We just returned from our first MSC cruise on the year-old MSC Poesia and for the first time in 15 cruises, I for one, couldn't wait to get off the ship. My previous cruises have been mostly on Celebrity, Azamara and Cunard on the Queen Mary 2. I wasn't expecting this 5 night cruise on the Poesia to be up to the standards of Celebrity but I was expecting it to be better than it was. I read the many mixed reviews of this ship prior to our cruise and had thought that the really negative reviews must be from Americans who just didn't "get it", people who just didn't understand a more European experience. Since there was nothing the least bit European about this ship, other than the staff, I now feel that the complaints that I read were justified.
The embarkation was handled very smoothly and we were on the ship in less than an hour. We were escorted to our cabin, 10189, a much appreciated upgrade. The cabin was lovely and as nice as any I have had on any line. We somehow snagged one of the angled balconies on the side of the ship which gave us a wonderful view forward along the port side, and some extra square footage. When we were waiting to board, we noticed that the passengers were not the usual over sixty crowd. We saw a stream of middle-aged long-haired guests and an unusual number of guitar cases and other musical instruments parade by us. We knew something was going on and it didn't take long to figure out what it was.
We had asked for late seating for dinner and since we were assigned early seating (5:30pm) we immediately found out were we needed to go to request a change. They had the maitre d set up in a meeting room near the Zebra room and gave out numbers and let us sit while we were waiting our turn. While waiting to be seen, we found out from another passenger that there was a huge group on board and that this was going to be a "Heavy Metal" cruise, "Ship Rocked 2009". The maitre d was unable to change us to second seating for the first night and said that he would get back to us the second day if he could move us. No big deal, we would just eat in the buffet the first night. We then went to get some lunch at the buffet, not expecting much, but were really unimpressed when we looked over the pitiful choices. The buffet started out with a tray of hot-dogs and a tray of hamburgers, already cooked and looking very unappealing in their pans. The other choices were stews, pastas, and some uninspired deserts. The salad bar was OK but nothing better than you would expect at any local fast food joint. We quickly ate and proceeded to explore the ship. Since the ship was pretty large, comparable to the Millennium class on Celebrity, I was expecting more.
Although fairly attractive, the ship seemed chopped up and crowded. There was a surprisingly heavy use of brass which seemed odd in a ship new in 2008, and made it look immediately dated. The 3-deck high atrium area looked particularly dated and small. There was no forward bar which I have come to expect in the top front of the ship, this area being used to cram in more cabins. Instead of a 2 deck high formal dining room, there were two dining rooms on decks 5 and 6 with low ceilings and views only on the sides. The rear of the ship, where most ships boast a lovely view aft from the dining rooms, was taken up by the kitchen, an odd use of prime real estate in my opinion. There were some pretty rooms, including the Zebra Room but the main show lounge was a multi-decked nightmare in lavender and brass. All in all the ship looked very middle of the road, mediocre and dated. The pool deck was attractive but seemed crowded due to a large bar in the middle of the deck, separating the two pools. This made both areas seem small and cramped. Forward on the pool deck was a large screen that could be used for movies or in the case of this particular cruise, Rock videos or something. The fact that it was not used for anything during our cruise except for ads for the ship, seemed a huge waste. The deck chairs were nice however and had built in sun-screens which were a great idea. There were no chairs on the promenade deck however and no chairs were ever put out on deck 15, a favorite place for me to sun. One nice touch that I saw was on the decks not immediately adjacent the pool, there were outdoor showers, a great way to cool off and a terrific idea. I found having to "sign-out" your towels for the pool, and turn them back in, particularly insulting. The buffet area on deck 13 was huge and although they rarely had enough stations open, it accommodated the ship well. It did have an unfortunate overuse of "plastic onyx" that cheapened the look and there was only one row of tables aft of the buffet area (outside, on deck) which is usually a favorite place for many to eat.
The sail-away party was incredibly fun and LOUD. They had set up a stage in one of the pool areas for the Ship Rocked groups to perform on and the ship was indeed "rocking" as we sailed out of Ft. Lauderdale. Since we were unable to get second seating, we decided we would try the alternative dining the first night. The rear area of the buffet is closed off and a make-shift specialty restaurant is set up in the evenings. We looked at the a la carte menu and asked the staff person by the door if they had any tables. He said that we needed to call for reservations so I went back to the cabin to do so. The woman on the phone was pleasant but said she would need to call me back. A few minutes later, the phone rang and she said "You can go RIGHT NOW if you want." Since we weren't even dressed, I suggested 15 minutes later might be better and then she had to check and call me back again to confirm. We arrived back at the restaurant and were escorted back to the linen covered tables. There was not a soul seated anywhere! We were puzzled at the routine we had to go through for a reservation for an empty restaurant and decided immediately that we didn't want to dine alone and left. We had the dismal buffet for dinner. The choices were not much better than at lunch with the exception of adding a pizza station, which was pretty good. Pretty much all we could say about our meal was that it filled us up. They use HUGE plates in the buffet, big enough for an entire family, but we were never able to find much to fill them with that wasn't mediocre at best. It was also only possible to get coffee when the buffet was open unless you wanted to go all the way down to deck 5 and pay for it.
We still hadn't heard about moving to second seating by the third day and I went to see the Maitre d again about it. He said that second seating was pretty much full of the Shipped Rocked group but he could put us at one of their tables, so we were finally able to eat in the dining room. The food wasn't much better there and the service was abysmal. My water glass never got refilled and the one night when we were alone at the table, the extra place settings were never removed. Although the food was slightly better in the formal dining room, it was no better than what you could get at any local diner. In fact, our first night in the dining room we both had a clam dish which was disgusting and fishy. We did see a fantastic show one night in the hideous multi-decked show lounge. It was a Cirque du Soliel affair and we enjoyed it very much. We also enjoyed a "if you dance you win" event in the Zebra Room, our favorite room on the ship. The staff was incredibly attractive, mostly Italian and beautiful. That said, the men in particular seemed to be sullen and unfriendly, obviously hating their jobs. You could get them to crack a smile if you spoke to them directly but the rest of the time they pretty much looked just bored. A few of the more positive aspects of the cruise were, incredibly cheap drinks ($4 for a glass of wine, $7 martinis, etc), NO announcements, easiest muster drill I have experienced, didn't push drinks, soft serve ice cream frequently available and wonderful cabins and cabin stewards. Unfortunately, this wasn't enough to offset the negative. By our last day at sea, we couldn't wait to get off the ship. The rock groups were the least of our complaints but some of that group was indeed obnoxious and drunk most of the cruise. No, the food and the service (or lack thereof) was more than enough to make us cross MSC Cruises from our list forever.
Disembarkation was handled well and we were soon on our way to the airport, actually looking forward to going home and back to work...