This is another one of my part two reviews from our back-to-back Meraviglia sailings in October and November. The first part was a ten day Canadian/New England cruise in a Yacht Club interior cabin beginning October 18th. On this sailing beginning in New York City on October 28th we headed straight towards warmer waters so chose a forward facing Aurea Suite with large balcony. I’ll try to keep this a comprehensive review but it might help to also read my review of the previous sailing. If you’re interested in part one or seeing my other reviews it’s easiest to see them in my profile signature after searching my username in the forum boards section of Cruise Critic. I booked this sailing about 650 days out, when it was first released, in order to get a specific cabin, 12010. Even in the Yacht Club we had a lackluster prior sailing, luckily this cabin made the continuing problems on this leg more bearable. For this sailing we were joined by my son and daughter-in-law who I booked into a mid-ship inside cabin due to their being prone to sea sickness.
As back-to-back passengers we left our suitcases in our previous cabin, they would be taken to our new cabin while we met up with about 40 other back-to-back passengers and all went together through a quick customs process since the ship had to zero out all passengers between sailings. This was the simplest process I’ve yet done. We had other US ports prior to returning to NYC so we had a quick immigration check a couple days earlier while on a sea day. So for the NYC customs they just escorted our group onto the gangway where they counted us and within 15 minutes we were allowed back on the ship, we didn’t even speak to a customs agent. We were issued our new cruise cards that morning while still in the Yacht Club but they did not have the accompanying Aurea wrist bands so my first objective was to get them at guest services before it became a madhouse. I was in communication with my son who was in the terminal and found that check-in was proceeding rapidly and regular passengers were already being called to board. After getting our wrist bands we decided to see about dropping our personal bags in the new cabin. I was a bit surprised to see our suitcases had been dropped off outside the cabin, on all other back-to-back cruises they were always placed inside the new cabin by the person moving them from the prior cabin. Our cabin steward, Mark, was there almost immediately and said it was fine to move our bags into the cabin. By that time my son had boarded and we went to find them and head to lunch. Aurea passengers are allowed to have embarkation day lunch in the Panorama main dining room rather than the only other open option, the buffet.
One major piece of good fortune did happen that also made this sailing more enjoyable. On the prior leg I learned a crewmember friend of ours, the legendary Arthur, was on the Meraviglia. We’ve had five prior MSC sailings with him as either our waiter or head waiter, he is the most meticulous, attentive and entertaining person we’ve ever met on any cruise ship or cruise line. He had spent a couple weeks working in Meraviglia’s Yacht Club dining room but for both our sailings he was working in the Waves main dining room as a head waiter. Waves restaurant on deck five seems to be considered the least appealing of the four main dining rooms, the three on deck six are larger and perhaps a little fancier with Panorama restaurant being considered the nicest and also where Aurea My Choice dining is located. Without hesitation on the first leg I asked Arthur and Mario the assistant maitre d’ in Waves for a table in Arthur’s section for this next sailing, thus giving up the My Choice dining in the Panorama restaurant. We requested and were given a table for six for the late 7:45pm seating in Arthur’s section with waiters he felt we would like. We had two Cruise Critic friends from a prior sailing join my party of four for dinners. After eating several meals in the Panorama main dining room I was even happier with this decision.
Our first lunch in Panorama went fairly well, the restaurant was not crowded with only a few Aurea passengers and a group of travel agents that were touring the ship. They had a special embarkation lunch menu, but not quite as nice as I experienced earlier on Divina, and service was a little sporadic. For this sailing I upgraded from the Classic drinks package to the more inclusive Deluxe package – the top package available at the time of my booking but both are now superseded with new drinks packages. I had also done this for our last Divina sailings when the new drinks packages had more recently come out. On Divina I had no problems, my card had the correct package number printed on it and all the servers on the ship knew what the old Deluxe package entitled me to. Unfortunately on Meraviglia the problems started immediately. I’ll go into this for those who are familiar with MSC, when issued our cruise cards I noticed they were printed with an odd drink package number, 836, rather than the normal 536 which usually designates the Deluxe package. I asked customer service about this while getting our wrist bands and was assured we had the Deluxe package. The drink server in Panorama at lunch had no idea what package we had and insisted the $9 a glass wine we wanted wasn’t included. After trying to explain it to him he took my card to his manager who also said the wine was not included. We compromised by signing a charge slip that we would pay for the drinks if the billing department found the wine wasn’t included, luckily I never had to go to customer service to get the charges removed. But this wasn’t the end of problems regarding the Deluxe package on this cruise.
I’ve come to the conclusion that for me dining is a big part of what can make or break a cruise. I’m not particularly picky about the food but do know poor quality food and service when I get it. Even though I began sailing with NCL for the Freestyle dining, I really don’t mind MSC’s set dining table policy for the Fantastica and Bella cabins, we’ve found the tables we get are usually with other Cruise Critic members and have had some very nice tablemates assigned. In the main dining rooms I do prefer the last seating as I don’t like being rushed through a meal to make room for the next seating. I find the food in the MDR’s on MSC can be hit or miss and having an experienced wait staff can be crucial. The MDR food on Meraviglia was pretty much the same as on other MSC ships, overall good with a few bad choices and a few excellent dishes. Having an experienced and interested wait staff can make a world of difference here. Our waitress Taciana was very helpful and effortlessly and efficiently handled our non standard dining choices. On Divina we found plates were lacking in vegetables so often ordered vegetable plates to supplement, on Meraviglia we only ordered extra vegetable plates twice because we soon learned it wasn’t necessary as sides of vegetables were plentiful with the regular menu items. We do often order multiple starters or entrees etc… and Arthur was offering us samplings of special dishes the chef was preparing that we shared at our table. This out of sequence dining can cause havoc with some server’s abilities to keep the flow and timing right, but Taciana was never phased. By our second meal Davish, our assistant waiter, had already brought bottles of sparkling and still water before we arrived and was waiting to take our wine order because we always ordered a couple bottles of wine during our meal. While he was a little inexperienced you could tell he was interested in learning and wanted to make our experience better, and in my opinion that means a lot. One thing I found interesting is early in the cruise our dining room section was fairly empty with unoccupied tables all around us. But as the sailing progressed we had more and more tables fill in around us. One table missed their early seating at another restaurant and was able to get a table in our section for late seating, they never went back. Another couple that came to a nearby table said they didn’t like their table mates and others had trouble with their service and they all moved in for the rest of the cruise. This was the first sailing where I saw many more people in the MDR on the last night than anytime throughout the cruise. I’m not sure if this ability to change tables will continue or if this was only due to the ship not being full.
After a few lunches in Panorama I really appreciated what we had in Waves. Our experience of Panorama was it’s a madhouse of waiters and head waiters trying to put out multiple fires. When full it was overcrowded and noisy, service was overall poor with multiple missing items long times between courses. For lunch the unchanging menu became a problem with multiple sea days. Unlike other MSC ships the MDR would not provide items from the room service always available menu, on other MSC ships you could order items like a Club sandwich from the room service menu. Since Meraviglia had only done two other US based sailings it seemed like the servers were still not used to providing glasses of water, exacerbating the problem was the rather small glasses which constantly needed refilling. I don’t mind tap water but with having the drinks package it was easier to order a large bottle to ensure we wouldn’t run out. Both breakfast and lunch service was excruciatingly slow. One lunch we left early after it taking over an hour and a half to get the entrees and no sign of when dessert may have eventually come.
We went to the buffet for breakfast and lunch several times and after 23 days on board it became very monotonous, very few items changed from day to day and I found it difficult to find items I liked. I cannot say if this was also the case for dinner and it may not be a problem on seven day cruises. Lack of palatable buffet choices would drive us to keep trying the Panorama when it was open on sea days but in the end lunches anywhere on the ship were a problem. Breakfast options in both the dining room and buffet were a little better but were also unchanging. In the end we rarely ate breakfast, most often we’d stock up our cabin with fruit we liked when it could be found (bananas were scarce) in the buffet and just bring back coffee and croissants each morning. My son booked Kaito sushi for lunch one afternoon and enjoyed it. The only problem was he forgot the Easy drinks package was not valid there and was charged for the water and drinks they ordered. The seating area is also a little strange as it is right along the main walkway on the upper level of the inside Galleria promenade. Since there are rarely people eating there it fells like you are on display as all the people walk past you.
Since we were no longer in the Yacht Club for this sailing we had purchased the Tryptic specialty dining package, so with our now Diamond status we planned on four meals outside the main dining room. In my prior sailing’s review I described the one poor specialty dining experience we had in Butcher’s Cut. Our first meal this sailing was in Ocean Cay with two Cruise Critic friends and this meal also was a disaster. It started with having only two poor wine choices – and that was with our having the Deluxe package which actually had a higher dollar limit than the Yacht Club package. We had the same problem in Butcher’s Cut but the assistant manager let us have the same wines which were available in the Yacht Club but priced out of range in the specialty restaurants. This time we were unable to get any other choices because the Deluxe package had a specific dollar limit and on this ship most of the wines were newly priced above that level. Another problem lies with the overall design of the specialty restaurants on this ship, all of them face out onto the Galleria promenade. Some tables are located on the actual walkway overlooking the lower level. The specialty restaurants on deck six are like dungeons having no windows and the ones on deck seven look right at the life boats, it would be better to have had opaque windows. In general the ambiance in Ocean Cay was lacking so I guess it was understandable why this restaurant was usually not very busy, on our night there were only three other tables at any given time. I found the dining experience menu very limited and really couldn’t find an appetizer I wanted. I finally decided to ask about the seafood platter, which is was what I usually like but was horrible in Butcher’s cut earlier. I’ve ordered this several times on Seaside. On Meraviglia the new menus had it listed at $59 and now it was shown as for two people, I was puzzled. It was always a large platter and enough for two so asked was this in place of two people’s appetizers and was told yes. Then our waiter said it is also $59 per person. What? That’s never been the case before. But yes on Meraviglia it was a $118 appetizer. So we stuck to the dining experience items. The final thing that made this such a disappointing meal was the service. There’s no other way to say it but our waiter was just plain terrible. Our meal took over two hours, what’s strange is other tables that came in 30 minutes after us were finished before we even had our entrees. Our waiter was not only extremely slow but ridiculously blasé about the service. Plates were almost slung down in front of us, flatware was slung down like he was playing craps. He would disappear from the dining room for 20 to 30 minutes at a time. The food was okay, barely better than in the main dining room and not even worth the discounted dining package rate we paid. I allowed more than two hours before the theater show we wanted to see and time was now getting close. Finally dessert arrived, at least for the other three at the table. I thought “Okay he could only carry three plates” as he went back into the kitchen. Surely mine would be right out, nope he was gone for over fifteen minutes so the others ate their desserts since we needed to go. He eventually came back with a tablet for my signature, I asked if he could send my dessert to our cabin because we had to go. His face went blank when he realized he had forgotten. We got up to leave and he ran back to get the dessert for me to take with us, I told him I was heading directly to the theater and could not take it with us there. Again I asked if it could be sent to our stateroom but was told that they couldn’t. We left, with not a manager to be seen anywhere in the restaurant for the last hour (Ocean Cay is where the specialty restaurant managers and reservationist are stationed).
At that point I decided to see if I could cancel my Tryptic specialty dining package and just call the Ocean Cay dinner our Diamond status meal. So after the show it was off to the guest services line to make the request. The first agent had me wait until a supervisor was available and after explaining my problems was told they would forward the request up the management chain but weren’t sure it would be possible since I had pre purchased the package. I cancelled my other specialty restaurant reservations and waited for a call back. Three days later we had a message asking us to meet with the assistant hotel director. We met later that day, he was interested in our experiences and opinions then admitted he was aware of the problems with menu pricing and food quality and service. The dining package cost was credited back too our on board account. So we had two terrible Voyagers Club meals and an apology for how poor they were, nothing else was ever said. Later in the sailing I noticed the “per person” wording and a few other discrepancies on the menus had been white taped over.
It’s about time I got to something more positive again. Aside from our good main dining room experience the biggest positive on this sailing was the cabin. I specifically picked 12010, a forward corner Aurea suite. There are big differences between these cabins on the different decks. Not all are true suites, having a separate living room and bedroom, and there are large overall size differences. Deck 12 cabins are the largest with over 400 square feet cabin space and the ones on the starboard side have the balcony hot tub oriented with the seats to face the ocean. Yes, these cabins have a large private Jacuzzi tub on the large balcony. Unlike the hot tub suites ion Seaside they fit two people very comfortably. The next closest cabins are the Royal suites in the Yacht Club. The living area was very spacious with a double sleeper sofa, two chairs, large coffee table, desk and TV. Storage for the living area was a very large walk in closet. The bedroom was also quite large with two chairs and a sizeable wall closet unit and also had a TV. Unlike the similar suites on Divina there was a balcony sliding door in both rooms. The only thing that could have been better would have been a larger or second bathroom. It could easily have been done if they had made the walk in closet a little smaller. The bathroom was the same smallish one used in all the standard cabins. The only thing that was bad was the sofa couch was stained and was totally worn out. The hot tub was locked at 40 Celsius, which was actually a little hot for me. Actually that’s a first for me on MSC as I find all the public hot tubs are below body temperature and I actually get cold after several minutes. The tub was a little erratic and would lose water over time so if you let it get too low it would cause an error and shut off the heater. I quickly learned to add water once or twice a day to keep from having problems. We were told they would change the water every three or four days, more if requested. I suppose this works out to one change on turnover day and one change during a seven day itinerary. The absolute best part of this cabin was our steward, Mark. Overall I’ve had pretty good cabin steward on MSC but Mark set a new high level, only matched by our butler Vishnu on Seaside. When he found out I had given my son and daughter-in-law my wrist band so they could use our cabin when they wanted he immediately brought extra bath robes, shower towels and pool towels for them. He already knew we had the Deluxe package and brought a stack of reorder forms for the mini bar. He also knew we had a laundry package and offered to do multiple bags rather than the new official all items at one time only rule, luckily this time having four people made us able to do all 40 pieces at once anyway. Again I was surprised to get frequent towel animals on this ship. We did use the mini bar fairly heavily and Mark restocked it at least twice a day, about half way through the cruise he came to me and apologetically informed me that his manager told him the mini bar was not, or no longer, part of our Deluxe drinks package. He said he thought it was wrong but had to ask me to go to guest services to figure this out. On to another wait in line to talk to a representative who didn’t know and called over a manager who got out several papers and they both pondered for a bit and finally decided the mini bar was included, like they hadn’t ever heard of the Deluxe package before. My son rarely saw his cabin steward and did not meet him until the third day, so I wasn’t surprised when Mark told me they had 21 cabins. Since he had all the forward Aurea large balcony and Duplex suites he only had 16 cabins. I’m constantly amazed at how hard some of these stewards work, they were going long before we got up and still going when we come back at night. You could see how tired they got in their eyes but Mark always took time to ask how our day was and if there was anything he could do for us. We wrote a letter to the head of housekeeping praising is work and attitude.
I waited until this sailing to book the Cirque shows. After seeing the menus and reading reviews we only did the drink and show, not the dinner version. The show was cancelled about 20 percent of the times, either due to too much ship movement or technical difficulties. My advice is to book these for earlier in the cruise as cancellations were common and towards the end of the cruise reservations became difficult to make. I booked and paid for these shows over a year ago for $14 per person, I think they are now $18 per person. Actual reservation date and time usually need to be made at a booth near customer service or at the aft Carousel theater. Both my wife and I preferred Viaggio slightly over Sonor, in the end they were entertaining enough but I think overall I wouldn’t go again. To me it seemed they just took the acrobatic elements normally found in the other ship’s theater shows and moved them to the Cirque venue on Meraviglia for a charge. At least it made them have different main theater shows. On Meraviglia we went to more shows than we normally would do on the other ships because they were different. I particularly liked Antonio Versini’s show “A world of Hands”, the ventriloquist Serge Massot did a good job with the international audience and multiple languages. He had two different shows that were okay, the chosen audience members could either make the show hilarious or boring. The show “Virtual” was a nice break from the normal MSC show, the story could actually be followed. I noted none of the normal acrobatics were in the main theater, those were moved to the aft Cirque Carousel lounge. Our main interaction with the entertainment crew was at trivia which was held three times a day in the Brass Anchor pub and were well attended. Visual trivia was also held once a day.
I’ll go ahead and restate in this review that overall Meraviglia is not a ship I would prefer to book again, perhaps for a cooler weather itinerary but not in the Caribbean. MSC Seaside would be a better alternative. The layout focused on the interior Galleria where many of the ship’s lounges and restaurants were located but all of them lacked views. The three top deck pools did break up the crowds a bit but even with the ship not full on warm sea days they were very crowded so we kept to our cabin’s balcony to enjoy being outside. There were numerous areas I considered design flaws like lack of exits from the theater. There are no aft elevators, do not book any cabin near the aft unless willing to make a long walk to the mid ship elevators. Public restrooms were not adequate, my worst example was on deck seven forward serving the Meraviglia lounge and Brass Anchor pub the men’s restroom had two stalls and no urinals. This was repeated in other areas around the ship. As with all the MSC ships I’ve been on Meraviglia was always kept clean and repairs seemed to be made quickly. Even after 23 days we really weren’t able to fully experience all the venues so for a shorter sailing there should be no lack of exploration opportunities.
On this sailing we only booked two formal excursions, both independent from the ship and with others from the Cruise Critic Roll Call. Previously I’ve felt MSC excursions had been reasonable but on this sailing I felt they were overpriced. Because we aren’t fluent in French and didn’t want to exchange for Euros we took an island tour in Martinique with Martinique Best Secret tours in a private van for six people. It was a nice tour for our mixed ability group, we picked a tour that had a heavy botanical focus but they offer a good variety and will personalize trips for private groups. Our other excursion was a private van for eight in Grenada through Tropical Adventures. Again we picked a tour that was easy for our mixed ability group that was heavy on vistas and the islands spice history. We enjoyed the easy pace but they also offer more adventurous versions. In the other ports I organized our own hikes, city tours and beach stops. I had reserved a Deluxe cabana for our Ocean Cay stop but rumors we heard came true and the port was cancelled, the cabana cost was quickly credited back to our on board account. Ocho Rios, Jamaica was substituted but since we’ve been there many times we didn’t make any plans to get off the ship.
On our last sea day MSC put out a special disembarkation letter stating they expected difficulties with the customs process and to expect delays of six to eight hours. We had planned to stay on the ship until later because we had 5pm flights from Fort Lauderdale. The letter caused a bit of a commotion on the ship and pushed us to do the earliest 6:45am Aurea departure. We were supposed to meet at a lounge but I saw self assist walk off was being delayed so we decided to just join that line directly. On our last Aurea and Black card disembarkation they just led us from the meeting point to join the back of the self assist walk off line. So I felt this would be the quickest. People did not begin to leave the ship until about 7:30 and by that time loosely snaked back and forth throughout the Galleria. MSC staff did nothing to keep it orderly and pretty quickly the lines deteriorated and it turned into a free for all to the exit point. Luckily we were near the front and cutting into the line was minimal.
I have to admit the mediocre experiences on Meraviglia played a role in my canceling two European Preziosa sailings this coming Summer. Another irritation I experienced that is affecting ant future bookings was MSC’s newest cabin pricing policy and upgrade bidding system. I though this sailing was unique and would be fairly well booked, but this sailing had many, many cabins open even with les than a month to sailing, thus had a few significant price drops. MSC would not let anyone who booked earlier take advantage of these drops, even if willing to upgrade. We were held to the pricing structure at the time of booking which was hundreds more than the current prices. Even when I was before final payment they made it too difficult by refusing to allow the Voyagers Selection discount if I tried to cancel and rebook. Then the bidding system minimums made upgrading not cost effective because of our high initial booking cost resulted in paying more than the upgrade cabin’s current cost. The end result was overall poor sales, last minute price drops and finally removal of the single supplement which caused a mass of last minute super bargain hunters booking the sailing. I will leave it that there was a noticeable difference in the passenger makeup on this sailing compared to my other MSC sailings and even the prior sailing. I hope this is not a sign of things to come with MSC over saturating the market for people willing to sail their ships. My future strategy leans towards taking advantage of these last minute deals I see that are becoming more frequent, but I’m afraid MSC might be changing from what I considered a good value cruise line to what I would call a budget cruise line.