Day 3 – A Lazy Sea Say
It was a late start to Day 3 thanks to an overnight time change but thankfully it was a sea day and our only agenda was eating, drinking and swimming. We’d missed al a carte breakfast so Finn & I braved the buffet, Andy was still full from dinner the night before so stopped in the cabin.
The buffet wasn’t as hectic as I thought it may be and following breakfast it was time for top deck and swimming pools. We picked up Daddy and found some chairs in the shade by the Spray Park. Finn is getting braver every day and even stood under the power drencher – a huge bucket that fills and tips over every five minutes causing much squealing by everyone beneath. While Finn was splashing around I finished my daily blog. The wifi on board is surprisingly good, I bought a package online for both myself & Andy before we boarded at approx £60 each for 24 hours access across the two weeks. You just need to remember to log in and out each time you use it. If you’ve not purchased ahead then the package prices onboard are 16.90 for 60 minutes, 24.90 for 100 minutes, 54.90 for 300 minutes or 69.90 for 480 minutes. We made quite a saving by purchasing ahead so I recommend you do this if you plan to go online and you can use your package across multiple devices.
After a morning of sunbathing, swimming and a cheeky beer or two it was time for lunch to escape the blazing sun. It was Pronto Bistro again in the main restaurant and Finn and I had pasta to start, Andy had salad then I enjoyed leg of lamb with potatoes and Mediterranean vegetables and my other half had stuffed neck of pork with Lyonnaise potatoes and asparagus. I managed a gorgeous chocolate mousse for dessert and Finn a chocolate cake.
After lunch Our son decided he wanted to try kids club so I signed him up. He’s a pirate which is for 7-11 year olds. There’s also a mini club for 3-6 year olds and a teen club for 12 plus. Probably worth noting MSC do allow 7 year olds to sign themselves in or out unless you decline this option which I did. He skipped in to play with Lego and we popped back 30 minutes later to check he was ok. He was having a great time (playing that kids club perennial Dodgeball) and wanted to stay.
Andy and I escaped to the Top 13 Solarium, an area on deck 13 reserved for Aurea class guests (or those who are happy to pay a supplement) where we found a table in the shade for a glass of red. There are lots of good quality loungers, a few day beds, cold flannels, a bar area and showers. I had read that Top 13 was adults only but there were some kids up there and the staff clarified that families staying in Aurea Class can use it so we’ll be taking advantage of that in the next few days.
On reflection the Aurea upgrade seems well worth the extra, I’ve been very impressed with the inclusions in the drinks packages such as ice cream, big bottles of mineral water, good quality wine and a great cocktail selection. My time dining has worked really well too and the top deck solarium looks great although we’ve not sampled the inclusive spa treatments yet.
We picked Finn up at 5pm to go and change for our first gala dinner. MSC is not the most formal line however we decided to dress up as I’d bought Finn an M&S tuxedo in April and I’m determined to get the price per wear down! We do have 4 cruises planned this year so providing he doesn’t grow it’s a bargain. He looked absolutely gorgeous and mummy and daddy scrubbed up okay too.
Only around 25% of passengers had made an effort so don’t worry if you don’t want to dress up and complimentary cocktails were plentiful and being served all over the ship ahead of dinner. The gala meal was excellent, Andy had a seafood bisque, we both had asparagus tortellini, a lemon sorbet then an incredible steak with potatoes and pepper sauce followed by crepe suzettes. The dessert was so good I ordered seconds! Finn was in heaven with a pizza with hotdogs on top starter followed by chicken and chips. We then had a quick nightcap on top deck in the warm evening air watching the sprayground lights change as kids played then it was time for an early night as we had a big day in Athens planned from the port of Piraeus tomorrow.
MSC Opera – Day 4- Piraeus
Day 4 began with a room service breakfast, another Aurea class perk. It’s only a continental offering but good quality, delivered on time and handy if you want it make a swift exit on a port day. Today was Piraeus, the gateway port for Athens and one of the main reasons for booking this cruise. Finn loves Greek Gods and thanks to the Percy Jackson books he knows all the myths and wanted to see the Acropolis. MSC do offer some reasonably priced trips but Andy had done a little port research and worked out it was easy enough to DIY here. We had planned to use the metro link train, a short walk from the port and just a few euros each way but it was very hot and on leaving the port we spotted a hop on hop off bus which would take us to the Acropolis in 35 minutes, and give us an Athens sightseeing tour as well. At just 22 for adults and free for kids this seemed like a good deal so we jumped onboard.
We left Piraeus listening to the commentary about the history of the port and were soon in Athens catching glimpses of the Acropolis and Parthenon towering impressively above the city. The HoHo bus has two lines, one green linking the port to Athens and a red line which loops around the main city sights. Handily the two lines meet at the Acropolis stop but we decided to tackle the climb to the Acropolis first before the midday heat became too much and save the city tour for later. We got off the bus and followed the crowds up a pathway to the ticket office and joined the first of many queues. The attraction was incredibly busy even at 10am in the morning, only to be expected I suppose but if you do want to go I’d recommend you go early. The entrance tickets were 12 for adults and Finn at seven years old was free. You can actually wander the grounds and get a good view of the Acropolis and Parthenon from the ground for free and you only need to pay if you want to get up close and visit the temples. We joined another long queue slowly twisting and turning it’s way up to the summit on steps and pathways of well worn and slippy marble which didn’t feel particularly safe and was at times a little chaotic. It’s probably worth noting the official tours didn’t get any preferential treatment and we were all just thrown in together trying to make it to the top. Bearing in mind the money the attraction is taking they really should invest in better infrastructure and planning to get the thousands of daily tourists around the site in a safer way. I dread to think how many slips, trips and falls happen each week.
On the way up we passed an amphitheatre that looked like it was still used for performances and finally after much jostling and a little slipping we reached the top. It was well worth the climb with fabulous views of Athens and so much incredible history in touching distance. We wandered around the ruins, took Parthenon selfies then made the long climb down which was just as hectic as the climb up.
A HoHo bus arrived just as we were leaving the grounds so we climbed aboard, grabbed some seats on the top deck and were off into Athens in no time. The buses are a great way to get a flavour of a city, see the main attractions and enjoy a cool breeze while resting your legs. The commentary was interesting and we saw the Temple of Zeus, the parliament buildings, the birthplace of the modern Olympics, the food and fish markets and the main squares. Athens was more attractive than I expected with lots of shady tree lined streets and squares but as the buses were very busy we decided to stay on rather than risk jumping off and not getting back on board a later bus. We returned to The Acropolis stop and headed into a nearby bar and restaurant called Dionysus where I raised a glass of red to the Greek God of wine with a spectacular view of the temples atop the hill. At 7 a glass it was possibly the most expensive in Greece but at least I was helping the local economy!
We took the green line bus back to Piraeus which officially run every 30 minutes but seemed much more regular than that. There were 4 cruise ships in port today so perhaps they’d increased capacity to accommodate this. Once back at the port we visited a couple of souvenir shops and picked up a statue of Dionysus, a bargain at 9 whereas the same statue was 19 in the other – it pays to shop around.
We were soon back on board and had a quick drink in the pub ahead of a late buffet lunch. I took Finn for a splash and a swim which was so refreshing after the 94 degrees heat of the city then just to ensure we’d cooled down we had an ice cream from on all inclusive package. It’s great quality Italian gelato with a huge range of flavours.
We changed for dinner which was another casual dress night. I was a little concerned I’d be disappointed by the food after the amazing menu and experience on gala night but MSC delighted us again with a chicken satay starter with the most incredible spicy sauce, then a prosecco risotto. I remembered this dish from when I was on MSC Divina and it really is beautiful, I’d order it every night if I could! For main we had rib of beef in a chianti sauce with potatoes and green beans and a raspberry trifle for dessert. Another truly excellent meal washed down with a glass or two of red of course. I really think MSC could be the best food at sea and considering how many meals I’ve sampled with numerous cruise lines that’s high praise indeed. Finn had Parma ham and mozzarella then ordered yet his second hot dog of the day! Well he is on holiday and thankfully had fruit and ice cream for dessert so that’s at least one of his five a day covered…
After dinner we went to the Do Re Mi kids disco in Cotton Club hosted by the kids club team where Finn and I enjoyed a dance to a few europop hits. We had a nightcap on top deck under the stars and then took a very sleepy boy to bed looking forward to a less hectic and more relaxing sea day tomorrow.
MSC Opera – day 5 – sea day
Day 5 was our second sea day giving us time to chill out after Athens. We began with an al a carte breakfast and were sat in a window seat enjoying a full English as we sailed through the Strait of Dardanellia with land close by on both sides of the ship.
After breakfast we headed up to Top 13, the solarium which was just opening at 9am and all climbed into a vacant day bed which provided plenty of space for the three of us on a comfortable mattress with shade for the boys and sun for me. It was a bit cloudy at first and the staff helpfully provided us with extra towels incase we were cold but it soon brightened up and Finn had an ice cream milkshake and a dip in the pool. It was a little windy so the spray ground was turned off to avoid the whole pool deck getting drenched.
We enjoyed the sunshine and a glass of red from the comfort of our day bed but the wind was whipping up and blowing the sun loungers around so we decided to head for lunch as the staff began closing the solarium and strapping down the loungers for safety. Lunch was the usual relaxed and delicious a la carte of pasta and soup starters and chicken as a main.
After lunch Finn decided he’d like to go to kids club so I dropped him off for a couple of hours and Andy and I enjoyed the peace and a relax in the cabin. When we picked him up the wind had dropped and the sunshine was back out so Finn and I had a cheeky slice of wood fired pizza then another dip in the pool. As we were on top deck the ship entered the Strait of Bosphorous with spectacular views of Istanbul on each side. It wasn’t what I was expecting at all and was much greener with impressive water front houses and resorts along the tree lined banks. We sailed through the city and beneath two huge road bridges before the channel opened out into the Black Sea for our next two destinations but we’ll be stopping at Istanbul on our return.
Tonight’s dinner dress code was Red, White & Green as it was Italian night although arguably every night is Italian night on board MSC Opera! Unfortunately we hadn’t really packed appropriately so couldn’t quite join in the theme but many passengers did. The restaurant was dressed with Italian colours and the waiters had brightly coloured waistcoats and bow ties. The food as always was exceptional.
I’m quite proud that we managed 4 courses, Parma ham and melon, tortellini in a broth for me followed by spaghetti and mozzarella while Andy sampled the minestrone and a mushroom risotto. We both had sliced beef with Parmesan, rocket and balsamic for main. We were beaten and declined pudding but did partake in a little napkin waving as the desserts were paraded through the restaurant. The wind had whipped up again and the Black Sea was getting very rocky, so much so that many passengers left the restaurant. Thankfully we were all feeling fine and Finn even managed his chicken parmigiana with pasta and fries without any concern for the stormy weather outside. We went to mid ship where the rocking was considerably less noticeable and had a nightcap listening to guitarist and girl singer duo Golden Brown’s Latin style take on everything from The Doors to Radiohead as Finn fell asleep on my lap. We then got an early night ahead of our visit to Constanta in Romania tomorrow.