By far the most standout and popular entertainment are the shows that appeared nightly in the Teatro Carlo Felice on Decks 6 and 7, forward. If the theater itself isn't awe-inspiring enough (purple carpeting and chairs with glittering stage curtains and shimmering ceiling lights that look like stars), the performances do a great job of dropping jaws. On two nights, we left scratching our heads, and the same group of singers and dancers did get somewhat tiresome after a week, but variety shows featuring jugglers, acrobats and the like were flat-out breathtaking. (On one night, during noticeably rough seas, one acrobat fell from a particularly high perch, dusted herself off and went right back to work to the applause of a gasping audience.) If nothing else, MSC does a great job of designing its entertainment around various languages; for example, you won't find comedians onboard, as they would have to perform in several different tongues.
Each night, cruisers can relax at Il Grappolo D'Oro with glasses of wine and mellow piano music. When it comes to dancing, the Le Rendez-Vous, Giada and Smeraldo Bars and Bar dei Poeti (Decks 5 and 6) offer well-known favorites, while the Zebra Bar (Deck 6) features international tunes. The Pigalle Lounge (Deck 7) also hosts Latin dancing and karaoke on select nights throughout each sailing.
We found the Hitchcock Lounge on Deck 7 to be one of the most underused and serene locations onboard. It's themed after famed horror guru Alfred Hitchcock, and it's bedecked with comfy green-leather couches, dark wood accents and its own bar. Although this was designed as the ship's cigar lounge, we never saw it used as such, and it lacked the typical smell of a place frequently used for smoking.
Younger passengers will find a DJ playing pop and hip-hop music in the ship's S32 Disco on Deck 14 (Pascoli Deck), aft. Besides the Zebra Bar, which (as you'd expect) looks like a zebra has been deconstructed then reconstructed, the disco is the hippest place onboard, with silver geometric seating, industrial-looking walls and tables, and crazy green-and-black geometric carpeting.
Other nighttime entertainment features dance lessons, games (trivia, scavenger hunts, hula-hoop contests, couples games) and movies on the pool deck. Themed events on our sailing included "Grease," "Toga Night" and "Tropical Party."
Deck 7 is home to Casino Royal, where cruisers will find a black and red theme with starred carpeting and crystal chandeliers. When it comes to game offerings, roulette, slots, craps and Easy Stud poker are the order of the day. Texas Hold'em is offered in the Poker Room throughout the sailing. Stairs lead down to the Zebra Bar directly below, but there is also a bar located in the casino itself.
Hourlong wine-tastings are offered during the day at Il Grappolo D'Oro wine bar on Deck 7 (Manzoni Deck, aft, port side) for an $18 fee, which includes samples of six different wines and appetizers (prosciutto, ham, cheese, breadsticks) with which a sommelier will instruct you to pair them. Our sommelier was extremely knowledgeable, and we think it was worth the price, whether you're a wine expert or know nothing but have always wanted to learn. A mini-tasting (three wines) is also available for $9.90.
Each morning, ship staff offer walking, stretching and aerobics. Throughout the day, passengers will find plenty of other activities to keep them busy, including Italian lessons; spa, culinary and cocktail seminars; bingo; casino gaming lessons; lectures on topics like Caribbean history and pirates; and wacky pool-deck contests (think sexy legs). Times and locations vary, but a complete list can be found in each day's program.
MSC also mixes themes throughout some of its sailings. Our voyage also happened to be a Baseball Greats-themed voyage. Although these are hosted each month throughout the ship's winter Caribbean season, they are unadvertised. The likes of Ken Griffey, Sr., Stan Bahnsen and several others led pitching contests, told stories and signed autographs for free during special sessions throughout the itinerary. (Imagine our surprise when we ended up sharing a cab with Art Shamsky on our way back from the beach in Jamaica.)
Also onboard were members of a Florida-based clown college, who were in attendance for a clown wedding on the ship. On one day, they offered a clowning seminar in one of the lounges, where they made balloon animals and passed out red clown-nose stickers to excited children (and adults).
MSC offers a decent variety of shore excursions, but they may not be quite as active as the ones you'd find on other lines. Some of the ones on our sailing included typical sightseeing tours, glass-bottom boat rides, zip-lining, snorkeling and horseback-riding, among other things. Prices seemed to be about the industry average.
On Deck 5, you'll find the Le Rendez-Vous reception area, where you can ask questions, book shore excursions and settle your onboard bill. There's often live music offered there throughout the day, and with its bright atrium, relaxing wall fountain, calming peach and teal tones and stunning staircases, it's a great place to people-watch. Also on this deck, you'll find (but hopefully never have to use) the ship's medical center on the port side, forward.
If you're looking for the Poker Room, meeting area or ship shops, you'll find them all scattered throughout Deck 6. The Meeting Room meeting area is a nice touch, offering passengers a designated spot to find one another at a set time; a phone is also located there in case times haven't yet been arranged. In addition, you'll find playing cards, Sudoku puzzles and other fun things there throughout the sailing.
The shops on Poesia offer everything from candy and clothing to perfume and duty-free alcohol. Generally a bazaar is held one day per sailing on the pool deck, offering deep discounts on various items like purses and jewelry.
Via delle Arti, or hall of art, consists of two golden passageways -- one on either side midship, surrounding the Card Room and Library. It took us a while to figure out why there's no actual art, but after a few days of passing by, we realized passengers are supposed to scribble drawings on the suede-like walls with their fingers. To us, this is one of the vessel's most whimsical and creative concepts.
The Card Room, gold in color with an obvious card theme and several tables for game-playing, is immediately adjacent to the Library, which has a small selection of books in glass cases along the walls. Comfy leather chairs, dim lighting and its relatively quiet location make the Library an ideal spot for reading ... or inadvertent napping.
Also located on Deck 7 is the Cyber Cafe, which has 19 computers set up both in clusters and in individual stations. A printer is available, and to our knowledge, we were not charged a fee to use it. For Internet access, you'll incur a 99-cent startup fee and a fee of $5 for the first 10 minutes. After that, it's 14 cents per minute, or you can purchase packages that reach up to 500 minutes for a cost of $70. Overall, the atmosphere there is very yellow, which can make extended computer usage a bit hard on the eyes. As is the case with Web use on nearly all ships, pages may load slowly, so be patient. One of our dinner tablemates complained that one of the card readers stole his card, and he had to report to the front desk to get it back. Internet can be accessed from individual cabins but not wirelessly. Hookups are available next to each in-cabin TV, so if you're planning to bring your own laptop, toss an Ethernet cable into your luggage, too.
In addition, you'll find the Photo Arcade and Photo Shop located on this deck between midship and aft. There, you can arrange to have professional photos taken or view and purchase photos taken of you throughout the sailing -- dinner photos, photos with the captain and cheesy pirates, etc. Be warned that photo staff are very strict about passenger camera usage in that area.
Self-service laundry facilities are not provided, but laundry service is available for a fee, both for individual garments and as part of a "laundry pack" that allows a certain number of items for all passengers in a single cabin. Pressing and dry-cleaning services are also offered at a cost.
Aurea Spa, located on Deck 13, comprises a rich and soothing color palette of earth tones, accented with marble countertops, black wicker chairs and hardwood floors. There are nine private rooms for services that include massages, acupuncture, and other body treatments. Also offered are steam baths and saunas (complimentary on Caribbean sailings but 16 euros per hour or 30 euros for the day on sailings in Europe), as well as for-fee thalassotherapy, aromatherapy, henna tattoos and tooth piercings (basically stick-on jewels that bedazzle your chompers). Salon services, including haircuts and styling can also be booked.
Prices are as steep as those found on other ships, but we were able to snag a splendid half-hour long Balinese massage for $32 (including tip, which was not automatically included) with a port-day discount. Collistar, Kerastase and Biolage products are for sale in the spa, and you may or may not receive a product pitch. (One member of our party did; another didn't.) Feel free to politely decline. Inside Aurea, you'll also find refreshments at the beverage bar, which include fresh juices, teas and energy drinks that range in price from $1.50 to $4.50.
One strange thing we noted was the absence of restrooms in the spa itself. When we asked for one, we were directed to the pool deck.
The fitness center, which branches off from the spa at the front of the ship, offers seven elliptical machines, seven exercise bikes and six treadmills, all of which come with iPod hookups and computerized settings in a variety of languages. There are also about a dozen Technogym weight machines, boxes for step aerobics and a small selection of free weights. Aerobics is offered each morning on the pool deck, but otherwise there is no yoga, Pilates or spin. To use the gym, you'll have to sign a release form, and there is a maximum time limit of 20 minutes allowed on cardio machines. We often found the gym difficult to use, due to the heat; the floor-to-ceiling picture windows caused a bit of a greenhouse effect. Also be aware that, at certain times (even on port days), it can be difficult to find open machines.
Outside is where you'll go when you want to catch some sun or take a dip. There are two pools -- Coral Bay Pool (farther forward) and Cayo Levantado Pool (further aft) -- each of which is flanked by two hot tubs and surrounded by plenty of deck chairs. Near Coral Bay is the Pirana Bar, and just past Cayo Levantado is the Mojito Bar, where you'll also find ice cream and for-fee gelato in 16 different flavors.
For more active pursuits, passengers can head up to Deck 14, where they'll find a jogging track (closed during most of our sailing, due to high winds) and a shuffleboard court. A second shuffleboard area is located on Deck 15 (Alfieri Deck), along with a mini-golf course. With just five holes and no real obstacles, it's really more a putting green of sorts. Finally, take a trip up to Deck 16 (Sport Deck), and you'll be greeted by the Centro Sportivo, which features basketball and tennis courts. The Solarium is also on Deck 16, and it offers a pleasant, open, top-of-ship retreat that's not usually crowded. (Note: Although passengers of all ages are allowed at the Solarium, children will find it boring, as it's just an open area with loungers for sunbathing.)
Although you won't find the same types of children's programming on MSC ships as you will with some other lines, Poesia does offer kids activities. Those 17 and younger are split into three groups: Mini Club (3 to 6 years), Junior Club (7 to 12) and Teenagers Club (12 to 17). Special programming is available daily and includes Italian lessons, games and treasure hunts. Kids will also find Nintendo Wii; libraries of books, CD's and DVD's; and board games to keep them busy. Schedules can be found each morning at the I Dinosauri children's play area (which is shared by all age groups) on Deck 14 aft, port side.
Also available near I Dinosauri are a small playground and kiddie pool for wading. On port days, children whose parents have gone ashore will be accompanied by kids club staff to the buffet for lunch, and at night, counselors take the little ones to the daily production shows in Teatro Carlo Felice.
There are no lounges or facilities dedicated specifically to teens, but a small for-fee video arcade is located on Deck 14 aft, starboard side (across from I Dinosauri).
Baby-sitting services are not offered on MSC Poesia.
MSC Cruises has announced new enhancements to its youth programming for kids, ages 3 to 11. With the Happy Dinners program, kids and parents dine together in the main dining room. Kids get expedited service and are picked up early by Mini Club staff, while parents finish the rest of their meal at a more leisurely pace. Or, little cruisers can opt for Fun Time Dinners and dine in the buffet with their friends and the entertainment staff. Fun Time Dinners take place every night, but some of the evenings are theme parties. Both dining options are free of charge. For the littlest kids aboard, babies and toddlers ages 10 to 36 months, MSC now has parent-play times from 9 to 10 a.m. and 5 to 6 p.m. with games, toys and activities tailored to this age group.
* May require additional fees