May 13-15 Sea Day, Le Havre and back to Southampton

May 13 Sea Day

Last Sea Day. I started prepacking and enjoying my last day of relaxation before the last port day and getting home. Nothing too crazy went on. It was getting colder so we used the indoor pool, relaxed, I went to the show. Unlike my last cruise I didn’t really meet any other adults to hang out with which was a bit of a bummer as I really enjoyed being able to do that over our November Magnifica cruise. Today was all the face to face passport control. I wish all cruises did this! Seriously, USA ports should take note. And can I have that job?

May 14 Le Havre

I prebooked us a tour to Honfleur with Bee Le Havre from downtown. It was easy to get to. I had heard the walk was long into Le Havre so took a taxi but I definitely didn’t need to, the walk would have been pretty easy. We had a really nice time eating multiple gelatos and wondering the little shops. Would definitely go back and book with the same company. It was a great deal. There were a ton of rude pushy people, which by this point in my cruise I was just done dealing with and my American came out (shamefully) and I went off on them.

May 15 Southampton

We headed off pretty early and waited on our zone. It was quick and efficient. I called the taxi number given to me with my hotel package, got back to the van quickly and we were on our way. Another cruise in the books. I would definitely book from Southampton again. I did get annoyed by some demographics of people by the end of the cruise. I was tired of cruise food by the end of the cruise also. 15 nights is a long time to eat similar food. We did try Butcher’s Cut which opened late in our cruise and was delicious. The service was way too slow for my American kids who are used to 45 minute meals, lol. We’re definitely looking forward to our next MSC cruise in November.

Last of the Daily programs

May 9-12 Sea Day, Rotterdam, Sea Day, Hamburg

So surprisingly for me, my kids and I all enjoyed the Northern European ports more than the warmer Spain and Portugal ports. I thought for sure they’d enjoy lounging and the beach days but they loved getting out and about in the last three ports: Rotterdam, Hamburg and Le Havre.

May 9, 2019 Sea Day

We’re really boring sea day people. I got a massage which was nice. My son got tired of the kids club and would only go if another English boy was in there which got kind of annoying. I made the decision to allow him to stay in the room alone so I could go to the MDR for dinner because he tended to get bored part way through. It was fun though and we played a lot of Skipbo and ate lots of gelato and cakes from the Phoenician Plaza which was our favorite place to get snacks during the day. Like I mentioned we didn’t have a drink plan and paid as we went. None of the bartenders this cruise were as good as the ones we had on Magnifica though and all were pretty grumpy it felt.

May 10, 2019 Rotterdam

This was my favorite day of the whole cruise. When I was first looking at cruises to take the kids on this was the port that drew me in because one of the big things on my bucketlist (that I actually have written out) was to go to Keukenhof Gardens during tulip season and this cruise fell right before they closed for the season. I was super annoyed that it took until 3:30pm and a very unorganized disembarkation process to get off the cruise. Due to the delay I did the fastest thing which was to take a taxi that was already waiting to the Rotterdam train station. It was 20 euros which was a bit much for a 5 minute ride. No taxis used metered which I thought was ridiculous since they seemed to be the official cabs the port pushes. Uber would have been much cheaper but I didn’t want to wait. We got tickets to Schipol which is where I had prebooked tickets with busfare for the tulip festival. We didn’t get there until around 4:30pm. But it was my favorite thing and it was so amazing that we’re booking a land trip for April 2020 so we can go spend a full day next year.

After Keukenhof we took the bus and then train back to Rotterdam. The city was a lot nicer than I had expected after reading pretty bad reviews on how horrible Rotterdam is from people who were very upset that we weren’t docking in Amsterdam anymore (which I think is super cheap of MSC honestly, raise the fare by 10 euros and go back to Amsterdam, I’m sure people would prefer it). We got some food, went into some shops and walked about 40 minutes back to the ship which was actually really nice in the evening since it was an overnight port.

May 11, 2019 Sea Day

Just another Sea Day of the same thing. My daughter loved the kids club. It’s been a while since I mentioned it but the staff is beyond amazing and honestly the biggest draw to MSC for me until my daughter ages out in a couple years.

May 12, 2019 Hamburg

So we docked into Hamburg on a Sunday which really limits transportation options. I had read up a ton before we left and the consensus is that a taxi or tour/shuttle is necessary. I read about a couple people who walked but that info was hard to find. All the tours didn’t allow me to really choose what to do for the day and the shuttle hours were horrible that MSC offered with the last shuttle departing the city a few hours before we left port. We decided to walk and it was not as bad as everyone says it is.

The walk was super easy. I typed in the Hard Rock into my google maps because I knew it was really close on the other side of the Elbe Tunnel and would send me the right way. The beginning part of the walk was all industrial but was really safe. The tunnel was AMAZING and super cool. Altogether the walk took about 40 minutes, other transport methods would have taken 25 minutes or so but you’d miss the tunnel and it costed a lot more and this was free. If it wasn’t Sunday I’d be tempted to use the ferry boat but it wasn’t an option.

Hamburg I really catered to the kids for the most part. I took them to Planten un Blumen which is an amazing park with beautiful gardens. The playground was awesome and the kids easily killed an hour there. We then walked by the Rathaus and St. Nicholas’ church. Both were really fun and the walk around the city was easy. We did use the metro a couple times when the kids got lazy. The all day ticket was less than 7 euros and the kids were both free with an adult, super cheap compared to some places. The day we were there was also the Harbour Birthday and there was a huge festival that we enjoyed before taking the tunnel back to the ship.

Daily Programs and MSC papers

May 5-9 Cádiz, Malaga and Vigo instead of La Coruna

No excuse, just been slacking off. Hoping to finish off this cruise review so I can do a couple different trips we’ve done in.

May 5, 2019 Cádiz

My main plan for Cádiz was to take a slow day and just relax. I walked the sea edge to La Caleta beach and enjoyed the scenery. There was a nice play area nearby for the kids and a couple ice cream stands for snacks. The weather was nice also and both kids got in the water.

May 6, 2019 Malaga

My plan for Malaga was almost identical to Cádiz but we also went into town away from the beach to check it out. I was pretty amused by the Dunkin Donuts. We spent some time at Playa la Magagueta. It’s right past the pier and super easy to locate. It was pretty enough but lots of rocks and shells to walk over.

May 7, 2019 Sea Day

We spent our sea day relaxing. My daughter went to kids club. I read a book. We played cards… all the normal stuff when you’re cruising solo with two kids honestly.

May 8, 2019 Vigo instead of La Coruna

Due to weather we were rerouted to Vigo. I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I had booked Santiago de Compestela privately and was able to get my money back for that. We slept in that morning and then walked into town. There was a small mall with toy store near the pier and we looked around, walked around the local streets and then got back on the ship.

May 3 and 4, 2019… I got busy!

Sea Day May 3, 2019

So I got way behind on doing this cruise review. A short recap… My Mom came and visited and we spent a week in the Netherlands and also went to Chessington amusement park. Then my best friend came and we went to Paris and to Scotland. And then my husband came home after being away for 6 months! I’m really going to try to work on updating while I’m traveling though, but I admit, traveling with a 9 and 10 year old often leaves me exhausted in the evenings.

So the first sea day was really nice. We spent a lot of the day playing at the pool and the water splash area and slide. The weather was warming up and we just took the day easy. We got some gelato which was something we spent money on a couple times a day sometimes. We also got the kids some legos. My daughter (10) also enjoyed a lot of the kids club offerings.

Here’s the daily activities.

Lisbon, Portugal May 4, 2019

I pre-booked a great tour for Lisbon before we got onboard with We Hate Tourism. We booked the Pirates of the Cruise Ships tour. The kids were half price which was definitely an added bonus. Our tour guide was waiting for us and there were no other people with us which was also nice. I would definitely recommend the tour and my favorite stop was definitely Cascais and I wish we could have stayed longer. We were taken to an authentic place for lunch which we all enjoyed also making it a really good deal.

Here’s the daily. Most evenings on port days were spent just relaxing, going to the shows, kids went to the kids clubs (my daughter is SO obsessed) and just enjoying our time together.

Brest, France: May 2, 2019

Our second port day was Brest, France. I’m not sure what the big day trips are from here but I remember that I didn’t see anything that would be for the kids. Early on I’d heard that Oceanopolis was nice for kids. Another aquarium but my kids love aquariums so that was fine. I would say that if we ever stop here in the future I wouldn’t bother getting off.

The ship offered a shuttle bus that you could pay for that dropped off near the city center (1o euros adult, 9 euros child) and the cruise port offered similar for free. Neither really told you before hand where they dropped off. They do say you’re not allowed to walk in the port which was a bit annoying. We couldn’t get a taxi where the port shuttle dropped us so we ended up walking about 2 1/2 miles to Oceanopolis (we took a taxi back). My kids were huge troopers and the walk wasn’t that bad but it did take us right back past the cruise ship (we had to back track about a mile). There were also no taxis at the port which is was a bummer also. Supposedly there is a shuttle from the cruise port to Oceanopolis but after being cut about 10 times by pushy people I gave up on trying to figure it out.

Oceanopolis itself was cute. It wasn’t that expensive either at 36 euros for the three of us. They had all the normal stuff including penguins, nice play area, and a couple good gift shops and snack places. It wasn’t as nice as the aquarium in Genoa but we enjoyed it even after our hour long walk to get there. We asked the people at the ticket center to call us a taxi back and it came pretty quickly back to the ship.

Nemo fish at Brest Aquarium

The taxi had no trouble getting us back into the port. It was about 20 euros. We decided to grab a crepe while we waited to board. The queue wasn’t too bad.

Definitely have to get crepes in France!

Once back on the ship kids went off into the kids clubs which they love. My daughter definitely prefers it more. Part way through my son didn’t want to go for dinner and would only go if one specific kid he met was in there. But he still went there for at least a bit every day. My daughter was the kid that from the time we were on the boat in the afternoons she wanted to be at the kids club until they closed around 11pm. Did I mention how amazing the kids clubs are? They do face paint all the time and all the staff are just AMAZING!

Always taking selfies on my phone! But the face paint is always cute.

May 1, 2019 St. Peter Port, Guernsey

This was the rainiest day of the cruise but it wasn’t too bad honestly. I admit, I was born and raised in Florida so if it’s not a down pour I think it’s easily manageable. We decided to sleep in because we didn’t have an excursion or anything booked for the day. It was also the one and only tender port of the cruise. We got to the lounge to get our tender tickets around 9:30 and didn’t get off until around 11:30. Seemed a bit crazy and insane honestly. We had tender number 14 and they were on number 5 when we got to the Platinum Theater. Anyways, my kids were already in a bad mood by the time we finally got the tender over after waiting so long. After talking to others I think I just had REALLY bad timing as the tours all left around the same time I guess.

We just walked around locally in town. I stopped at M&S and a Boots to pick up some snacks for the ship (sodas and crisps mainly). We shopped for a little bit. Saw the Town Church which was very cute and then the dreary weather led us back onto the boat. I would have really liked to see some of the occupation stuff and I’d definitely plan a long weekend back and rent a vehicle to really get around easily.

Town Church, Guernsey
St Peter Port, Guernsey
B and K… pretty much explains how the day went

Once back on the ship I got a scone from the Phoenician Plaza (which would be my favorite place during the cruise), kids wanted to go to the kids club for a bit and then we went to dinner. I didn’t do too much for evening entertainment. I caught up on reading and just enjoyed a lot of quiet time. Funny that late that night these showed up after dinner which wasn’t very helpful! I forgot that priority tender was a perk of my loyalty membership with MSC… probably could have skipped that 2 hour wait getting off. Oops.

Priority Tender Ticket that came after we’d already left the port.

Southampton is so convenient!

Southampton Monday April 29, 2019

So I paid about $100 USD extra to cruise out of Southampton and not out of Hamburg. It was 100% worth it. I decided to drive in a day early because I always worry about what if there’s road delays, the train had us switching THREE times which seemed like a pain with kids alone, and it’s also just nice to be able to relax. I booked the Holiday Inn Southampton for £179 which included the hotel for a night, parking for the night and 15 nights of the cruise, taxi to and from the pier (which you could probably walk to if at the city terminal), and breakfast.

Pool next door
View from our room
View of the MSC Preziosa morning of the cruise from where I parked my vehicle in the parking lot.

Southampton Tuesday April 30, 2019

We waited until noon which was the check out time to leave since we’d heard they hadn’t been letting people board until 2pm. We walked over to Ikea and had lunch and grabbed a few things to leave in the car until we got back. Embarkation was a bit slow but only due to limited security queues. We were still on by 3pm though.

Safety drill was simple. Kids got signed up for the kids club and got their bands easily. Lots of people trying to talk us into beverage packages. I opted for no package this cruise as the price has gone up a LOT since our last MSC cruise. I also don’t drink that much alone and the kids maybe got 3 drinks a day so just wasn’t worth it. We were originally slotted for late dining but I was able to switch that to early without any hassle even though there was a sign saying that they couldn’t.

We were booked on the 9th floor in a quad inside Bella room. Pretty much the cheapest room on the ship! It was fine though and no complaints there.

Somehow didn’t get a photo until the kids had already put their stuff everywhere.
Kids Club program for first part of our cruise.

Is 15 nights too many?

So here’s the cruise we just did as a reminder. MSC Preziosa, 15 nights out of Southampton April 30, 2019.

So I got off the cruise last week and have slowly been getting back into regular life things. I had planned on blogging along the way on some of my down town (because let’s face it, I had a lot) but I got shut out of my iPhone on the first day and couldn’t fully get back on until we got back! More on that later.

So a few quick notes about the cruise and then I decided I’m going to detail what I did for those who may be stopping at the same ports.

  1. I’m not sure if 15 nights is too long or if 5 sea days is just too many for me, but I definitely started feeling more lonely and kind of bored this cruise. It’s definitely my last cruise I do alone with the kids for a while, I’ll definitely be using that 4th space next time with either my husband or someone else.
  2. I did not enjoy the Preziosa quite as much as I did the Magnifica for some reason.
  3. The kids club is why I will be continuing to use MSC primarily at least until my kids turn 12 and age into the next age group. They are seriously so amazing. Two of the women were on the 12 nights we did on the Magnifica back in November and they remembered both kids and just really go above and beyond.
  4. The food was okay. I started getting really down about the main dining room food part way through and I realized it was more because my table mates were super whiney about it than that it was really bad.
  5. I won’t cruise another ship that embarks in Germany ever again. Well… maybe if the itinerary is right.
  6. I thought my kids favorite ports would be the beach days in Spain but both kids favorites were Le Havre, Hamburg and Rotterdam.
  7. I love the combination of doing a few really planned days but doing our own thing on the others.

Packing Cubes- The Travel Item I Never Knew I was Missing

I’m currently in the middle of the chaos that packing myself and two kids on a 16 night trip with varying weather brings. We leave Monday for a night in Southampton and then to join our cruise on Tuesday for 15 night. (Have I mentioned the best part of cruising is going new places and only unpacking once?)

My best friend Nicole introduced me to packing cubes but it took me moving to England to actually buy myself some. I then bought more once we got here and still need another 3-5 to meet all our long trip needs.

Why packing cubes? For me it definitely saves on packing space. I have enough clothes for 16 nights for both kids including swimwear and pants for when we hit Northern Germany in one suit case! But really the best thing is unpacking when we arrive on our cruise and just plopping the cubes into drawers and everything is unpacked in minutes.

Packing cubes are also awesome when trying to maximize space, like every time we fly a budget airline in Europe such as RyanAir and Easy Jet. I can easily pack at least a weeks worth on my own clothes in my 40L Osprey bag (I’ll review this bag later on).

So if you’re trying to fit more and stay more organized definitely get some. My favorite set I have are these TravelWise ones from Amazon TravelWise Packing Cubes . I also got a cheap set from Target in a pinch when I was in the states. I’m hoping to try out some compression ones and Amazon ones next!

Have you found the travel cube love?

19 days until my next cruise!

We got an awesome deal on the MSC Preziosa and only have 19 days left until we get onboard. I’m so excited and just got my tickets delivered to my email yesterday. This is a budget cruise, no super expensive excursions, hoping for some lazy beach days, and no drink packages this go around.

Here’s our awesome itinerary over 15 nights (including an overnight in Rotterdam)!

Here’s a quick overview of my plans. In case you didn’t know, I’m incapable of at least making basic plans.

1. Southampton, England- Park, Sleep, Cruise deal at Holiday Inn next to to the port night prior. Maybe we will hit up IKEA and I saw there’s a Build a Bear for B.

2. St. Peter Port, Guernsey- £1 bus maybe or just wander the town.

3. Brest, France- Oceanopolis. This aquarium gets great reviews and I’m sure the kids will have a lot of fun.

4. Lisbon, Portugal- I booked a tour specifically for cruise ship passengers through We Hate Tourism. The tour is called ‘Pirates of the Cruise Ships’.

5. Cadiz, Spain- Hoping for warm weather and some beach time!

6. Malaga, Spain- Crossing fingers for two days in a row of warm weather and some beach time.

7. La Coruna, Spain- I booked a tour with Cruising Excursions to Santiago de Compostela, a famous church nearby. I honestly couldn’t find anything else I liked and have read lots of stories of MSC canceling their own excursions and didn’t want to take the risk. I am slightly worried because it says 6 hours and that would place us getting  back right when the ship leaves. We’re the only ship in port so I’m sure they’ll adapt it though.

8. Rotterdam, Netherlands- I precooked tickets online to Keukenhof to see the famous tulips. Hopefully it won’t be too late. I’m planning to take the train to the airport and then use the shuttle and ticket combo I booked directly through Keukenhof.

9. Hamburg, Germany- This is the one port that I don’t really have a solid idea of what I want to do. I saw that there’s an s-bahn station near the dock which I will probably take into the center. I’m also considering doing one of the free walking tours with Sandemans. I really like wandering port towns so will probably do a lot of that.

10. Le Havre, France- This port is one that is often used to get into Paris, but since we have a week planned this summer and the kids have gone already for a day recently I’m not up for the long journey in. Also decided not to do Mont Saint-Michel because it would just be too long a day for the kids. Would rather just plan a week in Normandy. So I booked a bus tour to Honfleur with Bee Le Havre. They have great reviews on Trip Advisor and are about 1/3 of the price of everything else I found including private taxi to Honfleur.

I know that’s a lot but it sums up our trip. The kids are really looking forward to just hanging on the ship and at the pool. This ship again has an indoor pool for cooler days but also lots of outdoor water play areas including a huge water slide. Luckily our port days aren’t too packed for the most part so will have time while in port also to explore some of these areas!