I sailed on this cruise as a solo. This was my 10th cruise; I've been on all the mainstream cruise lines (except Costa) and about half the premium/luxury lines so inevitably I ended up comparing this ship and cruise line with others I've taken--it compared favorably, despite that it was less expensive than most (maybe all of them) and had mixed reviews. I am an American and speak only English, so I was a little concerned about the multiple languages used on the ship, but it turned out not only to not being a problem, but being one of the positive elements of the trip.
Embarkation went fine. It took about 20-30 minutes of waiting in line before getting on the ship--which is typical of other cruises I have been on.
The ship is beautiful--stylish and attractive, inside and out. In fact, this is probably the best ship in terms of decor and design that I have been on (in my subjective opinion). Maintenance was outstanding; it was kept immaculately clean and shiny. There's not a single public room on the ship that isn't a beautiful design, including the public restrooms. Flow is pretty good, although one bank of elevators goes only to Deck 12, rather than Deck 13--the pool/buffet deck and only one bank of elevators goes to Deck 15. The signage is also not as good as it could be--there is an outline of the ship at each bank of elevators identifying the important rooms on each deck, but the decks are labeled by name (Italian writers), rather than number so you have to guess or remember or figure out which is Deck 6 or 7 (or whatever). Despite the limited signage, the ship has a very good flow and I got lost/confused on this ship a lot less than most others I've been on.
Main Room -- I stayed in a "suite", which is not really a suite but a large cabin (probably like a mini-suite on other ships). I was told by other guests who saw my cabin that the sofa was bigger (long enough to lay down on--it folds out to a third bed) and it was more storage space. It had quite a bit of storage space--two desks and a set of storage cabinets next to the closet. The closet was large--in fact, a walk-in (although not room to do anything once you walked in). The bed was the standard two-singles-pushed-together-to-make-a-double. It was firm, rather than pillow-top, which I liked. The pillows, though, were small and not very plush. (There was a pillow menu on the desk, so I probably could have ordered a different pillow, but I didn't bother; I suspect this was a perk for the suites.) Lighting was good; in addition to the general room lights (which were plenty bright); there as an extra light over one of the desks, and a reading light on each end table on the sides of the bed. In order to work the lights or the air conditioning, you must put your room key card in a slot near the door. That saves energy but I was worried the whole cruise that I would lock myself out the cabin by leaving the card in the slot. (I didn't.) There were plenty of mirrors--full-length on the closet door and a number of mirrors partially opposite the bed and over one of the desks. The safe is hidden behind the mirror over the desk. It was big enough to fit an iPad (standing up) with room to spare. (I also left an iPad just on the bedside desk and it was fine.)
Television -- There was a flat-screen tv (maybe 13-14 inches--big enough). Once out of Fort Lauderdale, the television has only three English-language channels: TNT (with English-dubbed Spanish language commercials for some reason), TBS, and ESPN (an international version). There were separate channels (about three each) in French, German, Italian, and Spanish. There were also channels promoting different aspects of the cruise--such as photos and the spa. There was no morning show with the cruise director, no replay of ship shows, and no news channels. The tv had some interactive features. You could order wine on the tv (but not other room service) and pay-per-view movies (which had a lot of choices, maybe 60 (all English language as far as I could tell, and some HD), but no movies more recent than about one year old; there were also adult movies available). There were detailed descriptions of all the excursions on the tv and you could order an excursion through the tv (I did and it worked fine). A review of your account is available on the tv on the last night, but not before that. Dinner reservations could not be made through the tv and I think spa reservations were also not available through the tv.
Balcony -- The balcony is the same size as in other cabins. It had two comfortable wicker chairs (no loungers) and a wicker table.
Bathroom -- The bathroom for the suite had a bathtub--small but serviceable and a nice perk. The shower curtain was particularly clingy. The shower has a flexible hose so it can be taken off for hand showering, a nice touch. The sink area did not have much shelf space, but there was considerable storage space in cabinets under the sink and there were two small glass shelves along the wall near the sink. There was no electrical outlet (well, one was there, but it was not for U.S. plugs), so things had to be charged in an outlet under the mirror above the desk in the main cabin. There was a hairdryer in the desk drawer in the main cabin.
Nationalities -- One of the most interesting aspects of the cruise was the mix of passengers. About half of the passengers were English speaking (mostly U.S. but a considerable of Canadians, Britons, Australians, and other English speakers) and about half spoke the other main languages used on board--French, German, Italian, and Spanish.
There are five languages used on the ship, but this did not present a problem--as a person with limited linguistic skills, I was concerned about this aspect of the cruise. For main announcements all five languages were used, starting with English, which makes for some pretty long announcements. I ended up liking the use of the different languages as it added an exotic ambiance to the cruise. It turned out to be a positive experience and enjoyable.
The cruise line does some things to minimize the disruption. At dinner people are seated together based on language (although this is not done for the dining rooms at breakfast or lunch--it's the luck of the draw for those meals, but English is widely spoken). Announcements are kept to a minimum--there are no ship-wide announcements of activities and no mid-day captain's report. There was a special English-speaking North American host to help the multilingual cruise director to introduce the daily shows. At bingo the introduction was taped in multiple languages, but the live announcer asked each group to identify themselves and only used languages of those who were present (in two sessions there were no Italians so he didn't use that language). For the games with passenger participants, after the introductions and explanation of the rules, comments and banter would be said at different times in different languages, so not every comment was repeated five times but all groups were included. It worked very well. Some activities, like lectures, were in only one language but given at different times of the day in the different languages; the English Daily Program only lists the times of the English lectures. The boat drill did not take any longer than on other ships.
Ages -- There were a lot of children on the cruise (I think there's a kids sail free promotion). Despite this special pricing, the demographics age-wise were about the same for other Caribbean cruises--all ages were on board. If you want to avoid children, by all means sign up for Second Seating. If you want to cruise with younger children, you won't be alone. Your kids will have plenty of company.
There are fewer eating options than on other ships--no anytime dining and only two alternative (extra-cost) restaurants. The quality of the food was very good, ranging from good to outstanding, with some of the best pasta I have eaten anywhere.
Il Palladio -- This is one of the two main restaurants (La Fontane is the other) and it is where I had dinner for all but two nights. The food was very good. There was plenty of variety. Although on many nights there are three sections to choose from: Stars and Stripes (with American food choices), Italian (with Italian choices), and an always-available section, the options are more limited on the first night and the two Gala (formal) nights. Food is subjective, but I found it to be very good. Service was also excellent (except the first night).
La Fontane -- I ate in the restaurant for one breakfast and one lunch. The lunch was particularly good. The restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch every day (except disembarkation day), even port days, which is not the case with most other lines.
Villa Pompeiana -- This is the buffet (called the cafeteria). It had a lot of good food for lunch--pizzas, hamburgers, and hot dogs (large) always available, plus different entrees with different themes (the Thai food was particularly good). There was always a good variety of food available (different choices on the two sides of the ship). At times it was crowded and hectic, but not more so than other cruise lines; I avoided peak times as much as possible. I am not sure the buffet was open 24 hours a day; there were times I think it was closed (but perhaps there were limited items available; I did not check that closely).
L'Obelisco -- This is the extra-cost Italian restaurant, which is formed from part of the buffet at night. It is an undiscovered jewel. Very few people took advantage of this option (dinner was $20), but it was excellent. The food was wonderful and there was an elegant ambience to the setting that made the meal a special event. There were more limited food choices than the main restaurant, but the options available were good. I ended up eating here two different nights.
Kaito Sushi Bar -- I ate here for lunch one day even though I don't eat seafood, so no sushi or sashimi for me. It has a couple of other dishes available and I had a chicken dish, which was outstanding--probably the best meal I had all week. As with L'Obelisco, this is a hidden gem that not enough people take advantage of. Pricing is a la carte and reasonable. The banana tempura is a particularly good dessert. I made the mistake of trying this restaurant at the end of the cruise so I only had one meal here; I am tempted to re-book this cruise just to go back to this restaurant.
Room Service -- The room service breakfast menu was very limited--only continental breakfast options--muffins, toast, juice. The sandwiches available for lunch and snacks are good and big--two layers. The mozzarella and tomato caprese salad was also good. The menu was limited, but is good for a nice low-key lunch or afternoon or late night snack.
Other Food Options -- One of the best eating options is on the Pool Deck--there is a bar (Galateria, I think it's called) that serves gelato ice cream. The best ice cream I've ever had! It's great for an afternoon snack. (I highly recommend the banana split). There is also a self-service soft serve ice cream machine on the pool deck. There is an afternoon tea at the cafeteria, but it is nothing special--not really an Afternoon Tea like one would have in an English restaurant. There is no cafe with coffee and treats, but one of the bars on Deck 5 (Giada Bar, I think--the one near the reception area) has some croissants and serves tea, coffee, and hot chocolate--a nice options for a light late breakfast.
Each bar on board has its own personality. The bars on the Pool Deck (Pinana Bar and Mojito Bar) are like any other pool deck bar--casual and fun (try the Purple Rain drink, a multi-color red, orange, and blue drink made with rum, fruit juices, and some other ingredients; a perfect drink for the Caribbean). The most lively bar is the Zebra Bar--it always had lively, contemporary music, a lot of people having fun. The Bar dei Poeti had cool jazz music and singers; fun but a little more low key. The wine bar, Il Grappolo D'Oro, is sedate and classy; a good place for chilling out and conversation. There are bars right near the restaurants--The Giada Bar and The Smeraldo Bar--which are handy for a drink before dinner, but they were always crowded at those times. The Pigalle Lounge was used for dancing and shows and there is a disco I never went to. There is also a bar in the reception area--La Rendez-Vous Bar. This is a very nice place for a drink due to the entertainment--a piano player, cello player, and violinist and, every night opera singers--a very pleasant way to spend some time before dinner. It really made the cruise special. The final bar was in the casino.
Service was consistently good in all the bars and around the pool. I never had to wait long to get a waiter/waitress to take a drink order. Tips of 15% are automatically added; there is no line to add more (or deduct the tip).
One of the highlights of the cruise was the opera singing in the reception area at dinner time--a very nice touch, which I think even non-opera fans ended up really enjoying.
Shows -- MSC Poesia had a lot of good shows; there was a show each night, with the show for the late seating at 7:00pm and the show for the early seating at 9:00pm. The singing was outstanding and dancing was good. There was a lot of variety and some interesting acts. The Saturday show was Divas with three excellent women singers singing the songs of three "famous singers", one being songs associated with Barbara Streisand--I don't recall the others. It was excellent. The Sunday show was Sam, a musical history of the United States, which showed a somewhat strange view of American history. It started with a tableau with Indians (a nice acknowledgement that there were Americans before there was an America); then a bunch of singing cowboys, then on to the jazz age and disco and pop songs, with some muscle men lifting each other as a film of American rockets and astronauts was shown. Not the best in terms of history lessons, but a very enjoyable show with lively music and good dancing. The Monday show, Little Italy, was an overview of Italian songs, dances, and culture; it was also good (but not as good a Sam). On Tuesday, Isha focused on acrobats, jugglers, and similar acts, although there was also singing and dancing--a nice change of pace and, again, enjoyable. Wednesday's show, Extradinaire, also took a more Cirque de Soleil-type approach, with exotic lighting and staging and acrobatic acts. On Thursday the show was Follie Barock, which had a French theme, complete with can-can dancers. The last night was for Stars on Broadway, which I found the least entertaining show--probably because I didn't particularly care for the Broadway shows they highlighted, including Les Miserable and Phantom of the Opera. Shows were very entertaining, but one negative was that there was no live orchestra; music was provided by tape (I assume).
There were no comedians or piano bars with group singing, but there were shows in the lounges similar to what's available on other ships--The Marriage Game (in which couples answer questions about each other), Mr. Made in Italy (in a lounge) and Mr. Sexy Legs (around the pool) in which passengers compete for a title with the oldest and funniest winning the "beauty contest," and The Ideal Couple (with couples doing various embarrassing tasks to win).
There were also lectures (about pirates and Christopher Columbus and wine), a fashion show by the pool (with staff modeling various clothes available for purchase on board), and poolside cooking, food carving, and ice carving demonstrations.
Although there was a movie screen over the pool, it was not used during the day--which was a blessing; the pool was relatively quiet with sounds provided by music from a live band. But one night there was an outdoor movie, which was nice--popcorn and drinks were available. Twice during the week, movies on the cabin tv were also announced--the same movies was shown at different times on tv in other languages--another example, like the lectures, of diffenent schedules for passengers using different languages. Perhaps that was also the case with the outdoor movies.
There were quite a few things to keep one busy--trivia contests, mix-a-drink lessons, wine-tasting, Italian lessons, dance lessons, arts & crafts, and simple poolside contests (throw a hula hoop on an entertainment staff person, drop a ball in a bucket using two ropes, etc.). The poolside games were nice and simple and popular--a lot of participants and fun. There were trivia contests, Italian lessons, and bingo. There was also a wine-tasting, which was very interesting--ham and cheese were paired with the wines to show the effect on different wines with different foods.
SHOPPING ON BOARD
The shopping options were limited but souvenirs were available--t-shirts, baseball caps, pens, and candy--and plenty of jewelry shops and sales in the halls at night.
MSC ran the excursions smoothly; passengers report to a lounge where they meet a staff member who escorts them to the bus or tender (separate tenders are used for excursions from those for other passengers). Best of all, the excursions were not crowded; buses were not filled to capacity, which I found to be the case on excursions with most other cruise lines.
Service was universally good. Getting waited on for drinks was not a problem and service in the dining rooms was good (except on the first night, after which the overwhelmed waiter was replaced with a different waiter, without any complaints from us). I did have any problems but did have occasion to go to the Reception Desk and Accounting Desk on a couple of occasions and always found the staff to be professional and helpful. My steward did a great job keeping my room clean and was friendly whenever I ran into him.
Dress Code -- On formal nights (called Gala Nights), tuxedos were rare, but most people did dress up--suits and sports coats/ties were the norm for men, although all levels of dress were found. Enough people dressed up to make the night seem special.
Casino -- I have a mixed opinion on the casino. I go there to play blackjack a couple of times a cruise and they had nice low stakes--$5. On the other hand, they only opened one blackjack table, even when the one table was full and had gathered a large crowd around it. The casino manager or cruise line should find a way to be a little flexible in taking advantage of the potential players.
Wi-Fi -- This is the first cruise in which I used wi-fi and I was disappointed it was only available in very limited areas--about four of the lounges and on the pool deck. It is not available in the cabins. The price was reasonable--$20 for one hour, which I found plenty of time for the limited time I used it, to check emails.
Spa/Sports -- I did not use the gym or the sports deck. I did have a hair cut in the spa (I thought they did a great job) but did not otherwise use the facilities. They had exercise classes--stretching, dancing--around the pool every morning. There is no deck that goes entirely around the ship, so no place for a morning walk around the ship; there are treadmills in the gym/spa, however.
Pool and Pool Deck -- As with all mainstream ships the pool decks were very crowded, particularly on sea days, making it hard (but not impossible) to get a lounge chair. The loungers are kind of strange--they have a little sun screen on the end, which is good; but consequently the back if very low and they don't lift up that high, with only two settings--low and lower--making it impossible to just sit up and read a book (unless you cheat and use the sunscreen as a back rest, which I did).
Disembarkation was a nightmare. There is a long wait in a lounge to get off the ship, then a long line after your number is called, then a long line to get through customs, then a long line to get a cab. In fact, there were very few cabs available. I was in one of the earlier groups called but because of the lack of cabs I missed my noon flight out of Fort Lauderdale. I highly recommend getting an afternoon flight or perhaps using the ships airport transfer.