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Last night was Evening Chic night and from what I saw just about everybody made some sort of effort. Quite a mixture of styles but yet you were still aware it was a more dressier evening. 

We did stick our heads in on the production show which was called Broken Strings but didn’t stay very long. Instead we just did some wandering before going into dinner where again there was just the 8 of us, and btw the sisters are from Ohio. 

The weather this morning was again cloudy to start and the temperature was notably cooler than yesterday.  We had heard from our guide that we might encounter some problems getting off the ship and making it to the meeting point which was the second shuttle stop. All local tours have been facing some awkwardness from the cruise companies visiting Napier who are making it as difficult as possible for them. It makes me all the more determined to use the locals! For the first time ever we had to apply for a free numbered shuttle bus ticket which we later discovered was more to do with it being a commercial port and tighter than normal security. Nothing to do with Celebrity who I have to say managed the situation rather well given the circumstances. 

We had booked a tour with a company called Hawkes Bay Scenic Tours and specifically one called the Discover Hawkes Bay Shore Excursion which is aimed at cruise passengers and is a 4½-5 trip around the area taking in the countryside and all the Art Deco buildings that were detected following the earthquake there in the 1930’s. The price was $95 NZ per person which I thought was extremely good value. 

Our lady guide and driver for the morning, Chris took us south of Napier and looped back taking in Havelock and Hastings. Along the way we stopped briefly at the Craggy Range Winery for a toilet stop before heading on up for the views from the top of Te Mata Peak. Nicole managed the drive up by squeezing all the blood from my hands and keeping her eyes shut tight but did confess to really appreciating the view when we got to the top. 

All the time we were traveling the weather was improving and by the time we got back  to Napier it was beautiful sunshine. After a quick walk round we headed back to the ship for some lunch followed by a few hours out in the sun. 

A lot of our fellow Cruise Critic friends had elected to do winery tours but because Nicole doesn’t drink it would have been a waste of time and money for her. What we ended up doing was a great experience and we even managed to fill out minibus via the roll call. Hawkes Bay is a really beautiful area of New Zealand and Napier is another port which has a lot to offer. Big thumbs up from us! 

I need to learn to count, there are actually 10 place settings at our table and not 12 as previously reported. Two more spaces filled last night by sisters from somewhere in the USA, they did say but I have to confess it didn’t stick so I will ask again tonight. I am finding we are needing to remember so many names on this cruise and I am struggling a bit at the moment. 

The whole cruise has very sociable atmosphere to it and more so than any we have ever done. We have encountered so many friendly people and I know it’s only 2 nights we have been on board but does seem much longer. 
So this morning we awoke to clear skies as we cruised along the east coast of the north island towards our next port which is Napier. 

Breakfast was taken in Tuscan Grille where I took the opportunity to chat with the Captain’s  Club Hostess about the Captain’s Club Cocktail hour, she supplied me with the information that when there are less than 500 qualifying members onboard they revert back to unlimited drinks and use a cordoned off area of the Sky Lounge for the venue. 
This morning at 9:30 we attended the Cruise Critic meet and mingle and it was great to put faces to the many names I have been chatting with over the last 18 months. From there it was straight up to the Solstice Deck for some well earned R & R. We stayed there until just before midday when it clouded over and yes you guessed it, the rain returned. At least we have now seen some sunshine. 
Thinking the Oceanview café would be heaving we had our lunch in the dining room which was equally as busy but much less of bun fight. We ended up being seated next to some fellow Cruise Critic members so spent much of lunch chatting with them which we enjoyed.  

Nicole has also been impressed by the amount of gluten free options that are available on this ship. Below is a photo of the dessert selection in the buffet this afternoon.

The rain eased off around 2:00 and the clouds remained but you could still feel the warmth of the sun coming through. We spent much of the afternoon just wandering around the ship before stopping for some mid afternoon in the buffet. 

Sitting out the back we were lucky enough to see a pod of dolphins swimming alongside the ship. It’s very difficult to capture the little beggars on film but I did manage one or two fairly decent shots from 14 decks up. 

Tonight is the first evening chic night of three on this cruise so I will sign off early to get ready. 

First a quick resume of last night’s first encounter in the dining room, we are table 150 which is set for 10 however last night only saw 6 spots occupied. Currently we have a couple from Utah and a Scottish couple now living in Australia. We seemed lost on such a big table but all managed to get on famously.

Today we arrived at Tauranga just before 8:00am sailing in past Mount Maunganui on our way to the port.

Our plans today involved a private tour organised through our cruise critic roll call to Te Puia which is New Zealand’s premier Maori Cultural centre and the Te Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve which is home of the Pohutu geyser. The company we used was Archer Tours and came well recommended on TripAdvisor so we were very optimistic about our day.

We all rendezvoused at 8:30 just outside the port gates before taking the 1½ hour road trip to the site. Again the weather wasn’t with us as it poured down all the way there. Miraculously it stopped just as we parked up and stayed pretty much clear the whole time we were there.

Our guide and the proprietor of Archer Tours ( Jim Archer) gave us guided tour around the thermal park providing lots of details and information as we went. I have to say it was a really fascinating experience and I have taken many photos to look back on to remember this trip.

After the walk through the park we were then given a 45 minute cultural performance known as a mannaakitanga, this involved a Haka and then further Maori songs and dances inside a traditional meeting house. Absolutely brilliant entertainment and really great spectacle.

We also saw a Kiwi bird in a special nocturnal enclosure. They are a very endangered species and they have just a single hen on site which they are hoping will eventually produce some young. 

It was a truly memorable trip and I can’t recommend it enough should you ever find yourself in the area.

On the drive back to port we again experienced torrential rain and we were very fortunate today in that it remained dry for our tour. All in all were away from the ship for just over 7 hours and the cost was $180 NZ per person which included entrance fees to the park and the cultural performance.

Tonight we are off to the cocktail hour which if the paperwork is to be believed has gone back to unlimited drinks. There are no vouchers and there is no mention of just 3 drinks. Watch this space tomorrow to find out more.

​Did the rain stop? Not in the slightest so we battened down the hatches and tried to catch up with some sleep in a bed as opposed to an economy plane seat. We must have needed it because we both slept really well. 

Both awake at around four so just pottered about with a bit of re-ironing, repacking and some form filling in. All the time we could hear the rain hammering against the window. 

For the first time in our cruise history we have been given the health questionnaire before arrival at the pier. Its a great idea in my opinion. 

We also have a New Zealand Passenger Departure Card each to fill in. I’m not sure when we are supposed to hand that one in as we will still be here in a weeks time. 

We have also been hearing the news about the fires in Christchurch and wonder they will have any impact on our itinerary. We dock at Akoroa and all the fires are between there and Christchurch so will be keeping an eye on how things develop. 

So with the forecast of the rain easing we set off from the hotel at 8:15 for the 15 minute walk to the Sky Tower, we were pleased to see all the clouds gone and I’m pretty certain we were the first to up just after 8:30. We had a lift to ourselves and when we arrived on the 51st floor we had the whole deck too. The view up there is amazing and we caught the first glimpse of our ship down in the harbour. 

There is then a second lift which then takes you up a further 19 floors to the Sky Deck which is as high as you can go. I thought there was a much clearer view up there and the windows were certainly cleaner. The bungy jumping doesn’t start until 10:00 so we didn’t see anyone taking the plunge which was just as well as it would probably have totally spooked Nicole. 

With Sky Tower ticked off the list it was back to the hotel for breakfast and to wait for the transfer to the ship at 11:30. 

Things turned a bit wobbly at the next stage, we had a transfer included in our package and the past I would say they have all been managed fairly well. Today was an exception, there we all were about two dozen of us all waiting in the lobby presumably expecting a Celebrity rep to turn up with a coach to take us to the port. What we ended up with was a lone driver who only knew of his task some 10 minutes before he was despatched. All he had was a list of names with a start point and a finishing point. What’s wrong with that you ask? Well he was driving a single storey city bus for 51 passengers. It didn’t take long to fill said bus and as a result 7 of us had to wait 40 minutes for him to come back and get us. He had no idea we would all have cases with us and pretty surprised when he discovered what was actually needing doing. 

I will make a complaint when I get home but for now will just have to laugh it off. Thank goodness it never rained!
Embarking would have been much quicker had it not been for New Zealand Immigration who slowed the process up considerably. Once on though it felt like we had come home. 

We have had sunshine with some heavy showers this afternoon so have mainly stayed below decks. 

We sail at 8:00 tonight just before we go to dinner. An early night is called for as we have our first port tomorrow and need to meet our guide at 8:30. 
And before I forget, our steward has made her introduction too and goes by the name of Mimie. She has 16 years service under her belt and was telling us she is now solely responsible for 13 cabins following recent policy changes. I will find out more from her in due course what’s actually happening. 

​We were late leaving LA by 35 minutes due to having to wait for some non attendees. When we eventually did leave it was minus a few of them but all was not lost as we then made the time up on the flight and arrived 15 minutes earlier than scheduled. 

We got a big surprise with the weather though as it was pouring with rain. Our transfer to the hotel took a good 40 minutes because we made the journey just as the morning rush hour was getting into full swing.

On arrival at the hotel we found that we would not be able to access our rooms until 2:00pm so the hotel provided us with a locked room where we were able to store our cases. Despite the weather we decided to go explore. However as we were leaving Nicole slipped on the wet pavement just outside the entrance and for one nasty moment I thought she had really hurt herself. Luckily it was more shock and a just a couple of grazes, the hotel manager was on hand and consequently expedited our room so Nicole could go and have a lie down for a bit. I can’t praise him and his staff enough for their assistance and total consideration. 

The hotel where we are overnighting is called the VR Queen Street and reasonably central so once showered and with Nicole feeling better we set off to explore. When I had researched Auckland prior to coming we had decided we would do lots of walking but because of the weather we had to change our plans, the rain put paid to Mount Eden so I had managed to talk Nicole into going up the Sky Tower for our panoramic view however when we eventually caught sight of that our plans changed yet again. Because of the low lying clouds the top was seldom visible so we thought if you can’t see it from down here then you won’t see much from up there either.  

So after walking down to the harbour and getting soaked in the process we cut our losses and made our way back to the hotel. 
Interestingly Fred Olsen’s Black Watch and CMV Magellan are both in port today. 

The tower opens at 8:30am so provided the weather improves we may go in the morning. 

We are due to be picked up to go to the terminal at 11:30 so there should be plenty of time to squeeze it in. Mount Eden is 40 minutes each way so we have now dismissed that as an option. 
If the weather improves we may go out again tonight but the forecast is much the same as it’s been since we got here so maybe we will just recharge our batteries in the dry. 

I’ve checked tomorrow and sailaway should be dry so fingers crossed the forecast is accurate. 

​I was still awake at 3:00 but was able to go back to sleep for another couple of hours so things are improving. 

With a later start we arrived at Polly’s just after 9:00 and I treated myself to the same omelette as yesterday which was equally as good. The only thing different today was we had two extra people with us. There were also an assortment of birds looking over us as we ate but on this occasion watching is all they would experience. 

Once again a walk was required after to put right the damage and we followed the same route as the previous day. The weather has been hovering around the 70’s with a light breeze and on the whole really lovely. 

Just a short distance from our hotel there is a power plant which is masked by a wall on which there is a huge mural by marine artist Wyland. He has more recently designed the hull art on Norwegian Bliss. Apparently there are over 90 of these murals in California alone. 
After checking out we bid our goodbyes to my daughter and grandson, they taking advantage of leaving mid afternoon so as to miss the worst of the LA traffic. With 3 hours to fill we decided more walking was in order and set off along the beach in a southerly direction which killed about 1½ hours. 

I am just making use of the hotels WiFi before we head off to the airport so the next time you hear from me I’ll be in Auckland on the 16th. No plans for the 15th because we will cross the date line and it will never happen for us.

 See you in 2 days time. 

​I had no trouble getting to sleep last night, it was staying asleep that was the problem. We went to bed around our normal time but I was wide awake at 3:00 so ended up filling the time doing a bit of local research on my tablet. The main thing on my mind at that time being breakfast. 

We eventually surfaced just after 8:00 and wandered over to the Mariana & Pier in search of some sustenance having found a couple of potential venues earlier. 

One of the places which came up in my search was called Polly’s on the pier and that was where we eventually ate. We must have timed it to perfection as not long after we arrived a queue built up for seats outside. It’s just the sort of place we love, no bells or whistles just simple cooked good plain food. One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that the Americans certainly know how to do eggs for breakfast. My omelette was fantastic so there is a good chance we’ll be there tomorrow too. 

To walk our hearty breakfast off we walked along Hermosa Beach for a couple of hours while waiting for family to arrive. 

Just after midday my daughter and grandson turned up and we spent the afternoon walking and catching up. My grandson is just 4 months old and it was our very first meeting and being able to get together with them at the beginning of this trip was very special. 

Shortly after 6:00 my son joined us as well and I think it’s the first time in over 10 years we have all been together. It’s just a shame the visit was so short but I count myself very fortunate to at least having had the opportunity.

My son couldn’t stay the night as he had to be up for college the next day but the other two have stopped at the hotel with us so we will get to see more of them tomorrow before the next leg of our journey which is the flight to Auckland. Our flight isn’t until the evening so we will have the best part of the day with them. 

I was flagging again by 9:00 which was no doubt due to the fact I was awake early. Maybe it will help me sleep longer through the night this time………

​So our amazing journey has begun, after months of planning and waiting we are finally on the move. 

Our day started with us being picked up by step daughter and son in law at 8:30 to take us to Heathrow’s Terminal 2. Being a Sunday morning the traffic wasn’t too busy and we were there before we knew it in just short of 2 hours. Unfortunately we had to wait an hour for our bag drop to open but as soon as it was we were quickly airside and eating lunch. 

Its our first time using the revamped T2 and it’s just like a mini T5 and nice and easy to use. 

The flight took 10 hours and 20 minutes and we experienced the fastest ever transit of US Immigration we have ever done. What a refreshing change that was.

A 15 minute taxi drive to our hotel on Redondo Beach and again a swift check in after which we dropped the bags off in the room and then a quick nightcap before bed. 

Meeting up with family tomorrow so really looking forward to that. 

For a number of years I have been very intrigued by a particular cruise on Celebrity Solstice that has circumnavigated Australia. It’s a much longer itinerary than we have ever done and to be honest we have never really been in the position to take the time off work required to take a cruise of that length and as a consequence always dismissed it as a possibility.
However on a lazy bank holiday weekend in May 2015 while feeling a little inquisitive and with nothing booked in our calendar for 2017 I decided to investigate how feasible it would actually be to do this cruise.
To our disappointment the one year when there may have been a window of opportunity to actually do it, Celebrity had decided not to! So with my thoughts focused on that region and specifically cruising with Celebrity I started to investigate some alternative options. We found a lovely 12 night itinerary that starts in Auckland and finishes in Sydney which had instant appeal but being curious and because of the different start and finish ports we wondered if it went back to Auckland as a round New Zealand trip. After a bit more researching I discovered that the ship then went out to the Fiji Islands and back to Sydney on another 12 nighter. At this point I was seriously thinking a cruise this length in htis region could actually be on the cards snd after a very short discussion we concluded it would be silly to go all that way for just 12 nights so we pencilled in both cruises to our potential itinerary. When the same curiosity reapplied itself, we found to our surprise that the next 12 night cruise was again a different itinerary, this time going up to Port Douglas and the Barrier Reef then back to Sydney so with the same thought process as before we added it to our dream itinerary. Everything looked amazing on paper but would it be possible to turn our dream into a reality? Initially we decided to get prices for the first 2 cruises and then another for all three and take it from there.

My biggest hurdle was to get time off work approved so when I approached my boss I must have caught him in a great mood as he just said “Go for it!” I didn’t ask twice. That was the biggest potential problem dealt with so from there it was all systems go.

After a few e-mails to favoured agents we were eventually delighted to be able to book the whole trip as a package for just a £150 per person deposit, Natalie Cookson at Cruise Club UK again coming up trumps with what we considered was for us an exceptional package. We couldn’t believe our luck and actually took this as a good omen that we were meant to go. Then when we applied a future cruise credit to the booking it then provided us with additional OBC totalling $600 per sailing, yes that’s $1800 total for the three cruises.  In addition we have even managed to get pre-paid gratuities thrown in as well. Someone really is looking out for us!

Below are the three itinerary’s which will give us 36 nights total on Celebrity Solstice.

DATE LOCATION ARRIVAL DEPARTURE
Friday, February 17, 2017 Auckland, New Zealand 8:00PM
Saturday, February 18, 2017 Tauranga, New Zealand 8:00AM 8:00PM
Sunday, February 19, 2017 At Sea
Monday, February 20, 2017 Napier, New Zealand 8:00AM 5:00PM
Tuesday, February 21, 2017 Wellington, New Zealand 8:00AM 5:00PM
Wednesday, February 22, 2017 Akaroa, New Zealand 8:00AM 7:00PM
Thursday, February 23, 2017 Dunedin, New Zealand 8:00AM 5:00PM
Friday, February 24, 2017 Dusky Sound, New Zealand 8:00AM 9:00AM
Friday, February 24, 2017 Doubtful Sound, New Zealand 11:00AM 12:00PM
Friday, February 24, 2017 Milford Sound, New Zealand 4:30PM 6:00PM
Saturday, February 25, 2017 At Sea
Sunday, February 26, 2017 At Sea
Monday, February 27, 2017 Hobart, Tasmania 8:00AM 5:00PM
Tuesday, February 28, 2017 At Sea
Wednesday, March 01, 2017 Sydney, Australia 6:30AM

—–

DATE LOCATION ARRIVAL DEPARTURE
Wednesday, March 01, 2017 Sydney, Australia 6:30PM
Thursday, March 02, 2017 At Sea
Friday, March 03, 2017 At Sea
Saturday, March 04, 2017 Noumea, New Caledonia 8:00AM 5:00PM
Sunday, March 05, 2017 Lifou, Loyalty Island 8:00AM 5:00PM
Monday, March 06, 2017 Mystery Island, Vanuatu 8:00AM 5:00PM
Tuesday, March 07, 2017 At Sea
Wednesday, March 08, 2017 Suva, Fiji 8:00AM 5:00PM
Thursday, March 09, 2017 Lautoka, Fiji 7:00AM 4:00PM
Friday, March 10, 2017 At Sea
Saturday, March 11, 2017 At Sea
Sunday, March12, 2017 At Sea
Monday, March 13, 2017 Sydney, Australia 6:30AM

———

DATE LOCATION ARRIVAL DEPARTURE
Monday, March 13, 2017 Sydney, Australia 6:30PM
Tuesday, March 14, 2017 Newcastle, Australia 8:00AM 5:00PM
Wednesday, March 15, 2017 At Sea
Thursday, March 16, 2017 At Sea
Friday, March 17, 2017 Airlie Beach, Qld, Australia 8:00AM 5:00PM
Saturday, March 18, 2017 Cairns, Australia 10:00AM
Sunday, March 19, 2017 Cairns, Australia 7:00PM
Monday, March 20, 2017 Port Douglas, Australia 7:00AM 7:00PM
Tuesday, March 21, 2017 Willis Island (Cruising), Aus 11:00AM 1:00PM
Wednesday, March 22, 2017 At Sea
Thursday, March 23, 2017 Brisbane, Australia 8:00AM 8:00PM
Friday, March 24, 2017 At Sea
Saturday, March 25, 2017 Sydney, Australia 6:30AM

We have also managed to get the same cabin for all three cruises and again someone is looking out for us because its in our favoured location on the hump, deck 7.

Getting to Auckland and then back home from Sydney will involve 4 flights in total. Again we feel someone is looking out for us as we were able to include the flights into the package along with all transfers. Our journey out is via Los Angeles and the return leg is via Singapore both with stopovers and with different airlines. Essentially we will go round the world in 42 days.

Because of the duration of this trip we have had to do a lot more planning than usual and with so many new ports to visit we have been very busy checking out what will be of interest to us. The Cruise Critic  Roll Calls have been a great source of information and we have lots of things planned and hopefully there will be much to share here as the trip unfolds.

Hopefully you will tag along and with a bit of luck enjoy hearing about what we get up to which will include our journeys to and from the ship.

 

Back in July 2012 we took a 7 day cruise on MSC Musica, we chose that particular cruise because of the length, date and itinerary but most importantly the price. As we were taking our two teenage boys away during the summer holidays we found it to be the best deal for us. Well to cut a long story short it wasn’t the best cruise we have ever had and consequently MSC went off the radar for us.
I have always been aware of a few people who swear by MSC and this has always left me wondering whether our cruise with them was a one off and that we had just been unlucky? Was it the ship, the cruise line or time of year or even location that made it not the cruise we had hoped?
So when the possibility of a free cruise materialised I had to at least chance my arm in the hope of being selected so we could find out if we had just been unlucky first time round.


MSC Splendida as a ship more than lives up to the name, she is tastefully decorated throughout without being too gaudy or brash like some other Italian ships we have sailed on. On first boarding we were struck by the large public spaces including the stair landings and there seemed to be large mirrors just about everywhere (even at the end of the bed!)

She really is a beautiful ship and we felt positive vibes as we wandered round for the first time.
One of our grumbles from 2012 was the lack of bar staff and I recall having to stand 3 deep at the pool bar while trying to make the most of our Allegrissimo drinks package. There just wasn’t the level of staff available to provide the service we are used to. I have always assumed the price we had paid reflected the end product and we got exactly what we had paid for. So with the previous experience in mind we approached this fresh MSC encounter with the hope that it would be much improved.


Being as most of the items have already been covered in the blog I will try and talk about a few of the items which I didn’t get time to mention and in particular Nicole’s dietary requirements.
Our initial impressions were favourable and on our first afternoon onboard, we were sat out by the pool and were served by a very attentive barman who took the time to show me the wines in the drinks package, so far so good.

Soon after and feeling hungry we decided to try a spot of lunch in the buffet (Bora Bora Cafeteria) and this is where we experienced a frustration. Nicole requires a gluten free diet so were concerned to see none of the food had been labelled as to whether they contained allergens. We had been on Celebrity Eclipse three weeks before where all allergens are highlighted on the food labels so we were disappointed to see MSC had not done the same. Then when we approached the staff behind the counters we were either met with a blank expression or directed to a gluten free bar on deck 5, (more about that later). If you don’t have to worry about such things then you will never notice it but the impact of this is that the options available can become very limited. We did highlight this with Steve Harris the MSC Marketing Manager later in the evening.
From a personal point, I found the buffet food on offer to be more than adequate and made short work of several slices of the pizza on offer with up to six different options available on my visit.
After a couple of drinks we did some more exploring and then when Nicole went off to see if our cases had arrived I decided to start writing my blog and have beer in the process. Again I was served straight away and I quite merrily sipped and typed the day’s events. My glass was soon empty and I was approached by a waitress asking if I wanted another. Who was I to refuse? So with no Nicole (cases must be there and she’s unpacking) I decided another would actually be really nice.
Twenty minutes later Nicole arrives back all pleased with herself as the cases had arrived and had been all unpacked. “You not having another?” she asked “Yes” I replied “but my waitress seems to have got lost with my card and drink”. Another ten minutes elapsed and the muster was looming so I went in search of my card. At this point I wasn’t too worried about the drink I just wanted my card back. I eventually tracked her down and she still had my card on the tray with no drink! She did apologise and said that she was the only member of bar staff serving in the area which I considered quite a disappointing response especially as it wasn’t that busy!
I am happy to say this was never repeated during the cruise and it was just an isolated incident but it did give me some cause for concern at the time.
The muster was much better organised this time and I was pleased to see they actually logged us in this time as back in 2012 there was no head count or check list. For the muster everyone had to collect their life jacket from the cabin and carry it down to their station. Our station became very busy with many having to stand; I dread to think how this would work in the event of a real emergency. Surprisingly there were a number of passengers that didn’t bother turning up, the downside for them was that they were asked to attend another muster later that day. It took quite a while for everyone to disperse so we took the opportunity to have a look at the theatre which on Splendida is big and holds 1604 people and is very impressive.


After the muster we enjoyed pre dinner drinks in the Purple Jazz Lounge with all the other bloggers and their guests along with all the cruise.co.uk staff. Drinks were plentiful and very well received especially the Vodka Martinis which I took a particular shine to.
First night we ate in the Tex Mex restaurant and this wasn’t at all what I had been anticipating. We were advised to make the Maître D aware of Nicole’s dietary requirements and she was initially shown the same menu. After questioning this, another menu was produced which was gluten free. The downside was it wasn’t Mexican in the slightest. So while we all ate tacos, chilli’s and fajitas which were very tasty, Nicole had Tomato and Mozzarella to start, then a tomato pasta followed by Veal and potatoes (no vegetables) and then a polenta cake to finish which was very dry. The waiter was very attentive and noticed she wasn’t eating the polenta cake so after removing it he proceeded to replace it with a huge helping of gluten free ice cream. A very nice gluten free meal but not really a ‘Tex Mex’ experience!!
Breakfast the next day was taken in the buffet as we had a behind the scenes tour at 8:30 and without wanting to get up too early it was the quicker option. Nicole playing it safe with a few known gluten free items. I however tucked into the pastries which were excellent. The Allegrissimo drinks package came into its own with the many quality coffee’s available.

The backstage tour gave us the opportunity to see the many areas used for the stage productions and learnt that all the performers are responsible for doing their own make-up and hair which is no mean feat particularly when the ship is in rough seas! The galley tour was also very interesting we learnt that there is an ingredient list available in the kitchen should any passenger have a question about ingredients in a particular dish so wonder why this information is not provided on the menu as it is already available. We were even told there is a special area of the galley which caters for gluten free dishes. During the tour we were blown away by the passion that the backstage staff have for their jobs. The master baker had nothing but praise for his staff and made it known that they were the ones that deserved the praise for the beautifully presented food all passengers and staff are served. The laundry staff working very hard in a very challenging environment but still appeared happy and smiling. We feel all the backstage staff should be rewarded not just the front line staff we see each day. We get VERY annoyed when we hear passengers talking about removing the gratuities from their bills and just want to tip the ones that have served them directly. So the MSC policy of no additional tipping is a real positive with us!!!
With the tour over we were given a presentation by our MSC hosts about future ships and plans for the cruise line. Very ambitious plans indeed and not exactly the way we would like to see things going but they do seem to be trying to reach out to a wider audience some nice looking innovative cabins. MSC Seaside sounds very interesting and possibly the type of cruising that is for us as we enjoy having a strong connection with the sea while cruising.
Big ships and lots of them and they will be real completion for RCI and NCL if their prices are right. MSC really want to rule the seas!

The afternoon was ours to do as we wished and with the sun shining we spent a while outside before I came in to do a spot of blogging with a nice chilled beer at my side. There was lot of commotion coming from the atrium where we discovered a Russian couple getting married. Congratulations Alexy and Elana!!!
Later we investigated the Splendida bar which has the tag of being a gluten free bar, yes that’s right a gluten free bar where you can get gluten free drinks and four varieties of snacks for a small fee. We were sent down here as we were informed you could get the gluten free ice cream there but not according to the two staff behind the bar who were in disagreement to start with but then both conceding there wasn’t any available. On a positive note the location of this bar does provide a nice view of the lower part of the atrium which is great for people watching whilst drinking beer and lovely coffee care of the Allegrissimo package.


That evening a large portion of the group including ourselves went to the show in the theatre which was called Coney Island. Just as well that I took a glass of wine in with me as no drinks were being served there. It’s obviously not something MSC does, well not on this ship anyway. The show was not really our cup of tea but we stayed the course to show respect to the performers.
The evening meal was taken in the MDR by everyone and while I thought the food OK but perhaps a little bland, Nicole on the other hand got the better deal. Salad to start, a tasty risotto then Fillet Mignon with spinach and chips! She ate well tonight including a lovely gluten free roll. Like our previous cruise on MSC we found the dining tables really close together which I am sure hampered the waiters a little. The decor however is best seen when empty as it’s a lovely looking venue.


Day three was a port day and we went to Honfleur where we treated ourselves to Moules and frites for lunch. Nicole not having had a large breakfast was hungry and really enjoyed the treat.
Our last evening aboard we dined in the Yacht Club dining room WOW… MSC really pulled out the stops not just for me but Nicole too. It just a shame that dining here comes with a price tag of a more expensive cabin. Nicole was again given her own menu and enjoyed her selection immensely Citrus salad, basil risotto, a lovely piece of Perch with lots of vegetables and the grand finale a huge slice of moist gluten free cake which she said could have been split into three and lasted all three nights.


I believe that with a slightly higher ratio of crew to passenger MSC might work for us, but then the overall cruise price would probably end up being more to balance the additional staff. MSC currently offer cruises at a very affordable prices and this does seem to make them very popular. We would prefer to pay the little extra and know that we are getting the product we want. Yes you can get a better product with MSC but a cabin at the pointy end isn’t a location where we want to be. Our cabin on this cruise was forward but it seemed miles away from everything and we seemed to have missed seeing some of the spaces towards the aft. For example we never did find the F1 simulator. The positive about being near the front was to be able to hear the bow waves crashing underneath you with the balcony door open while at sea and we had an excellent view into the flying bridge.

So to round it all off I will just finish by saying we still feel MSC isn’t for us as a couple but if we were travelling in a group it would be a serious consideration and we would never say no to a cruise which took us to an itinerary we wanted for a decent price.

We don’t necessarily agree with the direction MSC are heading with some of their big new ships and noted that one of the designs we were shown had a very similar layout to RCI with a central avenue. Maybe MSC can make it work better? Who knows and maybe after we have read some positive reviews from others it might tempt us to investigate and we do have a weakness for new ships so I won’t totally write them off just yet.

Finally, a big thanks to the cruise.co.uk for the giving us the chance to try MSC again, in particular the staff onboard with us(Rachael, Jane, Nick, Katie, Mindy, Millie, Pete, Lee, Sarah, Jo & Connie) for being such amazing hosts and making the whole experience a real treat. Thanks too to Steve & Victoria for their input and tireless work to try and ensure that we always got looked after properly.

Lastly thanks to all the other bloggers and their guests for being such excellent company. Sadly we didn’t get round to speaking to everyone as the schedule was at times a little hectic. We all look for different things from a cruise and maybe this was why some of our paths didn’t cross. So all I can say for definite is that I’ll see you all on the forum real soon.

Here is a link to my Flickr album for this cruise

 

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