We are British - husband & wife in our early 60s and quite widely travelled. This was our seventh cruise (previously Nile; Eastern Med; Western Med*; Caribbean/TransAtlantic/Western Med*; Norwegian Fjords*; Australia/New Zealand). This was our fourth cruise with MSC - the previous ones marked with *.
We are members of the MSC Club and the HAL Mariners Club. We have been keen advocates of MSC, particularly liking the beautiful gleaming ships, excellent cabin accommodation and good, honest Italian cuisine with friendly waiters boasting bags of personality. MSC also offer very interesting itineraries and provided you avoid high season - excellent value for money.
This was the first time we had tried one of the new mega-sized ships - the Opera & Lirica are both 56K tonnes, carrying up to 1500 guests, whilst the Musica at 89K tonnes carries over 3000 passengers. Prior to our cruise we were a little concerned to read some rather negative reports of this flagship of the MSC fleet, but we had found similar earlier reports of the Opera & Lirica unfounded in our opinion, so we looked forward to the Musica with much optimism. We had booked this November departure in the previous February, so the looking-forward gave much excitement over quite a lengthy period. This was a repositioning cruise, with Musica leaving her familiar Eastern Med surroundings to cross the Atlantic to fulfill a season of Mini-Cruises out of Brazil.
Travel to Port & Embarkation
The Musica sailed from Venice and MSC arranged flights for many passengers from around the world as part of a package. We flew by British Airways from London Gatwick - a little inconvenient as the return flight would take us back to London Heathrow, so we couldn't leave our car at the airport. However, the flight was on time, reasonably comfortable and there was a prompt and efficient coach transfer to Venice Port, arriving there at noon. This is where the shenanigans started.
First Impressions Count: Everyone fully expected their baggage to be transferred directly from the bus to our cabins. Sadly not so - we all had to join a long line to carry our cases to a baggage reception area. Some of us were quite accustomed to queuing in an orderly manner, but not so many of the passengers arriving from countries where 'queue' does not seem to be in the vocabulary. This pushing and shoving and provocation were demeaning and not designed to get our cruise off to a harmonious start. But this 30 minute experience was nothing compared to what was to follow.
Embarkation commenced at noon, and when we got to the embarkation hall it was utter chaos. There was no attempt at crowd control or line-ups to the check-in desks - it seemed that 3000 people had all turned up at the same time to enter into a massive rugby scrum! We had done a prior on-line express check-in, as seemingly had 2000 other people, who all massed in an undignified surge to three desks marked Express Check-In/MSC Club/MSC Yacht Club. Disabled Passengers were also directed here. We plan to take my elderly disabled sister on a cruise next year and watching people in wheelchairs get shoved and left in this free-for-all determined me not to risk her with MSC.
Apparently, this is not an unusual experience for people joining MSC in Venice. If so, why on earth do MSC not do anything about it? Surely, it would be in their interests to get everybody installed in a happy frame of mind. We have previously embarked with MSC in Genoa, Fort Lauderdale and Copenhagen. Genoa was not great, but Florida and Denmark were fine. One could make derisory remarks about Italian organizational skills - however, MSC clearly has a management problem in its home ports.
Eventually, by 4.00 pm we were on-board - battered, bruised and exhausted and the last of our 4 cases arrived by 8 pm; but now we wished to put these bad first impressions behind us, as we were all set for a wonderful 19 days of relaxed cruising, sailing through the Western Med and across the Atlantic to Brazil.
Accommodation & Public Areas
State Room: We had an outside cabin with balcony on Deck 12, a little aft of mid-ships. It was roomy, reasonably clean (although after a few days we could spot the room boy's short cuts!) and brightly and stylishly decorated. The bathroom was somewhat bijoux, but clean and perfectly adequate for our needs. We were a little surprised to find a threadbare and torn bath towel on arrival and this happened once more on the trip. We were provided with amply-sized bath robes, which were very useful, but never changed.
Storage in the cabin was just about adequate for a three-week trip. Similar to previous MSC cruises, we were pleased to have a bowl of fresh fruit in our cabin. This was topped up each day. We felt very little ship-movement throughout the cruise.
Sun Deck Public Areas: The Musica is less than two years old and is clearly designed with the same modern, bright image as her smaller forerunners - you can tell at once that they are peas out of the same stylish Italian pod. The pool deck area (Deck 13) is expansive with two pools, 4 Jacuzzis, a stage and two bars. Forward there is a large and attractive spa, whilst aft there is a large self service restaurant / buffet - better described as a cafeteria, and the premium restaurant, which also doubles as an overflow to the cafeteria. There is supposed to be a pizza bar up here as well, but for the three weeks of our trip they must have hidden it!
Deck 14 has a walking/running track, children's play area and deck games; whilst Deck 15 comprises a solarium forward, and mini-golf and tennis courts aft. The Entertainment Team take over the stage and part of the sun deck for activities each day. There is a huge video screen forward of the pools, but it never seemed to feature anything but MSC adverts day & night. After 15 minutes you would be able to memorize it all by heart!
There are ample sun beds, but with over 3000 passengers on board, the decks were very crowded and noisy. The daily ship-board routine seemed to be that every available bed and table was 'reserved' with towels and various miscellanies by persons unknown before 7.00 a.m. We find such behavior rather tedious and we were pleased to have our own balcony, where we were able to enjoy peace and quiet and privacy in our own space and good time!
Interior Public Areas: Decks 5, 6 & 7 house the Reception, Accounting Office, various poorly stocked, unwelcoming and overpriced shops, two formal restaurants, a very large and impressive theatre, a large and moderately used pokey room (casino) and a number of bars and lounges of various sizes and degrees of intimacy. There is a large photo shop and team of photographers. However, we did not always find their hours of business convenient and the quality of work was rather poor, whilst prices were excessive.
There is also a large sushi bar, in which we never saw a single customer throughout the cruise. Apart from the theatre and the 3-level reception well, we found the acoustics rather uncomfortable as the various bands, duos, etc did battle with the low ceilings and noisy crowds in an effort to be heard - never mind the quality, hear the cacophony!
Attractive design features on Opera & Lirica are the mirrors and bright brass banisters, handrails etc in stairwells, lifts and so-on - always gleaming. Musica boasts these too, but they require constant polishing and it took the best part of a week before there was a consistent shine.
Overall though, I found the design features a little on the plastic side and given the large number of passengers, it sometimes felt a little claustrophobic.
Communication & On-Board Information
Language Skills: MSC's market is very international and from prior experience we know they are quite capable of making themselves understood in a polyglot of languages - Italian, English, German, French and Spanish. On this cruise over half the passengers seemed to be Brazilian, so Portuguese was added to the list of languages. A novelty for us was that we did not come across one American or Canadian throughout the cruise.
We established, as the cruise progressed, that some 40% of the 900 crew were, at the insistence of the Brazilian authorities, also Brazilian. Sadly, they all seemed to board Musica for the first time, on the same day that we did. Worse, they were mainly without experience, and very few had any foreign language skills. For instance, the only words of English that the Entertainment director seemed capable of were 'Its show time!' and 'Applowse, Applowse!'
Our Cabin Boy was Madagascan and had adequate English skills. Our waiter for dinner was Romanian and made out he understood more than he did. His bus-boy was Indonesian and spoke no English at all. We found another Romanian waiter for breakfast & lunch and he was the one redeeming light in the restaurant. However, his bus-boy was Brazilian and had no language skills and absolutely no prior experience in a restaurant - bless him!
As already indicated, the Entertainment director's lack of English made it very difficult to know what to expect in the theatre, or anywhere else where he officiated.
Television: Each cabin had a TV, and an information card in our cabin informed us that of about 20 channels, four would be in English. In reality, we had only CNN whilst in Europe and only Fox News in South America. Whilst crossing the Atlantic there was no transmission receivable. We were not tempted to pay US$10.90 to watch a movie, probably with sub-titles! Now, whilst we have the utmost respect for our American cousins, to be served up an exclusive offering of American news was culturally exhausting. To begin with we were pleased to learn that Barack Obama had won the US Presidential Election, but the news covered nothing else - we began to scream! You see, our world view is different to an American world view, and what's more, after the 38th repeat we believe we have got the message! And for three weeks we just had to wonder how the English football teams were doing (note, like the rest of the world, we do not call it soccer!).
The TV also had a channel featuring the ship's position and wind speed - but nothing else. Previous MSC equipment on Opera & Lirica also gave sea conditions and weather forecast - very useful, but on Musica we did not know what to expect from one day or one hour to the next. There was a map, but it was very indistinct.
Excursion information on TV was limited to a slide presentation with two or three shots of each excursion on offer. There was nothing for people who wished to explore ports of call independently. The Excursions Office (describing itself rather unrealistically as the Travel Agency) put on a slide show in one of the lounges too, but they were unable to impart any valuable Travellers' Information. They also issued a printed summary of excursions and prices.
Daily Programme: Each evening a 'Daily Program' was distributed to every cabin outlining the on-board activities for the next day, restaurant times, etc. There were editions in all the main languages. This has exactly the same format as when we first sailed with MSC in 2004. The ship was scheduled to dock at Malaga at 09.00 hrs, so we had made prior arrangements for an important business appointment there for 11.00 hrs. When we returned to our cabin at around midnight before arriving in Malaga, we discovered from the waiting Daily Program that we would be docking at 11.00 hrs! Next morning, once the port authorities had cleared the ship we were first down the gang-plank and raced to the terminal building, eventually finding a cab that would do a local fare and eventually we reached our appointment at midday. This was very embarrassing and somewhat stressful for us. So thank you MSC for giving us no prior warning, thank you for providing no explanation, and thank you for not offering any apology to your passengers. But then we are only the ones who keep you in business, so who are we to think we are entitled to a little respect?
Port Information: Also in identical format to previous years is the 'Port Information' hand-out - the content is probably unchanged too. However, whilst previously this was delivered to the cabin, on Musica one has to go to the 'Travel Agency' to pick up a copy. The information varies in quality and quantity, but at least it is better than nothing. We struck a new level of expectation in this respect last year, when cruising with HAL - their Cruise Director gave prior slideshow presentations on each port of call, totally unrelated to excursions; and you could also watch these on TV. So there was no excuse for landing in a port in ignorance.
Sadly one cannot say the same on Musica - whilst appreciating of course that it might be difficult to provide this level of service in 6 languages, they could at least provide port maps - we found they did this on Opera & Lirica, but not so on Musica - no doubt they are cost-cutting and forgetting that their guests have joined this cruise to discover these ports and would appreciate any guidance available! What the hell - they've got us on their wretched ship, so why help us enjoy our experience!
Promotional Flyers: But they did not cost-cut in promoting the on-board shops and spa facilities - there was a daily wodge of photo-copied sheets promoting 'bargain prices' - these went straight in the bin, because everything was overpriced and we found the 'no returns / no refunds' policy somewhat insulting. We have to say that once upon a time we found MSC shop prices reasonable, but now they promote silly prices - so we were not interested to even have a look - except on one occasion. They advertised duty-free prices 20% below land prices. We are not sure which land this is, but think it must be Lalaland! The prices of goods in Musica's perfumery proved to be 20% more expensive than for identical items in downtown Malaga, and 50% costlier than in tax-free Tenerife!
Team Spirit: In the past we have found the problems of multilingual communication admirably managed by MSC, but on this occasion we were very disappointed. We suspect the large number of rookie Brazilians meant that the storehouse of language skills was less, but what we discovered from the very moment of stepping aboard the Musica is that it seems to be a rather unhappy ship. With such a lot of new crew members you can understand that it will take a time for team-spirit to develop, but quite why MSC should take on such a large contingent of new people, without prior training, and just throw them in the deep end is mystifying. It seems that management places little value on their people, nor their customers. Certainly it was evidenced that wherever staff were trying to deal with a problem, senior and middle managers were conspicuous by their absence.
Dining & Service
Now for most cruisers this is one of the most vital aspects in ensuring a happy time. With Opera & Lirica it had been one of the most enjoyable aspects for us - good fellowship, good food & wine, and good service. On Musica it proved to be difficult to find any good at all. One can perhaps forgive other areas of failure, but when one cannot escape from a crap restaurant for three weeks it does impact on one's overall enjoyment.
There are two formal restaurants - Le Maxim on Deck 6 and L'Oleandro on Deck 5. Le Maxim was only open for dinner, so as we were in the L'Oleandro for dinner, we were not able to experience the other one. However, quite a few passengers to whom we spoke said they had transferred from Le Maxim as it was so bad!
Prior Request: On our booking form, completed 9 months prior to departure, we specifically requested an English speaking window table for 6 or 8. This was reinforced by our travel agent. In the past, MSC have fulfilled such requests - not so this time! We were on a table for 4 and nowhere near any window. However, the English couple sharing our table were very good company, so we let this go without issue.
Consistently the Poorest Cuisine we have ever Encountered: We keep a daily diary when we cruise and reading back, we smile as it repeatedly says - 'Dinner - the worst yet!' For some ridiculous reason, this Italian line, with a tradition of good, honest Italian food, decided it would be a novel idea to have theme nights for the menu. There was French, Moroccan, Spanish, Middle Eastern, Greek, Oriental (offering curry!), Asian (offering oriental!), Mexican, Brazilian and so on. And not one of these selections was in any way authentic and in every case, we agreed that you could get a better meal from the cheapest and nastiest ethnic take-away on land.
Sadly, we were not given this choice. But what MSC has always done well in the past is ITALIAN! So what the hell was going on, other than cost-cutting! This was evidenced by the poor quality of food. MSC has never been renowned for its meat, but its fish has always been superb. This time both meat and fish were of very poor quality. Food was, more often than not, served tepid. Ice cream or sorbet, was usually put in front of us in the format of soup! There were never enough vegetables and generally these were over-cooked. Presentation was invariably devoid of any sense of flair or pride. On one memorable occasion, the only time on which steak was on the menu, we all ordered the entrecote. When it came, we each tried a portion from each end of the steak and pushed it away. Our waiter came over and pointed to the sole of his shoe - precisely!
We knew we were in trouble when the only thing our waiter could recommend for us for dessert was ice cream.
Service: Our waiter did not help matters - to begin with he would simply drop each course in front of us - in the order that it came from the kitchen. The outcome was that one person was eating antipasto, whilst the next was on soup, another was on salad, and another was on pasta - clueless! The only things that came in coordinated order were the main course and the dessert. We would frequently order one serving of cheese between two. Apart from the meagre portions and the sad lack of variety, we would get two small crackers between us. After repeatedly asking for more biscuits we would get a whole pack! Clearly there was little engagement with the brain! Several times we sent food back due to its very poor quality. Our waiter did not seem to care. On a couple of occasions we really told him off, but it was only if we complained to the Maitre D or his Assistant that we saw positive action (until the next day, or latterly, when it got close to tipping time!).
On one occasion at breakfast, I ordered 3 courses - cold then hot. The whole lot was served in one go covering half the table. The Brazilian rookie seemed un-phased by my objections. Gladly this did not happen again.
At the end of the day, we and our table partners survived the culinary travesty of this cruise by laughing about it - there was nothing else we could do. But like all other passengers, we had not paid to be demeaned in this way.
The Silly Saga of Coffee & Water: It was anathema to many of the British & Australian passengers to pay for mineral water at meals, rather than being able to order a jug of water. Having cruised with MSC before, we were aware of this particular penny-pinching and short-sighted approach. Not an issue on this occasion, but on previous MSC cruises with significant contingents of Americans, the failure to provide ice cream free-of-charge was an issue. It seems from observation that MSC are inclined to concede to free offerings in the Caribbean, but in Europe they charge for everything. European rules seem to apply on this Transatlantic crossing.
As pensioners we are used to operating to a budget and if MSC want to charge us for water, we simply buy large bottles from a supermarket on land, and decant it to small bottles, which we take to the table.
Our countrymen were also up in arms that MSC would charge for coffee to be brought to the table after dinner. We cannot recall this on previous MSC Cruises, but we are uncertain as to what the fuss is all about. It never ceases to amaze us that any MSC ship, with its Italian heritage, fails to produce anything but the finest coffee. But they fail abysmally - they produce a grim concoction in an urn. We call it River Pau Sludge. For the uninitiated, the River Pau rises in the Alps and descends through Turin and collects all the effluent from the industrial cities of Northern Italy, disgorging itself into the sea near Venice. Consequently, the whole of the Northern half of the Adriatic Sea is poisoned and devoid of any marine life. So we would not drink River Pau Sludge if it were offered free, let alone at an additional cost. Rather, we take a travel kettle and small cafetiere with us, along with a packet of freshly ground coffee. We take milk from the cafeteria and buy cream at ports of call and enjoy good coffee (and tea) on our balcony as often as we like!
Buffet: We seldom used the buffet/cafeteria on Deck 13, unless we were in a hurry. First, the food soon gets tepid in the serveries, and the options did not appear to change much throughout the cruise. We were not impressed at melamine crockery and wooden straws for stirring coffee/tea. But our main objection was the bun-fight! There was no obvious starting point for joining a queue, no clear directional flow and no attempt at crowd management. Therefore it was a bit like Venice embarkation revisited! We prefer to eat without such chaos. We also like to approach a meal one course at a time - not have to put the whole lot on one plate. But we were amazed at what pigs some people are. It was hard to conceive as to how much food some folk managed to pile onto a single plate, in itself designed for a giant!
Service Charges: MSC has a policy of adding a fixed amount per passenger per day, which is added to the bill at the end of the cruise. They then share this among all crew members, both the seen and unseen. The amount in question varies according to the area of operation. The charge is higher in Europe and the Caribbean than elsewhere. This cruise had a South American scale of charge.
However, many passengers had an objection based on the fact that as they were not given free coffee and water they would not pay the service charge (or they would deduct the cost of coffee and water from the service charge).
We have a somewhat different take on this. We believe that we have already paid the wages of all crew members in the cruise price we have been charged. Therefore a tip or a service charge is for those who have provided exemplary service, above the basics expected for people simply doing their jobs. On this cruise, many staff, due to inexperience or incompetence, failed to get even the basics right. Accordingly, we instructed the Accounting Office not to apply the service charge to our account, as we would tip those, whom we felt merited it, on a personal and individual basis. This was accepted without question.
Activities, Hospitality & Entertainment
Activities: Weather permitting, various games and activities were organized by the Entertainment Team on Deck. We had both lost a considerable amount of weight through dietary control in the 10 months preceding this cruise. This meant we were much lighter and fitter than we had been for at least a decade. So for the first time ever, we joined the stretching and aerobic sessions each morning and we thoroughly enjoyed them. The youngsters leading this were good and enthusiastic and geared it well for mixed fitness groups ranging from 20 to 70. There was only one criticism - the sessions were so popular that there was inadequate space.
We also did a good deal of deck-walking each day. Two complete circuits of Decks 14/15 equates to 1 km. But we had to do this at dawn or dusk, because at any other time there were too many sun beds acting as obstacles. During the day we tended to do our pounding around Deck 7 - the boat deck.
Deck Parties: The Entertainment Team also led various games and quizzes - we tended to avoid these as they were generally rather puerile to our preferences.
As we left Tenerife the Entertainment Team put on a Ciao, Ciao Europa party on deck - it was reasonably presented and supported, but lacked the color, excitement and vibrancy of other similar events we have enjoyed on MSC. They seemed to lack the props.
On our penultimate evening at sea, we crossed the Equator and the Entertainment Team pulled out the stops to hold a King Neptune's Party - the Brazilian passengers in particular supported this well, but so too did a good many others, and we had a wonderful boogie!
The next morning King Neptune held his 'Baptism' ceremony - there must have been 500 of us who allowed ourselves to be sequentially dunked in Champagne (very cheap plonk), milk, tomato puree, eggs, whipped cream and flour. We were then exalted to jump in the pool - the biggest bowl of soup you ever saw. Good fun, but it took me three showers to get rid of the entire gunk, and health-wise I never recovered!
Spa: We had a couple of experiences in the beautiful Spa. On the first occasion we were offered a Metabolic Analysis - two for the price of one. Given our aforementioned renaissance in health & fitness, we were interested to learn how we could build on the weight loss and fitness gain we have achieved in recent months. In selling us the session the young Czech man said he could give us such guidance. As it turned out he told us that what we needed was detoxification and he tried to sell us all sorts of herbal pills and potions that would help us excrete through the eye of needle. And this would only cost US$581.00 after discount! Well, the dear boy had clearly failed to realize that we had not just got off of the last banana boat!
Our other experience in the Spa was in response to the offer of a free Step Aerobic Lesson. Up we trotted and joined a group of about 15 deadly serious women aged from 25 to 45 - and us, husband and wife in our 60s! My wife had not done this for 20 years and I had never attempted step aerobics - we were looking for something fairly gentle. The session was lead by a young ebony Adonis, who would not have looked out of place in the Brazil national football team! Well my wife lasted 10 minutes, whilst I persevered for 35 - not bad I thought in the circumstances. I understand that it was high-impact step aerobics!
Theatre Shows: There was a show in the theatre most evenings - two performances, one for each dinner sitting. As the cruise progressed, so the attendance seemed to diminish. Sadly the quality of performance was rather poor - much the feeblest of any cruise we have been on. In fact the best show was the Talent Show - with fellow passengers providing the entertainment.
Other Entertainment: In one of the big lounges there were the normal MSC favorites of Mr Musica and Miss Musica - okay if you like that sort of thing, but events that we try and avoid like the plague.
There were plenty of bars and lounges with music, but as already stated the acoustics did not enhance enjoyment. By far and away the best show on board was a classical quartet of young ladies under the name of Delicia - and they were!
Cocktail Parties: It was rather incongruous that the Captain's Welcome Cocktail Party did not take place until the fifth evening of the cruise. But given the huge new staff intake, it probably took all of that time for Capt. Raffaele Pontecorvo to discover who his officers were! Even more bizarre was that he hosted 3000 people in just two events. We were ushered into one of two lounges and were randomly sat among people we didn't know and whose language we did not speak - so social intercourse was somewhat limited. If anyone wanted a photo with the good captain they could queue for their turn to be snapped with him on an attractive staircase.
After about an hour of our sipping cocktails, the captain came to the front and uttered a few indecipherable words in various languages, during which about a half-dozen men tripped onto the dance floor, wishing they were somewhere else. These, we took, to be a representative selection of his officers. And by the time he raised a toast, my glass had long since been cleared away by a waiter! And that was it, but then half of the guests in the adjoining lounge would not have seen or heard anything at all. The captain had a good opportunity to reduce the negative feelings caused by the embarkation and the poor service levels, but he failed to say sorry or explain anything. Could it be that he couldn't care a damned?
But what depressed us most was that while the captain spoke, few were listening and most seemed to be chatting in the background. This, we felt, was extremely rude and unfair on the captain and his staff. No matter how inept the organizational arrangements and event management, we all have it within our gift to show some politeness and respect.
There was a second Captain's Cocktail Party towards the end of the cruise, but we missed this due to sickness. However, from chatting to others it did not seem to be any better than the first event. Did we really spend out all that money for formal attire, only to be treated as cannon fodder?
Failure to Value Repeat Customers: Prior to this, chatting to some other passengers, we were told that they had been invited to a Repeaters' Cocktail Party, which they thought strange, as they had never sailed with MSC before. As MSC Club Members, and having been to such events on Lirica, we were fully expecting to be invited to such an event, so we were less than pleased to hear what these passengers had told us. We enquired at Reception and were informed that they did not have a Repeaters' Party at all. Whether or not true, we are very offended that, as such loyal customers of MSC, there was no recognition whatsoever of our patronage - not in the cabin, nor the restaurant or in any other way. Yet on HAL, for instance, we had gifts and flowers and a Repeaters event - they know how important it is to show appreciation - sadly MSC has a very long way to go in understanding good customer relations.
Health & Safety
Lifeboat Drill: It seemed a little strange that this important procedure was not carried out until late afternoon on the day following departure. Presumably ships don't sink on the first day at sea! It was also surprising that, with over 3,000 passengers and 900 crew members, there were only 5 or 6 muster stations. In the past we have found that mustering is adjacent to your allotted lifeboat and that the formalities are held with a strict concern for attendance and adherence.
This was different. Our muster point, along with about 500 other people, was in one of the lounges. Passengers were allowed to saunter in, take a seat of their choosing, and use their own initiative in putting on lifejackets. They then engaged in their own conversations with little regard for what was meant to be happening.
The crew members responsible for the drill seemed to be in their own little world - focussed on themselves and looking to each other to see what should be done next. Whilst there were undoubted individuals experienced in these drills, as a team it was clear they had not worked together before and their appeared to be a total lack of leadership.
There was an attempt to demonstrate the correct way of putting on a lifejacket, but there was no individual inspection of passengers. Neither was there any role call, so to this day the ship would not know for certain who attended and who did not. There was no guidance given as to how or where to proceed to lifeboats in the event of a real evacuation of the ship. Passengers started to leave the muster station long before any formal instruction was given to do so. Heaven forbid that there was a real emergency - we're most doubtful that it would have been 'women and children first!'
Maintaining a Healthy Environment: We were taken aback by the way a nasty wave of a flu-like bug swept through the ship. We contracted this illness ourselves before the cruise had ended. It therefore illustrated to us how exposed people are to sickness in a confined environment such as a cruise ship, and therefore how vital it is take every precaution to prevent infection. Thankfully we were only dealing with the flu, and not something serious and life-threatening such as novo-virus.
Whilst a certain number of hand-sanitizers were to be found, these were not situated at every door to every restaurant as one would expect. Nor were they present on boarding the ship at all. Where hand-sanitizers were present the use of them was not mandatory, so people who did not realize the significance could well have been helping to spread the contagion. We do not feel there is any room for a relaxed approach on a ship carrying as many passengers as the Musica.
Ship's Doctor: Having eventually caught this bug myself, I was persuaded to go to the ship's doctor, who was doing a roaring trade! In my three-minute consultation with him the only personal question asked of me was my age. He did not ask if I had any allergies, blood pressure or other conditions that might have affected any prescription. I was eventually issued with a cough-linctose and some sachets of a fruit-flavoured analgesic/antipyretic. It was not until I returned to my cabin that I realized that the main constituent was paracetamol, to which I am allergic!
It was not until I got home and saw my general practitioner that I was prescribed with an appropriate antibiotic, which has now dealt with the infection. Clearly, I am unhappy with the level of professionalism experienced in using the ship's doctor.
Shore Excursions & Disembarkation
In Europe we did our own thing, and it is perfectly safe to do so, provided you do not take stupid risks.
However, never having been to Brazil before, and having heard too many scare-stories, we erred on the safe side and took ship's excursions there.
Recife was filthy, apart from Olinda (the original Portuguese capital up on a hill, with lovely views). We don't know why our tour guide didn't just take us there, rather than trawl through the stinking city from one side to the other to reveal a beach heaving with 70,000 people, and churches and government buildings of no particular remark! In Salvador we also had a tedious tour of slow moving dirty suburbs, when all we needed to do was walk 800 meters to a funicular to take us up the cliff to the charming old city - nothing else worth seeing there. Admittedly, we also passed some nice beaches, but we were not given the opportunity to alight and take a stroll. Rio should have been the highlight of the trip, but it rained all day (our only day of rain in three weeks). At the summits of Sugar Loaf and Corcovado we were in cloud and could see nothing. We drove along Copacabana and Ipanema - world famous beaches with not a soul on them. And two blocks back from the beaches, you would not want to risk walking alone. Weather not with-standing - the tour seemed comprehensive and value-for-money. Our disembarkation was at Santos and as we had all day prior to our flight home we booked the ship's excursion transfer to see something of Sao Paulo en-route. However, whilst we had to clear our cabins by 7.00 a.m. and mustered for the transfer excursion as instructed at 08.45, the port authorities would not allow disembarkation for 3 hours. Then we found we were in a scrum with 3000 other angry, panicking and frustrated passengers to claim our baggage and get through customs, etc. Our coach did not get under way until 12.30 and we only had time for lunch en-route before going to the airport. This is the subject of a claim for refund We flew home on BA - like most airlines they are better on short-haul services than on long. This flight was over 11 hours non-stop and we were in cattle class at the back - awful, awful, awful in every way - this once excellent airline has descended to the depths of 'could not care a damned!' There policy seems to be: treat the punters like dirt, if it's the only way to survive!
Embarkation/Disembarkation: Do not join or leave a ship at Venice or Santos - particularly if it is an MSC ship! Nice Cabin: A balcony is essential on a ship of this size. Big is not Beautiful: The Musica looks lovely, but you can easily feel lost in the crowd. Problems of Scale: A ship with over 3000 passengers and 900 crew members needs to be well managed - the captain of the Musica and his senior officers clearly have a lot to do. Communication: If you are running a business targeted at an international clientele then you need to make sure your media and language skills are up to the job - MSC have proven they can do it on smaller ships - with the Musica they need to up-skill to do so on a big ship. Dining and Food & Beverage: Is the decline to do with a policy by MSC to go down-market, or is it another example of Musica's management problems? Whatever, a main constituent of a good cruise is to have a great dining experience. We can no longer recommend MSC for this reason alone. Service: Similarly, this has to be right. With nearly half the crew possibly rookies, Musica has asked for trouble on this cruise. Activities Team: They did an enthusiastic and entertaining job, although we felt they could do with more support (moral and resources). Formal Entertainment: A lot of improvement required. Health & Safety: Musica needs to up its game. Shops, Photography, Excursions: Generally poor range or quality and over-priced. The 'buy-me' factor was definitely missing. Valuing Customers: On our fourth MSC cruise we certainly did not feel at all special - we were just two more punters - there is no inducement to want to sail with MSC again. In fact the overall experience was so disappointing that it makes us circumspect about cruising with anyone for such a long period again.