Next January I will have been blogging for a grand total of seven years and yet in all that time I haven’t attended one blog conference – I’m such a bad blogger! One of the main things that puts me off the larger blogging events is that they all tend to be either fairly far up north (for me anyway, down in Bournemouth), or they will be in London, which I tend to avoid as I hate the tube and how claustrophobic the city makes me feel. When I heard that this year’s Blog Camp was in Southampton, a mere 45 minute drive away from me, I jumped at the chance to attend.
Before the event I was really nervous as my anxiety makes big social situations like a blog conference a challenge. As the event was being held on a cruise ship, I was also worried that I would end up feeling claustrophobic as I do when I fly, but my CBT therapist agreed with me that I should push myself out of my comfort zone so I went and I am so glad I did as I had an amazing day!
The day started with the lovely Amy from Everything Mummy picking me up from my house bright and early in the morning. We then met Kara from Are We Nearly There Yet? And Chelsea Mamma, who drove us, Joanne from Joanne Dewberry and AK from The German Wife to the port of Southampton where the MSC Preziosa was docked for the day. As well as it being my first blogging conference, it was also my first time aboard a cruise ship and the sheer size of the ship was pretty impressive to behold!
Upon arrival, we were given name tags and asked to choose between a chatty and shy badge. I picked up a shy badge without hesitating (introvert that I am), but much to my surprise before long I was chatting away to another blogger Stephanie from Life at 139a who I had never met before, and I joked that I should have gone for the chatty badge as once I start talking it’s hard to shut me up! I had been reassured that Blog Camp was one of the most friendly and laid back of the blogging conferences and I have to agree, it was just so chilled and everyone was really lovely!
As we boarded and entered the ship itself, the first thing I saw was the main atrium area and it seriously blew me away – it’s very art deco, with majestic lifts with glass fronts and grand staircases made with stunning Swarovski crystals, which sparkled and twinkled as you walked up them. The stairs were one of my favourite parts of the ship – I’m such a magpie!
We were ushered into the huge theatre for a presentation on stage from Sally, the wonderful conference organiser and founder of Tots100, and an interactive demonstration by MSC showcasing the impressive timetable of activities on board for younger passengers. They have gone all out to make their cruise ships as family friendly as possible and even boast their own web series!
After the presentation, we were divided into smaller groups for the morning’s activities. Our group headed off on a tour of the ship first. Due to a slight delay at the start of the day, and the staff at MSC not quite being prepared for the sheer volume of photos us bloggers like to take whilst looking around somewhere new, we didn’t get to see all the Preziosa has to offer.
I did enjoy looking around some of the fantastic themed bars and lounges, and especially liked the look of the Safari lounge, and the Green Sax Jazz Bar with its beautiful teal colour scheme and ornate lighting (when I showed Ed he told me they would look out of place in our house, as would the crystal staircase – sad face). The sports bar is seriously cool, complete with retro jukebox and its very own bowling alley!
We rounded off our tour at the spa, and I was impressed that the pool and jacuzzis can be indoor or open air depending on the climate of your current location due to a super handy retractable roof – so cool!
We were shown a demonstration of the onboard hair and makeup service MSC offer to guests. Priced at around 30 euros for each service, this isn’t something I would go for everyday, but it would be a nice treat for a special occasion whilst onboard.
We managed a quick look around the top deck before heading downstairs to the restaurant for lunch. Although it was fairly cloudy on the day (typical British weather for you), I could see how amazing it would be when visiting warmer climes, to chill by the open air pool sipping on a cocktail. For those more daring, there’s also a water slide snaking around the side of the ship!
Food, for me, is one of the most important parts of a holiday. The quality and choice a restaurant provides can make or break a trip for me, so I was very interested to see what the Preziosa would serve up for us at lunchtime. As I hadn’t eaten since seven that morning, I was fairly hungry and opted for the self service buffet to speed things along, although there was an a la carte menu to choose from if you preferred with a seriously yummy looking cottage pie on offer.
The buffet had a choice of mains, but it was lacking a little on sides and vegetables. I ended up opting for some freshly carved ham, sweet and sour pork and potatoes, with a generous helping of cold vegetables from the salad to go alongside it (and bizarrely a large pretzel, which I just couldn’t resist).
The waiters were incredibly attentive, always topping up our water and wine glasses and keen to assist when required. I was sat at a table with the lovely Molly from Mother’s Always Right, Alex from Lamb & Bear and Bex from The Mummy Adventure and it was great to get to know them a little over lunch.
I absolutely loved the dessert buffet. I’m not a huge dessert person as I tend to be quite fussy (cheesecake is my go to on any menu), but I picked up both a fresh fruit salad and the chocolate torte and can attest that both were absolutely delicious!
After lunch, there were a choice of sessions for the afternoon, or we were given the option to explore the ship a little more. I went to the Podcasting session with Alison Perry of Not Another Mummy Blog and, although I’m not convinced podcasting is for me, I found the session really insightful.
For the second session, I headed over to the safari lounge for Sally’s session on metrics. This was the highlight of the day for me. It was a great opportunity to sit down with the other bloggers and it was just a really laid back, fun and interactive session followed by a glass of bubbles!
For the final session of the day, we were joined by the staff of the Preziosa along with Antonio Paradiso, MD for UK & Ireland and Executive Director of Asia at MSC Cruises, who gave us some further information about the company, their ships and plans for the future followed by a Q&A session where we were able to ask any questions that hadn’t yet been covered. I found it very informative, and I definitely came away more interested in a cruise than beforehand.
There’s still a stigma around cruises, that they are for the older generation, but MSC are working hard to dispel this and offer a fun packed programme for guests of all ages. With plenty of bars on board, as well as a dedicated pizza and wine restaurant (erm, yes please), I could totally see this a viable alternative to a package holiday abroad for our next holiday!
I love that a cruise allows you to hop on and off, with plenty of excursions during your voyage to keep you busy. Going on a more traditional holiday, you are confined to one locale, but with a cruise you can visit several places all in one go – total game changer for those of us who love to travel but are time-poor.
MSC embark from a variety of destinations, but Southampton is definitely the most convenient for us being only a short drive away from home. Both the Preziosa and Magnifica currently leave from Southampton, with destinations including Northern Europe.
I absolutely loved my time on the Preziosa for Blog Camp on Board, it was the perfect first conference for me to attend and I definitely have the blog conference bug now! It was lovely to meet so many other likeminded people, who totally got the necessity of taking a picture of your food before you eat it!
If you’d like to find out more about the Preziosa or MSC cruises in general, make sure you check out their brilliant website which includes pictures of their cabins as well as 360 tours of their bars and lounge areas. If you are a blogger and want to find out more about the awesome community network Sally provides, take a look at Tots100!