Poesia Xmas 2008
Embarkation in Genoa was the usual organized chaos we have come to expect from MSC. Our scheduled sailing time was 16.00, so we arrived at 15.00, having checked in on-line. With MSC Club priority boarding we expected to waltz straight on board. Hope springs eternal!
In fact we got our cruise cards right away, but were then given a boarding number and asked to go into a waiting room full of hundreds of passengers. No thanks. We went off for a drink in the bar in the terminal. Twice. We finally boarded at 16.15, having waited for ten minutes for security. Someone told me we eventually set sail at 18.00.
First impressions of the ship were as expected, with everything ship-shape as it should be on a six month old ship. She really is a magnificent vessel. The public rooms and staterooms are tastefully decorated, and everything is pristine. I witnessed officers and crew alike, constantly running their fingers over every flat surface in a hunt for the slightest speck of dust.
Our balcony stateroom on deck twelve aft was nicely furnished, with a reasonable size shower room, and very comfortable. Unfortunately it suffered from terribly unpleasant vibration at eighteen knots plus in a rough sea, gale force 8. Others reported vibration from their cabins in that same area. One phoned reception to complain and the Chief Housekeeper came to investigate. They should have sent the Naval Architect who designed the darned thing!
The Grappolo d'Oro is a nice bar with Italian snacks (chargeable)where they serve a good selection of quality Italian wines, that are not on the regular wine list. There is also a knowledgeable sommelier (the only one on the ship) to discuss our wine choices.
The passenger mix is predominantly German, with many Italians, Brits, a sprinkling of Yanks and then lots of other nationalities.
We travelled on her sister ship Musica a year ago and had a great time. Unfortunately, since then cost-cutting accountants appear to have taken over the helm, and examples of penny-pinching abound. There is a 4 Euros minimum internet charge, 4.40 Euros to log on to the GSM phone system, plus call charges on top. No tap water is served at table in the restaurant - you must pay through the nose for bottled.
The "speciality" restaurant (really just a section of the buffet with tablecloths on) has an 18 Euros supplemental charge, and guess what? - a supplement of 8 Euros on top of that if you want shrimp! 10-15 Euros to watch a year-old movie on your TV?
The orange "juice" served for breakfast appears to be the "nectar" type, i.e. 25% juice and 75% sugar water. You can buy freshly squeezed juice: nearly 4 Euros for a small glass. A photocopied city map from the tour office? 50c! A pizza in the evening? 7 Euros. A free daily newsletter with news and sports results from home? You must be joking!
At the Captain's Cocktail party, only the four drinks on the waiter's tray are available, and they wait till the room is half full before serving you any drink, so as to cut down on consumption. You can't even buy a drink whilst you are waiting, as the tills are not open.
But the nickel and diming is at its absolute worst in the buffet at lunch. The ice and hot and cold water machines are shuttered and padlocked like Fort Knox, in case you try to get a free glass, and there is a notice on the water dispenser warning "It is not permitted to fill your own bottle", for when the vault is unlocked during the breakfast buffet.
The food budget has been cut to the bone. On the first Gala night, thin slices of fillet of beef were the only steak option. The same on another Gala night. In fact all the steak choices were thin slices, rather than a whole steak. I have recently come off Oceania line where you could have a 32 oz Porterhouse every night, Cardiologist permitting! When lobster was served it was only half a tail from a small specimen. No smoked salmon is offered on the breakfast menu.
The buffet menu at breakfast and lunch appears virtually identical to the fare on offer in the restaurant. There is nowhere to eat from 2.30 until your dinner service in the main dining rooms, unless you pay. The buffet re-opens at night as a paid for pizzeria.
The food in general is very tasty, with excellent breads and patisserie. Do not expect gourmet cuisine or any prime cuts. One day the roast of the day in the buffet was meatloaf. Some of my tablemates had a problem with the temperature of the food as served, complaining "It's not hot enough." I asked for a bottle of Tabasco to be set on the table, and invited them to use that instead of sending the plate back
They have never had an orchestra on MSC in recent years, which means the theatre shows are performed to recorded music. Don't expect epic productions like on Celebrity or Cunard, but the entertainment is just about OK. The "Atlantis" show is well executed. We saw an excellent magician, Martin, and a superb shadow lamp exponent who produced the most amazing shadow characters with just his hands.
There is very little to do on sea-days or half days at sea if it's cold or raining, unless you fancy a multi-lingual quiz or bingo. There are amateurish ad-hoc "shows" performed by the cruise staff in various lounges. They are a bit of a laugh and help you while away the time whilst waiting for the next port of call!
There are umpteen TV channels with about four broadcasting news in English; Sky, CNN, CNBC, Russia Today, but otherwise, only pay TV films. We had poor weather most days, so no sunbathing. We longed to be able to watch the old re-runs of Lucy, Bonanza, Frasier, and The Beverly Hillbillies etc. that seem to be on a permanent loop on other lines.
Some of the Purser's staff seem to have a "no can do" attitude. There are something like twelve to fifteen red-clad girls on the front desk, some of whom seem to have been specially selected for their stupidity. Perhaps a brain with a flair for languages is balanced by a deficiency in the part of the brain that deals with common sense!
There is virtually no Concierge service available, as the whole set-up seems geared to selling you expensive ship's tours at 40-109 Euros a pop. A simple request to the front desk for a paper print out of a single page railway timetable from a specific website was met with every excuse why this was not possible, including: "You can see it in the Cyber Café" "There's no printer there" "You can get it on your laptop" "I don't have a printer" This proved an insurmountable task for the receptionist. I got the print-out myself in minutes from an internet café in third-world Egypt.
It took five visits to the accounts office to claim my 200 Euros on-board credit promised by my travel agent, and it eventually appeared in two instalments of 100 Euros, days apart.
In the wine bar, there are a number of flat screen TV's. I and one of the staff were watching cricket on one screen. A "Purser Cadet" appeared on the scene, demanded the remote control, and proceeded to change the TV to the ship's promotional channel showing exactly the same programming as the other TV's. Apparently, it's "impossible" to watch a sports channel, as all the screens must show the MSC propaganda videos simultaneously in perpetuity.
The wi-fi connection is patchy, slow and expensive, so we didn't bother after an initial attempt in the cyber café, as the cost was 25 Euros an hour. I had no signal in my stateroom, 12180.
We were surprised that the excellent cabin stewards seemed to know when we were home, because we were never disturbed by them barging in to "do" the room. I wondered if they had CCTV surveillance in their pantry, but it turns out when you put your key card in the slot to turn the cabin lights on, it also illuminates a little amber warning light above the door to show the room is occupied. Don't buck the system by leaving a business card in the slot when vacating the room, otherwise you'll wait all day to get your room serviced!
Some passengers had an issue with tipping, as all tips are pooled between the whole crew and around 40% goes to management, who are already on decent money paid in Euros with pensions and European-type employment contracts. The third world staff on ten month contracts who need the money, supporting extended families at home are thus short changed. Many of the bedroom stewards and cleaning staff come from Madagascar. MSC must have found they will work for less than Filipinos. However, if you go to the cash desk to remove the automatic tips, there is a notice: "Staff are not allowed to receive their tips directly in cash". You betcha! See if they turn down cash. They did not!
All in all, MSC provides a pleasant enough cruise experience, better than the Carnival and Costa ships we have travelled on. We enjoyed this voyage, which was very reasonably priced for a Christmas cruise. However, following the changes, MSC is not for us either.