MSC POESIA, Kiel to New York, September 2010
I have deliberately left it a few weeks after disembarking to post anything because I didn't want to write simply on impulse. To avoid it influencing my opinions, I have also left it until the last few days to read some of the other reviews and posts here about MSC in general, and about Poesia in particular.
We were a party of four ... my wife and I along with my wife's sister and her husband. Although we travelled together, we had booked separately and had different cabins on different decks. Lest anyone write us off as inexperienced, I should point out that between us we have many hundreds of nights cruising with a variety of lines including, but not limited to, Princess, P&O Aust., P&O U.K., NCL, Holland America and Celebrity.
This was the infamous "bait and switch" cruise. The cruise initially marketed heavily in Australia as an Atlantic crossing, departing Venice aboard Magnifica. After we had booked, everything changed. The actual cruise ended up with an almost entirely different itinerary on a different ship, departing Kiel aboard Poesia. Many cancelled their booking at the time of the switch but others, including us, stuck with it in the belief that the cruise probably still offered a decent deal at the price.
Perhaps as a result of the change of ship and itinerary, some of the (reportedly) 1,800 or so Australians aboard this cruise may have approached it with a slightly negative attitude. Whatever the reason, right from the outset there was a discernible mood of dissatisfaction evident when overhearing or engaging in casual conversation aboard the ship.
Dwelling on negative aspects doesn't accomplish much or provide meaningful information for prospective cruisers. I'll try to be balanced while relating our experiences but unfortunately there's no denying that for us, the negatives significantly outweighed the positives.
Some general things we liked
Poesia is a beautiful ship. It is modern, well-maintained and generally spotless throughout. It rides comfortably, even in moderately rough seas. We found it quick and easy to learn the layout of the ship and to find our way around.
Our cabin (Deck 11, inside) was quiet and comfortable. We loved the big, fluffy towels.
Some staff were polite and attentive and made us feel valued. We had many pleasant conversations with some of the drink waiters, particularly some of the Romanian girls. Our cabin staff was excellent as were a good many of the other "junior" staff we encountered.
The ports of call, despite having changed from the original Magnifica cruise, were still very enjoyable. The decision mid-cruise to bypass Bermuda due to hurricane Igor was entirely sensible and the substitution of Boston as the alternative was an excellent choice.
The free soft-serve ice cream served daily outside the entrance to the buffet on deck 13 was an unexpected and very welcome bonus.
The extended buffet operating hours. Apparently (according to a crew member we spoke to) we were the first to have the "new" buffet system offering longer opening hours and a bit more flexibility than had previously been the case.
Nice big theatre with plenty of seating. Not having to turn up an hour early to get a seat for the show.
Vegemite sachets available in the buffet. They must have been expecting us!
Some general things we didn't like but could possibly live with
The tickets may have been inexpensive but make no mistake, this is not a cheap ship. Many things seemed unreasonably expensive compared to other cruise lines. For example, photographs were €19.95 for a basic, single A4 size print which equates to around $AU28.00.
Similarly, a small bottle of beer varied between €4.50 (around $AU6.30) and €5.50 (around AU$7.70) depending on the brand. Even a simple, small soft drink (Pepsi as there didn't seem to be any Coke available on this ship) cost €3.30 (AU$4.60). Add the mandatory 15% service charge to all the above and you'll understand why "happy hour" took place ashore whenever practical.
I guess the concept of a queue or waiting your turn is lost on some people. Fair enough, this was an Italian ship ... but there was a huge contingent of non-European passengers onboard. It became easy to quickly identify the Americans, British, Australians, New Zealanders or Canadians. They were the ones who did not elbow their way into the lift before you could get out. They were the ones who didn't push you out of the buffet line to snatch the last fried egg. I guess this happens to some extent on other ships, but in this case the crew not only turned a blind eye but in several cases were guilty of inconsiderate behaviour themselves. Perhaps cruise lines should do a little research and think a little more about cultural differences and sensitivities when marketing their cruises. Different nationalities don't always play well together.
It proved impossible to have a sleep-in in the mornings as the cabin staff start work around 6.00am. Banging their service trolleys against walls, they sounded like a herd of elephants wearing steel clogs trying to stomp their way into the cabin through the ceiling. A note to MSC ... if you're going to have steel stairs and uncarpeted walkways in the crew areas, perhaps try issuing soft-soled shoes?
Our soap dispenser in the cabin didn't work. This was reported to the cabin steward. It was fixed four days later ... and worked for one whole day before failing. My sympathy goes out to our long-suffering steward. Without prompting he assured us every day that he had reported the fault but that the maintenance staff were not doing anything.
Forget "movies under the stars" The big screen up on the pool deck showed nothing but a 24 hour repeating loop of advertising until day 10 of the cruise. When the weather turned a bit dull they eventually advertised a free movie on the TV in the cabins. It was "Iron Man 1" ... but the cynic in me suggests this movie was chosen only to promote the fact that "Iron Man 2" was available on the pay TV system. Yes, that's right ... to watch a movie in your cabin will cost you €6.00 (around $AU8.50). I told you this wasn't a cheap ship ... no opportunity to gouge another dollar is missed.
Even if I had wanted to fork out the €6.00 to watch a movie in my cabin, I couldn't because the interactive part of my interactive cabin TV never worked. I mentioned this to the cabin steward who apologetically said he had reported the problem many times on the previous cruise and had given up trying to get anything done about it. We reported it ourselves to the passenger services desk ... twice. We never received the promised follow-up and it was never fixed
Even watching the precious few "free" TV programs available in English became impossible after mid-cruise as the satellite system "broke" and wasn't restored until we arrived in the US.
At first we found the entertainment was of an excellent standard, and although the standard remained high throughout the cruise, the repertoire eventually became depressingly repetitive. The classical musicians and singers were very talented and did a commendable job with some of the operatic classics ... but in the end it just became more of the same old same old.
The production shows were very good ... but again, by the time we got to the end of the cruise we had seen the same performers many, many times over with only the most minor variations in their routines.
The entertainment in the various lounges brought "repetitive" to a whole new level. The same musicians in the same venue doing exactly the same numbers every night ... after night ... after night. You could just about set your watch by what song they were doing at any given time.
If you decide it's all a bit much and you want to remove or vary the automatic gratuity added to your account daily so you can do your tipping personally, expect to jump through a few hoops. The process seemed to be deliberately made as difficult as possible ... no doubt in order to discourage people from doing it. We were originally told it couldn't be done until later ... and later we were told to make an appointment. Eventually we were given the third degree about why we wanted to vary things and had to provide a formal, written request.
Our four biggest complaints - the deal breakers
Despite our having requested early sitting for dinner and our cruise documents showing we were on early dinner sitting, after embarkation and checking our cruise cards we found ourselves on late sitting. This in itself was disappointing as we're normally early risers and used to eating our evening meal around 6.00pm. When we sought out the Maitre d' to explore the possibility of changing to early sitting we were appalled at his attitude. He loudly stated that "everyone wanna da early a sitting ... you come another time" ... and basically shooed us away. Inexcusably rude.
When my wife's cruise card decided it no longer wanted to open our cabin door we went to the customer service desk to ask them to please reprogram it. Instead of assistance we got a lecture. We copped a tirade blaming us for everything from demagnetizing it by putting it next to our credit card (a complete myth in case you're interested) to telling us we weren't using the door lock correctly (ignoring my explanation that my card still worked perfectly).
These are just two specific examples. We encountered similar attitudes from many of the more senior crew. While junior staff such as waiters and stewards were polite and obliging, the same couldn't be said for their supervisors. Incredibly, some of the worst attitudes seemed to come from people whose job it was to provide "passenger service". On a number of occasions we were made to feel like we were simply an inconvenience.
Organisiation (or the lack of it)
What kind of inspired organizational skills does it take to have our cruise documents, luggage labels and dockets for transfers from Hamburg to Kiel delivered to our cabin two days after the cruise had departed?
Embarkation was a debacle and unfortunately proved to be something of an omen for things to come. We were dumped (by the MSC organized transfer) at the terminal in Kiel and it wasn't until almost four hours later that we were finally able to board the ship. The terminal staff offered no information, advice or assistance whatsoever.
Pretty much everything requiring any degree of organizational skill ended up being a disaster. Probably the best/worst example was the day we arrived at Boston and had to go through US immigration. The US authorities had set up on the stage in the theatre and the idea was that passengers would be called to the theatre, seated in manageable, numbered blocks where they would wait briefly until their block was called whereupon they would be processed by the authorities.
A simple enough process, but Poesia still managed to mess it up. Instead of calling individual decks as had been published, they managed to call all passengers from both decks 10 and 11 to go to the theatre all at the same time. Decks 10 and 11 are where the vast majority of passenger cabins are located on Poesia, so the result was well over a thousand passengers all queued up waiting to get to the theatre. The queue extended from the theatre at the front of the ship all the way back to the dining rooms at the rear of the ship ... then doubled back again through the ship to the middle stairway and up onto the next deck above.
When a man ahead of me in the queue remarked to a relatively senior member of the entertainment crew who was directing people that they shouldn't have called everyone from both decks at the same time, the response was "Ha ... it was worse last time ... I suppose you think you can do better". See the previous item ... "attitude"
It took us almost two hours standing in that queue to reach the theater ... and we were around the middle of the eventual queue. When we finally reached the theater we were processed quite quickly ... but a little bit of thought and common sense would have avoided all those people standing uncomfortably and unnecessarily in a massive queue for all that time.
It didn't end there either. At the theater exit, MSC crew members were recording the cabin numbers of everyone who had been processed. Despite the fact that all cruise cards had both a magnetic strip and a bar code, this was being done manually ... one person calling out the cabin number to another person who would tick it off on a printed list. This process was so slow that on several occasions I observed the incoming queue was halted and the US immigration officials sat on the stage chatting among themselves, doing nothing while the queue to exit the theater was slowly cleared. For goodness sake MSC buy a portable barcode scanner and a laptop.
Now, this may seem like a somewhat longwinded gripe about something which ultimately isn't that important ... but it illustrates precisely the sort of pervasive organizational incompetence which seemed endemic on Poesia.
What can I say. Almost every aspect was a huge disappointment in almost every way.
On the first night of our cruise we turned up at the dining room for late sitting at the appointed time of 8.30pm. The dining room eventually opened 15 minutes later at 8.45pm. The dining room felt crowded and noisy. It seemed to take forever before our waiter took our order and the overall impression was frenetic and under-resourced. When the food finally arrived it was uninspiring and barely warm. It was well gone 10.30pm by the time we finished and indigestion ruled that night.
We are normally dining room people ... preferring that option for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Despite our experience the previous evening, we decided to go to the dining room for breakfast on day two. My wife ordered smoked salmon and I ordered two fried eggs and two pieces of toast. These were items straight off the menu, nothing out of the ordinary. It took an hour and a half as well as a "what's happening" to the waiter before we got our meals. Unsurprisingly the eggs and toast were stone cold.
Nothing if not determined, we fronted up at the dining room for lunch. It was the same story. An interminable time before our order was taken and an interminable time before the food was delivered. In fact, my sister-in-law's Greek salad never arrived. We simply gave up on it and left after two hours.
We don't blame the waiters. I believe the problems are systemic. I simply don't think there was enough staff to cope. Our waiter seemed perpetually in motion but could never keep up. Getting his attention for something like another glass of water was like winning the lottery.
There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to it either. One night there was a prawn dish on the menu. Bizarrely the prawns were piping hot but still in their shells, complete with heads. This required manual peeling with the inevitable messy and burned fingers, but only around half the tables in the room were lucky enough to get finger bowls ... and whether or not anyone on the table had ordered the prawns didn't appear to relate to whether the table got a finger bowl.
On another occasion a couple joined our table for lunch, arriving 30 minutes after we'd arrived. They had their order taken, all three courses delivered and devoured and had left the table before our first course had even appeared.
The buffet was not very much of an alternative. The food was uninspiring and hardly varied from the first day of the cruise to the last. Food was rarely more than luke warm unless you managed to arrive just when a fresh batch of something appeared. The only upside was the pizza ... especially on those few days when they decided to make the four cheese variety.
This, more than anything else, would prevent us from ever cruising with MSC again.
Most cruise ships have a number of designated smoking areas. Usually these are part of the casino and the promenade deck on one side of the ship. In contrast, smoking areas on Poesia include (but isn't limited to) the following areas:
Open decks (7 and 13), port side Bar del Poeti, deck 6, port side Cigar room, deck 7 Royal Casino, deck 7 Pigalle lounge, deck 7 Pirana bar, deck 13 (except for the bar counter) Mojito bar, deck 13 (except for the bar counter) Pool, deck 14 port side
What this boils down to is that vast areas of the ship are given over to smokers. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the smoking policy is almost universally ignored and appears never to be policed. Smokers just lit up wherever they wanted to with apparent impunity.
One of then most annoying aspects of the smoking "policy" was that the spacious "Pigalle Lounge", where many mainstream activities are held, is a designated smoking area. We simply couldn't go there. Not even to watch things like the passenger talent show. It was almost impossible to find a smoke-free spot to sit and relax in a lounge without becoming a passive smoker or, as in my wife's case, risking an asthma attack. This is simply unacceptable in this day and age.
Would we cruise with MSC again? ... not a chance, but readers should keep in mind two things. Firstly, this was our experience. Other passengers may have had a different experience ... perhaps better, perhaps worse. Other MSC ships may be different.
Secondly, this was our experience and isn't just a whinge. We are experienced cruisers. And based on this experience we KNOW that we can get much better value for money from other lines already operating in the Australian market.
Having now read many of the other reviews on this site it is clear that many of the problems we experienced have been around for quite some time. It seems MSC just aren't interested in improving ... but until they do, they probably have little chance of success in the Australian market.