Warm October sunshine greeted our arrival at terminal D of Barcelona’s Cruise Port where MSC Opera looked magnificent, glistening in the late autumn sun. Built in France at a cost of $266 Million Opera entered service in June 2004 after being Christened by her God Mother, Sophia Loren. In July 2015 Opera underwent an extensive renovation, the insertion of a 78ft mid-section providing additional cabins and increasing the maximum passenger number to nearly 2,700. At a little over 65,500 GT this ship by modern standards fits into the medium size of cruise ship.
Unfortunately, at terminal D, there is no seating, no refreshment facility and no permanent structure which necessitates a lot of standing in all weathers. However once on board access to the cabin was very quick.
All cabins are decorated in pastel shades with extensive use of light coloured woods and veneers, matching cushions, curtains and throw overs of patterned reds make for relaxing contrasts. Well equipped with television, air conditioning, safe, electric sockets of USA and European variety, hanging and shelf space that is more than adequate for a 14 night cruise and finally a very comfortable king size bed that can be arranged as two singles if required. The bathroom features a glass shower cubicle, powerful shower with shampoo and shower gel and that all important hair dryer. Room service is available as is a mini bar but the drinks, unless you have a drinks package, are extra charge. The roomy balconies are glass fronted with table and two chairs.
People say one of the most important aspects of any cruise is the food, shown by many of them finding their clothing a little tighter as they leave the ship, no, it’s not the sea air that causes shrinkage. The food on this ship will not disappoint. With ‘Anytime Dining’ L’Approdo is the allocated evening restaurant on Otello Deck giving magnificent panoramic views from the large picture windows that feature on three sides. Decorated in a mix of pastels with hidden lighting and shiny brass rails, red patterned carpet, chairs using light wood frames with comfortable seats and backs makes for an atmospheric and bright setting. The food, a 7 course menu, bigger than most cruise lines in this class, is exemplary with choices of soups, salads, seafood, pastas, fish and meats. For a treat pay the small supplement and try a huge T-Bone Steak or an equally large Lobster Tail both served with paired wines.
Self-service, go to the rear of Tosca Deck and sample the burgers, hot dogs and grills from Il Patio or visit Le Velle Buffet for that English cooked breakfast, large selection of cheeses, meat, fruit or anytime snack.
Lunch time, La Carravella Restaurant is a good choice, largest of the four restaurants where dark wood chairs contrast with beige seats and back panels, gold drapes adorn large picture windows complimented by blue and gold carpeting give this restaurant a touch of elegance. Would the food be as good as the décor? The menu is vast and similar in size to the dinner menu, up to 7 courses if you are so inclined and that did not include coffee. Seafood Cocktail, followed by a delightful Fish and Shell Fish soup, Grilled Beef Strip Sirloin Steak with creamy Mustard Sauce on a bed of Mushroom, Tomatoes and Peas as a main, what a fusion of tastes. To finish, Fresh Fruit Salad and Ice Cream washed down with a chilled fruity white wine. In the evenings this restaurant operates the normal two seatings for dinner. The food really is excellent.
Opera features what appears to be an endless list entertainment lounges. The main and largest, “Teatro dell’ Opera” with colour co-ordinated comfortable blue seats, dark pink patterned carpet and shiny brass rails make for a colour scheme that blends well. Situated at the forward end of the ship with tiered seating, up to 713 guests will enjoy the main production shows and spectaculars. The show that stood out for me was ‘Bollywood’. The name alone stirs the imagination and whets the appetite for a display of dance and colour. A large, life like, beautifully crafted elephant, dancers in traditional costumes, two male dancers with Ganesh heads interspersed with acts by contortionists, strong men, an aerialist, coupled with music from the show ‘Bombay Dreams’ and a rendition of ‘Jai Ho’ from the film ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, for me made this the show of the cruise and one of the best ever seen at sea. La Cabala on Otello Deck, a smaller entertainment venue exudes an intimate feel, furnished with comfortable arm chairs and settees this is the place to spend an evening with those new made friends, enjoy a drink, chat and relax with the host bands and singers. The Cotton Club, a large open area entertainment venue, tastefully furnished with settees and semi arm chairs, a small dance floor for the more energetic to move, twist and twirl to the sounds of the musicians and singers. Piazza di Spagna on Aida Deck yet another venue, comfortably furnished, where groups, singers, cabaret entertain.This venue also sports a dance floor to help you rid some of those kilos you have amassed over the cruise.
For those who enjoy the occasional ‘Flutter’ visit the Monte Carlo Casino with its slot machines and gambling tables. Smoking is allowed in this area which some may find off putting but others a blessing, being able to smoke without having to go out on deck during inclement weather.
Tosca Deck is the main pool area. Children have their own section with large shallow pool adorned with amusements including a huge bucket that fills with water before cascading the contents onto the people below. Two large swimming pools for adults separated by 2 Jacuzzis, Tosca deck is also home to the Lo Spinnaker Bar and pool entertainment area where it is nearly always ‘Party Time’. Lots of games and entertainment that will appeal to those with families and dance classes for all ages. When the sun goes down the area becomes an open air disco/live music venue. Try the Ice Cream Bar featuring 16 wonderfully different flavours or the Vitamin Bar. There is even a ‘Happy Puppy’ machine for those frozen style drinks. At the front of this deck are housed the gym, sauna, steam room and Aurora Spa, relax, unwind, lay back and enjoy one of those wonderful spa treatments that are so popular at sea.
The ports of call, Marseille, Genoa and Ajaccio. In Marseille the shuttle bus is definitely needed as the ship berths 20 minutes away from the city centre. The drop off point is within a few minutes’ walk of the old port and yacht marina edged by cafes and restaurants. Take a look in the old church of Saint Ferréol les Augustins started in the 15th century, take a ride on the ‘Big Wheel’ for magnificent panoramic views of the France’s 2nd city or just sit at one of the numerous cafes, drink a coffee and watch the world pass by. Genoa is walking distance to the main areas, explore the streets with buildings of historic architecture, visit the Baroque Palazzo Rosso and cast your eye over paintings by the masters. In Ajaccio, take a trip on the ‘Little Train’ from the town square, visit the Napoleon Bonaparte memorial before travelling along the coast taking in the scenery of this mountainous island before returning to the town which is itself worth exploring.
This ship with its white hull and superstructure, contrasting dark blue balcony glass, topped by the dark blue MSC funnel looks what it is, a modern smart looking cruise ship. At most ports of call a number of passengers start and finish their cruises thus the clientele on a Mediterranean cruise are a mix of mainly French, Spanish and Italian. There were however a number of passengers from the UK, Eire, Australia, South Africa the USA and the first language on board is English. The cabins are of similar size to many other cruise ships but appear larger than some due to good use of mirrors with light colour schemes. What stands out is the size of the pool deck especially since the renovation. 2 swimming pools, 2 Jacuzzis, children’s large splash area and the entertainment area certainly gives the impression of being on a larger ship.
11 bars and lounges, 5 entertainment venues, 4 dining areas, shops selling jewellery, perfume, accessories, a Logo Shop for a memento of the ship and Swarovski for that item of quality jewellery. This is a ship that will suit families and adult couples alike, but of the younger generation. More mature travellers should perhaps consider one of the larger ships. Excellent food, first class entertainment, elegant surroundings, MSC certainly offer a great deal aboard one of the newest fleets afloat at a realistic price.