Mediterranean Cruise
MSC Divina

Wednesday 19th August 2015
Barcelona

Mali and Ana had stayed with us overnight, and we’d even got them into bed and asleep a little earlier than usual ready for an early start. That probably explains why they woke so readily when we roused them at 4.45am!

It was only a short hop down to Barcelona. We landed there at 10.30am local time and by midday, having been picked up at the airport by private transfer, we were waiting in the cruise terminal for check-in. By about 1.30am we were on board but couldn’t yet get into our cabin, so we took two excited little girls to the buffet for lunch. They both ate well, but Ana especially.

We then went for a quick look around the ship and found the free ice cream dispenser for the girls – we might be trying that again. There’s also a premium Gelato counter where they charge €2.80 for a really very decent product, and we might be trying *that* again too!

By now we had access to both our cabin and our luggage, so we changed for the pool. There’s a shallow ‘splash’ area that the girls enjoyed for a while, but we found that the pool itself, at 1.70m, was far too deep for me, let alone the girls! We’ll now be looking around for a shallower pool tomorrow!

They spent half an hour in the Kids’ Club, but were more or less the only ones there, so there was no atmosphere. Also, they were convinced that the girl running it didn’t speak proper Spanish!

Dinner was at 7pm, and we’d planned for the Kids’ Club to pick them up at 8pm as we were finishing our main course so that we could finish our meal more calmly. However, they were both incredibly tired, unsurprisingly, so we cut short our meal and took them to the theatre for the first performance of the evening show.

The MSC ‘Divina’ was only launched in 2012 and is the company’s second newest ship. The theatre is amazing, with two tiers and incredible lighting. The show was based very loosely on ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, and was pretty much a hook on which to hang bits of song, acrobatics, magic and music. However, some of the acrobatic stuff was amazing. Mali in particular was swept away by it.
Because we’d skipped the dessert course at dinner we went to the buffet to see what was on offer. Ana had announced earlier that she could ‘eat an elephant’, and to our amazement she demolished several desserts until we persuaded her that *surely* she must have had enough. Back in the cabin they flopped and were asleep in minutes!

We have a little problem with sending our daily updates – we’ve left all of our power adaptors at home! So, until we can buy replacements in Naples we’re desperately conserving the power we have!

Thursday 20th August 2015
At Sea

Like all cruise ships the Divina’s cabins have blackout curtains, and this worked really well this morning – the girls slept right through to 8.30am!

Obviously by the time we’d all got up, washed and dressed it was a late start to the day. The girls ate a good breakfast, and afterwards we set out to explore the ship a bit more. We found a shallower pool tucked away right at the stern and decided that we’d head there after an early lunch while the Italians were lunching/having a siesta. Then we went back to the cabin so that the girls could amuse themselves – they really didn’t want to go to the Kids’ Club.

After our early lunch we found that our strategy of waiting for the Italians hadn’t worked at all, as the swimming pool area was still packed. Nevertheless, we got both of the girls into the water. It was only four feet deep, which meant that they felt safe with us holding them. Mali got particularly brave and even did some doggy-paddling with only armbands for support. Ana needed a bit more help than that, but they both happily spent quite a while in the busy pool.

We were back in our cabin by 3.30pm, enjoying a relaxing afternoon ahead of ‘formal night’. We set off at 6pm and, at that point, were almost the only people on board in posh clothes, with most other guests either still by the pool or straggling back in swimming gear. We sought out a photographer who would take photos of us on the glittery central staircase. Mali was wearing her prettiest dress, as was Nanny, and Ana was incredibly smart in her waistcoat and bow tie! We must have looked good, because every photographer we passed on our way to the bar asked if we wanted our photos taken – that’s unusual!
Gill and I had our complimentary cocktails before we went to dinner. We settled on a strategy that I think we might repeat throughout the cruise, i.e. dinner at 7pm, main course for us plus children’s food for the girls, leave the table at 7.40pm and head straight for the 8pm performance in the theatre, then having desserts in the Buffet after the show. Tonight’s show was the music of Michael Jackson. It’s a shame that the music was all pre-recorded, with the performers singing along with it, but the mainly Spanish and Italian audience loved it.

Ana conked out towards the end, but Nanny revived her in time for desserts!

Friday 21st August 2015
Naples

Ana came round at 7.15am, which was quite good in that we needed to make an early start to our excursion to Herculaneum.

The cabin is a good size and is quite nicely laid out, with a sofa that opens out into a double bed for the girls. There’s plenty of floor space for them to play in, which will come in handy if they continue to prefer that to the Kid’s Club!

We walked into Naples and almost immediately found just what we needed - a mobile phone shop that sold universal power adaptors! Kitted out with all we needed to recharge all of our gear we took a tram to the nearest Circumvesuvio station. We took a train to Ercolano Scavi and walked the half mile down to the remains of Herculaneum. The weather was perfect – blue skies but slightly overcast and with a gentle breeze, so not too hot.

We’d tried to explain the story of the eruption and that it happened two thousand years ago, but the girls seemed fixated by two questions; ‘what is ash?’ and ‘where are the people who were living here?’ They’re still a bit young for all of this, but when they eventually start to learn about the Romans at school they should have a little head start.

We spent about an hour and a half in the ruins until we began to exhaust their patience and decided to go back to the ship. Lunch was still being served, and the girls ate and drank heartily! Pausing in our cabin only to change into swimming costumes and start recharging all of our depleted gadgets we went to the pool that we’d visited yesterday.

We only have one set of armbands with us, and Ana is adamant that nothing less than a rubber ring will satisfy her, so our hunt continues. Meanwhile, Mali, wearing the armbands, is utterly at ease, almost reckless, in the water, jumping in from the side and splashing around enthusiastically. The pool began to get a little too busy in late afternoon as guests arrived back from excursions, so it was back to the cabin for showers.

As part of our booking with MSC we’ve been given vouchers for free cocktails each night. We hadn’t initially realised that these could be redeemed against non-alcoholic cocktails as well, so tonight Ana had a ‘Spiderman’, which contained coconut cream, pineapple juice and pomegranate :o) Then it was off to the restaurant where we’re now in the routine of having just a main course and then decamping to the theatre for the 8pm show. Tonight the theme was the music of Italy - as usual Ana conked out halfway through and Mali watched intently.

Tomorrow we arrive at Civitavecchia. We’re planning to take the train to Rome and give the girls a look at St. Peter’s ;o)

Saturday 22nd August 2015
Civitavecchia (Rome)

It was quite a simple journey into Rome, but it was fairly long-winded.

First of all we caught the port shuttle bus to just beyond the port boundary where we caught another bus that took us to Civitavecchia rail station. We had a bit of a wait for the train to St. Peter’s, and it arrived already quite full, so the girls had to sit on our laps for the 40 minute journey. We arrived in Rome by 11.30am, and, in spite of a warning by a self-interested ticket seller that we would have to queue for three hours to get into St Peter’s unless we bought a ticket from him, we were inside by midday.

The girls had varied reactions to the interior. Mali’s memory afterwards was of the height of the ceiling; she couldn’t understand how it was even possible to build a curved ceiling so very high in the air, let alone paint it. Ana was a little puzzled about Michaelangelo’s Pieta and wondered why the man was lying on the lady’s lap. I just said that he wasn’t feeling very well; the formal version is far too ghastly for children.

We spent half an hour wandering around with them, letting them absorb the atmosphere, but I think that was about as much as they could take. Even before we got inside both girls had been badgering to be carried. We toyed with an open-top bus tour, but it was very hot, all the buses passing St. Peter’s were packed and the shortest tour was over one and a half hours. Instead we had ice creams (I had a very large beer!) at pavement café, and this seemed to perk up the girls no end. Then it was back to the station for the return train to Civitavecchia, followed by the two buses back to the Divina.

By now it was almost 4pm, and we had a light afternoon tea in the buffet. The girls then had half an hour in the pool before we all got ready for cocktails and dinner. Today Ana had an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ cocktail; orange juice, peach puree, cream and grenadine. Again, we cut dinner back to a single course before dashing to the 8pm show; The Witches of Paris’. The links with both witches and Paris were extremely tenuous, but the prospect of being scared kept Ana awake throughout!

Both girls fell asleep so easily, which wasn’t surprising when you consider today’s schedule!

Sunday 23rd August 2015
La Spezia

Moving north from Rome the weather has become similar to the summer that we’re used to at home, i.e. sunny intervals and rain.

As yesterday, the port shuttle bus took us to the edge of the port area, but today we only had to walk along the very pleasant promenade to the ticket office for the various boat excursions that set off into the Cinque Terre. We did just the short hop across to Porto Venere, though.

It’s a very pleasant place, with colourful buildings crammed all along the harbour – It’s sort of a slightly down-at-heels Portofino with signs of long term neglect here and there.

We wandered into the narrow, winding streets, making our way uphill. We stopped to buy the girls fresh crepes filled with Nutella, which was a bit of a mistake – they adored them, but what a mess!

At the top of the hill it became apparent that the coastline is entirely rocky, with absolutely no sand for the girls to play on, so we wandered back through town by another route. Pretty much in the centre is a tiny sandy beach, but this had been taken over by a tightrope-walking band, so we carried on to the other side of town.

Here we found a very small children’s playground that amused the girls for half an hour while we considered our strategy. In the end we walked back to the tiny beach and let the girls dig happily in one little corner, which seemed to keep them happy, at least until the downpour started and we had to take shelter. It was now 2.15pm, and there was a return boat to La Spezia at 2.45pm, so we opted to ‘go home’.

It was about 4pm when we boarded ‘Divina’ again, so Gill took the girls back to the cabin while I collected tea and biscuits from the buffet. After the briefest of pauses we took the girls to the indoor pool where they could try out the rubber rings that Gill had bought for them today in Porto Venere. This was a liberating experience for Ana, who now frolicked in the water just like her sister.

Ana’s drink of choice this evening was ‘Dirty Banana Cocktail’ – sounds dire, but she loved it. After our one course dinner tonight’s show was pretty much three men and a woman singing standard ballads very loudly while elaborately-dressed cast members posed irrelevantly in the background. The Italians loved it! ;o)

For last night’s bedtime story I played the girls the Stanley Holloway recording of ‘Albert and the Lion’, with pauses for explanations. Asking them about it today they seemed to have absorbed the key points, so tonight I played them the sequel, ‘Albert Comes Back’, a more challenging piece! Let’s see what they remember tomorrow!

Monday 24th August 2015
Cannes

The ‘Divina’ is far too big to dock in Cannes, so for the first time this cruise we went ashore by tender.
The weather was fairly sunny but with a poor forecast for the afternoon, and the sea was certainly choppy which made boarding the tender a bit tricky. However, the crew have seen this countless times before and they helped the girls board quickly and safely.

It was a pleasant change to have a genuinely sandy beach for the girls to play on, but it took a while for Gill to track down the part with a gentle slope that also had the gentlest surf. They played happily for an hour and then we took advantage of ‘Le Petit Train’ that takes tourists on a scenic tour of the town. Every passenger has a set of headphones for the commentary that comes in eight languages. Ana, bless her, decided to try Spanish but gave up after a while, and by the end of the journey had fallen asleep in Gill’s arms.

On leaving the train we opted to go back to the ship as both girls were saying that they were hungry. We went straight to the buffet where they both surprised us very pleasantly by how heartily they ate! We then went back to our cabin for a much-needed short break before going to the indoor pool to try out the new inflatable rings. These proved to be a great success, especially with Ana.

It was a second formal night tonight, so after the pool it was into the shower to wash off all of the salt water and then dress for the evening. Ana and I wore our bow ties again! We skipped dinner in the restaurant altogether because there wasn’t time to eat before the evening’s entertainment started in the theatre with the formalities of the captain and crew being introduced on stage.

There followed ‘Alice in Wonderland’ which followed the now-established formula of being based only very tentatively on Lewis Carroll’s work; for instance, there was a juggler and three contortionists at the Mad Hatter’s party, as well as comedy acrobats and circus-style performers with the theme from ‘Dumbo’ playing in the background. But both girls, although exhausted, stayed awake, which showed that they were well entertained.

Mali said that she was hungry, and of course we hadn’t eaten since lunch, so at the end of the show we went straight to the buffet – in full evening gear! Again, they ate quite well, but tiredness was clearly overtaking them. Back in the cabin Ana nevertheless said that she wanted a story – Albert and the Lion’ again! That would have taken a bit too long, and Mali wanted one of my ‘true stories’, so I told them about how Dad-Dad once appeared on-stage at the Royal Festival Hall dressed as a dragon. They were asleep in minutes ;o)

Tuesday 25th August 2015
Majorca

We didn’t arrive in Majorca until about 2pm, which seemed a little late, really, as it left only half a day here. It would have seemed to be more sensible to leave Cannes earlier than 11pm yesterday in order to arrive here in the morning. This delayed schedule has had ramifications, as you’ll read later.

Since day 1 we had suggested to the girls that they should go to the Kids’ Club for a while as we remembered how much they had enjoyed this on our two earlier cruises. On every occasion they pleaded not to go, saying that they didn’t understand anybody and even that the Spanish-speaking staff didn’t speak Mexican Spanish. However, today their resolve faltered when Gill told them that there would be a pizza-making lesson. They agreed to go only if we stayed with them.

There must have been 40 or 50 kids of all ages and nationalities, all sat on a very large white plastic sheet. A chef showed them the ingredients that go into a pizza and how to shape the dough. Each of them was then given a ball of dough to knead into a pizza base on the mat they were sitting on. Of course, most of them made a bit of a pig’s ear of it :o)

All of the resulting pizza bases were taken away with great care and solemnity, but once they were taken behind the curtain they probably all went straight into the bin! Trays of cooked mini pizzas were then brought out and each child received a small, finished pizza. They all seemed very happy that their piece of misshapen plain dough had been magically transformed in seconds into cooked and topped product!
Both girls ate really well at lunch, just as they had at breakfast – they’ve really got into the swing of eating in the buffet as the week’s gone on. We then went back to the cabin where they played until we docked in Palma.

MSC were charging heavily for transfers into the centre of Palma. Gill quite rightly balked at paying them almost €50 to take us all there, so we resolved to walk to the port entrance and get a bus. When we got there we found a Sightseeing Palma ‘hop on hop off’ bus waiting, so we boarded. The girls were free and as an OAP I went half price :o)
 
We ‘hopped off’ at the magnificent cathedral, but didn’t go in because we didn’t have an awful lot of time. Instead found the ‘Banyas Arabs’ tucked away in a side street nearby. This was a building dating to about the tenth century, when the island was controlled by the Moors, that had once housed baths. The cool shade of the gardens was very welcome on a day when the temperature hit 35 degrees with clear blue skies.
 
We hopped back on the bus, sitting at first downstairs because Ana had said she found it too hot upstairs in the sun. We soon realised that it was stuffier and even hotter downstairs, so we moved back up where we could enjoy the breeze. Ana was like the Duracell rabbit, chattering and singing all the time, clearly very happy. Mali was quieter and equally happy, sitting with Nanny.

It was almost 6pm when we arrived back on board, so it was a bit of a rush for us all to shower and change for dinner. It was good that there was no show tonight as, shortly before we set off for cocktails, we discovered that the ship wouldn’t be arriving in Barcelona tomorrow until 10am. Such a late arrival on disembarkation day is unheard of – normally ships dock by 6am and then pester their guest to leave as early as possible so that they can prepare for the next wave.

The problem was that our flight from Barcelona was scheduled for 11.10am, which was clearly unachievable. Gill spent half an hour after dinner re-arranging everything for a later flight back. We’ll now spend some of the day in Barcelona seeing the sights such as the Aquarium. The delay is no great problem other than that when you know you’re going home it’s nice to get there as soon as possible. We weren’t due to collect the cats from the cattery until Thursday anyway.

We’ve had a simply wonderful week with the girls. They’ve behaved so well and obviously enjoyed themselves so much. We’ll be back here in Majorca with them in October – we’re all looking forward to it already!

Wednesday 26th August 2015
Barcelona

It’s been a funny old day.

We were up and out of the cabin, as requested, by 8.30. Because the majority of our fellow passengers were also disembarking but the ship had not reached port the buffet was
absolutely packed, So, we went instead to the restaurant where it was far less crowded and we had waiter service.

After the various minor problems we’ve had this holiday the good news was that the
Disembarkation process was pretty much flawless, being both fast and efficient. Our cab was more or less on time and we were at the airport shortly after midday. We checked our luggage into temporary storage and headed straight back into Barcelona, destination
Aquarium.

Our objective today was to keep the girls occupied and amused because we knew it was
going to be a LONG day. We therefore aimed to stay in the Aquarium for a fair while, and so we did. The only fly in the ointment was that Mali became incredibly anxious when we reached the glass tunnel that went right through the main tank. We’re not sure what spooked her so badly – certainly, pointing out the huge sharks swimming above us didn’t help! In the end I hoisted her on to my shoulders, where she hung on as if her life depended on it. Of course, as soon as we were past that section she was OK again!

We stayed on for cold drinks in the café, burning up more time (!), before setting off for the park where we knew there was a zoo. We killed another three hours here, keeping them amused with interesting animals, a good playground and ice lollies. We were all fading fast as 6pm approached, so we took the little train back to the gate rather than walk. Not far outside the gate we found a tapas bar where we ordered an excellent set menu ‘Tapas for Two’ and shared it with the girls – it turned out to be more than the four of us could manage, and the girls *were* very hungry! Just over the road was a taxi rank, where we picked up a cab that took us back to the airport.

We picked up our luggage in one terminal and lugged it across to easyJet’s own terminal next door. The good news was that we dodged the enormous check-in queue through our EasyJet Plus membership – the bad news is that our 22.05 flight has been delayed by TWO HOURS! So, we’ve found ourselves a table and chairs while Gill entertains the girls with writing and drawing. As I close and send this update we still have three hours to wait :o(

Later: With two hours to go before the delayed departure time easyJet baldly announced the cancellation of our flight, telling us that it now wouldn't depart until 6 o'clock tomorrow. We later discovered that this was 6pm! We now had to haul our baggage back to easyJet's terminal and queue while they worked out what to do with us. Eventually, we were taken to a nearby hotel for the night, where we ordered some room service refreshments and eventually got to bed at about midnight.

The following day, apart from breakfast, we stayed in our room. We had to make several calls home to re-arrange various things such as picking up the cats and picking up the car from Gatwick's valet car park. At 4pm a bus collected us and our fellow passengers and returned us to the airport.

Our new flight left on time and we were back at Gatwick at 19.15. I dropped Gill and the girls off at home then set off to collect the cats. When I got back the girls had eaten and immediately fallen asleep!

Anyway, a cracking holiday with two beautifully-behaved little girls. We’ll remember it forever, and hope that they do too!