Working and raising a family kept us from cruising for over thirty years. Finally retired, and we've already cruised twice this year, hopefully more to come!
Here's a comparison of the first two pleasure filled journeys, seen through our inexperienced eyes:
MSC Poesia -- January 19th from Fort Lauderdale, a seven night western Caribbean cruise. We invited along our ten amazing grandchildren plus, of course, their parents. True family joy surrounded by caring, gracious service. Pure fun for kids, sophisticated elegance for adults.
Celebrity Constellation -- May 5th from Miami, just wife Debbie and I, a 15 night transatlantic cruise to Amsterdam. Pampering for romantics, and we always felt special. We had booked this cruise before deciding on the MSC family vacation.
Of course traveling as a family on MSC Poesia in a cluster of nine lovely upgraded balcony cabins is quite different from a couple in one of Celebrity Constellation's comfortable, spacious, Sky Suites. By the way, cabins on both ships are intelligently designed and were immaculately clean. And cabin attendants were thorough, pleasant, and proactive. Two home runs!
Both voyages by far exceeded our expectations, and we will recommend both ships (and their companies) to personal friends. Clear to us: both organizations have strong, bright, and obsessively customer focused managements.
Our big surprise: how very few people we meet, even veteran cruisers, have heard of MSC Cruises. A shame because this company's product is solidly good and deserving of recognition, worthy as a first choice. On the other hand, pretty much everybody knows and strongly compliments Celebrity for consistently excellent product, evidently, a well earned reputation. We have the feeling that MSC think of themselves as the underdog, a smaller less known company, so they try even harder than the "big boys" to please and delight. Similarly, no sign that Celebrity is resting on laurels, focused efforts.
Decor -- both ships are creatively and stunningly decorated. MSC Poesia to us seemed to have a more cohesive, flowing sense of themes and colors, a feel that's both modern and welcoming, pleasant spaces. Celebrity Constellation is filled with evocative pieces of original art, many great conversation starters, add a sense of whimsy. At a guess, the overall decorating plan was assembled by a team of distinguished world class decorators, and each desired to contribute individuality.
Sanitation -- on both ships crew continually sanitized railings, proactively offered hand sanitizer, suggested (to say it mildly) hand washing.
Main Dining Room -- both have two fixed dinner seating. Poesia's dining room layout is more structured, serpentine hip walls create aisles for guests and wait staff to move about. The effect is cozy areas, a bit club room like, and one feels a tad more private. Constellation's dining room is towering high, magnificent, with a true "wow" evoking ceiling, plus elaborate formal staircase in center leading up to tables on a balcony circling above the main seating floor. There are no main area aisles, just lots of tables of varying sizes, scant wiggle room around each, but once seated, fully comfortable. A memorable space!
Service in both is gracious, attentive, accommodating. Soon servers on both ships greeted us by name. On the Poesia, likely because our ten grandchildren made us stand out, very special extra service was unobtrusively provided, and younger children received individual help ordering. My jaw dropped with delight realizing that the wait crew remembered not only each child's name but also what food each likes, having noted what was left on the plate the day before, and used that to guide ordering. We take our hats off to that kind of spontaneous customer service, so rare in today's streamlined world. Nothing lacked from Constellation's excellent service, we were personally very, very well cared for.
Food -- quality on both ships was excellent, as delicious as in most "fine" dining restaurant on land, but not quite "gourmet." My mind cannot grasp how so many thousand extremely varied (special requests encouraged) meals can be well prepared and served daily. Glad it's not my job to make that happen! In the main dining room, MSC's menu offered more international dishes (plus the US standbys). Some Italian dishes were jump out of your shoes tasty. Celebrity offers more "American" style choices. Likely each company is responding to the tastes if its own clientele: MSC has many more nationalities aboard especially Western European; Celebrity has a predominantly American clientele. Portions in the dining room are larger on Celebrity than MSC. However on MSC many (like big eater me) ordered five courses and left very satisfied. Hard to imagine many except the most robust fully finishing just four courses on Celebrity. I could only eat a third of a perfectly cooked, actually melt in the mouth delicious, braised lamb shank main course on Celebrity. At home would have been doggie bagged for an additional dinner plus a lunch!
Both ships have cafeterias on the pool deck. MSC's is significantly larger, more selections, American and international. Quality at both ships' cafeterias is astonishing, fresh salads, carved meat, pastas, and so on. Celebrity has, at a more forward, separate location, a small healthy food cafeteria, Aqua Cafe, where we were delighted by fresh, often organic, food and tastes, breakfast and lunch, allowing us avoiding the temptation to over eat if "seduced" by the main buffets' almost sinful delights.
Specialty restaurants (extra charge) on Constellation (Tuscan Grill and Ocean Liners) are simply top excellent food and service, as good as the best available in most average sized cities, worth the added cost (about $40 per person), especially for the romantically inclined. At Ocean Liners select the goat cheese souffle as a starter. Wine list is world class.
We suspect MSC Poesia's specialty restaurants would also have also been delights, but the temptation was dampened by the thought of asking a fine dining venue for a tables for 23, including 10 children, with a few high chairs. As well behaved as our troops are, likely a considerate decision.
Tips -- per day, per person, tips are added on to the bill covering both the "hotel" and included dining service. MSC has a reduced rate for children, the youngest are free. Both ships automatically add in a 15 percent tip for extra charge beverages and food. Celebrity also ask for a voluntary "extra tip" over and above this automatic 15 percent, and in our opinion usually the quality of the service received warrants a bigger tip.
Smoking -- on both ships smoking is allowed at designated places on the pool decks. Appears more smoking allowed locations on Constellation. The very pretty Sunset Bar on Constellation's fantail overlooking the stern was way too smoky for us, although the Constellation does not lack for other delightful spots that are smoke free. Surprisingly, adjacent to the Constellation's healthy food Aqua Cafe there is a smoking area separated only by very wide automatic sliding doors, and strong cigarette smell wafts in with each door opening depending on wind direction.
Extra charge beverages -- bottled water is free on the Poesia (nice for shore excursions) but is costly on Constellation (tap water is quite good on both ships). Bar prices on both were reasonable, lower than normally found on land. Because we purchased a wine package on Poesia (12 bottles for a nicely discounted lump sum) have no feel for relative wine prices in main dining room of ship. Constellation's wine list is extensive, never outrageously priced, although no bargains.
Two pluses for MSC -- do it yourself self service gelato cone machines on pool deck, real hit with the kids. Laundry package, $25 lump sum covered our (grandma and grandpa) laundry for the week, not unlimited but conveniently sufficient.