After 33 cruises myself, and as a travel agent who booked over a million dollars in cruises last year, I have never sold any MSC products nor have I ever seen the product, so I booked us on a Thanksgiving cruise on the MSC Poesia.
The ship is beautiful. It's new, and it looks it. The paint and carpet is nice, the pools are sparkling and the ship looks great. It reminds me of Princess ships in terms of beauty and elegance. I love Princess' ships and this ship reminded me a lot of some of my Princess sailings.
Movies under the stars was a real disappointment. Mostly it showed commercials from the channel 1 from the room TV. Unlike Disney, Princess, Carnival and Royal Caribbean who show family movies during the day and concerts and movies during the night, MSC showed commercials about 20 hours a day and showed a couple of movies throughout the cruise at night. I realize there are multiple nationalities on board, so perhaps they cannot show movies during the day in fear of hurting someone's feelings. Idea: There are 7 days on the cruise, so perhaps one day could be movies in English, one day French, one day Spanish, one day German and so on. At least SOMETHING could be playing up on the screen entertaining. Or, they could show cartoons that don't really have words during the day - or even silent movie films (no talking) or even concerts.
Kids are free on MSC during most sailings and very cheap over holiday sailings, so the ship was packed. Not to worry, most of our cruises have all been on holidays, so we are used to 100%+ occupancy with lots of kids on board. But on this ship, there is just not much for the kids to do. There is a very small mini-golf (like 5 holes) and some pools/hot tubs. There are no "adult-only" hot tubs, or pools, so we could not escape the kids jumping into the pools and hot tubs and splashing us constantly with their fun jumps. Other cruise lines reserve one or two hot tubs minimum for adults only. This is nice so you can enjoy some peace and quiet. MSC's only adult-only tubs were in the gym, and they were inside, with glass walls so you could see out, but they were not out in the open air. It would be nice if they had an adult-only hot tub available on the open decks.
The shows were good (except for the first night which was a just OK). Shows on MSC are different than on other cruise lines. They had a very plain stage, same set all week, with the only variations being on costumes, lighting and backdrop scenes being projected onto large curtains. Dancers were good and singers were strong. The shows included a good mix of singing, dancing, cirque-type flyers, muscle men, and a juggler. The second-to-last last night they had a special surprise of "thank you" in all different languages, which was really nice.
One night they did a show which included some pretty risquÃ© burlesque moves. We heard lots of negative comments by parents complaining about seeing crotches of the dancers being pushed in their faces. They didn't just flash their crotches, but they stuck them up there for a long time, more than once. Some left the theatre. For a "kids sail free" cruise line, this is probably a bit inappropriate and a little excessive. If they want to have this kind of show, they could have put a disclaimer in the daily planner or made an announcement before the show that it might be inappropriate for smaller children.
Also a comment would be to include a little more than just the name of the show in the planner, so that people know what type of show they are going to go see.
We normally had breakfast and lunch in the buffet area. The buffet was VERY overcrowded. No one seemed to realize that the buffet had the same food at the other end of the buffet, so we snuck down there many times to get food. So many people lined up for the burger and hot dogs, perhaps they should put those on the line in 2 places so that people don't have to wait so long.
Then trying to find a table was a mess. The workers were not very efficient about cleaning the dirty tables, and many had the "that's not my job" attitude. When asked if they could clean the table, they said they would get someone. (not offering to jump in and help themselves). None of the workers smiled, said hello, or was friendly with us in the buffet during breakfast or lunch at all. Very unlike other cruise lines where customer service is so important.
The pizza was so disappointing. We assumed an "Italian" line would have good Italian pizza. It was thick, goopy, never cooked enough, so the crust was doughy, and had way too much cheese. We expected thin crust, cooked to perfection, but it was not found in the whole week. Very disappointing.
On the cruise channel on the TV they showed scenes of a "Pizzeria" with blue/white checkered table cloths and the most delicious looking pizza ever, made to order. It was not to be found. We asked everyone, and no one seemed to know what we were talking about. Other guests on board said they had been looking for it all week too. You could tell by the TV that they were in the buffet area, but it was so misleading, because we wanted this good pizza, but could not get it.
We went to breakfast in the dining room (sit down) once, and it was a disaster. We sat down at a table that had people sitting down already, and they had been sitting for 10 minutes before we sat down. It took the waiter 25 minutes before he came over for our order. Everyone at the table got their food except me. And mine came about 9 minutes after theirs did. By the time mine came, our table mates were gone- rushing off to get to their excursion. Normally we enjoy breakfast in the dining room because it is a calm and relaxing way to enjoy breakfast. This was not the case at all. They workers were running around like crazy (very understaffed) and the dining room was packed. Beverage refills were non-existent and the waiters were not friendly at all because they were stressed by being under staffed.
The food on the buffet was virtually the same every day at breakfast and again every day at lunch. Not much variety, except perhaps for which meat they were carving for that meal. Very little variety and the food was just ok. Nothing special on the buffet. I would have liked to see Eggs Benedict and smoked salmon on the buffet but it was not there. And their milk tasted very funny (did not expire for about 4 months, so not sure what type if milk it really was). At lunch they had a pasta station, where they cooked fresh pasta. There was never much of a long line, and the pasta was really good.
To avoid the over-crowded buffet, and the over stressful sit down breakfast in the dining room, one morning we tried room service for breakfast. It was a sea-day so we thought we might enjoy sleeping in. We completed our card and hung it on the door before we went to bed: for 8:30- 8:45 am delivery. At 7:50 am they showed up, with our food. We were dead asleep and very disappointed that the food came about an hour early!!!
Dinner Dining was good. We had late seating at 8:30pm, so we enjoyed a late lunch each day. Our server was Yoyon and he was friendly and easy to work with. He had recently gotten promoted to Server, and I could tell why they had promoted him. He was one of the few workers on board that smiled and greeted us each night. He was great to give his comments about items to order and which choice was the best. He was as good a server as we had ever had on a cruise. He helped make our cruise nice. We tipped him extra because our experience was so nice with him. The menu was a bit limited, and the lack of dessert choices was disappointing. The lobster was overcooked and the Caesar salad the first night was a bit watery. The Sea Bass was really good, which is unheard of on a ship! I was overall pleasantly surprised by the food in the dining room for dinner. Nothing stands out as outstanding, but the food was really a bit better than just "good."
Another guest we met in the hot tub was not so lucky. His dining server was rude to them. This guest had asked for a coke, and his server told him that he had 30 other people to serve and that if he wanted a coke, he could go out to the bar and get it himself.
The Midnight buffet- WOW what can I say, except that I am sorry I was so full, I could not eat a bite. All week we had complained about how disappointed we were with the lack of dessert choices available on the menu, then on the 2nd to last night, they pulled out all the stops! The beautiful fruit carvings were incredible (made lots of pictures) and the finger foods (including the only free sushi we saw all week) and desserts looked amazing. It was late (thus the midnight buffet) and we were stuffed from just leaving dinner, so we could not eat one bite. What a disappointment. Wish they would really promote this during the week, put a whole blurb about it in the daily planner, and announced it at the show that night, so people could understand what they were going to offer and how big of a deal this is. They even had Ice and Butter Sculptures. Absolutely incredible, but so many missed it because they were sleeping, or they simply didn't know what they were missing!!!
Our balcony cabin was small, but good. We had a deluxe balcony on deck 9 and had life boats when we looked down. They didn't really call this an obstructed view, because when looking out, there was no obstruction, but we did see life boats on the deck below. The mattresses were so thin and sleep was so uncomfortable, but since I have compared this to Princess, I will say that Princess cruises always had bad beds too. We learned on Princess to ask for a foam mattress overlay, but our cabin steward on MSC did not have anything to offer us. So our beds were extremely uncomfortable, and the pillows were very flat. We asked for extra pillows, which helped a bit. We had our beds pushed together, and there was a big dip in the middle where the 2 beds were put together.
Our cabin steward did a great job of keeping our room clean. She was very friendly and one of the only workers on the ship that ever said "Hello, good morning, have a nice day, or good evening". She smiled, and she was friendly (something we did not see often from the other crew).
The cruise director was incredible, speaking like 8 languages fluently. She had a beautiful wardrobe and had a nice smile on her face when she was on stage, in the spotlight. They had an "English" speaking voice on our cruise too, which was really nice. Our cruise director could speak English, but it was hard to understand her, so the English voice was a nice comfort. Good job, MSC.
On the other hand, the cruise director walked out of a show and looked my husband right in the eye, and did not smile, say hello, or even acknowledge him at all. Can you imagine running into Ken Rush on Royal Caribbean or John Heald on Carnival (or any other cruise director) and them not saying "Hi" to you? I cannot.
We were in the hot tub one evening and ordered a drink from the pool server. She returned, and someone else in the hot tub wanted to order, so she went and returned. By this time, 2 other people had joined us and they wanted drinks. When we ordered a 2nd drink the server actually rolled her eyes and said something in a negative way, like "does anyone else want anything while I'm going" which implied that this would be her last time. This floored us because pool servers make their money from gratuities from selling drinks! The more they run to the bar, the richer they become. I cannot believe she didn't want to get us 100 drinks if we had wanted them. But instead she brought our drinks and left. I mentioned her by name in my comments at the end of the cruise.
Once we asked for a "Hummingbird" drink, and she said, "We don't have that." She was not a bar tender, she was a pool server. She didn't even ask the bar tenders, she just said "NO" when she should have tried to find someone who could make our drink for us. We went on a mission to find a bar tender who would know of this drink, and finally found a bar tender from Jamaica. He was so pleasant and he made us the BEST hummingbird we have had in a long time. If your ship is going to Jamaica, you should have bar tenders on board that know how to make their national drink- the Hummingbird!
What we came to realize is that these people (bartenders on board) don't WANT to learn how to make any new drinks. They consider themselves as ones that should be supervisors instead of workers, and to learn a new drink would be beneath them.
In general, this is probably the root of most of the issues we had on board. The people there to serve, expected to be in charge, and did not realize they would become workers once they got on board for their contract.
We felt like probably 30% of the people on board were Americans. The rest spoke very little English. So it was kind of weird being in a hot tub with someone who could not talk with you. Most customers on board were courteous, friendly (like a smile), and patient (no one cut in line in front of us or anything).
Our real complaint overall, was the lack of hospitality by the crew on board. No smiles, no "Hellos" not much eye contact, nothing friendly. It seemed like the crew was unhappy. Unhappy to be there, unhappy to be working, and unhappy that there were customers on board for them to serve. Remember I have been on 33 cruises, so I have worked with people from many different nationalities, but these folks really could use a lesson on customer service.
Port stops were ok except for Honduras, where we had to tender. It took about 3 hours to tender everyone off, and you had to get a ticket to get off. It was very stressful. Perhaps another day at sea instead of a port stop unless you can actually pull up to the dock. The time in Montego Bay was WAY too short. We had to be back on board by 2:00. Just way too early. Key West was too early too. If I was in charge, I would try to stay in ports longer, so clients could enjoy our time there.
In Honduras, we had done our research and liked the reviews of the tours with Victor Bodden tours. So we reserved a driver for the day. Our driver was lazy, and even though we had hired him for the day, he kept saying that he could drop us off at the beach and then take other people back to the pier. (he would only be gone about an hour). We told him he had to stay with us. The van he was driving had the "check engine" light on the entire time, and it was overheating. He would put the van into neutral to go down hills so that it would not overheat the engine, and he would turn off the air, and open the windows when going up big mountains. Once the engine completely shut off and we thought we would be broken down, but he got it started again. He gave us no history of the island or any details about what we were seeing or where we were going. We told him we had no idea what where we wanted him to take us, because it was our first time. He did not offer up many options. When we got back to the pier, we complained with the tour stand, and they got Victor on the phone and he gave me a partial refund of my money and later sent me an email with his regrets about what happened. I think it was an isolated situation, and Victor said our driver and his vehicle would not be included in his fleet ever again. Victor even offered to personally take us on the tour next time, free of charge. Which was really nice!!!
Would I do an MSC cruise again? If would depend on the itinerary, but maybe not in the Caribbean again, because the other lines do a better job at hospitality. In Europe, their port stops are nice, so I might try one there sometime. If they started focusing on customer service, and made that their commitment, then I would definitely sail again!!!
Would I book one of my clients on MSC? It really depends. If it was their first cruise, then it would be ok, because they have nothing to compare it to. Those people we met in the hot tub who most enjoyed the cruise, were first time cruisers, so they thought it was fine! The ones that were most disappointed were the ones who had cruised other lines and knew what we were missing. If they could focus their staff on customer service, and fix the problems they have on board, then I definitely would book all my clients on the ship! It's just so beautiful.
Overall, my impression is that the cruise is "So close ....And yet so far," from being excellent. It has so much going for it, yet the lack of friendliness by the crew is so disappointing. One guest said it was like going on a Princess cruise with a rogue crew who had not been trained on customer service.