I’m writing this review for the October 18th Canada and New England sailing from New York City. This was our seventh MSC cruise, and fourth sailing in the Yacht Club. If you look at my signature on the discussion forums you can see my other reviews where we’ve previously spent an enjoyable two weeks in a Seaside Yacht Club interior, so had no hesitation booking the same type cabin for this 10 day cruise. Due to sailing late in the season we didn’t feel the need to spend additional money for a balcony cabin. We became a bit concerned after reading the horror stories from the October 8th Canada sailing, but with MSC’s last minute port staff reorganizing and terrific weather it proved much more favorable for this sailing.
We flew into Newark airport a day before sailing and used a GoAirlink NYC shuttle for transport to the Chelsea Pines Inn in the Chelsea area of Manhattan. Uber was a consideration, but our 9am arrival and trip into the city made traffic a concern so we settled on the $18 per person fixed fare of the shared shuttle. Unfortunately on our ride they took several last minute bookings and severely overcrowded the very tight seating of the van. In fairness my son used the same service for the next sailing and had a very good experience. Paying the premium for a Manhattan hotel was worth it for the ease of getting to the NYC landmarks we wanted to visit. The 30 room hotel has typically small NYC rooms that were clean, the bathroom and shower was large. No elevator was available for those on the upper floors. Their communication was good and our request for a first floor room was honored. Rooms facing the street are noisy, request a room facing the rear garden area.
Meraviglia slipped back into NYC early, about 1am, and we figured it was in an effort to improve upon the dismal embarkation of the previous sailing. All passenger e-tickets stated a 1pm embarkation time and we were torn whether to arrive early or later in the afternoon, in the end we decided not to ask for a late checkout and to get to the port about 11:30am. We found no lines and the port operating normally. I spotted a Yacht Club sign near the terminal entry doors and bypassed the porters heading towards the table staffed with MSC butlers in their typical uniform. The beginning of strange new YC procedures started quickly as we were almost immediately asked what dining time we preferred. Then as group of about 10 YC guests we were then escorted to the security check point that was already moving smoothly, then on to the YC check in area which was the same room NCL uses for the Haven passengers. Regular passengers were already boarding and after a snack and a Prosecco a group of about 20 was escorted onto the ship and into the YC area. We dropped our carry-on bags at our cabin then headed to the YC restaurant for a quick lunch before going out to explore the ship. It was a very easy embarkation, and looked to be so for most passengers.
On our first day I did manage a brief conversation with the concierge, Luciano, which turned out to be the only time throughout the cruise I spoke to him. On all other occasions when I passed by he appeared very busy, not even looking up from his computer. While I found it quite a difference from my other YC experiences I attributed it to the personnel still being in a more European mode of service. Upon entering the YC restaurant I met Luis, the YC restaurant maitre d’. I asked about the set dining time question I had been asked at embarkation and he confusedly assured me we could dine at any time during the restaurant’s open hours. I expressed my desire to keep the same table, server and time and was told they would try to accommodate. I asked for a recommended waiter and found a nice table for two in his section. Our first dinner went fairly well with a wonderful view of the NYC skyline because the ship left port several hours late, luckily our itinerary was unaffected and we had a very nice late night sail away down the Hudson. Unfortunately it only lasted for two nights when the problems with the YC restaurant became more apparent. One of the problems was waiters would only offer selected wines each day, usually two reds, two whites and a Prossecco. They made it very difficult to get any of the other wines served in the Top Sail lounge just one deck below. The restaurant wine selection was usually quite poor and it took talking to several people every single time to just get a glass of what you wanted, even though it was included in the YC drinks package.
This second part may go back to what I feel is an overall concept problem with YC dining on all the ships, based on the small size of the restaurant, without set times the early diners can tend to linger and cause a backup for those wanting to dine later. By the third day we often found lines of people waiting for a table even after 8:30pm, at least it encouraged us to join other couples as there was usually a larger table available. Perhaps this was due to slow service which I did notice was often a problem. I came away with the distinct impression that many of the waiters were inexperienced and overwhelmed. This was our first sailing with the new YC menus and I must say I was not impressed. There seems to be a larger emphasis on presentation rather than substance. The combination of barely finding a vegetable on a plate with the food coming out barely warm made the experience underwhelming. After a meal in which my main course was forgotten for 20 minutes as my wife ate hers, and then after asking about it I was brought out cold, I told Luis we were ready to move. While we had less problems with our new waiter the food and overall dining experience continued to be poor, and it became more apparent that the senior YC staff was unwilling or incapable of fixing the problems. I t got to the point that after lunch one day we went to the buffet to find something more satisfying. On our last sea day there was an actual revolt at lunch, several tables began talking and loudly complaining about the poor experience and food throughout the cruise, Luis was called over and I’m surprised a larger scene was averted as he offered no solutions. Idris, the YC manager, was aware of the dining room situation and I was told the chef was replaced on the next sailing. Unfortunately I don’t think that will fully address the problems I experienced.
We did have good enough weather that the deck 19 pool grill was opened for lunch on a couple days. While smaller and having less food offerings than Seaside it was a needed break from the YC restaurant. The weather was nice but it wasn’t really warm so the area was not heavily used, I had concerns with overcrowding as the area is smaller than Seaside’s but on this sailing there were very few people up there. The Top Sail Lounge was more popular and it could become busy and difficult to get a drink, but overall was a nice place to relax as we lacked cabin space. On sunny days they set up the white canopy tents for needed shade over the tables..
Before getting to our cabin I just wanted to expand on our booking experience and how I feel it eventually affected our overall YC experience. When I booked this cruise about 500 days before sailing I had the choice of any YC cabin, I specifically chose 14013 because it had cabins above and below and I’m a light sleeper. All other deck’s YC interior cabins have “white space” above them, some I knew were the concierge offices and others were the YC restaurant galley. MSC has a pretty complex algorithm in their cabin pricing now so I’ve been going through a constant learning process. By about six months before sailing most of the YC was “sold out” and cabins that sporadically appeared had gone up by almost 50% in price while all the other cabins were experiencing repeated price drops as there was plenty of inventory. In the last month it was apparent to me there were many unsold YC cabins and then the upgrade bidding emails went out. A couple weeks before sailing every YC interior except mine on deck 14 was available, as well as a couple on deck 15. There were also about a dozen YC Deluxe not sold. On sail date the YC was full, I heard several conversations of people who didn’t even realize they won a YC bid until getting on the ship, just crazy. I talked with several of my neighbors and they all had done the bidding upgrade, I think over a dozen YC cabins just on deck 14 were upgrades. Without getting into the debate over this bidding system I do think it had an effect on my experience. I examined the bid winner’s cruise cards closely and then talked with several senior staff that also said they have no way to know who upgraded and who paid full price. I don’t know how else to describe it but I’m left with an unsettling feeling that I was treated differently than on my other YC sailings. Perhaps it’s just a difference in this ship, but the level of attention and service by the senior staff was no where near what I have previously experienced as a YC passenger.
There are lots of pictures and reviews of Meraviglia’s YC interior cabins and as I mentioned earlier we sailed in one on Seaside so I was fairly well prepared. The layout is slightly different with the closet on a side wall and the TV on the bathroom wall facing the bed, a better design. I was surprised they used a single rattan chair, the same as in the aft of the buffet and quite uncomfortable. Two drawers and two useable shelves in the small closet, it was tight but we made it work using suitcases under the bed as additional storage. The bathroom was the same as all the other standard cabins with a smallish shower, at least the controls were located better so as not to be easily bumped and then scalded. Temperature fluctuation seems to be a common problem on MSC ships and I’m beginning to think it is done intentionally to curb long showers. Our butler Bruce was friendly but we asked for no special services from him, I did notice he was not often in the Top Sail Lounge or around the other YC public areas during the day as most other YC butlers I’ve had. Our cabin steward, Roy, we had previously on seaside. This time we got towel animals on most nights, a first for us on MSC. He kept the cabin tidy and stocked the mini fridge with Samuel Adams as I requested. The Nespresso machine had visible “debris” in the water tank so we opted for in cabin coffee delivery one morning, it was delivered by another butler. The efficient YC elevator made it a quick trip up to the lounge, restaurant and pool deck but being on deck 14 I did feel a disconnect from the main YC areas. I did learn the white space above the deck 16 YC interiors is the YC pool machinery rooms and after talking with guests in those cabins can confirm those cabins are a better choice based on quietness and better location in relation to the YC facilities.
Okay, on to the ship. It’s big. It’s clean. In 23 days I didn’t see all of it. It’s definitely oriented to cool weather cruises, that’s why I added this Canadian itinerary. I just can’t get over how poorly the ship is laid out and the severe design flaws. I could go on for pages here but will just hit upon my major complaints. On Seaside and Fantasia class ships there are two rear exits plus two additional forward exits at the lower level of the theater, on Meraviglia there is one exit at the rear that lets out at the forward elevators and into the galleria where there is usually an event going on that completely stops people from being able to exit the theater. The aft elevators are mid-ship, do not book any even remotely aft cabin on this ship unless you are willing to do a lot of walking. The Carousel Lounge takes up prime aft facing real estate and is seldom used, six nights a week for two one hour shows (frequently cancelled) where they close the curtains anyway, and then once or twice a week at night for silent disco type events. Plus you have to walk the casino smoke gauntlet to get there. Public restrooms are a disaster. Deck seven forward serving the TV lounge and also the British Pub has one men’s rest room with only two stalls and no urinals. This scenario is repeated throughout the ship. The YC was particularly bad, one public restroom on deck 16, gender shared with only one stall. I didn’t think it could be worse than Seaside but Meraviglia proved me wrong. The specialty restaurants are clustered in the promenade area and have very dull atmospheres. Kaito sushi is right in the middle of a major walking corridor, Ocean Cay is a dungeon. The ones on deck seven at least have windows, but they look directly at life boats, the other deck seven bar venues at least have opaque windows. The deck seven outside “promenade” facing the lifeboats was a total waste of space other than being a smoker’s respite. It was frequently closed off and totally under utilized, most people couldn’t even find a way to access the aft portion leading to the Carousel lounge back doors. The Bamboo pool was a nice area and quite popular on this sailing. Overall pool deck area seemed okay for cooler weather, this became more of a problem on warmer sea days that I will discuss in my subsequent sailing’s review. One thing I did learn from these sailings is I really don’t like the mega ships, and in my opinion this one falls well below both Seaside and Divina. My hopes look to a sailing on Armonia, otherwise I will wait for the MSC luxury class ships with hopes they will not be priced beyond my abilities.
For this sailing we booked no excursions, for most of the ports the ship docked or tendered right at the city centers with plenty for us to do as first time ports. I’m not going into detail about the ports, they were all equally interesting with the exception of Sydney. I will comment on the inconsistent process of getting on and off the ship at the ports. YC tendering was very simple at Bar Harbor, priority YC service was available at both ends. At docked ports it was strange that sometimes they would have two gangplanks and at others there were four of five, it seemed random and when there were only two points of entry large lines could form getting back on the ship. We always found a YC butler to get us into a shorter line at the forward gangplanks. Yacht Club includes thermal spa access, we went one time while in port of Sydney and the spa was nearly empty. I did not find it a place I wanted to frequent, even darker than on Seaside with no views or open deck areas. We walked by on a crowded sea day and never found a reason to return. We don’t really cruise MSC for the entertainment any more so only attended three shows which were markedly different from Seaside and Divina, notably lacking the acrobatic part of the other ship’s shows. We later found the typical MSC acrobatic content was moved for a fee to the Cirque shows which we attended on the next sailing. We attended the ventriloquist and magic shows which were okay. The other show was “Virtual” which was a nice break from the typical Caribbean MSC musical genre shows we now no longer attend. Having a live band at the theater was a definite improvement. We heard bad reviews of the late night comedy improv and after poor experiences on Seaside decided to skip these. Overall MSC activities can be a bit lacking, we did attend several trivia games in the Brass Anchor pub which were well attended. I did notice there were no “Name that tune” type games. On board activities are not a reason for our choosing to sail MSC.
I will include a paragraph about our one specialty dining experience, our Black card meal. We chose to eat at Butcher’s Cut with another couple we knew from a previous sailing. I immediately noticed there was only one red and one white wine available under the new $12 YC drink package pricing structure for areas outside the YC complex, also all the cocktails were priced at $12.50. I asked the assistant manager what could be done, after a bit of back and forth between the managers as a concession they allowed us the same wine that we had available in the YC. I’ve eaten at this venue several times and will often eat off of the “Dining Experience”, electing to pay the 50% for other items. I usually like the seafood platter as an alternative appetizer, the waiter informed me it would take a few minutes longer as it came from the Ocean Cay restaurant, fine. The platter is large and meant to be shared and perhaps I made a mistake ordering this after a couple of great Northeast ports where we enjoyed fresh seafood. I initially noted the one lone King crab partial leg on the top of the platter but quickly went on to a large prawn. It was very good but I noticed my table mate’s demeanor change after trying two of the large whole shrimp. I asked and was told something was wrong, I took one and it had the consistency of tooth paste with a smell to match. I immediately called the manager who replaced them with three other shrimp tails. As I progressed into the platter it became more apparent something was very wrong. The oysters were shapeless, tiny and black, then I tried the warm water lobster tail which when I broke open caused the entire table to become nauseous from the stench. We asked for the chef, only the sous-chef came out. He admitted the platter should never have left the kitchen and looked like a deer caught in the headlights. The following steaks were very good, perhaps a little over cooked. My favorite cheesecake dessert was soggy crusted and probably left over from an earlier night. I was not charged for the seafood platter but was charged $3.40 for an additional side of broccoli. I later received an email asking if my complaint resolution was to my satisfaction, I have no idea what that was about but suspected it was regarding this seafood platter fiasco. The restaurant managers were notably absent when we were finishing our meal and leaving the restaurant.
This was our fourth Yacht Club sailing, seventh MSC cruise overall, and the first time I’ve ever felt the MSC product was not worth the money I spent. We remained on the ship for the following 13 day reposition cruise to Miami and will write a separate review for that sailing. I actually was glad we were moving to an Aurea suite, and we remained in contact with fellow cruisers that stayed in the Yacht Club. Reports about their ongoing experience in the YC were mixed, I will write a separate review of our Aurea experience. The disembarkation in New York looked to go fairly well, we were given our new cruise cards while in the YC, but not the Aurea bracelets which we had to go to guest services for later. We packed our suitcases and they were taken by our butler that morning then we had one last breakfast in the YC dining room. We then met with other back to back cruisers in the Carousel lounge and about 11:30 were taken off the ship for a few minutes then told we could re-board without any customs, I guess the earlier quickie customs prior to Portland was enough. I was a little surprised our luggage was left outside the Aurea suite, on all other MSC back to back sailings the butler or steward always placed it inside the next cabin since it arrived there early in the morning.
I’m still a bit confused about why we had such a differing YC experience on Meraviglia. The YC restaurant was unquestionably a mess. But still I feel the overall experience was lacking something, and I think it was the personalization. On our other Caribbean YC sailings we were more involved with the captain, senior officers and/or YC senior staff on a much more individual basis. On this sailing we felt more of a commodity and could not make any personal connection to the staff at any level. I have previously noticed a difference on the same ship between different captains, each having their differing levels of social involvement, and how that trickles down through the crew, perhaps my Meraviglia experience was affected by captain Battinelli and his senior staff that comparatively were much more distant from the passengers. Unfortunately, with the exception of the dining room, this feeling tended to persist on the next leg repositioning cruise to Miami. I have decided to cancel two European MSC bookings I made long ago for this Summer, but for now will still keep one European YC sailing for this Fall. I’m also looking forward to two of the last Seaside Caribbean sailings in YC for Spring 2021. I do not foresee booking Meraviglia again, at least not in the Caribbean. I will most likely look for the ideal of my prior MSC experiences on Armonia this Spring, as a last minute booking. That is where current MSC non-YC pricing policies seem to be pushing.