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Kat goes on holiday - MSC Preziosa Eastern Med (5th July 2014)

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I am back from an amazing holiday - with one of the highlights being our week on the MSC Preziosa - so for your entertainment I am posting up a blog of our trip. I've decided to go start to finish - which includes a lot of non-cruise stuff.

 

Be warned - I am also posting strictly for entertainment and any helpful information that is obtained from my posts is fortuitous and not deliberate or by design. There will be no discussions of benefits of different cabin categories, or musings on value for money. I am including no pictures of bathroom configurations or the sockets at the back of the TV. In fact, we never even turned the darn thing on.

 

I am simply posting an account of a trip that was nine months in the planning, two weeks to complete and a lifetime of wonderful memories. I hope you enjoy it and if you don't then I recommend that you don't bother reading it but instead go plan your next cruise. :D

 

Finally, its going to take me a while to get through so please be patient. I have six kids and a busy life but I will post as fast as I can. :)

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Day 1 & prologue

 

The final day was a funny one. So much was done already yet so much seemed to be necessary to still complete. First on the list was stripping beds,washing linen and remaking beds plus getting groceries for the week. I was determined to minimize the stress for my mother who had generously agreed to fly up to Auckland to care for my boys for the first week but of course in doing so I was taking so much more upon myself. Still, I had prepared well. All I needed to focus on was getting these final tasks done and finishing my packing. Everything else was in place.

 

The planning for this trip started nine months ago, on a beach on the Gold Coast, Australia. I was away on a girls weekend and waking early I had decided to go to a cafe for breakfast then sit in on the beach enjoying the early morning sun. As I sat there, cherishing the peace and serenity of the moment, I could help but feel a little lonely. My life, as a mother and full time caregiver of six boys, is necessarily one of organized chaos, noise and constant activity. Order is only found in being constantly busy. Having time to sit, alone, in peaceful solitude, is a rare gift - and one that I found I couldn't fully enjoy. There was one hugely significant thing missing - without which the moment could not be perfect. I missed my husband. My best friend. My soul mate. I realised that I should be enjoying this moment with him and I pined for him. It sounds sappy and sentimental but to be honest, much as I was enjoying myself, it simply wasn't complete without him.

 

And it was at that moment I decided to acquiesce to a request he had made many times, - and not just acquiesce but full embrace it. When I got home I told him 'Yes'. Yes, I would make plans for just the two of us to go away together, without our boys.

 

The thought was both exhilarating and horrifying! Our children, at the time of writing, are 6, 8 and 12. In addition we provide full time care for three other boys aged 13, 14 and 18. Since having our first child we have spent a total of four nights away together - consisting of two separate trips. I am a full time mother - leaving my kids is not something that is in my nature of my experience!

 

But once I give my word then it is as good as done so I set out planning. The first major decision was when. But that was rather easy - 2014 marks our 15th wedding anniversary, our 40th birthdays and 10 year anniversary of starting our company. And knowing my husband typically travels internationally for business in June/July then it made sense to tie it in so we were only paying one set of airfares. Looking at the calendar I also discovered that the school and university holidays were at the start of July which tied perfectly with asking my sister, a student midwife, to care for the boys for part of that time. So I asked my sister if she could help me and she said yes, she could do a week! My hero! And then I asked my mum if she could do the other week. She also said yes and just like that it was happening!

 

The next question was where. We had already visited Australia several times and the Pacific and Asia held no great attraction for us. We developed a plan to fly to Los Angeles then visit Yosemite Park and Las Vegas. I blocked out a plan for a two week holiday that included a plane trip over the Hoover Dam and I toyed with the idea of us returning to Disneyland. The problem was I just didn't think I could look my sons in the eye and tell them I was going to Disneyland without them!

 

So casting around, I hit upon the plan of doing a cruise! As a child, my parents used to take my siblings and I to Port Chalmers, the port in Dunedin, NZ, on the rare occasions the cruise ships visited. As I stood there and gazed at the white expanse of hull rising high above me I could only imagine the glamor and excitement that lay within. It seemed so exotic and so incredibly removed from my life as the eldest of six kids in a middle income family in the eighties. I was determined from those earliest years to one day do a cruise - though it seemed as likely as one day walking on the moon!

 

But now it was a possibility. All that was required was to make a choice to do one. And so I started to look at cruises from San Diego, Los Angeles and Vancouver. The problem was that none of the itineraries really excited me. They all seemed to fall far short of the exotic ideal that was a cruise to me. Looking further afield I also considered Caribbean cruises but the necessitated a further six of more hours flying and I had already said to my husband that I didn't want to waste precious holiday time in transit - thus ruling out Europe. I was also very conscious that my beloved has travelled widely in Europe over the last decade and - call it pride or pigheadedness - I didn't want to traipse around behind him seeing sights he had already seen, knew all about, and thought I might like. Nor did he want to spent countless travel days stuck in airports and finding our way to hotels.

 

Those who know me will nod and laugh at the startling revelation that I am very much a type A personality. A thing is not worth doing unless it is done right. And I need to be in control if it. I am a perfectionist by nature and very much details oriented - something that has stood me in good stead for running a family of six boys plus a dog as well as our family company. And so I felt very strongly that it wasn't even worth doing this holiday if we were going to have to 'settle' for something that was anything less than absolutely magical and as close to perfection as I could humanly manage.

 

So I was at an uncomfortable impasse with a less than magical itinerary but parameters that impacted on the likelihood of being able to be bought up to scratch - Europe is amazing but too much traveling to see various sights…A cruise would be amazing but the ports America were unexciting to us. This meant that the only logical choice was to bite the bullet and absorb the extra travel time in order to take a European cruise with exciting ports each day and no worries about getting to each new city.

 

And so I started reading about various cruise options in Europe. It seemed like the best solution to maximise the short time we had away from our boys and to see some amazing sights without having to spend countless hours transiting - an all to frequent part of my husband’s business travel that he has grown to loathe.

 

Within days I because a bit of an armchair cruise snob. I joined a wonderful website called CruiseCritic which contains a wealth of information and experience. I poured over itineraries, ships specs, cruise reviews, menus and even smoking policies. I swiftly discovered that the Mediterranean was where I wanted to be and that because of the port intensive nature of it, the ship is often considered secondary to the destinations. So then I turned my obsessive attention to the ports.

 

In functional terms, the Mediterranean can be split into the eastern Med (which typically includes Croatia, Greece, Turkey and eastern parts of Italy) and the Western Med (which includes Italy, France, Spain etc). As I had done a degree in Classical Studies at university, studying the history, culture and society of ancient civilisations such as the Greeks, Babylonians and Romans, the Eastern Med itineraries immediately appealed. I found several itineraries that included ancient sites I had studied (Ephesus and Olympia) and threw in Istanbul for good measure. I could not have been more delighted when I discovered these. I may even have squealed a bit in glee. Istanbul sounds so exotic and foreign and exciting!

 

MSC cruises caught our attention. Their ships are 90% smoke free, including the bars, which appeals to us. They also had a very new ship, the MSC Preziosa launched in March 2013, sailing the route. And they started in Venice! Squeal again! I have always wanted to visit Venice!

 

So I had a chat to The Boss about his business travel the next year and he went and checked out the schedules of upcoming clinical meetings, symposiums and congresses that he wanted to attend and came back to me to say that he’d be busy through June but could set aside some holiday time in July. And in fact, he would be in England right up to the 4th of July. A few key clicks later I found that the Preziosa had a sailing from Venice on the 5th of July and that my kids school holidays started on the 4th! With a little help from my supportive family I could get on a plane on the night of the 3rd of July, meet my husband in London on the 4th and fly to Venice ready to board the ship for our first cruise on the 5th. It had all come together seamlessly!

 

Then, considering we were travelling so far, it made sense to stay on in Europe for an extra few nights. So we added on another night in Venice, three in Paris and one in London before returning home to the organised chaos that is our life with six kids.

 

And so I started making my bookings, exploring our options, developing what has become a very extensive spreadsheet, and weaving wonderful plans for a magical holiday together.

 

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Edited by Katgoesonholiday

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We opted to buy our tickets through an online agency based in Miami, Florida as it was much cheaper than buying them through a travel agent here in NZ. Originally we booked an aft balcony on the 13th deck of the ship. But the more I read about the MSC Yacht Club, effectively a first class section of the ship with its own bars, lounge, pools and restaurant plus butler service, the more i craved that extra touch of luxury. So several months after booking we decided to upgrade to the Yacht Club. It cost us roughly double what we had already committed to paying - but in retrospect I can easily say that it was worth every cent!

 

Over the last nine months I have lived and breathed this holiday. It has become my baby - both in similar gestation and also in the initial excitement and glee, followed by frantic organising and swift draining of finances, and finally being completely over the whole thing and just wishing it would just hurry up and happen.

 

Three weeks before the magic date, my husband departed to Europe for business. At that point I had organised everything with regimental ruthlessness - filling three lever arch folders with each detail of our plans (emails, invoices, bookings, walking directions etc etc) organised with tabs for each day. In my defence these folders were identical and I had one to leave at home for my mum and sister in case anything went pear shaped, one for me to carry in my suitcase, and one smaller 50% sized one where I could take out the leaves for each day and pop them into my handbag.

 

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Finding myself at home with sole care of six boys for three weeks meant that I couldn’t think too much about the trip. And I didn’t want to, to be honest. I was over it. I was tired of planning it. It almost didn’t seem real - like it was happening to me. So I gave it a break. I decided not to think about it again for two weeks and then to just focus on the immediate preparations I needed to do to get myself and my sons ready for my departure. Any thought, and glimmer of excitement got ruthlessly stomped on and I embraced my cognitive dissonance of preparing for this major trip whilst refusing to think about it at all. Thirty five years a catholic had honed these skills well.

 

But whilst you may have your brain giving the appearance of being under your control - its a lie. Mine began to betray me four days before the trip by waking me at 4am with lists dancing through my head and no chance of getting back to sleep. At this point it was winter in New Zealand and I was terrified of coming down with something before I left. I had had the flu jab and was religiously taking Vitamin C, Zinc, and multivitamins. I needed my sleep to stay healthy! What was my brain thinking? Damn you brain!

 

What the wretched thing was thinking was “OMG! Its the ‘week of’!!! Finally! The week of the trip! How can you not be delirious with excitement about this? Wake up! Wake up!”

 

Horrible brain!

 

Till that point I had managed to contain the excitement - I think I was far more excited in the early months of planning and booking than I was in the last month when it was imminent.

 

But finally it was the day before - and in my plans the day before was really the day it all started happening. On the Wednesday morning I had an appointment at my local salon to make me feel and look special. Then in the evening the kids and I picked up my mum from the airport.

 

Now I have to admit, I’m super impressed with my mum. She and I haven’t always seen eye to eye over things but you get older you realise that those thing often don’t matter too much and holding onto the past helps no one. What matters is whether, in their heart of hearts, they will be there for you when you need it. I knew mum always would for me.

 

However, I wasn’t so sure about whether she would be there if I didn’t need it but just wanted it for fun and frivolity. I phoned her and asked her if she would consider living in my home for a week and caring for her grandson’s and she never hesitated. It was an immediate yes. My boys are my life and that did more to mend bridges than anything else could have. Especially since my mum hasn’t been able to spend a lot of time with my kids and my younger two hardly know her. Mum lives in a city ten hours drive away and is in full-time employment there. The times that she did travel to our city she spent mostly with her mother who was growing increasingly frail, and her sister who was doing most of the day to day support of Grandma. She would take time to come spend a few hours with the boys but her priority was naturally her elderly mother - especially once Grandma started having mini-strokes. Sadly for us a massive stroke carried her off some time during the night on Christmas 2012 after a glorious day surrounded with family. The next few trips following that were spent doing business and supporting her sister emotionally and to work through all the details that inevitably follow a death.

 

So my poor mother had spent years using all her leave to spend time with her mum and support her family and had had very little time to have a holiday of her own. And here I was asking her to give up more time! I felt quite selfish but she assured me vehemently and on numerous occasions that she saw this as a wonderful opportunity to spend time with her grandsons and build a much stronger relationship with them. Being the generous soul I am, I consented to give her this opportunity and clear off so she could. :P

 

The kids were super excited to pick her up from the airport and bring her home to show her all their stuff. And I was grateful to have her there a day early to see their evening and morning routines. Some kids are lovely quiet placid wee things. Mine are the polar opposite. I feared for her sanity but consoled myself that she has raised six children of her own and they have mostly turned out okay. She knew what she was getting herself into!

 

The next morning I was once again woken at 4am - this time my brain had ditched the lists in favour of loudly screeching non-stop ‘Today’s the day! Today’s the day!’

 

Shut up brain. Nobody wants to listen to you at 4am.

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We got the kids off to school and settled down into the final preparations - stripping the bedlinen and washing it, making a menu plan and picking up the groceries, finish the packing, (me) getting a spray tan to cover up my garish winter white skin, and (mum) hemming my jeans.

 

The day went fast and I felt like I had drunk 40 coffees! I was completely wired and to be frank - a bit of a mess. I had adrenaline coursing through my system, I was dreading that the kids would create a scene when I left, I was blithering and frequently not making a lot of sense, and my tummy felt hollow and sick. The plan was to get everything finalised so that when the boys came home from school I could spend some time focussing on them. I forgot to allow for the fact that I’m really just not as interesting as either Minecraft or Paw Patrol - even on a day when they won’t be seeing me again for two weeks. I contented myself by sitting on the couch with my two younger boys snuggling into either side as we watched cartoons together. They were most put out when the taxi arrived and I made them pause to say goodbye.

 

The dreaded scene didn’t eventuate. Mr8 kept demanding hugs and the taxi driver loitered by the car despite seeing I was struggling with two cases and a small child resembling a limpet. In the end I prised off the child and called the taxi driver to come help me with the bigger case. Mum took the kids back inside and I sat in the back of the taxi completely distraught, hands shaking as I imagined the scene that was now unfolding at home. Mr6 and Mr8 dissolving in hysterical tears asking why they couldn’t come too, refusing to go to bed, emotionally traumatised for life.

 

I lasted 12 minutes - a heroic effort - before I texted my mum. “They’re fine” was her reply. What does she mean ‘They’re fine’? Does she mean they are still collapsed in howling emotional agony but she doesn’t want me to worry about it? When I checked in my hands were shaking so badly I could barely hold my passport.

 

After check in I went up to the Koru Lounge - an advantage of being the nominated partner of a frequently travelling husband who has gold elite status with Air New Zealand. I poured myself a glass of pinot gris and iMessaged my husband (who had just woken up in England) to ask him to talk to the boys and try to ease their trauma. Meanwhile I had a lovely long chat with my aunt and uncle which helped settle my nerves considerably.

 

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Then mum called and said that after I left the boys went happily back to watching their interrupted program and then went to bed with little fuss and only the usual teeth brushing shennanigans.

 

I was so happy and relieved to hear that!

 

And my stomach said to my brain “What the heck? You’ve been getting me all stirred up about this moment for months and they are FINE???” My brain replied “Whoops! My bad!” And I went and threw up everything I had ate that day.

 

After that I felt much better so I had a cup of tea and settled down to wait for boarding. That came soon enough and it wasn’t long till I was sitting in the plane waiting for the 9:30pm take off that would begin our epic holiday.

Edited by Katgoesonholiday

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I was still waiting at 9:45pm.

 

And 10:00pm.

 

In fact, we were all still waiting, obediently buckled into our seats but defiantly turning our phones back on to try find out *** was going on or (in my case) check to see the kids were still okay and to sound my horn one last time in Mousehunt. It turns out that there was a fault with an aircon unit which needed to be taken offline and restarted. That sounds fine until you realise its located at the BACK of the cargo hold. So we waited and waited and waited some more whilst they unloaded the cargo, located this damn faulty unit, bashed it back into working order, and reloaded the cargo. Fortunately the delay was only a little more than an hour and we finally got underway just after 10:30pm. Not so fortunately the dinner service was very slow and made even more so by turbulence which meant the flight attendants had to sit down immediately after serving the person next to me. This was cruel and unusual punishment! And to make matters worse, I had got almost to the end of Captain America: Winter Soldier before being offered a glass of wine! Oh the hardship!

 

Finally, by 1:30am NZ time I had watched a movie, eaten my dinner and sipped my way through a very welcome glass of wine. Time for ear plugs, a sleeping pill and a well deserved rest.

 

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I actually got just over six hours which was fabulous considering I am short and was constantly woken by being unable to find a comfortable position that supported my lower legs without placing too much pressure on my thighs. It was such a shame I discovered the foot rest about half an hour after I woke!

 

Still, I was on my way and no longer burdened by worrying constantly about my boys. We landed in America and we swift shuffled into the transit lounge. Thankfully they had a small lounge room for the premium members and also the pilot had made up a lot of the lost time. So I had time to freshen up, make a cup of tea, and have a bite to eat. I also jumped onto the wifi and left messages for my boys (who were at school) and touched base with mum. I think she will be looking forward to the sea days on the cruise when I have no cell phone coverage! :P

 

I was also delighted to find that my request for a seat upgrade had been granted and I was now in Premium Economy (formerly business class). This gave me much more comfortable seats, more space, better food and a nice little cushioned foot rest - which was still too small to compensate for my rather short legs.

 

Shortly after take off, I was amused to look out the window and see the Hoover Dam. A flight over this amazing manmade structure had been part of the original holiday plan and now I was actually doing it!

 

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Having watched Captain America on the first flight I opted for 300: Rise of an Empire for the second flight. I think my choice of preferred movies is a good indication that I am well suited to be the mother of boys. Hmmmm….Mother of Boys? Mother of Dragons sounds much more impressive but I guess we have to work with what we have got.

 

The meal in Premium Economy was very tasty and served fast. The wine was also free flowing and I started the flight with a glass of bubbly - raising a toast to my beloved who I would soon be seeing) and then nursed a single glass of Chardonney through dinner and to the end of the movie. Arriving hungover in London would suck! I then took another sleeping pill but it only gave me a few hours sleep. No worries - I figured that I would have a very full day ahead of me and then could sleep in Venice and pretty much be adjusted to the time zone. Lets see how that works out for me! :P

 

The flight into London was delayed a little and had to fly a holding pattern over the countryside for about twenty minutes. Looking out the window I could have been looking out over home - there was little difference in the green fields, roads and little pockets of urban activity. But the we began our descent into London and any illusion of home was completely shattered! I was delighted to recognise the Thames River snaking through and got some wonderful views of the Millennium Wheel. Soon we were on the ground and I was a woman with a mission! A mission to rejoin my beloved and start our holiday without delays!

 

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The plane I was travelling on was 767 and it had 2x2x2 seats across in these front sections the 3x4x3 in the economy cabin. I was in row 21 so by the time I got off, so had 120 other people. No matter - I was wearing my Skeetchers and I was used to power walking! I gripped my carryon case and off I went!

 

I hadn’t realised just how big those terminals are at Heathrow!!! By the time I had traversed countless kilometers of corridors and stairs I was parched! But I also only had three people in front of me! Ha!

 

Very soon I was passing through those doors and looking out for my husband - and then after three weeks of being apart we were together again and on holiday! Yay! Plus he had a huge bottle of water so double yay!

 

For our next step, we had to get to Gatwick. The time was around 12:30pm and we had a British Airways flight leaving at 6:30pm. In order to minimise the hassle and also keep costs down, I had booked us ticked on The National Express which does a bus from Heathrow to Gatwick. This takes about one hour twenty minutes with a good half of that time being trailing round the other Heathrow terminals picking people up!! That wasn’t very exciting but it wasn’t too long till we were on our way and able to experience first hand the M25 - a stretch of road that I have heard one of my friends complain about incessantly for years. :P I guess we were lucky - there were a few congested bits but we were at Gatwick before 2:30pm and able to check into our flight very smoothly.

 

When originally planning this trip I had booked flights leaving Gatwick at 5:15pm but within months BA had arbitrarily changed them to 6:30pm which annoyed me no end as it pushed our arrival time into Venice just that much later and I knew I would be jet lagged I didn’t want to do this. I also didn’t want to be stuck mooching around in Gatwick for a zillion hours. So we (and I actually mean I) tossed around lots of options including staying in London near Heathrow one night and catching the first BA flight from Heathrow to Venice the next morning. But that violated the first law of cruising - which is to arrive the day before. Plus my husband was very keen to get to Venice that night and felt that they delay worked to our advantage as we didn’t know what kind of setbacks we might have leading up to it. He travels a lot and is used to everything from lost luggage to engineering issues to airport evacuations. So as a compromise we agreed to purchase tickets to the No1 Lounge so at least we could have showers, settle back and relax without having to keep moving our stuff.

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Checking into the No1 Lounge was easy and we were soon settled on a couch drinking a glass on Pimms. At that point I left my husband busily logging into the wifi and I went to find the showers. They are not immediately obvious and I had to walk through the ‘spa’ to get there. There were two showers and I have to admit I was seriously under impressed with them. The one I used seemed clean enough and provided a good selection of clean linen. It also had soap, shampoo, conditioner and body lotion in large pump type bottles on the wall. Sadly the soap pump over the sink was broken. The negatives were objectively few but huge. The first was that no matter what I did with the taps, the shower was SCALDING hot! I couldn’t actually get under it except for a few seconds where it randomly ran cold. I managed to clean myself adequately but it certainly wasn’t the shower I had been looking forward to for the last 30 hours! The second was that the ventilation was lousy and the room fogged up from the scalding water and simply didn’t clear again. Finally, the lighting was so dim that it was very difficult, having carefully cleared a minuscule section of fogged mirror, to see myself well enough to do things like put in my contact lenses, style my hair and apply makeup. I was quite glad to get out of there and wouldn’t bother booking the lounge for the showers in future.

 

The lounge itself was busy but adequate. We felt it was money well spent. It seemed to be understaffed for the very busy times and they kept running out of things like milk and tea bags. A quiet word to a passing staff member got that sorted with a smile though. We were very happy when they put out fresh cookies and the cheese sticks were tasty!!! As you can imagine, there was a high turnover in the lounge so there were times when the tables were full of used glasses and plates and the floor was covered in crumbs but these were dealt with fairly quickly. We did have to move from our original position though as we shortly after we got seated another two couples sat close by and one of them spent the entire time monologuing in a loud whining voice. I had to giggle though, one of complaints was “Why do we have to pay for water? Water should be free!” Though not so amusing after ten minutes of the same complaint with variations. So when a table by a window came free in one of the other rooms we leapt at it and thus saved me from spending the night in jail for clobbering her with a side plate.

 

The BA flight was delayed leaving and by then I was entering the ‘sicky’ stage of being completely jet lagged and exhausted. NZ is eleven hours difference so it felt like I had stayed up all day and then all night and still had another day to go. My stomach was roiling and I was beginning to make very little sense. MrKat got me sat down and made sure I had my boarding pass and passport ready as we waited for them to start boarding. The gate lounge was full and when they announced that they would be boarding strictly only in order of rows, then called rows 1-4, I was amused that 90% of the people in the lounge immediately leapt up and converged on the desks! Morons! Sometimes you wonder about the future of humanity!

 

BA was good and stuck to the plan and it wasn’t long before we were boarding. I had paid extra to select our seats so that we were together and had a window, and figuring that I would sleep for the two hour flight, MrKat took the window seat and I took the centre. Once again, I was very lucky with my seat mate and got a normal sized woman next to me. Having spent 13 hours squeezed into less than 2/3rds of my seat by an apologetic but huge Tongan gentleman many years back, this is a big consideration for me. So I squeezed in my earplugs, arranged my neck pillow and pulled my snuggly cardigan around me ready for sleep.

 

I love my ear plugs - they cut out my husband’s snoring, they eliminate the engine noises, they dampen down talking around me…but it turns out they are completely useless at blocking out Dora the Explorer! As soon as the flight was in the air, the lady next to me took charge of her two year old who had been sitting across the aisle and sat her on her knee to watch kids programs on the ipad. She was super considerate and kept the volume very low but there is something about Dora’s voice that could probably penetrate metre thick lead. She’s even more piercing and annoying than the lady at Gatwick. It did the trick with the wee girl though and she was quiet, still and happy for the whole flight so kudos to her mum for being prepared.

 

Since sleep was futile I settled for reading my book and gulping back BA coffee. They also provided us with a very nicely packaged bread roll snack that was quite tasty and filled a gap I didn’t even realise was there. I started to feel more revived and was very excited when we started the descent into Marco Polo Airport. Sadly we were on the wrong side of the plane to get a good view of Venice as we came in - not a fault of my planning but due to another reason which we will not go into *glares at MrKat*. But the view of the commercial port and Mestre was fascinating and we were kept well amused for the descent.

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My husband has this daft thing he’s been doing recently where he says ‘Marco’ and I am compelled to say “Polo’. Its an OCD thing and he thinks its hilarious. He was incorrigible through this airport and I was about ready to gag him!

 

There are two queues for the passport control - one for EU residents and one for the rest of us. We were in the first 3rd of people to leave the plane but were literally the last to go through security! It made no real difference, the bags weren’t off the plane yet.

 

In the baggage hall there are numerous kiosks for getting tickets for various transport options. I had already prebooked the ATVO shuttle and just needed to enter the code into a kiosk to get a ticket. I was staggered at the amount of clueless numpties milling around trying to figure out where they were and how they were going to get to their hotel. Did they think that British Airways would be landing in St Marks Square?

 

It wasn’t long before we had both tickets and bags and were ready to venture out and find the ATVO bus stop. Here the advice given on the Cruise Critic forums was invaluable and I knew to come out of the baggage hall, head for the doors to the righthand side of the front of the building (C & D) and then exit and cross the first lane to the bus stop. It was well sign posted and there was a staff member there to assist the persistently baffled. From my reading I knew that there would be two bus stops for the ATVO and that this was the most direct means to get to Venice cheaply. I also had a timetable and knew that I was looking for the #1 bus. We must have arrived as one had left as we had a bit of a wait - no more than 15 minutes. About 2 mins after we arrived a family near us, who had been having intense discussion, decided to bail and catch another bus that had pulled up 20m further down the road. They scampered with their suitcases bouncing behind them and just managed to get on before it left. My husband was inclined to follow them but I assured him that we needed to be on the ATVO bus and we would regret getting on the other one. We later saw this family arrive in Piazzale Roma after we had checked in at our hotel, and were on our way to get some dinner. Ouch!

 

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The ATVO bus was arrived exactly on the dot of 10:50pm as per the timetable and it didn’t take long to load up and leave. We found ourselves sitting at the back with a ‘know it all’ and his friends behind us and a ‘persistently baffled’ in front of us. The ‘know it all’ kept me awake and entertained during the drive as he authoritatively explained to his friends that we were now passing over the causeway when in fact we had buildings and bushes on both sides of us. Then when the bus stopped in Piazzale Roma and they had thundered off, the ‘persistently baffled’ wanted to know if this was the only stop and when we were going to be getting on the boats to get to Venice. I do sometimes wonder how some people manage to get halfway round the world without a clue as to what they need to do when they get there.

 

I had booked us into Hotel Arlecchino on the premise that we wanted to be in Venice and looking out on canals, not carparks, but that we didn’t want to be hauling two very heavy suitcases over huge bridges. This hotel could NOT have been easier and I can highly recommend it. It was a doddle to find (though I had a map and walking directions printed just in case) and we only had to cross one bridge.

 

Our room was small but very much adequate and despite the late hour we were both totally buzzed to be in Venice so we dumped our cases, freshened up and headed out again.

 

I can hardly find words to express how it was to be in Venice. As we stood on the bridge just outside our hotel, looking out over multiple more bridges and canals it was simply amazing. We were there and it was VENICE!!!!

 

Despite the fact it was now close to midnight, there were still a lot of people walking around and more arriving in Piazzale Roma all the time, including the poor impatient family from the bus stop at the airport. We skirted the Piazzale Roma, crossed the Glass Bridge and then wandered looking for dinner. Many restaurants were closed or closing but we found one that was doing a roaring trade in late night diners. They served us a very adequate carbonara and chianti and we were both very happy with our first meal in Venice. By now it was 1am and I had had only about 6 hours sleep in the last 50 or so hours. We staggered back to the hotel and we in bed and asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillows!

 

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Edited by Katgoesonholiday

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Very much enjoying your posts!! Keep them coming!! I can hardly wait for my cruise in November--starting in Venice as well--11 days on Fantasia!! YAY!!

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Loving your review so far. Looking forward to reading about your week on the Preziosa. Can't wait until Sept when I'll be on the Preziosa!

Edited by wrdtrvllr
Grammar

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So happy to be reading this Kat and experiencing your excitement and enjoyment. I very much enjoyed the banter with you whilst you were in pre cruise mode and I'm delighted that it was a success and a memorable experience for the right reasons.

 

I will be staying tuned for future instalments........

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The next day dawned bright and early - very early! I was awakened by the deafening roar of my brain chortling “We are in Venice! We are in Venice!”

 

6am? Seriously brain?

 

I got out of our very comfortable bed and pulled back the drapes to a glorious view of sunshine and flowers and canals. Naturally the first thing I did was take a photo then bound over to the bed, pounce on my poor sleeping husband and make him look at the photo of the view from our room. I was like a kid on Christmas morning! Its proof that he must really love me that he puts up with such antics!

 

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After quickly getting dressed we made our way downstairs to the ‘breakfast room’. This is a small room with a lovely view of the canal and an even better view of a fine selection of pastries, meats, cheeses, fruits, cereals and most importantly … coffee!!! I opted for a power breakfast of cereal, with a hardboiled egg and coffee. It hit the spot resoundingly and I was ready to face the day!

 

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Which reminds me, since returning home I have put in a review for Hotel Arlecchino on Tripadvisor and in the process was baffled to find a review from someone who was complaining that the staff had no idea how to cook eggs. Sometimes I read these reviews and wonder if the reviewers are even on the same planet as me. Did they expect the egg to be soft-boiled and were overcome with consternation and dismay when they found it was hardboiled? Because seriously folks, who the hell hard boils an egg? This is not the Dark Ages!!!

 

Speaking for myself, I am partial to a hardboiled egg at breakfast so I was quite satisfied and revelled happily in my protein and caffeine fix.

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Exiting the hotel, we admired the exterior of the hotel and its little docking area for water taxis and then we were charmed to find an absurd congregation of bridges right outside the hotel. Here two canals intersected and there were five bridge spans connecting just three corners of the land. It has obviously arisen over time without any consideration of logical urban planning - yet it was utterly delightful. In many ways this epitomised Venice for us.

 

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We decided to retrace our steps from the night before - we walked over the glass bridge and down the street of cafes and restaurants. Everything looked very different from the night before and the morning sun was bright. We were in Venice!!! Everything delighted us and I can say with all honesty that it is a good thing the shops weren’t open as I was revelling in my glee at being there and all self-control was right out the window!

Edited by Katgoesonholiday

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Having no idea where we were going and no real goal except to see Venice and perhaps get lost, we simply followed the signs that said ‘Per San Marco’. We passed heaps of fascinating shops with brightly coloured and compelling wares. We even passed a Disney shop! And whilst my beloved husband shook his head at the crass commercialism of it, I mourned that the shop was still shut and vowed to return when it was open. What can I say? I have an eight year old and a six year old!

 

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I particularly coveted this mask. I have a six year old who is incorrigible about getting out of his bed through the night. I figured that judicious application of this mask would ensure that he never gets out of bed till its light again. Of course, it would probably also cost us a fortune in therapy when he is older but you win some, you lose some.

 

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As we wandered we were continually delighted by compelling vistas of little canals and ornately decorated churches and quaint little passages through buildings. Coming from NZ, whose history is barely a shallow puddle, a city like Venice is astounding in its age and history.

 

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Edited by Katgoesonholiday

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Just a wee note - we were using two different cameras. A little point and click Canon Ixus 130 which we had had for years, and a more sophisticated Canon PowerShot SX50 HS that we bought in the New Year sales in anticipation of this trip. The difference in photo quality is very clear and we are delighted we got the better camera.

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Eventually we found our way to the Rialto Bridge. I recognised it from photos but was flabbergasted at how wide it was! None of the photos or descriptions that I had read had made it clear that this bridge is HUGE!!! There is a walkway on each of the outer edges of the bridge and through the middle is a double sided bank of little shops! Its quite mammoth!

 

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As we walked up it I was entranced by the sides of the bridge which had been worn smooth by centuries of hands brushing along it. The first bridge on that site was built in 1181. This one was completed in 1591 - over 50 years before my country was first sighted by a Dutch explorer in 1642. It was a very stark contrast to the incredibly recent history of New Zealand where our oldest buildings are well short of two hundred years old.

 

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The view from there was spectacular.

 

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Edited by Katgoesonholiday

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Continuing to follow the signs, we eventually made our way to St Marks Square. At that time of the morning there were very few tourists and the street sellers were only just setting up their stalls. We practically had the place to ourselves and as we entered it I was completely blown away with how ornate and lush St Marks was - with its plethora of different coloured marble columns - and how open the space was in comparison to some of the areas we had traversed on our way.

 

I loved St Marks Square. I loved the different coloured marbles. I loved the brightly coloured mosaics on the facade of St Marks. I loved the statues. I loved the fascinating use of brick on the Doges Palace. I loved the colonnades and the random marble figure in a doorway. I loved the curious windows with a mosaic of round coloured glass. I loved the way the birds perched nonchalantly on the heads of mammoth figures. I loved the way it opened on one side to the sea - staking a claim on the ocean from Venice's seat of power. It proclaimed to me “We are mighty and we are powerful and we rule these seas”. It was utterly garish yet supremely confident.

 

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After going completely crazy with the camera for a while, we dragged ourselves away from St Marks and continued walking along the Giudecca canal then back through Venice towards our hotel - we followed the 'Per P.Roma' signs.

 

Along the way, heaps more photos ensued.

 

 

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And this is why we are warned not to book a hotel over too many bridges! There were quite a number of bridges that we traversed that had the shattered remnants of suitcase wheels scattered forlornly at the bottom. My soft hearted husband carried more than one mammoth suitcase over a bridge for its struggling owner.

 

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After a while we decided to make our way towards a pastry shop that I had seen reviewed on TripAdvisor. By now we were really ready for a coffee and something sweet. I had printed off maps with walking directions and I had my iphone with Maps on it. Yet despite the best efforts of iMaps to guide us in completely the wrong direction, we soon found the pastry shop. After carefully selecting our treats, we left the crowded shop and found a quiet canal where we could have an impromptu picnic. This turned into the first of many “Perfect Moments”.

 

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The pastry shop is called Pasticceria Tonolo - http://www.tripadvisor.co.nz/Attraction_Review-g187870-d2362934-Reviews-Pasticceria_Tonolo-Venice_Veneto.html

 

 

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By this time it was 10:30am and we had to be checked out of the hotel by 11am. Immediately after finishing our coffee we hotfooted it back to the hotel following my carefully printed maps. It didn't take long and we were soon pushing our way through the crowded foyer to pack our bags then join the throngs. Despite the seeming chaos in reception it took barely ten minutes for us to check out once we had manoeuvred our bags out of the tiny elevator and through the chaos of left luggage in the reception area.

 

It was immediately clear that the port would be busy. As we walked across Piazzale Roma to the people mover terminal we were only two of a multitude of people converging on the building. Inside the foyer was crowded - even so, it only took me a few minutes to buy our tickets from the machines. I think part of the delay was that the elevators were not functioning so there was a huge bottleneck on the escalators. It didn’t really help that people were milling around in the foyer with multiple suitcases getting in the way of those wanting to pass through. The foyer is an L shape with the escalators in direct line with the doors on the long part and the ticket booths in an alcove. Having people wait three or four deep along the walls blocking the path to the escalators wasn’t helping with congestion. By this time it was also very hot - so I guess people didn’t want to wait out in the sun. Later we also found that there were five ships in port that day - which would have contributed to the congestion significantly.

 

Anyway, we battled through, lugged the two big suitcases and one small one up the escalators and very soon were on the People Mover and getting our first glimpse of the port. The People Mover trip was fast and easy - having said that I would seriously consider getting a taxi next time if that is possible. Because when we got to the port terminal we had to schlep the suitcases down another set of escalators then it was a one kilometre walk in the searing heat to get to the ship. The people mover terminal is directly in front of the main port building with a section of empty land, currently functioning as a carpark, between. That area is fenced off which meant we had to walk all the way around it and then to the fatherest berth at the port which is where the MSC Preziosa was docked. That day five ships were in port and it was exciting walking and looking at them. Given a choice though, I’d prefer to do so from the back of an air-conditioned taxi.

 

Obligatory People Mover selfie

 

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Our first glimpse of the port and the ships

 

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Map showing the route we had to walk

 

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Showing the car park/vacant land between the People Mover and the docks

 

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Looking back from the port building to the People Mover terminal showing the fenced off area that we had to walk around

 

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As we approached the terminal the excitement was palpable! We were hot and bothered, with jet lag, sore feet and aching arms but we were finally about to board the MSC Preziosa!

 

The first door we came to had a lady at it who directed us to continue walking down the outside of the building. This was sad as it looked like it might have had air conditioning - currently the pinnacle of human ingenuity in our estimation at that time. Only a few meters further on we came to the tent for the Yacht Club check in where we were warmly greeted, had our luggage taken off us and then were ushered into the nice cool terminal building.

 

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Before we could pass through into the Yacht Club check in we had the obligatory photo standing in front of a screen gripping a ships wheel. We never saw that photo after that though we did go look for it.

 

Now as an aside, I don’t know how MSC compares to other cruise lines but I thought the photo stuff was remarkably inefficient, low tech and contributed to congestion on the relevant decks where the photos were displayed.

 

My first source of bemusement is that they didn’t scan our cruise cards at any time when we had ‘official’ photos. This meant that there was no way of collating all our photos easily. Instead they were printed out and displayed on massive boards on deck 7 according to which port, event or restaurant they were taken. This meant that much of the time there were significant numbers of people milling around in confusion trying to find their photos and asking each other whether it was Izmir or Katakolon that they got their portraits done.

 

I would have thought a much more efficient and environmentally friendly way to do this would be to scan the cruise cards when photos were taken (or even just photograph the darn thing before the people) and then have all the photos available in a digital folder which could be accessed via public terminals/screens in the photo shop and perhaps even from the cabin TV. The desired photos could then be ordered and printed and delivered to the cabin without the kind of wastage and congestion that we were seeing.

 

Also, they had package deals but they only applied to photos within a certain group - eg by 5 and get 4 free for photos taken at the Gala dinner. You couldn’t mix and match from different times. I would have paid a decent amount to be able to buy all our photos on a USB stick to take home and print myself. We have done this at various amusement parks and I think it would work well on this cruise ship as well. Not to mention that it would be very environmentally friendly.

 

Finally, the positioning of the photo centre in the main corridor between two banks of lifts meant that as people poured out of the Platinum Theatre at night they walked through to the back of the ship, pausing to stare slack jawed at the confusing array of photos - creating a near impassable barrier. My husband, like everyone else on the ship obviously, thought it would be a spiffing idea to check out the photos after the show before going back up to the Yacht Club. It also doesn't help that he never did quite get his head around which end of the ship we were meant to be at so numerous times I found myself trotting after him as he plunged off in completely the wrong direction - thus leading us into Congestion Central whilst I was jet lagged, tired and cranky. :mad:

 

And to be honest, that was probably my biggest gripe about the whole cruise so that isn’t too terrible.

Edited by Katgoesonholiday

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Anyway, moving right along to the main event…. we very soon found ourselves seated in a nice waiting room with another older couple from Germany whilst two busy staff got us checked in, and two butlers served us light refreshments and bubbly. This was VERY civilised and The Boss and I were most delighted!

 

We did have to get up to get our photos taken for our cruise cards and to sign for our onboard spending but other than that the most onerous thing we had to do was lift our glass of bubbly to our mouths!

 

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In the back ground you can see the check in desk and immediately there are signs that the butlers have a great sense of humour and a very light hearted approach. This suited us well.

 

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Check in didn’t take long and it passed quickly as we chatted to the other couple. We speak only English but we have been consistently impressed and humbled at how much of our language so many others speak in addition to their own language - and often at least one more language as well.

 

Soon we were informed that when we were ready a butler would be happy to escort us to the ship so we could relax in the Yacht Club lounge till our rooms were ready. A few minutes later we had finished our drinks and intrepidly set off through the crowded main terminal following the butler like a family of obedient little ducklings.

 

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Looking at the number of people waiting made me very glad we had opted for the Yacht Club. I have no idea what the wait time was like but it looked very very busy!

 

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Edited by Katgoesonholiday

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great photos, some other cruiselines scan your card and use facial recognition to find your photos, loving your review !

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The photos are a little blurry in some of these because I'm taking the surreptitiously with the small camera, whilst trying to keep up with the butler, and feeling slightly tiddly from the bubbly. Its not optimal photo taking conditions! :D

 

EDIT: Plus I blurred out some faces before posting - my apologies to the CIA if that inconveniences them. :p

Edited by Katgoesonholiday

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We followed the butler through to the security area where we had to go through the scanner and our gumpf went through the x-ray machine. We then rejoined our guide on the other side and he led us around to the right where we immediately had an awesome view of the ship! It was HUGE! We walked up a long ramp then over a bridge and entered the ship on deck 7. This is the promenade deck and I have it on good authority (though I never attempted to verify it) that this is NOT a wrap around promenade deck. A great shame this - it completely spoiled the entire voyage for us! Just kidding - I can’t say that this caused me any undue concern or angst. We did more than enough walking without feeling the need to promenade.

 

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We passed through the deck and into the ship with the butler leading us through the very impressive main foyer with its massive chandelier and iconic silver Swarovski staircase. We then took the lifts up the the 15th floor where we were ushered into the cool serenity of the Yacht Club One Lounge.

 

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