As much as I would like to begin on a positive note, I must start with the embarkation. We arrived at 1:15 PM (boarding to begin at 1 PM) to find a long line of passengers standing in the sun, doors to the terminal shut and locked! It seems that MSC chartered the ship to a group of young musicians who, besides trashing the ship, also partied long into the last night, sleeping in well past the time to depart the ship. They were still staggering off past 2 PM. The doors to the terminal were opened around 3 and we finally reached our cabin about 4. One man I met told me his wife was so disgusted that she took a cab home! I asked where she was and he said she stayed home in W. Palm Beach. Refused to come back. Not an entirely bad move. Debarkation was just as bad with no convenient excuses.
The food was appalling, especially in the beginning. Not even the ice cream, from MacArthur Dairy in Miami, was palatable. It gave a bad name to American ice cream since the staff kept telling people that the Italian ice cream from the Med was better. It seemed to be made of some kind of powdered flavoring. You could not detect any pineapple in the pineapple sorbet, for example. And lemon was the worst.
The pastry chef should be fired. We had a plain Italian roll on each plate every night whether we wanted bread or not. Lots of waste. Only one day of bread pudding! The pizza was typical of that in Italy (which we enjoyed) but many passengers complained because it was not like American pizza.
There were only formal nights and casual nights. The last formal night we had a lobster and prime rib choice (not bad) and baked Alaska. But in the beginning we had some strange stuff - like asparagus and minute tapioca soup. Breakfast was OK both upstairs and down except that the chef uses fake hollandaise on the Eggs Benedict (not on the menu - must ask for it). The omelette station upstairs is outdoors so many missed it. One night, the beef steak consisted of two thin slices of beef. Ask for rare if you want medium rare. They served the most unappealing lamb chops we have ever seen - laced with fat and gristle. I kept telling the Europeans that I cannot buy such bad food and poor quality meat in my market at home. I have no idea how they found such a poor purveyor. Just cheap, I guess. I figured that they started with the worst food, gradually improving so that your memory would be of the best of it when it came time to write your critique!
Drinks were reasonable compared to some other ships. Soft drinks were $2.15 (not inc tip which is in the $12/day they take from each passenger) and during happy hour, just before each dinner seating, all alcoholic drinks are $4. One day, our rum drink (banana daiquiri) appeared not to have any rum in it so we sent them back and the bar tender splashed a load of rum into each drink!
Activities were available during days at sea but the card room/library was very small for doing double duty. Bridge players were frustrated because the newsletter never called for them to meet at a special time as is typically done. The small library has books in several languages, though they all appear to be passenger trades. Some confusion since there was a sign out sheet the first day which disappeared the rest of the cruise.
A big plus for us was the theater for entertainment. It is set up like a movie theater, no drink tables. As a result, there are no huge columns blocking anyone's view. We enjoyed the shows and could always find a seat. They had a pretty good magician and an excellent ventriloquist. Several Las Vegas type shows. A special treat was concerts by two tenors. The Big Band on board played great music from the 30's and 40's and everyone seemed to enjoy it. The entertainment director announced all the shows with great skill and humor in SIX languages!
The age range was from a small baby to the very elderly. We liked the fact that all ages were represented. I would guess the avg to be around 50. Passengers were friendly, only held back by language barriers.
I am not sure what to make of staff. I don't think anyone deliberately set out to confuse passengers but misinformation was rife and staff inept. You would have two documents from the ship with different times for events. We were initially told the dinner would be served at 7 PM and 9 PM (turns out only in the Med). It was at 6 and 8. We had to go to the Maitre d' to get the dining companions our travel agent assured us were set up. Long line. We do like the old fashioned assigned seating and ended up with nice table mates. Deadlines for various things changed with each piece of paper issued. We filled out forms for debarkation telling staff the time of our airline flights and we were given the wrong color code for departure. We would have missed our plane had a staff member not escorted us out past the - again - long line.
Our first stop was Ocho Rios where we and our two friends hired a cab to show us around the island. He drove us to the top of a nearby mountain to the Jerk center. We tasted jerk pork, the native famous barbecue, and really liked it. Later in town we had it for lunch. We were shown the rising lake also which is flooding a number of homes. Apparently, on a Sunday afternoon, it is the hot thing for the natives to do also - taking lunch and picnicking at the lake. We also went to the Botanical Gardens - very worthwhile. We only drove by Dunn's River Falls - none of us wanted to walk up it anyway. Your view is blocked from the road by a fence that was not there twenty-five years ago when we were there. We arrived at each port either on time or early which made us very happy.
Cartegena was the only port where we booked an excursion with the ship for $42. We took the city tour which included a walk around the historic old town. We felt perfectly safe and were told that kidnappings have not occurred in this town. The guide lost us in the middle of a square when he decided to cross our group into the middle of another. Four of us were lost and, after waiting a time for him to come back, finally made our way back to the bus. We were very disappointed since we missed about half the walk and talk. I recommend you get your own cab for this port.
I can't imagine what kind of tour one could have had at the San Blas Islands for $40. We were tendered into a giant flea market of embroidered fabrics. It sprinkled off and on. We were taken only to one island and could have bought a dugout canoe ride but would have really gotten wet since they ride very low and a native is assigned to the back to bail water! It was very hot and humid so we stayed only an hour or so and went back to the ship. There was a small museum for $2 but it was dark and from what we could see featured the same fabrics we could see for free. You could swim on several beaches (This island is only a block long!) but one passenger pointed out that there was no sewage treatment for the island - only toilet was an outhouse where the waste went right into the sea. Somehow, the beach seemed less attractive after that!
Cristobal was a good stop and we again hired a cab. Some outfit was right at the end of the walkway from the ship with sheets advertising tours. I recommend you walk all the way out of the port building and find a cab on your own to save money. One unfortunate part of our trip was that neither the driver nor his quickly rousted friend had a clue how to get around Panama City. We drove to the main hotel in Cristobal (a sad sack city if ever we saw one) and saw that the trip we were paying $180 for was $120 booked from there! (The ship's bus ride to Panama City was $80 each and there were 4 of us.) We did have the driver all day, however. It is supposed to be an hour each way to the city and an hour touring the city. Our driver could not find the church with the gold altar nor any government buildings, etc in the new city. He did take us to Gatun Locks which were not on the tour and turned out to be the highlight. It is an entirely different perspective to watch from the shore than to be on a ship (did that 12 yrs ago).
In Puerto Limon, just two of us took a cab to the Tortugero Canals. It cost us $50 as opposed to $70 each with the ship. It was a great experience compared to the ship's tour. We were on a small boat with a cloth roof and only one other couple. We could stop and look at whatever we or the boatman wanted. The ship's tour put about 40 people on a huge boat and they were at the mercy of the boatman plus could not go up close to anything on shore. We saw a baby crocodile, mom and baby sloths, monkeys, etc. Lots of birds as well. Later we learned why our tour of the town did not include seeing the cathedral up close. The old one is being torn down and the new one is not finished. We had lunch in town at the Black Star Restaurant which was OK. Overcooked fish with rice and beans and excellent fried plantains. Wanted to taste the local food. Did not kill us! They tried to serve us ice with our beer - we Americans have quite a reputation for loving ice.
We had a hard time in the ports finding internet cafes. The ship charges $.60/minute and I ended up using it most of the time. In Puerto Limon, there is an internet cafe in the terminal. Avoid it at all costs. Most of us had a hard time connecting and terminals would crash from time to time. I never connected with my email and they only sell cards for $3 for an hour and a half. These are machines where you have to stand to use them. By the time I realized this was not going to work, it was time to leave.
Last stop Roatan. Finally, the promised rain caught up with us and we experienced a downpour with thunder and lightning. We have a friend living there so visited her. The report from passengers taking the jungle canopy tour is that it is more rigorous than advertised. There is wall climbing and ladder climbing involved and several people had to be rescued when their energy ran out. The sea was too churned up from the storm to be good for snorkeling either. Roatan is a beautiful typical Caribbean island. There is a small town with only sand roads for ambiance. We had lunch there overlooking the sea. Rice, beans, plantains and barbecued pork!
We thought that the dining room staff was only OK - slow at dinner and extremely slow at breakfast and lunch. Our cabin assistant walked right into our room one morning despite our Do Not Disturb sign. We were very unhappy about that though she did not catch us in a bad situation at least. No apology. We complained to the desk and were told that there is no way to lock them out. The cabin boy claimed she knocked but, if she did, not very loudly. We later saw a cabin boy do the same thing. Light knock and immediately open the door. Turns out you can double lock your door from the inside and, while your key can open it, theirs cannot. There is some strange system they use for the Do Not Disturb signs when you are at dinner so hanging onto one is no easy task. They come and go.
The cabins are quite small but everything fit. I advise anyone taking this cruise to demand a room only for two. We had two upper bunks which we did not need and, with the lower beds made into a queen, it is hard to get in and out without bumping your head and/or your knees. We ended up learning a very convoluted way of getting in and out after getting bruised up a couple of times.
Ah, and now for the debarkation. You must sign your credit card charges or pay your cash bill early in the morning you depart. Several days before leaving, you sign a sheet with your flight departure and then are assigned a color. The first color was called around 8:30 AM. We were told our color would be off the ship between 9:30 and 10 AM. When it got to be 10 AM and ours was not even called yet (flight at 12:20 PM), my husband decided we would leave anyway. To our astonishment, there was a huge line all the way from the terminal exit into the ship which would clearly take at least an hour to go through. We found a staff person who escorted us past everyone (all the other guests with our color had flights at 4 PM). Fortunately, that worked out and we grabbed a cab at 10:30 AM. Asking staff is no help when it comes to the colors. Do not book a flight prior to noon. Ask people what their flight time and color is to make sure you have the right tags. This was the most tedious long inefficient debarkation we remember from a ship.
So, would we recommend this ship? We had just had a very unhappy experience with Oceania's Insignia where we missed one port and were seriously late to two others AND had bad food so Lirica looked good by comparison. We just laughed at the food - no one starved. We were in port early each time. Pool was nice. The ship lacked the fun stuff of a Carnival ship but we were there to be with our friends and enjoy the ports. I don't think I would go on Lirica again unless we were teased with a great itinerary. People try to tell you it is a European experience but that does not excuse the bad quality of the meat, etc nor the miscommunications. We also thought that $12 was really on the high side for tips considering the staff was only mediocre. Even Insignia with much better service was only $11. We have sailed on RCL, NCL, Carnival, Princess, Radisson, etc. For this kind of money, I would take Carnival to the Caribbean.