Cabin: Category 10, Balcony Stateroom, Mid-ship, Deck 11 The room was pleasant and spacious. Bed was king-sized. Full sized desk (with vanity type mirror.) Drawers on both sides of the desk. Small sofa. Mini-bar with LCD TV above. Ample closet space (2 closets side-by-side.) A third closet had floor to ceiling shelves plus the mini-safe. There were ample, shaped hangers available. Bathroom was typical cruise line except that the sink/vanity had cabinets and shelving below (nice touch.) Balcony had two chairs and a small table (man-made wicker.)
The TV had a very user friendly on-board system for messages, calendar of events, account checking, etc. Access is through a single button on the remote - no channel surfing to find it! If it is used as intended, it would be very nice on longer cruises.
There were no note pads or writing instruments in the desk. At evening turn down there are no chocolates on the pillow and no clever towel animals. Lacking a personal touch. Cabin attendant was very attentive and helpful.
Left telephone wake-up call that never happened.
The center elevator (closest to our room) does not go to deck 13 and there are no stairs at that point. Must go down hall to next elevator station to get to 13. Elevators are generally very slow and have a tendency to skip floors when going up/down for some reason.
Important note: Once inside your room, there is a little box on the wall near the bathroom door. You must insert your sea card into that box for the room lights to function. This also activates a small led light outside the room to alert your room steward that the room is occupied so that he/she will not disturb you. Nice touch!
Dining: Villa Borghesi Ristorante, Deck 5, Mid-Aft. Single level dining room, nicely divided into smaller eating areas of 6-8 tables. Attractive and warm in appearance. Quite noisy.
Each table had a waiter (shared with other tables.) There was not an assistant waiter. Service was slow. Had to request water (several times) and on last evening it only came at the end of the meal. Bread/rolls we never refreshed/offered again after original serving. Language was a problem and waiter did not understand "salad dressing on the side' at all. We were never asked if we wanted coffee at the end of the meal. Same evening our waiter disappeared and other waiters had to fill-in for him.
Food, overall, was mediocre at best. Rice was undercooked and crunchy. Steaks were not prepared as requested. Requested baked potato was brought to table many minutes after all hot foods had been delivered. Waldorf salad was a lettuce salad with one very small piece of apple smothered with a very unusual Thousand Island dressing. Vegetables were mushy. Some desserts were actually pretty good, but cakes were dry.
Never saw a head waiter.
La Piazzetta Cafeteria, Deck 13, Aft. The Cafeteria is very nice in appearance. There is a separate salad bar area (cereals and fruits in the am.) Two additional hot food lines (grill area), a desert area, and separate drink area. There is an attendant to pour your coffee. Ample seating both inside and outside. Tables at breakfast were set with silverware and napkins. Seating areas were quieter than the dining room. Lines were long and personnel would direct people to other areas to shorten lines even though what they wanted was where they were in the first place. Like the dining room, food was mediocre at best. Many empty pans were not promptly filled. At breakfast there was a sign alluding to the availability of eggs cooked to order - but no personnel available to perform that task.
Entertainment: Both nights the entertainment was provided by the ships' own entertainers that would have to be classified as very good to excellent. Those on the second night received a well-deserved and prolonged standing ovation. It was, without a doubt, the best cruise line provided entertainment that we have seen.
Although we expected one, a cruise director never did appear.
The Covent Garden Theater is very nice and has good sight lines overall with only a couple of pillars that only obstruct a very few seats. There is not any in-theater bar service before the shows.
Family & Children: We were two adults traveling so it is difficult to address this area. There is a separate pool area for children on deck 13; as well as a protected play area for younger kids.
Public Areas: Overall, the ship is absolutely beautiful. Decoration is tasteful and refined. Getting from one area to another is not difficult. A majority of the public areas, including outside on deck 7, like the cabins themselves, are non-smoking. There is limited smoking on deck 13. Purser's desk had more than its share of lines due to embarkation problems. Personnel behind the counter were not well versed in English and spent more time (at one point) arguing with each other in Italian than taking care of customers.
The reception area is very nice and had a very nice string quartet playing many times. Very pleasant and relaxing. There are several shops in the vicinity with a better than average selection. Resort/vacation type clothing was priced below what one would expect on a cruise line.
The lounges were all very nice, and most offered areas where you could easily have nice, quiet conversations. Entertainment was on par with most cruise lines. Bar service in the lounges was far superior to that available in the Casino area.
The Palm Beach Casino was nice even though small when compared to those on smaller ships. Beverage service (at the bar and on the floor) was extremely slow due to the apparent lack of personnel. Attendants to handle machine problems were difficult to find and slow to respond.
General announcements (minimal) throughout the public areas were difficult to hear and/or understand. There is a definite need for improvement here. Most announcements were made in English only.
Embarkation: Parking ($15 per day) is available only a 100 yards or so from the terminal building. In a nutshell, the embarkation was a nightmare. We had been told by MSC that embarkation could begin at 1PM and planned accordingly. At 13:15 we joined a very long line of people outside the terminal building (they were not letting people in yet.) Very quickly the line became a serpentine. About 14:15 they started to let people in (a few at a time.) By 15:15 we were in the building to join, yet another, serpentine line leading up to the TSA scanners. The line would move for a while, then stop for many minutes before resuming the minimum progress. Eventually we made it past the scanners only to be given a number for a seating area. Only after our number was called did our 'Web Express Check-In' take on any meaning. As a result we got to wait in a short serpentine line instead of a long one. Actual check-in went relatively smoothly except for the fact that they could not establish the on-board account due to computer problems.
By 16:30 we were in our room with our carry-on baggage. From there we proceeded to the purser's office to join another long line to establish the on-board account. While there we inquired about the SBC (ship board credit) for the fuel surcharge refund - something nobody knew anything about. (footnote: The SBC did show up on our final shipboard account prior to debarkation.)
The ship was scheduled to depart Port Everglades at 19:00. Actual departure due to the numerous problems did not take place until 20:30. Because of the delays, the mandatory muster drill was held the following morning at 08:30. Probably the shortest muster drill we have been through as most people were still sleeping and nobody bothered to get them up.
One plus on embarkation. Once on-board the ship, a cabin steward was there to take us (and our luggage) to our room. By luck-of-the-draw ours was the steward for our room. He was pleasant and helpful and made us feel right at home.
Exactly what went wrong here, I do not know. I heard a lot of stories and excuses (from MSC personnel and other passengers.) I strongly suspect that it was a combination of many things (ship being late, delayed debarkation of the transatlantic cruise, lack of trained MSC personnel, etc.) but standing for 4-5 hours in a line did little to give a "vacation" feel to the cruise.
Debarkation: I have always felt that you should learn from your mistakes; and truly felt that this would be the case for MSC on debarkation. We signed up for the 'self-debarkation' as we always do on all cruises. The notice said that we would receive a special luggage tag (never did) and debarkation would go by decks. We were told to be out of the room by 07:00.
Because it was a short, 2-night cruise, most people opted for 'self-debarkation' in hopes of getting off the ship quickly. We were in line shortly after 07:00. Consequently almost two thousand people and their bags crowded into the reception area; there were lines going in several directions. Nobody with MSC seemed to be directing things at all. Children were crying, and at one point 2 men almost got into a fist fight to gain position in line. Shouts for "Security" seemed to quiet them down. The nightmare of embarkation was replaying itself, only this time passengers couldn't wait to get off the ship. It left an unpleasant aftertaste that tainted the entire trip.
While waiting in line I spoke with several couples (first time cruisers) about their experience. Further, I went into detail explaining to them that this had not been a 'normal' embarkation/debarkation experience. I hated the idea that people would be turned off on cruising because of this experience - especially since the experience on most of the cruise had been positive.
All things come to an end; and ours finally did at 08:30 when the line to debark started to move. Once we exited the ship, everything went smoothly. We were in our car and en-route home by 09:00.
Comments: I would normally end a review with what has been said before this. In this case I think that there are a few more things that need to be said here.
It was apparent throughout the cruise that MSC had fewer people than they should have had to perform certain functions. It was also apparent that many of those that they did have should have been trained better than they were. Why was this? I do no know. Cost savings reductions? Possibly. The availability, or lack thereof, of qualified people. Maybe? I really don't know. But little things -like chocolate on the pillows -matter.
I only know that there is room for improvement in many areas. It is the job of a cruise line and its personnel to make people feel special; to pamper their passengers. That's why they are paying the money to cruise in the first place. MSC failed in many areas in this respect. I can only hope that MSC has learned from this cruise and that many things change and do improve.
I think that MSC really missed an opportunity here. Had they truly excelled on this simple 2 night cruise, they would have won a lot of followers. That did not happen and I think, I'm sorry to say, that they lost a lot of potential long time customers. Sorry MSC, I had hoped for more from you!
I spent a lot of time talking to people on the cruise about what they expected and what they were getting. Many of these people were first time cruisers and I only hope that I was able to get them to understand, and believe, that the bad experiences that they had endured were the exception and not the rule as far as cruising was concerned. I would like them to come back to cruising, if not MSC, at least another cruise line. Perhaps, later, they will give MSC another chance. They truly deserve it - they have a great ship but need to improve the service to make it a better product.
Will we sail MSC again? I cannot say at this point. We had said that if we liked this cruise we were going to book the 'Cruising to Music' cruise in late February. At this point, that is not going to happen. I have a hard-sell with my other half!