My husband and I have just returned from a two week back to back cruise on MSC Poesia. MSC is a cruise line we had not tried before. We've looked at reviews in the past and read some that were negative. However when we talked to people that had been on the ship we were told that they liked it very much and would happily cruise on the ship again. A great deal was offered - too good to pass up. So we decided to see for ourselves. Here is the story of our holiday.
We flew from Halifax to Newark and Newark to Fort Lauderdale via Continental. As usual - it was not an uneventful flight. We have yet to fly Continental and not run into a problem or a delay of some kind. Either they didn't have a plane available, or did not have a pilot - this time there was a problem with the plane itself and after boarding at Newark, we had to get off, get our luggage off, and wait for a plane to come in that could take us to FLL. We arrived there about 3 hours later than planned. Fortunately we always travel at least one day before the cruise.
We stayed at the Best Western Oceanview for a night before the cruise and a night after the cruise and were very happy with our choice. The location was excellent. Leave the hotel, walk past the Sheraton and there was the Fort Lauderdale beach. Ideal for those who prefer to walk in the sand and dip in the ocean instead of the hotel pool. There is not a shuttle service to the hotel but that was not a deterrent. The rooms were large and comfortable, the location was only a short distance from the Port Everglades, there was a great buffet breakfast included as well as free use of computer in the lobby. Within walking distance was a little place called Just About Food - for a great lunch, and we had dinners overlooking the water at Bahia Cabana both evenings - great food in nice location.
Embarkation was slow and annoying until one got past security. Getting the ship card and then on to the ship was reasonably smooth after that.
For those of you who don't know anything about MSC - it is one of the biggest shipping lines in the world and when they decided to get into the passenger cruise business - they certainly did it the right way, in my humble opinion. The Poesia is definitely poetry in motion. What a beautiful ship! A cruise ship is a cruise ship is a cruise ship - right? Wrong.
This is definitely not an entry level, or as they say in the industry a 'contemporary' cruise ship. Poesia is an stylish lady dressed in the finest of taste. She is beautiful throughout with tasteful colours and materials, sparkling brass and mirrors and interesting art. Nothing is blatant or tacky or over-the-top. It is understated elegance.
Not only does Poesia look good - she also sounds good. We were delighted by the calibre of the music on board and would frequently head to the multi-level atrium to listen to the Trio Cantanapoli, with their wonderful Neapolitan music, or the Musica in Maschera (a classical trio with piano, violin and cello) or sometimes a few arias by the tenor Aurelio Gabaldon and soprano Rosita Tassi.
There was live music to suit every taste in the evenings, in the different bars and lounges. Not only that, I noticed in particular the background music played around the ship. It seemed appropriate to the time and location - from up-beat music on deck, to quiet sounds in the late evening. None of the annoying blaring that I've heard on some ships.
The entertainment in the evenings was more mature, no slapstick comedians or magicians, instead ranging from opera to Broadway, circus to a unique and fascinating production called Atlantis - unlike any show we have seen before. There was a great Jazz session one afternoon that we really enjoyed.
My personal favourite musicians were the Trio Cantanapoli. We thoroughly enjoyed their music whether in the Atrium or before the shows or on deck the night of the buffet.
And my favourite vocalist was Mimma Barra. She has a voice like rich warm olive oil under Tuscan sunshine. She can sing a classical aria and belt out a Broadway tune with equal skill. Once we heard her sing - we made a point of going to every show she was in - and repeated that the second week. I am happy to be able now at home to put her CD in the player, close my eyes and pretend I am back on ship being entertained by her. Thank you, Mimma.
This ship has the largest cruise director's staff I have ever seen on any ship but there is a good reason for that. Although the ship is Italian, with most of the top officers and many of the crew being Italian - they are offering something to their passengers that I have never seen on another cruise line - comfort in their own language.
There is usually just one announcement over the public address system of the ship each day (unless there is a drill or a late passenger on a port day) but that announcement is done in English, French, Italian, German and Spanish. MSC tries to accommodate their guests by providing announcements in 5 different languages, the daily program in each of those languages and the dining room menus and the ship information books in the cabins in all those languages - for the comfort and convenience of their guests from elsewhere in the world. In the evenings at the theater the introductions are also given in these languages.
And - there are cruise director's staff - the 'Animation Staff' they are called, that are organizing activities for all their guests in the different languages, hence the need for a huge staff. I think it is wonderful that both Europeans and North Americans can all go on a ship and know they can use their own language there without difficulty. This gives people the freedom to travel without constantly struggling with a language dictionary.
I am now going to talk about food - which as we know is a very subjective experience. I have read negative comments about food in the past and after having dined on the ship for two weeks - I can only assume that the people complaining about the food have very little experience with fine dining and/or have never travelled outside their own country.
My husband and I both found the food to be exceptionally good. We have travelled to Italy in the past and enjoy good Italian food. This was so much better than just 'good'. We really fell in love with it.
We had breakfast in Le Fontane (the dining room on deck 5) once but in the mornings really enjoyed going to the Villa Pompeiana cafeteria on deck 13. There was always an abundance of fresh fruit, both hot and cold cereals, eggs in a variety of styles from hard boiled, omelets, scrambled, fried or eggs Benedict, a wide variety of hot and cold meats, cheeses, fish, grilled tomatoes, baked beans, potato in different styles, a variety of breads, rolls, sweets like doughnuts (I admit by the tenth day I could no longer walk by them and ignore them), danish pastries as well as a variety of juices, regular and decaffeinated coffee and a huge variety of different kinds of tea.
It was possible to have a different breakfast every morning and not repeat oneself - however I have my favourites and I really enjoyed an 'English-style' breakfast most mornings.
We had lunch once or twice in the dining room as there are times when it is lovely just to sit and be served but the rest of the time we ate our lunch at Villa Pompeiana. There were two huge sections devoted to a 'make it yourself' salad with a lot of the same salad basics each day as well as some interesting variations.
There was also a new and different pasta dish being made in front of us each day and I think I tried every one of them! As well there was a different freshly made soup, a half dozen or so different salads ( shrimp salad or beef salad or chicken salad, etc). It was different each day - there might be a curry dish there one day and the next day it was a yummy oriental chicken. There were meats and vegetables and on the port side of the cafeteria was the grill section if one wanted burgers or hot dogs or fries and on the starboard side was the pizzeria.
Oh those pizzas........I loved watching them coming out of the oven, sliced and hot and oh so good! There were always some simple pizza with tomato sauce and cheese, always some with salami and then it could change from time to time with mushroom or spinach or other toppings. One of my favourites was with slivers of ham and white cheese. I am salivating thinking of them right now !! I really like the pizzas in Rome but these pizzas on ship were so much better.
We would often go up to the cafeteria in the evening - after the show - and play some cards and it would not be long before one or both of us would be getting a slice of that pizza. It was available from noon until 3:00 and then from 4:00 until 10:00 and we certainly enjoyed a bit of pizza in the evenings.
Dinners were wonderful. We opted for early dining and were in the Il Palladio dining room on deck 6. The menus offered a choice of Italian or 'Stars and Stripes' choices. I think I picked a soup and a dessert from the S & S side once but we chose Italian dishes for all our dinners and were never disappointed.
The menu changed every night - one night there were specialities from Naples and another night specialities from Venice. Because we were on ship for two weeks - the menus repeated - but there was always something different to try.
The first formal night there was a lasagna that I fell in love with. It was the best lasagna I have ever tasted (I will even admit it was better than my own). There were two formal nights a week and when that first formal night was repeated on the second week - I started the meal with the fruit platter, then the turkey salad, then the lasagna as my pasta dish and then - to the surprise of my waiter - I had another serving of that lasagna instead of an entree.
Between us we tasted dozens and dozens of different dishes (often sharing a bite of something different) and found all of the meals to be very very good. Keep in mind - we just ate the Italian food. I can cook steak or have lobster at home anytime and I rarely touch burgers or hotdogs so would not be eating them on a cruise - I like to experience something different when I am travelling.
We were also happy to find that people with dietary needs were considered as well. My husband is diabetic so was very happy that there were sugar-free desserts on the menu at dinner and they were very tasty ones. I noted that there was soy milk available for folks that could not handle dairy milk and also skim milk available if requested. There were even sugar-free jams at breakfast time. They would also adapt some dishes on request. For instance I am allergic to some mushrooms so the lovely veal with mushroom sauce was served without the sauce. And it was so tender I could cut it with my fork.
As well as breakfasts, lunches and dinners - there was also an afternoon tea served in the Villa Pompeiana with sandwiches, scones, cookies and other tasty treats. There were 'midnight snacks' served in the lounges between 11:15 and 12:15 and on two nights a week there is a wonderful buffet.
The first one was a Neapolitan buffet between 11:15 and 12:15 in the cafeteria and it was loaded with all sorts of goodies from the Naples region of Italy. I saw (and resisted) some of the gorgeous desserts - and only managed to do that because my plate was so full of other foods that there was no room for sweets. I really recommend the Neapolitan sausage dish, among others!!
I thought that buffet could not be topped until I went to the Magnifico Buffet. It was held outside on the pool deck and was a very festive occasion. Music was playing and there was singing and wonderful displays of food sculptures and ice sculptures and the biggest variety in a buffet that I have ever seen on any ship. There were crab salads and shrimp salads and chicken salads and beef salads and varieties of meats and cheeses and breads and devilled eggs and stuffed tomatoes and on and on. Dozens of different sweets of every kind. It was absolutely amazing. All the chefs were there for us to see and express our appreciation. They are the folks we don't often get to see - that produce all the gorgeous food. That buffet really was magnificent!
By the way - there are also two speciality restaurants on ship. One is the Kaito Sushi Bar, Japanese restaurant. The other is L'Obelisco Restaurant. Usually on other ships we find a night where we don't fancy the menu particularly and will go instead to a speciality restaurant. On this ship we found the food so good in the main restaurant that we never did get to either of the speciality ones.
I mentioned the pool deck a minute ago. One thing I especially loved was the fact that the pools are salt water pools. We really enjoyed swimming there. And on that deck is also a big freezer unit near the Mojito Bar that has about a dozen flavours of Gelato there. I would swim and then sit out and enjoy a gelato - don't miss that! There is a charge for gelato but about the same as an ice cream would be at home. It is also on the menu several times a week so one can always have gelato for free as dessert.
Also on deck 13 is the Spa. It is staffed by Balinese ladies and I had several Balinese massages while on board. I used to say my favourite massage was the hot stone one but I must state that I found the Balinese massage the most relaxing and stress reducing massage I have ever experienced. There was not an aching muscle or joint in my body after an hour under their capable hands - well worth every penny.
Another thing I found to be a bargain was the price of the internet on ship. I take my own notebook with me and the price of time packages was less than on other cruise lines - a good value.
Ports of Call
Our main interest was in the ship and the ports of call were secondary for us on this cruise as we had been to the Caribbean several times in the last few years.
St. Thomas - we did not take any tours there and just walked off and checked out a few of the stores. Liquor is always a good buy there (which makes my husband happy) and I picked up a sundress that I wore a lot on the cruise as the tempertures were in the high 20s C./80s F. It was even in the 30s C./ 90s F. at times.
St. Maarten - once again just a bit of shopping
Nassau - had planned to go ashore and browse but booked a massage instead that afternoon
Key West - took the free shuttle in to town. Walked around looking at some of the buildings, looked in some of the stores - overwhelming impression was that most of the stuff they were selling were things that could be bought cheaper in St. Thomas and St. Maarten. Not impressed - tacky tourist trap.
Ocho Rios - this is one port of call we will not get off ship. Highly recommend anyone visiting here to take a ship tour - some nice places to see but don't do it on your own for safety sake.
Georgetown - last time here did the stingray encounter. This time we walked around the town. The tourist office gives maps of the area with a walking tour and we followed that. We saw a variety of different buildings, parks and even popped into a local book and game store to have a look. We especially enjoyed a tour of the Old Court House which is now the Cayman Islands National Museum. Everywhere we went people were polite and helpful. If someone asked if you would like a tour or a trip to the beach and you said no thanks - you still got a big smile and a 'have a nice day' in return. No begging or being pushy in any way. A very pleasant place to explore. We followed all of the walking tour - visited the local craft market - looked at lovely black coral jewellery in some of the stores and visited a beautiful little church called the Elmslie Memorial Church that was built by a local shipwright. It has a gorgeous mahogany roof constructed like a reversed hull of a ship. The pews are also of mahogany - all from salvaged timbers. We really enjoyed the time we spent just exploring the city.
Cozumel - we have been here before and the highlight then was a visit to Tulum and that is what I would suggest to someone visiting there. It was very hot again and I opted instead to have another visit to the Spa for a massage. My holiday - doing things I really want to do.
One thing that was missing from this cruise line, I am happy to say, was those annoying art auctions. We did not miss them one little bit. There are still places to spend money - there are some very nice shops on board - with the items of good quality and name brands. Italian shirts were an excellent bargain and my husband bought a couple of them.
Bingo is available on every cruise line, though it is not my thing. We popped into the casino one day and I donated $10 while Dave broke even. Neither of us are gamblers - I can play poker on the computer and lose to it. I know how to play one of the machines on ships but there appeared to be lots of variety in the kinds of machines and games to play.
There were port lectures and cooking demonstrations and craft making and wine lectures and tastings - a wide variety of things to do. We played trivia a couple of times - a general knowledge game one time and an opera trivia another time.
Because we do not travel with children - I cannot rate the children's programs. On the first week of our cruise there were approximately 30 children on board and one rarely saw a child. On the second week there were closer to 300 childrens on board. We had not realized it was the Thanksgiving week for the Americans when we booked. We will not make that mistake again.
The children we saw on board who where involved in the children's programs and with staff were well behaved. The same cannot be said of the majority of those in their parents care. Gone are the days when people showed consideration for others - for many parents it was a 'go do your thing and don't bother me on my cruise' attitude. This is not a criticism of the ship but rather of the parents. There were also many polite, well behaved children on the ship but unfortunately they were in the minority.
The staff on ship was fabulous - we were treated like welcome guests in their home and by the end of the cruise felt like part of the family. We hated to leave.
Disembarkation was very smooth. Our flight home was with US Air and routed through Philadelphia. It was a vast improvement over our flight to Florida. The planes ran on time and the airport in Philly was quieter and more comfortable than Newark has ever been. In addition there was a Chinese restaurant with very nice food at reasonable prices. We were really happy that we had chosen this different route to come home.
Would we cruise on an MSC ship again? MOST DEFINITELY.