This was our family's first cruise. We chose MSC due to the itinerary. The sailing dates matched nearly perfect with our high school kids spring break, and we were going to be able to visit one of our bucket list destinations, ... Read More
This was our family's first cruise. We chose MSC due to the itinerary. The sailing dates matched nearly perfect with our high school kids spring break, and we were going to be able to visit one of our bucket list destinations, Havana, Cuba.
Arriving in Miami around 1:00 pm, embarkation began for us immediately. The bag drop service was very simple and quick. Entering the terminal, things were very organized, signs and employees directing you, answering questions, and providing general help. We entered the long line, but it moved very quickly, about 20 minutes until we were at a window checking in for our week.
Prior to stepping on the ship, we pass through security, and our kids cards were mixed up. The security officer told us that we needed to go to guest services on the ship and have new cards printed (he kept their cards). Once onboard, we were a bit confused as where to go, but after a quick question to one of the eager crew members, we were directed to guest services and the problem was solved.
Once we found our cabins and unpacked, we decided to explore the ship. We had read that this ship is MSC's oldest in their fleet. We have nothing to compare it to, but the only thing that looked as though needed some updating was the carpeting. The ship is not a "mega-ship" which we were excited about, as we didn't want to be onboard with 5000+ people. this ship was only approximately 2000 guests and 600 crew we were told.
The ship to us seemed to be a “no-frills” ship. There were several bars, a small casino, two small pools, a splash pad for little kids, a basketball court, and a mini golf course. If you’re looking for water slides, rock climbing walls, etc, this is not the ship for you.
The ship was always kept clean. I was amazed at the fact there was never any garbage lying around. However, it seemed as though there were no garbage cans for public use anywhere except the restrooms. When you had something to throw away, you needed to either carry it with you to the restroom, or drop it off at either a bus station in the restaurants or bar.
The poolside bars were convenient to grab a drink, but they were extremely slow. I did not see any bar staff taking drink orders and bringing drinks to you on the sundecks. Many times we waited longer than 7 minutes for a drink. Unless you were ordering an unmixed drink (vodka on the rocks for example), the drinks had a very light pour. We did not purchase a drink package, but we did book the “Fantastica” and were given a book of drink tickets (12). After the tickets were gone, we used our cruise card to purchase the drinks. We saved about $160 for our cabin and another $400 for our children’s cabin.
The casino bar had much faster service.
The Bar del Duomo was fun as well, as a lot of different parties and activities were centered here. Again, bar service was slow, even if the bar was nearly empty. I fully understand that the typical “frozen drink” takes time to make, but a 6-7 minute wait time for a vodka/soda is a bit absurd.
We did not drink in the Bacardi Rum bar.
We did not drink in the Coffee Bar with the exception of one cup of regular coffee.
The shows in the Teatro La Fenice were good. The shows were a variety of different shows, singing and dancing, acrobatic, comedy, audience participation. Each night had multiple showings at least 2, sometimes a third different show later to accomodate all who wanted to see a show.
We had read many reviews prior to cruising that the food was mediocre at best. I disagree. For us, living in Chicago, it is difficult to travel and get the same quality of food that is available for us in the restaurants here, so we do not expect much when we travel. Additionally, my wife has dietary restrictions (gluten free) that need to be maintained.
Pizza Bar: My kids and I all thought this was good. They serve pizza from immediately after the breakfast hours until approximately 1:00 am. They serve a variety of thin crust (NY Style) pizza that are good. The one exception that I experienced was the pizza with cut up hot dogs on it that they attempted to pass as a “sausage pizza”.
For breakfast hours pizza bar served forms of a breakfast pizza (did not try), pancakes, waffles, donuts.
Burger Bar: Again, my kids and I thought this was great. Same hours as the pizza bar. Burgers, Cheese Burgers, Chicken Sandwiches, fries, and all the toppings all day long.
For breakfast hours, burger bar served made to order omelets.
Buffet: The buffet seemed to always be open. Two sides to it, during breakfast and lunch both sides open. During dinner, only one side was open to serve. Many options for all meals. Lots of fresh breads, salads, sliced meats, hot choices, a carving station. We all found food to enjoy at the buffet. Desserts were also very good here.
Marco Polo Dining Room: We ate here all nights except one. Two seatings, we chose the 2nd seating (8:30 pm, local time whatever time zone you’re in for the day). Food here was mostly good. The wait staff were slow to start the cruise, but it did improve. Our table seemed to be slow, and we found out later it was because one person was new, and didn’t know the routine yet, and they were also short staffed by a body for that area as well. The wait staff were able to allow my wife to choose her meals for the next night the day before so the chef could ensure they were gluten free. The menu had choices which were on it each night, in addition to items specific for the theme of the night. Portion sizes were very appropriate. Be prepared when ordering to order your appetizer, entree, and dessert all at the same time.
The crew members of Armonia are all or at least appear to be extremely happy, ALL the time. The energy level of the entertainment crew is unmatched by anything I’ve ever seen. The long hours they work, and the energy they bring to the parties, shows, and general attitude of the ship is truly amazing.
Excursions. Since this was our first cruise, we decided to book all excursions through MSC. After cruising once, I would rethink that. Each excursion in each port had a meeting time and place where the crew members would organize the groups and get you to your ground transportation. Relatively simple process, but did seem to run slow. In Roatan, the ship provided a tender boat service, so that took a bit longer since people were being taken off the ship only about 120/boat.
In Roatan, Honduras, we opted for the BFK Beach and Lunch. This was to include a 30 minute bus ride to a boat, where we’d be on the boat 5 minutes. The bus ride turned into over an hour long ride due to road construction. At one point, i observed our tour guide give the bus driver some money, and all of a sudden the driver was making a much better effort to move us forward. Once we got to Big French Kay, lunch was served which was very good, and we enjoyed the beach experience. The long bus ride gave us limited time at the beach (only about 2 hours instead of 3 as advertised) before it was time to get back on the boat. The bus ride back to the ship was much quicker, only about 30 min as the road construction had stopped for the day.
Costa Maya, Mexico we opted for the Mayan Ruins at Chacchoben. This tour was a full motor coach bus with wifi and air conditioning. The hour long bus ride, followed by a 2 hour tour of the ruins, and then a hour long bus back to the ship was just too long for our family. We felt that we could have rented a cab for the drive, walked the grounds for 30 min, and then driven back in the cab again, and saved ourselves 90 minutes. The pyramids are interesting, and big, but the time to value ratio just wasn’t worth it in our opinion.
Back near the ship, Costa Maya is full of tourist type shops and restaurants. We overpaid for a lunch (about $100 for for of us with NO drinks at all). We were told by other cruisers that they took a cab to town, at lunch and ordered a bucket of 10 beers for $65. Rookie cruiser mistake here. We would have gladly forgone this stop for extra time later in Havana.
Cozumel, Mexico we decided on the “National Geographic Snorkel”. We had heard the waters near Cozumel were great for snorkeling, so that’s what we decided on. At first glance, the boat was certainly nothing fancy. I was expecting a larger catarman, but ended up with an older “pirate style” boat. On board, the crew were very nice. Equipment was provided and instruction given on how to use the equipment. The excursion included three stops to dive in, as well as drinks after we were done. While the water was extremely clear and warm, the snorkeling was average at best.
Havana, Cuba was our family’s favorite stop (and I am guessing the rest of the ship as well). Day one in Havana, we opted for the Hemingway tour. This was disappointing as the Cuban government and American governments were not allowing Americans at the Hemingway house. We were able to see the rest of the tour though, included to bar stops with drinks included, and a bit of a walking tour. Our tour guide was great and gave a lot of information about Cuba and it’s history.
Day two we opted for the Classic American Car tour. This tour was a bit misleading. We thought we would be in a car, with a driver touring around Havana for 3.5 hours. In reality, we were in a car (all 4 of us, plus a driver), and part of a smaller group of cars. In one of the other cars was an English speaking tour guide. We made 4 stops along the tour, where we would get out of the cars and walk a bit. The guide had great information, but we would have preferred driving a bit more to different sites.
If we did it again, we would have not booked through the ship, found a vintage car we liked, negotiated a price (usually between $20-30 per person per hour), and gone on our own. We would have wanted an English speaking driver though.
Havana seemed to be a very beautiful, safe and friendly city. There is however, a lot of garbage around the city. We would definitely go back. As our tour guide said on day one, “In Cuba, you will see poverty, but you will not see misery.” Read Less