7 day at sea - what to do? Plenty but no quizes!

Oceans and Seas » Atlantic
May 14th 2016
Published: June 26th 2017
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From Walvis Bay, Seven days ar sea

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever

- Jacque Coustaeu –

We have now been at sea for almost seven days. There have been no further medical emergencies or stabbings to report!! After a series of initial misgivings about MSC we are now starting to settle down, enjoying our lengthy sojourn up the West Coast of Africa.

No one came to sort out the Wi-Fi problem in our cabin so I had to report it once again. This time, the customer services assistant arranged for the I T Manager to contact me. That he did, ten minutes before we were due in the restaurant for dinner!! He checked the signal and confirmed that it was very weak. He told us it is because the router is far down the passageway. Perhaps it may work if we leave the cabin door open!! At this point it took all my strength to restrain Roisin from adding to the Medical Emergency/stabbing statistics. The I T Manager could only apologise. We then both moaned about not being good enough, the inconvenience of it all, buying the premium package and not being able to use it, it would never happen on Cunard etc…etc… He offered to add an extra two hours to our account which I refused as not being the issue, at the same time as having to step in between Roisin and the I T Manager just in time. I made a suggestion trying to offer a practical solution. I know from previous ships there is an ethernet socket in the cupboard immediately under the TV stand and asked to borrow an appropriate cable. 'Sorry Sir, these sockets have been disabled for some time, ever since the ship was cut in half and the extra section added!!

Ah yes, the extra section. Last year all the Lirica class ships (MSC Lirica, MSC Armonia, MSC Opera and MSC Sinfonia) went through a process that would lengthen the ship, adding an additional 200+ cabins thus increasing the passenger capacity by at least 400. We have witnessed the video of this fantastic feat of engineering in time lapse motion. Incredible demonstration of precision engineering!! However, what MSC in their wisdom forgot to do was increase the facilities: the lounges, theatre and buffet to cope with the additional guests.

In the first few days out of Walvis Bay (pronounced Val-fis), the weather has been in the low 60s. The buffet and the restaurant have been very busy. The theatre performances have been packed to capacity for both evening performances. So much so, on several occasions an announcement has been made that the performance will be repeated as an afternoon matinee for those who missed it. In order to control the theatre audience, an electronic booking system is in operation. When entering the theatre, one of the staff will scan your cruise card which, if done correctly should have stored your booking on their system. The second show was called Pot Pourri – Fingerprints of Africa. When our cruise card was scanned, Roisin's, mine and about twenty other guests all failed to register on the scanner. For this reason we were not allowed in to the theatre until the performance was due to start. This almost caused a mini riot. This was put down to a technical hitch. So much for ‘black' cards opening doors. This one was well and truly slammed in our face!! The assistant in charge of the hand held scanner obviously hadn't been briefed on the secret handshake (or is that something else I'm thinking of??) Once everyone else was seated and the show was about to start, the rest of us were let in to the theatre. Needless to say, there were only obstructed views on the back few rows so after the first five minutes we decided we'd seen enough (or not as the case may be!). This event happened on day three. There were eighteen more to go so, being philosophical, there will be plenty more shows to see and hopefully all will go off without a hitch (technical or otherwise!!)

This sounds like I'm having a bit of a rant but I'm just demonstrating that although MSC remain one of our favourite cruise lines, they are not perfect. Whoever says that their preferred cruise line is perfect in every way is either misguided or lying!! We are still of the firm belief that pound for pound they are still excellent value for money. We think of them like a close relative or friend. They can get on your nerves at times but at the end of the day you still defend them and won't have a bad word said against them!! You're the only one who feels qualified to bad mouth them as you know you'll forgive them in the end although you know they're going to irritate the hell out of you at some time in the future!!

Our cabin is number 1063. Whilst on the 10th deck, the number, unlike other ships, has no bearing on the deck number. Further down the passageway on our side (the port side) of the ship is cabin number 1101. I have nicknamed this the ‘binary' suite (a little joke for my data analyst buddies!!)

We won the first proper quiz and each received a voucher that can be cashed in for a prize at the end of the cruise. The more vouchers you collect, the more prizes you get. Since day three, there have been a distinct lack of quizzes. Four in nine days to be precise of which only two quizzes during the first six sea days!! Whilst this is bad for our sanity it is good for our win average as we have a fifty percent success ratio!!! There have, however, been at least two presentations per day under the heading of ‘Enrichment at Sea' lectures. One of these lectures, Around the World in 80 flags was hosted by the cruise director, Stephen Cloete. All cruise directors we have met on MSC are fluent in at least five languages. Any multi lingual announcements to be made on this voyage, are usually made by a cruise hostess, Manuela with Stephen bringing up the rear in English. What he lacks in linguistic ability he more than makes up for in his presentation skills. His lecture was humorous, informative and even the power point slides were ‘textbook'!! Who knew, for example, that flags, once upon a time, if planted in the ground meant ‘I claim this land on behalf of Queen/King and country' which happened in the New World quite a lot. However, the indigenous people would wander up to the strangers and raising a hand to attract their attention: Er, excuse me, sir, yes, hi er, yes, actually this land belongs to us'

Ah, quite, would come the reply. ‘But you don't have a flag!!!'

‘Fair point!!' the Chieftain would remark as he and his indigenous tribes retreated.

This dialogue was probably for illustration purposes but the key message was clear!!

At the end of the seminar, Stephen apologised for using the Jules Verne title. There were actually 121 flags illustrated in his seminar but ‘Around the World in 121 flags' didn't seem as snappy!! During the talk he asked the audience a few questions. I got 726 points for shouting out that the oldest flag was Denmark and another 9 points in recognising the only flag on which there is a gun is Mozambique. At this stage I'm eager to take any quiz questions no matter what form and how unofficial they are!!

During the seven days we have been sailing up the West Coast of Africa, there have been some interesting seminars. We have a Chief Superintendent, David Seabourn Davies who was on the Royal security detail until he retired a number of years ago. As a keen historian, he has given some fascinating talks on attacks and incidents on the British Monarchy from George III to our current day Queen. He was also involved with the death of Lady Diana and presented the evidence as he saw it as well as sharing some documents that have only just been released.

We also have a Doctor presenter onboard (that's handy with the recent spate of Medical Emergencies – you can never have enough doctors!!) He has given talks on the truth about Statins and cholesterol (my GP has a lot of questions to answer when I get home!!) and another seminar on Medicines – the Good, the bad and the Ugly – what can you believe? So there has been plenty to exercise the mind but with the amount of food at our disposal it's more exercising the waist that I need. There are stretching and aerobics classes but they normally start at 7am. What?! Don't they think fat people need as much sleep as everyone else!!??

The weather has not been the best since leaving Namibia. Whilst the temperature has been rising as we neared the equator, the clouds remained stubborn making it very humid. While the sun waited to make an entrance, Roisin had a few sessions at the Arts & Craft lessons. These were led by Irene and Bob, a couple from Northumberland, England. Irene is a wildlife artist by profession and as she couldn't find anyone to frame her paintings when they moved to Alnwick, she asked her husband to pack in his engineering job and learn to become a picture framer, which he did and now they're cruising the world teaching arts & crafts!!

Roisin has produced a couple of framed water colours. One of a butterfly and one of a sea horse. In a separate session she produced a flower shaped pin cushion. To quote Irene and as a heads up to some of the readers of this blog: ‘They would make excellent Christmas presents!!'

There have been several classical concerts in the theatre. Consisting of four singers; a baritone, tenor, soprano and mezzo soprano accompanied by a violin, viola and piano, the group belted out famous arias from La Traviata and Carmen. They also add in Italian traditional songs such as Funicular, funiculi. On cue, like the whole audience was connected by some sort of Matrix collective, everyone started to clap along in time to the upbeat rythmn. I decided to keep the party atmosphere going as the tenor slowed it down with the opening lines to O Sole Meo. Not the best rythmn to clap along to. Due to the slower tempo it came across as a slow handclap so I was escorted from the theatre! Not having a very good evening I saw the tenor walking towards me in the buffet where Roisin and I had come to take a cup of tea and coffee after the show. To show my respect and knowing how to address such an artiste I meant to say ‘Buena Sera Maestro' instead I heard myself say:Buena Sera Metro'!! In my defence I knew it was the model of a Austin car!! Like a true professional he just smiled, gently bowed his head and said ‘Buena Sera' when he was probably thinking: Nobbo Grande!!

On the subject of music there are five lounges throughout the ship where you can go to listen or dance to live music. There is an artiste called Christopher. I'm starting to wonder if he is omnipotent! How can he be in Shelagh's bar with Charlie, the Buddha Bar with Jaco AND the Sinfonia Lounge with Just Magic? We managed to catch part of his act just before the one (an only one, so far!!) 10pm quiz. He sings and plays guitar with backing tracks. Quite a talent as he plays all his songs in C major but manages to sing them in E flat minor!! Anyone with a musical background will know how difficult it is to sing in E flat minor!!

We've tried our best to get more trivias included without much luck, just a bunch of empty promises. A few days ago, the animation team had arranged an Abba tribute and quiz. This took place in The MSC Sinfonia's largest lounge, the Manhattan Bar. It was due to start at 22:00. We arrived at 21:30 and the place was already practically full. Thankfully, the bar is waitress service. The house band, Synergy were still in full swing. Two couples were taking advantage of the spacious dance floor. More and more guests were ‘piling' in to the Manhattan Bar, standing in the aisles and generally causing obstructions. Several of the animation team had a light bulb moment as they started to bring more tables and chairs through. However, the only place to lay the additional furniture was on the dance floor. This was rapidly becoming a Marx Brother's moment from a Night in Casablanca where Groucho is dancing with a lady whilst Chico and Harpo start bringing more tables and chairs through to solve the overcrowding. All this time Groucho has been dancing around an every decreasing dance floor. Soon the dance floor has shrunk to less than a few square feet whilst Groucho and his partner, though still dancing, are left shuffling on the spot. The quiz itself consisted of playing a few bars of an Abba song and the first person to run down to the front and say the title of the song won a prize after having to dance with the pseudo members of Abba. It seemed to be a lot of work to win a plastic ship that squeaks when you squeeze it!! Furthermore, due to the overcrowding and the age of some of the guests, some of the songs went on to the second verse and chorus before any guest made it to the front!! We may not have won any prizes that night but at least we left with ‘most' of our dignity in tact!!

In a similar vein to the Abba tribute, the animation team held a retro party. This is one event we didn't attend. Retro is all relative. Looking at the age of some of the Animation Team, retro would probably be no further back than Beyoncé (post Destiny's Child!!) or Lady Gaga (the early years!!)

We finally crossed over the equator on day six of the cruise (11th May 2016) or I should say, sneaked over as we crossed the imaginary line around 5am. We are now back in the Northern hemisphere and don't we know it!! It is still overcast although the temperature remains in the high 70s. The Neptune Party, the initiation ceremony where the God of the seas and oceans receives the key to the ship and first timers crossing the equator have to ‘kiss the fish', thereafter being subject to various condiments scattered on their heads before taking the plunge in the pool, was scheduled for 11:15 but as the rain was persistent all day, the ‘show' was postponed until the day after.

The photographic department on board never shirk a photo opportunity with a view to making a healthy profit all in the name of ‘memories at sea'!! From embarkation to Gala dinners, the photographers are located throughout the ship during most evening (not just gala evenings) with various back drops in front of which you can create your best pose. It is not unusual to be interrupted over dinner as you are distracted by a flash and looking across the dining room, see the ship's photographer approaching ever nearer. You are a captive audience! On two such occasions during this cruise he has had a colleague dress up as a ship's officer and more recently a pirate. There is no requirement to have your photo taken and even if you succumb, there is no obligation to purchase. Several days ago at the first Gala dinner, we had an official photograph taken with the Captain. The end results are displayed in the photo gallery where there are wall-to-wall photo display boards. On staring at the photo of Roisin and I either side of Captain Russo I hadn't realised his striking resemblance to Patrick Stewart a.k.a Jean Luc Picard. As the photo was taken standing in front of a blue sparkly background it looked like we were attending a Star Trek convention!!

The previously postponed Neptune party finally got underway. All initiates met in the Pasha Club and proceeded to paint each other with weird and wonderful symbols and messages. It was 81F and at the height of humidity…and it was raining! Not wanting to cancel again, the procession started on time led by Neptune surrounded by MSC flag bearers and someone dressed as a penguin for some reason!! They were followed by the initiates. The procession walked once around the upper sun deck before Captain ‘Picard' (Make it so! – Number one!!) gave the key of the ship to Neptune whilst the initiates were led to the pool deck where they were forced to kiss an octopus. It should have been a fish but word from the galley was that all the fish had been filleted and frozen so I guess kissing a tuna steak fillet wouldn't have had the same effect!! Bizarrely, despite the heavy rain clouds lingering, it had stopped raining at this point. After being caked in ketchup, milk, cocoa powder and flour all the initiates were ordered to jump in the pool after which (and I'm sure this wasn't in the script) Neptune was thrown in after them. Whilst Neptune had been kind to us these past days keeping the seas relatively calm, Jupiter, the God of the skies had not been so understanding. The rain soon started to descend with a vengeance but the party was in full swing. Roisin and I left the deck whilst the music was cranked up and some of the Animation team were leading the already drenched initiates around the deck in a conga!! I feel sorry for the poor pool attendants who had to clear up this mess!!

It has been seven days at sea. It is now the day before we touch land again. The weather has broken. Humidity is down. The temperature is mid-70s and the sun shines. The balance and equilibrium has been restored and a harmony has returned to the ship. (although a quiz or two wouldn't go amiss!!)

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