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The (rather crowded) open decks at Naples

This was our first cruise so everything was new to us. However I had done my research via various websites and had therefore picked up lots of basic information. For example, we had learned about the lifeboat/muster drill; about the on-board cashless system; and about the two-sitting dining experience; and when we encountered all of these for the first time there were no surprises.

What did surprise us was just how lavish and comfortable MSC Sinfonia was. We now know that in fact it was pretty typical for ships of that era, i.e. the early 00s, but we were impressed. In particular the standard of furnishings and fittings in all the public areas made a big impression on us, with rich colours. We made good use of the bars and lounges (and see below for more on that), we enjoyed the open decks, and we also liked walking along the promenades – Sinfonia had wide promenades down both sides, although there were no wrap-round sections at bow or stern. At the time we accepted the lack of space on board, but looking back at the photos I can see that it was quite crowded. But with no sea days in the itinerary, that wasn’t too much of a problem – we were off the ship and ashore every day.

Our cabin, too, was fine – efficiently-enough furnished, and we were pleased with it, even though it was just an Inside cabin. We were also very impressed at how well the A/C worked – it kept the cabin cool overnight without disturbing us. (We are ‘windows wide open’ sleepers at home.) Looking back, however, I can see that it was quite small. In recent years we have certainly enjoyed the balcony cabins we’ve had, but this has been in the context of 14-night cruises with five or six sea days, during which having the balcony has been very relaxing. That wasn’t the situation on this first cruise.

Dining worked well, both the evening sittings and casual eating during the day. In fact, it’s difficult now to remember much about it, so obviously nothing bothered us too much.

The mix of passengers was very international. My recollection is that Italians were a majority, but perhaps only just. After that there were a lot of German passengers – possibly Austrian and Swiss as well as I heard a lot of German spoken on board. After that came the French, the Spanish, and then a motley collection of other nationalities, including some Scandinavians with whom we shared a table for a few nights. Finally, there was a very small number of Brits and other English-speakers. The mix of nationalities meant that all announcements were in five languages. Entertainment, too, had to be international – lots of musical acts (pop and ‘popular classic’ – I remember a tenor doing Nessun Dorma, for example), conjurers/magicians, and acts such as aerialists. There were no comedians – that just wouldn’t have worked.

As with ships for other lines the international aspect extended to the crew, and this lead to something unexpected. Many of the senior crew e.g. senior waiters and all of the officers were Italian, but many of the junior crew that we encountered were not. We found that a lot were Indonesian – Balinese, in fact. This caused some problems, because these Balinese crew members did not speak much Italian and the Italians certainly did not speak either Indonesian or Balinese. However, the Balinese crew members all spoke good to very good English; and when they discovered that we were English-speakers, they couldn’t do enough for us. As a we received excellent service in the bars and restaurants, and we had some excellent evenings in the bars chatting to the wine waiters about their lives and why they had joined the ship. However, I also observed painful scenes that I have never seen on any ship since, in which officers publicly berated crew members for mistakes – almost certainly because they had not been able to understand the instructions in the first place. Overall, though, we found service very good – it was probably the first time we’d ever been routinely ‘waited on’ and it made the cruise feel special.

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