MSC Opera – Part 5

MSC Opera – Day 10 – Istanbul, well sort of…

We awoke as the ship sailed back down the Bosphorous strait and docked in Istanbul, the only city in the world spanning two continents. We’d already decided to stay onboard today as we were both a little concerned about safety in the region but Finn needed no convincing over a ‘bonus sea day’. The port is well positioned giving you spectacular views of the city and it’s many impressive mosques and you can even hear the call to prayer at regular points throughout he day so I felt we’d experienced something of the city without even going ashore.


We skipped breakfast and had a lazy start to the day relaxing in the cabin before visiting the spa on deck 11 to book our complimentary massages which were included in our Aurea package. There’s also an impressive, well equipped gym adjacent to the spa but I had no intention of using that on holiday! We wandered along top deck which was absolutely deserted and we literally had the ship to ourselves. Finn had a play in the spray ground while we had a pre lunch aperitif.

We were tempted by the promise of Turkish kebabs in the buffet but opted for an al a carte lunch in La Carvella instead. The restaurant was also incredibly quiet so we enjoyed very attentive service from the waiting staff. We all chose a fabulous meatball starter with rosemary potatoes from the self serve area then I had a turkey and ham kebab which was actually a wrap served with fries and Andy had a beautifully cooked boneless chicken leg from the lunch menu. We then took full advantage of an empty ship and chose some sun loungers right next to the pool which for a while we had all to ourselves. Finn swam a total of 20 lengths with the odd rest in between and it’s been lovely watching him grow in confidence in the water during this cruise. Glorious sunshine and temperatures touching the nineties have certainly helped him along.

MSC Opera Spray Park

At 4pm it was time for our massages so Finn went to kids club which was a bit of a palaver as the kids and staff weren’t actually at Junior club so it took a call to reception to locate them. Apparently they alternate between junior club on deck 12 and mini club on deck 11 and were at the latter. He’s not used the club as often as he maybe would on a P&O or a Royal Caribbean ship and I suspect this is because of the mix of nationalities and languages which means it’s a little harder to make friends. Rather selfishly I’ve enjoyed that he’s spent so much time with us on the cruise as normally I’m trying it drag him away from kids clubs!

Myself and Andy both had a free 45 minute Balinese massage which would usually cost around €70. We were told to arrive 5 minutes earlier for a consultation which I feared would be an attempt to upsell other products and treatments but thankfully there was no such thing and the therapist just escorted us to the treatment rooms. The massage was fabulous and incredibly relaxing apart from that awkward moment where you’re never too sure how much clothing to leave on or take off! We’ll be returning to the spa later in the week to enjoy the complimentary sauna, relaxation area and spa baths that are also included in our package.

We left feeling distinctly chilled out and went to collect Finn who was having none of it as he was having too good a time playing on the Xbox with some Italian boys and a Russian girl. I guess video games are a kind of international language when you’re seven years old. We went back to our room and glass in hand watched the sailaway and a fearless pilot jumping off the ship to his waiting boat which got a round of applause from the balconies and a little bow in response.

We picked up Finn and just had time for a quick change into our formal wear for tonight’s gala dinner. As a member of the MSC Voyagers Club (their loyalty scheme for returning guests) we’d been invited to a reception with the captain. This took place in the Byblos Disco, a really lovely bar and dance floor situated on deck 12 aft. We’d not had the opportunity to drink in this bar as it doesn’t open until 11pm and is usually just an adults only space. Given it’s location and panoramic views MSC should possibly rethink this and open it a little earlier as it would be a great spot to watch the sunset and I’m sure would prove very popular with guests. The free Prosecco was flowing and the captain said a few words and introduced his team in the usual five languages but it was a lovely start to the evening.
The Voyagers club is well worth joining and is free to sign up which you can do on your first MSC cruise. It’s a points based system with various levels, we’re silver currently but will be gold next time we sail MSC. You earn points based on the number of nights on board, the class you sail in and your on board spend. Benefits at silver level include discount on internet packages, a complimentary cocktail and a basket of fruit in your cabin. Gold includes a free spa treatment, priority boarding and tendering and a free gift. We have no loyalty to one specific cruise line but we are members of all the loyalty schemes on those we sail with as the points and benefits certainly add up over the years.

We enjoyed another excellent gala dinner although as I don’t eat fish I was struggling a little on the starters but our waiter happily arrange a simple and very tasty spaghetti as an alternative for me. Andy had the leek and potato soup with added shrimp and a pasta with scallops then we both had the steak main followed by dessert wine and cheese. We were served another complimentary Prosecco to end the meal which was a nice touch and another example of MSC going the extra mile.

After dinner we had a drink in the pub and watched Clarke the guy with a guitar play a great set ahead of tonight’s show, Mytheon. Somehow we managed to find three vacant seats on the end of the front row and settled in to enjoy an impressive Greek god themed performance of acrobatics, dance and spectacular costumes. Our Greek mythology mad boy loved it and the entertainment is definitely improving as the cruise goes on.

MSC Opera – Day 11 – Mykonos

At 8am I went to reception to pick up the tender tickets for today’s and tomorrow’s ports, the Greek Islands of Mykonos and Santorini. They were available up until 1pm but I was glad I’d gone early as there were already big queues as the ever patient staff explained the process and allowed people to choose time slots across the two days. Fifteen slightly frustrating minutes later my mission was complete and I rewarded myself with a warm pastry and a diet Pepsi in Aroma coffee bar which was full of officers getting their daily caffeine kick.

We weren’t due to dock at Mykonos until 2pm so the boys enjoyed a lazy start to the day with breakfast in bed which we followed with a small al a carte lunch while we waited for the tender announcements. It was noticeably windy, so much so that the walkways around the top deck and the solarium were closed, and the sea was getting very choppy so we weren’t surprised when the Captain announced that it wasn’t safe to tender at this time and he’d reassess the situation and make another announcement later. It caused much disappointment amongst the guests but was completely understandable and safety must always come first. We did what cruise passengers do in times of distress, ordered a glass of wine and had another lunch! Burgers, fries and hot dogs all round!

We found a sheltered spot on the pool deck to make the most of the sunshine and noticed the wind beginning to drop and the sea becoming calmer. The Captain soon made the announcement everyone was waiting for to loud cheers and a round of applauso (Italian for applause!)


We were tender ticket D so when they called A-C we went to get our bags from the room and by the time we’d reached the theatre, the waiting point for the tenders our letter was called. We were soon aboard a port operated tender and on our way. Thankfully the waves didn’t feel too bad and the staff were very helpful and vigilant getting passengers on and off. We docked at the pier and walked along the sea front to a small beach were Finn decided he wanted a quick swim before we headed into Mykonos Town’s labyrinth of white buildings and narrow streets which twist and turn into gorgeous little squares lined with bars and tavernas. We found one called Familia which was very stylish with carved wooden furniture and a canopy of deep pink bourgainvillea where we enjoyed a glass of red for €6 and watched the world go by. The island is renowned as a gay paradise and the restaurant soon filled with handsome, well dressed men enjoying dinner ahead of the night time partying the island is famous for. Our ship wasn’t departing until midnight so there was an ample opportunity to sample the nightlife but although it sounded like great fun it probably wasn’t appropriate with a 7 year old in tow!

Familia Mykonos

We explored a bit more and found an art gallery with some fabulous work including a Julian Opie original, one of our favourite artists. Just out of interest I enquired about the price which was€62,000! Thankfully it wouldn’t fit in our case so we had to decline : ) We headed back towards the harbour through a maze of upmarket shops and restaurants and knew we were heading in the right direction when we started to feel the sea breeze. Finn decided he wanted a Greek bracelet he’d seen earlier so we returned to a shop on the waterfront to get it and then jumped a tender back to the ship. We were back on board and sitting down for dinner by 8.30pm but the restaurant was incredibly quiet as the majority of guests seemed to have chosen to dine ashore. We enjoyed great service, plentiful wine and as always, delicious food. Andy went for a lentil soup, I had a lamb pasty, and then we both chose the asparagus risotto followed by lamb in a balsamic vinegar reduction. Finn chose a cheese toastie and then chicken escalope and chips from the kid’s menu and we ended the night with a final glass of red in Sorrento’s.

Sunset Mykonos

MSC Opera – Part 4

MSC Opera – Day 8, Sochi, Russia

Today we visited Sochi, home of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia, which was an unexpected addition to a predominantly Greek Islands cruise itinerary. Unless you have a Russian visa or Russian passport you can’t disembark unless you take an official MSC excursion where you’re covered by the ship’s group visa. I did briefly look into the visa option but it involved sending passports off and cost nearly the same price as the numerous trips on offer.

Quayside Sochi

We definitely wanted to set foot on Russian soil so we booked the 3 hour cultural tour of Sochi which was €89 for adults and €62 for children. Other options included a 4 hour Sochi highlights tour and a visit to Stalin’s Dacha at €79 or a visit to the Olympic Park with chair lift ride and lunch which was 8 hours and €139. None of the tours were particularly child friendly but you can leave your children in kids club if you wish although we always take Finn with us when we go ashore. He was actually feeling a little under the weather so I was glad I’d only booked a three hour tour, the majority of which would be on an air conditioned coach.

Cruise Terminal Sochi

Our excursion meeting point was in the theatre at 9am although some of the trips were departing as early as 7.45am. We headed down to the theatre, were given stickers with our coach number and disembarked for the short walk along the Olympic branded quayside to the terminal building and passport control. Our passports were stamped and we signed visa forms before making our way to the coaches outside the terminal. Ours was a mix of Italian and English speaking passengers so announcements were made in both languages with a fluent English commentary delivered by local tour guide Maria and a member of the MSC staff translating this into Italian. The coach left soon after and the first stop was a bank a few minutes away where we could exchange Euros into Roubles as other currencies are not accepted although credit cards can apparently be used. We didn’t know what we might need so changed €50 (just under £40) and got around 3800 Roubles. It’s worth noting there’s an option to revisit the bank on the way back to port to change any unused notes back into Euros but we found the best souvenir shopping was at the cruise terminal so do hang on to some if you’re looking for mementoes.

Sochi is a beautiful coastal resort city with modern 5 star hotels and apartment blocks, shopping malls, parks and tree lined squares fringed by spectacular mountains where you can find the winter ski resorts. Pebble beaches line the shore with bars and clubs filled with holidaying Russians and judging by the expensive and recognisable cars we saw it’s a fairly wealthy city and clientele.

Our second stop was at the beautiful Orthodox Church of Archangel Michael which is set in a small square decorated with statues of angels. After 15 minutes we boarded the coach again and went to the neoclassical Winter Theatre where we enjoyed a glass of ‘Russian champagne’ which tasted more like a pear cider but was very drinkable and then took front row seats for a performance by a folk group featuring traditional musicians and dancers. It was a high energy show with much whooping, shouting and clapping and even some audience participation. They tried to drag my husband up to dance but he has a morbid fear of anything like that and sank into his seat so I was chosen as a much more willing victim. I had a polka with a nice young Russian man and received a rapturous round of applause :) Finn just looked a little mortified but captured the whole thing on video as his Dad took the photographic evidence! The performance was great, very entertaining but just a few songs too long for our liking at well over half an hour.

Dancing Sochi

After the show we left the theatre and followed our tour guide on foot down to the shore for some shopping opportunities. We were expecting a stylish shopping street filled with pavement cafés but in reality it was a row of small beach units selling absolute tat like fridge magnets, shells and tasteless T shirts. We couldn’t find anything tasteful to buy despite the roubles burning a whole in my pocket and also struggled to find a decent looking bar too. When we eventually did, the language barrier defeated us as we didn’t know the Russian for red wine!

We returned to the coach walking past the Summer Theatre, a smaller version of the earlier Winter Theatre both of which were commissioned by Stalin who had a holiday home in the city’s hills and regularly visited to enjoy the sub tropical climate. We were driven back to the port through the city as our guide reeled off facts and figures and pointed out landmarks like the botanical gardens and an impressively grand train station. We felt the trip was worthwhile and reasonable value for money despite our usual preference to do our own thing but that just wasn’t an option here. Having experienced Sochi I think it would be extremely hard to DIY without some knowledge of Russian as there seemed to be little or no English spoken anywhere.

The tour was actually over four hours long by the time we arrived back at the terminal where there was a woman selling Russian Dolls outside and a small souvenir shop inside the building. Do look at both before deciding what to buy as the dolls we bought outside seemed slightly cheaper inside although at 1500 roubles (about £15) each for two large and beautifully painted examples we were happy to offload most of our currency and be able to take home something to remind us of the trip.

We were back on board just in time for the al a carte lunch where I had what was described as a sausage roll but was in fact a beautifully flavoured Italian sausage served in a Cumberland style coil on a bed of sweet peppers. Andy enjoyed cabbage parcels stuffed with ham and bacon and Finn despite still feeling a bit poorly braved some pasta then we took him for a siesta. He was soon tucked up and snoozing while we enjoyed the last of the Sochi sunshine and a glass of red on the balcony.

The sun began to set and dark clouds appeared in the distance as we watched a spectacular storm far out at sea. Finn awoke feeling a lot better and we got ready for dinner. The daily program informed us that tonight’s dress code was white night so we put him in a white T shirt but didn’t adhere ourselves. No one seems to mind if you don’t quite follow the code but we always enjoy smartening up for dinner in some shape or form.

It was yet another incredible meal with an amazing risotto and suckling piglet as the highlights. Andy discovered that the dessert wine featured on the menu is actually included in our drinks package so ordered a glass of thick, sweet wine to accompany his cheeses. There’s also a wide selection of liqueurs and apperetifs including Baileys, Drambuie and Limoncello at no additional charge if you have the package or around 4 and 5 Euros if not. We can’t believe it took us a week to discover them!

MSC Opera – Day 9 – At Sea

Our final sea day was spent sailing south on the Black Sea towards our next stop Istanbul and a port intensive end to the cruise visiting 5 destinations in 5 days. It was cloudy with strong winds when we awoke and this more northerly sea has certainly felt a bit rougher than the Mediterranean. We decided to spend the morning indoors with a leisurely al a carte breakfast then sat in the Aroma coffee bar to write and post yesterday’s blog on Sochi . At 11am it was time for Doremi chef, a kids cookery class with MSC’s blue and white costume character. Finn and I watched a cake decorating demonstration by the pastry chef narrated by the kids club team and then the children got to have a go at their own creations. I think Mary Berry or Paul Hollywood have little to fear!

Interestingly there doesn’t seem to be that many kids on board especially as MSC is perfect for families as kids sail practically for free. You simply pay the taxes which I think was around £300 for Finn for a two week cruise which is a brilliant deal particularly during summer holidays when many other cruise lines actually increase their prices. If you are travelling with under 3’s MSC also have a partnership with an Italian baby care brand called Chicco and you can borrow bottle warmers, strollers, bouncers and backpack carriers for free on board. I can still remember travelling with a toddler and the huge amount of stuff you need to pack so this is a real bonus.

We spent a leisurely few hours lunching like the Italians do with antipasto and pasta followed by beef with mushrooms and potatoes for Andy and a pork dish for me. I also sampled a gorgeous white chocolate eclair from the fabulously tempting dessert section.

Daybed Top Deck

After lunch and a good few hours further south, the wind had dropped and the sun had come out. The pool deck was packed with very few spare beds but there were plenty available in the Top Deck Solarium area which overlooks the pools and is free to enter if you’re on the Aurea package. Last year we were lucky enough to sail on MSC Divina for two weeks around the Caribbean in a Yacht Club suite. This is MSC’s ship within a ship concept that is a little like staying in a boutique hotel with just 50 or so cabins in a a private area with its own bar, restaurant and swimming pool. It’s an all inclusive concept but only in the Yacht Club area so if you go to any other bars you have to pay and you can’t dine in the main restaurants. There is no Yacht Club on the Lirica class ships but we’ve really enjoyed the Aurea option as you get to use all the main facilities and bars but with numerous extra perks.

MSC Opera has no aft facing balcony cabins and instead there are a few small deck areas with sun beds overlooking the ship’s wake which are lovely and peaceful and worth considering if you want to escape the busy main pool area.

We spent the afternoon sunbathing, swimming and watching the pool games organised daily by the entertainment team. I spotted that one of the daybeds had become free so we soaked up some late afternoon sun lying on our backs with a glass of red and a few slices of the best pizza you’ll sample at sea.

Tonight’s suggested dress code for dinner was confusingly described as ‘costume’ which we worked out was Italian for fancy dress but not one guest was dressed up! Dinner wasn’t quite as sensational as previous evenings and we both ordered smoked duck breast as a main which didn’t really wow us but I did enjoy my chocolate Swiss roll and accompanying dessert wine.

After dinner we went to the spa to try and book our complimentary treatments but they’d closed at 9pm so we had a drink under the stars on the pool deck where we were entertained by a great guitarist / singer who was a bit like a South African version of Donny Osmond belting out pop hits and charming the crowd. At 9.45pm it was time for tonight’s show, Icons, which was definitely the best we’ve seen so far and a tribute style show of camp disco hits featuring everything from Queen to the Pet Shop Boys. It was like Top of the Pops meets Eurovision and even had an amusing version of YMCA with girl performers in skimpy outfits that I’m sure kept the Dads very happy!