Monthly Archives: May 2019

MSC Seaside – Day 7 Nassau

9:15am: Leisurely morning, because it’s a port day, but we don’t get into port until noon. This is my kind of port day.

Received an email from one of our ducks, so that’s a couple that have been found. One had his photo posted on Facebook – the one I think was found, hidden again and found again in about four hours.
Today is the day I really miss having a coffee pot in the room. I may have to see if there is any cold caffeine in the minibar – which would imply someone actually restocked it.
9:30am Actively avoiding my homework at this point. We received luggage tags in our room last night. As Black Card members, we have priority disembarkation tomorrow at 7:45am. That is not my idea of priority. I have to go tell the Luggage Forward people when to meet us outside customs to collect our larger suitcases and start the shipment home.
10:00am Called Room Service and asked for a pot of coffee and a couple of cinnamon rolls.
10:06am Six minutes! Coffee is here. This is a world record for room service. I received a pot of coffee, two coffee cups, five croissants, two chocolate croissants, three cinnamon rolls, cream, sugar, butter and jam. Jackpot! Apparently, the problem all along has been Virginia’s weird-ass food orders.

11:30am-ish We are docked in Nassau. Our excursion doesn’t meet until 12:10pm. MSC excursions seem to meet after all the “must be first off” lunatics have fled the ship.
11:45am Done with half of my homework (the easy half.) Always have three hours on the plane tomorrow to finish.
12:10pm Apparently picked the most popular excursion in the history of Nassau. In a long, long line. Saw a woman put her excursion sticker between her boobs. Uh, White Trash? That is not a temporary tattoo.
1:00pm-ish Made it to Blue Lagoon Island. Paid extra for a clamshell for some shade, since the “natural” coconut trees had fairly pathetic leaves. We also rented snorkel gear, which requires a refundable deposit, but then you have to leave time for the refund transaction.
Claimed a clamshell while Virginia visited the little girls’ room. Was asked twice if I had rented the clamshell already. Much like Muster Drill, saying “Yes” was enough.
Managed to get some snorkeling time. Fish are very close in.
Got two of our six Bahama Mamas and the alcohol almost killed Virginia. Amateur. They are made with light rum, which as we learned from Bacardi rum class can taste more like alcohol than darker rum. Also, someone probably complained about watery drinks, so there be some rum in this, arrr!
After she poured hers out (travesty!), we returned the snorkel gear to get our deposit back and tried another bar. Virginia was still horrified, I thought it was tasty. She switched to fruit punch.

5:30pm-ish Back from the excursion. Greeted by a filthy room because I managed to leave the Do Not Disturb sign on. Apparently, it really is sacred, even though I’m pretty sure Marc the room steward saw us leave. So, I asked for some extra towels and we’ll let him deal with it while we’re at dinner.
7:00pm Called Specialty Reservations to move our dinner at the Butcher’s Cut, and was told, “No problem.” So, thinking it is a bit pricey down there. We’ll get there when we can, but we have to be done in time to get to Starwalker at 9:45pm. How else to finish a cruise than with a Michael Jackson tribute?
7:45pm Just remembered I have a $70 voucher for the casino. Cash it or lose it before we get 12 miles from Miami.
8:00pm 2 bags packed. Luggage tags done. You have to put a matching tag sticker on your cabin key. I’m thinking this is so the crew can recognize who overpacked. Virginia’s key is now difficult to read.
Both showered. 95% dressed. Hoping to make it to dinner less than an hour late.
Missing first of many pirate activities this evening. Pirate Night seems to be more serious than some of the other themed evenings.
8:15pm Dinner at the Butcher’s Cut. Meal plans get one app, one main, one side, one dessert. If you don’t like the choices available, you can swap for anything equivalent on the main menu for 50% off. (They also remind you that you can purchase anything you like for full price.)
The steaks on the meal plan are an 8oz filet, a sirloin or lamb chops. We upgraded to a Tomahawk for two ($98 list, $49 on the meal plan – I think.)

On our second bottle of water, so the steak may end up looking cheap. It did. I had a gin and tonic, upgraded to Oysters Rockefeller for an appetizer and Virginia had hot tea. The money I couldn’t figure out was the water bill.
9:30pm Checking out quickly before our show reservations are cancelled. Matre’d offered to have our desserts delivered to our room since we ran out. That could be interesting, since Virginia had ice cream.
9:40pm Watching people jockey for seats. It’s getting ugly.
9:45pm Good show. The issue with Michael Jackson’s songs is that the videos are iconic, as well, so adding or replacing items doesn’t jibe.
10:20pm Cashed in our casino “winnings.” Marc will be getting a tip after all.
10:25pm Hid the last two ducks. One was immediately found.
10:40pm Not the time to look at photos. Not that there is ever a good time …
Random Thoughts: I miss iced tea. No cruise line includes sodas, but most include water, tea and coffee. MSC has iced tea in the buffet out of a machine – which means it’s diluted mix and it is vile. I miss decent iced tea for free everywhere on the ship.

MSC Seaside – Day 6 Sea Day

7:00am Waiting for our breakfast delivery. I did the form last night instead of Virginia, so the question is – will we get another breakfast tower or not?
It’s gorgeous outside – it’s a shame it’s so damn early. The Behind the Scenes tour is 90 minutes away.


Just checked the WiFi because photos aren’t uploading. Except for a couple of hiccups like this, the WiFi has been solid all over the ship – and it hasn’t disconnected at random times. The only issue is that you can’t force a device offline from another device (which Norwegian lets you do.) So, if you leave your iPad online in the cabin, there’s no way to get your phone online until you go back to the cabin, get the iPad and logout.
You also can’t charge devices while you’re away, because the room requires a room key to turn on the power. I haven’t tried using my hotel key which was an old trick on Norwegian until they started enforcing “no bodies, no power” in the rooms.
7:30am Breakfast has arrived and a much shorter tower than yesterday. I am now in charge of ordering breakfast.

Just remembered I have homework due this week. What day is this?
8:00am Slamming down breakfast. Meeting point for the excursion is the theater, so that’s one place we’ve been before. However, it’s four decks down and that means the dreaded elevators. As slowly as Christmas came when you were a child, as slowly as five o’clock comes when you’re an adult, as slowly as Virginia gets ready in the morning, nothing is as slow as the elevators on this ship. Add in the staggering number of people who do not know “down” from “up”, and you are almost guaranteed to be late for everything.
8:20am Signed in. Waived. I don’t remember signing waivers before. Tagged. First question will be “Can you show me where coffee is made and can I have a large sample?” Second question will be “Why is the casino closed when were in the middle of the ocean?”

Seeing a lot of open-toed shoes down here. Waiting to see if there’s a shoe check. (Norwegian sent a woman back to her cabin to change shoes once.)
11:30am Tour wrapping up. With a glass of wine and snacks. It was a very comprehensive tour – I’ll add notes later.
Visited on the tour:

  • The stage, dressing rooms and sound control booth in the theater
  • The Yacht Club (marketing genius!)
  • The crew bar
  • The red and white wine cellars
  • The drink cellar
  • The galley storeroom
  • The laundry
  • The crew & passengers laundry
  • The print shop
  • The main galleys
  • Wine and snacks to end

We were each given a backpack at the end of the tour.
We’ve been on other Behind the Scenes tours, and this felt more detailed than others. It also cost less. We’ve never been allowed in the “private” crew area before. We’ve never heard the print shop mentioned although other ships must have one – that’s where the Daily Planner is created.
It’s interesting that there are two laundries, basically one for linens (towels, sheets, tablecloths, napkins) and one for clothes – staff and officers uniforms and guest laundry items. We saw the infamous machine that puts the semi-permanent tags on your clothes when you send them out. The crew can do their own laundry or some just pay other crew members to do it for them.
Only an Italian (or perhaps French) cruise ship would have separate wine cellars to keep red and white wines at serving temperature.
The genius portion of the tour was visiting the Yacht Club. I now wonder why Norwegian doesn’t think to show the Haven. “Here’s the private bar. Here’s the private pool. Here’s the restaurant – there’s no set times, just eat when you want. Here’s the concierge who solves all your problems.” Seriously? Look at all the room up here. Look at all the services. Why am I in the cheap seats? Brilliant marketing.
MSC crew doesn’t call the main corridor “I-95” like on other cruise lines. It’s the “corridor.”
12:15pm Lunch at the Seashore restaurant. This is our first non-buffet lunch. Another relatively small menu.
12:30pm Captain’s announcement – the first I’ve heard. Well, didn’t hear because it’s noisy in the restaurant and nobody else seems to care what the Captain has to say. The beginning was navigation information which very few of us care about so it generally gets drowned out.
1:00pm Photo Gallery. What exactly is in the package Virginia purchased?
2:00pm Cappuccino at the Seashore Bar. First drink at a bar all week that wasn’t comp’ed – and there’s no booze in it. (Virginia tells me before every cruise that she wants to spend some evenings at a bar listening to music and it never, ever happens. We will watch inane game shows. We will see shows. We will go to the buffet. We will have snacks at the 24-hour restaurant. We will never listen to music.)
2::45pm Naps and homework. I’m not napping.

MSC Seaside – Day 5 St Maarten (Abridged)

Crack of Dawn: It’s another early excursion.
7:00am Breakfast arrived – our second attempt at American breakfast. Thinking someone extrapolated three orders of bacon (Virginia meant “extra bacon”) into three orders of everything. This is a lot of eggs. I will just call it the “Breakfast Tower.”

Breakfast Tower

When you order “bread”, you get bread and not toast. When you ask for it to be toasted, you get bread. We did get jelly and butter this morning.
I have coffee, so I’m happy. It really is nice coffee.
They take the order form away after you sign it, so I can’t verify everything, but Virginia had bacon and eggs, and I have coffee, so I don’t care.

Morning in St Maarten.
We have our first trip to Maho Beach today, the beach where you go to see airplanes and not sand. We’ve been to St Maarten before, just never there.
7:55am Slamming down breakfast so we can head out. I thought I should post this for all the ladies desperately waiting for a photo of me in my Speedos.

You’re welcome.
8:35am Checked in for the excursion. No ponchos issued. Good weather ahead!
8:40am Excursion called. Right on time again. Wondering about the people who think MSC is inefficient.

(They did spell “St Maarten” incorrectly, but they knew one of the vowels was doubled.)
9:00am Survived the parking lot march. Driver saved the front seats for us. Sometimes, crying works. As the bus pulled out of the parking lot, an ambulance (with lights and siren blazing) was pulling in. I hope they weren’t coming for us.
9:20am Entering St Martin. Second country in one day. Time to switch from Dutch Gin to French wine.
9:30am Orient Bay Beach. Still rebuilding from the hurricane. Only two bars open. The tour doesn’t even stop. Very sad.

9:45am Driving through Grand Case. Rebuilding. Hurricane Irma was a bitch.
10:15am Marigot. Half-hour stop. Multiply souvenir total charges by two to get dollars spent per hour.
Virginia found the jewelry maker she couldn’t buy something from in 2015 because she ran out of cash. Same vendor, same location, same handmade jewelry – some still hand-colored by his girlfriend (not sure if she’s the same girlfriend.) So, something survived the hurricane.
Hurricane Irma is still the star of the tour, which is tragic. For islands that get almost all their supplies by air or ship, it takes a long, long time to rebuild, especially when most of the money is from tourists who don’t pay to see devastation. It’s not as bad as I feared, but it’s not as good as I had hoped.
11:15am Maho Beach. Plane landed as we were trying to park. Don’t think they have the same guarantee as Alaska whale watching.
Plane-watching at Maho Beach is like deep-sea fishing on other islands – you go when the tour times are, not when the planes actually arrive. So, Jet Blue arrived while we were a couple of miles away (but we saw it) and a commuter plane landed while we were in the traffic jam for the parking lot.
The beach is packed. We found two seats at a bar. All we had was plastic, but if the charge was over $20, they’d take it. Luckily, their signature drinks are $13 each.

Jet Fuel and Purple Nurple

YouTube has invented an entire generation that thinks an iPhone is the best possible way to capture anything and if it’s on a stick, you’re a serious photographer.
I’m pretty sure some of the people in the water are just trying to get other people out of their shot.
12:15pm Carousel Gelato Factory. Why wouldn’t a French-Dutch island have an Italian gelato factory? The Stratcietella was molto bene. Our driver told someone there’s one more photo stop and we’re heading back to the ship. (We sail at 2pm.)
12:30pm One last overlook of the Dutch side. Can’t see the ship. Hmm. Hope it’s further down the road.
Virginia just showed me her photo of what’s in a Jet Fuel. Glad I am not driving the bus. Wondering why I’m not asleep.
1:05pm The ship is still at the dock. Whew. So is the Allure of the Seas. That’s a lot of tourists.
1:45pm Back in the cabin.
2:00pm As suggested by a couple we met at the Meet & Greet, Virginia now has a redneck Sharps container.

2:30pm Finally saw our next door neighbors in the buffet this afternoon, just after I mentioned to Virginia that I hadn’t seen them on their balcony since the first afternoon during sail away when they were wearing matching “God is Good” t-shirts and Virginia decided to tell them about the bimbos on the Norwegian Bliss that had flashed a Coast Guard boat escorting us out of the harbor. Their response was muted “Tsk, tsk, the things people do”, but I figured the rest of the cruise, they’ve been down in the Chapel, praying for her immortal soul. So, I was glad to see them eating at last. Virginia is either saved or a lost cause.
5:00pm Attended our first MSC Voyagers Club party. Since we status-matched from Norwegian Platinum Plus, we are Black Card members (soon to be called Diamond members.) They are changing the name because “diamond” reflects all the values provided. It will also prevent angry people of all races and colors from yelling, “I’m Black, dammit!” at the crew.
The last couple of Platinum Plus parties in Norwegian were hosted by the Future Cruise team and were basically sales calls (with free drinks) but the MSC party invitation came from the cruise director and the Captain mentioned we’d have drinks again when he found out our status at the Meet & Greet, so I have higher hopes.
The Captain came by and said, “Hello.” He asked if we were on a back-to-back since he recognized us. He told the couple we were sitting with (Norwegian cruisers and in the Yacht Club this week) he would see them at the Voyagers Club party tomorrow. There’s another one?
Interesting to watch the senior staff all toast and sip with the Captain and then immediately have their glasses collected. Meanwhile, I had three sips of my red wine and was asked if I wanted another.
So, hearing the Captain speak about new ships and the new terminal is much more interesting than hearing a salesperson talk about cruises.
I had another Aperol Spritz after the red wine. I’m hoping we will see the vat of Aperol Spritz on the Behind the Scenes tour in the morning.
Also, the Captain was talking with other guests when we left. The last time I spent that much social time with a Norwegian Captain, I had paid to have him perform our renewal vows.
I have always said there are Captains who are ambassadors of the line and there are Captains who drive the ship. This is an ambassador – even if nobody ever introduces the rest of the senior staff.
6:00pm Had our photos taken on the Bridge of Sighs. This is a romantic bridge across the two towers of the ship. You can look down though the Bridge of Sighs ten decks or so. For Virginia, it is the Bridge of Screams. Mainly screaming, “Don’t look down!”
6:45pm More photos. I hate photos. Virginia has bad legs and a bad back, but she can stand for hours for photos that I can guarantee we will never buy. Ship photographers do the same poses regardless of the subject, so there are some standard poses I know one or both of us will veto. But, boy, can she stand a long time!
6:55pm (or so) Stopped by the photo counter to move the photos in my account to Virginia’s, since she has the unlimited package. Others have said this was very painful and this went easily, so I’m doubtful.
7:05pm Found the funny photographer. He’s the one who shot photos at the Black Card party, He thought our standard “choking” photo concept was funny.
7:30pm Dinner at Ocean Cay, the final specialty restaurant on the ship. Ocean Cay is also the name of one of the decks of the Seaside and the name of MSC’s new private island. Marketing needs to work a bit harder on the naming. We met a woman the other night who was extremely confused because Ocean Cay wasn’t on the Ocean Cay deck. Wait until she finds out Ocean Cay isn’t on Ocean Cay, the island, either.
This is a very small menu and if you are on the dinner package, even more so, because a number of dishes are excluded.
Crab cakes were excellent. The fancy pasta with a name Virginia didn’t recognize was basically linguine and clam sauce and I would order it again.
We both finished with pistachio ice cream. I’m afraid Virginia is going to try to smuggle some home in our suitcases.
9:45pm Tonight’s show is Fly. We missed getting to the theater in time for the XL seats. The MSC theater has comfy seats, but there are a couple on each side and in the front row that are seats and a half. So, if you feel squeezed in a regular seat, find those.
10:45pm Had almost enough luck in the casino to counter Virginia’s lack of it. Almost. The fun part of penny slots is hitting a 500 point win and seeing the lights and hearing the bells go off. The sad part is realizing it’s five bucks.
We found our invitation to the Welcome Back reception in the room. It’s tomorrow night, which means formal attire – it’s the second formal night of the cruise. See earlier tirade on the stupidity of formal night.
Random Notes: This was one of our shortest port calls ever. Because we’re calling on Nassau on Friday instead of just taking two full sea days to get back to Miami, we were in port in St Maarten from 7am until 2pm. Then, we head to Nassau, 940 nautical miles away – over nine times the distance from St Thomas to St Maarten. Probably not a good day to roll your own excursion.
The excursion we took was visiting ten points around the island and it was illuminating, depressing and hopeful all at the same time. The damage from Hurricane Irma was presented very matter of fact, not asking for help or sympathy, just the fact that hurricanes happen and damages result. We learned that September 5, 1995, Hurricane Luis hit St Martin as a Cat 5 storm. Twenty-two years and a day later, Irma hit. There is still damage from Luis. That’s how bad hurricanes can be in a relatively poor country that depends on tourism for most of their income.
We missed port calls on our Christmas cruise at St Thomas and St Maarten (among others) in 2017 because of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. There were people on Cruise Critic and Facebook bitching that their itineraries were changed because of the hurricanes. That was a trivial issue compared to what the islanders dealt with – and are still dealing with today.
Ironically, the best way to help is to visit. They need tourism. Sure, there are still some broken areas, but the islands are open for business. Take a cruise, take a plane, then take a tour and buy some rum. Buy a native a cocktail. Buy hand-crafted souvenirs. Eat in the restaurants, drink in the bars, sleep in the hotels. It’s certainly the most painless way to help your fellow man.
On my bitching about having to take photos every evening, I have been reminded that someone in my party who is not I bought the unlimited photo package so we get digital downloads of all the photos that are taken of us. This of course means we should take lots and lots of photos because otherwise the six that don’t suck are really expensive. It’s much better to have dozens of photos you’ll never show anyone, ever, because the cost per photo is lower.
We need to take lots and lots of photos because the photo situation is radically different than other lines. There is no photographer wandering in the restaurants every evening. (This is not a bad thing.) There are no photographers at the bottom of the gangway as you leave for excursions – this may be because excursion groups are formed onboard and then lead outside to the luxury coaches buses. The only way you seem to have your photo taken is to seek out a photographer or attend a party.
Someone in our party (not I) assumed MSC Cruises interrupted all your dinners and harassed you as you left the ship, and all those photos would be in the unlimited photo package. Oops.
I mentioned yesterday that our Kleenex holder had never been filled and today it was. That is an amazing coincidence or someone at MSC is reading this blog. If someone is reading the blog, I would like a Aperol Spritz delivered at 8am tomorrow, to take the edge off the early morning. (We have the Behind the Scenes tour in the morning at 8:30. So much for sleeping in on a sea day.)

MSC Seaside – Day 4 St Thomas

6:00am – Who booked an excursion the day after a port stop that lasted until 1am? We staggered out of bed, showered and headed for our 8am meeting. I missed my morning coffee since Virginia settled for a protein bar instead of going to the buffet for breakfast where she could have gotten me coffee.
8:00am Off to the buses. St Thomas doesn’t have buses, it has vans with open sides and bench seats. Also, very treacherous steps, especially when they are wet. It was raining, one of the first times we’ve ever had rain in the Caribbean.
MSC has one nice (and useful) bonus for their excursions – if it looks like rain, they give everyone a poncho as you check in. By poncho, I mean a trash bag with arm holes. I have not tried one yet, because “one size fits all” usually means “except you.” Still, it’s a nice touch. It also helps you find people from your ship at tour stops – just look for people in ill-fitting blue trash bags.
Onto the excursion – a scenic drive with a visit to Magen’s Beach and shopping. Our driver’s name was Francis. We had to know this because there were a bunch of red buses, so the way you find your bus is by knowing your driver. Finally saw Magen’s Beach, “one of the ten most beautiful beaches in the world according to National Geographic.” (We were told that a lot.)
Francis must have had a lot of old farts on his tour because he repeated everything twice. Everything. Twice.
This continued even after the first two rows of the bus started repeating the repetitions. “I think this beach was in National Geographic.” “Isn’t it one of the most beautiful beaches in the world?”
Lighten up, Francis.
There were beautiful views of clouds and fog all the way up the mountain.
9:00am We went to Mountain Top, the second-highest point on St Thomas (and the one with a very expansive gift shop) which gave a wonderful view of the tops of the clouds. The gift shop is world famous for its banana daiquiri. World famous for its banana daiquiri, the gift shop is on the second highest point on St Thomas.

While I was taking photos between rain clouds, Virginia was finding dog clothes. That’s how big the souvenir store is – they have pet clothes. I got myself a hat to help keep the rain off, so naturally the rain immediately stopped.
9:30am On the way down from the Mountain Top (which is the second highest point on St Thomas), we paused to look at the clouds blocking our view of Water Island, “the smallest of the US Virgin Islands.” I give Francis props for having the humor (and the balls) to stop at a photo stop that was completely fogged in. Well played, Sir.
After the mountain, we spent two hours at Magens Bay, “one of the ten most beautiful beaches in the world, according to National Geographic.” Virginia was feeling shaky, so we hit the restaurant. They were serving breakfast, which I found hilarious. I’m not sure why – I just think a burger stand on a beach (even one of the ten most beautiful beaches in the world, according to National Geographic) shouldn’t have separate services. Virginia wanted a cheeseburger and had to settle for an egg, ham and cheese sandwich. I will be forever grateful to this place, because although the waitress/cashier/runner seemed a wee bit stressed (“Customers? On a day a ship is in port?”), she had coffee. Blissful coffee. Wonderful coffee. OK, it was caffeine and I needed it.
After Virginia had breakfast, she felt guilty about taking up a table, so we had a Johnny Cake with ham and cheese, and I had more coffee.

Coffee. Coffee. Coffee.

I still can’t believe there isn’t a coffee pot in the cabin on the ship.

Are you going to finish that Johnny Cake?

There were birds everywhere, so we cleared off our table so they wouldn’t attack us.
We never made it into the water. There is something quite relaxing about watching people trying to have a day’s worth of fun in an hour, while enjoying coffee.
Looking down across the bay, I remember thinking, “This must be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.” I’m not sure who would rank something like that.
After the beach break, it was back to town for shopping. Virginia was so tired she didn’t want to shop. This is a miracle on the order of the loaves and fishes. So, we wandered down the street to catch the shuttle boat that would return us to the ship.
1:00pm We joined the mob waiting for the boat. In the Caribbean, “return you to the ship” means “take you to the opposite end of the shopping strip mall conveniently located parallel to the dock.”
The boat ride was quick but I realized one of the advantages of traveling an international cruise line is that on a water taxi, diesel fuel and marine exhaust are not the most annoying smells. Aftershave and cologne are.
1:30pm Safely off the water taxi. Able to breathe again. Virginia needed a restroom. I know from experience that this needs to be played delicately, since we will be spending money in whatever establishment she pees in. (It’s like dogs marking their territory.) As God was smiling on me today, the two closest places were a sushi restaurant (never happening) and The Tap and Still (“Beer, Booze and Burgers.”)
The Tap and Still received two of the two votes in our group and was elected as the bathroom. As Virginia fled to make a deposit, I had a Captain Morgan & Ginger Ale, because I didn’t want to appear rude.

Captain & Ginger

Virginia came back and ordered Club Soda, so I was glad one of us was being really polite and taking full advantage of the facilities. In fact, I had another Captain & Ginger just to make sure everyone was happy.
This may be the time to mention that MSC doesn’t seem to have any Ginger Ale onboard, so I wasn’t really drinking, I was stocking up for the rest of the week.
We ordered lunch – which required us to fill out our own order blank. We turned it in (to the same bartender who made our drinks) and she handed it back because I hadn’t specified any toppings for my Patty Melt and all the toppings were included.
I had failed ordering.
I selected grilled onions, since they should be there, anyway, and grilled mushrooms because they sounded good.
It was. It was an excellent bar burger and fries.

I began to worry about the number of drinks I was having, so I ordered the locally brewed IPA. Very tasty.

At this point, I had successfully completed both tiers of the Tap and the Still. Virginia had another Club Soda because she was still rocking the “Too Cool to Drink” look. Nobody believes it in the islands.
We wandered down the street to the ship and passed Islands in the Sun – a boutique (an expensive souvenir stand) run by a lovely Indian gentleman. Virginia bought two dresses but didn’t get sucked into the high-quality, discount jewelry. She’s losing her touch, or he’s losing his.
Then, it was back to the ship, where we realized we only had two hours until dinner.
4:00pm Virginia was thirsty so she ordered water from room service. The boutique may have been cheaper. I know the drinks at lunch were.
Virginia is napping while I’m documenting. If I nap, I will forget this. That’s how good the IPA was.
I just had one of the Coke Zeroes. Mainly because I wanted to feel rich.
6:00pm Time for old folks’ dinner at the Butcher’s Cut steakhouse . Our waitress was the same woman who helped us book our dinners right after we boarded. Much bonding ensued.
The wall into the steakhouse is Asti Spumante bottles, which is interesting since it’s not on the wine list. Virginia saw the bottles and remembered her sister and (late) brother-in-law drinking it early in their relationship and requested a glass (I had to ask her the reason it was special because I didn’t know the story.) The sommelier apologized and said it wasn’t on the wine line, and suggested something similar. Virginia said it was a sentimental choice, and it had to be Asti, but to just skip it. She said it was surprising it wasn’t available since there was a wall of bottles entering the steakhouse. At that point, the sommelier said, “I don’t have it on the wine list, but it’s in the bar, so I’ll just get it for you.”
This at long last is how you solve a customer request. Tell them where it isn’t, tell them where it is, and make it appear.
So, after dinner, we each had a glass of Asti Spumante and toasted my sister-in-law and her late husband.
Virginia told me the story of them having it their wedding reception or on a date or some important date. She finally texted her sister for the story and it turns out two of her sisters drank it in Italy on vacation. So, celebrating a marriage, getting hammered on vacation. It’s the thought that counts.
What counts for me is the steakhouse team made it happen. The steaks were good, too.
8:30pm We had reservations for the show but skipped it. Long days and nights are catching up with us.
Back in the room, we found our invitation to the MSC Voyagers Club Black Party, perhaps another chance to drink with the Captain. We also found two MSC ball caps on our bed, which must be our Voyages Club gift (in addition to the chocolate ships.)
10:30pm We’re doing 9 knots. Somebody is trying to make 100 nautical miles take a long time.
10:45pm (prediction – it’s actually 9:45pm now) Tonight is the Country-Western party and Virginia got me a Texas flag shirt to wear. I wore the shirt to dinner because we’re going to be asleep before the party starts. In fact, Virginia’s snoring is distracting me while I’m writing this.
Random Notes: We got a statement for our minibar consumption. I think we’re supposed to do the forms but I never have. The minibar has never been refilled and it’s now clogged with the room service drinks we’ve ordered. I guess the Coke Zero we requested from our room steward will never arrive. At least he’s providing ice now.
There is a Kleenex holder in the bathroom that has never been filled. I’m not sure why it’s there. Maybe Europeans never sneeze.

MSC Seaside – Day 3 Evening in San Juan

12:35am We finally got Room Service. I called again and they gave me the answer to set up a callback – which was a couple minutes later. We’ll see what we get. We’ll be ordering breakfast before we crash.
9:15am Waiting for breakfast delivery between 9:30am and 10:00am. It looks like a beautiful day outside. We still have hours before we hit port this evening.

Morning View

10:10am Room Service delivered the Continental Breakfast items but none of the hot items (i. e. all the stuff a diabetic eats.) I got a call from Room Service after the server left that said American breakfast is not available after 9:30am – which was the time I ordered it. I’m pretty sure this is not documented anywhere. THIS IS A MAJOR PROBLEM. I don’t like “unwritten rules.” Also, if you miss a half-hour window by ten minutes, then not having food ready is on you. The order should have been prepared while the galley was open. Also, if we can get other food (sandwiches) from Room Service and the buffet is open now, don’t tell me the galley is “closed.”
This is the issue that may cancel our Christmas cruise because Virginia is on medication that requires she take it with food within two hours of waking up which is a logistical nightmare if it takes an hour to get ready to go anywhere, especially on days with early excursions. With food means high protein and low carb for diabetics. On Norwegian, I just pay the $7.95 for hot food and get room service.
It is a tremendous pain in the ass traveling with a diabetic but it is also a fact of life and one that should not be foreign to a cruise line, especially one that is trying to break into the American market. We still don’t have anyone that understands what a Sharps container is and now the breakfast issue. If we can’t get hot food (protein, please) before a morning excursion, that’s going to pretty much kill our mornings.
I find Virginia’s food issues unreasonable at times, but they’re not unusual. Anyone on this medication needs food within two hours and if they’re diabetic, they should avoid carbs. Sure, we could shower and go to the buffet (or not shower, like some), but we’re on vacation and if you offer a service, it should work. If the galley shuts down at 9:30am and the order is supposed to be delivered between 9:30am and 10:00am, the galley can prepare it before it closes.
A couple of other strange (to Americans, perhaps) things: my coffee has sugar available but no cream. The rye bread we ordered is just that – bread. Not toast. I picked it up and thought, “European hotel breakfast buffet.” Unfortunately, there isn’t a wire toaster in the room. There’s also nothing for the bread: butter, jam – but I think that’s ordered separately, and since Virginia expected me to make a bacon sandwich (had the bacon arrived), she probably left it out.
11:00am i started my own Sharps container crusade. I called Guest Services, which is really the front desk, said, “I don’t know if I need to speak to you or medical, but my wife is diabetic and needs a Sharps container for her needles” (keywords to trigger an “a-ha!” moment underlined.) I was promised a call back.
I don’t like triage systems, even though I worked in them at IBM for years. If you need multiple levels to answer a simple request, the training (or experience) is lacking. When I started doing technical support, I was level one at best. Within a couple of months if experience, I was level two, and by the time I got moved to another team, I was answering questions that we had sent straight to the lab when I started. I’m not a genius – my whole team did this. We just took good notes and the same types of questions repeated until you had the answer internalized. The MSC Seaside has been home-ported in Miami for over a year. Even if we assume nobody in Europe has diabetes, somebody sailing from Miami has needed a Sharps container before.
1:15pm No callback yet. When Virginia gets out of the shower (lazy day), I may most on down to medical. Still five hours until our excursion!
2:30pm Late lunch in the buffet. Many of the people eating with us were just st the pool, or are going there next. Or, they just like showing their boobs. Caved and tried the “real food” and the cheeseburgers are actually really good.

Small Glass

This is why I’m dehydrated on cruises. This is the free drinks glass. Seriously, can’t you have decent-sized glasses? All the free drinks are watered down anyway. I know I’m supposed to get my steps in, but my dentist has larger spit cups. (For the record, this is the same cup and “drink” machine as Norwegian.)
3:15pm Went to go ask Medical for a Sharps container. Went down to 4 and stepped out onto what looked like I-95 (the cruise ship version.) There were people out of uniform but they all had name tags, so rather than risk the brig for trespassing, I decided to go up to deck 5 and walk to the forward elevators. Deck 5 is where Guest Services is, and it was before the forward elevators. I stopped at Guest Services since it was there. I told Carmen my wife was diabetic and needed a Sharps container for her needles. Carmen said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. What’s the room?” She called someone on the phone, repeated the request, hung up and said, “One will be delivered.” Now, we wait.
4:30pm Feels like we’re docked. Our excursion meets at 6pm so we still have some time to kill. This is good, since we both forgot to charge our camera batteries.
Just had the arrival announcement in multiple languages. Pretty sure by the end of the list, they’re saying, “Look outside. Figure it out.” This is the first time I can think of where people without excursions are free to disembark and we have an excursion that won’t leave for ninety minutes. It’s also the first port call where the All Aboard time is tomorrow – 12:30am, to be exact.
5:00pm I’m glad we’re still in the room since we just got a call about the Sharps container. Carmen called and reintroduced herself (remember what I said about taking ownership?) and said that she spoke with Housekeeping and they don’t have any left, and Medical doesn’t have any, either. This does not solve the problem, but it a) says it’s Housekeeping’s problem, so our room steward should know what one is, b) closes the issue with an answer that is not optimal but reasonable, c) says she tried multiple departments before calling me back and d) throws Housekeeping under the bus, which is useful for her protection when I write a complaint.
Since I had her on the phone, I asked if we could take our portable Sharps container (yes, we’ve had one all along but it will be full before the end of the cruise) to Medical and have them empty it. She said she’d check and call me back. Two minutes later, the phone rang. Carmen said we can dump our waste at Medical or we could leave it out for Housekeeping and they could take it down and return it. Since Marc doesn’t know what a Sharps container is, I’ll think we’ll do it ourselves. I also know if anything else comes up, I’m going to Carmen. Time to get ready to visit Bacardi.
5:45pm Checked in for the excursion. Have our official nerd stickers. There are multiple excursions, so they need numbers, otherwise the stickers would just say, “Tourist” or “Victim”.
6:15pm Off to Casa Bacardi. Before boarding the bus, we got our first decent view of the MSC Seaside, our floating home away from home this week.

An Evening in San Juan: We crossed off a bunch of my bucket list tonight. Visit the Bacardi distillery. Check. Have a bartender comp me a drink after the bar was closed. Check. (OK, I may have done that before. Tip early, tip big.) Spend over $100 at Walgreens without buying Virginia’s drugs. Check. (It took a Walgreens with souvenirs.) Do shots with the waiter at Senor Frogs. Check. See a ship after dark without watching it sail away. Check. Our first evening in a Caribbean port.

Random Notes: This is an interesting port call. We will be at the pilot station at 4pm (per the Daily Program which has navigation notes [I love this]) and we’re scheduled to arrive in port at 5pm. Our excursion meets at 6pm. We’re in port until 1am – all aboard is 12:30am. This is the first evening we’ve spent on an island in the Caribbean.
Nobody has said anything about time zones. I’m pretty sure our ports are Atlantic time and we’re on Eastern time. This either means we’re staying on ship’s time the entire voyage (I think Royal does this) or they will tell people as we disembark for excursions tomorrow. Norwegian adjusts the clocks at 2am the day of the change or the day of the first port.
There doesn’t seem to be any way to hear announcements in the cabin. Most are the Cruise Director plugging the day’s activities (the Captain doesn’t seem to do daily status/weather/location announcements, I guess because so much is covered on the Daily Program), but it doesn’t mean I don’t try to listen to them, without running into the hallway.
On reflection, the piece that is missing in the service is something I trained my team at IBM on years ago – it doesn’t matter if you solve the problem on the first call, what matters is that the customer thinks you care about him and his problem. I would tell people “I will fix it” before I was sure anything was broken. I’m not getting that here. I see getting passed to someone else because “it’s not my problem.” It is as soon as I asked you, and it remains your problem until you get someone else to take ownership. If you want delighted customers, you follow up even after someone else takes ownership to make sure it’s fixed.
Virginia asked for the Cokes in the minibar to be replaced with Coke Zero. Our room steward has no idea what she’s talking about but I think he has no idea how to make it happen. Some other team preps the kits for the minibar and it’s standardized. Marc has no idea how to go against this, and I think he’s afraid to try. Someone above him puts efficiency above satisfaction. That’s an issue.
I’m beginning to understand some of the loud complaints I used to think were rather petty.

MSC Seaside – Day 2 Sea Day

8:00am We’re doing 22 knots and it is too early to be awake when we went to bed at 2am, but it’s time to get moving to make the Meet & Greet at 10am. There is no coffee pot in the room! This is a bad time to realize this travesty.
8:30am The shower is smaller than some, but it worked. (We don’t have a handicap room this cruise.) I did not have to “soap the walls and spin”, as one of our friends suggested. I like the towels. Not that fond of the soap gel, but Virginia hasn’t found the bar of soap she’s sure was packed.
Had a Coke from the minibar ($3.75) in lieu of free room coffee. Well played, MSC.
10:00am Attended the Cruise Critic Meet & Greet. Offered orange juice, champagne, Aperol spritz or a vodka martini. The Captain is here, and he led a toast.
He also came and introduced himself. They had a cake. They took a group photo with the senior staff. Summary: I had two Aperol Spritzes. I have a new favorite cruise line. Two things missing: the Captain or the Cruise Director didn’t introduce the other senior staff and we didn’t get a contact card with people’s numbers.
12:00pm Lunch in the buffet. There’s salads, pasta, pizza, soups, sandwiches, veal scallopine and more. Heard Joe Sixpack demand, “Where’s the real food?” Why do others hate Americans so? (Joe – hamburgers and hot dogs are at the grill station. Also, be brave. Veal scallopine is almost like the Salisbury Steak in your TV dinners.)
Virginia needs to stop asking for “Just water.” We’ve bought two bottles of Italian still water so far.
1:00pm Slot Pull. Losing money as a group. Actually, turned $25 each into $32 each. We’re rich! ($450 in, $583 out [big winner gets $39] in about twenty minutes.)
2:00pm Lost all the slot pull winnings. I think it’s nap time.
2:15pm We found two chocolate ships in our room when we returned. This was an MSCism I really thought I had misunderstood. Black Card members get a “gift” each cruise – a chocolate model of the ship. It is literally that – the MSC Seaside in milk chocolate. Maybe they do know diabetics are onboard.

3:00pm Room Service called to see if we were available for a delivery. This is how you knock when the “Do Not Disturb” light is on. The caller thanked me for answering. Waiting to see if the dreaded chocolate-covered strawberries will arrive.
3:15pm It’s the chocolate-covered strawberry delivery. Virginia said the chocolate is good, the strawberries are good, she still hates them together. I’m looking at the chilled bottle of Prosecco and two flutes that accompanied them, and am willing to overlook the strawberries.
Ah, the Europeans. You can’t get ice in a Coke but your chilled Prosecco will be in an ice bucket.
7:30pm Dinner at Roy Yamaguchi’s Pan-Asian Restaurant. The MSC meal plans have separate menu pages in the specialty restaurants, one app, one entree, one dessert. You can substitute any item off the full menu for 50% off, and you can buy anything you want at full price. The Teppanyaki place from last night is also branded as Roy’s place. I expected it to beat Norwegian just because there was a name attached but it didn’t. First course was crab cakes and they were very, very good. Waiting for our Asian filets. The filets here were better than the Wagyu sirloin at Teppanyaki but that may be a chef issue and not a raw materials issue. Pistachio ice cream was amazing.
10:45pm BeerProv comedy show. Improv is only as funny as the audience’s suggestions, but these guys rose above the “hilarious” audience. “What’s a country with a distinctive accent?” “Australia!” “Russia!” “Alabama!” “Chicago!” Find the suggestions that don’t meet the criteria.
Midnight: No towel animal. Trying for room service. No answer. Not the way to end the day.
Formal Night: Seriously, can’t we get rid of dress-up nights? There is the dressed to the nines crowd who look really good, the compromised with the wife gang like me who just look uncomfortable (I had to wear a jacket, and I passed a guy who had to wear a tie. Together, we were dressed up.) Then, there are the people that just ignore it and wear whatever. Plus, some of the women were told “formal” and heard “hookers”, so while mildly entertaining to see (mostly, I’m trying to eat here), it’s not formal – unless filing a formal complaint counts. MSC has a lot more people at least trying than Carnival did, but it’s still a whole lot of extra crap to pack, just so you can spill food on something expensive. The people who like to dress up look good, so let them dress up. The rest of us can’t compete, so let us wear decent clothes without playing dress-up. “No shorts” and “Collared shirts” makes sense to me. Just use my dress code from prep school. The ones that can’t dress that way are in the buffet looking for “real food”, anyway.
An interesting note – since we were dressed, Virginia found a couple of photographers so we could get photos. There don’t seem to be photographers in the restaurants! We were going to do our usual “choking” photo and the photographer hesitated. “Not on formal night. The rest of the time, people act crazy, but they don’t like it on formal night.” Seriously, who was forced to wear a suit as a child and never had therapy?
Random Notes: Virginia overpacked. There are not enough hangers in the closet. Nobody seems to understand the concept of “more hangers.” You would think a cruise line with two formal nights in a week would realize women overpack.
Still trying to find a Sharps container. You would think a cruise line famous for bread, pizza and gelato would be used to catering to diabetics.
I hate the trash can. I know it’s something most people don’t even consider, but this is one of those small three-corner paper/plastic/other trash cans for recycling and the sections are insane. They expect us to produce more plastic waste than anything. On a ship? Where am I going to get plastic waste? We produce Kleenex by the score, I produce empty soda cans, and those slots are full to overflowing. No plastic.
We have discovered the infamous water issue. If you tell the waiter you just want water, they will produce a $5 bottle of still water. They don’t think “cheap bastard” and bring out the tap water like other lines. I read on Cruise Critic that Europeans didn’t get water included with their meals, so maybe they think we’re Europeans. At this rate, Virginia’s water bill is going to be higher than my bar tab.

MSC Seaside – Embarkation Day

Editor’s Note: I will have to update this as I go.

10am It’s almost time for our next cruise adventure to begin, although the adventure began yesterday, as we always fly in the day before. We flew American to Ft Lauderdale to save a little money, and flying AA always reminds me why we should take Southwest. There was nothing bad, it’s just not particularly pleasant.

The real adventure started last Friday, when Luggage Forward picked up our bags. They will deliver them to the ship today. Luggage Forward was mentioned by MSC in their packing guide. They pick up your luggage at you house, ship it UPS to the port, and deliver it to the ship. Going home, it’s reversed. It’s UPS Ground, I think, because they want a week on either side of the cruise for shipping. So, if you have a little extra cash and you don’t want to schlep your bags around, it’s an alternative.

Of course, this means our carry-ons are overpacked, so we have clothes if the bags don’t arrive.

We’re at the Intercontinental Miami, one of my favorite hotels – and one we haven’t visited in nine years, because service at this level isn’t cheap. It’s worth it, but it’s not an “every time” hotel. We generally just book the best deal we can find that doesn’t have a number or “Quality” in the title, but this is a special cruise.

Since our last stay, they added a service so amazing that every hotel should have it – there is a phone number to text with your requests or issues. Virginia forgot her toothbrush, so we texted that we needed a toothbrush, and a few minutes later, one of the bellmen delivered three kits with a toothbrush, toothpaste and a flosser. I texted this morning to add my Rewards number to the room. We’ll check that later but I got a “No problem” response.

We had dinner in Toro Toro, the Latin steakhouse in the hotel. Fabulous food, fabulous service. Again, not the cheapest meal in Miami, but worth it. I may have found my new “last meal” request.

We’re trying to get organized and then it’s off to the port to board the ship and hopefully see our luggage.

2pm On board and fed. Boarding was amazingly quick. “Black card” shortens all lines. MSC takes high-level loyalty customers seriously. MSC Black Card kicks the crap out of Norwegian Platinum Plus for boarding.

Lunch was in the buffet. It was busy, but we found seats pretty quickly.
I thought the pizza was good, Virginia said it was not the transcendent experience she was lead to believe. I said most of the people writing those reviews think Dominos is good pizza.

In the middle of lunch, I got an email from Luggage Forward that said our bags have been delivered. We’re not sure where, but there are no bags in the hall, so I’m not panicking yet.

Staff has been unbelievably helpful. We have had a bunch of people on the upsell hunt, but if you just smile and say, “No, thanks”, that’s the end of it.

I was going to cave and get the Easy Drinks package for me because I can do $200 worth of drinks in a week – and would rather have it paid off, but you have to get it for everyone in the room. Virginia doesn’t drink that much, so I passed. The staff member looked disappointed, which was sweet.

We did ask one of the specialty restaurant team to help us book the Steakhouse and Teppanyaki and she booked them, told us there was a discount for Teppanyaki if we went tonight, explained that we get a free dinner (from a special menu) as Black Card members, and mentioned you can order anything you want at a discount if you don’t want to order from the limited free menu.

Someone said the Blue Angels were in town and an F-16 (I think – May be an F-18 but it didn’t stay long) just flew over the ship, so that rumor may be true. Fighter jets are loud.
The Cruise Critic Meet & Greet invitation was in the cabin. We met Marc, our room steward, as we were entering. He had robes for us. Our slippers were already in the room.

The MSC Seaside is like the later Norwegian ships – there’s a slot for your keycard by the door which is the master power switch. (I hate these.) It also lights a signal outside so the steward knows you’re in the room – which means I can’t just use my hotel key from The Intercontinental or he’ll never know we’re gone. There’s also a switch to light “Make up the Room” and one for “Do Not Disturb.”

The MSC app is great. We booked all our shows sitting in the atrium before we went to lunch. Our daily planner online shows all our dining, our excursions and our shows.
The Behind The Scenes tour is Thursday morning. We’re booked.

There are no chocolate-covered strawberries but there is a fruit basket. That’s a step up.

3:45pm The luggage has arrived!

3:55pm Seven Dwarves and Snow White aka the General Alarm. It actually sounded before the Muster Drill. This may be because it takes five minutes to say “That was the General Alarm” in multiple languages.

5:30pm Dinner at Teppanyaki was fun, and it was not crowded, as predicted this afternoon. Very tasty. I would do it again. This may be the only specialty restaurant we paid full price to visit, and you get a 20% discount on embarkation evening. However, we paid for the Wagyu sirloin with scallops and lobster and I was not blown away. It was good, but it was not the Wagyu beef I have had at other restaurants (at a much higher price.) Good, not life-altering.

9:30pm We found a letter from the Captain that said he had been told we didn’t attend the muster drill. We did. Here’s a few failures I will document for him: we arrived at the muster station before the staff (which happens when you want to use the elevators which are cut off before the drill.) We heard a staff member tell another couple, “This is Station H [our station] – just sit anywhere.” Nothing about checking in, scanning cards or anything. I thought this was strange, but just because Norwegian and Carnival need it doesn’t mean everyone does. The General Alarm sounded five minutes before muster, so my first thought was it was a very unfortunately timed emergency and my second thought was, “Maybe this way, people will be here on time.” Nobody ever said we needed to prove we were there, but I figured they do a cabin scan, so that must be how they know.

Then we got the letter.

So, I called Guest Services and said we were in fact at the Muster Drill. They said just ignore the letter. I asked if we were supposed to sign in somewhere and they said, “Yes.” I said, “Nobody told us.” They said, “Just ignore the letter.”

This freaks me out a little bit. We’ve had a lot of Norwegian cruises and there is a muster station lead whose main job seems to be reminding people to sign in. Why doesn’t MSC do this? There were two people who mimed to the Cruise Director’s life jacket instructions in multiple languages. That was it.

If there is an emergency, I’m pretty sure there are going to be some drownings, because nobody was paying attention but me.

So, everything’s great but safety. Hmm.

9:45pm Timeless – the first night’s show was very interesting. Lots of different acts loosely tied together. Virginia was impressed. I was thinking a drama graduate called all of his classmates, said “Bring whatever script you’re working on, and let’s workshop it.” Entertaining.

10:30pm Slots are tight, and you can charge it to your room. Danger, Will Robinson!

11:30pm Just realized room service goes to a limited menu at 11pm. Sandwiches and pizza, basically. Well, the buffet is open 22 hours a day. We’re off.

Midnight: Buffet is down to cold cuts, salads (pasta, potato, chicken), desserts and pizza. The buffet bar is open. Great for drunks, not as much for diabetics.

Pretty sure the iced tea I just had was being brewed while Sophia Loren was christening the ship.

Random Thoughts: The other passengers are a mix of ages and nationalities. Most are extremely elevator-challenged. Here’s a public service announcement: People. If the door is still open, stop pressing Up. The elevator you didn’t fit into has to leave first.
Here, like other mega ships, if you need to go up and all the elevators are full, go down to go up.

If this is an Italian line based in Switzerland, catering to Europeans, shouldn’t the hamburgers and hot dogs be labeled as Ethnic food?

One Thing To Do On A Cruise

There are a lot of lists of “things to do on a cruise” and most of them suggest taking advantage of everything a modern cruise ship can offer – food, entertainment, activities, and so forth. I wanted to talk about the most important thing I do on every cruise.

I remember I’m on a ship.

It’s easy to forget, with all the food and entertainment and activities, but you are onboard an ocean-going vessel, sailing (well, using diesel-electric) across one or more of the Seven Seas.

According to the Galveston Immigration Database, my maternal grandparents and their children sailed on the Lucie from Europe (the port of Bremen) to a new home in Texas in 1854. It took them seventy days to cross the Atlantic, and then sail across the Gulf of Mexico to Galveston to disembark.

My paternal grandfather sailed from England (after leaving Ireland) to a new home in the US (first New York, later Rhode Island) on the Caronia in 1913, although I’m still trying to confirm this. Who knew Patrick was a popular name in Ireland?

Why does this matter? It matters to me because both of my parents are descended from people who decided it was time to find another place to become whomever they were destined to become, and they had to take a ship to do so.

So, I try to take at least a little time each cruise to sit on the balcony, look at the ocean, and remember that I’m not the first sailor in the family, although I may be the first with a balcony.

Ships are the reason I’m here. A cruise ship is a far cry from the Lucie or the Caronia, but it is still a ship, and we’re crossing the ocean, even if we’re just island-hopping.

So, on your next cruise, take a few minutes to remember you’re on a cruise. Most ships today are floating hotels, but they are moving you from port to port. It’s easy to forget there’s an ocean under you. Take some time. Watch it go by.

Planning Time

It’s almost time for our next cruise – our first on MSC Cruises – and we’re beginning to realize how much we ended up taking for granted by sailing the same line most of the time. (This is cruise #20 for us, with one on Carnival and eighteen on Norwegian.)
It’s almost like starting from scratch, but it’s really not because there are so many preconceived notions. Time to learn how to cruise all over again.
The preconceived notions cause questions which are probably strange to a new cruiser:

  • Why can’t I get my eDocs when they were emailed to my wife?
  • What do you mean you don’t give them a credit card at check-in?
  • Why are the port times weird (see below)?
  • Do you need to bring life jackets to muster?
  • Is there a behind the scenes tour?
  • Are there photos with the Captain?
  • Is there a mini golf course?
  • How do the different experiences work?

Between the MSC Cruises site, Cruise Critic and Facebook, we have some of these answered, but we shall see, since online answers are not always reality.
Packing is different: MSC has a formal night. Actually, there may be two. We’ve never had a formal night. It’s not that we don’t dress up at all on cruises, it’s just it hasn’t been pre-defined.
While I was contending with packing a jacket (no ties!), we discovered MSC doesn’t just do formal nights. They also have theme nights. Let’s see, so far we’ve heard about:

  • Italian night (which may just be in the main dining room)
  • White Party (which may be a late-night party like on Norwegian)
  • 70s Night (party)
  • Pirate Night (unclear – may be a rumor)

It’s like every night has a theme. That’s exhausting to me. I would like to wear a Hawaiian shirt and slacks and call it good.
Now, what’s exhausting to me was a shopping occasion for my beloved wife. I decided since I usually wear a Hawaiian shirt in the evenings, I needed to find an Italian-themed Hawaiian shirt for the Little Italy celebrations because I can wear that any time. I found a pizza Hawaiian shirt. So, that’s a good sign.
We finally got excursions booked for all the ports this week. MSC excursions seem cheaper than Norwegian excursions. We probably could have just wandered on our own, because we’ve been to many of the ports before, but we decided to find a tour to take us where we were planning to go, anyway.
I was updating our TripIt itinerary with our newly-booked excursions when I realized there are no start times for the excursions listed. There is a length of time in the description, but no start time. We get the start time when we get our tickets onboard. For those of us who like planning, this is a bit disconcerting. I know they won’t leave before we get into port, and they’ll be done before the ship leaves, but not knowing the exact time is freaking me out a bit. I’m not sure why, since finding out onboard is plenty of time, but it just does.
The port times are different than most – but I like them, mostly. We leave Miami late (I think), and the first port is San Juan, Puerto Rico (a new port for us). There’s a sea day, and then most of the next day because we get into port at 5pm. We leave at 1am the next morning. I don’t think we’ve ever had an evening in port before. (Update: Norwegian actually arrives in San Juan about the same time. It’s 922 nautical miles in just over two days – about 19 knots average speed.)
It’s a short sail from Puerto Rico to St Thomas, our next call. I would say “overnight”, but we leave at 1am. We get twelve hours in St Thomas, which is an extended day, compared to most port calls. So, we should have time to wander after the excursion.
After St Thomas, we head to St Maarten, but it’s a short day – we arrive at 7am and leave port at 2pm. So, a good day to take a ship’s excursion, so the ship will wait if you’re late.
We then have a sea day and a little more, since we arrive in our final port of Nassau at noon and sail at 7pm.
So, it looks like MSC sails based on minimal time between ports and Norwegian sails for consistent time in port. With Norwegian, I would expect two sea days to Puerto Rico, with an arrival at 7am or so the third day. I think getting in the night before and having an evening in port will be an interesting change.
I have to find the distances between ports and calculate average speeds required, given the time available. I think Norwegian tends to cruise more slowly (less fuel) to arrive in the morning. MSC Cruises is born of one of the world’s largest shipping companies. I assume they make schedules based on time required, not speed. Also, getting in at strange times means other ships may have left already and it may help with port costs.
I will be watching our speed as we go. My GPS app tracks speed as well as location.
This will be interesting. I still think the greatest challenge will be not assuming we know how everything works because not everything is the same from cruise line to cruise line.