Forecasted snow for the next few days, I frantically called Justin, our snow plower, to make sure that he  cleans our driveway and walkway. I kept my fingers crossed, so that Ozy could finish off his exams and that we may leave for Rome as per schedule. Tanvir had left a week ago for Germany and I was to join him with the boys to be further joined by in laws, flying in from New Delhi. 

Tanvir arrived in Rome on the night of December 20th. We talked over the phone and he sounded pretty giddy with excitement. This vacation was well deserved, I thought! He had been extremely busy at work. Had been traveling quite a bit because of the latest acquisition. A person, who never complains,  I knew he was sleep deprived and was extremely tired. Zain, who misses him the most, during his absences, was really looking forward to spend the most of his time with his favorite person! Even Ozy, the quite one, who does not show his emotions, was missing dad. As far as I am concerned, I have always maintained that I have never gotten used to his frequent travels. I worry about his health and always pray to the Almighty Allah to keep him in His Protection.

We have been very blessed to have had a lot of exposure, through our various travels to different countries and different cultures. I think every country is special in its own way. However, I would have to confess that I have a special liking for the European countries. Have had the pleasure of traveling to London, Scotland, France, Switzerland, Italy (Rome, Milan, Florence and Venice), Amsterdam, Germany (Dusseldorf and Frankfurt) over several trips. Yet, I thought it would be a great idea to go on a Mediterranean Cruise and visit some of the places that I have not visited in the past.  Although, I would have to admit that this Cruise experience would enable us to just have a taste of these places and not a complete exposure to them.

Our last Cruise was our first cruise experience. We took a 3 night cruise from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to Nassau, Bahamas and loved the experience. I had then made up my mind to go on a Mediterranean and an Alaskan cruise in the future! 

My in laws who I fondly call as Abbi and Manjli ammi love to travel They have travelled intensively around the world. Tanvir thought it would be a great idea to ask them to join us. He managed to convince them to accompany us on this trip. Manjli ammi  was worried about getting sea sick in the ship. We convinced her that it would be a huge ship and that everything would be fine! Being Indian citizens, they applied for visa and bought tickets to Rome. A few days before we left for the trip, there was an outpour of phone calls to make sure everything was in order and that we hadn’t missed out anything.

December 20th’ 2012

I had finished packing the previous night. Had transferred, Ozy’s pet, Gizmo to be taken care by Zain’s friend. Metro cars had been booked to pick us up at 10. am. The kids got up at around 8 AM, showered and changed into their clothes that were laid out ready from the night before.  I called and talked to my mom and dad and wished them goodbye. I then called my in laws who were going to be leaving that night, in a few hours that we were going to leave in. We shared our emergency phone numbers. They had a connecting flight from Moscow and we had to connect through Atlanta. It was extremely important that our flights not get delayed, so that we don’t miss our connecting flights and subsequently don’t miss our cruise . To our relief, Tanvir had already arrived and checked into Hilton Rome. We lucked out with no delays and landed in Rome on 21st morning at around 7 AM. We walked past the exit doors and found a handsome guy (Tanvir) standing outside, with a name plate with our names written on it. We quickly  walked to our hotel, to freshen up, so that we could come back in a few hours to pick up Abbi and Manjli ammi. The room was nice and spacious and we rested for sometime. 

Much to our relief, their flight also arrived on time. After resting and freshening up, we took the hotel shuttle to have a very brief tour around the city. 

Arriving in Rome!

Piazza de Venezia in Rome

Tanvir had arranged for a 6 seater taxi to take us from our hotel to the port of Civitavecchia, where we were supposed to board our ship. It was a good 45 minutes drive. We were jet lagged and tired from our journey. As we headed closer to the port, we started seeing cruise ships docked by the port. The kids got very excited and we soon sighted our ship, MSC Splendida!

MSC Splendida

Our home for 7 nights!

The MSC Splendida is owned and operated by the MSC Cruises. It is only 3 years old. It accomodated up to 4, 363 guests and approximately 1,370 crew members.

The check-in procedure was pretty similar to that of an airline. After all the formalities were over, we were asked to pose next to a huge picture of the ship. Within minutes of which, we were finally on the ship. We had booked 2 rooms. Abbi’s room was 13066 and ours was 13192. It was a good hike between the two rooms. It was pretty frustrating and after several attempts to change our rooms, we finally gave in!

At the time of check in, we were informed that, before the ship sails at 7.30 pm, there will be an emergency briefing at 5.15 pm. This was mandatory for all guests. We were assigned to meet at the ‘Aft Lounge’ along with our life jackets. Much to my surprise, everybody took this drill pretty seriously. Soon after the briefing, we changed and headed for dinner.

The ship had 4 restaurants and 2 buffets. Besides these, were ‘The Purple Jazz Bar’. ‘La Piazzatta’ and ‘l’ Espresso’. We decided to eat at ‘La Reggia Restaurant’, which typically served Italian food. They had a pretty extensive seven course menu. We ordered some appetizers and soup and decided to try the buffet upstairs.
Each evening, we got a detailed program for the following day in our cabins. It contained information on the activities and entertainment planned for that day by the entertainment staff. After dinner, we went through all the informative brochures we had got and called it a day!

A copy of our daily program

Day 2: Genoa, Italy

Because of jet lag, we couldn’t sleep before 2:00 am most nights. At around 8.00 am, we were woken up by the sudden shaking of the ship. I quickly open the curtains of our balcony and realized that the ship was steering into the port of Genoa. It was an amazing view of the city.

Good morning, Genoa!

 It was our first morning of the cruise and also happened to be Tanvir’s birthday! The kids had made and taken with them a card for ‘dad’. All of us changed and went to Abbi’s room, where he was anxiously waiting for all of us. In the room, were gifts and cards for him. Also was another set of gift and card sent by my parents. It would have been perfect if they had joined us too. They opted to visit us in the States over next summer. Knowing mummy, she would have really enjoyed every historic sight. I have yet to come across another history buff! Inshallah, I hope to travel with them somewhere interesting sometime soon!

Abbi and Manjli ammi with Tanvir

 After the gift exchange was over, we headed upstairs for breakfast. The buffet was called ‘Bora-bora’. It was huge and honestly we were all a little intimidated by the lavish spread. It had an array of freshly baked breads, varieties of cheeses, eggs and breakfast potatoes. To supplement this were waffles, pancakes, varieties of yoghurt, pastries and fresh fruits. Oh, and did I miss fruit juices, tea and coffee!

Tanvir and Zain chilling at the ‘Purple Jazz Bar’

We had decided to take it easy on the first day. We explored around the ship and then left in the early afternoon to see the city of Genoa. Every time, we exited or boarded back on the ship. we were supposed to produce our MSC Cruise card, that each one of us had. The officer on duty, would scan the card, which had a picture of the guest, their room number and also specifications, such as the duration of their stay etc.

My MSC Cruise card

Unlike other passengers, we took our sweet time to hit the city for our excursion, because of which we encountered a small problem. It was hard to find a 6 seater taxi! It took a while, and we finally found one!. We had been warned in the past by friends of thugs and frauds in Europe. Of course, we had not the faintest clue that we would encounter one on our first day! Our taxi driver, was quite a character. Had it not been for our research and Tanvir’s GPS on his iPhone, he would have cheated us royally. We sound found out that he was taking us in a completely different direction and after much insistence, he turned around and finally dropped us at ‘Piazza De Ferrari’.

Piazza De Ferrari

Piazza De Ferrari, Genoa
It is the main square of Genoa. It is paved and pretty and famous for its fountain. At the end of the 19th Century, Genoa was the main financial center of Italy and Piazza De Ferrari, is where the stock exchange was established. 

La Borsa Valori

The curved building behind us in the picture, is ‘La Borsa Valori’, the old stock exchange. Today, it is used as a high end club!

At the square was a building called, ‘The Doge’s Palace’. Once a palace, it is now used as a museum and a center for arts and cultural events.

The Doge’s Palace, Genoa

We enjoyed walking around the narrow paved alleys by the Piazza. 3 days before Christmas, it had a beautifully decorated Christmas tree, a few shops that were being set up in preparation for a concert to be held in the Piazza that night. 

Tourists in Piazza De Ferrari

A little Christmas shop in Piazza De Ferrari, selling colorful candies and marzipan

We stayed pretty conservative on our first excursion and returned to the ship (our home for the next few days!) by around 3 pm. The ship was scheduled to depart  the port of Genoa at 6 pm, for which, ‘all on board’ was by 5.30 pm. The ship waits for none, and it is expected that if you could not make it back on the ship by the allotted time, that you could now get aboard at the next port.

Exploring the ship and enjoying the crystal staircase, by the atrium

Zain, the explorer!

After coming back to the ship, we went straight to the 14th floor buffet at ‘Pago-Pago’ and to our surprise they were still serving lunch for new sailors, embarking from Genoa. We had already eaten before leaving for our excursion, so we just had tea and relaxed.

‘The Italians’
The dress code for that evening was Casual.  We bought tickets for Bingo that night . Disheartened from our round of Bingo, we then went to the Strand Theater for a musical show called ‘The Italians’. There was a good amount of of strobe lighting, laser and smoke effects used for the show. We were really impressed with the quality of the show.
A warm welcome by the waiting staff of the retaurant

For dinner that night we had requested our Maitre d’ (Head waiter in Italian) for Indian food. While, the kids had Italian we grown ups enjoyed our plate of some wonderful Kadai chicken, served with pulao.

Goodnight and goodbye , Genoa!

Our second day of the cruise was pretty nice. Although, we kept it rather slow, we felt pretty good and accomplished.