We have cruised many times mainly with Celebrity and Royal Caribbean but this was our first time with MSC.
We were lured by the concept of the Yacht Club so most of my review is based on this.
We arrived at 1am so spent the night at The Grand Excelsior hotel close to the airport which suited our needs for a comfortable stopover hotel at a reasonable price.
We travelled independently by taxi to the port in Dubai to embark the ship and quickly found the Yacht Club priority embarkation area where a butler was on duty to escort us to another area where our check in formalities were taken care of while we relaxed with refreshments, so far so good until were escorted by one of the butlers to embark the ship whereupon one of the ship's security staff got into a disagreement with the butler for bringing us to his gangway .
It was all very uncomfortable and embarrassing and was not a good first impression. My husband did bring the debacle to the attention of the senior butler once we finally got on board and of course they were most apologetic and concerned to hear what happened so we put it behind us and looked forward to the cruise.
We finally made it to the enclave of the Yacht Club and our well appointed cabin, loved the walk in wardrobe and the marble bathroom, balcony a tad on the small side. Bed was very comfortable with memory foam mattress toppers and lovely pillows. Nice bathroom products, fluffy towels and bathrobes, all the luxuries you would expect.
We had a lady butler and a “junior butler” which is a fancy name for cabin attendant! To be honest the junior butler was better, very attentive and pleasant to talk to. He previously worked for Royal Caribbean and it showed.
Food and Drink:
We were very impressed with the service in the Top Sail Lounge, all the staff in there were attentive and welcoming. The Afternoon Tea service was wonderful with traditional white gloved service and tablecloths , such a treat.
The cocktail menu was extensive and we loved the Aperol spritz and the Italian wine selections
You certainly do not go hungry as they have breakfast, lunch, snacks, evening canapés and sweet treats according to the time of day in the Top sail Lounge plus 24 hr room service, mini bar with snacks and drinks all included as well as the dedicated Yacht Club restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner . The One Pool bar served excellent cappuccinos as you would expect on an Italian ship but also the best cup of tea I have had at sea, proper tea pots and fresh milk in a jug which was a pleasant surprise and a welcome change to the usual plastic cartons and tea bags in cups that is often served outdoors!
The One pool also had a lovely breakfast buffet and light lunch selections including freshly cooked pasta every day.
This being a Christmas cruise the restaurant was very busy most evenings and sometimes the service was a little slow but on the whole it was very good. I enjoyed the Italian style menus with many courses and smaller portions, the cheese course was fantastic. Often we would skip dessert and have a night-cap and chocolates in the Top Sail lounge.
Even though the ship was full there was never a problem getting a sun lounger on deck.
Being a Christmas cruise there were lots of large family groups and the rest of the ship had a very lively atmosphere so we really didn’t spend much time away from the sanctuary on the Yacht Club areas however we did enjoy the White Party on deck on Christmas night and the main atrium with the Swarovski staircase looked lovely all decorated for Christmas. In fact the whole ship was spotlessly clean and well maintained.
I pre booked a spa package online which is something I have never done on previous cruises as the prices are frankly outrageous but the prices on MSC seemed fairly reasonable in comparison.
The Aurea spa is well appointed and the staff are mainly Balinese. I very much enjoyed the massages I had there and they don’t give you the hard sell for products like other ships I have been on.
We arrived in Abu Dhabi on Christmas day, after a leisurely morning on the ship we took a taxi to the Emirates Palace Hotel which is about a 20 min drive from the port where we indulged in their famous cappuccino with gold leaf sprinkles, very decadent, a wonderful treat for Christmas Day. The hotel was opulent and beautifully decorated for Christmas.
We then took another taxi to the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque. This was absolutely spectacular and words and photos are not enough to describe the sheer beauty of this place. Everyone is welcome to visit and it’s free to enter but please take note of the dress code particularly for women as you need to be completely covered from head to toe in loose clothing. The mosque has guidelines on its website but they will provide an abaya if you don’t have the appropriate dress. We timed our visit to we could see it at sunset as well as in the daylight. It is truly stunning inside and out.
The next port was scheduled to be the private island of Sir Bani Yas but we woke to thick fog and it was not safe to navigate, so we spent the day at sea.
Fortunately the Captain managed to rearrange the itinerary so we could visit there later in the week. We were so glad not to miss this unique place. Again as Yacht Club guests we felt very pampered as we got priority tender service to the beach where a golf cart was waiting to whisk us to the Yacht Club section of the beach where one of our favourite butlers was waiting to bring us drinks and a buffet was set up. It was absolute paradise! We were also able to bypass the very long line for the tenders when we returned to the ship. I did feel a little self conscious as we were escorted to the front of the queue I must admit!
After the re arranged sea day we docked in Manama, Bahrain where my husband took a ships excursion to the Bahrain Race circuit for a 4x4 driving experience which he enjoyed by all accounts. The port is not within walking distance to anything as it’s an industrial port but a shuttle bus was provided (for a fee). I did not go ashore but spent a blissful morning having a massage and then enjoyed the sun on the very tranquil One Pool deck having my every need catered for!
Next port was Doha Qatar, again not walking distance to the town but I believe the shuttle was free in this port.
We took a ships excursion on a Dhow cruise which was very relaxing but we spent a lot of time at anchored in the sea where you could swim, sunbathe and admire the view, also a decent buffet lunch was served. I would imagine if the weather was cloudy this could be pretty boring but fortunately it was a lovely day and not too hot. There was an upper deck for sunbathing and the lower deck was shaded. We were also taken on a short tour into the city where a photo stop was made so we could admire the ultra modern skyscrapers.
All in all, a very enjoyable day.
After the rescheduled visit to Sir Bani Yas Island we arrived back in Dubai on the Friday as per the original itinerary. We had a ships tour to the Miracle Garden which was scheduled for the afternoon.
I must say the way MSC handles excursions is unlike any other cruise line we have been on.
Although I had pre booked all our tours online no times were given so I expected that we would find out the tour times when we boarded but there were excursion tickets in our cabin. When we enquired with the shore excursions desk she informed us that we only get our tickets with the meeting times the night before the tour.
This can be quite awkward if you have a half day tour as how can you plan the rest of your day? She explained it’s because the tours have to be grouped by different languages and they don’t have all the information and times until the day before from the tour operators. It’s very bizarre but we just went with the flow.
So our Miracle garden tour left the port at 2.30pm it included had a city tour past the Burj al Arab and the Jumeirah Palm etc. The traffic was very slow so we were late arriving at the Miracle garden which being a Friday and a holiday weekend was very busy. It was a beautiful place and the floral displays are stunning. The crowds did thin out a little after sunset but a lot of passengers were very tired and hungry and those on early seating missed their dinner as we did not arrive back to the port until after 7pm. I am sure if the excursion times were listed when you booked people could have planned accordingly.
Fortunately for us advantage of the open seating Yacht Club restaurant meant we did not have to rush to get ready for dinner and we ordered some snacks from room service as soon as we got back to the cabin.
Some passengers were disembarking very early for their flights home so we did not get much sleep on our last night as folks were coming and going from about 2am! Luckily as we were staying in a hotel Dubai for New years’ eve we had a leisurely disembarkation at 8.30am, escorted off the ship and to our luggage in the arrivals hall by our butler. Pampered to the end!
So in conclusion, we would certainly sail with MSC again but only in the Yacht Club. We really enjoyed the service, food and all the perks that come with it. Having said that Celebrity still remains our home from home and we will happily sail in regular cabins without all the suite perks as we love the food, service and ambiance of their ships in general.
One thing that really did concern us was the lifeboat drill on the Fantasia. I have never attended such a disorganised drill in all our 43 cruises. Listening to the drill in 6 different languages is tedious but necessary but instead of checking passengers off a list as you enter your muster station staff were randomly scanning guests cruise cards all over the place. Then they kept calling for missing guests to attend the drill. Herding cats is the phrase that comes to mind!
As some folks embark in different ports not everyone participates so then they have to have another the next night for those who boarded in Abu Dhabi which was transmitted over the ships PA while we were dining so it was impossible to have a conversation!
Most of these quirks are due to the fact that there are many nationalities on board so everything has to be multi- lingual. For that reason there was no Captains daily announcement. We also missed not seeing the cruise director on TV in the mornings. These are things we have become very familiar with on the American cruise lines and MSC certainly has their own way of doing things and we felt a little out of our comfort zone at times however the Yacht Club concept more than made up for any of these idiosyncrasies . A change is as good as a rest as they say!
Quiet Location. Nicely decorated with dark woods, navy and yellow decor. very comfortable bed. Walk in wardrobe, free mini bar, plenty of storage space. Marble bathroom with bathtub. Balcony a little small for a suite.