Stella is Fifth Finalist in ITTN Budding Travel Writer Competition

Stella is Fifth Finalist in ITTN Budding Travel Writer Competition

Stella Grant, O’Hanrahan Travel, Monaghan Town, is our November winner in the Irish Travel Trade News Budding Travel Writer competition and therefore has a 4:1 chance of winning €1,000.

MSC Divina is 18 stories high

MSC Divina is 18 stories high

Our October winner was Claire Rochford, FCm Travel Solutions (see, our September winner was Sarah Slattery, Skytours (see, our August winner was Shane Cullen, Killiney Travel, (see and our July winner was Bernie Roche, HRG Worldwide / Club Travel (see

All five have each won a €100 One4all gift voucher and an invitation to the 22nd Irish Travel Trade Awards gala event at the DoubleTree by Hilton Dublin – Burlington Road (previously the Burlington Hotel), on Wednesday 11th December 2013 – when one of our five monthly winners will be presented with the 2013 Budding Travel Writer of the Year Award and a cash prize of €1,000, sponsored by Travel Counsellors Ireland.

Stella’s entry was her report on the fam trip to Istanbul and on MSC Divina from Istanbul via Dubrovnik to Venice in October 2013 by MSC Cruises, Turkish Airlines and TravelCube:


Istanbul and MSC Divina: Exceeding All Expectations

Monday 28th October

Calories consumed: 1,500, phone calls home: 6, tears shed: millions!

It was my first fam trip in 6 ½ years and my first time to leave my two boys for so long…five nights! I arrived at Dublin Airport and met my fellow agents for our fantastic fam trip: two nights in Istanbul and then a three-night cruise on MSC Divina via Dubrovnik to Venice.

I was so impressed with Turkish Airlines, from check in to boarding. The food onboard was one of the best inflight meals I have had in a long time. Along with the full bar service, free newspapers and our own seat back entertainment, the flight ‘flew’ by!

We arrived in Istanbul late and checked into the beautiful 4-star Marmara Pera Hotel, kindly sponsored by TravelCube. We all introduced ourselves at the hotel bar and then off to bed for an early start the following morning.

Blue Mosque, Istanbul (Sultan Ahmed Mosque)

Blue Mosque, Istanbul (Sultan Ahmed Mosque)

Tuesday 29th October

Calories consumed: 2,500, Viber/Voxer calls/texts home: 18.

What a fabulous city! Istanbul has so much history and culture. A city divided by a river where Europe meets Asia. We had a fantastic tour guide giving us a full-day city tour including a river cruise, a visit to the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia Museum, the oldest cathedral in the world.

We had an epic dinner that night in Suada restaurant. It was a national holiday in Istanbul and traffic was chaotic. We reached dinner by bus and then ‘Bond style’ by boat!

Wednesday 30th October

Calories consumed: 4,000, wi-fi minutes used Vibering/Voxing: 45.

An early start brought a visit to Do&Co, Turkish Airlines’ own catering company, which caters for over 60 airlines as well as catering for major events such as Formula 1 and UEFA Football Championships. It was amazing to see everything prepared by hand. We were then off to Turkish Airlines’ training facility where staff from over 160 airlines receive training. Again it was a great insight into all the behind the scenes stuff involved in an airline’s operation.

Then we set off for the MSC Divina and boy was she divine! She is an amazing cruise ship standing 18 stories tall. We all had our own balcony cabins giving us fantastic views as we were leaving Istanbul. There was a ship tour from the lovely Rebecca Kelly and we were all amazed at the facilities and attention to detail onboard.

That night we had a beautiful meal in the Black Crab restaurant, followed by some cocktails in the Black & White lounge and maybe a few more in the Galaxy nightclub! We had the Allegrissimo All-Inclusive package for €23.00 per person each day and it is so worth adding it on!

Thursday 31st October

Calories consumed: 6,000, wi-fi minutes used: 40, phone calls home: 3.

Today was a full day at sea to experience all that MSC Divina has to offer. We sampled the pool, the Jacuzzis, the onboard simulator, the spa, the shops, the food and the drinks! There was a presentation from Rebecca about all things MSC and also from Peter Friedrich from TravelCube.

Later that evening we went to the Pantheon theatre to watch Starwalker, a tribute to Michael Jackson, and then off to the Black Crab restaurant for the gala dinner attended by the Captain and his officers. Another amazing dinner, complete with a display of Baked Alaska’s!

View from the cable car over Dubrovnik

View from the cable car over Dubrovnik

Friday 1st November

Calories consumed:  8,000, wi-fi minutes used: 50, phone calls home: 2.

Today we docked in Dubrovnik. This is a beautiful medieval city, with spotlessly clean cobbled, narrow streets leading on to one another. A must is the cable car up to the top of the mountain with spectacular views over Dubrovnik.

This was our final night on MSC Divina and her last night in Europe. After Venice she was off on a 17-night cruise across the Atlantic to Miami, where she will be operating for the next two years. Some of us thought about stowing away onboard, but I couldn’t have left my boys for any longer!

Saturday 2nd November

Calories consumed: 2,000 (phew!), phone calls home: 2, texts: 10.

Venice, what a beautiful city to cruise into! We were up early for our last breakfast on MSC Divina and check out. What a fantastic trip we all had.  Everyone agreed that Istanbul and the MSC Divina exceeded all our expectations – and none of us would hesitate in selling or going back to either of them again!

Sunday 3rd November


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NEIL STEEDMAN has been a trade journalist, copywriter, editor and proofreader for 50 years, and News & Features Editor for ‘Irish Travel Trade News’ for the past 40 years.

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