Monday, October 11, 2010

Eat your way across the sea - Cruising with MSC

Swept away / rainbow coloured cocktails with party umbrellas / sea mist / decadence / a pampered getaway….

All these images creep up into our imaginations when someone mentions ‘Mediterranean Cruise’… so exotic, so indulgent.

Cut to reality. Yes, it’s cheap at about $1000 per person. Yes the food is all inclusive – sort of.

We booked a Med Cruise, on the MSC Splendida last month, despite our sincere misgivings about this type of holiday. JW and I are partial to the kind of adventure that involves flying to a destination, renting a car, testing out our GPS and heading out blindly.

A cruise couldn’t be further from this. It’s a seabound luxury hotel, with planned activities and seating arrangements. It is a highly organized, grand scale production line of tourists, with chaperoned excursions and rigid timelines. People move in droves – like swarms of bees, on and off the massive vessel / into the dining rooms at the set times /and flock to the sunbeds around the extravagant pool area every afternoon.

And this being an Italian ship – there were ample opportunities to join the conga line or practice your tango with the grandmas and preschoolers, all to the multi-lingual incessant counting of the activities coordinator over the omipresent loudspeakers.

A cruise holiday means arriving in the largest ports – some of them highly industrial and not remotely scenic. It means you never spend more than 8 hours docked anywhere, and every evening you are at sea, moving from your assigned table in the ships’ massive restaurants, to the substandard entertainment in the gargantuan onboard theater. They have you trapped every night.

It means that you spend the same limited hours in Marseille – which is a dull, industrial port, as Barcelona – which was lively and promising (a place I’d definitely like to go back and actually visit!).

A cruise holiday means sailing for 24 hours straight to arrive on the north shores of Africa in Tunisia, only to have 3 hours to explore the place!!!

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that the holiday wasn’t luxurious – the main lobby boasted Swarovski-esque crystals in the thousands, built right into each step of the spiraling staircases. And the center piano boasted it’s own tediously bejeweled diamond surface as well. It was a great hit with the under 10’s who all jumped on and around it, trying to scratch off the diamonds between jumping over sofas, while their parents tried to enjoy a drink amidst the dense crowds.

There were 5000 of us on board, so there was no area of peace or solace. The logistics on such a moving city must be mind boggling. No wonder they forced us to eat at the same time and place every night!

Speaking of eating… it’s pretty much the focus of a cruise trip. EAT. The food is free after all. The buffet for breakfast and lunch is served in the Bora Bora, a smorgasbord of gastronomy that spanned 4 football fields. And the plates were closer to troughs – huge oval depositories of glut.

Supper comprised of a 4 to 5 course meal every night – which was followed -by the truly insane – by a midnight buffet, complete with food art on display. From 3 foot tall butter mermaids to intricate eagles made from melons and pumpkins.

Drinks on the other hand were not free. By a long shot. A coke would run you about 3Euro or over $4. And the absolute tedium of it all. On embarkation, you are bombarded with ‘offers’ from the united nations of happy faced boat personnel. These range from ‘water package’ to ‘wine package’ and consist of an insulting little paper tear away booklet of coupons that you must use over the duration of your cruise. GRRRRR

So, would we do it again? Well yes. On a much smaller boat, somewhere like the Greek Isles, where the boat would stop for a day or two and allow you out to explore.

Cruising has it’s merits. It means being able to check off many countries as visited, in a short span of time. It is the perfect chance for the less adventurous to get out into the world,

AND it’s a great remedy if you’ve been feeling a bit on the thin side….
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Catherine Denton said...

I laughed through your post. I've been on one cruise and your words of feeling trapped perfectly describe my experience.
Making Life a Work of Art!

Janet said...

OMG - it sounds like a holiday from hell to me (sorry)


The pale observer said...

Hey ladies - definitely it was not my kind of holiday! We're heading to South Africa's Garden Route next week - for some hiking and long beach walks... all unchaperoned and self led!! Much better :)

Travel & Dive Girl said...

I've never cruised either. Like you - I like to get out and explore. Essentially, I pick out of the way destinations and try to avoid huge crowds and touristy things.

I'll likely try it one day, but on a small boat as well.

Anonymous said...

I am Alex, very nice ship ^)

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