My husband and I are in our late 20's-30's and we were celebrating our 3rd wedding anniversary. This was our second cruise, the first was a 4 day Bahama on Royal Caribbean. Although we don't have more than one cruise to compare this to, we enjoyed this cruise very much and did not notice the negatives that many others complained about regarding this line. Embarkation: Embarkation was very smooth, we waited in a line for about 10 minutes and then walked up the escalator to the ship where we had our picture taken and were promptly escorted to our suite by one of the white gloved wearing staff members. Stateroom: Our suite was well-appointed, cat 11 the highest category on MSC ships, equivocal to a mini-suite category on most other lines. I think it was approx 230 sq ft., The room had a large walk in closet with tons of drawer space and cabinets. I overpacked as I always do and still had enough room to put everything away and we had a place to store our big suitcases. There was a little vanity table when you walk in where fresh fruit like apples and kiwis were placed in a little bowl and re-filled as it was emptied. The bathroom was adequate with a somewhat narrow tub, good water pressure. The furniture in the room was a little worn, the balcony was covered and mostly private with a nice set of chairs & table for 2. We spent the first few mornings eating breakfast out there. The only complaint I had was with the bed. It was as hard as a rock and you could feel the springs. I called our stewards (there was 2 of them- Indra & Anita) and they placed several blankets underneath the sheets- they had no soft mattress pad like RC. This was not working for me so I requested several pillows and placed them lengthwise on my side of the bed and slept on top of them. I got used to it and it didn't ruin my cruise. The bed didn't bother my husband at all so I guess if your sensitive to that kind of thing you may want to consider it. Our room steward service was good, you just have to tell them what you need in the beginning of the cruise. They are more low key than RC but they come when you call them. I requested ice to be filled twice a day and water to be filled in a pitcher(which our room didn't have but others had in their rooms) There was a little bit of a language barrier between our wonderful steward Anita and I but after the 2nd day of getting a pitcher of ice water from room service, she started filling it for me twice a day with my ice. I drink a lot of water and that is really the only thing I am picky about (besides the bed) on a cruise. There was a mini bar in all rooms and that had bottles of italian mineral water for people who like that. As the cruise progressed, we became friendly with our stewards and overall, they did a great job. The balcony was washed down as needed and our towels were changed twice a day. I did here some of our neighbors shouting at Anita b/c she didn't bring him an extra box of tissues, these people work very hard and take unwarranted abuses from passengers. One more note on the rooms- there is a nice size safe in everyone of them.
There are suites on the 10th floor, which travel the length of the ship and on the 12 deck forward- just about 20 cabins which is where we were. Our floor was very quiet, we were on the top deck, outside forward to us was the sunning deck with the pool below, one floor below us forward was the gym and steam rooms/spa. On our floor aft, was the jogging track and the disco, below that the La Pergola open restaurant/bar and inside buffet. It was a great location but sometimes if you wanted to get across the ship late at night without having to take the elevator several floors down you had to walk outside across the deck which was very windy and damp on some nights. Above us was the sun deck and sometimes we would hear people jogging up there or chairs being pulled out (MSC puts all the deck chairs away around 7pm each night) but we loved our location.
The Ship/ public rooms/entertainment: The ship was beautiful, mirrors everywhere, marble tile, brass. The public rooms were great. They had lots of nice little bars. Towards the middle of the cruise, our favorite became the La Atmosphere Piano bar, in a central location on deck six, we would stop there before dinner and after dinner everynight. It had a piano where some nights Vitale,a great piano player would draw large crowds and a trio from Paraguay mostly playing spanish music would perform. The daily/nightly music was somewhat limited, a lot of italian songs, and light piano music, they had one female vocalist that sang in some of the lounges at night. The nightly shows were very European/Italian oriented, the cruise director was much older than I pictured and all announcements and some of the shows were spoken in 5 different languages. There was a large European passenger mix so I think it was needed. We attended only 2 of the shows- a magician that was very good and a classical piano show with an Italian tenor and Vitale on the piano. It was very good. We heard some complaints about the other shows from American passengers. The entertainment team consisted of maybe 5 Italian kids. There were very funny, got some of the older passengers to dance with them during the disco parties (which drew a crowd of maybe 20 people of different ages) The boys were kind of immature and would throw one of the girl entertainers in the pool during an event poolside. This was also a baseball cruise and during one of the free baseball trivia events, they were shouting at each other very loud in Italian and one of the boys was throwing a ball around at it hit me in the leg. After that, they would come up to me and talk in broken English at the pool bar and I was afraid they would try to throw me in the pool. They did do a good job of being silly during some of the events and always got the older passengers involved. One thing that I loved about this line was the daily "happy hour" drink specials. Drinks were priced at 7.98 but from 5-9 and 10-11pm in certain bars, all drinks inc. fancy cocktails and frozen drinks were 5.50- this inc. martinis,excluded beer/wine. In the La Atmosphere bar during 3 nights of the cruise, they had martini festival- martinis 5.50 till close and served hot canapes with them. Their bartender Alin from Romania was the best and made our cruise- Upon recommendations from one of the social directors, Piot, that we became friendly with I asked Alin to make me one of his own concoctions and it was fabulous. All drinks in the lounges were served with snacks and imported olives. We found the staff to be very friendly on this cruise- the reception desk women who also answered room service calls could be a little short and we heard that they wouldn't go out of their way to answer questions, but everyone else worked hard to please. Another thing I loved about this line is the steam room sauna area. Located in the spa and next to the gym, There was a relaxation room which overlooked the ocean forward and had mat-like lounge chairs- a very zen-like atmosphere. The only time we saw many people in it was when we were coming into a port or sailing away. The steam room was heavenly and hardly ever occupied. A sauna and steam room were available one for men and a separate area for women. It was totally free. The gym overlooked the ocean forward, had 3 treadmills which most people signed a sheet for each day with 30 min. time slots. However during non-busy hours you could usually grab a free one. Free weights, lots of machines. We didn't go during the busy morning hours but waited until the afternoons when most people were on the pool deck. There were early morning free soft gym classes, and a couple other pilate classes for an extra charge. Spa services were very pricey, even their port specials were too much for me to want to pay.
Dining: Every day, there was an afternoon tea. Most days it was on the pool deck and consisted of tea, coffee from the open buffet area and a table set up with little cookies and sandwiches. Days in port it was located in one of the lounges w/ Vitale at the piano and you were served tea with cookies. I came fifteen minutes before it was to be over and had to pretty much help myself to cookies at the bar and ask a server twice for some hot tea as they were in a hurry to clean up. Regarding the dining services on this ship, I think you have to ask for things more than you would on another cruise line and some things are done a little differently but if you are adaptable and do not need any certain food item on a daily basis or it will ruin your cruise, then it shouldn't bother you. We are very adaptable, open to trying new things and we always found something good to eat. Breakfast was served in the buffet, in the dining room, and outside the buffet in La Pergola, they had made to order eggs and a line w/ pancakes, meat etc. The eggs were great, the cook very efficient. The dining room breakfast was good, we never got cold food. They serve "hot milk" on this ship w/ your tea, coffee and cereal. Maybe it's an Italian thing? When I requested toast, I got small little melba toasts. I am very adaptable, so it didn't bother me. Room service breakfast consisted of croissants, brioches, yogurt, jams etc and was perfect for us when we didn't want a heavy breakfast. There is no lunch/dinner service in the rooms which was a little disappointing as we had the balcony and would have loved to have dinner out there. Room service is limited but has a soup of the day which is usually decent, a good cheese plate and an awesome brownie w/ ice cream sundae. It is quick and efficient. They had chocolate croissants which were to die for. Lunch in the buffet always had great pasta, lots of cold salads, grilled vegetables, a daily carving meat, usually pork. No mashed potatoes, lots of rice, healthy selections. More limited than other lines but I was thrilled with all the healthy selections. Very good pizza was available outside all day and the grill was open to 8 and had hamburgers, hotdogs, fries etc. It was also very good. I read in other reviews that the pizza was limited with no meat on it but i did see pepperoni & sausage at least 2 of the days. I heard that you can also have a whole pizza made to order. I often brought pizza back to my room for an afternoon snack on the balcony. Outside at La Pergola, a table was set up with a daily pasta special which varied w/ dishes like paella, pasta w/ oil & garlic, pasta puttenesca. I tried it twice and it was great. We had lunch in the dining room only once, you could choose to have up to 6 courses and we found at least several items that were great.
Evening dining room service was in 2 different dining rooms- we sat at a table for 8, noticed the smaller table for twos got quicker service but our waiters- Daddy and Joe were very efficient. No wine steward, your waiter does that. We noticed wine selections were limited and usually waited until after dinner to get a drink. Dinner consisted of 6 courses and featured selections from a different region of Italy each night. Some choices were excellent, others not so well-crafted. The breads were good. The cannelloni was the best I ever had, I had 3 steaks during the cruise and they were excellent- one came back too well-done, i sent it back and got what I asked for. The last formal night, we all had prime rib and lobster. The lobster was pretty decent. The waiters did not take it out of the shell for you and we had to ask for drawn butter but this did not ruin my night as it may have ruined others. My husband enjoyed the fish dishes and the chilled fruit soups. It was our anniversary and I called the cruiseline a head of time- my travel agent didn't do this- and reminded them it was our anniversary. We got a cake to our table the first night and it was a delicious cake- much more edible than the one we got from RC. They also sent us a dozen chocolate strawberries twice to our room. I was really impressed. On a side note- a couple we sat with who were celebrating their honeymoon did not call ahead of time and didn't get any recognition. It was mentioned to our waiters by others at our table and they still did not get a cake. On their website, MSC specifies that if you tell them you are celebrating an occasion after the cruise has started, you will have to pay for your cake.
Ports: We visited San Juan. St. Maarten, Grenada, Barbados, St. Lucia, Tortola BVI, Cayo Levantado DR. I will not go into detail about the ports since I think I've made this review long enough :) I will say thanks to all the tips I received on the message boards from Cruise critic, we did all excursions on our own and had a great time in every port. I bought the Caribbean 2007 edition of Frommers and followed a lot of their recommendations. I will post mini-reviews of the ports on the port of call boards. I noticed if you did book a cruiseline excursion, you met at a certain time in a specific lounge and usually someone from the staff accompanied the group to the excursion. It seemed pretty efficient but I can't comment anymore b/c we did our own thing.
Disembarkation was smooth, we were one of the last b/c we rented a car from the airport and took the rental car shuttlebus to the airport to drive back to WPB. We were off the ship by 9:30 am though. We had a delay b/c we left one of our bags at the port but the very nice shuttlebus driver drove my husband back to get it. Security gave us no problems. Our favorite thing about cruising is the people we meet. We became very friendly with some of the staff, enjoyed hanging out with some of the very few young couples that were on the ship. We met a lot of interesting people in the ports and learned a lot about the way other cultures live. One thing that stands out to me is in Old San Juan on the top of the hill near El Morro, there is a small neighborhood of dilapidated little shacks next to the gorgeous sea. From our vantage point we could see our big cruise ship in the distance. Most of the islands we went to were pretty poor and it made us feel blessed to live as we do in America. There were a lot of different cultures on this ship and I think you have to have an open mind to appreciate cultural differences. If you go with a mindset that the American way is the right way (seen something to this effect on a passenger's t-shirt) then this cruiseline probably isn't for you. Living in SOuth Florida I think we are pretty well-adapted to doing that. Overall, we loved this cruise and miss the Lirica already. We would sail again w/ MSC if the price was right but would sail with any cruiseline if the price and timing was right. If you have any questions, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll be happy to answer them.