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Part 1 – Introduction and overview

Fifteen years ago (today, as I write) we were on our first cruise. It was on MSC Sinfonia, lasted for 7 nights/6 full days, and was a fly cruise from/to Genoa. It was very port-heavy – six full days, six ports. This was long before I’d started this blog and therefore it was never properly reviewed here. Recently I came across a physical scrapbook that I made about it shortly after the cruise finished – surely a precursor to this blog? – with lots of text and photos. Better still, I kept the text and image files from which I created the scrapbook. So I’ve decided to do a review, not only of the cruise itself, but also of my original review – has my thinking changed? Would we be as happy with that cruise today as we obviously were fifteen years ago?

This is what I said at the beginning of that old review:

This was our first cruise, and we chose MSC for a combination of the itinerary, the price, and the newness of the ship.

On reflection I don’t think that’s quite the whole story.

We had no experience of cruising, nor did we know anyone who ever had. I knew the names of one or two of the UK-based cruise lines – Cunard (of course), P&O and also Fred. Olsen. I think our impression at the time was that Cunard (certainly and P&O (possibly) were quite grand – not quite our thing, maybe. It was also the case that we had recently started holidaying abroad, something which for various reasons we had never really done. So the idea of the cruise itself – the ship, the crew, the cuisine, etc – being part of ‘abroad’ was part of what attracted us to MSC, an Italian line. Interesting that these days many cruisers choose their line to be something they’re familiar with while they’re on their cruise! I have to say that I have no real recollection now of how I discovered MSC.

The part about Sinfonia being new was pretty fair. Built in 2002, her first owner was a company called Festival Cruises. She was one of four nearly-identical ships, initially (I think) all ordered for Festival; however, I believe that the last pair never cruised for Festival but went straight to MSC where they became MSC Lirica and MSC Opera. Subsequently the first two were also acquired by MSC when Festival went out of business in late 2004. Both were refurbished over the winter of 2004/5 and they went into service with MSC as MSC Sinfonia and MSC Armonia in early spring 2005. All four ships were just under 60,000 tons and had a lower berth capacity of about 1550 – total capacity was just over 2200. (All four have since been stretched by almost 25 metres, to a tonnage of 65,000 and a lower berth capacity of about 2000 passengers.)

We were in a standard Inside cabin, very near the bow, on deck 9. Sinfonia had three full decks of cabins, plus there were cabins on parts of two other decks. One deck had Balcony cabins, the rest just had Sea View and Inside cabins. The Balcony cabins were larger, but all the Sea View and Inside cabins seemed to be the same size. At the time I said “We were perfectly happy with our inside cabin – while a window cabin would have been nice it would not have been worth the extra cost (£500) “ I don’t think I’d agree with that now – while we might on occasion take a sea view cabin (for example, for our Christmas Markets cruise in December 2021), we have enjoyed our balcony cabins too much to be happy about giving them up when we could enjoy them. (But note that when I cruised on my own on Oceana in the Persian Gulf in early 2019, I was happy with an Inside cabin.) In 2005 I said that “we spent very little time in the cabin, apart from sleeping; we were either eating, drinking, lounging, or ashore! I think on this kind of cruise – a port every day, and on most days the ship is in port all day – the cabin is just somewhere to sleep, dress, etc, and the standard cabin is fine”; and I went on to say that “it might different on a longer cruise where the ship spent some entire days at sea – in that case I can imagine that you might want to retire to your cabin and be able to see outside”, and I’d still agree with myself on that.

Finally for this introduction to the review, I have to say that the experience knocked us out. We came home very enthusiastic about cruising and quickly booked a 2 night taster cruise on Norwegian Jewel for that summer, and that autumn booked a 10 night cruise on Celebrity Galaxy for early summer 2006. Our experience on MSC Sinfonia had got us hooked.

Here’s one final point. I noted that the flight to Milan left Manchester at 9:30, and we left home (in Sheffield) at about 6:45. We couldn’t have reached the terminal before 8 o’clock at the earliest. So in 2005 we were comfortable with the idea that we could check in, get though security, and board the aircraft in 90 minutes or maybe a bit less!

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