With great reluctance, owing to the comfort of the memory foam mattress, I awake and peek out of the blackout curtains to see we’ve arrived in Messina, Sicily.
The Cabin & A Lazy Day
I apologise in advance if you’d come here looking for a full low-down on how to cram as many sights from each port, the ship is mostly my destination and the ports occasionally provide a little light walking locations. The only exception to this rule is in Barcelona. I’d dropped the ball and forgot to make reservations for entry to Sagrada Familia. This is a must see for me and I probably have been inside around 10 plus times now. In order to skip the queues and ensure we got in, I booked an MSC excursion.
We eased out of bed and into the shower room. This is a standard cruise ship bathroom, with only the marble floor and oversized shower cubicle giving indication this is a suite cabin. The shower is fantastic, and offers both a rain shower in the ceiling and a detachable hose. Even with my 6ft 3 larger stature there is a huge amount of room. Glass screening provides respite from a clingy shower curtain on older cruise ships. A full range of Med by MSC amenities are on offer – shampoo, conditioner, body wash, body cream and a bar of soap. There is also a shower cap and other items are available from your Butler by request, mouthwash and toothbrush style goodies.
The towels are, yacht club branded, fantastic. You’ll find a large fluffy bath sheet, hand towel and face cloths; the latter folded into a cute triangle shape. The cabin is serviced twice a day, with all items replaced including your mini bar and water.
You are allocated a Butler who introduces himself on the first day, he is also supported by an Assistant Butler who will do most of the heavy housekeeping, this team of two work incredibly hard to make your holiday a special one. They are assisted by the key card system located just inside the door. It only works with your ship card, unlike in older ships where anything card shaped will work, it controls the energy to your room but also illuminates lights on the outside top of your cabin door. It lets them know when you are in or out, additionally there are two switches you can control for ‘do not disturb’ and ‘make up my room’.
If you need anything outside of the two services there is a speed dial located on your fancy touchscreen wireless phone located under the TV. We were always directly connected to our Butler, or when he was indisposed transferred to the helpful Yacht Club concierge desk located on deck 16. We passed by this desk on our way to breakfast to confirm our Cirque du Soleil at Sea reservation (I’d already made this online before embarking, this is advised as it fills up quickly) and register our credit card against the cabin account. The credit card registration is really simple and done using a touch screen machine. Scan your cruise card, enter your card and PIN, confirm if you want the other cabin members’ accounts registered to the same card and then sign to say you accept the automatic charging at the end of your cruise. You can also use a debit card, but be aware it will pre-authorise 300EURO and that amount will be unavailable for you to use. If you are really retro and prefer cash this can also be deposited, you’ll need to pay the 300EURO deposit and then the balance before you exit. You can, of course, use a credit card as a deposit and then visit the concierge desk to pay in cash on the departure-eve to settle the account.
Once this was completed, the longest part was having a chat with Raj who we know from Royal Caribbean, we made our way up to the Yacht Club restaurant for a table service breakfast. The menu is vast, with all the basics and then a huge range of more exotic (if you can call kippers exotic) items. I enjoyed an excellent Eggs Benedict most days here. There is also a small buffet area in the entrance which you can sneak up and get tasty baked items, fruit and cakes. Not many people use this section, but the chocolate tartlets were mind blowing-ly delicious. The service was always impeccable, the panoramic view of the ports amazing and the food of excellent quality.
After breakfast we rolled ourselves up to deck 19 to an empty deck and had our choice of loungers, all beautifully clean with a Yacht Club towel rolled up ready to unfurl and relax upon. Finding a lounger in direct sun can be a little challenging due to the glass roof, but head around to the opposite side of the bar and grill and you’ll find an exposed section. The grill also serves a buffet breakfast and the bar is open for your drink of choice – including rather tasty frothy cappuccino. If you like coffee then this is the cruise line for you, forget the filter pumps on Royal Caribbean in their coffee shop.
The friendly wait staff brought us chilled mineral water on ice, and at a 10.30am a cool glass of Pepsi Light or on the odd day a cheeky Pina Colada – you are on holiday after all. The lifeguard also kept our towels folded and fresh, and was super friendly. We were pleased to note that he is moving to become a trainee Butler once he returns from holiday, his service really deserved this.
After lounging, reading and listening to music – including attempting to do the crossword and puzzles from the daily complimentary newspaper it was 12.30 and Danny, the Head Butler, came to inform us that the buffet and grill was open for lunch. Not wishing to be rude we went to see what was on offer. A huge range of breads, salads, fruit were served in addition to 6 hot dishes (such as pasta, chicken curry, beef in a creamy sauce) and also two super friendly chefs desperate to make you one of 5 grill items or fresh pasta. From succulent chicken to beautifully seasoned chicken, there was something new to try each day. If you fancied something a little simpler like a beef or chicken burger with fries, this would also be brought up. As with everywhere on the ship, they worked hard to ensure every wish was attended to. We also tried some great cocktails and wine with lunch, from a Aperol Spirtz to a Mai Tai. All served with a smile, and the best thing of all – no bill!
As we finished lunch groups were returning back from excursions and on-shore exploring. We took this as our signal to have a walk around Messina. You do need your ship card to disembark and re-join the ship. Everywhere else you can use your NFR band (supplied for free in the Yacht Club and Aurea experience guests, and for an additional charge in other cabins) for payment and services. If you are a first time cruiser you do not require your passport in any of MSC’s EU ports.
Whilst the port area isn’t the most beautiful or picturesque; once you head out and into the square it has a certain Italian-style charm. There are plenty of cafes and buildings to take instagram content for – including the odd set of gentlemen playing chess in a shaded square. After a couple of hours strolling and people watching we returned to the ship.
We relaxed on the small, but big enough for two adults to sit on, balcony and consumed the bottle of sparkling wine left in our cabin at embarkation. If you are a Yacht Club and Black top-tier level Voyagers Club member you will get one bottle of sparkling wine with fruit bowl on your first day and then another with chocolate dipped strawberries a couple of days later. I also watched some TV on the huge flatscreen located in the room. You can also use your TV to book theatre shows, see what activities are happening on the ship and make dinner reservations. English TV channels are limited to one news channel and a general entertainment BBC channel, but good enough for the limited time you spend in the cabin.
It also gave us time for our devices to charge; there are loads of plug sockets in the room. Two European, two US and three USB, one by the TV and one each side of the bed built in the underside of the lamps. I did note that only the European plugs seemed to work when the card was out of the slot, so be sure to use these to charge when you’re on shore. In terms of other electrics there is also a shaver/electric toothbrush socket in the bathroom and a hairdryer in the vanity drawer (okay, but not great quality).
You should note that clothes irons are not permitted on the ship, nor are there any laundry rooms. People have reported success in brining portable clothes steamers in their hold luggage, but the only official way to press your clothes is via the laundry service. There are also laundry packages available; check the my MSC app or your online cruise manager for details and prices of this. The price list and bag are located in the wardrobe. I left mine on the bed in the morning and received it back washed and pressed by 6pm the same day, I think our Butler did go above and beyond for this though, standard service is next day by dinner time and premium service same day if received by 11am.
After a good nap and relax session we readied ourselves for dinner, tonight was our first elegant gala night, which is the what MSC have named their night when you should dress to impress. At the time of writing in during her Mediterranean season the dress code suggestions are as follows:
- Sunday – Genoa – Casual
- Monday – Naples – White Party
- Tuesday – Messina – Elegant Gala
- Wednesday – Valletta – Tropical
- Thursday – At Sea – Elegant Gala
- Friday – Barcelona – Casual
- Saturday – Marseille – Casual
In the Yacht Club the suggested dress code was well adhered to, and throughout the ship some people really made an effort. How do you girls get those huge dresses onboard? There were some people who relaxed in their own versions of dress, but everyone mingled well together. There are lots of opportunities for photos on this night, especially around the crystal staircases but also with the captain on Deck 6 in the Atrium. Just bear in mind there was a long queue for this and only the professional photographers are allowed to take photos – all about the euros!
After a stroll around the ship to see what others were wearing and a glass of real champagne in the champagne bar (not included in our package but a nice little treat) we made our way to dinner. There was a short wait for a table, the restaurant was especially busy tonight, of around 5minutes. We waited for the maitre’d to collect us from the downstairs lounge and were met with a thousand apologies, but it was no hardship sipping on a delicious cocktail.
Dinner tonight was fantastic, I swapped a pasta main course to a starter and had a steak for main course. The service was just the right speed and the accompanying wines perfectly drinkable, if not quite the correct pairing for the meal. A dessert of a three layered chocolate torte really did push my formal trousers elasticity to the limit, but it was completely worth it. A glass of limoncello made for an excellent nightcap.
We returned to the perfectly turned down cabin, complete with a goodnight note and a Venchi chocolate, which I restrained myself from eating and settled down for another sleep atop the comfortable Yacht Club memory foam mattress. My goodnight reading is always the newsletter they leave in your cabin, this keeps you up to date on what is happening the next day (activities, disembarking information, times of sailing and restaurant hours), and any offers they have running. Most of it is now in the app, interactive screens or on the TV, but it’s still comforting to have a paper copy.