We are just back from a 17 day Transatlantic on Poesia. Whatever MSC's policies may be when cruising in European waters, American usages prevailed on this crossing. Dinner was early, the sittings were at 6:15 and 8:30. As much ice water as one asked for was available at meals; free coffee was available from 6:30 to 10:00, again from noon to 2:30, from 4:00 to 5:00 and again at dinner, which seems sufficient to us for anyone, except perhaps those with a severe caffeine addiction. The food was more than ample, and if one stayed away from steaks and roasts, which tended to be tough, was, for the most part, good. The service in the dining room, if one overlooks an indifferent and disinterested restaurant manager, was excellent. The stewards were pleasant, helpful and did their utmost to satisfy requests, even if these were not always entirely reasonable. While it is true that wine, beer, bottled water and drinks were more expensive than on comparable lines by roughly half, if one was willing to settle for simple Italian country wines, it was possible to purchase a package that provided unlimited quantities of wine, beer and bottled water for $16 per person per day, which seems a reasonable expense.
As for drinks, MSC made no objection to each passenger bringing aboard a bottle or two at every port, so that one wasn't at the mercy of the bars. The breakfast and lunch buffets were plentiful, if not Lucullan. The lunch offerings did vary from day to day, and if breakfast stayed the same, at least there was sufficient variety so that one wasn’t forced to eat the same thing every day. Or one could eat a splendid breakfast as well as a constantly changing lunch in the dining room.
The cabin personnel, a team of two for each cabin, was unfailingly pleasant and helpful, the cabins were cleaned within minutes of our leaving them. Requests for ice, glasses, snacks and the like were promptly and cheerfully fulfilled. The cabins themselves were of a standard size, as were the balconies. Closet space was just adequate as was drawer space. The bathrooms, while not large, had ample under the counter storage space. The shower was adequate for anyone weighing in at under four hundred pounds. The ship's officers were just that, ship's officers who ran the ship with considerable efficiency. Anyone who requires ship's officers to fawn over him had probably better buy his own yacht. The ship was exceptionally clean and well kept, a large number of crew were continually at work, washing, wiping, vacuuming, painting.
The entertainment, at least that part of which that we attended, was exceptional. A quartet of opera singers who would find a place as soloists in any opera house in the world, gave several recitals, accompanied by a first rate pianist. While we did not see the dancers, by general agreement they were excellent. For those so inclined, the Italian national chess champion, an International Master, gave lessons every day and took on all comers.
We encountered very few queues aboard ship, and when there was one, no one attempted to cut into it. There were four banks of elevators and there was no time at which one encountered excessive waiting periods. Embarkation was exemplary. One could check in one’s luggage at the Venice railway station, walk a short distance to the Piazzale Roma where buses were waiting to take you to the ship and, if one had taken the trouble to pre-register on line, be aboard within minutes. Disembarkation was something of a muddle – some passengers waited over two hours in the lounges—but this was not MSC’s fault, the U.S. customs and immigration services hadn’t assigned sufficient personnel to cope with so many passengers.
This is not to say that we have no criticisms. Most annoying were the announcements, which were read off in five languages three times a day for a total of 45 minutes, were stridently loud, and mostly consisted of hypes for various money earning on board activities. Deck chairs and tables, in spite of posted prohibitions, were, almost without exception, reserved with towels throughout the day. Given the nature of the case, it was impossible for us to determine if, as has been alleged, the absentee culprits were mostly German and Italians, or if all nationalities sinned equally, but the point is that no attempt was made by the crew to remedy the situation. Smoking was permitted only on one side of the swimming pool deck, but as some genius had decreed that this was to be the windward side, everyone got the full benefit of the tobacco fumes. Dinners were consistently themed, a different nationality was featured every evening. The results varied, running from the good to the mediocre. MSC would have done better to stick with Italian cuisine, which they did very well indeed. Dinner, moreover, was painfully long. It never took less than two hours, sometimes it was closer to three. This was not the fault of the stewards who did their best; they simply had too many diners at their stations and there seemed to be a serious bottleneck in the kitchen.
The shore excursions were ludicrously overpriced, one was always better off making one’s own arrangements. Get your information before you get on board as the “travel desk” did not provide any information on ports. We arranged for an historical and cultural tour of Carthage, and were quite pleased, but tablemates took a similar tour and got the usual “carpet sales” stop which robbed them of precious time in port, at top dollar! So, do your homework and ask questions about the tour in advance.
In short, this is not a luxury cruise line, but then it isn’t priced like one either. In our opinion it is comparable to Celebrity and Holland America: Some things are better, some not as good, but that is the level one is talking about.