This was our first time sailing MSC and we were very excited to try a NON-major line. Our embarkations started our cruise with a pleasant beginning as we basically whisked right through and were on board within minutes of entering the terminal. The ships beauty caught us right off and it was obvious that great detail had consistently been paid attention to. Every aspect of the ship was gleaming. After enjoying a delicious buffet lunch we headed to the dinning room to have our dinning assignment changed to the late seating. (MSC assigns your sinning on board and does not take request for dinning with your reservation. A little odd considering they inform you, you should make your arrangements with the maitre' d on ship? The maitre' D was extremely polite and promptly fulfilled our request for a table for 2 at late seating. However when we arrived for dinner we discovered that all of the tables for 2 were next to the waiters stations where you not only had to talk over the noise of plates, silverware and utensils clattering, you looked at the garbage from all of the other tables being scraped into a pile to be sent back to the galley. Not exactly the most appetizing of venues. Our wait staff were courteous and tried to serve the needs of all of the guests, however after a couple of nights it was clear that their training was not up to what we had come to expect from most of the major cruise lines. The little things were missing. (IE having to ask for drink refills; being served a half of whole lobster and the meat not removed; when they did refill our glasses as much went on the floor as in our glass; etc.) The class of cruising we felt had been lost until the last day of the cruise when we lunched in the upper dinning room. Here we noticed a completely different environment. The wait staff was not rushed. Drinking water was always filled and they even cleaned the breadcrumbs off the tables, as we became accustomed to on earlier cruises. This was the dinning experience we thought we would have enjoyed the entire cruise. In talking with several other guest later in the day and the next, we discovered they also had the same view and disappointment of this dinning room. Our dismay came from the fact that we had booked the best stateroom available and were placed in what we (and others) considered to be a training facility for our meals. While the food on board, in our opinion, was very good, their cakes were absolutely wonderful, we were disappointed that being an Italian cruise line we never enjoyed Calamari as an appetizer or Canolli's for dessert. There was octopus almost daily on the buffet (a couple of days served day-old) however the classic Italian specialties were missing. Actually I expected more real Italian cuisine then was served from a ship whose origin and lifeline is Italian. Our sinning room was extremely top heavy in personnel. There was the maitre d; 3 assistant maitre d's; and something like 10 Crew leaders. The crew leaders position, from what we were able to observe was to fulfill the Headwaiter position on other lines. However for the most part all we could witness was them running around getting numbers from the waiters and what appeared to be scolding the waiters and assistants for various things. There was as many heads was there was arms in our particular dinning room when it came to staff. Completely unnecessary.
There was excellent pizza everyday made in the traditional Napoli style from 12:00 until 8:30 PM. We enjoyed several visits here as everyday there was different type to sample or devour. On the other side of the ship was the grill which served up burgers (excellent I might add), dogs and chicken, pork, steak, or turkey depending on the day, along with fries and a salad bar. This easily provided a very satisfying lunch for the heartiest of eater. The grill also doubled in the AM for cooked to order eggs, omelets, pancakes and sometimes French toast. As well as freshly prepared bacon and sausage. Now to our stateroom: In a word, outside of our Holland deluxe verandah suite, this had to be the most spacious, well designed stateroom we have enjoyed. With a walk-in closet (my wife still talks about how much she "loved" it) to the multiple storage places. Every inch possible was used to make the room most comfortable. The balcony was normal size, thus not being larger than the smallest on the major cruise lines. It would have been nice to have the small "S" shape lounge chairs on the balcony instead of the typical outside chairs. However we made do just fine. (One thing that we missed was that room service did not offer the dinner menu for dinning on your balcony. We have traditionally enjoyed dinner one evening on our balcony with the serenity of the ocean passing under us and the peacefulness of the seas as the backdrop.) Our only real complaint about our balcony was our neighbors forward. This was a German couple who smoked and although there was an international sign for no smoking on the balconies they disregarded this and smoked every day on their balcony. The stench was more than we could bear as the wind forced it directly into our balcony. After bringing this to the attention of our cabin steward, the couple resorted to leaving their balcony door open and smoking just inside and blowing the smoke outside thus still preventing us from enjoying our balcony smoke-free. If the cruise lines are going to allow smokers to smoke in their cabins (I know they must) then they should assign them smoking cabins to the aft of the ships to prevent non-smokers from being forced to tolerate the abuse of second hand smoke occupying a previous smoker's cabin. The bathroom was wonderful with a tub and shower and plenty of amenities for hair, shower and lotion. The towels were a pleasant surprise as instead of a normal bath towel, we were graced with oversized bath sheets. At 6'2" I actually did not need another towel to dry after showering. Very nice!
Now for the most disappointing part of the cruise. Entertainment. First off, the Cruise Manager or Director Franco, seems like a likable enough man, however after about 30 seconds it appeared very obvious that he was at least 20 years passed his prime. His routine was the exact same every night and might be entertaining in Europe, however was laughable to most Americans. Despite the fact that with all of the technical advancements the world has made, MSC does not seem willing to make an effort to come up with another way of communicating with the guest other than doing every announcement in 5 languages. Power point could assist in this greatly and eliminate the repetition and dragging on that doing things 5 times incur. Franco's staff worked hard to try to entertain however Dr. Viagra or Mr. Lirica (which ever one he was on whatever day) was most exasperating. Extremely loud, obnoxious and actually annoying for the most part. Even to the point that one time to make sure I heard about an event taking place at 11:30 PM he actually yelled in my ear. I was just walking around ship when I encountered him and several other members of the staff cruising the ships public areas promoting this event, when he just jumped over to me and yelled in my ear. I did not go to the event.
The first night was a sign of what was to come as for the "Main Feature". Canned music and limited choreographed dance numbers. Stage productions without live musicians just do not add up to top quality entertainment. Night after night we saw basically the same dance routines applied to different sound tracks. When there was live vocals they were usually very good however without the presence of musicians it relegated their performance to just being Karaoke. This is a shame as the Tenor had a beautiful voice as did several of the lady performers. The variety shows presented were in my mind typical European Minstrel shows. These were good for what they were, however, again, 20+ years out of date.
The lounge acts used the same ladies from the stage shows to perform a variety of styles of music from Italian to European to Spanish to American and more. However they once again limited the use of musician and replaced them with computerized tracks. The Spanish trio was the only group that did not use a computer to perform and their music was very enjoyable. MSC just lost too much of the enjoyment of listening to live performers by eliminating the musicians. This opinion was resonated by numerous other guests as well.
The Cruise Staff were all basically European and basically performed according to the environment they were accustomed to. For the most part they were very engaging, friendly, polite and in a way enjoyable. Except for Dr. Viagra or Mr. Lirica, which ever he was that day. This person was loud, obnoxious, and just plain annoying. One time while enjoying a walk around ship I encountered him and a couple of other staff members roaming the public areas promoting an upcoming event when he just jumped over and yell the even in my ear. Of course this did nothing to improve my image of him. Prior to that point and even after this incident I had and still have not said anything to him or about him to anyone, thus I am confused why I was singled out for his little yelling stunt?
The biggest selling point of this particular MSC cruise is the fact that it departed on a Tuesday and we were either a day ahead or behind most every other ship in port. So we enjoyed all of the ports of call with only us or only one other vessel being in port. This was most enjoyable as the beaches were not crowded. The shops easy to visit and browse their products. And the merchants were not so pushy to sell you something as there was not numerous others waiting to buy. For this reason alone, we would sail with MSC over the other cruise lines as we enjoy the ports as much as the ship and this itinerary gave us ample time in all but 3 ports to enjoy the islands. Our itinerary included 2 days at sea, San Juan, St. Marten/Maarten, Grenada, Barbados, St. Lucia, Tortola/Virgin Gorda, Saman/Cayo Leventado D.R., and another day at sea. St. . Lucia, Tortola and Samana were the shortest ports of call with the ship leaving at 2:00 PM and 3:00 PM which only allowed for one excursion or activity. And these were usually fairly rushed. I personally would have preferred adding a day to the sailing and extend the length of time in each of these ports. They were all so beautiful and to have a very limited time in each was as disappointing as it was enjoyable. We only used MSC for 2 tours. We booked the Baths at Virgin Gorda due to the early departure and the uncertainty of being able to be back to Tortola in time to re-board the ship. We discovered that there are numerous water taxi's that you can take to Virgin Gorda and taxis there to take you to the Baths for less, however the worry of not catching the ship could make for a far less enjoyable time. The 4 X 4 off road excursion in St. Lucia was most enjoyable. The Tropical Garden visit was a surprise as it included a tour of a long time home island that is actually lived in by a modern family. The home is as eloquent as it is interesting being built some hundred plus years ago. After our time in this beautiful landscape we continued down the rugged terrain to what was an unforgettable, breathtaking adventure on a very secluded beach lined with gorgeous coconut palm trees and powdery white sand. Crystal clear water breaking yards out provided a refreshing reprieve from the world. With all of this beauty and serenity, it was most difficult to have to pack up after only being there for a short hour and 20 minutes. We could have spent the entire day just enjoying Mother Nature at her finest. (Side note, after reaching the beach, it became obvious that we spent too much time at the Tropical Gardens. A lot of the vegetation was also local to much of Florida. Thus more time at the beach would have been appreciated.)
In conclusion, we enjoyed our cruise on board the MSC Lirica very much. As stated earlier, we would sail with them again, basically because of the itinerary if it does not change, as well as the impeccable cleanliness of the ship. As for the dining experience, I would rate it as average because of the service and after a while the menu became routine. And for stateroom quality, the Lirica definitely gives meaning to the old clichE "You get what you pay for!" If you bought the $595 or $695 special for an inside stateroom, you receive what you paid for. If you bought the Balcony Suite, you received what you paid for.
Overall, I would rate this experience the following way Cabin 5 Stars Overall Ship Appearance 5 Stars Lunch Buffet 4 Stars Breakfast 3 Stars Dinner / Service 2 Stars Dinner/ Food Quality 3.5 Stars Entertainment / Stage 1 Star Entertainment / Lounge 2.5 Stars Entertainment / Misc 2 Stars Prices on Ship 3 Stars Overall Rating 3.1 Stars out of 5