My husband and I received a status match to the Voyager's Club Diamond Card last January 2019 when we were on MSC for the first time, sailing on Divina. In order to keep the status we needed to sail again within 18 months, and so we ... Read More
My husband and I received a status match to the Voyager's Club Diamond Card last January 2019 when we were on MSC for the first time, sailing on Divina. In order to keep the status we needed to sail again within 18 months, and so we chose this cruise. We had been to Ocho Rios and Grand Cayman before, but it was a while ago so that was fine.
We had a very early flight into Miami, so we were quite pleased that we were able to get on the ship by 11am. Doors for the embarkation process opened at 10 but they did not start moving people through the scanners until 10:30, and that was a little frustrating. I would think if you open the doors, you should be ready to roll and not make people stand in one place for that long. I did appreciate the fact that they did a thermal scan of all passengers with the idea that if anyone had a fever, they would not be allowed to board the ship. Once we got to the check in counter, it only took 10 minutes to process us and we walked on board and right up to the buffet line which was great because I was starving! Food selection was good and the food was hot and tasty.
We LOVED this ship! Yes it is small and yes it is older, but we accept that as part of her charm. She is classy and pretty, and very clean. The staff and crew were all fabulous. MSC shines for service and entertainment. The food is good, and some food items were awesome. The Surf & Turf Specialty Restaurant managed by the sweet Brenda was fantastic, and we were lucky to have two meals there. Lobster & Filet, oh my! Try the Mexican Chocolate cake for dessert. You're welcome! We were also very lucky to be assigned to "Your Choice" dining at the Pergola restaurant, a smaller dining room strictly for Fantastica and Aurea passengers. I love to have the option of having dinner whenever we want to. Service is a little slow, but we were never in a hurry so it didn't matter. We are non-drinkers, so I can't tell you much about the bars, though we did usually buy the "non-alcoholic cocktail of the day" which is advertised daily in the newsletter. Make sure when you order, you tell them you want the $4 no-alcohol cocktail of the day, and don't order by the name. If you don't say it that way, they will charge you the regular price!
It's really easy to get around on the ship because of its smaller size. I never saw huge lines at excursions desk or guest services, so I think they have adequate staff. The shops were cute and set up well. My hubby bought a watch. I didn't buy anything on the ship. The Casino manager Jeffrey was great and gave our cruise critic meet up folks a really good time at our slot pull, and awarded prizes for the winners and gave us merch just for participating! That was unexpected and very sweet! My hubby ended the week up by a couple hundred bucks on the slot machines. Pretty unusual for a ship casino!
We loved all the shows and went to almost every one. The dancers were fabulous and the singers very good. They also had acrobats that participated in most of the shows. The shows were geared to young and old, and the costumes were wonderful! Pretty high tech lighting and visual effects, and lovely video backgrounds were included in each show. I participated in karaoke a few times, and the staff were very nice, and continued to chat with me about my performance whenever I saw them around the ship. The entertainment staff headed by Cruise Director Miguel were terrific and energetic. They really made sure everyone enjoyed themselves! Miguel was so personable and authentic and you can really tell he loves his job. The captain was also very personable and quite funny whenever he made his twice daily announcements. "Wash wash wash your hands, and always compliment the staff".
We had an early dinner one night, so we had pizza around midnight, and it was SO GOOD!! Highly recommend! They also do free hard ice cream on deck 11 forward, and not just soft serve. I have never seen that before. We ordered continental breakfast delivered to our room one morning, and ate it on our balcony. That was great.
One of the perks of the Diamond card is an hour in the thermal area. DO NOT PASS THAT UP! Loved it, and the hour flew by! The service in the spa is terrific, and it's a beautiful place to spend time.
Of the three excursions we booked with the ship, I highly recommend the Turtle Hatchery on Grand Cayman and the beautiful Chacchoben ruins in Costa Maya. I do not recommend the Miami bus tour, although the Everglades portion was a lot of fun. The rest of the tour was boring and a waste of time, and they had trouble with the PA system which was very annoying. Take a hop on/hop off or just do the free trolley and take a separate trip to the Everglades if you have never been. Best part of that excursion was they took us to the airport afterwards. We did not book an excursion in Ocean Cay, but you do not need to. It's the most relaxing and beautiful private island we have ever been on. Once all the plantings take hold, it will be outstanding. The lighthouse light show was very cool, and the Junkaroo parade was cute as heck. Do an excursion in Jamaica so you don't get hassled by all the taxi drivers. It's like running a gauntlet if all you want to do is walk into town. We did see a cool little public park called Turtle River Park and chatted with a lovely park ranger who really knew his stuff. Otherwise, Ocho Rios is a bit shady, and really rundown. Be careful there. The BEST port town is Costa Maya, by far. You can have a blast just by walking off the ship and hanging in the little town right there. You can also find some good deals. Got a very pretty dress for $10. You can use their pool for free and spend the whole day if you want. I was quite surprised. Keep in mind that you have to take a tender boat in Grand Cayman, which is a bit of a pain, but as long as you know it, you know you have to be patient.
The very worst part of the trip was leaving. Disembarkation was pretty typical, but Miami airport sucks. It was ridiculously crowded, takes forever to get through security in terminal D, and with hundreds of people trying to check luggage with American Airlines with only two people on the counter it was a real nightmare. My husband was furious, which took away some of the glow of the terrific trip we had just went on. There's a rumor that MSC is changing their operation to a different port, and we hope it is true.
So that's my review! Overall it was very fun, and I'd sail with Armonia again in a minute! Read Less