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Sailing to the Sunshine – Cruising the Mediterranean with MSC

My brother and his wife love travelling, and since the arrival of their two boys, they’ve only increased their adventures. Travelling with two little (and very energetic boys) can be a handful, so the pair regularly go on cruise ships, because it’s just so handy to have everything you need in one place.

I had been on a cruise once before when I was 13 and was itching to go on another. My sister-in-law managed to get a deal from Click & Go, sailing on MSC Meraviglia last November. I decided to follow her footsteps and snap up the same deal myself for later in the year. We paid €500 per person for a 7-day cruise, return flights from Dublin to Barcelona and a carry on bag. That was perfect for us! Included in that price is all your food (excluding speciality restaurants and room service), and entertainment on board.

We decided to add a classic drinks package onto our cruise, priced at €26 per person, per day. I would highly recommend you to buy a package before you embark the ship as when you order any beverages onboard they all carry a 15% service charge. So two bottles of water plus the charge could cost you nearly €7.00, so it’s more than worthwhile to get a package. There are other packages that include top brands of alcohol etc, but to be honest the classic package is perfect. It covers all soft drinks, teas/coffees and a great selection of spirits and some wines.

So, what is there to do on board? Well, the question really should be what isn’t there to do. There are indoor and outdoor pools, a gym, kids clubs, cafés, shopping, live music, nightly shows in the Broadway Theatre and so much more. For dinner, you are assigned a restaurant but you don’t have to dine here if you don’t want to. We did on our first night and I wasn’t mad about the food so we decided to grab our meals from the marketplace buffet. This self-service buffet is where most people eat breakfast, lunch and dinner so it can get pretty busy, although they are preparing fresh food throughout the day and even make their own mozzarella so there’s food to suit all tastes. I prefer table service (although they do provide this for drink orders), so we decided to buy an onboard package to some of the ships speciality restaurants. The package we bought was for a three-course meal in two restaurants of our choice and a three-course meal plus a show at Cirque du Soleil at Sea. It cost €90 per person was completely worth every penny.

The two speciality restaurants we dined in where The Butchers Cut, an America style steak house and Eataly, an Italian themed eatery. There is also an Asian restaurant that we didn’t get to try, and I am kicking myself that we didn’t stop by. The aromas wafting from the dining room were mouthwatering Both were delicious and the quality of food was far superior to the buffet and other restaurants. The meal we had in the Cirque du Soleil restaurant was also very pleasant, but it was the show that we were really excited about. There were two different Cirque du Soleil shows running, the first a more traditional style and the second a much more modern offering. We bought tickets to see the first show, which only cost €15 and included a cocktail. I’m a bit of an amateur thespian and I spend a lot of my social time going to see shows with my family and friends, so I’ve racked up a fair number of viewings. But I have to see Cirque du Soleil was spectacular. At times my jaw was literally dropping as we watched the performers on stage. The level of skill and talent is beyond belief. It was after this show we decided to buy the special dinner package and see the other show

Barcelona, Spain

We boarded the ship in Barcelona and this is also where we disembarked. We didn’t have a lot of time to explore the city but we did wander around a little bit and enjoyed some great coffee in Cafés el Magnífíco, which I highly recommended.  Getting to and from the airport was super easy. You can pick up a blue Aerobus from outside the airport, and buy a return ticket for around €10.

Marseille, France

This was our first stop on our cruise and we were blessed with gorgeous weather. We bought tickets for a private bus to take us from the cuise ship into the city of Marseille (it’s about 30 minutes away) and strolled around this vibrant city. If you are a keen shopper you’ll be in your element here as there are loads of big brand names and we picked up a few pieces of jewellery as souvenirs. There is a big Ferris wheel down by the harbour that you can ride on, giving you incredible views across the city. Along the harbour, there are many cafés and restaurants where you can do some great people watching.

Genoa, Italy

When you dock in Genoa you’re right in the city, so all the main attractions are within walking distance. We headed for Piazza De Ferrari, a large square with an impressive water fountain at its centre. A few minutes walk from here is Palazzo Ducale. This 13th-century building house different exhibitions and has a pretty indoor square with high ceilings allowing in lots of natural light. In front of the Palazzo Ducale there was a food market selling all manner of delicious Italian fare. We sat in the café overlooking the market and enjoyed coffee and pastries, pinching ourselves that it was mid-January and we were dining al fresco in the sun.

Civitavecchia, Italy

We arrived in Civitavecchia on a Sunday which meant the majority of places were closed. We did find a gorgeous coffee shop where we had the most creamy latte, and they cost us just €2.40 for two cups. I love you Italy! When you dock here you are just a short walk from Forte Michelangelo, a historic 16th-century fortress where you can walk around and enjoy the ocean views. There’s a boardwalk where you can take a nice walk (luckily for us it was nice and sunny), and there is a small National Archeological Museum, entry is free. You wouldn’t spend much more than 30 minutes here, but it’s nice to view the old statues and stonework in the museum.

Five kilometres away from the town centre is the Taurine Baths. This historic site was once the meeting place for locals to unwind in the thermal baths, renowned for their healing properties. There really wasn’t much to do here, so unless you were visiting in the high season (we came during offseason), then I would either go on an excursion with MSC in Civitavecchia or just stay on the ship and make the most of your time onboard – a trip to the spa perhaps?

Palermo, Italy

This was the day the rain arrived, which meant we were looking for shelter in between showers. The city is just beautiful. Modern shops are housed in spectacular old buildings and simply wandering through the street is an activity in itself. Here we stopped by some local coffee shops and tried to speak a little Italian (not very well may I add), but the locals were all very friendly and helpful. I would have loved to stay longer but the weather was taking such a turn and my poor mother was suffering from a cough, so after a quick visit to the pharmacy, we headed back to the warmth of the ship.

Valletta, Malta

What can I say about Malta…I absolutely loved it. When you stop in the various cities on a cruise, they organise excursions such as guided tours, activities and so on. These, of course, cost extra, so for some, it’s more preferable to explore the city by themselves. Since it was our last port of call to visit we decided to book an excursion. My mam had previously been to Malta and visited Mdina, The Silent City and she said it was amazing. So we booked on a tour that would take us there, the tour also took us to a glass making factory where we could see the famous Mdina glass made on site (the glass factory wasn’t really my thing, it was more for those who wanted souvenirs). The city of Mdina, however, was just spectacular. This fortified city was once of the capital of the country and overlooks the island, (the views from here are just incredible). Interestingly people still live within its beautiful walls, with the populations around 300. Very little cars are allowed within the walls, and most of the inhabitants are descendants of Spanish nobility who once lived there and houses are passed down through generation.

Following our visit to Malta, we spent the next day at sea sailing back to Barcelona. There was still so much to the ship we hadn’t explored, so it was nice to have a day to wander around. If you have never been on a cruise holiday it might not seem like your cup of tea, but trust me, once you step on board you’ll be hooked! There’s so much entertainment on board, delicious food, amazing bars, shopping, lots of fitness activities and more. Add to that you are able to visit lots of different cities during your holiday. So this year, why not do something a little different and set sail on the open seas?

FEATURE BY SINÉAD SMYTH
Beara Gin

Sinéad is a Culinary Arts graduate from DIT. She is a passionate cook with a love of fine dining and modern Irish cuisine. A gin lover, Sinéad loves seeking out cosy new pubs and sampling a variety of craft beers.

If she’s not dining out, Sinéad loves travelling the world exploring new cultures and cuisines. Working with TheTaste allows Sinéad to fully immerse herself in the Irish food industry.

Sinead Smyth Sinead Smyth

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