Last summer I went on an MSC cruise around the Mediterranean Sea. I had done cruises before, with Star Clipper, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises among others. As MSC’s strength lies in Mediterranean cruises, we decided to book this cruise from Venice with them.
I am not a big fan of Greece, but wanted to try this Adriatic cruise with the MSC Lirica because Mykonos and Dubrovnik where both on my bucketlist and the kids wanted to visit Venice.
Our route was as follows:
Day 1: embarkation in Venice at 12 pm. Depart at 6 pm
Day 2: Bari from 1 pm to 7 pm
Day 3: at sea
Day 4: Mykonos from 9 am to 10 pm
Day 5: Heraklion (Crete) from 8 am to 2 pm
Day 6: Corfu from 1 pm to 7.30 pm
Day 7: Dubrovnik from 7 am to 1.30 pm
Day 8: disembarkation at 8.30 am in Venice
Cruising with MSC
I have been on cruises before, so I have some experience to refer to. The main difference between the MSC cruise and others was in the cabin. We always book a cabin with balcony. As we spend a lot of time at sea, we really enjoy peacefully looking at the view from our own private terrace. If you have an inside cabin, or no balcony, you’re nearly forced to spend all your time on deck. And especially on at-sea days, that's too crowded for us.
With MSC Cruises, the cabin is only 16 m² large, including balcony. A similar cabin with Royal Caribbean is over 21 m², and with Celebrity Cruises it is even 23 m². The difference means that you do not have a seating area in your MSC cabin. You roll from your bed straight onto the balcony. And you can only sit on your bed, and don’t even have a chair to drape anything over. Additionally, the bathroom is a lot smaller, and they are already tight on a cruise ship.
The service in the bars was not what you should expect. The waiters would take orders from three guests at the same time, and did not keep track who came next. Chaos ensured! Orders are filled incorrectly, and the loudest guests get served first.
If you’re looking for some entertainment, you’re in the right spot on the MSC cruise. Professional artists are ready to entertain you any day of the week in the theatre. Would you prefer something more low-key? Go to the piano bar. If you enjoy the fresh air, visit the bar on the top deck.
You can relax on one of the thousands of sunbeds during the day. Take a refreshing dive in one of the pools or relax in the jacuzzi.
The gamblers among us can visit the casino, and there’s a section with racing machines and other video games for the youngest among us. Beware! Everything can be charged to your cabin card. Very tempting for children. Swipe your card, and off you go. Be sure to set clear limits beforehand.
There are several restaurants on board. You can choose between the buffet or the a la carte restaurant. And you will find a pizza/pasta and a hamburger/hot dog restaurant near the pool. There is also a sushi bar and a number of specialty restaurants.
IIs a cruise all-inclusive? Not completely. The food is included (and you can find a snack 24/7), but drinks are not. You always order drinks on your cabin card, and you are presented with the bill at the end. A much better option is to order a beverage package. There are options to suit everyone. You can order the super-de-luxe-all-in that includes everything, including expensive wines/spirits. And there is a deal that includes drinks during meal-times only, meaning that all drinks ordered at the bar are extra. We thought the normal all-in-one package was the best choice.
We paid 182 euro per adult, and 84 euro per child. You can drink to your heart’s content all week (excluding the more expensive wines / spirits) and have all the ice cream you can manage. Cocktails, mocktails, softdrinks, coffee… everything is included.
It is easy to calculate for the kids. Softdrinks are 2.90 euro. So as soon as they have more than 4 softdrinks (or water) a day, it works out more expensively than buying the all in beverage package. And that doesn’t even include any mocktails (cocktails without alcohol) or ice creams.
Tips for your MSC cruise
If this is your first cruise, be sure to take note of these tips on things to do and things not to do on a cruise:
- It can take a while after embarkation (read a few hours) before your luggage is brought to your cabin. If you want to enjoy the pool in the meantime, be sure to put your swimwear in your hand luggage.
- Order your drinks package (online) beforehand. That way you don’t have to stand in line, and you can order your first drinks straight away.
- Coffee and fruit juice are of poor quality at breakfast. Stop at the bar first and order a delicious coffee and tasty juice there.
- Do not buy any excursions on board, as you will overpay. Nearly every harbour has a row of taxis that will show you the same for half the money. And you decide for yourself how long you would like to stay somewhere. It might be worth your while booking your excursions on board if you travel alone. The taxi will cost the same for one person as it will for four people. The only draw-back: If you book an excursion on board, and you are back late – the ship will wait for you. If you went off independently, you’re out of luck and they will leave without you.
- Check before the cruise how long the ship will be in the different ports. During this particular cruise, we were only moored for a few hours at a time, so we only had very brief visits everywhere.
- Be sure to arrive one night before the start of your cruise. That means you have a little leeway in case your flight is delayed.
Things to do in Venetië
I was in Venice only last year for a city break, and did a bike tour of Lido. I discovered the brand-new shopping paradise of Fondaco dei Tedeschi (link). The children had never been to Venice, and were looking forward to it. We only had one night, but at least they saw the highlights like the St. Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge.
Where to stay in Venice?
We stayed at hotel Bonvecchiati, in the heart of Venice. In hindsight not very convenient, as we had to haul our luggage all the way through the city. But for a city trip this would be ideal as the hotel lies between Saint Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge. The rooms are a bit old-fashioned, but that’s just Venice for you. The restaurant is superb. It is located in the front and is completely open, so it seems as though you’re on a terrace.
.I didn’t feel like carrying our luggage all the way through Venice with our luggage again the next day, so we looked for an alternative. A ticket for the Vaporetto was 7.50 euro pp, so 45 euro for all of us. And then a taxi to the port and you’re up to 65 euro, and then there’s a 2 km walk with your luggage to the ship as well. Hotel reception told us we could book a private transfer per speedboat for 100 euro. So that choice wasn’t difficult! The boat picked us up from the side door of the hotel, and dropped us nearly onto the cruise ship. Fantastic! And the kids really enjoyed the journey too.
Things to do in Bari
It was just past noon when we arrived in Bari, a small town in the heel of Italy. There is lots to do from here. We chose a trip to Alberobello.
This tiny town in the Italian Apulia region is world famous because of their thousands of very particular looking white houses, also called Trulli. These white buildings have a cone-shaped roof and the town just looks adorable. It is the perfect location to take Instagram-worthy pictures.
Be sure to visit Trulli church at the start of the main street. Walk around a little (and don’t get lost as the ship won’t wait) and visit the enticing shops. We stopped at Trullo Antichi Sapori where we tasted some local biscuits and nuts.
The legend says that the Trulli came into existence because people wanted houses that could be broken down quickly if they knew the tax collector was coming. They could thus avoid paying tax on their home, and as soon as the coast was clear, the houses would quickly be rebuilt.
The Trulli have been a national monument since 1910, and have been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1996.
If you book this excursion on the ship, you pay 59.90 euro per adult, and 45.90 per child. In our case (2 adults + 4 kids) this would come to over 300 euro.
As soon as we stepped onto dry land, a local tour operator (who works with the shipping line) came over to us. We rented a taxi bus for 170 euro to do the exact same tour.
If you take the shuttle from the ship to the centre of Bari, you pay 9.90 per adult, and 8.50 per child. If you are not travelling alone, it is cheaper to take a taxi.
Things to do in Mykonos
After a day at sea, we arrived at 9 in the morning in Mykonos, the St. Tropez of the Greek islands these days. I was curious.
There were no taxis waiting near the ship, so we took the ferry that was organised by the cruise liner to bring us to the town. There was a fee for this to - 6.90 euro per person. There were no taxis or tour operators waiting when we arrived in Mykonos town either.
After a short walk through the town, and a few purchases from the extremely lovely shop True Image, we had lunch at Familia omerta di cucina. By far the nicest terrace of the town, very friendly service and a wonderful lunch, but fairly expensive.
.Then we rented a taxi bus from MykonosGetaway.com to the town of Nammos , 20 minutes down the road (90 euro return). It was billed as the Valhalla for shopaholics. And yes, there is a cosy “village” where you can find big brands like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Louboutin and many others.
One of these pleasant side streets featured a charming ice-cream cart. And as the kids passed by, they were immediately offered a spoonful as a taster. Of course they were enthusiastic, and we had to give in. Clearly a tourist trap as we had to pay a whopping 90 euro for 5 ice creams!!!!
It was nice to walk around Mykonos for a few hours, but I thought it was over-hyped. There are plenty of towns that are just as charming, but won’t cost as much.
Things to do in Heraklion (Crete)
We arrived at the early 8 am in Crete the next morning. We had toured around here years ago, so we limited ourselves to a walk of the streets of Heraklion. Nice, but not really worth it.
A taxi from the port to the centre costs 5 euro. If you carry on walking along the water (the sea to your right), you pass by a few really cosy fish restaurants.
Things to do in Corfu
Our Mediterranean Cruise brings us to the next Greek Isle, Corfu.
Corfu also doesn’t have a lot to offer besides beaches. But Aquapark, the largest water park of Greece, is located here. The kids were definitely interested in a few hours of splashing fun, so we took a taxi to the water park. There are sunbeds, terraces and bars, but mostly a plethora of slides. One even more spectacular than the next. The kids had a fabulous afternoon. And if they’re happy, we’re happy.
Things to do in Dubrovnik
The last day of our MSC Mediterranean Cruise brought us to Dubrovnik. We arrived at 7 in the morning. And as the ship was leaving again that afternoon, we decided to set the alarm and disembark as soon as we arrived. The kids weren’t that enthusiastic and stayed in bed.
MSC’s shuttle bus brings you to the entry to the old town for 13.90 euro (kids 9.90). In first instance this looked like a good idea as we wanted to walk over the city walls and take the cable car to enjoy the views over Dubrovnik. A ticket for the cable car is about 20 euro. So together we’d spend about 70 euro for the two of us. The likeable taxi driver we talked to brought us to three view points (among which the one at the top of the cable car) for 50 euro, and he was going to leave us at the gates of the old town. He gave us a lot of information and saved us a lot of time.
Enjoy the views over Dubrovnik
Walk the city walls
There are so many things to do in Dubrovnik but a walk on the city walls is one of the highlights. After that tour we went into the old town and bought tickets to walk the city walls. The tickets are about 20 euro pp.
There are fantastic views over the Adriatic Sea and the surrounding mountains everywhere. There’s a good reason Dubrovnik is called “The pearl of the Adriatic”.
And it was a good thing that there are some drinks stalls here and there, as, although it was only 9 am, the sun was already burning. Tip: Try and do the walk in the morning, as early as possible.
Discover the Old Town
After our walk of the walls, we explored the old town. It is hard to imagine that the historical centre was severely damaged during the Balkan War in the 90s. Everything has been built back up with UNESCO oversight, and it all looks super tidy. And there are cute shops, inviting terraces and lots of small restaurants everywhere.
One of the most beautiful buildings of the old town is the cathedral. The first stone was laid in the 7th century. It was regularly changed in the centuries after that. During a heavy earthquake in 1667 it was mostly destroyed and it would take nearly three centuries before it was built up again. In 1979 it was again damaged by an earthquake. And after it was restored, it was damaged by the bombardments in 1991. Now, once again, it has been restored to its full glory.
In case you are in Dubrovnik for a few nights, here's a great guide on where to stay.
After a last night on board, we arrived early in the morning in Venice. If you, like us, have a few hours to spare before heading to the airport, take a taxi to Piazzale Roma. There is a baggage drop beside the railway station. For 5 euro per piece, you can leave your bags here and enjoy Venice for a few hours.
And thanks to the strike by Ryanair, it cost us a lot more money to get home.
After a heavenly week at sea, we came to the end of our lovely Adriatic cruise. However, some things disappointed when compared to other cruises. The cabin is too small, and the service wasn’t always great. And some of the stops were really too short, but we could have known this beforehand as they are spelled out on MSC’s website. But MSC was cheaper than Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises, so I guess you pay for what you get.
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Note: Prices mentioned in this post are from August 2018.