Before I start with my review, I would like to take a moment to rebuke all the paid trolls who have been mercilessly shaming MSC for their poor hospitality! Please find another brand to shame! Because in reality, the MSC experience was flawless!!! Also, for those looking to read my review, please beware - this is going to be a very long review - so grab a cup of coffee if you please!
Background info: This was the first ever cruise of our life – I traveled with my parents, my sister and her family of 3, and my own family of 3 – we were a group of 8 people. And let me tell you, it was the best trip ever! I have no words to express how impeccable the entire experience was. We took a 7-night Norwegian Fjord cruise on the MSC Meraviglia, from Kiel, Germany. Being our first cruise, we had absolutely NO clue of how a cruise works, what we’re supposed to pack, how we’re supposed to reach the ship, how the whole experience would be – absolutely nothing! So, imagine our state of mind as we got down at Kiel station.
Embarkation: As we come out of the station, wondering how to reach the ship, we see an MSC Counter set up right at the entrance. A handful of MSC employees, waiting to take our luggage (and placing it right outside our cabin rooms), arranging for our shuttle, and happily answering all questions we had with respect to reaching the ship! We took the shuttle an hour later, and reached the port in less than 20 minutes. A hundred more employees were stationed there, each guiding and directing us on the right path. 20 counters were set up for the embarkation formalities; we were done with all of it in 10 minutes flat. As we left the embarkation area, we were struck by the grandeur and the sheer size of Meraviglia – WHAT A BEAUTY she was!! Spotless!
I had read online that the rooms take forever to get ready, and that luggage reaches the room only by night. Lies. Lies. Lies. We were aboard the ship at 4 – our rooms were ready – decorated with such warmth and love, and with our luggage neatly placed outside.
Ship information: A 19 floor mammoth, Meraviglia was everything a cruise ship should be. While the first 4 four floors were reserved for the staff, the fun began from the 5th. Rooms spread over 10 floors, a hundred lifts to take you to your destination, entertainment, food, drinks, swimming pools – it had everything you could ever ask for!
Room details: Because we made our bookings very late (only 6 months in advance), we couldn’t get the cheapest inner cabin rooms because they were all sold out, and thank god we didn’t! The Bella Balcony Stateroom was a dream! Anyone who says MSC rooms are too small – I don’t know what they expect!! Our rooms were the perfect size – a warm and cozy double-bed, with the sofa converted into a bed for our toddler. A tv and mini-bar attached, and a reasonably sized balcony with a stunning sea view! The bathroom was also very smartly designed with unlimited hand wash, shampoo, and body wash. Yes, the shower area was a little small, but frankly, it was inconsequential!
Dining: A 20-hour market place buffet, a handful of other fine-dine and every day restaurants, ice cream parlors, cafes, bars and lounges. We found ourselves spending most of our free time at the marketplace buffet – what a variety of food – my god! Since all of us are vegetarians, our options were limited. But we, in no way, went hungry ever! The restaurant was always crowded, but we always managed to find a table – without having to push or shove. Every item was beautifully created, and served with equal amount of love! The views from the corner tables were spectacular!
Our cruise plan also included dinner at the Olivo D Oro restaurant every night, where we could peacefully sit around a table, and enjoy a dining experience while having fulfilling conversations with the family. And the best part? Being Indians, we asked the host if the chef could prepare Indian food for us, and to our surprise, he did: not once, not twice – but every night for the entire duration of our stay! And not just Indian food, but also all the things that come with Indian food – including salad, pickle, pappadums, and yoghurt – no Indian meal is complete without these. I have to say, we have never been taken care of, so wonderfully, by any staff, anywhere in the world! It was our luck, that the host was an Indian himself; he took care of us like his family! Jamal Khan – I cannot thank you enough for your hospitality! Equal appreciation for Aryo, our server who smilingly took care of our needs – every night, night after night!
Games: Shops, an interactive LED dome, gym, kids clubs, flight and car simulation zones, air hockey, mini-football field, bowling alley and more. We didn’t make use of the gaming zone was much as we would have liked to, but we still enjoyed whatever little we could!
Activities: Outdoor swimming pool, indoor heated pool, a dozen 38 degree plus whirlpools – some with panoramic sea views, a waterpark on the 19th floor along with a Himalayan rope walk. The whirlpools were our favorite. After a tiring day at shore, spending sometime in the whirlpool was the best way to unwind!
Entertainment: Innumerable entertainment options including Cirque de Soleil at sea, broadway shows, casino, spa, tv studio and the many everyday programs organized by the entertainment staff – including quiz, master chef at sea, bingo, karaoke, Zumba, dance, and more. I was, (and still am) SO amazed by the professionalism and perfection shown by every artist of the Broadway shows. 3 shows, every day, each day – probably by the same people. But what a variety. What performance. What entertainment. I particularly loved the Flamenco show, while my metal hubby enjoyed the rock and 80s song and dance shows. Getting to experience Cirque de Soleil at sea was an experience in itself – our kids enjoyed it to the core!
Everyday excursions: I had read so many negative reviews of how uncomfortable getting in and out of ship is, and how long one has to wait while passing through security checking. When we got down for our first shore excursion, I realized what a mockery people had made of the ship. Everyday alighting was immaculate. Sign boards were put everywhere which made it easy for us to find our way out. Staff at exit points were absolutely professional, and precise. They scanned our cards and allowed us to get down – without any hassle. Some of them even greeted us Namaste, the minute they realized we came from India. No where did we have to stand in queues (except at one port where we had just a few hours on shore, and even there it took less than 20 minutes to get in) – I found myself frequently discussing with my family, how flawless the process was every day.
Staff, or probably STAFF: They say kind people are the best kind of people. And we couldn’t agree more. The staff on Meraviglia was one of the best we’ve ever come across. Always smiling, always warm, always happy (and eager) to help. From the moment we got down at Kiel station, to the moment we got back there – every member of the staff went out of the way to help us. Never was a member rude to us; never did anyone frown upon us. It felt as if they were there just so they could make us happy, make our stay memorable, and they did!
Let’s begin with the housekeeping staff. I hate to admit I never asked for his name, but our housekeeping boy was the reason for our happy mornings. The minute we got out of our room each morning, he was there, standing with a million-dollar smile on his face, wishing us and genuinely wanting us to have a good day ahead. He tidied up our room twice a day, and even folded our clothes every evening. Frankly, who does that? :)
I’ve already said a lot about our dining staff. They were probably the main reason for our happy MSC experience. The staff at the Marketplace buffet were also were helpful. Any questions we had, any doubts we had, they were more than happy to respond and answer.
The entertainment staff were the most fun! For sea days, and even for evenings on board, they had planned and executed activities meticulously. While all the games etc. were fun, the staff itself, was so much fun – we always found them pulling each other’s’ legs, cracking jokes – just having a good time. They always approached us with a smiling face, seeking participation for events, and applauding us for our efforts. On the last night, they put up a small program for everyone at the Broadway theatre, and I must tell you – I haven’t felt so choked up in a long time. Not only did they thank us for being a part of the experience, they even introduced themselves by name and by country of origin – stating how all of us, are in fact, just like one big family – without the division of color, religion, or caste. As the program got over, each member of the staff stood at the exit, thanking us personally. I will never forget the tears they had in their eyes! How touched we all were, to realize, they were going to miss us, just as much as we were going to miss them!!!
Disembarkation: We were given a disembarkation time of 10:45, but because some of us had an international flight to catch at 16:30 from Hamburg, we requested for an earlier time and were accommodated, without hassle. We were asked to leave our luggage outside our rooms the previous night, so we only had our hand baggage with us. Since we had already cleared all our bills, we could just walk out of the ship – after having our cards scanned. As we got down the ship, our luggage was already there – waiting for us. There were a dozen shuttle buses also waiting; we were directed to one, which brought us to Kiel station – back to reality after a week-long dream!
Fact check: After having read SO MANY negative reviews for MSC, I was petrified before I got onto the ship. More so because my husband and I had done all the planning and booking and I was scared how my family would react if MSC turned out to be just as bad as I had been reading online! But after I got on, I realized all those negative reviews were LIES!
• The ship is noisy? Wow! When you put 5000 people together on a small piece of floating land, there is going to be noise. How is the cruise company to be blamed for this???
• It takes ages for a waiter to come to take your order? It’s called having patience: when there are 2000+ people sitting across tables in a restaurant that is spread across half the ship, waiting 10 minutes (or even more) for an order is normal.
• Horrible food quality? Wow! I don’t know what people expect – there was nothing, absolutely nothing we found bad or inedible in the food. And, mind you, we are vegetarians! :)
• Limited food options? If people think this is limited, I am not sure they understand the meaning of the word!
• No entertainment? Low quality theatre shows? After having returned from my most unforgettable experience, I can only smirk, when I read such statements! There is soooooooooo much Meraviglia offers – as part of your plan, and at an added cost. There is no limit, really! And I’ve already mentioned how every artist performed – with perfection and professionalism.
• Service is mediocre? In my entire life (I’m 33 already), I’ve never been taken care of this well by ANY staff, anywhere. From the dining staff to housekeeping, security to reception, entertainment to cleaning – every member of the Meraviglia family attended to us with such warmth and hospitality. I was moved beyond words.
Points to note: Like any other business in the world, cruise companies will try everything to make money, and there is nothing wrong in it. The good part is – they tell you they are trying to make money, nothing is HIDDEN. The onus on being careful with your money is entirely on you! So, here are some things to note:
• Onshore excursions – Yes, they charge a bomb for all their onshore excursions, and that’s exactly why we didn’t take even one of them! Do your research and plan your trips on your own. We did that, and we came back a happy lot – without a hole in our pockets.
• Drinks package – For people who drink a lot, this might seem like a good option – paying a set amount for drinks every day, for the entire duration of your stay so you can have unlimited drinks while on the ship. But everyone in my family (barring me and my husband) are teetotalers. The drinks package didn’t make sense to us – so we didn’t opt for it.
• Professional photos – You will find photographers taking your photos everywhere; apart from the photo that was taken on embarkation day, a bill for which reached our room (with an option to return the pics and choose not to pay for it), no one were we forced to pay for something we didn’t ask for.
• Service charge – I had read so much about how unfair it is for MSC to add a 70 Euro service charge on every bill. But after my 7-day trip, I willingly and happily paid those 70 Euros. For a 7-day trip, it comes out to 10 Euro/person/day. And for how well they took care of me – I was more than happy to pay!
Conclusion: I’ve never been on any other cruise ship, I do not know if and when I’ll be making another trip. But as a first-time experience, MSC completely bowled me (and my family) over. We boarded the ship with so much apprehension, but we came back with such gratitude and appreciation in our hearts – for all the people on board – who took such great care of us, and ensured that every moment we spent on the ship was enjoyable and memorable!
Thank you MSC Meraviglia for providing us with memories of a lifetime!
P.S. No, I’m not a PR person for MSC, nor do I have any vested interests in the company. I’m a normal IT professional, trying to get through life, and trying to make memories along the way!
~The more you are thankful, the more you attract things to be thankful for~ Read Less