12/10/2009 - 12/20/2009
This was our second sailing with MSC and we would never consider any other line, having sailed on NCL, HAL, RCI and Carnival in the past. Although there were some MILD language barriers, we actually thought that the staff on the Poesia spoke and understood better English than they did last year on the MSC Lirica (we recognized many of the same crew members). Our biggest complaint was definitely the rudeness and lack of consideration of OTHER PASSENGERS, as some of the more credible reviews also report. For example, when trying to get off the ship in a port of call, other passengers would race to beat us on the elevator before I could maneuver my daughter's stroller in it, then turn around and stare me boldly in the eye. At the Midnight Magnifica buffet, many passengers were so greedy that they charged around with two and three plates of food, overloading them until food spilled on to the floor. I had to dig around for a single cannolli because many had fallen on the floor (wasting the food and causing a slip-hazard). It was downright embarrassing just to be among that crowd of manner-less people and I retreated to my room rather than suffer in the passenger-created mayhem.
CABIN Our category 11 cabin was absolutely beautiful and we really enjoyed the balcony, sipping coffee and watching the sunrise each morning. We travelled with other family members but our family alone took up two adjacent quad cabins, with five children and three adults. At first glance, I was a bit dismayed at what appeared to be insufficient storage space. But by the time I was done unpacking, I had stored all of the clothes and personal items for two of the adults and four of the children in my one cabin, and ALL of the luggage under our one bed! Our cabin was immaculate and our Madagascarian stewards were very attentive. They left us delightful towel sculptures (swans, turkey, sloth, bulldog, elephant) and spoke sufficient English to understand us (much better than our stewards on the Lirica last year). We learned how to say hello in their Malagasy language ("mahna-oh-na") and they were delighted by that simple gesture. "Mees-ouch-tra" means thank you.
DINING We ultimately ended up with first seating in Il Palladio on the sixth deck, although we were initially seated in La Fontane on the fifth deck. The change was at our request upon embarkation for personal reasons and had no bearing on the quality of food or service in LF. We had taken time to ensure that all of our separate booking numbers were "linked" in the MSC computer prior to our arrival to ensure that they crew knew to assign us to the same table/seating/restaurant from the outset. As a family group of 14, we were seated in a private alcove at what is called the Captain's Table. I am astounded by the other reviews that claimed that the head and assistant maitre'd staff was nowhere to be found. At every meal, we saw Zvonimir, Luigi, Mario, Antonio (all head maitre d's). We did not see Francesco, the head maitre 'd, very often but our service was so stellar we did not need his attention; we did see him several times throughout the ship and he was pleasant and greeted us with a smile each time. The Balinese crew was a highlight for us. They respond well to simple courtesy and kindness and are eager to please. We never saw or heard a single passenger complain of poor dining service during our ten day cruise. In alphabetical order, our favorite servers included: Agung, Agus, Aryana, Bongaya, Kadek Agus, and Panji. At breakfast and lunch, we generally sat at 6-person and 8-person adjacent tables in La Fontane restaurant on deck five. (We prefer sit-down service for our meals and did not opt for the buffet except for one breakfast --- and promptly returned to the restaurant due to personal preference and not due to any calamity in experience.) Although we had four coffee drinkers at our table, all of whom uses creamer, we did not have any difficulty in getting more creamer. We never had any problem getting coffee, iced tea, water, or juice. Our juice was never "warm" as one other person claimed. Our coffee was never cold! Several times, servers crossed the dining room at breakfast or lunch to greet us and serve us water or juice, then returned to their duties. The staff observed that I removed the water glasses from reach of my three small children and chose to use the smaller wine glasses for their water. After the second dinner, we never had to do so again, as the staff adapted the setting of our table to accommodate this. Our assigned dinner staff remembered that three of us liked iced tea with our meal and had that waiting when we arrived to eat. We learned a few phrases in Indonesian, which also delighted the Indonesian crew, and highly recommend that anyone planning to cruise take time to make small gestures to interact with the staff, who are our servers but not our servants and who most definitely respond well in kind. "Trey-mah-kah-see" is thank you; "salamat pahgee" is good morning; "salamat seeyong" is good afternoon; "salamat mahlahm" is good evening; "samma-samma" is you're welcome; "aba kabar" is how are you; "bike" is good; and "sampai joompa" is see you later. I absolutely guarantee that the Balinese crew will be so happy that you have taken a few moments to respect their language, that you will have the best service ever. I don't know why others complain about a language barrier when they haven't even taken a single minute to bother respecting the people who strive so hard to serve them, in an effort to help ease the "barrier". Simple, simple things made our vacation the absolute BEST ever. Other than having the ship to ourselves (or at least barring the rude, inconsiderate passengers), we could not have had a better vacation.
FOOD The food is simply too objective a thing to fairly review for everyone's sake. I am Italian American and I LOVED the food. However, I also make my own pasta and sauces from scratch and am more accustomed to fresh sauces than those that just come from a can. Fresh sauces tended to be lighter and milder; not so heavy on meat and other fillers. I like eggplant parmesan some but theirs was so superb I ordered it twice. The best I've ever had and there is no room to improve on it at all! My husband is a very picky eater but he enjoyed the food immensely as well. Another poster complained about lack of vegetarian dishes but there was a separate vegetarian menu to order from and ample notices about this posted/noted in plain sight. We most cerainly did not have zucchini and eggplant as the sole vegetables at every meal, as another claimed. Breakfasts were my least favorite, but in fairness I just am not a breakfast fan. The smoked salmon was excellent, very fresh and quite a large serving size. The bagels came toasted this year (last year they did not). The waffles were delicious (did not even need syrup), as were the chocolate croissants. Made-to-order omelets were hot, fresh and accurate. The only food item I would definitely avoid is the hashbrowns at breakfast. They were consistently not good. The coffee was VERY strong, but always hot. We did not eat at the specialty restaurant L'Obelisco, but we did go to the Kaito Sushi Bar twice for snacks and it was the absolute best, freshest sushi I have ever had. My sister-in-law and her mother are Korean nationals and they heartily agree. The prices were VERY reasonable. Cheaper than I would pay in Atlanta and for much higher quality. There was a daily all-you-can-eat special of $28pp but we ordered only the Dragon Roll and Ebi Tempura Roll ala carte. Such presentation, too!
WELCOME DIFFERENCE OF POESIA in 2009 VS LIRICA in 2008 Last year, the serving portions were HUGE and we were dismayed to see hordes of food wasted at each meal (especially dinner). The "lamb cutlet" I ordered from the kid's menu last year was the biggest, thickest lamb chop I have ever seen ... enough meat for one to feed all three of my small children (then ages 2, 4 and 6). This year, I ordered the same "lamb cutlet" from the same kid's menu and was initially alarmed to see two small, thin chops. But the reality is that the lamb was cooked perfectly and the portion was absolutely perfect for each of my three children, rather than being so incredibly wasteful last year. If you can be cognizant of these facts, you will be pleased by the food quality and portions. Yes, the serving sizes are quite noticeably smaller on the Poesia than they were last year on the Lirica --- and if you sailed previously on MSC you may at first glance be upset by this fact. But you can order two or three entrees if you choose to do so and any reasonable person would have to agree that it is more prudent and wise to serve smaller portions than huge ones that result in extraordinary waste. I also was initially let down by the midnight buffets being presented in the Pompaneian buffet each night --- but last year, we watched in horror as thousands of dollars worth of hand-baked goods set up on the pool deck were drenched in a sudden storm. Not to mention that such set up and tear down takes hours of extra work, putting added burden on the crew who already work 12-15 hours days SEVEN DAYS A WEEK with no days off for 8-9 months in a row. It saves time, money and energy to present the midnight snacks in the elegant buffet that is perfectly suited for that anyways. With this in mind, I came to appreciate the wisdom of the location/presentation of these midnight snacks. MSC has recently partnered with Unicef to help make a difference in the poverty of the Brazililan people and their new policies certainly give that effort more credibility. I wouldn't think their effort was very genuine if I saw deliberate, uncontrolled waste at every turn. If you're selfish and gluttonous, you may not be able to grasp the bigger picture of how these measures to reduce waste can be a positive thing for the economy (helping to keep the cost of sailing down) and for the preservation of the staff.
FREE vs. ALA CARTE I included this category because several reviews commented about ala carte charges in the Mediterranean, all of which are free in the Caribbean. The gelato is divine (there is a nominal charge on the pool deck but it is free at lunch and dinner), but the soft-serve available for free on the pool deck was nice and refreshing, too. Pizza was free and delicious. Poured water (not bottled) is free and readily available. Drink packages for beer, wine, or sodas/bottled water/juice can be purchased at a savings.
PORTS OF CALL We chose this sailing based on the ports of call: Grand Cayman (Georgetown), Colombia (Cartegena), Panama (Cristobal), Costa Rica (Puerto Limon), and Mexico (Playa del Carmen). Due to rough water/wind conditions, it was not safe to use tender transfer to Playa del Carmen, so the ship docked at Cozumel instead. Fortunately, I speak fairly-fluent Spanish. However, we also had five young children in our group of 14 (ages 2 months to 7 years). As a mother to small children, I would not choose Colombia or Panama again. I found both countries to be quite hostile and dirty; both are industrial ports and the water and surrounding area are quite filthy. In Colombia, I was negotiating a cab fare but the Colombian men had NO respect for my space and were inches from me, touching and rubbing against me to get my attention. In Panama, my brother reached the skirt of the town before I did and had already found someone to take him to the Gatun Locks (he waited too late to book the excursion on the ship, which I would highly recommend as a better option, albeit more expensive). I had been warned that a crew member was held up by a cab driver and robbed at knife point. So I negotiated with a man who had an official tour guide thing around his neck and was standing close to the police officers. I checked his driver's license and tourist operator license with the credentials around his neck, wrote his name down, and negotiated a rate for my brother. I returned to shop at the flea market inside the port terminal, which was really lovely and had some wonderful artwork and deals. Although my brother (along with his young son, our dad, and my older son) had a really fantastic time seeing and watching the Panama Canal in operation, I would absolutely NOT recommend trying to do that shore excursion on your own. The excursion booked through the ship included really nice, air conditioned tour busses and seemed much more safe and secure. Grand Cayman has some really nice beaches and you can negotiate steeply with the natives at the port. Both years, we bargained for a round-trip rate for our large group, paid in advance (all up front) and requested a set pick-up return time. Both times, our driver returned for us five minutes before our scheduled pick-up. Costa Rica has a nice shopping area inside the port, with another over a few blocks. We went to the one outside the port only to learn that their wares hail from Nicaragua and not from Costa Rica ... so we went back to the port shops and founds some really nice little gifts. We read on the cruise brochure that CR is famous for its cashews and were encouraged to try some cashew wine. Well, that didn't sound too good to me but we like to try new things and thought it would be worth the experience. Alas, we could not find any! We did learn that the word for cashew in Spanish is maranon (mare-an-yone), but we could not find any vino de maranon anywhere. Cozumel is a nice port to shop in; I like it better than Playa del Carmen anyways --- and the ship was able to honor its shore excursions by charter to PDC. You can generally bargain the prices down to 50-60% of the original asking price for the wares available at the local shops. We learned of a Chinese restaurant that serves Balinese food (the ship crew from both our MSC ship and the NCL one docked next to us flocked to it!) and surprised the crew by going to sample some of their native dishes. They were SPICY but quite good and endeared us more to the crew.
ANNOUNCEMENTS Yes, the announcements are given in five languages but they are few and far between. In ten days, I think we only heard announcements at the beginning/conclusion of the theater shows, regarding disembarkation (including ports of call) and maybe 5 times otherwise. It is not at all cumbersome and I found it rather a nice courtesy for those non-English speaking passengers (of which there was a great many on our sailing). Why do Americans think they are the only ones out of some 2,500 people on a ship that are entitled to hear and understand the instructions in their language??? Really, how big a deal is it to hear a FEW announcements in multiple languages?
BOTTOM LINE After booking with MSC last year to sail on the Lirica, I found this site and read a number of disturbing reviews that very nearly caused me to cancel. In the end, we travelled as a group of 23 on that ship and decided that if nothing else, at least we'd be together for seven days. We had a GREAT time, notwithstanding the anxiety that built up in advance of our trip. I don't know how MSC improved our experience last year, but we truly had the most enjoyable, restful, peaceful, memorable vacation ever and have 800 pictures to prove it. If you go with a pleasant attitude and are a little bit flexible, you are sure to have the vacation of your life. If you treat the staff with courtesy and respect, they will repay the kindness ten-fold (which is not to say they will be rude in return, as we personally witnessed several polite and courteous responses to rude and unreasonable passengers). Expect that some passengers are going to demand undivided attention, which could at times interfere with the staff's ability to respond to you. We were on vacation, and had plenty of time, so it made no difference whether we had coffee before we sat down to breakfast or whether it took 1-2 minutes to get it. We DID get it: hot, fresh, with a smile, and within a very reasonable time frame. The staff went to significant effort to accommodate us individually, automatically bringing us five cranberry juices every morning and modifying the setting of our dinner table to suit me, for example. I am absolutely confident that they would strive to serve the other passengers with equally-superb service. We had a three hour delay at the airport for our return flight and engaged in a number of conversations with others flying with us to Altanta. All of them were returning from one of several other cruise ships and lines. ALL of them looked haggard and exhausted, not at all refreshed and rejuvenated after a week or more of vacation. They shared horror stories about bad weather, seasickness, terrible service/food. Two other (unrelated/ unconnected) families were with us on the MSC and all of us agreed that it was an excellent experience. I have to wonder what "standard" people use when qualifying their vacation experience. The one's from NCL bragged only about how they could eat 24/7 on their ship. They looked more like they were returning from a nightmare than a vacation... but they were ready to get back on that ship. Have we become a nation of people who sacrifice true quality and class for mere convenience and immediacy (including not waiting for scheduled meals)? I believe that if someone claims to have had bad service on the Poesia (which we never saw or heard), the cause is more likely due to that passenger's reputation for making chronic complaints that intimidates the crew into avoidance than for any other reason. We never saw that, but it would certainly be a reasonable self-preservation reaction for a crew member to avoid that passenger at breakfast/lunch where they are not directly assigned to him/her, than to risk getting involved and having a complaint lodged against the crew member personally. I suspect if some passengers took a moment to look at themselves in a mirror or consider how their lives would be if they didn't get a day off work for nine straight months, then perhaps they might behave a bit better.