We didn’t get off to the best of starts – because you know, you’re thinking in your head, we’ll have breakfast, drive to the port, drop off our bags, return the rental car, check into the cruise and head straight to the lunch buffet, or maybe hang out by the pool. Except that there are 4000 other people trying to do the exact same thing, at the exact same time! Even then, still easy-breezily optimistic – so there’s a line, half hour, an hour – how bad can it be? That easy-breezy quickly evaporated as the wait stretched to a couple of hours – wait, what’s that – is that a section of the line with CHAIRS? – just how long is this line??!! The 17th time we were asked for our Covid tests didn’t help, neither did the manual entry system by the harried agents – seriously, entering all guest data manually? – it’s 2022, people – where’s the automation?
Needless to say, by the time we all had our boarding passes, and had taken the mandatory ‘we’re so happy we’re going on a cruise’ photo – the only thought sustaining our extremely hungry group was the buffet at the end of this long road. The variety and quality of this expected spread had risen to mythical and epic levels during the wait – so imagine the crushing disappointment when we reached the restaurant to find it closed. CLOSED!!! So they were doing the safety drill – the kind of important thing with lifeboats and emergency exits – and all meal service was closed. Yes, that includes room service. Ajey somehow managed to wrangle a cheese pizza from the kitchen staff – and that had to tide us over until the buffet reopened at 6pm! So yeah, not the greatest of starts!
The stateroom definitely cheered me up! We did have a balcony – although there had been a slight mix-up with our original booking, and we had been assigned staterooms with a ‘partial’ view. It was too much trouble and much more money to get that changed, so we decided to keep the booking – I have to admit, I was a little nervous about how partial ‘partial’ really was! Turns out that we had a view of the lifeboats on the 7th deck below which obstructed the ocean view – but truly, it wasn’t that big of a deal! There’s still plenty of ocean visible – and to be honest, having the lifeboats in plain view was oddly comforting! The staterooms are very efficiently designed – all the luxuries of home (including a hair-dryer) packed into a compact space! A king-sized bed, and a pullout couch for Manasi – perfect! The best part? As I was admiring our partial, but still beautiful ocean view – spotted a couple of dolphins frolicking in the water! Too far to catch on my camera, but how amazing!
First on the entertainment agenda was a ‘Tribute to Abba’ – Manasi is a huge, huge fan! I love the theaters on these cruise ships – plush seating, beautiful lighting and talented performers! My knowledge of Abba only extends to Mamma Mia songs, but I love watching Manasi sing along in the audience! We spent the rest of the evening walking around the top deck, all the way to the back of the ship. The trailing wake has such an hypnotic effect – I feel like I can stand and stare for hours. Surprisingly, there were no deck chairs at all, to sit down and enjoy the wide expanse of the ocean and the slowly setting sun! We had a whole table to ourselves at our dinner seating – that’s the best part of the day on a cruise – to sit down and enjoy a good meal with all the family!
Next morning was very relaxed – the ship wasn’t to dock in Nassau until noon. We had a leisurely breakfast, once again admiring the wake – and the special American flag cake to celebrate the 4th of July! Back on the deck, we could see Nassau approaching, ooh look, there’s the distinctive Atlantis building! Also took the chance to go take a look at the gym and the ‘library’ – not a single book in sight! It’s a good thing that I always travel with my stash!! Our ship nosed its way to the dock, flanked by equally huge cruise ships in either side. From our balcony, the effect was like being in a multi-storeyed apartment building complex – with all the windows and balconies facing us!
The Nassau port was a bustling hive of activity – there was tons of construction under way, and a huge hoarding promised a glittering modern port in the very near future!! A tourist spot to the hilt, we were assailed by numerous offers – taxi tours, best shopping, hair braiding, resort days. My advice? Walk straight through, and keep walking – Nassau isn’t really that big, and unless you’re planning a jaunt to Paradise Island to spend a day at Atlantis, you don’t really need a taxi. Well, unless it rains! First stop, about a 10 minute walk away on Bay Street – is the Parliament building. The candy pink building was festooned with Bahamian colors to celebrate their 49th anniversary of independence – which seemed ironic, considering the statue of Queen Victoria that’s front and center here!
Walking to the Parliament building, we passed the Festival Place and Straw market – a collection of tourist shops, anything and everything that the heart could desire – bargaining welcome! And not just souvenirs – Bay Street was lined with several high-end, designer shops as well! The Old Town is quaintly charming – pastel colored buildings, the iron work balconies – reminiscent of New Orleans! Would have been great to grab a table at one of the cafes, and spend the afternoon! But we were on a schedule – next stop, Queen’s Staircase! It really isn’t that much of a walk – but you see those looming dark rainclouds in that photo of the Parliament building? Right at 2pm, it started raining. An absolute downpour – and we had 3 umbrellas between the 10 of us. We were ok as long as we were on Bay Street, as all the stores had canopies that we could use as shelter – then we turned a corner, and no more canopies! We then had an emergency family conclave under the leafy branches of a tree – and it was decided that Ajey, Manasi and I would continue on, while the rest of the group turned back to find alternate modes of transport to the Staircase.
It did rain on and off for the rest of the afternoon – but it was a warm rain – nostalgic, bringing back memories of the steaming, rain-drenched monsoon afternoons in Pune. All that was missing was a street cart selling hot chai and kanda bhaji! We did make it to the Queen’s Staircase – and climbed the 66 (or was it 65?) slippery steps up to Fort Fincastle. For a small entrance fee, we could enter the fort and stroll the ramparts. Not a huge fort by any standards, definitely a major tourist stop here – as several tour buses, and a fleet of ATVs all stopped by while we were there. There’s also a little huddle of souvenir shops here, nothing that can’t be found in Festival Place. The good thing about shopping in the Bahamas is that there’s no currency exchange required. 1 Bahamas dollar equivalent to 1 US, with US currency being accepted everywhere.
We caught up with our family in the shopping area – they had ended up finding a taxi and driving around, with pictures at the foot of the Queen’s Staircase! Manasi had suggested getting matching T-shirts for everyone when we first started planning the vacation – and suddenly, surrounded by a plethora of Bahamas shirts, that seemed like the perfect idea – et, voila! – Bahamas shirts for everyone! After some more browsing, and a couple more purchases – a bracelet for Manasi, the famous Bahamas Tortuga rum cake, and of course, a magnet for my fridge – we were pretty much ready to head back to the ship. I had one more thing on the list, though – conch fritters! So we headed back to Old Town – a little confused to see most of the stores shutting down – then we realized that they probably time their opening hours to match the cruise ships’ stay – once the cruise ships depart, the touristy stuff closes down too! So we were lucky to find a little local place open – the fritters have a vaguely fishy flavor – and how cute is the silverware wrapped in the Bahamas colors!
A cruise is not the best for serious sight-seeing – so this was more of a ‘glimpses of Nassau’ than anything else! Deliberately chose not to go to the beach here, since the ship would be docking at the MSC private island next – with nothing but beaches! Manasi was interested to go swim with the pigs – no kidding, apparently that’s a big tourist draw at one of the Nassau beaches – and if it hadn’t rained, we would have probably ventured to at least take a look at these famous pigs! Ended the day with dinner, and although we didn’t get the fireworks for the 4th – we did go to the Red, White & Blue party in the Black & White lounge. Manasi joined enthusiastically in the dancing – the flash mob kind of dances these days, with the DJ calling out the moves, and the crowd following along.
Next morning, the ship had reached Ocean Cay, MSC cruise line’s private island. This island is the result of a massive restoration project, and is now a marine reserve – not only serving as an island destination for MSC guests, but allowing endangered coral and other marine life to flourish. Of course, the white sand beaches and turquoise waters – that certainly is the main attraction! Funnest part of being on a private island – all the food is included – a buffet lunch, and several food carts serving fast food are available. It’s a very different feeling, eating on the beach, in open air – and the food was excellent, the chefs even conjuring up a platter of veggie burgers for our family! Not to mention the delicious plantain fritters! Several bars as well – and if you have a drink package on the cruise, you’re good to go on the island as well! Or you could just charge drinks to your stateroom too!
Plenty of beach chairs are available – strangely, there was a charge to rent umbrellas. You would think that in the broiling heat, MSC could provide umbrellas – that seemed more like a necessity than a luxury. And if you do want luxury – well, there’s cabanas you can rent! Instead of paying for the umbrellas – we dragged a couple of beach chairs in the shade of palm trees, and we were set for our beach days! The first day we were at the Family Lagoon, with waters still as a lake. But what’s a beach without waves? So we ventured a little further to the Atlantic Ocean facing North Beach – no waves here either! Very strange! We did spend far too much time in the water, though – ended up with sun-burnt shoulders and noses! Also, Manasi recreated the ‘sand-pants’ photo we had taken in Boracay – many moons ago!
There is a long list of activities to choose from at the island – which were all completely booked before we even boarded the cruise! So if have your heart set on snorkeling or kayaking, book the excursion early! Anyway, our favorite beach activity is to find a comfy spot, and enjoy the view – preferably with a fruity drink in hand! Which we managed to accomplish on both days! The ship was docked at the island for one night – that night there was a beach party, complete with a Lighthouse light show – disappointingly, the playlist was the exact same one they had played at the 4th of July party! The most beautiful part of the night is the ship ablaze with thousands of lights! And the most entertaining part of the night was deciding which phone took better pictures at night – Samsung or iPhone? – Ajey, staunchly Samsung, is sadly outnumbered in our predominantly Apple family! Wait, the most entertaining part was Manasi singing ‘Remember Us This Way’ on ‘Karaoke Under the Stars’ – nerves of steel, that one!
Final night on the cruise – and what’s this – no Formal Night?!! We decided to dress up anyway, having given up precious suitcase space to special outfits and accessories! And we got some lovely family photos on the deck, so totally worth it! We did spend some time admiring the other lovely photos that had been taken during the family dinners – it is so tempting to buy these beautifully taken shots, but the $25 a print is a teeny bit too much!! So admire, and move on! Other than the Abba show on the first night, the shows really hadn’t been that great – so it was really great to wrap up with a fabulous ‘Tribute to Adele’ – the singer was fantastic, and Manasi was in heaven! And that’s it – 3 short days and time to say goodbye to the MSC Divina! A long overdue vacation, a beach after what seems like forever – certainly a cruise that will remain a fond lifetime memory for Manasi and her cousins, Y & R!! A big thank you to Mummy & Pappa for this amazing family vacation!!
Final verdict? Hands down, cruises are the best vacations ever – even better with a large group! Coming out of the Covid slump, we could see signs of cut-back – especially with the food. Dinners were not quite the lavish affairs we remembered from our previous cruises – we did get Indian food most nights, though! The shows, too, seemed to be on a smaller scale. Instead of special guest performances every night, we had the same artists perform every night – talented, definitely – but it did get a little repetitive. Still, nothing says ‘back to normal’ than being on a cruise – we’re definitely eyeing that Alaskan cruise next! And we’re still not done with this vacation – Happiest Place on Earth coming up next – although it may not be quite what you’re expecting!
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Looks like you had a great cruise. I will be taking a cruise on MSC Divina in December. I am supper excited thanks for the info.