Overall, MSC Poesia is a grand ship. It’s over-the-top elegant — but not too flashy — and it very rarely feels crowded. Not knowing quite what to expect from my first European cruise line experience (which was also tailored to folks from several other countries), I spent a week onboard, exploring every area and blogging about my findings. I discovered there was quite a bit happening around me — everything from a baseball theme cruise to a clown wedding. (You can read about both in my other “Live From” posts here.) Throughout the course of my Western Caribbean journey, I came up with a list of things that deserve praise and others that deserve a big ol’ thumbs-down (or, if nothing else, a befuddled “huh?”).
Hit and Miss: Service
Although service wasn’t a miss for me, it was for many MSC virgins with whom I spoke. MSC is an Italian-owned line, which means it caters to a large European market, and service reflects that. Your cabin steward may not personally introduce himself, and perhaps your dining room waiter will go the whole week without learning your name, but if you know that ahead of time and go in with an open mind, you’ll find service to be professional, friendly and efficient. If you’re expecting the overly doting, cutesy service that’s so common on more Americanized lines, you may be a bit put off, and if you act like a snooty, entitled “American,” you may get a tiny dose of attitude. Simply put: The service isn’t bad; it’s just different.
Miss: Hidden Basics
While most cabins don’t come equipped with clocks — the reason for which is still an unsolved mystery — many ships at least have some sprinkled in public areas. But on Poesia, it seemed I could never locate one when I needed it. Of course, it was easy to wear a watch, but a few timekeepers in stairwells or lounges wouldn’t hurt, either. I also found it difficult to locate public restrooms on many occasions. A quick inquiry to a passing crewmember always pointed me in the right direction, but it would have been helpful if they were somehow more noticeable on their own. Likewise, the absence of garbage cans was bothersome when I found myself wanting to discard my daily program or chewing gum. But, I soon discovered that, where there’s a bathroom, there’s a garbage can.
Crazy carpeting, glitzy staircases and twinkling lights: That’s what you’ll get on this ship. Although it’s eye-catching, you won’t have to deal with any of the neon-colored chintz that garishly adorns so many other ships, which can leave you feeling as if you’ve spent a week at sea inside a pinball machine. Poesia’s more like a resort — marble countertops at the onboard bars, floor-to-ceiling wall fountains in the reception area, “stars” overhead in the theater and cabins that feel more like hotel rooms than, well, cabins.
I often found that a strong, sulfur-like odor permeated throughout the hallways near my cabin on Deck 10. I’ve smelled this on several other sailings, but never as often or for such a prolonged period of time. I’m unsure whether any of the other passenger decks experienced the stench, and, strangely, I didn’t find it to be a problem in the public areas, but it was certainly not the most pleasant olfactory encounter on my way to meals.
At the ship’s Mojito Bar, near the Cayo Levantado Pool on Deck 13, you’ll find amazing Italian gelato. Although it’s for-fee, the large (three scoops) will set you back less than $3. There are tons of flavors, but you’ll find 16 available at any given time. (If you’re a fruit fan, try the banana or pineapple. For nut-lovers, the pistachio and hazelnut are must-haves. And, for the less-adventurous, there are standard but tasty chocolate and vanilla options, too.)
Hit and Miss: Entertainment
When a ship caters to people from a variety of countries — all announcements, including the muster drill, were conducted in five languages — it’s difficult to have standard entertainment onboard. That said, the types of shows, which featured the same singers and dancers over and over, became a bit monotonous as the week progressed. On the second night of the cruise, we saw “Sam,” a stereotypical (and confusing) show about America’s history. However, shows like “Isha” (“Fern Gully” meets “Alice in Wonderland” meets “The Lion King”), “Extraordinaire” (a variety show, showcasing dancers, singers, jugglers and acrobats) and “Follie Barock” (the farewell show) featured amazing costumes and scenery, as well as jaw-dropping juggling and acrobatic acts.
I was told on the first day of the sailing that ice is an American accoutrement. It’s not widely used in European beverages, and, outside of the dining room, it can be difficult to find onboard. It will magically show up in your cabin each day — but only if you ask for it.
Hit: Portion Sizes
They say a serving of meat should be no larger than the size of your fist. MSC adheres to that rule, and it’s a good thing. I chalk it up to the European way of doing things, but for the first time on a cruise, I was able to finish all four (sometimes five) courses of dinner each night without a problem. I was always full, but never in that “I feel like a beached whale” kind of way. It was like that with portions for everything — pasta, soup, vegetables, desserts. I look at it like this: The less of each thing I eat, the more things I get to try. And while I’m no foodie, I can’t remember having a single bad meal the entire week.
Miss: Elevator Doors
I try to take the stairs whenever possible, but sometimes that “sensible” pair of heels just won’t allow it. There’s nothing worse than waiting for an elevator for what seems like an eternity, only to be nearly crushed by doors that close too soon. I saw this happen several times — twice to people in wheelchairs. Just be aware that, once you figure out which of the three lifts has arrived to take you where you need to go, you’d better not dawdle while getting inside, lest you be shut out completely.
Hit and Miss: Aurea Spa and Fitness Center
On a port day, I took advantage of a discount on spa services at Aurea and snagged a half-hour massage for $32. (Even including tip, I paid only about half of what I would have paid for the massage alone without the discount.) It was a great experience — relaxing and professional with no post-treatment sales pitch. However, a friend with whom I was traveling said she got a high-pressure suggestion that she needed products, which she politely declined. So, although Aurea was a hit for its services, it’s a miss for its pitches or, at the very least, for the inconsistency of them. Additionally, the tiny onboard gym was pleasant enough, but available treadmills were hard to come by at times — even on port days. The facility’s floor-to-ceiling windows, which offer sweeping views off the front of the vessel, also created somewhat of a greenhouse effect. At times it became so uncomfortably hot that I thought I might have to go cool down in the sauna.
Hit: Handling of Late Embarkation
The medical evacuation of a passenger from the sailing just prior to mine meant that Poesia departed nearly three hours later than scheduled on embarkation day. That’s because the ship got into port late, disembarked the previous round of passengers late and started the embarkation process of the new group late. Although the delay wasn’t the line’s fault, I thought it was handled superbly. Passengers (including me) were shuttled from the Port Everglades terminal to a nearby convention center and given a comfortable place to wait. The line also provided food for us before shuttling us back to the terminal in shifts to board the ship. I know for many this may have been a “miss,” but I looked at it as a bit of an adventure, and my trip was certainly no worse for the wear because of it.
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