If you want to be treated like a criminal, discriminated against and be at risk of burning to death on the open seas, MSC is the cruise line for you!
My issues started even before the cruise. As a solo traveller, and a gay man, I emailed MSC asking if they would hold an LGBT drinks event on the cruise, as nearly every other cruise line does. The email response did not address my question, so I rang MSC here in Australia and spoke with someone who promised to inquire and to email me back before leaving for my trip to Europe. She never did reply, and once on the cruise I realised she was likely ordered not to or simply too embarrassed by what the response would be. But this was not the only issue I had. There are so many that I'll separate them:
1) Luggage misplaced. After several hours, neither of my two bags had been delivered to my cabin. I went to the buffet and just happened to come down by the aft staircase and saw one of my bags outside of someone else's cabin (other end of my floor).
2) Being treated like a criminal. The second bag, containing my best clothes/suits/shoes and such had still not appeared so I stood in line at guest services to be told it can take some time and I should call back at 4:30 if still not received. I was obviously anxious about it given that my other bag had been left elsewhere and worried about the fact it contained very expensive clothes, not to mention I'd left my housekeys in there. At about 6 p.m. still no bag so I stood in line again. Good news! My bag had been located. But they marched me down to security, where I was interrogated by two large security guards who accused me of having smuggled a knife on board in my bag and demanded I open it. I told them that was ridiculous. That very morning I'd actually thrown out some scissors I use to trim my beard when I travel when I read in the boarding documents that even scissors aren't allowed to be brought on board. I opened my bag and took out all of my clothes. They had mistaken my housekeys for a knife, but duly searched the bag and of course there was no knife. I didn't receive an apology and they tried to blame the French port authority staff who had (supposedly) placed a sticker on the bag indicating the presence of a knife. I think this was likely a lie since there was no such sticker on the bag. I complained to guest services about my treatment and had a meeting with the manager (more on that below). Another passenger (an American) I met on board had also had a similar experience.
3) At the meeting with the guest services manager, she was very nice and apologetic. She asked me what they could do to resolve the situation. I told her I did not want anything, apart from a letter signed by a senior officer of the ship apologising for this incident so I would know that it had been taken seriously and I suggested that rather than dragging innocent passengers down to security in such a case they simply look in suspect bags to make sure that what is supposedly inside is indeed inside. She claimed she'd send that feedback on to head office. I asked if it was a legal issue they couldn't simply examine the bags themselves and she confirmed that it was instead simply MSC's policy, but she'd see if that could be changed given my experience. I then mentioned that they had also not replied to my inquiries about organising LGBT drinks and asked if they could do that and she said she'd speak to the Cruise Director and let me know. I explained that nearly every cruise line offers such a service and that as a solo traveller it's a nice way to have a chance to make friends on the ship. They did send me a bottle of Italian sparkling wine and a plate of six unappetising-looking pastries along with a generic printed card thanking me for my feedback; however, I had specifically told her I didn't want any free stuff and that I wanted an apology, so I sent them back.
4) No surprise, they refused to hold any LGBT drinks. The guest services manager I had dealt with previously even claimed it would be discriminatory against non-LGBT people to have 'special' drinks for LGBT people (despite the fact there were other private events onboard including some religious group) and, bizarrely, she also claimed that it could not be discrimination because MSC (supposedly) hosts LGBT drinks on sailings from the US. Which is it then? Their concession was to host a 'single cruise' drink event open to everyone, LGBT or not, but not identified as LGBT so other LGBT people would think to go to them. I of course did not attend as I was not looking to meet single travellers; I was looking to meet other LGBT people simply to socialise. You can't just walk up to people and ask if they're gay, even if you suspect they might be, and ask if they want to hang out. Talk about clueless!
5) The morning after leaving Morocco,, I went to the cafeteria on Deck 13 for breakfast. No sooner had I sat down than I smelled a very strong odour of burning toast. But I was not having a stroke! No, instead I noticed smoke billowing out of a toaster mere feet away.
There was a table with an old couple between me and the aisle in front of the counter with the toaster. The attendant looked unconcerned and walked away. I sat there is shock and disbelief. Over the next two minutes at least four, possibly five, other ship's staff walked past this toaster (which was full on smoking by now), including a guy in engineer's overalls. After a very short time, a French-speaking lady nearby got up and ran to the counter to try to get someone's attention. The attendant had come back and then, being told the toaster was nearly on fire, she sauntered away again. The old couple got up and left and I pulled out my phone to take a video of the smoking toaster. That's when a dining room manager finally ran over to the toaster and the attendant returned with someone else. This could easily have been a fire. The next day, there was an announcement in the daily program asking passengers to pull the fire alarm or make staff aware if there was a fire (which, of course, the French lady did before I even could). Apparently, their staff can't be bothered to do so themselves; it's up to the passengers. I noted, while sitting in shock at the table, that the smoke was only a few feet from the nearest smoke detector, which did not go off -- leading me to wonder if it actually even worked.
6) The food was generally of poor quality relative to other ships. It was like cafeteria food, even in the dining room (with a couple of exceptions). The portions are also tiny, which at least makes it less likely you'll gain weight on the cruise. But you have to wonder how an Italian cruise line can't even make decent pizza or pasta. And all of the food from the buffet is cold, even the food that's supposed to be hot.
7) I chose this cruise primarily for the itinerary and one of the things I was most looking forward to was taking an excursion to Granada from Malaga as I've always wanted to go to the Alhambra Palace and it seemed a convenient way to go there. But, despite MSC's website taking my booking for Granada, I found out the day before arriving in Malaga that we were not in port for long enough to complete that excursion and therefore my trip was cancelled. Of course, no one proactively told me this. I had to inquire at the excursion desk about why I hadn't received a voucher for the excursion to be told this.
8) The casino allows smoking so if, like me, you are bothered by smoke then it is a no-go zone.
9) Although they apparently think that LGBT events are somehow inappropriate, it seems that sexist entertainment is perfectly fine. The second-last show included a 'Can Can' dance at the end of which the women's near-bare bottoms are smacked by the male performers. This might be troubling enough, but what was really shocking was that the entire front row of the theatre was occupied by the children's group who were brought along to the show. The kids, ranging from I'd say 3 to about 11, were often seen about the ship together with a couple of kids' counsellors. Apparently for MSC, showing adult-themed, sexualised performances to kids is okay as long as it's heterosexual, but printing the phrase LGBT Drinks in their daily program is inappropriate/offensive (or if the guest services manager is to be believed, it's offensive in Europe, but not in the U.S.).
10) Bring your own hand sanitiser as the dispensers are routinely empty. I'd say that I managed to sanitise my hands about 25 percent of the time on entering the restaurants/buffet. The rest of the time, the dispensers were empty.
I'm sure I'm still missing something, but that's probably enough to give you the idea. If I can say one nice thing about the cruise, apart from the destinations themselves, it would be that there are a few nice staff on board and especially the staff at the Il Grappolo d'Oro wine bar, which also offers appetisers from 6 p.m. on that are, frankly, the best food you'll find on the ship. If you are unlucky enough to travel on the Poesia, then make sure to go there each day as there's not much else worth eating on board and the staff there were lovely. Also, the shore excursions were excellent (even if the staff at the shore excursion desk on the ship were not), but as MSC is at pains to point out the shore excursions are not affiliated with MSC Cruises!
I had no problems with my balcony cabin. It was a little small (if for two people), but travelling on my own it was fine. The cabin steward was excellent, unlike most of the staff on the ship.
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