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BACKGROUND INFORMATION:I'm just back from a western Mediterranean cruise on MSC Poesia. I've traveled extensively including more than twenty cruises, on almost all of the past and present cruise lines with the exception of the luxury brands. When I consider cruises, I give high priority to the ports of call. MSC's European cruises tend to be port-intensive (that is, few "sea days") and some have unusual itineraries. That's why in 2008 I booked the MSC Orchestra's Eastern Mediterranean cruise, after which I posted a review on Cruise Critic. I booked the MSC Poesia's April 23rd 2011 8-night sailing from Barcelona, because I had never seen Barcelona, and I had only been to one of the other ports on the itinerary: Genoa, Malaga, Cadiz, Lisbon, Gibraltar, and Alicante. I liked this itinerary because there was only one "sea day," although some of the port calls were just half a day. The price for this eight night cruise was very affordable, under $900 per person double for a balcony cabin including port taxes and government fees. Having cruised on MSC previously, I didn't hesitate to make my reservation. It's a good thing I didn't wait because the cruise promptly sold out. On both of my MSC cruises, I was pleased that the median age appeared to be about 40. On some other cruise lines, I've found the median age to be in the 60s or 70s, which made me feel out of place. I hope this review helps prospective passengers, especially Americans, understand the value they will receive for their cruise dollar if they select MSC. I've attempted to focus on facts, minimizing adjectives, so that you can make your own judgment whether MSC is right for you.TRAVEL TO PORT OF EMBARKATION:I flew Air France, nonstop from Washington Dulles airport to Paris Charles de Gaulle, with a connection 110 minutes later to Barcelona. (On the way back I had a two-day stopover in Paris with no additional airfare.) In the next paragraph, I explain how to take an express bus from the Barcelona airport into the city for 5.3 Euro, Metro within the city for 1.45 Euro and a bus from the city to the port for another 2 Euro. (At the time of my trip the Euro was worth about $1.50, so multiply each of these by one and a half for dollar equivalents.) Only about 150 passengers embarked in Barcelona. Almost all of the passengers joined the cruise in Genoa and stayed on a day longer than I did, when the ship next called at Genoa. Other passengers sailed from Malaga round trip, and some did a roundtrip from Alicante. To my knowledge, other cruise lines aren't this flexible about embarking and disembarking. I think it's a good idea to pick a cruise that begins and/or ends in a port that you want to spend some time sightseeing -- and schedule your flights to arrive a couple of days before the cruise and/or to stay a couple of days after.HOTEL INFORMATION:Based on traveler reviews on another website that I don't think I can mention here, I selected a hotel in Barcelona with a radioactive name, U232. The hotel is called that because it is located at #232 Urguell St. (Calle Urguell). Online I got a rate of 130 Euro per night double, including a full (not continental) breakfast. U232 is located in the Eixample neighborhood, about a 20 minute walk from the Gothic Quarter/Las Ramblas. From the Barcelona airport I took the Aerobus, about 5.3 Euro, to the second stop at Gran Via and Urquell. From there it was a nine block walk. U232 is a block and a half from the Hospital Clinic metro. I used the metro several times and was easy and the trains run frequently, about every five minutes. It costs 1.45 Euro per trip. Multi-ride tickets and unlimited tickets are also available. On the day of the cruise I took the metro to Dressanes station, walked to the base of the Christopher Columbus monument, and took the T3 bus, at 2 Euro, directly to the ship. Altogether it took 45 minutes.STATEROOM:I usually book an inside cabin to save money, but for this cruise MSC was offering very good prices on balcony cabins so I went for that. My cabin was large enough for the two twin beds made up as a king bed, two small nightstands each with three small drawers, a small desk with two drawers, a small upholstered chair without arms, an ottoman, and a small cocktail table. There was a minibar/refrigerator. The closet had plenty of hangers for two passengers, and a set of six medium size drawers as well as a safe. I saw another balcony cabin that had a loveseat size sofabed instead of the upholstered chair, so either that cabin was three feet longer than mine, or that bed was a queen rather than two twins made up as a king. From the deck plans, it does not appear that MSC has a wide variety of cabin sizes on its ships. There are only a few suites. I didn't see one. Probably MSC keeps its prices down by keeping cabin sizes relatively small so they can have more passengers in the same overall space as cruise lines that have larger overall cabin sizes. The balcony was just large enough for two chairs with arms and a small table. With the sliding glass doors and the transparent balcony panel, the cabin didn't feel at all claustrophobic. The bed was very comfortable and all I had to do to get extra pillows was to ask the cabin attendant. As is typical for European hotels, no wash cloths were provided. No bar soap was provided, but they did have a liquid soap pump at the sink and liquid shampoo and soap dispensers in the shower. I don't think any of the cabins have bathtubs. As for smoking, it is prohibited on balconies, "discouraged" in cabins, permitted on one side of certain lounges/casino and one side of the pool deck. Everywhere else on the ship, smoking is prohibited.SHIP INFORMATION:The Poesia is almost new and looks it. The dining rooms and lounges are decorated to the same standard as Holland America and Celebrity's newest ships. To answer questions I've seen on various threads: There is no self service laundry on board. Laundry and dry cleaning are available at hotel prices. They offered a special -- up to 30 pieces of laundry for 20 Euro. I didn't send anything to the laundry so I can't comment on the quality. There is an internet cafe and they charge 4 Euro for the first ten minutes, then 0.20 Euro for each additional minute. Connection speed was fine. They offer wifi in the public areas (and you may get a signal in your cabin - if not, you can connect your computer by cable under the TV in the cabin). I didn't ask about the price of the wifi or connecting by cable in the cabin. As for cell phones, when you are at sea on any cruise ship and use your cell phone, you are almost certain to be charged a high per minute fee because your call is using satellites. I don't think the cruise lines own the satellites and I don't think the charges show up on your cabin bill at the end of the cruise. Rather, the charges will probably show up on your cell phone bill as a roaming charge. From discussions with passengers on other cruises, I've heard that it can be $5 per minute regardless of your usual cell plan. You may want to research this before you cruise, particularly if your teenagers will be on the cruise and are accustomed to incessant texting. DINING:The food on MSC is predominantly Italian. By Italian, I mean authentic Italian, what you would be served in a trattoria in Italy, not what you get at Italian theme chain restaurants in the US. You will not get a big plate spaghetti with a red tomato sauce and meatballs. You will not get a chopped, breaded veal cutlet with tomato sauce and melted cheese. You will not get a dozen jumbo shrimp on fettuccine Alfredo. Nor is MSC's cuisine like the mainstream American style cruise lines. You will not get a sirloin steak, prime rib, loin pork chops, shrimp cocktail, lobster, baked potatoes, or big wedges of layer cake or cheesecake with strawberry or cherry sauce. That is just not how Europeans eat. On the other hand, if you like the food in European cafes, MSC is a treat. Typical appetizers at lunch or dinner included avocado with seafood, smoked marlin, mozzarella and tomatoes, mussels, ham and cheese quiche, lightly battered fried shrimp, marinated octopus, salt cod fritters, smoked salmon with shrimp, and cold slices of veal on field greens. At dinner there always was a salad, which one night was mixed field greens, another night spinach with quail eggs, another night romaine with asparagus. There was a soup course and a course of pasta or risotto, varying daily. Main dishes included various fish filets (including sole and tuna), slices of leg of lamb, slices of pork loin, slices of beef in a sauce, filet mignon, rib lamb chops, game hen, duck in orange sauce and vegetarian dishes. Meat and fish portions were about 6 to 8 ounces and garnished with vegetables and potatoes. For each course, there were two or three choices, and there always was the option of a tossed salad, a chicken breast, beef paillard (I'm not sure what that was) or steamed fish. Lunch buffets offered a wide range of choices. The appetizers and entrees being served for lunch in the dining room were also available on the buffet. In addition, on the buffet every day there was pizza, pasta, hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries, cold cuts, breads, salads, and desserts. There was an ethnic corner which one day had Indian curries, another day beef and pork fajitas, another day chili con carne with beans and vegetable burritos, and another day moussaka, pork kebobs and spanikopita. I'm not sure what the other days' ethnic choices were because I had lunch in the dining room. At lunch and dinner there were two or three choices of desserts -- typically, small slices of European tarts, not American style pies and cakes. Ice cream was available at no charge in the dining room. There was an extra charge "gelateria" on the pool deck that I didn't try. The pastries and breads, including the croissants and brioches at breakfast, compared favorably with those of any restaurant or pastry shop anywhere in Europe. The lunch buffet was open until 3:00. From 4:00 to 5:00 there was tea with sandwiches and pastries. There was no dinner buffet, although I understand MSC is phasing in dinner buffets. From 5:00 until dinnertime, which varied from night to night but could be as late as 9:00 p.m. for the late seating, if you were hungry you could get a limited number of items from room service -- Italian antipasto plate, Mediterranean chicken salad, chicken Caesar salad, smoked salmon sandwich, tuna salad sandwich, ham and cheese sandwich, egg salad sandwich, grilled vegetable salad, cheese plate, fruit plate, dessert. The room service charge for one item was 3 Euro, for two items 5 Euro, plus 15% service charge. Also, from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. you could get pizza delivered to your cabin for 7 Euro. According to the daily program, around midnight each night, some food, like pizza or sandwiches, was served in the lounges. One night during the cruise they had a big midnight buffet, but I didn't stay up. Coffee and tea were available at the buffet and in the dining room at no extra charge. Fruit juices were available at breakfast at no extra charge. Sodas were available from the bars at a charge. A word about water: Tap water was available at the buffets for free but in the dining room, only bottled water was available. The liter (approx. quart) bottle was 2.42 Euro including service charge. In the dining room, wine was available by the bottle, with prices starting at 16 Euro. In addition, you could get a 500 ml (approx. 16 ounce) carafe of one white wine or one red wine for 7 Euro. 15 % service charge is added to all wine and to bar drink prices. If you bought a bottle of wine and didn't finish it, they kept it for you and brought it to the table the next night. There were two "extra charge" restaurants. One was Japanese themed, called Kaito Sushi Bar. They offered sushi (ten pieces of nigiri for 15 Euro; 8 pieces of nigiri, 1 maki, 9 pieces of sashimi for 26 Euro; soups, noodles and rice dishes from 3.50 to 5.30 Euro; tempura and teriyaki mostly 10.50 Euro; desserts from 2.80 to 4 Euro). I did not dine there. I went by one evening around 8:30 and only two tables were filled. The other "extra charge" restaurant was called L'Obelisco Restaurant and it was set up at night where they had the buffet during the day. It was Italian themed, a la carte. I looked at the menu one night and they were offering three courses for 20 Euro. Six or eight tables were filled. The people were dressed up, so perhaps they were celebrating special events and wanted a more private setting with more personalized attention from the waiters than they would get in the regular dining room. I did not dine there so I can't compare the food with the main dining room.ACTIVITIES: There were trivia games (translated into five languages), dance lessons, cooking demonstrations, wine lectures and wine tasting, bingo, contests, etc. . . . The "animation" team, young staff members who ran these activities, were very enthusiastic and got a lot of participation from the passengers. CHILDREN'S CLUB: There was a children's club, and lots of kids on board because of Easter vacations. I didn't observe the club or its activities. The children all ate with their parents, which meant they came to the dining room for dinner regardless of age (unless they got room service, see above).SERVICE:Service in the dining room was prompt and courteous, as on other mainstream cruise lines. One night the waiter couldn't find the wine bottle that I had bought the night before and had only consumed part of; when I called the maitre d' over, he quickly solved the problem by bringing a full bottle of the same wine. I had a few short interactions with the front desk staff, who were cheerful, helpful and efficient. The excursion staff did not push the ship's tours; while pointing out the features of the ship's tours, they also described what a person could see on his or her own. By the third time I went to the excursion desk, one of the women recognized me by name and recommended a tour for the next day based on what she remembered from our discussion of what I had enjoyed on a previous day's sightseeing. A word about tipping: MSC, like most mainstream cruise lines, automatically adds a daily service charge to your cabin bill. On Mediterranean cruises it's 7 Euro (about $10) per person per day. You can ask to have it removed and they will comply. (I observed that happening.) However, 1. the crew members are mostly from very poor countries, predominantly Indonesia, working for very low wages, and rely on the tips to support their families; 2. even if you tip the people that you think gave you excellent service, like your cabin steward, waiter and assistant waiter, you are inadvertently "stiffing" the other staff members, including those who set up and take down the buffets and the waiters and assistant waiters who serve you at breakfast and lunch, where tables are not assigned; and 3. if you can afford to take a cruise, and the airfare to and from the cruise, you can afford to tip for the service you receive. Just as service is not included in restaurants in the US, it's not included in the cruise fare on MSC or most of the other cruise lines. Think about just how much you would tip on three meals a day and you will see that 7 Euro is a bargain because it also covers the cabin attendant and many unseen staff who make your cruise enjoyable.ENTERTAINMENT:Because the passengers on MSC's Mediterranean cruises come from many countries, speaking German, Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Serbo-Croatian, etc. as well as English, the entertainment must be primarily non-verbal. (A comedian would have a hard time telling each joke in five languages.) The shows were all about 45 minutes. The first night the show was opera selections sung by a soprano and a tenor, accompanied by a trio (piano and two violins). The second night was a variety show with several dance numbers (one very imaginative showing only the dancers' hands in gloves with black light), a male soloist singing Broadway show tunes, an acrobat/strongman, a juggler, and a can-can production number. The third night the show was a combination of singing, dancing, acrobatics, gymnastics, aerialists and special effects. I skipped the show the fourth night; it was "Stars on Broadway." The fifth night was another variety show with dance production numbers, a juggler, a magician, and gymnasts. The sixth night was opera selections and some other classic songs, sung by the same soprano and tenor as the first night, plus a third female singer; they were accompanied by the trio described above. The seventh night was an American theme song and dance review, with acrobat/strongmen and a rodeo rope twirling expert. (Is there a name for that?) The eighth night was a combination of elements of the previous shows -- singing, dancing, acrobatics, an aerialist, gymnasts, and opera. In addition to the shows, there was live music and dancing every evening in five different lounges, all but one of which continued past midnight. PORT & SHORE EXCURSIONS:BARCELONA: Barcelona is known for its modernistic architecture (particularly the Gaudi buildings) and street scenes. If you take a cruise in and/or out of Barcelona, be sure to allow at least two or three days for exploration. Plan at least half a day for a visit to Parc Guell, designed by Gaudi as a private garden for a wealthy subdivision that never was built. The park, with its fanciful pavilions with stone arches imitating palm trees, is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is impossible to describe in words; you may want to research it online. Also allow half a day to visit Mt. Tibidabo with its funicular railway to the top for fantastic views. It amazes me that cruise passengers sometimes arrive at the port of embarkation mere hours before their cruise, when that port may be the most interesting on their itinerary. (Not to mention the risk of missing the cruise if a flight is delayed or a connection is missed.) The passengers on my cruise who embarked in Genoa, Malaga or Alicante only got a half day port call in Barcelona.GENOA: I took the ship's half day tour to Portofino, which involved a 45 minute bus ride followed by a 15 minute ferry boat ride from Santa Margherita Ligure to Portofino. The tour gives you two hours to explore Portofino, returning to the ship by lunchtime. The particular day I went on the excursion was Easter Sunday, and two MSC ships were in port in Genoa. Some miscues with the local tour company resulted in us standing and waiting half an hour for the bus at the beginning of the day, and again in Santa Margherita. The bus also could not bring us to the terminal where our ship was docked. We had to walk from a parking lot about five minutes away. After lunch I walked into the old port area of Genoa, which is another UNESCO world heritage site. Other attractions, which I had seen on a previous trip to Genoa, include an aquarium, a maritime museum, various palazzos and art museums, and the monumental Staglieno Cemetery, which I cannot describe adequately here. I encourage you to research it online or in a guide book if you have the opportunity to visit Genoa. On my previous trip, I took a city bus, line 34 from Staz. Principe (which I think means the main train station) right to Staglieno. MALAGA: In Malaga, I took the ship's 99 Euro 7-hour excursion to the Alhambra Palace, also a UNESCO world heritage site. The Alhambra is not to be missed despite the two hour (each way) bus ride from Malaga. The tour left at 1:15 p.m., and returned around 8:15 p.m. MSC set up a buffet dinner so those of us with the early dinner sitting didn't go hungry.CADIZ: I didn't take an excursion in Cadiz because the historic city center is an easy walk from the port. I especially enjoyed the gardens along the northern and western seafronts. Cadiz dates back to 1100 BC and also is where Spain's constitution was proclaimed in 1812. The narrow streets are charming.LISBON: The ship docked 8 km (5 miles) from the center of Lisbon. For those like me not taking the ship's excursions, MSC offered shuttle service for 10 Euro (all day roundtrip). The shuttle stop in town is very near a large square along the river. I think the square is called the Placa de Comercio. In a corner of the Placa is a large entrance to the Metro, marked Terreiro do Paco. I went into the Metro station and bought an all day pass for all the buses, metro and trams for 3.95 Euro. I did not ride the Metro or buses, but I did take tram #28 to the castle, Castelo de S. Jorge, built by the Moors in the mid-11th Century. Admission is 7 Euro and there is plenty to see, including a museum that I didn't take the time to visit. After the castle, I got back on the #28 tram, rode it in the same direction to the end of the line, got off, got back on, and rode it the other direction to the Bairro Alto neighborhood, where I had lunch at an outdoor restaurant -- whole grilled Dorado fish with potatoes, fresh beans, bread and bottled water for less than 10 Euro. Then back on tram #28 to go back to where I first got on. Then I walked a few blocks to the Elevador de Santa Justa, an outdoor wrought iron structure about ten stories high, built over 100 years ago that contains two elevators up to a platform with an excellent view of all of Lisbon. The elevator ride itself was free with the all day transit card I had bought. I was satisfied to look around on the level where the elevator left me off, viewing the city through a chain link fence. If I had wanted to walk up the flight of stairs to the viewing platform it would have been another 1.5 Euro. GIBRALTAR: The Gibraltar port call was on the day of Will and Kate's wedding, so it was a holiday. It was a short port call, 2:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. (It was scheduled for 2:30 arrival but we got there early.) I didn't take any of the ship's excursions. Instead, I visited the "rock" on my own. The ship docked about a twenty minute walk from the town. A local shuttle company offered round trip transportation for 4 GBP (pounds), about $7 but I walked. I continued to walk through the town, along the main street, to the base of the cable car. I paid 24.50 Euro for a ticket that included the cable car to the "Top of the Rock," as well as admission to the other attractions that are available on the walk down (which took about 2 hours with minimal time spent at each attraction -- I could have spent more time at the attractions and still made it to the ship on time but I wasn't sure how long the walk was). Here's what you can see along this route: At the Top of the Rock, a viewpoint from which you can see all of Gibraltar, as well as Spain and on a clear day (which wasn't the case for me), Morocco. Then a one km. (half mile) walk to St. Michael's Cave (steep steps and low lighting, but very interesting). Then another one km. (half mile) walk to the center of the area where a group (family? herd?) of Barbary Apes live. There are plenty of them and they are, unfortunately, not afraid of people. They jump on people and try to open their backpacks. They steal ice cream cones from children's hands. They climb up to the tops of cars. They cause traffic jams. They are fun to watch. Then a 2 km. (1.5 mile) walk to The Great Siege tunnels and WW II Tunnels (you can see antiaircraft guns), then a short walk to the Moorish Castle (you can climb all around inside). The town had all kinds of shops, from expensive jewelry to tee shirts. Shoppers probably would be happy to stay in the town while nonshoppers would enjoy the sights. What I missed by not taking a bus or taxi tour was the south side of Gibraltar with a mosque and a lighthouse that is the southernmost lighthouse in Europe, called Point Europa. However, I did get to see these as we sailed out of Gibraltar. That side of Gibraltar, and the uninhabited side on the East, are the most recognizable. (Think about the bank that uses "the Rock" as its logo.)ALICANTE: This was another afternoon port call, and I didn't go on an excursion from the ship. There was a free shuttle from the cruise ship terminal to the maritime terminal next to the Melia hotel, at the edge of the town. From the town you can walk all the way up to the Santa Barbara castle, but I decided to pay 10 Euro for the "Turibus," a hop on-hop off double decker bus that takes one hour to go around the tourist sites in Alicante. You can get off at any of the ten stops and get on a later bus. They run about fifteen minutes apart. In addition to the castle which dates back to the 9th century, you can visit the central market, the award-winning archaeological museum and various plazas. I especially enjoyed the castle, which is very extensive and beautifully built into the hillside. I walked down from the castle through the old part of the city to the maritime terminal to get the shuttle back to the ship.DISEMBARKATION:Disembarkation was easy. Suitcases had to be outside the cabin door by 2:00 a.m. I had to be out of my cabin by 8:00 a.m., after which I went to breakfast and waited in the designated lounge for my baggage ticket color to be called. At 8:45 I walked off the ship and into the terminal and my suitcase was there. Some passengers were checking their luggage, for a fee (I don't know how much) so they could do sightseeing in Barcelona before heading to the airport for later flights. Because so few passengers disembarked in Barcelona, MSC did not offer airport transfers. (Or if they did, I wasn't aware.) I took a taxi which cost about 38 Euro and took about 30 minutes. SUMMARY:Cruising the Mediterranean on MSC is a European experience. Travelers who appreciate European ambiance and cuisine should be very happy with MSC. American travelers who want to feel like they are still in the USA even when they are traveling abroad may prefer an American style cruise line (but should be expected to pay much more than they would on MSC).DISCLAIMER:I emailed the USA manager for MSC prior to my cruise to ask his assistance in getting the early dinner seating (I had been assigned the late seating). He sent an email to the Poesia's "hotel" manager who put me in the early seating and had a staff member expedite my embarkation in Barcelona. The same staff member gave me a tour of the bridge. As a past passenger on MSC I was invited to a captain's cocktail party on the last night of my cruise. None of the above influenced this review, as you will see that I have provided detailed, factual information with few adjectives and even fewer adverbs. Author Stephen King said that the road to Hell is paved with adverbs and I don't want to go there.

Cruising on MSC is Itself a Visit to Europe

MSC Poesia Cruise Review by moveup

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Trip Details
BACKGROUND INFORMATION:I'm just back from a western Mediterranean cruise on MSC Poesia. I've traveled extensively including more than twenty cruises, on almost all of the past and present cruise lines with the exception of the luxury brands. When I consider cruises, I give high priority to the ports of call. MSC's European cruises tend to be port-intensive (that is, few "sea days") and some have unusual itineraries. That's why in 2008 I booked the MSC Orchestra's Eastern Mediterranean cruise, after which I posted a review on Cruise Critic. I booked the MSC Poesia's April 23rd 2011 8-night sailing from Barcelona, because I had never seen Barcelona, and I had only been to one of the other ports on the itinerary: Genoa, Malaga, Cadiz, Lisbon, Gibraltar, and Alicante. I liked this itinerary because there was only one "sea day," although some of the port calls were just half a day. The price for this eight night cruise was very affordable, under $900 per person double for a balcony cabin including port taxes and government fees. Having cruised on MSC previously, I didn't hesitate to make my reservation. It's a good thing I didn't wait because the cruise promptly sold out. On both of my MSC cruises, I was pleased that the median age appeared to be about 40. On some other cruise lines, I've found the median age to be in the 60s or 70s, which made me feel out of place. I hope this review helps prospective passengers, especially Americans, understand the value they will receive for their cruise dollar if they select MSC. I've attempted to focus on facts, minimizing adjectives, so that you can make your own judgment whether MSC is right for you.TRAVEL TO PORT OF EMBARKATION:I flew Air France, nonstop from Washington Dulles airport to Paris Charles de Gaulle, with a connection 110 minutes later to Barcelona. (On the way back I had a two-day stopover in Paris with no additional airfare.) In the next paragraph, I explain how to take an express bus from the Barcelona airport into the city for 5.3 Euro, Metro within the city for 1.45 Euro and a bus from the city to the port for another 2 Euro. (At the time of my trip the Euro was worth about $1.50, so multiply each of these by one and a half for dollar equivalents.) Only about 150 passengers embarked in Barcelona. Almost all of the passengers joined the cruise in Genoa and stayed on a day longer than I did, when the ship next called at Genoa. Other passengers sailed from Malaga round trip, and some did a roundtrip from Alicante. To my knowledge, other cruise lines aren't this flexible about embarking and disembarking. I think it's a good idea to pick a cruise that begins and/or ends in a port that you want to spend some time sightseeing -- and schedule your flights to arrive a couple of days before the cruise and/or to stay a couple of days after.HOTEL INFORMATION:Based on traveler reviews on another website that I don't think I can mention here, I selected a hotel in Barcelona with a radioactive name, U232. The hotel is called that because it is located at #232 Urguell St. (Calle Urguell). Online I got a rate of 130 Euro per night double, including a full (not continental) breakfast. U232 is located in the Eixample neighborhood, about a 20 minute walk from the Gothic Quarter/Las Ramblas. From the Barcelona airport I took the Aerobus, about 5.3 Euro, to the second stop at Gran Via and Urquell. From there it was a nine block walk. U232 is a block and a half from the Hospital Clinic metro. I used the metro several times and was easy and the trains run frequently, about every five minutes. It costs 1.45 Euro per trip. Multi-ride tickets and unlimited tickets are also available. On the day of the cruise I took the metro to Dressanes station, walked to the base of the Christopher Columbus monument, and took the T3 bus, at 2 Euro, directly to the ship. Altogether it took 45 minutes.STATEROOM:I usually book an inside cabin to save money, but for this cruise MSC was offering very good prices on balcony cabins so I went for that. My cabin was large enough for the two twin beds made up as a king bed, two small nightstands each with three small drawers, a small desk with two drawers, a small upholstered chair without arms, an ottoman, and a small cocktail table. There was a minibar/refrigerator. The closet had plenty of hangers for two passengers, and a set of six medium size drawers as well as a safe. I saw another balcony cabin that had a loveseat size sofabed instead of the upholstered chair, so either that cabin was three feet longer than mine, or that bed was a queen rather than two twins made up as a king. From the deck plans, it does not appear that MSC has a wide variety of cabin sizes on its ships. There are only a few suites. I didn't see one. Probably MSC keeps its prices down by keeping cabin sizes relatively small so they can have more passengers in the same overall space as cruise lines that have larger overall cabin sizes. The balcony was just large enough for two chairs with arms and a small table. With the sliding glass doors and the transparent balcony panel, the cabin didn't feel at all claustrophobic. The bed was very comfortable and all I had to do to get extra pillows was to ask the cabin attendant. As is typical for European hotels, no wash cloths were provided. No bar soap was provided, but they did have a liquid soap pump at the sink and liquid shampoo and soap dispensers in the shower. I don't think any of the cabins have bathtubs. As for smoking, it is prohibited on balconies, "discouraged" in cabins, permitted on one side of certain lounges/casino and one side of the pool deck. Everywhere else on the ship, smoking is prohibited.SHIP INFORMATION:The Poesia is almost new and looks it. The dining rooms and lounges are decorated to the same standard as Holland America and Celebrity's newest ships. To answer questions I've seen on various threads: There is no self service laundry on board. Laundry and dry cleaning are available at hotel prices. They offered a special -- up to 30 pieces of laundry for 20 Euro. I didn't send anything to the laundry so I can't comment on the quality. There is an internet cafe and they charge 4 Euro for the first ten minutes, then 0.20 Euro for each additional minute. Connection speed was fine. They offer wifi in the public areas (and you may get a signal in your cabin - if not, you can connect your computer by cable under the TV in the cabin). I didn't ask about the price of the wifi or connecting by cable in the cabin. As for cell phones, when you are at sea on any cruise ship and use your cell phone, you are almost certain to be charged a high per minute fee because your call is using satellites. I don't think the cruise lines own the satellites and I don't think the charges show up on your cabin bill at the end of the cruise. Rather, the charges will probably show up on your cell phone bill as a roaming charge. From discussions with passengers on other cruises, I've heard that it can be $5 per minute regardless of your usual cell plan. You may want to research this before you cruise, particularly if your teenagers will be on the cruise and are accustomed to incessant texting. DINING:The food on MSC is predominantly Italian. By Italian, I mean authentic Italian, what you would be served in a trattoria in Italy, not what you get at Italian theme chain restaurants in the US. You will not get a big plate spaghetti with a red tomato sauce and meatballs. You will not get a chopped, breaded veal cutlet with tomato sauce and melted cheese. You will not get a dozen jumbo shrimp on fettuccine Alfredo. Nor is MSC's cuisine like the mainstream American style cruise lines. You will not get a sirloin steak, prime rib, loin pork chops, shrimp cocktail, lobster, baked potatoes, or big wedges of layer cake or cheesecake with strawberry or cherry sauce. That is just not how Europeans eat. On the other hand, if you like the food in European cafes, MSC is a treat. Typical appetizers at lunch or dinner included avocado with seafood, smoked marlin, mozzarella and tomatoes, mussels, ham and cheese quiche, lightly battered fried shrimp, marinated octopus, salt cod fritters, smoked salmon with shrimp, and cold slices of veal on field greens. At dinner there always was a salad, which one night was mixed field greens, another night spinach with quail eggs, another night romaine with asparagus. There was a soup course and a course of pasta or risotto, varying daily. Main dishes included various fish filets (including sole and tuna), slices of leg of lamb, slices of pork loin, slices of beef in a sauce, filet mignon, rib lamb chops, game hen, duck in orange sauce and vegetarian dishes. Meat and fish portions were about 6 to 8 ounces and garnished with vegetables and potatoes. For each course, there were two or three choices, and there always was the option of a tossed salad, a chicken breast, beef paillard (I'm not sure what that was) or steamed fish. Lunch buffets offered a wide range of choices. The appetizers and entrees being served for lunch in the dining room were also available on the buffet. In addition, on the buffet every day there was pizza, pasta, hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries, cold cuts, breads, salads, and desserts. There was an ethnic corner which one day had Indian curries, another day beef and pork fajitas, another day chili con carne with beans and vegetable burritos, and another day moussaka, pork kebobs and spanikopita. I'm not sure what the other days' ethnic choices were because I had lunch in the dining room. At lunch and dinner there were two or three choices of desserts -- typically, small slices of European tarts, not American style pies and cakes. Ice cream was available at no charge in the dining room. There was an extra charge "gelateria" on the pool deck that I didn't try. The pastries and breads, including the croissants and brioches at breakfast, compared favorably with those of any restaurant or pastry shop anywhere in Europe. The lunch buffet was open until 3:00. From 4:00 to 5:00 there was tea with sandwiches and pastries. There was no dinner buffet, although I understand MSC is phasing in dinner buffets. From 5:00 until dinnertime, which varied from night to night but could be as late as 9:00 p.m. for the late seating, if you were hungry you could get a limited number of items from room service -- Italian antipasto plate, Mediterranean chicken salad, chicken Caesar salad, smoked salmon sandwich, tuna salad sandwich, ham and cheese sandwich, egg salad sandwich, grilled vegetable salad, cheese plate, fruit plate, dessert. The room service charge for one item was 3 Euro, for two items 5 Euro, plus 15% service charge. Also, from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. you could get pizza delivered to your cabin for 7 Euro. According to the daily program, around midnight each night, some food, like pizza or sandwiches, was served in the lounges. One night during the cruise they had a big midnight buffet, but I didn't stay up. Coffee and tea were available at the buffet and in the dining room at no extra charge. Fruit juices were available at breakfast at no extra charge. Sodas were available from the bars at a charge. A word about water: Tap water was available at the buffets for free but in the dining room, only bottled water was available. The liter (approx. quart) bottle was 2.42 Euro including service charge. In the dining room, wine was available by the bottle, with prices starting at 16 Euro. In addition, you could get a 500 ml (approx. 16 ounce) carafe of one white wine or one red wine for 7 Euro. 15 % service charge is added to all wine and to bar drink prices. If you bought a bottle of wine and didn't finish it, they kept it for you and brought it to the table the next night. There were two "extra charge" restaurants. One was Japanese themed, called Kaito Sushi Bar. They offered sushi (ten pieces of nigiri for 15 Euro; 8 pieces of nigiri, 1 maki, 9 pieces of sashimi for 26 Euro; soups, noodles and rice dishes from 3.50 to 5.30 Euro; tempura and teriyaki mostly 10.50 Euro; desserts from 2.80 to 4 Euro). I did not dine there. I went by one evening around 8:30 and only two tables were filled. The other "extra charge" restaurant was called L'Obelisco Restaurant and it was set up at night where they had the buffet during the day. It was Italian themed, a la carte. I looked at the menu one night and they were offering three courses for 20 Euro. Six or eight tables were filled. The people were dressed up, so perhaps they were celebrating special events and wanted a more private setting with more personalized attention from the waiters than they would get in the regular dining room. I did not dine there so I can't compare the food with the main dining room.ACTIVITIES: There were trivia games (translated into five languages), dance lessons, cooking demonstrations, wine lectures and wine tasting, bingo, contests, etc. . . . The "animation" team, young staff members who ran these activities, were very enthusiastic and got a lot of participation from the passengers. CHILDREN'S CLUB: There was a children's club, and lots of kids on board because of Easter vacations. I didn't observe the club or its activities. The children all ate with their parents, which meant they came to the dining room for dinner regardless of age (unless they got room service, see above).SERVICE:Service in the dining room was prompt and courteous, as on other mainstream cruise lines. One night the waiter couldn't find the wine bottle that I had bought the night before and had only consumed part of; when I called the maitre d' over, he quickly solved the problem by bringing a full bottle of the same wine. I had a few short interactions with the front desk staff, who were cheerful, helpful and efficient. The excursion staff did not push the ship's tours; while pointing out the features of the ship's tours, they also described what a person could see on his or her own. By the third time I went to the excursion desk, one of the women recognized me by name and recommended a tour for the next day based on what she remembered from our discussion of what I had enjoyed on a previous day's sightseeing. A word about tipping: MSC, like most mainstream cruise lines, automatically adds a daily service charge to your cabin bill. On Mediterranean cruises it's 7 Euro (about $10) per person per day. You can ask to have it removed and they will comply. (I observed that happening.) However, 1. the crew members are mostly from very poor countries, predominantly Indonesia, working for very low wages, and rely on the tips to support their families; 2. even if you tip the people that you think gave you excellent service, like your cabin steward, waiter and assistant waiter, you are inadvertently "stiffing" the other staff members, including those who set up and take down the buffets and the waiters and assistant waiters who serve you at breakfast and lunch, where tables are not assigned; and 3. if you can afford to take a cruise, and the airfare to and from the cruise, you can afford to tip for the service you receive. Just as service is not included in restaurants in the US, it's not included in the cruise fare on MSC or most of the other cruise lines. Think about just how much you would tip on three meals a day and you will see that 7 Euro is a bargain because it also covers the cabin attendant and many unseen staff who make your cruise enjoyable.ENTERTAINMENT:Because the passengers on MSC's Mediterranean cruises come from many countries, speaking German, Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Serbo-Croatian, etc. as well as English, the entertainment must be primarily non-verbal. (A comedian would have a hard time telling each joke in five languages.) The shows were all about 45 minutes. The first night the show was opera selections sung by a soprano and a tenor, accompanied by a trio (piano and two violins). The second night was a variety show with several dance numbers (one very imaginative showing only the dancers' hands in gloves with black light), a male soloist singing Broadway show tunes, an acrobat/strongman, a juggler, and a can-can production number. The third night the show was a combination of singing, dancing, acrobatics, gymnastics, aerialists and special effects. I skipped the show the fourth night; it was "Stars on Broadway." The fifth night was another variety show with dance production numbers, a juggler, a magician, and gymnasts. The sixth night was opera selections and some other classic songs, sung by the same soprano and tenor as the first night, plus a third female singer; they were accompanied by the trio described above. The seventh night was an American theme song and dance review, with acrobat/strongmen and a rodeo rope twirling expert. (Is there a name for that?) The eighth night was a combination of elements of the previous shows -- singing, dancing, acrobatics, an aerialist, gymnasts, and opera. In addition to the shows, there was live music and dancing every evening in five different lounges, all but one of which continued past midnight. PORT & SHORE EXCURSIONS:BARCELONA: Barcelona is known for its modernistic architecture (particularly the Gaudi buildings) and street scenes. If you take a cruise in and/or out of Barcelona, be sure to allow at least two or three days for exploration. Plan at least half a day for a visit to Parc Guell, designed by Gaudi as a private garden for a wealthy subdivision that never was built. The park, with its fanciful pavilions with stone arches imitating palm trees, is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is impossible to describe in words; you may want to research it online. Also allow half a day to visit Mt. Tibidabo with its funicular railway to the top for fantastic views. It amazes me that cruise passengers sometimes arrive at the port of embarkation mere hours before their cruise, when that port may be the most interesting on their itinerary. (Not to mention the risk of missing the cruise if a flight is delayed or a connection is missed.) The passengers on my cruise who embarked in Genoa, Malaga or Alicante only got a half day port call in Barcelona.GENOA: I took the ship's half day tour to Portofino, which involved a 45 minute bus ride followed by a 15 minute ferry boat ride from Santa Margherita Ligure to Portofino. The tour gives you two hours to explore Portofino, returning to the ship by lunchtime. The particular day I went on the excursion was Easter Sunday, and two MSC ships were in port in Genoa. Some miscues with the local tour company resulted in us standing and waiting half an hour for the bus at the beginning of the day, and again in Santa Margherita. The bus also could not bring us to the terminal where our ship was docked. We had to walk from a parking lot about five minutes away. After lunch I walked into the old port area of Genoa, which is another UNESCO world heritage site. Other attractions, which I had seen on a previous trip to Genoa, include an aquarium, a maritime museum, various palazzos and art museums, and the monumental Staglieno Cemetery, which I cannot describe adequately here. I encourage you to research it online or in a guide book if you have the opportunity to visit Genoa. On my previous trip, I took a city bus, line 34 from Staz. Principe (which I think means the main train station) right to Staglieno. MALAGA: In Malaga, I took the ship's 99 Euro 7-hour excursion to the Alhambra Palace, also a UNESCO world heritage site. The Alhambra is not to be missed despite the two hour (each way) bus ride from Malaga. The tour left at 1:15 p.m., and returned around 8:15 p.m. MSC set up a buffet dinner so those of us with the early dinner sitting didn't go hungry.CADIZ: I didn't take an excursion in Cadiz because the historic city center is an easy walk from the port. I especially enjoyed the gardens along the northern and western seafronts. Cadiz dates back to 1100 BC and also is where Spain's constitution was proclaimed in 1812. The narrow streets are charming.LISBON: The ship docked 8 km (5 miles) from the center of Lisbon. For those like me not taking the ship's excursions, MSC offered shuttle service for 10 Euro (all day roundtrip). The shuttle stop in town is very near a large square along the river. I think the square is called the Placa de Comercio. In a corner of the Placa is a large entrance to the Metro, marked Terreiro do Paco. I went into the Metro station and bought an all day pass for all the buses, metro and trams for 3.95 Euro. I did not ride the Metro or buses, but I did take tram #28 to the castle, Castelo de S. Jorge, built by the Moors in the mid-11th Century. Admission is 7 Euro and there is plenty to see, including a museum that I didn't take the time to visit. After the castle, I got back on the #28 tram, rode it in the same direction to the end of the line, got off, got back on, and rode it the other direction to the Bairro Alto neighborhood, where I had lunch at an outdoor restaurant -- whole grilled Dorado fish with potatoes, fresh beans, bread and bottled water for less than 10 Euro. Then back on tram #28 to go back to where I first got on. Then I walked a few blocks to the Elevador de Santa Justa, an outdoor wrought iron structure about ten stories high, built over 100 years ago that contains two elevators up to a platform with an excellent view of all of Lisbon. The elevator ride itself was free with the all day transit card I had bought. I was satisfied to look around on the level where the elevator left me off, viewing the city through a chain link fence. If I had wanted to walk up the flight of stairs to the viewing platform it would have been another 1.5 Euro. GIBRALTAR: The Gibraltar port call was on the day of Will and Kate's wedding, so it was a holiday. It was a short port call, 2:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. (It was scheduled for 2:30 arrival but we got there early.) I didn't take any of the ship's excursions. Instead, I visited the "rock" on my own. The ship docked about a twenty minute walk from the town. A local shuttle company offered round trip transportation for 4 GBP (pounds), about $7 but I walked. I continued to walk through the town, along the main street, to the base of the cable car. I paid 24.50 Euro for a ticket that included the cable car to the "Top of the Rock," as well as admission to the other attractions that are available on the walk down (which took about 2 hours with minimal time spent at each attraction -- I could have spent more time at the attractions and still made it to the ship on time but I wasn't sure how long the walk was). Here's what you can see along this route: At the Top of the Rock, a viewpoint from which you can see all of Gibraltar, as well as Spain and on a clear day (which wasn't the case for me), Morocco. Then a one km. (half mile) walk to St. Michael's Cave (steep steps and low lighting, but very interesting). Then another one km. (half mile) walk to the center of the area where a group (family? herd?) of Barbary Apes live. There are plenty of them and they are, unfortunately, not afraid of people. They jump on people and try to open their backpacks. They steal ice cream cones from children's hands. They climb up to the tops of cars. They cause traffic jams. They are fun to watch. Then a 2 km. (1.5 mile) walk to The Great Siege tunnels and WW II Tunnels (you can see antiaircraft guns), then a short walk to the Moorish Castle (you can climb all around inside). The town had all kinds of shops, from expensive jewelry to tee shirts. Shoppers probably would be happy to stay in the town while nonshoppers would enjoy the sights. What I missed by not taking a bus or taxi tour was the south side of Gibraltar with a mosque and a lighthouse that is the southernmost lighthouse in Europe, called Point Europa. However, I did get to see these as we sailed out of Gibraltar. That side of Gibraltar, and the uninhabited side on the East, are the most recognizable. (Think about the bank that uses "the Rock" as its logo.)ALICANTE: This was another afternoon port call, and I didn't go on an excursion from the ship. There was a free shuttle from the cruise ship terminal to the maritime terminal next to the Melia hotel, at the edge of the town. From the town you can walk all the way up to the Santa Barbara castle, but I decided to pay 10 Euro for the "Turibus," a hop on-hop off double decker bus that takes one hour to go around the tourist sites in Alicante. You can get off at any of the ten stops and get on a later bus. They run about fifteen minutes apart. In addition to the castle which dates back to the 9th century, you can visit the central market, the award-winning archaeological museum and various plazas. I especially enjoyed the castle, which is very extensive and beautifully built into the hillside. I walked down from the castle through the old part of the city to the maritime terminal to get the shuttle back to the ship.DISEMBARKATION:Disembarkation was easy. Suitcases had to be outside the cabin door by 2:00 a.m. I had to be out of my cabin by 8:00 a.m., after which I went to breakfast and waited in the designated lounge for my baggage ticket color to be called. At 8:45 I walked off the ship and into the terminal and my suitcase was there. Some passengers were checking their luggage, for a fee (I don't know how much) so they could do sightseeing in Barcelona before heading to the airport for later flights. Because so few passengers disembarked in Barcelona, MSC did not offer airport transfers. (Or if they did, I wasn't aware.) I took a taxi which cost about 38 Euro and took about 30 minutes. SUMMARY:Cruising the Mediterranean on MSC is a European experience. Travelers who appreciate European ambiance and cuisine should be very happy with MSC. American travelers who want to feel like they are still in the USA even when they are traveling abroad may prefer an American style cruise line (but should be expected to pay much more than they would on MSC).DISCLAIMER:I emailed the USA manager for MSC prior to my cruise to ask his assistance in getting the early dinner seating (I had been assigned the late seating). He sent an email to the Poesia's "hotel" manager who put me in the early seating and had a staff member expedite my embarkation in Barcelona. The same staff member gave me a tour of the bridge. As a past passenger on MSC I was invited to a captain's cocktail party on the last night of my cruise. None of the above influenced this review, as you will see that I have provided detailed, factual information with few adjectives and even fewer adverbs. Author Stephen King said that the road to Hell is paved with adverbs and I don't want to go there.
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Cabin Review

Cabin 9045
My cabin was large enough for the two twin beds made up as a king bed, two small nightstands each with three small drawers, a small desk with two drawers, a small upholstered chair without arms, an ottoman, and a small cocktail table. There was a minibar/refrigerator. The closet had plenty of hangers for two passengers, and a set of six medium size drawers as well as a safe. I saw another balcony cabin that had a loveseat size sofabed instead of the upholstered chair, so either that cabin was three feet longer than mine, or that bed was a queen rather than two twins made up as a king. The balcony was just large enough for two chairs with arms and a small table. With the sliding glass doors and the transparent balcony panel, the cabin didn't feel at all claustrophobic. The bed was very comfortable and all I had to do to get extra pillows was to ask the cabin attendant.
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