We recently took a cruise with MSC Cruises to St Petersburg (Russia). We are a Dutch family with 2 children aged 14 and 17. We booked our cruise very early, in October, at a Dutch company called 'CruiseTravel'. In April we asked them to book excursions, but they refused. By that time I already contacted MSC Cruises the Netherlands a couple of times about these excursions. Because on CruiseCritic I read about sold out shore tours and especially for St. Petersburg we didn't want to take the risk. But after a while we did succeed to pre-book them. This all may appear irrelevant to you, but as first-timers we didn't know there is no need to do so.
To the port We travelled to the port of Amsterdam by train, the passenger terminal is very close to the main station of Amsterdam and car-parking is very very expensive (in front of the terminal is a car park price: 30 Euro/day) so this is the best way coming there. You just have to take the exit at the back of the station and after that it's a 15-minutes-walk, or you just take a taxi at the front-exit.
In the terminal everything was a bit strange. There were two Dutch girls to welcome us, but they didn't speak French and as there was a couple of French ladies before us, they asked us if we could tell them just to go upstairs! After that we had to re-tag our luggage because we should have used other tags! After that MSC 'appeared'. First we had to fill in a health-statement and while we did that someone was trying to sell us drink packages. We told him we would purchase them on board and but he tried to push a bit. Later on there were even more persons selling these things and they all seemed to be really angry when you refused. This made it very clear they did this based on a commission. I think it's a bad thing because this is where service meets commerce, and guest-satisfaction will decrease by these methods. However, the embarkation went very smoothly; it wasn't busy at all so there was no queue and at the desk everything went very quickly. Before we got on board a couple of pictures were taken. From train arrival till our first steps on board not even an hour had passed.
Cabin On board we were directly guided to our cabin by one of the men who were standing in a long row, I had seen this on pictures but I was surprised it really was there. We took a 4-person outside- cabin and that was located at deck 8. The cabin was actually quite big and we really liked it. On CruiseCritic I read about some people having complaints about the cabin's size, but we could only compare it with ferries we took. When you once have been on a ferry such as they have here in Europe, you may know what I mean, on top of that, there was much more storage space. The bathroom was also bigger, this one was designed for more than one person at a time and there were lots of amenities, which I really like. The shower was bigger than we were used to as well, you'll not have any problems with it when you are not really fat or extraordinary tall (over 1.90 or so). So, you really don't have to worry about this. Overall the cabin was stylish, and looked beautiful. There was a book, a really big one, in your cabin which told you everything about the life on board and lots of other things which you might want to know. Everyday we were presented with a small fruit basket filled with oranges, nectarines and lots of other fruit, there was always something for your taste. But we don't know why we received this, because 'the big book' said it was only at the day of embarkation, and on the internet I saw that receiving this every day was a MSC Club advantage. However, we liked it. The beds were nice and comfortable. From your bed you had a wonderful view over the ocean, you saw all kinds of ships passing, it really was beautiful. But when you go to the north you must know sunrise is very early, sometimes even at four o'clock. Our cabin was cleaned twice a day. Before our cruise we considered this as quite too much, but this really has advantages when you have bunk beds. Because when they are folded up there is more room left for you. The only comment we've got on the cleaning is that our cabin steward sometimes ignored the door sign which said 'no cleaning', so sometimes he cleaned everything but we didn't want it. As it was advised, we locked everything up in the safe. Finding the safe was quite difficult, because it was located behind the mirror but we didn't know it was a cupboard. The safe was big enough for camera's and small bags so we placed everything with value in it.
After this we started to explore the ship. At four there was a presentation in Dutch (unfortunately there was a Dutch hostess, however she was very friendly) about life on board. This didn't contain anything new, but others seemed to be very happy with it. After that there was a very very boring presentation about excursions. Let me put it like this; she was just telling you, not selling to you. And we made a first-timer mistake, being on the outside deck over the bridge, when we left the port with the horn making an incredible sound, very loud.
Ship The MSC Lirica is MSC Cruises' first new-built ship and debuted in 2003. The ship was built at the STX EUROPE YARDS in St Nazaire, France. A year later the MSC Opera debuted. With a tonnage of nearly 60,000 it's not quite a big ship, she can carry up to 2069 passengers and 700 crew members. Unlike other ships there are lots of inside cabins and the only cabins with a balcony are the suites. All standard cabins are 13 square meters and the suites 23. Below there is a deck- by- deck guide.
The first three decks must exist but you aren't allowed to go there. So I really don't know what's there.
Deck 4, the only public function of this deck is tender access, but was also used as another exit. And for the crew 'mainstreet' is located here.
Deck 5 There are so many things to do here, first of all the reception desk. This is the place for your questions and comments. The daily program also available here, in case you lost it or just want another copy. Clubs for the mini golf located at deck 13 are available here so it's quite a walk to use them. And for everyone without sea legs seasickness pills are here as well. And of course the reception desk is open 24 hours. Very near is the bank where you can exchange your money, but it was hardly open. The Lord Nelson pub is the one and only indoor smoking area, I believe most other places are non-smoking. There are also a couple of shops, like a perfume shop. A shop selling extremely expensive 'Columbian Emeralds', a watch shop, an alcohol and cigarettes shop and a general store selling boat souvenirs, clothes and some practical things. There also is a bar, and of course 'La Bussola' restaurant. In this restaurant the Maître d’hôtel is based. So if you want, as we did, to change your seating you must go here and hope there is a place available.
Deck 6 The Broadway Theatre, which can hold up to 700 people, is located here. The theatre looks very impressive and is well-styled. It's also possible to access the theatre by the Lord Nelson Pub which is located on deck 5. There are two bars on this deck. If you want to dance, the best place for you is 'Le Cabaret', which has a couple of chairs to rest and a little dance space. In the library you can play card games. And there are lots of book available in multiple languages. You can borrow books for your cruise, but please believe me there are so many things to do that you just haven't got the time to read much. The most busy place on this deck is the photo shop, it is not very big, but there are lots of people here looking for their pictures.
Deck 7 is mainly used for crew-cabins, there are also a couple of passenger cabins and the ships biggest lounge which is called 'The Lirica Lounge'.
Deck 8 is only used for passenger cabins, so there are 2 large corridors which cover the whole ship.
Deck 9 is also used for passenger cabins
Deck 10 The suites are located here and a couple of 'regular' cabins
Deck 11 Pool Deck, this is where the two pools are located. The pools are filled everyday with fresh water so it's very very cold, and it's salt. We found out that after a sunny day the pool in the front is a lot warmer than the other one. There are also two spa's or whirlpools, whatever you want to call them. Le bistro is the restaurant we used the most, here were buffets served and you have a wonderful ocean view. Outside there is 'La Pergola' this restaurant was opened for lunch from 12:00 to 19:00! It is split up in two sides with the funnel in between. One is called 'The Grill' and offers you hamburgers and fries. The other side is 'Giovanni's pizzeria' which of course offers pizza. And the health centre was located on this deck, with a fitness room and lots of beauty parlours.
Deck 12 This deck hosts a couple of suites. And the ships’ disco 'The Blue Club disco' but it is opened as a seating area for the rest of the time. Besides that there is a nice view on the ocean, so we used this one quite a lot.
Sport facilities There are a couple of sport facilities on board. First of all there is a fitness room, we used it a couple of times. There are various training instruments to improve your body. However, some could damage you if you don't know how to use them. It was big enough, everything worked well. Towels are available for you in the fitness room. For those who want to some thing less intensive they can go for a swim, however the pools are quite short for that purpose. Or they can play minigolf, which is nice to see. But the surface is in a horrible condition so any golfer wouldn't be happy with it. But as a game, it's fun. The brochure says there is a jogging track, and I took that very seriously as a place for runners. But that's not the truth, it's deck eleven's promenade. And lots of chairs are here. So on a sunny moment when everyone is on the outside-decks, you'd better not run there. But even when everyone is away, there are two small stairs in it! You can't run properly. For me that's quite annoying because I don't jog, I run a bit faster. However, I would advise against running on a sailing vessel, because of the winds.
Dining When we boarded we found out we were scheduled for the second seating, while we preferred the first one. We tried to change this but we were told there wasn't any table available. But we were put on a 'wish-list'. After dinner we returned to the Maitre d’hôtel, asking for a table situated more in the centre of the ship, to prevent seasickness. They were quite confused while they just had sent a letter to our cabin confirming a table in the first seating. But we had changed our mind about that. The first seating was at 18:15 and the second one at 20:30. But when you are able to have lunch till 7 PM, this is not a problem at all. And port-times were sometimes till 19:00 or even later, so having the second one is much more useful. The times varied sometimes. There where no alternative dining options, the only thing you could do was having 'Lunch' till seven. Food was good, not great. There were plenty of choices. And if you didn’t like the choices, you can always order fries and chicken or something similar. There were five courses, and for every course there were some options. However, you could order two desserts for example if you'd wish. Drinks were provided in cans, this may be standard in the whole industry, we didn't get why they were doing so because everything looks great and stylish except for those horrible cans. Our waiters were very very friendly, but busy. But after a short time, they knew what you would like for drink and you just had to confirm. Some nights were 'Gala nights' which meant everyone dressed up. For dinner it meant you had to order your desserts earlier and more special bread was provided. Some nights there was a buffet at midnight, the most special is the 'Buffet Magnifico'. There were lots of food, all different cakes. You can't imagine. And it was decorated with fruitcarves and there was an ice sculpture. Maybe there was a bit too much, it couldn't be eaten by all the people in the restaurant. We thought it was not only beautiful, but also a waste of food.
Activities We did not participate in most activities, which were mostly quizzes and very silly games, games so silly it made them funny. On the last night we did a dance contest (and unfortunately lost).
Service Service was great, really wonderful. Our waiters were very friendly, like I said. The most interesting was a crew member who was watching us when we were playing mini golf. He had to move some chairs but he stopped and almost laughed at us when we were playing. We didn't mind and thought it was a bit funny. The only moment I considered never to take a cruise again was when I saw so people cleaning handrails, over and over again. This really is never ending work, and they do this all day long. But even they, who have the right to complain in my opinion, were friendly to the guests.
Entertainment We didn't go to the shows every day. But our first show was not quite good. It consisted of a couple of songs which were sung by the entertainers. But I have to say the level was too low for a professional performance, their dance capacities were good. One night there were some Asian women who did things with their bodies you almost can't imagine. And there was a pickpocket who was incredibly good, you really started thinking whether the 'victims' weren't actors. After this show there was a performance by the 'entertainment team' which did most of the activities as well. They were really funny.
Ports and excursions Amsterdam, the terminal is really easy to find and close to the city centre. It really isn't necessary to book excursions because you can just walk to the city and explore it in your own way.
Bremerhaven, some people were really annoyed by the fact we were calling here. We didn't complain. The city was mostly rebuild after the second World War, so there are no old buildings. But there are plenty of museums to go. For example we went into an old U-boot, a submarine, and visited the church. On top of that you can go shopping, visit the zoo, or have a look at all different vessels. Getting to the city centre is more difficult. MSC offered a shuttle bus, but we took the small ferry located in front of the terminal. Costs: 1 euro per person. After that it was about a 20-minute walk to the centre.
Göteborg. The ship was located near a container terminal far away from the city centre. MSC arranged shuttle busses for 12 euros per person. There were also some government bus stops somewhere in the neighbourhood, but we didn't try that. In the port we were welcomed by a small orchestra and some information about the city was provided. But unfortunately, there were not enough busses by far. After waiting for over an hour we went back into the ship, while we hadn't seen the city. The most difficult was to get the money back, but after asking for it and waiting, it was removed from our bill on the last day. We were waved good-bye by a local youth band.
Tallin was a very big surprise. It has a small old-centre with lots of buildings from the Middle ages. It's like you go back into history. It was really wonderful. The ship was located near the city centre and almost everybody walked into the city. You were welcomed by a big tower surrounded by big walls. But it's not for shopping, most shops are souvenirshops and there are not many of them. This city is really a must-see.
Sint Petersburg was the destination of our cruise. We had a two-day-call here. On both we booked excursions. The first day we visited the Catharina Palace, this palace is located in a small town called Puskin which is an hour by bus. When we booked we didn't know about this, but there was much to see on the route. We got a glimpse of Sint Petersburg and life in Russia. The Palace was large but we saw only a small part of it. Our guide was very friendly and spoke English quite well. It was wonderful to see, very well decorated and big. The gardens were nice, but we've seen better. The only thing was that we had to be ready at seven in the morning! On this evening we took a river cruise. We were put in a small group on a ship with live entertainment. They sung and danced a bit. But the views were the best of all. We saw for example the Hermitage by sunset. The next day we had a full-day-tour. First we had a bus tour, which improved my 'photographing out of bus' skills. And included several bus stops for taking pictures. After that we had a lunch. We expected a plain lunch but it was really different. We were dropped off at a restaurant, here were many other buses of MSC as well and we had a 5 course lunch, which tasted well and there was live entertainment. After this we went into the Hermitage. We saw a couple of paintings selected by our guide. It was very warm inside. The only thing left was a souvenirstop, which we had a couple of times this tour. All the guides were very good. On our last excursion there was someone from the excursion desk.
Kopenhagen. Our ship was located in the 'Langeliniekaj', from here it's a small walk to the city centre. You are very close to the 'Little Mermaid'. And the palace 'Amalienborg' is also close by. But the centre is not as close as in Tallin. Kopenhagen is very beautiful.
Dover. The most impressive of this port is not the city of Dover but it's the famous White Cliffs. We had to get up very early in the morning to see them, but it was worth it. The distance to the city centre is doable by walk, but there is a commercial shuttle bus which brings you right into the city centre or to the castle, located on a hill. We took a excursion to Canterbury. The cathedral was very impressive. We were brought to the centre of Dover, while the others went back to the ship. Now we could visit the Dover itself. And it may be not very special, being here is great.
Disembarkation On the seaday before Dover we were instructed how to disembark. We got tags for our bags and we had to put the luggage in the corridor before 1 AM. So we did. The tags were divided in different colours, due to importance, so people with an excursion were the first to disembark. We were the last ones. Per colour there was a lounge where you should go, but we were told that it doesn't really make any difference where you go to. The only thing you had to do in the morning was signing your bill. We called at 9 AM and short after ten, we were off the ship. Getting our luggage went smoothly and before half past ten, we were on the train.
I think I've made clear we have had a wonderful cruise on the MSC Lirica. Embarkation and disembarkation went quickly and smoothly. Our cabin was, unlike some reviews had stated, spacious enough for the four of us. Everything was clean, the ship was very beautiful, and so was the weather. Food was very tasteful. Entertainment could have been better. Service was great, the itinerary was wonderful. It was a very great first-time cruise experience. We can't almost wait for the next.