Mummy Mondays – Our First Family Cruise with MSC

Back in October last year, I went along to my very first big blogging event – Blog Camp On Board, with Trips100. The event was held on one of MSC’s newer cruise ships, the Preziosa, and the whole day was so much fun! After the event, we were invited to write about our experience in a blog post, to be entered into a prize draw for the chance to win a cruise with MSC, and I managed to win!

I was so excited, but also a little nervous as I suffer from anxiety, and one of my biggest triggers is feeling trapped, something which I anticipated might be an issue on a cruise when out at sea. The prize was valid for any of MSC’s cruises, but I decided right away I wanted to travel from Southampton, as it is only around 40 minutes from us in the car and would make things a lot easier.

This did cut down our choice of destinations a fair bit, and looking into our availability when the children and Ed weren’t at school, and finding a cruise that wasn’t already booked up (they generally get booked up a year in advance) was a little trickier than I anticipated. Fortunately my contact at MSC was able to assist us and we ended up going for a cruise around Northern Europe at the start of the school holidays.

The second hurdle we faced was that the prize I had won was actually for two adults and two children, but we have the three kids. Benjamin isn’t actually charged as such, as he is under two, but the ship didn’t have any family rooms left available, which meant we required two cabins to accommodate the five of us. This meant we did need to pay an additional fee, but that’s fair enough as the prize had been advertised as for a family of four.

With the cruise all booked by the beginning of this year, we just had to wait the seven months until we embarked. The kids were so excited and asked us how long until the cruise approximately every few days, so it felt like the time dragged a little, but on 30th July, following a rather hectic weekend at Camp Bestival, we packed up our belongings and headed off to Southampton docks to board the MSC Magnifica.

To say the kids were looking forward to getting on the ship would be an understatement. We had opted to pay for parking with ABParking, as they are situated right by the terminal and were reasonably priced at £88.20 for the duration of the cruise, and as the huge ship came into sight, the children’s excitement reached fever pitch. After a few nerves in the days leading up to our departure, I was actually feeling calm and relaxed as we made our way onto the ship.

The embarkment process was so simple. I haven’t been on a cruise before, so I don’t have anything to compare it to as such, but in contrast to going on a plane, this was a lot easier (not to mention brilliant as there are no luggage weight restrictions, I packed ALL the shoes).

From the moment we stepped into the cruise terminal, the MSC staff were so friendly and welcoming, and this continued throughout our trip. Nothing was too much trouble, and many members of staff went out of their way to make us, and the children in particular, feel at home on the ship. Benjamin is at the stage where he wants to walk around and explore, and he would walk around raising his hand to high five waiting and bar staff and they would always stop and talk with him. It made all the difference for the children, and I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending the cruise line as a family friendly option for those looking to book a cruise with kids.

After boarding the ship, we headed straight to our cabins, which were located across the hall from each other (much appreciated, as there would be nothing worse than having to continuously walk a long way between cabins). Carly and I had a balcony cabin, which was absolutely incredible. It was so nice to have a little outdoor space to escape to, and it proved hugely worthwhile as I got to witness some breathtaking scenery early in the morning as we entered ports in the Norwegian fjords.

The boys’ cabin was an inland one, and didn’t have any windows, which I know Ed found quite frustrating, especially as he couldn’t tell what the weather was like each morning when getting himself and the boys dressed. The cabin was also smaller than mine, and felt quiet cramped with a double bed, bunk bed and the cot for Benjamin in.

When we arrived, each cabin had some leaflets with information in, along with our cruise cards, which we were encouraged to carry with us at all times. I had been prepared for this and one of the things I bought and packed in advance were some lanyards so that we could wear the cards around our necks. I would 100% recommend doing this (although you can buy MSC branded lanyards on the ship if you don’t remember to in advance or change your mind during your trip).

Each evening before bed we would also get a daily news paper through the door, which would detail all the entertainment, special offers and timings for restaurants and bars as well as a little information about the port for that day, including expected temperatures and distance between our next destination. I loved these and have kept them all as souvenirs (we also got to keep our cruise cards after we disembarked, which was lovely).

All embarking passengers have to attend a safety briefing, and as our embarkation time was quite late, we had to go to this pretty much right away, which was a little bit stressful, and I started to feel a little anxious as it was crowded and very loud.

After this, we headed along to the restaurant as we had been given the second seating for dinner (8.15pm), which was too late for us (we had requested the first seating at 5.45pm on our booking, but this isn’t always guaranteed).

Luckily this was changed, and we were shown to our table in the Quattro Venti restaurant and introduced to our waiter for the cruise, who was incredibly friendly and accommodating. He was so good with the kids, especially Benjamin who would not sit still throughout meal times, we were sad to say goodbye at the end of the cruise.

The restaurant had set menus, which would change daily. There were around 5 options for starters, mains and desserts (although sometimes the desserts were heavily ice cream based).

The children had their own menus, which again had a few options for each course, as well as some items which were always available like chips and grilled chicken. The menus themselves were themed and would change each day, which the children loved. They were also in several languages, which was brilliant with passengers from around the world on board.

The kids are notoriously fussy, but they managed to find something they liked most nights. One thing I would have liked was for a simple pasta dish to be available everyday, as this is always a crowd pleaser. There was a pasta soup, but Carly wasn’t keen on this. Carly absolutely loved the chocolate cake that was on the menu daily for the children, along with jelly, ice cream and fresh fruit.

Food was included for us, but we had opted prior to our trip to also add on the all inclusive drinks package, and we would be offered wine and soft drinks throughout the meal. Again, I would 100% recommend adding on a drinks package, if it isn’t included in the package you opt for, as it just made the trip so much less stressful in terms of ordering drinks and keeping track of what we were spending.

The package came to around £500 for the four of us (Benjamin didn’t need one), but when we looked at the prices of the drinks and ice creams we had during our trip, this was worth paying upfront. The all inclusive package included a huge range of cocktails, wines, spirits with mixers, hot drinks, soft drinks, bottled water and both milkshakes and ice creams, available from the array of onboard bars and restaurants. Drinks packages are available to purchase once on board, but are generally priced higher, so book in advance to get the best deals.

It’s worth noting that as well as the restaurants, Magnifica has an extensive buffet restaurant on deck 13, which is open throughout the day with different food options at different times including a full breakfast, lunch and dinner, an afternoon tea, plus sandwich and pizza stations which stay open into the evening for those late night snacks.

We loved the buffet food, and sometimes headed up there if the children hadn’t eaten much at dinner, or if we were just feeling particularly greedy. The breakfast especially was brilliant, with something for everyone. I went for a full English most days whilst Ed had cereal and the children went for pancakes with Nutella. There is even a dedicated children’s area of the buffet, with fussy eater friendly options for those under 12 (although we witnessed lots of adults adding chips to their plates too!).

There was a second restaurant on board too, as well as an oriental restaurant, which would have incurred an additional cost had we decided to eat there.

After dinner, we explored the ship a little, and headed to look around the kids clubs, which were located on Deck 14. Due to the ages of our children, each of them needed to attend a separate group, which was a little frustrating, as they can be quite shy. Having said this, during our trip, the older two children went into the kids club almost every day, and often the mini and junior clubs would join together and attend entertainment around the ship, including watching performances in the main theatre, and disco style activities in the bars.

After initially being a little nervous about the kids clubs, Cameron and Carly ended up loving them, and we had to drag them away at the end of the night. Although the clubs are open from 9am until 11pm on port days and most of the day when at sea, the children generally only went in after their dinner for a few hours. This gave us a bit of a break, and meant they participated in lots of fun activities.

Unfortunately, after giving it a go for a couple of days, Benjamin decided the baby club was not for him, and he refused to let us drop him off, which meant we didn’t properly get a break just the two of us much during our time away. I can’t fault the staff who run the kids clubs, they were all unfalteringly patient, kind and caring, and the children became close to some of the women in particular.

The system put in place for these clubs felt very secure, with each child having a barcoded wristband, which would need to be scanned along with the parent’s cruise card whenever they went in or out of the kids club. There was the opportunity to allow older children to leave without needing their wristband scanned, but we decided not to permit this for Cameron. There is also the opportunity to permit the use of photography, face paints and food during their time in the club, with the possibility for children to visit the buffet if you are looking to have a meal in peace alone. We didn’t do this, but it is a brilliant idea for those who would like a break. All of this was complimentary, included within the price of the cruise, which is absolutely fantastic.

As well as a full Children’s entertainment programme, there were plenty of activities, shows and performances throughout both day and evenings suitable for all the family. Although we didn’t take part in a lot of these (I was most disappointed to miss the Adam’s Family show as from what I saw at the beginning, it was brilliant), it was great to have options if we got bored and the staff worked tirelessly to keep everybody entertained and amused throughout our time on board. There was even karaoke, which Ed loved taking part in, and he had the whole room up and clapping along with his rendition of Sweet Caroline!

There were suggestions each evening for dinner attire, ranging from casual to elegant with a few themed nights thrown in to the mix. These were just suggestions though, and not enforced. We dressed up depending on how we were feeling, and whether the children were up to playing ball, but it was nice to smarten up and make an effort.

During our trip, we visited a total of six ports, with three days at sea in between these. We arrived at our first port – Le Havre in France, the next day, and headed off to explore. We hadn’t booked any excursions in advance, as we didn’t want to make the children feel cooped up any more than they needed to during our time off the ship. The excursions were also quite pricey, when looking at the cost for the four of us, and so we just looked around the immediate areas to each port.

Looking back, I think it may have been a good idea to have booked a couple of excursions for some of the ports, especially the ones in Norway, which didn’t really have anything in them other than shops. In France, we paid a small fee for a shuttle bus into the town centre, and explored from there. The weather was similar to back home in England at the time, nice and hot and sunny, and after a while we decided to head back on the shuttle to the ship so that we could enjoy the pool with a drink in the sunshine.

We hadn’t added on any of the internet packages to our booking, but when we were in the ports, I was able to get 3G signal on my phone, which meant I was able to post to Instagram throughout the trip. If you wanted signal whilst at sea, MSC offer a range of internet packages depending on what usage you want, and are worth looking into in advance to get the best deal.

The next day was our first sea day, and unfortunately this is when things started going wrong for me. My anxiety worsened as we sailed away from France, and the realisation that we wouldn’t be back near land for over 24 hours hit me. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and I became incredibly dependent on Ed, who I didn’t want to let out of my sight. This put a serious dampener on our trip, and I really regret not having visited the doctor before travelling to discuss medication in case of my anxiety worsening whilst away.

As it happened, I ended up having to resort to visiting the on-board doctor (at a cost of 80 euros), who was incredibly unhelpful and judgemental in his manner towards me. Both him and his receptionist mentioned the fact that I had three children who I needed to look after, with the receptionist even saying that Ed couldn’t be expected to look after them on his own, and the doctor then telling me cruising obviously wasn’t for me, and that this should be my last cruise.

He prescribed me some medication, which I was grateful for, but didn’t explain any potential side effects or even provide packaging or a leaflet for the tablets he prescribed, which was quite worrying. His manner was extremely rude, and both myself and Ed were frustrated by the way the appointment was handled. I have since spoken to MSC regarding this issue, and they have promised to look into the way their onboard doctors handle guests suffering from mental health issues whilst on board.

As a side note, I did want to mention that a member of the reception team spoke to me over the phone one night when I was having a panic attack and Ed was out of the room, and she was amazing at keeping me calm and talking to distract me until he got back.

That night I took a tablet, which helped me to relax enough to get to sleep, and the next day we arrived in Norway, which we would be sailing through for the next four days. We enjoyed Norway, although as I mentioned, some of the ports were a bit boring without much to explore if you hadn’t booked onto excursions.

My favourite port of the whole trip was our third stop in Norway, Olden. This was such a picturesque little village, and I would definitely revisit it again if the logistics worked out (I don’t think I would be able to cruise there again with my anxiety). As we sailed away, the locals came out and waved flags and played music on speakers. It was truly the most amazing part of the trip for me, and made me very thankful for having a balcony to sit and experience this from with a drink in hand.

After our final stop in Norway, we headed back out to sea. This time I was a little better about things, knowing I had medication I could take, and I enjoyed exploring the decks a little more and taking lots of photos of the ship’s beautiful interior. The ship has several bars on different levels, a library, cards room, cigar room, theatre, casino and a dedicated sports bar, along with the restaurants, buffet, swimming pools and children’s clubs. The spa and fitness centre are right at the front of the ship, with fantastic views from the treadmills. There is even a tennis court on the top deck! Definitely something to keep everyone occupied during our time at sea.

There were some gorgeous sunsets during our time at sea, and it was so lovely to be able to sit and watch with a drink in hand on one of their many tables with a view.

Our last port was Hamburg in Germany, and we arrived to bright sunshine and temperatures of 34 degrees, which was quite a contrast to Norway, which had been 14 degrees and raining! Hamburg was very built up, and we walked for a while in the heat before giving up and purchasing tickets on the underground to get into the centre of town. This was reasonably priced at 12 euros for the five of us for the whole day.

The weather was a little too hot for sightseeing, and after walking around the shops, getting some lunch and all the cold drinks, we decided to head back to the ship. We stopped off at a lovely ‘beach’ bar on the way back to the cruise terminal. It was a welcome oasis after walking around in the heat, and the kids enjoyed a quick play in the sand before heading back onto the ship!

Our final day at sea gave us a chance to spend time in the pools (Magnifica has both an indoor and outdoor pool, kids splash pool, several jacuzzis and a hydrotherapy area (which requires booking through the spa), and to relax and enjoy our last day. We had to have our cases packed and outside our rooms by midnight, so we did this whilst the kids were at the kids club, and then enjoyed a final drink at the bar before heading to bed.

The next morning we enjoyed breakfast before visiting the photo desk to purchase some of the prints taken of us during the cruise. Unfortunately we weren’t able to choose print sizes or finishes as it was too late, and I was a little annoyed as we had previously come along the night before and not been able to see some of the shots taken that night and told we would have to wait. Had we of been informed that we would then not have had time the next day, we would have requested the different prints that night instead. It meant we also ended up paying more than we would have liked, as some prints were only available in the bigger size. It was also an additional charge to purchase the prints on a USB.

I would recommend looking at booking print packages before travelling. It is not something I considered, as I didn’t really think we would want posed photos, but actually they are lovely souvenirs of your time on board and bulk print packages are much more cost effective than ordering separately once on board. This small annoyance aside, disembarkation was nice and simple, and very quick, and we were off the ship and back to our car within half an hour.

Overall we all really enjoyed our first cruise. There are a couple of things I would have done differently, and it really was a shame that my anxiety ruined some aspects of the trip for us (mainly Ed who wasn’t able to go to the bars, entertainment and casino in the evening as much as he would have liked), but I would recommend a cruise with MSC to those considering one, and cannot fault the company on providing a fun experience for all the family. A huge shout out goes to our wonderful waiter, and our cabin attendant Muli, who went above and beyond to make our experience amazing.

When we got off, Magnifica was heading on to the Mediterranean, and I kind of wish we had of been able to have gone on that one as some of the ports sounded incredible. I would definitely consider another cruise with MSC in the future, but I would need to have my anxiety under control more to fully enjoy the cruise experience. I also think waiting until Benjamin is a few years older would be a better idea, as some aspects of the cruise felt a little dangerous with an inquisitive toddler in tow (especially on our balcony and some of the upper decks), and the pools were off limits to children who weren’t toilet trained, which was disappointing as it meant we couldn’t go in the pools together as a family. However, it was an experience I will always remember, and we have come away with some fantastic photos and memories from our trip.

I won this cruise with MSC through Trips100, however all opinions and images are my own, and we decided to upgrade aspects of our trip ourselves to enhance the experience. 

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