The MSC Grandiosa is a very mixed experience, and whether it makes sense for you depends a lot on what you value and what gets under your skin.
I will first describe the things on MSC Grandiosa that are first-rate. Then I will describe what I think is poorly done, and will represent deal-breakers for many. After that I will describe the ship's overall philosophy, and the type of person for whom that might work well, and what you'll want to be looking out for.
We boarded in Genoa on Saturday January 11. They told us to show up at 3pm, but when we did we were the only ones there; we could have boarded much earlier, and I wish we had.
Here's what the MSC Grandiosa is really GOOD at:
1. Beautiful Ship. The only thing about which everyone agrees is that the ship is beautiful. What people are reacting to is largely the lighting, which is carefully attended to everywhere. Also, there are a lot of mirrors, so you frequently find yourself in an infinity tunnel.
2. Solid Shows in the Main Theater. The stage shows were SO much better than on Princess or even Celebrity. The cast gets 35 minutes to perform as many songs as they can within that night's genre (Rock, Swing, Italian Love Songs, ABBA, etc.), so you get about 10-12 great songs well-performed, with no filler. I wish I had seen all six shows.
3. Amazing Bread. Nobody is talking about the bread, which is the same everywhere on the ship. I am expecting stale buns at the buffet, and instead every single type of bread is soft, delicate, fresh, and perfectly created. I can't stop eating those little date rolls.
4. Good Dining Hall Experience. The food is very good, the menu varies, the service is professional, and they have two no-sugar-added desserts every night. Everything we had was good. Our seating was at 6:30pm and we walked in and sat down at the same table-for-three each night without delay.
5. Many Affordable Add-Ons. The Gelato Bar, the Chocolate Shop, the Crepe Stand, the Fish-and-Chips Pub, and the Steak House Brunch are all very high quality, with no crowds, and priced like Starbucks, which is very affordable if you aren't angry about nothing being included.
Here is what MSC Grandiosa is really BAD at:
1. Crowds at the Buffet. The buffet area isn't much larger than on the 2,500-passenger Celebrity Summit, but there are twice as many people on board. That means a risk of severe crowding unless MSC does a LOT to spread out the crowds. Instead, MSC does the opposite, forcing people into unnecessarily small time windows. The inevitable result is enough pushing and table panic to really diminish the enjoyment of otherwise perfectly acceptable food (and great bread).
2. Nothing is included. Food stands? extra fee. Beverage package? Doesn't work at specialty restaurants. Juice at the buffet? Only at breakfast. Non-alcoholic beverage package including "hot chocolate concoctions"? The only hot chocolate concoctions on the ship are at the Chocolate Shop, and the Chocolate Shop isn't included. That's just fraud. We missed Princess's International Cafe.
3. Specialty Experiences Prohibitively Expensive. Bowling, Virtual Reality, Steak House Dinner, it's all too expensive, and you're not going to do it unless you're rich. We ate at the steak house. It was great. Brunch there is $5 for blueberry pancakes, $6 for strawberry french toast, and $7 for chicken and biscuit. But come back for dinner, and each entree is $30-$40, $55 for a T-Bone steak. The pre-fixe menu at $39 is better, but four people are going to pay $150+ and beverages when you could just eat for free in the Dining Hall.
4. Little Outdoor Space. If you want some fresh air, you have to go up to Deck 16. There's nothing like a promenade deck. You can't leave the big atrium or the galleria and get a whiff of sea air, or even a glimpse. This ship is largely an indoor experience, unless you go to the top decks.
Peculiarities On Board
1. Permanent Culture Clash. Unlike lines that cater more toward a particular nationality (Princess to Americans, P&O to Brits, AIDA to Germans), MSC caters to everyone, so there is a delightful international mix on board. Announcements from the Captain or before stage shows are rendered in English, then Italian, then French, then German, then Spanish, and sometimes Chinese. At first it's impressive, then it gets old. Your excursion will be in multiple languages, too, and you end up spending a lot of time waiting for another language to finish.
The biggest downside, though, is that all these cultures have different norms for things like when to eat and how to navigate lines. MSC brings to bear its Italian aesthetic of utter disconcern -- confused signage, for example, and rigid European meal times -- and pretty soon tempers fray. I'm used to Americans being really rude, but on this ship EVERY nationality took a turn demonstrating rudeness.
By disconcern, I mean that dinner at the buffet is from 7pm-10pm. The buffet is OPEN from 5pm-7pm, if that's your thing, but they only serve hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, and salads. The full buffet menu is for people who eat late. Meanwhile, you probably have a stage show reservation at 7:15pm , or Cirque de Soleil at 8pm, or an excursion starting early the next morning, so you REALLY NEED to the flexibility of the buffet. Hamburgers and pizza for you. And because thousands of starved people have just gotten back from their excursions, there is a huge rush at 5pm for those few burgers and pizzas.
MSC is capable of handling peak crowds, but they choose not to, and that makes everything unnecessarily difficult and unpleasant on board. Tempers flare, and pretty soon your party is not having a fun time on the ship.
2. Inverted Demand Curves
On most ships, people buy a cheap room, but you get quite a bit of value from upgrading to a drink package or a specialty dining package or an entertainment package. So the value shoppers go to the middle of the offering, and the poor values are the high-end experience (which is overpriced) and the bare-bones experience, which could be inexpensively embellished.
It's not like that on MSC Grandiosa; it's the opposite. Yacht Club is a great value because they rescue you from the crowds and give you all the best real estate on the ship. The cheap rooms with dining hall food and water-purchased-a-la-carte are also a great value. But in the middle, if you try to buy up to a beverage package, nothing is included. If you try to purchase a specialty dining package it's expensive and inflexible. The other upsell experiences are prohibitive. As a result, the specialty dining venues are mostly empty most of the time. That puts additional pressure on the dining halls and the buffet.
The end-result is that the ship has huge amounts of space that are underutilized (e.g., specialty experiences), or off-limits (e.g., Yacht Club), and that means all 6,000 passengers are crammed into what's left. That's a worse experience than you'll find on almost any other ship in the sea.
3. Contagion Incubation Factory
I didn't hear much coughing when we boarded in Genoa on January 11, but by the end of the trip the whole ship was a cough chorus. On a normal ship, they flush everybody and chlorox the ship once per week. But on MSC new people join every day. That is SUPER-convenient for planning your trip, but if the ship gets sick then the contagion just keeps getting passed forward week after week as healthy passengers join and sick passengers depart. People have faulted the MSC Grandiosa for not being serious about hand sanitzer, and that is correct. There are a few sanitizer stations, but not enough for 6,000 passengers, and they run out of sanitizer, or they break, and people get frustrated, and illness happens.
So Who is MSC Grandiosa For?
I would recommend Grandiosa for rich people who can hide in the Yacht Club, and for poor people who can get a really good room rate and just want transport between cities and are content with buffet and dining hall food. Everybody else can probably find a ship that's better imagined than this one.
For the shows on the main stage, make a reservation a couple days in advance, then line up at LEAST a half-hour before the show starts. You'll get to sit in the middle section. Everyone without a reservation will flood in after you, and they sit on the sides.
There are multi-language touch-screens throughout the ship which are well-designed and make it easy to reserve shows for your party.
You will need your cruise card for everything, so bring your lanyards.
Cirque de Soleil gets mixed reviews. That's partly because the two shows are very different. Exentricks is disastrous and offensive -- a surreal freak show, complete with pole dancers. The audience does not clap. Cosmos is merely stupid. Both of them a "spectacle" in the circus sense. You get to see a juggler, acrobat, contortionist, and aerialist, but Cirque surrounds that basic experience with a bunch of gee-whiz-but-meaningless semiotics that will only impress the easily impressed. For example, Cosmos is not a show about "coming of age," and saying it doesn't make it so.
If you go to Cirque anyway, you don't get to choose your show time until you are on board. And the seats are assigned automatically. That means when you go on board, all the best seats and even show times are taken for the first few nights. But if you choose shows near the end of your cruise, you will get the best seats and your choice of show times because passengers who would compete with you haven't boarded the ship yet. If you choose a cocktail show, those are at a different time from the dinner show. You get to grab a cocktail from the counter on the way in -- there are a couple to choose from. They are watered down.
The cabins are a little tighter than on the Crown Princess or Celebrity Summit, but well-designed, well-appointed, well-lit, and highly functional.
Be careful not to accidentally leave the Do Not Disturb light on -- I think that's why people are complaining that their cabin doesn't get made up. The three lights over each door mean [RED] People are in the room; [BLUE] Do not disturb; [WHITE] Please make up the room.
The service levels on the ship are high. Electronic buttons on the buffet tables summon staff effectively. The cabin staff do first-rate work, as do the restaurant servers. However, whereas the Celebrity Summit assigns a permanent team of three to each dining room table, and the Crown Princess has a mixed staff, on the MSC Grandiosa it's just one guy handling all aspects of every table in his section, from serving wine to changing utensils, to scraping crumbs. That experience is a little harried, and makes the Dining Hall seem like a place to get into and out of fast.
The nice thing about MSC, unlike Princess of Celebrity, is that off-duty crew are allowed anywhere on the ship, they are not confined to the bottom decks, so you get to see them. However, the staff contracts are months-longer, and the ship staff may not have been home recently; they may not have seen their family. Some of this sadness seeps into their work. On the other hand, this is not an American ship, and super-cheerful American service is not what anybody is attempting. Just something to watch for.
We used Zoe quite a bit, just for laughs. I even made video of Zoe being stupid. It knows one answer to every question: "Go look it up." The purpose of Zoe, obviously, is to take the pressure off MSC's overburdened customer service personnel. But MSC will have to learn the hard way that it's easier to make the ship less confusing than to try to answer everybody's questions. For example, what are the buffet hours? You might need a few days to figure out what is available when at the buffet. The schedule is inscrutable; the signage is unclear. After a week you've got most of the ship figured out, but mostly what you've got figured out is to get on a different ship without so much unnecessary confusion.
Balcony cabin midship was a little tighter than on the Crown Princess or Celebrity Summit -- you almost can't walk around the bed -- but beautiful, well-lit, good storage, and highly functional. You'll need most of the week to figure out how to increase the water pressure in the shower. Don't push; don't turn. Push-and-turn simultaneously. There are both American and European plugs at the desk; no plugs in the bathroom.
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