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Old July 1st, 2009, 07:33 AM
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Default MSC Splendida Handover and Christening Ceremonies

July 3rd I flew to St Nazair, France, to witness the handover ceremony for MSC Splendida from the STX shipyard to MSC Cruises.

Here I recount the entire week of events from the handover to the following cruise (one week) ending with the christening ceremony in Barceloa featuring Sophia Loren.

The final ceremony was spectacular and if you want to see video of it just scroll down. Please continue to read the report and examine the pictures, however.

We start this report with the handover, then we sail out of the shipyard for the first time. This is followed by a week-long first cruise with passengers to Portugal and Spain. We examine the ship in detail.

Finally, we end in Barcelona where Sophia Loren boards the ship. The ceremony is spectacular and there is a ton of video I hope to upload soon. I have one video here of the actual christening where the champagne breaks and fireworks ensue.





[img
Jose Carerra Sings

/gallery/galleries/5142/83278.jpg
After Champaagne breaks fireworks ensue

[img]/gallery/galleries/5142/83279.jpg[/img]
Confetti Cannon

[img]/gallery/galleries/5142/83284.jpg[/img]
Confetti Explosion
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Old July 2nd, 2009, 09:03 AM
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Thanks Paul,

Glad to see that cruisemates is taking interest in this cruiseline. I for one will be anxiously awaiting the details of your trip.

Michelle
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Old July 2nd, 2009, 02:37 PM
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Michelle...

We are glad to see yo are interested in this cruise line since I am going a long way to cover this.

Seriously, though. We felt our coverage on MSC was too thin so we contacted them to see what we could do - and now here we are. Keep watching this space!

This handever ceremony will be in th shipyard and I will be spending the night in the shipyard. The next day we sail out towards Barcelona where the Sophia Loren will preside over the naming ceremony. It should be interesting.
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Old July 3rd, 2009, 04:14 PM
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Default Day - we arrive at Splendida

Hello everyone. I am onboard the MSC Splendida. This is a 133,000-ton ship, 10% larger than anything Carnival has, and we are staying on it tonight in the shipyard. Now, here is the weird part, there are only about 40 of us staying onboard tonight. We were brought to stay here because we had to fly in a day early and it makes more sense to bring us here than to stay in a hotel with transportation, etc.

Tonight at 7:00 I went to the dining room which was supposed to open at 7:00 for dinner. At 7:05 I had to knock on the door to get them to come and open it. Inside there were almost as many waiters working as there were diners. That is the strange part, although there are only a very small number of people onboard much of the crew is on duty, at least in certain areas.

My press associate and I each have a special “MSC Yacht Club” cabin. These are beautiful suites with commanding views over the bow of the ship. Just outside my balcony, almost close enough that I can reach it, is the champagne bottle they will be using tomorrow for the official “hand over” ceremony. This is where the cruise line takes control of the ship from the shipyard.

In the distance less than a mile away is Norwegian Epic, still not as far along as I thought she might be (don’t worry, I am not saying she will be late, I am just saying I am not an expert in shipbuilding). She has a full superstructure, but much of her still appears to be steel. Not much skin on her yet.

This suite has the most beautiful colors I have ever seen in a suite – rich dark wormwood for all the woodwork, and the carpet and drapes in a royal blue. There are two flat screen televisions and great lighting effects. One new trend you will definitely see in future ship cabins is dramatic lighting, it is amazing how much classier the right lighting makes a room feel.

These Yacht Club suites come with a fully stocked mini-bar, no charge for drinks, and access to a very special concierge lounge with breakfast, lunch and dinner specialties you won’t get anywhere else on the ship. So far, all of the help has been extremely friendly and competent. OK, maybe they don’t always speak the best English (most of them do), but they try and most importantly they make sure they understand what you need. The worst thing is when a staff person pretends to understand you when they really don’t. So far that has not happened here.

I am exhausted, but I am really glad I came to see an MSC ship. This is my first one and so far it appears I am really going to enjoy this.
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Old July 3rd, 2009, 04:22 PM
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[img]/gallery/galleries/5136/83077.jpg[/img]

bottle of champage outside my window (cool!) - NCL NorwegianEpic is far in the BG, you can see her smokestack and the forward concierge cabins.

[img]/gallery/galleries/5136/83078.jpg[/img]

A picture of my beautiful Yacht Club suite on Splendida.

More pics and text tomorrow. Time to catrch up on my sleep!
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Old July 3rd, 2009, 04:46 PM
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http://www.cruisemates.com/gallery/view.php?id=5136

see the whole photo gallery here (above)

[img]/gallery/galleries/5136/83083.jpg[/img]

Closeup of Norwegian Epic in the distance (I am only showing this because so many peopl expressed an interest in the ship in the Oasis thread).
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Old July 4th, 2009, 07:35 AM
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Default Flag handover ceremony

we just had the handover ceremony to transfer the ship from the shipyard at SDt Nazair France to the company, MSC Cruises. The pictures are really good and I have a video of the champagne bottrle breaking - a ceremony which is tyoically done at the naming ceremony which will be held in a week in Barcelona with Sophia Loren as the Godmother.

Please enjoy the pictures. There is one of the bridge overhead where you can see an officers feet in the peephole that looks straight down.

[img]/gallery/galleries/5136/83099.jpg[/img]

Then there are the before and after pictures of the flagpoles:

[img]/gallery/galleries/5136/83100.jpg[/img]

[img]/gallery/galleries/5136/83102.jpg[/img]

There is lining up the champagne

[img]/gallery/galleries/5136/83097.jpg[/img]

and a closeup of the champage bottle with the new ships in the BG )the one being built is the MSC Magnifica)

[img]/gallery/galleries/5136/83095.jpg[/img]
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Old July 4th, 2009, 08:04 AM
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Splendida Day 2

So far, this is proving to be a very nice ship, however, we are just getting our first load of passengers right now. Last night was eerily quiet as another journalist and myself were the only people onboard.

Today all of the cruise line executives are here, and we just finished the “handover ceremony” as you saw in my previous pictures. The bottle of champagne was suspended literally right outside my balcony so I had a fantastic view of the entire ceremony. I have a video of the champagne breaking but I just have to figure out a way to get it uploaded for you. The Internet service onboard does not seem to like my main FTP program.

The shipyard was represented by several people all wearing hardhats. The marched to the tree flagpoles in front of the ship and took down the flag of the STX shipyard and the flag of France. Then removed the flags and folded them and then took out the flags of MSC cruises and the flag of (I believe) Panama, the official nation of flagging the vessel. Those flags were connected and raised.

A few speeches later (the entire ceremony was in Italian as this is an Italian cruise line) someone ascended the platform and “chopped” the rope holding the magnum of champagne into suspension by a long ribbon. That sent the champagne flying and breaking against the hull of the ship. With that, streamers and confetti were shot out of cannons on the dock and it filled the air. The music played.

I am uploading the video to YouTube right now since my FTP program wants to time out.

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Old July 4th, 2009, 09:32 AM
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To where are you sailing or are you there only for the ceremonies? I could get used to that stateroom in a hearbeat. Hope you'uns have a grand time.

Todd
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Old July 4th, 2009, 03:44 PM
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Wow what a great experience.

Loved the look of the stateroom.
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Old July 5th, 2009, 02:44 AM
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Default Day 3

Day 3

A few hours after the flag ceremony it was time for this ship to take to the high seas for the first time since the short sea trials. This is the first time she has carried passengers. When a ship is built in a shipyard the locals watch her take shape from the bow up. She is a permanent fixture in her berth for well over a year. Many of the locals work on her at various points in time.

So, when it was time to drop the lock that had held her in her berth a tugboat came and tied up to the stern and help to pull her straight out of the tight space and into the bay at St Nazaire, France. There were thousands of locals standing on shore waiting to see her leave, and they all broke out in applause once the ship was fully in the bay. Naturally, we were all out of deck, thousands of us, watching them watch us.

[img]/gallery/galleries/5136/83103.jpg[/img]
crowds line the shore to see the ship take her first cruise


[img]/gallery/galleries/5136/83104.jpg[/img]
The tugboat ties on to the bow of the ship to pull her from the narrow dock

As we turned to sail we got the best view of NCL Epic yet (I have pictures) from the stern. As we proceeded forward suddenly a fireboat came alongside and saluted us with long plumes of seawater from it firehoses sending waves of water through the air and created a dual rainbow. Locals in speedboats, yachts, jet skis and even a helicopter escorted us from the harbor for several miles. It was exhilarating to be part of such a grand celebration.

[img]/gallery/galleries/5136/83109.jpg[/img]
Fireboat leaves plumes of rainbows


[img]/gallery/galleries/5136/83110.jpg[/img]
jet skis and power boats escort us from the bay

http://www.cruisemates.com/gallery/view.php?id=5136
See ALL of the pictures at the photo gallery here

After a lot of picture taking yesterday afternoon I finally hit my wall after traveling 6000 miles and decided to turn in early. I checked out the room service menu and found it to be fairly limited. The only things like a meal they have is a club sandwich or a smoked salmon sandwich (neither warm). One must remember this ship caters to Europeans, so don’t expect the usual fare you will get when sailing on a US-based line. No hamburgers or pizza in the room service.

You can get a cheese platter, a Mediterranean salad, a bowl of fresh fruit or the dessert of the day. The only hot food is the soup of the day. What is even more surprising is that outside of the Yacht Club cabins (which include a LOT of prepaid extras in your cruise fare) you will be charged for almost anything you order from room service. The club sandwich is 3.30 Euro (almost $5.00). Everything comes with a price if you order room service from a standard (non-Yacht Club) cabin.

This is also surprised me.

In the buffet area or the dining room you can get regular coffee or fruit juice free of charge. I asked for an iced tea in the buffet area and the server asked for my card. I asked how it was and he said “I think 3.30 Euro”. It turns out that is because the iced tea is served in a can – like a soda. This will be a surprise to Americans who drink iced tea like water. If you are the kind of person who always buys a soda with your meal then no problem. Special coffees with any meal come with a service charge, just like on any ship. All the coffee served onboard is that heavy, thick and bitter European-style brew. For room service it comes in a porcelain teapot which allows it to cool down within minutes. They would do well to get more insulated coffeepots for room service.

The Yacht Club concierge lounge is a beautiful room overlooking the bridge of the ship with magnificent sea views over the bow. There are booths next to the windows each with a flat panel television that feature a variety of programming including free very recent release movies. They are also have travelogues and other things to watch. This is handy since to rent a movie in your cabin costs E. 9.90 (almost $15).

They also serve appetizer portions of excellent food in the lounge in individual plates. These are absolutely delicious. Brie and apples, pea soup, chocolate mousse are example. The concierge said I as allowed to order these appetizing dishes for delivery in my cabin.

The Yacht Club information booklet in my suite said that we receive a “proprietary menu” for room service. But that was all it said. I asked my butler where it was and it is apparently the same menu as everyone else, described above, except with no prices. So, I called the concierge and explained that I needed to catch up from my jet lag but that I really preferred some hot food. She checked with her superior and told me they could serve the Concierge lounge menu in my stateroom.

So I had pea soup, a salad with anchovy and a surprisingly large tenderloin filet that melted in my mouth. When you add in the free mini-bar where I obtained potato chips and a soda, it was a perfect meal.

I was dying for something interesting to watch on the cabin television. But on MSC here in Europe there is not much for English-speaking people to watch. The ubiquitous CNN International, plus BBC News (I watched a piece on how to select the right wood for cricket bats). Then suddenly CNBC came on with repeats from the first week of the new Conan O’Brien Tonight Show. That kept me up past my bedtime.

I bit the bullet and rented Frost / Nixon for about 10 Euro. Yes, it seems like a lot of money, but I have lost $20 in 10 minutes in so many cruise ship casinos just because I was bored and meandered in, I realized I could more than justify the cost of the movie just by heading to my cabin instead of the casino. Plus, there is a “save” feature where if you “save” a spot in the movie towards the beginning of it you can back to it at any time during the cruise even if you have already watched the whole film. Basically, it is your movie throughout the cruise.

It is now day three and I have caught you up. The butler brought my breakfast and I will soon face the ship now full of people with my first full night of needed sleep under my belt.

So far, this ship is beautiful and I have a number of new pictures to share with you in the photo gallery. I had heard MSC ships are stunning and I agree. This is a very tasteful ship with fountains, modern art statues, plenty of theme rooms such as an Italian Piazza that has tiled benches and gelato. The nice thing is that the decor is never pretentious, silly or resembling the sometimes faux quality of Carnival, for example.

Now it is time to see how crowded this 133,000-ton ship feels now that it is full. There isn’t a soaring atrium or a wide-open promenade as one might expect on a ship this size. There isn’t even a long walkway as you see on the Carnival mega-ships. I am interested in how the crowd flow works here. More later.

BTW: I am posting from the Internet here in my cabin. What an excellent connection, it is very fast being a wired connection. I believe most of the ship has wi-fi should you want to use it, but here in the Yacht Club suites you have access to a special concierge lounge where they will give you an ethernet cable and hook you right in.

FYI: If you are reading this Sunday Morning I will be postingmore pictures soon.
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Old July 5th, 2009, 02:55 AM
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We started in the shipyard at St nazaire France. This is the ship they were originally going to use for the G8 summit here in Europe. Then there was an earthquake in Italy and the Italian president chose to move the location at the last minute. That was supposed to be this week!

So, they turned it into a revenue cruise at the last minute. We arwe sailing to Vigo and Lisbon Portugal, Mallorca and eventually Barceloa where we will have the naming ceremony presided by godmother SOPHIA LOREN.

That is different from the handover ceremony, but I suspect i will have the same spectacular view.
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Old July 5th, 2009, 05:06 AM
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I just returned from our first full-ship breakfast. I have to say that based on pre-cruise reports I had received from readers about MSC ships that I am totally surprised at how excellent this buffet is. They offer hot fried eggs, omelets, scrambled eggs – no waiting, they put them in trays that actually keep the food warm.

The bacon and sausage is delicious, plump thick-skinned sausage little sausages, not the mealy breakfast sausage we get in the States. There are all kinds of cereal, fresh fruit, toast, croissants, breakfast meats and sliced sausage meats along with herring, lox and other Germanic cuisine. When you combine all of the possible breakfast preferences for the likes of Europe you come up with an astounding array of possibilities.

[img]/gallery/galleries/5136/83114.jpg[/img]

So, it is highly recommended to get out of your cabin and have the breakfast buffet, which stays open until 10:00 am. Room service is not a priority for Europeans, as I mentioned. But to make up for it they make getting out of your cabin more than worthwhile.

I noticed they have some actors in costume, which seems to delight the kids. I did know they did this. I just wanted to post these pictures of our departure and then I will be out to explore the ship again.

[img]/gallery/galleries/5136/83113.jpg[/img]
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Old July 5th, 2009, 07:43 PM
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Fabulous pictures and reports on everything from the cabin, breakfast and imagine, getting to see Sophia Loren, I am officially green with envy! Enjoy!
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Old July 6th, 2009, 02:50 AM
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Walking around the ship I am beginning to think MSC has truly beautiful ships. They are very elegant yet accessible – not too formal to allow you to relax. Keep in mind these cruise ships are designed for modern Europeans. These are people who know good food, good beer and wine, but they don’t generally have the same expendable income as Americans.

The ship is obviously has two classes, and I am fortunate to be in the top tier, the Yacht Club category. But as I look around the ship I think I actually prefer the non-Yacht club areas. The ship has wonderful lighting throughout and the art is well placed. No artwork is placed gratuitously in order to get attention. There are beautiful modernistic statues of oblique human form all together in an art gallery, and (imagine this) there are no price tags! It is an actual art gallery, not a showplace for the art auctions.

Espresso of any kind is available at any bar on the ship. Yes, there is a charge for it. There is a wonderful gellateria called La Piazzetta (it means small plaza, or piazza, it has nothing to do with pizza) that I had to tear myself away from. They also have pastries for which there is a charge. They are not cheap, especially if you are paying in dollars. A piece of chocolate cake may be five Euro, but you have to see the cake. You could share it with four people. If you ate the entire thing alone I think the sugar would send you to the moon.

The shopping onboard is, of course, all marked as “duty free.” This is especially important to Europeans who pay an 18% surcharge whenever they take any shopping across EU borders. Americans are immune to it anyway, but the shops are still relative bargains. I just perused an beautiful collection of Murano glass jewelry and even the most detailed pieces were under 50 Euro.

Do you love European chocolates? Not just the fancy Belgian truffles but also the Cadbury and Milken brands from England and Switzerland? They have all of them on sale in big bargain boxes in a dedicated candy store.

At 133,000-tons, this is a big ship, almost on par with Voyager of the Seas. But it does not feel nearly as big. There are a lot of intimate spaces onboard. I have yet to see it at night but I am sure it feels just as good. And in the long run that is the main thing – this ship feels good. I have been on ships where no matter where I am I feel like am supposed to be someplace else. Not on this ship. This ship feels like wherever I am is especially where I am supposed to be. You can also see it in people’s faces. People appear happy on this ship – and that is generally a very good thing.

Here is something unusual – a drink card for beer and cocktails.

To save money, you can pre-pay for glasses of beer. In general you get 14 glasses for the price of 10. There is the small (glass) package and the big package.

The small glass package gives you fourteen 20-centiliter glasses of beer (an average-sized bottle of beer in America) for 35 Euro. Separately they would have cost you 40.60 Euro. A large glass package gives you fourteen 40-centilter glasses for the price of ten. The cost is 59 Euro instead of 68.60 Euro.

You can also get a cocktail card: Twelve cocktails for 69 Euro instead of the full price of 82.50 had you purchased them separately. In case you were wondering, a soda card is 28 Euro for 14 sodas, instead of the full price of 39.20 E.

I will be telling you more about the dining onboard as we go forward. There is a Southwestern restaurant onboard called “Santa Fe”. All I can say is. “I’m from Arizona and I will let you know.” I am having my lunch there today.

There is an Italian restaurant there called L’Olivo. L’Enoteca wine tasting bar has wine by the glass. With each glass you get a complimentary tapas-style plate with quiche or mozzarella. But if you wish you can buy a cheese or sausage plate for about 7 Euro. They look delicious.

Of course you don’t need to go to a specialty restaurant for fine European cuisine. That is what they serve in the dining room. They serve at European hours as well. Early seating begins at 7:30 and late seating starts at 9:45. This is typical for Spain or Italy, but not for the Brits, Germans or even the French. And for us Americans! Keep in mind that average cruise ship meal takes two hours. That’s right, you won’t be done with dinner until almost midnight. I am onboard with another American journalist. I skipped dinner last night to catch up on my rest. He joined some Australians at late seating and after an after dinner drink did not get to bed until after 1:00 am. He still has jet lag, but I am over mine.
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Old July 6th, 2009, 05:57 PM
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Day 4 MSC Splendida…


Yesterday was our first full day at Sea. It turns out we only boarded about 1000 mostly French in St Nazaire yesterday for the sailaway from the shipyard for this ship’s maiden cruise. Last night the ship seemed pretty full at times, but certainly not in the dining room which was mostly empty.

After dinner we were walking around the ship and we noticed something extraordinary. The daily schedule had this evening marked out as “informal” which the ship’s information describes as jacket and tie. We saw women and men in tennis shows – there were no dress jackets. In place we saw men in what looked like fishing jackets, made of camouflage khaki and with ten pockets and no sleeves.

Literally, if there is any way NOT to dress in proper clothes these people found it, and I mean to say no one was dressed properly, I have never seen anything like it in my life!

There were men in muscle shirts – black skin-tight polyester see-through knits, with chains hanging from the pockets and sandals. There were women in tight European jeans, halter tops and sandals. I mean it was mockery of the word “formal” or even “informal,” it was a style of dress that has nothing at all to do with the word formal.

[img]/gallery/galleries/5136/83166.jpg[/img]

[img]/gallery/galleries/5136/83167.jpg[/img]

I don’t know if the French just have NO idea what cruise ship dress is like, or (the other theory) that this cruise was sold very quickly and inexpensively due to the scheduled G8 conference being cancelled at the last minute. But it is shocking to think that the space that was to be the G8 conference was taken over by the people who dress like the people who normally picket outside a G8 conference. My friend and myself, dressed in our suits, stood out like sore thumbs.

Today we board some 2000 more Spanish, so it will be a different ship yet again tonight. We’ll see if the Spanish can dress any better than the French!

Bon Soire, Bona Sera, Buenos Noches, Guten Nagen and Good Evening ladies and gentlemen! We went to the show last night, which is conducted in some five languages.
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Old July 6th, 2009, 06:09 PM
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Default Splendida Pictures

Here are some of the beautiful pictures from MSC Splendida - truly a classy ship...

[img]/gallery/galleries/5136/83169.jpg[/img]

[img]/gallery/galleries/5136/83170.jpg[/img]

[img]/gallery/galleries/5136/83171.jpg[/img]

[img]/gallery/galleries/5136/83179.jpg[/img]

See them all, plus pictures of Vigo Spain, here:

http://www.cruisemates.com/gallery/view.php?id=5136
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Old July 7th, 2009, 10:30 AM
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Thank you Paul. I am so enjoying your coverage. It is fair and honest and I think this is an excellent opportunity for fellow cruisemates to get a small taste of MSC by reading your excellent coverage.

Keep up the great work! My kids and I were so excited to see the pics and the videos,etc.
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Old July 7th, 2009, 01:52 PM
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Default Day 5 lisbon

Today we are in Lisbon, which I have already seen a few too many times before, and so after a quick jaunt ashore I quickly returned to the ship. I have to say that something about the way Splendida was aligned at the Lisbon dock made her look unusually attractive to me this morning. She is a beautiful ship inside but I especially like her lines from the outside. She is a big 133,000-tons, bigger than Celebrity Solstice and almost in the Royal Caribbean Voyager category where size is concerned. But she does not feel anywhere near that big inside or out.

Studying the frame of this ship you see they could have built it much wider, but they chose to widen the promenade and pool decks, while the stateroom decks actually recede from the outer edges of the hull. It is a pleasing design from the outside with sensible balance and proportion, unlike Solstice, which appears to have deck upon deck packed precariously on top of the hull.

Let’s talk about food, because I had seen a few complaints from readers before I left. Talking to the MSC food services manager, we discussed how the dining room aspires to present a different region of Italy every night on a seven-day cruise. The food is prepared Italian-style and offered with Italian service, according to MSC.

Unfortunately, I heard the following refrain more than once, “when Americans hear ‘Italian’ they think ‘Olive Garden’.” Personally, I don’t like Olive Garden and I have to say I found this attitude a little defensive. “This is the real pizza, we invented it, why do Americans want everything to be just like it is back home? Why don’t Americans want to try new things?” I was asked.

I had to protest just a little. Americans are very willing to try new things, but if they try it and still don’t like it, it isn’t because we are missing a culinary gene. One’s palate is a personal and cultural development largely guided by a lifetime of experience. Maybe the Italians invented pizza, but they didn’t invent Chicago deep-dish pizza. “Italian” pizza is tomato paste on barely cooked dough with softened (not fully cooked) cheese. We like spicy sauce over crunchy dough and stringy hot and chewy cheese.

That being said, the pizza onboard is better than I have had on other European ships. It is served piping hot and has crunchy, chewy dough. It isn’t exactly American but it isn’t that much different.

So, the good news is that this somewhat bristly attitude by management was not reflected in the quality of the food on MSC, largely because the Germans, Brits and French are just as picky about their food as we Americans. The result is a fantastic array of the best of all the major European cuisines; German sausage, Italian pasta, French entrecote, British ale and American cheeseburgers.

For breakfast and lunch you might as well eat in the buffet where the selection is amazing. Steak, hamburgers, hot dogs, 5 kinds of pizza, pasta selections, salads, fresh fruit, desserts.

You will not find free ice cream on board except for dessert in the dining room. But there are two Gelato bars, each with a dozen different flavors. It is delicious and well worth the 1.50 Euro you pay for a serving. Drinks are all extra-charge for lunch and dinner – even water. It is bottled water but it does not taste any better than tap water. You will pay .40 Euro for about 10 oz of it, or 1.50. Euro for a 24 oz bottle. But don’t despair, you can still find free water with ice if you help yourself, just go to the ice machine and for glasses, ice and a water dispenser.

No, you cannot get free iced tea or lemonade in the buffet area. The iced tea that is available is a small can and it will cost you about $2.80. Keep in mind, this is only in Europe. When MSC ships come to the Caribbean they do offer free iced tea with all meals. Also, coffee and juice is included with breakfast buffet at no extra cost in Europe and with all meals in the Caribbean.

In the dining room for lunch you will find a few special entrees, such as mussels gratinato. The service is very good during lunch. For example, when my plate of mussels arrived with but four mussels my waiter asked if I would like more and immediately brought me a second plate with a double sized portion. However, don’t bother going to the dining room to order the same food they have in the buffet area. It is hotter and fresher upstairs where they roll it out more quickly.

Kids – tons of things for kids to do. In port and at sea the children’s programs are very active throughout the day including meals. They have a water slide and special pool area with water effects. There is a teen disco and a fairly large video game area – not like RCL, but OK. They DO have two lanes of bowling (3.00 Euro for five frames) and two different Grand Prix simulated offerings. One is a full-scale grand prix racecar one can sit in and drive a virtual course on a video screen in front of the car. Only one driver can go at a time (cost 9.50 Euro). The other offering is a 3d movie in a special theater. There are only 10 seats in two rows directly in front of the movie screen. The seats move along with the 10-minute movie action and the sound system is solid enough to rattle your bones. Cost: 8 Euro with 3D glasses included.



So, is MSC suitable for Americans? I have to say I am truly pleasantly surprised at the quality of this cruise line. Cruise ships are primarily about three things; food, service and decor. There is not one area where I did not feel it was better than I expected. And I want to be perfectly honest about this, I KNOW the difference between bad and good.

I just told you about the food. There are times when you will be disappointed but they are not insurmountable by any means. I found the selection of food to be a huge bonus, hot burgers, pizza (better than the typical Italian pizza I described above), hot dogs, steak, fantastic pasta, etc. As for dining convenience, this is a big ship, but it has two dining rooms, ample seating in the buffet area and always plenty of stations open. The alternative spots; Santa Fe Café and L’olivio each have dozens of tables. The menus are a la carte in both restaurants and one can dine in either very reasonably. An appetizer alone is enough for a meal.


As for service, I expected somewhat slow and indifferent service, especially because I only speak English. In fact, most of the staff speaks English very well and they were always very willing to go out of their way to help me. Not once did I ever receive a brush-off as I had heard can happen. Our waiter was most accommodating and my butler made it a point to learn my preferences so by day three I didn’t even need to put out a breakfast card anymore. My coffee, rolls, yogurt and milk were always delivered exactly at 8:00 am every morning.

Here are the drawbacks, room service, shows and smoking.

The shows feature a very large cast (16) including four singers with excellent voices. The singers are so talented one might think that is all Europeans care about. Instead of a singing duo, man and woman, they have two singing duos – whereas most US-based ships have one singing duo (a man and woman) and an adagio dance couple. This cast has “dancers” but no professional solo dancers. The choreography in the show was just plain weak, as were the lights and sound. OK, having worked in the theater, including cruise ship shows it is a far too easy for me to pick these shows apart. But on the level at which I enjoy any cruise show, special effects, excellent scenery design, well-lit stages energetic choreography and variety in pacing, the show was a letdown. The four singers are very talented and execute their parts perfectly, I just can’t say there was anything else about the show I liked.

As far as cigarette smoking goes, I do not mind it but I realize many people do. Nowhere did I find the smell of smoke unbearable. If you do, it is very easy to avoid those areas since it is limited to a few rooms and always just one side of those rooms. I am told each smoking allowed area has a one-way airflow system to remove the smoke. It does seem to work. Basically, if you stick to the starboard side you will hardly ever even be aware people are smoking on the ship. In addition, by far the most popular place for smokers is outside by the pool on the port side only. Naturally, you will see a lot of smokers there, but not breathe it in. You may smell it in the hallways since people might smoke in any stateroom on the ship. But for the most part I am not aware of smoking at all on this ship 90% of the time and the 10% is only because I am not consciously trying to avoid it.

Room service is not a plus here. In Europe they do charge for anything room service delivered to the room. This is a European thing – good restaurants are rare in Europe and very expensive. As a result, the Europeans want to get out of their cabins and eat in the dining room. Room service is simply not a high priority on European ships. In the Yacht Club cabins there is no charge for rooms service, however. Still, the room service menu is also very limited; soup, a club sandwich, cheese and crackers and not much more. That’s it.

So, now you know the bad. That being said, if the price is right you can certainly get past the drawbacks. And if you are a dining room loving, smoking European then this is the ship for you. Keep in mind, when you sail on MSC in Europe you are experiencing cruising the way Europeans want it. None of this means MSC is not a quality cruise line, it just means MSC is a cruise line that caters primarily to European tastes.

This is a very well run mainstream cruise line for Europeans. MSC is an independent company, not owned by any American parent company. Like P & O the company is mostly in the cargo business, both ships and docks, and they expanded into passenger ships in a big way starting just about 10 years ago. The president of MSC America (representing the European ships in the U.S.) is Rick Sasso, who was the president of Celebrity Cruises for many years before being acquired by Royal Caribbean and a few years after.

I would compare MSC most closely to Princess. These are big ships that manage larger crowds very efficiently. You won’t feel like a number on these ships, nor will you be faced with long lines.
That’s all for today.
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Old July 7th, 2009, 02:23 PM
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I am so enjoying your words.

Thank you for taking the time for us.

Luanne
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Old July 8th, 2009, 12:06 PM
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Default Malaga Spain

Last night was formal night – and I guess it is safe to say that European dress codes run consistently a notch below Americans. Last night, although I have my tux with me, I put on some slacks and a nicer polo shirt and did an exploratory surveillance before dinner. The suits were out, men in jackets and ties, well about 30% of them anyway, but far more than on the “jacket and tie required” informal night.

No one had a tux on. 70% of the people were still not dressed up at all. There were still the blue jeans and halter tops, on the men! The women generally looked a little better. The reality is that although Americans believe Europe is where fashion comes from, most Europeans don’t follow fashion.

So, I put on my black slacks, a nice blue shirt with matching necktie and my tux jacket. I think I looked rather stylish in that way Europeans have of dressing incongruously but acting as if every piece was selected on purpose.

I ended up at the late seating, which did not start until 10:00. If you have never been to Spain you just don’t know. I found out for my first time just a few years ago. The Spanish do not even begin to eat dinner until at least 9:30. You cannot find a restaurant open in Spain before 7:30 pm, and if you get there at that time you will be dining alone.

And so we started eating about 10:15 and we ate and talked until after midnight, literally. Now, it is difficult to do anything at midnight at my age, except sleep. And so I went to bed on a full stomach, which was pretty uncomfortable. I don’t know how the Spanish do it, but I believe they sleep until 10:00 every day, and they also take a siesta daily. Shops in Spain are open from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm, closed until 4:00 and then reopen until 8:00. Then everything shuts down until the restaurants open an hour later.

One thing I can tell you about the Spanish – they LOVE the water. I have never seen a more crowded swimming pool. And talk about chair saving, I saw people in line to get towels at 7:00 am this morning. There are many kids here, with nudity not uncommon up to age two and toplessness in young girls up to age ten seemingly the norm. There was even a bit of that in people closer to 40 than 14; One of them right on the main sun deck and others in a more secluded place.

Lunch buffet – I had special lasagna that was spectacular. I am not sure what region it is from, but it is only about a half-inch thick and has no red sauce or meet – just rich and hot ricotta cheese and soft flat noodles.
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Old July 8th, 2009, 03:19 PM
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Hey Paul,
I will be experiencing the MSC Splendida with an 18 month old this august. Is the ship infant friendly? Are there other infants on board?
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Old July 9th, 2009, 09:34 AM
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baby....

I guarantee you that there will be hundredss of kids on board and yes, it is child and infant friendly as far as I can see. I can tell you I see many toddlers, 2 and under, many strollers, etc. I have no kids, but other people certainly seem to be having no problems.
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Old July 10th, 2009, 09:11 AM
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Default Worth Every Penny

We have had four port days in a row so I am a little behind on my cruise log. Lisbon is old hat to me and the dock is too far from anywhere special. MSC ran a shuttle to place near a good shopping area; price 9 Euro roundtrip. This was worth the cost although a taxi would probably be cheaper if you knew where were going.

The nest day we were scheduled for Mallorca, but not to arrive until 3:00 PM (we arrived a little early). The Splendida sister ship, MSC Fantasia, was also in port there. That ship debuted just about six months ago, so it was quite a celebration for MSC brass to have them both together.

The late arrival gave me a chabce to try to other alternative dining spot onboard, L’Olivio. This is an Italian company and this is an Italian restaurant. For regular customers the menu is a la carte, unusual for a ship restaurant. The other alternative spot, Santa Fe, is also a la carte pricing. The difference is that L’Olivio is included in the cruise fare for Yacht Club passengers, as I am lucky enough to be on this cruise. In fact I have one of the bet suites on the ship and there is a possibility it will even go to Sophia Loren when I move out tomorrow morning. I will stay onboatd but my time in the Yacht Club is coming to an end.

Just a word about how lucky I am. I cover cruise ships for a living. Cruise lines often give me nice cabins because they want me to write about them. Suites and nicer cabins on cruise ships sell out first, and obviously a cruise line makes far more money per square foot with a suite than a standard inside cabin.

I do so appreciate what I get, and I never take anything for granted. I often feel guilty about being so lucky, and the truth is that I try to help out our staff when I can by making sure they get a cover a cruise ship once in awhile. All that aside, rest assured that when I cruise I am doing research, but it is awfully fun to do this kind of research.

So, yesterday we (I am traveling with another US journalist) tried L’Olivio and I have to say it is one of the best alternative dining spots I have ever experienced, on a cruise ship or anywhere. I have been to excellent shipboard restaurants on Carnival, Princess, Celebrity, and NCL… but the food in MSC L’Olivio was outstanding, and all things considered not overly expensive.

Yacht Club people get a menu with no prices showing, but the average appetizer is three to seven Euro. I had a tuna carpaccio (about 4 Euro) that was outstanding. But the coup de resistances were the entrees. First I had the lamb chops; so tender they almost melted in your mouth, three chops in a bed a couscous filled with vegetables. My friend had the seafood couscous, which I did not realize was mostly a large lobster tail with shrimp and other bits of seafood mixed into the dish. When I saw what he had, I had to order it as well. The price for the lamb chops was just about eight Euro, while the lobster was eleven.

All you need to see are the pictures to appreciate how these are prepared, and imagine that they taste as good as they look.

Finally came the dessert. The truth is that you will not find great desserts on MSC unless you pay a little extra for them. The dining room desserts are mostly cakes or mousse, that don’t quite live up to their descriptions. But pony up three to five Euro for a special dessert and you will be so glad you did. They are delectable and very generous in size, three people could share many of them, at least two people.

And with that I want to bring up the subject we all know too well; “nickel and diming.” In the case of this ship there are charges Americans are not used to, and MSC does not charge for them when sailing in the Caribbean, such as room service items (also a la carte). I fully understand that small charges on cruise ships are a sore spot for many cruisers. In the case of MSC I just want to say “get over it and enjoy your cruise.”

The point is this; if there were no surcharges the cruise would cost more. This is a value cruise with seven days in Europe going for well under $1000 per person in many cases. Once in awhile you will be faced with the choice of either paying a small amount or not having something you want. Pay the money – what you get is more than worth the cost.

For example, the gellato onboard is homemade and just fantastic, better than any I have ever had in America. The pistachio tastes like it is made almost purely from macerated pistachio nuts with cream and sugar added, plus whole nuts, of course.

Another example; Last night we were in Mallorca until midnight. Mallorca is the European Honolulu with a maze of shopping streets that will leave wondering which way is up. If you find a shop you like, buy something while there the first time, you will never find it again.

I did not get back to the ship until 10:00, and even though the late seating of dinner was just starting I had no one to eat with. So I decided to wait until the midnight snacks they still offer on MSC (many cruise lines no longer offer late night snacks). But I couldn’t hold out.

The concierge told me the sports bar actually serves food until 4:00 a.m. I had missed this on the program due to European time listings being in 24-hour clock format. I actually thought it was a misprint. I went there and found they have a complete menu at extraordinarily reasonable prices. This is not nickel and dining, this is a service I needed and fully appreciated.

They offer “three mini hamburgers” of beef, pork and chicken, with fries, for just 2.50 Euro. I ordered this thinking they would be like sliders. No, this was more than enough for a meal. I also had ordered a pasta and cheese, just 1.50 Euro. This was like a “boutique” macaroni and cheese plate you would pay $12 for in the States as an entrée at an Italian restaurant. Just over $2.00 U.S. – some people would “nickel and diming” but for the quality of that food at that price, I say “fantastico.” I could not possibly finish either dish, there was so much food. I would eat there again for dinner happily.

Now, for a drawback; as I noted this is a megaship of 3300 capacity and room for some 700 more. There are a ton of children onboard and my guess is that the ship is well over 100% capacity. Remember that the cruise business in Europe is stronger than ever and ships are sailing full.

Getting off the ship in Mallorca, even with three gangways, was a nightmare, The lines were very long and I believe everyone wanted to get off at the same time. The lines at the gangway were hundreds of people long. In the end it only took about 10 minutes to actually get ashore, but I don’t remember ever seeing a line that long except when there were tenders. The ship was docked.

Now, here is an interesting turn of events. We were scheduled to call on Marseilles at 3:00 this afternoon. I saw no mention of tendering, but as we approached I could see there were three ships in port ahead of us, including Independence of the Seas again. The wind is very strong today, so much that the top decks are devoid of sunbathers, and people with baby carriages who walk out there almost get blown overboard.

An announcement just came on that the ship would not stop in Marseilles – tendering would be impossible in this weather. I imagine even docking would be difficult with wind like this. So, we are headed to Toulouse instead of Marseilles. Personally I am very happy. I have been to Marseilles and have nothing to recommend about it. I know nothing about Toulouse, however. We will be there from 6:00 PM to midnight.
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Old July 11th, 2009, 06:01 AM
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Default Saturday ….

Alas, I have been served my eviction notice. I must pack up and leave my suite since Sophia Loren and Jose Carreras are moving into the ship. I have heard rumors that Sophia will be taking my suite. I contemplated leaving her a personal note with a kiss in my lipstick on it, but I am a married and hence don’t wear lipstick. (That’s a joke, folks, I realize my humor is sometimes not that funny).

Yesterday we arrived in Toulon. I realize I mistakenly called in Toulouse. We arrived at about 7:00 and to make up the missed port for the guests onboard the captain agreed to stay until midnight. We were originally scheduled to be in Marseilles from 3:00 to 8:30. I wondered how the captain could promise such a late departure and still make Barcelona in the morning. Especially in the winds we are encountering. Sure enough, it is now Saturday morning, the day of disembarkation, and as of 9:30 am we are still motoring out at sea. You all know that disembarkation days generally start at 4:00 am.

Isn’t that the beauty of cruising, though? In fact, we are on a sea vessel, which has to contend with the realities of nature. Yesterday was incredibly windy, so much that we could not even dock in Marseilles. People forget that cruises involve nature, including the unpredictable oceans of the world. It is exactly such adventure and surprise that I find to be one of the most appealing aspects of cruising.

I had my final meal in the Yacht Club last night. Each night they have hot and cold tapas-like dishes, but they also have a small menu of hot food. I ordered the same “three mini-hamburgers” I had the night before. Just as pleasing the second night.

Afterwards I went to the show. As noted, it is a challenge to put on a show for five nationalities. I found this show to be far more entertaining than the first. It started with acrobatic juggling, was followed by the full cast in elaborate Las Vegas style costumes doing a few songs, and ended with an Italian hand shadow puppet master. His routine was set to music and he performed something like a series of plays with various characters from dogs to birds, mice and people. Have the video and will try to post it when I am no longer on a ship.

And so now I must pack, and I will be moved to a regular stateroom. Goodbye Yacht Club service, goodbye butler, free minibar, two-room stateroom with bath and shower and a balcony view where I can actually see both sides of the ship and the entire bow. I hope you go to someone who appreciates you as much as I do.

I have to say this has really been quite an experience – seeing a regular one-week cruise as the typical European take. They are very much like we Americans in that they love the ship as much or more than the destinations. As noted, they certainly love the pool area. Fortunately, MSC was well prepared with more than enough deck chairs. I haven’t mentioned their deck chairs yet, but they all come with a sunshade built onto them. I have never seen this, and I think they are ingenious.

I mentioned the comfort with nudity one sees in Southern Europe. I happened to see two parents allowing their two girls to change out of their bathing suits in full view of hundreds of people. Now these girls were about five and seven years old, in God’s glory only, changing themselves, which means they weren’t exactly in a hurry or being very careful about the process. No one seemed to even notice, and I can’t help wondering what a scandal that would have been in the U.S.

It is now 10:00 and we are still not in Barcelona. I may be wrong about the schedule, but I did see people who were supposed to disembark in Marseilles trying to wave down taxis in Toulon. We are on “Spanish time” now. That is an expression they have in Europe, and I think we all understand what it means.

What a difference an hour makes. We are now alongside and have been for 45 minutes, it is 11:30. I am already in my new stateroom, now longer a member of the elite Yacht Club society. Do I feel demoted, no, I was privileged to have been a member even for a short time. But I do miss it already. The Concierge Club up on deck 15 is a friendly place where you can sit and watch movies, eat from a small buffet and order all of the wine, beer or spirits that you want.

I never truly felt at home there until last night when I decided to eat dinner in there. I ordered the hot food and for the first time dialed in a movie (Confessions of a Shopaholic). There was no charge in there like there is in the cabins. I admit, I like to watch TV while I dine (Andy Griffith and Dick van Dyke were my constant companions as a child. The food and drink kept coming until I was satisfied, then I left and took in the show.

Tonight I still have the same access to the diversified buffets and the very tempting food in the Sports Bar at reasonable prices. I will eat in the same dining room as I had before, but in a different section where the wine is not included. I will have to pay if I want to go to the exquisite L’Olivio. You can guess what my one regret is now – that I didn’t dine in L’Olivio more often. That was a sumptuous meal, to be sure.



My new stateroom is like any modern cruise ship, a balcony cabin with a king-sized bed. The colors are soothing, mostly a deep gold with mahogany colored wood accents. This stateroom is also wired for Internet, although wireless will also work. The Internet connection on board is excellent, very fast.

What haven’t I mentioned yet? There is a Wii game console onboard, but I didn’t see anyone ever using it. The casino features roulette, 21, poker and plenty of slots, including penny slots. No craps tables (that is an American game). It takes Euro tokens, although the tokens probably become dollars in the Caribbean. The tables all use chips, so they can easily change from one format to the other.

All staterooms come with hairdryers, and European and American outlets (plenty of both). The television in this stateroom is a small (20-inch) flat screen, and rather far from the bed. But we are not here to watch TV, right? In truth, this cabin has everything I need as a single person. The same sized bed, seating area, desk with Internet. The suite I was in could sleep four if needed, but so can this one, just a little more crowded.

Outside they are building the platform for the christening. I would be able to watch it from my stateroom as I did the flag ceremony (Day two), but I will go down to be close to the action this time. If you have not yet seem the video of the flag ceremony look for the YouTube video in a message above.

MOre pics: Dinner in L'Olivio

[img]/gallery/galleries/5138/83264.jpg[/img]

[img]/gallery/galleries/5138/83263.jpg[/img]

[img]/gallery/galleries/5138/83265.jpg[/img]

two MSC ship meet

[img]/gallery/galleries/5138/83266.jpg[/img]
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Old July 11th, 2009, 11:58 AM
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Paul:

Can you give us a comparison of total costs of the alternative restaurants on Splendida vs. the alternative restaurants on Celebrity, Royal Caribbean's and NCL.

The individual costs (appetizer, entrée and dessert) are a bit off putting vs. the "prix fix" costs of other lines. If the total prices are comparable then it is a bit "easier to swallow" for American's.

Otherwise it looks like a beautiful ship and wonderful food.

Take care,
Mike
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Old July 12th, 2009, 02:41 AM
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Today the real fun begins, it is the day we do the christening event with Sophia Loren. She will be here for interviews plus all of the MSC brass like Rick Sasso.

In general, the L’Olivo and Santa Fe are a la carte menues, which means every item is ordered and priced individually. Santa Fe is a bit less expensive, I started with an entree of “tacos” for which I paid 3.00 Euro. It was three taquitos (rolled up –deep-fried). They were substantial. My entrée was Pork Anchioto with lots of meat and refried beans. It was 8.00 Euro. A drink would be about 3 Euro. So, my total cost was 14 Euro with drink (which you would pay for separately on an US ship). Fajitas were about 10 Euro. It was a lot of food, one could easly get one entrée alone and be satisfied.

In L’Olivio, the prices for appetizers were about 3 to 6 Euro. Entrees were 7 to 11 Euro.
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Old July 12th, 2009, 05:27 AM
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I am just getting ready to go interview Rick Sasso, and was touching up the article on Crystal Serenity from a Panama Canal cruise, which will appear tomorrow. Just then Serenity pulled up to the dock here in Barcelona, I literally looked out my veranda and there she is right outside my window as I was writing my article about her.

In the end, isn’t that what we love most about cruising, the cruising life? We sail on ships in Tahiti and see them again in Norway a year later. We see people we have known for years. Just last night I met a woman, Josephine Kling, who started Royal Viking Line when it was just four people in 1970. My butler on Serenity had his first job on Royal Viking Line in 1984. My first cruise job was on Royal Viking Line in 1983, 26 years ago now.

We people who know this business understand the attraction. Someone at our table last night at dinner said, “we are lifers;” Those of us who love this industry and have been in it for decades.

I feel so sorry for the people who just don’t get the attraction we have. The “cruise victims” and the people with preconceived notions of cruise ships as floating “whatevers.” This is a beautiful lifestyle, and if you’ll excuse me I have an interview with Sophia Loren in about an hour. I must prepare.

On Crystal Serenity, which just sailed by, is the same cruise director I worked under upon the Statendam in 1993, Rick Spath. Rick is a great guy who I got to catch up with on Serenity last May. He went from Holland America to Disney (that is quite a story) and then went to Crystal where he has found his home. He is a lifer.

This is a beautiful industry that you have to get to know to appreciate. It saddens me that the media buys into to all of the lies of the International cruise victims about unbridled crime on ships and people going missing. I have no idea why those people have to lash out at something they obviously don’t understand. I will have more comments about them later.

BTW: if you think they will be satisfied with this latest “victory” in getting Congress to pass a “cruise crime act” believe me, they are not done, they are just getting started and in the end it will cost all of us dedicated cruisers. But more on that later.
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Old July 12th, 2009, 12:47 PM
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Default The big day… Christening Sunday

Today is the day MSC Splendida will be christened in Barcelona. As I sit typing I can hear the stage crew just outside my balcony balancing the sound for the full orchestra currently rehearsing. The tenor is warming up his larynx and getting a microphone sound check. The orchestra keeps playing a few bars of Maleguena over and over again with flourishes from the flutes. There are some 2500 seats for the audience, a full stage and the entire front half of the ship will be lit by floodlights.

This morning I had a chance to interview Rick Sasso, president of MSC America, the division of responsible for sales and service to American cruisers. Here is how our interview went:

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The Rick Sasso Interview:

(Me) Rick, I read and hear a lot about MSC Cruises as editor of CruiseMates. There seems to be some confusion and perhaps misconception about based on what I read vs what I have experienced here..

(Rick) The real problem isn’t that people have the wrong idea about us, it is that they don’t really know us. MSC Cruises has grown from almost nothing to the most modern fleet in the world in just six years. We now have 11 ships and have gone from carrying 100,000 passengers per year to carrying 1,000,000. Things have changed for MSC, so if you haven’t tried us lately then you probably haven’t really tried us.

(Me) So, it sounds like you are saying Americans may have the wrong expectations. What would you tell my readers about MSC to give them a better understanding?

(Rick) I would tell them not to look for the American cruise experience on our ships. We are not a typical American cruise line and we don’t want to be. We are a European line with everything that entails. When you come onboard expect a difference and try to embrace it.

(Me) And what exactly does “European-style” cruising mean? Where are the differences?”

(Rick) The first place is the food; risotto, pasta with cheese, our seafood, our selection of European beers and wine. A person can learn a lot about European culture on our ships. Look at our Wine Bar for example. It is an excellent way to try French, German, Italian and Spanish wines with the food that accompanies each one the best. The menu reads like a user’s guide to becoming a European wine and food expert. Everything you need to know is in there, and then you can actually try what is recommended. There are pairings of Italian wines with cheese and bread, or German wines with sausages and pickles.

The second difference with MSC is the beauty of the ships. These ships have a simple elegance, comfortable settings, plenty of space for deck chairs, dining tables and waiters everywhere. The service is a big feature, we train our staff to be very friendly and we want you to get to know them as people. Our staff is a big part of our experience. They are very approachable.

(Me) Not to mention good-looking.

(Rick) Another big draw for Americans is for families with kids. We offer free cruise fares for kids up to age 17 all year around. We have enough extra capacity on all of our ships to honor this, with up to 20% capacity beyond our official berth count. Splendida, for example, holds 3300 passengers, but almost 4000 when you count the added berths for kids.

We have a ton of things for the kids to do onboard: Wii, water slide, water fountain effects, Formula 1 racing simulators, bowling, video games, racket ball, a golf simulator, a tennis court, basketball and organized childcare classes daily.

(Me) So, it seems understanding the MSC difference, and if that works for you then by all means you should try it.

(Rick) Our ships reflect European taste for the 21st Century. This isn’t about staid European tradition - it is about the amalgamation of European culture today. We want Americans to come with an open mind and cruise the way Europeans cruise.

We don’t want to be just another American cruise line, and so we don’t change our basic formula just because we are in the Caribbean. We want Americans to experience the same MSC you will get in Europe.

Of course we make some changes due to practical differences Americans expect. For example, we don’t charge for iced tea, coffee and juice in any of the buffets, or for room service. Europeans do not mind that, they are used to it, but we understand that Americans do mind.

So, we ask you to come with an open mind and see the real Europe of the 20th century. This means modern art, gelato, baguettes, mozzarella, eight kinds of pizza. Watch the Europeans interact; casual dress, crazy kids, some smoking, visual, non-verbal stage shows, excellent music. By the way, we do seven production shows on a one-week cruise. Not just two or three like most cruise lines.

We ask people to come onboard and get immersed in the product – try the different food and go to the shows. By the way, In the Caribbean, if you really want them we have steak, salmon and baked potatoes on the menu every night. But we urge you not to look for the “Vanilla” cruise like all the other American cruise lines – try the “Neapolitan” cruise, you know, with a variety of flavors all coming together.

(Me) Do you still get the same beer, wine and cocktail packages in America? (the offer is 10 servings for about the price of 14).

(Rick) Yes, you do. They are in different size glasses and different prices of course, but we do offer the same deals. Plus, the room service charges go away. That is much more important to Americans, we understand that.

(Me) Besides the Caribbean, where else should Americans travel on MSC ships?

(Rick) We are especially excited about 11-day cruises in winter to the Canary Islands. They are a great value to unusual destinations. Best of all, because they are in the winter you get less congested ships, cheaper airfare and better access to the tourism spots. Summer peak season is a madhouse in Europe, not because of visiting Americans this year, but because the Europeans are now traveling more within Europe than ever before.

(Me) Tell me a little bit about the history of MSC Cruises

The line grew out of the Mediterranean Shipping Company, a privately held company in Sorrento, Italy. It is now the second largest cargo company in the world after Maersk. They operate 450 container ships, 2 million cargo containers. They KNOW ships. The owner, Mr. Apponte, is from Sorrento and was friends with Achille Lauro (also from Sorrento) in late 80s. When that cruise line started suffering well-known problems he wanted to help him out.

MSC started with just three classic cruise ships from the Lauro Line in the late 1980s, but MSC got serious about cruising in 2003 when Europe started taking off. Now they are the fastest growing cruise line in the world.

And that was the end of my interview with Rick.

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The Sophia Loren press conference was an exercise in predictable overkill. I think I have mentioned before how easy it is to see why the word paparazzi is Italian. The number of photographers set up in front Ms Loren was like an anthill with worker ants walking one atop the other. I can’t understand how many pictures you need to take of one person before you have enough.

The MSC official presiding over the ceremony had to ask the paparazzi to back off over and again for at least 20 minutes before a single one of them stopped taking pictures. Finally he said something very loudly in Italian that sounded like “30 seconds and no more” and half of them sat down. Then a whole new batch jumped up to take their place, but Ms Loren started speaking anyway.

All but one of the questions were in Italian. The name “Burlesconi” came up in one, and Sophia immediately brushed it off. The two questions in English were predictable

“What is your secret to remaining so beautiful all these years?”

“Loving what I do”

“What do you consider your greatest accomplishment, your career or your family?”

“My family.”

The mundanity of it all! Hundreds of multi-thousand dollar cameras and paid professionals to film her responding to questions that came straight out of journalism 101? And not one statement about her role with MSC Cruises or why she wants to be a godmother for a passenger ship.

She is a consummate professional, and I can only imagine how tiring it would be to put up with the European press on a daily basis. Not that the American press is any better.


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My Interview with Carlo Apponte – President of MSC

After the Sophia Loren Press Conference I had a chance to speak personally with Mr. Apponte, President of MSC Cruises.

(Me) Mr. Apponte, I represent an American cruise guide where our readers are all very knowledgeable and experienced cruise enthusiasts. What would you like to tell them?

(Apponte) I would say to come and try our ships, experience the European lifestyle as far as food, life and style are concerned, come to appreciate the European difference in cruising.

(Me) You jumped into cruising with both feet with a lot of money in a very short period of time, did you do it for love or money?

(Apponte) I did it for a friend of mine, Achille Lauro, another great mariner from Sorrento, who had a cruise line in the late 1980s that obviously fell on some hard times and difficulties. I bought his cruise line, not because I wanted a cruise line but because I have great respect for the man. This was in 1988.

We got by for many years as a small operation, but then in 2003 when I saw how popular cruising was becoming in Europe, I decided we should go into the business in a serious manner.

Since 2003 we have built MSC into the fastest growing cruise line in the world, now with eleven ships including the largest ships built specifically for the European market to date; the Fantasia and Splendida, at over 133,000 tons and almost 4000 passengers total.

(me) You must have been very confident you would succeed?

“I am always confident in whatever I do and I am always successful. The reason is that I have a fantastic team.”

He said this with a big smile, although not as big as Rick Sasso’s smile when he said it.

(Me) Where do you see the cruise industry headed?

(Apponte) Naturally, the economy is a problem. When one starts any endeavor one never knows what the future might bring. We are in the same boat as everyone else, however, and fortunately European cruising is growing.

We are a privately held company. Personally, I think a lot of the problem has been the wild speculation in the markets. It has made everything too expensive. Look at the price of food commodities, and oil! What we need is lower prices and predictability in those areas.

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And that is my day so far… Later tonight, the christening ceremony of MSC Splendida with Sophia Loren
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Old July 12th, 2009, 01:41 PM
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Paul,

Why does the name Achille Lauro seem so familier? Is the the ship that was hijacked and the man in the wheel chair was pushed off the ship?

Do you use short hand for your interviews, or a recorder?
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