MSC Musica Cruise Review by Skipper Tim: Multi-cultural chuckle-fest at a bargain price and no solo s
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Multi-cultural chuckle-fest at a bargain price and no solo s
We transferred from our Lido hotel to the Musica by Aliliguna vaporetto, arriving around a little after 11:00. It was a fair walk from the water bus 'cruise terminal' stop to the cruise terminal building but once there, MSC did well to get us through the various stages of checkin: luggage drop off, cruise card issue and credit card authorisation, security and finally boarding.
All the time there was the usual ambience of chaos around us. While many nationalities are capable of reading instructions in advance and following the prescribed system with the briefest of questions and exchange of pleasantries, other nationalities can exist in a swarm of endless confusion, non-stop questions and every possible attempt to circumvent the system. The party immediately in front of us were all waving their arms and shouting at passport control. Apparently they believed that being Europeans, they had no need of passports - even to go to Morocco and Brazil. Eventually, More
security escorted out of the building and this is one cruise that they would miss.
The information sheets we were given indicated that our cabins would be ready at 1pm so we made our way straight to the Gli Archi buffet on deck 13 for an hour. The Maitre D made himself available from 1pm in the Sala Viola for table assignments. As we were in three separate cabins on two bookings and our table(s) had not been allocated, we were keen to ensure our dining arrangements were as we wished - second sitting on a table for eight and preferably in Le Maxims MDR on deck 6 (due to comments shared on CC).
We had been first in the queue and now we were being dealt with, the minions were struggling to hold back some crazy latino women hell-bent on being served next. One particularly determined woman had to be dragged back twice. It felt more like crazy fans desperate for the autograph of a retired Italian pop star they were smitten with in their youth.
Next the three of us all went to find each of our cabins in turn. Angela had a disability cabin on deck 12. It was a very generous size and she was broadly pleased with it. She was surprised to see two shower stools. It was because the UK MSC office said there were no shower stools on board that they suggested she had a disability cabin.
My mother and I had both been allocated category 5 "obscured view" outside cabins on deck on our guarantee category 1 bookings. Unfortunately in my mother's case the view really is obscured, even standing on her bed she could only see the orange of the lifeboat outside. Still, she knew when it is light or dark outside and there is a little more space than an inside cabin. I was luckier being forward on deck 8 where they have two smaller lifeboats and I have an almost unobscured view. It is interesting to note that the MSC deck plans regarding the positioning of the lifeboats in relation to cabin numbers appears perfectly accurate in this regard.
Most people found the muster drill irritating and many let their feelings show. We were shown and told how to fasten our life vests in excruciating detail in six different languages (in order): English, Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese and German. I would have thought that something so obviously visual would suffice in one or two languages.
Despite having checked in at 11:30, our luggage did not arrive until almost 18:30. If we had been on the first sitting at dinner we would have spent the first day without our luggage. I can only understand that they must load the luggage on to the ship in a gigantic pile and because we were early on, our luggage was at the bottom of the pile. It was also very cold in both our cabins despite setting the heating to maximum and we really could have done with some extra layers to keep warm. The heating/cooling goes off completely a few minutes after removing the key card from the slot.
We docked in Valetta around 08:00 and were off shortly after 09:00. We were directed by MSC staff on an unnecessarily long route out of the port despite Angela's walking difficulties. We then climbed to the 'summit' of Valetta - the plateau around St. John's Cathedral - via a couple of hundred steps. We should have taken the first taxi offer of Ã¢,Â¬10 but by the time we thought about it the rates increased to Ã¢,Â¬15 and they continued to increase as the drivers passed signals to each other down the line as we approached. Taxi drivers Worldwide have a certain reputation.
We sampled more of Valetta during the climb and appreciated more views than we would have done otherwise. There is no doubt about it, Valetta is a stunningly beautiful, medieval 'city on a hill'. However we had been spoilt somewhat by our time in Venice immediately prior. We sensibly took a taxi back and were happy to pay the Ã¢,Â¬15 to be taken all the way to the ship instead of the port gate.
We docked at the new ferry terminal in Barcelona, built since my mother last visited there by ship. On that occasion it was on the QE2 and Cunard provided courtesy shuttle busses to the start of La Rambla - pedestrianised heart of Barcelona. MSC is not Cunard and the shuttle bus tickets had been heavily promoted in advance at Ã¢,Â¬8 return available only onboard. I was naturally suspicious of this and when I saw dozens of crew being released for some time ashore making a bee-line for the "T3 Port Bus" alongside cruise guests my suspicions were confirmed. A mere scratch of the net reveals that it is possible to buy tickets on the T3 bus for Â¬3.50 return.
The ladies were dispatched to look at handbags or whatever they do, while I elected to remain on board and appreciate a beautiful and then quiet ship. It was so much enjoyable without the constant prattling and pushing of twelve-hundred Argentinian grandmothers. My apologies to Argentinian grandmothers everywhere. Let me just say that the peace just was sublime.
My priority of the day was to have a civilised lunch at L'Oleandro's. This commenced as they open at 12:00 because the masses would surely start to return in dribs and drabs at first then like a torrent, flooding the restaurant. I then intended slipping out into Barcelona for a wander but the ladies returned in the rain with tales of most things being closed so I gave Barcelona a miss this time.
The port of Casablanca is industrial and far from picturesque. Then it was for the port that the French colonial power originally developed Casablanca. It is therefore reassuring that Casablanca is still very much a working port and not just a stop for cruise ships.
The taxis nearest the ship wanted to take us on tours and were not interested in a short trip into town. We could however see regular taxis and their drivers beyond the first gates, already engaged in a brawl at the sight of us approaching and watched over by two policemen. One of the drivers crossed the line of the gate as we got near which immediately caused an uproar among the others. I asked "How much to the old medina?". "Ten Euros" he shouted over the din. One of the policemen now near us immediately said "Five!". There was considerable commotion as the first driver withdrew and others offered us various suggestions on where to go, "First time in Casablanca?", "2 hours - 30 Euros", "I will take you to the mosque" etc.. Finally a quiet man stepped forward from the rear and offered us the 5 Euro fare to the medina.
The main road of the medina was in the process of being resurfaced. It was reduced to rough hardcore with raised manholes etc. which just added to the scruffy, disorganised appearance. We managed to buy a a pair of leather sandals (Ã¢,Â¬10) and a wooden desk organiser (Â¬8) though we tried and failed to negotiate several other items. The problem with arriving anywhere by cruise ship is that prices rise the moment the ship docks and do not resume until after it has left. We had been followed into port by P&O's Oriana this morning, I gather also repositioning, and so for the sellers of Casablanca medina, their boat really had come in that day - twice.
We were back onboard and at the entrance of L'Oleandro's for lunch at 12:35 - five minutes after opening.
In Tenerife, we walked the mile into town, bought some Spanish brandy which security didn't bother about when boarding, and I availed myself of free wi-fi to upload some photos of the cruise so far. I had been quite recently before and so I didn't do anything particularly touristy.
Salvador de Bahia, Brazil, was our final port of call before leaving in Rio. According to the Daily Programme, it was 2,842 nautical miles since Tenerife, our previous port of call. After crossing the equator, we were now in Summer and, around 13 degrees South in early December, about as close to the Sun as it is possible to be without leaving the Earth. And it was hot, hot, hot!
We docked around 9:30 and the first in the queues were allowed off around 10:15. My plan was to stay on the ship, appreciate it when quiet, have a civilised lunch then venture out this afternoon as the masses started returning. I was overruled and regretted not doing my own thing.
If you like being part of a large crowd, loads of sales hassle, noise, queuing for everything and being ripped off for everything then you too should try to get off the ship as early as possible in every port of call. If you are a little more like me, hold on and wait at least until the balance of people traffic to and from the ship is against you then venture out slowly.
Salvador is colourful, historic, beautiful in the centre and interesting. I am sure had I being staying here before the MSC Musica arrived, I would have been horrified at the transformation for the day and headed for the beach instead. I grabbed a few photos, we did the essential items on our plan - cash machine (not easy!), the 'arts and crafts' market, lift to the old town and a walking tour at the top. The heat was oppressive and we retreated to the shade in the main square where there was a samba band playing and other acts laid on for us. I felt a tourist and uncomfortable with it. I may return on my own terms.
The first dinner was a mad scrum to get in when they opened the doors around 20:50. There had been many attempted incursions before then, skilfully seen off by attendant staff. We waited until the way was clear and were seated shortly after 9pm. At 9:30pm, we were still waiting for the first drop of wine. No food was sighted until after 10pm and this was just a sliced tomato with a spoonful of mozzarella. When there were only two starters to choose from, not having these ready and wine ready to go when we arrived was poor. We were asked by one of the head waiters if everything had been alright. We expressed our reservations about the long waits and he admitted that this was due to a lot of staff being new to the ship and to each other.
Breakfast in L'Oleandro could not have been a bigger contrast. It was peaceful, relaxed and well-staffed. The coffee was free-flowing and staff always available if and when required.
On sea days early on when the weather outside was windy and moderately rough, the interior public spaces all felt busy and congested. I am sure these are good days for the numerous onboard shops. People seemed to be buying all sorts of useless tat just for something to do. Also lunchtimes at the Oleandro MDR tended to start quiet at tghe opening but get ever busier through lunchtime. It was a challenge to find any sort of table and the crowds kept on coming in right through to the 14:00 closing time. Once installed they were not going to leave. This was clearly their intended resting place until they were forcibly moved on.
They drank, ordered more drinks, another desert, more drinks, more deserts etc.. The waiters were literally rushed off their feet and their tempers visibly fraying at the edges. It was clear to see that the occasionally tardy service was not the fault of the waiting staff, there were simply not enough staff to cope with the numbers of guests and the way they behaved. We took early lunches at sea whenever possible from then on.
Lunch in Oleandro's while the crowds were ashore was always sublime. When they are not rushed, it is possible to exchange a few humorous and enlightening words with each of waiters. From then on, we never never missed lunch on a port day.
On the Captains's welcome gala night, Angela, my mother and I met in our finest in the Tucano bar, immediately aft of the main level of the theatre around 18:30. The staff were clearing away the residue of the 'welcome cocktails' event which, had we not been on the Allegrissimo package, we would have attended if only for some sickly sweet free alcohol. As it was, normal bar service was suspended for that hour and we had to recover from lunch and mentally prepare ourselves for whatever the first gala dinner would entail.
As is usual on formal nights, the staff were smarter-dressed than the majority of the guests. I thought the proportion of men wearing dinner (tuxedo) suits was to lowest I had experienced on my three cruises to date. I know most men don't like dressing up but it does improve the atmosphere and the experience when everyone has made the effort. I keep suggesting to my family that we have one or two formal nights at home but they have never taken me seriously, so far. I can happily report that the dining experience was as good as any gala/formal night on a cruise ship I have experienced except for the slightly longer waits and slightly less personal service. If it is only 'slightly' worse in some narrow regards and better in others - e.g. the appearance and design of the ship - that makes this cruise and perhaps, by implication, MSC a good bargain.
Things continued to to improve at dinner. Our regular waiter managed to keep our glasses from going dry, timings were slicker and generally the service machine operated much more smoothly. There is the regular British irritation of hot food being served lukewarm on lukewarm plates, but that is just us.
Our table became so jolly that we could no longer hear the 'nosy latinos' around us - the same ones that we found deafening on the first night. In fact, trying to avoid being the last out of the dining room again, I looked around to find that we had already frightened them away before we had finished our cheese (blue, by request and superb). Somewhere, probably on a Spanish or Italian cruise blog site somewhere, there will complaints about the noisy English on the Musica. We are actually English, Swiss and Dutch but we speak English at the table, when we are not laughing that is. The Swiss couple admitted that they requested not to be seated with fellow Swiss but with British for because they preferred "the British sense of humour". As I recall their tearful faces and their attempts to hold on to themselves in some vein attempt to stop their bodies from laughing, I believe they may have got what they bargained for.
One morning, we took the lift to deck 13 to investigate the buffet breakfast in Gli Archi. In particular, the ladies wanted to know what, if any, extra choices are available and I wanted to see how busy it was. I think this was 'the grass is always greener' syndrome on their part - yes there were baked beans, fried mushrooms, baked apples and pancakes at the buffet but not found on the L'Oleandro menu but there were no herrings or smoked salmon, no service of course and it was very busy. Even at 8 a.m., there were only two free tables - though we neglected to survey the aft 'Il Giardino' section which joins the buffet during the day. They convinced me to try a buffet breakfast one morning but it was at 7 when they first opened. At breakfast, I value peace more than baked apples and pancakes.
The Gli Archi, in common with the main dining rooms, spans the width of the ship and one side is the mirror image of the other. At peak times there are identical buffets in operation on both sides. It is a pleasant enough space with full-height outside windows running the full length and the buffet running in parallel on the inside. As this is deck 13, the views are impressive when in or near port. The seating area is at most two tables wide. As with the main dining rooms, most tables are for six, with the few tables for four and even fewer tables for two being highly-prized as, inevitably, any spare capacity at a table will be taken up later by uninvited others as Gli Archi crowds up.
At dinner, the buffet menu is identical to the main dining rooms except for the addition of fast food including pizzas, chips and burgers plus the 24-hours self-service coffee, tea and water station at the forward entrance. Drinks are waiter-served from the bar and we found this aspect faultless.
Compared to the main dining rooms, you get what you expect: self-service food, waiter-service drinks, scruffy crowds and plastic plates. It is not my idea of a quality dining experience but if you are hungry it should more than suffice. My advice would be to find a table to match your party size, ideally at a window in the day for the view, and not near to an operating part of the buffet due to the swarming crowds. At dinner, you can still dress up as you will mostly be looking at each other and this would improve your personal ambience.
My personal but considered view of the food is a little at odds with most of the people aboard I discussed food with on the ship and who have considerably more cruising experience than I. Their general consensus is that MSC food is below par. I believe it is not so straightforward and that there are two main factors coming into play.
1) There is excessive choice. MSC food is not an American, nor is it European. It is multi-cultural and MSC tries too hard to please everyone by offering a greater variety of dishes per meal than anyone would ever encounter in any shore-based restaurant in their own country and certainly more than on any American line. There are, day-in day-out, many items that any given person aboard would never order out of choice - if they knew what they were ordering.....
2) The printed menus are appalling. The names and descriptions of the dishes are sparse at very best but mostly totally misleading and some completely incorrect. As a result people think they have ordered one thing but something completely different arrives. The food consistently does not meet their expectations and they conclude that MSC food is poor. This is a translation issue not a food issue.
Airlines take the opposite approach. Upfront in business class there may be some choice but not too much. MSC should concentrate on fewer, quality dishes of which I have had many as good if not better than on Royal Caribbean and Cunard. However, unless one experiences and memorises the names of a large number of dishes aboard, we are choosing blind each time we order. If they took the crud away and improved the information and translations, we would be more impressed with MSC food.
After Valetta, the weather much improved. The sun was often out in a clear blue sky, the sea calm and there was much activity on deck: the walkers on the jogging track, fat ladies in the jacuzzis, fat men playing ping-pong, smokers on the tables by the bar and an increasing number of people laid out on the sun beds. All this was set to a soundtrack of nostalgic, international piped pop.
On a sea day activities were a little thin, e.g. a "Culinary demonstration: pacchero funghi porcino gorgonzola" followed by "Dance lesson: Bolero". I assumed the latter was the Torville and Dean routine where one tosses oneself on the floor at the end. There was also an "Afrodisiac cocktail demonstration". Coupled with the Bolero and new culinary skills, I could have acquired all the tools I need to 'pull'. I gave them a miss.
The Spa is a quiet and cool haven all the way forward on deck 13. It has a small and underused bar with just two tables and seating for just 10 plus half a dozen bar stools. Opposite the bar is the Aurea Spa reception and the whole bar area was used to display beauty products which, thankfully, I had no need of.
Forward of this area is the gym area with a collection of treadmills and cycling machines mostly occupied by people who appeared to have eaten too much. There was also a small collection of unoccupied weight machines and some free weights. Half the floor area was used for paid-for exercise classes. (The free exercise sessions were organised by the entertainment team either on deck or in the Tucano lounge). The most outstanding feature of this space however was the wall of glass facing forward over the ocean. You became immediately aware of the pitching of the ship and perhaps it is not the best place to be if you are prone to seasickness, unless you particularly want to be sick that is.
Aft of here outdoors was the madness of the Blue Marlin bar. All the tables were generally in permanent occupation. People sat playing cards, reading, drinking, people-watching but mostly they are talking, very loudly. They competed with the piped music system of the bar and whatever entertainment is taking place on the stage further aft which involved music of its own and often very enthusiastic animators. Not my scene.
There was always a generous multitude of live music in the evenings but during the day none at all. Royal Caribbean always has at least one live venue through the sea days even on their smallest ships. Cunard, of course, have their sorely-missed 'enrichment' lectures. I feel MSC could spread their musician talent around a little more effectively - but I enjoyed it all the same.
One day, I heard applause emanating from the Teatro La Scala. Quickly checking the Daily Programme, there was no event listed there so I popped to the entrance to have a look. The Maitre D was on stage with an audience of several dozen white-jacketed waiters. There was a slide on view entitled "Staff Training and Development - Body Language". That would have been infinitely more interesting that the daily talks there intended for guests. Sadly it was the final slide and the waiters were starting to leave.
However, I found the constant clashes of culture by far the best entertainment onboard. It is often hysterical. If you ever saw Peter Sellers in laughing fits in the outtakes of the lift scene from the Pink Panther film when somebody in the lift releases bodily wind, then you may have some sympathy with my condition. When I pressed the lift call button, I never knew what comedy the doors were going to open to, or take place once the doors were shut.
Often it was just a gaggle of short, fat, latino women chatting away apparently totally unaware that they were in a lift until the doors open. Then the doors would open and I was there. They had to rapidly finish off what they were saying and talk about me quietly, "Who's he?", "Where's he going", "Did he press a button?"' "Do you think he speaks Spanish?", "I think he is going to my floor!" or similar then naughty laughs. I kept a straight face and looked at my own reflection to encourage them to say more.
As often, I would encounter one of the above in the lift alone and lost but not for words. The occupier would already be talking as the lift doors opened. She would immediately direct her words at me asking a series of rapid-fire questions in a language I needed at least a few seconds to compose any sort of response, "Where is the
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Cabin review: MSC Musica
This was an outside 'partially obstructed view', category 5. I had the beds in my cabin seperated. To me this makes so much sense with an ocean view cabin and especially so with MSC as they tend to have one or two pull-down bunks on the wall either side of double bed arrangement interfering with the space above. Separated, one can walk all the way up to the window to look through it and the daylight shines over the floor instead of being on the the bedspread. My cabin immediately felt more spacious and light. Storage was mostly provided by the wardrobe at the entrance. This had four equal-sized doors the first two of which were the hanging space with life jackets stowed on the shelf above. The next door concealed shelves and the last a shelf, the safe with drawers beneath. The safe had the simplest operation I have ever come across. When it is unlocked you key in any number followed by enter and it locks. You have to key in the same (and enter) to open it. If I wished, I could have had a different code each time I used it! The downside to this simple operation, as I discovered, is the possibility of mis-keying when closing the safe. The safe is then locked with an unknown code. It was a simple matter to call reception and request someone to open it - but it was embarrassing all the same. The shower rooms were a little larger, as indeed were the cabins, than the equivalent grades on Royal Caribbean ships. Mixer taps and shower valves throughout the ship are made by Grohe. There was liquid soap on a push-dispenser at the wash basin and shampoo and shower gel in wall dispensers in the shower. There were no other toiletries other than tissues and toilet paper. There were two glass shelves and a small cupboard housing a bin but no other bathroom storage. I actually love modern cruise ship shower rooms as examples of optimum use of space and usability. Consequently they do tend to be near-identical. There was a hairdryer concealed in one of the two dressing table drawers. The flat screen TV is fixed above the minibar and received CNN and Euronews in English we lost reception mid-Atlantic. There was a wide range of other 'intelligent' functions' including the ability to order room service (at extra cost). These extra functions resided in another menu system which was poorly designed and responded very slowly so I didn't bother with it. Bedding was poly cotton sheets with woollen blankets and bedspreads removed and folded after the first night. The fold-down bunks featured their own ceiling-mounted individually switchable reading lights. My cabin service was perfect. I barely saw my cabin attendant. She introduced herself on the first evening back in Venice as "Joseph". I told her than is a man's name. She laughed and said "I know, it is my father's name". I am not quite sure from which country or delightful culture she originates or indeed whether I should have called her Miss Joseph or Mrs Joseph, rather than just Joseph. Either way, it was a memorable name and Joseph always serviced my cabin when I was at breakfast, which I attended as it opened at 7:30, and at dinner for which I usually left around 8. I found myself always returning to an immaculate cabin. The times since the introduction that I met her had been elsewhere by chance. I could not have asked for better cabin service other than perhaps Cunard's nightly chocolate left on the pillow.