'Poesia' is Italian for Poetry: I would not say this cruise was fine prose, but it was a reasonable work in progress. Embarkation/Disembarkation: With US and UK handling agents there was no problem. Nice Cabin: A balcony is essential on a ship of this size. This made the daytimes on our days at sea very enjoyable. Management & Communication: A ship with over 3000 passengers and 900 crew members needs to be well managed - the captain of the Poesia and his senior officers have done better to get things right, than our previous experience on the identical Musica. However, there is still room for improvement. Dining and Food & Beverage: When considering the price of the ticket, the dining experience was not bad - not 4 star, but reasonable value-for-money. Service: In the main we had no complaint. Dinner service and room attendants were excellent; breakfast and lunch were hit and miss, bar service was generally good and Reception much improved over previous MSC experiences. Activities Team: Very disappointing. Formal Entertainment: A lot of improvement required. Health & Safety: Generally satisfied. Shops, Photography, Excursions: Photo service was pretty good, but otherwise generally poor range or quality and over-priced. The 'buy-me' factor was definitely missing. Valuing Customers: On our fifth MSC cruise we were certainly happier than on our previous experience - however, we left the ship feeling rather disappointed.
We are British - husband & wife in our mid 60s and quite widely travelled. This was our tenth cruise, our fourth Transatlantic and our fifth with MSC. We took my sister with us - in her mid 80s and slightly disabled. We switched to this cruise from another MSC sailing from South Africa to Europe, when the cruise company changed the routing from Indian Ocean to Atlantic, following an unsuccessful attack on the Melody by Somali pirates last year.
We are members of the MSC Club and several other cruise loyalty schemes. We had been keen advocates of MSC, but a bad experience on MSC Musica in 2008 caused us to be somewhat circumspect and in this trip we were giving them a chance to redeem themselves. In this review I make a number of comparisons with the Musica to reflect how identical ships can differ!
We prefer mid-sized ships such as MSC's Opera & Lirica - both 56K tonnes, carrying up to 1500 guests. However, the Poesia, like its sister the Musica at 89K tonnes carries over 3000 passengers. Prior to our cruise we noted very mixed reviews of the Poesia.
The Poesia had spent the winter season cruising in the Caribbean. This was a repositioning cruise and the ship left from Fort Lauderdale and called at New York, Ponta Delgada, Lisbon, La Coruna, Bilbao and Dover, before finishing in Hamburg, where she would spend two weeks in dry dock, before commencing a summer season sailing in Northern Europe. We had booked this April departure in the previous June, so the looking forward was over quite a lengthy period.
Before reviewing the ship and the cruise, it is worth mentioning inadequacies in booking admin. Without going into detail, we had a number of problems in getting special requests sorted out and it seemed on the one hand there were communication problems between MSC's sales office in London and their head office in Naples, but there also appeared to be a lack of product knowledge in London. As an example, it took an age to have port assistance for my disabled sister confirmed, yet when we got to the port of embarkation wheel chairs were freely available.
But the biggest howler was that whilst we booked as one party, my sister was put on a different table for dinner at a different sitting and in a different restaurant to my wife and me! We didn't discover this until we checked in and we were able to sort it out with the Maitre D, but thats not the point.
Travel to Port & Embarkation
The Poesia sailed from Port Everglades/Fort Lauderdale and MSC arranged our flight to Miami as part of a package. We flew by British Airways from London Heathrow to Miami - perfectly adequate. We hired a car and stayed two nights at the Hilton Suites in Boca Raton - both done independently as MSC's accommodation options are limited and over-priced. The hotel we chose was great value-for-money.
Embarkation: We drove up soon after noon and with ease unloaded all our baggage to a porter who took care of it from there. The embarkation process was courteously and efficiently carried out by MSC's Floridian handling agents. They provided every assistance, even smoothing over a problem of our own making. It took just minutes from going through Passport Control to stepping aboard the ship. A wheelchair and friendly porter were provided to assist my sister. After finding our cabins I got back off the ship, returned the hire-car to Fort Lauderdale Airport and after taking the free shuttle bus back to the cruise terminal, I was back on board in half an hour - an absolute breeze. And soon after all our baggage had been delivered to our cabins.
This excellent embarkation was in complete contrast to the awful experience when embarking at Venice for the Musica in 2008. There was only one slight disappointment - there was no white-gloved attendant to escort us to our cabins, as had been the case on all our previous MSC cruises.
Accommodation & Public Areas
State Rooms: We had an outside cabin with balcony at the rear of the ship on Deck 9. It was roomy, perfectly clean and comfortably decorated. There was a queen bed and settee which could convert to an extra double bed. There was a flat-screen TV and fridge stocked with mini-bar.
The bathroom was somewhat bijoux, but clean and perfectly adequate for our needs. We were provided with amply-sized bath robes, which were very useful. Storage in the cabin was just about adequate for a 17-day trip.
We chose a cabin facing out of the back of the ship as, with a sailing from West to East, this maximised our opportunities to enjoy the afternoon sun and sunsets. We could also enjoy the views of leaving ports, without having to go up on deck. The balcony proved very sheltered from the wind. It was lovely to sit above the wake of the ship, with peace and privacy, basking in the sun and breathing in the sea air.
My sister had a nearby inside cabin - essentially the same but smaller - no area for a settee. Inside cabins are unavoidably cave-like. My sister did not like the total absence of daylight, but overcame this by running the TV 24 hours a day, tuned to one of the deck-cams, so when she awoke she would be able to gage whether it was morning yet. However, any feelings of claustrophobia were minimised as she was welcome to use our cabin and balcony as much as she wished - and she loved it!
Whilst on previous MSC cruises, we were pleased to have a bowl of fresh fruit in our cabin each day, this has seemingly been the victim of an economy measure - we had one per week, and this was in deference to our MSC Club status!
Prior to sailing, we had read some disconcerting reviews citing noise, vibration and turbulence in cabins in the aft of Poesia. Whilst my wife felt a little vibration and rock'n'roll at times, I personally felt very little ship-movement throughout the cruise. Being lower (a mid-level deck) and abeam, there was little sideways movement and the ship is of such a size that I never detected any end-to-end up/down motion. The only vibration detectable was from side-thrusters when manoeuvring in port - and this was only slight.
Sun Deck Public Areas: The Poesia is about two years old and is virtually identical in design to the Musica & Orchestra. The pool deck area (Deck 13) is expansive with two pools, 4 Jacuzzis, a stage and two bars. Forward there is a large and attractive spa, whilst aft there is a large self service restaurant/buffet - better described as a cafeteria, and the premium restaurant, which also doubles as an overflow to the cafeteria during the day. There is supposed to be a pizza bar up here as well, but as with the Musica they must have hidden it!
Deck 14 has a walking/running track, children's play area and deck games; whilst Deck 15 comprises a solarium forward, and mini-golf and tennis courts aft. There is a huge video screen forward of the pools, but it never seemed to feature anything but MSC adverts day & night. However, the weather was generally not warm enough for sun-lounging or movies under the stars at night, so this was of no concern.
There are ample sun beds, but from previous experience on the Musica with over 3000 passengers on board, these decks could become very crowded and noisy. But on this cruise the use of the open decks was not excessive.
Interior Public Areas: Decks 5, 6 & 7 house the Reception, Accounting Office, various poorly stocked and overpriced shops, two formal restaurants, a very large and impressive theatre, a large and moderately used pokey room (casino) and a number of bars and lounges of various sizes and degrees of intimacy. There is a large photo shop and team of photographers. We found the quality of photos much improved over the Musica and indeed better than our 2009 crossing on QM2.
The shops decided to close down a couple of days before reaching Dover - they were seemingly clearing out remainders before restocking for the upcoming season. But this was not very fair on passengers on this cruise, who had not yet completed their holiday.
There is also a large sushi bar, in which, like the Musica, we saw few customers throughout the cruise. Apart from the theatre and the 3-level reception well, we found the acoustics rather uncomfortable as the various bands, duos, etc did battle with the low ceilings and noisy crowds in an effort to be heard - a cacophony! No more so than the painfully designed Zebra Lounge - black and white stripes throughout and the centre for many daily activities and evening entertainment.
Gleaming mirrors and bright brass banisters, handrails, etc in stairwells, lifts and so-on are hallmarks of MSC ships.
Communication & On-Board Information
Language Skills: MSC's market is very international and they operate in Italian, English, German, French, Spanish and Portuguese. On this cruise most passengers were English or German-speaking with just a smattering of other European languages, so many announcements could be given in just English and German.
The Reception/Information Office has on previous MSC cruises been notable for brusqueness and unhelpfulness. To a significant degree this seemed to have improved with good language skills and courtesy. There was at last a certain level of competence on the Poesia, although not without fault.
The Cruise Director, Anna, seemed extremely proficient in all main languages and her polished presence was a credit.
Our cabin attendants were Madagascan and had adequate English skills, but they were delighted when I spoke to them in French! Most waiters were Indonesian and their command of English varied considerably. Fortunately our senior waiter for dinner spoke good English - altogether a better experience than on the Musica.
In the dining rooms and bars we never had any problem in communicating with the multinational crews (mainly Indonesian and East European respectively).
Television: Each cabin had a TV, and an information card in our cabin informed us that there were over 20 channels, but this dropped significantly on leaving the American coast behind. Whilst crossing the Atlantic the only English speaking news channel was Euronews, which is somewhat wanting in its coverage, but on a positive note this meant we were not inundated with the run-up and aftermath of the British General Election!
The TV also had a channel featuring the ship's position and wind speed - but nothing else. There was a map, but it was very indistinct - rather inadequate for people like me who find navigational and geographic information extremely interesting.
Excursion information on TV was limited to a slide presentation with two or three shots of each excursion on offer. There was nothing for people who wished to explore ports of call independently. The on-board 'Travel Agency' confessed to being nothing more than an Excursions Office and just like the Musica they were unable to impart any valuable travellers' information.
Daily Programme: Each evening a 'Daily Program' was distributed to every cabin outlining the on-board activities for the next day, restaurant times, etc. There were editions in all the main languages. This has exactly the same format as when we first sailed with MSC in 2004.
Port Information: On our previous four MSC cruises there has been a 'Port Information' hand-out - the information varied in quality and quantity, but at least it was better than nothing. Alas, on this cruise there was no port information whatsoever. The English speaking hostesses had no knowledge and the Reception/Information Office were no better. There is no excuse for landing your paying guests in a port in ignorance and this lapse by MSC is inexcusable.
Team Spirit: In the past we have found the problems of multilingual communication admirably managed by MSC, but on the Musica we were very disappointed - we concluded that it was a rather unhappy ship. However, on stepping aboard the Poesia we sensed that she had a much more contented body of people. Whilst corporate policies are probably unchanged, it is amazing what a different management team makes to the way a ship is run.
Dining & Service
Now for most cruisers this is one of the most vital aspects in ensuring a happy time. With Opera & Lirica it had been one of the most enjoyable aspects for us - good fellowship, good food & wine, and good service. On Musica, apart from delightful table companions, it proved difficult to find any good at all - consistently the poorest cuisine we had ever encountered. Pre-cruise reviews of Poesia were not that promising, but we lived in hope that six months of operating in the Caribbean with demanding US customers would knock then into shape!
Dining - There are two formal restaurants on Poesia and we had most of our meals in Le Fontaine on Deck 5. For Dinner we had a good table for 8 which we shared with an adult family of four from UK. We thoroughly enjoyed their company, but it was interesting to note that wherever possible MSC grouped people from the same country on the same table. One can understand the logic, but one of the joys of speaking English is that so does half the world! Rather than being constrained with others from the same nation, out of choice I would have preferred cultural mixing over dinner with English speakers from North America, Australasia, etc.
We cannot say that the quality of food was wonderful, but it was certainly varied and perfectly edible - to prove it I put on 10 lb. over the duration of the cruise! To rate it I would say that dinners ranged from 3* to 4*. Fish, as usual on MSC, was more reliable than meat. Salads were generally swimming in oil, but soups were fine and pastas/risottos were consistently excellent. Desserts were sadly uninspiring, whilst cheeses were good. MSC persists in serving just a couple of saltine biscuits with cheese - we had prior experience of this, so took plenty of nice biscuits from UK to enjoy with our fromage!
The balance of offering over up to 5 courses was good. However, there was little in the way of 'healthy eating' options and there was little for vegetarians to get excited about. The menu for this repositioning cruise was themed by different countries - i.e. one evening it would be French, then Mexican, then Asian and so on. I was alarmed when first learning this, as this was the same approach as delivered on the Musica. However, closer scrutiny of each evening's menu established that there was a thematic choice for each course, failing which one could select from a variety of broadly Italian alternatives. And if nothing appealed they would always provide from a bulk standard alternative option of salad, consomme, steak, etc - this proved acceptable overall.
Fortunately we had an excellent waiter who was always happy to offer to get us something else, or more, if required. Food was always hot, but we were lucky enough to be at a table very close to the kitchens! Presentation of food was on the whole rather poor.
Iced water and coffee/tea were served limitlessly at all meals, whilst iced tea satisfied our American friends. This was a pleasant departure from the Musica, where the charging for water and coffee created enormous resentment among passengers. In fact, from experience we know that MSC has different policies for different markets. In the Caribbean they provide free water, etc to satisfy the standard expectation, whereas in Europe they charge extra for everything!
There were a couple of very good wine packages which featured, in the main, surprisingly good Californian wines. We chose a package of 10 bottles for US$150 (c. UK£100) with a selection from over 20 bottles each night.
We normally took all of our daytime meals in Le Fontaine restaurant, preferring waiter service to the bustle and noise of the self-service buffet on Deck 13. Having said that, we always found, when using the cafeteria that the food was good and standards meticulously clean. We enjoyed the cultural mix of daytime open seating in Le Fontaine - you meet so many interesting people. However, the lunch menu was often rather hit or miss, whilst breakfast offered the same choices every day - however, the breadth of choice meant that you could eat a different combination every day for a month.
One evening we decided to eat in the premium L'Obelisco a-la-carte restaurant. Here the food and service were of 5* quality, but the restaurant lacked ambience despite the view out of the floor-to-ceiling windows, as it was clearly a buffet restaurant with the serveries screened off, whilst there were very few diners to give it any buzz.
Bars - we are not heavy drinkers and generally just had one pre or after dinner drink in a bar each evening, choosing the more relaxing settings. Bar service was generally good, but towards the end of the cruise bars started running out of particular brands. It seems that they were running stocks down prior to the European season, but I don't feel guests should be inconvenienced thus - rather unprofessional.
Service: On Musica our waiter at dinner had been a walking disaster. On this Poesia cruise we were lucky enough to have one of the three best waiters we have ever encountered aboard a ship. His assistant was also very obliging and worked his socks off!
However, at other meals the competence of the waiting staff varied significantly. I do object, when ordering several courses for breakfast, to have then all put in front of me at the same time!
I would rate dinner service as being 4* to 5*, whilst at other meals it was 2* to 3*.
There were a number of midnight buffets during the cruise, but we only attended the final Buffet Magnifica - and this was to take photos. I took my disabled sister up to this bun-fight and we were appalled. One would have thought that people had eaten sufficiently following the Gala Dinner, but we were amazed at the scramble for the trough by hundreds of people who clearly should know to behave better! As for the Buffet - pretty much like others on MSC to look at, but not as good as we have seen on other lines. We did not demean ourselves to battle for a taste!
MSC has a policy of adding a fixed amount per passenger per day, which is added to the bill at the end of the cruise. They then share this among all crew members, both the seen and unseen. The amount in question varies according to the area of operation. The charge is higher in Europe and the Caribbean than elsewhere. This cruise had a Caribbean scale of charge of US$12 per person per day.
However, many passengers objected and after a week of the cruise people were given the option to line up to adjust the service charge - hundreds of moaning guests queued in their respective language groups to fill in a form to reflect their individual wishes. I'm sure this could be managed better to circumvent the unnecessary discontent.
However, it was interesting to note that at the final dinner the Maitre D positioned himself with a glass of wine at a strategically based table to watch passengers tipping their respective waiters. This had to be done most discreetly to avoid our waiters having to hand over the money to be redistributed according to corporate policy!
Activities, Hospitality & Entertainment
Theatre Shows: There was a show in the theatre most evenings - two performances, one for each dinner sitting. We attended most evenings, but sadly we were not much impressed although a number of passengers were seemingly very happy. Being a multilingual operation, MSC is of course a bit restricted - comedians for instance would struggle in six languages! There were a few good acts, but the singers were undistinguished and whatever happened to the wonderful dancers that have featured in previous MSC cruises?
Other Entertainments: In the infamous Zebra Lounge there were the normal audience participation MSC favourites of Mr Poesia, Miss Poesia and Grease - okay if you like that sort of thing, but events that we try and avoid like the plague. Never-the-less these events were quite popular, but just too holiday-campish for our liking.
There were plenty of bars and lounges with music, but as already stated the acoustics did not enhance enjoyment. The nicest bar was the Pigalle where good relaxing music and dancing was on offer - unfortunately though this was the smokers lounge!
Activities: Weather did not permit the various games and activities organised by the Entertainments Team to be held up on the open Deck 13. Instead most were held in the awful Zebra Lounge. On Musica we had thoroughly enjoyed various keep-fit activities on deck - well led and great fun. On Poesia these activities were held on the dance floor in the Zebra - insufficient room, no soft mats (so painful knees) and over-loud music, with less than enthusiastic instructors. Consequently we only stuck it for a few days - a shame as we had been looking forward to it.
We did however do a good deal of deck-walking each day. Two complete circuits of Decks 14/15 equates to 1 km. On Musica when we had to do this at dawn or dusk, because at any other time there were too many sun beds acting as obstacles. On this cruise, as the weather was cooler, we had few such obstructions.
The Activities Team also put on various quizzes, competitions, handicraft events, etc. In our opinion the ones we experienced were poorly presented. My sister attended a card-making session and was consequently put off any other handicrafts. The activity person simply distributed a few materials to each participant and they were left to get on with it - no leadership or instruction.
We attended a few quizzes and were frustrated by leaders who spoke little English, had inadequate knowledge of some subjects and tended to be rude and argumentative. The only quiz with good leadership was a team quiz run over 5 days at sea in the theatre. This was entertaining and well run. I was part of the Cruise Critic team and we came 4th of 21 teams - sadly not quite good enough for a prize!
Virtually all of the Activities Team were German and had limited English language capability and in the main came over as rather dour. We wondered whether they had replaced the team that had entertained during Poesia's Caribbean season, as we could not have envisaged this lot going down well with a largely American clientele. (Poesia would be sailing out of Kiel for the following European summer season.) Certainly they were a sad comparison vs Musica's lively and fun-loving activities team of 2008 (mainly Brazilians & Italians).
Spa: We did not use it on this occasion, but know it from the identical facility on Musica. Others spoke reasonably well of it.
English-Speaking Hostesses - Poesia employed a number of South African ladies in a mainly hospitality role. Two of these acted as English-speaking hostesses. Sadly, whenever we consulted them they were disinterested, clueless about ports of call and unable to help.
Cocktail Parties: The Captain's Welcome Cocktail Party took place on the second evening and to over 1000 guests at each of two events, the captain's speech and presentation of officers was held in the Theatre. Unlike their counterparts on Musica, Cruise Director Anna and Capt. Giacomo Romano put on a slick, professional and entertaining event, with bags of personality - a successful start to the cruise.
There was a Farewell Captain's Cocktail Party towards the end of the cruise, but we missed this as it was such a stunning evening, that we sat on our balcony, sipping cocktails in our finery and enjoying a most glorious sunset!
Health & Safety
Lifeboat Drill: As we had discovered on Musica and QM2 this important procedure was carried out in one of the lounges. At least it happened before we set sail (on Musica it had been on the 2nd day), but we wonder how much people take in, whilst putting on life jackets in the comfort of an armchair!
Maintaining a Healthy Environment: On Musica there had been a nasty flu-like bug that swept through the ship, waylaying a very large proportion of passengers. There had been a certain number of hand-sanitisers around the ship, but we were pleased to note on Poesia that these were far more prevalent at the entrances to all restaurants and the larger bars and theatre. Hygiene notices were evident in public toilets and all in all we were impressed with the attention to cleanliness throughout the ship - Poesia is one of only four cruise ships in the past year that have been awarded 100% in CDC's health and cleanliness ratings sponsored by the U.S. Public Health Service.
Shore Excursions & Destinations
We did our own thing at all ports of call and cannot report directly on the quality of Poesia's shore excursions. However, we thought that prices were excessive and we heard no good reports from people who had taken excursions.
New York - cruising into New York harbour on a perfect dawn will remain one of the most enduring and wonderful memories of my life. We used the hop-on-hop-off buses to tour the city and showed my sister most of the main sites of Manhattan, including a lovely sunset over the Financial District, viewed from Brooklyn. Our day was completed as we sailed out a midnight, drinking a nightcap on our balcony, watching the lights of the Big Apple gradually disappear.
Ponta Delgado, Sao Miguel, Azores - we arrived 14 hours early so had an unexpected evening in Ponta Delgado - a small and friendly town with some attractive Portuguese colonial architecture. Next day we had pre-booked a car with driver-guide to show us the island of Sao Miguel, the largest of the Azores Archipelago. In the morning there was low cloud and rain and it was impossible to see anything. However, over lunch the weather cleared and our guide doubled back to show us the more important sights that we had missed and then took us across the island to see some more lovely scenery, before dropping us back to the ship. I was very struck by this Portuguese island in mid-Atlantic - quite rugged, very rural and green, uncrowded, relaxed and extremely hospitable.
Our experience was much better than for those who took the ship's excursion and saw nothing in the rain and clouds. Lisbon - sadly we approached in rain and poor visibility. We took a bus from the cruise quay for the short journey to the city centre - where the heavens opened, and we got drenched! All we wanted to do was get back to the ship and dry off. So mother nature cut short this visit to a normally lovely city that we had so looked forward to. A detail of note - MSC charged US$13.50 for the shuttle to the city centre. By bus it was 1.30 € (about $1.80) for about 2 - 3 miles.
La Coruna, Galicia, Spain - again we were dogged by rain, but not as bad as in Lisbon. We took a bus out to the Torre Hercules (Tower of Hercules) the world's oldest operating lighthouse (Roman origin) - the rain tipped down just as we were walking up the hill towards it! La Coruna is an attractive city and has a good shopping centre - it seemed a lot more stylish than Lisbon.
Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain - this was our last port of call. The ship docked at Getxo at the mouth of the Bilbao River. It was a ten mile drive to the city centre and the ship's shuttle cost US$16.00 pp compared with 50 € ($68) for a taxi and 1.50 € ($2) by train. We found Bilbao to be a great city to visit and we have vowed to return to do the place more justice. The Guggenheim Museum is of course a remarkable building - we wished we had time to have gone in to admire the art. The old city is charming and stylish, whilst the modern commercial area is most sophisticated.
Disembarkation at Dover
It was very nice to be able to disembark in our home country - no fearful flights home - no luggage restrictions and just a few hours drive to home! The Poesia was sailing on to Hamburg as the final port of call. So it was only the Brits and a few others that disembarked at Dover. Accordingly there was not the normal push and crush that we normally associate with disembarking a MSC ship!
However, it would have been remiss of MSC not to blot their copybook on our final few minutes aboard. Shipboard accounts were not delivered to cabins until after we had gone to bed. My sister had an accounting problem, which had been drawn to their attention over a week earlier, but had not been rectified. So after breakfast and on-board passport control, we went to the Accounting Office to sort it out before disembarking. It was closed so we asked Reception to call them. A man came and after arguing the toss went away to remedy the matter. Whilst we waited there was a final call for us - we were the last to disembark. The reception staff were not interested in the fact that we were waiting for their colleagues to remedy a problem of their own making - they just wanted us off the ship. They told us off for not visiting the Accounting Office earlier, even though it was only 2½ hours since my elderly sister had awoken to find the account. They then told us that the authorities would impound our baggage if we did not disembark immediately. My wife thought she had better go to the baggage hall and wait there for us there with our baggage. There were no officials - just a friendly porter who told her we could take as long as we liked!
So much for giving us a fond farewell - no matter how much MSC have improved their act, it is clear that we are not valued regular customers that have sailed over 70 days with MSC - we are just punters who have spent our money - so clear off! Why send us away with a bitter taste? However, overall we were satisfied with what we got for the price - certainly not 4 Star as MSC would claim, certainly not a culinary paradise, and clearly lacking in finesse. Nevertheless, good value for money.