By Assunta Ng
Would you like to travel to new countries at a cost of $100 a day, including room, multiple meals, and transportation?
How could I say no to such a deal? So, recently, off we went to Venice, departing on Italian-owned MSC Cruises for a seven-day cruise to some of the most ancient and beautiful sceneries in the world. This was the first time I ever boarded a European cruise. In the past, we usually cruised with Holland America, Princess, Norwegian, or Royal Caribbean.
For a week, my husband and I were “Italianized.” Everyone spoke Italian and knew little English. The ship was filled with Italian families of old and young generations, and very few Americans. I got used to Italians speaking loudly around us. When I heard someone speak English, my eyes just lit up and that’s how our conversation began.
What we saw
The MSC cruise to the Balkan Islands was the opposite of the Alaska cruise I took in 1994. After that one, I never wanted to go on another Alaska cruise — for four days we were confined to the ocean, landing in tiny towns with few people and nothing happening. European cruises took us to a new destination, and sometimes a new country, every day.
It’s exciting to see new countries, including Croatia, which was formed in 1991, and Montenegro, formed in 2006. So far, I have traveled to 20 countries in Europe. We also toured Ancona, Italy; followed by Dubrovnik, Croatia; Corfu, Argostoli; Cefalonia, Greece; and Kotor, Montenegro. We skipped Gythion due to high winds and strong tides. Honestly, these Balkan ports are not as spectacular as Paris’ Palace of Versailles, St. Petersburg’s Hermitage or the site of the fallen Berlin Wall. But each has its own uniqueness and distinct history.
Dubrovnik and Kotor were my favorites on this voyage. And I will never forget Cefalonia, where the Nazis had once bombed some ghettos because they wanted to kill the Jews.
No matter how tempting it is, I don’t want to buy more stuff. My husband and I each had hand-held luggage. My lady friends would ask, how could I resist buying Italian fashionable clothes?
When we arrived at Ancona, it was so hot I was forced to buy summer clothes. A lesson I learned: It’s smart to bring two extra T-shirts when you travel.
Shopping turned out to be adventurous. Meandering into a flea market, a Chinese woman was selling hip clothing made in Italy and China. The Italian jacket and China-made pants cost €5 each. No one could tell they were made in China because they were designed for Italian taste. No wonder China is called the global manufacturer.
Can you meet people?
My first assumption was, “No way could I meet people,” because we don’t speak Italian. On American and English cruises, we enjoyed many conversations with people we met. We talked to strangers, mostly American and British, at dinners and on the deck.
To my surprise, at our first dinner we were assigned to sit next to two young Chinese professional women — one was from New York, and the other, from Guangdong, China, had lived in Canada for seven years. We hit it off instantly. MSC management was thoughtful to place us together.
At lunches, we sat randomly and met some of the most amazing folks, from South Africa, Sweden, Norway, Japan, Taiwan, England, and Indonesia, where our waiters and housekeepers were from.
If you want to know what foreigners think of us Americans, this is the best way to find out. Our new friends from South Africa were crazy about President Obama.
“He’s a great speaker,” our friend said. “Our [South African] president doesn’t know how to speak. He would read everything from a text.”
Our friend from England also had nothing but praise for Obama.
“What I don’t understand is the Republicans,” he said. “Why they are against Obamacare? Most Republicans are Christians and yet they don’t like to help the poor. That doesn’t make any sense.”
And my new Japanese friend, who now lives in Sweden, has actually emailed me a couple of times already.
I would never have guessed that I would be so satisfied with this cruise. I got everything I wanted, especially the Internet. When I was on an American cruise, there were lines of people waiting to go on the Internet. But on this one, the Internet stations were often empty.
If you like pizza, pick this cruise. At every lunch, pizza is among the entrées. If you are on a tight budget, this cruise is the one for you. But if you drink and gamble on the ship, it will cost you a fortune. Management is not stupid — they know how to make money from their passengers by charging for all the drinks. The only reason I chose MSC was because it fit into my schedule.
My advice: You should sail on a different ship each time, just to compare the experiences and create new adventures. (end)