We just returned from a Panama Canal cruise on the MSC Lirica. While the cruise ship was immaculate, clean, and well-equipped, it fell short in some areas. Let's cover the good things first: Cleanliness - no one became ill. There were hand sanitizers everywhere. The food was good, not great. We enjoyed the Italian pasta dishes and the risoto. Fish and meat dishes were not very good. Not many dessert choices on the menu. The entertainment in the shows was fantastic - very talented singers and dancers. There were lots of lounges and we enjoyed trying the different ones each night after the show. The entertainment staff did a lot to get people involved, and the skits were fun. The lounge singers and bands were great - great dancing music for all ages.Now for areas of improvement, but first I must point out, that we had terrible weather on the cruise and very rough seas for more than 50% of the time, so that may have made the negatives seem more than what they actually were. This is a European line, and there were lots of Europeans and Canadians on the ship. They appeared to outnumber the Americans. All announcements were made in 5 languages - English, Italian, French, German and Spanish. I felt this was unnecessary as all the passengers understood English. The Cruise Director (who was only visible before each show at night) introduced the cast in 5 languages, and spoke so fast, you could not understand her. She lacked personality, and did not contribute to the fun atmosphere people like to see on a cruise. However, her staff of young singers and dancers, were always about on the ship and were friendly and entertaining. Due to the inclement weather, we were not able to use the outdoor restaurant on the ship for several of the days. This was unfortunate, as they had delicious pizza, and an outdoor grill. One of the nicer days, we went to a "pasta party" outdoors and the food was delicious! We only attended one midnight buffet - there was ONLY one. The complimentary ice tea and water stations provided very small glasses - size of a juice glass. You had to get up and refill your ice tea 3 or 4 times! We had the first seating which was at 5:30. When we booked the cruise, we were told it was 6:30. The 5:30 time was way too early, and limited our daytime activities. In fact, on two of our excursions, we got back to the ship too late to shower and change in order to make our dinner. They did accommodate us at the later seating, however. One of these was the "gala (formal)" night, so there was not much thought put into the timing. The early dinner time also left us with about 1.5 hours between dinner and the show. We spent time in the lounges and casino, but it seemed out of synch for us. The rooms are tiny. When we checked in, our beds were separated, and we decided to leave them that way as this provided some extra room for us to move around in the room. There was no small sofa or table - just a corner desk, and a tiny bathroom with an even smaller shower. Any large person would definitely have difficulty with the shower! It did have a refrigerator where we were able to put in some bottled water and soft drinks to take with us on our excursions. We did bring some wine onboard with us and we brought a couple of bottles into the dining room one night. The waiter opened them for us with no corkage charge. We appreciated that and tipped him at the end of the cruise. Compared to the other U.S. Cruise lines - Celebrity, Princess, HA, Norwegian, I felt that MSC fell short. While the waiters and room staff were courteous and did a good job, you didn't get that "special" treatment. The waiters didn't assist you in the buffet dining room in finding a table. One morning we walked through the buffet dining room at least 5 or 6 times to find a table, to no avail. We finally put down our trays and went to the formal dining room for breakfast. There seemed to be more people than tables in that restaurant all the time. With the rooms being smaller, they can accommodate more people, and the ship always felt crowded. Many times we felt as though we were "herded" like cattle to get from one place to the other. Some of the silly little things that were missing - not a big deal - after dinner mints when you left the dining room. There was turn down service in your room, but no chocolates on your pillow, and no little animals made from the towels. Not a reason to complain, but they were missing. Overall, I would probably not cruise on MSC again. I know they are trying to establish a presence in the U.S. (Caribbean), but it has more of a European flare and falls short of some of the amenities on the U.S. cruise lines. One last thing I would like to mention if you enjoy working out in the gym - the gym is small - only 3 treadmills, and one was not working. The hours for the gym are 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM. We enjoy working out first thing in the morning - around 6:00 AM, but it was closed. At 8:00 AM, it seemed like everyone on the ship was vying to get to some piece of equipment. This was quite unpleasant, and limited our time in the gym. I like to work out at night too, but it was closed.
Cabins on MSC Lirica are TINY! If you separate the beds, you will have more room, and be able to move about more easily, as well as enjoy your ocean view more. The shower is a joke. I am a small person, and had a hard time moving in it. Large people will not like the shower. Trust me!
We went to visit the Mayan ruins in Tulum from Cozumel. We took a ferry to Playa Del Carmen - about 1 hour. It was a very windy and cool day, and the ride was very bumpy. The first thing that should have made us get off the ferry was the handing out of "barf" bags! Luckily, we didn't use them, but many people on the ferry did. It was quite upsetting and started a "chain reaction!" Once in Playa Del Carmen, we boarded a bus which took us to the ruins - about an hour ride. The ruins are spectacular, but the tour didn't really allow us enough time to explore them all. It was quite crowded with many buses and people, and after our tour guide did his talk, we only had 15 minutes to walk around ourselves. This was disappointing. We then boarded the bus back and were given a box lunch. I was anticipating the bumpy ferry ride, and did not eat very much. I think Tulum is very much worth seeing, but you won't have enough time to do it justice.
We took the tour to the Rainforest, and it was actually raining quite hard when we disembarked the ship. The rain never stopped all day - and the Rainforest was at it's best! The Caribbean side of Costa Rica is very rainy, while the Pacific side is very sunny. It was a 2 hour bus ride from Puerto Limon to the Rainforest. The tour guide "Max" was excellent. On the bus, he told us all about Costa Rica, its politics, its history, demographics, and education levels of the people. Once we arrived, we boarded gondolas with our own special guide on each gondola. They seat 6 people plus the guide, and are covered. You should be prepared with good rain gear to take this excursion. We were given thin plastic rain ponchos by the ship, but these were not very good and we did get quite wet. The gondola tour lasted about 1.5 hours, and it was a bit too long. Once we were off the gondolas, we had a very nice lunch under a canopy (still raining), and then boarded the bus back to the ship. The tour guide continued his excellent talk about Costa Rica, and while I thought I might fall asleep, I didn't as he kept our interest peaked, and was excellent. We would recommend this tour as you will see some spectacular scenery.
Colon (Cristobal) was the starting point for our cruise through the Panama Canal. This was spectacular. We boarded a ferry with about 300 people, and started our trip through the Gatun locks and the Miraflores locks. The commentator was quite good, and explained all about the history of the Canal, when and how it was built, what it costs to go through it, how it operates today, etc. We passed several of the large cruise ships going through the canal. On the ferry, you got a whole different perspective. You could actually touch the wall of the locks as the boat was going through it, and watch it close behind you. Amazing! They did serve us a nice lunch on board, with soft drinks. When we disembarked the ferry, the buses were there waiting to take us back to the ship. There is a beautiful new bridge over the canal which took us back to the Atlantic Ocean.