Big ship, small ships, relationships…

Looking at your first MSC cruise and wondering which ship to pick?

Seasoned cruisers will usually tell you they go on itinerary first and that the ‘hardware’ i.e. the ship, isn’t that important to them. But, you’ve seen online the pictures of Swarovski crystal stairs or cosmopolitan indoor promenades… Stories of zip wires high above the ocean… You have kids and a selection of log flumes is important to you… Or you don’t want to go on a mega ship and would prefer a smaller, more traditional ship.

Which ship should you go for?

 

Lirica Class

The Lirica Class of cruise ship are the oldest in the MSC fleet and also the smallest. These ships offer timeless elegance, and by the standards of other cruise lines are not actually that ‘old’ with MSC Armonia being 18 years old this year.

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Ships in this class: MSC Armonia (2001), MSC Sinfonia (2002), MSC Lirica (2003),  and MSC Opera (2004).

What to expect: The Lirica class are around 65000 tonnes and carry approximately 2500 passengers at full capacity. This is small by modern standards but certainly not too small in our opinion.

We’ve sailed on all four of the ships in this class and had a wonderful holiday on each one of them. The addition of the children’s aqua park during the Renaissance Program when a new lounge and balcony cabins were added compliments the classic style of the ship. The ships were subject to an amazing engineering project which saw them cut open and extended.

The coffee lounge above guest services and by the theatre has been a consistent hang out for us; a great place to listen to piano.

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There are no ‘bells and whistles’ in terms of water slides, sparkly stairs or a grand atrium however the ships are kept spotless and the intimate atmosphere means you will get to know the crew.

Find out more on MSC Opera, our most recent cruise on a Lirica class ship here

Musica Class

The Musica Class are in comparison mid-size and more modern, having been built between 2006 and 2010. Being on a larger scale these ships feature stunning atriums spanning a few decks with elegant marble stair cases.

At 92000-95000 GT they’re still ‘small’ in comparison to what’s being built today, however they certainly don’t feel it on the inside! The maximum capacity of MSC Poesia is around 3600 passengers.

Ships in this class: MSC Musica (2006), MSC Orchestra (2007), MSC Poesia (2008) and MSC Magnifica (2010)

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What to expect: More balcony cabins than the Lirica class, which often makes a balcony good value. Central atrium with sweeping marble staircases for that perfect cruise ship photograph, speciality dining is available (at cost), bars and lounges with unique themes and styles. MSC Magnifica is unique in this class of cruise ship as she also features an indoor pool.

The Tiger Bar on MSC Magnifica had a great atmosphere and had us dancing all night.

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Atrium, MSC Magnifica

Read more about our experience onboard MSC Magnifica here

 

Fantasia Class

The Fantasia Class of cruise ship are definite mega-ships. MSC Fantasia was our first MSC cruise and a ship we’ve had several cruises on so she holds a very special place in our hearts having first seen her while on a mini-break in Venice.

At 138,900 – 139,400 GT these ships are large and carry between around 4000 and 4400 guests (depending on cabin occupancy)

Ships in this class: MSC Fantasia (2008), MSC Splendida (2009), MSC Divina (2012), MSC Preziosa (2013)

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What to expect: The WOW Factor. These ships feature stunning Swarovski Crystal staircases in both the main atrium and also in the exclusive MSC Yacht Club which is available on all four of these ships and every MSC cruise ship built since – find out more about the Yacht Club experience here.

Speciality dining options, including the Galaxy restaurant on MSC Preziosa and MSC Divina which occupies a prime spot on deck 16 as well as the Butcher’s Cut steak house on all four ships.

Our favourite spot tends to be the Piazza on deck 6 or the bar above the casino on deck 7 (the name varies by ship).

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The impressive theatre holds around 1600 guests and the deck 15 aft pool bar is not to be missed for stunning views! MSC PReziosa and MSC Divina also feature infinity pools.

Apart from MSC Divina we’ve been on all four of these ships too – most recently MSC Preziosa which you can read about here.

 

Meraviglia Class and Meraviglia Plus

MSC Meraviglia was the first of the Meraviglia class of ship, launching in 2017 and  followed by the MSC Bellissima in 2019.

In a completely different style to the other MSC ships these beauties feature an indoor promenade or Galleria, perhaps similar in someways to RCCL’s Royal Promenade but with that unique Italian style of MSC. The Galleria is what makes these ships ‘the ship for all seasons’ as large-scale events can be held indoors instead of pool-side.

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Galleria Bellissima

At 171,598 GT MSC Meraviglia and MSC Bellissima are equal 6th largest ships in the World and are the largest of the MSC Fleet. MSC Grandiosa will be larger and pip them to the post at 181000 GT.

The Yacht Club on MSC Meraviglia was the first to be fully enclosed together – the Fantasia class had the exclusive restaurant at the aft of the ship whereas Meraviglia onwards feature the restaurant above the lounge.

Ships in this class: MSC Meraviglia (2017), MSC Bellissima (2019) (both Meraviglia Class) MSC Grandiosa (Nov 2019), MSC Virtuosa (2020)

What to expect: Stunning indoor Galleria flanked at one end with the theatre and MSC Aurea Spa and a multi-deck atrium with Swarovski crystal stairs at the other. Multiple speciality dining options including Japanese, Spanish, French and a steak house. You’ll find us in the Sky Lounge on Deck 19 watching the sunsets and enjoying excellent free snacks whilst listening to a live band.

To keep you entertained ropes courses, sportplex, a chocolate ‘factory’ and the jewel in the crown that is Cirque Du Soleil shows in an exclusive partnership with MSC Cruises.

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MSC Meraviglia launch ceremony with screen icon Sophia Loren

We feel privileged to have been invited to the naming of MSC Bellissima, which you can read about here. We’ve also cruised on Meraviglia which is covered in this blog. Our next MSC cruise will be on the MSC Grandiosa

 

Seaside Class

If MSC Meraviglia was the ‘ship for all seasons’ then MSC Seaside is the ‘ship that follows the sun’.

These ships are smaller than Meraviglia at 153,000 GT but they are so impressive! A game-changer in cruise ship design the Seaside-class aim to get guests closer to the sea, with a board-walk concept offering bars and dining options.

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We enjoyed MSC Seaview’s maiden voyage so much we booked her again later the same year and were pampered in the Yacht Club.

Ships in this class: MSC Seaside (2017) MSC Seaview (2018)

What to expect: There’s no indoor promenade on these ships so the interior is separated in to multiple, distinguished bars and lounges each with a different theme and style. The Venchi chocolate bar offers premium chocolates and crafted cocktails with the signature chocolate as an ingredient.

Entertainment wise these ships feature the longest zip wire at sea, which whilst very tempting neither of us have ever tried! The aqua park offers a choice of exciting water slides, rope bridges and of course a multitude of pools and hot tubs to relax in.

You’ll normally find us around the Champagne Bar which offers (naturally) a choice of Champagnes as well as fresh seafood* – extra charges apply

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Cheers! – Champagne Bar on MSC Seaview

A few surprises about MSC

 

Inside Cabin with Butler Service

We all know that booking an inside cabin is the most cost-effective way to cruise, but did you know that you can still indulge in the absolute luxury of the MSC Yacht Club whilst having an inside cabin? Every new MSC cruise ship launched since the MSC Meraviglia has inside Yacht Club cabins. For around the price of a Fantastica balcony with drinks package you can snap up one of these cabins. We’re trying it for the first time on the MSC Grandiosa’s maiden sailing from Hamburg to Marseille.

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A Yacht Club interior cabin – photo from http://www.msccruises.co.uk

If an inside cabin isn’t your first choice, MSC also often run a promotion called ‘Get the Best’ where you can book an inside and have a free upgrade to balcony. This offer is currently available direct through MSC UK and UK Travel Agents.

To find out more about our previous Yacht Club cruises check out our review of Fantasia.

 

Flexible itineraries 

This can be a bug bear for some cruisers, but in most sailing areas except cruises departing Miami, you can embark an MSC cruise at nearly every port of call. This gives cruisers the flexibility of choosing from a wider variety of airports to fly from to meet the ship. Use a reputable travel agent and create your own package with flights from your local airport and a pre or post cruise stay near the port. This gives an excellent opportunity to explore Meditteranean gems such as Naples, Barcelona and Rome among others.

What else do we love about this? Quite simply the fact that you’re not experiencing the whole ship changing over on one day, which speeds up embarkation.

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MSC Bellissima’s current itinerary allows guests to embark at all these ports except Valletta

 

Ever walked on crystals?

MSC have a bit of a ‘thing for bling’ – every ship launched since MSC Fantasia features Swarovski Crystal staircases. We were told on MSC Splendida that the silver ones are €5000 per step and the golden ones in the Yacht Club €10000 per step! To put that in to perspective, MSC Magnifica’s world cruise first went on sale at around £10000 per person.

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A ship for all seasons

MSC Meraviglia was dubbed as a ship for all seasons. With her indoor promenade it doesn’t matter if there’s bad weather ahead. Whilst everyone would prefer to cruise in pleasant sunshine, it’s inevitable that certain parts of the world, such as northern Europe it’s not guaranteed. The inside spaces mean that guests can still take full advantage of the cruise experience as what would usually be a deck party can be transferred inside. The promenade, or Galleria, is also topped with a stunning LED dome that’s used to project scenes  from under the sea, space, fireworks around the world and more!

Testament to the ability of this space to hold parties has got to be during the naming ceremony of MSC Bellissima when we were ushered inside as a storm was making the marquee wobble! Read more about our experience of Bellissima here.

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The ship that follows the sun

At almost the opposite end of the spectrum to MSC Meraviglia class ships focussing on the inside is the Seaside class of ship which focuses on getting guests closer to the sea. A boardwalk promenade offers dining space and also comfortable places to sit right outside the bars. A pool on deck 7 with the surrounding bars and ice cream parlour is a fabulous place to hang out! Not forgetting the longest zip wire at sea, an excellent water park and other amazing outdoor spaces there’s no wonder we loved Seaview so much on her maiden voyage we had to go on her again just a few months later! Check out our blogs on Seaview here – MSC Seaview so far…

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The Infinity Bridge, deck 18 MSC Seaview

 

Michelin starred chefs

MSC Cruises have partnered with Michelin starred chefs to create signature dishes for the elegant nights onboard the ships. Harald Wolfahrt, Ramon Freixa, Carlo Cracco and Roy Yamaguchi all have partnerships with MSC cruises. Ramon Freixa has also put his name to the Hola! tapas restaurant onboard.

On elegant night be sure to check out Ramon Freixa’s signature dish of duck royale or Carlo Cracco’s braised blade of beef!

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Cucina Rustica – Birmingham

Readers of our blog will know how in love we are with pretty much anything Italian, especially when it comes to cuisine! For my birthday this year we weren’t able to be on a cruise or in Italy (shame) and so we decided to book Cucina Rustica, currently ranked #16 of 115 Italian restaurants in Birmingham.

So, given that this restaurant isn’t the highest ranking why did we decide to choose it? Quite simply the menu and the fact it isn’t part of a chain. After the amount of time we have spent in Italy or on board Italian cruise ships I wanted something authentic that would provide wow factor in the cuisine.

We arrived just before our 7:30 reservation on Wednesday 3rd July and were shown to a table in the middle of the restaurant. A (presumably) junior waiter provided us with menus and the wine list and left us to look. I was somewhat surprised that we weren’t provided with the list of fish dishes which the website advises is available.

The extensive winelist focuses around Italy and France, and of course we opted for a bottle of Prosecco to toast the festivities and a bottle of Verdiccio to go with the food (although at that point we hadn’t decided what food to have, but we know we like a good bottle of this!

After being presented with the somewhat extensive list of daily specials, we made our decisions. All in all it was probably about half an hour between entering the restaurant and ordering. I opted for the Fegatini di Pollo – chicken livers with shallots, cream and pancetta and Andy opted for Salmone con Granchio – smoked salmon with crab meat and avocado.

For our main courses Andy ordered the Vitello ai Porcino – veal with porcini mushrooms in cream, whilst I decided to go with Costolette di Agnello – rack of lamb with honey glazed apples and Marsala wine sauce.

Our starters arrived within about 10 minutes, and yet again my photography doesn’t do food justice, but my excuse is that I was celebrating my birthday! I hope the photos do the food justice, and show how generous the portions are. One of these dishes would certainly do for lunch.

Andy would describe his salmon dish as good quality salmon which was well balanced with the crab and avocado. Good quality smoked salmon is not cheap and at £8.95 this represents good value in his opinion.

My chicken livers were tender and the marsala wine sauce perfectly brought together the dish and moistened the ciabatta bread it was served on.

 

No sooner had our plates been cleared then we were presented with our main courses. We had been sat with the plates infront of us for a while just taking in our surroundings and enjoying ourselves, but it did seem as if the need of the kitchen to deliver the food to tables was prompting the wait staff to clear the tables. Incidentally there was one table next to us that was not cleared properly throughout our time in the restaurant.

 

Yet again the main courses were excellent. My rack of lamb, which I had asked to be served rare, came out as exactly as I would have cooked it. I had seen previous reviews complain that what was served was lamb chops, and to be fair, this was lamb chops, however what the other review did not mention was that these were four very succulent and large lamb chops. I struggled to finish the portion!

 

Andy’s veal dish was a bit overdone for his liking, and the menu billed porcini and oyster mushrooms. We’re only just discussing this now hence not mentioning it at the time, however as you can see from the picture the mushrooms were just regular mushrooms. That being said, the dish was enjoyable, and the side salad we were both given was another generous portion. We’re personally not sure what the chips added.

 

We had no room for dessert and as such passed on that option, before paying the bill and leaving.

 

So our summary?

We’re left wondering whether there’s been a change of staff, as the head waitress / manager was working very hard with who we presume are new employees due to the university changeovers.

The food was in the main excellent, although the veal dish let it down, but we could have corrected that at the time if we’ realised, however it is worth mentioning.

Overall score? 8/10.

Would we return? Yes.

The Ivy – Birmingham

if i said to you ‘The Ivy’ you’d probably get images of the star-studded restaurant in London and think of a huge waiting list and high prices.

What if we told you that The Ivy has expanded and now has more local restaurants in some of the UK’s greatest places, including Brighton, Leeds and Birmingham and that at the end of the meal you won’t feel like a pelican with a whopping great big bill in front of you?

We booked The Ivy for our 1st wedding anniversary on 24th May; the anniversary is actually the 26th, but we had tickets for a show so decided to celebrate early!

The menu at The Ivy is varied with classic British dishes such as fish and chips or shepherd’s pie contrasting perfectly with more modern, international fare such as monkfish and prawn curry or crab linguine. With that in mind, The Ivy seems to offer something for all tastes.

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The beautiful rainbow of flowers outside were presumably there as the weekend saw Birmingham’s pride celebrations taking place. Walking through the door we were greeted by the host who was wearing a fantastic flowered suit which really suited his personality.

The inside of The Ivy, whilst having some eccentric twists in the decor is also very classy as you’d imagine with inspiration being taken from the original Ivy.

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We made an amateur mistake of ordering wine prior to hearing what the day’s specials were! Thinking we were going to opt for a chicken or pork based dish we opted for a bottle of Verdejo, Cuatro Reas from the Rueda region of Spain at £26 per bottle.

On hearing the special dishes we realised we’d want a red wine to go with the fillet steak with duck liver parfait we ordered at £32 each. As we’d already started on the Verdejo it was too late to change so we  ordered a bottle of Nero d’Avola from Sicily which was a bargain at £19.95 per bottle. Not a classic with fillet steak but we know the wine suits our tastes.

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Our steaks arrived and as you’d expect from a restaurant such as The Ivy they were cooked to perfection. Mine was BLUE – I put that in capitals as so many restaurants seem to struggle with the concept or don’t believe the customer genuinely wants a blue steak,

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As you can see from the picture the portion is quite large and we certainly felt it was worth the price paid. This was probably the best fillet steak I’ve ever had,

To accompany our meal we ordered a side of truffle and Parmesan chips and a portion of sprouting broccoli – the Parmesan and truffle whilst both being rich flavours worked together and didn’t compete with each other. The broccoli was wonderfully al dente and the lemon oil brought out the flavour of the young veggies perfectly.

We were unsure about whether to have a dessert, and as we had a show to go to we didn’t want to be too full and therefore declined. We were pleasantly surprised that the restaurant gave us two beautiful miniature raspberry tarts.

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The attention to detail of the small chocolate together with the smooth creme patissiere rounded off an excellent meal. We’d normally dine later in the evening hence not ordering a ‘proper’ dessert.

In terms of service we’d rate it very good; the shift changeover happened while we were sat at the table so it seemed a little odd to have two different waitresses, and we also prefer not to be interrupted whilst eating with the question “is everything O.K.?”. Whilst we completely understand the reason why restaurants do this and it is something I had to do whilst I began to embark on a career in hospitality I for one would prefer attentive service whereby the wait staff know if something is wrong, rather than be asked after just placing a fork-full of food in my mouth.

We had an absolutely excellent time at The Ivy and enjoyed the food more than the previous visit we had for my birthday last year. We will definitely back.

Your guide to MSC ‘Experiences’

All major cruise lines offer different packages based on what cabin grade you book. This can sometimes be an overwhelming amount of information to take in, especially if you’re not familiar with the wording a line uses or if you’re new to cruising.

Generally speaking you’ll find that you get more included with higher priced cabins. From Royal Suites with butler service to a comfortable inside cabin or single person studio, there is so much choice out there!

MSC offer a full range of cabins e.g. inside, ocean view, balcony and suite. On top of that, you have the option of picking your experience from Bella, Fantastica, Aurea and Yacht Club. But what do all these mean?

Bella – the entry point cabin, with insides, ocean view and balconies available. Bella offers a ‘no frills’ experience – you’ll need to pay extra for room service and access to the spa. The cabins might not be in the best locations around the ship so study the deck plan when booking if you have the option to choose your cabin.

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A typical Bella balcony on MSC Preziosa

Fantastica – The Fantastica experience is the next level up from Bella, and offers a few extra perks such as your priority of choice over dining time, a free photograph taken on Mediterranean night in the restaurant, free continental room service breakfast and free delivery of room service (room service items other than breakfast will be at a cost, unless you have the premium plus drinks package). The cabins tend to be in better locations and there is some flexibility with your booking in terms of changing passenger names and dates (refer to the MSC website or your agent for further details).

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A Fantastica balcony on MSC Bellissima

Aurea – Aurea is the spa experience with MSC. On top of the Fantastica experience benefits, this experience offers the Easy drinks package, MyChoice (anytime) dining, access to the spa, a complimentary massage, access to the exclusive sun deck (pictured), a complimentary MED by MSC reed diffuser and a dressing gown and slippers in your cabin.

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The exclusive Aurea sundeck on MSC Preziosa

MSC Yacht Club  – where to start here? The MSC Yacht Club is a ship within a ship concept, with an enclave of luxury cabins at the front of the ship. The Yacht Club has the advantage of it’s own private lounge, sun deck and restaurant with access to the spa area. The Premium all inclusive drinks package is included, together with complimentary room service and mini bar, which is not included elsewhere on the ship unless you have the premium plus drinks package.

The Yacht Club offers butler service, which whilst extremely attentive is also discrete. You’ll be escorted on and off the ship by a butler who, together with the Yacht Club concierge will be your ‘go to’ for any queries or provide any assistance you may need, such as booking speciality restaurants, arranging excursions and even unpacking your suitcase.

The menu for the Yacht Club restaurant is different to the main dining room, and whilst the main dining room is, in my opinion, excellent, the Yacht Club goes one step further with wines paired to the menu and flexible dining offering you the table size you would like at a time you’d like.

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Yacht Club suite, MSC Bellissima

6 Months to Grandiosa!

In exactly six months MSC Grandiosa will be christened in the port of Hamburg. I wanted to share this with you as Andy and I couldn’t be more excited for the maiden voyage as we will join the ship in Hamburg on November the 10th and make our way round to Marseille in the luxurious MSC Yacht Club.

Grandiosa will be MSC’s largest cruise ship to date with an extra 15 metres compared to Meraviglia and Bellissima. The Christening ceremony will be hosted by TV presenter, model and actress Michelle Hunziker who also presented the ceremony for MSC Seaview in 2018. Michelle grew up in Italy and is of Swiss descent. Speaking FIVE languages she embodies the spirit of MSC Cruises.

Highlights of Grandiosa are set to be:

  • The iconic Meditteranean Promenade, the 98.5 metre long LED Domed promenade will be the heart of the ship and a hub for entertainment, shopping and dining experiences
  • Speciality dining from the ever-popular Butcher’s Cut, L’Atelier French Bistrot, Hola! Tapas bar by two-Michelin starred chef Ramon Freixa and Kaito Sushi and Teppanyaki
  • Virtual personal cruise assistant ZOE – Artificial intelligence guest service assistant in each cabin. The ship will also be enabled for MSC’s MSC For Me App which among other functions allows guests to check their account, Daily Programme and find their way around the ship.
  • Two brand new state of the art shows from Cirque du Soleil at Sea. MSC have a unique long term partnership from the world famous company.

MSC Grandiosa will be the third ship of the Meraviglia generation and the first of the Meraviglia-plus class.  She’ll be the 5th new ship launched in just two and a half years as part of MSC Cruises €13.6 billion investment plan for the next ten years.

Grandiosa will be followed by a further 12 ships leading us up until 2027 with MSC Virtuosa being the next ship to launch in October 2020.

We really enjoyed our time at the star studded Christening ceremony of MSC Belissima earlier this year and you can read more about that experience here. We’ve also cruised on MSC Meraviglia and you can read our review of her here.

With so many new ships on their way we’re sure there will be plenty more cruises, blogs and posts to come!

Day 8 – Le Havre

We were planning to go to Honfleur from le Havre but unfortunately we didn’t make it. We’d had a lazy morning after a late night on our final sea day and therefore couldn’t get up early. The weather also didn’t look too kind and as such we decided to just have a walk around the city and were hoping to enjoy some mussels and wine, however it seemed as if the city was shut!

We visited the stunning Notre Dame Cathedral which was a first for us.

Once back onboard we met up with our friends Phil and Patrick and decided we would partake in a few ‘small’ (very large) glasses of wine. We were hoping to get to the main dining room for lunch but were unable to due to being otherwise engaged in liquid libations, as such, a few slices of MSC’s fantastic pizza from the buffet were in order.

For our evening meal we dined in the Galaxy speciality sushi restaurant which is actually part of the disco on deck 16. The restaurant offers stunning views due to its position  on the ship.

We’re not normally big fans of sushi but found the variety included in the complimentary black card meal to be fantastic with a selection of both sushi and sashimi presented in a variety of ways. We also added some extra tempura rolls, although we really didn’t need these!

The service in the restaurant was excellent and we’d highly recommend it. As you’ll see from the menu the prices aren’t bad either, so all in all it was a much better meal than we’ve had when visiting places like Yo! Sushi.

Following dinner we had a get together with some more of the chaps from our group and may have ‘slightly’ over done the booze!

We also needed to pack our cases, which is the saddest part of any cruise, however as we had only half unpacked after changing cabin this wasn’t too bad. We did however have a panic this morning when there were three odd shoes in the cabin and thought that Andy might not have had any to wear for disembarkation. Luckily there was another pair under the bed!

Another bottle of prosecco and plate of strawberries (Black Card benefit) had also been delivered however we certainly didn’t need any more!