ABOARD THE MSC SPLENDIDA –Swimming in one of the Splendida’s five pools, I notice the only hint that we’re on a ship in the middle of the ocean. The water level at the edge of the pool goes up a bit, then down every few minutes, which means that if this ship did not have a great engine with a fine stabilizer, the water would be sloshing back and forth and those passengers with fragile stomachs would be dashing for the Dramamine.
The ship uses sea water in its pools, and has a fine water purification system that turns sea water into all the drinking and bathing water onboard. MSC claims it is purer than most of our drinking water back home. It certainly tastes good.
We have had smooth seas and sunshine every day on this trip save for a bit of cloudiness and showers on the day we visited Capri. Today is foggy; that’s perhaps because it’s the only day when we stay at sea all day and night through tomorrow, with no port stops. We must keep ourselves busy while “stuck” on this sailing vessel, which is not too difficult given the 18 levels of activity sites and 38 planned and suggested activities every single day, from aerobics class to disco night for the teens.
The fitness leaders have gone out of their way to make stretching and aerobics fun. It is not easy explaining that you must now do the grapevine in a language understandable for the global population of 80 countries represented this week on board, so they each try a little of what they know best, such as “uno…dos…three…quatre…”
The same goes when they teach us the dance steps from all the dances they’ve introduced this week, from country to samba to bachata to waltz. The best teachers simply shut their mouths and let their feet and bodies do the explaining; who needs an instructor screaming out directions anyway? Cruise Director Valerio Stigliano, who is fluent in at least five languages already, says he’s going to have to learn one of the languages of the Baltic countries, as more and more passengers are coming onto MSC ships from that region of the world.
Speaking of language, we witnessed the wedding of a German couple today in the main public salon of the ship. When the officiating crew member said “Gesundheit!” to them we thought one of them had sneezed, until we realized that he was truly being serious in saying “God bless you!”
One of the fitness/dance instructors, Joseph Nasoro, is the comic relief of the group. He wears hilarious costumes and a gigantic smile whenever he dances. Yesterday he was dressed in a white miniskirt, bare midriff, and brief tank top to dance. He makes the three-to-83-year-olds who join in feel they belong, no matter what they look like.
The fitness center itself has more machines, and more varied equipment, than my gym has at home, including the “Rotary Torso,” good for golfers. In this room we saw the first and probably only anorexic passenger on board, working out madly on the machines. Most of the remaining 3,999 of us look as though any more caloric intake on our part and we’ll explode. I’m relieved to observe that it’s not just Americans who have an obesity problem; the only mass group of slim and fit passengers we noted who did not have a diabetes problem was Japanese.
MSC is gracious to the handicapped and disabled, allowing easy passage around the ship for those with canes and walkers and wheelchairs. Many in wheelchairs also choose to take the tours, and Capri, for one, has built a comfortable electric lift for wheelchairs to get from the top of the funicular higher up the 30 or so stone steps to the center of town on this precipitous island.
The baby area of the Splendida, for little ones from age zero to three, has a huge plastic whale for climbing, a stationary kayak for paddling, and numerous colorful toys to keep this contingent happy and moving during the trip. MSC has just made a partnership with an Italian company that makes bottle warmers, strollers, bouncers and baby backpacks for parents to use during their cruise. They also have an arrangement with UNICEF so that any donations that passengers would like to make for the wellbeing of needy children will be transferred from the ship to the charity.
MSC has a wonderful tipping policy: rather than making it necessary for us to gather various denominations of cash and round up envelopes to hand out to all the waiters, maids and crew throughout the week, as many ships do, the company has included the cost of gratuities in the cost of the price of the trip, so we have already tipped before we come on board. What the working personnel really want from us at the end of the trip is an “Excellent” check on the questionnaire we hand in at the end of the week, and with this crew, we were happy to oblige.
My only suggestion to MSC on future sailings is to let those females taking the Tunisia tours know that they should cover their knees and shoulders, as modesty is expected in this Islam country. Some of our fellow tourists were dressed inappropriately in tank tops and shorts when they left the ship, not out of disrespect but because they did not know what was expected of them as visitors.
May 22, 2014
Photos by Julie Hatfield