No expense has been spared on one of the world’s biggest cruise ships, aptly named MSC Bellissima (meaning ‘really beautiful’). Features editor, John Newton, who first saw this ocean giant in the final stages of her launch last March, couldn’t resist the opportunity to jump aboard on her first Mediterranean cruise season.
Weighing in at more than 171,500 tonnes, MSC Bellissima is not only beautiful, but big. Very big. I’d hardly got to know her before our seven-day, 1743 nautical mile cruise - from Genoa to Naples, Messina, Valletta, Barcelona, Marseille and back to Genoa - had ended.
At 67 metres in height (19 decks) and looking like a huge skyscraper berthed in the port of Genoa, Bellissima was an awesome sight, just like her sister ship, MSC Meraviglia.
But the thought of joining more than 5000 passengers (Bellissima’s maximum is 5686, plus 1564 crew members) was somewhat disconcerting to someone who had never been on a ship with a little over 2000 guests).
One glimpse, however, of the world’s first crystal cabins, staircases and stage adorned with glittering Swarovski crystals and its two-deck inside promenade with a stunning 80- metre-long LED dome, convinced me Bellissima’s touch of sparkle more than made up for its football-size crowd.
Where size does matter – in the cabins – is well catered for, in all 2122 of them - eight duplex suites, 34 suites, 1282 balcony, 136 ocean view, 650 interior and 12 interior studios. They include cabins for families capable of accommodating up to 10.
Innovative technology enables passengers to connect with crew members through interactive screens, videowall monitors and informative screens, while with ‘MSC for Me’ ‘guests have access to different digital channels, at no extra cost, to electronically check-in, book excursions seats for shows or the best dinner table, among other things. The latest interactive feature of ‘MSC for Me’ is called ZOE –claimed to be the world’s first Artificial Intelligence cruise assistant designed to assist passengers in seven languages. It’s a voice-enabled virtual personal cruise assistant found in every cabin, which can answer countless questions about your cruise, help reserve restaurants and excursions and check your bill.
There are 20 bars and 10 restaurants to choose from, including speciality outlets. And, despite catering to so many, the meals were as good as any you would get in a top city restaurant. Main dinner courses included roast suckling piglet with myrtle, linguini with seafood and trout fillet roll.
The only disappointment was the busy – and noisy - marketplace buffet which was often crowded leaving latecomers with the leftovers.
During the cruise, 30,000 meals a day are prepared, according to food and beverage director, Antonino Astarita. Beer consumption during the week is 20,000 litres and up to 6000 bottles of wine.
Day and night entertainment couldn’t be faulted with highlights like the Arizona aqua park on deck 19, with its 82-metre-long suspension bridge and four twisting water slides and night-time shows featuring performances by Cirque Du Soleil and Pink. For sports fans, there’s also a full-size bowling lane, F1 simulator, virtual games arcade, three swimming pools, gym and power walking track.
And for the more laid back, there’s a champagne bar, solarium, thermal area and casino.
Excursions: Masses of old lava are not the prettiest of sights, but they certainly provide one outstanding value-for-money shore excursion.
From the port of Messina, it’s a one-and-half hour scenic coach ride to Mount Etna, Europe’s highest volcano at 3300 metres above sea level - and most active pressure cooker. Its last eruption to cause a lava flow – without major damage -was in December 2018.
But it’s in an almost constant state of activity and eruptions often occur from the four summit craters and Italy’s highest mountain is occasionally closed to visitors.
The worst quake of the last century was in 1908 when Messina was destroyed and nearly 76,000 people lost their lives in the seaquake (one that originates under the sea floor) and subsequent tidal wave.
Today, Mount Etna’s slopes are a prominent wine growing region, with numerous vineyards producing red, white and sparkling wines, which are only available locally. The area is also renowned for exquisite olive oils and honey tasting.
But the best souvenirs are the intricate lava carvings made by artisans along the roadside. And for all the work it takes, they are inexpensive. You’ll get a good one of a cat or dog for 10-20 euros.
It was the only ship excursion we took, plumping to do our own thing by taxi in Barcelona, which was well worthwhile as we took in this colourful city full of character and unforgettable sights like Gaudi’s cathedral and the buzzing bars and seafood outlets of La Rambla, and by Big Bus in Valetta (a huge disappointment), while the weather played havoc with planned visits to Naples and Marseille.
This was time to stay on board and enjoy Bellissima’s non-stop entertainment or simply seek a quiet spot and people watch.
For MSC cruise itineraries, go to: www.msccruises.com.au
MSC Yacht Club members enjoy the highest-quality menus and stunning panoramic sea views in the privacy of a restaurant dedicated to them. And in the MSC Yacht Club Sundeck and Bar, they can also indulge themselves with a selection of frozen cocktails, as well as beers, soft drinks and hot drinks, all included in the cruise fare. There’s also an MSC Yacht Club pool, spa, grill and bar, sundeck and bar and lounge. Accommodation includes the new crystal cabin with its 700.000 crystals, 2 royal suites, 78 deluxe suites and 15 interior suites, all with 24-hour butler service.
Bellissima will be plying the waters from Dubai in 2020. She’ll be replaced by an even bigger ship on the seven-day Mediterranean route from Genoa - the newly launched flagship – the 181,000-tonne MSC Grandiosa, which can carry more than 6300 passengers in 2421 cabins. It has 12 restaurants and will become the second MSC cruise ship to feature ZOE, the world’s first virtual cruise personal assistant and new updates to MSC for Me digital innovation programme.
Cruise low points were a fair percentage of the passengers who chose not to dress for dinner. Instead they wore jeans and sneakers – even shorts! And, despite the number of hand sanitisers at the dining room entrances urging people to wash their hands many didn’t. Perhaps they’d tried beforehand and found them to be empty?
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Images; From the top
1 Swarovski staircase
2. Pool Deck
3,Hand-made choc croc
4 Seafood feast
5 Bellissima in port
6. Indoor promenade
7. Barcelona Gaudi's Cathedral
8. Mt Etna Walk
9. Genuine Hand made lava carvings