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Tom Ogg

Age: Baby Boomer

Occupation:Self Employed

Number of Cruises: Man

Cruise Line: MSC Cruises

Ship: MSC Lirica

Sailing Date: n/a

Itinerary: Southern Caribbean


Tom Ogg

CruiseReviews at aol.com


The Group on the Lirica

Summery in Advance:
WOW! While I had hoped that changes had been made on the Lirica, I was not prepared for the total transformation that had occurred. All I can say is whatever MSC is paying Mr. Sasso, he deserves a raise, a huge one. Here are the major differences.

The food and dining experience: On my first Lirica cruise (April 1st, 2004) the food was simply OK at best. The buffet was awful and dinner in the dining room was not the kind of experience most cruise passengers would enjoy. Now, the buffet had tons of dishes that I found excellent (note, however that I am kind of a health nut) Dinner in the main restaurant was an absolute treat!

Every night saw a six course meal reminiscent of cruising premium line years ago. It started with several appetizer choices, but when the appetizers were served they were very generous portions. Most folks could have made a meal just of the appetizers alone. Then a salad followed, then soup, then pasta, the entree and finally, dessert. Not only was the food abundant, the quality was excellent. I selected fish every night and never had anything but an excellent meal.

The service provided by the waiters was as different as night and day from my last cruise. On the last cruise, the waiters were more interested in propositioning the good looking lady dinner guests than they were in serving dinner. Their attitudes were arrogant and downright rude in some cases. This cruise found excellent service from the wait staff. Our particular waiter had his hands full with some very particular and demanding travel professionals and he took it all in stride. The Maitre d' was always attentive and made sure that dinner stayed on schedule.

Here is a testament to the quality of the food. I have been on several hundred cruises and since I am a health and fitness nut, I never gain weight on a cruise because I watch what I eat and I get plenty of exercise. On this particular cruise I gained 7 pounds, which I am in the process of shedding before my next cruise to the Baltic on the Century in May.

The Service: Last cruise, the service was very weak. This cruise, unbelievable. Upon boarding, I was met by smiling faces dressed to the hilt complete with white gloves. She took my carry-on luggage and showed me the way to my cabin. It was great! Overall the service was excellent with only a few pockets of the former problems.

The The Lirica was basically a new ship when I sailed her in April of 2004, but on this cruise she looked better than new. In fact the ship was met with surprise inspection on the day I boarded and received a perfect score of 100. The crew was so proud they could bust and the ship's management was proud of them too. All in all, Mr. Sasso has introduced a "bottoms up" management style that is working quite well and will only get better.

Now before you think that I work for Mr. Sasso or MSC, as a reviewer, you always want to find the best to report and the changes that have been made since my April 1st, 2004 cruise deserve raves, so I am raving about them. If you read my earlier review, you will find I generally call a spade, a spade.

The Entertainment: Overall the entertainment was awesome! People were raving about most of the shows and acts and compared to the last cruise on the Lirica, this is another area that is night and day.

The Liquor Pricing and Policies: On the last cruise, the price of wine and mixed drinks was an absolute give-away. While prices have been increased, they still remain far below competitive cruise lines and are a remarkable value. As an example, a bottle chardonnay started at around $15 and up. The wine selection was good with many California wines mixed into the international list. All were priced reasonably. Drinks by the glass were around $3.50 to $4.50 each (including wine). While there was a "no bringing liquor aboard" policy stated in the Daily Program, there was no enforcement and folks were openly bringing wine and liquor aboard.

Many passengers verbalized their appreciation of the drink prices and policies onboard the Lirica and made promises to cruise with MSC in the future. I suspect that most people are fed up with liquor pricing and policies on competitive lines.

The Consensus: I had 47 people traveling with me, most of which were cruise professionals and seasoned cruisers (more than 100 cruises). During the last seminar we did a cruise and port review. This particular cruise drew a unanimous 10 for price to value. Sure, some of the folks found this wrong and that wrong and when compared to their favorite premium or luxury line this fell short or that fell short, but for the experience on a price-point to value received, every single person felt this was the best in its price-point category. It doesn't get any better than that.

I you are hesitant to cruise the Lirica because you have read bad reviews on her, don't be. If you cruised her a year ago and said you would never cruise her again, change your mind. It is that good of a product.

The Setup:
I was the group leader and seminar facilitator for a group of 47 cruise professionals on board Mediterranean Shipping Cruise’s Lirica. I had sailed her a little over a year ago and was anxious to see the changes that had been made subsequent to the addition of Mr. Sasso as President of the cruise line.

Getting to the Ship: I flew from San Diego on American Airlines with a connection in Dallas/Ft. Worth. We had a major tail wind, so we arrived early and I had plenty of time to connect to my flight to Ft. Lauderdale and enjoyed a salad at Friday's in the airport before boarding. I arrived in Ft. Lauderdale shortly after 11pm and then grabbed a taxi to the Renaissance Hotel on 17th Street. This is a great choice, as it is in the same strip mall as my favorite restaurant in Ft. Lauderdale, the Bimini Restaurant. I was finally in my room shortly after midnight and fell fast a sleep.

I checked out of the Renaissance Hotel and took a taxi to the M.S. Lirica in Port Everglades. Wanting to get on the ship early to finalize the group’s arrangements, I arrived at the terminal at 11 am to find hordes of passengers still debarking from the prior cruise and another large group of arriving passengers already in the lounge area of the pier. I then found out that these passengers were on the motor coach transfer to Western Florida and were taking the motor coach returning after dropping off the coming week's passengers. The port finally opened for new passengers to clear security and begin checking in for the new cruise at about 12 noon. By this time, there were a good number of passengers ready to check in and the process went reasonably smoothly once inside the passenger terminal. I was in boarding group #4 and was finally called to board the ship. I made my way down the corridor and across the gangway to enter the grand foyer of the M.S. Lirica.


The Lirica Docked in St. Maarten

The Ship: The Lirica is the first of several new ships on order for Mediterranean Shipping Cruises to be delivered. The Opera entered service earlier this year (2005) and another will follow in 2006. With a rich history, as one of the largest cargo lines in the world and also a seasoned European passenger line operating in the Mediterranean, MSC is penetrating the lucrative U.S. passenger cruise market. The Lirica reflects MSC’s rich Italian heritage and offers a unique cruising experience. With all the changes that have been made, MSC is certainly on their way. I can't wait to cruise them in another year to see what else has changed.


The Lirica Docked in Antigua

First Impressions
MSC has enjoyed a place among budget cruise lines in Europe and I was keen to experience the changes on the Lirica. The greeting by white-gloved room stewards and stewardesses to show me to my cabin was an unexpected treat. Upon entering the main Registration area, I was amazed that the ship looked even better than it did the first time I boarded her.


The MSC Lirica's Grand Staircase

The ship is of the same quality, as you would expect from a premium mass-market product (Holland America and Celebrity) and it is one of the most beautiful ships in its price category. The quality and beauty of the Lirica is probably one of its own biggest hurdles. When you are sitting anywhere on the ship, you would think you are on a premium line based on your surroundings. Yet, the pricing of the Lirica is currently competitive with mid-mass market lines. This, with the vast improvements mentioned above make the Lirica an excellent choice at its current price-point.


Cabin 8024

Cabin 8024
I was located on deck 8 in an oceanview cabin forward on the Starboard side of the ship. My cabin was configured to accommodate up to 4 people with two lower twin beds and two more upper twin beds that could fold down. Many of the cabins on the Lirica offer triple and quad accommodations that are configured as mine was. There was ample space for me to store my clothes in the closet and the drawers in the cabinets offered more than enough room for additional storage. My computer and printer were accommodated on the desk without effort and there were ample 110 volt outlets. The beds and bedding was quite comfortable. I could have elected to have had the two twins turned into a queen size bed but elected to keep it the way it was, using the other bed for storage of the volumes of stuff that I had brought to work on.

The bathroom was consistent with those you would expect to find on a mass-market ship. There is ample storage in the bathroom for toiletries and such, however I always recommend bringing a hanging toiletry bag, as it makes it so much easier to keep everything orderly during the cruise. The television offered a wealth of channels and ongoing movies to enjoy (many in Italian). All in all, the cabin was quite adequate, but would have been tight with four people in it.

A Tour of the Ship (Adapted from Prior Review)
The Lirica is quite easy to navigate with the exception of the center elevator bank that only serves a limited number of decks. However, getting around is quite easy and she retains many features that folks remember from the classic liner days such as aft fantails on almost every deck. Join me as I take a tour of the ship. First I will go all the way aft and take the elevator to the very top.


Miniature Golf Course

Deck 13, Ponte Minigolf

This deck is really extra space on the ship. All the way aft, there is a small miniature golf course that is fun to play. All the way forward some lounge chairs are found.


The Blue Club

Deck 12, Rossini Deck
Again, all the way aft is the wonderful Blue Club. The Blue Club is the ship’s disco and also serves as a meeting venue when other rooms are occupied with groups. We had our seminars in the Blue Club and they worked great! The club is quite large and will accommodate hundreds of people, but the way it is laid out, it never seems crowded.
The Blue Club Bar One of the best features of the Blue Club is its many small cubbies that are set up for intimate conversations for small groups, On the port entrance to the Blue club is the video game room that offers a good number of video games for the younger set. The jogging/walking track lies just forward of the entrance to the Blue Club and is heavily used in the morning and late afternoon. There is a good amount of lounge chairs around the perimeter of the jogging track for sunning. Passenger cabins make up the forward section of the deck.


Le Bistrot Buffet

Deck 11, Vavaldi Deck
Ah, the Bellini Deck. First of all, the Le Bistrot Cafeteria is located all the way aft on this deck. This is where breakfast and lunch is served (also in the main dining room).


La Pergola Restaurant Bar

Beside the two main buffet lines in Le Bistrot, there are also two other dining venues, one committed to pizza and associated foods and the other to omelets and specialty egg dishes in the morning and hamburgers, fries and the like for lunch. Known as La Pergola Restaurant, they are a great place to eat on a crowded day at sea.


The Lirica Pool Area

Forward of the dining area is the main pool area of the Lirica.


Pool Area

There are actually two separate swimming pools, as well as, 2 Jacuzzis that are heavily used. There is a good amount of deck lounges to use, as well. A pool attendant was always on hand to dispense towels for use around the pool and they were consistently collecting them from lounge chairs when folks would leave without depositing their used towels into the towel bin. This seemed to make many lounge chairs available at all times. The pool bar (La Canzone Del Mar) is always busy and there are a good number of attendants serving drinks to the crowd around the pool, but without being invasive.


The Children's Club

Moving forward on the port side of the ship, one finds the children’s club. This is a very colorful spot that children seemed to really enjoy. Forward of the children’s club are the steam room, sauna and relaxation areas. While I didn’t take advantage of this part of the ship, those that did were sold on the relaxation room. They worked out, took a sauna and then relaxed in the relaxation room to soothing music and simply loved it.


Fitness Club

The fitness club resided on the starboard side of the ship most forward and offered enough equipment for a moderate workout. Behind the fitness club working aft is where the Lirica Health Center and beauty salon called home.

Deck 10, Bellini Deck
Deck 10 is made up entirely of passenger cabins

Deck 9, Albinoni Deck
Deck 9 is made up entirely of passenger cabins

Deck 8, Paganini Deck
Deck 8 is made up entirely of passenger cabins


The Lirica Lounge

Deck 7, Scarlatti Deck
All the way forward on deck 7 resides the Lirica Lounge. This is one of the main entertainment venues, but not the main show lounge. It is a beautiful lounge and offers entertainment nightly.


The Lirica Lounge Bar

This is where the Captain’s welcome aboard party takes place and it is a wonderful place to hang out.

Aft of the Lirica Lounge is all passenger cabins.


The Broadway Theater

Deck 6, Puccini Deck
This deck is totally committed to public rooms. Again all the way forward on deck 6 is the upper deck of the Broadway Theater. This is the main showroom on the ship and is beautifully appointed. It offers great sightlines in an intimate environment.


The Coffee Corner

Just aft of the Broadway Theater is the Coffee Corner. This is the ship’s specialty coffee bar and one can get a latte or cappuccino any time day or night. The prices are very reasonable and it is a very popular place most of the day,


Le Cabaret

Moving aft still, next comes the Le Cabaret. This is one of the main dance venues and there is music here every night. This is also the venue for the art auction and other “at sea” events. It is a very pleasant room indeed. The card room and ship’s library are on the port side of Le Cabaret.


The Las Vegas Casino

The Las Vegas Casino takes up as good amount of space on this deck and was very busy when it was open. There seem to be a good number of gaming tables for this sized ship and there were ample slot machines that many people loved. The Casino bar always seemed to be busy as well.


L'Atmosphere

Just aft of the casino is L’Atmosphere. I didn’t discover this bar until late in the cruise, but if you like soft and romantic dance music in an intimate environment, this is the spot for you.


The Internet Cafe

Just aft of L’Atmosphere is the ship’s Internet Café. There are several terminals and I never found the café so busy that I couldn’t sit down and take care of business without waiting. While the charges seem somewhat high ($6.00 for the log-on and first ten minutes and $.60 per minute thereafter) access is fast and the system works quite well. My Internet bill ended up being far less than I have spent on other ships for this length cruise.


The Lirica Photo Gallery

On the Starboard side of the ship is the Photo Shop and Gallery.


L'ippocampo Restaurant

All the way aft is the location of the L’ippocampo Restaurant. The restaurant is beautiful and the tables inviting. There are few “bad” tables and with configurations of 2, 4. 6 and 8, you are sure to find the right table for your desires. This restaurant was reserved for a large group observing Passover for the entire cruise and was only serving kosher dishes.


La Bussola Restaurant

Deck 5, Verdi Deck
Moving down the stairwell in front of the L’ippocampo Restaurant takes us to the dining venue known as the La Bussola Restaurant. Both restaurants serve the same menu and you are assigned to one or the other when your table is assigned while checking in. If you prefer changing restaurants or tables, the Maitre d’ is most accommodating. There are two seatings for both restaurants (main at 6 pm and late at 8:30 pm on this particular cruise)


The Beverly Hills Bar

Directly in front of the restaurant is the Beverly Hills Bar. This is a great lounge, but is rarely crowded. We met here for pre dinner cocktails many evenings and sometimes had it all to ourselves. The duo that played there were playing to an empty house on more than one occasion.

The Beverly Hills Shops surround the bar on the starboard side offering a sundries shop, jewelry store and clothing store. However, I found a dearth of logo items and other items one would expect would be staples on a cruise ship.


The Grand Foyer and Registration Desk

The Grand Foyer and Registration Desk lie just forward of the Beverly Hills Bar. Along with the Registration Desk is the Tour Desk for booking optional tours and the ship’s bank. The bank is available for currency exchange and is only open limited hours. HINT: Make sure you know when the bank is open so as to have the proper currency in port.


The Lord Nelson Pub

All the way forward on Deck 5 is Lord Nelson Pub. This great pub is authentic and is a great place for pre-dinner cocktails. There is a wonderful bar (hardwood floors and all) and several nooks and crannies to meet in. Overall, this was my favorite bar on the ship and I think everyone enjoyed it.

Dining
As mentioned above, the dining was fantastic and reason enough to take the Lirica on any itinerary. Excellent menu, preparation, presentation and service. Great job! The Passenger Mix
This particular cruise saw about 60% Americans and the balance Europeans. There are numerous different cultures and announcements were made in English, Italian, German and French. However, the Lirica makes every attempt to not make announcements, so it is rarely invasive. There were very few children on board and everyone seemed to get along well. The shore excursions were available by language spoken, so instead of going with folks from all countries, the Lirica segregated folks by the language the tour guide spoke. All in all, it was quite like being anywhere in Europe on any given day. The Cruise
Friday, April 22nd, 2005; Ft. Lauderdale
I arrived at the cruise terminal early and was greeted by a large group of passengers from western Florida that had arrived early in the morning on motor coaches that were then going to take departing passengers back to western Florida. All in all, this must present a logistical problem for the cruise lines, as these passengers are simply dumped at the terminal hours before boarding and when embarkation begins at noon or so, they are anxious to get on the ship and bored with sitting around. MSC has established a lounge with several hundred chairs in it to accommodate these passengers, which is better than having them wait outside in the sun. Wanting to board early, I arrived at about 11 am and was surprised to still be in boarding group 4. The first boarding group was called promptly at noon and by 12:20 they had called boarding group #4. The main registration part of the terminal was crowded with people waiting in line, which is unusual for such early boarding, but the dynamics of the western Florida passengers changed that. I was checked in and on the ship by 1 pm.

After being met and escorted to my cabin by a wonderful and friendly room stewardess, I set up my computer and began the work of finalizing our group's arrangements on the ship. While I am not a vegetarian, I do prefer vegetables and fresh fruit. In fact, I live on a ranch in San Diego and grow about 86 different varieties of citrus, avocados and deciduous fruit (not to mention vegetables and berries, as well). I also thoroughly enjoy fish and shellfish, as a steady diet and rarely eat meat of any kind or starchy foods. Living in San Diego, we are blessed with the ability to maintain a Mediterranean diet. After contacting the main desk I made my way to the buffet for lunch. I thought I had gone to heaven. There were three different vegetarian salads that were perfect for me. One had a variety of halved brussel sprouts, asparagus, green beans, peas, broccoli and cauliflower. It was to die for. Another salad of keen interest was a Russian salad made from peas, green beans, corn, asparagus and other vegetables. It was also excellent. To top it off, there were fresh steamed carrots. I piled my plate high with these treats. I also enjoyed a glass of merlot for only $3.50. I was already loving the new Lirica.

I spent the afternoon working on finalizing our group's arrangements and then met some of the group for a pre-dinner cocktail before going into the La Bussola Dinning room for our first dining experience. While there was a pre-dinner show for late seating, I normally pass on the first evening because the shows tend to be simply introductions of the Cruise Director's staff and entertainers for the cruise, however I heard that the show was well worth attending.

I found out from group coordinator that there was several groups on board the cruise including a "Passover group of 250 passengers". The group had reserved the entire L'lppocampo Restaurant for kosher dining. Since meeting space was at a premium, I agreed to remain flexible with our group plans.

Our first dining experience was fantastic and set the stage for what was to become the focus of every day. The Maitre D'Hotel kindly agreed to allow our group switch tables within our group of tables and was very gracious indeed. This was a huge change from my last cruise. I was immediately impressed with the quality, quantity, presentation and overall dining experience.

Saturday, April 23rd, 2005; Day at Sea
I awoke to a beautiful morning, made my way to the buffet for an early breakfast and enjoyed the fruit, yogurt and a croissant before returning to my cabin to get ready for our first seminar of the cruise. One of the really excellent things that MSC does is postpone the mandatory life boat drill until the day after departure. Having to muster for the drill right after boarding the ship is always such a negative, in my opinion. Today's muster occurred at 10 am and our group halted the seminar and attended the event. We returned to finish the seminar and I was very impressed by the quality of agents we had in our group. After a quick lunch in the buffet, I made my way out onto the deck to enjoy a leisurely afternoon in the warm sunshine. I felt so good that I stayed until the sun had almost completely set. I hurried to my cabin to take a shower and dress for the evening's Captain's Welcome Aboard Cocktail party and made it just in time for the opening of the doors.

The party was well attended and the drinks circulated freely with a minimum of intrusion by the ship's staff. The Captain introduced his staff and the cruise director gave a little talk and that was about it. They served drinks for the entire hour. From the cocktail party a group of us made our way to the restaurant for dinner and were again treated to a fabulous meal. I was really starting to like the Lirica and all the changes that had been made. I was bushed from the sun I had taken during the daytime and decided to retire for the evening. I heard the next day that the show was excellent.

Sunday, April 24th, 2005; Day at Sea
Ah, a sunny day at sea cannot be beat in my opinion. Great breakfast, sunshine, great lunch, sunshine and then a little work in my cabin before getting ready for the evening's entertainment. The Lirica offered a pre-dinner show for late seating almost every night and there was entertainment after dinner, as well. I attended this evening's show, a vocalist named Jane Edwards and while she was talented, she just seemed to miss the mark with the group in attendance. She told a few jokes that did not get a response from the audience and that always seems to kill any momentum an entertainers garners. I left a tad early to use the Internet Cafe and then join our group for another spectacular dinner.

To give you an idea of what the dining experience was like, here is a recap of this evening's meal. I sat at a table for 7 (I was the odd-man out) and our various bottles of wine were already at the table. Our waiter greeted us with menus and served our first glass of wine. The assistant waiter filled our water glasses, served bread for those that wanted it and generally made sure our table was properly set after each course. We then ordered. I had spring roll for an appetizer, mushroom soup, a mixed green salad, a small taste of pasta with pesto sauce and wahoo, with no dessert. When the appetizers were served, I was treated to 3 huge spring rolls. I only ate one, but could have eaten all three in a heartbeat because they were simply delicious. The mushroom soup was to die for. The salad was OK, but then what can you do to a salad when I had been eating award winning salads in the buffet every day for lunch. The pasta ended up being a full serving and I ate every bit of it. I could not stop myself other than the couple of bites I gave my table mates. It was world class! My entree was again spectacular! Wahoo served with asparagus and boiled baby red potatoes. This was the kind of dining experience I enjoyed every evening, hence the 7-pound weight gain. Everyone's dining experience was the same no matter what they ordered. One guy, who had owned a restaurant, claimed that this evening's prime rib was the best he had ever eaten. Desserts were plentiful and excellent.

After a good amount of food and wine, I was off to bed. However, the feedback that I got from the Entertainment Team's 10 pm event "The Election of Mr. Lirica" was simply wonderful.

Monday, April 25th, 2005; San Juan, Puerto Rico
I love Puerto Rico. It is one of those ports that has a unique flavor, yet is as American as McDonalds. It is a great first international port for those interested in expanding their travel horizons beyond the U.S., as it gives one the feeling that they are in some far-off foreign land while they are still on U.S. territory. I had arranged to spend the day with one of the couples in our group and we had a great time exploring Old San Juan, the forts and walls and the shopping streets. I needed an Internet Cafe in the worse way, so found one and cleaned up a good amount of e-mail. Since we were only in port a few hours, I ended up back on board the ship with too little time in San Juan to satisfy my love for the port. I know, I know...San Juan? But if you go with an open mind, it is truly a wonderful port to visit even though it is a U.S. possession and easily accessed via cruise ship.

Back on board the Lirica, I enjoyed a late afternoon Jacuzzi, the waning sunshine and finally made my way to my cabin to get ready for the evening's show, "Witness of the Impossible". Now don't get me wrong. I do not usually like magician acts. I find them artificial and boring. This guy was great! The show got rave reviews.

I pulled myself away from the show before it was over as it was the best time to access the Internet all day. The Internet Cafe had unusual pricing ($6.00 for the first 10 minutes and then $.60 per minute thereafter), but it was fast enough to make the value proposition viable. I cleared my e-mail in time to be right on time for dinner. Dinner was another stellar event enjoyed by all. By this point, I had already decided on the content of my follow-up review of the Lirica. It had met or exceeded my every expectation.

Tuesday, April 26th, 2005; Fort-de-France, Martinique
I was starting to feel lethargic, so I decided to walk as many miles, as I could during this port of call. My wife and I love Martinique (Joanie et moi aiment tout là est au sujet de la France. La culture, la nourriture, le vin et le respect français pour notre environnement sont toutes les choses que San Diegans relient aussi. Je sais que beaucoup d'Américains ne comprennent pas, mais je suspecte qui se produit dans toutes les cultures). I debarked the ship and then walked into town. Once there, I walked in as many directions, as I could find. We usually take the ferry over to the resort area and hit the beach, but today I found walking to be a great outlet. I walked for miles and miles. Finally, I made my way back to the ship and stopped in the Duty Free shop to pick up a bottle of wine, which I had no trouble bringing on board the Lirica. Thank you for the liberal liquor policy!

I was dressed and ready to attend the evening's entertainment after spending a good deal of time in the Internet Cafe. I arrived in time to join some of our group members for the production show "Amulet." It was enjoyed by everyone as was the juggler that followed the show. I had never really seen anything like this guy. He juggles 40 pound steel balls about the size of basketballs. His grand finally was catching a 40 pound steel ball that had been shot out of a cannon; very entertaining.

Dinner was another fantastic event and our table ended up being the last to leave the restaurant after much laughter and story telling. I decided to tour the various entertainment venues on the ship to see what was going on. To my surprise, the ship was hopping and there was something for everyone. Romantic music was playing in the L'Atmosphere Piano Bar, International music was playing in the Le Cabaret, Dance music in the Beverly Hills Bar, Caribbean music in the Lord Nelson Pub, Big Band dance music in the Lirica Lounge and finally disco music in the Blue Club disco. I don't ever remember seeing so many entertainment venues offering music simultaneously. I returned to the L'Atmmosphere Piano Bar, sat at the main bar for a glass of chardonnay and then made my way to bed tired from all the walking I had done in Martinique

Wednesday, April 27th, 2005; Bridgetown, Barbados
Up early, I met one of the couples from our group and left the ship to negotiate a taxi tour of Barbados and specifically Harrison's Cave. I had not visited the Cave before, but had heard rave reviews about it. We found a taxi that agreed to take us around the island where ever we wanted and to the caves. He turned out to be a great guy and did an excellent job for us. I would give the cave tram a "must do" when in Barbados. He dropped us off in Bridgetown where we chose to walk back to the ship. It is an easy 15-minute walk and very enjoyable.

By now, I had fallen into my usual evening routine. Shower, dress, hit the Internet Cafe, attend the evening's show and then on to dinner. Tonight was no different other than the show (Fantasia Flameca) didn't hold my interest, so about half way through the show I returned to the Internet Cafe and cleaned up all of my e-mail before going to dinner. Even though it was the second formal night of the cruise, I decided to turn in right after dinner.

Thursday, April 28th, 2005; St. John, Antigua
I had so much fun with the couple that I had explored Barbados with on Wednesday, that we decided to do the same thing on Antigua. Our driver wasn't as good and the sights were anticlimactic. I would suggest that everyone simply hit the beach and then do some shopping in St. John. I walked around St. John quite a bit before heading back to the ship and my usual evening routine. The show (Welcome to America) was downright excellent.

Friday, April 29th, 2005; Philipsburg, St. Maarten
We had a short visit in St. Maarten, which is too bad as this is one of everyone's favorite ports. It has everything going for it. Great shopping on the Dutch side, casinos, great beaches and lots to do. Add to that a wonderful French side of the island with more beaches, shopping, restaurants and culture and you just can't beat it. I needed some shots for the St. Maarten port review, so I took off in a taxi for a quick island tour to get the photos I needed. I made it back just in time to board the ship before they pulled the gangway and departed at 1 pm. I had some more delicious salads and fresh cooked vegetables in the buffet and then spent the afternoon by the pool in the warm sunshine. I stayed until the sun almost disappeared. It had been a wonderful day. Because I stayed so late, I decided to pass on the evening's show and simply relax in my cabin taking my time to get ready for dinner. I hit the Internet Cafe and then ran into some of the folks from our group and joined them for a cocktail before dinner. Being able to jump from table to table is a very interesting way to get to know folks, This particular cruise had an eclectic bunch or characters that I got to know quite well. I had some very enjoyable dinners, and this evening's was another one of them.

Saturday, April 30th, 2005; Day at Sea
Ahhhh, another excellent day at sea with perfect weather. We had our last seminar this morning and then I made my way to the pool area to stake out a well located lounge chair. I am not sure where all the people went, but the pool area was not crowded and I was able to partition off the perfect spot. I always bring plenty of work with me on a cruise, so I end up with books, notebooks and the like that takes up quite a bit of space. I spent the entire afternoon with no one around me and got tons of work done (not to mention enjoying the Jacuzzis).

This was to be our last formal evening of the cruise and the Captain was throwing a "Farewell Cocktail Party". I haven't seen one of these on a mass-market cruise in years. I was dressed in my tuxedo, finished my e-mail chores in the Internet Cafe and then made my way to the Lirica Lounge for the cocktail party. Once at the party, drinks were flowing freely for the entire time until the party ended. The Captain spoke for just a tiny bit to thank everyone and received a hardy round of applause for his generosity. Now, I am not sure they do this on every cruise, but this is about the time I became very fond of the Lirica and MSC. Compared to the last time I cruised this ship, they had improved 100% and in all the areas that needed improvement. Their generosity was appreciated by every passenger. Dinner followed and it was lobster and Prime Rib on the menu (along with several other entrees) We enjoyed the dinner and wine with lots of conversation and ended up closing the restaurant as the last table. I went to the evening's show (Moulin De Pigalle) but was so tired from the sunshine I had taken during the day, decided to retire.

Sunday, May 1st, 2005; Nassau, Bahamas
We cruised during the morning and arrived in Nassau around noon. I disembarked and was craving exercise so I decided to take a water taxi over to Paradise Island and then walk the island, back over the bridge and then walk around Nassau itself. It proved to be a good choice. I was one of the last to board the next departing water taxi and the second we pulled away from the wharf this guy started yelling at the top of his lungs.

"Hi, I am Bobbie, your tour guide for the ride to Paradise Island." he was yelling so loud, I had to put my finger in my ear. "I am going to point out the sights on the way to Paradise Island" he yelled. Now for those of you that have taken the water taxi, you know that it is only about a 5-minute ride across the channel and there isn't anything of interest to see. Good old Bobbie continued yelling for the next three fo four minutes pointing out a beach that used to be topless, and a house that had been owned by a movie star at one time. The experience was really very annoying. Before the water taxi arrived at the Paradise Island terminal, Bobbie announced "NOW I DON'T WORK FOR THE WATER TAXI BUT I MAKE MY LIVING FROM TIPS. NOW I WILL COME AROUND TO EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU TO COLLECT MY TIP" he yelled at the top of his lungs. He took his hat off and started approaching people. To my amazement, folks actually dug into their pockets and gave him money. He must have collected $50 or $60 dollars that I saw. When he got to me, I told him to take a hike.

So, here is the deal folks. Old Bobbie is in kahoots with the captain of the water taxi. It is nothing more than a bad shakedown and it would be illegal in the U.S. Please don't fall for it. If you are on a water taxi and this scam is pulled on you, be verbal about it and let other people know they are just being shaken down. Don't tip the guy and tell him to sit down and shut up. If enough people do this, the scam will go away.

After getting over the irritation of watching what should be intelligent adults give their money away to a scam, I started walking. I walked to Atlantis and decided to walk its grounds, as it had been some time since I stayed there. Atlantis is cool, but at a whopping $29 per person to simply gain entrance, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone at this point. I walked out to Cabbage Beach and down the beach around the point. I then walked back to the bridge, crossed over it and began exploring the area around the bridge itself. I ran into two other adventurous souls who were exploring the same area from our group and thought to myself, "I need to get to know them better". I love people who are not afraid to explore unique areas. I eventually walked back into downtown Nassau and down to the Straw Market. After a while, I got bored with the street hustlers and other urchins in Nassau's tourist area and made my way back to the ship. I guess you can tell that Nassau is not one of my more favorite ports.

I spent some time by the pool in the late afternoon and then returned to my cabin to start packing for the morning's debarkation. I attended the evenings "Farewell Show" and then went to the dining room for our group's last dinner together. This had been one of the most fun groups I had the fortune to be with in quite a while....a true cast of unique characters. I was looking forward to cruising with them on future cruises. After dinner, I enjoyed a glass of chardonnay with some of the group members before turning in for the night.

May 2nd, 2006; Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
I awoke early and was surprised to see that we had already docked. I went up to breakfast, made a ton of telephone calls and then returned to my cabin to finish packing my carry-on luggage. The ship was cleared by 9am and I was at the Ft. Lauderdale airport, checked in for my flight by 9:45 am. I was glad to be going home to San Diego.

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