This was our first time sailing MSC, and while I want to give a detailed and honest review of our cruise; keep in mind our cruise was the one that made the news when both Jamaica and Grand Caymans would not let us disembark for fear of flu as such I will not be able to provide any information on how shore excursion or disembarkation worked (except to say Many Thanks to Cozumel for letting us off (the testing took over 12 hours, but getting clearance to disembark and be able to get off in Miami was worth it)
We decided on MSC after a just ok cruise on Norwegian. We looked at other lines and were enticed by what MSC was offering; this ship and the chance to have our own large room with private balcony/hot tub for a great price was too good to pass up (also they do offer military discount, which we were able to take advantage of), we booked this 2 years ago and decided to not do so during spring Break in the hopes of missing out on a lot of teens/young adults (nothing against this age group, I work for a college and sometimes your vacation needs to be away from the people you deal with)
MSC does 'experiences' so given our room choice we got the Aurea this came with the following: Drinks Package, 2 complimentary massages, full access to the thermal spa, access to Deck 19 private solarium, My Choice Dining in the Panorama Restaurant, Priority Embarkation
Priority Embarkation – This by far rocked our world, literally 15 minutes from dropping off luggage to getting on the ship! Once on board we were directed a certain way, so we followed those prompts to the nearest bar and had a drink. We located our room, not ready but our Steward allowed us to leave the carry on in the room.
Thermal Spa – We enjoyed access to this area- both the dry spa and the dark sensory (eucalyptus infused) were our favorites. We also enjoyed both hot tubs. Access was easy- show up give them your card they give you a key on a bracelet lock your stuff in a locker and relax.
The massages are not transferable (although given the fact that our cruise almost went no where but sea, I was able to talk with guest services and get them to transfer my husband’s massage to me) I did the Bali Massage and the Himalayan Sea Salt, both were good but hands down the Himalayan Sea Salt was one of the best massages I have had. (during the massage they take heated blocks of the salt and massage over the areas)
When we initially booked we had a better drink package, but at some point MSC changed this to the ‘Easy Drinks’ which is everything $6 and under. My husband prefers cocktails (I will also drink these) and I prefer Sauvignon Blanc or Champagne and there was very little information on what wines were included in the ‘easy drinks’ so we decided to do the upgrade to the ‘Premium Plus’ this did not actual get billed as an upgrade and we ended up paying for it out right, but I will say we got our monies worth, while not huge drinkers we made our drinks count! Also this allowed me to have a glass or 2 of Matua every night in the dining room with dinner.
Fun Pass – this was strictly for my husband, he had $100. worth of fun
Vinotherapy Facial, Body Scrub and Massage – worth it! 2 hours of bliss my first day at sea, my skin looked and felt better.
Cirque Du Soliel Drink+ Show: Sonar (early show) Viaggo (late show) both of these were spectacular, we booked one early time slot and one late time slot. The drinks were ok, they make then en masse and you take in, nothing to write home about but the shows were amazing! The early show with drink gives you a much better view and seating. (The early showing does the dinner option, so those with just drinks got the first 5 rows- the late show we were much further back at a table facing forward so not as great as row 4) Regardless both were amazing performances and when we sail again on MSC we will check out the other ships shows.
Because of the setbacks (no stops at Jamaica or Grand Cayman) we added a couple of onboard extras: Hola! Tapas restaurant for lunch and a haircut at the Spa for myself to make our days more fun.
Hola! Tapas – We tried this for lunch one day Amazing food and service – upon hearing that I had the Premium Plus Package and discussing my wine tastes, the server suggested a glass of Torres Milamanda ($24/glass) We did a few tapas and then ordered the Langostinos Al Ajillo and the Basque Burger.
Haircut/Style at the Spa – I was a little skeptical about getting my hair cut on a ship; I read reviews before hand and there were no horror stories, plus I was overdue for a trim so at $37, I figured why not. Denilson came out to greet me, asked what I wanted (about 3” off the back, no layers and trim up the bangs) wonderful shampoo/conditioner and then during the blow dry discussed that my hair was pretty dry and did an up sale that equated to buying an Aveda hair mask for $49 and get the cut free. I agreed to this, because not only was it a great deal I was very aware at this time that we were being refunded 100% and also it’s a vacation and that is my time to splurge.
Jamaica – Green Grotto Caves (until things simmer down and we can do this cruise again, we’ll never know)
Grand Caymans – Best of Grand Cayman I am probably most bummed out by this one because I really was looking forward to getting my passport stamped with Hell and to visit the Rum Cake Factory and by a rum or 3.
Cozumel – Mixology Session Chocolate and Tequila (to date we have never had a successful excursion in Cozumel, which is why we decided to book something that was not beach/snorkeling related, but alas it is just not meant to be)
Ocean Cay – we originally booked a deluxe cabana – the first night of the cruise we got a notice on our door that these were not available and that other cabanas were, but it was limited. So we headed down to the Excursion desk to find out what are options were. These cabanas will eventually get food service – we were not interested in that as much as a place to store our things, the beach mats and snorkel gear that came with this choice. The attendant, Détári Dora – explained this and then listened to our concerns, asked questions, made a call and then refunded our original reservation, booked us for a regular cabana and added scuba gear – so while we did not get to go to the Cay we were very happy with how the Excursion Desk initially dealt with this issue. Major props to Ms. Dóra for not simply dismissing us but actually listening to why we wanted the cabana and then making it happen.
Panorama Dining Room – The food was good, they have several ‘classic’ options that are the same each night, add ons (steak/lobster, lobster) and then a rotating choice. Some of the portions were small (pastas, kabobs) but you could always order an additional one no issue. We really enjoyed the Salmon, Steak Tournedos as entrees.
Our waiter was Sudarta – he was simply the best! After the second night he knew what we wanted to drink (Matua and Bubble Water) and laughed at the fact that I ordered the shrimp cocktail appetizer every night (sometimes 2)
Market Place Buffet – we did some breakfasts and lunches here- the roasts (beef and pork) were most excellent, great selection of breads, cheeses, fruit was always abundant, Pizza was delicious, the salad bar could of used more toppings (as an American I have a salad bar notion in my head) Pastries were good and my husband really enjoyed the desserts.
Private Solarium Deck 19
This area overlooked the main pool and deck and came with a large hot tub/pool that overlooked the area. There was an attendant who got the door, offered towels and basically you got to keep your seat even if you left. (This was nice because if you wanted to grab a bite or head back to your room, you were not taking chances) the also had a small mini bar set up and you could get drinks and they did send someone to take drink orders from time to time so we were able to get better frozen drinks.
The main pool area was always busy/crowded, the Horizon Pool deck area was crowded and had smokers but the pool was less crowded and nice. The bar here was always busy but I managed to get waters as needed. We did not try the bamboo pool- which is covered this was a very family friendly area.
Skylight Lounge – A few times this was closed for private events, which was sort of disappointing because we enjoyed the space. Great drinks, nibbles and good places to sit and have a conversation. This was our nightcap spot.
Music – we listened exclusively to 2 bands during our cruise: the trio from Brazil and a quartet (not sure where they were from) – both were amazing, entertaining, played exceptionally. Can’t say enough about how great they were! My only complaint is I wish the quartet had cds for sale because we would of bought one.
Casino - Small casino, but ok. I played a few slots and came out about $20 on top.
Champagne Bar/Lounge – they ran out of Veuve Cliquot which was sad but up until that point I had a glass or two a night and felt like I got my monies worth. This was a good lounge for hearing the music below and people watching.
Gelato Bar – they did not have gelato until the second to last night! This was an actual gripe, because you can’t boast a gelato bar then not have it! But when we did get our gelato fix on it was delicious!
Shopping – gift shop for MSC, Duty Free liquor, make up/perfume/watches and general supplies. Good selections – bought a few souvenirs for folks. Chocolate shop – excellent chocolates bought a variety of items to hand out. Swarkovski Crystal store with some beautiful items jewelry and trinkets. Higher end shopping – Guess, Armani Exchange, Izod, Calvin Klein.
Water Park/Ropes Course – both of these were enjoyable! The water park has 2 slides one uses tubes and you must queue up at the bottom to get a tube, the you go feet first and end up in a basin, we enjoyed riding these, the surrounding water park area is mostly kids/families and everyone looked like they were having a great time. The Ropes Course requires closed toe/ankle shoes, shorts and shirt (only go pros allowed) and was exceptional – great view of the aft and you could look down on everyone in the water park having fun. It was challenging but not super difficult.
Seating – the seating in the various bars was ok, but not great and this is one place where I think MSG could improve. A lot of them just were not comfortable or like with the stools were sized tall person only.
On our first excursion day, we ate breakfast then headed down to the theater to get our numbers and wait to disembark. After about 30 minutes Gene (activities director) announced that we were still waiting to clear customs, this happened again with the suggestion to not sit around exits or line the hallways. Not the best news, but I grabbed my book and headed to deck 19, after the second hour the Captain came on to explain what was going on. (Announcements like these were repeated in several other languages, with Gene always finishing in English for those of us that are less cosmopolitan) We would not be stopping in Jamaica because Jamaica has refused to let us disembark because one crew member had the flu (the regular flu) and that we would be reimbursed for our cancelled excursion and be given a $100 per stateroom shipboard credit.
Our next notification came to say that Grand Caymans was also refusing us- again the Captain stepped up and made this difficult announcement. Excursions were to be refunded, we now had a $200 per stateroom credit, 30% off our current cruise and 20% off a future cruise. (also made in writing and at our door)
We were told that Cozumel would let us dock and we were heading there to allow us excursions, however rough seas that night meant we could not dock and the next morning it turned out that Mexico wanted to test the now 2 sick people- so no Cozumel excursion and some very what the heck moments. It was at this point we were told our cruise would be 100% fully refunded and that internet would be made available to everyone that day. It was not until 12:34 am that we were told we could disembark in Cozumel. This of course sadly meant no Ocean Cay.
It says a great deal about the integrity and professionalism of the Captain to get on the speaker and make these sorts of announcements; none of what he had to say was easy or good news but he did it and that counts for a whole lot! Proper communication is the golden key (yes we were unhappy with the unforeseen events, but we got over it and made the best of a beautiful ship and wonderful crew)
Overall thoughts –
I am not sure if we will do the Meraviglia again; the ship itself was beautiful but the layout seemed a little off and neither of us enjoyed the acoustics in the galleria when there was a band playing or dance lessons. Theme nights were a little to late for our tastes, but we did enjoy formal night not only dressing up but people watching. The spa was great, I will say book early! And when you do know your excursions because the front desk has a list of times and can tell you when you should expect to be back at ship, which I found quite useful. This was also our first thermal spa pass ever and something we will do again. There were plenty of ship activities for folks (bingo, crafts, scavenger hunt, poolside games and it seemed like extras when it turned out it was just us and the sea.)
Since this was 2 years in the planning I did a lot of research prior to our cruise and I think MSC is trying very hard to listen to the US Market- our room came equipped with tissues and wash cloths, which were two items that were points of contention for several cruisers.
People – as Americans we were in the minority on this cruise, nothing to complain about just an observation. Some cultures are more loud than we are used to, but when you are on an international cruise line; you learn when to find a quiet table or when to tell someone to button it. I will also say that because of this, there were a lot less smoking violations than on other cruises. There was a designated area and those that smoked, stuck to it, and I can not stress how much this was a major plus!
We met some lovely folks during our trip (Danes, Canadians, Norwegians, French and Lithuanians.) Consensus was everyone loved the Cirque shows and for those that attended the Broadway shows were really good.
Above all the crew and musical entertainment are why we will sail MSC again. It is not easy dealing with what we experienced, but no one was unprofessional, in fact they all went above and beyond to make the best of the situation.
our steward was Summatra he was good; he stocked our mini bar with water/vodka, cleaned left fresh towels and pretty much left us alone which is what we wanted. I can not stress enough we are low maintenance and easy to please (make the bed, vacuum if necessary and fresh towels) and Summatra did just this.
We chose the suite with the hot tub at front of the ship- both rooms were spacious and definitely a lot of closet space (one walk in one small wall) the couch left a little to be desired (I think it got used a lot as a sofa bed) the deck was long – steel up midway and glass around the hot tub area. Small bathroom with shower- very nice and perfect for our needs. The tv had limited but a variety of stations (US/European selections) so we made due. While we enjoyed this room the hot tub sometimes was not hot, add the extreme amount of wind and it was not as great as it could have been. We talked at length about this and will book an aft with balcony next time -with the Aurea package we get the thermal spa so the additional hot tub on our balcony while nice was not really needed
To date we have never had a successful excursion in Cozumel, so this time we booked the Tequilla and Chocolate tour- only to have this cancelled due to the Coronavirus scare, but we decided to venture out in Cozumel proper for a little land time. to the left of the Duty Free Mall/shop we walked down the street made it to another retail area/sort of like a town square with shops ate/drank at Woody's (for the giant rita's and free wifi) and bought a few souvenirs. we then walked around the main mall area and headed right - Funky Bazaar was a cool shop in the grocery store that sold some great non souvenir clothing/accessories.