A little about me. This was our 8th cruise. We've had 2 on NCL, and 5 on Carnival. We chose MSC because we were eager to try a different line. When we saw the two for one (half price) balcony fare, we decided to try this ship. Where to start? This will likely be a little long winded, sorry about that.
Our cruise was seven days. 3 sea days, a short stop in Nassau, a late stop in St. Maarten, and a very long stop in San Juan.
Embarkation. The cruise paperwork said we could start boarding at 2 pm. But like any eager cruisers, we got there about 12:45, gambling that we would not have to stand outside on a line. We won. Got right in, had to wait about 5 minutes on line, then we checked in. Check in was fast and easy. But...... They don't take your credit card info when you board. Between the time you check in, and 11pm the NEXT night, you have to go to a kiosk and formalize your payment options. There are several Kiosks for this. You can use a credit card, debit card, or insert cash. We went during the afternoon of the second day. It was fast and easy, and no line. And they did not restrict using the cards for drinks the first night before we had our card registered.
We parked at the Miami port. The garage is across the street, and about 1/2 block (no more) down the street. Dropped off my wife and luggage, parked and walked back. Easy. But going home it was a bit much with our bags, so I left the wife and luggage waiting in the shade and went and got the car. Parking was $20.00 per day.
We booked a cabin in the "Fantastica" level. We were on deck 12, last cabin aft on the side of the ship. Cabin was larger than I thought, balcony was smaller. Balcony had 2 chairs and a footrest/table. It worked okay for 2 people. A chaise would have fit with one chair removed, but it would have been awkward. Disappointed because I generally like to take one sea day afternoon and snooze on the chaise while listening to my Ipod. The cabin was laid out well, and there was decent room in the couch/vanity area to relax and not trip over each other. Bed and pillows were very comfortable. Everything was clean, neat and in good condition. It didn't bother us, but the grout in the shower tile could have used a good scrubbing. No mildew and not disgusting, but some folks want to know that kind of thing. Vanity has a weak, but functional hair dryer in one drawer. Closet is the typical three doors. The hanging area is pretty good, and has 5 or 6 hangers on each side. Behind the third door is the safe, and six small drawers. There are also two small drawers in each nightstand. We found the storage to be just right for two people for 7 days. There are two 110 volt and two 220 volt outlets by the desk. I have a long hose on my cpap, and probably could have plugged in and used it with no extension, but I had packed a 12 foot extension cord and used it, it was much better with the extension cord. A power strip with a shorter cord would have worked fine also.
The ship is decorated in a very tasteful and elegant style. It's trying to be a throwback I think. It was very very nice, albeit no Andrea Doria either. I don't mind mind neon and other over the top decorations on other ships, but this was a very nice change of pace. The passageways are typical size, BUT you can walk without getting stuck behind the lines at a couple of dozen photography stops. That was very welcome. There aren't many photographers compared to Carnival, and they took their shots pretty well off to the side. It did slow things down a little on elegant nights, but not like on Carnival. All of the public restrooms are clean and well maintained, with one exception. One restroom is shared by the casino and theatre. In the evening it is not cleaned often enough and starts to smell. It's sad that there are so many Oafs in the world that don't know how to pee into a toilet, but it is what it is. But they do clean it, and when traffic slows down, it's spic and span again. On that note, one thing that was a surprise was that everyone washed their hands when finished in the restroom. Not something you see on some other lines.
Main dining room.
The food was very good, a definite step up from the two other lines I've been on. Albeit a bit too gourmet? for my tastes. The portions are small. Remember that this is an Italian ship that is catering to its market from Europe. European style (AFAIK) has emphasis on taste and small samples. The waiters are delighted to bring you a double portion or multiple entrees, but you do have to ask. I didn't do that, as I knew we'd likely have desert or perhaps a snack later anyway.
Only one class of fare has access to anytime/your time/freestyle type dining. The rest have the traditional early and late seating. If you're not sure what that is, you sit at a table with 2, or 3 other couples. We had a table for 6. First night we were seated with 2 other pleasant couples. Dinner went off without a hitch. Second night, one of the couples didn't come. We had our orders in. 30 minutes after the 5:30 seating time, a couple showed up, and were given the two empty seats at our table. Because they were late, we didn't start getting our food until all orders were ready. (Typical of traditional dining I think.) The lady of the late couple was drunk and loud mouthed. She ran off to talk to anyone she had seen on the ship the first two days, and wouldn't stop talking and eat when she was at the table. This caused all courses to be delayed, as they serve everyone at the same time. Dinner ran so long that we skipped desert to get going with our evening plans. The next two nights we hit the buffet. Once because of the port times in St Maarten. The next night we ate in San Juan. Now it gets interesting. We went back on Thursday to find that the Maitre 'D had given our seats away. Seems the drunk lady had some friends that she wanted to sit there and told the Maitre 'D we only came once and wouldn't be back. I was understandably angry. I pushed it as far as I could with the Maitre 'D without making a scene. He wasn't going to reseat anyone at our table, and assigned us to the table next to it. It was a table for 6 that had only one couple on it. The couple ended up living in the same town as us, and we have a lot in common. We've made new, local friends from the experience. All's well that ends well, because the drunk woman at our first table was obnoxious the rest of the cruise and even even yelled at the Maitre 'D "I know what the F---- I'm talking about!!" when there was some misunderstanding about paying for her drinks. No doubt she's writing a poison pen review at this very moment. Glad I'm not her.
Lunch in the main dining room was okay. I'm not a huge fans of buffets. The caveat here is the length of time while dining. Each time we had lunch there, we were seated with European folks. Which is great. However, you have to remember that in Europe dining is an unrushed experience. And as with dinner, everyone is served their courses at the same time. So, if (like us) you want to get to say, a bingo game, make sure you get to the dining room early enough (unlike us) to have your meal and be done in time. My take away from this is just that next time I'll go to lunch earlier if I have some place to be.
Breakfast in the main dining room is not like lunch. There aren't multiple courses or a desert. So some other person lingering doesn't affect you.
The food is very good. They have a real Pizza oven, and real Pizza is available from 12 noon until 1am. I don't know what authentic Italian Pizza is like. This Pizza is New Jersey/New York style. Thin crust, with a big rolled crust around the circumference. New Yorkers will scoff and tell you Vinnie's' Pizza on west 53rd street is better. But who cares? This is real Pizza that is very good. Once they have ramped up and the initial rush to get Pizza at 12 quiets down, they never run out. The rest of the food is very good. They have all the typical food , carving station, and a pasta bar. They also offer Hamburgers and hot dogs. I didn't partake, but quite a few did. The burgers and dogs were wrapped up, and they did not look dried out when other cruisers opened them up. Many were eating them, so I assume (?) they were good.
The buffet does have some drawbacks though. While the buffet to me looks to be the correct size for a ship this size, the odd port times put undue strain on it. It's JAMMED on a couple of port stops because cruisers come back after their assigned dinner times, and in Nassau where there is little time to take out to eat in Port. So everyone eats when they get back. The other problem is the walking room. Jammed or not, it's a bit of a chore to walk from station to station and to your table. The pathways are not wide enough. And on top of that, the service staff doesn't stand back and let you pass. If they're coming your way with a big tray or cart, they may or may not yield to you. Don't know what to make of that. It seems like all of them, not just individuals.
Don't have much to say, but will mention my experiences. My "waterproof" camera filled up with water and died while snorkeling in Nassau. I was tired and hungry, and not very interested in looking around Nassau (3d visit) for a camera. Figured I'd buy one on the ship. I did. When I unpacked it, it came with an external (what?) battery charger that had a 220 volt plug. That would be fine on the ship, but I wouldn't be able to charge it at home in the states. Went back down and wanted to exchange it for a camera that used a USB, or at least had a 110 volt charger. They informed me they only sell European style. The clerk made a monster face, but refunded me with no problem. How hard can it be to keep a few American compatible units along with the others?? Also, I recently bought an Invicta watch on Amazon for $115.00. They had the same model on "sale" on the ship. I asked the price, after a lot of mumbo jumbo with a calculator and assurances that I would not be paying tax or duty on it, they were happy to offer it for me for only $199.00. Okay, well I was just curious. Just an FYI on that. Oh, I got my camera in St. Maarten in the shopping area right by the ship. I got it for the same price as Amazon, so that was nice.
Wow. Just wow. The talent in the shows was over the top. These folks hire very talented singers, dancers, acrobats etc... This is not like the cheesy cruise ship shows you've seen. These folks could be on Broadway, or at the Met singing Opera. Every show was great. The witches of Paris and the Michael Jackson show were Bellissimo. I still get goosebumps thinking about the witches show. If you've never experienced a beautiful woman with a beautiful voice singing a beautiful French song in French, you haven't lived. You get my point. The entertainment is top-top drawer. There is no stand up comedian. Makes sense since the passengers are a very mixed international group.
The casino is surprising small for a ship that carries 4000. That said, except for when shows get out, it's not too hard getting on a table. Perhaps the international crowd doesn't enjoy gambling as much as Americans (?) They have 3 Blackjack tables. But only once did I see more than 2 open. The third table is $10.00 min. The other two are $5.00 min. One of the two uses rules the same as "Spanish 21" the tens are removed, 21 wins instantly, late surrender, double on anything....... And a standard table. Looks like 8 decks hand shuffled. There are two 3 card style poker tables (I think $5.00, didn't play,) and two roulette wheels. Roulette is $1.00 inside, $5.00 outside. Dealers are all friendly, competent and professional. BUT......... NO CRAPS!! Huh? A passenger in the casino told me they had a table on a previous cruise, but it wasn't busy. Guess they don't make enough money on it to set it up.
For me, this was the bad part of the trip. I did 3 excursions purchased in advance from MSC. With our Port times, Nassau and St Maarten didn't lend themselves well to private tours. I did a little research but didn't see much. Perhaps I should have searched harder. And San Juan I was tired and cranky the night I bought that and didn't feel like doing a lot of googling to find an independant tour. In all 3 cases, we met in the theatre to get our tour groups together. While the folks without ships tours were heading off the ship and into town, we were in the theatre twiddling our thumbs. The theatre is deck 6 and 7. In port you exit via deck four. When your group is ready to go, a person picks up your number and starts to walk out of the theatre. Then they announce that you need to follow that person. By the time you get down the stairs, and wait at the the checkpoint because folks in front of you can't find their cabin card, the ship tour guide is long gone. At least in Nassau they relined back up next to the ship. But not so in St Maarten and San Juan. Not happy with that at all. In St Maarten, as you approach the terminal the pathway splits left and right. Having been in St Maarten before, I was pretty sure we needed to go right, but no one was there to ask. I was correct. But a lot of folks went left. I don't really know if they made it to the tour or not. Wife complained to the MSC girl with our number standing in front of the bus. Her response was a snippy "I'm right HERE." San Juan was the same. But at least a port employee was able to tell us to go right when the walkway split.
Took the snorkel excursion. One stop for one hour. Some nice fish a few interesting things to see on the reef, but quite unspectacular. Nassau on a Sunday is not the best time to be there.
Not good, but probably for different reasons than you would think. The big jumbo jets come in over Maho Beach between about noon and 2:30. The ship gets in late, so by the time you get to Maho, you may not see any big jets coming in. We didn't see any. And you only get 30 minutes. Then you go to Marigot. By the time you get there, it's the end of the day, and again, you only get 30 minutes. And you don't go to Orient beach at all. We've been to St Maarten before. So we got to experience Maho and Marigot. But it would have been terrible to be a first timer on this tour. The other reason this tour is awful is because they do it in a Greyhound sized bus. The problem with that is that the roads around the island are small, curvy, have a lot of undulations and some potholes. A Greyhound bus going 10 mph does not do well at all in those conditions. I have a strong stomach, but was feeling queasy after a while. On top of that, the bus is too large to stop at any of the numerous scenic outlook sights to take photos. If you get motion sickness, stay away. Heck, stay away for the other reasons. If you can't arrange a better independant tour of the island, I would recommend looking at taking a cab to Marigot, a water excursion, or just hanging around Philipsburg.
We booked the scenic tour with Bacardi tour. The bus was comfortable, and the tour guide was a sweetheart. We did a quick drive through New San Juan and straight over to Bacardi. At Bacardi you get a small drink (Passionfruit) with a small amount of Rum in it when you get there. The tour isn't much to look at. I've been on a couple of Beer breweries tour, which were much more encompassing. Still, it's pleasant enough. Of course, the tour ends in the Bacardi gift shop. If you like quality, branded merchandise, you'll love the shop. After that, you go back to the pavilion where you get a bonafide drink in a souvenir glass that you keep. There is a choice of 9 drinks. 3 are free with the tour. One of which was a Daiquiri on the rocks. I don't recall the other two. The other six are for a sizeable upcharge. The free drinks were the real deal, and they didn't go cheap on the rum either. Was fine with my free drink. Then it's back on the bus. You stop for a few minutes at the Capitol building. Then they take you to old town. In old town you can either leave the tour, or come back in 50 minutes for a ride back to the ship. There is absolutely no reason to go back after 50 minutes. The ship is only about 2 blocks from where the bus stops and you can see it. You will NOT get lost if you stay in Old Town. All in all, I felt the tour was a bit rushed when it didn't need to be, as the port stop was all day and well into the night. So I didn't think it was worth it. If you want to do this, try to find an independant tour.
Final thought. I wanted to buy some Bacardi rum, but didn't want to lug it around all day. I figured I'd get some in Old San Juan on the way back to the ship. Whoops. Bad move. There was only one or two shops that I saw that had rum, and not what I wanted. So I bought some Rum on the ship. The Bacardi stuff was within a buck or two of what they were charging in the Bacardi shop. But they didn't carry everything that you could get at Bacardi. I think the ship clerk said (not sure, I'm quite deaf, and he had a strong accent) that Bacardi would have delivered any Rum I bought to the ship for me. Check on that. It would have been a godsend if that's right.
As with all ships, there are signs when reboarding that say your liquor purchased in port will be taken and put in your stateroom on the last night. But they don't do that. There was no desk to leave your liquor, and they said nothing when they x-rayed your bag.
Compared to other lines, the menu is limited, or perhaps very limited. In the lowest fare group, I believe there is a charge at least for delivery, not sure about the food itself. Our level was "Fantastica." No charge for anything on the menu, but a $3.50 delivery fee from 11pm until 6am. Service was PROMPT. Most mornings we called for coffee while getting dressed. It showed up within minutes. One night we left our breakfast selections on the door knob. Breakfast came about 15 minutes early. Was not a problem, because I've had that happen on other lines and adjusted the requested time in case it happened. Besides coffee, we got some Danish, fruit and cheese delivered to the room. Everything was very fresh, even the Danish. As good as the Pizza in the buffet is, an upcharge restaurant on board is said to be even better. That restaurant will deliver Pizza to your room, but there is a charge for it. The booze and soda in the mini bar is the same price as around the ship, which is nice. However the snacks are amazingly small, and terribly overpriced. Get your peanuts or chips off the ship. As a last resort, the snacks in the ship's gift shop are even more practical compared to the mini bar price.
It was for the most part the old way of doing things. Steward leaves color coded baggage tags for you suitcases. Out of your cabin early (7:00 yikes) then meet in the theatre at a time depending on your baggage color code. Ours was 8:00, and we were getting off right after 8. They let us off with 2 other color groups. What we didn't know was that each color had it's own luggage conveyor. So don't waste time (like us) standing by the green conveyor if your tag is yellow. You can do self assist disembarkation, But they want you off early, as in first group, I think (?) around 7am. You're not supposed to hang around and self assist later, although I have to wonder what the possible ramifications of that would be?
All in all it was a great trip. But had this been my first cruise, I don't think I would have liked it. Over 8 cruises I've learned a ship can't be everything to everybody. Looking at the strong points of this ship compared to the other ships I've been on, I'll take this ship hands down any day, and twice on Sunday. I liked the Italian flair, and it was fun sailing with an international bunch of cruisers. No, it's not for everyone I guess. If you are a devotee to a particular brand of cruising, I don't think this is for you. Read Less