As this was a repositioning cruise, passengers embarked at multiple locations during the cruise: Marseille, Genoa, Valencia and possibly other ports.
We embarked at Genoa and, in part due to not being a full ship changeover, it was a quick process.
MSC Poesia was a nice ship. Built in 2008, it does not have a Yacht Club section. Two main Dining Rooms and one Speciality Sushi Restaurant, along with the usual Deck 13 Buffet.
Two swimming pools, two pairs of outside jacuzzis.
The ship did not appear full and this seemed to be confirmed by the number of cabin upgrades people had received, us included.
Cleaning took place frequently, staff seen with vacuum cleaners on their backs and brass work being cleaned. Unfortunately, this was offset by food and beverage staff not checking for glasses and plates of food left around the decks and the ship generally…
We had received a double upgrade from an Inside to a Balcony. We were pleasantly surprised to find our Balcony was pretty much midship on Deck 9. Compact balcony with two chairs and a footstool, comfortable main cabin area and usual, compact shower room. Soap dispenser by the sink, shampoo and shower gel dispenser in the shower.
Cruise Card validation:
One of the reasons for the speedy embarkation is that you are expected to register your credit card at an automated machine (there were a few around reception and shore excursions etc). There were instructions in each cabin about how to do this.
One the first evening, we made three attempts to register our preferred credit card at one of these machines. These were all unsuccessful, without clear messages as to why. So I felt that I had to register a debit card, not my preference, as MSC operate this strange system of taking a fixed amount from a debit card and then you, the guest, having to collect any outstanding credit from them in the ship’s currency on the last day – more on this later…
The debit card did register successfully and I also followed the process to say it was to be used for both cabins in our party.
Disorganised summed this up. We collected our life jackets and attended our muster stations. We both had our cruise cards scanned by personnel at our muster station. So it was puzzling when my partner received a letter to our cabin next day, stating that he must attend another drill as he had not attended the initial mandatory drill. When he called Guest Services and pointed out that he had attended and his card had been scanned, this was accepted at face value. But if they are saying people who have taken part did not attend, how likely that they have identified passengers who did not attend?
I was very disappointed with the food on board. Portions were very small and the food quality very low. Steak did not make an appearance once during a 19 might voyage – except with food and beverage staff touting for guests to pay Euro 18 for a steak main course. I think there may also have been a similar offer for lobster.
Generally, I mix and match between buffet and restaurant for breakfast and lunch, depending on how much time I wish to allocate to that particular meal. So, on day 2, I decided to try out the restaurant breakfast. What a strange thing that was. I went to the restaurant and asked for the menu - no menu. MSC Poesia do this hybrid thing of serving teas and coffees and fruit juice drink (not 100% juice, the cheap, watered down version laden with sugar) and then expect you, the guest, to visit the buffet area within the restaurant. I don’t regard this as a restaurant breakfast and the tables in the Fontane restaurant are set quite close together, making it a challenge to manoeuvre around other guests between your table and the buffet area. I decided not to waste my time with this version of buffet breakfast.
So off to the zoo of deck 13 buffet. One of my guilty pleasures on a cruise is Bircher Muesli. MSC’s version was laughable. It appeared to consist of any cereal (but generally not muesli), with some diced fresh fruit (not the iconic grated apple) in a thin yoghurt. Such a disappointment.
I tried the restaurant version of lunch, again MSC’s version was a rather strange combination. You go in to the restaurant to be seated. As MSC’s passengers are a wider mix of nationalities and languages than many other cruise lines, I politely asked to be seated with English speakers. The waiters blithely asserted that ‘all’ passengers can speak English. So not the case. Time and again tables of 8 guests sitting in stony silence, as they had no common languages between them.
This is such a shame and MSC appear in total denial about this issue. One of the pleasures of a cruise is meeting new people and having enjoyable discussions about ports of call etc. This is such a missed opportunity on MSC. Yes, I appreciate it might require a little more thought in terms of seating people, but I am sure it could be done.
So, having got to your table (and woe betide that you ask for a table of two to avoid that language issue – even in the first 5 minutes of service we only managed a table on our own twice in the whole cruise) I found the waiters seemed to hold back from providing menus. Why? Because once again, this was a mix and match seated restaurant buffet hybrid and it seemed that the waiters hoped you would just go and avail yourself of the buffet rather than them having to serve you.
As at breakfast, the same issue of the tables in the Fontane restaurant being set quite close together, making it a challenge to manoeuvre around other guests between your table and the buffet area.
Dinner was one of two sittings, 6.30pm or 9pm, at allocated tables in one of the two main dining rooms. The five people who had booked via the same Travel Agent were all seated together – this did resolve the language issue as we were all from the UK. A couple of days later a Canadian lady asked if she could join us, having first been sat with Spanish speakers, who quite forcibly told the waiter they would only accept Spanish speakers at their table. The wait staff then sat her on a table of Russian speakers, so she was very isolated.
It seemed a common theme during the cruise was it being run for the ease of MSC and the staff, not for the benefit of the paying guests.
MSC is the only cruise line I have travelled with, where chilled water is not provided in the seated Dining Rooms. I can only guess that this was done to maximise Bar revenue. As UK guests, we found that we had an inclusive drinks package of mineral water, American (filter) coffee and tea at Lunch and Dinner. This package stated it was for UK and Irish guests. Australians on the next table were most put out at having to pay for mineral water.
I was also astounded to read claims in the Daily Programme about how MSC Cruises were the only line to have received a top environmental award. How can that be when they are massively overusing single use plastic bottles for mineral water – due to this refusal to provide chilled water for Restaurant Lunch and Dinners?
Another issue there seemed to be problems with was language. Our waiter was from Spanish speaking Honduras. Whereas on most cruise ships he would only have needed to learn English, on MSC he needs a good understanding of six main languages: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. It soon became clear that his English was not as good as you would have hoped, with incorrect starters arriving etc. This, despite all of us guests trying to help by pointing out the specific item in the menu. To be honest, it would probably have helped to have all menu items numbered and order just like a Chinese or Indian takeaway…
You remember I mentioned that all UK and Irish guests had an inclusive drinks package for American (filter) coffee and tea at Lunch and Dinner? So, we get to the end of the first Dinner and ask for American coffee. Instead, our Waiter tries to upsell us to the chargeable Cappuccino and Lattes… Why, because it turns out that there are NO facilities for coffee or tea in the Main Dining rooms on Decks 5 and 6. For him to provide the included coffee and tea the Waiter had to go to the Buffet on Deck 13 and get it, just as any guest would. How ludicrous. Unsurprisingly, the hot drinks were often lukewarm due to the journey involved.
So now on to the zoo of the buffet on deck 13. It took a few days to discover that actually, this was a very large buffet. This was because often they closed the back half of the buffet and thus reduced the choice.
So, we tended to go early in the opening hours when all sections were open and sit right at the very back of the ship, where the buffet area was noticeably quieter.
Getting hot food was a challenge. It was displayed on the buffet in huge containers and just did not seem to keep warm for any length of time. It was very much a case of seeing that something was almost finished and watching for the fresh version to be bought out to ensure hot food. Then, whether you could find accompaniments that were also hot was somewhat of a gamble. Sometimes you could wait 10 minutes at an empty food station, to see if they had run out of that item or it was being replenished.
Also, the food was not displayed in an appealing fashion. I have eaten in nicer works canteens.
Guest Services / Reception:
We needed to visit Guest Services on a number of occasions. Generally, we found they seemed to have been more trained in conflict resolution than customer service. Better customer service in the first place would have significantly reduced the need for conflict resolutions skills later.
Having ended up registering a debit card initially (against both our cruise cards), due to problems with registering my credit card (I later concluded this may have been due to the debit card entry showing it was taken by MSC Marseille – my credit card company were instructed to expect transactions from Genoa onwards – not from Marseille which was a previous port) my partner then received a letter calling him to Reception. It seems the automated system had not registered that the debit card credit was against both cards – so this had to be adjusted manually.
At the end of the cruise there was a credit and due to this one small initial debit card registration (a day later my credit card did accept), on the last evening we had to queue for one and a half hours to receive our credit back in Euros – the on board currency. During this time, we both saw a white uniformed officer come and view the lengthening queue on a number of occasions, and just go away with no obvious action being taken.
Shore Excursions / Chargeable Port Shuttles:
The presentations about Shore Excursions were not very informative. It was easier to just go to the Shore Excursions desk and collect the brochure with more detail. We did not do any of the Shore Excursions – they seemed lacklustre and expensive. We were quite happy to do our own exploring in port.
It did seem that MSC used more commercial ports than some other lines. This meant you were sometimes some distance from where the ship docked to getting into the local town.
This was an excuse to sell over-priced Port Shuttles.
Malta was for the Hop On Hop Off (HOHO) bus - Euro 20.00
Palma – Euro 12.99
Valencia – Euro 12.99
Casablanca - Euro 19.99
Ilheus - Euro 10.99
Despite the assertion in the Daily Programme that some of these Shuttles would involve a 20 minute drive, we always managed to walk into town in around 30 minutes.
Sometimes (Valencia), the Port provided a free Shuttle bus to the edge of the port (quite a distance in itself) – this was conveniently not advertised.
I have already mentioned the issues caused by being having multiple language guests on board. In the theatre every evening, all announcements in six languages became very tedious.
Some quizzes and both the questions and the multiple choice (usually three) answers all shown on screen in the six main languages. So why did the Cruise Director feel it necessary to delay the process by reading out questions and possible answers in full in each of the six languages… It was painful and caused events to endlessly over run.
It seemed the on board performers only had two main singers and the dancers were different – it seemed more strutting and striking a pose than the sort of high quality shows I have seen on other cruise lines. Many of the production shows had the most un-flattering outfits.
There were also a couple of aerialists, some acrobats and a duo of contortionists (so old fashioned). It was also the peculiar way these alternative performers were somehow shoe horned into production shows in the most inappropriate ways.
I also found the music for the production shows strangely discordant.
For a repositioning itinerary such as this was, with 10 sea days (five single sea days and the five days to cross the Atlantic) – I thought the entertainment low key and very basic.
On other lines, I may have been running from one event to another. On this ship, thank goodness for Kindles…
The Library was such a disappointment. Very small, obviously needing to cater to the different languages on board. Hardly any non-fiction books, mostly extremely well worn books that look to have been left by previous guests. I did not take a single book out of the library, most unusual for me.
We were disappointed to find that we need to pay an eye watering Euro 310 (including the 15% service charge) for the two of us to access the sauna and steam room for the whole trip. We have always found at least one no charge sauna or steam room on every previous cruise, but on Poesia they were set up and carefully guarded. For that significant cost, you had access to three inside jacuzzis with five loungers (the ‘relaxation’ area), two large steam rooms (one of which never got above 30 C so was barely warm enough to sit it) versus the other steam room which was consistently at 44 C and two small saunas.
By comparison, friends have recently returned from a P & O cruise told us they paid around £100 for more facilities for both of them for a two week cruise.
At least having access to this grandly titled Spa Thermal Area helped us occupy our time, especially on sea days.
There was an ongoing issue with the jacuzzis and one of the steam room the whole voyage. Eventually we were compensated fairly, but it required persistence and I would have much rather all facilities were working as they should have been.
On day two or three, there was almost a mutiny in the theatre when the staff ran a promo video about MSC’s Masterchef at Sea TEN times on a loop while we were waiting for the show to start.
Then, just before the show there was a glossy MSC promotional video all about MSC’s 300 years of experience (but much of that was with freight, not cruise passengers).
It showed numerous officers in their white uniforms picking up towels and putting them back on passenger’s loungers etc. This was so far from reality – we saw very few officers. In fact, all that video did was make me frustrated – MSC management are in denial if they honestly think that the contents of that video reflected the experience of the average guest on board.
For me, it was all the missing things. I go on a cruise to be made to feel special.
MSC did NOT make me feel special at all, on the contrary, it seemed that many things were being done for the convenience of the ship’s operations, not for the best guest experience.
What was missing, some very strange things:
Hardly any clocks on board – we only found two in public areas.
Very basic telephones in the cabin – no means to leave a voicemail when trying to contact someone in another cabin.
A much lower number of rest rooms (toilets) than I have ever found on a ship – it could take many minutes to get to one.
Captain’s daily announcement – nothing for the first week, then taken up by the Cruise Director for a while, then suddenly stopped.
No omelette station in the buffet.
No standard coffee and tea in the Dining Rooms (despite providing it within inclusive packages for Lunch and Dinner).
No list of TV channels in the cabin – when I requested one and asked also about what channels were available in English – I was told it was against procedures to provide this information to guests!
Displayed navigation map did not appear until a good week into the voyage.
Lack of information about points of interest – nothing about passing the Cape Verde islands during our 5 day transatlantic crossing.