The Ship: The Poesia is a well-reviewed ship so I won't repeat many details other than to say it's big, considered one of the medium size cruise ships of recent construction : 16 decks, 294 meters long and 32 meters wide. Max passengers 3,000. 2 main restaurants, 2 specialty restaurants, 2 self-service restaurants. 1,275 cabins, most outside with balconies. It was the itinerary that made this cruise unique.
Embarkation: Kind of a pain. My daughter and I flew from Naples, Italy to Munich and then to Hamburg, where all the arriving Poesia passengers were met by the MSC ground hostesses and escorted to one of three buses. After what seemed a long time sitting in the sun, the buses finally moved for the one hour trip to the Kiel cruise terminal. Once there we joined the hundreds of passengers waiting to board. There was no MSC Club or web-express priority boarding so we waited a good hour before our number came up. Once in line, everything moved fairly rapidly and when we worked our way up to the check-in counter, an officer took our tickets, registered my credit card, and said we were good to go. Another walk up to the entrance platform and we were aboard. We were greeted by an officer and a steward took us directly to our cabin and showed us how everything worked.
The Cabin: We had cabin 11155, cat. 11, on the 11th deck, in the mid-section. The cabin wasn't huge (about 17 square meters) had two comfortable single beds, with a light blanket and two comfy pillows each. There was a two-person couch, desk and chair, minibar, small oval table, and a wardrobe with three doors, one of which had drawers and the safe. The carpet was clean and free of stains. There were two large mirrors, one in front of the beds and the other over the desk. The hair dryer was in one of the desk drawers. Our suitcases fit under the beds. Above the minibar was a flat-screen TV with satellite channels in Italian, English, French, German, Spanish and Russian. In addition there were shipboard channels advertising excursions and the onboard shops, spa, etc. The interactive TV had a webcam showing the view from the bridge and a channel with a so-called "scan display" which showed the ship's current position, wind direction and speed, outside temps, weather and sea conditions. The bathroom was adequate with storage space above and under the sink, a toilet, and a medium size shower stall with containers for soap and shampoo. The shower curtain was secured on one side and did not impede movement in the stall itself. We always had four fluffy white towels (two bath and two hand), two facecloths, and a bathmat, as well as two nice robes. A sliding glass door led out onto the small balcony which was equipped with two plastic wicker chairs and a table. The cabin steward changed the towels twice a day as necessary and the sheets/pillow cases every third day. Being an MSC Club member, we had fresh fruit in the room which was replenished two or three times. We did not use the minibar. Even though the cabin was on a high deck, we did not feel any discomfort even when the seas were rough a couple times. Vibration was non-existent and I felt only the slightest movement on the worst days.
Service and Staff: I found the staff members in the Reception and Excursion Office to be professional, friendly, and very helpful. They were of several different nationalities and spoke two or three languages each. At no time was any of the crew or staff rude or discourteous in any way. To the contrary, almost everyone I had occasion to meet had a smile and/or greeting for me. The excursion situation was a major negative which I will comment on further down.
Passenger Mix: On this cruise there were about 2,400 passengers aboard. Most were Germans - some 1,800 of them; there were 170 Italians, 150 French, 92 Spanish speakers, about 50 English-speakers, and a mixture of Russians, Polish, Japanese, etc. The multi-language announcements were few. Not being during the school holidays, children aboard this cruise were relatively few, thus we had very little chaos.
Cleanliness: MSC is a line that prides itself on keeping everything clean. There were squads of men constantly going about rubbing and shining the brass, polishing mirrors and glass doors, vacuuming the carpeting, cleaning and sanitizing tables and surfaces. One nice thing were the numerous hand sanitizer machines found at the boarding points and prior to entering the restaurants.
Smoking: Not a factor. Smoking was prohibited in the cabins and balconies as well as corridors, and of course the restaurants and theatre. The casino and the cigar bar were the only areas where it was permitted, along with the outside decks. The other bars had smoking areas on one side and smoke-free tables on the other. I did not notice any tobacco smell in the non-smoking areas.
Restaurants and Bars: The Poesia has two main restaurants (MDR), two self-service buffets (actually together on the 13th deck), two specialty restaurants, the L'Obelisco (elegant) and a sushi bar. I didn't count all the bars but they were many and scattered all over the ship. MDR: We elected the second seating (at 20:30; first seating was too early at 18:00) and was assigned a table in the Le Fontane restaurant on the 5th deck. Our table companions were an older Italian couple. We four judged the food served nightly to be "good," not exceptional, and certainly not bad. Aside from the gala nights, the daily evening menu was based on Italy's regions, like on all MSC ships To save on costs and wastage, MSC has recently reduced portions and cut out many of the more expensive items generally found on cruise menus. This was no problem to me because I don't cruise to eat, and if I found something that I really liked I could always ask for seconds. No big thing. My daughter eats mainly vegetarian and she was very satisfied with what they served her. Aside from MDR food, the wine list was extensive and during the course of the cruise I selected different wines in the €23 to €25 range. The waiter corked and saved the half-full bottles for the following evening Some people had bought wine packets but I noticed that most these wines were unknown or nothing special. I like MSC's policy of three dress codes with a published explanation for each category: Gala, Informal, and Casual. Tuxes and dark suits for gala, sport coat or shirt and tie for informal, and jeans/chinos with polo or shirt for casual. On this cruise there were three gala evenings, three informal and the rest casual. For gala I wore a suit, for the casual evenings, jeans. Self-Service: The two self-service restaurants, Villa Pompeiana and Obelisco, were on the 13th deck and were open for breakfast and lunch only. Where the Pompeiana area ended, the Obelisco began. Neither was open for dinner except for the extra-cost pizzeria in the Villa Pompeiana and alla carte in the Obelisco. Available for breakfast was an assortment of Italian pastries, muffins, Danishes, cornettos, etc. plus four styles of eggs, scrambled, omelettes, and hard-boiled; sausages, bacon, potatoes, cold meats and cheeses, fruit, yogurts, industrial fruit juices and American style coffee. Lunch saw a carvery with roasts or meatloaf, pasta and rice dishes, hamburgers and wurstel, fries, oven potatoes, salads and desserts. We used the self-service for both breakfast and lunch because we did not want full meals, usually only taking pastries for the first and either a salad, pasta dish, or hamburger for the second. Bars: We generally had espresso coffee mornings and afternoons in one of the bars on the 6th deck. The coffee was surprisingly good and cost €1.10, little more than at a bar on mainland Italy. Some evenings I enjoyed an after dinner drink in bars where live music was being played.
Library and Internet: Both were on the 7th deck The selection of English language books in the library was good. There were many computers available for internet users in the Cyber Cafe. If I recall correctly, the cost was €4 for 10 minutes.
Laundry: On the second day of the cruise we sent our sweaty clothes from the trip up to the ship's laundry. I entered my MSC Club number on the form and the next day everything was returned beautifully clean and at no charge. Later in the cruise we sent in a second bag of dirty things but this time they charged full price for the service. Not even a Club discount. In any case, the quality of their work was excellent.
Gym and Spa: The gym was a large open space at the front of the ship on the 13th deck with huge windows looking out over the sea. There were plenty of exercise machines available. I used the gym every day and rarely had to wait for a particular machine. The spa area was extensive and staffed primarily by girls from Bali who gave great massages. One hour full-body massages were a pricy €126 each but buying the six-massage packet brought the price down to a little over €100 each. The spa also had a bar serving health and vitamin drinks. The top deck (14th) had a good oval running track which I used after dinner for a few fast-walk laps, and in the early morning on at-sea days. Unfortunately the weather on this cruise was a bit chilly so you had to bundle up before going out.
Entertainment: I did not go to the after-dinner shows, preferring to stroll around the outside upper deck several times (good for the digestion). Our table companions went every evening and considered the entertainment quite good. There was also a good jazz combo playing evenings in one of the bars which my daughter enjoyed very much.
Weather and Climatic Conditions: For a cruise into the north Atlantic we were most fortunate to have generally calm seas and mild weather on most days. On those few occasions when the sea was choppy we didn't experience any discomfort and the motion sickness pills remained in their package. Many days the sky was grey and overcast with light rain but nothing extreme. Depending on where we were, daytime temperatures ranged from 10 degrees Celsius to the mid-twenties.
Port Calls and Shore Excursions: Here was where MSC could have done a lot better. While the itinerary for the cruise was exceptional, the ship was much too large, carrying too many passengers to be easily absorbed in these small islands and ports. A good example was Isafjordur where the ship vomited a couple thousand passengers into a town having a total population of about the same number. To make matters worse, several of the German tour groups had managed to pre-book excursions for their members and consequently those who tried to book once on the ship were met with kilometric lines for the excursion office only to find the tour they wanted was already full. The staff of the excursion office tried to do their best to help everyone but it was an impossible task. We particularly appreciated the efforts of Giusy who went out of her way to find me a seat for one of the tours.
Day 1 - Kiel. Once all the passengers were aboard, the ship sailed at 18.00 en route Bergen. Besides a quick lunch in the self-service, I used the time to sign up for a water package, spa treatments, and attempted to sign up for some excursions. Dinner in the MDR and to bed. Day 2 - At sea. Relaxing day, sea calm. Practically all the excursions we wanted were already booked full. Gala night. Day 3 - Bergen. Nice sunny day. We left on the "Trekking to Mt. Floein" tour which was billed as a stroll through the countryside but turned out to be a rather strenuous hike up the mountain. In a mixed French-Italian group, we were guided though the old section of Bergen and to the cable car which took us half way up the mountain. Beautiful up there with little lakes and woods. Day 4 - Torshavn (Faroe Islands). Overcast, foggy, with light rain. Arrived two hours ahead of schedule and it was announced that we will stay an extra three hours this evening. We went of the excursion around Streymoi, the main island. Lively and very picturesque. Day 5 - At Sea. Sea a little choppy but no discomfort. Nice sunny day. Dedicated to jogging and work out in the gym. Second gala night. We were fortunate to see a group of whales cavorting about a hundred meters off from our restaurant window. At 23.00 the sun was still high on the horizon. I was told that up here night lasts only about 30 minutes or so. Day 6 - Akureyri, Iceland. Nice day. Here we joined a private tour of the Akureyri area that had been arranged by another TA member. Seven of us in an 8 passenger van with a very good guide/driver named Audun Benediksson (www.taxi-no17.com). We first toured the town and then off on the long run north and east to the Goddafoss falls. Spectacular - not high but very wide. We went around Lake Myvatn with it annoying little midges flying around, walked through interesting lava fields. Visited a geothermal power station and ended up at the Mt. Krafta Vitsi volcano. The cost for this seven-hour tour came out to only about €45 a person. A real bargain compared to a similar ship's excursion. Day 7 - Isafjordur, Iceland. Here the German groups had filled completely the excursion I wanted so we just tendered in and walked around the town centre. Rain but not cold. It was interesting to see that most of the buildings were sheathed with aluminium or plastic undulating sheeting probably to keep out the cold and moisture. Good coffee and cake in a local bakery. Day 8 - Reyjkavik, Iceland. We joined a large excursion of English-speakers from a variety of nations, the so-called Golden Circle tour. Good weather. Long tiring day. Went to the Thingvellie National Park to see the Gullfoss falls - awesome! At Geysir we saw the local "Old Faithful" shoot up some 20 meters or so every 5-6 minutes. After lunch we toured another geothermal power station and then went back to Reyjkavik where we stopped at the "Pearl," a huge and high domed centre overlooking the city (great views). Along the way we saw at a distance the now quiet volcano whose eruption caused all the air traffic problems in April and May. Day 9 - At Sea. Weather overcast, sea choppy, temperature around 15-16 degrees. Last gala evening and at midnight the "Buffet Magnifico." It was a spectacular food presentation but right after the gala dinner, I wasn't at all hungry. Day 10 - Lerwick (Shetland Islands). Overcast and chilly. Again here the Germans had booked all the good excursions so I went stand-by on the only one having an open seat, the panoramic tour. Went to the fishing village of Scalloway and to a pony breeding farm. Returning to Lerwick, I walked around the pretty town and took a long stroll along the beautiful cliff walk spotting a couple seals and hundreds of sea birds. Day 11 - At sea. Mostly overcast but warm. Sea choppy. Tomorrow our cruise ends. Day 12 - Kiel. After disembarkation we took a ship's tour of the Kiel area which was nice. Via bus we drove through the town and over the famous Kiel Canal out to a lighthouse where fishing boats operated from. Nice little taverns. We then went to a beach area called Laboe where we climbed up the high Navy Memorial tower and toured a restored World War II submarine. After which the bus took us directly to the Hamburg Airport for our flight home.
Disembarkation: Since we were going on the Kiel excursion we disembarked with that group without stress.
Conclusions: The Poesia is a nice ship and the itinerary for this cruise was particularly interesting. My only criticisms I expressed above, too many passengers for the little ports visited, and the chaos with booking shore excursions. The staff did their best but the problems at times were overwhelming.