MSC Cruise Line is a new entrant to an American market. MSC is a registered company in Switzerland but operates from Geneva, Italy. The company was originally founded in Naples, Italy as Mediterranean Shipping Company (that gives them their current name). MSC appears to be diversifying in the cruise market from its original business of shipping. The company is privately held. However, they are expanding their presence in the cruise market by adding newer and bigger ships aimed at penetrating the American market.
Altogether, we have taken nearly 50 cruises worldwide for the past 30 years with various cruise lines. This was our fourth cruise experience with the MSC Cruise Line.
The breakdowns of our cruises with MSC cruise line by the ships are (2) with MSC Divina, (1) with MSC seaside and (4th- this) one with the largest ship Meraviglia. We rank Divina as number # 1 of our choice, Seaside as Number # 2 of our choice and Meraviglia as our poor selection.
The name Meraviglia in an Italian-English dictionary means something remarkable, amazing, marvelous, astonishing or wonderful. Unfortunately, our experience taught us that this ship did not live up to the meaning of this word.
It was inaugurated approximately one year ago, started cruising in the European market and just recently crossed Atlantic and entered into the American market for the winter season. The company has been in the cruise market for the last ten years or more. According to their web site, they have 18 cruise ships deployed covering the world cruise market and new one MSC Virtuoso will be soon operational, making their cruise liner with a fleet of 19 ships. MSC virtuoso will be even more high tech and slightly larger. The comparison of the cruise ships that we have traveled with MSC is given below.
MSC Divina MSC Seaside MSC Meraviglia Comments
3502 5179 5655 Passengers
1308 1413 1536 Crew size
2.52 3.66 3.68 Ratios-passengers to crew
1093 ft 1060 ft 1034 ft Length
Passenger to Crew Ratio:
As a rule of thumb, when the passenger to crew ratio increases, the quality of the service to the passengers will decline. We felt excellent service with MSC Divina, little less with Seaside but considerably less with Meraviglia.
As per our observations, the reasons were more than passenger to crew ratio that was unacceptably high with this ship, when compared with their own ships and ships of the other cruise liners. We observed the following factors influenced their quality of services.
1. The inexperienced and overworked crews.
2. Insufficient crew size to maintain quality of service needed for the large ship while serving over 5,000 passengers.
3. Unorganized services for embarkation, disembarkation at the port of calls, the breakfast, the lunches, and the dinners.
4. Poor leadership of the officers.
Why we went with MSC- Meraviglia:
We decided to take a 10-day cruise to Northern Canada, just to check off our bucket list based on our past favorable experience as a Black card member with MSC cruise line. We assumed that New York port, where a large number of ships arrive and depart; with two hours plane trip one way from home offers more conveniences and advantages. However, our cruise experience became very unpleasant with this cruise ship, so we decided to share our review and experience with other future cruisers, who can derive their own conclusions.
Undoubtedly, we were impressed with some of their high tech features, which were incorporated in such newer and larger ships such as navigation devices, dockings and stability controls and other facilities that give you the feelings of resort-like lifestyle.
The electronic display (that worked as a large computer tablet); placed at strategic places, for booking the onboard shows or dinner reservations, ships maps etc are a helpful and desirable feature.
However, we were shocked by the total chaos and disorganization that became evident that we experienced in several service areas. This can be clearly attributed to the insufficient and inexperienced crews for servicing over 5500 customers on a timely basis. Obviously, the crew ratio to the passengers on board was one critical element but we also discovered that crew size was not present to its rated capacity as advertised. However, we felt that the ship was nearly full, if not completely full, carrying cross Atlantic passengers from Europe as well as new American passengers that were picked up from New York.
We will review step by step our experience with various facilities onboard the ship, ports of calls and ancillary services.
Embarkation in New York
We took an early morning flight to fly to New York that required us to get up very early in the morning. The flight was smooth and we landed on time. We collected our luggage and took Super Shuttle to the port. As expected with usual busy traffic in New York downtown, it took over an hour to get to the port around 11.00 AM.
At the cruise terminal, the line was already formed in the cold weather; the people wanted to have their luggage dropped off and get out of the cold to wait in the cruise terminal for the processing to start. Most of the ports and cruise lines have a quick procedure and facility for checking and dropping off the luggage to the ground crews. The ground crews collect the luggage beginning at 10.00 A.M. that will be delivered to your assigned room after embarkation.
There were no luggage crews present and the luggage checking did not start until noon. The passengers waiting to embark on the ship found this delay unacceptable. Just like other cruise lines, why there were no luggage crews scheduled at 10.00 AM to receive the luggage?
We were able to check our luggage around 1.00 PM due to long lines ahead. After checking in our luggage, we have to stand in long lines due to the long lines of people waiting to be processed. Nearly, the 30 to 40 percent cruise check-in people were absent judging from the empty terminals. This caused additional delays. The lines were getting very long and the people were jumping ahead of their turns. Although we had a Black card membership that allowed us the priority check-in, we were refused entry and not allowed to go into the priority area. The unmanned empty computer terminals gave us the indication that the long day is ahead of us.
Some elderly people who had to stand in line for more than 3 hours and need to use the restroom facility were asked to go through luggage screening again. This again caused additional discomfort and anger among the passengers.
The normal procedure used by other cruise lines is to collect boarding passes after luggage check-in, have processors take and verify your passport and credit card, take pictures if needed and assign the call tag for boarding and room key. Then you can wait for your embarkation call assigned to you and proceed to embark while going through carry-on luggage screening by the machines. You are in and at your option stand in for picture taking and skip and head towards embarkation.
For reason unknown to us this process was not followed by this cruise ship during the embarkation, the process was changed as well as understaffing did not help. The terminal assigned was a small place, thereby creating overcrowding, long wait, and confusion. It took almost 5 hours of wait before most of the people were able to embark. Some Yacht club members were able to check in on a priority basis but not all Black card members.
This was the most frustrating experience with most of the passengers. I tried to locate cruise officers but none was visible or available in the terminal. The contract union workers were not cooperative and were rude. One officer that I talked to after boarding the ship blamed it on the union.
The Market Place on the 15th deck area was always crowded unless you got into the service area at the time of the opening (General Buffet restaurant in the upper deck). We did notice that the seaside ship included two restaurants, another one mostly used by Yacht club members but non-Yacht passengers can also utilize it. This helped distribute the passengers and reduced overcrowding. These alleviate the overcrowding problem that we experienced almost every day at the Market place. The menus of both open restaurants at the seaside were identical. The Meraviglia only had one market place that acts as a general cafeteria, excluding regular dining rooms (no cost) and specialty restaurants (with cost). We did not find another designated place for eating as they had at the seaside.
With the weather getting colder and windy, we cannot use the pool area. Some menu items vary in “hot serving” station every day, but in other areas like Pizza, ethnic and salad stations, they were unchanged. If you did not make it in time during the opening hours, good luck to find a table and a chair. Due to a shortage of crews, some of the serving stations were closed and the place was very crowded all the time. However, once you find the table, the self-service for food was reasonably quick. However, at beverage stations the chaos always prevailed due to lack of equipment to serve the passengers. The juice dispensers were often mislabeled. The most troubling aspect was that the hygienic requirement for food handling was not monitored. To avoid the Norvac Virus attack, some cruise liners are not allowing the passengers to touch the food but it is served to them in the self-service area. They also don’t allow the passengers to touch the serving spoons. Although we did notice the installation of hand wash booths (a great improvement and healthier method) at the entrance, there was no enforcement on passengers by the crews. The floor below the beverage stations required more attention for keeping them orderly and cleaned to avoid the passengers slipping or sliding.
Ports in the Itinerary:
Upon embarkation, we learned that our two-night stay at Quebec City will be cut to one day from two days and we will be issued $ 25.00 per passenger onboard credit. The reason cited was the whale migration of the season. Many passengers wondered that such events are repetitious annually and predictable, why was this not pre-configured in pricing and itinerary construction. The onboard credit must be spent on the ship or you lose it. Any saving on port charges must be refunded in cash that was not refunded for Quebec City; perhaps it was not refundable due to embarkation.
The second issue popped up when just hours before the arrival at our first port stop at Sydney, the captain announced that due to bad weather at sea, we will be skipping the port. For that, we received an onboard credit of $ 300.00 per cabin as a refund to the cruise price along with port charges of $ 25.00. Both refunds were in cash.
Next port of call was crane brook that was a small town in Nova Scotia, Canada. Sydney was close by and there were enough time and weather turned favorable. If Captain wanted to reconsider his stop that he omitted and if the dock was available, he would have an opportunity to restore the schedule. Not having that information, I cannot make a definite conclusion on the availability of docking the ship, but time and weather-wise; it was possible to make a stop after crane brook on our way to Quebec City.
Although crowded, the evening service at the main dining room was slower but not bad. The menus varied but were not comparable to other cruise liners but most regarded the evening dinner as not the problem.
We had to waste our time at customer service by standing in line, to correct billing errors. The wine steward forgot to take the card of the user and placed the charges on our room without any signature. We had one such incident and some of the others had similar problems. It appeared that 30 to 40 percent of crews were first-timers. Prior to crossing Atlantic, they must have relieved the old crews in Europe and took over a new consignment of crews. We talked to various people and they seem to be overworked, covering more tables and they were thinly spread out.
Our lunch experience in the dining room was very poor. We had to sit there for two hours to complete our lunch menus. Generally, the dining rooms are closed after 20 to 30 minutes once they are opened, so the inside customers who are seated are promptly served and second seating if required can be opened up. Keeping the dining room open all the time allowed new people to arrive and waiters had to get them started with the menu, bread, and drinks. The same waiters would have to delay serving the second or third portion of the lunch for those who are already seated. This created a delay for all and took two hours to finish lunch. I think their lunch procedures must be reviewed and compared with other successful cruise liners of their size to ensure that they are properly staffed and have the right procedures to get the customers in and with no more than an hour. We ordered our dessert but it never arrived, after waiting for 30 minutes, we left and went to self serve market place.
There was a computer breakdown either on the ship or downloading the passenger data from the main office or perhaps both. This created huge problems in billings and there were many wrong charges applied to the room but they belonged to other rooms. Onboard credits that were included with our cruise bookings, never showed up and we had to take our booking papers and stand in line for an hour to prove that we were due that credit. All these problems had to be resolved by the customer service manned by four to five people and they were very busy all the time with long lines and they did what they can to correct billing errors, review the benefits and charges applied. With the breakdown of computer or data loss, they had to enter the data manually and they were two days behind but finally got caught up prior to the end of the cruise.
This big computer glitch may have also created unnecessary delay at the time of embarkation and they had to manually reenter the data for many passengers. This may explain the reigning chaos and confusion seen on the face of the crew. I spoke to an officer who was aware of the problem but blamed the embarkation delay that delayed the departure by three hours and may have contributed to the skipping of the port due to the union rules observed by the New York Port Authority. Some passengers from the city of New York hotly disputed that statement. I requested the meeting with the captain but the captain choose to remain invisible and I never met him except at a welcome party from the distance.
Future cruise consultants:
We see no reason to travel again with this cruise line. Our reason to see the cruise consultant and to make her aware of the contracted package, we bought did not produce the requested result and her attitudes were disappointing and so was her remark that “it is no big deal”.
There were others who had the same problems. It appeared to us that they were focused on booking future cruises until we reminded them that unless they fixed this cruise first, there will be no future cruises. During the last three days of the cruise, we started receiving our package in pieces, unlike other cruises we took with them, where the package was sitting in the cabin on the first day of embarkation.
We were looking to get some internet access to check-in our flight back home when we were still sailing on the sea. They had a day package for $ 39.00 and were labeled as “24th”. When you try to sign on, they showed a 24-hour clock with start and stop time clock. The stop button did not work. We had to go back to customer service, who did not know how to fix it, so they brought their IT guy down. We talked to the IT man with the following suggestion. Rename the package as a “one-day” package, since it is unlimited and get rid of the clock. He implemented that suggestion and we were pleased about that.
The shows were better organized for booking and checking. This operation was well organized. Their Cirque du Soleil at Sea - MSC Cruises was great and worth buying at the time of booking at discount. All other free shows were comparable to other cruise liners. Two performances allow all to take advantage of these entertainments.
Club Member activities and Events
Consistent with other cruise liners, there were welcome, Black member and Yacht club events but they were not organized in the places like sky lounge that are private and quiet, but were thrown open at Plaza Meraviglia (Promenade-Main deck) 6, where shopping gallery and franchised restaurants are located (not owned by ship). The captain was generally absent from some of the public events and service was not properly organized.
Some of the passengers were not happy when one Gelato private operator ran out of cups and cones. The passenger managed to get a glass from a nearby bar to complete his purchase.
We had an outside cabin with a balcony that is always a nice and enjoyable feature. Unfortunately, the weather was colder than normal, so we could not take advantage of that. This ship has many cabins with the outside balconies and it is very useful in the warm weather. In general, the cabin accommodation was perfect. However, TV service was not useful. There were not enough channels in English for the American market and the satellite service was poor. The major free news channels like CNN, BBC and others were not available that you generally find with most of the other cruise lines operating in the American market. The TV featured the review of your onboard activities, reservation and billing details were excellent provisions and that is not generally not found with other cruise liners. Onboard movies will require payment, while other cruise liners have free service and sometimes a small movie theater featuring new releases.
We have furnished enough details for the cruise line to make some amends for American markets or passengers to consider when booking future cruises.
Disembarkation at the end of the cruise was smooth and we encountered no problems, like we experienced with ports of calls in Canada that we stopped. Generally, at the port of call, there are two doors opened, one for disembarkation and another one for pre-embarkation upon the conclusion of the tour or the visit to the town. We found that either due to lack of security machines or lack of personnel, they did not open two doors, resulting into long lines and delays. This was unnecessary for this size of the ship.
We had an outside cabin with a balcony that is always a nice and enjoyable feature. Unfortunately, the weather was colder than normal, so we could not take advantage of that. This ship has many cabins with the outside balconies and it is very useful in the warm weather. In general, the cabin accommodation was perfect. However, the TV service was not useful. There were not enough channels in English for the American market and the satellite service was poor. The major free news channels like CNN, BBC and others were not available that you generally find with most of the other cruise lines operating in the American market. The TV featured the review of your onboard activities, reservation and billing details were excellent provisions and that is not generally not found with other cruise liners. Onboard movies will require payment, while other cruise liners have free service and sometimes a small movie theater featuring new releases.
Nothing to see except walking trail that we did do.
Quebec was the only port worth seeing but whale migration cut our time making it impossible to explore the countryside site seeing. North brook is a small town and not worth the stop. Sydney was skipped by the captain. Anyway, it was not as expected and what we paid for. The present officers will have to learn the American market.
captain skipped the port
change in schedule