A Review of the Brand New MSC Grandiosa, November 24, 2019
We are experienced cruisers who love Europe and had a wonderful cruise on the MSC Divina in February 2019 in the Caribbean. We assumed things wouldn’t be too much different in ... Read More
A Review of the Brand New MSC Grandiosa, November 24, 2019
We are experienced cruisers who love Europe and had a wonderful cruise on the MSC Divina in February 2019 in the Caribbean. We assumed things wouldn’t be too much different in Europe, so we booked a seven-day Western Mediterranean cruise on the new MSC Grandiosa. This would be its first time on the Grandiosa’s regular sailing stopping in Civitavecchia, Sicily, Malta, Barcelona, Marseilles, and Genoa. Also, it was an add-on to our main cruise to the Holy Land: Greece, Israel, Italy, and Turkey on the NCL Spirit.
The Grandiosa’s maiden voyage had problems because of very stormy weather, and many passengers had to cancel so the beginning of our sailing didn’t have a full sailing. More and more passengers filled up the ship as the week progressed.
Overall, the ship is quite spectacular, and the crew was wonderful. The Grandiosa shines and sparkles throughout and is very well appointed. The cabin hallways are a real treat as they feature a famous artist’s work on each floor, but every painting has an MSC ship embedded in it. What a hoot to see Raphael’s work with a cruise ship behind Jesus and his apostles on the eighth deck.
We stayed at the Hotel Mozart in Rome for three days prior to our cruise and booked a shared Habicab shuttle to the port. Habicab worked very well for our other two times, but this one took almost three hours to get to port as we were the first pickup and had to wait for passengers, get gas, and waited and then transferred to another van at port. Sigh.
The embarkation was a breeze because the port area was covered, which was important because of steady rain. We sailed through the embarkation and were quickly on the ship at 12:30. We later discovered we were given the wrong cards as our Black/Diamond status was not reflected on our original cards.
We had lunch at the buffet, which was a tad disappointing. There wasn’t a lot of variety and the cuisine tended to cater to the over 2,000 Asian passengers. The buffet was very crowded, despite it being an adventure port for those passengers who came on in the days before us. In case you are unaware, MSC ships are often similar to ferries as they pick up new passengers at almost every port.
Our room was available to us right after lunch. The required muster drill was in the Carousel Lounge, and it started twenty minutes after the assigned time. The announcements for each muster drill are given in five to seven languages and can be heard in the cabins and all over the ship. Despite these announcements, often given SEVERAL times in the various languages, some folks ignored them. The drills themselves are given in five languages. Don’t try to nap at 4-4:30 or so on port days as the messages are heard in the cabins.
Passengers need to register their credit cards at a kiosk rather than at registration.
Passengers are assigned dining based on the requested time and “experience” purchased. We requested and were given early dining, and I went down at about 2:00 to see where our table was. The waiter on duty showed me my table of six at a window. Nice.
However, when we arrived for dinner, our table placement had been changed to a table of two right next to the noisy kitchen doors. We then noticed that the entire room was filled with Asian passengers, and they were in their own groups. We wanted to sit with someone who spoke English and only upon our insistence did the staff accommodate this. The maître-de mentioned that the Asians had requested early dining and were given preference. He moved us to a slightly later dining time in a different restaurant which worked out great. Two other couples from Australia were our tablemates, and they were wonderful, as was our waiter.
Americans receive “free” still or sparkling water and coffee as an accommodation.
The menu in the MDR was fine but did not present a lot of variety. I soon learned a salad meant lettuce and two half slices of a cherry tomato and not much else. The meats were usually tender, but often rather bland. I was surprised there was not better spicing and flavor. Lasagna was just okay, the salmon was dry, and the apple strudel crust soggy. The chefs need some work.
Breakfast in the Purple Crab was always quite good. We sat with a couple from Scotland who hated the way they prepared French toast (with a crunchy crust.) I ordered it the next day and love it, so that shows how differently people view dining experiences.
We dined at the Butcher’s Cut, and everything was superb. Mozarella is fresh and made onboard. When making reservations, go see the person who is in charge of specialty dining to make your reservation if you didn’t do so previously.
We didn’t eat at the other specialty restaurants but observed they had very few customers. It was especially noticeable at the French restaurant where a trio played to no or only one table of customers each night. It was rather sad to walk by on the lovely promenade to observe this.
The Marketplace Buffet (our favorite time in the buffet) is just fine and to be commended for offering fresh scrambled eggs at breakfast rather than the type many other cruise lines offer. Don’t expect bagels, English muffins, or American style bacon. Most passengers love their pizza, which is available throughout the day.
Obtaining milk was difficult as MSC didn’t offer it in cartons but in large containers. I had no idea if it was skim, 1 or 2%, or whole milk. There are no machines for iced tea or lemonade.
The assigned MDRs and the buffet are the only complementary venues for food. Most ships have a café or even a 24-hour restaurant as an alternative, so this aspect had a downside. The buffet also ran out of some items such as herbal and green teas after a few days because of passenger hoarding.
As I mentioned, we enjoy travel to Europe, Australia, and New Zealand and so are used to people from different countries. The passengers on this sailing were quite unfriendly. We felt as if we were invisible people in Bizzaro World. Most people just walked around and didn’t socialize in any manner. No greetings on elevators or in the hallways, etc. Some nationalities sit in areas only for the handicapped with an attitude that the clearly visible signs were only a suggestion.
This situation with fellow passengers may just have been relevant only on this sailing, but was a significant, negative feature of the cruise.
We tried to strike up a conversation anytime we heard someone speak English, and they happily reciprocated.
One thing that really surprised us was the large number of children of all ages who were aboard. Most were well behaved, but there were toddlers lying on the hallway floors totally ignored by their parents. I never saw so many large strollers and prams in one place- maybe a hundred by the end of the cruise as the number of young families grew. These made it difficult to maneuver through the public areas.
MSC allows children to sail for free with their parents. I imagine those family groups had a splendid time as the Grandiosa provided excellent activities and features for children. They have an active children’s program, inside and outside sports activities, lovely pools, and a ropes course.
The weather on this November sailing didn’t provide much opportunity for passengers to use the lovely pool areas. The covered pool was minimally used even though it seemed to be warm enough in that room.
The hot tubs were enjoyed (read: monopolized) by groups of children who used it as a swimming pool. I can’t say that I blame them as there were not many alternatives.
Let me start out with the extremely positive. The performances in the main theatre are spectacular. The singers and dancers were top-notch, and the costumes and sets were beyond belief. Well done! We enjoyed every show.
The most memorable was a scene from “Dream” featuring dancers transformed into sea creatures: fish, octopus, sharks, jellyfish, etc.
Other aerial and gymnastics type of performers that defied definition were featured within some shows. They performed a few amazing acts, such as one who was the master controller of the other three who were able to move and contort their bodies in astonishing ways.
One performance was a shadow artists’ act that was original and very well done. It sounds strange, but I believe the audience appreciated the originality and skill.
The main theatre shows (usually three each evening) should be reserved ahead of time, but those without reservations can often find seating five minutes before the show.
The lounges are another issue that MSC will have to address. The only lounge that was used well was the Grandiosa Lounge on the promenade. The performers were very good, and we enjoyed dancing there. The other lounges were rather empty and sometimes there were no performers there even though they were on the schedule. The English pub, L’Artlier Bistrot (French restaurant), and TV studio tended to be vastly underused and quite a waste of space.
The lovely Sky Lounge featured a pianist and sometimes a soloist who provided what I describe as “atmosphere music” even though there is a lovely dance floor. The lounge entertainment needs to be addressed by MSC as they are losing a lot of money and forcing 6,200 people into just one or two entertainment areas in the evening.
MSC invested quite a bit of money for the Cirque de Sol theatre. Some people might like that type of show, but I thought the performance was sort of weird and creepy and didn’t display much originality or talent. The aerialists on many other ships are just as good, and the two shows onboard had a cover charge. You could purchase tickets for a show and cocktail or a show and dinner.
The main promenade with shops, cafes, and restaurants is charming but, of course, heavily used and crowded, especially at night when the wonderful ceiling displays are illuminated. These are unique and not to be missed.
The cruise director’s staff needs more training or perhaps some replacements. I have to agree with another poster that a few are bored and boring and rather immature. They are a weak link. There are not many activities onboard, probably due to the many languages spoken.
We had an inside cabin, and the bed and pillows were very comfortable. As others have noted, the cabins don’t have as much storage as other comparable ships. The cabin was quiet and well-positioned, but a few basics were missing although they were provided when mentioned. We were very pleased with our cabin.
Because of the many languages spoken on the ship, MSC tends to not emphasize many games such as trivia and bingo, nor do they offer lectures. The ship does not have a library or game rooms but there are ample places to sit for reading and board and dice games. We always bring small games such as Farkle, Quiddler, and Wizard with a small, portable dice-rolling board. We took our free bottle of sparkling wine to enjoy while we played and sat in the Sky Lounge on the sea day.
The crew was very good, especially the customer service! MSC must hire very pleasant sorts because they always treated us kindly and professionally. Not the stereotypically crabby types sometimes reported by others.
The crew was reasonably well trained with just a few glitches that can easily be overlooked since they need time to work out the minor details. I was impressed that they could perform so well with being on the ship for only a few weeks.
The crew who interacts with the passengers all speak English with varying degrees of fluency, but we encountered no communication problems. They are instructed to greet ALL passengers in English (I saw that on a sign coming from the crew-only area.)
Black or Diamond Status
We were very fortunate to make it just under the wire in October 2018 with being granted Black Card Status based on our NCL Platinum Status. That good fortune doesn’t happen anymore except for the highest rankings, and MSC does not offer a table to explain their policy. You just apply using your “best” status from another cruise line.
You must cruise every three years to maintain your assigned status.
MSC recently changed Black Status to Diamond Status. The main perks are discounted cruises, robes and slippers, a free meal at a specialty restaurant, a bottle of sparkling water, fresh fruit (changed twice in seven days), and chocolate-covered strawberries. You also qualify for a free Italian Cream cake if sailing on your birthday.
We were also invited to special Captain’s welcome and cocktail parties, which were very nice. The officers tended not to socialize with the passengers. The captain also had a pre-brunch for the status passengers before he took questions at the Officer’s Question and Answer session.
Dress Code (Really?)
I encouraged my husband to bring a white shirt and tie and was concerned we would be not meeting the posted dress code for formal nights. Was I wrong! Less than half the men wore a suit while others wore t-shirts, shorts, and even a Harley Davidson t-shirt on formal night. I saw only one tuxedo. So, if men want to wear a golf shirt or something similar, they will fit right in.
To be honest, I felt that the dress code throughout the week was about the most “relaxed” I have ever seen on any cruise ship.
While not great dancers, we still enjoy simple ballroom dancing. The only place for this was the Grandiosa Lounge, which was very crowded. The dance instructions by one team tended to be pretty good but with some other times, it was like the cruise director’s staff made up moves or had just learned the basics from a youtube.com video. We learned a few new things, though from the better team!
I will write a fuller review under port reviews, but here is a summary:
We embarked in Rome after three days of sightseeing.
Palermo, Sicily: this was our only rainy day, and it didn’t help that Palermo is rather “gritty.” We attempted to find our way down the streets of tall, unimpressive buildings as we dodged human or dog waste on the sidewalks. After about thirty minutes, we decided that Palermo wasn’t enjoyable for us, so we went back to the ship attempting to jump back when fast-moving cars and trucks threatened to splash the pools of rainwater on us.
Valetta, Malta: What a lovely city! The cathedral and Palace of the Grand Master were splendid as was the atmosphere in town, but this only showed how clueless we were to the “political volcano” that was emerging all around.
It was only when we returned to the ship at dinner that we learned why our cell phone service wasn’t working. The government turned off all service to prevent its citizens from rioting! Another clue was the lack of city lighting as we sailed away- the government shut that down too! It appears that the populace was more than furious with its top leaders who had some part in the assassination of a prominent journalist who had been looking into government corruption. Check out the past news about this, but we learned that the president had recently resigned. BTW- our friends who were on a HOHO bus had a problem- the bus wasn’t showing up, and they couldn’t get a call through to the company. They were forced to take a taxi to the port.
Barcelona, Spain: We had been to Barcelona in the past so thought a HOHO bus experience would be good to see the features we had missed. The number one thing to experience is the La Sagrada de Familia, the basilica Gaudi designed. Barcelona is wonderful!
Marseilles, France: We were originally going to take the train to Aix-en- Provence, but decided to take a DIY ship excursion instead. Passengers going to Marseilles had to purchase a ship shuttle if they were not on a ship excursion, so this ended up working just fine!
This town is easy to walk and had a Christmas Market going on. It was quiet and just lovely.
There was one disturbing incident onboard this ship excursion bus: a toddler who SCREAMED almost the entire time was obviously sick, but momma just peddled her off on the poor grandma. As we walked around town, we would occasionally hear the baby approaching from a distance.
Genoa, Italy: At first, I didn’t think I was going to enjoy Genoa, but it ended up having many lovely churches, museums, and shops as we walked around town. Piazzas, churches, and the Royal Palace were all well worth the easy walk.
The process was very easy! We had booked a Habicab that arrived on time, but we came out too early as we misjudged the timing. It probably took ten minutes with no need to be processed by any governmental agency. The MSC used the Leonardo Terminal, which is very nice.
The Grandiosa is a spectacular ship that needs some fine tuning on how to best use the lounges and other under-used facilities. The Swarovski staircases are stunning.
Americans who aren’t used to European travel or cruising may need to adjust their expectations but will still have a lovely time. I certainly would book another cruise on the Grandiosa but with a different itinerary. Read Less