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I first laid eyes on MSC Poesia at night in Quebec City. She looked very attractive with her gleaming white sides well illuminated. I was later to find that the inside was just as clean being constantly scrubbed and polished by an army of cleaners. They, like the stewards aboard, seemed to be always smiling and happy to greet passengers. I’m not certain if all of them spoke five languages but communication with passengers from all over the world didn’t seem to be a problem.
Check-in at the Quebec terminal was quite painless. Since I lacked baggage tags, I was pointed to the baggage room. Before arriving there, a lady with tags in hand asked me to write my cabin number in large print and place my bags near the container for transport on board. Security did a quick check of my boarding pass (printed on line) and I was off to the check-in area. A health form was quickly completed and I was shown to the check-in line. With only two folks ahead of me, the wait was short and my photo was taken and my card was issued. There is also a small UNICEF collection requested from passengers. I was happy to participate. The card, as is common these days, is both charge card and cabin key. It also has the dining assignment on the face and your cabin number is coded as well which is not the best idea in case of a lost card. Most folks can figure out the simple code and charge things to your account so keep a close eye on its location.
MSC has an additional use for the card. When you enter the cabin, there is a receptacle on the wall with red lights on either side. You insert the card and it enables the main cabin light and lights a "Do Not Disturb" light outside so the cabin stewards know the room is occupied. The red lights go out so you know you have inserted the card. A clever system but don’t forget to pick up your card on the way out!
I later found out removing the card turns off the heat and air conditioning. The HVAC in the cabins is a quiet, gentle system – but slow. If it is quite hot or cool, it will take some time to adjust the cabin temperature when the passengers re-enter the cabin and insert the cards. Some were so upset by this, they inserted other cards (business or credit) when they went out to keep the system working. This requires informing the stewards to ignore the "Do Not Disturb" light and knock before entering. Another example of programmers/designers trying to do too much with the technology!
My cabin stewardess and her assistant were smiling, happy and very friendly. Actually, this goes for the vast majority of staff encountered. The maitre d’ was very co-operative and did a table switch for me as I like to dine alone. My dining steward, from Indonesia, was charming and very efficient. Most stewards appeared to be from Indonesia or the Philippines and were excellent. I hope MSC doesn’t lose them with the new gratuity (service charge) they are starting. A charge or $12 a day will be requested from passengers. This would be fine if it went to the stewards but, like other companies, this will be split among cleaners, laundry staff, and other staff members, reducing the amount to the stewards and saving MSC some wages for the other departments. I was not able to find out who else is included in the pool. So far, there is no sign of unhappy stewards. Hope it continues that way as it is certainly a happy ship at present. I did find out stewards expect to lose a large piece of their incomes and so I decided to look after my own stewards instead of supporting the new $12 "service charge".
Food was excellent, whether in the dining room or up at the buffet. Most nights, the menu is three menus in one – Stars and Stripes, Italian and International. Passengers may choose items from any of the three menus (mix and match). It seems to work quite well and the three menus are provided in four languages. On "gala" nights (formal), there is a single menu. Suggest you bring your own malt vinegar if you like it on fries or fish & chips. They offered me balsamic when I requested it. I suggest you make use of the soft ice cream machine at the lunch buffets and the ice cream desserts at dinner. It is a shame that the wonderful ice cream created by the Italian pastry chefs is sold instead of provided at the ice cream bar. I hate to see the addition of charges for food. Included food was always a selling point of early cruises and charging for ice cream, coffee, etc. simply drops the appeal of the product.
The ship sails well. We experienced a following sea of about force 7 with winds to 50 mph and she barely moved. There is a clear image of the view from the bridge across the bow on the TV. I find it pleasant to turn the sound off and leave it on most of the time. Suggestion to MSC, please raise the camera a little. About 1/3 of the screen is taken up by the deck and the spare anchor. Raising the camera a bit would give a better view of the land ahead. There is also another channel with a live chart and navigational information. The clarity isn’t as good but it can be very interesting.
Don’t miss the buffet in Villa Pompeiana, deck 13. Not only is the food good and the service great but there are floor to ceiling frame-less windows which give a fantastic view, even from tables on the interior. Besides the usual array of hot dogs, hamburgers, salads and pizzas there is a daily carvery with roast beef, ham, turkey etc carved right before your eyes.
Boat drill was fairly short. I suppose it had to be with all instructions repeated in four languages. Not sure if it had to do with the nationality of the passengers but the drill was loud and not taken very seriously. One woman was laughing very loudly through it all and we noticed she was on her cell phone. There are disadvantages of trying to do everything in many languages.
The casino staff is very pleasant and friendly. They realize their rules are not the best but there is little they can do about it. Blackjack players should exercise caution with what they call European Dealing. The dealer takes the last card so there is no checking for a hidden blackjack. If the dealer comes up with a blackjack, all bets are taken including doubles and splits which gives the house a huge advantage. Players should avoid any actions such as splits or doubles when the dealer shows a ten-card or an ace. This seriously reduces the odds for a player to do well.
Most other games have the usual rules and your odds are reasonable. Obviously, greed rears its head with the use of the more-profitable American roulette layout in an Italian casino. That doubles the house advantage.
A few passengers wanted to play Texas Hold ‘Em or craps but they couldn’t find enough to get either game going the first week. Both were active the second week with the appearance of more American passengers. Dealers were very pleasant and efficient.
The ship is unusual in design with the mid-ship cabins set in from the edge of the hull about the width of the lifeboats. The bow and stern ends stick out. It seems very strange not to see the bridge or bridge wings from a mid-ship balcony. If the ship is not moving, the only way to see which is forward is to check for the front of the lifeboats. View forward and aft is a bit restricted with this design. Another unusual feature is a lack of clocks. They are usually found all over passenger ships but I noticed only two between lifeboats! I wonder if this had anything to do with staying on ship’s time in Canadian ports rather than adjusting to local time!
Cabins are clean and well laid out with ample storage. Beds are comfortable and there is a desk and small sofa. The shower works well and the TV is quite clear. Unlike some ships, the thermostat actually changes the temperature!
Ship is kept very clean inside and out. This includes the customary seamen scrubbing portholes and hull in port with 20-30 foot brushes when in ports and an external balcony cleaning with notice given to passengers.
Special mention – Mandi, a young lady from the front desk, is from South Africa and did a super job of controlling a group of 100 back-to-back passengers off the ship, through customs, back into the terminal and then back on board in New York. "Waiting is what we do!" she said many times to keep us laughing. She deserves a raise!
1. – If there is a lounge to sit and look over the bow, I couldn’t find it. Like many lines, this prime viewing area is assigned to the spa/beauty salons so you can peddle in front of a window. If you want the view, you will have to pay extra for it. Don’t even think about checking out the view from the spa. Those little ladies are very protective!
2. – Mid-ship balconies are set back into the hull restricting view forward and aft. I’d prefer the cabins nearer the stern. The ones at the bow would also be fine except they are such a long walk to the food – both restaurants and the buffet.
3. – I guess it’s common now but I really don’t appreciate being charged for food in a cruise ship.
4. – Casino needs to change blackjack dealing style to match North America and remove the unfair house advantage which kept me off the tables for 12 out of 14 days.
5. – Not sure if I appreciate a notice about EMERGENCY DRILL in New York. "We inform all guests that a General Emergency Exercise will be held today at around 4:30pm. You are not required to participate”. Yes, the drill is really just standing around while everything is repeated in many languages and I had already done it in Quebec but it felt very strange to not be out there in that fresh, fresh air!
6. – I really think they are overdoing it with so many languages. I would expect that the vast majority of passengers would understand English, French, or Spanish.
7. – In my view, MSC is really sailing into danger replacing gratuities with the $12 a day service charge. Yes, they’ll save a buck or two on the salaries of the cleaners, laundry workers, and everyone else who gets on the list of people who share BUT the dining and cabin stewards will get about a 50% drop in pay and I’m afraid you’ll lose some of these excellent workers as another line found out!
8. Listening to other passengers brought out a common thread, communication and organization are weaknesses in their eyes. Passengers rated shore excursions very highly for value and content but the organization as poor because the desk often could not pin down departure times – even morning or afternoons! Some complained about difficulty being understood when talking to stewards. It should be noted I had no such difficulty and noticed none from my vantage point in the dining room. Actually, the stewards communicated better than many of the supervisors!
I’d rate this product very highly. The negatives are few and the positives are many. If anyone is nervous of motion sickness, this is the ship for them since she barely moved in gale winds from several different directions.
Master Cruise Counsellor