Earlier this month, I went on a cruise ship for the very first time at BlogCamp on Board in Southampton.
What is BlogCamp on Board?
Organised by Flea Enterprises (run by the incredibly hard-working Sally Whittle), BlogCamp is an annual blogging conference offering advice on everything from writing a blog post and editing photos or video, to working with brands and understanding metrics.
This year, BlogCamp was made all the more exciting because it took place on board the magnificent MSC Preziosa cruise ship. One in a fleet of sixteen cruise ships owned by MSC Cruises, MSC Preziosa is a Fantasia-class ship with eighteen decks and over 1,700 cabins, capable of accommodating over 4,300 passengers and almost 1,400 crew members.
It was the first time that MSC Cruises and Trips 100 (the travel blogging branch of Flea Enterprises) have organised such a large-scale blogging event and it can’t have been easy to navigate 140 bloggers through an enormous cruise ship, so I applaud them for all the hard work that went into making the day a success.
Sailing from Southampton with MSC Cruises
I always thought I’d have to sail from a European port if I wanted to go on a cruise holiday, so I was surprised to discover that you can actually sail to a number of European destinations from Southampton, on both the MSC Preziosa and the MSC Magnifica. This would mean I could take as many clothes and pairs of shoes with me as I wanted, without having to worry about my suitcase being overweight!
To make sailing from Southampton with MSC Cruises even easier, you can enjoy complimentary parking in Southampton Port, and coach transfers are available from 20 major UK towns and cities via EaveswayCruiselink.
On the day
Stepping on-board MSC Preziosa, I was literally lost for words. I felt like Leonardo DiCaprio as working class lad, Jack Dawson in Titanic, when he meets upper class Rose DeWitt Bukater and gets invited on the trip of a lifetime, seeing how the ‘other half’ live. Funnily enough, the Titanic set sail from Southampton too.
As there were a number of parent bloggers among us, the day began with an introduction to MSC Cruises’ children’s activity programme from Youth Activity Manager, Matteo Mancini in the 1600-seat Platinum Theatre.
Even though I don’t have children myself, I was interested to discover how MSC Cruises keeps children from over 35 different nationalities entertained through activities such as cookery demonstrations, 3D printing and supervised visits to the swimming pools.
Following on from this, we were taken on a guided tour of the cruise ship. If I told you about everything we saw, I’d be here all week – let alone all day – so I’m focusing on my favourite parts.
MSC Preziosa’s atrium was a real highlight. With panorama glass lifts, a grand piano and sweeping Swarovski crystal staircases, it was the most glamorous part of the cruise ship.
I think MSC Cruises seriously underestimated how long it would take us to photograph these staircases; we were so in awe of them, they sent us snap happy! Each step is worth between €8,000 – €10,000!
The Green Sax jazz bar was equally impressive, featuring stylish bubble lighting, suede sofas and spotlights.
Another impromptu photo shoot broke out in the sumptuous Safari Lounge when we cast our eyes upon the colossal chandelier; the light from which was reflected on the shiny, turtle-mottled dance floor below. Decked out in animal print and fitted with leather sofas and funky suede armchairs, I can just imagine this place full of holiday-makers sipping on cocktails and dancing the night away, as cabaret acts perform live on-stage.
Situated next to the Mini Mall and La Boutique on deck six, the Phoenician’s Plaza Bar, Pasticceria and Gelateria would be the perfect place to unwind after you’ve hit the shops. The ceiling was fitted with small LED lights that twinkled like stars in the night sky as we walked by.
I could just see myself frittering away my hard-earned cash in the Las Vegas -style casino; I love playing roulette!
You could probably find me hanging out in the Sports Bar a lot, too. I could play bowling for hours (although I’m not actually that good at it!)
When I saw the indoor swimming pool, La Playa Preciosa, I wished I’d brought my bikini with me. It does get pretty hot in here but luckily, the roof is retractable.
Perched on the fourteenth deck, the Aqua Park featured a swimming pool with a children’s area, whirlpool baths and sun loungers. Although we didn’t get to see the slides, MSC Preziosa boasts one of the longest single body water slides to feature on a cruise ship!
The cabins were all occupied by guests and so they were out of bounds, but as you can see from the below picture of one of the balcony cabins, they were just as luxurious as the rest of the ship.
After our tour, we sat down for a group lunch in the elegant Golden Lobster restaurant. We could either order from the a la carte menu, help ourselves to food from the buffet, or do both. I chose the latter option; all in the name of food blogging, of course.
I was really impressed by the buffet offering. A seemingly never-ending selection of hot and cold starters, mains and desserts looked, smelt and tasted fantastic. The waiting team did an excellent job of keeping each dish replenished, which can’t have been easy given the sheer number of both passengers and bloggers on board.
The à la carte menu was equally appealing, featuring a range of Mediterranean-influenced dishes.
To start, I ordered the seafood cocktail. A tantalising trio of succulent scallops, calamari and baby shrimp was paired with a crisp side salad and creamy Thousand Island dressing – a bit like a posh prawn cocktail.
Although it’s not much to look at (it must be difficult to focus on presentation when you have 140 bloggers to feed simultaneously!), my main course of Roman sandwich was spot on. Thick slices of slightly salty, herby roast porchetta were wedged between a lightly floured panino, teamed with crispy French fries.
I rounded off my meal with the fresh fruit tartlet, filled with an indulgent vanilla custard and garnished with crumbled pistachio nuts.
When we’d finished polishing off our lunch, we were given the choice of attending a lesson in podcasting or food photography, or exploring more of MSC Preziosa by ourselves. I chose to continue exploring the cruise ship, along with the lovely Jamie from Explore With Ed.
We loved the Balinese spa on deck 14, Aurea Spa, complete with its own water feature, herbal teas and private treatment rooms.
This photo was taken by Jamie on the Brezza Marina on deck 16.
Later on in the afternoon, we watched an engaging cookery demonstration from MSC Preziosa’s Italian restaurant, Eataly, with a helping hand from Indian food blogger, Hari Ghotra.
As the day drew to a close (I wished it never had to end!), we regrouped in the sumptuous Safari Lounge for an informative Q&A session with the MD of MSC Cruises, Antonio Paradiso.
Exploring MSC Preziosa was an amazing experience, and I wished I could’ve stayed on-board for longer. I would definitely consider booking a cruise holiday in future and I was surprised to discover that it’s not as expensive as I thought. My ultimate travel goal is to visit several Caribbean islands on the same trip and now I know I can go on an eight-day cruise of the Caribbean, Cuba and Antilles on MSC Preziosa from Fort de France, Martinique next December from just £499 (based on a double-occupancy inside cabin), I am a whole lot closer to turning my dream into a reality!
Have you ever been on a cruise ship? Do you think you’d enjoy a cruise holiday?