MSC Splendida, Day 1: Am I the only American on board?

ABOARD THE MSC SPLENDIDA – There will be no waffling or wondering where the life preservers and the lifeboats are should an unforeseen accident happen while we’re cruising on the MSC Splendida this week.

The first thing we received from the crew, even before we got to our cabins, was a notice of the Compulsory Safety Briefing that we had to attend to learn about how to put on our life preservers and where to meet should any unplanned disaster occur during the week.

If you didn’t feel like attending the briefing, too bad. It was almost as if we needed a note from our mother to get out of it. You had to bring your room key and get it checked off, and if no one showed up from your cabin, someone from your party had to make a phone call to explain why you were a no-show, and it had better be a life-threatening illness.

This ship is a floating behemoth with 4,000 passengers

After all, there are 4,000 of us onboard, and 1,370 crew members to spoil us on this luxury voyage. This ship is a floating behemoth, with 18 decks and scores of secret warrens we probably won’t discover until the night before we have to leave. So we’d better know how to leave in a hurry just in case.

The cruise line is the third largest in the world. The Splendida is big and it twinkles. Stairways, pianos, walls, are all graced with blinking starry lights that make us feel we’re in a dream world.

We boarded at Barcelona, Spain, in perfect weather and are tonight headed to Marseilles and the French Riviera. In one week, we’ll visit four countries and six cities. Most passengers are from Spain or Italy, a smattering from Asia and France and Germany, a scattered few from England and, as far as I know, one American: Me. Most, like Anne Marie and Martin Gibbons of Dublin, are couples (they’re here because she took a cruise to the Adriatic and liked it so much that she talked her husband into joining her on this one), but there are plenty of teenagers on board, and the littlest passengers as well, in strollers. They, by the way, in fact all children up to the age of 12, wear an ID wristband for the duration of the trip, so that they can be picked up by parents if involved in children’s club activities in case an emergency occurs.

Ship excursions are labeled according to interests

Excursions from the ship are labeled as to whether they’re best for families, for arts and culture buffs, city lovers, the active and adventurous, nature lovers, sea and sun interests, or those who simply enjoy scenic routes.

Last night Captain Mario Stiffa, a handsome silver-haired gentleman flanked by two young grandsons, threw a cocktail party for guests who have returned for a sail on MSC. He welcomed us in five languages, stumbling only when he got to the Japanese. It was one of two formal nights on board, and everything from long gowns to frilly mini dresses and one stunning Japanese kimono were represented.

Formal nights scare Americans, especially men, but note that you do not have to bring a tuxedo and gown on this cruise if you are not so inclined, as there are plenty of other restaurants (six restaurants, a pizzeria and a grill) around the ship where you can have dinner wearing just about anything but a bikini.

May 17, 2014

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