mscMy husband recently declared that the test of a good cruise line is if you’d sail them again.  He said this as soon as we boarded the MSC Lirica for our very first MSC cruise.

We are avid cruises and have been for many years.  We’ve sailed with pretty much all the major cruise lines that cater to the US market including Princess, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, and NCL.  But this was our first cruise aboard an MSC ship which caters mostly to the European market.

Before I answer the all important question as to whether or not I would sail an MSC ship again, let me begin by telling you how this cruise came about.  It was mid-March, we had no intention of traveling anywhere, much less cruising the Med.  Our travel plans for the year weren’t  set to begin until July when we are to go on a reunion cruise aboard RCCL’s Adventure of the Seas.  But all this changed when my daughter Jaime decided to book an MSC cruise embarking from Venice.

You see Jaime and her family are currently living in an Italian town about 45 minutes away from Venice.  She decided that she’d take advantage of the great fares MSC was offering on their 7 day Med cruises; the added bonus was that she didn’t have to pay for airfare to get to Venice, the cruise terminal is a short €6.50 train ride away.  Of course as with everything in our family booking her cruise wasn’t as easy as it should have been, Jaime’s in the second trimester of  her second pregnancy.  We learned that she had to complete her cruise before she started the 24th. week of pregnancy, meaning the last cruise she could possibly take before she gives birth would be April 13.

She managed to book the last stateroom on the MSC Lirica’s April 13th. sailing.  She was quite happy and set about preparing for her cruise that would take her to Bari, Heraklion, Mykono, Corfu, and Dubrovnik.

Then my husband decided it would be a great idea if we booked a stateroom on that same sailing so that we could surprise Jaime and family by popping up aboard her ship.  Not only would my husband and I pop up on the cruise, but we’d take our grandson Devon  too.  Seemed like a tall order considering Jaime had booked the last stateroom the day before.  But some how the gods must have been smiling on us because on the last day of March a stateroom for 3 people became available.  Of course being a travel agent gave  me access to updated inventory so when it popped up I grabbed it!

As I mentioned I’m a travel agent; I’ve been wanting to try  MSC cruises.  I love their prices and their new ships look awesome.  So I figured this was a perfect opportunity to check things out.  I really wanted to recommend MSC to my clients, in fact as soon I as booked the cruise I let several clients know I’d be checking it out for them.  We were all very excited.

Now believe me when I say I boarded the MSC Lirica with high hopes.  I really wanted it to be perfect.  I sincerely wanted to recommend it to my clients.  I tried very, very hard to find positive things to say about the experience.  Sadly it was not to be, MSC fell short, very short of even my lowest expectations.  But of course there were some good things so let me begin with a list of the cruise line’s pros.

mscLoyalty Status match

MSC will match the highest status you have on ANY loyalty program including cruise lines, hotels, airlines, and resort.  Just send proof of your highest status on any of those programs and they will match it on your first cruise.  In our case they matched my Elite status on Princess and Celebrity so we were able to get the perks for MSC black status, their highest status level.

Before the cruise we received a 5% discount off the current cruise fare.  The difference was refunded to me after they verified my loyalty status.  I was pretty impressed with the discount and all the other perks they listed.

But did we get all the perks?  Well that’s another story!

Check in went smoothly and quickly – but only because you didn’t have to take a photo, register a credit card, or get your room key.  More on this later.[spacer height=”-20px”]

 

mscThe day we boarded was my grandson Devon’s 10th. birthday.  I purchased a birthday cake for him  on line before we left home and the staff served it after dinner in the main dining room.  They even sang him “Happy Birthday” .  He was pretty stoked!

Speaking of dining the reservation staff were pretty helpful.

They were kind enough to seat us all together on a nice window  table.  They promised we could have the same table at the same time every night we chose to dine at the dining room.  On this cruise we ended up dining there just 2 nights.  Again that’s a story for later as to how this came about.

We also tried the dining room for breakfast as we were told the dining room would be better able to accommodate my grandson Jett’s allergies, (better than the buffet), or so they said.  Again that’s a story for later as it did not turn out quite that way.

mscThey had a nice splash zone for the kids.

Unfortunately the weather during our cruise was pretty bad. The kids were only able to enjoy this splash area while the ship was at port.

Whenever the ship sailed it got very windy and cold.  The splash zone remained closed for most of our cruise.  I’m sure it will be better later in the summer when the weather is milder.  The splash area will probably remain open all the time and the kids should have a great time.

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mscThey have the Do Re Mi club and mascot which hosts some fun activities for the kids.

For this activity the children made Gnocchi with the chef and Do Re Mi the MSC mascot.

There were also lego activities as it seems that MSC partnered with Lego in some way.  Basically this meant that MSC was selling Lego kits in the gift shop.

I’m sure there were other activities, the kids just weren’t very interested.

We also attended a couple of dinner shows.  The Magic show and the Pirate show.  The Magic show was mediocre at best, but the Pirate show was pretty entertaining even though it made no sense.

Some of the staff seemed to be genuinely helpful and friendly.  I saw several crew members who went out of their way to help older folks carry plates to their tables after going thru the buffet line.

Most of the staff we interacted with at the children’s play area were very pleasant.  And many of the customer service people tried to be helpful.  But these folks seemed to be the exception and not the norm.

MSCSailings into and out of Venice were spectacular.

I’m not sure if it’s because MSC is an Italian cruise line, but this was the closest to the Grand Canal I’ve ever gotten on a cruise ship.  Perhaps it’s one of the perks of being locally owned.  Other Venice sail aways I’ve experienced were done much farther away, building along the Grand Canal were much further and a telephoto lens was needed to get a good shop of Piazza San Marco.

I took this photo of Piazza San Marco from the deck of the MSC Lirica without the aid of a telephoto.  Amazing!

mscOne of the perks of being a Black Card holder are these chocolate sculptures of the MSC Lirica.

They were delivered to our room sometime during the cruise.  We also got a draw string backpack and a bottle of prosecco to keep and thick terry robes and slippers to use while on the ship. [spacer height=”-20px”]

 

 

 

mscDuring the cruise we were invited to some member events including the Black party for Black Card holders only.  That didn’t go so well when other black card members found out it was my first MSC cruise and my loyalty status was matched by the line.

They made it very clear they thought this was unfair and spent the party glaring at me.  Not the most comfortable event for me!

Other perks including a dinner at their one and only specialty restaurant and chocolate covered strawberries never materialized.  Oh well!

Okay!  It’s sad, I know.  I can only name 8 positives about my MSC Lirica cruise. Believe me I’m digging deep!

Now for the list of cons, I’ll try to be brief and list only the most glaring things. But oh there are so many!  Where do I begin?

 

Guess I’ll start at the beginning, embarkation.  Remember I said check-in went fairly smoothly and quickly?  Well that’s because there wasn’t much to it.

We just showed our passport and boarding paper which was stamped at the check-in counter.  We proceeded thru security then on to the ship.  In the ship we were funneled thru a hallway and our photos taken.   Then we were told to proceed to customer service which was down the hall and one floor down.

We proceeded down the hall and were greeted by various crew members touting dinner and drink packages, spa treatments, and shore excursions.  Somewhere along this hall way we passed the kids’ club staff. They placed a plastic bracelet on Devon’s wrist and gave us a schedule of children’s activities which we could register for on deck 12 I think.

Anyway to say they were unorganized is an understatement.  When I asked anyone how and where I would get my cruise card I was told to proceed to customer service, presumably all would be made clear at customer service.

I finally made it to customer service via the central stairway.  I  had entered the ship on deck 6 and customer service along with shore excursions and shops were on deck 5.  At the bottom of the central stairway there was a crowded mess.

Cruisers were crowded between stachions that formed a zig zagging line from the bottom of the steps to the customer service counter.  When I reached the bottom of the stairway a crew member asked me what I need from customer service!

Ummm, I was there because I was told to go there.  When she pressed me for the reason I needed customer service it took a while to explain that I was  there because everyone told me to go there.

All I really wanted were our cruise cards and I had no idea where and how to get them.  You know that magical card that opens your  stateroom door and allows one to make on board purchases.   I was led to believe that the genies behind the counter would issue me my cruise cards.  But alas I was wrong.

I learned that I did not need to go to customer service unless I was going to put a cash deposit down on my cruise card!  I was told that our cruise cards were left on the bed in our stateroom; the stateroom door remained open until I retrieved my cards and locked the door.  Very interesting!

I was further told that if I did not put a cash deposit on my cruise card (which is bound to my on board account) I would not be able to purchase anything on board until I registered a credit card and linked it to the cruise cards.  To do this I must go to one on of credit card registration machines located on deck 5 not far from customer service.  Ok, so this was new and different.  But never mind I’d go get my cruise cards then look for my daughter, after all we were there to surprise them.

In my stateroom with the unlocked door I found our cruise cards.  I guess it didn’t matter if anyone else got a hold of the cards as I hadn’t put a cash deposit down nor had I registered a credit card yet.  In theory no one could buy anything using our cards.

After retrieving our cruise cards we went in search of my daughter and family.  Thru text messaging I determined she was at the lego play area.  We asked 3 different crew member where the lego area was, we got 3 different answers.  They ranged  from the location being on deck 6 to decks 11 and 12.  In spite of the faulty directions we somehow managed to run into my daughter and family.  So that turned out well, they were pleasantly surprised!

The disorganization continued.  The next day I went to register my credit card on the machine.  It didn’t work!

I proceeded to customer service (thankfully no long lines) and was told to keep trying on the machine.  Of course it didn’t work, so back to customer service I went.  This time a different lady told me I couldn’t register on the machine because they were also disembarking cruisers that day while we were docked in Bari, hence cruisers embarking from Venice the previous daycould not register on the machine.  It had to be done at customer service!  Ugh!

That night at dinner they mistakenly discarded our wine!  Talk about a comedy of errors!

We had purchased a bottle of Lambrusco  the previous night.  What we didn’t finish they stored for us.  At dinner the next day we were greeted by our waiter with the news that they had mistakenly tossed out our wine, but not to worry because they replaced it with a very  nice (cheap) bottle of  prosecco, you know the type I buy at Costco for $7!  (The Lambrusco was over €20 a bottle)

mscThe next day was a day at sea, unfortunately it was too cold to use the pools and the splash area, but the kids enjoyed making gnocchi with the chef and the MSC mascot.

It was also a formal night.  We  enjoy getting dressed up for dinner and Jaime, my daughter was very excited.  She wanted to take some formal photos.  Which she did and they came out pretty well.

mscThe formal dinner did not.  In fact that was a disaster!

On the MSC Lirica they offer an upgraded meal of either lobster or t-bone steak nightly.  This means that in addition to the regular menu whose offerings are included in your cruise fare you can order a lobster or t-bone steak dinner for an up charge of €18 to €22.  The €22 was for the lobster up charge.  Both meals came with a glass of prosecco. (Again with the prosecco!  They loved giving that stuff away!)

So during the formal dinner we decided to order 3 lobster meals, one each for Jaime, Devon, and myself.  That’s a total of €66 plus a 15% service fee.  Whatever, we wanted lobster.  The lobster dinner was served with asparagus and fried onions I think, it’s pictured above.

Anyway when my daughter sliced into it she immediately asked me if it was still raw because the meat was sort of grayish with a very strong ammonia odor.  In short it was very, very rotten.

We called the waiter over; he had no idea how to handle the situation, he just shook his head and smiled sweetly.  The head waiter was called in and asked me what the issue was, I couldn’t tell him, instead I had him smell the lobster which I  had skewered onto a fork.  You should have seen the look on his face!  It was apparent he knew something was very wrong.

He offered to make 3 new meals; no way that was going to happen, at least not at our table.  In the end he made up some excuse about the kitchen thawing the lobster very fast to serve it to us.  They had to do this because they don’t prep the lobster because not too many people order it.  Really?  Nah!  That lobster was mishandled.

They agreed to void our bill and not charge us for the 3 lobster meals.  Now don’t do us any favors!  Of course you will not charge for the lobsters we could not eat.  (The meals were not credited to us until 3 days later and then only after complaining to customer service!)

I told him and any other crew members who addressed this issue with me during the rest of the cruise that the lobster was mishandled and should never have been allowed to leave the kitchen!  Imagine serving rotten lobster to a pregnant woman and a 10 year old child! Unbelievable!

Needless to say we never returned to the dining room again.  We ate the rest of our meals at on shore restaurants  or at the buffet.

mscThe buffet, burger & hot dog bar, and pizza & pasta bar.  All were in adequate with haphazard service and appalling food options.

I’d have to say the pizzas were the best thing there.  This was proven by the fact that there was a constant wait for pizzas to come out of the oven.  Of course they only set out 2 large pizzas and 1 foccacia  at a time.  This would be grabbed by the first 2-3 people in line.

msc

The bufffet venue itself was tiny with a narrow walkway.  So narrow that you could barely fit 2 people standing  side by side.

There were 2 drink stations on either side of the ship in the very back.  You could serve yourself hot coffee or tea.  In the morning there were juices and hot chocolate available.  At any other time of day  if you want juice or ice tea it must be purchased from the small bar located at the back of the buffet.

If you want drink service at the buffet I can only say good luck at finding a waiter to help you.  Waiters were hard to come by, they much preferred congregating in the corners chatting with each other.  They seemed to treat the guests more as a bother and interruption.  Heaven help anyone who asks for service.

 

Seating was very limited in the buffet and tables and chairs were practically stacked on each other.  And did I mention the dirt?

Yes the tables were always filthy.  I had to ask a waiter to wipe a table for me.  Oh he wiped it all right.  He wiped the crumbs right onto the floor and the chairs!  I have never seen such lack of enthusiasm in a crew ever!

Oh and before I forget, on the MSC Lirica never touch the handrails on the stairways.  They are forever sticky and filthy.  I am as serious as a heart attack.  Not once during the 7 day cruise did I see clean and shiney handrails!  I was not the only one remarking on this, I saw many people look and touch them with disgust.

The public bathrooms were marginally cleaner, it depended on when and where you went.  The busier ones by the buffet were almost always out of order or out of supplies.  Don’t recall anyone cleaning public bathrooms either.  Perhaps they were all busy consulting with each other on how to keep handrails spic and span?

Speaking of bathrooms, public bathrooms were few and far between on the public decks.  I believe there were one set in the forward part of the ship by the theater and another set in the aft part by the photo gallery.  There were never any bathrooms midship, at least none that I could find.  And the public bathrooms were small, most of them only consisting of 2 stalls, one of which was almost always out of order.

Now back to the food, that’s an important part of cruising.  On our first day we went to the buffet for breakfast.  My daughter requested soy milk as her son Jett has milk and egg allergies.  We were told that from then on we should go to the sit down dining room for breakfast as they were better equipped to handle food allergies.  Although to be fair the buffet staff did manage to produce a cup of soy milk that morning after about a 20 minute wait.

So the next day we went to the dining room for breakfast.  We were given menus but were encouraged to get our own food at the mini buffet they set up.  We said we’d check out the buffet but wanted to order waffles as well as the cocoa puffs they had on the menu.  Well that went well, they said they had no idea what cocoa puffs were and they came up with waffles that were cold hard and had a thin drizzle of syrup.  When we asked for syrup they pretended they had no idea what that was.

My husband took himself to the buffet area for some cold scrambled eggs.  He asked  a waiter standing at the buffet for  ketchup.  The waiter snapped at him and said there was no ketchup period, sort of like the Soup Nazi on Seinfield – No Ketchup for You!

Fortunately for us a nice waiter had observed our problems; he went to the kitchen or where ever and came up with a bowl of cocoa puffs, a bowl of syrup, and a bottle of ketchup!  Guess it was a magic moment, he found the condiment pantry!  That was the one any only time we went to the dining room for breakfast.

mscFor pretty much the rest of the cruise we ate hash browns for breakfast, they were pretty good and available most mornings at the hot dog grill, and warm croissants which were served at the pizza bar.

We bought a coffee card and had coffee and pastries at the coffee shop on deck 6, then we ate pizza for dinner.  We tried to eat the burger and dogs, but they were just too disgusting to even bother with.

The buffet offerings were sparse and mainly unappetizing and after the lobster incident we refused to return to the main dining room.  Over all the food and service on the MSC Lirica are disgraceful.

Another part important part of cruising are on board activities, specially on days at sea.  On all the cruises I’ve ever been on the cruise director and his staff work very hard to find a variety of activities for guests to do.

On every other cruise I’ve been on I’ve always looked forward to the daily newsletter that my cabin attendant delivers to my stateroom every night.  This newsletter gives me all the information I need to plan my day.  It usually gives me the weather, date and port, opening times of ship board services and dining venues, and most importantly it lists the times and locations of all the activities on the ship.  This usually includes lectures, movies, bands, dance lessons, exercise classes, demonstrations, sporting activities and challenges,  trivia games, and much more.  There’s always something for everyone!  And of course the schedule of activities takes up about 2 pages of the newsletter.

mscWell it’s not quite the same on the MSC Lirica.  Sure the staff have some activities planned.  The schedule was a whole half page long!

It’s great if you love dance lessons.  On our day at sea they offered 5 different dance lessons and 3 fitness activities with the dance instructors.

Most activities were scheduled to take place by the pool weather permitting.  During our sailing the weather was not very cooperative so the activities ended up taking place in the Cabaret lounge on deck 6 I think.  It was very crowded.

Their biggest activity was called meeting point.  This was basically a portable booth they set up by the pool or where ever.  It was stocked with a few board games and cards that guests could check out and use on board for the day.

The staff, at least those who weren’t giving dance lesson, would dress up in funny looking costumes and juggle, sing, dance, and generally act silly.  I suppose the guests found this entertaining, we did not.  I think part of the problem was the language barrier.  English was not the main language, as expected Italian is the language of choice.  Don’t get me wrong I speak and understand basic Italian, and most of the crew spoke English; but at times it was hard to understand even their English.

If gambling is more you thing you could try your luck at the tiny casino on deck 6.  It had maybe 3 table games only one of which was ever open from what I saw.  There were also maybe 20-30 types of machines.  Not the most entertaining casino I’ve ever been to.  It was sorely lacking in fun and energy!

Now back to the original question “Would I sail them again?”  Surprisingly I would have to say YES!  Ok I’m not a masochist or a glutton for punishment, but hear me out.

Knowing what now I know after having experienced an MSC cruise I have much lower expectations.  I would sail them again more as a form of transportation and lodgings.  The cost of sailing can be as little as $500 per person for a 7 day Med cruise.  That’s cheaper than buying train or plane tickets to the ports of call!

I would use the ship to transport me from port to port, an easy way of getting around without the hassle of dragging luggage and going thru airport security.  I would also have a somewhat decent place to stay and someplace to eat, even if it’s only pizza and hash browns every day.  I would most definitely eat most meals off the ship it’s a great way to sample different types of cuisine at the ports of call.  Besides it’s a Med cruise, eating souvlaki, tzatziki, and baklava daily is not a hardship!

I’d also choose a sailing during warmer weather.  That way I could at least hang out at the pool during sea days.

I think the better question to ask me would be “Would you recommend MSC to your clients?”  I would definitely not! Unless my client wants to use the cruise as a ferry to hop around the Greek isles or where ever the ship sails to.

It would definitely not be anyone’s idea of a dream vacation.  I would never recommend it to  clients planning a honeymoon, anniversary, or luxury cruise.  It would fall very short!  However it’s a great choice for college kids on Spring Break and for anyone with a limited budget and is willing to settle for mediocre or less.

This was my experience on the MSC Lirica.  MSC has many other ships including the new MSC Seaside.  I can’t say for sure what type of experience you would have on other ships.  I can say that I’ve met several other cruisers who don’t give the MSC Poesia a better review.  One guy was kind and said they were understaffed, that was his way of saying the service was terrible.

On the record I was not paid for this review.  I purchased my own cruise ticket at the current rate less the black card member discount.  I am in no way affiliated with MSC or any other cruise line.

Let me help you plan your next vacation.  From budget to luxury travel we can help!  Call Savvy Nana Travel for all your travel needs!  808-372-7734

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