Review: MSC Armonia, Genoa

We’d decided to try at least one MSC organised excursion – they all looked overpriced but unless we went on one, how would we know for sure? The day trip to the Old Town of Genoa was €50 each, and I was very interested in whether that worked out to be good value or not.

Our meeting point was the casino along with two other groups and after checking us off a list we were given stickers with #11 on them. Listening to the others on our group we couldn’t hear any chatter in English, so we hoped an error had not been made. Ten minutes after our meeting time, a MSC staff member came along bearing two paddles, one with 11, one with 7 on it and we traipsed along the deck to the exit. It really felt like they were rounding up livestock and I let out a realistic lambs bleat, which startled one of our fellow passengers. When she realised I had done it and my clever political commentary she grinned an agreement.

They scanned our MSC cards as we left and we filed out through security and onto the docks. There were other MSC ships in port as well, and a steady stream of MSC paddle-bearing staff lead lines of passengers to their excursion boats – the group before us were going whale watching [was this an MSC tour?].

Before long our group was allowed to board a ferry – along with two other groups form other ships. It was a bit of a free for all getting on and the top deck filled up very quickly despite being a blazingly hot already. There were plenty of seats downstairs but the stairs were almost ladder like in their steepness and the English lady in front of Ange balked at going down them, holding up the line. “No, no, I refuse to go down there,” she said.

The sailor helping people onboard was getting frustrated with the delay in boarding and tried to encourage her by saying “rapido, rapido” but she was having none of it. Rather than hold up the line any further, we nipped past her and the sailor’s negotiation and shimmied down the ladder/stairs. We then realised that while there was a large number of vacant seats in the downstairs cabin, there were also a small number of seats in the sun forward of the cabin, so we sat there instead.

This meant that we were front row for the short trip from the cruise ships into the harbour, past a line of super yachts until we docked next to the aquarium where we disembarked. While getting onto the ferry was onto the top deck, getting off was from the bottom deck, and the gangway was right beside us, allowing us to be in the first group off the boat.

We assembled and met Maria, our guide for the trip around the Old Town. At each stop in the tour she would give commentary in Italian to the rest of our group, and then turn to us and give the same story in English. Nice to have one-on-one attention! This was needed when we got to the church in the middle of the Old Town and we went to go inside. Because Ange was wearing shorts, Maria was worried that she’d be turned away, so tied her jersey around her waist so that Ange’s legs were not so apparent.

There was a stop half way through the tour for a taste of local produce: different pestos, breads and wines and, of course, the opportunity to buy them as well! Afterwards we were deposited at the harbour again and given an hour of free time.

We got strawberry cupcakes from a specialty cupcake shop near the port but there is really no way to elegantly eat them so ended up wearing a lot of  delicious icing on my face. After laughing at each other for the icing smeared on our faces, we went for a stroll past street performers and towards the old port, returning on time to our collection point.

We were told that we would be collected by MSC staff but the designated time came and nobody official was around so me and Ange went over to where the ferry had dropped us off – we’d noticed that the same boat was there. Unfortunately it also served as a commuter ferry, so there were half of our tour group plus regular commuters waiting to get on in a huge mob.

Then the remainder of the MSC excursion groups came over and there was a big scrum to get on, with the regular commuters being turned away and the MSC passengers getting aboard. Chaos! We managed to get a seat on the top deck near the gangplank so we could get off first at the other end, and settled in to wait. At the other end we followed someone with a sign saying ‘Armonia’ who deposited us at the ferry building and then went aboard.

We went straight to the buffet, having learnt the previous day that straight after leaving the port is the busiest time. We not only had a clear restaurant, but our choice of seats outside too. Blissful peace and quiet!

The boat left the harbour around 5pm and we got some good shots from the deck as we left. We went back to the cabin to do some work, but were interrupted by an announcement that there was an all hands emergency drill – we were surprised as we had already done our arrival day drill, but dutifully went down to our muster station with our life jackets and were scanned in. The whole ship was there, and the officers were prowling up and down inspecting people.

A little later we had dinner out on deck and enjoyed the balmy evening and afterwards took photos of the decks all lit up.

So! Was the excursion worth the €50? You’d have to say no. The tour itself was fine, Maria gave a good commentary and provided interesting context and insight into what we saw of the Old Town. We’ve been on many a similar free tour and tipped €10, so that would be about the right price for that.

The local produce tasting is nothing I would pay for as it’s a commercial enterprise designed to get you to buy things. The ferry there and back would be worth, what €10? €20 at most? Leaving MSC with €20-30 per passenger to pay for the staff mustering the passengers and making sure nobody wanders off.  Great business for them, less value for the passenger.