Presenter Marcus Bronzy sets sail on an idyllic MSC Cruises Mediterranean voyage and discovers just how cool exploring by ship can be.
We’re sailing out of Santorini, following the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen in my life. I’m watching from my suite’s balcony, but I bet there isn’t one person on board not entranced by the sun as it slowly sinks to meet the calm horizon, turning the sky a fiery orange, then an iridescent pink, and finally settling on a mellow purple.
Our eight-day voyage around the eastern Med began in Venice, where my partner, Lou, and I had a time for a short wander around and a little pamper session in the city’s Hilton Hotel spa before boarding our ship, MSC Lirica. Our cruise was a round-trip from Venice, so we would have more time to explore the Floating City on our return.
As somebody who is new to the cruise experience (this was only my second cruise), I’m still blown away by the ships. I’m an avid fan of all things gadget-related and cruise ships are amazing pieces of technology. They’re like enormous villages that not only get you to all these wonderful destinations safely but also have everything you could ever want or need on board. And to make it work, and smoothly at that, as MSC proved, is an amazing feat.
It was also interesting to find out that MSC Lirica had been enlarged a few years ago. The vessel was cut in half and a new middle section was added before it was fixed together again. It’s incredible something like this can be done, especially on such a huge scale, and the fact that you’d never be able to tell makes it even more impressive.
The first thing we did when we got on board was check out our suite. I’m not a small person, I’m 6ft 3, but there was plenty of space. There was a living room area, lots of luxurious touches and, the best part, a balcony. Every single morning and evening, we would step onto the terrace and soak up the views – I mean, it would have been rude not to.
That evening we had our first taste of the food on board. On a ship of MSC Lirica’s size – it accommodates 1,560 guests – it’s important to have facilities that make everyone happy, and when it comes to dining, this isn’t easy. But MSC managed to pull it off. They would tailor the menu to suit wherever we were cruising, and this was a nice touch as if you’re only staying somewhere for a day, it gives you an extra chance to experience a destination through its cuisine.
Most evenings we would enjoy a three-course set menu in the ship’s main restaurant, La Bussola, while, if we weren’t exploring on shore, we’d head to Le Bistro for a laid-back buffet lunch. This would be after starting the day in La Pergola with an al fresco breakfast – I do appreciate a well-prepared egg and the Eggs Royale here were spot on.
We also branched out to Kaito Sushi Bar, one of the ship’s speciality restaurants. This meant my dragon sushi rolls cost an extra 10 or so euros, but it was well worth it. Then on the final evening, we treated ourselves to one of the special deals in L’Ippocampo, where we could pick either steak or lobster. I was definitely not disappointed, my steak was cooked to perfection, and Lou loved the lobster.
The bars on board were also brilliant. There was a pub where I had a really nice vodka martini and the bar staff were so attentive. They’d remember your order and make sure it was always available. In fact, the service across the ship was amazing: the entire crew were very happy to help.
We woke up after our first night on board in Bari, a port city on the ‘heel’ of Italy’s Adriatic coast. Its little old town is a maze of alleyways weaving through courtyards and under arches, but we spent most of our time strolling along the long promenade that lines the ocean, making the most of the warmer temperature and being beside the sea. As the sun went down, these lovely, old-fashioned lamps lit up the walkway, and it became a lively place to hang out before we had to return to MSC Lirica for the night.
The next day we spent at sea and took advantage of the exclusive solarium area on the sundeck. One of the many good things about MSC Lirica was that if you required a bit of space, you could escape here for some peace. The pool and spray park looked really fun, but I wasn’t travelling with kids, so it was nice to relax away from the action.
Another great place to chill out was in the spa. I had a 30-minute neck and shoulder massage, and the sauna and steam room were excellent. The gym was nearby and had a great selection of weights and machines. I loved sneaking off here in the morning and working out as the sun was rising. The floor-to-ceiling windows gave the best views. It may not be to everyone’s taste to be up at the crack of dawn exercising, but I found it to be really rewarding and it became my super-secret way to spend an hour on board.
Our next stop was beautiful Greek island Santorini. We had a walking tour around the cobbled streets of Oia, a whitewashed village which tumbles down the island’s steep cliffs, and luckily made it to the old quarter of Fira, the island’s capital, which is the perfect photo stop, before it started filling up with people. Its popularity is hardly surprisingly, though, given how amazing the views are.
We learnt some really interesting facts from our guide about the island’s volcanic history and why it’s called Santorini – it’s a reference to Saint Irene, taken from the name of the old cathedral in the village of Perissa. The second half of the excursion was a visit to a local winery where we tasted some red and white wine made on the island. I’m not very clued up on the finer points of wine-tasting but this served as a very good introduction.
The next day, when we arrived in Chania, a lovely little seaside town in Crete, we took an excursion to the Agia Triada Monastery and learnt about the monks who have lived and worked there for nearly 400 years.
If you want to find out more about the island’s history, this trip is a great option, but if you want to immerse yourself in the here and now, I’d recommend exploring the Venetian harbour. We headed here afterwards and loved its vibrant atmosphere. There are lots of restaurants and bars, and we had time to stop for a refreshing drink (a freshly squeezed orange juice for me and a frappé for Lou) before taking a walk along the coast to one of the nearby beaches.
If you’re craving a full day of shore-side relaxation, I’d suggest going on the trip to Platis Gialos beach in Kefalonia (another stunning Greek island). We got to this gorgeous beach in the morning before anybody else had arrived and had our pick of the sun-loungers, only leaving them to cool down in the ocean. It was hard to pull ourselves away, but on our return to the ship that evening we met the captain at a special event welcoming back returning MSC guests.
In Split we decided to explore under our own steam. In need of a good lunch spot, I did what most people do and searched on Google. The taverna Konoba Nevera had a lot of five-star ratings, so we headed there using the directions on my phone. I thought we must have taken the wrong turn as it wasn’t much to look at from the outside, but when we went in and ordered, the food was out of this world. The local calamari was especially good, and we spent so long there, we didn’t have much time to explore anywhere else.
Back in Venice on the final day, we opted for a walking tour. As the city is so busy, it’s easy to get lost in a wave of people. I imagine this would be quite intimidating for some, so I’d definitely recommend booking onto one of the cruise line’s excursions. You could spend a lot of time trying to navigate the narrow backstreets and alleyways known as calli – there’s over 3,000 in total – but our guide knew all the shortcuts and we got to see the main sights, including Palazzo Ducale and Basilica di San Marco.
The tour also included a ride on a typical Venetian gondola, which is another must. As we glided through the water, past the magnificent royal palaces, and away from the hustle and bustle, I had time to reflect on my Mediterranean getaway with MSC Cruises. There’s definitely no better way to get a taste of a region. I love going to sleep in one country and waking up in another. The same journey by plane or car would not be nearly as fun – and that’s where cruises win.
Marcus Bronzy hosts the podcast How To Kill An Hour, which is available to download on howtokillanhour.com and all good podcast apps.
MSC Cruises offers a seven-night Eastern Mediterranean round-trip from Venice on MSC Lirica from £6,999pp, based on a 15 May departure, cruise only. Ports of call include Dubrovnik, Corfu, Cefalonia, Kotor, Split and Trieste. For more information visit msccruises.co.uk.