We arrived in Fort Lauderdale the day prior to the cruise.
Stayed at the Hampton Inn - Plantation.
The hotel was great, very clean, good breakfast in the mornings and offers shuttle service to and from both the airport and cruise terminals.
We were part of a fairly large group of Cruise Critic members on this sailing, and the roll call on the forum board was amazing. It gave everyone a chance to get to know a bit about each other before the sailing.
Embarkation - the smoothest, fastest embarkation I have seen.
MSC really seems to have this under control. We arrived at the terminal around 11:15 and were on the ship about 45 minutes after we arrived.
We headed up to the buffet and grabbed a burger. The burgers were cooked well that day but seemed a bit undercooked when we tried them later in the week.
After a bite we headed down to the pursers counter to inquire about a beer package that MSC had told us just 3 days earlier would be available for purchase once we boarded.
We asked the person at the desk about the beer package and with out even blinking an eye she replied "beer is at bar".
Well we know that. What we are asking about is the discount package that MSC customer service had told us we could purchase at this desk on embarkation day.
She repeats "beer is at bar". Not getting anywhere with her, lets cross the floor to the bar. The fellow manning the bar was a whole lot more help, and did confirm that such a package exists but that they no longer sell them on board and it is only available by advance purchase. Another member of the bar staff came up and started to tell him that he was wrong and that the package we are looking for is available. They talked back and forth between themselves and then both came to the decision that it wasn't available after all.
Oh well - definitely not the end of the world. On shore customer service provides different info than the ship staff. I'm sure that is true for most cruise lines.
The bar prices are quite good compared to other cruises even with out a package deal.
Two 16 oz aluminum Bud's were setting us back $11.40 or so on Carnival, the same beers on MSC were only $7.40 and you could get 4 for 12 bucks in a ice bucket.
The Cabin - we had originally booked an inside guarantee but got a nice surprise a week or so before sailing when we were assigned a balcony cabin.
It was very nice, very clean.
The cabin had ample storage for 2 people, and the bed is high enough to stash your luggage under.
The only fault I could find with the cabin was the shower, actually the shower curtain.
The curtain would just attack you while showering, it would keep coming in and sticking and wrapping itself around you.
Here are couple of little tricks I came up with that really helped.
First - there is a round vent in the ceiling of the shower. It can be closed a bit by turning it. That cuts back some of the airflow and seemed to reduce the amount that the curtain sucked in on you. Just remember to spin it open again when done to ventilate the steam out of the washroom.
Second - I took one of the hangers in the closet that had clips on the bottom.
Just clip one at the bottom of the curtain to weigh it down a bit.
No more grabby shower curtain.
Our luggage showed up around 2 pm . We had all of our unpacking done around 2:30 or so. That was nice to get out of the way.
After unpacking we stuck our Cruise Critic door sign on our cabin door and headed up on deck to grab a couple of those reasonably priced beers.
We wandered around and took a good look at the ship.
It was amazingly clean and well kept.
We headed to the Shaker Lounge for 4 o'clock to meet up with some of our fellow Cruise Critic members. The lifeboat drill was at 4:30 and our station was in one of the lounges. That was nice, not having to stand around in the sun wearing the vest.
Some guests were still boarding while the drill was being done, and if you miss the 4:30 drill they have one the next day for you.
Food - For the most part the food was very good. Usually hot enough and some pretty interesting items to choose from.
The room service choices were quite limited though.
The buffet lines were very busy and sometimes it was hard to find a seat.
The aft buffet areas seemed to be the fastest to get through, and for breakfast they offered the same items as the forward stations.
The biggest complaint I heard from fellow guests was about the hours that the buffets would operate. I noticed that most on one of the port days that required the use of a tender.
We ended up going ashore that day with out a bite.
We left the cabin too late to catch the breakfast buffet as it closed down at 10:30.
The lunch buffet didn't open until 12 noon.
On that day the last tender to shore left the ship at 1pm, and the last tender back to the ship was at 2:30.
If we waited until the lunch buffet not only would we have very little time ashore, but we risked not getting ashore at all.
We didn't want to miss the port or have only an hour ashore so we left the ship around 10:45.
We were pretty hungry (never been hungry on a cruise before) by the time we caught the tender back to the ship at 2:30.
What a scene at he buffet - as mentioned the last tender back was at 2:30 and they shut the lunch buffet at 3:30.
There were many folks grumbling about the evening buffet times as well.
Most days it shut down at 7:30: leaving only the pizza counter running until 9 pm.
The evening pizza is really, really good. It is definitely some of the best pizza I have ever had anywhere.
It is nothing like what is served during the lunch period.
If you cruise on this ship you have to try the evening pizza at least once.
After the pizza line closes at 9pm there is nothing else available until the wait staff serve finger foods in the lounges from 11 to 11:30.
Things like pastries and "fried surprises" (MSC's description not mine).
Shows and activities. - The shows in the main theatre were quite elaborate for a ship.
We saw a magician who was entertaining and had an act like I had never seen before.
Most of the other shows were musical in nature.
One thing that surprised us was that they do not allow guests to enter the theatre with any kind of beverage or food.
We were chased after and hauled out one night as we walked in with a drink. We were lectured that it is not permitted to have any food or drink in the theater. We could not go in until we either surrendered our beverage or finished consuming outside of the theatre.
That is not to say that drinks didn't make it into the theatre by several other people who managed to get by the sentries posted outside. We even saw folks walking in with the bucket of beer that they sold on ship.
The entertainment in the lounges was hit and miss. It seemed most nights had an audience participation game that had the guests running up to sit in a chair and answer the title of a song that was played. The most interesting part of this was watching people plowing into each other for the chance to win a MSC hat or something.
The bands in the lounges had a schedule that seemed to have them play for half and hour and then take a half hour off. This was not staggered by acts or location so every half hour there was no music being played in the lounges.
On the first night we went to watch "Ocean Band". They started playing on time, and were not bad, but after one song the guitarist started to retune his instrument. This went on for over 5 minutes when the keyboardist came over and took over the tuning task.
Five or so more minutes go by and the drummer leaves the stage and has a seat in the corner. Then the guitarist takes back his instrument, gives it a few strums and then joins the other 2 members sitting at a table in the corner. It was now break time and they never got back on stage while we were there. Clap, Clap, Clap - great set fellows.
One of the nice things I saw on MSC was how the entertainment staff would mingle with the guests during the evening. These are the same staff who do the deck games and help with the children's activities all day. They would go about the lounges during the evening and ask guests up to dance. You could tell that many of the guests really enjoyed that.
We did catch a few of the movies under the stars. On the last night they had 2 films scheduled that had been shown earlier in the week, Fools Gold and Express.
We had seen Fools Gold earlier in the week, but had missed the other movie.
On the last night we went up and got seats as Fools Gold was ending to wait for the other movie. After waiting about 20 minutes were once again shown Fools Gold - the same film that they just finished showing.
It was while on deck waiting for on of the movies that I witnessed an exchange between a young guest and one of the bar staff.
The young fellow looked to be about 15 years old, but it did appear that he had been drinking. He may have raided the mini bar in the cabin, who knows.
He approached the bar and ordered a Pina Colada. The bar keeper took his MSC card and rang the drink in and then served it to the young fellow. The youth took one sip and asked loudly if there was rum in it. The bar keeper said that no, there was no alcohol in the drink. The youth told him that he wanted rum in the drink.
The bar keeper then explained that the card he had would not allow him to serve or charge alcohol. He showed on the receipt that he did not charge for alcohol.
The young fellow then reached into his pockets and pulled out a few bills. He then tossed them on the bar and told the staff member to "do what you got to do to get some rum in it". The bar keeper just pushed the money back towards the kid, said sorry, and walked away. The youth took his rum free drink and walked off shaking his head.
On the last night there was a guest talent show held in the Shaker Lounge.
This involved adults, teens, pre-teens and young children.
The only problem with this event was the location.
It was held in one of the smoking lounges. This lounge did not even have a non smoking section. We asked about that and were told that there were other lounges available to us that were non smoking. We were aware that there were non-smoking lounges, but they still chose to hold an event for all ages and including all ages in the smoking lounge.
This event should have been held in the Savanah room which had very little happening in it at that time.
Debarkation - Getting off the ship on the last morning was not really too bad at all.
The only negative is that they want you out of your cabin at 7 am. This is a trade off for being able to get into it so early on your first day. The staff need time to do a complete change over for the next sailing guests. Most people I talked to would rather not have their cabin ready until 3:00 or 3:30 on embarkation day if it meant that they could have a couple more hours on the last day.
On the day of embarkation guests are arriving over several hours.
Not every cabin has to be ready at 1:30.
On the last day they still make you leave your cabin by 7.
Would I sail MSC again ? - Sure I would.
The staff is very friendly, especially the Entertainment Team.
MSC is not always trying to sell you something.
The photographers are not always pestering people.
The bar service staff are not interrupting you every minute to push a drink.
The food (when available) was pretty good.
The ship is immaculate.
You are not constantly being subjected to announcements for bingo, inches of gold and art auctions.
The bar prices are reasonable.
Fresh fruit supplied in your cabin daily.
What would I like to see changed ?
Do not have an all ages activity a smoking lounge.
Allow guests to have a drink while watching shows in the theatre.
Extend the buffet hours.
A bit more variety in lounge music.
Don't kick us out of the cabin so early on the last day. Move the time it is available on the first day back.
If you haven't tried MSC you should.
The experience was different than other cruise we have done, but some of the difference is very nice.