MSC Virtuosa to debut in Southampton

Full press release from MSC Cruises – 29 March 2021

SUMMER 2021: MSC CRUISES’ FLAGSHIP MSC VIRTUOSA TO PERFORM HER INAUGURAL SEASON AROUND THE BRITISH ISLES GIVING BRITISH GUESTS AND THEIR FAMILIES AN OPPORTUNTY FOR A MUCH DESERVED AND ALL-INCLUSIVE SAFE AND MEMORABLE HOLIDAY

·         Sailings taking place under the protection of MSC Cruises tried and tested health and safety protocol, available to UK residents only of all ages both vaccinated and unvaccinated

·         Ashore visits only as protected excursions

·         Cruise line to initially offer three and four-night sailings departing from Southampton

·         From June 12th, embarkation also available in Liverpool and Greenock, Scotland on 7-night cruises

London, UK – 29 March 2021 – MSC Cruises revealed today further details of the recently announced short breaks and week-long summer sailings around the British Isles departing from the port of Southampton. Starting 20 May, MSC Virtuosa – the line’s recently delivered and newest flagship – will be deployed to the UK for her inaugural season and replace MSC Magnifica to spend summer operating this special range of sailings to some of the UK’s most popular ports such as Portland, Liverpool, Greenock and Belfast. All operations will be conducted in accordance with relevant government requirements and will see the implementation of MSC Cruises’ industry-leading health and safety protocol. The sailings are available to UK residents only, both vaccinated and unvaccinated at the present time. Sales open for these cruises on Thursday, 1 April.

Antonio Paradiso, Managing Director MSC Cruises UK & Ireland said: “Following our recent announcement that we intend to offer cruises in the UK we have been overwhelmed by the response from MSC Cruises customers and avid cruisers eager to get back on board and experience a cruise with us this summer. I am personally very proud to be able to bring our newest ship MSC Virtuosa to the UK so that our valued British guests are the first to officially come on board and the first to experience this incredible next generation ship. She is the latest, most-innovative and environmentally advanced to join the MSC Cruises fleet and we couldn’t be more delighted to offer UK holidaymakers and their families the chance to discover her world class facilities. We have all been waiting for something exciting to look forward to and this ship has lots of new features for our guests to experience including new speciality restaurants and a brand-new immersive entertainment lounge with a humanoid robotic bartender and much more.”

MSC Virtuosa, Sky Lounge

MSC Virtuosa will initially operate six mini-cruises that with embarkation in Southampton will include a stop in Portland. These will be followed by a series of seven-night sailings providing embarkation also in the ports of Liverpool and Greenock, giving holidaymakers across the UK the option to easily escape on holiday with minimal travel.

The range of four-night mini-cruises will offer a late sail from Southampton and will provide the ultimate short getaway for couples or friends in search of a quick escape. The ship will call at the Isle of Portland in Dorset, part of the Jurassic Coast, where guests will be able to go ashore to enjoy the perfect day out at the beach. The itinerary will also include two days at sea so that guests can enjoy the incredible array of facilities that MSC Virtuosa has to offer.  

From June 12th, holidaymakers can join seven-night sailings that will include stops in Portland and the cultural city of Belfast and offer multiple ports of embarkation including Liverpool and Greenock, close to Glasgow.

UK PORTS ARE READY TO WELCOME MSC CRUISES GUESTS

In addition to offering multiple embarkation ports on the 7-night cruises, guests will also be able to go ashore and visit the different destinations. This is a key aspect of a cruise holiday for a rich and complete experience, and MSC Cruises tried and tested ‘social bubble’ ashore visits deliver the same high standards of health and safety as on board. This is reassuring not only for guests but also the destinations that are visited as healthy guests are visiting their communities and that best practices of health and hygiene will be applied when local attractions are visited.

Antonio Paradiso continued, “We wish to thank for their support the ports and the different authorities in the UK. These special sailings not only represent a step towards the restart of the cruise industry in a safe and secure manner but also that of the local economies. Bringing a new ship to the different regional ports will enable our guests to discover the best of the UK this summer, showcasing different British ports around the country.”

Rebekah Keeler, Head of Cruise for ABP Southampton said, “We are really excited to be welcoming MSC Virtuosa to the Port of Southampton for her range of summer sailings. We are proud to be the departure port for MSC Virtuosa’s inaugural sail and are sure that she will be a popular choice for cruise passengers as we welcome MSC Cruises back to the port this summer.”

Angie Redhead, Head of Cruise Liverpool said, “With the return of domestic cruising, our 2021 season in Liverpool promises to be bigger and better than ever and we are absolutely delighted to not only be hosting so many calls from a cruise line as prestigious as MSC but also being able to offer guests the opportunity to join an MSC cruise in Liverpool for the very first time.

We are rightfully proud of our maritime heritage in this city and we can’t wait to extend our unique Liverpool welcome to all of the guests on board; with a whole host of world class attractions and experiences just a stone’s throw away, we just know that MSC guests are going to love their time here with us and we look forward to working closely with MSC to ensure the best possible experience for all on board.”

Ian McQuade, General Manager Commercial at Portland Port said, “Portland Port is delighted to be included in MSC’s plans for the resumption of passenger cruises for the UK market and can’t wait to welcome the beautiful MSC Virtuosa to the port. The port has maintained an excellent relationship with our local Port Health Authority throughout the pandemic and it is clear that MSC Cruises has developed a thorough set of protocols to ensure the safe restart of operations.

MSC’s guests can look forward to a taste of quintessential England when they visit Portland. From golden beaches to the rolling green hills, winding country lanes, picture postcard villages and numerous attractions of Dorset. After the last 12 months I am sure that these cruises will offer a much-welcomed relief to many eager holiday makers”.

ABOUT MSC VIRTUOSA – MSC CRUISES NEW FLAGSHIP

MSC Virtuosa is designed to offer a dynamic and dazzling guest experience with innovative features and facilities and she is also one of the most environmentally-advanced ships in MSC Cruises’ fleet. Some of the highlights include:

·         An enhanced MSC Yacht Club, with stylish private facilities and accommodation including a panoramic lounge, gourmet restaurant and private pool and sun deck 

·         MSC for Me – the multi-channel digital experience to help guests make the most of their holiday experience

·         A choice of 10 restaurants and 21 bars including two brand-new specialty restaurant concepts – HOLA! Tacos & Cantina and Indochine

·         The brand-new MSC Starship Club featuring the world’s first humanoid robotic bartender offering a futuristic immersive bar and entertainment experience

·         A 945-seater theatre and the stunning Carousel Lounge at the aft of the ship with live productions and shows every night

·         Extensive kids’ facilities including with LEGO® play areas and a Chicco baby club

·         112-metre-long Mediterranean promenade lined with boutiques bars and restaurants topped with a breathtaking LED sky screen with animations throughout the day and night

·         Five swimming pools including an extensive magrodome pool and a 1,000sqm aquapark

·         A dedicated entertainment area with an FI simulator, bowling, XD cinema 

·         The luxurious MSC Aurea Spa with full range of treatments and the state-of-the-art MSC Gym by Technogym®

·         The largest shopping area at sea with 1,168 sqm of retail space with 11 boutiques and 250 different brands

MSC Virtuosa was previously scheduled to serve itineraries in Northern Europe out of Germany, she will be replaced by MSC Seaview. Booked guests and travel agents will be contacted directly.

From the Solent to South Queensferry and beyond…

Hello!

Apologies for not writing a blog post for so long, but without going anywhere I’ve not had an awful lot to say that wouldn’t be either re-writing press releases or re-hashing previous content, which in all fairness has no value to me as I like to be original.

I had the day off on Friday 5th February, but, with working from home for coming up to 12 months it felt no different to a normal working day except for not having to join Teams calls and using my own laptop and looking at personal messages and emails rather than work tasks. Don’t get me wrong, my employer have been so fabulous throughout the pandemic, and even though I was fine to carry on working through the couple of weeks where I was grounded due to the virus, but work insisted on self-care and taking time-out, but I’m sure that it’s still March 2020 when effectively the clock stopped!

Thankfully, we both recovered from Covid swiftly, only long-term effect is that I can smell cigarette smoke everywhere! Still, very thankful for the amazing NHS and their work throughout this. Our sincere condolences go out to anyone who has lost loved ones due to this awful virus.

Anyway, back to the topic in hand. With my time off from work, I couldn’t stop thinking about cruising! I woke up in the morning and fancied Eggs Benedict in the MDR with a glass of Champagne. Alas! Rice Krispies with an espresso was the order of the day. Heading  up for a bath, I remembered in one of my travel bags I had a tube of “Med by MSC” – that gorgeous scent that fills the air of the line’s ships.

That was it. Cruise wouldn’t get out of my mind for the rest of the day!

Playing devil’s advocate and thinking about a hypothetical situation that if come Spring, given the UK’s rapid vaccination rate, MSC’s proven track record of resuming cruising with no issues due to their stringent covid-safe protocol and having a cruise booked for Mid-May I posed the hypothetical question of “If, to get cruising again, your cruise could only visit UK ports, where would you like to go?” I based the main poll options on the ports that are big enough to accommodate today’s mega ships, such as the beautiful MSC Bellissima which was named in Southampton in 2019 – you can read more about that https://timthorpetravel.com/2019/03/03/when-a-dream-becomes-reality/

I posed this question in several groups, including our main MSC Cruises UK group, MSC Magnifica group, Cruise Friends News and Chat which is a general cruise forum, but with a large number of P&O cruisers, and also in Cruise News, which was formerly a forum for the now defunct Cruise and Maritime Voyages. Over 1600 votes were cast across the various groups

Map of UK ports from uk-ports.org

The results of the survey are interesting but also consistent, so should the UK government give cruising the go-ahead whilst the borders of other countries restrict travel, I think there are some decent possibilities for the cruise lines to consider.

If we then break this down in to the individual groups, again the responses are consistent

Many other ports that are the gateway to beautiful locations were mentioned but they may not be able to handle the larger ships.

Popular among those surveyed were:

  • Newcastle
  • Kirkwall
  • Stornoway
  • Douglas (Isle of Man)
  • Bristol
  • Hull
  • Fort William
  • Lerwick
  • Isles of Scilly

To prove us cruisers have a great sense of humour despite the pandemic and not being onboard ships for most of a year, suggestions also included Craggy Island, the fictional home of Father Ted, Wolverhampton – not sure how a cruise ship would make it up “the cut” (that’s the affectionate West Midlands name for canal) as well as Derwent Water.

What was also really interesting was the feedback from the survey respondents, both positive and negative. Whilst many people would be happy with a “cruise to nowhere” it isn’t a given, and there is a small contingent of people who would not be happy with a UK cruise, either for example if they want the sun, which isn’t guaranteed by any means, they feel they’ve had enough of staying in the UK after the disaster that was 2020 or they’re just not interested in UK cruising.

Some of the key comments that I found interesting were:

Who knows whether this will actually happen. It’s been proven that cruises can operate in a Covid-safe way with MSC and Costa resuming operations in Europe. Either way, let’s look forward to the future. GET ME ON A SHIP ASAP!!

Marvellous Magnifica

As we’re now just over 6 months away from MSC Magnifica returning for a full season of ex-UK cruises, I thought I’d take the time to revise our review of Magnifica from when we last travelled on her…

As she’ll be home-porting in Southampton, there will be some classic British favourites available alongside the Mediterranean flair of MSC, including things such as Yorkshire tea, kettles in cabins, roast dinners and some entertainment geared up for the Brits.

We were only onboard for 2 nights but think we captured the vibe and feel of the ship – hope you find the below account of what happened after our embarkation useful.

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’.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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. 

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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.

29793381_316067002252127_1102636146542485313_nThis mini cruise to me completely embodied all of the best parts of MSC.

Here’s a few more photos that we took around the ship:

And here’s some stock images of the cabins from the MSC website:

Interested in booking? Then get in touch with us – timandandy@bookandgoholidays.com and we’ll help you book your future memories!

Pasta di Piazza, Birmingham

Dear readers I can’t begin to tell you how good it feels to be writing a review of a restaurant again!

It might be a while until we can review a cruise, but tonight felt like the most normal night out we have had since late February.

Covid has been a truly horrible situation, as we all know. The travel, tourism and leisure industries have been hit harder than any other and those of you who know me personally will know how I bang on about supporting small businesses, local entrepreneurs and the fantastic independents we have.

Owing to the Government’s Eat out to Help Out Scheme we’ve decided to take full advantage of the offer and although a few of our bookings will be with some of the chains, our first experience was with the stunning Pasta di Piazza just off St Paul’s Square in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter.

This Italian restaurant is attractive from the outset, with gorgeous window boxes of fuchsias and geraniums set against the quaint Victorian backdrop of the building on Brook Street. We’ve walked past a couple of times and never got round to trying it, so the build up to tonight was with great anticipation.

Having walked past just earlier than our booked time of 7pm and seeing how busy the dining room was we knew, especially given the current circumstances, to wait for our booked time – so we just perambulated some of the historic area and partook in a libation at a near by pub until it was our time.

On arrival there were plenty of hand sanitisers and we were greeted by a very friendly staff member wearing a face mask, and shown to a lovely table by the window. We’d already studied the extensive menu earlier, but on receiving the printed menu ended up deciding on dishes different to what we had thought about having!

We opted for a bottle of Fiano from Puglia which was a lovely and fresh white wine, to accompany our starter and main course. For food Andy opted for the starter of stuffed mushrooms whilst I had the grilled goats cheese, and we both had the seafood salad main course.

 

As you can see from these photographs, the presentation is excellent and the portions more than generous. There was no way we had room for dolci although the menu certainly looks very tasty! We couldn’t finish our salads – not that this is a complaint in anyway, we’re just not used to eating out anymore!

The service throughout was fast and efficient, and unlike so many other restaurants we were provided with complimentary bread, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The meal took just over an hour and the bill came in at £45.60. Of course we could have reduced this cost if we’d wanted to but why would you when supporting business and livelihoods is so important?

Screenshot 2020-08-05 at 22.04.08

Overall verdict? A firm 10 out of 10. We’ll be back before the end of the Eat out to Help out offer, and will definitely choose here for the more special meals in future.

Want to book or view the menu? check out their website https://pastadipiazza.com

Lincolnshire

With us both being Lincolnshire lads originally, how could we not give prime-position in our Staycation blog series to Lincolnshire.

Lincolnshire is the perfect staycation destination; God’s own County (sorry Yorkshire, that title is ours!) really does have it all. From the beaches and classic seaside towns of Cleethorpes, Mablethorpe and Skegness, inland to the Lincolnshire Wolds and stunning rolling hills and picturesque scenery, to the City of Lincoln which in recent years has gained quite a buzz with the expansion of the University of Lincoln, to old-fashioned market towns such as Market Rasen, Louth, Stamford and Grantham which of course was home to two very famous exports – Sir Isaac Newton and Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven (aka Maggie).

As Lincolnshire is so vast, there is so much to see and do.

A day at the beach

Thomas Cook began trips from Leicester to Skegness as the original Staycation, with daytrips becoming affordable and accessible thanks to the railways. Billy Butlin set up his first holiday camp in Skegness in 1936. The town has a long history as an attraction, and among the stereotypical amusements, ice creams and sticks of rock, Skegness offers a very traditional British day out. On a good summer day the Blue Flag beach will invoke childhood memories.

For thrill-seekers, and dependent on the re-opening, nearby Ingoldmells offers the Fantasy Island attraction with some hair-raising rides. Bargain hunters may also enjoy the market.

Skeggy blue
Blue Flag awarded beach – image source http://www.rnliskegness.org.uk/

 

Skegness might not be everyone’s cup of tea, so let’s jump further up the coast to Cleethorpes, and arguable the best fish and chips in the country. What visit to the coast is complete without fish and chips?!

Steels Cornerhouse has taken pride of place in Cleethorpes market square since 1946, and offers the full Great British fish and chip experience (although the origins of the dish are Italian). Steels serves over 41,250kg  (6,500 stone in old money) of haddock per year, which proves they are getting it right!

Steels
Large haddock and chips – credit Tim Jackson-Thorpe

Find out more about Steels and their amazing food here: http://steelscornerhouse.co.uk/our-story.php

 

Don’t fancy a day at the beach? Well how about a day in town?

The City of Lincoln dates back to Roman times, and was then known as Lindum Colonia and was the destination of the Fosse Way, linking Exeter to the Roman Garrison. At various sites in the City you can see Roman ruins, including Newport Arch, up towards the Cathedral quarter, which still has traffic flowing underneath – not bad for a structure dating from the 3rd Century.

Perhaps the highlight of Lincoln has to be the Cathedral. Growing up with it frequently in view it never seemed so special, but as an adult, having toured many of the great cathedrals of England, France, Germany, Italy and beyond, Lincoln has very much won the title of our favourite. With flying buttresses supporting the structure, towers soaring in to the sky and magnificent Gothic architecture including the Medieval Bishop’s Eye window which has been lovingly restored and showcasing the best of stained glass, Lincoln Cathedral is not to be missed.

Cathedral
The Cathedral – visitlincoln.com

Of course this stunning piece of history, whose Chapter House was once used as Parliament, is at the top of a very big hill (I hope your pre-conceptions that Linconshire is flat have been booted!). This means that if arriving by train or parking in the ‘lower’ areas of the city such as the Brayford, that if you walk, you will need to stop for libations on the way up to the Bailgate area which is home to the Cathedral and the Castle. I’ll just quickly mention here that Lincoln Castle is the only place in the world where the 1215 Magna Carter and the 1217 Charter of the Forest can be seen on public display, and was also used for filming Mr Bates’ incarceration in the TV series Downton Abbey.

So, on the way from the centre of the city up to the Cathedral, where to stop for refreshment? Firstly, Stokes of Lincoln is a must for tea or coffee. The High Bridge Cafe is a Tudor master-piece, although the bridge itself dates back to around 1160 and is the only Medieval bridge with houses still on it.

 

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The Stonebow and Guildhall – source visitlincoln.com

Under the Stonebow, part of the old city walls and gates, and up The Strait and Steep Hill towards the Cathedral, you’ll come across a delightful range of places to enjoy, from the 12th Century Jews House Restaurant, to Browns Pie Shop and the Wig and Mitre as you reach the top of the hill – there really is a lot of choice.

So what about those market towns?

Stamford is stunning, with magnificent architecture, with nearby 16th Century Burleigh House being the jewel in the crown.

Other traditional towns in the Lincolnshire area offer various experiences. Tattershall’s towering castle is somewhat unique, and local accommodation includes chic lodges with hot tubs. The town is also particularly well known for it’s antique trade.

Further south in Lincolnshire is the market town of Spalding. The town is small, but when we visited earlier in 2020 we got a vibe that “The Ding” as our friends call it is on it’s way up, with a couple of trendy bars, coffee shops and a beautiful ladies boutique “Coocumber” (that’s how we say cucumber as yellerbellies)  – see facebook.com/coocumber

 

So, where should you stay for your trip to Lincolnshire? 

This is REALLY difficult to say. Being a sprawling county, with a different feel to each area, as you’ll have read above there is so much to offer!

Skegness – well why not Butlins.

Cleethorpes – Andy’s mum and dad’s (just kidding, I hope his dad doesn’t have palpitations reading this!)

Lincoln – The White Hart Hotel is a firm favourite

Further afield: 5* B&B accommodation near Spilsby, the Elm Tree – see http://www.elmtree.co.uk/

 

The Staycation

Hi all,

It gives me great pleasure to put my mind to it and actually write something for a change! With cruises being absent from our lives since November it has been somewhat difficult to think of something to write that hasn’t been covered by other bloggers, speculation about travel, the new normal or simply recall previous cruise trips.

Over a series of posts, now that we know more of the leisure industry will open up from July 4th, we’re going to look at some fabulous ideas for a staycation and bring some of the very best of British attractions to your screen.

We hope you will enjoy these posts and they might encourage you to explore what the UK has to offer whilst foreign travel might not be at the forefront of the agenda.

 

United Kingdom Map
The united Kingdom – Source and credit: ontheworldmap.com

 

Our suggestions:

Lincolnshire

Jaz Aqua Marine – Hurghada

In a break with our usual holiday style we booked a last minute holiday for 7 nights all inclusive at the Jaz Aqua Marine through TUI. When I say last minute I mean it. We finalised plans on the Wednesday to fly out on the Thursday morning.

The 9:30am flight from BHX meant we were in the hotel by 6pm. Important to note is that on arrival at Hurghada (and all Egyptian airports) it is necessary to purchase a visa at $25 USD or £20GBP. Take cash with you for this as it is not possible to use cards to pay.

Our Superior Room, 1250 was nice and spacious with a balcony overlooking one of the hotel’s many pools. Here’s a tour of the room:

As with most traditional all inclusive resorts most meals are buffet style, however guests of the Aqua Marine can enjoy three meals on a 7 night holiday in the a la carte restaurants – Italian, Chinese, Indian, Seafood or Middle-Eastern cuisine.

On the first night we had some food in the buffet and it was themed that night around Chinese with plenty to choose from. I could imagine at full capacity the buffet would be incredibly busy, however the longer opening hours would help negate that.

The styling of the hotel is classy with plenty of wow factor:

In terms of the Speciality dining, we tried the Italian, Nino’s and found the food very good with an ambient atmosphere. We enjoyed it that much we had two of our three meals there. We also tried the Chinese but didn’t enjoy it so much.

Other dining options during the day include the pool bar La Perla and the Paradisio beach bar plus sandwich, hot dog and pizza offerings around the hotel gardens, in addition to the buffet. We tried both La Perla and Paradisio as well as the pool bar at Jaz Blue.

All of the food we ate was to a good standard and service consistently friendly and efficient.

Sample pool / beach menus:

The all inclusive drinks package offered a good range of beverages, including cocktails which can be ordered between 10am and 11pm. As it’s so long since our last holiday like this we’d forgotten about ‘local spirits’ which are the standard for this kind of holiday. Alternative brands were available, at cost however the charge was prohibitive. It is perhaps something tour operators could consider on whether to offer a premium plus upgrade option, however id imagine in countries such as Egypt where importing alcohol is costly this might not be a viable opportunity.

For an excursion we made contact with Mahmoud Eid via Facebook and one of the groups set up for the guests of the hotel. Mahmoud provides us with a trip to the ‘Dolphin House’ – a full day out to sea, swimming with dolphins, snorkelling at the coral reef, banana boat and lunch for £20 – absolute bargain.

We really enjoyed our holiday, and would recommend it as an alternative to traditional destinations. Egypt is a safe country to visit and we hope to return one day for another Nile cruise. If direct Luxor flights aren’t resumed we’d definitely opt to stay at the Aquamarine either side.

MSC Grandiosa – dining

The MSC Grandiosa offers a number of dining options from complimentary snacks in the Sky Lounge through to Spanish Tapas in Hola! The speciality restaurant by two-Michelin star chef Ramon Freixa.

So… let’s have a look at some of the different options available!

Every ship will have at least two complimentary options. Bella and Fantastica guests on MSC Grandiosa will be assigned a dinner table in one of the Main Dining Rooms on deck 5 or 6.

Here’s a video to give you a feel for this area of the ship.

Aurea guests have their own dining room, a new addition to MSC Grandiosa. This is conveniently located on deck 7 by the Champagne Bar! (Note Aurea comes with the Easy drinks package which does not include the Champagne, you’d need Premium Plus for that, or pay as you go!)

Aurea restaurant

MSC Yacht Club guests dine in the exclusive restaurant on Deck 17, reached from the Top Sail Lounge by the line’s signature Swarovski crystal staircase

So this leads us on nicely to the Speciality Dining options. We dined in two of them, The Butchers Cut and the L’Atelier Bistro.

L’Atelier

L’Atelier, as we mentioned in our other post about Grandiosa, is situated on the Galleria Grandiosa and features distinct seating areas including a private dining space. Not to be missed is the collection of original Degas paintings!

The escargots in here were amazing and probably the best I’ve ever had.

Sitting in the bistro and sipping an absinthe whilst listening to the cool melodies you can transport yourself to Paris.

Butchers Cut

The Butchers Cut steak house is the most popular speciality dining in the fleet and MSC have recently converted the speciality dining option on their Fantasia class ship to Butchers Cut!

Sitting outside the restaurant on deck 7 means you get to people watch and observe the fantastic dome shows!

Kaito Sushi and Teppan Yaki

Right next door to the Butchers Cut is the Oriental speciality option. We didn’t eat here but loved the Teppan Yaki on the Meraviglia so much we went twice! Important to note is that Teppan Yaki is no longer included in the Diamond Card perk, however Sushi is.

Hola!

The Tapas bar on deck 6 offers a selection of authentic Spanish tapas and fine wines including dreamy Rioja!

Masters of the Sea pub

The pub offers a small selection of bar snacks, including burgers, hot dogs and fish and chips. We shared a hot dog one day and it was delicious!

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Read more about MSC Grandiosa here: Greatness At Sea

Greatness At Sea

Before we write our full review, we wanted to share with you a few things which definitely shouldn’t be missed on MSC Grandiosa. Some are unique to this ship and others are firm favourites on MSC ships.

 

Sport-plex including F1 simulator, bowling alley, VR Maze and cinema as well as a games arcade (all at extra cost).

Whilst many of these features can be found on the newer MSC Cruises ships, the offering is somewhat enhanced for MSC Grandiosa. We’d highly recommend checking out the Fun Passes that are available and offer extra credit. Tim particularly enjoyed the VR Maze featuring the legend of the Minotaur (the huge spiders that were scurrying around were pretty scary!)

 

The Sky Lounge

The adults-only mixology bar on deck 19 offers a varied selection of smoky and molecular cocktails (available on the Premium Plus package) as well as classic cocktails, bottled beers and wines by the glass. Over-looking the main pool area this can be a quiet haven. In the evening expect chilled out music and also savour the delights of some canapes or sweet treats. Those familiar with the design of MSC ships will understand there is no forward-facing observation lounge as the front of the ship is occupied by the exclusive MSC Yacht Club, so the Sky Lounge offers a great place to watch from as you arrive in to port.

The Sky Lounge can also be found on MSC Bellissima and MSC Meraviglia.

 

Do-Re-Mi Land, Himalayan Rope Bridge and Aqua Park

The kids clubs on MSC cruises are second-to-none with different options available depending on the age of your child. MSC Cruises gave partnered with Lego and Chicco to provide the very best activities for children.

Of course the fun doesn’t have to stop when you reach adult hood! The Himalayan Rope Bridge and the Aqua Park featuring various different water slides offers fun for everyone (height restrictions apply to some activities)

 

Galleria Grandiosa

No blog about this ship would be complete without mentioning the Galleria Grandiosa, which features a giant LED screen which runs along the domed roof of the Galleria. It is perhaps the signature of the Meraviglia and Meriviglia-plus class of cruise ship.

The Galleria is the focal point for entertainment activities such as dome shows featuring outer-space and fireworks from around the world. The scene on the dome changes throughout the day and can include the flag of the country where you’re docked, the roof of the Sagjada Familia or even Galleria Umberto to name just a few. It is stunning and will surely take your breath away if you’ve not seen it before!

The central bridge in the Galleria is also where the ship’s Godmother Sophia Loren officially welcomed the ship to the MSC family, soon followed by DJ sets from Mousse-T on the christening night, and of course “DJ Paradise” welcomed Scott Mills to play an excellent set whilst the ship was over-night in Southampton.

This leads us on nicely to what we think is the number one feature of MSC Grandiosa…

 

L’Atelier Bistro

The Bistro, as it’s name will suggest, is a French restaurant located off the Galleria on deck 6. It truly is a stunning venue, with the feel of an authentic Parisian spot. A formal dining restaurant in one section, with a private dining table available for groups of up to eight guests. An informal bar area with tables out in to the aforementioned Galleria and also a cocktail lounge which plays host to some excellent musicians. The styling of L’Atelier reminds us of the best parts of The Ivy and Malmaison where we have had some excellent times together, but then taken to the next level.

The menu for the restaurant features French classics such as rillettes, escargots and moules. The extensive drinks list offers various types of absinthe, pastis as well as fine cognacs and Champagne. It’s important to note this is a speciality restaurant so an Easy drinks package cannot be used here, however the Premium Plus package will ensure you can enjoy the absolute best drinks on offer (a varied selection is also available with the Premium Package).

But that’s not all. L’Atelier is also home to 36 original Degas drawings. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better… BOOM! Bravo MSC! The hash tags for the ships are so accurate, if MSC Bellissima was #BeautyAtSea then MSC Grandiosa truly is #GreatnessAtSea

The perfect recipe

Ingredients –

The city: Hamburg

Cruise line: MSC

Ship: MSC Grandiosa

Godmother: Sophia Loren

Music: Mousse T

Method:

Embark the ship at 12 noon and be welcomed aboard in true MSC style with an Aperol Spritz and quickly follow with a glass of Champagne .

Meander around the stunning ship and experience some of the speciality restaurants, diverse and wonderful bars taking in the atmosphere, meeting friends from previous cruises and of course make new friends.

Change in to evening attire ready for the evening’s festivities. Drink more Champagne.

Attend naming ceremony – ensure you’re within touching distance of Sophia Loren

Go for gala dinner with menu curated by 3 Michelin star chef Harald Wohlfahrt.

Go to Casino and lose €500 worth of chips on Roulette

Continue partying until the early hours. Drink copious amounts in order to ensure the ship is not carrying too much weight in the form of bottles.

Go to bed.

Wake up next morning with headache and go to Guest Services to arrange to transfer cabin to the exclusive MSC Yacht Club.