This was our first cruise with MSC. My wife and I are somewhat experienced cruisers, with nine cruises to my credit, and close to twice that for my wife. We have sailed with NCL, Royal Caribbean, and our favorite, Carnival. We had no prior experience with MSC - knew little about them, to be honest - but my wife ran across a buy one get one free promotion they were having and we agreed it was a great deal, so we decided to give MSC a try.
After booking our cruise, I began reading the MSC boards here at Cruise Critic and looking at reviews of the Poesia's Caribbean cruises. I quickly discovered that the posters on the MSC board were divided into two camps: those that love'em and those that hate'em, with very few posters riding the fence. I convinced myself that the truth probably fell somewhere in the middle, and boarded the Poesia with as open a mind as I could muster. It only took a day or two to confirm my suspicions on the matter. The Poesia is definitely not the nightmare that some boast it is, however there is lots of room for improvement.
Embarkation: Embarkation was the easiest and fastest I've experienced. Thirteen minutes passed, literally, between stepping out of our taxi at Port Everglades and setting foot on board. We were late arriving and most passengers were already boarded; this probably had something to do with it. The embarkation staff were friendly and professional. No complaints whatsoever in this department.
Public rooms: Public rooms were immaculately clean at all times, and handsomely decorated, though they do suffer a bit from sameness throughout the ship. Decorating tastes are subjective, I realize. Still I would have enjoyed a little more variety. It's pretty much glass and brass, marble and velour throughout the ship. The Zebra bar, one of the exceptions, exhibits more personality. The main theater, too, has charm of it's own, with soft purple seats and decor. The casino was smallish, but serviceable, and didn't reek of smoke as I'd been warned.
Cabin: Our balcony stateroom was on the small side compared to Carnival's. It offered more drawer space, but less hanging space. The bathroom, and particularly the shower, were tiny but marginally sufficient. (My wife mentioned inadequate shelf space for two people.) My only real complaint about our cabin was the way it was laid out. The TV and sofa were on the same wall which meant that the only place you watch was from the bed. It seemed to me that if the desk and sofa were to swap walls (they were across from each other), that the room would have been more functional. As for the decor, which was predominantly blue, I was neither offended, nor inspired by it. But I do prefer warm colors over cool colors in a small space. But that is highly subjective, I realize.
Dining: Here is where the majority of our real complaints lie, but perhaps not for the same reasons that have given most other reviewers reason to to vent. The food and service in the main dining room was adequate. Not great, mind you, but then I don't expect five star restaurant quality cuisine and service on a ship feeding and serving almost three thousand guests. The buffet restaurant, on the other hand, could stand much improvement. (I might add that the manners of the folks who eat there could stand an upgrade as well.) The problem starts, again, with layout. The passage way down the length of each buffet is too narrow, which makes for overcrowding, and the salad bars, being round in design, and having no beginning or ending point, encourages rude behavior and chaos. But my wife and my biggest complaints lie in two areas. These two areas may not seem like big deals at first glance, but if one thinks about them, one realizes they both give the impression of stinginess and inhospitableness on the part of MSC - not a good thing. The first complaint is that the fruit juice offered each morning at breakfast was invariably watered down to the point of being undrinkable. Stinginess, or incompetence? The other complaint lies with the desserts offered. There seemed to be only eight to ten desserts in the kitchen's repertoire, which were rotated throughout the two weeks of our cruise, at a rate of about three per meal, on about a three day schedule. AND one of them was jello. Not to promote a competing cruise line, but Carnival has at least eight to ten dessert options per meal, not per cruise. Of the desserts offered, I found two to be very good. The others, while differing in appearance, tasted much the same. The cream cake was good, but I tired of that after the third time. The apple pie was bland, and not nearly as good as one can buy at the local supermarket, frozen. Meats were hit or miss, some days lean, but moist, and other days either 75 percent fat, or dry as cardboard. Pasta was consistently good, especially that served from the specialty pasta station. But that too grew old from repetition. The pizzeria was consistently good, as were the staples from the grill, burgers, wings, hot dogs, and on occasion, ribs. Service was mostly without a smile. I got the distinct impression that these folks were over-worked, which likely explains the missing smiles. I saw lots of yawns, instead.
Entertainment: I'm hesitant, and even feel a little guilty criticizing the entertainment staff. They were such tireless workers and so enthusiastic that it saddens me to do so. But the vast majority of the games led by them were uninspiring and just plain dumb on too many occasions - no other word for it. As for the "comedy" skits they performed, there were a few legitimate laughs, but mostly they reminded me of elementary school plays. But I still give them kudos for their energy and friendliness. Sorry guys, but I had to be honest.
Shows: Shows in the main theater, though short, were usually entertaining. The vocalists, both the opera singers, and Mimma Barra, the pop singer, were good. Mimma, in particular, was as good as any singer I've heard on a cruise ship, better than most. My wife and I enjoyed her very much and wished she could have had a bigger role in the shows. Music in the lounges was mixed. The players were good for the most part, but the singers leaved something to be desired, as is the case on most every cruise I've taken, so I'm not singling out the Poesia in my mild criticism of this. The classical trio that doubled as entertainemtn in the main lobby, and as back-up musicians for opera night, were quite talented and enjoyable.
Service: Our cabin steward was a sweetheart, hard working and friendly, as was most of the crew I encountered in the hallways. Great job, guys and gals! Dining room service was adequate, as I've mentioned. The captain was lively, likable, and even funny. The reception staff was helpful the two or three times I visited them, though there were some language barriers. They were professional, though not overly enthusiastic and cordial.
Ports of Call: We made stops at Key West, Florida; Georgetown, Grand Cayman; Ocho Rios, Jamaica; Cozumel, Mexico; Philipsburg, St. Maarten; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas; and Nassau, in the Bahamas. We've visited each of these, in the past, multiple times. Each has something to offer, if you visit with a good attitude and an open mind. My personal favorites are Key West, St. Maarten, Cozumel, and St. Thomas. We enjoy the Victorian architecture and history of Key West; The beautiful water and beaches of St. Maarten; the great shopping at Cozumel and the charm of San Miguel on Cozumel; and the gorgeous panoramic views from the hills of Charlotte Amalie. Nassau is Nassau, and I have a love/hate relationship with Jamaica. Those of you who have been there know just what I mean. Jamaica has such abundant natural beauty; Ocho Rios is picturesque; but the Jamaicans are often a little too pushy for my tastes. It's a shame.
Disembarkation: Though not the breeze embarkation was, it was typical of the industry, not exactly torture, but not fun either. It was, though, conducted in an orderly manner, and the folks handling it were patient and friendly. Customs was... well, you know already how they are.
Would I sail MSC, and in particular, the Poesia again? If the price and timing were just right, maybe. But I do still prefer my favorite cruise line by far.