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Old July 6th, 2009, 02:50 AM
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Walking around the ship I am beginning to think MSC has truly beautiful ships. They are very elegant yet accessible – not too formal to allow you to relax. Keep in mind these cruise ships are designed for modern Europeans. These are people who know good food, good beer and wine, but they don’t generally have the same expendable income as Americans.

The ship is obviously has two classes, and I am fortunate to be in the top tier, the Yacht Club category. But as I look around the ship I think I actually prefer the non-Yacht club areas. The ship has wonderful lighting throughout and the art is well placed. No artwork is placed gratuitously in order to get attention. There are beautiful modernistic statues of oblique human form all together in an art gallery, and (imagine this) there are no price tags! It is an actual art gallery, not a showplace for the art auctions.

Espresso of any kind is available at any bar on the ship. Yes, there is a charge for it. There is a wonderful gellateria called La Piazzetta (it means small plaza, or piazza, it has nothing to do with pizza) that I had to tear myself away from. They also have pastries for which there is a charge. They are not cheap, especially if you are paying in dollars. A piece of chocolate cake may be five Euro, but you have to see the cake. You could share it with four people. If you ate the entire thing alone I think the sugar would send you to the moon.

The shopping onboard is, of course, all marked as “duty free.” This is especially important to Europeans who pay an 18% surcharge whenever they take any shopping across EU borders. Americans are immune to it anyway, but the shops are still relative bargains. I just perused an beautiful collection of Murano glass jewelry and even the most detailed pieces were under 50 Euro.

Do you love European chocolates? Not just the fancy Belgian truffles but also the Cadbury and Milken brands from England and Switzerland? They have all of them on sale in big bargain boxes in a dedicated candy store.

At 133,000-tons, this is a big ship, almost on par with Voyager of the Seas. But it does not feel nearly as big. There are a lot of intimate spaces onboard. I have yet to see it at night but I am sure it feels just as good. And in the long run that is the main thing – this ship feels good. I have been on ships where no matter where I am I feel like am supposed to be someplace else. Not on this ship. This ship feels like wherever I am is especially where I am supposed to be. You can also see it in people’s faces. People appear happy on this ship – and that is generally a very good thing.

Here is something unusual – a drink card for beer and cocktails.

To save money, you can pre-pay for glasses of beer. In general you get 14 glasses for the price of 10. There is the small (glass) package and the big package.

The small glass package gives you fourteen 20-centiliter glasses of beer (an average-sized bottle of beer in America) for 35 Euro. Separately they would have cost you 40.60 Euro. A large glass package gives you fourteen 40-centilter glasses for the price of ten. The cost is 59 Euro instead of 68.60 Euro.

You can also get a cocktail card: Twelve cocktails for 69 Euro instead of the full price of 82.50 had you purchased them separately. In case you were wondering, a soda card is 28 Euro for 14 sodas, instead of the full price of 39.20 E.

I will be telling you more about the dining onboard as we go forward. There is a Southwestern restaurant onboard called “Santa Fe”. All I can say is. “I’m from Arizona and I will let you know.” I am having my lunch there today.

There is an Italian restaurant there called L’Olivo. L’Enoteca wine tasting bar has wine by the glass. With each glass you get a complimentary tapas-style plate with quiche or mozzarella. But if you wish you can buy a cheese or sausage plate for about 7 Euro. They look delicious.

Of course you don’t need to go to a specialty restaurant for fine European cuisine. That is what they serve in the dining room. They serve at European hours as well. Early seating begins at 7:30 and late seating starts at 9:45. This is typical for Spain or Italy, but not for the Brits, Germans or even the French. And for us Americans! Keep in mind that average cruise ship meal takes two hours. That’s right, you won’t be done with dinner until almost midnight. I am onboard with another American journalist. I skipped dinner last night to catch up on my rest. He joined some Australians at late seating and after an after dinner drink did not get to bed until after 1:00 am. He still has jet lag, but I am over mine.
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