MSC Opera – Day 12 – Santorini
When I booked our cruise my travel agent Colette at cruise.co.uk warned me that Santorini can be a bit of a logistical challenge. Conscious that we only had a few hours in this port, arriving at 7am and back on board at 1.30pm, I did my research. Santorini is another idyllic Greek Island featuring small white villages and blue roofed churches with just one minor problem, they are situated on terrifyingly high cliff tops, 900 meters above sea level. There’s no port as such, ships anchor and tender ashore, guests then either board an excursion boat to Oia ( the famous blue and white roofed town often seen in brochures) or join a queue to board the 34 seat cable car up the steep hill to Thira above.
My better half suffers with vertigo so I knew this could be a tricky port for us. All of the MSC excursions included a return trip by the cable car even if you skipped it on the way out so I thought it best to avoid pre-booking anything and that we’d take our chances on arrival and work out what to do. I’d read lots of port reviews on cruise critic with tales of long queues, fraught passengers and in queue fighting for the cable car. The only other alternatives were a terrifying donkey ride up and down or a steep 30 minute walk on slippy pathways littered with donkey poo!
On arrival we stepped onto our balcony and saw the near vertical cliffs and just two cable cars, one heading up as the other came down. At this point I knew even if we got up we were unlikely to make it down without much stress so I did the decent thing and offered the boys a morning on the ship. We had such a short time in port that I wouldn’t have felt too comfortable doing a boat trip elsewhere and traversing the bleak cliffs just wouldn’t work for us. Arguably the delight of Santorini would be wasted on a 7 year old anyway so this destination would be enjoyed from the luxury of an empty ship and a daybed in the glorious sunshine instead.
The boys were visibly relieved and Finn cheered so we enjoyed a relaxed al a carte breakfast, Andy sampled a made to order omelette while Finn and I grazed on sausages, cooked ham and hash browns. Sadly there’s no back bacon on MSC but the cooked ham beats the streaky stuff any day! After breakfast we had one mission – a day bed in the Top Deck 13 Solarium. There was no need to rush as our fellow passengers had no apparent reservations about cliff tops and had nearly all gone ashore. We bagged a daybed in a prime location and enjoyed a glorious morning watching the tenders come and go.
Several dips in a deserted pool and a visit to one of the two whirlpool hot tubs on top deck later it was time for lunch. We opted for a takeaway of tomato garlic bread, burgers and fries in the day bed and a glass or two of red – all was right with the world. I’m going to miss the sunshine when I return to rainy Manchester in a few days time….
We were late departing port, leaving a good hour or so later than expected and having spoken with passengers the next day it was apparently chaos at the cable car station with hour long queues, people pushing in and even fighting and many choosing to walk down to escape the madness of the bottleneck. Apparently someone was also taken very ill in the queue so it made me glad we’d opted for a lazy day on board.
At 4pm Finn decided it was time for kids club but sadly yet again we couldn’t find them as they weren’t in mini club or kids club. They really would benefit from either leaving staff or signage in both locations to advise passengers and I get the feeling you either sign kids up for the full day or you don’t use it. It’s not the drop in / drop out experience we’ve enjoyed on other cruise lines so we snuggled up in our cabin to watch Shrek on the iPad instead.
There’s no cinema on board but there are 12 new release films showing daily on an English Channel on the TV. They aren’t on demand so you’d need to plan you schedule to watch what you want but we’ve not really used the TV at all for movies.
Our interim bill had been delivered and thankfully wasn’t too scary mainly due to the all inclusive drinks package. There is an 8.00 service charge per day for adults and a 4 charge for kids but the service has been truly excellent so we’re happy with the cost and will probably be tipping in addition.
We changed for dinner which was another casual night and another fabulous meal. Andy enjoyed a cannelloni bean soup and we both had a fantastic carbonara pasta with bacon lardons and Parmesan. We didn’t fancy any of the mains so decided to splash out and order the one paid for food option on board, a T Bone Steak with potatoes and green beans. This was 16 each but included a glass of Barolo wine (usually 20 a glass) so the steak was practically free It was beautiful but absolutely huge so I’d recommend you consider sharing if you’re steak fans without an American sized appetite.
We declined dessert and did a little retail therapy in the gift shop where Finn added to his teddy collection and we bought chocolate and a present for our cat sitter. I enjoyed a Baileys or two on top deck listening to Clarke and his guitar playing everything from John Lennon to Sinatra before carrying a sleepy boy and his new teddy to bed.
MSC Opera – Day 13 – Cefalonia
At 8am we docked in Argostoli, the capital of Cefalonia, an island much lusher and greener than our previous two destinations. It’s colourful waterfront buildings and palm trees reminded me more of a Caribbean port than a Greek one.
Once again we only had the morning in port with everyone due back onboard by 1.30pm so we grabbed a pastry and diet coke to go and headed down the gangway and ashore along a wide concrete jetty. The harbour was full of huge, expensive yachts with their wealthy passengers enjoying the glorious morning sunshine as we took the short stroll into town. Finn wanted to go to a beach but unfortunately there isn’t one in walking distance of the port although there was a tour company called Avalon promoting trips including one to Myrtos beach which was timed around our ship arrival and departure and guaranteed to get you back in time and cost 30 per adult and 15 for a child. We passed on the beach trip and chose just to explore the town promising Finn a dip on top deck later instead. We walked along the waters edge passing fishing boats selling freshly caught fish and noticed people gathering on the quayside and looking into the sea. To our delight they’d spotted a huge turtle which was swimming around and delighting the growing crowds by popping his head up for air occasionally. As we walked on there were even more and they all seemed to be circling the fishing boats possibly in anticipation of some discarded catch. It was a lovely surprise and a promising start to our day.
We walked further along the harbour front past the fruit and vegetable markets towards the Koutavos lagoon, a mountain lined sea water lake which is apparently home to 30 or so of the turtles we’d seen earlier. We spotted some pedalos and little motor boats and a member of staff gave us a leaflet. It was a very reasonable 15 per hour to hire a VW beetle themed pedalo complete with sun canopy that could seat up to 4. Finn pleaded to go on one and we couldn’t say no so we paid the man, were given a complimentary bottle of water and a quick lesson before peddling off into the sunshine. We sailed across the lagoon searching for turtles but only saw a few fish, thank heaven we’d seen some earlier. I suspect they prefer the rich pickings by the fishing boats than hanging out with tourists on pedalos but we had fun regardless and once our legs were tired we returned to the shore.
We stopped for a highly recommended Mythos local beer in a sea front cafe then walked back a few streets into the town’s shopping area. We found a Benetton whose kids clothes I love and stocked up on some bargains for Finn. We also picked up a cuddly turtle to add to Finn’s ever growing teddy collection then as it was getting unbearably hot we headed back to the ship. It was an absolute joy to step out of the heat into the air conditioned cool so we decided to stay out of the sun and enjoy an al a carte lunch of turkey kebabs and baked potatoes accompanied by a glass of red and followed by a choux pastry filled with cream and chocolate – so naughty but so very nice!
After lunch Finn wanted to chill in the room for a bit and watch a movie on his iPad. At 4.30pm we went to the disembarkation talk in the theatre to find out what the procedure would be on Monday. This was delivered in just English as they were running language specific presentations throughout the afternoon. There’s actually six main languages spoken on board for things like the menus and announcements – Italian, English, French, Spanish, German and Russian. The talk began unsurprisingly with a brief sales pitch for future cruises with MSC then they gave us all the information we needed in relation to leaving the ship. We have a midday flight and with a docking time of 9.30am it was always going to be a tight connection so we’ve requested the earliest departure time and fingers crossed we’ll be in a taxi to the airport very swiftly!
After the talk we ticked the 8 hole mini golf off our to do list and had a dip in the pool before getting ready for our final formal night of the cruise. We dine each night in the L’Aproddo restaurant, this is allocated to guests on the Aurea or Fantastica packages who are staying in balcony cabins. The other guests dine in the much larger La Carvella restaurant one floor below L’Approdo. Earlier in the week our waiter had mentioned that the two restaurants offer slightly different menu suggesting our food was of a higher standard because we’d paid more. I was intrigued so tonight ahead of dinner we took look at the La Carvella menu and took a photo to compare it with ours. One of the starters and the soup were the same but our menu also included grilled king prawns and a sorbet that were absent on theirs. The mains were slightly different too, both offered beef but they were different cuts and our fillet came with an extravagant truffle slither rather than plain mushrooms. I think if you are a foodie and considering MSC it would be well worth booking Fantastica or Aurea packages especially if you want to sample the menus we’ve been blogging about. Our dinner was amazing and tonight included a flaming baked Alaska parade and an opportunity for us to applaud the chefs and waiting team who have worked so hard and delighted us all cruise. We ended the night with a Baileys under the stars on top deck looking forward to our final port day in beautiful Dubrovnik tomorrow.