Friday, December 29, 2017

Mediterranean Cruise MSC Meraviglia 7N Genoa Civitavecchia Palermo La Valletta Barcelona Marseilles Day 1 Embarkation

We had a good night's sleep at the Holiday Inn Genoa.  The next morning, we woke up in good time for breakfast.  Breakfast started at 7AM, as it was a Sunday.  We got to breakfast slightly past 7AM, and there was a good crowd.

The spread for breakfast was decent, as you can see in the video below.  In particular, my parents enjoyed it (they spent more than 1 hour eating!).  The emphasis of the spread was more on cakes, pastries etc.  There was sufficient hot food to meet our needs, though no live egg station (e.g. no fried eggs).

After breakfast, there was still plenty of time.  When we looked out of our balcony, we could see the Meraviglia coming in. Excited!

Anyway, there was no point heading to the cruise port so early. So, my family decided to try the subway to get into Genoa.  The nearest metro station to Holiday Inn was called Dinegro, about a 400M walk.  The entire light rail system only has 7 stops! Here is the map.

I bought a family ticket (9 Euros, 4 pax can travel) and took the metro to De Ferrari, and walked around a bit (to exercise the legs), and then we took the metro back to Principe (which is the train station), where we went to buy our return train tickets (i.e. Genoa to Milan Centrale). This time round, we opted for First Class.  And finally, we took a slow walk back to the Holiday Inn.  Despite all the walking, we managed to get back to the hotel before 10AM.

Back in the hotel balcony, we could see the 172,000GT MSC Meraviglia docked.  Excited!

We packed up and left our hotel around 1030am.  As there were 6 of us, with 5 large bags and numerous smaller ones, I asked the hotel reception whether there were any taxis big enough for us.  The reception recommended an 8-seater van, which I agreed.  The van came in 5 minutes, and he could take all our luggage, which was cool.  The ride to the cruise port took only 5 minutes (it is 1.5km away) but it would not have been feasible to walk given the luggage, and the fact that it was starting to drizzle.  The cost of the transfer was about 20 Euros.

Yacht Club Boarding
At the cruise terminal, we followed the signs to the boarding area.  We were directed to the baggage drop off area, and right there was an MSC Yacht Club tent, with a butler waiting.  Similar to our 2015 cruise on the Preziosa, the Yacht Club experience starts right from baggage drop-off.  Once our bags were settled, we were escorted by a butler to the check-in area.  Remember, you have to print out all the forms in hardcopy in order to do the check-in.  That part was done quite speedily, and very soon, we were escorted by the butler to board the ship.  In doing so, we bypassed all lines of passengers waiting to check in.  That was part of the YC experience.

Video below consists of some GO PRO footage from boarding the MSC Meraviglia.

Unfortunately, I did not capture comprehensive GO PRO footage this time round.  Must have forgotten to keep the camera running!  So, here is our boarding experience from Dec 15, on the MSC Preziosa trip, for reference.

Taking on Passengers at Every Port of Call
An interesting aspect of MSC Meraviglia cruises out of Genoa is that the ship takes on passengers at every port for this repeated itinerary.  I found out that the busiest ports were Genoa, Barcelona and Marseilles.  Some said almost half the pax disembarks at Genoa.  For us, it was troublesome to get to Genoa, but because we wanted the Royal Suite, it was only available for sailings out of Genoa.  If we were more flexible with cabins, we would likely board in Barcelona instead. 

In case you are thinking that we are lavish creatures, only wanting to sail in the Royal Suite, the reality is that the Royal Suite cabin on the MSC Meraviglia was one of the few types of YC cabins where our kids stay for free (only had to pay daily service fees).  When I divide the cost of the Royal Suite by 4, it made a lot of sense, since all 4 of us get YC privileges.  I decided to book my parents in an interior YC cabin (obviously that is the most cost effective YC option), so that 3 generations could enjoy the cruise together, in the Yacht Club.  Good fun!

The butler escorted us all the way to the Yacht Club concierge, which was located on Deck 16, front of the ship.  As this was my second time in the YC, I knew what to expect.  It was the first for my parents, so it was certainly very novel for them.  At the concierge, we were asked to open an account (either with cash, or credit card) as well as which newspapers we wanted, and I chose the Straits Times (a Singapore paper).  At first, the concierge staff said that she didn't have such a paper (she was looking at a printed list), but then I said that this option was available two years ago, when I sailed on the MSC Preziosa.  Anyway, I know for a fact that the Straits Times of Singapore has a digital version. So the staff kindly checked her computer system, and indeed, there was!  So, it was good fun to receive a printed copy of a Singapore local paper every day of the cruise.  I even featured the Straits Times in some of my videos, as you will see.

All this was done very quickly, and then we were ushered to our respective cabins.  My family took the Royal Suite Cabin 15008, while I had booked my parents in an interior YC stateroom, Cabin 15007, which was just around the corner from our suite.

Cabin 15008
We entered our cabin for the first time, with great anticipation. Our seapass cards were waiting for us on the table inside our cabin.  The published size of the Royal Suite was 700 square feet (interior).  It certainly felt large. Here are some photographs.

Masterbedroom in Cabin 15008. Classy looking.

Living room, with a large Samsung Smart TV.  There was another Samsung Smart TV in the master bedroom.

Two large sofas and the coffee table in the living room.  The sofa on the right would be converted into a bed, where my kids would sleep.

Bathtub in the toilet.  It came with jaccuzi features as well as very interesting 'disco' lights.  I'll show that to you in later videos.

Video of Cabin 15008.
Ok, here come the videos.  The first video, a brief one (only 1 minute), was taken when we first stepped into the suite.  This allows you to see some of the suite in the condition when we first entered the ship.  Looked very good.

This next video, taken late in the cruise, is a much more detailed walk-through of Cabin 15008.   By that time, we had slept more than a couple of nights in the suite, hence you can see the difference (i.e. see the mess lol).

Privileged to stay in this suite for 7 Nights.  It was an awesome experience.

Lunch on Embarkation Day
It was lunch time! YC guests have a dedicated restaurant.  When we sailed on the MSC Preziosa, the YC restaurant was located at the aft of the ship, while the rest of the Yacht Club was at the front of the ship.  Hence, walking to the YC restaurant on the Preziosa took a while.  On the Meraviglia, all the YC restaurant is now located together with all the YC facilities, making it truly a ship within a ship.  Our cabin was on deck 15.  Concierge and Top Sail lounge on Deck 16.  There is no Deck 17.  Deck 18 is the YC restaurant and Deck 19 the pool deck.  There is an internal lift serving Decks 14 to 19.

We headed to the restaurant, and we were seated at a corner of the restaurant, and there we sat for the next 7 Nights.  For dinner, we were always served by the same waiter.  For breakfast and lunch, the waiter could be different.

It was a sit-down lunch.  Drinks (wine, beer etc) were also available.  Here are some photos of the food.  This was the Ahi Tuna, one of the starters.

This was some beef.

And this was one of the desserts, carrot cake.  Look at the carrot decoration on top of the cake.  Isn't it cool?

After lunch, we headed to the Top Sail lounge for coffee and drinks, and there more finger food was waiting for us.  There would be plenty to eat and drink on this cruise.

Here is the video of lunch, and then the Top Sail Lounge.  Delicious.

In this video, I show you the drinks list in the Top Sail Lounge of MSC Meraviglia.

This picture shows you the complimentary cocktails.  More than enough for me!  In fact, I didn't get the chance to try all.  I liked the Long Island Iced Tea.  Rather potent.  You could ask for any cocktail, without the alcohol.  Good fun for the kids, as they could choose any cocktail they liked, sans the alcohol.

Taking A Walk
After the wonderful coffee and finger food in the Top Sail lounge, it was time to take a walk to explore the ship.  We weren't in a hurry to explore it thoroughly, but we wanted to check out the shor excursions as well as the Galleria Meraviglia (MSC's version of the Royal Promenade), which was on Deck 6.

But before that, we first headed to the main buffet area, to check out what was available for lunch.  The buffet area, called the Marketplace, is located on Deck 15 (same deck as our cabin), from the mid to the rear of the ship.  We would leave the Yacht Club area, walk past the indoor/covered pool area (which was called the Bamboo pool) before reaching the outdoor pool area (I think they called it the Atmosphere Pool) before reaching the buffet.

A picture of the Bamboo (Indoor) Pool.

A video, showing you some table tennis, indoor pool, hot tub, table soccer, and the Bamboo Bar drinks list.  Later on, I discovered that YC customers could get access to most drinks at the bars ship-wide.  I will then go on to try out some drinks at the various bars.  Watch out for those videos which will come up later in this review.

As we made our way to the Marketplace Buffet via Deck 15, we have to walk past the Atmosphere Pool (or the outdoor pool).  They have a large LCD screen, as you can see below.  It was raining, so whatever outdoor activity they had planned, was now moved somewhere else.

Marketplace Buffet Deck 15
We have arrived at the Marketplace Buffet.  The venue was rather large, but certainly it got crowded, since the ship has so many passengers.  In the video below, I try to show you the food available for lunch.  I didn't find the selection of food to be particularly extensive (compared to say Royal Caribbean).  Given that we had YC privileges, we did not dine at the Marketplace buffet during this cruise, other than getting some pizza.  Take note that the buffet area is quite large, and the rear of the buffet is usually less crowded than the mid-ship section.  There is usually just one live carvery section, and the line to get the meat was long.

Galleria Meraviglia / Plaza Meraviglia 
Time to hit the Galleria and Plaza.  This feature of the ship was new to us.  I would assume that MSC copied the concept from Royal Caribbean, except that instead of calling it the Royal Promenade, it has become a Galleria or Plaza (more Italian).   Such a space was not found on the MSC Preziosa. Notice the Dome?  That is what MSC claims to be the largest LED Dome at sea.  A very interesting use of technology.  They even had what they called a Dome Show, held thrice a night.

There was a speciality dining restaurant on the Promenade, Eataly.  We didn't eat here, but here is a look at the menu. On the left side, it says that they have a Dining Experience for 20 Euros.  You get 3 dishes plus 1/4L of House red, white, or rose.  The menu changes daily.  On the right side, they have the standard menu. A plate of spaghetti costs between 6 to 8 Euros.  Grilled Sea Bream was 13 Euros, Grilled Beef Slider sandwich was 12 Euros.  Desserts like Tiramisu was 6 Euros.

Here is a video of my walking through the Meraviglia Promenade. (Ooops, that's an American way of putting it).  But because we tend to associate this feature with Royal Carribean, we end up calling it the Promenade.  As you can imagine, given the sheer number of pax on this ship, the Galleria Meraviglia can get very crowded indeed.

After the walk, we went back to our cabin to take a rest.  We took a dip in the hot tub - it was very novel for us.  There would be a safety drill for passengers who boarded in Genoa, and who missed the drill yesterday.  For us, the drill was conducted in the MSC theatre, which was at the forward of the ship, but many decks below us.  Because MSC took on passengers at every port, this drill had to be conducted every day.  We didn't have to bring any life jackets.  They took our attendance when we got there (by scanning our sea pass cards) and then we just sat down and observed the lift-jacket demonstration, in at least 5 languages.  It was all over in under 30 minutes.

Oh, here is a video of one of my kids enjoying the hot tub.  Have fun!

Dinning on Embarkation Day - Yacht Club Restaurant
Soon, it was time for dinner. This would be our first of seven dinners in the Yacht Club for this cruise.  In the YC, it is anytime dining.  We like to eat early, so we are usually at the YC Restaurant at 6:30pm (that is then they open), or shortly after.  I saw this cheese table on the way in.  Cheese platter was available on the menu every night, if you cared for that.

Here is a picture of the restaurant, when we got there.  Still empty. The time was about 1830hrs.

Here is a video of our dinner experience - first dinner on the MSC Meraviglia Yacht Club Restaurant.

More pictures.  At every dinner, I will ask to try both House White and House Red.  This was the House white tonight.

Here was the fish dish, for the mains.  As you can see, the serving size was not large.  But we liked it that way.  This was because we ate as a family, and we often ordered multiple starters/mains/desserts to share.  And we would ask our waiter to serve all the multiple courses at the same time, during each course.  What I mean is that we ask for all our starters to be served together.  Once we are done with starters, we ask for our mains to be served together.  So, you can imagine that our dinner table is always full of plates, as we try and sample all the different food!  Great fun to sail with the family.

Here is a picture of the Tiramisu dessert.  This was available every night, and I liked it very much.

Well, as the ship left Genoa, it started getting rather rocky.  The seas certainly weren't very calm, and I guess it didn't help that the YC cabins were located at the Forward of the ship, and high up.  So, in this position, we are prone to more rocking.  So we decided we had better get an early night.  Sleep while the ship is rocking, and hopefully when we wake up, we are in port.  We found these chocolates on our bed.

This concludes Day 1 of our cruise.  See you tomorrow!

Monday, December 25, 2017

Mediterranean Cruise MSC Meraviglia 7N Genoa Civitavecchia Palermo La Valletta Barcelona Marseilles Pre Cruise Day

We go on another cruise!  This time, we sail out of Genoa, on a 7N cruise to the Western Mediterranean! The ship is the MSC Meraglivia, and the itinerary as follows:

Where is Genoa?  Quoting from Wikitravel - Genoa (or Genova in Italian) is a historical port city in northern Italy, the capital of the Region of Liguria. Genoa today, as a tourist attraction, is often shadowed by cities such as Rome or Venice, even though it has a long history as a rich and powerful trade centre. However, with its multitude of hidden gems behind cozy alleyways, excellent cuisine (notably fish and seafood), renovated old port, beautiful sights (including one of Europe's biggest aquariums), and its position as the European Capital of Culture in 2004 have made the birthplace of explorer Christopher Columbus an enticing place which is gradually becoming more included in the touristic market. With pastel-coloured terracotta-roofed houses, artistic churches, lovely seaside villas, and also several luxurious boutiques, Genoa is a must see if you want to experience the "quintessential" Italy.

In short, what the above description is saying that Genoa is a historical city, and we were told that her economy isn't doing very well these days, having been overshadowed by other bigger Italian cities.  Fortunately, tourism continues to be a big money puller.  They have a decent cruise port, and it is good that MSC ships call at her ports very frequently (in fact, some are home-ported here).

How to get to Genoa? Turns out that Genoa isn't that easy to get to, at least from Singapore. She has  a small airport (Genoa Cristoforo Colombo), with limited connected to Europe.  (Most flights are to other Italian cities).  The last time we flew into Genoa, using Ryanair from London Stansted. (They only fly 3-4 times a week).   This time, we decided to fly from Singapore to Milan Malpensa, and then find out way via public train to Genoa.

Flight from Singapore to Milan
We flew on Singapore Airlines SQ 368, Singapore to Milan direct and non-stop.  The aircraft departs Singapore close to midnight, and would arrive in Milan Malpensa Terminal 1 around 6AM in the morning, local Milan time.

At Singapore Changi Airport (which to me is the best airport in the world), I spotted this Christmas magical display of Sanrio characters.  Added greatly to the festive mood!

Priority Pass Lounge - SATS Premier Lounge
Since I had to use up some complimentary passes, I decided to visit a Priority Pass lounge at Changi. I chose the SATS Premier Lounge, as they are quite reliable.  Many airlines (those without dedicated lounges) also use this lounge for their business class pax. Here is a video of the lounge experience

SQ 368 to Milan
Singapore Airlines operates their Airbus A350 for the Singapore to Milan route. The plane I flew on was very new, I think about 6 months old.  Even though I have flown with Singapore Airlines many times (both in Economy and Business), this experience is still novel for me.  Why? As I was flying in Economy, and it was a red-eye flight, I decided to spend an additional USD 90 to purchase what is known as a Preferred Seat.  Other names include Emergency Row, or Exit Seat.   This is what my seat, 47J, looked like.  On the left of this picture.

Here is a screenshot of the seating plan on the SQ Airbus A350.  My seat was 47J.

Verdict? Was the USD90 worth it?

Verdict? It depends.

The Pros.
No doubt that the legroom was plentiful.  I could stretch my entire leg horizontally, with no issues.  This allowed me to have a very good sleep.  But take note the disadvantages below.

The Cons
1. Preferred seats are right next to the toilets.  Hence, this place could get very busy indeed, especially during peak hours for toilet use (e.g. after meals, before landing).

2. At 47J, you will hear a 'ding', 'ding', 'ding' (9:26), and a blue light coming on.  What was that all about?  Turns out that whenever a passenger presses the call button for a flight attendant, the ding sound will happen, and a small blue light will be activated. (9:26).  The ding beeper and blue light is located right above the aircraft door, near 47J.  You can imagine the 'ding', 'ding', 'ding' throughout the night.  Fortunately, they gave me ear plugs, and I managed to sleep through.   I think this wasn't an issue for 47B and 47C (i.e. the preferred seats at the other aisle), although I'm not sure.

3. Preferred seats have no space to put your backpack under your seat. Everything must go overhead.

4. The inflight entertainment screen can only be deployed when the aircraft is in the air. So you don’t have access to movies when the plane is on the ground, during take off, and during landing. Other passengers in normal seats have access to the IFE throughout.

Overall? Given that I had a good sleep (which was very important to me), the USD90 was worth the money. However, if I flew again, I would try 47A, 47B or 47C next time. (i.e the other side of the aircraft)

Seats-aside, the rest of the flight was good.  We were served supper shortly after takeoff from Singapore Changi. I chose the Beef with Noodles option.  I found the beef a bit tough, but it didn't bother me too much as I wasn't hungry.  We were given a Magnum mini as dessert - that was nice.  I slept a lot and woke up about 3 hours before landing.  Breakfast was ok. I chose the noodles again.  Everything went like clockwork and we landed in Milan safely.

Here is the video of my experience.

Arrival at Milan Malpensa
The airport was very quiet as we disembarked.  I think our flight was the first to land that morning, which was helpful because immigration lines moved quickly.  I noticed that they had only 2 counters in operation at that time in the morning.  After clearing immigration, we waited for a short while and got our luggage.  Take note that the trolleys cost 2 Euro (using coins from the machine).  I had to get a trolley since we had big luggage.  Fortunately we had some Euro coins from our previous trips to the EU.

Once we got to the public area, we headed to a cafe to get some coffee and food. Here is a video of us walking in Milan airport, then on the train, and finally arriving at Milan Centrale.

How far were the train rides? Well, it was two train rides. First, you need to take the train from Milan Malpensa Airport to Milan Centrale station (about 1 hour), on the Malpensa Express.  Next, from Milan Centrale to Genoa (Genova Principe).  The second leg is on an inter-city train.  Snapshot below from Google Maps.

Milan Centrale
In this video, I show you some scenes of Milan Centrale station.  The pickpocket situation in Milan is so bad, the first thing the machine tells you is to 'Beware of Pickpockets".  We arrived in Milan Centrale earlier that morning, from Milan Malpensa, after flying in from Singapore. (Singapore Airlines!)  At Milan Centrale, I had to buy tickets for the next leg, from Milan Centrale to Genoa Principe.  I used the Self Service machines.  They accepted credit cards, but required a PIN.  Thankfully I remembered my PIN. The second class ticket cost 21.5 Euros per adult.

It was quite a nightmare for us when we boarded the train to Genoa.  First we had to get our luggage on board the train - pretty high steps.  Then, we discovered there weren't proper areas to store our large bags.  Worse, some pickpockets made an attempt on one of us, thank God she didn't manage to steal anything.

Beware, they work in groups of 2-3. One of them will try to distract you.  In our case, she pretended to be a train passenger and appeared overly helpful with our luggage.  The other(s) will then try to pick from your pocket, handbag or bagpack. As the train was quite crowded and busy, people were in close proximity.

We also discovered that we boarded the wrong carriage.  When we took the train from Milan Malpensa to Milan Centrale, there were no assigned seats. But for this inter-city train (which went all the way to NICE), there were assigned seats and carriages.  My video shows you a picture of the ticket, and more importantly how to read the ticket (CARROVA means carriage).  Remember to board the correct carriage.

After all that excitement, we made it safely to Genoa Principe.  Phew!  Thank God.

Here is a picture of train tickets.

The earlier video also shows you our arrival at Genoa Principe and how to walk to the exit. From there, we took a taxi, to bring us to the Holiday Inn Genoa, where we would be staying for a night, pre-cruise. The hotel wasn't far away, but there were some surcharges. The bill came up to under 20 Euros. ( I think it was 17)

Holiday Inn GENOA
Checking in for the Genoa Holiday Inn was a breeze.  We arrived just after 1pm, and our rooms were ready, so we could get access to our rooms.  (Official check in time was 3pm).

For my family of 4, I booked a normal family room, and the hotel very nicely upgraded us to an Executive Family Room.  Very pleased.  This is the video of what the room looks like.   

It was time for lunch!  After putting down our bags and washing up, we asked the hotel reception to call a taxi for us.  We were headed to downtown Genoa, to get lunch at this restaurant called Yuan Restaurant Genoa.  I had found the restaurant on Tripadvisor (  

The restaurant clearly lived up to the recommendations on tripadvisor.  It was very good and inexpensive!  They had awesome lunch sets, costing  about 11Euros each.  I got this mixed sushi for 11 Euros.

My parents took the Chinese menu, which was 10Euros per pax, and it even came with two courses! It was very good value, as you can see in the video below.  We had 2 large bottles of beer, costing 4 Euro each.  Take note, there was a rather steep set of stairs to climb up to the restaurant. 

After a good lunch, it was time to take a walk.  Need to combat jet lag! We were in downtown Genoa, and it took us about 5 minutes on foot to get to the famous Piazza De Ferrari.  From Wiki,  Piazza De Ferrari is the main square of Genoa. Situated in the heart of the city between the historical and the modern center, Piazza De Ferrari is renowned for its fountain, which was restored in recent years along with a major restyling of the square. Today next to Piazza De Ferrari are numerous office buildings, headquarters of banks, insurances and other private companies, making of this district the financial and business centre of Genoa, so that Genoeses popularly refer to it as the "City" of Genoa. At the end of the 19th century Genoa was the main financial centre of Italy along with Milan, and Piazza De Ferrari was the place where many institutions were established, like the stock exchange, the Credito Italiano,[1] the branch offices of the Bank of Italy, founded in 1893.

After taking some photos of the piazza, I headed towards Piazza San Lorenzo, where the Genoa Cathedral is.   Along the way, we passed a nice Christmas market.  

We kept walking beyond the Cathedral (it was downhill) and ended up near the water.  We could see the aquarium.  Took a taxi back to the hotel from there.

Here is some Go Pro footage of the walk.  

We didn't do much later that evening.  Tired.  We had some food at the McDonalds (inside the Co-Op) opposite the Holiday Inn.  And it was time to rest and sleep.  

Steps up Italian Train
Before I end the pre-cruise day, here is a picture and a short video clip of the steps up a typical Italian inter-city train.  The reason I am showing you this is because you have to carry your luggage up and down the train, if you intend to use the train for inter-city travel.  Therefore, heavy pieces of luggage could prove to be a challenge. 

Here is the video.

Continue to Day 1 of the cruise, where we embark the MSC Meraviglia!