Review: MSC Armonia, Marseille

We’d checked online and the port where the Armonia would dock in Marseille was truly out in the wilderness. They offered a shuttle bus to and from the city centre for €16, so after weighing up the options we opted for that. We could have gotten a taxi, but that would have cost a lot more. And there was a free bus but that left from the main entrance to the ports – still a good 20-30min walk from the ship and with reports of them being filled to overflowing in the afternoon, meaning people being left behind, we decided to pay for certainty (our Naples excursion still fresh in our memory).

We had heard…interesting things about Marseille, and had decided to head out to Arles, a sleepy town an hour north of Marseille where Vincent van Gogh had done a lot of his painting. They had plaques placed where he’d painted the scenes plus a picture of the painting so you could match one with the other.

Ange had asked if it was a good idea being so far from Marseilles which was a very good question. If all the trains had gone down in Naples we could have cabbed back to the ship for a relatively reasonable amount, but out in the countryside, it would be a much more expensive situation. I acknowledged her concerns but this was one case when we’d just have to hope plan A worked out.

Anyway, we made our way early from the drop off point to the train station in the middle of Marseille. I just have one question: who puts a train station on top of a hill? Most of the roads up to the station had been uphill and then an impressive staircase completed the trip. After buying our tickets we settled in to wait. The only thing of note in the station was a pedal operated recharge station for mobile phones. We were early enough that the sun hadn’t really got going yet, but the skies were cloudless and the day promised to be another scorcher.

The train came and dropped us off at the Arles station. We’d printed out a guide from a pdf we’d found online. There were only 8 or 9 plaques, so we started ticking them off while enjoying the relaxed attitude of the town. The only plaque we couldn’t find was one by the riverside, my disappointment was tempered somewhat by a half sunken boat sticking out of the river and surrounded by some sort of netting.

We found ourselves heading through the town square where a bunch of kids were having their first communion to the celebrations of their families. Nice to see such unblemished joy. We noticed on the far side of the square a creperie. Now I may have mentioned that Ange’s Italian is pretty good. She’s certainly not fluent, but makes herself understood very well regardless.

I’m supposed to take care of the French language requirements when we travel because I took three years back in high school. A loooong time ago! It wouldn’t be too much to say that I had a few phrases and words rather than any sort of command of French. So it’s no surprise when we peruse the menu and I mistake the word “gaufre” for “gellette”, so Ange is naturally surprised when the “crepe” I told her she was ordering came back looking very waffle looking! Very delicious with the chantilly cream though, so no complaints!

We’d found out the times for the return trains and so hustled back, arriving sweating from the sun at the designated time. We’re standing on the platform and the scheduled time comes and goes. I look at Ange and she looks at me. Echoes of Naples. My blasé attitude towards a back up plan flits across my mind. And then on the computer screen comes a note saying that our train is running fifteen minutes late.

Oooh: thats better than the Naples train I think to myself. There we had no idea what was happening – just that our train wasn’t there. To be fair that had been a local train, not a regional one like this. Anyway, fifteen minutes later the train pulls up and we get aboard and make our way back to Marseilles. We head to the shuttle bus stop and wait for ten minutes before making the trip back on the second to last scheduled bus trip. I must admit it felt good having all the buffers in our plan and not needing them all!

We hadn’t been swimming on the ship yet, so we got changed and headed up to the pools. They weren’t very large but two of them were very deep – and cold! Despite the heat of the day, we decided we’d only have a short swim, and instead tried out the jacuzzi. There were two of them under a large sail covering, policed by a security guy who, every fifteen minutes would usher the occupants out and allow the next group in. There was supposed to be a 6 person maximum, but communication wasn’t the best so it was a cosy quarter of an hour!

After we dried off we sat out on deck chairs at the aft and waited for the ship t leave and then a weird intercom message was broadcast through the ship: “Mike Echo deck 13, bring buckets”. Ange looked at me and I looked at her. What could that mean? I decided that the buckets meant that someone had thrown up – deck 13 was aft above the restaurants – in fact it was the netted off basketball court just behind the funnel. Maybe someone had had too much to drink and tried playing basketball?

But what could Mike Echo mean? Ange was the one who put the two pieces of evidence together – Medical Emergency she said, a second before I got there with Medical Event. We decided to go up and see if we were right.

As we stood on the running track just below the stairs leading up to the basket ball court it was obvious something had happened. Most of the crowds on the running track were just going about their every day cruise activities: soaking up the sun or just looking around. But if you looked carefully you could see purposeful movement of certain passengers and the crew.

A pair of bikini clad women were standing near us staring up towards the basketball court, mouths agape and covered by their hands. Ange and I took up position beside a stack of sunloungers. We figured it was serious: People don’t react like that for someone throwing up or a broken nose.

Just then three other women joined the “mouth agape” couple, coming from the main section of the ship and a male passenger joined them from the basketball court. They talked briefly in French and one of the newcomers sank to her knees in shock. The group took her by the elbows and moved forward.

A couple of staff members went up the back, one taking a bucket. Then we noticed that the ship had started to turn around. A pair of staff members came past us and then quickly reappeared, a stretcher between them. They headed back up the stairs. Three security guys then appeared, ushering people away from the aft.

A few more minutes passed with staff members coming and going, some with towels. I had no sooner said to Ange that we hadn’t seen any medical staff heading up there when an older man in uniform was lead up to the basketball court by a staff member, closely followed by a lifeguard with a couple of bottles of water and a small plastic sachet like you’d get a napkin with knives and forks on a flight. The bottles weren’t really like water bottles they were kinda weirdly shaped. It turned out that they were saline drips and the sachet an IV.

A PA announcement cut me off. All staff forward and aft, all staff forward and aft please report to deck 13. Just then a staff member came running by with a more substantial stretcher and a few beats later a stream of staff members headed up the stairs. We’ve pulled up to the dock by this stage and we can see a guy talking to the security guys and I see what’s coming. The lifts at the back don’t go all the way down to the 4th deck so they’re going to take him forward to the front lifts so they can get him off. They’re going to clear a path along the running track so they can take him there.

I fully expected the security guy to clear us off the deck too, but we’re standing well out of the way and so they leave us where we are and clear everybody else off the running track. Ange asks me if I will be taking photos or videoing and I tell her no – while it would make an interesting illustration of the story, I just feel really uncomfortable about documenting someone’s distress.

Instead we silently witness the swarm of staff who manoeuvre the sturdy stretcher down the stairs to the running track deck and along past us. The guy on the stretcher is ashen grey and his leg is wrapped in bandages, blood seeping through. He does in fact have a drip in his arm and seems unconscious. They take him into the interior of the ship up the front and disappear from sight.

The rest of the staff members move away from the aft section and we notice two non-staff members moving forward on cell phones, talking intently. Notifying emergency contacts? Ange and I move over to the side of the ship and watch from there. We see an ambulance pull up alongside and eventually the gangplank is pulled out and the scrum pick their way along a single person path over the water. I turn to Ange and say I hope he was unconscious, thinking of all the judder bars, speed bumps and other discomforts we experienced on the shuttle bus as we left the port area. Poor guy has got all that to look forward to. We see a couple of maintenance staff leave the basketball court carrying plastic bags and I can’t figure out what’s in them. Ange comes up with the answer: they’ll be the wet towels.

The ship casts off for a second time, the security guys move off the deck too and the crowds go back about their business. An Italian guy comes up to us and tries to ask what happened. Ange fills him in as best she can but draws a blank on the Italian for blood, so I mime a gushing leg wound and he nods and then goes back inside. As a coda, we head around the back of the boat and then up the other side to the basketball court to see if there’s any signs of what happened. Theres nothing obvious at all, but opposite us is a guy in gym gear crying. We leave him to it and head back down to our cabin.

We decided to book a theatre show to get our minds off the incident, and then headed to dinner. The theatre show started with a stirring video of how MSC started, how they were the Masters of the Sea, and profiles of their biggest ships. All at quite loud volumes. Then an MC introduced the senior staff in five languages culminating in the Captain, who I thought I had seen up on deck coordinating activities during the medevac. He spoke briefly and mentioned that he hoped the passenger who had been injured was alright. And then to the show.

It was loosely themed on the wizard of Oz: an hour’s show incorporating music, singing, acrobatics, aerial ropes, magic and general waltzing around of Dorothy, lion, tin man and straw man, plus other characters that we weren’t sure what they were. It was ok, and entertaining and light hearted at least.

We then went back to the cabin to pack ready for luggage pick up the next morning as we would be disembarking in Palma.