I have just returned from a 2 month overseas trip which was for business and pleasure combined where part of my trip was a cruise on the above mentioned ship MSC MUSICA which departed Venice on 2/11/08. I was meeting my parents and their friends for the cruise; all seasoned cruise travellers for what was to be my first luxury cruise and sadly my last with MSC Cruises.
Below is a summary of what I wrote to the cruiseline and felt this should be shared with other people thinking about MSC Musica for a cruise.
Embarkation: This was THE worst organization I have ever seen in my life.
I work in marketing and advertising and I can say that "first impressions" really do count and you only have one chance to get it right! I was expecting a smooth embarkation process where I was to arrive by canal boat from Venice's San Marco Piazza to the terminal, have my bags taken care of and easily board the ship. Sadly not so - we all had to join a long line to carry our cases to a baggage area in a warehouse. There was no formal line, no signage and no clear instructions from crew. It looked like a herd of elephants all barging towards a building which was loud, disorderly and to tell you the truth with 2 ships departing from the terminal it was a case of fingers crossed our bags in fact make it onto the right ship. Some of us were quite accustomed to queuing in an orderly manner, but not so many of the passengers arriving from countries where 'queue' does not seem to be in the vocabulary. This pushing and shoving and provocation were demeaning and not designed to get our cruise off to a harmonious start. But this 45 minute experience was nothing compared to what was to follow. As it was a Sunday in Venice, the tax refund office in Venice itself was closed and I assumed that there would be one at the terminal. I was told there was by an MSC Cruises representative and sent on what could be described as a "wild goose chase" to find it. I spent the best part of 1.5 hours trying to get a tax refund on some shopping I had done in Venice the day and night before my cruise. Only to learn that there is no such office at the terminal and no post box either where I could mail the forms off to the Tax Office for processing. I in fact had to wait till I got to Malta before I could mail the letter and to this date I have not received a tax refund on my credit card.
Embarkation commenced at noon, and when we got to the embarkation hall it was utter chaos. There was no attempt at crowd control or line-ups to the check-in desks - it was as if 3000 or so people had all turned up to buy half price tickets on the last cruise there ever was.
After talking with many passengers this apparently is the "norm" for MSC Cruise embarkation in Venice which is rather disappointing. This is certainly a serious issue for MSC Cruises and one which I would rather hope you address. Word of mouth is one of the strongest forms of communication and with the internet and blogging sites these days bad word of mouth can spread like wildfire. In fact, if MSC Cruises was to look at the many of the websites where travellers can critique their travel and cruise experiences, you would be rather shocked at the comments being made about your company and in particular this cruise. All the money spent on advertising by your company will never overcome the value of real life brand experiences by actual passengers who have experienced your cruises.
Eventually, by around 4.30pm we were on-board - disappointed, tired and weary from the rather awful experience we had just been through. Our luggage arrived at our room doors well after dinner so in fact we could not even change into some clean clothes before dinner. We decided to put this first impression behind us and look forward to setting sail on out 18 nights cruise through the Med and across the Atlantic to Brazil.
Service: Our first dinner service put a bad taste in our mouth so to speak for the rest of the cruise. Firstly, we were placed on the wrong dinner service seating which was eventually changed to the 6.30pm sitting in the Maxim's restaurant.
We were met by our Brazilian waiter called Clayton. He seemed nice enough however it was to be the worst experience of our lives in terms of wait staff. He was dripping with sweat all over the place, getting meals mixed up and delivering meals at different times to the guests at the table. We were still eating at 9pm and told to get out as the next seating was waiting to come in. The food as well was awful, tasteless, cold and very disappointing in every aspect.
After two nights of having this waiter we complained to the Supervisor and had our waiter changed to an Indonesian waiter called Duroman. He was so much better however it's a shame he was made to serve us the woeful food for the reminder of the cruise.
Overall the service on board was extremely poor. It seemed to be that the crew on board were not well trained, had too many language barriers and were never trained in customer service.
When I complained about the service I was either told:
-It's because MSC have employed 50% Brazilian crew -It's because Brazil makes us take 50% Brazilian crew and because it was all very last minute we did not have time to train them.
Quite often the usual response I would get from any of the staff I was complaining to was a wry smile, pretending to not understand me, a shrugging of the shoulders and then they would walk off. I was never apologized to, given an explanation nor felt that anyone was trying to help me. I wasn't the only one complaining. From day one of the cruise it was the hot topic of conversation for the entire cruise amongst all passengers about all their terrible excuses and the fact that their complaints were falling on deaf ears.
Of course there were one or two nice crew members who told me they did not like working on the Musica because of the mixed up and poorly trained crew.
Safety Drill: I was expecting this to be the very first exercise before even departing to sea. However it was not until day two of the cruise that a drill was activated. What would have happened had there been an emergency at sea on the very first night?
The safety drill was poorly executed and probably not in the way safety authorities would expect. We were made to put on life jackets and wait in lounge areas for announcements in 7 languages. I was not confident at all that in an emergency neither the crew nor the passengers would know exactly what to do and where to go. We were not even shown a lifeboat nor how to assembly and get to one which in my experience of water safety is illegal and rather uncomforting. I do hope Musica never has an emergency at sea as I would suspect the crew would just fend for themselves and many of the passengers would unfortunately have to jump ship literally!
Communication, Language Barriers & Announcements: Whilst I understand that there was a multitude of different nationalities amongst the passengers, I would have expected that most if not all could understand English. English is normally the first language spoken in announcements however in most cases on the Musica it was the last. There were several languages spoken in every announcement. In particular the safety drill with the lengthy announcements made this a very long and drawn out process. Perhaps different areas could have been set up where only one language was spoken. Many of the staff were not skilled in various languages either - in fact many could only speak Portuguese!
Food & Beverages: I have always heard that the highlight of any cruise is often the cuisine and the endless smorgasbords of fresh seafood, salads, fruits and the amazing ice sculptures and displays. Well this was definitely the opposite on Musica. I think the local slums in many of the ports prepared better food that what we were served half of the time.
Jugs of water were complimentary at dinner on Day 1 and thereafter it was to be paid for by the passengers. Apparently the ship's captain changed his mind and decided to charge the passengers for water after Day 1. I think this was because he knew none of the passengers were going to pay any gratuities after the bad experiences at embarkation and service on day 1 of the cruise. Paying for water, coffee and tea from what I have learnt is "not on" - many other passengers who were "cruise veterans" told me this was the first time they had been a ship which had done so.
In terms of the food, after the experience at dinner on day one I dreaded what food I was going to be served thereafter. The food was the worst food I have ever seen or tasted. Terrible quality, awful presentation, no flavor, too salty, lack of variety, served cold and the list goes on. Obviously there were one or two desserts which probably were acceptable but overall every meal I experienced in Maxim's restaurant was poor. Almost every dish was served on a sea of pulped tin tomatoes and every salad was limp browned iceberg lettuce with one olive and a slimy tomato wedge.
Every lunch-time in the cafeteria featured the same food trucked out every day which was mostly tasteless and not fresh and at breakfast they did not know how to boil and egg properly (one day I sent mine back 3 times) not cook toast... quite often it was cooked for 10 secs and served cold.
Being a cheese platter connoisseur I would often order these after dinner. In the beginning they were served with in the beginning a plastic wrapped packet of "Salada" biscuits which are NOT for cheese platters. After a few days they must have been in short supply as we were served two small "Salada" squares and mind you they were cracked and broken and nowhere near enough for the amount of cheese on the plate.
The only two experiences food-wise which were of high quality and what you would expect were the ice creams at the pool deck ice cream parlour and the Sushi Bar Restaurant food - both of which were not free and had to be paid for with extremely inflated prices.
Tours: The ship on Day 1 provided a list of tours for the various ports were visiting. The ship offered a special promotion of several tours, movies, laundry and discounts in the day spa - which I bought as it seemed to represent good value at the time.
My first land tour experience in Malta was poor. The ship herded us all into the theatre and spent an hour trying to sort out bus numbers and tours. It was so poorly organized and we wasted time just all sitting there waiting for them to sort things out. I thought perhaps this was just Day 1 jitters but in fact the process just got worse and worse with every tour.
I was then made to join a joint English and Spanish speaking tour. This was not what I was expecting. In a nutshell, the Guide we were allocated native tongue was Spanish and she was not so good at English. I do not speak Spanish however I can tell when the Spanish were getting their value for money in terms of being "guided on a tour" versus the English which was basic and uninformative. The tour was basic and there was too much free time given when in fact I could have just done my own walking tour of the city.
The next tour of Malaga was even worse. Again poor guide, not very inspiring landmarks and too much free time and the cultural dancing and tapas experience was anything but. The value of this tour was highly questionable. It was then I decided to see the Tour Desk on board and ask for the rest of my tours to be cancelled explaining my thoughts about the first 2 I had done. I was giving them several days notice to cancel the others and was told an explicit NO that I could not cancel and that it was the ship's policy. The ship's tour manager told me no one else had complained and that the tours seemed fine to her. Well, I can tell you that every single person on the English side of the tour was moaning and groaning about what a "rip off" the tours were.
I therefore had to complete the other tours and none of them met or exceeded my expectations.
I think MSC Cruises need to seriously reconsider their tour operators and revisit all of the on land tours in the particular ports on this cruise.
I also wish to advise that the Tour Manager on the ship was not helpful nor highly experienced in customer service - I did not feel she listened to me nor was willing to help me get a solution.
Ship Facilities: Overall I thought the ship was modern and adequate in terms of its rooms, facilities, layout and presence however probably a little dated in decor and all the brass fittings a terrible waste of time for the staff to polish. There were a few things though I must point out which either were a disappointment or require attention:
-No movie theatre. You are made to watch movies in the cabin and pay a premium to do so. Many of the movies were only available in foreign languages and there were loads of kid's movies yet only 20 children on board the cruise overall?
-The Day Spa is very over-priced and it seems the staff are all trained to just try and sell you products at hideously expensive prices. They really should be there to provide a top quality service and not be just doing sales pitches. In particular the nail technician on board was inexperienced and slow - it took 2 hours to do an infill whereas at home it takes 40 mins and she was really was not qualified to carry out this service for passengers.
-The gym was also way too small for the number of passengers on board. There were not enough machines and I was made to wait 10-15 mins to get on a machine most mornings and afternoons.
-The TV inside the cabin provided very limited entertainment. There was no reception at all whilst at sea for 5 days and no offer of free movies to watch whilst at sea either as compensation. Of the channels available, only two were English speaking and they were just repeating the same news stories over and over again. The ship owned about 4 channels including ship camera views which more often than not were out of focus, a ship's voyage channel which only showed a map, ship services which mainly plugged the Day Spa and a Video channel trying to get you to buy the cruise - why on earth would you want to? It was just embarrassing the woeful footage the videographer took.
-The Daily Ship News was so unprofessional it was a joke. A child could have prepared a better desktop published news bulletin. It was basically a sales pitch about sales in the shops and the Day Spa every day because obviously no was spending money in them. There was little information about the weather forecasts and ports and it was most often delivered around midnight when we were asleep so we never knew what time to be ready for tours etc till we woke up the next morning.
-Once we were sailing in warmer weather at sea for 5 days, all passengers were up on deck and it was way too crowded. The ship's decks cannot accommodate that many passengers all up on deck at the same time. There were days where I could not get a deck chair, could not get into the pool as it was way too overcrowded. Many of the deck chairs were set up and reserved by 7am and there were often no chairs or spaces left.
-The worst feature of the deck is the large video screen and the entertainment team who just take over the stage, microphones and screen. The screen does nothing but play adverts all day long and Bingo numbers. You try and relax on deck and you have Brazilians screaming into the microphone to play mindless, child games or play Bingo. They also play the same music over and over to the point where you are cringing. I was expecting the decks to have soft background music and various bands playing on deck during the day and not some kids trying to get us play kindergarten games.
-Inside the Musica the Reception and Accounting desks are positioned in a central area where they also play piano and have string quartets. Only problem is you have people seated in this are wanting entertainment and others lining up to make complaints and the guests wanting to listen to the music and angrily asking the other passengers dealing with reception and accounting staff to be quiet. I witnessed many arguments in this area as well as what could be described as almost a punch up between passengers.
-The shops are terrible and very overpriced. Not a lot of variety nor items you would want to purchase. A child's t-shirt I looked at was approximately $42 USD which is unbelievable! The photo gallery was also seriously over-priced and the photographers were rude and inexperienced and took poor quality shots.
-The theatre and the quality of entertainment was also disappointing. Enzo the Entertainment Director was painful to listen to and really had no role, he just liked the sound of his own voice. After 2 attempts at the shows I gave up and never returned. I would often get reports from other passengers that the quality of the shows was getting worse and worse as the cruise went on and that the shows were getting less attendance as the cruise progressed.
-You would think the ship would have organized presentations on the upcoming ports we were going to be visiting with helpful tips and ideas for all whether you were planning a tour or planning to go it alone and discover the city yourself... but nothing like this was on offer except a basic lesson in Portuguese!
-The only other activities on offer were bingo, t shirt painting, vegetable cutting and the likes of this which was not at all appealing to me and many of the passengers. Even the library was woeful. It really was a small locked cabinet of crappy used books which the ship's crew would open once a day for you to borrow books.
-My only real form of entertainment was the internet. This was so overpriced and on several occasions the computers did not work or were off line.
Gratuities: There was a ship policy that a gratuity was to be added to your overall account being some $6 USD per day per person. After 2 days I decided I was not paying any tips at all and that I would tip my cabin personnel myself directly (as they were the only crew that ensured personal service to me). I asked the Accounting Desk to remove them when I was told I could only do that the day prior to disembarking. Why? Were they hoping people would forget? The day before I departed I was made to wait in a very long line and there were loads of angry and disgruntled passengers complaining everywhere. The whole experience again was poor.
As you may gather, my experience was not at all what I had hoped it would be. I was fully expecting to have the "wow" factor in every aspect and have my expectations exceeded in terms of the service, food and entertainment especially however this obviously was not the case. Whilst the Musica experience has not dampened my thoughts on one day doing another cruise, it certainly has cemented the fact that any future cruises I book will not be with MSC Cruises.