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The Cruise People’s Fred Cherney reports from onboard
MSC did a very good job with Express Check-In. The people behind the counter were smiling, friendly and very helpful. It was a painless process and boarding was direct with no delay. One of the girls even recognized me from a different cruise line.
There was a line of stewards awaiting passengers and escorting them to the cabins. Even the lifts, which are often clogged with baggage on other lines, were available. Baggage was relegated to staff lifts.
My cabin was clean and well laid out. Stewards were pleasant and eager to please. I have a habit of requesting the mini-bar and bottled water be locked up to avoid mistakes and this was done immediately and with no question. I also request drapes be left open day and night and this presented no problem to the stewards. It’s nice to find a cabin where the thermostat actually changes the temperature. Beds are very comfortable and cabins are bright and airy. Caution: Connecting cabin doors are NOT very sound-proof!
I had a baggage problem due to an error by the shore-side porters (nothing to do with MSC) and I quickly discovered how efficient and helpful the front desk personnel could be. My thanks to Teresa, Guest Relations Manager, and her crew for their assistance. One of the red-jacketed ladies demonstrated the extent to which they would go to be of service when she escorted a blind guest and his seeing-eye dog ashore. There was an accident and she ended up finding a plastic bag and picking up after the dog. Now that’s service!
The concierge was particularly helpful with gaining internet access. Passengers wishing to use the service are asked to bring their computers to the front desk and are shown how to gain access and, more importantly, how to log off so your time does not tick on after you quit.
Cabin stewards are smiling and thoughtful. When they learned of my luggage problem, they searched and kept watch for its arrival. It’s nice to know they really cared!
Congratulations to the ship’s crew for scoring 95% on a U.S. Health Inspection on 08 October in New York. This is a great achievement for a vessel from a foreign-owned cruise line as the U.S. inspectors are not very accepting of appliances and equipment manufactured outside the U.S.A.! This indicates a very high level of cleanliness and maintenance.
The passengers are international. I encountered many French, French-Canadians, Germans (including a large hearing impaired group), English and other groups, mainly from Europe. They all meld together nicely and the only disadvantage is the repeating of announcements in several languages. It was quite a sight to see teams of stewards and wine stewards working together to satisfy the wants and needs of the signing hearing impaired group. Patience and good humour helped accomplish this and staff and passengers worked together splendidly.
Being a fussy eater, I pay particular attention to menus. You have quite a choice. Eat Italian if you like. Sea food and vegetarian dishes are always included and, for the carnivores, there is always red meat and poultry. It was sometimes difficult to choose among all the choices. By day three, you’ll notice many repeat dishes on the menus. Extra-cost dining is available.
If you are one of the folks who likes vinegar on French fries or fish and chips, bring your little bottle of malt vinegar as they do not stock it on the ship.
The buffet has lots for everyone from ethnic dishes to salads to light meals to a good carvary. I enjoyed the signs denoting the stations. I would like to see juices available at more than just breakfasts. Don’t miss the cook-to-order eggs and omelets! Perhaps some of us should miss the taste-tempting desserts! Caution: Hot coffee is VERY hot!
Facilities are great. If you are a movie-nut, there is the outdoor screen. Pools, hot tubs, great deck chairs with adjustable sun shields are all present. One side of the outer deck is for smokers and the other is a no-smoking zone. I’m glad to see MSC hasn’t caved in to the non-smoker lobby! If you want fresh air, choose the correct side. I heard no complaints.
High marks for the photographers on board! It has been a real delight to watch them using mime and facial expressions to get the hearing impaired to pose.
The general condition of the ship is excellent. Constant cleaning and polishing is evident. I’ve seen brass staircases being polished before but never outdoor staircases! There has been no obvious deterioration since my last cruise a year ago.
Tendering is safe and well organized with a ticket-system and two landing stages on each side of the ship. The older and less agile passengers seemed to handle the process well.
There are several small areas with music of different types. Two ladies on violin and cello do an excellent job along with their piano accompaniment. The programme lists several other locations and types of music. A very nice change from crowded, noisy show lounges.
Not found in your daily programme:
You will note many people paying $4.00 – $5.00 (plus service charges) to purchase ice cream at the mid-ship Gelato bar. At 13:00, the free ice cream machines open at the entrance to the buffet. Strangely, I didn’t see mention of the free machines in the daily programme.
You will see people using the internet café on deck 7. You insert your card and pay a charge of $5.00 every time you sign in. This is for the first minute of a connection with additional charges for each subsequent minute. If you brought your own laptop or other device, you can use Wi-Fi in the lobby or, with a cable, internet in your cabin at much better prices. This does not seem to be advertised in the daily programme. Just go see your friendly concierge at the front desk and get your sign-in and password. Take your device along and they’ll even show you how it works. Look before you buy. The top package at $70 is a very good deal! Just sign on 14 times at the café and you’d pay that! You can also sign-up on your interactive TV in the cabin.
Tread lightly in the casino. While the staff is pleasant, the table games can dip into your pockets. Your odd of winning are much lower than in North American casinos.
Blackjack players will quickly discover the casino dealers use what they call “European” rules. I know it as San Juan style. There is no checking for a blackjack since the last card goes to the dealer. This means the actions of players can influence the dealer’s second card. It also means you can be wiped out by a hidden blackjack. If the dealer shows an ace or a 10-card, don’t increase the bet to put more money at risk. Throw away your rules and don’t double or split when the dealer shows an ace or a ten card. This dealing style gives the house a large advantage if you play your usual basic strategy rules.
The craps table is single odds, only. This translates into a larger house advantage.
Just inside your cabin door is a little box with two red lights. It appears to be designed as a safe place to keep your cruise card when in the cabin. Personally, I like the card in my pocket where I know it is safe and where I can’t lock myself out by forgetting it in a holder on the wall. I’ve never noticed this device described in the daily programme but it can be quite persuasive.
If you don’t insert your card the lights, heat, and air conditioning will quickly be turned off! I suppose this is designed to save energy when you are out of the cabin. It also signals the steward the cabin is empty with a little light over your door. It can result in a cabin which is uncomfortable\y hot or cold when you return from your wanderings. Personally, I carry a previous cruise card, business card or other card to leave in the holder when the weather requires constant temperature control. You might have to inform your steward you are out, however.