I am just going to give an overview of my recent 10 day Caribbean sailing on the MSC Lirica. For those who might be interested in more day to day detail, I wrote a live daily review, and you can view it here: http://www.boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=941026
First to give credit where it is due, the ship is maintained beautifully, and there was no hint that she is six years old, although the basic design is older than that, and from the wheelchair accessibility angle, definitely a generation (or two) behind current cruise ships. Every threshold is square, and most quite tall, making any navigation around the ship painful. Doors in several areas, and the elevators, are barely wide enough for a wheelchair, and as a result, after only 10 days the rims on my brothers chair are dinged up badly, and the wheels are actually loose, and need maintenance (it is a nearly new chair). Likewise, debarking the ship (from a separate but equal ramp down one deck from where the More
able bodied have a staircase)in most ports required 4 steps at the end of the ramp, which is just silly, because 4 steps or a hundred is no different if you can't negotiate even one. And apparently no one in this 400 ship company is aware that the problem is solved with A LONGER RAMP! It's not rocket science, but it is pretty simple physics. So, no matter what this line and ship have to recommend it, if you are disabled STAY AWAY!!!
Also, the front line staff (stewards, dining room and bar staff, etc), as with most lines are some pretty great, hard working, eager to please folks. There is, though, a palpable tension between the front liner's and the supervisors, who are uniformly haughty and arrogant, both with passengers and with the staff they supervise. One "for instance" - the gentleman assigned to assist wheelies and slow-walkers, etc, off the ship, a great guy from Montenegro whose name I will not even try to spell was GREAT!!! He was friendly, never seemed to mind the extra work his employer was putting him up to, etc. The boss man at the top of the gangplank was a different story. After making a comment about how silly it was to have steps at the end of the ramp, he replied to me in his best practiced sneer "Don't worry, we are professionals!", to which I could not help but reply "Maybe you should go to work for Carnival or something, so you would know what that means".
When the whole San Juan snafu came to light (an entire day was cut from our Port Call, and nearly everyone on the boat, including many who had verified the times with MSC prior to sailing), EVERY person above receptionist that we spoke to refused to give any explanation other than to blame the Florida office for being stupid.
Now, as far as the food, I actually found it quite good, in most cases...the meats I was served were tender and tasty, with the exception of one lamb dish that was a bit overcooked, and that is just my preference for the medium rare, as well done lamb just get's that "mutton" taste that I don't like, but some people (including the chef apparently) do. The pastas were good, and the risottos excellent. Fresh fruits and vegetables were plentiful and varied. I personally love a traditional English breakfast, and the buffet every morning had grilled tomatoes, mushrooms and beans. They did not have English bacon, but the sausage and ham were fine.
One exception on the food was the room service. Twice I ordered, once an MSC Club sandwich that was just weird. Limp bacon, a slice of turkey or chicken, and sliced hard boiled egg, slathered with so much mayo the whole middle just slid out upon biting. The other was a chicken ceasar salad which was limp and over-dressing'd, unlike every salad I had in the dining room or the buffet.
The entertainment was, overall, good. One trio (harp, guitar and bongo) "Los Paraguayos" was all over the place, and I sought them out every chance I got. Those South American rhythms just speak to me. The main lounge featured some decent singing and dancing, a pretty good juggler, and average magician, and some really excellent acrobatic cirque-type acts. And the entertainment crew, conducting goofy games on deck and such were really delightful young people who seemed to enjoy their jobs. Stefano was also good, but he billed himself as "guitaround the world" and then played nothing but Frank Sinatra tunes. Not bad music, just not what I would call "around the world".
The casino was adequate for the size of the ship, never empty, but never TOO crowded. The dealers were, like the entertainment crew, really fun. Paula, Maria, Maria and Roberto from Italy, Mirela from Romania, Carely from Peru, Carlos from Costa Rica and Christo from Bulgaria all did a fine job. And I told each of them I would mention them in the review if they would just give me a 32 on the Roulette wheel. To each of you: Grazie, Multemetz (sp), Gracias, and Blagodaria.
Which brings me to the best part of the cruise for me: I met people, over ten days (not including crew, which is always pretty international) from Canada, Mexico, England, Scotland, Holland, Denmark, Germany, France, Italy, Portugal, Argentina, Vietnam, China and Australia. The mix of passenger nationalities was quite a bit more than most cruises I have been on, and the languages I heard, just walking thru the dining room was a lot of fun. My best companions by the end of the cruise was the roulette playing bunch that consisted of an English lad with CP, two newlyweds from Australia, a very tall and very friendly German, and a very short and grumpy Frenchman (he was actually a nice guy, but didn't like all our fun interfering with his serious gambling)
So, after all this good stuff, what could they do to mess it up? Well, let's see - how about the second largest shipping company in the world acting like it can't read a port schedule? Seriously, name a port and a date, and in ten minutes I will tell you every ship that will be in that port. But MSC tried to act completely surprised that we had to go to Pier 34 to debark, rather than Pier 4 where we started. For those of you who aren't familiar with Port Everglades, Pier 34 is a container cargo dock a mile or more away from the cruise ship terminal. Now, the Lirica being the smallest of 10 cruise ships scheduled in to Ft. Lauderdale that day, no big surprise. And you would think people who can move their 1,500,000 containers around the globe, could get 1500 people a mile or two. But no, debarking was a complete disaster, and they, again spent more time blaming others than trying to fix it. And the bottom line for me was that they did not have a shuttle with a wheelchair lift to get us to the cruise terminal, and they would not let Yellow Cab come to the Cargo area to pick up passengers, so I was finally forced to bribe one of their airport shuttle operators to take us to our hotel. That is $70 I am determined to get back, one way or another. Again, people with disabilities, beware - MSC has no desire to deal with you...period.
So, bottom line: Did I have a good trip? Yes, but only because I insist on it, and did it in spite of, rather than because of MSC Cruise Line. Would I do it again? NEVER. Between the poor design of the ship, the complete lies about the itineraries, and the total chaos of debarking, if MSC, today, offered me free cruises for life, I would pay to go on any other ship I have ever been on. Less