We have just returned from a cruise on MSC Favorita in Yacht Club. If you want to cruise in peace and quiet with some trappings of style, the Yacht Club may be for you. If you want to socialise or are English speaking and want a cruise full of entertainment then Yacht Club (and perhaps MSC) may not be ideal.
We liked the idea of a cruise with more seclusion, in a high service environment and with the inclusion of a free mini bar and other drinks. No more trying to sneak drinks on-board for that pre-dinner aperitif while dressing in one's cabin. We could also avoid the alternative of trekking down to a bar for an expensive glass of something before rushing back to change for dinner. Yacht Club appeared to offer this with the addition of fine dining and its own concierge which would organise anything for you (although doubtless at some cost).
The reality appeared to be a good idea not entirely thought through, with some irritations and rough edges spoiling a good basic proposition.
Firstly, the drinks package; it applies within the confines of the Yacht Club area but if you want to visit other parts of the ship and take part in any of the entertainments (there are no activities within Yacht Club itself) then you have to pay for drinks which are typically expensive (about Â£6 for a Gin and Tonic -- the prices are in Euros) or Â£3.50 for a small glass of wine. As a result, we drank mainly in the Yacht Club area, rather than enjoying some of the other bars and music throughout the ship. After a while the almost silent nature of the Topsail lounge can become unappealing.
Our mini bar was stocked on arrival with a single miniature of gin, whisky and vodka, a couple of cans of beer, a can of Tonic and some soft drinks. Our butler topped it up twice a day and soon learned to add extra gins but we were not allowed to have wine in the mini-bar. This was a small inconvenience as we could call the butler for a glass and it was generally delivered within a few minutes but, allied with the refusal to let us take a drink from the bar to our cabin (up one level and a walk of 20 metres), we felt this was a petty restriction.
Equally, extending the free drinks option to us throughout the ship would have cost MSC little more and added to our overall enjoyment. We heard this was to avoid Yacht Club members providing free drinks for other passengers but, as the ship offers other drinks packages which run a similar risk, surely with a little thought this could have been possible. Even in Yacht Club itself, the choice of drinks is limited to certain brands of beer and spirits, a single offering for each of red, white and rose wines plus a range of (mainly vodka based) cocktails. Other drinks attract a supplement. We noticed that Prosecco flowed quite freely in the lounge and deck bars but it was not included in the free drinks list.
Dining was our second disappointment. The Etoile restaurant is set aside for Yacht Club members and has a separate menu from the other main restaurants. There are only two choices of main course (but usually four options in the main dining areas) plus an always available option of steak or grilled salmon. The style is definitely nouvelle cuisine and there is less likelihood of adding pounds and inches to the waistline than on other cruises. Wine is free with the meal but again only the standard house wines. We ate some interesting dishes but found the unchanging cheese board and limited dessert selection a let-down.
The greatest frustration was the table arrangement. Yacht Club assumes people wish to dine in private and the largest tables are for four people. We had asked in advance for a table of six as we enjoy a conversation with others after a day's activities. This would not be possible. Neither could the Matre D found us another English speaking couple with whom to share a table so my wife and I were forced to enjoy our own company at dinner for each of the eleven nights of the cruise. Fortunately we are still speaking at the end of it.
This difficulty in socialising was another issue for us with MSC. On an Italian liner we expect a majority of passengers to speak other European languages and have managed occasional conversations in French, German some other multi-lingual medleys incorporating hand signals and other communication devices. This was our second cruise with MSC and on neither have they been able to match our dining requests. Indeed on both cruises our requests for alternative tale arrangements were met with apparent disbelief and no enthusiasm. On this occasion there were other English speakers on the ship (including two in Yacht Club with whom we could not arrange to co-ordinate dining arrangements) but we met few of them as we were effectively discouraged from spending much time outside Yacht Club.
The quality of concierge service and the butler service depended upon who was on duty. We received some excellent advice on what to do when ashore (on our own) but were redirected to the public internet when we wanted to use on-line check-in for our flight home. Our Butler's native language was clearly not English and conversation beyond the ordering of drinks was sparse. He responded when asked for something but there was little pro-active service on his part and the language issue gave rise to a minor mis-understanding over our disembarkation arrangements.
There were other minor areas where the promise failed to materialise. Screens were provided at your table in the Topsail lounge with TV, movies and charts of the voyage; but a software glitch meant that the maps did not zoom properly and the screens did not respond well to the mouse/pointer device. The Etoile restaurant is at the opposite end of the ship from the main Yacht Club lounges and cabins so a five minute stroll through the milling crowds emerging from and making their way to the main restaurants is necessary, unless you wish to brave the chill of the upper decks to get to dinner.
There were, however, some aspects to be enjoyed in Yacht Club. A small continental breakfast was available in Topsail lounge until a little later than the main restaurants, interesting finger food was served at various times throughout the day and there was the afternoon ritual of English Tea. A selection of patisserie and sandwiches was served on cake stands at one's table with a choice of infused teas prepared at the table by the butlers. Very genteel. The One Pool provided a haven of quiet relaxation when the temperature and sun allowed. A small salad based lunch with a daily pasta dish was available and drinks were served in the hot tubs on request. The cabins are well appointed with robes and slippers although the butler service appears to excuse the absence of tea/coffee making facilities in the cabin and the miniature toiletries in the bathroom make it impossible to differentiate between shampoos, bath gel and conditioner unless you have perfect eyesight. However the greatest bonus was the appearance of a free copy of our English newspaper of choice in time for us to read over breakfast each day.
Elsewhere on board there were surprisingly few activities. The Liquid Disco had a daily programme of basic entertainment and an occasional quiz was available. We met a couple of port talks in various languages whilst moving around the ship, but these did not appear well advertised. The activities list for the day occupied a quarter of one A4 sheet with much of the four pages taken up with advertising todays bargains on board.
We went on one excursion, a half day tour of Casablanca. The visits to the Mosque and the market were rushed but there was plenty of time for the obligatory stop at the carpet merchant who had a captive audience to view his twenty three designs. At least we managed a visit to Rick's Bar for the essential Casablanca photo.
Overall we enjoyed the cruise which we felt, with the discount we obtained, was value for money. With a little thought and more attention to detail from MSC we might have rated it excellent.