SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW, SOMETHING BORROWED…

•February 13, 2018 • Leave a Comment

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

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

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

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

Something old, something new, something borrowed …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY

•February 13, 2018 • Leave a Comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MELIA TAMARINDOS … REVISITED

•February 9, 2018 • Leave a Comment

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

But this time the story was completely different.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to see a video report about TBN restaurant experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 – My MSC YEAR

•January 22, 2018 • Leave a Comment

The end of January is that time of the year when, looking at the last year’s photos, reviews and memories, the “cruise fever” starts to be unbearable and armed with all my credit cards I design my cruising schedule for the new year. Today is the 22nd and already I am excited with my 5 cruises booked: one with Cunard, one with Regent and 3 with MSC.

Is not a secret anymore for anyone, that I am a big fan of MSC Yacht Club and I told you already 1001 reasons for that. Despite the fact that the cruise line in general and Yacht Club, as a product, in particular, still have couple of steps away from the promised perfection (at the end of the day every cloud has a silver lining), MSC is the first choice when I decide my cruising schedule for 2018.

2018 is a MSC year in UK too! A logical extension of 2017 success when MSC reported a sales surge of 32% year-on-year with best-selling products including sailings around the eastern Mediterranean and ex-UK cruising onboard MSC Magnifica (which arrives in Southampton in April) making 23 turnaround calls in Southampton and another 25 calls in British and Irish ports from other ships as well.

And that’s just the beginning because MSC Cruises is to increase capacity out of Southampton in summer 2019 by replacing MSC Magnifica with the larger and newer, my favourite MSC ship –  MSC Prezioza‎. The 139,072-tonne Prezioza entered service in March 2013 and is the last of the line’s four Fantasia-class ships. It carries 4,345 passengers, 740 more than the 95,128-tonne Magnifica which began operations in 2010. Both ships will have tweaks made to the on-board entertainment and food to ensure it fully caters for the UK market, so more reasons to get excited!

MSC wants and can be one of the big players in the UK market. MSC Cruises chief executive Gianni Onorato revealed recently the ambition to become “the leading international player in the UK market” within five years. He said: “MSC represents 10% of the cruise market worldwide and we need to reach 10% in the UK. We are currently just under 5%” but with Magnifica this summer and Prezioza the summer after, MSC will do it.

One of my New Year resolution was to make 2018 an MSC year and try to “fit” as many MSC YC experiences as possible in 12 months. Easy to say, difficult to make it reality…sometimes I need to go to work, you know! But, at the moment, I already have 3 dream trips booked:

– a birthday celebration on MSC Divina on the 31 of March

– hoping to catch the last days of the Indian summer on MSC Fantasia at the end of September from Genoa

– and trying to move the title “Best New Year cruise ever” from Meraviglia (2017/2018) to MSC Splendida, sailing out from Dubai on the 29th of December.

By no panic…is just January!

I was checking today couple of trips on the new MSC Seaview, due to enter service in the Mediterranean in June before being deployed in the winter from Brazil. The 5,179-passenger vessel will follow 154,000 tonne MSC Seaside which already sail from its homeport in Miami. MSC Seaview will be the latest next-generation mega cruise ship to come into service under MSC Cruises’ ten-year investment plan through to 2026. MSC promise with Seaview to rewrite the rule book of cruise ship design, blending indoor and outdoor areas to connect you with the sea like never before. Circling the entire ship as low as Deck 8 is a unique seafront promenade lined with places to eat, drink, shop, swim and sunbathe. As a passenger you can enjoy more superb views from the two-deck glass-walled atrium and panoramic elevators. And, of course, the epitome of elegance and luxury at sea, the MSC Yacht Club  sounds more promising more promising than ever. I do hope that the sorted out the storage space issue from MSC Meraviglia! Definitely I need to book a cruise on Seaview before the ship cross the Atlantic and the usual Western Mediterranean itinerary sounds great to me.  And by the way, just between you and me, if you book your MSC Seaview cruise directly online (https://www.msccruises.co.uk), by calling +44 203 856 3023, or by visiting your local travel agent you will get a 5% DISCOUNT, an offer available for a limited time only. Capital!

seaview

Can’t’ wait to use again “MSC for Me” – a digital multi-channel experience available through mobile apps, interactive cabin TV screens, public interactive on-board screens and wearable will provide guests with over 130 smart features geared towards a fully optimised holiday experience. The app is waiting on my phone to be used again, like on my New Year cruise on MSC Meraviglia when 16,000 points of connectivity, 700 digital access points, 358 informative and interactive screens, and 2,244 cabins with RFID/NFC access technology made my dream to customising my holiday experience both before and during the cruise come true! The company envisions a fleet-wide roll-out of the programme to its existing 14 ships, and the addition 8 next-generation mega ships planned to be delivered between 2018 and 2024. How exciting!

MSC doesn’t stop to surprise me. For good and sometimes, not so good reason. But for sure the Status Match programme was a big WOW. Any potential passengers with valid loyalty club memberships from other cruise lines, or hotel groups and tour operators, will be able to join the line’s Voyagers Club loyalty scheme and automatically match their existing level of benefits. The Status Match programme (which does not apply to airline frequent flyer programmes), has already been introduced in the UK, US, Italy, Germany and France. The tier level (Classic, Silver, Gold or Black) to which passengers are assigned will correspond with the level of benefits they are receiving from their existing scheme. Membership of the Voyagers Club guarantees a five percent discount on cruise prices, on-board privileges and access to a range of sailings affording additional discounts of up to 15 per cent. The revised points-earning system, which has no age limit and is based on the type of cruise booked – including pre-booked shore excursions and spa treatments – rather than the number of nights sailed, comes with more favourable benefits and on-board promotions. These include a “Welcome Level” that kicks in as soon as a booking is confirmed. The only thing that you need is to find 5 minutes to send an e-mail to MSC…

That’s enough talking, let’s do some work, some research… I am sure that I will not honor my new year resolution about the weekly gym visit, stop smoking or drinking only in weekends, but for sure 2018 will be my MSC YEAR.

Keep sailing folks!

A roller-coaster called Cunard Queen Elizabeth

•January 9, 2018 • Leave a Comment

I hate roller coasters. I’ve hated roller coasters my entire life!

I’ll allow you a moment of recovery as your jaw is most likely still on the floor in shock. It’s a ridiculous statement, I know. Hate roller coasters? Impossible! Nobody hates roller coasters! And what’s the idea in the headline when Queen Elizabeth is one of the 3 queens under the flag of Cunard and doesn’t have on board a roller-coaster

Well, is quite simple. My recent 12 days on board of Queen Elizabeth sailing from Southampton to Madeira, Canary Island and Lisbon was like a ride on a roller-coaster: sometimes bringing me high, very high and suddenly dropping me very low (lower than some of my previous experiences and expectations)

Don’t be surprise but the key is all in perception. Let me explain: for me, the absolute worst feeling one can possibly experience on God’s green earth is the dropping feeling you get in your stomach when you’re plummeting down a 180-degree drop after being somewhere “on top of the world” (aside from getting a limb ripped off. Or getting impaled with a metal rod. Or childbirth. But as I’ve never experienced any of these, I’m just going to go with stomach drops for now).

Still “lost in translation”? No worries, I will explain you my feelings after my Q737 voyage step by step.

I decided to spend a night in Southampton before the cruise just because I was scared by the weather report and the traffic on M25 and to be honest I didn’t fancy to wake up too early in the first day of my holiday. This time was @Novotel Southampton on Quay Road (https://www.accorhotels.com/gb/hotel-1073-novotel-southampton/index.shtml). An excellent choice; for £125 for one night I got a nice, clean, comfy room with breakfast included. Perfect way to start my voyage on Queen Elizabeth. More important, the check-out time was 12.00PM (all the other options in Southampton ask you to leave the room at 11.00AM) which give you the right amount before the official boarding time for Cunard.

The departure point was Ocean Terminal, maybe the best terminal in Southampton easy to find due to multiple signs on the road and designed for a hassle-free check-in. I booked the parking with APH (Airport Parking and Hotels) which, again was a excellent choice with a fast, reliable and efficient service. We dropped the luggage first and after that parked the car in the APH drop-off point just couple of meters away for the terminal’s entrance.

The drop-off the luggage was a little bit hectic with nobody explaining what to do and where to go and with some Hi Vis Jacket men shouting at you when you took the initiative to walk in a certain direction.

Finally, only with my hand luggage I entered the terminal and in 40 minutes I was opening the door of my cabin. Of course, could be less than that if some of my fellow passengers will understood that boarding a ship involves the same security level as boarding a plane.

ROLLER-COASTER MOMENT: get ready for queues and be patient when the same passenger will return 3 or 4 times due to pens, coins, phone, keys left in his pocket when passing the metal detector. And don’t expect too much courtesy from the check-in lady: at the end of the day YOU are going in a cruise, she there for another long busy day at work!

The Queen Elizabeth is the youngest and second largest ship which was built for Cunard. It has been put into service in October 2010 and offers space for 2058 passengers. The ship has been refurbished in 2014 and is now schedule next year for a new cosmetic intervention. Due to its classy style, this ship is also called the New Queen. The Grand Lobby as an example impresses with its generous luxurious furnishings and its curved stairs.

ROLLER-COASTER MOMENT:  Created to evoke the heyday of Hollywood glamour and elegance with her wood panelling, gleaming chandeliers, marble flooring, iridescent pearls and elaborate carpets need for sure a realignment with the new expectations for modern luxury. Queen Elizabeth is, at the moment, more a lovely museum populated with moving statues, than a strong competitor on 2000s cruise market. But we will talk about that later.

My cabin was a Q4 Penthouse strategically located between two staircase and lifts giving an easy access to all ships areas. 7109 was Cunard style decorated (Queen Elizabeth is the only Queens which didn’t get yet a cosmetic surgery intervention), featuring floor-to-ceiling windows with glass doors that open to a decent size private balcony. The cabin had a super comfy king-size bed which may be converted to twins, and marble bathroom with whirlpool tub (love it!) and shower. There was large living area with sofa bed and dual height coffee table and a working area with enough spaces for my 2 laptops. The refrigerator was stocked to my preferences (and I was ask about that in less than 1h after my arrival, when I meet for the first time my assistant butler, Marvin and my butler (lovely Christina) gladly attended to my every whim during the cruise. Thoughtful amenities include robes with matching slippers, a hairdryer, safe, direct dial phone, nightly turndown service with pillow chocolate, 24-hour room service, an interactive TV system with DVD player, daily shipboard newspaper, priority embarkation and disembarkation, pillow concierge, Bon Voyage bottle of champagne and strawberries, personalized stationary, complimentary bottled water, flower arrangement in-suite, and daily fresh fruit on request.

Great ambience for my 12 days cruise!

ROLLER-COASTER MOMENT: What I do hope is that, when the ship will enter the 2018 planned refurbishment, somebody will think seriously about the storage space in the room. Taking in the account the duration of the voyage, the dress code on board and the expectations raised by the Queens Grill Experience definitely you need more space; the content of my 4 suitcases were quite squeezed in the walking-in wardrobe. Actually for my next trip with Cunard (V836 November 2018 on Victoria) I decided to have a double booking: a Q4 and for another £849 the opposite inside cabin, grade IF to gain some space.

The housekeeping team was absolutely amazing! Christina our butler was simply PERFECT: friendly, professional, with excellent manners and unobtrusive, she anticipated every need and created lifelong memories with individual touches not found in any manual. The assistant butler was Marvin, always smiling and genuine, keeping pristine our cabin paying attention to every detail. They are, for sure, a huge asset for the housekeeping team on board Queen Elizabeth!

As a Queens Grill guest, you experience the finest food in the Queens Grill restaurant. Couple years ago, an acquaintance, told me that the only reason to book a Cunard cruise is the dining experience in Queens Grill restaurant. I was smiling there and then, but now, I do believe so. Indeed, using refined ingredients and sophisticated techniques, the chefs working on Cunard Line’s ocean liners offer magnificent cuisine that will leave you stuffed every night. The food is complimented by a great classic service.

The most formal of all of Cunard’s restaurants, the Queens Grill offers an a la carte menu with items such as Beef Wellington, Roast Loin of Venison and Chateaubriand. Here you’ll always be greeted warmly by name, and appreciate the ultimate interpretation of high quality service during breakfast, lunch and dinner, served when you wish between 6.30pm and 9pm. You can order for dinner whatever you want, from Caviar to Lobster Thermidor, just talking with your waiter 24h in advance. As the weather was excellent I decided twice to have dinner in the lovely patio between two restaurants Princess and Queens Grills and, if I ignore the rolled eyes of the Maître D, the dinning under the stars experience was unforgettable. The restaurant staff was very close to the expected White Star Service. The waiter, assistant waiter and sommelier were the A-team: flawless efficient service, with perfect balance between communication and genuine attention, timely, memorable, and remarkable; none of them was in the way of the others, never overlapped each other and always having ready a set of knowledge based recommendations if I got lost in the menu. While food quality is incredible in Queens Grill restaurant, it was the experience I had from the minute I walked in the door to the minute I exit that counted for Sumodg, Jeffrey and Srdjan.

Don’t ask me what was my favourite from the menu, just because the answer is obvious: EVERYTHING. Chef Catalin Baba from Romania, in charge of both Princess and Queens galleys is real Master Chef at sea and for every lunch and dinner his creations were top of the charts. Don’t forget that Queens Grill restaurant has a genuinely ‘on demand’ service, where you can walk in and ask for whatever you desire to be prepared for you. One evening I requested a typical Romanian dish (as a result of a sudden home sickness) and the next evening Chef Baba surprised me with a perfect Romanian dinner: beef sours soup (Ciorba de vacuta), stuffed cabbage rolls (Sarmale) and sweet dumplings (Papanasi). Was like being home in Pitesti eating my Mom’s dinner. Capital!

ROLLER-COASTER MOMENT: Everything was almost perfect in Queens Grill restaurant, but the management was from a “different movie”. The Head Maître D’ – Raul had the signs of a too long career with Cunard, ignoring most of the passengers every evening and concentrating his grace and attention to the “big tippers”. You expect somebody like him to be an old fox and play the right hand all the time but fishing around one or two tables proved to be the wrong decision and at the end the gratuities popped from a different direction or not at all. Raul spoke with our table “en passant” once or twice, without any genuine interest or eye contact, like a waiter in Nando’s checking the guest satisfaction while hunting for his favourites in the restaurant. The Assistants Maître D’: Anton and Zoltan still had some drops of genuine guest excellence, especially when the Boss was not there, but I am afraid that they learn the lessons quite fast!

My itinerary included 6 days at sea from 12 and, without expecting an extremely lively and busy daily programme, I was looking forward for what was offered during the sailing days. Looking at the activities planned every day you can’t ignore the fact that Cunard planned everything on board for 70+ market: book club discussions, dance classes, needlework & knitting, bridge lessons, watercolour art class and plenty of quizzes and trivia. Sometimes I was walking around the decks and public spaces and I have the feeling that was a ghost ship with lifeless wax figurines holding a book or a kindle and trying to feel up the time between the main meals when the ship got live again. Maybe Cunard can look in to the fact that in 10 years’ time or less their current market will not be interested in travel anymore and who’s now in the 40-50s demographic area will move to somewhere were the daily programme moved with the times and trends. Why to have beginners Facebook or e-mail classes when almost everybody on board was reading from a kindle or taking photos with an iPad?

I did like the classical concerts in the afternoon or evenings (despite the fact that the Winter Gardens is not a good venue for a Strauss concert due to the acoustic and the location of the place) and I enjoyed the dance lessons.

Facing an important shortage of staff (got involuntary this information from a next-door table conversation between John and Ashley, both entertainment hosts on board, in La Palma) and a lack of enthusiasm the entertainment team was hardly interested in bringing back to live the ship, day or night despite the obvious efforts of Entertainment Manager Amanda Reid

ROLLER-COASTER MOMENT: competitive cruise lines pay a huge attention to on-board lectures using independent agencies like Sixth Star Entertainment & Marketing and Compass Speakers and Entertainment, Inc. to have on their cruise ship lecturer who will be able to catch the audience with interesting topics during the sea day. In our previous trips with Cunard I enjoyed a lot the port lectures and presentations on different topics performed by very strong public speakers. On my last voyage on Queen Elizabeth Cunard failed on a dramatic scale. The port lecturer, Anfisa, was literary reading from some old-fashioned designed slides information downloaded from Wikipedia with poor quality photos – the result of an “intensive research” on Google search. To be honest if I didn’t know the ports of call I will be tempted to stay on the ship instead discovering the destinations based on the zero-enthusiasm and knowledge brought on stage by the port presenter. Even the famous Cunard “Insights Lecture” were place quite high on the scale of failures. Maybe was the cost saving the explanation for the presence of uninspiring lecturers in the Royal Court Theatre. Fair enough, the topics were interesting despite of being very niche (WW2 and old-time police stories) but the massive failure come from the speakers.  Cpt. Kim Sharman, Commander Jeff Tall or Ian Brown manage to read from notes 60+ minutes in a monotone, old-fashioned, sleep-induction tailored style. Both the hard (power-point presentation for a beginner class) and the soft (presentation and public speaking skills) components of this lectures made a good part of the audience to leave, another to sleep and the rest was, once again, waiting for lunch.

On board Cunard ships, the evenings are always an event. And was, more or less, the same this time on Queen Elizabeth. The dancing in the Queens Room with the big band and excellent vocalist Michael Burke, the 3 balls organised during the voyage (“Black and White”, “Roaring 20’s” and “Starlight Ball” and the fantastic musicians performing in various venues (Tom Yarwood, Andrew Law and Carolyn Mayer) were strong points of evenings and night on-board.  Of course, the “crème de la crème” was the live band Synergy: great performance, fantastic stage presence and impeccable repertoire – what a privilege to have them in Yacht Club, Winter Gardens or Lido bar due sail-away parties.

ROLLER-COASTER MOMENT: The easiest, in theory, job on board brought another big disappointment of this cruise. DJ Michael manage to win the title “WORST DJ AT SEA”. I was praying while in Yacht Club for his shift to finish and Synergy to come back on stage. DJ Michael was trying hard and most of the time succeeded to keep the dance floor empty. If everybody was enjoying dancing on ABBA or some 80’s disco music, DJ Michael thought that was a good idea to switch to Rolling Stones or Beatles. If nobody was dancing, the volume was loud enough to cover any conversation in the bar; if the dance floor was full the music was like the background in a shopping mall.

Royal Court Theatre is, with no doubts, one of the gems of Queen Elizabeth. Cunard created on its ships the only venues at sea which give you the feeling of an elegant, lavish, real theatre. More than that guests have the chance to expand this unique experience booking a box for some of the shows. Is a “must do” treat when you are on-board: a host welcomes you before the show with a champagne cocktail, canapés and sweets, escorts you to your private box where fine chocolates, a bottle with champagne and a photo souvenir are waiting to complete this magic moment. One single advice: ignore Concierge recommendation of “the best box”; do you one research in the theatre and after that choose what you like. On this voyage the Concierge suggested a box which actually was the worst one, so, be in charge and enjoy the show.

ROLLER-COASTER MOMENT: even though Cunard never invested time and money in their on-board show like NCL, RCL or MSC, I always found one of two shows during previous voyages which were worth watching. This time on Queen Elizabeth I booked a box for two of Cunard’s productions: “Palladium Nights” and “Hollywood Nights”. With fantastic lights and costumes, great stage production and an amazing live orchestra, both shows could be a hit. But the performance of the cast (both dancers and singers) gave me the feeling that I was in the audience of a graduation show for a second hand performing arts school. The dancers, despite an excellent choreography, never manage to be synchronised creating for each movement an involuntary “time-lapse photography” image. The 4 singers, great for a karaoke night out or a trivia like “guess the tune”, were less performing and more competing in cover the other voices.

All passengers on board during this 12 days voyage were running away from a wet grey December back in UK and the weather was great during my trip. Therefore the sail-away party hosted in the back of the ship in Lido Pool area were the highlights of every early evenings, when Queen Elizabeth was leaving the port. The stunning views, the warm evenings, breathing sunsets and the fantastic live performance of Synergy transformed each departure in a unforgettable moment. Great idea to offer for passengers the possibility to buy a glass with champagne, complimenting excellent a perfect evening. Actually, you will need maybe 2 or 3 glasses to give you the strength to ignore the bored faces of Assistant Entertainment manager Edward Moffet and his team which supposed to be the heart of the party. Fortunately, Synergy music was bringing everybody on the dance floor of th sail away party with no need for help for the entertainment team

ROLLER-COASTER MOMENT: For sure the best sail-away party was the departure from Lisbon with stunning views, a nice warm evening and the excellent idea of the Entertainment Manager to give a British touch to the sail-away from Lisbon. The Union Jack flags and British music plus the crowd ready for a good party in the last warm evening of the voyage were the perfect ingredients for what could be a great party. Unfortunately Amanda had her evening off and her assistant  Andrew left in charge. Bad move! After some 20-25 minutes the huge crowd with festive flag waiting in the announced area for the party, was “blessed” with the presence of Mr. Moffet announcing that due to bad weather (!!!!!!!!!!!) the sail away party will take place indoor with lovely views of the glass walls of the Winter Gardens. When one of the guest expressed the disappointment the “courteous” assistant manager replied that was his decision for everybody comfort. The result: everybody was watching the incredible passage of Queen Elizabeth out of Lisbon on a December night with 19⁰C, while Synergy were playing indoor for a bunch of crew waiving enthusiast-less the Union Jack flags. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!

To help you experience the very best of your destinations, Cunard offers in all voyages a diverse selection of excursions ashore, from leisurely sightseeing to exciting activities. Taking in the account my previous experiences with Cunard is clear that shore excursions are created by a team of destination experts who work closely with carefully selected, reliable local operators and are designed to suit all ages, interests and abilities. According to Cunard, once you’ve booked your holiday, you’ll be able to browse through excursions tailored to your specific cruise and purchase your tours in advance through Voyage Personaliser. Is exactly what I did and was very excited about my 3 shore excursions in Funchal, La Palma and Tenerife; for the rest of the ports of call I decided to explore the city myself, as I was many times in Lisbon and Grand Canaria.

The tour in Funchal – “The cave of Sao Vincente” was far above expectations with a very knowledgeable guide and a extremely interesting itinerary. Nothing was to much: the explanations of the guide given not to fill the driving time but to create a background of the tour, the stops which didn’t target souvenirs shops or pointless sites and the time frame of the tour, made this excursion one of the best I ever took while cruising.

ROLLER-COASTER MOMENT: Two of the excursions pre-booked were cancelled based on a minimum number which was not reach with on-board bookings. While I totally understand the financial reason behind the cancellation I can’t stop wondering about how Cunard can’t get the idea that not everybody on-board need a “guided leisurely slow walk”. Is exactly what I was talking a bit earlier: passengers looking for more active or independent tours will move away from Cunard which target only a certain segment of the market. What about lowering the minimum number for more dynamic excursions to satisfy active guests on board and cover the cost with the number of passengers looking for the leisurely options. Age is just a number and some couples that I meet during the cruise were the perfect example for this.

Looking back, my 12 days voyage on Queen Elizabeth to Madeira, Canary Island and Lisbon was a very pleasant experience, a successful getaway from the English weather. For me Cunard will always be an option when I choose a cruise, but not more that once or twice a year, which is not a lot considering my 7-10 cruises yearly. I already booked Queen Victoria for the same itinerary in December 2018. Something needs to be done to attract and keep the passengers which in their fifties and sixties look to something which mix traditional with the trends of cruising in 2000s. Some caviar, a tuxedo and a cha-cha-cha lesson are not enough. Competitors are doing a bit more.

The Cunard roller-coaster still have a strong place on the cruise market, with ups and downs, targeting a certain segment of the market, quite strong at the moment. But what will happen in 5-10 years?

Watch my Video Diary of voyage VS737 on Cunard Queen Elizabeth

MELIA TAMARINDOS – The secrets of under promising and over delivering

•November 21, 2017 • 1 Comment

All-inclusive resorts sell the ultimate dream a 6+ day cheap and worry-free travel vacation to a destination where all you do is relax, eat, drink and do some extracurricular activities. In the last couple of years, all-inclusive’s have been under fire, particularly due to how bad the food is, their hidden “extra” fees and the fact that there is little to no contact with life outside the resort. attracted to the hassle-free aspect of all-inclusive vacations. Once you arrive, you can store the wallet and relax. But along the way, all-inclusive resorts have since gotten a lot of stigma — earning a reputation for being tacky, comprising dated rooms and sub-par food. While this is sometimes true, in some cases it’s certainly not. Be advised, all resorts are not created as equals. There are some very nice resorts that offer all-inclusive packages that are a good deal for those who want a managed vacation experience. However, there are other resorts that are below the quality standards that most expect while on vacation (just check my review of Iberostar in Cuba)

Generally speaking, all-inclusive’s are really not my thing but this time the situation was different. OK, here is the setup: typical English October (cold, wet and grey), a limited budget and kind of last minute booking; so Bora Bora is not possible and I hate flying more than 5 hours. So, there are only two options, Canary Islands or northern Africa. Since Egypt or Tunisia still ring the security bell, I chose Las Palmas. And immediately Melia Tamarindos in San Agostin caught my attention.

melia

Founded in 1956 in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, Meliá Hotels International is one of the largest hotel companies in the world and the largest hotel chain in Spain in both resort and city hotels, operating now more than 370 hotels in 43 countries and 4 continents under its brands.

As I already experience two of their brands: Gran Melia in Genoa and Melia Costa del Sol in Torremolinos, my next move was to check if their high standards apply in a resort where the affluence of tourists and the “all-inclusive” concept can create an environment with different expectations and challenges.

Since the moment of booking, Melia Tamarindos proved not only that they have the guest as the centre of it universe but more than that, so rare, unfortunately this days that they know how to under promise and over deliver.

Before our arrival in San Agustin the team of the hotel send us very useful information related to check-in, all-inclusive package details and interesting suggestions for the time we intended to spend there. This charming but not intrusive care and concern continued after our arrival with phone calls and letter from both Reception and Concierge, all focused in creating the conditions for a perfect stay.

Located right on the spectacular San Agustín beach and very close to Playa del Inglés and the commercial centre of San Agustín, the Meliá Tamarindos is the perfect option for your trip to the island, thanks to its excellent location in one of the main tourist resorts on Gran Canaria. What I do like about the hotel, is the fact that you are away from the over-crowded touristic areas, far enough to don’t feel the cheap package holiday “taste” of Playa del Ingles but close enough (7 Euro by taxi) if you want to party all night long in Yumbo. Actually, you are somewhere in the middle between the airport and areas like Maspalomas or Meloneras. Is like you have the best seats for a rock concert: close enough to feel the vibe but not so close to need earplugs.  Love the fact that the location close to the beautiful and quite beach gave me the chance of a perfect mix: sunbathing by the pool and listening to decent background music and swimming in the crystal clear Ocean only 2 minutes away from my sunbed.

The hotel is quite impressive. Built in 1974, the venue was following the trend in the late ‘70 and early ’80 hotels: big lobby, vast open spaces, luxurious garden which guide the guests to an immaculate big swimming pool. The local Spanish Colonial–style with the wooden back façade was kept after 2000 renovation and now the hotel has 2 outdoor pools for adults (one of them heated) and 1 children’s pool, a mini golf course, a tennis court and a squash court with balls and rackets free of charge plus a real observatory with telescope and professional astronomer.

More recently the introduction of new “The Level” found here the perfect grounds for the exclusive commitment by Meliá to offer a unique range of superior services and facilities. Checking in at Melia Tamarindos makes you feel special very easy, when every detail has been designed and created for their guests.

For my stay at Melia Tamarindos I decided to o “full option”: a suite, all-inclusive and The Level. And, believe me, it was the best decision!

My room was a magnificent suite THE LEVEL VISTA MAR; located in the central nave of the building, at the 6th floor the room provided a wonderful view of the hotel gardens and the Atlantic Ocean. Never had for breakfast so many amazing sunrises anywhere else in the world. The suite measuring approximately 57m², offers three clearly defined spaces: bedroom, lounge and bathroom. Once again, the layout of the space was incredible: the interior designer took some elements for the “LEVEL” framework (minimalist, modern, sleek, smooth and glossy with champagne and beige tones creating a relaxing ambience) but, at the same time he kept the “old” hotel look with couple of pieces of furniture in strong colours which made the entire mix an extremely pleasant space. The leaving room lead onto a wooden colonial styled balcony with stunning views and enough space to soak up the energies of the tropical garden or clear and calm Ocean.

The large elegantly decorated independent lounge measures over 28 m² and is designed to offer the perfect space for relaxation, on the comfy sofa including a working space for those who cannot stay to long away from the office.

The bedroom dominated by a comfy queen size bed was the perfect environment for a relaxing and deep sleep, while the impressive walking in wardrobe would made happy make envy even the most serious luggage orientated traveller. Don’t remember a holiday resort with a walking in wardrobe with a vanity table, mirror and 3 double full-size wardrobes.

The bathroom was large with 2 sinks a separate space for bath/shower and toilet and of course has the decadent LOEWE amenities, replaced twice a day by the housekeeping.

Talking about housekeeping that’s a point where a special mention is needed. The room was pristine with a daily cleaning and an evening turn-down service with an immense attention to details; everything was spick and span with every items placed in the same position like was never moved. Having a conversation with the Jiske Jager, the Guest Experience Manager I was not surprised to find that the longest serving employee is Mrs. Elia Rosa Padilla, who started in the housekeeping department when Meliá Tamarindos opened its doors in 1974, made her way up to manager of the housekeeping department and will retire next year. Is a very good example of walking the talk in accordance with the very high standards of Melia.

Those who have stayed in one of Melia Hotels before recognise the high quality standards and know that  “Everything is Possible” is not just a marketing slogan, but daily reality. The LEVEL experience concept brings indeed the customer service experience to a completely different … level! At Melia Tamarindos the attention to details was exquisite: everything is created for and around the guest and everybody is working hard to create the perfect holiday experience. And, being honest, every moment spent in the hotel was a memorable one: from the friendly and efficient approach of the reception team to the personalised bathrobes in our room, from the constant genuine care of the LEVEL team to the impeccable service in the restaurants and bars. Every day at my return from the beach I found placed in the room a little surprise: sometimes some sweets, delicious cakes or a small selection of traditional tapas. Amazing! But to take this magic moment to a different level, every day the Guest Experience team, lead brilliantly by Jiske, a Dutch moved in Canarias more than 7 years ago, left a genuine message, making me to crave for the next surprise in my room, like a child waiting for Christmas day.

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

One of the reasons why I always avoid resorts for my beach holiday is the animation team. Nothing can be more annoying if you want to relax on the beach or by the pool, than a group of youngsters screaming their heads off to make you join their daily activities. I still remember the pain in a resort in Hurghada where the word “aqua gym” started to be a twice a day nightmare when I was on the beach. At Melia Tamaridos the story is completely different. The hotel provides a range of daily activities but, everything is done with an impressive respect for the guest’s privacy and a very good taste. Yoga, stretching, aqua-gym classes are all done in areas which are not interfering with those who will just want a relaxing day at the pool. Actually, the trainers were quite good and, even I am an anti-gym type of tourist, I got caught in the mood. And in two days the team organised for the guests other surprises: an entertaining cocktail making demonstration and an unexpected good fashion show by the pool.

 

For the evening the entertainment is the expected one for a resort hotel. You don’t go to Canary Island to watch in your hotel a Parisian cabaret show or something like that. The evening entertainment was decent, tailored on the audience expectations and complemented by the trendy atmosphere of Jameo Bar where the service was always aiming high standards. Of course for a more relaxed evening the other option was TARA BY NIGHT BAR, an open-air area next to the main pool with a wide variety of drinks, cocktails, long drinks, gin and tonics complemented with a chilled, friendly atmosphere and every night live music.

As I said earlier I always tried to avoid the “all-inclusive resorts” for my holiday just because the universal question “All-inclusive? Aren’t those resorts where the drinks are watered down, the restaurants are crowded and the food is pretty minimal and mass produced?”. And if you read my experience in Cuba you will see that the scary stories with all-inclusive buffets can be truth. When you take your vacation you surely don’t want to end up at some resort that has serious issues with quality. And in Melia Tamarindos when is a meal time QUALITY is part of the daily routine.

Roque Nublo buffet restaurant was the main choice for breakfast lunch and dinner and doesn’t matter how fussy you are about your food it was hard to find something wrong there! The buffet offering international and regional cuisine having large, magnificent areas was never busy and the service was spot-on. The elegant space with show cooking was serving salads, vegetables, fish and meat dishes, and a wide selection of chesses and cold meats, fruit and delicious desserts, Italian corner (pastas, pizzas) and had always a local cuisine corner.

For my mornings in Melia Tamarindos, I loved the large outdoor terrace with lovely views of the gardens and the sea and the breakfast was tailored to satisfy all taste and expectations from a huge hearty choice to more healthy options.

Our lunch was normally in Tara snack bar, a charming terrace overlooking the sea and the pool. The bar was ideal for informal lunches as you enjoy a pleasant day by the pool choosing from a wide choice of hot and cold snacks (hamburgers, salads, pizzas, sandwiches, ice creams) or from a buffet or a la carte menu. Once or twice I tried the main restaurant where the breakfast’s experience was repeated with an amazing choice of international and local dishes, fresh fish, great salad bar and mouth-watering deserts.

The icing on the cake? Of course, the dinner. Roque Nublo was open from 6.30 to 10PM which match perfectly the eating habits of the multi-national crowd and made the restaurant pretty quiet for a buffet style venue and create space for a very efficient and elegant service. I loved the idea that a “smart dress code required for dinner” was not only recommended but respected in the restaurant; no more flipflops, t-shirt and shorts around us! The dinner buffet was one of the best buffet I have ever had, and I’m a person who lives to eat. Fantastic variety, no skimping, something for everyone. Everything from a cheese and fruit board, to salads, prawns, local specialities, mains, side dishes, veggies, and dessert. In addition, every evening a special cooking station was present to order specials such as pizza, steak, paella, or pasta and even sushi. A bit of room left for desserts which were too many to try even half, but a good selection of sweet and savoury again meant there was something for everyone. And add to all this a reasonable wine list and a great service to get the clear image of a perfect dinner.

And once again the titanic work and genuine passion was revealed by our host Jiske Jager, Guest Experience Manager: “We only work with fresh products that arrives to our hotel daily from the Canary Islands and from Spain mainland. We exclusively work with suppliers of great prestige and experience, based on these products we elaborate our different menus. Daily we cook for around 500 guests distributed in the main buffet restaurant ¨Roque Nublo¨ for breakfast, lunch and dinner, The level areas, ¨Tara¨ restaurant, ¨TBN¨ a la carte restaurant and our tapas & cocktail bar ¨Le Pool¨

During my 7 days stay at Melia Tamarindos I was continuously amazed about the high level of customer service and customer care in all departments. And of course, I was trying to find the secret behind the genuine 24h smile of everybody there from Jiske. The answer was the perfect explanation for the high standards everywhere in Melia Tamarindos: “Our guests are our reason for being. We just love to make their stay in Meliá Tamarindos an unforgettable experience, which is our main goal. I personally believe that our colleagues only can transmit this to our guests if they feel passionate about what they do, not just ¨working for a company¨. Meliá Tamarindos is their home and we are all one family. When employees are in the loop what is going on and feel that they are a part of something rather than just working for a company, things will really progress. Employees appreciate when you ask their opinion and let them know that it counts. They feel happy knowing that you think they have the talent, knowledge, and skill to contribute. In return you’ll get some great ideas. For example, once a month the direction team invites employees from every department for a sit down in a relaxing environment to hear their ideas and opinions. From those sit downs came a lot of great ideas which we directly apply in our day to day. It creates team spirit and motivates them to improve every day. Another example is our private Facebook group where everybody can share, for example, when we receive a compliment of one of our guests, we share that on the page and congratulate them for the good work as well as our colleagues congratulate and motivate each other.”

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With Jiske Jager, Guest Experience Manager

I had the chance to speak with other guests in the hotel from Germany, France and Norway and I realised that my feeling after spending some time in Melia Tamarindos you just want to go back wasn’t singular: a lot of guests return to visit the hotel. Mainly because they feel at home and enjoy the quality service and the “obsession” of taking care of every single detail. Mrs. Jager, the Guest Experience Manager, was proud of the return business: “Our returning guest love that we recognize them when they come back. For example, small gestures like a attention in their room upon arrival and remembering their preference of previous stays and apply them without they have to ask for them again. We let them know that we care and that we appreciate their loyalty a lot. We make them feel like home. I believe that quality is our best guarantee of customer loyalty, our strongest defence against competitors and the only road to growth”. In addition, Meliá hotels International has a loyalty program which provides private rates at melia.com, Get points for each booking and Redeem your points for MeliáRewards emotions, a free program with personalized customer services. MeliáRewards has benefits for members such as MORE VALUE (Points, surprises, discounts) MORE POSSIBILITIES (Flexible use of your points) and MORE TIME (You are always our priority). There are 4 levels; MeliáRewards white, MeliáRewards silver, MeliáRewards gold and MeliáRewards Platinum (https://www.melia.com/en/meliarewards/ventajas/home.htm)

I can spend another good hour writing about my recent experience and I am sure that I forgot so many experiences and names, but I have something better to do: to book my next stay in Melia Tamarindos in February.

Why ?

Because at Melia Tamarindos the guest is their reason for being

Because at Melia Tamarindos they do things right: with professionalism, efficiency and agility

Because at Melia Tamarindos they anticipate and evolve to be better every day

Because at Melia Tamarindos they love to share, listen… feel

Because at Melia Tamarindos they do what we say

Because …

 

An unexpected Sunday in Margate

•November 19, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Being a sunny day, last Sunday I decided to have a short drive and stop, one again in Margate, watching the sea and dreaming about my next cruise in December.

It’s hard to believe today, but Margate was once a small fishing village. ‘Meregate’ had a large, partly-12th century church of St John’s set on a hill and a track down to a cluster of houses round the harbour. But the 1730s brought a passion for sea bathing, sparking the growth of Margate as a fashionable resort. Hoys, or sailing vessels, later steamships and eventually trains all brought countless visitors down from London.

Margate is crammed with historic and architectural gems, and today Margate Sands, the pier and Droit House, an attractive little building at the beginning of the pier are as fine a sight as ever – especially in a sunny day of November

My Margate’s routine includes a walk on the beach, a stroll on the pier and a quick  visit the Turner Contemporary Gallery followed by a generous portion of fish and chips in a sunny spot on the promenade fighting the cold air and the smell of the winter.

This time a little sign and a flash back of some online research lead my steps to Shell Grotto, a Grade I-listed building, consists of a winding subterranean passageway, about 2.4 metres high and 21 metres in length, terminating in a rectangular room, referred to as The Altar Chamber and measuring approximately 5 x 6 metres.

The story goes that in 1835 Mr James Newlove lowered his young son Joshua into a hole in the ground that had appeared during the digging of a duck pond. Joshua emerged describing tunnels covered with shells. He had discovered the Shell Grotto, its walls decorated with strange symbols mosaic-ed in millions of shells. Is it an ancient pagan temple? A meeting place for some secret cult? Nobody can explain who built this amazing place, or why, but since its accidental discovery visitors from all over the world have been intrigued by the beautiful mosaic and the unsolved mystery.

The purpose of the structure is unknown, and various hypotheses have dated its construction to any time in the past 3,000 years. Hypotheses include: it was an 18th or 19th-century rich man’s folly; it was a prehistoric astronomical calendar; it is connected with the Knights Templar/Freemasonry.[2] No scientific dating of the site has been carried out.

A popular theory with some, who cite the popularity of follies and shell structures in the 1700s. There are lots of them dotted around the country, largely in the grounds of stately homes, and as a result of wealthy landowners having embarked on the Grand Tour and seen shell structures on their travels. But the land the Grotto lies under was farmland and as far as we know has never formed part of a large estate. So why would a rich man’s fancy be built under someone else’s pastureland?

Follies were built as a statement: look at how much money I have, look at how cultured I am, look at me! So, if they included shells, the more exotic the better! In general, they weren’t secret, hidden away places. And they weren’t built under a farmer’s field.

If the Grotto had been built in the 1700s is it possible that all knowledge of it had disappeared by the time of its discovery in 1835? The building of the Grotto would have been a mammoth task: the excavation of the passageways, transporting 4.6 million shells to the site, sorting those shells and enlisting enough labour to create the mosaic. How to do all this on rising open ground, next to a busy track without anyone noticing? Every towns person would have had to be in on the secret and not breathed a word about it.

Was the grotto a smuggler’s cave? There was certainly a good deal of smuggling going on in and around Margate but it’s impossible to imagine the Grotto being a useful hiding place. For one thing, it’s a fair distance inland from the coast with no tunnels extending to or from the cliffs, nor any providing entrance or escape routes to nearby houses. The idea that smugglers would bring their booty to an exposed field doesn’t hold water. And why decorate it with millions of shells?

After getting back to the daylight why not stopping in the little shop where the owners stock hundreds of products, some inspired by the designs in the Grotto, some inspired by the seaside and many inspired by, or made of, shells. The shells come in a wild variety of colours and sizes, with prices ranging from 10p to £90. I spent couple of minutes looking at an interesting range of jewellery, plus fossils, crystals and a small but perfectly formed selection of books from Shire and Thames and Hudson.

Since the first paying customers descended the chalk stairway debate has raged about the Grotto’s origins: for every expert who believes it to be an ancient temple, there’s someone else convinced it was the meeting place for a secret sect; for every ardent pagan, there’s a Regency folly-monger ready to spoil their fun. At first glance the Grotto’s design only adds to the confusion, with humble cockles, whelks, mussels and oysters creating a swirling profusion of patterns and symbols. A storehouse for the imagination, there are any number of interpretations; trees of life, gods, goddesses and something that looks very like an altar, to name but a few.

However, there’s only one fact about the Grotto that is indisputable: that it is a unique work of art that should be valued and preserved, whatever its age or origins.

“IN THE NEXT SIX MONTHS, UNLESS YOUR SOUL IS UTTERLY DEAD, YOU WILL HAVE A DREAM SET HERE.”

(“Far From the Sodding Crowd: More Uncommonly British Days Out”, Robin Halstead)