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cruising babe

MSC Opera Review - Western Med Oct 2004

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After booking we found a great series of reports from a Canadian who goes under the name of Bdintertech. His comprehensive and entertaining descriptions of the identical cruise in August were generally very positive and we took his commentaries with us as very useful reference – so thank you immensely!!


Transfers, Embarkation & Disembarkation: Upon arrival at Genoa airport we were met by a rep from MSC who ushered us to our bus where we loaded on our luggage. We were then asked to make ourselves scarce for 90 minutes whilst a flight from Stanstead was awaited. Genoa airport is not the most entertaining and the journey time to the port of embarkation is only 15 minutes. When we reported back at the required time we learned the Stanstead flight was running late, so we were then driven to the port without those passengers – a tedious waste of time. :eek:


Upon arrival at the port we were asked to identify our baggage before it was whisked away by porters – direct to our cabin. The embarkation system MSC use is well practiced and runs like clockwork. At check-in we were issued with card keys for our cabin, which doubled as charge cards for expenses incurred on board. We then reported to another desk for the allocation of our table number for dinner. Embarking passengers are issued at check-in with a number and after confronting two sets of ship’s photographers en-route, we were asked to wait along with all other joining passengers in a holding lounge, where free soft drinks are available. Numbers are called ten parties at a time and once these have boarded the next ten are called. No queues – wonderful!! :)


On final disembarkation, passengers are issued various coloured luggage labels indicating onward travel/transfer arrangements and the deck they are on. There are no long queues or the usual pushing and shoving to collect luggage. Priority is given to disembarking passengers who have imminent onward flight connections.:)


On this cruise new passengers embark/disembark at all ports en route – the majority seem to join and leave at Genoa, Marseille and Naples. The greatest number of passengers on our cruise were Italians, followed by German speakers, English speakers (UK, USA, Canada, Australia & NZ), French speakers, Spanish and then a smattering of other nationalities.


The Ship: This is truly a very beautiful and stunning ship. There are plenty of pleasant bars and lounges which are tastefully decorated and furnished. There is a good use of mirrors and marble which give the effect of light and space. The entire ship shines and sparkles from morning to night and is kept spotlessly clean all the time. The ship was very comfortable to sail in and there was hardly any feeling of movement throughout the cruise. One down-side is that in the public areas there is a general lack of toilet facilities.


The Accommodation: We had an inside cabin on Turnadot Deck. The cabin had a king sized double bed and enough storage space for our needs. There was also a mini bar and TV as well as a sweet little bathroom. The cabin was very compact, but it was comfortable. It was also amazingly quiet, considering we were immediately below the pool deck. A nice touch was that we were given fresh fruit every day. The cabin boy kept the room immaculate, despite our own untidiness at times!!:)


Food & Service: The food is reasonably plentiful and on the whole good, however, it never had the ‘wow’ factor that we had previously experienced and expect from any cruise. This was true in terms of imagination, quality and presentation. There was no choice of vegetables and little variety provided, spinach seemed to make an appearance at almost every meal.


Antipastos were always very pleasing appetizers. The soups were always excellent. The pasta course generally offered a choice of pasta or risotto. Whilst reasonably enjoyable the pastas were not up to the demanding standard one expects in Italy.


The fish was probably the best option of main course at most meals – we never had any complaint here. But meat dishes were often disappointing. On one occasion we agreed with our NZ table-mates that the lamb cutlets were definitely ‘mutton dresses up as . . . !’ At another meal my husband sent back his food as he felt it had been sitting somewhere getting cold for 5 minutes. A replacement plate duly arrived – the meat (rather poor braised beef) and vegetables were still tepid, but were covered in sauce that was boiling hot!!:(


The gala dinner was particularly disappointing. The baked lobster was a little tough – we were expecting a tip-top lobster thermidor, so we were rather saddened. And the usual Baked Alaska was replaced with a somewhat insipid sponge with a custard and covered with a very sweet meringue in which the sugar was only partially dissolved. The arrival of the dessert was not accompanied by the usual theatrical magic that helps to make this event special. In other words it was not a party or gala!


Both the food and the service seriously lacked consistency. Whilst the service given by our usual dinner waiter was attentive, he could not, however, tell us about the dishes on the menu. On one occasion the menu read “served with a pink sauce”, so we asked what the pink sauce was, and he replied “I don’t know, it’s pink!”


Entertainment: During the day there seemed to be plenty of animation activities going on around the pool area. Whilst well supported this was not OTT or ‘in your face’ and it was always possible to find a quiet place if that was what you wanted.


There were plenty of sun beds available throughout the day. In his report, bdintertech had said how difficult it was to claim and keep a sun-bed after sunrise – we did not have that problem. However, he cruised in August and we sailed in October, when the weather was lovely, but not searingly hot.


In the evening there were various events that ranged from classical music to jazz and rock, definitely something for all ages and tastes. There was a disco as well as dancing in some of the other areas to live music. The Opera has a lovely theatre and there are two shows a night one after each meal sitting – the shows are not the razzmatazz that you might get on something like Carnival cruises. However, during our cruise there was a visiting Rock group from Germany called Lennerockers. They took us back to our teens and they were really good, performing two evenings, one in the Theatre and once poolside until well after midnight! They had over 200 of their groupies from Germany, who had booked the cruise to support and party with them!


The Itinerary: Very interesting ports of call, the itinerary gave us quite a lot of time in each port.


Excursions: Those arranged by MSC were very expensive and on the whole did not represent good value (ranged from €25 to €80 – approx £18 - £57, or $30 - $100). We did the historical tour in Naples (not recommended), the trip to Carthage/Sidi Bou Said (Tunisia – very good) and Marseille/Avignon (a very long day - I didn’t enjoy this as the itinerary didn’t provide a good balance, although my husband was content with it).


All ports of call except Tunis and Palermo have a Tourist hop-on – hop-off bus, but the people at the Shore Excursions desk on board do not tell you this!!. These buses are very good value and very enjoyable as you can get off and on where you like and do your own thing.


Beware Palermo – the mafia array themselves at the steps of the terminal building in the form of taxi drivers and pony & trap drivers offering various tourist itineraries. The taxi drivers demand €150 (£100/$170) for a 3 hour trip, whilst the pony & trap guys seek €100 (£67/$115) for a trip around the city.


The Opera is quite an impressive ship – sparkling new – very spacious. Sailing on an Italian ship in Europe, you must expect an international passenger list and consequently the ship makes all announcements in 5 main languages – Italian, English, German, French and Spanish. At the Captain’s Cocktail Party (which was better than our previous experience) the good man also tried his hand at Dutch and a Scandinavian language! This illustrates that MSC has to satisfy a rare polyglot of cultures and of course it is ‘different strokes for different folks!!’ So anyone sailing on the Opera needs to be open minded and recognise that on board is primarily an Italian experience, with a hefty heaping of the League of Nations!! Managing this is a complex job for the crew – imagine the poor waiters – stemming from Bali to Bulgaria – not only needing to communicate with an Italian management, but also with wave after wave of demanding clients from the Western World. A difficult job, so our expectations as customers must be modified to reflect this.


Overall rating of the Opera: We booked this cruise at an end of season special offer price. We felt that what we received represented good value for money. Clearly, you get what you pay for. However, we would not have been so pleased if we had paid the full brochure price.

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Thanks for posting your very informative and well balanced review.

It just about bears out what I had expected, that is: not bad but a few problem areas.

Previous reviews have mentioned that there was lot of smoking around the MSC ships, not necessarily in smoking areas - Austrians being held to blame for it for some reason.

Did you have many Austrians on the ship - were they lit up all over the place - and was smoking a problem or is the ship's ventilation efficient enough to cope with it ?

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Thank you for the review. I understand that there was to be new management and expected improvements, particularly in the area of the dining room. Do you know if your experience represents a "post improvement" experience, or are the changes expected after the ship leaves Europe for the Caribean? I am taking the Dec. 18, 10 day holiday Panama Canal cruise.

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was smoking a problem or is the ship's ventilation efficient enough to cope with it ?
Smoking was not a problem on the cruise we took. We are both non-smokers and I can honastly say that I was never bothered by anyone smoking around me. The restaurants and theatre are totally non-smoking areas. As for Austrians - I did not come across any Austrian people, but there were quite a few German speaking people and some of those could have been Austrian.

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Sorry I do not know the answer to your question - I did not know anything about New Management. As I said in my review, this cruise did represent good value for money - The ship is fabulous, it was just the service & food was lacked consistency - sometimes very good, other times not so good. I think MSC have a lot going for them and if they get it right they could do really well, and I think they know that in the Caribean they have the likes of Carnival and Princess to compete with. I hope that you have a really great cruise and I will look forward to reading your report.

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