Destinations,  Europe,  France,  Germany,  Trains, Planes & Rideshares,  Travel Diary,  United Kingdom

7 days on MSC Preziosa, Northern European Cruise

I actually had this entry almost totally written and nearly completely edited, but never posted it! So here’s a blast from the past, a cruise trip during my Europe 2022 adventure.

Journal date: September 26-October 7, 2022 (Cruise dates: September 30-October 7, 2022)

Costs

I booked my package directly on MSC’s website, and I didn’t get any upgrades except for going up to a balcony room from an inside stateroom. I paid a mere $671 USD which included $200 USD onboard credit, which in turn covered the gratuities (€10/day at the time). The total came to about $96 USD/day which is quite good for a balcony room!

It was slightly more expensive than my usual daily budget of $50-70 USD that I managed to stick to while visiting England, Scotland, France and Spain, but overall not a bad price for a cruise.

Pre-cruise preparation

I arrived in Le Havre, France a good four-ish days before my cruise left, partly so I could do sightseeing and partly so I could finalize my pre-cruise preparation.

Unfortunately the sightseeing part didn’t really happen, as I had a stomach thing which kept me from wanting to wander around too much. I mostly stayed in the hotel for the first two days– luckily it was a budget hotel which I found on Booking.com. Nothing I hate more than paying $$ for a place to be sick in!

The pre-cruise stuff was a little bit of a struggle, but not terrible. Basically, all I needed to do print my cruise documents and get a COVID test. The hotel I was staying at didn’t have a business center/printing service, so I had to locate one for myself. And luckily, all the pharmacies had COVID testing, I just had to figure out how to make an appointment and get it done in a place where English wasn’t well-spoken.

COVID-19 Antigen Testing

The chain Pharmacie stores, the ones with big green plus signs all over France, do antigen and PCR COVID testing. However, they don’t do them all day every day, so a walk-in test is a little trickier. I managed to find one with a time slot available later that day, and we worked out the details using the Google Translate app (they didn’t speak English). I think they struggled a bit to fill in the government form using my foreign home address (I could hear a lot of “Californi, Californi” from the staff, haha) but they managed to get it done in the end.

I got an antigen test for €16,50 and the results were sent through email in about 30 minutes. I then sent my test results to the French COVID-19 app, which generated a QR code which officials can use to verify your test results (though MSC never scanned anything). Very handy!

Printing Documents

MSC is a little old fashioned I guess because they REQUIRED me to bring paper copies of my embarkation form, health attestation, etc. to check-in.

After frantically Googling “where to print documents France,” I found a Mailboxes Etc. which had printing services and staff that spoke English and didn’t mind walking me through the printing process. It was 5,30 for everything which worked out to ~30c a page. Not terrible.

MSC Preziosa

VacationsToGo has a ship info page with a good overview of the MSC Preziosa, if you want to see its tonnage and registration location and all that. Basically, it’s a newer ship (built in 2013) and holds slightly less than 6k passengers and crew.

MSC is an European cruise line so of course most of the passengers are from Europe. This cruise had a lot of German passengers in particular, which was kinda fun. I also heard Spanish, French, Italian and Vietnamese spoken.

While my particular cruise was 7 days around Northern European ports, it overlapped with other segments so we constantly picked up and dropped off new people at all the other ports.

Embarkation

Not the smoothest experience, but not the worst, either. I actually walked to the port from my hotel because it was so close; the streets aren’t the easiest to walk on because of cobblestones and pot holes, but navigating to the ship was easy.

The port building was relatively small but the lines got taken care of quickly and we all made it onto the ship. The only weird part was processing my documents and taking my photo for my cruise card– the staff did it THROUGH the plexiglass, and at a weird angle, so of course it wasn’t a great photo.

Waking up to the ship from Le Havre, a somewhat intimidating walkway full of potholes.

My Room

I upgraded to a balcony cabin for this cruise, which in retrospect was a bit of a waste because it was so cold most of the time that I didn’t want to stay outside. But it WAS a really nice room, and I liked it a lot. I had a big bed, a couch, a nice desk/vanity, and a fairly big bathroom.

Here’s a room tour video I did:

My cabin steward was friendly but a bit brusque, and at the time they were only turning the room over once a day. I don’t NEED my room turned over twice a day, but it was a standard offering that they downgraded so it felt kinda icky. (I assume that was because of COVID-related issues, and that nowadays they’re back up to twice a day, but I haven’t checked.)

I actually spent quite a bit of time in my room/on the balcony, reading and watching downloaded Netflix shows. Very relaxing!

The (Buffet) Food

Here’s the main problem I had with this MSC cruise. The dining room times were either crazy* early at 5:45pm or crazy late at 8:15pm, so I ended up eating at the buffet the whole time. This was a mistake, because the buffet food wasn’t very good.

Here’s an overview of the food available at the buffet. I think it’s definitely more suited for a European palate, as all the Germans and Italians I met seemed to enjoy it. 😛

I DID enjoy the pizza. It didn’t always LOOK pretty, but it at least tasted good.

*Not crazy for Europeans, of course. In retrospect I should’ve just eaten at the early dinner, but my “usual” dinner time was closer to 7:00pm and I didn’t want to deal with trying to change it, ha.

Shows & Activities

If you like dancing, dance classes, and music-heavy programs then you’d love MSC because that’s pretty much the whole of their events. Guessing that’s because of the language thing– it’s easier to have an event for all kinds of native speakers if the event doesn’t have a language at all!

I did go to their theater shows and they were super kooky and fun. The ones with a full cast incorporated circus acts like contortion, juggling, and some magic tricks. My favorite show was Animalia, where the dancers all wore huge animal heads like big hats! The circus stuff really worked well with that in particular.

Solo traveler meet-ups…

…were plentiful, but they STARTED at 9:45pm which is way too late for me. I did try posting a meetup on CruiseCritic boards but nobody responded– probably because CC itself is heavily American/Canadian/British leaning, while MSC is more mainland European.

Ship Photos

A small gallery of photos taken on the ship:

The Ports

I didn’t buy any excursions mostly because there weren’t any that I particularly wanted to do, so instead I decided to just wander around the ports on my own. Looking back on it, I wish I’d booked something more substantial on my own (a walking tour or whatever) because I think it would’ve been more fun. That said, I did still enjoy my trip overall.

Here’s my thought son individual ports and what I did there:

Falmouth, England

We used a tender (a tiny boat ferrying passengers from the cruise ship to land) to get to port which was VERY exciting! That was my first time on one and the experience was wild. Our driver got in trouble because he blasted into port too fast and made waves that rocked the small sailboats docked nearby.

Once at port, we were met by a welcoming committee who had maps and tourist info, plus a free shuttle to the main part of town which is otherwise maybe a 20 minute walk.

I really liked Falmouth and thought it was charming. It’s a port town so it has that typical British seaside town style. It was fun to walk along the main shopping area and see some historic sites just within reach. This was my favorite stop of the cruise, actually!

Hamburg, Germany

We arrived at Hamburg Cruise Center Steinwerder, which is quite far from the main part of Hamburg. Luckily there was a free shuttle to the train station, which is more centrally located. The shuttle took a good 20 minutes to drive there, so it was quite a distance!

Here’s a video of the shuttle drive I took:

We arrived during a public holiday, so…everything was closed!

Some cafes and restaurants were open, but all the stores and museums and whatnot were shut down. Such a bummer, especially as I wanted to buy some hiking socks and had planned on Germany’s big outdoorsy culture to give me store options. Still, I managed to wander around town a bit and saw some cool architecture (and get some Geocaches).

Cherbourg, France

Cherbourg itself isn’t a big port visit as generally people do on excursions to towns 3+ hours away (not my thing). On its own, it’s maybe good for half a day’s visit.

I’d actually previously stopped here on my transatlantic Princess cruise in the spring, so I decided to just wander around town, visit a park or two, and get some Geocaches. I also picked up a few souvenirs at the museum the ship docks next to.

Le Havre, France

Yup, we had a port day here one day before disembarking at the same town! It makes sense because we picked up new passengers from all the other ports, so for them this is a new stop. Note that this port doesn’t have a free shuttle; it cost something like $11-14 USD so if you’re really penny-pinching then you’ll have the schlep the 30 minutes to town.

As for me, I just stayed on the ship and made use of my balcony, haha! My final day on the ship was spent packing my bags, stuffing my face with pizza, and reading on my Kindle.

Debarkation

I took myself off the ship and walked to the train station rather than pay for a shuttle or taxi. It was a very easy process, about 10 minutes to get off the ship and another 30 minutes or so to get to the station. I didn’t feel crowded or rushed at all, and the staff were perfectly polite as we said goodbye.

Not a lot of people got off the ship, so I assume they were staying on until it went back to Germany in a few days.

Final Thoughts

I don’t think it was a bad ship or a bad cruise, but I was disappointed by some aspects of it– especially compared to my experiences on two other (American) cruise lines. Because it’s a discount cruise line, all of the “upgrades” are separate charges, which on other cruise lines would be included with the more expensive ticket.

I wasn’t expecting to miss those things as much as I did, so if I go on another MSC cruise I’ll fork over the cash and do either an upgrade package or buy a drinks/food package to make it a bit more enjoyable on board. Plus I’ll suck it up and go to the dining room at one of the assigned times. The prices are so good that it’s worth trying it again!


More of my European adventures:

Anastasia is a former librarian turned digital nomad. She's been traveling the world full time for two years and has visited 18 countries so far! Just Gone Wandering is a travel resource for solo female travelers on a backpacker's budget-- or slightly more-- and highlights amazing places to visit as well as providing tips and tricks for traveling smart and frugal. Read more...

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