Pre-Cruise in Miami
We flew in a day before the cruise, as we had never been to Miami before. For our June cruise, we are actually flying in 2 days before and flying out 3 days after the cruise so that we can explore Southern Florida a little more. We flew Southwest from RDU into Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International and got a rental car to drive down to Miami. This was cheaper than flying into Miami. We had a short layover in Tampa, but that didn’t bother us as Cigar City Brewing (one of our favorites) has a taproom in that airport.
We spent the day doing what we love to do when we travel – brewery hop. We hit up as many as we could, but two of our favorites were M.I.A. Brewing and J.Wakefield Brewing. We also hit up the Taco Stand for some great food (great Elote and Carne Asada fries!) We also hit up Growler USA-Wynwood. While this is a chain, we knew we could get some local beers on draft that we wouldn’t be able to reach in our short time there. Great service, and even better brews!
We stayed in Doral, which was about 15 miles from the port. Friday, it took us about 45 minutes to get from Doral to close to the port due to regular traffic. Saturday morning when we woke up for embarkation, it only took us about 15-20 minutes. Crazy how that works! If you pick Enterprise and drop off at the Doubletree Grand, it can be a bit confusing. You have to park where the Ubers/Lyfts pick up, go inside to the hotel shopping area, and then find Enterprise. Woof. I’d recommend having Miami International Airport be your dropoff location and use their shuttle service.
MSC Seaside goes in and out of Terminal F at the Port of Miami. Traffic here is…terrible at best, especially when there are 6 ships in port. This isn’t necessarily MSC’s fault, but more the POM and the crew that controls traffic there. Once we were able to drop everything off, the Embarkation process was rather easy compared so some ports that we’ve been to. We arrived around 11am and were able to get through security in less than 5 minutes. The line for check-in was a little longer, but since we had the Aurea package (more on that later), we were able to skip most of the line. We proceeded to the waiting area, where they had water, orange juice, and pineapple juice available. We had to wait about an hour for clearance, and then we were able to get on the ship.
Entering the ship
Oh wow, is this ship gorgeous?! Guests enter into the atrium, which has 3 open levels surrounded by staircases filled with crystals. It’s rumored that each step is work $2,000. The atrium features a decent sized bar. It also is home to a screen that’s split up into three sections that rise the entire height of the atrium. They had fun backgrounds here, including waterfalls and even “fireworks” shows at night. Also surrounding the lobby is plenty of windows that provide spectacular views all cruise long.
MSC Seaside is home to many spots to get your favorite drinks. They vary in their efficiency however. At times, we had GREAT service. Others, they seemed to be overwhelmed. The Seaside bar in the atrium on Deck 6 forward is decent, but the highlight of Deck 6 is the Venchi Chocolate Bar. We tried one of each of the cocktails and liked most of them. They feature two different chocolate martinis (both of which were delicious), and a drink called “Bubbles and Chocolate.” This features champagne with Chocaviar floating in it. It’s quite fun!
Other bars on the ship include the Casino bar on deck 7 (slow service at times despite the size of the bar), the Champagne bar on deck 7, the Garage Club on deck 7 (which didn’t open until later at night), the South Beach Bar on deck 7 aft, the Seaview Lounge on Deck 8 midship (smaller, more quaint bar), the Sports Bar across from Seaview on Deck 8 (a wide variety of beers and really good chicken wings for purchase – although the speed of service varied from really quick to dead slow), Bistrot la Boheme on Deck 8 midship (home to one of my favorite beers of all time – Desperados!), Marketplace Bar inside of the Marketplace buffet (usually filled in the morning with folks trying to get espresso – this bar continues outside as well!), Wine and Cocktails on Deck 16 (never actually found this one…), the Miami Beach Bar on deck 16 (always busy given that it’s on the pool deck), the Jungle bar on Deck 18 (a hidden gem in my opinion), the Miramar Bar on on deck 19 (usually a little less busy than Miami Beach), and finally the Aurea Bar on deck 19 forward (more on this later as well).
The bar process is interesting in that you just simply give them your card or have them scan your wristband. If you have a drinks package, you rarely have to sign for it. Depending on the bar, they may have some service attendants that will take your order and scan your card, limiting what the bartender has to do. This SHOULD speed things up, but usually there was only 1 bartender at some of the bars and they were really overwhelmed. They still had good service, but just slower than normal.
A note on drinks packages – make sure you know what you’re getting. From what I can tell, it’s best to upgrade before you go. The packages are actually different on board. Even if you bought a sailing that included “drinks on us,” know that it’s VERY limited. We called MSC directly before sailing and upgraded for about $180 per person for the whole week and got pretty much everything except cocktails over $13 and the super high-end liquors. Use this pdf to help you decide what package is best for you!
Pools and Public Areas
The Miami Beach Pool on Deck 18 is the main pool. It is home to the stage where activities go on all day. Finding a chair isn’t really that difficult, but finding one that has everything that you’d want (close to the pool, ability to see the stage, and not “cramped”) is hard to find. The pools are 6ft deep, which is different from most ships. Miami Beach features a large “beach” area where you can lay in the water without being in the actual pool itself. Connected to this is a little “waterfall” feature that’s nice.
South Beach Pool on Deck 7 aft is the adults only section. It is overlooked by the Bridge of Sighs, which is not for the faint of heart. This pool DECK was usually pretty busy, but the pool itself wasn’t very crowded. If you can get there early enough, you can get a chair that overlooks the aft of the boat to get that view that you can only get on a cruise ship, the wake.
The Jungle Pool is located on deck 18 midship. It’s usually filled with families as it’s closest to the water park. The water park has 2 racing slides that go over the starboard side of the ship (decently fast!), a tube slide that goes over the edge of the port side of the ship and has a nice drop at the end (you can ride doubles or singles), and a decent slide that is in the center of the ship. The splash area looked quite fun for the kiddos!
The Casino was a little on the smaller side for what we’re used to when it comes to ship casinos. To me, the casino wasn’t pushed very much. There are probably around 50-75 machines and 10-15 tables for card games and roulette. As far as I can remember, there was not a craps table. Passengers are allowed to smoke in the Casino if they are currently playing games. It’s the least smoky of the casinos that we’ve been in, so that was a nice surprise. When we boarded, we thought the casino was smoke free because of how clean it smelled. There is a channel on your cabin/stateroom TV that is dedicated to the Casino where you can even play roulette (paying, of course). There were a few sessions of Bingo, but we never attended these. They didn’t offer my favorite Crazy Money machines, so we didn’t spend a whole lot of time in the casino.
Our view of our cabin will be a bit biased for this trip. We were in room 10003, which is quite large for an interior. It’s pretty much your standard cruise room outside of that. We didn’t spend a lot of time in the room, but it’s where we have our most gripes.
The bathroom on cruise ships are tiny. This shower takes the cake. Seaside uses glass doors on their showers as opposed to curtains. While curtains fly away and can be messy, they at least have some give. We felt cramped all week in that tiny thing! It hosts a clothesline, which I used to dry our bathing suits and to hang my shirt to steam/dewrinkle after I was done showering.
The closet had two shelves and a safe. It also had two drawers. The space for hanging clothes was decent. This, however, was the only storage that we had in this room. On our next trip, we’re going to bring an over the door organizer to put some of our clothes in.
The bed was on the more “hard” side for our liking. Obviously, this is a personal choice. I tend to like my mattress a little on the soft side, so having this hard mattress wasn’t the greatest for me.
The TV was a decent size and featured some “Smart” capabilities. You could check out the daily program from your TV (including signing up for shows) and even order movies on demand (a note on this: this includes adult entertainment – some of the “posters” for these videos are explicit and therefore should be monitored!)
The MSC Brand is obviously centered around the Mediterranean/European clientele. Therefore, their shows are quite different from what you’d see on Royal or Carnival Ships. That’s not to say that they aren’t good, they’re just…different. Each of the shows featured acrobats, a juggler, champion dancers, and some singing. To me, there wasn’t really a storyline that these shows followed, but they had their own themes. The best show by far was the one that featured Michael Jackson impersonator at the end of the week. You can sign up for the shows as soon as you get on board (I recommend this…) We usually did the 8:30 show, as we had 5:30 dining. The shows only last about 30-40 minutes each.
Outside of these shows, they featured Beerprov comedy. We’re used to going to see comedians when we cruise. We see as many as we can, so not having any on board was different for us. Beerprov is a troupe of comedians that mixes Beer and Improv. We went to all three 10:45 adult R-rated shows during the week. They were outstanding! We didn’t get a chance to make it to their 2:00pm Family Friendly show, but I have no doubt that it was great too.
Gene Young was our cruise director, and while he was quite funny, he was probably the least visible of any CD that we’ve ever had. We saw him at the beginning of shows and a few other times throughout the week, but we never saw him out and about the ship. Anytime the Entertainment Staff was doing a dance lesson or amping up the crowd, we never saw him. We like our CD’s to be more visible, but some people don’t mind it! The rest of the entertainment staff was decent. He was a part of the Liar’s Club game show which featured Beerprov giving different definitions of words. We had to guess which definition was right. While this wasn’t advertised as R-rated, it would definitely say it was PG-13! The Quest Game show was pretty tame for shows that we’ve been to.
One interesting thing to note is that for many of the announcements made during shows and on board, they’ll do the same announcement in about 6-7 languages. If you’re around to hear the Captain speak, he’s fluent in 5-6 languages himself. While I understand that need for this given the fact that over 100 nationalities were on board, it got to be a bit much at times.
Also, it’s important to note that there is NOT a bar in the theatre. In fact, they have a sign outside that says “NO DRINKS,” but we were able to bring our drinks in as long as we were careful. They prefer that it not be in glass, so if you can get plasticware or be drinking from an aluminum can, they’ll be more lenient. CLOSEST place to get a drink would be the Casino bar, but it’s usually slow so make sure you build in time to get a drink before your shows! We would stop by any other bar that we could as to avoid the wait at the casino bar.
I’ll preface this by saying that we didn’t do any specialty restaurants, but we did hear from multiple guests that the Asian Fusion restaurant was outstanding. We’ll probably try that out in June when we sail on Seaside again.
There are two buffets on board. The first is Biscayne Bay on Deck 16. This one consists of only one line that spans the width of the ship. It is BUSY because it’s the closest to the pool. Kids were constantly cutting me off, and people couldn’t get the concept of a line…
The second, more vast buffet is the Marketplace Buffet on Deck 8 midship. This buffet was much more spread out and featured two pretty much identical sides. It has more of a variety than that of the Biscayne Bay buffet. It is also home to self-serve soda, Heineken, and wine dispensers. Simply tap your card or wristband and serve! The food at the buffets varied little throughout the week, but it was all pretty decent.
We had My Time dining and chose to go at 5:30 every day as this worked for our schedule. The host offered us the option to do this and we’d get the same table every day. We got seated at a 2-top right by the window! Great views every single night. Our 7 night cruise offered two elegant nights (one of which included Prime Rib), an Italian night, and a Mediterranean night. The My Time dining was never full and offered quick service (we had a few appetizers, main course, and dessert within an hour each night). The food was pretty decent throughout the week, but nothing I’d say was outstanding.
The only odd thing about the dining room was that we couldn’t really order alcoholic drinks outside of beer and wine. If we wanted liquor, they’d have to bring in a separate attendant to do this. Weird. We just stopped at a bar before dinner if we wanted anything for the rest of the week. They also poured fresh water from 1L water bottles – included in our drinks package.
The Aurea Experience
We decided to splurge this trip and went for the Aurea package. This meant that we got priority boarding, My Time dining, a free wristband that could be used as your cruise card to get into your room and make purchases (you needed your card to get on and off the ship and to get access to the Aurea bar) a 50 minute massage each, access to the Aurea only bar and area on deck 19, and access to the thermal area all cruise long. We aren’t usually into these kind of things, but loved every minute we spent in the spa. There were two dry saunas, a bright steam bath, a dark steam bath, a salt room, a snow room (oddly refreshing), an odd geyser room where cold water shot out from the floor, a decent sized hot tub, and plenty of seating to just relax. There were multiple showers that had overhead faucets that were extremely relaxing. The locker rooms had lockers that you used your wristband or card to lock and unlock (a plus to the wristband).
The Aurea Bar was a great place to go and hang out. It had comfy chairs that were shaded near the bar, plus plenty of sun loungers and two hot tubs. It was right outside of the Yacht Club, which made us a little jealous. We never got to check out the YC, but maybe on a future cruise? The Aurea bar was a great place to go and hang out after we were done in the sun. It offered great views off the stern of the ship!
Ports of Call
This itinerary included a night stop in San Juan (5pm-1AM), plus stops in Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas USVI, St. Maarten, and Nassau.
It was very different being in port in San Juan at night. We were able to get off and head to the home of the “original” Pina Colada – Barrachina. After this, we wandered around Old San Juan before deciding to take an Uber to a local brewery – Ocean Lab. If you like venturing to breweries when you travel, this is a good spot. It’s connected to a beach club, which was closed for the night. The beer was decent, and for $10 each way in an Uber, it gave us something to do. I’d like to see it during the day, as it looks awesome at night! Unfortunately, the brewery’s shop was closed, so we didn’t get to get any merch.
We did a Catamaran Snorkel excursion in St. Thomas. The crew of the Castaway Girl was outstanding. The snorkeling wasn’t the best that I’ve experienced, but it was a pretty lengthy snorkel and a beautiful ride back. Rum Punch, Rum and Coke, water, and juices were provided on the way back for free. They sold t-shirts, of which I got one of the blue longsleeve dryfits that features SPF protection. Really nice shirt! The even took Venmo for it! Joleen, Marshall, and Patrick were all great! Once back in port, we went to Tap and Still and had lunch. They were delicious! The fries were fresh cut and the cheese dog was delicious (it came on a hamburger bun which threw us off, but it was great!). They’re connected with Rock City Brewing. We were able to get a beer there, PLUS their taproom and shop was right across the street. We asked about another brewery on the island and were told that some of their beers were featured at a restaurant right at the port. We stopped by the Smoking Rooster and tried out some Frenchtown Brewing. They were decent, but not as good as RCB.
St. Maarten has always been a favorite stop for us. We paid $7 per person round trip to ride the water taxi across to town. You can walk around to get to town, but we weren’t feeling that. It was worth it. St. Maarten is home to Guavaberry Rum, which is a great souvenir. Lots of vendors have chairs and umbrellas for rent along the beach. We got two chairs, slow wifi, an umbrella, and 5 drinks for $20. This is a pretty standard deal all along the beach. Just pick one that looks good to you and go with it. This was a quick port, as we docked at 8am and left at 2pm.
Nassau is good for one thing for us: Pirate’s Republic Brewing. They have a taproom that is right one of the main strips in town near the Straw Market. We stopped by in December and knew we had to come back. Their main bartender is the “Bahamian Tracy Morgan” and is a trip. They beer is really delicious and they have food, but we’ve never tried it…They had a deal for two beers and a shirt for $28, which we took. We also went to Twisted Lime, which was kind of hidden down an alley. This is a definite must as well. We got the Jerk Chicken Mac and Cheese. MAN was it hot! But it was that kind of spicy that you just can’t stop eating! Delicious! It was a huge portion for the price we paid. Their pizza looked outstanding, so when we’re back in July, we’ll definitely be stopping to try that!
The most bittersweet part of any trip is the day that you leave. MSC follows the standard disembarkation procedure of luggage tags, which were placed in our stateroom. We opted to place our bag outside of our rooms by 11pm and lazily waited until we were ready to get up and disembark. There are assigned times to get off of the ship, but nobody follows or regulates them. We had Aurea, which was the earliest to leave, but left around 9am. This was the EASIEST I’ve ever seen a disembark go. We did a “passport” check when we got off the ship, got our luggage, and left. We didn’t have to wait in line for customs! It’s something new that they’re trying I guess. So nice!
Traffic was just as awful getting off of the ship as it was getting on. Most of the rental car agencies have free shuttles to MIA airport. Check those out before committing to another company. There are plenty of shuttles available without having to reserve anything, however, for $10 per person to the airport.
While the MSC Seaside does have its faults, we absolutely loved our time on board. We are already booked for another sailing at the end of June, and even went ahead and booked a sailing for next spring break in our same Aurea stateroom. We’ll be in the Fantastica level for our June cruise, so I’m interested to see how things differ. We plan to purchase a cruise-long spa pass, however! It’s worth the $260 per couple before boarding! Read Less