We were on the 1-15 March back to back cruise, and I've never been so glad to end a holiday. This was our third cruise, previously we had done the Med on Celebrity Summit, and the Caribbean on the P&O Ventura. There was no comparison. I had read all the reviews prior to the cruise and foolishly thought that those folk giving negative reviews were being a bit picky. No, they weren't!
Embarkation. Arriving in Miami, it didn't take us long to board - it was too early to access our cabin so we were told to go up to the buffet on deck 14.
Accommodation. Our balcony cabin on Deck 8 aft was lovely, we even had a bath! Curiously we only had one small comfy chair in the room, but in the photos (on the dreadful MSC website) it showed a small sofa or two easy chairs. We didn't bother complaining since we didn't plan on spending a lot of time in the cabin.
Food. The food quality in the buffet that first day should have been an early warning - I chose a plate of paella which was so disgusting I took a couple of mouthfuls and couldn't eat the rest. The buffet was so crowded it was difficult to get anything else so I didn't bother - we ended up calling it the "work canteen" which was quite apt.
When we booked we were asked if we wanted the first or second sitting at dinner - the first sitting was supposed to be at 5.30 which was a bit too early so we opted for the second sitting at 7.30 and asked to be part of a table of 8. We then discovered that the second sitting was in fact at 8.30 which was far too late and were told that, due to the first sitting being fully booked with the Holistic Holiday vegan crowd, we couldn't change. Oh well, we found our table of 6 (yes, they hadn't even got that right). Our dining companions, however, were great and we had a good laugh. The food, which was repeated the second week, was pretty dire and some of it was so salty I found it difficult to eat (normally I love salty, savoury food but it was too much even for me). Very disappointing - I think I ended up ordering the grilled salmon most nights as it was the most palatable thing on the menu. We got on so well with our dining companions we decided not to change sittings for the second week. At lunchtimes, I tended just to have a couple of slices of pizza from the buffet as that was the only decent choice which wasn't luke-warm or tasteless.
Staff. Our wee cabin steward, Mohamad, was very helpful and friendly over the two weeks, as were most of the waiters, bar staff etc even though you could tell they were tired and overworked. The more senior staff (Italian for the most part) could be quite arrogant and unhelpful (especially the fat man who seemed to be in charge of the towel boys, he was just a bully).
First week. The first sea day we headed up to the deck 15 Garden Pool area to find it had been taken over by the vegan yoga people, totally preventing anyone from lying out in the sun for the first couple of hours. They proved to be a real nuisance that first week (however, the second week we wished we could have them back instead of the hordes of brats which infested the ship!). The vegans had their own food station at the buffet (good luck to them, it seemed to be a choice of brown slop, grey slop, white slop or broccoli!!). They walked round with their holistic healing bags and yoga mats under their arms - well, you've never seen such a bunch of scrawny, grey, unhealthy, not to mention self-righteous, folk in your life. I wanted to use the library one day but they were having a seminar in there. The library was supposed to be open at 3, I went up at ten past, then again at 4 but they were still there listening to some psycho-babble nonsense. Gullible lot. I did complain at reception that there were some facilities we were unable to use due to the nutjobs taking over. The girl at reception said that a lot of people had complained about them.
It was quite difficult that first week getting a sunbed, so we tended to go up about 8.30, get a couple of beds and take it in turns to go for breakfast. Despite notices saying that diapers (nappies to us British folk) were not allowed in any pool at any time, there were loads of parents dunking their tiny tots in the pools - how unhygienic can you get - dirty people? Needless to say, neither of us ventured into the pools - mind you, it was standing room only most of the time. By the time the second week arrived, the ship was invaded by families - there were screaming, badly behaved kids everywhere! This made it even more difficult to find somewhere to lie and sunbathe on a sea day. We discovered Deck 18, which was for over 18s only and paid for a rattan chair on two occasions ($30 a day). Beware if you do this - make sure you turn up early, because each time we were there, they had double booked some of the beds and people were getting justifiably annoyed. It was really nice and peaceful, if you ignored the loud "entertainment" at the main pool, with a small bar and staff bringing round free fruit kebabs and cold towels. The only thing that would have made it better would have been some toilets - if you needed to go to the loo, you had to go down a couple of decks. The fat officer who I mentioned earlier in the review actually man-handled my husband after he tried to come back up to Deck 18, since my husband didn't realise he had to show him the booking card, which he'd left with me. The fat guy actually grabbed his arm and tried to pull him away from the stairs!
Excursions. Oh dear, where do I start? I notice that MSC say that they take no responsibility for the excursions, which I thought was contrary to EU contract law. We booked some excursions through their website before we went away. Our first was supposedly a panoramic tour of San Juan - oh great, we saw loads of hotels in San Juan, some picturesque tramps living rough, stopped at a ghastly marble building which was quite boring. I was in tears there when I saw some poor, skinny horses, covered in sores and callouses, pulling heavy tourist carriages through the traffic. How cruel! Our second stop was the fort, which we realised we could have walked to from the ship. Quite an interesting place and great viewpoint. We headed down to the small square in the town and had some drinks before boarding the bus again. The guide told us the bus was going to park up over the road and we could have a look at the square (again), but he didn't seem sure when we should be back at the ship (worrying since it was leaving at 4), so we told him we were just going to walk back to the ship ourselves.
We didn't book an excursion in St Maarten since we had been there before and just wanted to spend a day on the beach.
The trip in Jamaica was simply a trip round some seedy back streets in Falmouth and then the beach - again we were again made to feel very unsure of the correct return time to the ship. Quite stressful.
The ship did not stop at Great Stirrup Cay because the weather was wet and windy - it didn't stop there the second week either because it was slightly breezy. In this day and age you would think that the weather forecast would be available and they could have a Plan B and sail somewhere else. My husband remarked that it was saving them money by sailing very slowly to Miami. I quite believe it.
Our excursion in Grand Cayman was truly appalling! It was supposed to be a quick sightseeing tour, ending up at Tiki beach. First of all we were driven past numerous hotels with the driver reading out the names, just after we'd seen and read them for ourselves, yeah, thanks. Then he parked in a lay-by behind some shops and said we were there for 30 minutes! Thankfully, everyone got back on the bus after 15 and we headed to Hell. A red and black shack with some tacky souvenirs - we were told we would be here for an hour - doing what, exactly??!!! The whole bus was in an uproar - we assumed we would spend a short time at each place and get a couple of hours at the beach. We all kicked up such a fuss that the time was cut down to 15 minutes - we did have an MSC excursion rep with us but she was worse than useless. Next was a Rum Cake Factory. Now, I don't know about anyone else, but to me a factory is where they make stuff, not just another shack selling rum cake. Ho hum, off to the Turtle Farm which was quite interesting. I just wish the people who were told NOT to hold the baby turtles in one hand and to hold them over the water, NOT the concrete, had actually taken some notice of the guide. The poor baby turtles were obviously in distress being out of the water for so long and being handed from one person to the next. I was just dreading someone dropping and killing one! Off to the beach finally. We had seen some gorgeous sandy beaches but, unfortunately, this wasn't one of them, just very small, scruffy and crowded. There was a complementary cup of rum punch which had never been near a bottle of rum - it was just watered down tasteless fruit juice. The beach beds were broken, I had to try four before I got one which was fit to lie on without it collapsing. The sand was coarse and full of cigarette ends and other rubbish. The sea was dirty with weed and not very enticing to swim in. Again, we felt stressed about getting back to the ship because it wasn't made clear when we would be picked up.
When we got back to the ship, we tried to cancel our next excursion but were told that we could only do this if one of us was ill and we paid to get a medical certificate (mind you, the other person would still have had to take the trip). We showed our confirmation that said we could cancel but would have to pay a cancellation fee, only to be told this didn't apply. So we decided to bite the bullet and go, since our dining companions were going too. Thankfully, the trip on Cozumel was the best of the lot, with a professional guide (not just the driver), a proper coach and an assurance we would be back to the ship on time.
Our second week was definitely spoiled by the amount of naughty kids on the ship - bad enough during the day but even at 9 or 10 at night, they were running riot in the bars. Not very pleasant when you're all dressed up, attempting to have an adult conversation while sipping cocktails surrounded by screaming brats.
The shows were repeated the second week. We were impressed by the contortionists, acrobats, dancers etc but the shows just seemed to be these acts dressed up and performing against a theme - Wonderland, Witches of Paris, Pirates - with no particular connection, so a bit boring. Thankfully quite short though. The Michael Jackson impersonator was good but why they had the other singer doing Michael's songs in a more operatic style, I just don't know. We didn't bother with the Frank Sinatra night since it was the same singer and I think Sinatra songs need to be done in his own style. The duelling pianos men were diabolical - like the worst karaoke you've ever had the misfortune of hearing. We thought it was a joke at first and they were supposed to be crap! But no, they actually seemed to think they were entertaining. Think again lads! I wouldn't have paid them in Monopoly money.
The disembarkation was the last straw - a total shambles. Really MSC couldn't organise the proverbial piss-up in a brewery! We had completed the documentation for self assist disembarkation but lo and behold, we received luggage tickets in our cabin for the normal luggage collection. So we went to reception and changed it for the correct option. We were told to vacate the cabin by 7 am and meet in the Piazzo del Doge coffee shop. We sat there with our luggage among loads of other people for about 30 minutes. After a while everybody started to get up and stand in lines at the door (didn't hear any announcement, think someone just got fed up and everyone else followed). We all stood there, complete with large cases, for about an hour. During the time, there were no announcements, no information, just nothing! There were people with yellow tagged luggage pushing past us in the other direction going to who knows where. Finally, we managed to escape from the ship, it only took us a couple of hours!
The good things about the cruise. Well, the ship is gorgeous and beautifully clean, the staff are lovely (except for the more senior ones), the Allegrissimo drink package was terrific, I think we made a 100% profit on that (ha ha, we're Scottish, of course we did!). If anyone thinks I am being nitpicky about the cruise, I usually try to find positive things to say, check out my other reviews if you don't believe me. I was so stressed, I ended up getting Shingles when I arrived home and was very ill (hence the late review). Since you can only catch this from someone with chickenpox, I reckon I probably caught it from some child on the ship. My husband says he hasn't felt well since we got back either.
I feel even giving this review 2 stars is half a star too many. We will be travelling with P&O in future.