We were a bit apprehensive to book with MSC after reading several negative reviews. But the deal was too amazing to pass up for our balcony cabin and so we went with low expectations. This was our 11th cruise in the past 5 years, and we've travelled most with Princess, but also Costa, Norwegian, Holland America and Celebrity within this time frame.
I am pleased to say that our recent experience on the Poesia was fantastic. We sailed from New York to Fort Lauderdale (2 days) and then returned to Fort Lauderdale after 10 days in the Caribbean. The ship had sailed from Quebec, and several passengers ended their trip in NYC, so the ship was not very busy until we boarded more passengers in Lauderdale. Our embarkation was the best ever, but mostly because there was a small number embarking in NYC. There was some confusion over the timing to board and whether or not we could get off again once on board. This was not a problem for us as we were exhausted after 2 days hiking around NYC, and we were happy to board by 7pm and not get back off.
The Ship: the Poesia is a beautiful ship, still very new, with some lovely finishing. What impressed us most were the lounges. Although they are not laid out well for large crowds to see a "show" on the stage/dance floor, they are well laid out for groups of all sizes to socialize. The Zebra bar quickly became a favourite place. The buffet area could do with a few layout improvements (many passengers did not realize there was an additional section and the main sections were crowded), but other than that we certainly had no issues. The ship had a sadly underutilized outdoor screen—room for improvement here.
The Activities: The "Animation Team" (the cruise director's staff) were the best group I've ever sailed with. Full of energy, they were dancing with everyone and encouraging participation in the party atmosphere. Never have I seen so much activity in the lounges—sometimes it was difficult to find a seat! And what a treat not to feel like I'm on a ghost ship after 10pm. With announcements in 5 languages (English, Italian, Spanish, French & German), this multi-lingual group managed to include everyone. They were great actors and entertainers in their own right. The trivia for movie theme songs was hysterical.
Evening Entertainment: we caught the tail end of a Big Band cruise, and we enjoyed the sessions we attended. Never have I seen so much dancing which is great to see. The theatre shows were excellent. We've yet to see "fabulous" ship's dancers, but the ones on the Poesia made a nice frame for the variety acts between their sets. The female singer was one of the best I've seen, and the evening of Opera was a nice cultural surprise. The show for the 2nd seating diners was at 6:45, leaving time after dinner for the Animation Team activities.
Excursions: we did not book any tours via the ship, and some were cancelled due to weather conditions or for lack of participation. The ones offered were fairly typical. I do note that no diving excursions were offered, and we did comment on this to the line. With our first stop in Cozumel (practically the Caribbean diving capital), we were amazed not to see one here. Luckily we were able to make our own arrangements.
The Cabin: we had a balcony cabin on the 12th deck, mid-ship. It was fairly typical of any cabin we've been in. The flat screen TV was dark to view from some angles, and the channel choices were few but did include Spanish and Italian. The movies were mostly pay-per view. But that's not why we're on vacation—we can watch TV anytime at home. We believe our room steward, Samsul, lived in the hallway. We'd try to sneak out of the cabin for 10 minutes, only to find he'd been there and gone, waving his magic wand. He asked us every day what else he could do for us. Amazing service. In addition, there were many staff in the public areas polishing glass and brass, keeping the ship very clean. The public toilets could sometimes use an attendant, but I blame the messes there on my fellow passengers and I'm continually amazed at the lack of courtesy by some.
Dining Room Service: most of the complaints we'd read seemed to stem around food and service. We prefer anytime dining option if available, but selected the late seating. We were very lucky to have a waiter from Bali (I still cannot pronounce his name) with a great sense of humour and who could speak excellent German to the Swiss people at our table. Our water glasses were attended to regularly, our tea & coffee choices were remembered, and anything else we needed was brought swiftly. On our last morning, we ran into a travel agent who complained that their waiters reached across people to serve them (not quite the French service on Cunard lines). Gasp! The Horror! This happened to us every night, but because our round table was against the wall and was partially a booth—many of the tables were like this. Our waiter asked for our dessert choice with our meal order, but was quick to bring an alternative if desired later. If there was substandard service on board, it certainly wasn't in our section. The Maitre d' was actually useful too—only the second one we've found. And best of all was that they had casual nights—how refreshing to see jeans and t-shirts allowed on occasion. We saw a variety of interpretations for formal nights, it certainly wasn't stuffy.
The Food: here we had our lowest expectations. Maybe there are just too many North Americans expecting the same meals they order at their local Olive Garden or Appleby's? Every night featured meals from different regions in Italy, along with a "Stars and Stripes" menu for those who prefer the bland and boring. I don't know what people are complaining about!!! I had 2 of my best meals ever on this ship: the Osso Buco melted in my mouth (I didn't even need the knife) it was so tender, and my Filet Mignon with Gorgonzola sauce was so good, my mouth is still watering. Although I've seen more selection on some of the other lines, I never ventured to the "every day" menu once—I always found something to tempt me. I would like to have seen an extra dessert choice, but the gelato was always a good backup. We did not try the specialty restaurants, but some tablemates raved about the Sushi restaurant. The buffet was fairly typical, with some unusual salad bar choices at lunchtime. I think MSC did a fair job of finding items to appeal to all nationalities. Again, if people are complaining about the food, I don't know why. With Princess offering up 24 hour buffet service, it's hard to compare/compete with that—you do need to be aware of the buffet open/closing times. MSC doesn't don't put out a huge midnight spread daily (who needs that anyways), offering late night appetizers by trays in the lounges instead. They had a self-serve ice cream cone station from 1-5pm daily, which I took too much advantage of. And for only $1.50, you could have a gelato at the Poolside Mojito Bar. I do wish they'd had a late night cookie though. Oh well, if that's the only negative I can find, I'd say it was a pretty darn good cruise.
The final bill: when we boarded, we were each asked if we would like to donate $1.50 to Unicef (it did not simply appear on our bill like others have suggested). BTW, this is not a daily rate. The daily tipping was $12 each. The wine prices were reasonable, and the ship offers drink packages which we took advantage for with beer and cocktails. The cocktail of the day was $5.50 and it was $6.95 for mojitos, martinis and margaritas, etc. Packages gave you about 2 free drinks. As I said previously, tours prices were typical.
So I hope I've given you a good glimpse of our very positive experience with MSC. We wouldn't hesitate to recommend them and would definitely go back. I seldom take the time to write a review, but felt I really should—remember those who have bad experiences are quick to vocalize their complaints and those with good experiences often keep quiet. And be sure to try the Osso Buco and be the envy of the other diners at your table!