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We decided to fully test out MSC Cruises' ability to host children, by taking 7 along with us! The children's ages are 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3 & 2! So, we had all the age groups covered :) The cruise is pretty much kiddies' heaven - not only is there plenty of entertainment for the little ones, but the Italian staff are besotted with children, and with kids cruise free specials, one is almost compelled to take them.
Some cruises have special deals where kids cruise "free" (in reality free means that whilst they pay no cabin fare, they've still got to pay for things like port charges and service fees). Email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
As one of the staff told us when we checked in, "That's Brave"! We had 3 balcony suite cabins on the MSC Opera to house 7 children, 4 parents and one nanny. (If you have your own little ones, I'm sure you won't judge us as being lazy for taking a nanny). The balcony suite cabins are on the 12th deck, which is conveniently situated just above the swimming pool deck- you make much more use of the pools if you're close to them. The cabins (rooms) were spacious, with a double-bed, lounge area with a TV (there's a dedicated kids channel - the Boomerang channel) and a couch, which doubled as a fold-out bed in the evenings. The kids absolutely loved walking out onto the balcony, which had a table with 2 chairs on it. It is enclosed so the children won't easily accidentally fall off, unless they use it as a jungle gym and climb over!
The balcony suites are the only ones on the ship with baths (all other cabins have cramped showers where you are constantly battling the plastic curtain from wrapping itself on you!). It was our nanny's second cruise, and she loved the upgrade to a balcony suite (previously we enjoyed an outside cabin).
At dawn the dark curtains completely blocked out the sunlight, allowing us to sleep in as late as we wanted.
As we boarded, we showed our cruise cards and then joined a special queue for youngsters, where they could meet the kiddies entertainment crew. It was easy to identify the two staff members present, as they were wearing a Princess Sofia dress and a Minnie Mouse dress. Plastic bracelets (wristbands) must be placed on the wrists of all children under the age of 12, which they wear throughout the cruise, to identify them in case they get lost. The crew told us we could register the kids at 18h00 at the Mini Club - on the first day of the cruise, the Mini Club only opens at 18h00, as the staff are busy assisting those boarding. MSC would do well to let you register the children as you get on the ship - they have all the forms on hand, so it would save some time later.
There's a registration form to fill in, which you can either get just after boarding, or at the kiddies club; and then hand in at the Mini & Junior Club after you've filled it in (in the case of the MSC Opera, the Mini & Junior Club is on the 11th deck at the front of the ship). The form covers:
You'll need to list the names and cabin numbers and relation to the child of all adults who can sign the kids in and out.
At 18h00 we went to register our kids, but warning: there's a queue of parents outside the kids club who all want to do the same thing, and for some reason the queue moves very slowly and they don't open at exactly 18h00. On our cruise, they opened for registration at around 18h10 and it took them 10 minutes to process the first family (maybe the people didn't fill in their forms prior to getting there)...anyway, bring your patience with you!
Although you have specified who may sign the kids in and out, I noticed that this rule isn't policed - easily possible for your friend's parents to sign your kids in or out.
There were 8 adults (mainly ladies) looking after the Mini & Junior Club on our MSC Opera cruise, where the children's play area is called "Buffalo Bills".
There are 3 options, not all of which are available at all dinners:
Kids eat with adults with no happy dinner or fun time dinner involved (advantage: don't have to fill in any forms!)
Kids enjoy a Happy Dinner (not offered every night, check which nights this is available)
Kids enjoy a Fun Time Dinner (not offered every night, check which nights this is available)
MSC Cruises offer what is called "Happy Dinners", where they:
offer a dedicated kiddies' menu which the children eat whilst the adults enjoy their starters (children & adults sit at the same table).
pick up the children from the Happy Dinner Meeting Point near the entrance to the restaurant, and their animators then accompany them to the Mini & Junior Club (not offered on the first night of the cruise).
Adults can then return to their table to eat the main course, dessert and drinks at a leisurely pace. (If you're on the first sitting, not too leisurely, as they'll want to clear your table in time for the second sitting). To book a Happy Dinner, fill in a booking form at the Mini & Junior Club (one per child) - this can only be done after you've registered the child for the club (by filling in that form).
|Kiddies margherita pizza
||Kiddies burger & chips
Fun Time Dinners involve the children & entertainment team eating together. They dine in a separate, specially decorated area of the buffet restaurant, and are entertained as they eat. (Although on our cruise they had no special decorations up that could be seen.) In the meantime, adults can enjoy a leisurely dinner, picking the kids up after they've finished. This is available on certain nights (up to 4 a week) free of charge for children aged between 3 and 11 years old. You simply book your children's spots in advance, and then bring them to the Mini & Junior Club on your way to dinner. MSC's staff will look after the children, going with them to supper, eating with them and keeping them entertained. You can book any time up to 16h00 on the day of the dinner. NB: There are only a limited number of places available, first come first served, so book early to avoid disappointment. Simply ask for a Fun Time Dinner booking form at the Mini & Junior Club - you'll need to fill in one form per child.
Passengers are so besotted with getting a balcony cabin or ocean view cabin, but they forget about the value of getting a dinner table with a great view. Our children absolutely loved the view out of the porthole on the MSC Opera's L'Approdo restaurant. Try get a table next to a porthole, if you can, they're so much nicer than the inside tables.
Remember, that the food and drinks may not look exactly as one is used to them being in South Africa - for instance, this is what the apple juice looked like - not an issue for the adults (probably!), but the kids' expectations may need to be managed.
After they'd finished eating, we took the children up to the Kids Club. You can then leave them there until 22h45, giving adults plenty of time to watch a bit of theatre. As I was leaving, the kids had formed a circle with Superman and Minnie Mouse (their entertainers) in the circle. Minnie Mouse was telling the kids how much she liked cheese, to the extent that she'll even have it on ice cream. Superman was saying how he'd like to marry himself, as he's the greatest! Other activities included Fishing Bingo, making a treasure map, bomb game, air hockey tournament, arts & crafts, dodge ball, musical statues, Doremix and a Pirates Parade (check the program for when these occur).
We picked up our kids just before 10pm, and one was taking a nap on the floor - the staff didn't seem to mind.
To participate in the Mini Club, kids must be from 3 to 6 years old, toilet trained & self-sufficient. Whoever drops the kid off at the Mini Club must show their cruise card, and the SAME cruise card must be used for collecting the children later.
The Junior Club is for kids from the age of 7 to 11 years old. You can select whether to give consent for your child to:
Sign herself/himself in.
Have access to the adults swimming pools.
Participate in non-supervised activities around the ship (e.g. treasure hunts).
Our 2 year old was too young to be left alone at the Mini Club, so our nanny spent most of the time looking after him. (Although, on the first night we had to spend time looking after her, as she got sea-sick.) There are special BabyTimes at the Mini Club where under 3 year old babies can join in the fun, but must be accompanied by an adult. Activities include:
Simply check the times when there are Baby Times and accompany your little one to the Mini Club. On our cruise BabyTimes were:
Although the program states activities for the babies, there were none on offer when we went in with our 2 year old. There was a segregated area in the playroom, which had lots of toys suitable for the 0 to 3 year olds, as well as a plastic play house, which he enjoyed going in and out of, as well as doing some "cooking" in the kitchen there. But other than that, the staff paid no attention to me or the child.
There is also a teenagers club, which on the MSC Opera was situated on the 12th floor aft on the ship, next to the disco. There's table soccer and plenty of TV screens for the teens to play video games.
Here's a wall where the kids write stuff on.
At the Mini Club and Junior Club, there are various competitions which are run with decent prizes on offer - e.g.: Lego, the MSC Cruise mascot replica and puzzles. Naturally, those of our kids who won something were delighted; but be prepared that you may need to manage some disappointment amongst those who didn't win anything.
If you want to party without the kids until 2am, then "Kids Around the Clock" is the solution you're looking for. This takes place in the Mini & Junior Club from 11pm to 2am at a rate of USD$6 per hour for an evening or $50 for 7 evenings. You simply need to book your child's place in advance (by filling in a form per child at the Mini & Juniors Club), then bring them to the Mini & Juniors Club at any time after 11pm, and the entertainment crew will look after them until 2am. Activities include themed parties, films, late night juice and biscuits.
Of course the kids might not have heard of the word "seasick" so may describe it in other ways - for instance our daughter said she was "getting dizzy". We decided not to warn the children about getting seasick, theorising that it may then become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Whilst sea sickness tablets could be picked up for adults at the reception, for children you have to go to the Medical Centre - in the case of the MSC Opera, this is located at the front of the ship on the 7th floor (next to the theatre). The tablets are free of charge.
Whilst adults should take 25mg of motion sickness pills 2 hours before the start of the journey and 12.5mg to 25mg every 8 hours thereafter; children 8 years or older should take only 12.5mg 3 times a day when needed.
Children younger than 8 may not take the motion sickness tablets available on the ship.
If you're allergic to having your photo taken, a cruise ship is probably not the place for you, as people are taking photos left, right and centre throughout the cruise; and include professional photographers doing them for the ship itself. We recommend taking your own photos, as the ones the cruise line sells are VERY expensive (but high quality).
Parties & other fun events organised by the Mini & Junior Clubs may be covered by an MSC Cruises photographer. You must give your consent for your child to be photographed & videotaped for promotional purposes (on this cruise only) - if you'd prefer not to give your consent then sorry, you won't be able to let your kids use the Mini & Junior Clubs. You also waive any and all legal rights to take legal action against MSC Cruises or its employees and agents, releasing them from any demands or obligations in connection with the use of any photo, video image or recording.
If your offspring is a little monster in training, whose behaviour is "deemed inappropriate by MSC staff", they will not be permitted in the Mini or Junior Clubs. In such an event parents can be expected to be informed promptly.
The kids loves the jacuzzis, and there are 2 of them on the MSC Opera. The jacuzzi water is warm & bubbling, just remember that they can only go in if they have an adult supervising them, and for no longer than 15 minutes at a time. There are 2 swimming pools, which are filled up with sea water (ie expect cold water if boarding from Cape Town, and warm water from Durban). Each pool is split into 2 parts - a deep end and a shallow pool (about a foot deep). There's a net separating the deep end from the shallow end. Be careful in the deep end, as some adults just break the rules by diving in - I've seen this nearly drown a little one, and her Dad and the adult diving in got into a fist fight as a result (not a fun way to start off your cruise!). Once the alcohol is flowing, some people are not on their best behaviour.
The kids LOVE the emergency drill. There should be special kiddies-size life jackets laid out on the bed when you get to your cabin. Put it on your little one and watch their excitement at doing something novel. The kids have lots of questions about what's going on, and whether the ship will sink - there may even be a bit of anxiety about it. So, be prepared to manage their emotions with honest answers. Be sure to keep your camera handy to take photos of them in their life jackets - so cute.
In the event of a genuine emergency occurring while children are involved in Mini Club activities, the appointed staff member will accompany them to the Children Pick-Up Area on Deck 5, in the Information Office area. Their parents can collect their children from the Information Office Area and proceed to the Assembly/Muster Station together.
Note that you are required to look after the life jackets for the duration of the cruise, and will be charged for any loss, damage or destruction - so don't let the kids bath with them on, like our 4-year-old wanted to do.
The kids were fascinated at seeing the activity in the harbour. And a good, as well as educational time (perhaps even for the adults!), can be had by showing them what's going on and what the ships and cranes and pipes are doing.
At the back of the MSC Opera, around the funnel, near the top on the 13th deck, there's a miniature golf course. Grab a ball and clubs from the entertainment crew and see how many holes in one you can get.