Eastern Caribbean Cruise
Feb. 18 - 25, 2012
By Mary & Vincent Finelli
Frequently, in various ports, we have seen the Mediterranean Shipping Company's (MSC) beautiful ships. However, this was our first cruise on one of them, the MSC Poesia. We had attempted a few times to book a wheelchair accessible cabin with balcony on this ship, but without luck until now. We are always seeking new cruising experiences, and now we have had the pleasure of cruising Mediterranean style. Thanks to Hotel Director Neven Zdunic and his assistant Mandy Leigh Castle and the two very interesting books they provided us with, we are able to give some pertinent background on this line and its founders.
Commander Gianluigi Aponte's grandfather Luigi Aponte, a venerable sailor, won the 50th Edition of the Italian Unification Trophy, so sailing is in this family's blood. The love of the sea and ships has been passed down for generations. In 1970 the Commander founded the MSC Fleet and it has become the second largest container transportation company in the world. Today, there are two divisions of MSC: the Cargo sector headed by Diego, the Commander's son; and the MSC Cruises (1987) headed by Alexa, the Commander's daughter. Of prime interest to us is the MSC Cruises which accommodates millions of passengers, sailing from five different continents on more than one dozen ships.
The first liner fleet included the MSC Monterey, the MSC Achille Lauro, the MSC Symphony, the MSC Rhapsody and the Flagship the MSC Melody, which was proclaimed "the most beautiful ship in the world" in 2000.
Pier 4 in Ft. Lauderdale, FL is a very small area near the Princess Pier. Even though we did not have our luggage tags prior to departure, they were tagged by the porters and arrived very efficiently in our stateroom. Check in was simple and speedy, since priority is given to wheelchairs. Upon entering the ship, passengers are greeted by a long line of cabin boys at attention. They take hand luggage and escort passengers to their cabins, how elegant, just like the golden era of famous "Blue Riband" passenger liners.
The MSC Poesia is designated Keel S32 , designed by De Jorio International of Genoa and built in Aker St. Nazaire Shipyards, France. Embedded in her keel are two gold coins: one from the Aponte family and one from the ship builders, as a tribute to their collaboration. The Poesia is 964 ft. long, 106 ft. wide, her draft is 26 ft. and she weighs 92,400 tons, with a cruising speed of 23 knots. She has 1,275 cabins and 72,000 sq. ft. of Public Areas. Sophia Loren is Godmother of the MSC Fleet and christened the Poesia April 8, 2008 in Dover, England. Each MSC ship displays on her navy blue funnel the starred rose wind compass once used by ancient mariners.
The Poesia is poetry in motion. This extravagantly decorated ship evokes memories of last century's liners (circa 1960s) where modern art intersected with furnishings. The many armless contour chairs throughout the ship and the bold use of repetitive geometric patterns create the feeling of moving in a modern art museum. Yet, the natural lines of the Zebra Lounge on Deck 6 are welcome. Moreover, this lounge is reminiscent of the Zebra Room of the elegant Olympia ship, on which Vincent in the spring of 1956 made his first transatlantic voyage, from Napoli to New York. What follows is a deck by deck description of the 13 Public Decks which are all named after famous Italian Poets.
Decks 1 through 3 are non public areas.
Boccaccio -- Deck 4, at mid ship and prow are the accesses to tenders, aft is the galley.
Petrarca -- Deck 5, from mid ship to forward are all passengers' staterooms and the Medical Center. Mid ship are Le Rendez-Vous Reception Desk and bar, then the Foyer and aft is Le Fontane Restaurant. The Foyer is three decks tall with clean modern lines shiny brass rails and glass etched to simulate ocean waves. It also has the ubiquitous starlight ceiling found throughout the ship.
Dante -- Deck 6 is all passenger areas, forward is the Teatro Carlo Felice; toward mid ship is the Poker Room, Zebra Lounge, duty free shops and boutiques and aft is the Palladio Restaurant (with a picture of the Venetian villa, Palladio's "La Rotonda").
Manzoni -- Deck 7, forward is the theater balcony, then toward mid ship is the Casino Royal, the Library with fine wood and comfortable leather chairs, then there are the Sushi Bar, Cyber Cafe and the Photo Arcade. Perhaps the most elegant and interesting place on board is "Il Grappolo d'Oro" Wine Bar with its two arcades of wine history and informative vetrines. The 89 or so larger than life sepia photos of life at the end of 19th century documenting the vinous cycle and those people who participated in wine making are enthralling. But, alas there were no identifying plaques. Perhaps this display was meant to symbolize all vineyards of yesteryear. In the second corridor are a series of massive wooden tables surrounded by substantial black leather chairs. The combination screams solidity as does the elaborate curved bar.
Tasso -- Deck 8, Ungaretti -- Deck 9, Carducci -- Deck 10, D'Annunzio -- Deck 11 and Leopardi -- Deck 12 are all passengers' staterooms. Most are outside cabins, 1000, with only 275 inside cabins. There are 17 wheelchair accessible (12 inside, 2 ocean view and 3 balcony).
Foscolo -- Deck 13 (yes, unlike most other lines the MSC has a Deck 13) forward is the MSC Aurea Spa, toward mid ship are the Pirana Bar, the Coral Bay Spa and pool area, and the Cayo Levantando Pool Area. Aft is the Villa Pompeina Cafeteria with Pompeian art work reproduced on canvas screens. All the way aft is L'Obelisco Ristorante (a la carte).
Pascoli -- Deck 14 forward has cabins. Mid ship is the jogging track and aft is the youth area with Disco, Virtual Games, etc....
Alfieri -- Deck 15 forward are suites with balconies and a wheelchair accessible cabin (ours), aft is mini golf and shuffleboard.
Sports -- Deck 16 forward is the Solarium and aft the Sports Center.
This ship is beautifully appointed and very luxurious. The area which needs improvement is in the comfort of the physically challenged passengers. Thresholds should be flat or properly ramped. From our cabin to the dining room, we had 7 thresholds to traverse and each bump causes physical discomfort to anyone using either a wheelchair or walker. The wheelchair accessible cabins, public bathrooms, and egresses to the promenade and the open decks of 13 & 14 need automatic door openers.
There are four sets of elevators/lifts: one forward, two mid ship, and one aft. They are of various sizes and most have narrow doors. The forward set had three small elevators and one, portside near our stateroom, large enough for the wheelchair; we usually waited for this one, rather than brave the others.
Wheelchair accessible cabin #15025 on Alfieri Deck 15 is forward port side, the first cabin near the elevators. When entering on the left is a long desk/mirrored vanity with six drawers. Next to it is the huge bathroom with a 4'x4' shower with fold away seat. There are safety rails all around. Next is the triple armoire, with two sections for hanging clothes and one section with a private safe and three shelves, then a small mini bar and refrigerator. There is a narrow single chair, armless and one low hassock ottoman.
Straight ahead is the king size bed, flanked by two night stands, each with three drawers and a reading lamp. The decor is modern, red carpeting and drapes with black accents. Two huge bolsters are at the head of the bed. Three pictures by Raimondo Briata, dated 2007, decorated the walls. One is titled "Red Rain," the next "Red Sky City," and the third "Flow." The colors complement the decor.
There are sliding doors to the huge balcony (20 ft. x 8 ft), which has a rattan set of a table and two chairs. Our fantastic cabin stewards Wayan and Adi added a chaise lounge to it for Vincent. The balcony is covered, providing shade and shelter from the elements. Wayan also procured a small stuffed chair with arms, for our comfort. Alas, no chocolates on the pillows at night.
SERVICE & FOOD
This cruise had 2,800 passengers and 980 crew, we were told that 30% of the crew are from the Island of Bali. They were extremely pleasant and polite. Upon arrival on board, the crew was lined up on both sides of the entry in their snappy short jacketed (Bell hop) uniforms ready to escort passengers with their hand luggage to their cabins. This is a nice touch, reminiscent of the Costa lines of last century, and it makes passengers feel pampered. Despite the crew being shorthanded, service was pleasant and prompt.
When contacting the Reception desk, there was a language disconnect at times. For example, we called for breakfast menus for in cabin service -- we were told that they would be delivered the next day. We tried explaining that we wanted the menus tonight for breakfast the next morning. It took three calls to set the message straight, but the menus were delivered to the cabin in fifteen minutes.
The food is excellent on MSC. Normally, we have breakfast in our cabin. Only Continental breakfast is served: rolls, brioche, croissants, toast and cold cereals, fruits, juices, coffee, tea, and hot chocolate (hot chocolate was not on the menu, but we wrote it in and it was delivered). If you want American style breakfast, it is available in the Buffet and the Dining Room.
The Luncheon menu in the restaurant is huge: fried calamari, Greek and Cobb Salads, chicken wings, Italian antipasti, fruit plates, soups, fish, steak and hamburgers. Pasta dishes are also available. Dinner we had at a table for four shared with Henry and Mary Ann from New Jersey. It was always very pleasant and informative, since they had several MSC cruises behind them. We usually judge the food by the quality of the bread: Excellent, well cooked and hot and fresh bread sticks daily.
The piece de resistance in desserts was the Grand Parade of the Baba au rum cakes! Another night there was also a Baked Alaska Parade. Desserts: cannoli, cheesecakes, bread and rice puddings, fruit and cheese plates and ice creams and sherbets.
For us the portion sizes were perfect. We had terrific service in the Palladio Dining Room from Asst. Maitre D' Antonio Ferraiuolo, even to an update on the International Soccer scores (Napoli vs. Chelsea). Our waiter Bobby Kurniawan and his assistant Gede Suardana were quick and efficient -- Great job!''
This cruise was a special Baseball Greats Invitational. There were Baseball Hall of Fame players who participated in pitching contests, trivia contests, story telling, autograph sessions, question and answer sessions and memorabilia sales.
The Cruise Director Maddy was MC for the shows in the Carlo Felice theater -- a truly beautiful room with deep royal purple seats and excellent acoustics. MSC presented several spectacular shows: "Stars on Broadway" featured Mimma Barra, an excellent soprano, and Giuseppe Fedeli an accomplished tenor. "Follies Barock" was a presentation of the Entertainment Team. Also "Extraordinaire" and "Isha", "Little Italy" and "Sam" featured the MSC singers and dancers.
The buzz on the ship was continuous about the Russian gymnasts and their amazing balancing act, and two other performers -- one on a bicycle and the other with a ladder. All three acts were remnants of old circus days. There were also the usual standards: Captain Raffaele Pontecorvo's cocktail party, Culinary demonstrations by Executive Chef Vincenzo, Wine Tastings, etc., etc....
The MSC Poesia is an ebullient ship with many attractions.
PORTS OF CALL
Day 1. Ft. Lauderdale, FL USA Depart 6:00pm
Day 2. At Sea
Day 3. At Sea
Day 4. St. Thomas, USVI Arrive 7:00am Depart 7:00pm
Day 5. San Juan, Puerto Rico Arrive 7:00am Depart 5:00pm
Day 6. At Sea
Day 7. Nassau, Bahamas Arrive 10:00am Depart 6:00pm
Day 8. Ft. Lauderdale, FL USA Arrive 7:00am Debark 8:00am
Since both of us have limited mobility, we requested wheelchair assistance for debarkation. A crew member came to our cabin at 8:00am and he accompanied us through a steep gangway to collect our luggage. After passing through customs, our son Marcello picked us up, and we were home in less than half an hour.
Throughout this elegant ship there are varieties of special plants, trees and floral decorations of preserved real foliage which must have been initially beautiful; however, after four long years these decorations look shop worn and battered. In Mary's professional opinion, they should be renewed with more lively ones.
Perhaps an inspection of the ship in regard to wheelchair mobility and access to various places should be conducted with the assistance of a specialist in this matter or by touring the ship in a wheelchair to identify the problem areas which should be made wheelchair friendly. The major problems are thresholds and the lack of automatic door openers in specific access areas.
This was our first cruise on a MSC ship and it was a nice one. Although we would recommend this ship for the general public, we would not take another cruise with MSC, unless something is done to correct the inconveniences for wheelchair passengers. We hope that, at least for the projected ships, MSC will make them more wheelchair friendly than the Poesia.
We look forward to our next cruise on our old favorite the Grand Princess, March 17th and some future cruises on Princess, RCI and Norwegian Cruise ships, yet to be determined. Happy Cruising!