It had been quite some time since I travelled down to Southampton the day before a cruise, but for my MSC Splendida sailing, that’s exactly what I did.
I spent the night pre-cruise at the IBIS Budget in Southampton on West Quay road. I’ve stayed in a few IBIS properties and I’ve never had a bad experience, so I thought it would be the ideal choice, and it was! The reception staff were very friendly and very helpful, and within a few minutes I was checked in and on my way to my room. I had a twin room on the third floor and it was huge! The bathroom was also massive – a wet room perfectly adapted for those who may be wheelchair users. As soon as I’d walked through the door it was clear that the air conditioning in the room wasn’t working, and on this particular day it was almost 30 degrees in the south, so before leaving for the evening I made reception aware and was promised that if it could not be fixed, fans would be placed in the room to lower the temperature. When I returned, not only was the air conditioning working, but there was also a fan in the room and the temperature was somewhere between cold and Arctic – just how I like it! It was a massive relief. A continental breakfast was offered the following morning, which consisted of various pastries, cheeses, yoghurt and fresh fruit. Hot drinks and juices were also available and at just £5.50 per person, you really couldn’t complain.
The journey from the IBIS Budget (and standard IBIS which is directly across the car park) to the City Terminal took around 2 minutes – that’s how convenient the hotel is for cruise ships leaving from the City or Mayflower cruise terminals – and within no time at all I was sitting in the check-in area waiting to begin my European adventure aboard MSC Splendida. A new system was in place today. You would check-in shoreside, but your photograph would be taken once you were onboard and cruise cards were waiting for guests inside their cabins. I don’t know if it made a big difference or not for us passengers, it didn’t take any longer than the usual process, but maybe it moved things along quicker for check-in staff. Also, instead of registering your credit card at check-in, you would do this once onboard either via reception or electronically yourself on one of the machines placed in the atrium. It was pretty straight forward, but it does mean that any money you don’t spend from the pre-authorised amount is then given back to you at the end of the cruise in cash in the currency that is used onboard. So, for example, I put a hold of 100 euro on my account but I didn’t spend it all, so on the last evening I went to reception to get the 29 euro in cash that they had debited from my card, but that I hadn’t actually spent. It was all a bit long winded to be quite honest, so next time I’ll just spend it! 😉
Anyway, back to the cruise itself! I had a lovely balcony stateroom on Deck 10 – right next to the lifts which was ideal. One thing you can always be certain of with MSC Cruises is tasteful accommodation, no matter which option you select. I was certainly happy with my abode and relieved to see a full bottle of the signature MSC Cruises shower gel in the bathroom. I absolutely love the smell of it, it’s the same scent that is pumped through the air conditioning units in the public areas, and it’s probably one of only a few shower gels supplied that I will actually use on a ship. Once unpacked, I made my way out to explore the rest of this splendid ship!
Deck 14 mid-ship seemed to be the main hub, it was always busy both day and night, and it was also the ideal place to enjoy a drink and watch the sun go down. That was probably my favourite area onboard but I also really liked The Purple Jazz Bar, Club 33, La Piazzetta and the Sports Bar.
The stairs in the atrium offered the ultimate ‘wow factor’ – I’ve never seen so many Swarovski crystals. Apparently, every step (72 in total) has approx. $40,000 worth of crystals in it. If you haven’t figured it out yet, it means the 2 staircases in the atrium are worth over $2 million combined! The piano in the atrium is also covered in Swarovski crystals.
The itinerary for this sailing was the same as the one I had enjoyed during my time on MSC Opera (Zeebrugge, Amsterdam, Hamburg and Le Havre), so I was looking forward to doing it again. The only difference this time was that the ship had a 24-hour call in Amsterdam and as that is one of my favourite cities, I couldn’t have been more thrilled. I had the BEST time in Amsterdam and met some fabulous people. I stayed onboard in Zeebrugge and Hamburg. Although it hadn’t been my intention to stay on the ship in Hamburg, it was Sunday so everything was closed and as I’d been twice before I knew I wasn’t missing out completely. In Le Havre I took the shuttle bus ashore and enjoyed a casual walk around the city. Le Havre isn’t a big place, but it is quite tranquil and as it was a lovely, sunny day it was ideal for spending time sitting next to the water fountains and watching the world go by.
The day of our call to Hamburg also marked the 100th time that an MSC Cruises ship had called into the port, so upon departure, we were treated to a wonderful music, light and firework show – it was one of the highlights of the cruise for me. It really was spectacular! I’d never seen so many people lining the dockside in Landungsbrücken before.
As with my previous MSC cruises, I had the Allegrissimo Drinks Package and as usual it was a winner! It includes a massive selection of drinks – alcoholic and non-alcoholic – coffee and ice cream, and I would always recommend this package be purchased before you cruise as you really do save a small fortune. Also available is the Allegrissimo Premium, which is slightly more expensive than the standard Allegrissimo but includes premium spirits, beers, champagne cocktails, the contents of your in-room mini-bar and much more. You can read more about all of the drinks packages available here, but please note that some of the prices have changed. The standard Allegrissimo is now 26 euro per person per day.
I had cruised with MSC Cruises twice previous to my voyage on MSC Splendida, so I knew what to expect, and just like MSC Opera and MSC Magnifica I had a fantastic time, but there was one let down on this sailing and that was the food. The salad selections, fruit selections and Mediterranean Corner (cheeses and cold meats) were absolutely brilliant, I really couldn’t fault these at all, nor could I fault the ‘make your own sandwich’ section that was offered late afternoon and evening or the ice cream bar, and pizza station. The rest of the food, however, was pot luck. Some of the dishes were very tasty (I loved the bratwurst that was on offer one day), but more often than not, the food was cold. I met many English passengers during the cruise and the overall consensus was exactly the same: wonderful ship, fantastic accommodation and superb value for money, but the food let it down.
Would I cruise with MSC Cruises again? ABSOLUTELY!!!!! I just love the onboard atmosphere, the mix of nationalities, the smell of the ships, the value for money, the longer port calls, the crew – everything! You know that when you board an MSC Cruises’ ship you are in for a good time!!