because they like to make friends with people for the entire cruise (or their children might, for example). But on the upside, if there are people you don’t get on with – they may just be leaving tomorrow, days before the end of your cruise!
In all seriousness, though, what it actually means is that at each port, the ship isn’t super hectic, as some passengers are just getting off for the day, others at the end of their cruise, and it means at the end of your cruise, you don’t have to try and disembark with the entire ship! It also means that many more restaurants and such are open during each port for the passengers who are still on their voyage (compared to the ones joining that day).
I have made it sound more complicated than it actually is, but my point is that Hamburg (for this ship) is seen as the natural start/end to the voyage, and therefore, the farewell and welcome shows are tailored around the night before Hamburg and night of leaving Hamburg – which is a bit confusing if you joined in Southampton, I agree.
That said, my original point (there was one, I promise) is that disembarking in Hamburg wasn’t much hassle – as a HUGE amount of passengers were off super early because it was the end of their cruise and so when I left at 10:30am – I was off the ship within five minutes. A quick swipe of your cruise card and you enter the terminal building.
Outside the Hamburg Cruise Terminal (of which there are several – the larger MSC ships use the ‘Cruise Center Steinwerder‘) was a sign for the shuttle bus area.
At each port, you are free to get off and do your own thing. Some ports allow you to walk straight into the town/city, other ports require you to use a free port shuttle bus to take you safely out of the port operating area and drop you at the entrance.
Then there are ports like Hamburg where if you are at the above cruise terminal, you’ll need to get some transport into the city – it is a 15-20 minute bus journey, so not really walkable.
There are taxis outside if you prefer to hop into one of those, or you can get the MSC Shuttle Bus – this runs every 30-40mins and drops you right in the city (by some MSC flags – so you can find it when you want to come back!) – and they charge you per adult a fixed amount so you can ride it back and forth all day (if that is your thing)
The tickets are delivered to your cabin the night before and are pre-printed with your cabin, price and port. You fill in how many you want (i.e. if not all adults want to use it).
I filled out mine, and at a cost of 11 EUR (Adult), it was a no-brainer (it is 9 EUR for a child, by the way) – not all ports have the same charges, and some ports actually have free shuttle busses put on by the local council/trade department – to help boost tourism. But they can be seasonable and so you can’t always rely on them.
After taking the quick shuttle bus into Hamburg, we were dropped off on the edge of the Inner Alster Lake (or Binnenalster as it is known) this is a smaller lake of two man-made lakes right in the centre of Hamburg.
There are bookable excursions which take you here by coach, a quick tour on one of the boats, some time in Hamburg and then back to the ship – ideal if you don’t want to plan anything.
Alternatively, you can catch the shuttle bus and buy a ticket for one of the tours – however, be warned that not all of them are multi-lingual, and you may need to know a lot of German all of a sudden! The tours last around 45 minutes between the two lakes, and you get some interesting history about the buildings that are around the shoreline.
As I have been on the boats before, I decided this time I would take some photos and go look around the city a little bit – first off, I wanted to catch up with some work, so I found a cafe/restaurant (‘Mio Bistro Caffe Gelato’) which is right next to the Inner Alster Lake.
It was pretty busy, but I found a good table. They had an abundance of menus – like six..!? and each one of them had many pages of different salads, burgers, ice creams, basically everything. I took a quick look around to see what most people were eating (usually a good idea to see what is popular), but literally everyone had something different!
In a moment of panic (all menus were in German, and my waiter told me he knew English pretty well – but actually only ‘Hello’), I ended up ordering bruschetta and a second meal of burger, and fries – along with a Diet Coke and a Cappuccino (and a glass of water) – I hadn’t realised he was taking notes when I was reading out loud what I might have.
Anyway, it all arrived really quickly – within ten minutes, and it was fresh, pretty well displayed, and the place was clean and tidy. Total price 28.90 EUR (including mandatory service charge) – that was me full until later in the day at the very least.
After consuming enough food to seem polite that I didn’t want it all, I got up and took a wander around the lake edge, taking some photos of the tour boats. It was incredibly busy with people sitting on the lakeside (even though it was only about 14c) and sat chatting and socialising – it seemed almost like a weekend rather than a Monday.
Not Exploring Hamburg
Moments later, it struck me that actually, I had arrived in Hamburg during a Bank Holiday.
Reformation Day is a Protestant Christian religious holiday in Germany, and basically, everything was shut.
I knew it must be a big holiday, as even the Apple Store across the road from the lake was closed. Nevermind. Instead, I headed past it and down past all the high-fashion and designer jewellery shops – Cartier, Rolex, etc. – you’ll have to wait until I come back next time (which, as you’ll find out at the end of this series of blogs – is a lot sooner than you think!)
There is some amazing architecture in Hamburg, and I honestly think you need to spend a little time walking around it. I have heard it actually has more bridges over water between the buildings than Amsterdam (and there are a lot there).
I took some photos and looked around at the totally closed shops (even a good majority of cafes were closed!) before I headed back to the shuttle bus.
Before I did, though, I visited the area where the Hamburg Rathaus (Town Hall) is – this is the site of the largest Christmas Market that Hamburg runs each year – it usually starts towards the last week of November – right now, it is empty.
Back at the MSC Shuttle Bus pick-up point and thankfully, there was a bus waiting there, and I hopped on. Within 15 minutes, I was back at the port and about to board MSC Preziosa again.
The MSC crew in the terminal were clearly very ready for Halloween as a vast majority of them had either masks on or were fully dressed up in various costumes – I did mention yesterday how they liked to get into the spirit of it, and today really is showing it!
As it was the early afternoon, there were not many queues (there was a separate gangway for those embarking the ship for the start of their cruise vs those of us who had just got off the for the day) – and after a quick security check in the terminal and some photos along the gangways, I re-entered the ship and smelt that familiar Med by MSC homely smell.
Back on board
As I had already eaten the equivalent of two people’s meals – I clearly was not in the mood to eat, so instead, I headed up to my cabin, grabbed a drink from the mini-bar and sat on the balcony with my laptop.
That lasted all of about five minutes as it was absolutely freezing (but the fog had gone at least), and instead I planned my evening using the Daily Planner.
Tonight looks like a lot of Halloween stuff. I look forward to exploring the ship (still many venues to even look at, nevermind eat or drink in, and I promise I will get to the shows this week too – though the gym is looking further and further as a last-minute backup blog option)
I continued working in my cabin for a while, until a knock at the door – it was Helly, my cabin stewardess. She’s a lovely lady, really friendly, always a big smile on her face and wondering why on earth I am on my laptop so much when I am on a cruise – valid question, really.
She’s helped me get some drinks for my minibar (extra water, etc.) and also sorted out some extra towels for me. You can never have too many towels in a hotel/cruise ship.
As the ship wasn’t sailing until 9 pm, there was no rush for me to go do anything – I took a quick walk around the open decks, but it was pretty chilly and dark again. The city lights looked good – but I appear to have not taken any photos of it, only some of the MSC Halloween screens instead!
I returned to my cabin around 8.45 pm and stood on my balcony, watching the workers on the dockside throw the lines for MSC Preziosa, then turned to my right and saw a ghost.
Well, as it would seem, it appears that many of the newly embarked passengers also love to dress up for Halloween and the German girl in the cabin next to me was in full costume, ready for the evening, as a hybrid ghost/monster. It was a great costume, but it would have been weird to ask someone who I hadn’t even met 15 seconds ago for a photo for the blog – so, sorry about that!
The ship’s lines were heaved in by the
crew automatic winches onboard, and the ship slowly edged from the quayside and navigated its way back into the River Elbe.
If you get to visit Hamburg on any cruise ship – I suggest you either get up early to watch the sail in or stand on deck/your balcony to watch the sail out. It is quite a spectacle and the amount of ‘traffic’ in the river from tour boats, tugs, container ships and so on is astounding – it really is quite interesting.
Halloween on MSC Preziosa
After the ship had been sailing for around twenty minutes, I decided to head out to the ship and take a look around. There was a ‘Halloween Parade’ in the main atrium area of the ship, so I headed to Deck 7 ‘Rubino Deck’ to look down and spectate.
Many of the crew came out to what could be described as ‘horror music’ dressed in many different outfits, which I have to say were brilliant. No idea if any small children were scared or not, but they should have been in bed ;)
After this, I headed to the Galaxy Lounge (yes, a new venue in the blog, finally) – this is located on Deck 16 ‘Acquamarina Deck’ which, on the more recent ships, is a little bit like the MSC Virtuosa Sky Lounge (apart from during the day this one serves food).
At night, it is a nightclub – and wow – it was packed, I had no idea where the DJ was (or even if there was one) as the entire venue was absolutely covered in various Halloween decorations for as far as you could see.
The views from the Galaxy Lounge, I imagine are great during the day. Tonight though it was pitch black on either side, and all we saw were various container ships passing by.
After a drink or two here, I decided it was time to head to bed – we have a sea day tomorrow, and I want to make the most of it – starting with a super early breakfast (not room service, yes – new venue alert!)
Tonight we’ll drop off our pilot at the end of the River Elbe and head out to the North Sea again, where we’ll take a very steady route South on Tuesday, towards our next port of call, Rotterdam (on Wednesday)
Catch you all tomorrow!