WHY A B2B ON MSC FANTASIA?

•July 6, 2018 • 1 Comment

It is not a secret anymore that I am in love with MSC and their exclusive product Yacht Club, which is why I always come back 6-7 times a year. But this time was slightly different: I booked a back-2-back cruise on MSC Fantasia’s Yacht Club.

A couple days ago, having a drink with a lovely American couple, first time cruising with MSC, I was asked why I book the same itinerary twice, in the same cabin, on the same ship. So, after couple of Chili Passion Caipirinha and a good night sleep, I decided to share with you 10 reasons why somebody would book a back-2-back cruise with MSC.

So, in no particular order:

Reason 1 – The ship

Simply put, MSC Fantasia – a 133,500-ton, 3,300-passenger floating gem – it is a beautiful ship. Cruise lines throw that “beauty” description around a bit too liberally, but Fantasia is special with its colours in the public rooms and cabins vibrant without a hint of gaudiness. I know that everybody can’t stop admiring the new floating MSC resorts: Meraviglia, Seaview or Seaside, but I am in love with Fantasia in each and every aspect: from the real stone piazza where an espresso bar serves freshly-baked pastries and Italian-inspired ice-creams to designer-themed lounge bars bringing a metropolitan vibe to the on-board experience. MSC Fantasia is a luxurious ship, big enough to give a wide range of choices but small enough to ensure a high-quality service. And the cruising market is a field were size is not necessary a guarantee of excellence. My home away from home for 2 weeks knows the secret of balancing the warmth and comfort of the Mediterranean atmosphere with a stylish design.

Click here to see a video of MSC Fantasia

Reason 2 – Yacht Club

After 25+ cruises with MSC I am still impressed with Yacht Club – a ship-within-a-ship ideal for travellers who want to blend a luxury cruise experience with big ship features and amenities. On MSC Fantasia, Yacht Club is indeed an exclusive haven of refinement, a place where in every moment of my journey I had the privilege to savour exclusivity and privacy in a real world of choice. From the moment when you arrive in the embarkation port and until you step out from MSC Fantasia on disembarkation day, the Yacht Club experience is priceless; in every moment of your cruise you feel “a privileged few among many” rather than one of many privileged, which heightens the sense of luxury. The MSC Yacht Club provides quiet exclusivity, but guests were still able to enjoy all the other areas of the ship. The MSC Yacht Club Daily Planner included services and hours for everything going on around the ship – entertainment highlights for the day and evening, services, activities and events along with hours for bars, lounges and restaurants.   With a wide array of lounges, entertainment, as well as diverse shows every evening, it was fun to take these in as well. Looking back to my first Yacht Club experience couple years ago, I’m admittedly a huge fan. The MSC Yacht Club on MSC Fantasia does provide the best of both worlds, and gives a refreshing definition of “The butler did it!”

Reason 3 – The Captain

I had the privilege to sail couple of times on ships under the command of Master Giuseppe Maresca, but on this trip, I took some time to question why he is one of the most respected, admired and loved captains on MSC fleet both by passengers and crew. And I didn’t need too much time to find the answer. Master Maresca knocks down the old image of the rigid and rather stuffy cruise liner Capitan and brought to life a modern leader with loveable personality and charismatic presence in addition to incredible experience and professionalism. Despite a busy schedule with new ports every day and sailing on busy waters The Captain found always time to be in public areas, talking with passengers and sharing his love and dedication to his second family: MSC. Walking the talk, Master Maresca lead his team on the path of understanding that every feedback is a gift and his professional and genuine approach of each and every matter makes his presence on board a guarantee of excellence. It is no surprise that passengers patiently queue to take home a photograph together with an amazing Captain with a charming smile as a souvenir of their cruise, and the crew embrace with passion his vision about creating the perfect holiday

Reason 4 – Yacht Club Team

Why do I have to talk again about this fantastic group of professionals? Maybe because there’s something rather distinctive about the service on board an MSC Yacht Club. You’ll recognise it from the very first greeting when you embark. It’s a combination of courtesy and confidence that tells you you’re in the hands of a very professional crew. Idris Esergul the experienced Yacht Club Director and the amazing Dani Agung Sri Prasetyoi, the Head Butler lead a unique team made up of individuals who take great pride in making your journey an unforgettable experience. For Idris, Yacht Club guests’ satisfaction is just a day in, day out, ongoing, never ending, unremitting, persevering, compassionate, type of activity. And the results are here, on-board MSC Fantasia.

Dwi Yatnawati, the butler for my suite and her assistant the Afaka Andrianjaka surpassed all previous experiences, placing their 24 hours service above all my expectations. Gracious and personal, attentive and friendly, polished and unobtrusive but always available, Dwi and Afaka created that feeling of being home away from home that made me fall in love with MSC Yacht Club.

Dwi knows very well that customer satisfaction is about exceeding expectations and how well it works knowing that people like to be pleasantly surprised, within limits, and she is a master of building relationships with every guest.

Wherever you turn, the Yacht Club crew is there to greet you or extend help. And Anna and Mario from the Concierge were fitting perfectly in this team effort. Instead of having to call an anonymous reception desk for problems or requests, Concierge was always available helping guests with almost everything even to connect to the Internet (which, incidentally, was the best Wi-Fi connection we’ve ever experienced on any ship), make reservations for activities on the ship, or for excursions or transportation on shore.

On port days, they arranged butlers to accompany me off the ship and directly to the doors of waiting vehicles so there is no confusion or long waits in the disembarkation process. Unfortunately, the exclusive feel of the Yacht Club is totally lost and forgotten on excursions. Although well-organised and on time, tours tended to be comprised of large groups from all areas of the boat, with guides simultaneously explaining sights in more than one language, and shorter times that the ones mentioned at the time of booking.

Reason 5 – L’Etoile Restaurant

Sailing MSC Yacht Club is one of the most exciting and wonderful experiences one can imagine, but if you read my previous review of the L’Etoile restaurant you got the idea that this was maybe the weakest link in the amazing chain of MSC Fantasia Yacht Club. This time the experience was far above all my expectations and L’Etoile was one of the reasons why I booked a second week on board. Bringing an understated romantic atmosphere, LEtoile is inspired by the Parisian Belle Epoque era with an ideal choice of soft lighting and the glow of candlelight. But what really impressed me this time was the excellent service, surpassing the famous Cunard White Star service. The extra professional Maître D’ Luigi Fusco and charming sommelier Ferdinando Buonocore set the standards very high for the entire team in L’Etoile and the attention to the finest detail transformed every dinner in a 5 star experience.  Our waiters Oogar and Amina matched perfectly this ambience knowing that a great service takes its lead from the guests, whilst the dining experience in L’Etoile is perfect; it isn’t stuffy or hurried. It’s always friendly, but never over familiar. With this being a private restaurant, there was no rush to get through the different courses, and was a leisurely, high quality dining experience.

Click here to see a video of breakfast on MSC Fantasia Yacht Club

Click here to see a video of El Sombrero – Tex Mex restaurant on MSC Fantasia

The culinary experience was another huge surprise for my journey, taking in the account the not so successful experiences in my previous trips with MSC in Yacht Club. Normally the food is an interesting fusion between Italian and International cuisine but, sometimes the lack of consistency made the culinary experience on board MCS ships a hit and miss experience. This time the Executive Chef Attilio Ascione, consistent with the concept of refined luxury upon which the Yacht Club experience is based, created a culinary experience designed to provide top level gourmet dining. Working with the corporate menus, carefully crafted to offer a balance of new dishes with traditional Italian favourites with Chef Ascione on-board, you will quickly discover that perfection is, in fact, in every detail, in every meal served and you have to prepare your palate for an exclusive and exquisite gastronomic journey. In addition to having different menu selections each evening, beautifully cooked and plated, ongoing traditional choices were available as well. Just don’t forget to book yours “lose weight fast” programme at your return.

Click here to see a video of Gala Dinner on-board MSC Fantasia L’Etoile restaurant

Reason 6 – Dining under the stars

I am bored with counting how many WOW moments MSC Fantasia can fit in a 7 days cruise, but the Yacht Club team showed me again that I can be wrong when I am reaching a conclusion too soon. In our day in Palma de Majorca both Idris (the YC Director) and Dani (the Head Butler) were trying to persuade me to cancel my plans of having dinner in the city and joining them in The One Pool area that evening for a special event: Dining under the Stars. I wrote about that before and I mentioned the fact that the event was an amazing success and an idea which I hope will be part of the YC product on all ships. But this time everybody was dropping hints that the evening would be different. Normally I am not a “short of words” person, but this time, the Yacht Club Team on MSC Fantasia managed to transform me into a child celebrating Christmas for the first time in his life.

The way how the entire One Bar & Pool area got a full makeover with elegant round tables with white table cloths and refined decorations, sophisticated candlelight, exquisite cuisine, divine live music with Carey and Dario and a team of butlers and L’Etoile waiters floating around guests with style and grace, placed “Dining under the Stars” far above similar events organised by Cunard, Regent or Seven Seas on their cruise ships. Hotel Manager Antonio Volpicelli, Carmelina Iuliano – the Guest Relations Manager, Yacht Club Director Idris, Executive Chef Attilio, F&B Director Alfred Linha and Head Butler Dani were perfect hosts for an event which could made envy any party planners on land, a wonderful option for those who wanted to experience a sophisticated, classy, elegant evening on board MSC Fantasia.

Click here to see a video of “Dining under the stars” event on-board MSC fantasia  

Reason 7 – Top Sail Lounge

The Top Sail Lounge is your private retreat where you are greeted by name upon entering. You couldn’t ask for a lovelier location to relax and unwind after a busy day or doing some work in a quiet ambiance. It is not just the tranquillity and comfort that makes the Top Sail Lounge special, it is the little extras that the fantastic team working here brings in every day. Efficient Roberto, always smiling Bogdan, Sudarta, Germain, and Mahendra (and I am so sorry if I forgot somebody) ensure that your glass or cup is, should you wish, never empty. In the Top Sail Lounge the feeling of being a club member is stronger, and as such your drink is delivered with minimal fuss, grace and elegance. After couple of days I started to get used to the fact that everybody in the lounge knew that I like to start my day with a double express on the rocks. No questions needed, just a genuine and warm “Good Morning” and a smooth start of the day … every day! And after a long day the lounge was the perfect place for a night-cup and a lovely chat with the charming Donny

Reason 8 – One Pool

The Yacht Club has its own private sun deck, pool and hot tubs, along with accompanying bar and grill, on the forward portion of Deck 18. Dubbed “One Pool,” the area is really an oasis, albeit a windy one at times. There will be no battles for sun loungers, either, as there are plenty, but do note that families book suites in the Yacht Club, so the pool area is not an adults-only experience. The pool and hot tubs aren’t large, but they suffice

When you go up for the first time to The One Pool on Deck 18, you will be amazed by this expansive area, complete with a pool and hot tubs. The One Pool provided some extraordinary views for MSC Yacht Club guests to enjoy as well as relax and if, after couple of days, you get blasé with this sunny heaven, just take the elevator only two decks down and discover the “pleasure” of 20 in a hot tub experience or the sardines sunbathing style, which reminded me of a Benidorm resort, around the main pool. The bar and grill are what make the area shine, however, and give the area a feeling of liveliness. Food is served all day at the grill, starting with an omelette station in the morning, changing over to a pasta station and salad bar at lunch, afternoon tea and, finally, canapes in the early evening. Covered tables allow you to eat and drink in the shade, and if you still want sun, waiter service is prompt. The morning and afternoon snacks will take care of your cravings and the excellent noon option with healthy salads and fresh made pasta will delete the restaurant from your lunch options. And once again the pool team and the bar staff – David, Hector and Ajay will make you feel spoiled and lucky to be part of this experience.

Located on Deck 18 at the very bow, this spot also affords a perfect vantage point on a balmy sail away evening.

Reason 9 – Dani Agung Sri Prasetyoi

No surprise here! It was the 3rd time when Dani was our Head Butler and guess what? Being far above expectation is his daily routine. The first thing that strikes you when you meet Dani for the first time are his communication skills. He is a great communicator who inspires people, creating an immediate connection with his followers (guests and team members) that is real, emotional, and personal, forging this connection through an understanding of people and an ability to speak directly to their needs. Watching him over the days, I realised that Dani is a very generous human being, sharing credit and offer enthusiastic praise. On many occasions, I saw him committed to his colleagues’ success as they are to his own, being able to inspire the entire team in Yacht Club to achieve their personal best—not just because it will make the team more successful, but because he cares about each person as an individual. During one of our daily chats Dani explained to me that tapping into the power of passion is essential to being able to accomplish what you want with yourself and with MSC. When passion is strong and it is identified and understood, Dani found easy to harness that energy to create great things and have a big impact on everyone’s holidays.

Excellent customer service is all about bringing customers back, about sending them away happy – happy enough to pass positive feedback about your business along to others, who may then try the product or service you offer for themselves and in their turn become repeat customers. Dani knows that the essence of excellent customer experience is forming a relationship with each guest – a relationship that each individual customer feels that he or she would like to pursue. How does Dani go about forming such a relationship? By remembering the one true secret of good customer service and acting accordingly; “You will be judged by what you do, not what you say.”

Reason 10 – It’s party time

I’ve never been a big fan of the on-board shows and, apart from the licensed productions on board NCL ships (Blue Man, Priscilla Queen of Desert or Legends), I prefer live bands to “standard shows” in ship theatres. MSC have never invested a great deal in the on-board productions and their shows are placed somewhere just above average. On MSC Fantasia the colourful mixture of nationalities (UK, USA, Italy, France, Australia, Germany, Spain, Russia and couple of others) created a perfect framework for the evolution of the animation team and on-board musicians. The musical flow on MSC Fantasia was tailored to every moods, ages and styles: some sophisticated piano bar music in the Top Sail Lounge with Hugo and Olga, unforgettable old favourites and timeless classics in Il Transatlantico (worth it for an introduction to  cocktail mixology) and Fantasia bars with Riz and Duo Carey and Dario, or dancing the night away in Manhattan Bar (I love the deco and the every night vibe) with the amazing Pop up Band Quartet, Duo Giranote and the excellent Fantasy Band. What I enjoyed very much this time was the fact that the entire entertainment team put a lot of energy and passion in organising various parties on board instead of pushing everybody to do monotone line dancing in lounges all around the ship. It was great to have a choice between dancing all night long in Manhattan Bar and Liquid Disco (a space created or invaded by the teenagers on-board) or getting involved in a party in L’Insolito Lounge where the animation team will “infect” you with the party virus. This big step away from the cheap summer resorts fun, Carnival style, was a huge plus for MSC Fantasia.

Click here to see a video of a night out on-board MSC Fantasia

Click here to see a video of Flower Power party on-board MSC fantasia  

Importantly, when they threw a party on board was a 100% success: The White and Flower Power parties in the Aqua park kept me awake late after midnight with great live music, inspired animation and fantastic ambiance. The Black Card and Welcome Back cocktails, both stylish and well hosted, were a great chance to meet once again the charming Captain Maresca and officers on board in a casual and friendly atmosphere – an excellent sign that MSC values and recognises their loyal guests.

Bottom line: On board MSC Fantasia you can be as crazy or as quiet you want; they give you the choices, you need to make the decision!

Click here to see a video of MSC Fantasia Black Card Party

Click here to see a video of MSC Fantasia White Party

But, being honest I do have a reason why not to book a back to back cruise on MSC Fantasia. Do you remember that void that you experience in the last day of the cruise, when all those fantastic days on-board start to smell of memories? I am thinking very seriously to buy some heavy antidepressants for my last day on-board; after 2 weeks of pure luxury and style how can I leave MSC Fantasia thinking that my next cruise in their Yacht Club is in 79 days?

But at least I will be in the gorgeous Royal Suite!

 

 

Oops! … MSC did it again!

•May 22, 2018 • 1 Comment

After 20+ cruises on MSC and couple of reviews I started to worry a little bit about my “unconditional love” for Yacht Club. WOW moments are part of the daily routine in Yacht Club and MSC creating this concept of “a ship-within-a-ship” knows exactly how to make you feel “a privileged few among many” rather than one of many privileged, which for some, heightens the sense of luxury.

My last MSC cruise in Yacht Club was on MSC Fantasia and started in Genoa in a sunny day of May visiting in 7 days Cannes, Palma de Mallorca, Barcelona, Ajaccio, Rome and La Spezia. And of course, my choice was an YC1 cabin, starboard, room 16014.

Of course, after being spoiled so many times in MSC Yacht Club (as you see I already forgot my New Year cruise on MSC Meraviglia) my expectations were quite high and being back on MSC Fantasia was a pre-cruise guarantee of an amazing experience.

But I was wrong! My 7 days in Fantasia’s Yacht Club were far above any expectations, creating space for a sad, depressing moment (don’t remember last time when I felt the same) when leaving the ship and stepping in to Genoa Cruise Terminal.

How many “WOW moments” you can create in a 7 days voyage? To be honest this time on MSC Fantasia I lost the count and every day, every moment was a memorable one.

And it is not only about the ship, itinerary or concept! It is more about the people and their passion and pride in creating 27/7 an unashamedly elitist experience

At embarkation in Genoa … business as usual: When arriving at the Cruise Terminal to embark, the personalized touches began immediately.  At a special tented area, just for guests staying in MSC Yacht Club, with no lines (there was a huge line for the rest of the ship), I provided preliminary information. From there, one of the butlers took my carry-on bag, and personally escorted me to a special embarkation lounge where the welcome glasses of prosecco were waiting and where I did the rest of my check-in paperwork. A butler waited for me, then escorted me through the MSC Yacht Club Concierge lobby area on Deck 16 and to my suite.  He mentioned the butler for my suite would be stopping by and that happened just a short time later. Another butler took me to my stateroom, and then our personal butler throughout the cruise took charge. There wasn’t an unaccompanied step. I mentioned that was “business as usual”, but this time MSC managed to beat it’s own embarkation record: from the moment when I stepped out of my transfer to the moment when I entered my cabin: only 5 minutes! WOW no.1!

Click here to see a video report about the MSC Fantasia check-in experience

Dwi Yatnawati, the butler for my suite, made introductions and also mentioned that Budiasih, the junior butler would be assisting her.  I could reach out to them for any special requests, even down to additional help unpacking if needed.  Despite the fact that I forgot the number of nights spent in Yacht Club in the last 3 years provided details on the suite along with areas within the MSC Yacht Club and special VIP one-of-a-kind amenities. Within those first two hours, I could immediately tell butlers within the MSC Yacht Club took pride in roles. Professional, yet personable, and at my “beck and call,” the butlers and staff were making this the beginning of an extraordinary experience.

Dwi and Budiasih, two lovely ladies from Bali were simply perfect bringing a sense of security and comfort during the entire cruise in an unnoticeable way. They knew how to think ahead quietly and discreetly and ensure that every detail that makes the day go smoothly happened with maximum efficiency and minimum fuss. On the second morning of the cruise, my partner was in the Top Sail Lounge enjoying breakfast and called to see if I wanted any cappuccino. I mentioned that would be great, but instead of him bringing the cappuccino back to my cabin,  Dwi delivered it to me promptly. Another evening while getting ready for dinner I casually mentioned to Budiasih that I was heading over to El Sombrero  Restaurant for dinner. I still don’t know when the information was shared, but Dwi personally walked me over herself. The cabin was always sparkling clean and tidy but more important was the genuine and kind smiles of Dwi and Budiasih. After a long day I couldn’t stop myself to ask them the secret behind their genuine excellence. The answer was simple, sharing a wonderful point that was part of Yacht Club work ethic: “Service has to come from the inside out.”

Located on Deck 15 and just off the reception area, the Top Sail Lounge is a favourite meeting place for many of the guests in the MSC Yacht Club, including me. Was great to have a good cocktail there before dinner or before heading to one of the night parties on board or it was fun just taking in the beautiful panoramic views. On MSC Fantasia was great to see that one of my previous suggestions was taken on-board and the musical performances in the lounge alternated two different excellent musicians (Eduardo and Olga) with different repertoires. Of course, was another WOW moment to see that previous acquaintances from previous cruises remembered my likes and dislikes with an incredible precision: my 9.00AM Bloody Mary, my passion for Grok (- a divine crunchy cheese snack) or the way to make a perfect Dirty Martini before dinner. Dony, Carlos and Bogdan always delivered an impeccable service spiced every time with a pleasant and genuine chat.

Click here to see a video report about the Top Sail Lounge experience on board MSC Fantasia

The itinerary of the cruise was perfectly balanced with interesting ports of call and enough time to fit in my day a self-guided tour or a perfect organised MSC Shore excursion plus enough shopping time and pleasurable on-board wondering.  The MSC Yacht Club provides quiet exclusivity, but guests were still able to enjoy all the other areas of the ship. The MSC Yacht Club Daily Planner included services and hours for everything going on around the ship – entertainment highlights for the day and evening, services, activities and events along with hours for bars, lounges and restaurants.   With a wide array of lounges, entertainment, as well as diverse shows every evening, it was fun to take these in as well. And everywhere the same gentle, genuine high class service made me to find difficult to split my time on-board between Yacht Club and the rest of the ship. My favourite places? For sure Manhattan Bar where the professional service of Pandri and Viktoria balanced quite well the pretty mediocre performance of the Pop-up Band Quartet and L’Insolito lounge where Dan was the master of cocktails with a twist, mandatory ingredient to enjoy the on-board parties organised by the Cruise Director Jimmy and his animation team.

Click here to see a video report about White Party on board MSC fantasia

One evening I decided to try the “El Sombrero” restaurant and that’s why another WOW moment was added to my list. El Sombrero Tex Mex is Fantasia’s Mexican speciality restaurant with a show gallery kitchen where guests can watch the food being prepared; and bar serving traditional Mexican drinks from beers to Tequila and Margaritas with Latin American music playing in the background. Is hard to say what I enjoyed the most: the tastes of Mexican cuisine from Texas steaks to enchiladas, fajitas, burritos and tacos or the superb service

Normally I try to avoid the “official & social events” when I am cruising, but this time two massive WOW moments were created by the F&B Manager Gennaro Andrione (what a charisma this guy has, covering the lack of presence of the Cpt. at the cocktail party) and his team.

The Yacht Club cocktail, normally a basic, quite boring event for passengers and a “tick the box duty” for crew involved had a completely different dimension. Fabulous venue (The One Pool area), exquisite service from the Yacht Club butlers’ team, elegant passengers and charming officers, everything embedded in a stylish atmosphere made this cocktail a memorable moment in cruise’s diary.

Click here to see a video report about the Yacht Club Cocktail on-board MSC Fantasia

It was quite a surprise when I returned to my cabin in Palma de Mallorca to find an invitation to an exciting event: “Buffet under the stars”. Again, WOW! The new concept stimulated my imagination, but the dimensions of the real event surpassed all my expectations. In the area of “The One Pool” transformed in an elegant and stylish dinning & mingle space, with an exclusive service provided by the head butler and his team, the great live music performed by Duo Overmoon and Riz, excellent food, the presence of Executive Chef and officers, transformed a “concept” in a successful event which, for sure, will be part of cruise’s memorable moments for everybody in the Yacht Club.

Click here to see a video report about “Buffet under the stars” on Board MSC Fantasia

During this cruise I lost the count for all this WOW moments but, at least, I know who’s behind all these unforgettable memories.

Without doubts and without exaggerations the only one “guilty” for this list of WOWs was Dani Agung Sri Prasetyo the Head Butler on MSC Fantasia. His genuine, polite, kind and professional way which can’t be described in words and experiencing his service on board raised the bar for MSC very high.

Dani was in the Top Sail Lounge at 8.00AM to check if my laptop needed an adaptor and my cappuccino didn’t get cold.  On the days in port, Dani was around the reception before going on shore to be sure that somebody will escort me down to the disembarkation area and help you to skip the lines. At 1.00PM Dani will quietly approach me in the lounge or by the pool reminding me about the lunch served in the One Pool area and suggest something not to be missed in the menu. In the afternoon Dani was checking that the high tea served in the lounge was at 5 star standards and had always handy some suggestions about my evening on board. Before dinner Dani would be in the Lounge just to be sure that my Dry Martini was perfect and to suggest which party would be the best choice that night. And guess what, close to midnight Dani was in the Lounge asking about dinner, the evening’s party and being sure that I would not go to bed without a nightcap. The next day history would repeat itself!

I couldn’t stop asking myself: how many “DANIs” MSC Fantasia had on-board? Did they clone him or what’s the secret of his around the clock excellence? The answer came one day, when chatting with Dani by the pool: “I love what I do, and I do what I love”. Simple like that and he moved smoothly to his next duty. What a treat to have Dani on-board!

His passion and his professionalism was clearly transferred to his team in Yacht Club. Dani was not only a perfect butler, but he was an excellent leader too. His ability to learn from himself and others, no matter the situation, his humbleness that was inspiring, his integrity, honesty and his strong moral compass made the Yacht Club team unbeatable in high performance. Everybody defines leadership differently, but Dani gave another dimension of leadership, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” During my week on board MSC Fantasia he proved to be a difference maker between success and failure knowing how to turn his ideas into real-world success stories.

It’s clear now: I suffer from an obsessive unconditioned love for MSC Yacht Club!

But…wait a second…they were some weakest links on board MSC Fantasia this time. Shall I, or shall I not? OK, I like to be honest and I know that for MSC feedback is a gift so:

The Concierge

It was the weakest link in Yacht Club, more like a 3 start hotel reception than a real Concierge, with a service based on “The answer is NO! What’s your question?” philosophy. The two ladies and the gentlemen in the night shift were masters of avoiding guests, hiding behind the computer screens and always typing something when somebody approach the desk with a request or a question. For sure “eye contact”, “anticipating guests needs” or “being approachable”, basic rules of customer service were erased from their training. Irina, for sure, deserve a diploma in “how to avoid/ignore guests” skills. After the first days I gave up waiting for an answer to my “Good Mornings” and directed all my questions to the butler’s team far more efficient and approachable. When assistance was needed (I had couple of minor maintenance issues in my cabin) I had to check couple of times that the night shift will pass the message or better sort everything with the butler. It was a big surprise the way how the Yacht Club Reception aka Concierge performed, especially when I still have fresh excellent memories about of Leandro and the Concierge on MSC Divina from couple of weeks ago

L’Etoile

Fantasia’s MSC Yacht Club exclusive restaurant located on deck 15 supposed to provide guests with a gourmet dining experience inspired by both Italian and French culinary traditions. This time the Sommelier was missing but his duty was excellent covered by the waiters. Excellent managed (big change from my previous experiences on board MSC ships) by Maître D’ Ionut, the waiters provided an efficient and excellent service. The hiccup, as always on MSC vessels, was the food. Let’s be honest MSC is not famous for offering a gourmet experience in Yacht Club restaurants across the fleet, but this time the standards were very low; cold food (a moussaka with a frozen core and just microwaved outside it is not a food hazard?), weird recipes for well-known dishes (a Bouillabaisse which would make Marseille to frown or a hummus which never meet tahina or olive oil) or culinary experiments (a not at all flambé “Flambé Cherry Supreme”) made me choose instead of L’Etoile the excellent dishes in the Top Sail Lounge and twice the Mexican restaurant on-board. But still the question of quality & consistency need to be addressed by MSC.

 

You can not save a restaurant only with a good service, they need to have good food to serve, too.

Top Sail Lounge

The dedicated lounge for Yacht Club passengers has one of the ship’s premier locations — at the absolute front of the ship, with panoramic views from the slanted windows and the tranquillity and comfort of the Yacht Club are at their best here. At least in theory…the reality on MSC Fantasia was a little bit different. Couple of evenings I had the unpleasant surprise to discover that part of the lounge, especially the smoking area, was taking over by members of the security team, having a break. Despite being in a public area (all the cruise line observes very strict the rules of staff presence and behaviour in guest’s areas) the security staff seemed to have a “nice break” in a space reserved for passengers who paid quite a lot of many for their privacy and comfort. The MSC security staff is renowned to be rude and unpleasant (despite the fact that you can be assertive and polite at the same time as other team from Greece or Nepal proved on other ships) but using a private space designed for high paying guests and treating the lounge staff like their personal servants is a little bit too much. Interesting is that, when I mentioned that in a twitter post, the replies showed that my experience was not singular.  One was the replay to my twit was quite interesting: “Absolutely typical of MSC. I complained about just this on my last cruise on Fantasia, their amazing reply was that it was “their home too”. What a joke, which other cruise line have you ever known this. Disgusting!”. Still waiting for a reaction from MSC.

Every MSC Cruise is distinguished by the quality of hospitality and the attention paid to the little details that make the difference. The MSC Yacht Club takes these distinguishing features to unprecedented levels, setting new benchmarks in guest comfort and satisfaction. While providing all the comfort, service and privacy of a personal yacht, MSC Yacht Club also offers the best of both worlds, bringing full and privileged access to the incredible variety of superior sports facilities, shopping, dining, gaming and entertainment found on the magnificent floating city And, like all private clubs, the only way to appreciate it is to experience it for yourself.

After my last MSC Fantasia experience I am so tempted to book another MSC cruise and not wait until the next booked one (in September, again on MSC Fantasia, this time in the Royal Suite).

And guess what, I just found an available YC1 cabin in 4 weeks time!

Parque del Capricho: Madrid’s Hidden Park

•March 1, 2018 • Leave a Comment

When you come up from the metro and step into the busy Puerta del Sol plaza, smack in the centre of the city, the only tree you’ll see is the one that the bear is hugging in the city’s symbolic statue, ‘The Bear and the Madroño Berry Tree.’ But don’t let the concrete-filled city centre fool you. When you think of Spain’s capital city, greenery is probably not the first thing that comes to mind but trust me, there are some stunning parks in Madrid that will blow you away!

Madrid boasts a number of amazing parks, even though most people only know of a few of the main parks (if any at all!): Parque del Buen Retiro, usually shortened to El Retiro, Royal Botanical Gardens, Casa de Campo, the biggest of all the parks in Madrid or Parque del Oeste, most famous for its English design.

During my last visit to Madrid, taking the advantage of a glorious sunny end of February I discovered Madrid’s Best Secret Garden: Parque de El Capricho

The Parque del Capricho located northwest of central Madrid,  is off the common tourist trail but is a hidden gem of Madrid as it is considered by many of capital’s residents as the finest park in Madrid. The park was designed as a retreat for Madrid’s nobility, a place to escape the clamour and commotion of the inner city during the 18th century.

The gardens were commissioned by María Josefa Pimentel (1752 – 1834) a leading and influential women in the Spanish nobility. She was a great supporter of the arts and sponsored many Spanish artists. The land was purchased for María by her husband, Pedro Téllez-Girón (the ninth duke of Osuna). In 1783 the area was used as farmland but the vision was to create a recreation property and grounds outside of Madrid’s city limits that could be enjoyed by the couple. María Josefa commissioned the royal court architect, Paul Boutelou to design the garden and work began in 1787. The gardens were designed in the French baroque style. The project was completed 52 years later in 1839 but the Duchess died without seeing her beloved park completed, she died in 1834. The park was very popular among the Madrilian aristocracy and it was an honour to be invited to visit it. The Duchess wanted to compete with the Duchess of Alba and even the Queen Maria Luisa. Therefore, she hired two well-known French gardeners who had to promise not to work in any other garden in Spain.

The closest Metro station is El Capricho on line number 5 and bus that pass the park are 101, 105 and 151. One reason the gardens are not on the common tourist trail is due to the very limited opening hours of Saturday, Sunday and public holidays between 9:00 to 18:30 (winter months) and 9:00 to 21:00 hours (summer season). After taking the L5 (green line) to almost the end of the route, I got off at the El Capricho metro stop and followed other couples and families over to the park’s entrance. Admission is free, but they keep track at how many people are in the park at the same time, and food and drink is prohibited. Is quite a journey to reach the park but the one hour and something travel time is worth it!

Upon entering, you’ll be transported to another world not just of greenery, but also whimsical architecture combining French, Italian and English styles. Start by entering the towering gates and head left towards the small house, Casa de la Vieja, which seems as if it was built for elves thanks to its stone construction, slanted tiled roof and tiny doors and windows. Casa de la Vieja (Old Woman´s House) was the place where the duchess and their friends, wearing fancy dresses, liked to imitate what they thought was typical country life. The inside, empty today, was once set as a house of farmers, with walls decorated with objects and elements, painted in Goya style instead of real ones There were also imitations of food made of wood, and perhaps, most curious, the inhabitants of the house themselves, materialized in dolls of real dimensions endowed with movement: one representing an old woman spinning and another a boy. Years after the building was completed and to complete such a unique set, another automaton representing a farmer was added to the scene. The kitchen had a closet, a coffee set, a sink, a table, three stools, a jar, pots, plates, cutlery and wood reproductions of two hams, seven sausages, three blood sausages and a cake, in addition to a melon, asparagus and some peppers.

A small wooded path will take you to another fascinating building: El Casino del Baile which constitutes one of the most significant caprices of this peculiar garden. It was one of the last constructions that were built during the life of its owner and promoter, the Duchess of Osuna, by then already a widow for eight years. With the arrival of the French, the duchess moved to Cádiz and the estate was confiscated by the invaders, who produced considerable damage. Upon her return to the property, and with Ferdinand VII installed on the throne, the Duchess put great effort into recovering the farm, beginning an intense task of improving the vegetation that was not interrupted until her death in 1834. Although a ballroom already existed in the palace, the Duchess considered it inappropriate for the time and in 1815 she had the casino built, choosing a very particular location above the well that feeds the estuary. This location offered the noble and her distinguished visitors the attractive possibility of reaching the casino by boat sailing by the estuary from the nearby jetty. The Master Mayor of Madrid, the architect D. Antonio López Aguado, devised a building in two superimposed bodies perfectly differentiated. The lower one of square shape accommodate the well of 15 meters of depth from which the water that falls to the estuary flows through an ornamental element – the stone carving of a boar that lodges in a hollow located under the double staircase to the lounge. This rises just above adopting its structure an octagonal shape. Inside you can admire the reliefs realised in the over-doors representing the four seasons of the year. The interior was decorated with mirrors as was customary in this type of room, with floor of fine woods and a neoclassical fresco representing the Zodiac.

Water is present throughout the walk. The Duchess of Osuna wanted all the elements that characterised the “Anglo-Chinese” garden that was in vogue at the end of the 18th century throughout Europe. Among the most characteristic elements of these gardens were the estuaries, the lakes with irregular edges and the islands. A sinuous stream goes makes its way across the property, deep enough for row boats and in fact, uniting the games area and the lake with the Dance Casino, which can be reached by a small wharf. In the centre of the lake there is an island with a waterfall and a monument erected in honour of the third Duke of Osuna, Viceroy of Naples

On the shore near the estuary of the river rises a small pier known as the “Casa de Cañas“- another caprice of the Duchess, because its exterior is covered with this material. This building was used not only to store the boats but also includes a small pavilion for resting that opens onto the water and served as an occasional dining room. The architect of this construction was the Milanese set designer Ángel María Tadey who worked for the Duchess between the years 1792 and 1794. Both the interior of the jetty and the living room are decorated with wall paintings that simulate a false architecture. The pictorial technique known as “trompe l’oeil” or visual deception serves so that the spectator who is inside the buildings can contemplate a landscape drawn through holes also painted. On the jetty, false curtains simulate the interior of a tent and in the dining room fine columns support an awning. Through the holes painted in the walls the viewer contemplates a non-existent landscape and at the same time can see, through the authentic doors and windows, the reality of the lake where the Casa de Cañas stands.

Close by Casa de Cañas, hidden within El Capricho is the first example of an iron bridge in Spain.

Another 5 minutes’ walk will take you to another intrigue building of the park: El Fortín. In the Geographic and Statistical Dictionary of Spain (1845), Madoz describes the Fort, as: “… a strong triangular figure with bastions, stable bridges and a draw and water pit that surrounds it. trimmed by 12 pieces of artillery of various calibres with their corresponding coffers of ammunition, with weapons, antler, flag and other defence and decoration tools “. This building is attributed to Martín López Aguado, although the date of construction and the reason for build it are unknown. The first time the current battery was mentioned is in an inventory of the furniture of the garden dated in 1829.

And the surprises of the park are not finished yet: another 5 minutes’ walk and you reach another remarkable edifice: El Abejero (the Buzzer or Beehive). No documents have been found to accurately determine the date on which the Buzzer was built, although it is estimated that it should not have been much before 1794, the year in which certain works were made, directed by the architect Mateo Medina.

It is an unprecedented construction that combined the sumptuousness granted by its ostentatious interior decoration with the originality provided by its most remarkable feature, consisting of having a series of beehives incorporated into one of the facades. But the most remarkable thing about this  was that, while the bees entered and left their combs through metal trapdoors located outside, the activity that took place inside them could be comfortably contemplated from the inside of the building through of glass windows that for this purpose closed the hives by the opposite end. The ingenuity was complemented by the landscaping that surrounded it, based on plants preferred by the bees to elaborate the appreciated honey that was then properly collected.

The circular room through which the beekeeper is accessed, contains 8 Corinthian columns with a base and golden capitals that support a cornice and the dome that closes the whole above. Although the marbles, stucco, polychromies and carvings that were then in this room all contributed to confer the desired distinction, the authentically valuable piece would run to a Venus sculpted in Carrara marble, the work of Juan Día, who dominated this space from the top of an ornate pedestal located in the centre of the living room on an elegant walnut table. From this central roundabout of octagon plant, the construction extends to the right in two elongated pavilions, also once, ornamented, where the combs are located.

The gazebo – Templo de Baco perched on a hill might just be the most romantic spot in Madrid. In 1845 Madoz makes a description of the construction:  “in the highest part immediately to the parterrre, and among thick forests there is an oval temple on 5 steps of berroqueña stone and marble pavement. Twelve fluted columns white stone capitals of Colmenar marble, support their annular corners, and form this temple, in whose centre there is an isolated pedestal of marble from San Pablo that holds a statue of White marble Bacchus”. The construction of the temple, located in the highest level of the garden, began in 1786 and ended in 1789. The idea seems to be inspired by the temple that Villanueva built in Aranjuez and of course the Petit Trianon that Marie Antoinette had in Versailles fashionable English garden.

The Palace of which only the walls are currently conserved, with three floors, a large Dance Hall and the largest Library of the time, was built between 1792 and 1795 by the architects Mateo Guill and Manuel Machuca. It constitutes one of the best examples of Spanish romantic architecture. The inside has been remodelled and houses the offices for the park services. There is a grand ballroom, dining salons, a 6,000-volume library, as well as the alcoves and chambers of the family members.

On the way to the estate, one passes a circular plaza which used to be the site of a bull-fighting ring and which later became the Paseo de los Duelistas, with two sculptures representing the distance separating two people about to engage in a duel unto death. A little further is the Plaza de los Emperadores, showing the busts of two Roman emperors along with the Exedra, which is a semi circular building in the classical style, and from which one then proceeds into the Palace’s front gardens.

The Plaza de los Emperadores was decorated at an undetermined date in the last decade of the 18th century with an Exedra, an architectural and sculptural ensemble equipped with benches to rest. This monument consists in its central part of a small temple, consisting of four Ionic columns that supported a semicircle decorated with floral motifs and shells. Originally, such a structure was conceived as a source, so it came to be called “Source of the Columns”, although it seems that it never became such, currently known as the whole “Exedra”. The monument was remodelled from the year that the Duchess of Osuna dies, running the works by the architect D.Martín López Aguado, son of the architect who designed before Casino de Baile.

The landscape excellence of El Capricho is manifested in three types of classic gardens: the parterre or French garden, the English landscape painter and the Italian giardino. The only disappointment is that El laberinto  is not open to the public. Conceived for the amorous game and the hiding places, the labyrinth is made with laurel and respects the plans of the one that was planted in the life of the duchess.

On one of the beautiful alleys of the park one will discover La Ermita (house of the hermit). According to the legend two hermits had lived there: Arsenio, who lived in the hermitage until his death in 1812 and his friend Eusebio who succeeded him until his replacement by…a doll. Apparently, Arsenio was buried in a pyramid-shaped tomb that was built next to the hermitage. The architect Tadey gave the building a dilapidated and aged appearance by painting the cracked and mossy outer walls. He used the popular “trompe l’oeil” when drawing on the exterior and interior walls false cracks, windows and furniture. In 2001 the building was restored by reconstructing the wooden side porch and eliminating successive repainting. Right now, inside the hermitage can be seen again the original decoration that reproduces the interior of a ruined church, a torn picture of San Antonio, an altar table with a prayer book and a hollow where wine is kept. the mass On the sides of the altar there are false windows symmetrical to the authentic ones of the main facade, where the bells were installed.

El Capricho keeps another secret: the bunker of the Jaca Position, the only example in Europe of this kind of structures from the Spanish Civil War. The bunker was home to the headquarters of the Republican Army of the Central Region. Covering 2000m², the shelter is covered by 15m-deep soil and offered protection against bombs of up to 100kg. It was built in the park in 1937 on a site that was far away from the front line, had excellent communication infrastructures and was surrounded by trees and bushes that would provide concealment. The shelter has seven rectangular rooms (four to the right and three to the left), four exits to the park and a gallery reaching the street that runs across the basement of the Duques de Osuna Palace. Kept closed for more than 80 years, the bunker, which was built to protect up to 200 people from bombing, opened to the public in 2016 after much political controversy. Visitors can only see the bunker via a guided tour.

After the death of the dukes, the park went through numerous hands and in 1882 the estate of Capricho was auctioned and acquired by the Bauer family (agents of the Rothchild House in Spain). Although in 1934 the farm was declared an Artistic Garden, during the civil war the palace was occupied by General Miaja as Republican Army Headquarters. After the war it became the property of a real estate company and finally in 1974 El Capricho Park was purchased by the City council of Madrid and in 1985 was declared a cultural monument. Since then the park has been slowly improved to recreate the vision of María Josefa. The long abandonment finally ended.

The fairy-tale Capricho gardens are a relaxing haven, especially in a busy city like Madrid. A visit to the park is an unforgettable experience. Still today it is amazing to find such a splendid example of romantic park, so no tourist should leave Madrid without having seen this park. Arrive by taking line 5 metro, getting off at the Canillejas stop and walking a few minutes to the park’s entrance in the Alameda de Osuna district of town.

From October to March, opening hours 9:00 am to 6:30 pm (weekends only). From April to October, opening hours are from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm (weekends only). Guided visits (anyone over the age of eight is allowed) of the bunker are on Saturdays between 10:00 am and 11:30 am. Each tour lasts 30 minutes and a maximum of 20 people can do the tour at one time. You must reserve your tour by emailing paa@talher.com or calling +34 916 397 869 Monday to Friday from 9:00 to 1:00 pm.

CHAMBERI – The ghost metro station of Madrid

•February 26, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Spain’s glorious capital city can win just about anyone over thanks to its endless sunshine, beautiful streets and delicious food. For some reason Madrid doesn’t always have the best rep and people tend to compare it to Barcelona a lot. Madrid versus Barcelona is more than just an epic football rivalry, and tourists tend to love the flashy beachside Catalán capital a lot more than traditional Madrid. For me, Madrid is the real Spain. It doesn’t get anymore Spanish than Madrid. With great food, amazing arts and culture, historic neighbourhoods, fabulous shopping and super fun events, Madrid is the real deal when it comes to Spanish lifestyle. It often feels like you are stuck in a time warp when all the small shops close for siesta and locals gather around barrels in bars, downing tapa after tapa. Madrid has all the amenities and activities of a large capital city, but still retains its Spanish charm, with endless tapas bars lining the cobblestone streets, family-owned stores and restaurants scattered around the city.

If you already marked as seen the “must visit” museums and sites in Madrid why not trying something different and … free: a trip back in time, in 1918!

Normally a ride on the metro is just a way to get around, and a metro stop is just a place to catch a train. At Andén 0 of the Estación de Chamberí, that is definitely not the case. For many years travelling on the Madrid Metro’s line 1 (the “blue” line) I was intrigued by an old station flashing through the train car’s windows for a few seconds between the Bilbao and Iglesia stops. Searching the internet, I was surprise to find that one of Madrid’s newer attractions is actually quite old: Estación de Chamberí, a station closed since 1966, but now fully restored and reopened to the public as a museum with no entrance fee give you a chance to step back in time in 1918. And it probably is one of the best experiences I have lived in the Spanish Capital to date.

I had thought about going there so many times, but somehow it kept slipping my mind and plans. Finally, during my last trip to Madrid, this last Sunday late morning after a big night on the town I walked over to and stood in the long line for Andén 0 – Estación de Chamberí

King Alfonso XIII officially opened Madrid’s metro in 1917.  Back then it was only one line stretching four kilometers from Puerta del Sol to Cuatro Caminos.  A few years later, more lines were beginning to be added and by the 1960’s the metro system couldn’t hold Madrid’s growing population.  More cars were added to each train to hold more passengers and likewise the platforms were lengthened. In the case of the Chamberí station, it wasn’t touched at all. Being that it was built on a curve and already too close to the Bilbao and Iglesia stations, it was just abandoned. It wasn’t until 2006 that the station would be restored to it’s original state. As a result of the restoration work carried out for its final re-opening in 2008, it is now possible to view those brilliant, colourful, luminous finishes inspired from Paris metro stations. This project is the outcome of a cooperation agreement concluded between the City Council and Metro de Madrid and allows the public to become immersed in the history of the Madrid Underground and in the history of the city of Madrid itself, with which it is closely interwoven.

Chamberí Station is located under the square of the same name in one of the most famous neighbourhoods of the capital’s city centre and is very easy to find: just pick up the metro on line 1 and get off at Bilbao station. After a 10-15 minutes easy walk, on the corner of a random busy intersection in Madrid, a door opens to a spiral staircase which goes underground.  From the door, a line stretches down the street.  I knew this had to be it.

With the “one person out, one person in” policy it took 10 minutes to finally get down there.  I didn’t mind too much though, the attraction is free and the lack of people inside made the atmosphere much more pleasant once inside.

Visitors descend into the station, now dubbed Andén Cero (Platform Zero), through a modern spiral staircase and glass elevator (the only new additions to the station). Immediately to the left upon entering is a small theatre created from the old street entrance, which repeats a 20-minute film summarizing the history of the Madrid Metro system. While fascinating, the movie is in Spanish, without subtitles. Some of it is quite self-explanatory, however, so it may be worth watching even if your knowledge of Spanish is tapas-sized.

I walked past the old ticket counter then through the creaky turn-stalls.  From there I could see a few old, cracking metro maps which outlined the few stops on the old line.  As I walked down the corridor ( heard the sound of a train passing through. It was eerie to hear the sounds of a train, like an actual ghost train, still making its rounds. It was just one of the modern trains running on line 1 – since May 22, 1966 none of them stopped here in Chamberi. As each consecutive metro car passed through I watched as the passengers looked out the window at me and me to them.  With every passing train I felt like I was part of the attraction, rather than just visiting it.

Walking down to the platform I couldn’t get enough of the old advertisements made of tile lined the curved tunnel of the station. These bright ads have been hand-crafted, made up of many small ceramic tiles that put modern billboards to shame. Opposite this wall, on the far side of the platform, projectors display films of Madrid’s past. A clear glass barrier separates visitors from the tracks on which trains still speed through the station every few minutes.

The adverts on the wall, as well as the white tiles that cover the walls and vaults of the station are original and were designed by architect Antonio Palacios, creator of buildings like the Palacio de Cibeles and the Palacio de Bellas Artes. This was the first such project in Spain, and the architect was inspired by the look of the Parisian stations of the time. He managed to mitigate the possible reluctance of the public to use the subway, by using bright, colourful materials in the spaces in contact with travellers, such as hallways, tunnels, passage and platform finishes, extensively using tiles and other white and cobalt blue ceramic pieces. Its design met the criteria of functionality, simplicity and economy.

In the 1960s, due to increased passenger traffic, it was decided to upgrade Metro Line 1 to allow commissioning new trains with greater capacity, up to six cars. To accommodate this, the platforms of all stations needed to be expanded from the previous specification of 60 meters that they had since the Metro’s opening, to the new standard length of 90 meters. Given the technical impossibility of extending Chamberí station and its proximity to those of Bilbao and Iglesia, the Ministry of Public Works decided to close it on 22 May 1966. The station remained unused for over forty years, with trains reducing their speed when passing through it, to which the platforms were cut to facilitate the movement. The fact that the external access had been bricked up allowed the conservation of many of the everyday objects of the time, such as billboards, turnstiles and even paper money.

This station served as a refuge for the homeless for many years, and there are legends that tell of strange apparitions, when the trains crossed, by this dark subway station. One of the most endearing things about the visit was seeing several older couples, who probably used the station when it was still open and had wanted to return to see it one more time.

I wandered around down there a little while longer, until I decided to go back above ground, to 2018 reality.  But just being down there and imagining I was travelling back in time, in a Madrid circa 1917 was a unique experience.

The Estación de Chamberí is a captivating step into the past. Especially given that admission is free, there are few compelling reasons to skip this small portal into Madrid’s history, even if the topic is more foreign than the Spanish language. There are few museums that really give visitors the sense of being in a different time: Andén Zero is one of those few.

The best way to get to the station is by Metro, appropriately enough. The museum is within five minutes of stops Bilbao and Iglesia, both on line 1. From the Bilbao Metro station, walk uphill on Calle de Luchana. From the Iglesia Metro station, walk south on Calle de Santa Engracia. The modern entrance to the museum is easy to find on the Plaza de Chamberí.

Opening Hours

Tuesday-Friday: 11:00 a.m to 7:00 p.m.

Weekends and holidays: 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Mondays: Closed.

Entry is free for everyone, but make sure to get there early, as a there is usually a long line of visitors due to the “one person out, one person in” policy.

SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW, SOMETHING BORROWED…

•February 13, 2018 • Leave a Comment

A review of a cruise on MSC Meraviglia – The Ship Experience

Launch in June 2017, MSC Meraviglia, triggered an impressive hype in all on-line channels, bloggers and traveller from all around the world jumping to praise the “Wonder” (the English translation of Meraviglia), a ship created to amaze with her contemporary design and feature-filled decks plans. Hailed as the largest cruise ship ever to be built by an European cruise line, accommodating more than 5,700 passengers, the 13th ship in MSC’s fleet made its debut in grand fashion after being named by screen legend Sophia Loren at an extravagant ceremony in the French port of Le Havre.

The statistics are impressive. The 171,598-gross tonne ship is 315 metre long, 65 metres tall, and carries up to 5,714 guests at a time. MSC Meraviglia is one of the largest family-friendly vessels afloat.

After a week spent on board Meraviglia (December 2017 – January 2018) I can say the mighty ship is like Marmite for breakfast: you love it, or you hate it. More than once I had the feeling that a hand full of talented architects and ship designers planned with a lot of imagination, in line with trends and in a visionary manner different parts of Meraviglia, but the one in charge of bringing everything together lost completely the plot creating a kind of a sailing Babel Tower of styles and functions. More than once I had the feeling that somebody, a kind of an MSC James Bond, got the blueprints of the best at sea from all the competitors and again the one in charge messed up. You can argue that in the cruise industry, like anywhere else, is nothing new under the Sun. In the case of MSC Meraviglia, putting together all this “best of..” without having an unitary vision created a lovely ship with a lot of BUTs…

Something old, something new, something borrowed …

MSC’s Meraviglia is a real family wonder. The attention to details, the care for the little travellers, the activity packed schedule for children and teenagers bring the ship very close to the Disney fleet and actually in front of them. But this time MSC brought the innovation and size in to the equation. And the result is spectacular. Families are catered for with new modular cabins that can be connected to accommodate up to 10 people. At the back of the ship you’ll find the Himalayan Ropes Course and the Polar Aqua Park, both of which are impressive by any standards. The ropes course takes you right round the edge of the ship and includes two tracks side by side, one trickier than the other and neither for the fainthearted. The Polar Aqua Park is a kids’ splash park on the lower level, with spray guns, water dunkers and a small slide.

Above it are three water slides: two involve sitting in tubes and take you down to a watery finish via numerous twists and turns, often in the dark. The third is known as the Champagne Glass because after a very fast slide you end up going round and round in an open circular glass-shaped space. Brilliant even if I am in a different age group. Very impressive is the inside Sportplex, which is a multi-use facility, primarily for basketball, tennis and volleyball and for kids’ organised games during the day as it’s right beside the kids’ club, but at night it evolves into a disco, with a DJ, decks and podiums. Youngsters haven’t been left out with seven different children’s areas that include the line’s biggest teen’s space, new family music activities, and a kids’ lounge modelled on a TV studio.

Your kids can spend their time and your money in the pretty expensive Amusement Park, which includes two F1 simulators (10 euros for six minutes), a bowling alley with two lanes (30 euros for 30 minutes), a 4D cinema (eight euros or six for kids), a flight simulator (12 euros for a five-minute ride) and a video games arcade next door. But is you want to be a smart and popular parent buy one of the passes available which can be used on all the games and start at 25 euros, for which you get five euros free credit, and go up to 100 euros (plus 60 euros credit). Couple of evenings I was witnessing the kids club having dinner in the buffet and I was impressed with the dedication and the professionalism of the team in charge of the little travellers. In this category MSC Meraviglia scored very high but be aware of the downside: such a paradise will be full of children all year long!

When NCL launched on Norwegian EPIC and later on Norwegian BREAKAWAY the idea of circus at sea with their Spiegel Tent – “the first big top at seas”, the concept “Cirque Dreams and Dinner” show was an instant success. Another “déjà vu” on board Meraviglia but with a twist: MSC has seriously upped the stakes and teamed up with Cirque du Soleil, to create a series of original shows exclusively for the cruise line. The passengers will get to see these performances exclusively; they have been specially created for MSC Meraviglia and cannot be seen anywhere else in the world. The performances take place in the stunning Carousel Lounge, an intimate venue boasting lower ceilings that bring the audience closer to the aerial acts and incredible features: a 40 metre LED screen, a rotating stage, lifts and even a retractable staircase to name a few. Both 40-minute productions — Sonor and Viaggio- were great and as a passenger you have two options: the Dinner & Show experience (35 euros) or the Cocktail & Show (15 euros) which was my favourite choice, but to be honest to see a Cirque show for even 35 euros is a huge bargain

One of my favourite place on board was the Sky Lounge located on Deck 18, midship, a gorgeous space, designed in elegant black and white and chrome, is a sanctuary from the mayhem going on in the rest of the ship with a cigar room on one side. It has floor-to-ceiling glass windows which run right round the semi-circular space, overlooking the main pool deck and either side of the ship. It’s a perfect spot for a quiet pre- or post-dinner cocktail. After dinner you can enjoy some live smoky jazz tunes and an impressive list with various “molecular” cocktails and excellent service.  But here, once again, you discover another design “hic-up”: whoever brought to live the brilliant idea of this lounge decided to offer as the only view … the swimming pool. While Cunard, Royal Carribean or P&O placed this type of area in a location which offers stunning views, on MSC Meraviglia you can … admire the busy swimming pool during the day or the flashy huge outdoor screen during the night. I think the word “sky” got lost somewhere in translation of the blue prints.

And the “déjà vu” (literally) is happening again in the gym. Despite the fact that the Technogym equipment is state of the art, the classes and personal trainers are above expectations, the location is another architectural failure. On all cruise ship I travelled before the gym has a great view of the open sea…it’s a way to motivate you and to divert your thoughts from the 2k that you have to run every morning to balance the culinary excesses on board. On Meraviglia the gym with its floor-to-ceiling glass windows have the view of the deck. The only advantage is that your travel companion can check if you are indeed exercise or just flirting while standing on a treadmill.

MSC and dining quality have not had a great relationship, however, the line has clearly taken onboard the criticism, has rethought its approach to cuisine and as a result, food-wise, things have definitely picked up, both in terms of quality and presentation. And MSC Meraviglia scores very high especially regarding alternative dinning. Despite its size, there aren’t the number of specialty dining options on Meraviglia compared, say, to Norwegian Breakaway or Oasis of the Seas, where you are looking at upward of 10. There are just five, but what the ship does have, it does very well. With an eye on Meraviglia’s move to Miami in 2019 its two new-to-the-line offerings, a Teppanyaki restaurant and an American Steak House, are outstanding: food and service.

The Teppanyaki restaurant, which is on the upper deck of the Galleria, has two cooking areas and it’s a lot of fun and more importantly, the food is delicious. In Butcher’s Cut located on Deck 7, midship The steaks are delicious: thick, juicy and tender and cooked and served with real skill and precision. No surprise that I went there twice in a 7 day cruise. If you decided to go to Eataly Ristorante Italiano – another favourite of mine from Fantasia-class ships, don’t think twice and choose Chef’s Table For 100 euros per person you get: seven dishes and seven wines as well as your own chef and your own Sommelier to talk you through it! The tailored menu, the charming Chef and the knowledgeable Sommelier created one of the best culinary experience I ever had on MSC.

Normally when I’m cruising I try to avoid as much as I can the buffet area. On P&O and Norwegian I always had the feeling that I was part of a continuous daily bunfight and even Cunard never convinced me to stop there excepting late hours of the night after a long dancing/drinking session. The experience on MSC Meraviglia was completely different and, believe or not, I went to the buffet at least once a day. The ship’s buffet is huge at the back of the ship on Deck 15. As a result, it rarely feels crowded. This is largely to do with design: as well as a central food area (the “marketplace”), there are also food areas either side, plus an enormous number of seats, which include an area at the very back, as well as two wings of the restaurant. The food is actually better than your average cruise ship buffet, with a bit of flair and fun. There are plenty of open kitchens where you can watch the chefs prepare the fresh food, plenty of ethnic cuisine including Chinese, Indian, Mediterranean, a mozzarella production area where you can watch it being made and a “fruit and veg market” where you can pick up fresh food. Fantastic experience and quite an efficient service due to the “ring the bell” system placed on each table which is linked with the special bracelets of the waiters.

On Deck 6 Midship I discovered by chance another amazing place: The Champagne Bar. A very classy venue where a choice of seafood or caviar was complementing the fine champagne. The oysters were absolutely amazing, the deco was close to similar bars on shore and trendier than on other luxurious cruise liners. To be honest I preferred this place to the similar Laurent Perrier Champagne Bar on Queen Mary2. But once again somebody killed the concept of this bar when the location was decided. Placed too close to the main staircase, a location more appropriate for a passage area than a themed venue, the place was filled with noise from the atrium and always busy Galleria and was a favourite meeting place for passengers waiting for anything else apart of champagne or caviar. During my 7 days cruise I saw more people drinking beer and eating from buffet plates than ordering champagne or oysters. And I couldn’t stop asking myself why that particular location, why such a waist of energy, money and space? Why to have a glass with Prosecco when you can serve a flute of Veuve Cliquot?

Another surprise was Broadway Theatre which is not the biggest, or sparkiest that I have been in but I did really like it. Despite the fact, another “déjà vu” that looks like Royal’s Quantum-class Two-70. Is very modern with it’s trend lay out, colour scheme and LED screens and has only 985-seat for 5000+ passengers. But no worries because the scheduling of the show is brilliant: six different shows per cruise each show running three times a night to cater for the different dining times and lasting about 40 minutes each. There are good sightlines and comfy seats, though, oddly, no glass holders. But impressive was the positive general change in the entertainment

First of all MSC decided on Meraviglia to bring a live orchestra on stage which is a great idea making the performance more impressive. The shows were far much better from the ones performed on board of Preziosa, fantasia or Splendida: better singers, excellent choreography with, finally, synchronised dancers and a obvious passion and effort to perform a very professional production on stage.I didn’t expect something like tat especially when the shows are tailored for a multi-national audience and when the only general spoken language is music.

On the same line evaluated the entertainment team. Despite the fact that in 7 days I never saw the Cruise Director (who supposed to be THE FACE of the ship) the animation team was fantastic. No more screaming around the swimming pool, no more random dance routines and conga around the lounges. Each event was very carefully planned with music, lights, choreography and costumes matching the theme of the night: tropical, latino, disco, Italian, space. And even if you weren’t in a party mood those guys will bring you straight in to the middle of the party without being too intrusive or in to your face. Well done, great job! Because of you I slept around 4 hours every night

Another place that I will recommend you to visit is Brass Anchor Pub located on Deck 7, forward. It’s the MSC’s version of a “British” pub, complete with a picture of London on the wall and with tables outside overlooking the promenade. Inside, it’s nicely designed in soft greens, with low lighting and plenty of booth seating.. There are 12 beers on tap and 47 bottles, though nothing unusual, just a variety of well-known brands from around the world. Can’t decide? Have a yard of beer — a snip at 22 euros. There is also cider and bar snacks, including fish ‘n’ chips starting at a very reasonable three euros. There’s even space for a small band, which to be honest makes it more reminiscent of an Irish Pub. Talking about the band in the pub, another “designer hic-cup”: the pub is located to close to the Galleria and in 4 nights the band’s performance in Brass Anchor” was unpleasant mixed with the party music from outside. The poor duo was waiting for a moment of silence to justify their presence there. Maybe a different programming of the performance will eliminate the weird re-mix of Despacito with Irish pub rhythms.

The pride of all Fantasia-class ships – the magnificent Swarovski crystal staircase is on MSC Meraviglia a kind of Cinderella, pushed away on one side of the Promenade. The Atrium itself – the heart of the public spaces on most of the ships around the world – looked like a back entrance in a shopping mall. Such a waste when the lavish atrium can set the scene as soon as you embark with it’s lashings of chrome, marble and glass.

Did I say Shopping Mall? That means is time to talk about Galleria.

The main centre-piece is the new Mediterranean-style promenade, Galleria Meraviglia, where tradition and technology finely fuse together. The street is lined with boutiques, cafés, a gelato stand and the mouth-watering temptations of the ship’s own opulent chocolate “boutique” run by renowned French chocolatier Jean-Philippe Maury. As with most modern cruises, the retail opportunities are many but there seems to be a lot of options appearing aimed at children and emotional blackmail. However, that remains in the control of the passenger

Above is an 80 metre LED sky – claimed to be the longest at sea – that has viewers transfixed as it magically transforms into different scenes. The idea of having different projections scheduled at different times of the day with different themes was brilliant. I know that the central promenade is almost a carbon copy of Royal Caribbean’s Quantum-class ships that wasn’t the most disturbing element. I think the biggest mistake is that due to the hype around the Galleria the nearby venues lose a lot. On top of this for those familiar with MSC you will find the whole dynamic of the ship very different to the Fantasia Class ships. The open plaza, the high number of families of all ages both contribute to the Benidorm feel. I don’t know why,  but on Royal Caribbean I never had the same feeling like walking, day or night,  on Meraviglia ‘s galleria: a shopping mall on a Black Friday!

Click here to watch a video about Jean-Philippe Maury’s shop on board MSC Meraviglia

One area MSC needs to address urgently on board MSC Meraviglia is hand hygiene – they have installed relatively few sinks in alcoves at the entrances of the buffet, which are often less than clean and almost everybody ignores them. One day spending my lunch time in the buffet I counted only 4-5 passengers using the sinks. I know that the smiley loudly “washy-washy” crew from NCL or RCI are annoying but … I prefer to be annoyed than sick.

Oddly enough there were no life jackets in the cabins!!!! Of course, there was not enough space in the wardrobe, designed to accommodate the belongings of a family travelling with a low cost airline, hand luggage only. When I inquire during the safety drill regarding the life-jackets the answer was quite scary: they will be distributed in case of emergency at the entrance of each master station. Why scary? Just because, in a normal situation, staying in line is an adventure on board MSC Meraviglia…imagine in case of emergency! And on top of that do you remember the crowd control on Costa Concordia couple years ago?

MSC Meraviglia is impressive from outside and inside! But the architect made the same mistake like NCL with Norwegian EPIC: adding deck on top of a deck on top of another deck will create space but will limit the sailing comfort. My cabin was in Yacht Club, forward on deck 15 and every night the feeling of being on a ship was more than noticeable. I don’t mind a rough sea, I experience two years agon in January a storm grade Beaufort 10 on Queen Victoria but with Meraviglia was different. Passengers were asking for anti-sea sickness tablets during the sailing between Rome and Palermo and the ship was docked overnight in Civitavecchia in an evening with a grade 4 winds (as announced on the interactive television: 20-28km/h and 1-2m waves). For sure I will not book Meraviglia for an Atlantic crossing.

Another issue linked with the size of the ship and with the lack of before hand planning is the return on board after a day at shore. In Marseille, Palma but especially in Palermo returning back on board was a demanding test of endurance with screaming, pushing, elbowing and swearing in at list 5 different European languages. The Concierge in yacht Club, very apologetic, explained me that is the port t authority responsibility to coordinate the embarkation and disembarkation and the unpleasant situation is a weekly occurrence when Meraviglia is docked in Palermo. I can’t stop wondering: if this is happening again and again why MSC doesn’t rise the issue with all factors involved and eliminate the unnecessary memories (and photos on on-line media, see below) of the Sicilian experience?

Click here to watch a video about returning on board MSC Meraviglia in Palermo

So is Meraviglia a success? I don’t doubt is a great success for the target market, mainly families or for those who don’t mind a general vibe like a UKIP’s rally. There is style and class in abundance, but big doesn’t mean always necessary better, at the end of the day we are talking about cruising, nothing else.

The Meraviglia is much more a family cruise ship with the energy and enthusiasm for kids of all ages running free at all times, a sailing Benidorm. And the Meraviglia still has some way to go on cleaning and queue discipline, but the staff were all helpful and willing, despite being overwhelmed with more nationalities/languages than I have seen on any previous cruise.

I do love MSC and actually I already booked 4 cruises in 2017; is just January and I already have my eyes on another two but I’m looking forward to return to the Fantasia Class as they have a slightly less manic feel, whilst maintaining the high standards I expect from MSC in general and Yacht Club in particular.

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THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY

•February 13, 2018 • Leave a Comment

A review of a cruise on MSC Meraviglia – The Yacht Club Experience

Maybe is not the usual headline for a cruise review but, for sure, those lovers of old blockbusters amongst you will recognise the name of the 1965 American film directed by Carol Reed, starring Charlton Heston and Rex Harrison and based on Irving Stone’s biographical novel. My Mediterranean cruise on board MSC Meraviglia at the end of 2017, beginning of 2018 was an odd mixture of success and failure, original and “déjà vu” … agony and ecstasy.

Launch in June 2017, MSC Meraviglia, triggered an impressive hype in all on-line channels, bloggers and traveller from all around the world jumping to praise the “Wonder” (the English translation of Meraviglia), a ship created to amaze with her contemporary design and feature-filled decks plans. Hailed as the largest cruise ship ever to be built by a European cruise line, accommodating more than 5,700 passengers, the 13th ship in MSC’s fleet made its debut in grand fashion after being named by screen legend Sophia Loren at an extravagant ceremony in the French port of Le Havre. The statistics are impressive. The 171,598 gross tonne ship is 315 metre long, 65 metres tall, and carries up to 5,714 guests at a time. MSC Meraviglia is one of the largest family-friendly vessels afloat.

Therefore, when I secured a booking for an YC1 cabin on the New Year Eve Meraviglia’s cruise the excitement and expectations hung in the air, I could have sliced it with a knife. On the last day of 2017, flying between Gatwick and Genova I couldn’t stop thinking how lucky I was to spend “la vigilia di Capodanno” on board of the promised floating wonder of MSC.

The first sight of MSC Meraviglia was really impressive as she was dominating with her majestic figure the dock of Genova Cruise Terminal, bigger than other MSC ships I’ve been travelling on. As always, when travelling with MSC the check-in for Yacht Club passengers was flawless: my luggage was taking care of right from the moment when I stepped out of the taxi, I had time to relax before boarding the ship in an intimate dedicated lounge in the terminal with a glass of Prosecco and sweet treats and I was escorted directly to the Yacht Club Concierge on the 16th deck by a charming butler. I didn’t care too much about the quite hectic passage from the Terminal to the Concierge just because our escort was performing an amusing and well conducted “small talk”, perfect for moving our attention from what was happening around me. For sure MSC didn’t planned for Meraviglia the same shortcuts like on other ship, to help YC guests to avoid lines, overcrowded lobbies and elevators

Click here to watch a video about embarkation on MSC Meraviglia in Genova

On my previous cruises with MSC (3 on Preziosa, 2 on Splendida and 4 on Fantasia) the first WOW moment when stepping in the Yacht Club was the Concierge area: the spacious lobby, the luxurious decor, the lights, the Sky Eye and the Swarovski staircase creating the perfect ambience to suggest a  luxurious exclusive space. On MSC Meraviglia this wow moment is lost: the Concierge reminded me of a reception in a small 3 star hotel in a London suburb, the Swarovski staircase gave me the feeling that the budget ended before the work was done and the lack of space and light made me think that we entered the back office of the Yacht Club instead of the reception area. Later I will realise the physical dimension of this lack of space when waiting for an available Concierge I had to wait under the staircase due to the lack of space, missing so much the comfy and elegant sofas from the other smaller and less glamorous sisters of Meraviglia.

Fortunately, I saw friendly familiar faces from other voyages and their “welcome home!” made me feel that I was finally back in what I love so much on MSC: The Yacht Club. But I was brought back to Meraviglia reality when being escorted to my cabin, an YC1 on deck 15th I had to squeeze again in a narrow passage under the main staircase (this section without the famous crystals) to access the corridor. While I understand perfectly that in the cruise business fitting as many passengers as you can on a cruise ship is one way to maximise profit, I still don’t understand why the highest paying guests on board need to experience this trend. When Royal Caribbean or NCL started sailing the big girls (Harmony of the Sea or Norwegian Escape) the guests in suites, paying triple or more than the price of an interior or ocean view weren’t touch by the “fill the space to the limit” trend. In hospitality business, space was always a sign of luxury. In all my previous MSC experiences, Yacht Club, this ship within a ship, was an exclusive haven of refinement, a real place where you can savour exclusivity and privacy in a world of choice. How can this apply to an interior cabin located in YC on MSC Meraviglia? It’s hard for me to understand the concept, despite the fact that I understand the reason.

The first “déjà vu” was my cabin, an YC1, 1502 which looks more like a hotel room than a ship accommodation. The inspired layout of the furniture, eliminating unnecessary elements and playing smart with the colour scheme reminded me of the same successful experiment done by Celebrity with the Sky Suite. YC1 is a comfortable and generous living space on board MSC Meraviglia exceeding similar on-board accommodation on NCL, Costa or Royal Carribean. To be honest the YC1 cabin on board MSC Meraviglia seemed to be more spacious than the QV5 on Cunard’s Queen Victoria. Of course is still  odd that the YC1 cabin is called a suite, when a suite in any types of public accommodation denotes, according to most dictionary definitions, connected rooms under one room number. In reality YC1 is just a cabin, indeed larger than inferior grades, but still a cabin, or to be posh … a stateroom.

Click here to watch a video about YC1 cabin on MSC Meraviglia

The cabin had couple of modern touches, updates which bring MSC in line with the competitors: electric switches next to the door which say to replace the old fashioned hanging signs “make up room” and “do not disturb), the A/C linked to the key slot and the balcony door to control the energy consumption,  reading lights on either side of the bed which gave bright light in a concentrated zone, fully articulated, operated by touch sensitive on/off switches. and of course, another “déjà vu”, the ‘connected’ guest experience digital innovation programme “MSC for me” via a huge flat monitor.

“MSC for me” is brilliant! The programme is a multi-level technology platform that has been designed to improve the quality of cruise holidays on an individual base. Is a user friendly digital multi-channel experience available through mobile apps, interactive cabin TV screens, public interactive on-board screens and wearables providing guests with over 130 smart features geared towards a fully optimised holiday experience. These include a dedicated app to help guests tailor their holidays at any point on their journey, whether they are booking their excursions prior to embarkation or a speciality restaurant whilst relaxing by the top-deck pool. Meraviglia has 16,000 points of connectivity, 700 digital access points, 358 informative and interactive screens, and 2,244 cabins with RFID/NFC access technology. I used it couple of times whilst on board and I can say that Royal Carribean and NCL are one step behind, while HAL or Cunard are still in another century.

Another big change inside of YC1 cabins was the bathroom. MSC never match the size of the bathrooms on similar grade cabins of the competition. But on MSC Meraviglia the bathtub vanished without a trace. I am not a big fan of bathtubs and the mini wet-room with a glass panel and the two shower heads (the standard wall mounted spray head and the large overhead “Rain” shower fitting) was more than enough; but once again a “suite” deserve at least a bathtub if not a whirlpool tub like NCL or Cunard provide in their Heaven or Queens Grill suites.

For me the biggest issue was the storage space. There was only a shrink full double wardrobe, for hanging clothing, and a half width cupboard with 6 shelves, in the small vestibule outside the bathroom door. Whoever designed the cabin thought that everybody on board is flying Ryanair hand luggage only.  I know that I am. Most of the time, exaggerated and never travel light but, for God sake, for a 7 days cruise you need at least a change of clothes per day! And if you multiply that by 2 passengers per cabin, one of you will made the sacrifice to use the suitcase under the bed as an extra storage space. And at the end of the day, at least on board MSC ships, despite of an inexistent dress code, dressing smart for dinner is my way to respect and appreciate the crispy, perfect appearance of the crew. My solution was a little bit extreme but worked with the great help of the Concierge: I booked an interior studio on the 9th deck and use it as a walking-in wardrobe. As I said extreme but necessary!

I wonder how many extra cabins/wardrobes Sophia Loren, the Godmother of the ship, needs if she decided to come in holiday on MSC Meraviglia? Of course, she will have a Royal Suite. I travelled in YC3 cabins on other ships and indeed is an amazing experience. I wanted to repeat on board Meraviglia but unfortunately nothing was available for the end of 2017 or even in the entire 2018. Is not due to the price of special offers, you will pay almost double than the price for a normal YC1, is just because they are only 2 YC3 on board. Where’s the logic in this design decision? Instead of placing in YC more expensive cabins for a market keen and able to pay a good amount of many for their luxurious holiday and as a chain reaction spending more money on board, you choose to squeeze 10 “inside Yacht Club suites” which sounds worst than the virtual windows in inside cabin on board Royal Carribean! And on top of that the beautiful duplex suites are not part of the Yacht Club despite the fact that they are more expensive than the YC interior. Once again where is the logic? I did the maths to prove my point but is not the time and place to do it again!

While the MSC Yacht Club is considered a “private oasis of luxury and amenities,” it’s the Top Sail Lounge that could be considered social central.  It’s here that you can meet up with friends, old and new, and have a drink, relax, and take in the view. On all other MSC ships Top Sail Lounge acted as a magnet for all guests with its great view, top notch service, and convenient proximity to all YC cabins. Meraviglia missed again the chance for another wow moment. The lounge is smaller, making room to more cabins in Yacht Club, with less space for guests, which made it overcrowded on sea days when the weather is not at it’s best or embarkation/disembarkation days. And don’t forget that on a MSC ship every day is an embarkation/disembarkation day! Less choice for breakfast or snacks, less attention to details in the way how the food and the drinks were presented and a less attentive service made me to spend less time here, despite the fact that on Splendida, Fantasia or Preziosa I would love to move my bed in the lounge!

MSC is one of the few cruise lines which take guests’ feedback very seriously. And was a pleasant surprise to discover that on MSC Meraviglia the restaurant dedicated to YC guests was included in the layout of the Yacht Club, placed on the 18th deck with stunning views in front of the ship. The new design was another success: the colour scheme, lights and deco follow the idea of a sleek modern restaurant, with an understated elegance like on Viking ships or the Luminae restaurant on Celebrity vessels. Even the menu was improved. Gone are the old 6 or 7 courses with a choice of 2 or 3 items in each course, and in are 3 course menus with 6 or 7 choices in each course, which give the chance to the Chef and his team in the galley to focus more on quality and presentation. And, as fussy as I am with food, I can say that each dinner was a success.

The service in the restaurant still have PLENTY of room for improvement. Everybody attitude remind me of a corner pizzeria in touristic area of Naples where a returning customer is not a goal but a miracle. Mirroring the attitude of the Maître D’ the waiters were running chaotically around with no time for an expected high-class service. Fortunately, the Sommelier balanced the entire service experience with his manners and knowledge. Maybe MSC must re-asses the distribution of the waiters in Yacht Club restaurant, this time based on skills and not necessary nationality.

The One deck – the outdoor area of the Yacht Club is another massive success on Meraviglia. Having the advantage of a bigger size the layout of this space is amazing, a perfect retreat in open spaces if you want to escape the indoor. A dedicated bar area, one for breakfast and dinner, a decent size paddling pool, secluded cabanas which can be booked and on top of this a flawless high-class service made this place one of my favourite destination on board. There is a noticeable flaw in the “One Deck” in that there are not enough loungers available to accommodate all the YC guests on a sunny sea day. This is a major failing by MSC in the planning of the use of the space in the Yacht Club. I was sailing in January when, in some day, I was alone on The One deck but, I can’t stop wondering how this place will look on a sunny sailing day in July or August and if you will find any difference between this area and the overcrowded with sunbeds and pizza slices in the hot tub around the main pool.

Click here to watch a video about The One Pool & Sundeck YC area on MSC Meraviglia

The biggest asset of MSC Yacht Club product is the excellent staff; from butlers and concierge to barmen and assistant butlers everybody works with an incredible dedication to make the Yacht Club product better and more valuable than initially designed. The YC team is the main reason why the entire product is so successful and returning customers sometimes are very forgiving when the company cuts some corners.

But expanding the Yacht Club at the size on MSC Meraviglia comes at a price: sometimes is not enough staff and not enough time to offer the expected and promised personalized experience and the lack of experience at the management level creates space of failures.

And I will give two examples. For New Year Eve a lavish party with oysters and champagne was organised for the countdown moment with music, officers and social hosts dressed to impress and ready to create the perfect atmosphere for a memorable year change. Everything was planned with a huge attention to details except one single but major element: sending invitations to the guests. I was lucky popping in the lounge half an hour before midnight to have a pre-party drink to discover the amazing event. Other guests realised that the next day and wasn’t a great feeling for the beginning of a new year. I wonder how much experience or common sense you need to realise that the most important ingredient for a successful party is to have guests who attend the event.

Maybe was just an on-off slip but guess what? The entire story was repeated couple days later: in the early evening wearing a pair of shorts, t-shirt and some trainers I enter the lounge for a quick drink before getting ready for dinner. Big surprise: a group of smiley, elegant dressed social hosts greeted me at the entrance, one of the butlers placed on my table an exquisite cocktail while another one was tempting me with a tray full of delicate canapés. Asking around I found that the Capitan and the Yacht Club Director organised a cocktail to thank all guests in YC for their return business and support – a great and thoughtful idea applied by other company as well. But again, somebody, somehow forgot to invite the guests – the reason to spend a lot of money and energy.

This time I didn’t fight the feeling of “party gate-crusher” and I left. I don’t know about you, but I learned for my mother that you don’t go to a party uninvited and on top of that a “cocktail party” required as a sign of respect for your host a “cocktail attire” and not a pair of shorts and an afternoon t-shirt! The Capitan didn’t show on and later the Concierge apologise and was giving me the excuse that the cocktail was mentioned in the daily program printed especially for the YC guests. 100% correct, it was there but, in case if you were a dedicated reader of the publication, you will need great skills to find the mention written with letters smaller than the ones announcing some kids activities or another discount in the on-board shops.

Don’t get me wrong: I like MSC and I am in love with the Yacht Club product. Maybe all the reviews I read about Meraviglia were driven by personal reasons (how you can write bad when the cruise line paid for your holiday) or maybe the Yacht Club feels different when the ship is docked during a media guided tour. My feeling was that in Meraviglia case MSC sacrificed the luxurious and personalized YC experience, so perfectly created on other ships,  on the altar of financial motivations.

The high class service from the beginning until the very end of the cruise is one of the many reasons why a cruise in a suite on the MSC Yacht Club is well worth it.  Being a fan of a luxury driven vacation, I consider that Meraviglia was not exactly my cup of team and I am happy to return to one  of the Fantasia-class ships  having already booked this year one cruise on Divina, two on Preziosa and one of Fantasia.

MELIA TAMARINDOS … REVISITED

•February 9, 2018 • Leave a Comment

It’s not usual to write a second review about the same experience in the space of two or three months. The second time must be pretty bad if I would decide to write about it again…

But this time the story was completely different.

For sure you remember that in October last year I spent a week at Melia Tamarindos in San Agustin, Gran Canaria (you can actually read my first reviews MELIA TAMARINDOS – The secrets of under promising and over delivering  and TBN – The hidden gem of San Agustin . This year trying to escape the grey, cold, rainy January in Kent I decided to again spend 7 days in Gran Canaria. Furthermore, I pushed my luck and went back to the place which impressed me so much last year: MELIA TAMARINDOS San Agustin. Normally I would choose another place, taking in account my passion for new experiences and some hotels in Meloneras were quite a big temptation looking at services, prices and, of course, value for money. But something made me book the hotel in San Agustin again.

And here I am, at the end of January, landing in Las Palmas airport and ready for a new rendezvous with Melia Tamarindos. Expectations? Of course, quite high, after my previous experience. However, the following 7 days proved that when you put passion and professionalism in what you are doing, “exceeding expectations” is just part of a daily routine at Melia Tamarindos.

The check-in was, once again, flawless. I do like the idea of saving time when you arrive at your destination after a long flight and a lot of hotels around the world have now the on-line check-in which is great. At Melia Tamarindos the Reception team made one step further: if you booked a LEVEL room, 2-3 weeks prior to arrival, you will receive an e-mail from the Concierge and after spending couple of minutes providing the information requested, you can be sure that at your arrival everything will be ready waiting for you. The entire Front Desk & Concierge team, exemplarily led by Jiske Jager, the Guest Experience Manager, was once again fantastic…I hardy had time to enjoy a glass of cava in The LEVEL Lounge and my luggage were in the room and everything were waiting for me at the 6th floor.

Click here to see a video report about the check-in experience 

I have never agreed that for a holiday you need just a cheap room because you will just sleep there! Your accommodation, in a hotel or on a cruise ship, is part of the entire experience and therefore once again I decided for “full option”: The LEVEL, VISTA MAR Suite and All Inclusive.

I couldn’t wait to open the door of my room, the same magnificent LEVEL VISTA MAR Suite, this time #620! The 57m², the three clearly defined spaces: bedroom, lounge and bathroom and the inspired mixture between “MELIA LEVEL” style (minimalist, modern, sleek, smooth and glossy) and the ‘70s glory of the “old” hotel look with couple of pieces of furniture in strong colours, made LEVEL VISTA MAR Suite the perfect choice for a perfect holiday, especially when the weather is not on your side. And as before the massive room was pristine with a daily cleaning and an evening turn-down service with an immense attention to detail, making everything spick and span, with every item placed in the same position like they were never moved.

Click here to see a video report about the “LEVEL VISTA MAR Suite” experience

This January the weather wasn’t what you will expect in Gran Canaria and actually, according to Televisión Canaria, was the coldest winter in the last 20 years with strong winds, rain and even snow in the mountains. This could have been a holiday disaster but, fortunately, Melia Tamarindos has a gorgeous heated pool which made me forget that the next-door beach was too windy and the waves to strong for a safe swim. On top of that Entertainment Manager Adrian and his colleague Victor organised every day a range of daily activities with an impressive respect for the guest’s privacy: yoga, stretching, aqua-gym classes – all done in areas which are not interfering with those who will just want a relaxing day at the pool. And one day Victor organised for the guests a little surprise: an entertaining Sangria-making demonstration.

Click here to see a video report about the pool and spa experience

Looking at the full half of the glass, because of the weather I had time to further explore the beautiful grounds of Melia Tamarindos, impeccably maintained and perfect balancing the chaotic architectural “lack of style” of the rest of San Agustin suffering after invasion of cheap accommodation

Click here to see a video report about the garden and gym experience

“THE LEVEL” is the best option if you choose Melia Tamarindos for your holiday. A series of exclusive services are provided for those lucky to get a “black card” and enter THE LEVEL: a daily newspaper of your choice in the room, exclusive access to The Level Lounge where you can enjoy a range of snacks and a hot and cold drinks in an elegant and relaxed setting, a modern business centre from 10am to 6pm in The Level Lounge, 30 minutes of sauna every day at SPA IN plus a  5% discount off treatments, 1 hour free tennis and squash every day and of course access to an exclusive solarium terrace closer to the beach with jacuzzi, fruit, cava, wine, coffee, juices and water perfect area to relax for guests over 16s. And of course, everything continues in your room:  a welcome gift, the Level high quality bathrobe and slippers, a free late check-out, a Nespresso coffee maker (like home!!!), the excellent Loewe bathroom amenities, a pillow menu and of course the turn-down service. Is like being in Paradise!

And this time, guess what: I didn’t leave the hotel! Every night in Jameo Bar, Adrian, the Entertainment Manager scheduled musicians and various performances which created the perfect ambiance for couple of drinks. I said it before: you don’t go to the Canary Islands to watch a  high class performance or something like that. At Melia Tamarindos the evening entertainment was decent, tailored on the audience expectations and complemented by a trendy bar atmosphere where the service was always aiming high standards, Suanel’s smile and Pedro’s good mood were contagious.

Click here to see a video report about Jameo bar and the LEVEL Lounge experience

Couple of times I had the chance to have a chat with Mr. Ivan Mesa, the Deputy Manager of Melia Tamarindos and I understood very clear that “Everything is Possible” is not just a marketing slogan, but daily reality, part of the work philosophy of the team. Last time my “official” moaning was related to the Wi-Fi signal but this time I couldn’t keep my phone quiet. Once you log in, from the lobby to your room, from the swimming pool to the bar the signal was PERFECT; Facebook, On-line conferences, Face Time, e-mail… name it and the WIFI at Melia Tamarindos will not be an excuse for not using them! Mr. Mesa mentioned how important the guest’s feedback is for the team in the common effort to achieve the perfect holiday and the example of how the suggestion of Scandinavian guests regarding a healthier and lighter option for lunch is now part of the all-inclusive package at Melia Tamarindos.

Click here to see a video report about TARA bar and restaurant experience

If you remember from my previous review, one of the highlights of my stay at Melia Tamarindos was the dinner at TARA BY NIGHT, the a la carte restaurant of the hotel. Who said that from exceptional you can not go any higher? This time the original plan of one booking changed to two bookings in one week! This is not because I eat a lot…just because the place is FANTASTIC. The Chefs Manu and Carlos and our waitress Juncal created two perfect gastronomic adventures with a great fusion between local cuisine and international flavours complimented by an amazing service. This time the team added the Chef’s recommendations, separated from the main menu which brought a touch of a personalised experience to the entire night. What a delightful night! But I’m still amazed that this fantastic restaurant is not more widely promoted for the tourists outside the hotel!

Click here to see a video report about TBN restaurant experience

I spoke couple of times about pros and cons of an “all inclusive” holiday especially when you consider that food is such an integral part to travel and the discovery of a culture as it’s reflective of the local customs Before visiting for the first time Melia Tamarindos I strongly believed, based on previous experiences, that in an all-inclusive resort, if you are lucky, food was good but sadly forgettable. There is no context to a great meal when it is served from a buffet line. No authenticity, no local flavour – the resort food was simply manufactured to meet the presumed wants and needs of its guests.

In Roque Nublo, the main restaurant at Melia Tamarindos, the food is never hit or miss. Experiencing for the second time an all-inclusive package here, I realised that the team in the kitchen try very hard and succeed brilliantly to create enjoyable mealtimes: high quality, good variety, and attention to detail, making Roque Nublo more a destination than a classic buffet restaurant. For each meal – breakfast, lunch and dinner, guests have impressive choices – a great combination of international cuisine, local Canarian dishes, healthy options and spectacular live cooking stations (the unbeatable Tamarindos’ show cooking).

The entire concept makes the all-inclusive option the best choice for a holiday. One thing you’ll find for each meal is a wide variety of all sorts of things… and the beauty of it is, since it’s all inclusive, if you don’t like something, you can try something else that perhaps you’ll like more. There is always something to be found that’s tasty and pleasing to the palate. It’s a great opportunity to broaden the food horizons and try new things.

Javier Lobaton deserves for sure the title of San Agustin Master Chef creating inventive, delicious dishes with beautiful presentation. Ivan Mesa, the Deputy Manager of Melia Tamarindos, told me that they needed to raise their game food-wise for hotel’s discerning guests and being a step ahead the competitors. I never saw so many Spanish, Scandinavian, Germans, British and Americans happy with their choices in Roque Nublo! To be honest, looking around in San Agustin, I couldn’t face the invasion of pizzerias, restaurants with horrible photo menus and the eternal “chicken with chips” and I ran back to Melia Tamarindos to enjoy accommodating, fun, and enjoyable mealtimes.

Click here to see a video report about Roque Nublo restaurant experience

Although, cruising will always be my first love (5 have already been booked for 2018), I’ve already planned a return to Melia Tamarindos in June and in October. The bottom line is: Melia Tamarindos is an ideal place for an all-inclusive stay and The Level concept is an excellent option for a memorable holiday.