This was our second cruise on MSC and our 21st cruise overall. We previously sailed with friends many years ago on “Symphony” doing MSC’s 7-day Western Mediterranean itinerary out of Genoa, and the experience was an enjoyable one. With a prior satisfactory experience on MSC and wanting to cruise the coast of New England and Canada during the fall foliage season, this itinerary originating in New York was made to order, and we booked the “Autumn Along Atlantic Shores” cruise on July 12, 2010. The itinerary called for sailing round-trip out of New York City on October 2, for 14 nights with ports-of-call in Halifax, Charlottetown, Corner Brook, Quebec (overnight), Sydney, Bar Harbor, Boston, and Newport.
Because we live approximately 90 miles north of New York City in the Hudson River Valley region, a big plus for us was the fact that air travel was not involved in traveling to the port of embarkation. Anyone who has struggled with hand scales to make sure the suitcase is under 50 pounds, or has had to pay extra charges to the airlines for that second checked piece of luggage can appreciate my wife’s attitude regarding packing for this trip. She was totally cavalier in selecting clothing for this trip, and as long as the suitcase zipper could close, into the bag the item went. Four suitcases, two carry-ons, a camera case and a huge shoulder bag later, we piled into the limo and we were off to Pier #88 in Manhattan.
Although we did not receive luggage tags until we arrived at the port, completing the information took little time and checking in was quick and easy. Upon receiving our cruise-card, we noted that we were assigned first seating for dinner when we had requested second. We boarded the ship, and although we were not escorted to our stateroom, ship’s staff were available at key locations to assist us in finding our cabin which we accomplished with little difficulty. Our luggage arrived within minutes, and while my wife started her unpacking, I went down to inquire about changing our dinner time to second seating. I went to the designated area, received a number much like those at the supermarket deli counter and was told to wait in a lounge where I would be paged. The system works smoothly evidenced by the fact that within a few minutes I was paged and stood before the maitre’d making my request which was granted with a smile and a “Welcome Aboard.”
Because we saved on plane fare, we decided to splurge and we upgraded to a Balcony Suite (#15012) located forward on Deck 15 (Alfieri Deck), starboard side. Some of the amenities specific to a suite stateroom on Poesia include a tub in the bathroom, a small wardrobe for hanging clothes, and fresh fruit daily. Our cabin stewards were excellent, and with the exception of running out of facial tissues a couple of times, we could not find fault with any of the services they provided for us. However, just a short time ago we came off a 7-day cruise on Adventure of the Seas on which we had booked a Junior Suite. Perhaps our expectations were a bit high after that experience, and in both of our opinions, the “suite” on MSC could not hold a candle to the “junior suite” on AOS. The cabins are essentially comparable in terms of square feet, but the layout on Poesia made maneuvering around the cabin very awkward and created a feeling of "smallness." The large mirror and glass shelf opposite the bathroom door is a waste of space and only serves to make the passageway much too constricting for easy flow of traffic. My wife and I only utilize the shower when we travel, so having a tub, for us, is a waste of space which we would have preferred to have added to the living area of the cabin. Availability of a wardrobe for hanging clothes is a definite plus, but in this case, the position of the chest of drawers reduces the amount of usable space because the distance between the wardrobe and the interior wall is very small. The only clothing that would fit in that space were my slacks, and even then, they became crushed and wrinkled over time. Not much of a benefit. A peculiarity of having the suites located toward the bow is that the cabins are subject to pronounced “shuddering” in heavy seas. At night while sleeping, this shuddering created a sensation very much akin to having someone wake you up by shaking you vigorously on the shoulder. Until we got used to the sensation, it made for some very restless nights and dark circles under the eyes the following morning. Overall, it is our candid opinion that the extra amenities associated with booking the suite were not worth the increase in fare.
What really surprised us were the meager offerings afforded through room service which, by the way and along with housekeeping needs, must be requested through the reception desk. This is probably done in order to expedite dealing with five different languages on board, although it does make for a certain measure of inflexibility. Case in point: at one point, we wanted some crackers and an assortment of cheeses to enjoy with wine I had purchased through the in-cabin wine package. I tried calling room service and instead found myself talking to reception. When I made my request, the response was that it is impossible because it is not listed on the menu found in our cabin. I responded that since it is available at every lunch and dinner as a dessert plate of cheeses, grapes and nuts, it must be available in the kitchen and could she please check with room service to see if it could be made available. Again, she responded that it is impossible because it is not listed on the cabin menu. Like I said, “Inflexible.” Unless one is sick, neither lunch not dinner is available via room service as the directory found in the cabin clearly states the following: “We respectfully advise our Guests that Lunch or Dinner cannot be served in the cabin.” However, available 24 hours/day is a very limited menu of the soup of the day, a “Mozzarella Caprese,” a platter of sliced seasonal fruit, a couple of different salads, and your choice of tuna, shrimp, chicken or egg salad sandwiches. The room service menu also offers a Continental Breakfast available from 7:30 - 10 AM, except for the day of disembarkation. Although delivery is prompt, little can be said in a positive vein regarding the quality of food delivered. Rolls were stale, toast was literally ice cold and would not melt butter, and orange juice was not fresh but resembled a thin orangeade much like Tang.
Mention of the wine package above calls to mind just how disorganized this ship can be at times. We prepaid for two wine packages using the online services available via MSC’s website; one package for delivery to our cabin, and a second package for delivery to our dinner table. Bear with me because this takes some explaining. After unpacking, I called room service (#99 on the telephone keypad not knowing that, in fact, I was talking to Reception) and explained that I had vouchers for wine delivery to my cabin. I requested 2 bottles of white wine and 1 bottle of red to be delivered along with an extra ice bucket. After a pregnant pause, I was informed by the voice on the other end of the phone that they didn’t provide that service. I needed to go to one of the lounges and obtain the wine from a bartender. Into the elevator and down to the Zebra Bar I went with vouchers in hand. All I received from the bartender was a confused look and an indication that they didn’t provide that service either. If I wanted wine for my cabin, he said that I needed to go to Reception. Down to Deck 5 where I waited in line at Reception with four others for someone behind the desk to become available. The Reception Desk is well-staffed, so time passed quickly and again with vouchers in hand, I approached a staff member. After explaining that I was trying to redeem vouchers for wine, I was informed by this staff person that Reception doesn’t do that. For delivery of wine to the cabin it was necessary to contact Room Service. Now I’m back to square one and my patience is beginning to wear thin. I explained that it was a room service request that started me on this merry-go-round in the first place and that I did not intend to repeat the process. After consulting my account information on her computer, she verified that I had, in fact, prepaid for the wine packages, and only then did she seem inclined to assist me in the procurement of our wine. The young lady dialed room service herself and ordered 2 bottles of white, 1 bottle of red and an extra ice bucket to be delivered to my cabin.
However, the story is not quite over. A few minutes after returning to my cabin, there was a knock on the door. I opened the door to admit a steward carrying 3 bottles of red wine and neither white wine nor extra ice. When asked, the steward said that he could only deliver red wine to cabins... not white. My response was that that was absolutely ridiculous and I showed him the package details and my vouchers. I signed for 1 bottle of red, and sent him back to room service with the other 2 bottles of red. Believe it or not, it required 3 additional trips to Reception before the situation was resolved and only then through the capable assistance of a young lady named Charra. If it were not for her efforts, I think I would still be waiting for that white wine.
I will spare you from more tedium, but the situation was not much better at dinner that evening when I tried to redeem a prepaid voucher for a bottle of wine, a component of the second wine package we had ordered online at the MSC website. Our waiter, Ferry, looked at the coupon as if it were the first time he had seen such a thing. Finally, after bringing the Assistant Maitre’d to the table, the situation was rectified, and it was only through the graciousness of our table-mates that we were not embarrassed to death by the attention being directed to our table. Hardly the best way to begin a 14-day cruise on a ship that touts itself as being “graced with Italian hospitality and warmth, ...” I can only assume that the overall confusion on the part of staff may have come about because I had used the MSC website to order and prepay for our wine packages. I say this because, subsequent to our fiasco, I spoke to others who had ordered a wine package while on board and they reportedly had no similar problems.
We had also ordered and prepaid for our excursions via the website, and with the exception of having two of them cancelled once onboard, there was no similar confusion with the excursion department as there was with the bar and beverage department. Tickets for the excursions were accurately printed and efficiently delivered to our cabin. Of minor inconvenience is a policy that stipulates that if the excursion is prepaid via the website, then the credit for the cancellation can only be granted by the website. No shipboard credit is available and one must wait until they have returned home to apply for the credit. Seems like a rather cumbersome process to me, but I’m sure there’s some rationale for its practice.
Where the excursion department falls short, in our opinion, is in the communication of information and the execution of the individual excursions. The daily bulletin delivered to the cabin in the evening lists the various excursions scheduled for the following day and the meeting places for participants to gather beforehand. We booked an excursion for each and every port of call on the itinerary, and not a single one departed on time...not one. Every one was delayed by at least one-half hour, and one departure was 40 minutes late in leaving the lounge and exactly 65 minutes late by the time the bus was pulling out of the lot. One glaring example of miscommunication occurred in Bar Harbor where we signed up for Tour #BHB12, “Grand Tour of Acadia & Bar Harbor.” The literature on the website and also available onboard at the excursion desk describes this tour as having a duration of approx. 4 hours. Since the tour left the dockside at 11:05 AM, most passengers on the bus assumed that we’d be returning between 3:00 - 3:30 PM providing plenty of time to explore quaint Bar Harbor before the last ship’s tender at 5:15 PM. However, as 4:00 PM came and went, some passengers approached the tour guide and driver to inquire as to when we’d be returning to Bar Harbor. It was then that the tour guide informed us that our tour has a standard duration of 6 hours...and always had been such. Realizing our dismay at the news, she called her office seeking clarification. According to her, the office was under no instructions to customize the tour for a length of 4 hours. Subsequently, the tour guide and driver collaborated to modify the length of time at remaining venues in order to get us back to the ship in time for the scheduled departure. The last tender was scheduled for 5:15, and we arrived back at dockside by 5:05. As it turned out, we were not the only tour operating with inaccurate information as we observed from our veranda tenders operating for an additional 40 minutes before all passengers were back aboard. We met our scheduled departure time of 6:00 PM, but not without a lot of scurrying by a competent and efficient crew to secure the final tender and gangplank.
Many posters have made comments, both negative and positive, regarding the breakfast and lunch buffets at the Villa Pompeiana on Poesia and I don’t think it necessary to iterate comments regarding quality of food, presentation, and crowded conditions in this venue. Enjoyment of food and the dining experience is relative to one’s value system, and our evaluation of the various experiences can not be accurately translated and applied to what the reader values. Suffice it to say that my wife, who reads cookbooks like others read novels and is extremely adept in the kitchen, avoided the breakfast and lunch buffet on Deck 13 unless it was absolutely necessary. For her, the entire experience was disconcerting and made her very uncomfortable. For breakfast, we would either go down to the main dining room, or she would order coffee and orange juice from room service and I would go to the buffet and get a hot bagel and cream cheese for her and bring it back to the cabin. I, however, am not bothered by buffet lines, and would go to breakfast on Deck 13. To those who might enjoy buffets and are not bothered by crowded lines in confined spaces either, I offer the following. Once selecting your food items, proceed to the L’Obelisco A La Carte Restaurant located further aft on Deck 13. There you will usually find available seating, a quieter locale and a pace much less frenetic. For lunch, we found the Sushi Bar to be a quiet and elegant place to dine, and although we incurred an charged extra for this venue, we felt that it was well worth the price.
Preparing meals for between 2500 and 3000 passengers is no easy feat, and the ability to provide quality meals that are appealing in their presentation and pleasing to the palate requires both talent and skill. Unfortunately, in our opinion, the food preparation staff on Poesia came up short in this regard and the best descriptor we can use to indicate the quality of food and service in the main dining rooms is “inconsistent at its best.” Some of the food presented was absolutely delicious, and some items were at the opposite end of the spectrum and deplorable. Some specific examples of Poesia’s shortcomings include, but are not limited to the following: French onion soup with the consistency of canned Franco-American gravy; Creme Brulee that was extremely grainy in texture and lacking a sugar crust top, but instead was presented with what appeared to be a sugar syrup; rigatoni pasta with Bolognese sauce in which the sauce was obviously burnt and bitter tasting; what was tagged on the menu as “Chicken Piccata” was served with a brown mushroom gravy instead of a reduction sauce of lemon, butter, capers and white wine; fillet mignon that was tough and difficult to cut (how is that even possible?); risotto completely undercooked (some grains of rice even crunched) and with a consistency of paste, and finally, breakfast pancakes under the heat lamp for so long that the edges could not be cut with a fork. I could continue, but I believe I’ve included enough dining room faux pas to justify our conclusion that food preparation is not one of Poesia’s strong points. Quite simply, in our judgment at least, the hype presented in the menus does not match the reality of the plate placed before us on the table, and we found the overall quality of food served on Poesia to be disappointing.
Just as with food, music appreciation is also very subjective, and what one considers excellence, another might consider nothing but noise. That said, we especially enjoyed the guitarist, Carlo, who performed in the Zebra Bar, and also the Ottawa Band, who provided dancing music, again in the Zebra Bar. As for the production numbers in the Carlo Felice Theater, the only term that accurately describes our reaction to the quality of the entertainment is “sophomoric.” We attended the following shows: “Euphoria”, “Sam”, Exstraordinare”, “Follie Barock”, and”Atlantis,” and except for the changes of costumes, the shows seemed to follow a common formula: Lavish costumes worn by “dancers” who, while waving their arms in time to the music, merely moved to various stage positions and posed for a few moments while acrobatic performers a la’ cirque d’soleil did their thing center stage, and somewhere within the flow, a duo of synchronized dancers would emerge who could not maintain the synchronization. When a knife throwing act came on stage during the “Atlantis” production, that was when the level of ludicrousness reached a new high, and we left the theater. As we were leaving, quite fasiciously my wife made the comment that all that was needed for a revival of the old Ed Sullivan Show was for a dog act to appear on stage.
With all that I’ve indicated above, it may seem paradoxical to state that we had a good time on this cruise. We must have enjoyed ourselves because the 14 days passed very quickly, and as they say, “Time flies...” We were aboard a sleek, well-kept floating hotel visiting interesting ports-of call in the company of fascinating, vital people while enjoying the magnificent scenery of New England, the Maritime Provinces of Canada, the St. Lawrence River and Quebec. However, a cruise experience is more than a clean ship and a great itinerary. It is the sum total of what passengers encounter while aboard including stateroom amenities and service, entertainment venues, bar and beverage service, quality of food, and most importantly, whether or not passengers are made to feel confused, frustrated, needlessly inconvenienced, or unappreciated. In our minds, there is no such thing as a “bad” cruise. It’s just that some cruises are better than others. For us, the number of shortcomings we experienced on MSC Poesia has established a new benchmark at the low end of the spectrum. At the time we booked this cruise, we approached friends who had never cruised and proposed that they join us on Poesia. In hindsight, we are grateful that they had a conflict in their calendar and were unable to join us because we firmly believe that if this were their first cruise experience, it would probably also be their last.
Will we cruise again in the future? Most definitely,...Yes.
Will we sail with MSC again? ...Possibly.
Will we sail again on Poesia? Most definitely,...No.