I have been on all the major mid-priced cruise lines for a total of nearly 40 cruises. I’ve never written a review here just because I always got the experience I was expecting and they never seemed overly special enough to write about. I booked a bargain 7 nights on the MSC Armonia because of the Canary Island itinerary and after reading reviews of the line and the ship itself, I had prepared myself for a less-than-average experience with the ports as the only highlights.
But both MSC and the Armonia impressed me at every turn. Check-in was very orderly and efficient, and from the moment I stepped onto the ship, every single staff and crew member I encountered was extremely friendly and wanting to please.
My balcony suite was large but basic. Nothing luxurious about it but very functional and well planned. I actually loved that the bed just had a top sheet and a thin blanket to use as covers as opposed to the luxurious duvet other lines provide that end up soaking you with sweat because you can never get the cabin cold enough to warrant their use. Temperature control worked flawlessly, I always had an abundance of hot water and pressure, and the walk-in closet and adjacent cabinetry had tons of storage space. I quickly got in the habit of lying on my little sofa in the late afternoon so I could look out the glass door to relax and eventually doze.
Dinners in the main dining room were admittedly, not especially inspired, but the service from my waiter and assistant waiter was top-notch, despite the seemingly large number of tables under their care. I always enjoyed everything I ate and always ate all of it. The all-inclusive alcohol package provided what I thought was a huge savings and I never had any trouble being promptly and happily served everywhere I ordered drinks, wine, specialty coffees and bottled water.
I found breakfast and lunch from the buffet to be rather typical cruise line fare. I’m more of a salad-and-slice-of-pizza-for-lunch kind of guy. The Armonia scored big points for both their wonderful assortment of items on their salad bar (so much more extensive than most ships I’ve been on) and the incredible pizza at the pizzeria.
Shore excursions (I took three) were always well organized and the staff seemed to take great care in seeing that the wide variety of nationalities on board were accommodated with the appropriate tour guide for their respective language. There were very few English-speaking passengers on this sailing but I still had a wonderful time just immersing myself in the flurry of different languages and cultures around me.
I enjoyed some spa treatments that were actually very reasonable and very well executed, Not the usual sales pitch for products either. I used the fitness center daily and it was very well equipped with a good variety of cardio machines, strength training machines, and free weights. The spinning, yoga, and pilates classes I usually enjoy on cruises were not offered--perhaps because of the very port intensive itinerary.
Oddly enough, the Internet service on the Armonia was the best I have ever experienced at sea. The packages were relatively inexpensive, the service fast, and the login and logout screens on both my iPad and iPhone were very well designed and highly functional. The balcony suites have an Ethernet connection that you really have to hunt for. It’s inside the cabinet on which the TV sits. I had an Apple AirPort Express and created my own secured wireless network in my cabin. Internet service is only advertised as being available in the Internet cafe and wirelessly in specific public areas.
But the biggest surprise on the Armonia was the nightly production shows. Other than the final night, there was a production show each and every night. A very talented and (and for the size of the Armonia) large cast puts on spectacular shows that because they are heavy on dance and Cirque-type performances, appeal to an international audience. I see shows on Broadway often but every night on the Armonia, I marveled at the incredible costumes and talent I was treated to. Entertainment excellence! I have to say they were the most creative shows I’ve ever seen at sea.
My week on the Armonia ended with a quick and orderly disembarkation. And much sadness. It was one of the best overall cruise experiences I’ve had and I truly was made to feel at home on the very welcoming ship.