I know I haven’t blogged in a long time. I have to admit I’ve concentrated most of my online time to twitter and facebook. One reason is that I prefer to blog about my personal experiences, and I simply didn’t travel much last year.
However, a couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to take a short 2-day cruise aboard MSC Poesia. If you’re saying “Aboard what?”, you’re probably not alone. When you think of cruises, MSC Cruises is definitely not the first cruise line that comes to mind. They are an Italian cruise line, mostly focused on the European market. In fact, out of their 11 ships, only MSC Poesia is deployed in this continent. It sails to the Caribbean and the Northeast and Canada (during the Fall).
In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that we traveled on a travel agent incentive rate. In fact, they had a promotion on this sailing, where we cruised for free (paying taxes only) if we sold another cabin in the sailing. My parents were visiting Florida, so the 5 of us decided to go.
I had heard a lot of mixed reviews on MSC, so I wanted to see for myself. I have to say some of the comments I heard were accurate, a lot were not.
The first thing you notice when you board the ship is that it’s very elegantly furnished. The ship offers most of the basic amenities a modern ship provides, including a gym, spa, children areas, and a variety of restaurants and bars. You will also notice that since the ship caters to an international audience, announcements are made in several languages. I counted English, Spanish, Italian, German, and French. Fortunately, they don’t seem to make as many announcements as in other cruise lines.
We were assigned a balcony cabin on deck 9. The cabin was comfortable and nicely decorated. The floor to ceiling mirror made it seem even bigger. Ours was a triple, with a sofa bed for the same person (although we used a crib instead). We saw other balcony cabins that were only doubles and were smaller.
The two most common complaints I’ve heard of MSC are about food and service. Here, I have to give them mixed reviews as well. Service throughout the ship was very good, except for the housekeeping department. The crib that we requested, and were told was going to be delivered by 4:00 pm, didn’t arrive until 9:00 pm. More importantly, we needed some help on the first night (courtesy of what was probably a stomach virus our toddler caught ), and it took a while to find someone willing to help. One person said he needed to “talk with the chief”, while another said his shift was over and to find someone else. This was the only sour point, though. I talked to several waiter and bartenders that were very happy. One has been cruising with MSC for over 10 years.
When it comes to food, I know that’s one thing that usually breaks or makes the cruise. MSC has the typical cruise set up. A buffet-style restaurant open throughout the day, a couple of set-time dining venues, and a couple of premium restaurants (including a sushi bar, which we unfortunately could not try).
My biggest disappointment was with the buffet restaurant. The food is laid out cafeteria style, where you have to line up and go through the entire display to choose what you want. This made for very long lines, having to stand for over 20 minutes for breakfast or lunch. By the time you got your table, some of the food was already cold. The quality of the food was good, though, with some dishes being very good (in particular the eggplant Parmigiana!). One other complaint is that this restaurant did not serve more than a very limited menu after 8:30 pm.
Now to the main restaurants, where we had dinner both nights. MSC offers 3 menus every night: A set of favorites available every night (steak, salmon, etc.), and “American menu”, and an Italian menu. The Italian menu highlights the cuisine of a specific region each night. We enjoyed dishes from Tuscany the first night and from Piedmont on the second one. I found the food between good and very good, but generally under seasoned (nothing a little salt couldn’t fix). One area which positively surprised as was the desserts. We tried 3 each night, and they were all very good (from a lemoncello soaked cake to cheesecake and tiramisu).
One more area that got mixed reviews from us was the entertainment shows. Both shows were a mixture of dancing and acrobatics. The dancing was invariable mediocre; the acrobatics were breathtaking (you have to questions the sanity of anyone on the receiving end of a knife thrower on a moving ship).
Other than the shows, there was live music and entertainment throughout the ship. One thing I did not see is as many programed day time activities, as I’ve seen on other lines (although this may have been because we didn’t have any days at sea).
All in all, I wouldn’t hesitate to sell MSC cruises to the right client, under the right conditions (itinerary, pricing, etc.). However, I find they will need to improve in some areas if they want to compete with the likes of Celebrity and Princess.