I have decided to write this epistle, on a timely basis, so as to keep memories fresh and accurate. We have just disembarked from a 10 day Panama Cruise on MSC's Lirica Ship. This was our 6th cruise, but the 1st on MSC. We chose to sail with this line, as an alternative to the two other lines previously used, after a recommendation from our travel agency, that had taken a group onboard this ship last year. I am a fair critic, and not all comments are critical, as firstly I must remark that the ship was immaculate. Whoever is in charge of keeping the ship clean needs due praise, as they are doing an excellent job. I would easily state, it was the cleanest of the ships I have sailed on. As well, our cabin stewardess, and assistant were also diligent, and deserve just acknowledgement. Furthermore; I cannot thank our waiter, and assistant, enough, as we felt very fortunate to have landed in his group of tables, and believe me; this quality of service was not consistent by any means throughout the dining room. However; these are the positive comments, that are unfortunately overshadowed by the incomprehensible, disappointments and frustrations encountered on many other issues on that ship. We believe ourselves to be seasoned cruisers, and feel we have a good knowledge of expectations, that are by far, not unrealistic. Our experiences in many cases, for lack of description, were simply bizarre and most unacceptable, on any level from a service based vacation accommodation.
Food: Much of the complaint was food based or lack there of. To state the food was awful, is an absolute fact. After participating in discussion after discussion amongst dozens and dozens of fellow passengers, we did not succeed in finding anyone that remarked otherwise. It was absolutely tasteless, and always overcooked to the point it wasn't edible, in many cases. If you wanted a steak medium, you had to order it rare, otherwise you got well-done which meant so tough you could not chew it. The only night whereby a shrimp cocktail was offered, we were afraid to eat them, as they were warm. After conversing with others, they indicated they encountered the same thing. One would assume they had been left out of the coolers for an extended period of time, to have reached that temperature. We attempted to eat on Deck 11 buffet, and grill, only to find in many cases, the left over's from the previous days dining room menu. We were forced to eat dinner due to a late excursion one evening, and basically could not find anything worthy of eating. This enlightened us as to why we encountered the consistently packed Deck 5 Formal Dining Room, for 3 meals a day. Most other cruise lines passengers, seldom packed the dining rooms for Breakfast, and Lunch, as passengers chose the informal atmosphere, of the buffet for early, and mid-day meals, but on the Lirica, it was common practice, to see passengers, in pool attire, eating in the dining room, to avoid the substandard food on the pool deck. To have to set an alarm, particularly on Sea Days, in order to eat was absurd. Passengers should have the ability of sleeping late, but on the Lirica, if you weren't in that dining room by 9:15 a.m., you were out of luck until 12:00 p.m. The buffet breakfast, was only available some 30 minutes longer, and was always cold, if you chose an omelets/egg choice. If you wished toast with, you had to line up at another line to obtain it. The most bizarre, issue was the beverages. You could not obtain a cup of tea/coffee in the evenings, from any of the beverage stations. They blatantly, admittedly removed the cups, and refused to give passengers any upon their request. Sometimes, (not always) they set out plastic water cups at the beverage stations on Deck 11, but they melted if you tried to use them for tea or coffee. Dozens and dozens of passengers came and went each evening, in search of a simplistic cup of coffee or tea. We sat and used a table on Deck 11 numerous nights to play cards with friends, and observed the issue each evening. We eventually learned to take the plastic mugs during the day, place them in our cabins, to bring out and use at night. I had several conversations with senior officers on that deck, and was told they would not leave them out. One tried to say, that if they were unsupervised, they would be thrown overboard. This is a puzzling statement, as there is no open railing on Deck 11, one would have to carry the cup and climb to the open railing on Deck 12, mid ship, which seemed at best far fetched, and if that was the case, why would those same culprits not throw the disposable drinking cups overboard too. During the day, the same issue was encountered, if you wished so much as a glass of ice water. You could not obtain a glass, to drink from until the grill/pizza, or restaurant opened at noon. Upon returning from the beach day in the Dominican, at approx 10:30 a.m., all we wanted was a glass of ice water, and it took us at least 20 minutes to succeed in finally obtaining a throwaway plastic 6oz cup with ice water. This was beyond totally ridiculous. The assistant maitre d walked out of the door of the Deck 11 buffet and told me I couldn't go into the restaurant until 12:00 p.m. as it was closed. I explained I only wanted a drink of water. He said, well you can't get it in there. Other ships we've sailed on we often sat in the buffet area other then at meal times to use the small round tables to play cards at. We went to both grill/pizza areas there were no cups. We went down to Deck 5, the restaurant was of course closed, however; no-one was around to persuade to give us cups. We went back to Deck 11, and I demanded cups from the bar which was open, and the bartender gave me the throwaway cups. Now; before you condemn, our cabin staff, upon our return from the island, we stopped by our cabin, but the staff was in the midst of finishing making up our room. We told them not to worry, we would simply go elsewhere for the next half hour or so, as we had indicated to them just an hour before, that we did not expect to return from the island until after lunch and had changed our plans after tendering to the beach and found it to be not to our liking. The time restrictions of the formal dining room particularly on sea days were absurd. You open them at 6 - 6:30 a.m., and close at 9:30 a.m. After several conversations with wait staff, we learned it was absolutely empty most days until near 8:00 a.m. The buffet was similar with an extension to 10:00 a.m. This meant that late sleepers on sea days, could not obtain anything to eat until 12:00 p.m. as continental breakfast had to be ordered by 3:00 a.m. This implies one would have to plan to sleep in, in advance and plan a wake up time. Your waiters and dining room staff are burnt out, arriving at 5:30 a.m., with no time off during the day, as they were in attendance again, over the lunch hour, and of course until late into the evening until completed after 2nd seating. One several occasions we encountered totally botched orders due to lack of communication skills of the English language by your waiters, during Breakfast and Lunch in the dining room. This was brought to the attention of the Maitre'd by several different passengers, on several different occasions, and simply dismissed with an apology. My travel companion and myself were served a blood running hamburger in the dining room, and sent it back to the kitchen only to be told, with his apology, that the particular waiter did not know that ground beef could not be served anything but well done, without risk of contracting ecoli, as he was Hindu and did not eat beef. He had never been told during training, to watch out for rare hamburgers. This is totally unacceptable. I patiently explained to him the specific dangers of undercooked, chicken, turkey, pork and ground beef. We cruise to secure safe accommodation and food, while seeing these wonderful places all over the world. The food was totally utterly, substandard in comparison to your piers within the industry. I swear I was waiting all week for Richard Simmons to pop out from behind one of the pillars, and surprise us American Cruisers to learn we were on a diet cruise. At least that would explain why we all disembarked a few pounds lighter.
Formal Nights To have our formal nights/gala night on shore days is entirely absurd. Shore excursions often run over time, and infact in Panama we were told some 600 passengers did not get back to the ship until almost 6:00 p.m. (we were to have sailed at 4:00 p.m.). These people were forced to attend the dining room, in shorts exactly as they were without even an opportunity to freshen up after an entire day of travelling on shore. Never on any other ships we have sailed on, would a formal night be planned on a shore day. There were more then adequate sea days to accommodate 3 formal nights. This needs to be addressed.
Late Night Buffets If you are going to have these with the work involved, why on earth would they be set up where inclement weather ruined them. The Neapolitan buffet the food got rained on, and on the night of the grand buffet the wind was so strong, it literally blew the roll right off my plate. The weather was frigid, and the winds were gale force on the open deck. Yet behind the doors, was the comfort of the buffet restaurant. Note: We requested a cups to make tea at the grand buffet, and were once again told, no by senior staff, they would not bring out any cups.
Activities Never on any cruise line used, have we found ourselves board, until now. We were board out of our minds, on your ship, finding ourselves simply laying down in our cabin on most sea days. Your activity staff, is a far too tight group (we were told they are for the most part brothers sisters and cousins) with a very narrow mind of activity. I usually run from one activity to the next particularly on sea days. On your ship, we were lucky to find one thing to do each day. There was no basketball, volleyball, badminton, darts, scrabble tournament, card games, 2 or three trivia games per day, daily table tennis, etc etc. Most of the activities were limited to Deck 11, out in full sun, with all of the activity staff participating in any one thing, rather then offering several by dividing themselves up. Other ships use a multicultural group, whereby gaining a very diverse set of ideas from all over the world. This mirrors your passenger list, and succeeds in finding something for everyone to participate in. I got sick of observing the one activity staff member (clearly in love with himself,) groping any woman passenger who would tolerate him regardless of the activity he was participating in.
The Library/Card Room The location of this room in proximity to the Cabaret Lounge is not considered. Each night after the stage show, your activity staff held a loud obnoxious activity, which disturbed the packed room of card players. I understand many enjoyed these nights in the Lounge, but there most certainly are several lounges that can be chosen to host these activities, that would not disturb the adjoining Card Room. Passengers consistently opened a door directly from the lounge into the card room, to cut through to get to a washroom outside the library. This allowed a blast of smoke, and noise to enter the room, which was already an issue while the door was closed. We often could not get a seat in the card room, as many guests opted to play cards in the evening, in lieu of these lounge activities. That is why if the weather was suitable, we would play up on Deck 11 tucked into the corner in the grill area, where it was quiet, and smoke free.
Casino I understand you are limited to space in the Casino, however, there should be ½ of the room designated as non-smoking like other ships, or at least a few machines placed outside the room, for those who cannot tolerate the thick blue air to have an option to play. It was also a common daily complaint there were only 2 penny machines, with 2 couples who would hold them from approximately 3 hours prior to the casino opening,(I'm not kidding, they glued their butts to the seats, and sat 2 at a time on the stool, when they wished to change players, one slid off, as the other slid over) until the casino closed each evening, never ever allowing any other passenger to play on those machines.
Cruise Director Very bright young woman, speaks several languages, but has the personality of a plant. All other ships we have cruised on have very outgoing, personable, friendly, humorous, over the top cruise directors. They set the stage, for the energy level of the passengers, and this girl was far to stuck up to even speak to the passengers each time we encountered her on the ship.
We did not speak to one single passenger that implied they would ever return to this ship/line. The continuous verbal consensus of all onboard we spoke with, was never again. Would I recommend your cruise line to absolutely anyone? Absolutely not. Would we go on another MSC cruise? Never. I do not cruise, to sleep in a cabin all day for lack of activities, nor desire to have to remain on a stringent schedule in order to be able to eat. I do not wish to waste time and effort to search out a simple cup of tea or coffee, and have to continually argue with staff still not succeeding in obtaining a simple cup of coffee. I cruise to enjoy safe environment wonderfully decadent food choices, to have the choice to participate in as many activities as the day will hold, and wake up in a new place again and again.