Every week when we go to our local grocery store, there are vacation flyers always available. There are different trips through each grocery store – whether they are bus trips, two day weekend getaways, or short to long cruises. The kids have gotten so used to us grabbing one to look at, they started doing it for it. There are usually a lot of trips that look “good”, but none I’d be completely happy putting my money towards. Until one – 8 day, 7 night, Greek Island cruise. Flights into Greece from Germany-area are never “cheap”, so we hadn’t explored that option yet. But this was a great way to see Greece (at least some of it) without an expensive flight ticket.
We had friends use Vacationstogo to book a cruise a couple years earlier, and after a little research, they were in fact the cheapest company. The only problem was, there were no rooms for five people. We asked my hubby’s parents if they would be interested, and they agreed. We would need two rooms – one for four, and one for three. A bonus for MSC, is the fact that kids are FREE! Yes, you read that right, free! We paid something like 68$USD per child for tax purposes – which was not even close to what a normal price per child would have been… For this reason, my hubby and I decided to “splurge” a little. Instead of having an inside cabin, we wanted a balcony. I mean, really, for what we were spending already, what was an extra couple hundred euros?? We were willing to pay for the kids originally, so the fact that we saved probably three thousand dollars by choosing MSC, made the balcony choice even more worth it!
The cruise left from the port of Venice, Italy. Venice has always been a must-do for me, so this made me very happy. The fact that we got to Venice two days early to explore – and on my 30th birthday might I add – made it even better! We COULD have gotten there the Saturday instead of Friday, but the flight would have landed at four in the afternoon. After getting from the airport into downtown Venice (which we realized took over an hour…), it would not have been worth it. We would not have had any time to explore, which would have made us have to go back to Venice at some point in the future (I know, a shame right.. lol). Plus now, I have an awesome birthday story of spending my 30th in Venice – I really couldn’t go wrong…
When you get to the port on Embarkation Day, there are many cruises leaving. You really need to keep an eye on where to go, or you will be lost. We got off our water taxi, and had to walk literally over a kilometer (much of it uphill…) with our one suitcase to pull, and each holding heavy backpacks. For my husband and I it was an easy thing to do; it was harder for his parents to walk it (just an FYI if ever you do this…). The last thing you want to do once you get to the port is get lost and have to walk even more… Our cruise was further in the back of the port, so we were able to sit and wait for a shuttle to bring us. The kids especially enjoyed sitting down.
The Sunday morning of Embarkation Day, we made sure to leave our hotel in time to make it for our 12:40 check-in time. In the end, that time is an estimation. You can pretty much get there any time until check-in ends, and you will be fine. You check-in on the port floor, and drop off your suitcases there. You take an escalator upstairs, where you are stopped by a photographer to take a photo of you embarking on the ship. They pretty much force you to take a photo, but that’s alright; if you don’t want to buy it, you don’t have to. After your photo, you wait to go through security. It’s well organized though – you get a number, and when your number gets called, you get in the security line. No long lines to wait in, no pushing and shoving, you get to sit and relax until your number is called. MSC even had sparkling water, normal water, and orange juice while you wait – all for free.
Security is normal airplane security. Once you pass that, FINALLY onto the ship itself! Standing next to it, holy crap this boat is HUGE! You could see the excitement in the kids; eyes!! Walking onto the ship itself, you feel like walking onto the Titanic. You’re greeted in every direction by someone new, wishing you a great time on board. You stop to take your picture for your Cruise Card, then onto the rest. The kids especially get stopped and given a special bracelet, corresponding to their age. They made the bracelets match the parents’, so if they ever got lost, they would know who their parents were. You get stopped by people offering excursions, but we didn’t want that yet. Then, we were stopped by the drink package vendors – these were what we wanted!
Hubby and I knew we wanted drink packages for sure. We did not want to worry at the end of the cruise with a huge unanticipated bar bill. We inquired beforehand, and were told if we buy the package before, or on the ship, it was the same cost – so we decided to wait. Maybe the cruise would have a different offer… We knew adult prices for an all-inclusive were 26euros a day, and kids were 12euros each, a day. 88euros a day was a lot for drinks… So when the person who stopped us offered kids free, hands down we took it! No ifs ands or buts. So we got new cruise cards with the drink package on it, and off we went to find food! It was 1:30, and our rooms were not going to be ready until 2:30/3:00, so the only option we had was to eat at the buffet. Being able to have a glass of wine after all the hustle of the morning, it was nice to have a drink package!
For not having eaten all day, this buffet was like a child in a candy store. Check out the parmigiana cheese below – that’s my heaven 😉
After filling our bellies with food, off to our room. Our room was nice. Definitely not a huge room like hotels have, but it was “okay”. All three kids wanted to stay in our room with us, so fitting the five of us in the one room wasn’t easy, but it is do-able. In the photo below, my one son is standing at the balcony window, and one of my other sons is sitting on a couch – what becomes a double bed. You COULD squeeze three kids onto it – comfortably enough. But since they all wanted to stay with us, they did it without complaint.
Since we could only check-in our big suitcase, we all had to carry our backpacks and small bags until our room opened – so it was nice to be able to finally drop them all off.
Next was to explore the ship. First was to find the pools – of which there were two. There were also four hot tubs.
We found the playpark for the kids to play in – quite surprising actually how nice it was. The only thing that I didn’t like, was that there were no benches to sit on to watch the kids play.
After exploring a little, it was time to sit on the deck and relax by the Copacabana Bar near the pools.
Embarkation Day went through like a blur – went way too quickly. But boy did we ever have fun!
STAIRS VS ELEVATOR
I told myself before we even embarked on the ship, that I was going to do my best to always take the stairs, never the elevator. Better exercise that way, so I wouldn’t feel so guilty eating 😉 Even when we would have to go from the 4th to the 13th floor – we did it. Kids did it all the time also, usually beating us to the top (their stamina amazes me!). My husband’s parents usually took the elevator, but we really did walk. I’m glad I was able to do it actually – a good surprise to myself!
Every evening before bed, the next day’s program was put on our bed, so we would know what to expect. I LOVED this!! You would know what show was going to be on, what activities were going to be happening…etc It even had the next day’s weather and information about where the ship was going to port. I was always happy to read the program.
Was the drink package worth the cost in the end? Absolutely!! (prices below except for the cocktails and wine/beer may vary slightly).
Coke – 2.70€
Glass of wine – 5.00€
Glass of beer 5.00€
Cappuccino – 2.50€ / Double Cappuccino 2.80€
Espresso 2.00€ / Double Espresso 2.40€
Any cocktail – 6.75€
Kids Cocktails – 4.75€
I think by the fourth or fifth day we had already used up the entire cost of our package, which means after that we were just making money. Goes quickly with the prices you see above. Especially with the non-basic coffees having a cost to them, it adds up for this coffee drinker right here…
I find meals were well-enough organized, although almost not at the same time. The one thing that drove me nuts, was when two people were sitting at a table for eight.. We were a group of seven most of the time, so when we had trouble finding seating for all of us, and saw that, kinda made me pissed. But for the most part, meals were really good.
There was one buffet, two restaurants (one specifically assigned to your group), and one extra-fee sushi bar. It says there is a pizzeria, but it’s part of the buffet line.
Breakfast we usually did on our own. We didn’t want to wake up early unless we had to, so we usually told my husband’s parents we would just meet them around lunchtime.
Breakfast had two options. You could eat at the buffet and serve yourself, or you could go to one restaurant for a sit-down meal (as well as a small buffet are to get your own cold-cuts and/or bread/pastries. This is where we usually came for breakfast. It was nice to sit down and have someone serve you, rather than having to get up every two minutes because one child realized they forgot something to eat… The sit-down had waffles, pancakes, omelets to your liking, hashbrowns…etc Each morning the three kids all had a ham and cheese omelet, which as amazing for my kids! In the buffet, they only had them with veggies, so it was nice to actually see the kids eat something “different”. And of course coffee and juices to your liking!
For lunch, the only option was the buffet – don’t get me wrong, the lunch was always good!! I may make it sound bad, but it was always good food! And basic wine and beer was always available! 😉 There was a Kids Section, and an adult section. Of course the kids can eat from the adult area, but the Kids one had more “kid choices” – fries, fish sticks, rice, meatballs. They had an entire “fast food” type of section – fries, hot dogs, hamburgers, cheeseburgers; kind of like a McDonalds. But let me tell you, the burgers were better than McDonalds! I think I probably had one daily – the reason I always took the stairs from floor to floor instead of taking the elevator! I’m not big on sweets, but the amount of different cakes and pastries always looked good. I can honestly say I never tried any though, so I couldn’t tell you if they tasted as good as they looked..
Our group had the early supper seating at 6:15 – thank goodness! The late seating was 8:15 – quite late for a dinner with kids. We had our own reserved table for every night, so we never had to get there and have to wait to be seated. Each night there was a different menu, adults and kids! It seriously felt like we were dining in a five star restaurant every night! There was always 3-4 appetizers to choose from, 3-4 main meals, and 3-4 deserts. But the thing is, you could order as many as you wanted. So if you wanted two of each, you have a six course meal. Everything on the menu always looked amazing, so most of the time we ordered at least two of something on the menu. And the kids were able to order something from the adult meal most of the time – my twins usually ordered the soup!
Throughout the entire cruise, two nights were gala nights. You had to pay extra for a specialized meal, but it was worth the price. One night was lobster for 25€ which only my husband ordered, and the next one was steak for 20€ (a steak that if we order in a restaurant near home, is 40-50€). My husband and his dad both had the steak, then another course in our menu. The food never disappointed! Not once did we ever say “oh I shouldn’t have gotten this”.
There is something like twelves bars on the ship. More than we would ever use – we went to two more frequently. Our favorite was the bar right in front of our Restaurant. I ordered drinks I most of the time knew I would enjoy. My husband started at the top of the cocktail list and worked his way down. By the end, he’d tried them all and knew which he liked the most. I tried a good amount of them, but stuck to what I liked. I was kind of grateful for that though – at this one specific bar, the bartender and waitress always knew what we wanted. We would walk in, and he would say “one Aperol Spritz, and one Strawberry Daiquiri”; which is exactly what we always ordered! In the evenings they would always bring chips and olives to enjoy as well, so it was good to have that familiarity.
My drink of choice once I discovered it ended up being the Aperol Spritz. It consists of Aperol, Prosecco, and Soda Water – easy and simple, but so good!
There were different shows every night on the ship. We didn’t realize there was one the first night, which makes me a little sad, but all the others were absolutely amazing! And each one different. By the end, we were looking forward to getting the program to check out what the next show would be!
The first one was Grease. The rest were Gotham (yes, about Batman!), Witches of Paris, RockStars, King Arthur, and Ghostbusters! The last day they even had a Children’s Show with Disney characters singing their famous songs. Each show lasted just under an hour, and were just incredible. They had acrobatics, singings, dancing… The very last show had the cast expressing their thanks for everyone being there – it really was a moving moment.
I absolutely LOVED the kids club. We experienced our first one in Egypt, so I had a small feeling on what to expect – but this one was so much better!
There was one Mini Club from 3-6 years old. The Pirates Club for 7-12 year olds. And then there was a Teens Club. On the first night of the cruise we brought the kids to see what it was like, and what to expect. We had waivers to fill out as per normal. On this waiver, was the question of if you would allow your children to sign themselves out alone – without an adult present. Definitely NOT! So instead of my older son having a red bracelet, he was given a green one, which showed the animators he could not leave by himself. Next was who we gave permission to sign them out. Of course my husband and I, and we also put his parents on that list. The animators scanned one child’s bracelet at a time, then each adult who had permission. As the safety of my children was at hand here, I was very happy about this whole process. I felt very safe with my kids being there without a parent.
My older son is 7, but he didn’t want to be alone without his brother, which of course made him not want to go . We asked the younger club if he could still come in, and they had no problem with it at all.
The activities for the kids as part of the club, were amazing! There was a Lego Master certificate you could get – just by building Lego! They sang songs and danced in front on the stage before the evening shows. My kids are very shy, so to see them be able to sing and dance and “open up” in front of a crowd, was a nice moment.
The last full day of the cruise, the kids club had a “challenge” – one team against another. There was a Hula Hoop Challenge, which team dribbled a basketball better, and which team could build the best Lego scene in one minute. Both teams “won” in the end.
The animators always wore some type of costume for the shows at night. Gala night they wore pretty dresses, one night they had on cowboy costumes – it was always different, and always fun!
One night after the show when we went to pick them up, the twin faces were painted like a zombie, and I think Beetlejuice. They hate having their faces painted, so I loved seeing this.
They each made their own T-Shirts with the MSC Mascot Doremi on it.
My favorite activity, was they got to make homemade gnocchi. For me, who used to make homemade gnocchi for New Year’s Eve, this was cool! They had to roll, they had to cut the pieces – of course not one piece the same size. We thought they were going to save it and make it for the kids for supper. Nope. They had cooks who boiled the gnocchi right away, and the kids were all eating within minutes. There was even too much, so extras went to the parents. This was good food!! My “picky kids” who say “I don’t like that, it looks funny” – ate the entire plate they had! At the end, each child got a certificate saying they were successful in making the pasta. It was pretty cool!!
The first night of the cruise, we took the kids to the Kids Club after supper – we thought they had to eat with us. Second night, same thing – then went to the show afterwards, where we picked them up. We realized the next day in talking to the animators during the afternoon, that for the evenings, the kids can go to the Kids Club, where the animators will take them to the buffet to eat, back to play for a bit, then take them to the evening show. So the adults could eat in peace, without the kids getting bored between courses (no matter how much entertainment you bring, they still amazingly get bored lol). It’s a very nice option they offer.
I read online during my research before the cruise, that when the ship dock at the ports, the Kids Club stays open so kids can go play and adults can get off and explore alone. Now, to tell you the truth, I have no idea if that actually happened or not. I never looked into it, as I wanted to have my kids with me when I got off the boat. For the amount we have traveled in Europe thus far and the long days we endure, a couple hours of exploring was fine for them. Plus, I just like having my kids with me when we see different cities – they learn from it, just as much as we do; whether they know it or not.
There were three theme nights we took part in. Two Gala Nights, and one White Theme. The gala night was exactly that – fancy suits and dresses, even for the waiters and waitresses in the restaurants. I knew about one Gala Night beforehand, so I was able to bring nice clothing for them. The second one surprised me, but we were able to make due.
The one night I wasn’t sure about was the White Theme. I didn’t have anything white. I found this beautiful dress in Santorini though, and was able to partake 🙂
There was an arcade, a basketball course. The mini putt was very enjoyable for the kids! Playing golf with Santorini in the background was pretty cool! I was able to get a book from the on-board library to read in my down-time (ended up not really having any…).
The safety of passengers is number one. When the winds were too strong, they would block off the levels of the boat where you would normally be able to walk outside. Also, if you dock at a place where you need to tender (stay in the water and get a boat to the mainland) and the wind is too strong, you cannot get off the boat. We learned this the hard way, not being able to get off the ship like we wanted. But again, our safety was first, no matter how upsetting it was.
You may be wondering if the balcony was worth the extra splurge? 100% yes! I would do it again next time! When I would wake up in the middle of the night and feel evertthing swaying, I could go outside and see exactly how bad the waves were. When it was beautiful outside, but too windy to sit out on the top decks, I would come and sit on my balcony. When I just wanted air, I could go outside and see the double rainbow from the rain that had just stopped. 100% worth it!
In the end, I am so glad we were able to go on this cruise! It really was one hell of a trip. Would I do a cruise again? Yes, definitely! Some place else, to new destinations, but the cruise itself was a fun time! Best of all, when the kids ask to go back on a “big boat”, you know they enjoyed it – and for the kids, that’s all that matters!!