35 year cruise veteran's MSC Poesia Blog Day 1 - March 30, 2013
We drove to NYC the night before from Ithaca and utilized a park/sleep/fly package at the LaGuardia Hotel. Cheap and efficient. Our flight departed LaGuardia with no issues and we make it into FLL 30 minutes early.
Our bags were waiting for us on the carousel, we caught the rental shuttle, found our car waiting for us and headed up to Pompano Beach to spend a few hours with my mother. We stopped off and picked up a few cans of Deviant Dale's Ale which I distributed through our checked luggage and headed to Port Everglades. We arrived a little before 3:00. I dropped the family off at Pier 4 and parked the car in the garage. I caught up with them at security (no line) and proceeded to check-in...again, at this hour -no line! After the photo, we proceeded on board and headed straight to our stateroom. After a brief look-see around the ship, I left to return the car to the airport. I re-boarded the ship at about 4:30, which gave me plenty of time to do the Boat Drill at 5:00. The cruise line assigned us to 1st Seating dinner in spite of our request for 2nd and confirmation of this in an email the day before. With an 8:00 sail-away, we decided to go to 1st Seating and request a change for the rest of the cruise. This worked out perfectly, as it gave us just the right amount of time to have dinner and enjoy sail-away from the promenade on Deck 7. Dinner was excellent. I chose a light steak appetizer which was prepared with a vinaigrette sauce-very tasty. Cool Salad followed. I chose the pasta dish for my main course- Rigatoni with a sweet sauce. ( I don't remember what they called it). It was prepared well and the pasta was freshly made. I don't remember my dessert choice...I was a little tired and it was less than memorable. After dinner we strolled up one deck and enjoyed the sail-away on the port side. With a late departure, I think the normally excited crowd in the apartment buildings had a chance to get pretty lubricated up before we made our pass, because they seemed to have a little more energy and enthusiasm as we floated out the channel. We even had a trumpet player salute us. The captain blew the ship's whistles for the requisite salute (reallllly long blasts) and out into the Atlantic we went. After exploring the ship for a little while, we retired to our stateroom for the night. Since we were on a Western Caribbean itinerary, the captain set the clocks back one hour giving us an extra hour's sleep.
March 31-Easter Sunday.
I ate breakfast at the buffet and found it to be just like any other cruise ship buffet. No line at the omelette station and a seat on the port rail made for a nice start to the day. After Catholic Mass in the theater, we headed up to Deck 14 aft, found several loungers and relaxed for a couple of hours. Since we needed a little break from the sun, we chose to take our lunch in the MDR. WOW! This lunch totally exceeded my expectations! It was a special Easter lunch and it was superb. Duck and lamb were both main courses...decisions,decisions...both were really good...tender, tasty and presented exceptionally well. I took in a massage later in the day (Birthday present from the wife) and we prepared for the gala dinner. We enjoyed a pre-dinner cocktail and then headed off for dinner. Nothing disappointed us at this meal. I chose pot stickers, soup and roasted Duck. Dessert was a chocolate confection that was amazing. After a stroll on deck, we retired to the cabin...time to get the dive gear ready for tomorrow-Cozumel. Again, with the western itinerary, the captain set the clocks back another hour.
Monday, April 1 - Cozumel.
We tied up at Punta Langosta right in San Miguel, which was very convenient for the members of our family who chose to shop today. The rest of us grabbed a taxi and whisked off to Puerto de Abrigo where we were to catch our dive boat. I have been diving with manta raya divers for several years now (mantaraya.com). Fernando has one small boat with no schedule. We had a total of 4 people on our boat. We shot south to Palancar and did two great dives down there. They supplied with us an awesome lunch on our surface interval and we were able to enjoy some Superior cervezas on the trip back. Our captain, Sammy, dropped us off right downtown so we didn't have to take the time to hail a taxi and ride back into town. After dropping our gear in the cabins, we went back out and enjoyed a few $1.00 cervezas and bought the requisite t-shirts.
...and, now I interrupt the flow of things to talk more about the food...
I had hoped to update this report daily, however, our activities and relaxation got in the way. I know that food has been one of the biggest concerns of passengers traveling with MSC. What we have experienced has been on par or better than most mainstream lines. The appetizers have been original and delicious served at the proper temperature. Soups range from average to outstanding...they have also been served at the proper temperature. As recommended by others, I avoided the steak until our 5th night. A few of us ordered it and all of our cuts were fatty and tough, although the sauce was delicious. The only exception to this was the surf and turf (second Gala night). The beef medallion was excellent. The Italian dishes never disappointed! In general, portions were proper. After eating a 5 course meal, there was no room for anything else. Desserts were imaginative and tasty, however, not the best I've had at sea. Our table service was superb. Both our waiter and assistant waiter were attentive, knowledgeable and experienced. The timing of the courses was done with perfection. Our normal dinner duration was about 1:15-1:30. I celebrated my birthday while on board. My wife ordered a cake. The normal singing of Happy Birsday (lol) was prefaced by the Indonesian Birthday Song sung by about 6 waiters complete with percussion instruments-very well done! The Baked Alaska parade is still done with real cakes and real flames, not plastic cakes and candles. Thank you MSC.
The buffet was on par with every other cruise I have taken. Excellent variety, acceptable quality. My one pet peeve with the service staff in the buffet (and this is true on Carnival, Princess and NCL) is that they do not get out of the paying customer's way or allow the passenger to go first. The number one thing in their minds is to keep the eating customer happy and they fail to realize that the customer always comes first, wherever, whenever.
Soft serve ice cream was available from 12:00-5:00 each day on Deck 13.
Tuesday, April 2 - Roatan
Our port for the day is Mahogany Bay. As a captain, I have to say that this is one mother of a port to pull into. A couple of years ago, I watched the captain and crew of the Carnival Valor back that ship into it's slip with ease. As a regular stop for the crew, I'm sure they were quite familiar with the shoals, wind and current tendencies. Not so with the MSC Poesia. It took the navigation crew about 1.5 hours to back us in. The captain had to line up the ship at least 4 different times before he finally had it in the very narrow channel and successfully backed us in. The remnants of a freighter which did not fare so well are a reminder to all captains to proceed with caution when entering this port. A very short stay in Roatan just became an hour shorter and we hustled over the hill to catch our transportation over to West Bay to scuba dive with Coconut Tree Divers. P.J. And Gay (the owners) are the most laid back, friendly hippies, but they run a world class facility. As a scuba Instructor Development Center, they have an international reputation for top notch instructors and dive masters. We enjoyed the world class diving that they offer and then bolted back (Port Royal cerveza in hand)to the ship to board before the gangway was raised. We even had enough time for a t-shirt at the Roatan Marine Park kiosk at the port.
Tuesday, April 3 - Grand Cayman
Ahh...my home away from home. GC is my home for one week every winter and as soon as I saw Georgetown come into view, I slipped the lime SIM card into my phone and prepared to be assimilated. Being an avid diver, I normally avoid the normal tourist hotspots and operations, but with 7 of us traveling together and most never experiencing Stingray City, we booked a private charter with John Frederick (Freddy) of Epic Divers. I gave him a call and he met us right outside the Hard Rock Cafe. We made a quick stop at Divers Supply for a gear fix and headed off to West Bay where his beautiful boat was waiting. His first mate, Jax, set up our gear and away we want into the North Sound. Our timing was perfect! We were the only dive boat at Stingray City. After the requisite briefing, we were all doing our giant strides into the water and settling into the sand for the show to begin. I started my GoPro and filmed the ballet. The boys largely kept to themselves while the girls went in for the feeding frenzy. The one exception was my 13 yr. old daughter. The males were regularly swarming her...boy, even male stingrays think she's pretty (lol).
After 40 minutes or so, Jax led us on a tour around the various coral heads, which were teaming with a variety of fish. One hour later, I was reluctantly dragging my self out of the water. Freddy started the engine and we took off to Kaibo for lunch. While on land, Jax rinsed out all of our gear and laid it out to dry. We then enjoyed a nice cruise across the sound back to the dock while enjoying our Caybrew and Ironshore Bock beers. A quick stop at Premier Liquors for some free tastings and then we were taking the tender back to the ship.
Thursday, April 4 - Falmouth, Jamaica
We pre-arranged with Jai-tal tours for a Dunn's River Falls/Beach Break tour. Our driver, Wesley, met us as arranged and we headed off towards Ochos Rios. With Falmouth being a new cruise port financed by Royal Caribbean, I am still puzzled why they chose the location. Everything locally had to be fabricated (contrived?) by Royal Caribbean. Perhaps, it allows tours to go to both Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. The drive over to Ocho Rios was over one hour,so we wasted 2 precious hours on the highway...Our driver knew the right people at the falls and before we knew it, we were in a group and beginning our tour...I'm not exactly sure why were didn't have to wait in line :-). Our guide was superb. Animated,patient and attentive. Everyone had a good time. After circumventing all of the vendors on the way out, he whisked us to a small hotel beach...uncrowded and peaceful. After enjoying the beach for an hour or so, we began our trek back to Falmouth. Our driver was insistent that we stop for souvenirs, rum, etc at a small store just prior to Falmouth, claiming that they had the best prices. We fell for it. Upon our return to the port, we realized that we had been duped and the prices at the port were much better than his special spot, especially for locally produced rum and Blue Mountain coffee.
As I write this, we are enjoying our last day of the cruise (sea day). Reflecting on this cruise brings me to the following thoughts:
Our time in each of the ports was too short. For instance, 5 hours in Roatan made us feel exceptionally rushed. 3 ports in the Western Caribbean would give the passengers a much more relaxed feeling, both on the ship and in port.
The ship is beautiful and well-cared for.
Dining room and housekeeping staffs were top-notch.
Food was excellent.
Mattresses were firm, but comfortable. Pillows were horrid.
Bar service was excellent and priced fairly. $4.25 for a Sam Adams with mixed drinks between $6-$8 is not something you see on most other cruise lines. I especially like the "hands off" approach of the deck servers. They're there if you desire a drink.
Coffee: yes, they serve "real" coffee. It's not only nice to get a cup of free brewed coffee in all of the restaurants, but they do it one better - Every single bar on board has an espresso machine.
Value-HUGE! I chose this cruise because of the price. With my oldest daughter heading off to college next year, we knew this would be our last spring break together as a family and we also couldn't break the bank. MSC out-performed our expectations.
We thoroughly enjoyed the international clientele on board. In general, people were friendly and polite. The ship's crew handles the various languages quite well. General announcements were really kept to a minimum and not at all disruptive (are you listening Carnival?). Partying was not the name of the game. Having said that, there were plenty of fun activities and music throughout the cruise. We are not "show" people, so we did not check out any of the evening productions. There were some excellent musicians and one particular horrible one (solo) in the Bar dei Poeti. He croons 70's and 80's pop tunes. He strains his upper range, cannot sing in tune and is nowhere near a professional musician. The pianos need to be tuned more often (especially the one in the atrium). The "conga" player in the Zebra lounge is better off dropping that part of his act and just concentrate on singing. The congas are already in the track and when he attempts to play the drums, neither his rhythm nor the tuning of the drums line up...yuck.
We have gotten used to no-smoking ships. MSC does a good job of filtering the smoke, but, living in the northeast USA, we have gotten quite accustomed to no smoke in an indoor environment. This did not come as a surprise to us due to other CC member reports.
For the most part, the rest of the elements were in line with other cruises we have taken over the last several years. More and more people dress down in the evenings, even on formal nights. This is my first "tux less" cruise and I'm glad I didn't pack it. I miss the elegance of old (especially the 70's and early 80's), but cruising has evolved to attract the masses.
Everyone sees things differently and are entitled to their own opinions, but, this "old salt" found plenty to like and little to complain about on this MSC Poesia Caribbean cruise. Yes, we will definitely consider another MSC cruise in the future.