A FANTASTIC 6 DAYS IN A “NO-GO” ZONE

•August 23, 2020 • Leave a Comment

After almost 6 months of dreaming and planning my first proper holiday post lockdown I decided to go back to one of my favourite place in Gran Canaria – Melia Tamarindos. Everything was planned and booked (flights, transfers, hotel) when the UK Government decided to include Gran Canaria on the “NO-GO” list. Quite disappointing but, the need for travel won the fight with the anxiety of a non-insured holiday and the hassle of a 2 weeks self-isolation of my return. And my decision proved to be the right one. But let me take you step by step.

FLIGHTS

As British Airways on my previous trip in July to Malaga was quite hectic in cancelling and re-booking flights on random dates and for random reasons, I decided to fly this time with Iberia. The £500 return ticket in business class via Madrid was a quite decent option. But that was my feeling before Iberia started to mess “Covid-19 related” with the schedule of my outbound flight. Less than a week before a cancellation e-mail was received giving me no-options for rebooking. Took me couple of hours spent on the phone with a very unhelpful call-centre until I found somebody able to re-book my outbound flights. Don’t expect that Iberia found the solution: was me searching the on-line schedule to find a new option, with a very tight connection in Madrid but an arrival which will not need changes in my hotel bookings. I found the flights, found the best options without paying any penalties or price difference and Iberia agent just pressed the ENTER button to reschedule my flights. Helpful indeed.

My outbound flights took me first from London to Madrid on an A321. I already spoke in another review about the new regulation in Heathrow airport where wearing a mask is mandatory, the social distancing is imposed by clear signalling system and hand sanitizer are everywhere. Unfortunately, nobody impose to wear a mask correctly in Heathrow and I saw an impressive collection of noses and chins “mask-free”. Once again, I was very impressed how British Airways applied the new regulation in First Class lounge where the QR system on each table guarantees a limitation of human contact and a quick service, balancing quite well the lack of variety in the food and drinks offer. At the gate the rules were completely ignored despite the fact that boarding was done in sequence, no social distancing was observed and trying to reach their OTD (on time departure) we were waiting on top of the others in the jetty for couple of good minutes.

Click here to see the check-in and lounge experience in Heathrow Terminal 5

The Iberia service was the perfect example how the pandemic can be a very good excuse to cut corners and save money. A “reduced service” was provided in Business Class but due to a human error the catering was “breakfast” instead of “lunch” for a 12.00PM flight. Weird but manageable for a short flight (less than 2 hours). The service was basic with drinks served more than once by the crew with the usual Iberia style rolled eyes. And of course, movements around the cabin were reduced and mask were mandatory during the entire flight (except the moment where you are drinking or eating). Mid-flight the pilots gave us a long speech in English and Spanish about the new filter system in the plane (the famous HEPA filters)

Madrid Barajas airport was a pleasant surprise, not very busy, with more user-friendly rules of self-protection and social distancing than Heathrow. I was impressed with the fact that in the airport everybody, but EVERYBODY wears a mask and respects social distancing, even during the boarding.

Click here to see my connecting experience in Madrid Barajas Airport

From Madrid to Gran Canaria the flight was operated by the low-cost subsidiary of Iberia, Iberia Express. I never saw such an embarrassed Purser to operate a 2h 30min flight with NO food service. She was shocked to find out that in-flight service can give you Covid-19 only if you fly with Iberia Express and you are safe flying with Iberia. Totally understandable to cut more corners in a low-cost airline but, when the flight is a codeshare with a full-service airline which charge a full premium price for its premium cabin, that a little bit cheeky. However, the service on Iberia Express was impeccable, far superior than Iberia, with genuine smiles, polite attitude and … a drink service repeated with no fuss whenever needed.

Click here to see my experience flying with Iberia and Iberia Express from London to Las Palmas via Madrid

The inbound flight was operated in both sectors by Iberia and for cargo reasons I got long-haul aircrafts (an A330 and an A350) on both legs of my journey Gran Canaria – London via Madrid: full in-flight entertainment, flat bed, plenty of space. Even the food was in a ridiculous amount (the long-haul rotation) for such short flights with the usual “whatever” Iberia long-haul style which remind me of my flight to Buenos Aires in January.

Looking back on my 4 flights was like I was flying with 4 different airlines. Does Iberia know how important is consistency in gaining customer satisfaction? I don’t think so.

TRANSFERS

After couple of failures, 4 years ago I decided to book all my transfers abroad with www.rideways.com  (now part of www.booking.com ). The user-friendly booking procedure, the impressive communication pre- and post- ride with emails and text messages 48 and 24h before the pick-up time containing information and contact numbers of the driver and the local provider and the post ride feed-back questionnaire and customer care made the transfer with www.booking.com my favourite choice all the time when I travel.

In Gran Canaria, both outbound and inbound services, provided by the local provider Horizon Bus, were at the highest standards you can imagine. The driver was on time, very polite even when he mentioned that wearing the mask during the transfer is mandatory. Th car was the requested size and had 2 hand sanitizers in the passenger section. Safe, on time and pleasant to cut the story short.

Click here to see my transfer experience with booking.com

HOTEL

I wrote couple of reviews about my previous stays at Melia Tamarindos (you can find them on this blog) talking about the excellent all-inclusive holiday package offered by the hotel in San Augustin and about the high level of customer service.

This time, my 6th stays at Melia Tamarindos had all the reason to generate the anxiety of a new adventure taking in the account all the changes imposed by a virus or a government. Especially that I arrived one day after the opening. The experience of a week in the beautiful resort in San Augustin exceeded all my expectation by bringing on the same page the previous luxury and comfort with the new safety rules and regulations.

Pablo Diaz the General Manager of Melia Tamarindos explained me the entire philosophy and effort behind “STAY SAFE WITH MELIA”, a complex operational transformation strategy, created to ensure the maximum safety of employees, local, customers and make them feel safe. He took time to guide me through the new Customer Journey Map which, on each stage, from the Pre-Stay Communication to Post Stay Loyalty place safety & health on the same page with guest satisfaction.

Everything started before my arrival in Gran Canaria. The Concierge team kept me informed with couple of emails about all the new service style and what to expect in a hotel aiming to offer a great holiday despite the world’s Covid madness. Only reading the details of “Stay Safe with Melia” program, applied in Melia hotels all around the world made me feel safe and protected. In all Melia hotels around the world each guest is contacted and told about all the measures being taken and what their stay will be like with extra information available and updated on melia.com

My room was the amazing LEVEL VISTA MAR SUITE , 57 m² divided between three clearly defined modern spaces: lounge, dressing & bathroom and bedroom with a more than generous space split by sliding doors.  Plenty of space to relax, sleep and with an unseen until now storage space. The pièce de résistance of this splendid suite with a privileged location in the central part of the hotel was the massive balcony, with colonial-style wooden features and incredible views of the Ocean and the beautiful grounds of Melia Tamarindos.

“My room, my temple” is another concept created to ensure the health and safety of both guests and staff: maximisation of cleaning standards prepared by Diversey (including new equipment and products), sealing items after disinfecting the room (remote control, cups or dispensers) or cleaning service optional for guests during their stay

Due to the new regulations some of the previous elements of the exquisite personalized service in the room were eliminated: pillow menu, room service, turndown service, The Level bathrobe and slippers, luxurious Rituals amenities in the bathroom, an included minibar with soft drinks, water and beers. But at check-in I was informed that all these magic touches can be provided at request with a touch of a button. And indeed, it was possible, on request, without fuss and in no time to recreate your own “paradise of pampering” called THE LEVEL in your room.

Click here to see the experience in LEVEL VISTA MAR room

On my previous stays at Melia Tamarindos I was very impressed with the service provided by the housekeeping team. This time they manage to beat their own standards: the room was impeccable clean, everything was sparkling, changed and disinfected every day and made me feel actually safer than home. And if I needed something 24h daily, around the clock somebody from the team was ready to provide it and made it sure that nothing affects the luxury and comfort of my holiday.

Click here to see a “special touch” received in LEVEL VISTA MAR suite

I was on a “all-inclusive” package, knowing that at Melia Tamarindos “all-inclusive” … doesn’t include the pejorative meaning of this type of holiday. ROQUE NUBLO restaurant has, under the new regulation a new design and service flow. The social distancing is respected with a decent distance between tables eliminated, at peak times, the crowded feeling of such a place and one way routes are clearly market and easy to follow. The new food concept market style of the buffet is fantastic, adapted to a market-style format with cold items pre-packed and expert chefs directly serving guests a wide range of different dishes cooked at request. Everything was designed aiming to optimise the ow of customers and reduce food handling. Of course, everything is fresh, and the reduce of food waste is obvious. Plus a takeaway service allows customers to enjoy their food wherever they wish (beach, room, etc.).

Everywhere at Melia Tamarindos a space management tool has been implemented to reduce capacity in restaurants, meeting rooms and swimming pools and manage bookings to guarantee social distancing and personal space. On top of that a new signage system was in place to inform customers and indicate how spaces will be used and the need for social distancing.

The restaurant team was impeccable, very organised with a speed of service flow which didn’t affect the quality of the service. Indeed, you need to wear a face mask and gloves all the time when you approach the food area but believe me it is worth it because the variety and quality of the infusion between international and local cuisine is AMAZING.

Click here to see the dining experience at Melia Tamarindos

For breakfast you can choose TARA SNACK BAR, located by the pool with lovely views of the beach in an open-air space with a mixture between buffet and table service which create a very relaxed and personalised experience.

The public spaces, were as always, a good reason to don’t leave Melia Tamarindos day or night! JAMEO BAR in the hotel hall was a perfect spot for the evenings. This time the professional shows were not scheduled, for obvious reason, but I still got some very good live music acts and a DJ which managed to keep me awake until 2am very night despite the excellent cocktails served at the bar. During the day , trying to respect the social distancing the normal schedule was tailored to the  new rules. But still if you want to enjoy some sports activities by the pool a daily aqua gym class took place every day. And the fun was total!

During the day TARA POOL BAR was great for a cold alcoholic break between the pool and the beach (I didn’t mention that you don’t need to recharge your batteries to swim in the Ocean: the beach is 2 minutes away from the pool).

Click here to see the Pool experience at Melia Tamarindos

And of course, the majestic grounds and gardens of Melia Tamarindos provide an excellent refuge day and night from all this rules and regulations.

Click here to see the Gardens of Melia Tamarindos

THE LEVEL SOLARIUM , despite the fact that is missing some of the previous touches (cold cava & drinks in the fridge) is still the same adult only oasis of tranquillity and lovely views of the beach.

Everywhere you still need to respect the rules: wearing a mask when moving around, gloves when approach the food area and observe the social distancing. But everything is done and explained in a very friendly manner and the staff is “walking the talk” despite the 30⁰C in a good day.

Click here to see the experience of LEVEL SOLARIUM at Melia Tamarindos

Of course, for those who wanted to push the pampering to a new level THE SPA was an excellent choice. The modern treatments and the organic and local products used made every visit to the spa an exquisite moment. As a LEVEL guest you get a discount for treatments and you can have a free circuit of the facilities with sauna, jacuzzi and Bali beds included. And for sure you will have a big surprise when you will have to pay the bill because the prices are more than reasonable: 60 euros for a sport massage, 47 euros for a full manicure and pedicure and an incredible 75 euros for a fabulous facial treatment with Clarins and local Aloe Vera products. What a treat!

 

Click here to see the SPA experience at Melia Tamarindos

If you know me, you will not be surprised that during my stay at Melia Tamarindos I was looking, fine let’s be honest PRO-ACTIVELY looking for something that will cool down a little bit my euphoric mood. It was almost impossible to find any faults in the service flows, customer approach, health&safety. Maybe one single thing: not long ago Meliá Hotels International received EarthCheck certification (one of the world’s leading sustainable tourism certification programmes) and signed a global agreement to implement its environmental management model. But in the fight with Covid19 and the obsession of implementing “Stay Safe with Melia” word by word, at Melia Tamarindos an invasion of plastic disposable gloves was part of the daily routine. Of course, the gloves added an extra layer to the safety protocols but after couple of days I started to question myself the to need for this not at all environmentally friendly item. Was not enough the impressive number of hand sanitizer dispensers, placed everywhere and refilled and check regularly by the staff? Nobody realised the huge amount of plastic generated by broken gloves (you need to try and break at least one pair before using the second one)? To make them useful you need to use a new pair all the time when approaching the food areas and with the delicious gastronomic offer at Melia Tamarindos, believe me you will need at least 2-3 trips to the buffet/meal. I was discussing the issue with the staff and despite the fact that they all agree with the environment contamination (in Canary Islands everybody is over the top echo-aware) that nobody in the HQ will change the protocols based on hotels and resorts feed-back. At least until now….

I had a very interesting chat with Raquel Cabezas López, the Guest Experience Manager who explain me how the approach to guest experience has changed to bring at the same level the new health & safety standards with the usual luxury style of Melia Tamarindos. It was interesting to find the complex transformation of the Guest Experience Manager duties to enable management of emotional aspects of customer relationships due to the situation created by Covid and the existence of an ambassador appointed in each hotel to guarantee the implementation of the Stay Safe with Meliá programme.

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But what really made my holiday fantastic despite all the odds was the staff at Melia Tamarindos, from housekeeping to waiters, from Concierge to Guest Service Manager, from bartenders to Maître D’ and Hotel Manager. A genuine smile is a fundamental part of a excellent customer experience. And it is not easy to smile when your face is covered with a mask for the entire duration of your shift.

I know that in the current situation Melia provided an extensive training to the entire staff (off the record I found that at Melia Tamarindos they had in place a simulation of a “busy day” with all the new service flows before opening on the 31st of July). But the way how “Stay safe with Melia” was moved from what was written to reality is 100% due to the professionalism, dedication and genuine love for their jobs of Tamarindos team.

 

Click here to see the smiles behind the masks of Melia Tamarindos

The entire team of Melia Tamarindos know how to smile with their eyes and their excellent customer service skills can be projected behind any face shields. The genuine, friendly and professional approach of every aspect of guest interaction made my holiday so special and “forced” me to book a new trip there.

GRACIAS MELIA TAMARINDOS!

Click here to see my question after 6 fantastic days at melia Tamarindos

PS: And guess what? At my return, after following all the rules and regulation, respecting the excellent “STAY SAFE WITH MELIA” at my return from a “NO GO” zone (according to UK Government) I had my Covid-10 test. And the result was the expected one NEGATIVE.

covid

 

My next trip : 19th of September visiting for the first time Melia Salinas in Lanzarote to try their excellent product LEVEL GARDEN VILA. At the end of the day is our anniversary!

MAMAIA, I MISS THE FESTIVAL!

•August 22, 2020 • 1 Comment

The month of August!

BBQs, holidays, fishing, too much rain, sunbathing in the garden, Pim’s, too hot, mosquitos, watermelons … all of these and more are part of our normal summer vocabulary.

But for me August is something else.

1

I know that I will sound a little bit old-fashioned but for me this time of the year was always linked with MAMAIA – the Romanian National Music Festival

You don’t have a clue what I’m talking about!

But let me tell you something: when I was a child, I was watching every year the live broadcastings of Romanian National Television from Mamaia – the pearl of Romanian Black Sea coast, dreaming that one day I will be in the audience, right there in Mamaia Summer Theatre.

When I started working in television, after 1991, my dream came true and I was privileged to be involved, couple of times, in the musical event of every Romanian summer.

 

In February 1963, during a meeting organized by the Communist State Committee for Culture and Art, it was decided to organize a contest and a music festival, aimed to promote Romanian music.

This is how the MAMAIA MUSIC FESTIVAL was born.

The first edition took place at the end of August 1963 in new Summer Theatre in Mamaia resort, inaugurated on the very first day of the festival with a capacity of 1100 seats.

What I found difficult when I’m talking with my non-Romanian friends about MAMAIA Festival is to explain the syntagma “muzica usoara romaneasca”.

The word by word English translation “easy music” / “light music” doesn’t do much good. It is easy to think of Eurovision or better the Italian Festival San Remo.

And because is summer, and because I’m home and because I’m swimming at the moment in a pool full of nostalgic memories I decided to create a virtual edition of the Romanian National Music Festival MAMAIA.

Wasn’t easy to find on-line recordings from all editions of Mamaia festival and I have to apologise for the technical quality of some of those videos.

Wasn’t easy to decide the best songs or the best voices without ending with a 24 hours long program.

I manage to choose my favourites moments of Mamaia’s stage and created 3 rounds of pre-selections, one final and of course an Awards Gala.

 

And if you are ready is time to start a virtual musical adventure and maybe your first Romanian music lesson, called “I miss Mamaia Festival!”

Ladies and gentlemen this is “MAMAIA – Mi-e dor de Festival!”

Round 1 – “Mamaia ’60s,’70 and ’80”

click here to watch “Mamaia ’60, ’70s and ’80″”

Round 2 – “Mamaia ’90s”

click here to watch “mamaia ’90s”

Round 3  – “Mamaia ’00”

click here to watch “Mamaia ’00s”

The Final – “Mamaia – Mi-e dor de Festival!”

click here to watch THE FINAL “MAMAIA – Mi-e dor de festival!”

AWARDS GALA – “Mamaia – Mi-e dor de Festival!”

click here to watch AWARDS GALA “Mamaia – Mi-e dor de Festival!”

 

The Romanian versions of the shows here:

MAMAIA ’60s, ’70s, ’80s

MAMAIA ’90s

MAMAIA ’00s

FINALA “MAMAIA, MI-E DOR DE FESTIVAL!”

GALA LAUREATILOR “MAMAIA, MI-E DOR DE FESTIVAL!”

2020 – THE MISSING YEAR

•May 16, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Daca saptamana aceasta va lipseste Eurovision sper sa va bucurati de un “homemade” inlocuitor – “2020 – Anul care lipseste” – toate participarile Romaniei la Concursul Cantecului European. Puteti vota si vom alege duminica melodia voastra favorita.

Voturi pe pagina de Facebook “2020 – The missing year”

Daca va place nu ma supar absolut de loc daca dati si un “SHARE”

Click here to see “2020 – The Missing Year” (Romanian version)

 

 

If you are missing Eurovision Song Contest this week, I hope you will enjoy my “homemade” replacement “2020 – The missing year”- all Romanian entries for EUROVISION. You can vote and we will choose together your favourite Sunday.

You can vote on Facebook page “2020 – The missing year”

If you like my idea, please share it!

Click here to see “2020 – The Missing Year” (English version)

 

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MSC GRANDIOSA revisited (February 2020)

•March 4, 2020 • 1 Comment

I am sure that you remember how impressed I was with the new MSC flagship MSC Grandiosa (#greatnessatsea). So impressed that, when I had the chance, I booked another cruise on this majestic vessel. For sure, somebody will say “for goodness’ sake is the same itinerary!!!” and yes, indeed, it was the same Western Mediterranean voyage (and by the way, maybe MSC, will start creating more variety for the YC ships) but, as most of MSC fleet, the ship is the destination in my case.

No worries, I will not write now another review about MSC Grandiosa (despite the fact that this February the entire experience was far above all my expectations). I just want to share with your, in a virtual manner, the incredible voyage on board MSC Grandiosa at the end of February 20202 using some video-markers of some memorable moments.

  • FLIGHT TO GENOA

Despite the fact the take-off was quite early I managed to enjoy a lovely start of the day in a, surprisingly quiet, First Class Lounge in Gatwick South Terminal and after that a short pleasant flight on BA2688 to Genoa

Click here to see a video report of my flight to Genoa

  • MELIA GENOA HOTEL

If I manage to create the correct time frame, I prefer to extend my cruise with a night or two at the beginning and the end of the voyage. That’s give me the feeling of a longer holiday. And this time in Genoa my choice was great! Melia Genoa hotel offered a classy and elegant in a quiet exclusive neighbourhood. With only 10-15 minutes walk to the city centre you are sure that you will not miss anything and at the same time you will get a good rest the night before or after your cruise. And a big “bravo” for breakfast: a mix between international and Italian style with a touch of Ligurian cuisine.

Click here to see a video report of Melia Genoa Hotel

Click here to see a video report of breakfast at Melia Genoa

  • AN AFTERNOON IN GENOA

Used as a home port for MSC, Genoa the capital of the Italian region of Liguria and the sixth-largest city in Italy, has more to offer than “Porto Antico”  or the Aquarium. A self-guided walk in the heart of the city will uncover for you numerous villas and palaces with their own beautiful gardens, ( Palazzo del Principe, Villa Doria, Palazzo Bianco and Palazzo Tursi), “Barbarossa Walls” (12th century) or “Mura Nuove”,  Christopher Columbus House, where the famous explorer is said to have lived as a child, or the elegant Piazza De Ferrari, around which are the Opera and the Palace of the Doges.

Click here to see a video report of my afternoon in Genoa

  • HOSTARIA DUCALE

Choosing a place for my dinner in Genoa was a challenge: I wanted something traditional but modern, elegant but casual, romantic but convivial, with refined wines from emerging wineries topped by an exquisite but friendly service. Sounds impossible? Maybe if you didn’t book a table in Hostaria Ducale, now my favourite gastronomic destination in Ligurian capital. Of course the return back to the hotel was a different story: was it the wine or too much food?

Click here to see a video report of my dinner in Hostaria Ducale

Click here to see a video report of my return to the hotel after a lovely dinner

  • EMBARKATION

For guests in Yacht Club, embarkation on an MSC vessel is always a smooth, stress-free process. This time in Genoa the excellent team, impeccable managed by Rosalia (Yacht Club Director) and Dani (Head Buttler) scored an all-time MSC record. To be honest I didn’t have time to enjoy the efficiency of Zakia (Ass. Head Butler) and Michelle’s charming genuine welcome smile (YC Butler), which can be a serious complaint (😊)

Click here to see a video report of embarkation YC MSC Grandiosa

  • YC1 Cabin 15009

With approx. 28 sq.m, the YC Suites YC1 are not real suites, more, maybe a superior balcony cabin. Quite spacious, with a limited storage space but elegant furnished and decorated YC1 cabin is a perfect option for a couple in one-week cruise. This time I had a forward-facing cabin and I had the feeling that the space was a little bit more generous and, with no doubts, the balcony was the pièce de résistance for my trip.

Click here to see a video report of my YC1 cabin 15009

  • THE SHIP

MSC Grandiosa offers even more public space than her sister ships, along with a series of exciting innovations. The extraordinary design, wide array of facilities and entertainment make these ships ideal for the whole family. At the heart of MSC Grandiosa is a breath-taking indoor promenade covered by a dramatic LED dome. I still have the feeling of being in a shopping mall but at least a nice one!

Click here to see a video report of MSC Grandiosa

Click here to see a video report of Grandiosa Parade

  • CHAMPAGNE BAR

The stylish but comfortable, Champagne Bar is an oasis of calm elegance offering a vast choice of champagne, Prosecco and other bubblies from around the world, accompanied by a mouth-watering array of caviar, oysters and crab. And don’t be afraid that your budget will suffer too much … the prices are reasonable, and you are in holiday at the end of the day! Alin (the Bar manager selected an excellent team for this place and Ana-Maria, Daniela si Nadia are elegant and bubbly, exactly like the excellent ICE IMPERIAL ROSE Moët & Chandon served there. And you must try their secret recipe: Champagne + bell peppers + berries ice – Heaven on Earth (or at Sea to be more precise)

Click here to see a video report of Champagne Bar on board MSC Grandiosa

  • ON-BOARD PARTY

The Meraviglia and Seaside class MSC ships incorporate in their design a more generous public space ideal with parties with capital P. Despite the fact that the concept on Seaside class ship is my favourite, on MSC Grandiosa I managed to take the pulse of some of the on-board night party. Just to comments: same music and (more annoying) same noisy & childish animation team at all parties, no matter the theme (Space, White, Carnival etc)

Click here to see a video report of Carnival Party on board MSC Grandiosa

Click here to see a video report of White Party on board MSC Grandiosa

  • NOT ALWAYS GREEN

MSC Cruises is borne out of a long line of captains and ship owners who have been playing their part in the history of navigation and seamanship. On which and every occasion MSC re-confirm their  “deep responsibility to preserve and protect” the environment. On this line focused to bring the climate impact of entire fleet to zero, MSC Cruises announced that will be carbon-neutral, compensating all the CO2 emissions from the fleet as of January 2020. MSC Cruises is in the final phase of effectively eliminating an extensive number of plastic items from all its ship operations and ashore, and will replace them with environmentally-friendly solutions. As a first step, the Company has already replaced all plastic straws with 100% compostable and biodegradable substitutes. Moreover, drinks are no longer automatically be served with a straw. Guests who may require a straw will still be able to choose from a variety of environmentally-friendly options. But at one of the on-board party … something was … missing

Click here to see a video report of the weakest link of this cruise

  • DISCOVERING TARQUINIA & TOSCANIA

Normally I am not a big fan of excursions booked on-board cruise ships. This time on MSC Grandiosa I decided in Civitavecchia to cancel my traditional lunch in the city or the self-organise walk in Rome and do something different: book an excursion with MSC. And the result was a fantastic day, perfect organised, with an amazing guide and 2 unique places to discover: Tarquinia and Toscania.

Tarquinia, an old city in the province of Viterbo and a UNESCO World Heritage site is known chiefly for its ancient Etruscan tombs in the widespread necropolis which it overlies. But a walk in the old town will reveal other beautiful sites: Santa Maria di Castello(church built in 1121-1208 with Lombard and Cosmatesque influences), Tarquinia Cathedral( in Romanesque-Gothic style with it’s original 16th-century frescoes by Antonio del Massaro) or the numerous medieval towers, including that of Dante Alighieri

Tuscania is another charming town which according to the legend, was founded by Aeneas’ son, Ascanius, where he had found twelve dog pups (hence the Etruscan name Tus-Cana, cana being similar to Latin canis for “dog”). After the earthquake in 1971 the town has been meticulously restored, and the historic quarter is substantial, completely surrounded by the medieval city walls that offer excellent views over the surrounding countryside and the church of St Peter.

An absolutely amazing half-day tour. And, by the way, did I mention that our amazing guide was … Romanian?

Click here to see a video report of my trip to Tarquinia

Click here to see a video report of my trip to Tuscania

Click here to see a video report of my amazing Romanian guide in Civitavecchia

  • ANOTHER MALTA

On this cruise I had the privilege to meet two old friends: Rosy and Antonio Impellizzeri who decided to show me a different face of the island. I left behind the usual visited touristic areas and I stopped in amazing unknown places. And to end on the high note my guides organised an excellent typical Sicilian lunch (yes, the Sicilian presence in Malta is pretty strong). And a special mention to our little amazing 8 years old guide Riccardo confident with speaking in 4 languages and jumping from one to another.

Click here to see a video report of my visit to Malta

  • CONCIERGE TEAM

With few exceptions in al my 40+ cruises with MSC I didn’t use the Concierge service too much. One of the reasons was, once again with few exceptions, the impossible to approach style of the on-board teams. On MSC Grandiosa Ray was leading an excellent team, always with an answer before you asked.

Click here to see a video report of Concierge on board MSC Grandiosa

  • WHERE TO DO LUNCH IN PALERMO

Checking the list with what to do in Palermo, I realised that I almost tick all boxes in my previous cruises. So, I decided to have a lazy day with just a short walk and eat some traditional Sicilian food in my favourite restaurant here “Osteria Lo Bianco”. If your busy schedule permits a gastronomic stop in Palermo, this is the place to be: basic but delicious food and service.

Click here to see a video report of my trip to Palermo

  • OPERA AT SEA

MSC surprised me once again, being the only cruise line, which includes in the daily entertainment schedule a live opera. On Grandiosa, scheduled one afternoon, I had the privilege to witness a short version of the famous Verdi’s Traviata.

Click here to see a video report of “La Traviata” show

  • DINNER IN BUTCHER’S CUT

Butcher’s Cut on board MSC Grandiosa is n new frontier of flavour to discovered. The American-style steakhouse serves select prime cuts from around the world, accompanied by bold New World wines and cocktails with swagger. Managed perfectly by Elena (Speciality Restaurants Manager) and Raffaele (Assistant R Speciality Restaurants Manager) the dining experienced is balanced by prime quality food and exceptional service

Click here to see a video report of my dinner in Butcher’s Cut

  • DINNER IN TEPPANYAKI

On my previous cruise with NCL, my Teppanyaki experience was more a “Filipino karaoke” then a real gastronomic adventure. Therefore, I was a little bit cagey to include this visit on my evening schedule. But I was sooooooooooooooooooo wrong! On MSC Grandiosa tradition and modernity go hand in hand in the stylish teppanyaki restaurant. This charming venue offers deliciously authentic Asian cuisine prepared on the spot by Orlando an excellent chef and a real one-man show, with only the freshest, highest quality ingredients for a superb gastronomic adventure.

Click here to see a video report of my dinner in Teppanyaki

  • DINNER IN HOLA TAPAS

Located on deck 6 at the heart of the iconic Mediterranean-style promenade, HOLA! Tapas Bar welcomes you into an amazing culinary experience created by the renowned Spanish chef Ramón Freixa, awarded two Michelin Stars. Designed as a social, dining experience where guests can enjoy shared plates and a wonderful celebration of the Mediterranean cuisine. My evening here? – “una auténtica fiesta gastronómica”

Click here to see a video report of my dinner in Hola Tapas

  • DINNER IN L’ATELIER BISTROT

If you are on-board MSC Grandiosa you need to stop in this warm, friendly bistro which promises high-quality French cuisine: snacks from cheese and charcuterie to escargots and foie gras. For something more substantial, try ribeye steak fries & blue cheese sauce followed by a traditional French dessert. You can even pop in for a convivial, Parisian-style breakfast if you are not so lazy like me. And the high standards service will make you feel like on Champs-Élysées.

Click here to see a video report of my dinner in L’Atelier Bistrot

  • YACHT CLUB RESTAURANT

On board MSC Grandiosa, YC restaurant offers indeed a fine dining taken to a new high. I enjoyed 150% the fully dedicated restaurant, with sophisticated à la carte menus ranging from deliciously healthy to superb indulgent for lunch and dinner. Guilty, Your Honour, I never made it for breakfast. I experienced already the quality of MSC cuisine but this time the restaurant excelled owing to the excellent team lead by Maître d’ Luigi.  The genuine kindness of the restaurant hostess Dora, the impressive knowledge and professionalism of Salvatore, the Sommelier, and the superb manners and divine service of my waiter Amir complemented a smooth, efficient, stress-free service for every meal. And I apologise if I forgot any names of this incredible team.

And if you need a break from being spoiled in the YC Restaurant another place is waiting for you on the 19th deck: Exclusive to MSC Yacht Club Guests, the MSC Yacht Club Sundeck & Bar, offers a luxurious and tranquil place to enjoy an aperitif. Surround yourself in the lap of luxury and let our artful bar tenders prepare something special for you! For the connoisseur there is a handpicked selection of premium drinks available.

Click here to see a video report of a dinner in YC Restaurant

Click here to see a video report of a lunch in YC Restaurant

Click here to see a video report of breakfast on 19th Deck

  • CMSC GRANDIOSA CREW

Once again, the strongest link in the MSC concept of cruising is the crew. On an MSC Cruise, you are welcome on board with a never-ending aspiration to satisfy everyone’s need and deliver a truly unforgettable holiday experience. You’ll feel truly welcome by a friendly and professional staff all around the ship and you’ll quickly discover their excellent service. Of course Master Massa presented with pride his extraordinary team.

And the “Welcome Back Cocktail” is a great opportunity to salute this amazing team!

I would love to show you some images from the “Diamond Cocktail” dedicated to the most loyal guests but, I didn’t received an invitation. Why? The cruise consultant on-board forgot as she forgot all my booking requests for my future cruises. I lost a party she lost a pretty good commission. So win-win situation here!

Click here to see a video report of crew introduction ceremony

Click here to see a video report of Welcome Back Cocktail

  • THE MASTER OF GRANDIOSA

MSC is very successful in destroying the old-fashioned image of the unapproachable Capitan with the white beard and to important to mingle with the passengers. And in all my cruises, the MSC Capitan was a strong link in the PR strategy of the Italian cruise line, a very friendly, knowledgeable, approachable and “down to earth” figure. On MSC Grandiosa, Master Marco Massa, added something special to this profile: present everywhere, always smiling and ready to answer any questions, with a very strong customer-service orientated attitude and proud of being part of MSC (hi)story. In a very international environment Master Mass has the secret to make everybody on-board, crew and passengers, proud and happy to be part on MSC family

Click here to see a video report of Master Massa speaking … 9 languages.

  • A PARADISE NAMED YACHT CLUB

After sailing with different cruise lines on 60+ cruises in the last 6 years, I have every confidence to say that YACHT CLUB is currently the best product on the market of “ship within a ship” concept. On all MSC ships, Yacht Club  is a place where you can savour exclusivity and privacy in a world of choice a place where easily you can indulge in the luxury of a private club while enjoying access to all recreation and entertainment possibilities that every ship has to offer. This time, MSC Grandiosa, pushed the experience to an overwhelming level.  The entire team from room stewards and butler to management of YC have the capacity and the desire to meet and exceed any expectations, every single time.

Which examples I can pick to describe my recent experience better?

The superb communication and interpersonal skills mixed with an extraordinary eye for details and professionalism of my butler Sandro?

The impressive sense of calm and charm even under the stress of tight deadlines of Assistant Head Butler Zakia?

The grace, elegance and pride blended with tact and discretion, always maintaining a sense of ease, of an excellent leader and role-model like Head Butler Dani?

The efficiency in delivering the highest standard of service and finding pleasure in carrying out their duties with exceptional care and consideration of the Lounge Team: Irina, Tatiana, Marie, Ana (and I do apologise if I forgot somebody)

The ability of the YC Director Rosalia to guide her team towards a well-defined vision “YOUR RELAXATION, OUR DEDICATION”, inspiring confidence and trust and influencing common efforts through character rather than by a position of authority. Placing THE GUEST in the heart of her everyday routine, Rosalia is the kind of leader that pushes people to be the very best they can be but still make people feel safe because it starts with the heart.

At the end of the day I do believe that the YC Cocktail is not a reason to celebrate the guests but, to acknowledge and praise an excellent team – Yacht Club Team.

Or all this together because, at the end of the day  YC on MSC Grandiosa doesn’t have a star but a constellation!

Click here to see a video report of Sweet Temptations moment

Click here to see a video report of YC Cocktail celebrating an amazing team

Click here to see a video report of a very personalised experience

Click here to see a video report of MSC Grandiosa leaving Palermo

  • COVID19 FEAR

The infamous virus managed to scare the entire world of cruise lover. On board MSC Grandiosa Cpt. Marco Massa manage the entire external crisis in a brilliant way: from the thermal scanning in every port for passengers and crew to the around the clock sparkling clean ship and extra-attention paid to personal hygiene. To be honest I felt safer on board than in my hotel room. So drop the fear and keep cruising! … at least with MSC

Click here to see a video report of boarding procedure on board MSC Grandiosa

Click here to see a video report of fear of COVID19 when sailing with MSC

  • READY TO GO HOME

Couple years ago, Genoa Business Class wasn’t a place to be. Step by step, year by year the space started to get closer to what you expect for an airport lounge. Of course, still a long way to go but let’s celebrate the present. Just because the rest of the airport is very boring place to wait for embarkation. A little advice: don’t go to early and wait at the gate. They have an obsession to start boarding even before the plane is ready and you will end with a good 15-20 minutes waiting in a hot or cold jetty.

Click here to see a video report of Genoa Lounge

Maybe these images are not a perfect description of the amazing week I had on board MSC Grandiosa. But let me tell you a last story:

The night before disembarkation in Genoa, at the entrance of top sail lounge, I saw a lovely German lady with tears in her eyes. A little bit worried, I ask her the reason behind her sadness and the answer amazed me: “I don’t want to go home tomorrow. I had such a magic week. I don’t want to lose all my friends here. They were all amazing!”. Maybe this reaction, from somebody who never been on MSC before and I never meet, values more than all my video.

I didn’t find an answer on the spot for the beautiful German young lady. I found it just now writing this lines: “No worries Lara, you can always come back, because MSC will always be here, like this week, SIMPLY AMAZING!

 

Chef’s Table A memorable culinary journey

•January 8, 2020 • Leave a Comment

It is a privilege to have dinner with dear, beloved friends…

It is amazing to have dinner in an elegant, classy ambience…

It is an honour to have dinner with your favourite Capitan and Hotel Director plus a group of charming officers…

But imagine all this congregating around a unique gastronomic experience sailing the Arabian Sea.

Joining the Chef’s table in L’Atelier Bistrot on board MSC Bellissima was the chance to explore a culinary universe where classic dishes are elevated to an incredible level of innovation and gastronomic avant-garde complimented by a true 5 star service

Chef Francesco Mastro created a menu which spoiled all my senses with its delicacy, adventurous approach of classic dishes and unique after-taste.

Slightly grilled octopus with yogurt and parsley sauce, celery salad and dry lemon skin

In most of the octopus’ dishes, you’ll find the tentacles chopped up into inoffensive little chunks. Chef Mastro decided to serve this dish in a different way. The outside was crispy while the white meat inside was soft and tender, was almost like the texture of a perfectly cooked chicken. The yogurt and parsley sauce gave a subtitle freshness precise harmonised with the citrusy note of the dry lemon skin and the delicate bitterness of the celery salad.

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Shrimp cocktail with rocket leaves, tomato concasse and Grand Marnier sauce

Sounds like a boring common dish? WRONG! The innovative plating was the first surprise and the absence of the Marie Rose sauce was a good reason to approach the plate with a lot of curiosity. The shrimps were fleshy with a sweet and delicate taste and rapping them around a bunch of fresh rocket leaves added a bittery but sweet and nutty after-taste. The two gastronomic surprises of this dish were of course the “tomato concasse” with its smooth buttery taste and the unexpected Grand Marnier sauce (never had it before with shrimps) adding the flavours expected from a barrel-aged spirit: vanilla and an oaky sweetness. What a celebration of flavours in a single, decent sized plate!

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Lobster risotto served with fried parsley and creamed cherry tomato

I know the sounds heavy but the magic of Chef Mastro worked again in this dish. Creamy and thick, a perfect “al dente”, fully cooked but still keeping some firmness when you chew it. The mild bitterness of the fried parsley added balance to the dish bringing a burst of brightness while the tasty shavings of lobster on top gave the right amount of flavour.

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Surt & Turf – Angus beef and king crab with asparagus and port wine reduction

What a brilliant reinvention of a classic dish this plate was! The meat was simply perfect: firm crust covering a soft succulent juicy flavour-packed meat. It was marbled to my liking, decadent yet still fine for a pleasant bite and a gentle chew. The king crab, elegant open for an easy eating were meaty and juicy, the unique sweet taste creating a delicious contrast with the perfectly cooked piece of meat. The roasted asparagus bed brought to the plate a delicate earthy taste soaking up the flavours of the beef and crab. And of course, a port reduction, made surprise-surprise PERFECT by Francesco, delivered a balance of sweetness and acidity increasing the complexity and depth of the taste of this main dish

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Strawberry salad

I used to like a sorbet course served as a palate cleanser after the main course. But Chef Mastro surprised me, once again, with replacing it with a strawberry salad. The syrupy, woodsy taste of the balsamic vinegar brought in the same bowl with the fine chopped strawberries made each bite of the berry even more sweet, even more citrusy and floral getting my senses ready for the spectacular desert.

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Royal cake – Chocolate praline cake with fresh berries and vanilla ice cream

The sweet “piece of resistance” of the evening made me feel sorry for attacking the beautiful decorating plate. The royal cake was spectacular to serve and marvellous to eat with its luscious layers, tender and moist at the same time,  complimented with the freshness of the berries and the passiveness sweet taste of the vanilla ice cream.

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I still can write couple of paragraphs about the amazing wines served with this fantastic dinner, but that will be perfect for a separate post.

The only thing left is to say a big THANK YOU to Master Giuseppe Maresca and Hotel Director Neven Zdunic who allowed me to embark in this extraordinary culinary adventure, to Chef Francesco Mastro for creating such a memorable gastronomic experience and the entire staff of L’Atelier Bistrot on board MSC Bellissima for the privilege of an unforgettable evening.

#stillmakinghistory One night on QE2 Dubai

•January 5, 2020 • 2 Comments

Christened in September 1967 and serving as the flagship of Cunard line between 1969 and 2004, the famous Queen Elizabeth 2 – QE2 for the cruise lovers – spoiled with her luxury and beauty almost 40 years, generation after generation of glamour seekers, with unforgettable world cruises and transatlantic voyages. After 806 transatlantic crossings and unique memories created for almost 2.5 million passengers QE2 started her final voyage from Southampton in November 2008 to rest now in Dubai’s Port Rashid.

Couple years ago, starting a cruise from Dubai I saw docked and almost forgotten, the elegant cruise liner. So different from the “floating monsters” of the modern cruising world of today docked nearby, keeping under the layers of dust and rust the aura of the golden age of cruising in style. I knew that some plans to transform QE2 in a hotel were made and abandoned one after the other but when I read about the “soft opening” of the cruise liner as a hotel in 2018 I couldn’t wait for the first opportunity to spend one night on board. And finally, last December, preparing my New Year trip with MSC Bellissima sailing out of Dubai I managed to secure a booking for one night in the new QE2 Dubai Hotel.

QE2 was retired from active Cunard service on 27 November 2008. She had been acquired by the private equity arm of Dubai World, which planned to begin conversion of the vessel to a 500-room floating hotel moored at the Palm Jumeirah, Dubai. The 2008 financial crisis intervened, however, and the ship was laid up at Dubai Dry-docks and later Port Rashid. For another 5 years, subsequent conversion plans stalled. In November 2015, Cruise Arabia & Africa quoted DP World chairman Ahmed Sultan Bin Sulayem as saying that QE2 would not be scrapped and a restored QE2 opened to visitors on 18 April 2018. Over 2.7 million man-hours were committed to the work to upgrade and rebuild the ship to meet hotel standards

The entire experience blown away any expectations, pre-formed ideas or images I had before stepping on board. QE2 Dubai is a place where living heritage, re-shaped tradition and modern luxury merge and she is still making history since circumnavigating the world 25 times and entertaining almost 2.5 million passengers in a unforgettable experience.

The adventure started in the moment when I stepped out of the taxi in front of the “QE2 terminal” in fact the reception and concierge lobby. What a brilliant idea to build a faithful copy of a cruise terminal as a starting point for your experience as a hotel guest! All the staff are wearing nautical uniforms and the way how they interact with guests gave you a strong feeling that you are not in a hotel but on a cruise ship.

The arrival and check-in experience were at an incredible level. Booking a suite include a complimentary transfer from/to airport and at the arrival I was greeted by name with a genuine warm welcome. Elegant and efficient the check-in gave me only couple of second to discover the incredible lobby, a smart concept bringing past and present together. Next to the modern front desk and concierge is the QE2 Exhibition – an interactive museum that showcases the QE2 during the 60’s when she was a pioneer in design, technology and lifestyle – words often used to describe the city she resides in today. The museum exhibit includes a replica of the Queen Room as it was when the ship was first launched, along with an original ‘tourist class’ outside cabin, and the ship’s bridge. In the centre of the terminal stands a replica of the ship’s funnel, diving the two sections, with the library and coffee shop on the other. QE2’s library was one of the largest at sea, and here every book available has been put on display for guests’ reading pleasure.

Of course my eyes were trying to catch as much as possible from this incredible display but Anthea, Assistant Front Office Manager, told me that for the in-house guests a complimentary heritage tour is offered daily and I will have enough time to discover the history and the secret of the ship.

After check-in I still found time to check the library: Dominating the walls within this space are original artworks from the ship, mostly paintings of former Cunard liners, but also portraits of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Standing atop each bookshelf is also a model of former Cunard vessels, which were previously displayed in QE2’s public areas when she was a cruise ship. It was like a trip back in time to open the books and ready the names and the dates when those pages were making long voyages more pleasured for the hundreds of passengers pampered on board QE2.

When finally, I decided to return to the present, another charming, enthusiastic staff member in marine-themed uniform escorted me them a red carpeted gangway to board the ship. On some of the walls and corners, there are scuff marks from her 40-odd years in service, the footplate at the elevator doors on Deck 8, for example, shows signs of decades of passenger foot traffic. These are deliberate, my escort informed me with his big smile. A short ride in a modern elevator which still keep the old Cunard lions on the doors, a walk along the Queens Lounge and here I am in, what use to be the most expensive and exclusive part of the cruise liner: the First Class section. In 1972, the first penthouse suites were added in an aluminium structure on Signal Deck and Sports Deck (now “Sun Deck”), behind the ship’s bridge, and in 1977 this structure was expanded to include more suites with balconies, making QE2 one of the first ships to offer private terraces to passengers since Normandie in the 1930s.

From small but beautifully designed ‘cabin’ style Standard Rooms starting at 17m², to the 76m² Royal Suites the QE2 will offer a selection of 13 room and suite categories for Passengers to experience. The gem in the crown of the QE2 are the two Royal Suites named after the Queen’s mother and grandmother. These suites offer a private veranda, conservatory and dining room – in addition to a luxurious bedroom. Highly personalised amenities are included for Passengers who can book the suite by invitation only.

At the time of my booking the two Royal Suites were still under refurbishment, so I choose CAPTAIN’S CABIN SUITE and actually at check-in I found that I was the first guest to book in this type of cabin. It was the unique chance to live life as the QE2’s former 25 captains did during their tenure. Ample space, vintage finishing and plush bedding make for a superb on-board stay. In this 70m², with a balcony with a beautiful sea views you can find all the benefits of a modern luxury hotel: complimentary WiFi access, flat-screen 49 inch IPTV, coffee and tea making facilities, Nespresso Coffee machine but mingled with the luxury heritage which made this place so special. How extraordinary is to sip a cocktail on the balcony relaxing on the old teak sun loungers, perfectly restored and controlling the light with a touch of a button from the futuristic solar powered lamp! Better than back to the future. As this is a former cruise ship, some rooms are on the smaller side – especially compared to Dubai’s palatial hotels but everywhere the style is designed to reflect the QE2’s glory days, with maritime accents, original porthole windows and wood panelling.

Perhaps most intriguing of all is PCFC Hotels’ approach to the ship’s two ‘best rooms’, the Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mary Grand Suites. These two suites, which include a separate bedroom, sitting area, conservatory and balcony overlooking the bow, will not be on sale for the general public. “This isn’t an attempt to be snobbish,” as on of the staff told me. “But rather we want to protect the history, the legacy of the ship and be respectful of the calibre of people that those suites were designed for.” You can send enquiries for the booking and the decision will be taken by the owners. It isn’t clear what criteria potential guests for the Grand Suites will be judged on, but what is clear is that QE2 Dubai the hotel is every bit as elegant and exclusive as QE2 the ocean liner. It’s part of her allure and it’s nice to see it kept alive. Available for anyone to book however are any one of her inside, outside, or superior staterooms, as well as several mini suites and a row of ‘duplex suites’ with balconies on both levels. These are be the best ‘cabins’ available on-board for the general public to book.

After unpacking some of my luggage I decided to explore the ship and believe me, each step was an amazing jump back in the golden era of cruising, far away from the mass tourism of today’s 5000+ passengers floating resorts.

The 13-deck hotel has been thoughtfully restored to her former glory – maintaining her most loved interior design features – including her period furniture, renowned paintings and famous memorabilia. The original porthole windows still add a maritime feel to the attractive modernised guest rooms and a number of her original restaurants have retained the same names and decor as her former years.  Whilst extensively preserving her authentic elements, she has been fully equipped with all the latest technology.

8 out of 10 restaurants and bars are now open, including the casual all-day dining restaurant Lido, which offers a varied breakfast spread from Arabic mezze to a full English as well as a popular Friday brunch. For light bites and drinks, take your pick from The Chart Room, which has the original glass route map behind; the Casino Coffee Lounge featuring now-decommissioned vintage slot machines; English pub The Golden Lion, with big screens for live sports; and the Yacht Club, with an al fresco deck overlooking the glittering city skyline. Unfortunately the fine-dining Queen’s Grill was not open during my stay but in the future will serves a nine-course tasting menu of modern interpretations based on the dishes offered on the ship’s maiden voyage in 1969, such as Dover sole and milk-fed lamb loin.

For breakfast I choose Lido with a carefully curated menu features everything beginning from fruit, cheese, yogurt to hot breakfast items as well as a full-fledged Arabic delicacies. A culinary experience that will stay with you a long way.

The QE2’s former Yacht Club is restored to its original decor this year. Complete with an open terrace and an exclusive bar, visitors can lounge with a drink while looking over Dubai’s impressive skyline. Can you imagine the intrigue experience to have a shisha on the old deck of QE2? Precious moment!

The Golden Lion is deemed as Dubai’s oldest pub, offering a truly authentic dining experience with its traditional range of draught beers, live sports screening, pool tables and game of darts.

Casino Coffee Lounge located adjacent to the Casino museum, offers a selection of hot as well as cold beverages and gave me the chance to lounge around on comfortable chairs and to enjoy panoramic views of the Dubai seascape.

Chartroom Bar was another mesmerising stop on board QE2. Whether you wish to sit back and catch-up over a bottle of wine or a selection of craft beers, the Chartroom Bar will stay true to its former name and live up to its yesteryears.

For dinner my choice was The Pavilion, a family-friendly al fresco dining experience, which boasts of splendid panoramic views of the Dubai skyline and serves an array of international dishes including pizza, live BBQ and a choice of great beverages.

For the health conscious, a fully-equipped gymnasium complete with free weights, mats and other training equipment is available on Deck 7 for those staying aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 Dubai. If the gym isn’t your style, then the sleek nine-metre indoor swimming pool, restored from the original, is perfect for a couple of laps.

Aboard the QE2 Dubai is the only licensed theatre in Dubai! This grand theatre can accommodate 515 people and offers the audience the chance to enjoy their drinks while watching the show. To catch a fascinating mix of local and international entertainment here you need to check QE2 website for the calendar of events.

No trip aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 Hotel Dubai is complete without the souvenir. The Dubai Duty Free – located on the Boat Deck – offers visitors ample opportunities to indulge their shopping cravings. Browse a selection of glittering jewellery and watches, quirky branded merchandise and the latest electronics. In fact, international visitors aboard the QE2 Dubai can shop to their heart’s content, and have their purchases delivered to the airport as well!

The Golden Lion Bar looks exactly as it did when the last person left, pool tables are ready to be played while the veranda of the Yacht Club is reached via original heavy duty doors. The decks and famous Queen’s Room are still off limits but one of the friendly staff told me to expect a similar nostalgia trip.

PCFC Hotels have also deliberately taken a ‘refurb-lite’ approach to her refit, replacing as few structural elements and soft furnishings as possible. In the Grand Lounge, for example, the dancefloor is the same one from when she was sold in 2008. CFC Hotels even went so far as to have new carpets produced, which were designed to the exact same specifications as her original 1969 carpets when she was launched. All tables and chairs aboard the ship are either exact replicas, or originals from her initial design before the refits of the 70s, 80s, and 90s during her long and illustrious career.

Complimenting almost to perfection the entire hard product, the human experience is at very high standards. “The navigators”, from managers to restaurant and hotel staff, and even the contractors still working on board brought a special personal touch to my experience at QE2. Is a wonderful mix of high quality hospitality standards with the friendly “home away from home” cruise staff approach. And as on a cruise ship was a feeling of sadness dominating my check-out moment.

And of course, the must do is the HERITAGE TOUR which is free for the in-house guests at very accessible timings during the day. The tour starts from the Heritage Exhibition near the ship, then tours the original rooms and interesting artefacts of the Queen Elizabeth 2 from the inside. Visitors will also be able to view the impressive restaurants, theatre and other leisure activities aboard the QE2 ship.

My guide was Peter Warwick, ex cruise director of the QE2 and to be honest I don’t know if I liked more the tour or his fascinating personality and stories. Or maybe both!

I still live the experience of that tour. As Peter strides the length of the historical Chart Room, he runs his hand along the leather armrest on the bar, touching the original wood and iron stools, pointing out the nailhead trim and original details. “This place was always much-loved, and it was so very nostalgic when it reopened. I mean, look at this; all of this is authentic from back in the day when I was in service. It’s just incredible, it looks exactly the same.” He nods towards a “North Atlantic Crossing” map encased in glass, which traverses the entire back wall of the bar, and he points out the metal strips embedded within the map. “This map, I absolutely love,” he says. “Those strips show the Atlantic routes we took – they’re metal – and every four hours, the man on duty had to move a miniature magnet of a QE2 ship along the strip, to show where we were as we crossed the Atlantic. I just love that.” He reaches the end of the Chart Room and stops in front of a wooden chest of drawers. “This is just a chest of drawers, but it was here back in 1995 when I was doing this tour all these years ago, and it looks exactly the same. Not a scratch, not warped, just incredible. It contains maps of different ports that we sailed into and anyone can come and have a look,” he says. Then, he leans against a table closest to the chest of drawers and steps back into the past. “In fact, a couple I loved would sit right here,” he reminisces. “They were regular world cruisers. Mr and Mrs Rosenberg. They would buy the crew a drink for their wedding anniversary every year, on the 5th of January. A drink for 1,000 of us! They were lovely, Michael and Jocelyn. So generous. They just loved the Chart Room.” Warwick, 52, joined the QE2 as crew staff in 1995, flying to Barbados from London to board the ship. Later, he became deputy social director and press liaison officer, before assuming the role of deputy cruise director and then cruise director, in charge of all entertainment on board. However, his mother’s death and the need to look after his father meant he had to leave the ship in 2001.Warwick’s history with the QE2 began years earlier, when his parents surprised him with a cruise on board the ship for his 21st birthday. In the years that followed, Warwick and his parents and friends became regular passengers. “I was a passenger for 10 cruises before I even thought about joining the staff,” he says.

Today, 17 years after leaving the ship as cruise director, Warwick is back as head of heritage on the cruise-liner-turned-hotel, supervising and training a group of tour guides who take guests through the ship and provide an introduction to its history, sharing stories, providing a glimpse into original rooms and artefacts and giving guests a taste of what it was like to be on such a historic vessel. And it’s Warwick’s past with it that provides such a personal flavour to the tour. “I was away 17 years, then saw the ship again just a few months ago when I landed in Dubai. I took all of a minute to decide when the job was offered to me. It’s like being home again; those 17 years just paled into insignificance,” he says.

Warwick says of all the famous people he met that day, no one made as big an impression as Millvina Dean, the youngest survivor of the Titanic tragedy. “She’s the one; that true touch of history that I got to meet,” he says. Dean was only two months old when the Titanic sank and she lost her parents. She was the youngest passenger aboard, and was the last surviving passenger from 2007 until her death in 2009. “I met and danced with her, we had coffee in the Queen’s Room. I’ve met Mandela, the Queen, President Bush. Who haven’t I met? But Millvina was the most special memory for me,” Warwick says.

Now for those starting a cruise in Dubai the hotel choice is impressive. But QE2 is the best option and here are only 5 of 1001 reasons:

  • Easy access from/to the airport avoiding the traffic in downtown Dubai
  • Magnificent service and facilities
  • Very close to Port Rashid the starting point of any cruises
  • For cruise lovers is the cruise before the cruise experience
  • Excellent value for money giving fantastic service without the overwhelming experience of the touristic opulence of other hotels in Dubai
  • Professional and efficient front desk and concierge service which can bring Dubai closer than you expect

And more than that you will be sleeping on QE2 being part of the once in the life time opportunity to #stillmakinghistory

I was reading some times ago about some plans for the ship over the years would have put her in competition with the top hotels in the region, which made me frown. But the proposal to restore QE2 to her former glory won out. And walking the historic decks as the ship gently lists, it’s hard not to be transported back to a time when Queen Elizabeth 2 ruled the waves.

My one night experience on board QE2 was magic – an original experience curated with distinct uniqueness at very high standards.And as consider Dubai an excellent starting point for my future cruises, for sure QE2 will be the only option I will consider for a night before and after my cruise

MSC Bellissima – equatorial thoughts

•January 3, 2020 • Leave a Comment

This time last year I was about to finish a fantastic New Years’s Eve cruise aboard the MSC Splendida feeling just ever so sad that a fantastic week had to end.  I made my resolution – next New Year’s Eve I’d do the same cruise again, sailing around the Persian Golf, but rather than finish after a week, we’d do a back-to-back.  So, the first week of my 2020 cruise has almost come to an end, and a new week approach.

I should be glad and grateful; glad that I decided to book an extra week, and grateful that I’m able to spend the free time and money needed to take an extra week aboard the well-equipped MSC Bellissima in Yacht Club.  I might be grateful but I’m not exactly glad, rather I feel, at least so far, that spending my 2019/2020 New Year’s Eve on this ship from Dubai was the biggest mistake and underestimation I could ever make.  Let me explain why in four (out of a number) of ways.

1: You never had a second chance to make a first impression.

If you’ve never been on Yacht Club before, you may have never experienced what is sometimes the most incredibly exclusive, professional and above all fast embarkation process available.  I’ve reviewed previous cruises and have explained how sometimes taxi door to cabin door is 10 minutes with all the necessary immigration and paperwork dealt for you whilst you sip a glass of Prosecco from the Yacht Club lounges and areas MSC make available in their main embarkation ports.   Dubai is the main embarkation port for this itinerary yet it’s possible the worst ever experience I’ve had on MSC Yacht Club; much of what happened was due to the fact I’ve been so often I know what’s supposed to happen, who’s responsible for that to happen and where they might be found in the terminal building.   On arrival there was no one outside for Yacht Club guests; we went hunting in the terminal for someone in a Yacht Club uniform; found that person and explained we needed helping with our luggage.  “Are you in Yacht Club?” he grunted, “What’s your cabin number?”.  I say “he” as he seemed to forget to wear his name badge for his shift.  Eventually he realised we were in Yacht Club and so rather than apologise for no one being outside on their busiest day of the week simply excused himself saying he was “overworked”.  As a seasoned MSC Yacht Club traveller, I can overlook these things but I do wonder – what if this was my first ever Yacht Club cruise?  Is this the sort of welcome I can expect to receive?  Should I bother to come back?  Does it get any worse or is this the MO  of the company’s star product?  Once five couple had been herded into the Yacht Club section of the terminal a butler told us to follow him.  Now I know the routine – go to the Top Sail Lounge, await further instructions, see if your cabin is ready, have a drink and relax.  No one in our group had clearly been told this or experienced it before, as some tried to escape at deck 15 only to be told “Come back! You must go to the lounge!”.  When the deserters were recovered, we were deposited in the reception.  I made my way to the lounge and got in an order; our fellow travellers stood like lost sheep still in reception, no one explaining to them what to do.  They were eventually told to go to the lounge where they stood not really knowing what was happening.

Yacht Club guests have priority luggage delivery and you can (usually) expect them to appear in your room fairly soon.  For the first time ever in Yacht Club, however, the luggage arrival was slow and our cases were left outside the room, lined up down the corridor and blocking the entrance to the room door.

Welcome to your Yacht Club experience on board the MSC Bellissima.

2: “Move tables unless you want to drink from a dirty table”

I expect I’m not the only one who also things that a basic operation of tending tables is to clear away the dirty glasses and plates, then give the table a wipe, and if needed, replace the dirty ashtray with a clean one.  This requires two things on your serving tray  – a damp cloth and a clean ashtray.  Indeed, a fellow guest commented how, at the busy “main” pool side, waiters rotated around, clearing glasses, wiping tables, and setting them up with clean ashtrays for the next guests.  Nothing incredible about that, I’m sure you’re saying.  Well clearly on the same ship, in Yacht Club, this is an unknown concept.  I was sitting at 10am with a fellow traveller having a coffee in the smoking section on the sun deck of the Yacht Club pool.  At 3pm, the cigar butt was still sat in the ashtray and my used coffee cup and empty glass to tomato juice sitting in the Arabian sun.  In 4 hours, no one had bothered to clear the tables in the Yacht Club pool.  This has not gone unnoticed by other guests; comments about how dirty the pool area is, with tables left uncleared and often dirty from the previous guest’s usage a common conversation.  I was curious why the main pool area was apparently so tidy when our Yacht Club section was always so untidy and (quite frankly) dirty.  I paid the main pool area a visit and soon found out.  Waiters rotated the pool area, with a clean ashtray and damp cloth on their trays, ready to clean up and take orders if needed.  Indeed, we didn’t have to wait more than a minute before a waiter came, changed the ashtray I’d been using, take and then serve the order.  In Yacht Club things are very different.  It’s far quicker – as most of us have discovered – to go to the bar and make the order than to wait for someone to get to your table and  take it there.  It’s also far quicker to pick up your food and drinks from the bar grill than to wait for that order to reach your table.  The usual routine of having someone rotate the Yacht Club pool area tidying up and taking orders seems to be outside the service flow on MSC Bellissima – even if in the main part of the ship it clearly happens.  In Yacht Club you’re better of hunting down your own drinks if you want them.   One example of this lacklustre service stays in my mind.  A fellow guest told me today an interesting anecdote that happened in the Top Sail Lounge yesterday evening.   We are creatures of habit and sometimes we like to sit on the same table, if possible, in an exclusive lounge that the Top Sail Lounge is onboard MSC Yacht Cub ships.  Their preferred table was dirty i.e. it hadn’t been wiped down, but they just thought the waiter would wipe the table for them.  When the waiter arrived they were told to sit on a clear table; they said they liked that table.  “Do you want to drink from a dirty table?” was the reply; and indeed this was the end result.  Drinks were served on a dirty table.  Welcome to Yacht Club aboard the MSC Bellissima.

3: Perfect is the enemy of good – and mediocrity is the result of complacency

As one fellow traveller said “I’ve been on MSC Yacht Club before, and this isn’t perfect”.  Indeed it’s not perfect but does something have to be perfect?  If you strive to be perfect you end up spending so long trying to do one thing, everything else falls to the side and nothing gets done.  Consequently, you end up with almost nothing rather than perfect.  However, this doesn’t mean you should strive to be good – you will probably be good or even better if you aim for the to top, with some leeway to make mistakes.  We can all forgive mistakes if you tried your best; we all work hard to earn money and many people on Yacht Club have used those hard earned hours of work to come to what is promised to be a superlative experience but this week clearly it has not.

4: “I love my boss – he doesn’t put pressure on me at all”

I was told this one day by a member of the crew.  A fairly innocent comment and perhaps having a power freak of a boss isn’t nice.  However, there’s a fine line between having that power-crazy person nagging you every two minutes and having a manager who is more interested in keeping his crew “happy” to the detriment of corners being cut, service standards being ignored and, about all, guests feeling that service is totally lacklustre, and a general sloppy “I couldn’t care less” feeling about what goes on in Yacht Club.  If I had heard – even from one fellow guest this week – that things on board the MSC Bellissima Yacht Club were great then I’d have a think if I am being unreasonable.   Unfortunately, this is a constant topic of discussion.  Fellow travellers who did this same cruise with me last year, and who we all met up this year, have said how standards and general experience in Yacht Club has plummeted this cruise.  What I’ve mentioned in this post is really not just my own eye casting a sometimes-critical gaze on the levels of hospitality that I see; others have mentioned the same things to me.  It seems that the Yacht Club management have passed on a message that guests are clearly too stupid to compare one experience to another, to realise that dirty tables need clearing and that dirty surfaces need a wipe.  That guests will pay silly prices to go in Yacht Club over the festive period and so deserve little beyond a clean bed and getting fed and watered eventually.  Many have said that this has been the worst MSC Yacht Club they have experienced and some say they won’t come back.  Why?  Because it seems that with MSC Yacht Club it’s a roulette ; you might get a fantastic, professional and experienced team who know what they’re doing and how to do it.  You might however get a couple of “old hands” desperately trying to maintain standards whilst the people around them, from top to bottom, don’t know what that looks like, don’t want to make the effort to make that happen or simply don’t really care too much.

Did I speak with somebody in YC about it? Yes of course, more than once but less then three times as I got board to hear excuses. Takes longer to find explanations than finding solution … and that’s a fact!

As someone who has travelled in MSC Yacht Club considerably over the past few years (next week is my 40th cruise in YC in the last 4 years) and has experienced amazing service and product from people that care – from the Captain, Hotel Director, Yacht Club Director, Head Butler….all the way down to the pool attendants – this is a very disappointing cruise.  It breaks my heart that there are some people here on MSC Bellissima working incredibly hard to make Yacht Club work. I even saw the amazing Capitan doing a routine technical inspection starting to inquire about the tidiness of the YC or the way how (not al all) clean the table in the Bar&Grill area were or the fantastic Hotel Director walking around and moving dirty glasses from tables but they are most certainly in the minority and I can count them on my hands.  Too many just don’t have the necessary service skills (e.g. how to clear and clean a table) and far to many clearly lack any hospitality acumen.  Some will come with training, but that training needs to be done on the job and it’s not happening.  Some will come with experience but the “my boss is great I don’t have to bother” isn’t the sort of experience I’m talking about.  Bottom line: if you see a good deal for an Arabian Gulf cruise aboard MSC Bellissima this winter don’t come – you’re better off spending your money elsewhere.  I foolishly have another cruise to take next week and will keep you updated with a full review when it finishes.

SQUADRA GRANDIOSA 7 days on the newest MSC ship

•December 20, 2019 • Leave a Comment

A cruise is always exciting…

A last-minute booking is always thrilling…

A week with MSC is (almost) exhilarating…

But a last minute booked cruise on the newest MSC ship is for sure more than that.

Episode 4

MSC won more than once awards for the excellence when addressing family cruises. MSC Grandiosa for children is the “Ship of Music” Working close with the traditional partners Lego and Chiccothe ship has 700m² for children, 60 new costumes for the youth staff, 10 new activities for kids & teenagers, 4 new mascots, 7 rooms (baby club CHICCO, miniclub LEGO, juniors club LEGO, young club, teens club, Webstar room and Doremi lab)and 1 new tech experience. And of course, a lot of happy, stress- free parents!

Features on existing Meraviglia vessels have been given a new look, including the themed Aqua Park with twisting water slides, an 82-metre-long Himalayan suspension bridge, pools and family activities.

In the first day, I board direct on the Galleria Grandiosa so she delivered that big WOW feeling from the first moment onboard. The Galleria Grandiosa is the main feature on this class of ships which begins at a three-deck high Atrium until way up in the front of the ship at the Theatre La Comedie. The ceiling of the Galleria is a virtual dome with different breath-taking projections and many different color schemes operated by led lights. At any time of the day, the Galleria is the perfect place for dining, shopping, socialising or simply taking in the unique atmosphere. And when the sun sets, it takes on another life, with LED dome shows, concerts, discos and parties late into the night.

I can talk for hours about the incredible 7 days experience on board MSC Grandiosa but to cut the story short, I think is time to cook for my readers a “Grandiosa sandwich” with other ups and down of the newest MSC ship

♥ The new elevator system – On board lifts are operated by an exterior screen where passengers select a floor and immediately see which lift will arrive first. So bye-bye annoying children transforming the control panel in a Xmas tree. And of course, a YC card will override the other calls.

♠♠ ZOE – The virtual personal cruise assistant is the most annoying and biggest waste of space&time on-board feature. Maybe she is ultra-conversational and professional, and able to speak an impressive seven languages but when you need her two answers are possible: “Do you want me to turn on the interactive television?” or “Please ask you butler or concierge for advice”. And that’s the lucky situation; most of the time she got quiet or reply dry with the voice of a beloved (not) mother in law “Sorry I don’t know that!”.  Thanks God that Raj and his concierge team didn’t need the password “OK Zoe!” to assist efficiently. I think is time for you to “GO Zoe!”, save some money and use them somewhere else.

♥♥ MSC for Me – The easy-to-use interactive touchscreens around the ship, the interactive cabin TV, and the app are all designed to help guests better relax and enjoy their holiday with family and friends. I had so much fun using the chat option of the app. But, as a suggestion, maybe MSC for Me can be used even if you are on-shore and connected to internet.

♠♠♠ Minibar – MSC promise in YC a exclusive all-inclusive experience and, until now, that included the mini-bar in your cabin. The disappearance of the miniatures is a great idea taking in the account the existence of the those “collecting” the small bottle for future home hosted parties. Cunard, NCL and Royal do the same in their top suites. What I didn’t like is that you must pay for the replacement of everything else from chips and chocolate to spirits and beer. Is a weird cost saving money which dilutes the “luxury all-inclusive” concept of the YC

♥ La Comedie – the theatre is a bit smaller than on other ship but stylish and modern at the same time. You can choose from 3 shows daily due to the fact that they are shorter – max 50-55 minutes which I found it in line with modern cruising when time management is very important for guests. I saw only one production this cruise “Dancing Queens” based on ABBA music and everything was pretty good: the lights, dancers, the live orchestra (love this little touch), singers, costume and special effects. It’s such a pity that the audience didn’t rich the energy level of the performers. A special mention for the cruise director Marco Cimbaro a decent and discreet presence …. Maybe too discreet for a Cruise Director. I was talking with some other guest who confused him with the leader of the annoying animation team. But this is coming next!

♠♠♠♠♠♠♠♠♠♠♠♠♠ (did I put enough tblack hearts?) Animation team – before I wrote this, I check other options on http://www.cruisecritic.com and www.tripadvisor.com and I realised that I am not the only “old grumpy man”. They all congregate in the Grandiosa lounge and either shout and dance like drug fuelled teenagers or drag you up to dance and then instantly look uncomfortable and uninterested.  The whole thing was just cringy and uncomfortable to watch.   Activities during the day were either dance classes, which were done in the mediocre way by two dance teachers, or games put on by the awful entertainment crew.   Quizzes were terrible with the crew (around 10 of them) screaming down a mic and yelling and dancing at any given moment.  They actually turned an art quiz into a rave!!  The dance instructors were always bored having a permanent “I tick the box” attitude. The MC on board was Francesco Pulpo this time with the shiny badge of Cruise Activities Manager(???). Is a fact that too many managers and directors is a receipt for disaster, and Francesco was a very good example. He “listed” all and each party on a new website www.mememe.com/meinthespotlightagain.com. Maybe somebody will explain him that the only role of an MC is to CREATE the party not to BE a reason to party. Was the 3rd occasion when Francesco and his team were hunting our nights on board (with ridiculous dance routines and screams in 5 different languages) and always was something to place him in the centre of attention: on Sea Side was HIS last day of the contract, on Bellissima the first day and now HIS birthday. Nothing wrong to celebrate but please, do it in the crew bar inviting and paying for your guests not vice-versa. This was cruise number 60+ with different cruise companies for me and by far the worst, most immature and unprofessional entertainment crew experienced. At least of old ships you could find refuge in lounges “animation team free”.

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥ The positive attitude and the impressive dedication of all crew I meet from the master and Hotel Director to assistant butlers and pool attendants. You do have a feeling that you don’t board a cruise ship but come back home to your beloved family. Is a feeling hard to describe and unique even after almost 40 cruises with MSC

Who could not get excited about being one of the first to sail a brand-new ship?  The smell of the new carpets and furniture and how everything shined and glimmered can create a perfect vacation. But MSC Grandiosa, at least with me brought something else.

After the disappointed experience sailing MSC Divina in springtime now I regain trust in MSC, Yacht Club and theirs ships. As a result already booked a back to back 2019-2020 on Bellissima sailing from Dubai and another 4 cruises in the first 5 months of 2020.

And all of this because of SQUADRA GRANDIOSA on board MSC Grandiosa.

Thank you for helping me to find my way back!

13

SQUADRA GRANDIOSA – 7 days on the newest MSC ship

•December 19, 2019 • Leave a Comment

A cruise is always exciting…

A last-minute booking is always thrilling…

A week with MSC is (almost) exhilarating…

But a last minute booked cruise on the newest MSC ship is for sure more than that.

Episode 3

MSC Grandiosa showcases 21 bars and lounges to match any mood. If you ignore the deco or the atmosphere, all the bars have one common theme: impeccable service at very high standards. And once again the accolade goes to the ship Bar Manager Alin Tocu who, using his experience, passion and dedication, created a phenomenal team of bartenders and assistant bartenders always ready to take you in a memorable voyage between cocktails and fine wines. Knowing how much MSC values dedication and professionalism I will not be surprised to see him leading the Yacht Club team in the near future. In a week I didn’t have time to try all the 21 bars and lounges but, for sure, I have time to make my Top 3.

No.3: Grandiosa Bar & Lounge

Is an excellent cocktail bar which offers a wide choice of meticulously selected aperitifs, cocktails, spirits and more! Was nice after a day on shore to take a moment to relax in this elegant lounge and let the artful bartenders prepare something special for you! Most of the time I felt spoilt for choice with the impressive list of handpicked and carefully sourced drinks and fresh ingredients. And how you can not be impressed when the Sutember one of Grandiosa Lounge bartenders was always smiling getting my drink ready before even ordering! The reason was this bar is on the bottom of my favourites list is just because every evening this lovely space with great live musical performances was taken over – LITERALLY – by the animation team and their childish and quite annoying games and “activities”

 

No.2: Sky Lounge

With its luxurious surroundings and great view overlooking the ship and sea, this lounge is a fantastic place where I tried innovative alchemist cocktails (you know, for those moments when only the extraordinary can meet your mood) while listen to live piano music. And by the way during the day I found a selection of complimentary hot and cold snacks which keep hunger at bay. Was here where Marius Voicu another knowledgeable and passionate bartender gave me a virtual tour of the incredible world of molecular and alchemist cocktails

AND THE WINNER IS: Champagne Bar

Elegant, stylish, classy and trendy at the same time with an array of first-rate champagne, bubbles, fresh oysters, caviar and fish, the chic Champagne Bar was my place to indulge in the finer things in life onboard MSC Grandiossa. And I am sure that my every night comeback was 99.99% due the excellent team of this bar Daniela, Nadia, Natalia and last but not least the incredible Ana Maria with a personality as bubble as the champagne balanced by incredible interpersonal skills.

In the first day of my voyage on MSC Grandiosa I meet another “MSC family” friend Elena Ozkan, who now was the Speciality Restaurant Manager on board of MSC flag ship. During a short conversation I was once again impressed with her energy and dedication for creating a perfect holiday even from a gastronomic experience point of view. And despite the fact that I was in love with the YC Restaurant I decided to explore other dining option. Is difficult to make a top of my favourites just because, lead with extreme professionalism and passion for excellence by Elena the speciality restaurants on Grandiosa are each a special culinary experience, above all my expectations at an incredible high level of standards.

 

HOLA! Tapas bar OLA! Took me into an amazing culinary experience created by the renowned Spanish chef Ramón Freixa, two Michelin stars and three Repsol soles. Designed as a social, dining experience I found the restaurant to be a place where the senses are awakened by the discovery that nothing is what it appears and where the taste buds decipher what the eyes are incapable of seeing. Pimientos de Padrón, the gazpacho, patatas bravas they were all known to me traditional tapas but here tradition and the avant-garde merge and the culinary compositions never distract from the flavours. If you add the excellence service and the fact that  guests can enjoy shared plates you can imagine how much I enjoyed a cuisine that excites, communicates and provokes while sailing on MSC Grandiosa.

L’Atelier Bistrot is a warm, friendly bistro which guarantee a  high-quality French cuisine. In the night when I was dining there was hard to choose between to delicious escargots and luxurious foie gras. Moving one the incredible ribeye steak with fries & blue cheese sauce or a elegant dover sole a la Meunière followed by a one of the best tarte Tatin I ever had. The service was elegant and the live music added a very Parisian touch to the night.

If you are onboard please don’t  miss the hidden gem of this restaurant: an interactive art exhibition “Degas Danse Dessin”: 26 original works by Edgar Degas on the study of dance. Set up on the left side at the L’Atelier Bistro, “Degas Danse Dessin” series consists of 26 sketches on the movement and dance studio previously exhibited in the majors’ international museums and galleries. The exhibition will also offer an engaging experience for guests with five videos that run alongside the artworks to tell about Degas’ work and life in detail.

Kaito Teppanyaki Restaurant & Sushi Bar

Tradition and modernity go hand in hand in this stylish and charming venue. I chose one night the Teppanyaki option just to discover a deliciously authentic Asian cuisine prepared on the spot. Normally in this type of the restaurant the spotlight is stolen by the chef and his amazing tricks. On MSC Grandiosa the magic and impressive skills of Chef Orlando were perfect complemented by the quality of ingredients and the attentive elegant service (Nicu, my waiter for the night was sublime and Sanjeev the manager on duty was keeping everything under a discreet observation)

Butcher’s Cut

I saved the best for last, being already in love from Bellissima with this American-style steak house which serves select Linz heritage angus beef, gold standard in high-end angus beef thanks to the best genetics in breed, custom cut by master butchers and aged to perfection. My favourites: the bone marrow as a starter, a perfect rare cooked filet mignon accompanied by creamy spinach and chimichurri sauce and to end “the night when my diet was assassinated” a decadent lava cake. And to made my mission more … impossible I had to choose from an impressive and generous list of bold New World wines. No worries the next day I forgot to find my way to the gym

Back in 2013 Pierfrancesco Vago, Executive Chairman of MSC Cruises, had the vision to take the entertainment offered on board to the next level. Since MSC Cruises always seeks to work with innovative, world-class leaders, it was only natural to approach Cirque du Soleil.

On MSC Grandiosa the shows take place in the ship’s Carousel Lounge, a purpose-built entertainment venue holding just over 400 guests each show. This venue was specially designed to meet the needs of the artists as well as bringing guests closer to a spectacular display of acrobatic flair and artistic finesse. The addition of 80 kinetic LED spheres offer a change to the atmosphere of the Carousel Lounge at specific moments during the shows and to create a large array of visual effects. The moving LED lights are spread across the space to provide depth and a visual background for the audience sitting across the room. Six nights per week guests were able to enjoy dinner or cocktails and then a Cirque du Soleil at Sea performance. For both shows I chose the 7.00PM cocktail performance as I didn’t want to mess up my gastronomic experience in YC Restaurant. The venue is amazing with a 360° stage rotating like a carousel with special rigging for impressive aerial acrobatics and a new 6.5 ft. lift in the centre of the existing turn table to raise the performance above the stage floor. The professionalism of the Carousel Lounge Manager, Onur Mandenoglu, add a touch of efficient, elegant and non-intrusive service to the entire experience.

EXENTRICKS – Expect the Unexpected is inspired by the essence of the circus arts with big colourful characters brimming with style, personality and amazing abilities. The strength of the characters and the energy of the show are inspired in part by high-voltage, pop-culture fashion. When the star performer is suddenly unable to continue, scrambling to find a replacement, the Master of Ceremonies holds auditions. So expect the unexpected to be part of the show if you are in the right seat. EXENTRICKS put guests in the centre of the show with audience participation playing a vital role in the story, bringing MSC Cruises guests closer to the artists than ever before.

COSMOS – Journey to the unbelievable: is the story of a young explorer as he connects with his spirit of adventure, travelling through the stars and his childhood memories before landing on the realisation that sometimes you need to travel far to come home. The co-pilots on this fantastic voyage are a galaxy of illuminating characters who are every bit spaced-out and other-worldly as they are kind and friendly. Superb metaphor recreating at individual levels of the audience the feeling of travelling at night on the high seas on a majestic cruise ship: the vastness of the sky is as fathomless as the deep blue ocean underneath.

Who could not get excited about being one of the first to sail a brand-new ship?  The smell of the new carpets and furniture and how everything shined and glimmered can create a perfect vacation. But MSC Grandiosa, at least with me brought something else.

After the disappointed experience sailing MSC Divina in springtime now I regain trust in MSC, Yacht Club and theirs ships. As a result already booked a back to back 2019-2020 on Bellissima sailing from Dubai and another 4 cruises in the first 5 months of 2020.

And all of this because of SQUADRA GRANDIOSA on board MSC Grandiosa.

Thank you for helping me to find my way back!

Read tomorrow Episode 4 of my experience on board MSC Grandiosa

SQUADRA GRANDIOSA – 7 days on the newest MSC ship

•December 18, 2019 • Leave a Comment

 

A cruise is always exciting…

A last-minute booking is always thrilling…

A week with MSC is (almost) exhilarating…

But a last minute booked cruise on the newest MSC ship is for sure more than that.

Episode 2

This time, just because I made the booking too late, on MSC Grandiosa I had a YC1 cabin. MSC still call it a “suite” but I think will be fair to name it Yacht Club Balcony cabin: 14021. Quite spacious with approx. 28m², I found in my cabin almost everything I needed for a comfortable and luxury voyage: Interactive TV, telephone, Wifi connection available, and excellent Nespresso machine, safe and minibar.

Due to the square design and the layout of the furniture YC1 cabin seemed to be more spacious than on other ships. I absolutely loved the presence of the two chairs in the sitting area – which give a feeling of a dining area without having a separate space like the suites on other cruise lines (Cunard, NCL, Royal). Another brilliant addition was lifting the beds from the floor level which create a great storage space for my 5 suitcases.

Without being extremely large, the bathroom size was like on other MSC ships, but on Grandiosa the bathtub was replaced with an excellent large shower. As I am not a big fan of laying for hours in the bathtub, most of the time too small for my size I was very happy with the shower addition, especially the exposed rain shower option.

My only problem on YC1 cabin was the storage space: a very small double wardrobe, a tiny one with shelves at the entrance of the bathroom (quite unusual layout which demand a serious “verbal communication” when leaving the bathroom to don’t injure you travel companion who’s trying to find something in the wardrobe) and couple of drawers. I know that I don’t travel light, but not everybody is flying with tickets “hand luggage only”. At to be honest on a such an elegant ship with an exquisite crew to have dinner in jeans and trainers is not a fashion faux pas … is a CRIME!

MSC YACHT CLUB passengers enjoy an exclusive butler service (available 24-hours) and I was extremely lucky to sail with the A Team: Pascal Ismael Mamode (butler) and Mohamed Moelyadi (assistant butler) were real gems. Their dedication, attention to details, passion for excellence and genuine care made a huge impact on my on-board experience.

With the help of Miss & Mr. Perfection ( my nicknames for Rosalia the YC Director and Dani the Head Butler) I had the chance to have a quick look to other different cabins on board MSC Grandiosa: the beautiful Family Suite an excellent option with 39m² and a beautiful large angle balcony with private whirlpool bath and my favourite – Duplex Suite covering two decks and bringing together in 59m² an elegant living area with a double sofa bed (on the ground floor) a spacious master bedroom (on the second level) two incredible bathrooms (one with bathtub, one with shower), two walk-in wardrobes and a breath-taking large balcony with a whirlpool bath. Both offered with Aurea Experience. Don’t ask me way…looking again and again at the cabin layout and photos I still don’t understand why MSC doesn’t include these cabins in YC product. They are closer to the idea of “luxury of a private club” than the tiny Yacht Club Interior, a kind of a pastiche of real luxury. I know that MSC try to be innovative but none of the big competitors sell a wardrobe as a luxury cabin. Is like Ryanair selling business class tickets. Believe me, if those cabins will be included in YC that will be my first choice if Royal Suite (again superb but only 2 of them) will be already booked. And that will be a win-win situation comfort for me and a new revenue source for MSC.

I know that I will repeat myself, but I still believe that the Yacht Club product win comfortably in front of similar options like NCL, Cunard or RC. A YC cruise is almost a certitude for an uncompromising luxury with a wealth of exclusive features. On MSC Grandiosa this experience was raised to another level. The entire team in Yacht Club was perfect and this is without doubt the merit of the excellent management. Rosalia Scaldaferri – the YC Director is an excellent leader and a superb host inspiring every second trust and respect, both of her team and the guests while Dani Agung Sri Prasetyo – the Head Butler makes a daily routine one of the principles of the Yacht Club product: “Your relaxation, our dedication”

After almost 40 cruises with MSC in the last couple of years, I can say that my 7 days on board MSC Grandiosa was the best YC experience EVER! And I will give you two examples:

  • In the first day I called the Concierge asking about the possibility of increasing the AC air flow in my cabin. In less than 10 minutes an engineer escorted by the Head Butler Dani sorted the problem perfectly. 10 minutes later my butler Pascal asked, and the Chief Concierge Raj called me to check if everything was now fine with the AC. And that’s not all: later that evening The YC Director approached me and check again if the little problem was solved. This is what I call excellent customer service.
  • You don’t expect more than efficiency from the pool attendants. But Jun, Widi and Eric could find very easy another position in Yacht Club: very professional, excellent manners and consistently demonstrate genuine care. And always with a big smile. I still miss our daily early conversation on the sundeck (I always wake up at 6.00AM for my French Breakfast – Nicotine Macchiato) and the every day questions: “Are your sure that you don’t want another coffee? It is cold today, shall I bring you Sir a towel?”

Reserved exclusively for MSC Yacht Club Guests, Top Sail Lounge was another hit on board MSC Grandiosa. Keeping the idea of open space and live link with the restaurant above this elegant lounge with its panoramic views offers the Yacht Club bar list of craft cocktails, beer, fine wine, soft drinks and coffee drinks. And how can I forget the fine selection of gourmet finger food throughout the day. The deco was extremely trendy but keeping that touch of classic elegance of the previous ships I cruised with. And I still believe that having the restaurant partially open to the lounge brings more life in both spaces: listen to the live music as a background for your dinner or feeling the buzz of the restaurant when you sip your pre-dinner cocktail.

But of course, the Top Sail Lounge will not shine so bright without the team working there: Jerry, Silvester, Jayson, Boris, Dinesh Anna, Astari were always efficient and professional. How you can not feel home away from home when smiling Irina remembered every morning my usual double expresso with ice and my mandatory Bloody Mary, when Marie thoughtful and elegant will have a suggestion for my day in port or when charming Michelle will ensure that everything is perfect surprising me daily with her superb communication and interpersonal skills. To be honest I hope that on my next cruise I will have the privilege to have Michelle as my butler.

On MSC Grandiosa YC gave me the advantage of indulging myself in the luxury of a private club, while enjoying access to the myriad of recreation and entertainment possibilities that the rest of the ship offers. And a big part in the success of this experience was the Concierge Team Maria, Alessandra and Cedric guided discreet and professional by the incomparable Raj. Ignore Zoe at the Concierge desk the answer is always YES … you just need to ask the question.

If you red my previous reviews of MSC cruises you will see that sometimes the only weakest link was the YC Restaurant. This time, even if I would have a PhD in professional moaning, I couldn’t find anything but excellence both from gastronomic and service point of views. The menus were very well balanced, and the food was cooked perfectly. Every breakfast, lunch and dinner were authentic gastronomic treats. I am not a good photographer but believe me each course served in the Yacht Club Restaurant on Gauguin deck looked and tasted fantastic.

The restaurant is not very big and sometimes can be busy. Is hard to say the perfect time for a quiet meal as the dynamic of the restaurant depends a lot of the nationality profile of the cruise: Brits and Germans they like an early dinner, while Italian and Spaniards will start eating around 9.00PM. However, busy or not, the elegant restaurant was perfect managed by Maître D Luigi Fusco and his assistant Dora: no waiting time, no hassle, no stress. Everything was smooth and very elegant. And talking about the service style, my gastronomic adventures in YC Restaurant would not be the same without the grace and professionalism of Amir – a real Michelin star waiter and all the “liquid “suggestions of YC sommelier, Salvatore always able to find the perfect pairing for the delicious food. Sometimes too much pairing…but that was my fault!