MSC Poesia 2/20 - 2/27 - Western Caribbean
First a little about us. We’re a gay couple, both 49, part of a 22-passenger family group. The adults in the group ranged from mid-30’s to retirement. There were 5 children in the group ranging from 18 months to 10 years of age. We weren’t actively involved with all the kids’ activities, but can say that MSC offered a children’s program that kept a 4-year-old interested and wanting to attend each day. There were many multi-generational families aboard, and ages of adults ranged from 20’s to 70’s and older.
A major bone of contention we had against MSC was their apparent lack of computer savviness. This is a sadly low-tech company. There is no way to book an excursion online; you can see the list online, then you can download a form which you must fill out and -fax- to them. Similarly, to order any drink packages, there was no way to do this online; we asked our travel agents to arrange the purchase. We took our receipt to the accounting desk aboard ship and were given 14 paper coupons, each of which could be exchanged for a beverage. (It is more economical, though not severely so, to get these in advance.) Aboard ship, there was no way to leave a phone message for another cabin; to do so, you need to go to the front desk, hand-write your message, and they will hand-deliver it to the room.
As an aside, drinks on-board are relatively reasonably priced. Sodas are about $2.50, cocktails range from $6 - $8. Bottles of wine run the gamut from premium to expensive. On Caribbean itineraries, drinking water is included with all meals. Coffee and juices are included with breakfast and iced tea & coffee with dinner (probably lunch as well).
We arrived at FLL at 12:45PM and went right to the Port (via cab) as soon as we retrieved our luggage -- with airport fees, we were charged about $20. (We didn’t find that MSC offered any transfers.) Embarkation was as orderly as could be expected while in port. Once on the ship, however, chaos reigned. This was probably more due to the passengers than the crew, but there did seem to be a lot of disorganization. This was most apparent during the luncheon buffet. Long lines aggravated by those who don’t follow the US custom of “queueing” for things like food.
The passengers were multi-national and multi-lingual. Menus and ship announcements are given in five languages (English, French, Italian, Spanish, and German) -- this can be amusing or annoying, depending upon your point of view. Our cruise director, Anna, was fluent in all 5 languages (my French was good enough to understand her apologizing that she didn’t speak it all that well, but was not good enough to speak as well as she did). We (the passengers) seemed to be mostly US, Quebecois, and Italian, with some German and Spanish/Latin American as well. So there is certainly an international feel to the ship. The Poesia is a mid-size ship which lost the exclusive, country-club ambiance of the Oceania Regatta. It did have much more flash, however, and the public areas offered a spaciousness that isn’t possible on a smaller ship. The service crew (room attendants, wait staff) seemed to be mostly Indonesian. There were some language barriers, but nothing serious. Most of the staff were friendly, but food service was poor: beverages arriving around the time we were finishing our lunch entrees, for instance. Dinner seemed to have the worst beverage service: glasses were never refilled and coffee that was requested was never served. On departure day breakfast, at the end of the meal our server asked if there was anything else we wanted; we realized that was the first time the entire cruise we’d been asked that question.
Children are allowed in bars, but be cautious: one of the children asked for a virgin peach tea and was served an alcohol version. Only when the child said “it tasted funny” and mom took a sip did we realize what had happened. I spoke with passengers who’d been on other MSC cruises and said they were disappointed by the Poesia’s food and service as well.
Our entry newsletter stated there was a new format for their service charges, but did not go into detail. We asked our cabin steward if he would be paid directly from the service charges and he told us yes. (We tipped him extra as well.) We did see one couple haggling with the accounting desk because they wanted to not pay the service charge and instead give tips directly to the staff; the woman at the desk told them the service charge was not optional.
The food was good, but not great -- far better on the Regatta. One member of our party aptly described the food as "good wedding reception fare." Some passengers complained that the portions were small, but we found them to be appropriate … no huge mountains of food, but nobody ever left hungry. By the end of the cruise some of us were asking for double entrees (filet mignon and lobster tail, for instance). And, of course, you could always go to the Grill or Pizzeria and get a nosh most hours of the day or night. The pastas were always served al dente, meaning firmer than in most US restaurants. The one food item I found to be outstanding was, believe it or not, the pizza. And there was a chicken spring roll appetizer in the dining room one night that I should have ordered multiple times as an entree.
Entertainment the first night was a series of short classical and operatic pieces by their 3-piece “orchestra” (the quotes indicate a lack of size, not a lack of talent) and their tenor and soprano. Her vocalizations were far richer than his, but both were fine to listen to. I did not like that there was no description offered for each night’s show; simply a one-word title (“Euphoria!”, “Extraordinaire”). The shows ranged from 30 to 40 minutes and varied from variety shows to an evening of operatic arias. The performances varied from fair to excellent. The sound system was severely lacking, forcing even their better voices to sound a bit tinny and cheap.
The second night was the first of two “gala” nights. These are formal events. Although a jacket and tie are requested, there was at least one man seated wearing a polo shirt and slacks. Still, most patrons did obey the dress code. (The other nights’ dress codes were either informal, casual or tropical.) The evening was tightly scheduled with photographers, opportunities to meet the staff, and a special show. Although some like this kind of scheduling on a cruise, felt like a cattle-call to me as the passengers were herded from one room to the next.
Our cabin, a handicapped accessible room (9001), was much larger than a standard balcony room and I did not have any problems getting around the room in a wheelchair. I will say that anyone traveling alone in a wheelchair will have a little difficulty getting around the ship; some of the fire doors appeared to be water-and fire-tight, meaning there’s a significant “bump” in the flooring to keep things tight should the doors ever be closed.
The bathroom offered shampoo and body wash (no conditioner) in the stand-up shower and hand-soap (no body lotion) by the sink, all dispensed by in-unit hand-pumps. You won’t be taking souvenir toiletries back home with you. The bathroom water temp was fine -- the hot was hot enough to make steam. The water pressure at the sink was more than ample, but in the shower, was merely adequate. However, “merely adequate” was more than enough to cause signature flooding from no lip between the shower and the flooring -- this was worst on at-sea days. Non-accessible rooms did not have either of these issues; water pressure was fine and the showers didn’t leak into the rest of the bathroom.
The balcony in our room was the same size as a standard room, but had its outside wall made of metal (like the ship) instead of tempered glass. This made the balcony more safe, but impacted the view.
Also, if you (like us) are two-pillow sleepers, you’ll be disappointed. Only one rather skimpy pillow per bed, although each does also have a sizable bolster headrest pillow for use during the day. As soon as we asked our attendant, however, we each got an extra pillow.
Our cabin service was excellent. Our steward, Venkat, was up and setting up for the day as early as 5:45AM. He always greeted us with a smile as we left for breakfast and our room was cleaned when we came back. Our room was serviced again while we were out for dinner and we’’d often pass him in the hall as we retired for the night around 9PM. (We were often up later -- there’s lots of late-night activity aboard -- but sometimes we just needed to go to bed early.) I seriously wondered if Ventak ever slept.
Both European (220) and US (110) voltage outlets are in the rooms. You may want to bring along a power strip if you have several devices (PC, cell phones, etc.) to keep powered up. And don't forget your nightlight to prevent your room from being pitch black at night.
The pools are all salt-water and are closed and drained each evening at 5PM. (We suspect they simply filled from the ocean each morning and drained back out each night). We did not have wheelchair accessibility to any of the pools. The two adult pools are each framed by several feet of tiled flooring before a 2-foot high enclosure. Be aware that contrary to MSC’s posted policy, many chairs were “reserved” with a towel early in the day. The pool areas were always loud and energetic -- not a good place to relax.
You should know that the port side of the ship (left, facing forward) is smoking, and starboard is non-smoking. (Also note that all the women’s rooms are on the port side; the men’s rooms are on the starboard.) There are ashtrays in every cabin’s bathroom. The casino is almost entirely smoking.
Ports: Our itinerary was changed; we were notified as we boarded. The ports of Phillipsburg (St. Maarten) and Charlotte Amelie (St. Thomas) were switched. We were now given more time in each port. In Phillipsburg we wandered around the duty-free area around the port and then took a water taxi to other parts of the island. (The water taxi only stops in 3 stations, all on the Dutch side of the island.) In St. Thomas some in our party decided to trek to Grand Turk’s Bay on St. John’s. This was more ambitious than we wanted. ($10 per-person “taxi” (a pickup-truck) to the water taxi, $6 per person to boat to St. John’s, and another $10 per-person to get to the beach. Add the return fares and the $4 entry to the beach for a total of $56 per person … with no assurance that there would be any wheelchair access at the beach). Those who went had a great time and told us we made the right decision; the beach was not wheelchair accessible. We instead went through the “Yacht Club Shopping Center” (name is a recollection and may not be correct) which is adjacent to the port (leave the port and turn right -- you’ll have a few shops and then hit this very clean, nicely-laid-out collection of shops, adjacent to the yacht landings of the port), and a shortcut hugging the water leading to downtown Charlotte Amelie. Wandered through the shops there (great place to hunt for jewelry bargains) and returned to the ship. We arrived two hours late into Nassau because of a generator failure the night before. If you book your itineraries from outside companies, be aware of these kinds of complications.
Disembarkation was a little scary, but worked out ok. Each cabin is given luggage tags the day prior -- disembarkation is by the color of the tags. The first to go are the self-assist folks who opt to take their own bags off the ship instead of having them taken by the stewards overnight. This was apparently a LARGE segment of the passenger list, because it took over an hour for this one color to disembark. Once that was accomplished, the other colors went quickly. We had no problem locating our bags and leaving on our 12 noon flight from FLL.