I confess. I disliked immensely my previous cruise aboard an MSC ship. In the hopes of discovering that MSC in So Am has improved, I hopped aboard the Poesia since I was already in the departure port (Buenos Aires) and it was only a 3 night cruise with a single port layover in Punta del Este. Besides, I needed to go to Uruguay anyway so I booked the cruise at the last minute through the US office of MSC. I paid $756 for a balcony guarantee for solo occupancy.
Embarkation would have been quicker if the cruise terminal didn't lose electrical power during the process. That might not be MSC's fault, nor could MSC be blamed for a separate line for AR Immigrations after checking in with MSC. On none of my approx. 65 previous cruise check-ins do I recall having to form a separate Immigrations line apart from the cruise line check in line where the required docs were submitted and processed. However, after waiting in the passenger terminal for my number to be called so that I could get to an MSC check-in desk, then waiting in line at the check-in desk, then waiting in line at the Immigrations desk, I was not in the mood to be told by the ship's photographer that I had to wait in another line to be photographed. To his surprise and apparent dismay, I ignored him and proceeded to walk past the others waiting to be photographed. I boarded the bus taking passengers to the ship.
On the short ride to the gangway, I noticed that, despite my request when I booked for a large table at second seating dining, my cruise card did not indicate a dinner table seating assignment. Upon boarding the ship I found myself near the reception desk. When I asked about a dining room assignment I was told, albeit it apologetically, I had to go to the meeting room on deck 6 to get one. Despite it being no fault of my own (after unpacking) I was required to wait in another line for about 20 minutes to get a dinner table assignment. I figured nothing with MSC had changed. That turned out to be only partially true.
I made my way to my cabin. No one assisted me. My cabin was standard although smallish for a balcony (I would guess about 160 sq ft). The flat screen TV was small (about a 16 inch screen), too small for decent viewing from the bed. The pillows were horribly lumpy. I ran into my cabin attendant and asked if down pillows were available. I also asked for my ice bucket to be filled.
After a quick unpacking and waiting to get my MDR seating assignment, I set off to explore the ship. It is handsomely decorated. There are quite a few large lounges (5?), but only one specialty restaurant - a Japanese one with an ala carte menu that did not look worth trying. I didn't spend a lot of time in the lounges and I never saw them fully occupied. This was due in part to the fact that I retired relatively early and also because of the large contingent of kids aboard the ship (the kids sail free promo works well in So Am). From the little I got to observe of the lounge acts and theater stage shows, the entertainment provided was quite good. I caught part of 2 shows in the theater and the singing and dancing especially of the ship's company was fine. Good costumes and production values for the shows. The animation team were most visible at the pool organizing games and dance lessons.
The small library was open only a couple of hours each day. There were no English language, non-fiction books. Most all books in all languages were paperbacks that appeared to be left by former passengers. The dance company captain that manned the library when I was there confirmed as much. The tiny card room on this 3200 pax ship contained 6 tables. Apparently bridge games, if they did exist, were conducted somewhere else. TV programming was okay. They actually contained the So Am Fox or ESPN channel that broadcasts Monday night football.
The welcome aboard buffet lunch was poor. This was a harbinger of things to come. The food in the buffet and dining room was simply bad. If I had received this level of food in any Buenos Aires hole in the wall at any price, I would never revisit the place. An indication of the type of "cuisine" that was served was that at the first night's dinner, the sauce for the risotto was identical to the sauce served on the few slices of flank steak. The exact same sauce for both dishes. And both were bad. The food was unacceptably poor in all venues at all times. That was the salient feature of my cruise experience. I am not exaggerating. My Argentine table mates concurred. This is especially unacceptable for a line that touts dining as the premier event aboard an MSC cruise (as MSC does).
I attempted breakfast at the buffet on the first morning. I arrived as soon as it opened. The fried eggs were already cold. The bacon was fatty. The sausages of poor quality. The melon and papaya were very good, but there were no berries. The fruit juice was artificial and tasted worse than koolaid. I headed to the MDR. At least the smoked salmon was good. That and the cured ham that I had at a subsequent meal were really the only dishes that tasted good on the entire cruise.
At another breakfast in the MDR, my eggs Benedict came hard boiled. At one dinner "roast piglet" (cochinillo asado per the menu) turned out to be the very same baked pork carved at the lunch buffet earlier that afternoon. When I pointed this out to the maître 'd he conceded that "asado" was a misdescription, but attempted to correct me by noting that the buffet carving was lamb. As I departed a head waiter ran after me to further explain that, in fact, the buffet carving was roast beef. Whatever it was, it was identical to the non-asado served at dinner (pork).
As bad as the food was, the service by our dining room waiters was worse. It got to the point where I had to excuse myself from the table and seek out the maître d. He apologized and explained that our waiter had just boarded after a long flight from Indonesia although I fail to see how that would excuse his obvious lack of experience. He spoke practically no English or Spanish. Most orders were taken by pointing to the menu. He didn't appear to be observant when one of his patrons sought his attention. When asked to recommend a sweet wine, he suggested a heavy cabernet sauvignon. Orders were taken in haphazard order and the courses likewise served haphazardly so that some patrons had finished dessert before others had received a first course! I had never experienced this kind of MDR dining. In part this circus was due to the failure of the dining room mgmt to enforce the rules about arrival to the room on time. Inasmuch as this was So Am and dinner is served late, the first seating began at 8:15 (10:45 for the second seating) and the dining room doors were supposed to close at 8:30. Patrons at my table arrived as late as 9 and were seated. This detracted from a polite, shared dining experience. Combined with the bad food, it made dining totally unsatisfactory.
My cabin attendant was able to obtain one new pillow that, while not down or feathers, was a little better than that which was initially furnished. He neglected to refill my ice bucket the 2nd day of the cruise. When I attempted to speak with him about the location of a lounge, he was unable to properly engage, looking away as if not paying attention to me. I turned and walked away and didn't see him for the remainder of the cruise.
Disembarkation was swift as I was self assisted and first off. Buses brought us from the gangway back to the terminal. There was no custom process to speak off. We simply were directed to a line for passing street taxis which were hailed by a couple of locals who helped load the bags. This was an improvement over what my previous taxi mafia experience had been. The cabs operated on the meter, although my driver told me this was the procedure just for locals coming off a 3 day cruise. The cruise ships with longer itineraries and international passengers had a different lineup to get cabs, entrance to which was still controlled by the mob.