We saw this short cruise as a quick getaway for the Easter weekend, with the cruise section going from Hamburg to Southampton.Having cruised from / to Hamburg before we’ve seen all of the main sites, therefore decided to fly direct from Birmingham to Hannover and stay there for a couple of days before moving on to Hamburg and boarding the ship.
Hannover is a fairly compact city with some interesting sites. The Herrenhausen Gardens – the former gardens to the royal palace of the House of Hannover were very well kept and worth a visit – number of pretty gardens with fountains, statues and a maze. €3.50 per person seems relatively cheap.
We ate dinner at the Brauhaus in Hannover – a traditional German brewery that crafts it’s own beer on site and offering traditional food – Andy, my partner, had a currywurst whilst I attempted to eat a schweinsackser (pork knuckle) – needless to say it was huge and I couldn’t finish it, but it was nice to try something different.
The following morning, Easter Saturday, it was on to Hamburg on the ICE train, first-class. Great experience and I think we caught a glimpse of Bergen-Belson concentration camp. Arrival at Hamburg HauptBahnHoff was smooth. There was a gazebo set up outside with tickets being sold for the transfer to the ship at €5 each. We seemed to be waiting a long time, and were advised that there were problems at Altona port, meaning the coaches couldn’t take the passengers to the port. We were waiting in the cold for quite a long time, and it was trying to snow. As we have another cruise coming up we didn’t want to risk catching cold so decided to get the S-Bahn line 1 to Hamburg Altona station. A short taxi ride from the station to the cruise terminal (€7.50).
The cruise terminal was heaving! We dropped our suitcase at the bag drop area and went to join the queue. Luckily as loyal MSC customers we have learnt the Black Card, their highest status in their reward scheme. One of the perks of this is priority boarding. It still took about 45 minutes to an hour to get onboard.
I believe the issues with embarkation were the culmination of a few factors.
- MSC usually pick up passengers at a number of ports. As it was Easter weekend and there had been a number of deals there were many more passengers joining than there normally would be
- The Altona cruise terminal is relatively small, with only three x-ray machines (this is managed by the port, not MSC)
- A good majority of passengers had a later boarding time, but all turned up as early as they could, which created a glut. Apparently there had also been further technical issues (I think a scanner broke but not sure)
Whilst I can understand people being annoyed at it taking a few hours to board a good number of those who have complained about this should remember that they shouldn’t have even been at the cruise terminal for a few hours!
Once we got onboard we purchased the deluxe drinks package at €50 per person per night. This is more expensive than previously but in our opinion it was well worth it.
I’m pretty sure I’ve posted about drinks packages previously so won’t go in to all of the details!
Following a glass of wine it was up to the cabin to collect our cruise cards. We had a lovely, spacious Fantastica balcony cabin on deck 10 – a bottle of Asti and a couple of bowls of fruit were waiting to greet us – a very nice touch and another perk of having the black card.
As we’d missed lunch we headed to the buffet for a snack – the welcome onboard buffet was still in full swing with plenty of choices – traditional Italian dishes, roast beef on the carvery station and even shepherds pie so a really good variety to suit most tastes.
After a bit of food it was off to explore the ship. I’ll be open and honest here – I really love MSC Fantasia, it almost feels like home. Knowing Magnifica is a different class, we went with an open mind. We were not disappointed. The ship is frankly absolutely stunning. Whilst there are no Swarovski crystal stairs, there is a grand atrium spanning three decks with sweeping marble staircases.
The focal points of the atrium are a back-lit, colour changing water feature which has a beautiful grand piano on an ‘island’.
The multitude of bars around the ship are all well executed, each with a different colour schemes and decoration themes. Topaz, Tiger, Amethyst, Sports Bar… the list goes on! The bars are constructed of high quality marble or granite, with a great standard of furnishing. The maintenance on MSC is second to none with an exemplary level of cleanliness. This ultimately means that an eight year old ship looks as good as it did the day it was Christened in Hamburg by Sophia Loren in March 2010.
Our first night’s dinner was taken in the Oriental Plaza Asian Fusion restaurant. A set menu with a number of different courses, savours and flavours was offered free of charge to us as Black Card holders. MSC Magnifica had just completed a Grand Voyage from Brazil, which ultimately meant that several items were missing or unavailable – noodles being one of them.
Whilst frustrating, this does unfortunately happen after long cruises. We’ve previously taken one such cruise and have another coming up. As the stores start to run out of stock items will disappear. The ship is then re-stocked but it takes time for this to be sorted – having seen the stores on MSC Splendida it is like a military operation in warehousing.
The first evening (and early morning hours of the second day) were spent in the various bars and the disco,
Our second day was a full day at sea. We got up fairly early and had breakfast in the main dining room – eggs Benedict with smoked salmon for me and a cooked breakfast for Andy. Quick, attentive service in the dining room provided for a great experience first thing in the morning – very easy and no searching for a table etc.
A day at sea provides a brilliant opportunity to get to know the ship, the crew and have a relaxing time, and enjoy yourself. When breakfast had settled I went to the gym and enjoyed a run looking out over the bow of the ship – what a great view and how motivational.
As we moved around the bars during the day we met several crew members we’ve seen on previous cruises. The most notable was probably Anastasia in the Tiger Bar – she was very pleased to see us again and gave us a hug to say hello and welcome us back!
The morning’s entertainment was an Oktoberfest theme party, with a good selection of bottled beers available (not included in the standard drinks package), sausages, pretzels and sauerkraut to give that authentic German feel – as we had spent two days in Germany we decided not to indulge in the food but to just have a beer in the spirit of good fun!
Lunch was taken in the main dining room – a very interesting menu, with starters of spring rolls, salad and soup and main courses of pasta, sandwiches and octopus! Whilst all of the options were tempting I opted for salad and octopus. The octopus came and it was hot, well presented and well cooked – it can go rubbery if over-cooked but this was perfect! It might not be a dish for the squeamish as it was a bowl full of baby octopi but I thoroughly enjoyed it!
During the afternoon the sun came out so we took the opportunity to go for a swim – even the outdoor pool is heated which was great as on other ships the outdoor pools have been incredibly cold and a shock to the system! The hot tubs were also quite welcome when the sun started to shine through.
The final night of our cruise was a gala night – we aren’t dinner suit people unless going to a ball so took dark lounge suits. The whole feeling of a gala night is that it is something special. Passengers get dressed up, the crew have a smarter than usual uniform (bow ties etc), the menu is something extra special, there’s the opportunity to have a photo with the Captain etc.
We’d had a card put through the cabin to let us know our dining table had been changed to a different number. A lovely table for two was waiting for us, in a good spot of the restaurant. The Easter Day gala menu was a completely new one on us, with some wonderful different options any foodie would love!
The scallops, turkey, risotto and guinea fowl were excellent, followed by a melt in the middle chocolate pudding. A bottle of Muller Italian white wine accompanied the meal, with a glass of dessert wine as a digestive. I think this was one of the best meals I’ve had on cruises so far.
The rest of the night was spent dancing in the various bars and the disco, before a final night cap and a spin on the fruit machines in the casino.
This mini cruise to me completely embodied all of the best parts of MSC. Yes there were a few little hiccups, but no deal breakers and nothing to cause any major upset.
We had intended this cruise to be a taster of the changes MSC are making to cater more to the British market, however the official cruise season from Southampton didn’t start until today when we disembarked. This meant a number of the tweaks weren’t available.
Before disembarking we spoke with Alastair, the hotel director this morning and had a great chat about the ship and intended changes. Alastair has a fine background, having brought Princess and RCCL ships to the UK market previously. A British chef will soon be onboard, meaning roast beef and Yorkshire Pudding will be available on Sundays, there will be British comedians and tribute acts. The menus will stay largely the same but there will be some more British themed items to suit the palate.
I think that this formula seems completely the right way to go for MSC to attract more British cruisers and the season will be a success once the changes are embedded and settle down. Thank you to MSC for another wonderful cruise – we look forward to being on board again very soon.