POESIA Of The North Atlantic – Part One

POESIA of the North Atlantic
By Kalle Id

MSC POESIA in Tórsnhavn, Faroe Islands. Photo © 2011 Kalle Id

MSC Cruises has risen from near-obscurity to being one of the world’s largest cruise lines within the last decade. Unusually for a major cruise line, the company specialises in marketing their product to European passengers – a testimony of this is the fact the company’s ships normally operate in five major European languages: Italian, Spanish, French, German and English. The onboard product however is decidedly Italian with very little concession to other nationalities.

I had previously taken a week’s Mediterranean cruise on the MSC SINFONIA in 2009 with my wife and thanks to an interesting itinerary at an affordable price, we decided to return to MSC in the form of an 11-night cruise with MSC POESIA from Kiel in Germany to Bergen (Norway), Torshavn (Faroe Islands, a part of Denmark), Akureyri, Isafjordur, Reykjavik (all in Iceland) and Lerwick (Shetland Islands, UK. In the end this port of call was cancelled due to bad weather) in May-June 2011.

May 23, 2011 – Kiel

Cruise ship, meet cruiseferry. Color Line's 75,000 GT COLOR FANTASY passes the 92,000 GT MSC POESIA in Kiel harbour. Photo © 2011 Kalle Id

The MSC POESIA’s cruise had in fact begun from Copenhagen the previous day, but we joined the ship in Kiel. In addition to being a cruise port, Kiel is also a ferry hub and as we arrived in the city already a day before departure, I had plenty of time to document traffic in the port. And there wasn’t really anything else to do either, as May 22 was a Sunday and everything was closed in the city apart from a few restaurants and pharmacies. In the two days we spent in the city I managed to document Stena Line’s Kiel-Gothenburg ships STENA SCANDINAVICA (ex-STENA BRITANNICA) and STENA GERMANICA (ex-STENA HOLLANDICA), Color Line’s Kiel-Oslo ships (and the world’s largest ferries) COLOR FANTASY and COLOR MAGIC, DFDS Seaways’ Kiel-Klaipeda ferry LISCO OPTIMA (ex-ALYSSA, SVEALAND) as well as AIDA Cruises very first ship, the 1996-built AIDACARA (ex-AIDA).

AIDACARA, the ship that started today's massive AIDA Cruises, turning at the Kiel Fjord. Photo © 2011 Kalle Id

Armed with a few hundred pictures of various ships, we boarded the MSC POESIA at Kiel’s Ostseekai cruise terminal in the afternoon of May 23. The POESIA was the company’s fifth newbuilding and the third of their MUSICA-class (the MUSICA-class currently numbers four ships, with two more to under construction). The MUSICA class is an enlarged and improved version of MSC Cruises’ two first newbuildings MSC LIRICA and MSC OPERA, which in turn were based on the now-defunct Festival Cruises’ 1999 newbuilding MISTRAL. Compared to her predecessors, the MSC POESIA and her sisters include many improvements to the number and location of public rooms and are quite a bit larger.

A first taste of POESIA: the atrium as seen from deck 5. Photo © 2011 Kalle Id

Once onboard, we found ourselves in a neat three-storey high atrium with art deco -influenced decor utilising a fair amount of marble. We barely had time to take in the surroundings as we were ushered by the crew through an array of public rooms to the forward staircase and through it, our cabin on deck 12. After settling in we went in search of a late lunch and ran into a problem familiar from our MSC SINFONIA cruise: the lunch service had already ended and there were no food outlets open onboard before the start of dinner. Fortunately this was around 5 PM so it wasn’t too long before the beginning of dinner service.

The POESIA's lido deck and Kiel's harbour shortly before departure. Photo © 2011 Kalle Id

We departed Kiel in warm and sunny weather, with the decks crowded by out fellow passengers. A vast majority of passengers on this cruise were elderly Germans, with a liberal sprinkling of Italians and a smaller number of various other nationalities, including us two Finns. After passing out of the Kiel Fjord we would have liked to try the pools, but sadly these were closed and netted as MSC policy is to close pools at 6 PM regardless of the weather. Waiting for second seating dinner to begin, we roamed the public rooms, which cover most of decks 6 and 7, with some overspill to deck 5. Additional restaurant and the spa are on the aft and fore of deck 13, respectively, framing the lido area, while a the disco-cum-observation lounge tops off the public rooms on deck 14. Especially through decks 6 and 7 there is a nicely uniform feel to the decor, with similar deco-esque forms repeated in the different spaces which never the less each have a unique feel to them achieved by different colour schemes and decoration patterns.

Zebra Bar: the clue is in the name. Photo © 2011 Kalle Id

Following dinner and the evening show in the impressive Carlo Felice theatre, we listened to a band at the surprisingly nicely decorated Zebra Bar (surprisingly as the decor takes it’s theme from the name – pretty much everything was zebra-striped). Normally the music in this lounge was danceable music favoured by the elder generation, but as there were just two passengers in addition to us in the lounge, the band treated us with a 15-minute funk jam before we retired for the day.

May 24 – At sea

A decidedly un-sunny sun deck. Moments later it was, in fact, hailing. Photo © 2011 Kalle Id

The second day of our cruise dawned with dark skies and large waves, which was to be the common theme for the rest of the cruise. After a buffet breakfast in the Il Palladio restaurant on deck 13 we suited up and sat on the lido deck, admiring the sea. Struggling n the waves forward of us was Japanese-market Asuka Cruises’ ASUKA II (ex-CRYSTAL HARMONY). Sadly, like my first encounter with the ship in question, there was no chance of taking a good photograph of her.

Sailing ahead of us, the passengers of ASUKA II also got to enjoy the weather. Photo © 2011 Kalle Id

After the cold and rain finally chased us off the open decks, we returned to the buffet for lunch. Technically speaking, there are two buffet restaurants in the aft of deck 13: Villa Pompeiana and Il Palladio. During breakfast and lunch these function as a single unit (though the latter tends to be less crowded) while for dinner Villa Pompeiana becomes an informal grill/pizzeria and Il Palladio turns into an extra-charge à la carte restaurant. The former is not open for dinner of formal nights. Based on my admittedly somewhat limited experience with cruise ship buffets, the lunch was mid-range but not spectacular. Certainly it was not up to the quality of the buffets I’ve experienced on many cruiseferries on the Baltic Sea – but this could be due to the fact we treat the buffet as a form on fine dining and not a casual eatery.

The Villa Pompeiana cafeteria, photographed in slightly better weather conditions than described in the text... Photo © 2011 Kalle Id

Following lunch we retired for a short nap, as having gotten up early (by the standards of students and people working on an evening shift) in order not to miss breakfast. Pills counteracting seasickness might also have had an effect in the general drowsiness. In the evening we tested the gym (and missed the captain’s welcoming party) before putting on our formal wear for the first of the three gala evenings. Based on the previous experience from the MSC SINFONIA we knew to expect that the recommended dress code is exactly that – recommended – and especially southern European passengers often downdress. Coming from the informal culture of Finland, I rather liked this fact, though I understand it annoys many passengers from other nationalities.
May 25 – Bergen

Byparken (literally City Park) in the heart of Bergen. Photo © 2011 Kalle Id

We moored at Bergen in the Jekteviken freight harbour (the ASUKA II having taken the proper cruise quay near the city center), which meant the only way to get off the ship and out of the restricted harbour area was by a shuttle bus arranged by the port authorities. This turned up to be quite practical, as the bus took us to Byparken right in the middle of the city. Instead of the more traditional sights in Bergen, we decided to test ride Bergen’s Bybanen light rail line, opened last year, which has it’s terminus in Byparken. After a ride to Nesstun and back we still had a little time to wonder around the city before making in to the last shuttle bus back onboard at 1:15 PM.

The wonders of modern public transport in Bergen: A Bybanen tram at Byparken terminus. Photo © 2011 Kalle Id

Outbound from Bergen in grey weather we passed another interesting ship, Hurtigruten’s NORDNORGE returning from a 12-day round trip up and down the Norwegian coast. Called “the most beautiful sea voyage in the world”, the service (with daily departures from Bergen) is not only for the benefit of the tourists but also provides a vital transportation link for many of the villages and towns along Norway’s coast that are difficult to access by land.

NORDNORGE inbound to Bergen. The 1997-built 11,000-tonner is one in a series of nine similar but not identical ships built for Hurtigruten between 1993 and 2003, which replaced most (but not all) of the 1950s and 1960s-built pocket liners in the Hurtigruten fleet. Photo © 2011 Kalle Id
The misty mountains on the shores of Bergensfjord. Photo © 2011 Kalle Id

Having witnessed the arrival of the NORDNORGE and the awesome beauty of the fjords (or fjord, in this case) we headed for another short workout at the gym and then enjoyed the various forms on onboard entertainment until it was time for dinner. Annoyingly, during the first two full days of the cruise the bands playing in the different lounges did not follow the schedules printed in the daily programme and we waited in vain at the red-clad Bar dei Poeti for a three-piece jazz band to start to play.

Bar dei Poeti's decor reeked of art deco-influences. Unfortunately (though perhaps fittingly) the air in the lounge reeked of cigarette smoke. Photo © 2011 Kalle Id

Bar dei Poeti was one of the two lounges (alongside the Pigalle Lounge at aft of deck 7) where smoking was allowed in part of the lounge – which naturally resulted in the whole space smelling of tobacco, not particularly pleasant for those of us who don’t smoke. We later spoke with a waitress who told us the crew are not allowed to opt out from working in the lounges where smoking is allowed. Bad, bad policy MSC.

Next stop Tórshavn – Continue POESIA Of The North Atlantic Part Two

Additional images from this cruise will be posted in the upcoming weeks at kships.blogspot.com

Kalle Id

Kalle Id

Kalle Id, MaritimeMatters' Helsinki correspondent, is a Finnish maritime historian, photographer and journalist, with a Master's Degree in history from the University of Helsinki. His early-age exposure to ferry travel led to a lifetime fascination with passenger ships, both the cruise ferries of his home waters and the cruise ships and ferries of further afield. Kalle maintains his own ship photography blog at kships.blogspot.com. Contrary to the popular belief, he writes under his real name.
Kalle Id

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