Tag Archives: Cruises

The Captain Theory

A Captain of a cruise ship is actually a senior manager of a line of business. Each ship has a profit and loss statement, many levels of middle managers and hundreds of staff. At the top, is the Captain.

The Captain usually has a Staff Captain (second in command) who runs the engineering (making the ship run) and a Hotel Director who runs the hotel (making the passengers happy.) The Captain is also responsible for the safe navigation of the ship.

That said, I have found there are two types of Captains on cruise ships – there are brand ambassadors who focus on the customers, and those like we had this week who are invisible to the customers and manage the staff and drive the ship.

This week, we finished a cruise on the MSC Divina, where we rarely saw the Captain. Most of the senior staff were invisible. It was not our best cruise. I can’t tell you the Captain’s name without going to look it up.

Also this week, USA Today announced the ten best cruise ships for families. The winner was MSC Seaside. We sailed on the Seaside in May. Captain DiPalma was at all the functions. He seemed to be everywhere. He recognized me at the second function we attended together. He came to the Cruise Critic Meet & Greet to offer a toast. We’re friends on Facebook now.

The ship is a reflection of the Captain. Captain DiPalma runs a happy ship. I believe that is one reason why MSC Seaside beat Disney and why MSC Divina is not anywhere on the list.

Many people always ask who the Cruise Director or Hotel Director on a ship is before they travel. You might also look at the top. The Captain is where the ship begins.

MSC Divina – Day 2

Wow. This breakfast order did not look like this much on the card. Room service breakfast was served on time and everything was correct. It was tasty, as well. The salmon was on toast (not a bagel?) and there weren’t capers, but it was good and I usually don’t like salmon – except on a bagel. The meat tray was ham, turkey, salami and mortadella. The Egg McMuffin knock-off had a real poached egg and Hollandaise. Virginia said it was tasty but it needs to be served hotter than room service. The coffee was good.

The Cruise Critic Meet & Greet was fun but not very informative. We were a couple of minutes late, but people were milling about so I don’t think we missed anything. The free drink choices were Prosecco, non-alcoholic fruit punch or a vodka Martini. Day drinking at its finest.

Our cruise director ran the meeting – unlike the MSC Seaside, the Captain did not attend. Like the Seaside, the host spoke and did not introduce any of the other staff that attended. We then took a group photo, Virginia was asked to cut the cake (MSC always has a cake) and after everyone was served, the staff filed out.

So, no introductions, no little cards with contact info, just booze and cake.

We took most of the afternoon off since it was a sea day but windy enough to cancel a lot of outdoor events.

I did have a shave in the spa and managed to tour much of it trying to find the check-in desk. We will have to spend time there later since it is included with the Yacht Club.

This was the first formal (“elegant”) night so we had photos with the Captain. So, we now know he exists.

Portraits with the Captain were in the bar which is our muster station, so we knew how to get there.

We were early so we sat in the bar to listen to the music (Christmas songs, including “Christmas Time is Here”). The waitress came by with a tray of Prosecco, non-alcoholic fruit punch and Rum Sours. I had never heard of a Rum Sour. It was good. Virginia hated it.

After a minute, I realized everyone was being offered drinks. We were not in the Yacht Club. We were not asked for a card. We were given … free drinks. This was a first on any cruise and this is our 21st.

The formal night menu in Le Muse was disappointing – the entrees were two vegetarian selections and two seafood. The escargot appetizer was decent but I’ve had better (at Le Bistro, for example.) Virginia and I both had filets. I had Crepes Suzette for dessert because it’s not like you see that on a menu many places these days. It was excellent and saved the meal.

We stopped by the room to change and someone had delivered a box of macrons. To diabetics. Things are looking up.

Back to the Top Sail lounge for late night (for us, anyway.) Different singer, same pronunciations. Smooth jazz is not a way to keep people involved and if you have a singer performing with a prerecorded track, it’s watching professional karaoke.

The room service menu is really limited. We finally ordered pizza for a late-night snack. Room service options is one place Carnival kicks other lines’ asses. All you offer is three sandwiches or a couple of salads? Yes, I know we could go to the buffet, but on Seaside, the buffet after about 10pm was sandwiches and pizza.

Having the buffet open 22 hours a day is an MSC selling point. Having decent selections 22 hours a day would be even better.

The concierge handled our pizza order. The concierge this afternoon got my shave appointment. The one this morning told us how to traverse the ship most efficiently. So far, the concierge has been more useful than the butler, which is the same as the Norwegian Haven.

Time to see how the pizza is. My order was wrong but it looks good. It’s pizza, how bad can it be? (It was very tasty.)

We lose an hour tonight. Curse you, time zones!

MSC Divina – Day 1

I am behind on this and I’m not journaling as I was on the MSC Seaside, but this is our first time in the Yacht Club, and I hate long reviews, so I’ll write as we go. Edits as I’m corrected or remember more.

So, weirdness first. I’m writing this in the Top Sail lounge, the exclusive Yacht Club bar, it’s 9:15pm and there are a dozen people in here, at most. This I do not understand.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Embarkation was smooth but we’re in the Yacht Club. That said, Miami cab drivers suck. Our cab driver would not take us to the pre-board tent for the Yacht Club and the cops directing traffic don’t want to admit there are two ways onto the ship. While it’s not directly MSC’s fault, if you tell your highest-paying guests they have a private doorway, you have to tell the ground staff there are two doors.

After I yelled at the cab driver, and Virginia and I both gave a lady cop death looks, we just got out in the middle of the street by the White Tent.

After that, embarkation was easy – although we didn’t have a private line for security, we just cut around most of the line and then went to the VIP room. It’s designed for people to wait, but we got to the port late for us, so there was no real waiting. We were lead onto the ship, showed how to use our door cards for priority elevator access (hit or miss), and lead to the Top Sail lounge.

After greetings, we went to our room. Deluxe Suite 15021 is just down the hall from the lounge, between the lounge and the exit to the elevators.

There are four banks of elevators. This is a much better design than Norweigan’s Breakaway class and MSC Seaside which have two. Why? People need to go up and down. A lot. Advantage, Divina.

The private restaurant is aft and all the cabins are forward. If you don’t mind walking on deck, you can get there on 15. If it looks like the sky is about to open and you’re in thirty knot winds, you have to go down, across and up. We would use deck seven to go across because there are lots of public areas on seven.

There are no room 17s or deck seventeen because 17 is an unlucky number for Italians. I have to find out why. 13 is unlucky because it was the number of people at the Last Supper. Italians probably also count the caterers.

Le Muse, the Yacht Club private restaurant is nice, it’s just on the opposite end of the ship from the cabins. The menu is a bit limited, but the food is tasty and the waiters are attentive. I do see how Americans who have no been beyond the borders might freak out because most of the choices at lunch were Continental. The classic menu has a filet but I could see getting tired of steak every day if you don’t know what any of the other dishes are.

Muster was chaotic but better than MSC Seaside. We managed to get signed in this time but we didn’t have our life jackets – and this is the first cruise since 2010 that they were required. Virginia was having back issues, so instead of going back to the room, we just said we hadn’t been to the room yet.

Muster on MSC is pointless. All is does is make people find their muster station once, which I suppose is useful information but nobody pays attention to anything else, and since it’s in four or five languages, it takes forever. So, we watched people take cell photos of each other in their life jackets, and then everyone left. If MSC ever has an emergency, people are dying.

This bothers me. I’m sure that the drill meets SOLAS requirements and I watch the video and read the info sheets, but they need a better system if they are trying to actually teach people what to do in an emergency.

Most of the afternoon was in the Top Sail lounge, watching the sail away. As it’s forward, it’s a great view. Plus, there weren’t many people there.

Dinner was back in Le Muse, the Yacht Club private restaurant. I had risotto which was amazing. It was “I think I’m going to cry” good. It was the kind of good that would make a Keto sister cheat.

We stopped by the lounge on the way back to the room and listened to the singer for way longer than we planned. All the singers we’ve heard have been good, but I’m pretty sure are English as a Second Language because they are singing syllables and not words, so every once in a while, it’s “What did she say?”

While I’m typing this, I heard “Just the Two of Us.” While I remember “we can make it if we try”, apparently some think it’s “we can Mack it if we try.” Who is Mack?

The first night was a woman with an acoustic who managed to do “Here Comes the Sun”, “Bad Moon Rising” and “Wish You Were Here” (Pink Floyd by request) in one set. That will be hard to beat.

We went to bed when we realized we had to be functional by 10am for the Cruise Critic Meet & Greet. Since it takes us forever to get out of the room in the morning, we need some leeway.

Virginia put out a card for room service breakfast.

As I was falling asleep, I realized I had not been asked for my card for anything since we boarded. We had drinks in the bar, wine with dinner and more drinks and except for opening the cabin door (and powering the lights), nobody had asked to see my card.

We did have photos taken but it’s not an automated system yet, so they don’t take your card or cabin number. The photos are on the wall. The ones that have you in them are yours. I thought Virginia was going to ask how to tell which photos were hers, but she caught herself.

The wind is up and it’s a very bumpy cruise. Otherwise, a good first day.

Side notes: the butlers are not fawning over us. I’m a bit relieved since I don’t like hovering but I’m wondering about some of the reviews we saw.

One of our pillowcases seemed to have a spot on it. No big deal. It looked like blood. Now it’s a big deal. Virginia told the room steward who showed the proper amount of horror and quickly replaced it. Later that night, there was another one. So, either someone is marking pillow cases with nail polish or there’s a hemophiliac in Laundry.

The Sharps container was requested and immediately brought to the room when we arrived so the Seaside Sharps chase was averted. Guest Services called on day two to make we had received it.

The minibar was restocked with sodas I will drink since it’s included with the room.

This us our first cruise trying to limit carbs. That removes virtually every “island” drink. The struggle is real.

Confusion

Apparently, there is such a thing as too many cruises scheduled. This may not be the first time we’ve had this many cruises scheduled, and we have twenty under our belts, but I know it is the first time with this many cruises on this many lines. I’m getting confused.

When we decided to branch out from Norwegian, we did so with a vengeance. We now have four cruises on four lines in the next two years. After a certain point, keeping all the ports and ships straight is difficult, even with TripIt.

This year’s Christmas cruise is on the MSC Divina, in the Yacht Club. This will be our first non-Norwegian Christmas cruise ever (it’s our 11th Christmas cruise.) This was the year we finally price-compared and discovered Norwegian is very proud of their product. While staying loyal and being Platinum Plus are great, MSC status-matched us to Diamond level in their program and the Yacht Club was not much more expensive than a Norwegian balcony. Consider that for a second. A ship within a ship, with private bar, restaurant, pool, butler and concierge was only slightly more than an aft balcony. So, time to switch.

This cruise would create all sorts of planning because it was supposed to be our first MSC cruise. However, as some of you remember, we went on the MSC Seaside at the beginning of the summer to protect our status-matched Diamond (then Black) status, so now it’s our second MSC cruise and we’re not that panicked about it. (We probably should be.)

This will be our first cruise on the Divina, and our first in the Yacht Club. Even though we are in the Yacht Club, we received an invitation to upgrade. The lowest-priced choice was an Executive suite, which has a panoramic view. I’m pretty sure this means ocean-view or window. I’m not sure balcony people would give up a balcony for a bit more space.

Our second scheduled cruise is our third anniversary cruise (third cruise for one of our anniversaries), and our first cruise on Royal Caribbean. We really didn’t mean to make a tradition of anniversary cruises, but we had a vow renewal by the Captain for our 15th, and went with friends for their anniversary last year, since their anniversary is on Valentine’s Day (very romantic) and ours is on February 11 (it was a Friday), so when our 20th was approaching, we decided to try something new by sailing Royal Caribbean (going to ports we’ve visited many times.)

Never get married in February. It’s so close to Christmas that planning cruises for both tend to get intertwined. If the two cruises were on the same line, I’d be completely lost by now, instead of just confused. It also means your final payment is due just about the time you’re buying Christmas presents. Sorry, family.

We will be sailing on the Liberty of the Seas, departing out of Galveston, which means we can drive to the port. We saw the ship once, when we were taking a dolphin cruise around Galveston. The dolphins like surfing by the large ships. Galveston is the closest port to us, so we can drive pretty easily. The hotels are expensive, but not much worse than Miami, and the driving costs are enough less than flying to cover it. Plus, you don’t have to fly.

The only problem with Galveston is that most of the cruises from there go to the same Western Caribbean destinations: a port in Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel. Sometimes, Costa Maya. They are all fun ports, but we’re really going to see what Royal is like.

Christmas 2020 is already planned because we got invited to join some of our friends on their Christmas cruise. (Since we joined them on their Anniversary cruise last year and everyone survived, we thought it would work.) This will be on the Norwegian Pearl, which is thankfully not a megaship, and a ship we have sailed and enjoyed before. (I prefer her sister ship, the Norwegian Jade, but I will take any of the Jewel class over most other Norwegian ships.) It’s also a two-week cruise over Christmas and New Year’s, which is great for vacation, and also means we will see some islands we don’t get to visit often. Here’s hoping the itinerary doesn’t get changed in the meantime.

In May 2021, we’re going to do a partial transit of the Panama Canal on the Carnival Radiance. This is the third time we’ve scheduled a Panama Canal voyage, but I think we may actually make it this time. It’s a partial transit, so we round-trip from Galveston (one plus), and it also means you skip all the ports on the west coast of Mexico (a major plus, since Virginia has no interest and to me, those ports just add days that I don’t want to spend vacation on.)

Here’s why I think we’ll actually go this time:

  • It’s a partial transit. We will traverse the Gatun Locks to get into Gatun Lake, but that’s it. So, we’re not going from sea to shining sea, but we’re doing a 90-foot change in altitude while going through the lock. As a bonus, we’ll sail back through the lock that evening.
  • It’s much cheaper than other Canal trips we’ve booked. Part of this is because it’s a partial transit, but mostly this is because it’s on Carnival. Even with the spa balcony we booked, it’s still much cheaper than the least-expensive Norwegian transit we had ever booked.
  • Carnival Radiance will be almost a new ship. The Carnival Victory is going into dry dock this year and emerging as the Carnival Radiance.
  • We sail from Galveston. For some reason, the eight hours of so of round-trip driving time on I-45 is much less stressful than flying to Florida.

Now, we just have to double-check the excursions, to make sure all our ports are covered.

Hurricanes and Contracts

I’m writing this because it’s happening again. Hurricane Dorian is in the Atlantic heading towards Florida the Carolinas. PortMiami is on alert. Cruises are being rescheduled. Ports are being changed. So, the torches and pitchforks are coming out on the cruise line discussion groups.
Hurricane Season is June until November each year in the Atlantic. Many cruisers may not know there’s an actual season, and that it happens every year. These are the people who just think cruises seem to be cheaper this time of year.
Hurricanes are the cruise lines’ worst nightmare. One hurricane can disrupt multiple ships and can close ports long after they’re gone (look at the ports damaged by Irma and Maria in 2017, many of which are still rebuilding). While the cruise lines scramble to reroute ships, they get to deal with thousands of outraged passengers.
Why are they outraged? Not only because their cruise was delayed or rerouted. It because they assume they’re getting refunds because their cruise is delayed or rerouted. This is the time of year when people finally read their cruise contracts. Unfortunately, it’s usually after they’ve been told their cruise was changed or canceled.
I already talked about cruise insurance. Just get it. It’s important. It’s really important during hurricane season. However, much like reading a cruise contract, you need to know what your policy covers. Here’s why: cruise lines hate canceling cruises. It’s much easier to reschedule or reroute it, because then it sailed. So, if they reroute you, there’s no claim – unless your policy covers it. If the new route skips the only port you really wanted to visit (why didn’t you just go there?), there’s no claim – unless your policy covers it. If you decide not to go, it’s not covered unless you have a cancel for any reason policy.
So, read your policy.
If you want to know why you need cruise insurance, and understand what it covers, read your cruise contract. Then, when you’re incensed at your cruise line of choice, read another line’s. There’re probably very similar. Here’s an example, with some [embedded comments]:
[Cruise Line] may change the duration and/or itinerary of the cruise at any time. [This isn’t even in the fine print. This one sentence is really all you need to know. However, a lawyer wrote it, so let’s continue.] The Vessel shall be entitled to leave and enter ports with or without pilots or tugs, to tow and assist other vessels in any circumstances, to return to or enter any port at the Master’s discretion and for any purpose, and to deviate in any direction or for any purpose from the direct or usual course, and to omit or change any or all port calls, arrival or departure times, with or without notice, for any reason whatsoever, including but not limited to safety, security, adverse weather, hurricanes, tornadoes, strikes, tides, hostilities, civil unrest, port closings, emergency debarkations of Guests or crew, late air, sea, car or motor coach departures or arrivals, mechanical breakdowns, US or foreign governmental advisories or travel warnings, all such deviations being considered as forming part of and included in the proposed voyage. [In case you didn’t understand the short version, this was the long one. This is still not fine print.] Except as provided in Clause 7(c) with regard to early termination of a voyage, [Cruise Line] shall have no liability for any compensation or other damages in such circumstances for any change in itinerary, ports of call, ports of embarkation and debarkation, and/or or duration of the cruise, other than as provided by [Cruise Line]’s change of itinerary policy at the time Guest or his agent acknowledges receipt and acceptance of the terms and conditions of the cruise ticket contract. [Basically, “no refunds.” You acknowledged receipt when you blindly clicked through on the website. You don’t read software licenses either, do you?] [Cruise Line]’s change of itinerary policy can be found at on [Cruise Line]’s Website or at [Cruise Line]’s FAQ page. [Actually, the link fails, but it really can’t say much to undo everything here.]
That’s only one clause in the contract! (Clause 7C says the only time there’s a refund is if the cruise is completely canceled. Leaving late, coming back early, going to different ports? That’s not canceled.)
However, if you don’t read (and understand) the contract, and your seven-day Eastern Caribbean cruise becomes a six-day Western Caribbean cruise, or your Christmas cruise doesn’t go to any of the originally scheduled ports, you really don’t have much ground to stand on. You signed the contract when you ordered the cruise. Well, you clicked through.
If you don’t agree to the contract, don’t cruise that line. However, again, all the cruise lines have contracts that say pretty much the same thing.
I’m not saying don’t complain. I’m saying two things. First, when you’re bitching about your changed cruise, take a minute to remember our Caribbean friends. You had a vacation trip that wasn’t what you planned. They may have lost their house and their livelihood. Get some perspective.
I’m also saying when you complain on social media about the cruise line that “done you wrong”, don’t be surprised by the amount of people that have no sympathy.
Those are the people that read the cruise contract. Probably after their cruise was rescheduled last year.

How clean is your cruise ship?

Cruise ships are inspected, just like restaurants. (There’s probably more to check on a ship.) So, if you’re one of those people that likes to check the restaurant scores from the local sanitation department before your visit, you would be interested in the Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP.) The VSP is administered by the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC.)

All scores are public information. You can review the inspection results and any follow-up reports here:

https://wwwn.cdc.gov/InspectionQueryTool/InspectionSearch.aspx

A passing score is an 86 which is a lot stricter than when I was in school. There are a lot of items that are checked, so there are a lot of places to go wrong, but some things are more serious than others.

There is also general information for cruise passengers available here:

https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp/public/public.htm

If you just want the poop (ha!) on current disease outbreaks, go here:

https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp/surv/gilist.htm#2019

Next time you go on a cruise, see how clean you ship is first!

It's no longer a hobby

I found some notes I was making one evening, while we were waiting for our Norwegian Cruise Lines Personal Cruise Consulant (PCC) to arrive for dinner (we were in Miami, sailing the next day, so we decided to ask our PCC to dinner, since he’s booked cruises for us for nine years and we had never met him in person.)

I realized while we were waiting for Jorge to arrive that taking a person to dinner specifically because he had helped Virginia spend thousands of dollars might mean we had a slight cruising problem. Then, I realized that was probably not the only sign.

Here’s the list from that night, edited for clarity (never write notes in a bar):

  • Your PCC is on your Christmas Card list
  • You invite your PCC to dinner
  • You invite your PCC to dinner at Scarpetta because you’re trying to outdo your friends who had already taken him to dinner before their cruise
  • Your PCC is in your phone speed dial
  • Your PCC is in your phone speed dial ahead of your spouse
  • You have 3 future cruises booked and you’re looking at itineraries
  • You spend an hour determining why the sea is rough
  • You are friends with multiple crew members on Facebook
  • You are friends with multiple officers on Facebook 
  • You can say “new ship smell” non-ironically
  • Having the Hotel Director recognize you at the Meet & Greet, because he remembers you from another Meet & Greet
  • Having a favorite bartender on multiple ships
  • Knowing when crew members change ships
  • Telling a Cruise Director you know his friend, another Cruise Director, and that he says, “Hello”
  • You keep saying, “Alexa, find me a cruise” just to see what will happen
  • You’re afraid to visit the Philippines because you might be recognized 

We’re not going where?

There have been a couple of articles lately about a woman incensed at Norwegian Cruise Lines for completely ruining her long-planned birthday celebration by rerouting her cruise. It’s always interesting to me that the press covers them at all, because some of them know it’s a waste of time.

This will become even more of an issue for the entire industry now that all cruise traffic to Cuba has effectively been canceled.

Cruise lines do not always stick to the original published itineraries. Usually, this is weather-related, determined while enroute (Norwegian is famous for skipping its own private island, Great Stirrup Cay, where it tenders) and sometimes determined months beforehand – we rerouted from Harvest Caye twice because it wasn’t ready to open, and Hurricanes Irma and Maria rerouted our entire Christmas cruise in 2017.

The bottom line is that if you are specifically cruising to go to one special port, just go to that port. (If it’s one of the cruise lines’ private islands, you’re out of luck.) However, if your heart is set on going to Jamaica, just go to Jamaica for a week – don’t spend one day of a seven-day cruise in your “real” destination.

Cruise lines are regulated by the laws of the countries where they sail, and the laws of nature. If you always wanted to visit one place, just go there.

MSC Seaside – Summary

[Embark] [At Sea] [San Juan] [St Thomas] [St Maarten] [At Sea] [Nassau] [Disembark]
Some final thoughts (some possibly repetitious) from our first MSC cruise. Here’s a map of our journey.
Overall Impression: MSC Cruises wants to dominate the US market. They are trying to “Americanize” their existing product which has been successful in Europe for years, and they seem to have borrowed parts of each of the mass market lines in the US already: ginormous ships with bells and whistles like Royal Caribbean, a ship-within-a-ship concept like Norwegian, relatively affordable like Carnival.
They are still European, and that shows. (Well, much of the crew are Filipino, just like other lines.) If Europeans are tired of cruising near home and want to try sailing the Caribbean, my assumption is they will choose MSC Cruises, because it’s the home team. So, there is a mix of cultures on the ship, more than on the other mass market lines. If hearing languages you don’t understand bothers you, this is not your cruise line.
Dining: I thought overall the food was good. We ate more meals in the buffet than ever before and it had a decent selection. I could probably live on the pizza. My wife and I are trying to minimize the carbs and there were selections available that would help accomplish that. I’m not saying we always chose them.
I did hear someone ask where the “real food” was in the buffet. I found this hilarious, mainly because the tone was between anger and panic. If you don’t like multicultural dishes, you’ve never heard of veal scaloppine or other Mediterranean dishes and you don’t have an adventurous palate, this is not your cruise line. Look at the list of their international chef partners. If you haven’t heard of any of them, but you know who Guy Fieri is, stay with Carnival.
Late-night dining was a bit of a disappointment. They advertise the buffet is open 22 hours a day, but after 11pm or so (we were there after the late show), it was pizza and sandwiches. This is slightly better than Carnival because the pizza is better, but Norwegian has the Local (or O’Sheehans) which has a wider selection and it’s open 24×7.
The specialty restaurants were good but the meal plans all have a submenu of included choices, and you get one appetizer, one main with one side and one dessert. (In Teppenyaki, you pick your proteins and the rest is a set menu.) This gives you a much more limited selection than the menu shows. If you don’t like any of the options, you can replace it with a equivalent from the full menu at 50% off.
I liked the Butcher’s Cut steakhouse, but I will probably always upgrade since the meal plan choices were an 8oz filet, a sirloin or lamb chops. Ocean Cay (not to be confused with the deck named Ocean Cay or the new private island named Ocean Cay) didn’t have much on the menu that excited me. The was fish but not a lot of seafood. I would skip it next time. The Asian Market was very good, because as a “fusion” concept, you can order a complete dinner that is barely Asian.
We had the Trio dinner plan, which included one night at Ocean Cay, one at the Butcher’s Cut and one at the Asian Market. I prefer Norwegian’s plan where if you purchase three dinners, you can eat at the same restaurant three times if you choose. If the Trio plan requires me to have a meal at Ocean Cay, I need a different plan. There’s nothing wrong with Ocean Cay, the food and service were good, it just was a very limited menu. I had a variation on linguine with clam sauce, which was excellent but not carb friendly and it was the only main course that interested me.
We had one dinner in the dining room and the food and selection were good. I would just eat there, but after our experience with Freestyle on Norwegian, we weren’t looking forward to set dining times and assigned table mates. Of course, our table mates were lovely, and the food was good, so the fears may have been overblown.
On this itinerary, it’s easy to avoid the dining room – we had three nights with the Trio package, ate at Teppenyaki for 20% off the first cruise night, had a second (complimentary) dinner at the Butcher’s Cut with our a Black Card status, and were in port in San Juan one evening.
Entertainment: The entertainment was surprisingly good, which is to say, I enjoyed it. The shows were done by the same cast each evening, so each show was going to feature singers, jugglers, contortionists and acrobats, but each was entertaining and at thirty to forty minutes, the perfect length for the limited attention-span crowd.
There was even an opera matinee – a condensed version of Madame Butterfly. I can now say I’ve been to the opera, it was interesting and it only cost my forty minutes one afternoon.
The finale is a Michael Jackson tribute and regardless of what you think of the person, he produced some iconic music. Unfortunately, the music also had iconic videos, so watching the MJ impersonator dance while jugglers, acrobats, etc are sharing the stage did not always make sense because I was expecting the videos. It was a good show, but I thought Peter Punk, the show the previous night was stronger.
I now really don’t understand the complaints I read about the entertainment. Sure, it’s not Broadway shows, but it’s vastly superior to Carnival’s “make your own entertainment” game shows. Saying that MSC shows are “Cirque-esque” is a bit like saying the minor leagues are just like MLB, but it’s entertainment provided by professionals, and it is entertaining. If you don’t want to see the shows, there were musicians literally all over the ship.
Excursions: We booked all our excursions through MSC and were happy with all of them. In San Juan (an evening port call), we did an evening at Bacardi, which provided a quick history of rum, the history of the distillery and a discussion of the different rums they produce. Plus, you get a drink in the way in and the way out.
In St Thomas, we did a drive around the island with stops at the top of the second-highest mountain on the island and Magens Bay. We skipped the shopping and just took the ferry back to the ship.The driver/tour guide tended to repeat everything so I know Magens Bay beach is one of the top ten most beautiful beaches according to National Geographic.
In St Maarten, we were mostly concerned about times because we had a short day in port. The tour did take us over the whole island, and showed how much still needs to be done to recover from the hurricanes of 2017.
In Nassau, we did the Blue Lagoon island beach day, which is a good day at the beach in theory, except that you get into port late (scheduled arrival is noon) and you leave at seven, but we actually left early. So, with a half-hour to forty minutes each way on the ferry, and the last ferry that would make the ship’s all-aboard time at 4:15pm, it is hardly a beach “day.” This is the second time we’ve been to Blue Lagoon and we never got around to our included lunch either time. Snorkeling was fun. I’ll post the video eventually.
I was happy with the excursions. MSC doesn’t run them, but they seem to hire good companies that do.
Issues: There were only a couple of issues, but they both made Virginia unhappy and that can derail any future business. Our room steward did not know what a sharps container was. I would think he had served diabetics before and known their insulin needles don’t usually just go in the trash. I finally went to guest services where the woman who assisted me knew exactly what was needed, but later called to say they were out. She said the medical department would let us empty our portable sharps container there or the room steward could take it, have it emptied and bring it back. So, problem solved, but by asking two or three people over two days.
The second was Muster Drill. We attended and then got a letter from the Captain saying since we hadn’t attended, we needed to go to the makeup drill. I called guest services, told them we had attended, and they said ignore the letter. Good customer service, bad safety policy.
Muster Drill was very poorly run. I’m used to having a leader at each station and the leader’s job during the drill is twofold – to get people to sign in so they are counted as present, and to get people to shut up and focus. Neither was done. I was ready for an emergency because I knew where my muster station was, and I know how to put on a life jacket and follow instructions. I’m not sure all of my fellow passengers pass that test. Muster is a pain in the ass and a buzzkill, but it’s mandatory and the Concordia showed what happens if people don’t know where their muster station is or what to do when the general alarm sounds.
The only “mechanical” issue was the elevators which are the slowest known to mankind. By the third day, even rookies figured out to get in the first elevator that came along, even if it was going in the wrong direction because eventually it would go where you were trying to go.
Room service screwed up our breakfast delivery one morning and then told us the hot food we requested (at an additional charge) was no longer available because the galley was closed. This annoyed me because the delivery was late, so we discovered the problem late, but it was before hot breakfast ended. A customer-centric line would have sent a runner to the buffet to bring us the order. The rest of the time, room service worked, including producing a pot of coffee and a basket of pastries in six minutes. Again, Continental breakfast versus American breakfast.
Drinks: The restaurants serve bottled water by default, so if you ask for “water”, you have just purchased a liter of water. The only exceptions were the main dining room and Ocean Cay, which had pitchers of water. It’s possible there’s a code word for “tap water”, but we didn’t discover it.
In the buffet, there is the drink dispenser with lemonade, fruit punch, and undrinkable iced tea. There was water and ice in the ice machine. There is also a self-service soda (and beer and wine) machine. A 16oz soda from the machine is cheaper than a 12oz can from the bar.
Perks: Virginia and I are Latitudes Platinum Plus members on Norwegian, and we status-matched to MSC Voyagers Club Black a couple of years ago. Our Black status was about to expire, so we booked this cruise. Yes, we sailed to protect our status for our Christmas cruise. First-World problems.
We received more benefits with our Black Card from MSC than we get from Norwegian for being Platinum Plus. Both lines have priority embarkation, but with MSC, that means getting lead around the lines, checked in and boarded in record time. Disembarkation means an early exit but there is a color code designated for just Black members.
There was a bowl of fruit and a bottle of Prosecco in the room when we boarded.
We were invited to a Black Card-only cocktail party, which was attended by the Captain and senior staff. We received a free photo taken at the party. (The last Platinum Plus party we attended was a sales pitch.)
We were invited but didn’t attend the regular Voyagers Club party. From talking with the Captain at other parties, it sounded similar.
We each got a chocolate model of the ship.
We each got a free meal in a specialty restaurant from the meal package menu.
We each got an MSC ball cap.
The Cruise Critic Meet & Greet had free drinks and the Captain and senior staff attended. We all received a free copy of the group photo. MSC managed the party, I signed us up online and there was an invitation in our room when we boarded. On Norwegian, a Cruise Critic member has to drive the attendance and coordinate the event with the ship.
The Behind the Scenes tour included an MSC backpack and a glass of wine at the end.
That seems like a lot of swag for a week. Norwegian doesn’t really do gifts any longer and priority embarkation means you can go onboard whenever – but it took a bunch of cruises before one of our friends told us that. Norwegian gives the room a free meal in two of the specialty restaurants but the meals have limitations that are unique. The MSC limitations are the same as if you have the meal package, so it’s much easier to understand.
MSC Cruises may not care more about their repeat guests than Norwegian but they certainly act like they do.
Overall: I had a great cruise, and I think Virginia had a good to very good cruise. Nothing will ever replace Norwegian in her heart, but at the price differential currently, I would go on MSC Cruises any time, and it’s ahead of Carnival.
MSC Seaside was the largest ship we’ve sailed (I think) but except for the elevators, it didn’t seem overly crowded. The buffet was packed at times, but we always found a table.
I have a feeling many of the complaints aren’t driven by the crew, they’re driven by fellow passengers. (Someone told me when we met in the hallway that they were happy to find someone who spoke English. The crew all speak English.) If you don’t like “foreigners”, then first, you are an ugly American but secondly, don’t sail MSC Cruises.
This is not an American cruise line. This is a European company trying to attract Americans without alienating their European fans, and without having to run different ways in Europe and the US. That is a challenge, but I think they have made a good start.
We’ll be on the MSC Divina at Christmas this year.

MSC Seaside – Day 8 Disembarkation

O’Dark-Thirty: Ships should embark weekly at 11pm so we could get in at a reasonable hour. I feel for the people out partying last night. I was doing homework, and I’m whipped.
One loose end from yesterday: our dessert from the Butcher’s Cut was delivered. Well, mine was. Room Service didn’t have Virginia’s ice cream. When they called to explain, she ordered water and Coke Zero instead. The drinks were delivered with apologies for not having the ice cream. I think the drinks were comp’ed, because I didn’t sign anything.
7:00am: Last view from the balcony.

7:30am: Last moment of panic when I can’t find my key, just to remember that if I’m not in the dark, my key is in the slot by the door.
Virginia just explained the concepts of cruising ducks to the room steward who didn’t grasp a Sharps container. I fear for our duck in the safe.
7:40am: We’re being held up by the number of self-walk off passengers. This is better than “the ship has not been cleared” but not as good as, “we’re delayed, so the Swedish Bikini team is bringing everyone coffee.”
Did I mention I missed coffee in the room?
7:48am: First color called. We’re fourth, I think.

Sleepy Cranky People


7:58am-ish Group called. One more trek across the Seaside. Only a couple of “meant to do that” moments. I will miss the ship.
8:25am: Met Luggage Forward porter. If we never see the bags again, it’s because Virginia didn’t tip him.
8:28am: In the Uber, heading to FLL. MSC terminal has retina scan recognition so one stop, no passports. Customs is declarations only, no forms to fill out.
8:35am: Traffic jam. Did not miss traffic. This will make disembarking look even faster.
9:02am Exiting for the airport. So, for whomever will ask on Cruise Critic this week, no, you probably can’t make a 9am flight from Ft Lauderdale.
9:10am Check-in for flight.
9:25am: American won’t check bags until four hours before a flight at FLL. Yet another reason to fly Southwest whenever possible.
10:25am: Bored, bored, bored. In an hour, we can check our bags. That’s the only thing keeping me alive at this point.
11:20am: Still bored but ten minutes to go. Then, security. I never thought something would make me look forward to being able to go through security.
1:30pm: Have almost memorized which stations have working plugs or working USB plugs or both or neither. Yes, I am bored. Also, old people talk loudly and repetitively, so you don’t need to be that close to get a status.
Inbound plane should be here in about an hour. Please, Lord.
There are a crap ton of people at the gate for a flight that doesn’t leave for two hours.
2:00pm: Lunch time. Unfortunately, FLL Terminal 3 is a wasteland. We may be eating at the bar. Seriously, people in airports are in a hurry. Why are airports being clogged with low-quality, slow-service, expensive restaurants? Can’t we just have a McDonald’s or Burger King which isn’t the best, but it’s fast and consistent?
2:10pm: Case in point – Jack Nicklaus’ namesake restaurant. Potential customer asked if they have food to go. Greeter said “No, but if you sit at a table and order, you can ask for a to go box.” They left. $13 for a club sandwich. We’ll see how long it takes to get. Lobster nachos as a starter. I would only order lobster in an airport restaurant as my last meal, because it would kill me before the executioner could. At least, they have iced tea. I should have ordered an Arnold Palmer, just to see what they would do.

Sandwiches arrived almost immediately. I hope they were microwaved long enough.

$37 for lunch, and you feel obligated to tip because it was table service. It wasn’t bad, but, Lord, it wasn’t good. Airplane food is starting to look reasonable.
3:08pm: On the plane.
3:50pm: Climbing, on the way home.
4:00pm: Just found out on Facebook that one of our pirate ducks is retiring to England. It looks like that particular duck was found three times in two days, because the other finders rehid him. Most are still unaccounted. Waiting for news.
5:15pm: Preparation for landing. iPad stowed? Check. Tray table up? Check. Seat back up? Check. Seat belt fastened? Check. Now, I need to pee? Check.
5:20pm: Ears popped. I never had this problem at sea level.
5:30pm: On the ground. I need a cruise.
5:40pm: Stuck in the DFW penalty box, waiting for our gate to open up. You know, I have never heard a ship’s Captain say, “Uh, there’s somebody at our dock, so we’re just going to anchor out here in the bay until they can push back and get out of our way. Shouldn’t be more than about ten minutes.”
There are no airlines but American at this terminal. Why does this happen so often? Do they not read their own timetable?
I need a cruise.
5:50pm: Moved to a new gate. Yea! Gate has no crew. Boo!
I need a cruise.
6:00pm: Some times, after a week’s cruise and a flight home, you’re given a sign that you’re just a rookie traveler. As in, the men’s room by A16 baggage claim.
The trip is done.