Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Carnevale di Venezia

For anyone who has been to Venice, we are sure that you will agree that it is one of the most unique cities in the world - there really is nothing like it. Romance and mystery exist side by side in this beautiful city as its intricate canals unravel something exciting at every turn. This is why MSC Cruises simply cannot resist making Venice one of our frequent ports of call and, if Venice’s qualities are the gems, then Carnevale is surely the crown jewel behind its allure. 

Origins & History 

Undoubtedly the Carnevale di Venezia is one of the most well-known international events on a global level, but not everyone may know the history behind this illustrious occasion and we would be remiss to enjoy the fruits of these festivities without a little knowledge of why it came to fruition.  

Carnevale was born of a triumph of the Serenissima Republica against the Patriarch of Aquileia in 1162. In honour of this victory, the people began to congregate in the renowned San Marco Square and would dance and rejoice together. From here on-wards, moments in history saw the festival outlawed and revived in different eras but ultimately in 1979 the Italian government sought to promote and celebrate the history and culture of Venice and it has been re-instated ever since.  

Today there are approximately three million people who come from all over the globe to join in the celebration, one of the most important events being the contest to find the most beautiful mask on the last weekend!


There is no denying that the masks of Carnevale di Venezia are legendary, conjuring up images of masquerade and decadence. Who doesn't love a romp around a party in an elaborate gown or costume with an opulent mask concealing their identity? Oh, the intrigue! And in Venice the intrigue is only intensified by the vast array of masks that appear. So here are three masks you might see at Carnevale!

The Bauta

This mask is often heavily gilded and designed to cover the whole face with an over-prominent nose, projecting chin line and no mouth. This design was originally used so that the wearer could continue to eat and drink with ease (bring on the wine!). Usually paired with a black cape called a ‘tabarro’, the bauta is a staple choice for your Carnevale camouflage.

The Columbina

By far one of the most popular choices (especially for tourists). This half-mask is characterised by its ‘eyes only’ coverage and attracts the attention of many as it is often highly decorated with crystals or feathers (or both!). It is held up to the face by a baton or tied behind with a ribbon. Sparkle, Sparkle! 

The Volto

Another very common choice and which is characterised by its full face coverage (obviously eliminating any eating or drinking possibilities!) and is often stark white with colourful embellishments.  Often worn with a tricorn hat and cloak, the Volto is the ultimate in identity ambiguity.

The Festival

The festival is an explosion of colour and exciting events that cater to all types and intentions, with activities each day ranging from traditional concerts to photography tours. However the main attraction is indisputable as the plethora of balls and masquerade parties make for one of the most magical and memorable events of the year. 

The most anticipated of which being the St Valentine’s Grand Ball which will take place in a Venetian palace on the Grand Canal. The epitome of grandeur, this ball will provide an unforgettable Carnevale experience. But if you’re in Venice for Carnavale, you really can’t go wrong!

Thursday, 16 October 2014

A Kiwi in the Caribbean

We’ve got something special for you! Ann Mellor shares her experience on-board MSC Divina during a Caribbean Cruise in September! Read below for all the wonderful details!

I am oh so very excited about my seven-night Caribbean cruise! Departing from Miami, we saw South Beach in the morning and lucky we did because it begins to get very busy with traffic later during the day. Embarkation was fast, easy, and relaxed. We could check-in anytime from 11am and deposit our bags. My experience overall was an amazing one and I really got to experience the family-feel on-board an MSC Cruise. The crew has such a caring attitude, a real family vibe! You can really tell that MSC Cruises is a family business. Read on for my adventures!

A Kiwi in the Caribbean: Sea Day Adventures

Balcony Cabin on MSC Divina

It’s my first morning on-board the gorgeous MSC Divina and I still can’t believe how incredible my balcony cabin is. I can’t even begin to describe the feeling of sleeping all night while the ship journeys to its next port of call. Leaving the balcony door ajar, I woke up soothed by the sound of the bow wave and gentle movement of the ship in calm seas. The first thing I did was rush to the balcony like a kid in a candy store. I saw the coast of Cuba just off the starboard. The closest I am ever likely to be to Cuba I missed, so a stroll along the promenade deck above the pool was in order to take in the full scenery.

My group of friends that joined me on this Caribbean cruise were gathered for coffee, relaxing and enjoying an Italian-style café. Caffé Italia quickly became our favourite meeting spot, on level 3 of the ship. With beautiful chairs and a great atmosphere, it was a very relaxing place to have a coffee or drink. Now, all my fellow travellers have finished unpacking and have made their cabins home for the next 7 days. Everyone was so overwhelmed by the beauty of the ship, “elegant, stylish and welcoming” they exclaimed, far exceeding their expectations – and it was only day one!

Caffe Italia

A sea day is one of my favourite shipboard experiences. After a long flight from Auckland to Miami, it was the best way to ease into our Caribbean adventure. My morning started with a fresh croissant and a steaming hot chocolate from Caffé Italia (this was quick to become my daily ritual) followed by a walk around the deck. Then I was back in my cabin to daydream on the balcony, watching for seabirds and admiring the beauty of the endless ocean and vast blue skies. Since I’m on holidays, there’s no better time to pamper myself, right? So I made my way to MSC Aurea Spa for an incredible pedicure – “now, this is a holiday” I thought. Starting to feel hungry,  I headed to Villa Rosa for some lunch: Salmon tartare followed by a delicious mushroom risotto – just, yum!  My fellow travellers were making the most of their $44 per day drinks package with pre-lunch cocktails and Italian wine.

There was trivia on and we all agreed that Trivia is such a cheesy thing to do, but we thought we’d go along just to check it out. We were surprised, trivia was so much fun! We couldn’t stop laughing, especially when our competitive edge came to the fore. Unfortunately, the Kiwi team was unsuccessful, but it was a lot of fun! Now it’s time for an afternoon nap to get some rest before our big Gala night.

It’s Gala time! Fellow travellers were sipping on delicious cocktails courtesy of our captain. To our delight, we discovered Captain Pier Paolo Scala had lived in New Zealand and still visits his family there regularly! A handsome line of officers were presented to us in MSC Divina’s stunning theater. We all headed to the show before retiring for the night and collapsing in bed. We were truly one of the ‘Divinas’ now – a name we bestowed our group! 

The group with Captain Pier Paolo Scala

A Kiwi in the Caribbean: Monday, Jamaican me crazy!

Today is Monday so it must be time for JamaicaI never thought Jamaica was somewhere I would visit but sailing in on MSC Divina proved a wonderful surprise.  As I stepped off the ship and felt the warm Caribbean breeze, I was transported back to the days when I lived in Tortola, the British Virgin Islands (so many years ago now).

There were so many shore excursions to choose from, but some of us finally decided on the Montego Bay and shopping excursion. On our excursion, our guide told us that the Maroon people (descendants of the runaway slaves) were still in the hills practicing their traditional spiritual rituals and that the rest of the island was mainly slave descendants.  A lot of people don’t know their own heritage, which was lost among the tragic slave history of the island. We saw the slave-holding pens in Montego Bay, but our spirits were lifted with the colour and music of the town lined with small market goods. An older woman passed what seemed to be a lychee-type fruit through the window for us and a man with dreadlocks wandered aimlessly in front of the car – a stereotype of Jamaica but all too real. 


After Montego Bay, we stopped at Jimmy Buffets Margaritaville Sports Bar & Grill. This was great fun as my husband loves Jimmy Buffet. Margaritaville was not what I expected – I thought it was a town but it’s actually a bar on the water! Well I guess  that’s where Jimmy got wasted away! We also stopped at the Rose Hall estate where we picked up some souvenirs – myself buying a fridge magnet (I’m a self-confessed travel magnet collector).

Tonight the ‘Divinas’ as our group called themselves met in Eataly, a specialty restaurant on board developed from the slow food movement set in elegant white surroundings.  The meal was exquisite and the service amazing and for US$13 a main we thought it was the best night out ever.  After dinner we relaxed in the Piano bar La Luna, my all-time favourite late night spot on the ship.  An elegant and sophisticated night out on MSC Divina following a fascinating day in Jamaica!

Eataly onboard MSC Divina

A Kiwi in the Caribbean: Georgetown, Grand Cayman Islands

Georgetown? I expected a mountainous island bordered by massive high rises in the well-known tax haven for the rich and famous. Instead, I found a small town with just a few large buildings on a very flat and small island. Glamorous houses hidden behind huge flame trees and thick palm fronds line the beach, which stretches for miles and miles with the most amazing Caribbean blue water. The input from the banking economy with no less than 69 banks is evident with the smart roadway that wraps around the Island and the diamond and gold shops in the main city center. 

We opted for the ‘Best of Cayman’ shore excursion, a coach tour of the island where we took the scenic route, passing the famous Seven Mile Beach. Our guide shared the islands history and the who’s who of its residents. We got to stop at the famous Sea Turtle Farm, which is the only one of its kind in the world! I was too scared but my husband held a turtle in his hands. Everyone was amused when we made our way to Hell – a Cayman town that has the most hilarious name! We laughed at the fact that we can all say we’ve been to Hell. After our tour, we couldn’t miss the chance to go for a swim in the crystal clear waters of Grand Cayman. Absolutely gorgeous! It was a relaxing day ashore. 

A Kiwi in the Caribbean: Cozumel, Mexico.

Mayan Ruins 
Cozumel is a big name and a big tourist destination with 90% of its economy boosted by tourism due largely to the 4-6 cruise ships which call in daily.  To my surprise, Cozumel is yet another small and flat island that takes about 45 minutes to drive right around and only takes an hour by ferry to the mainland where Playa Del Carmen, Cancun and the ruins of the Mayan civilisation fascinate visitors. 
Many of the ‘Divinas’ took an excursion to the Mayan temple and raved about the experience. Some decided to go swimming with the dolphins, an unforgettable experience during their trip – for sure! Cozumel is lined with colourfully painted pink, yellow, pale blue homes (sturdily built of concrete since the last hurricane wiped them out), each with their own tiny gardens jammed full of fruit trees and veggie patches.

Excursion to Mayan Temple in Cozumel

Cozumel’s local markets are a real gem tucked away down a tiny bustling back street with fresh fish, chicken and fruit and vegetable stalls.  The local food was fabulous and as I love Mexican food it was an absolute treat to have the real thing – Tortas, Tacos, empanadas - my favourites with bucket loads of chilli sauces.

A Kiwi in the Caribbean: A day at sea is all about me!

Swarovski Crystal Staircase!
MSC Divina's Reception

Aaah.  Another blissful day at sea to enjoy our beautiful MSC Divina.  The sun was shining again so we decided on a leisurely lunch at the deli area of the buffet. Mozzarella balls, Salamis, olives, Parmesan cheese and delicious tomatoes were just a few of the taste treats we indulged in.  

We then voted for a relaxing time-out at The Top 18 Solarium, which is uncrowded, relaxed and a sophisticated way to spend an afternoon at sea.  I chose a huge cabana pod chair with a large mattress as my spot and loved the chilled fruit kebabs and cold towels delivered by our waiter.   

Some the Divinas decided to go on a Kitchen Tour which was excellent! They were escorted by Franco, the beverage manager, and were absolutely blown away by the size of the kitchen and all its different sections, assigned with sections such as ‘Chicken’ and ‘Meat’.

A relaxing dinner was in order following such a laid back day at sea, so we chose the Eataly Pizza and Wine Bar to gather.  Then to work it all off we headed to the Black and White lounge at the back of the ship for some dancing! 

Black and White Lounge

Flat seas and calm nights gave us yet another blissful sleep at sea as we made our way across the Caribbean sea to the Bahamas.

A Kiwi in the Caribbean: Grand Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

MSC Divina from the beautiful turquoise blue waters!

A tiny island with a big job. Grand StirrupCay is set up to entertain us with paddleboards, jet skis, deck-chairs and everything else we need for a picnic day in the Bahamas.  The crew unload the buffet, drinks, and BBQs all ready for us to arrive ashore and simple relax and enjoy.

“What a brilliant idea” I thought as I packed my sun cream and hat and headed for shore on the tender.   I chose to read, followed by a swim in the turquoise waters while my travel companions decided a swim with the local stingrays was an experience not to be missed as these gentle creatures massaged their backs!   

To end such a magnificent day in the Bahamas we returned to the ship to find lobster and Bombe Alaska (a dessert with ice cream and cake topped with browned meringue) on the menu for our farewell gala night.  The chefs appeared in the restaurant with lights turned out and each holding a flaming Bombe Alaska desert. What a way to end an amazing Caribbean cruise on board the glamorous MSC Divina.

Some of my favourite things on-board include the speciality restaurants, which are a great value for money and all offer really different foods. Eataly was fantastic and had a really relaxed atmosphere! The Galaxy restaurant was incredible because we got to see the sunset over the Bahamas! The restaurant also had really cool mood lighting, which we all loved. The food – spectacular and mains were about $13US.

Beautiful Galaxy Restaurant on MSC Divina

Thank you to the outstanding crew, to my cabin steward who endlessly picked up towels from the bathroom floor, folded my clothes and made a cute towel dog for me on my bed.  Thanks to the Captain who befriended us Kiwis, and to the entertainment crew who kept us busy.   And thanks most of all to my ‘Divinas’ who travelled with me!