For our recent Caribbean cruise in February 2014, we decided to try sailing on the MSC Musica since it had an itinerary that wasn’t offered on any other cruise lines. Having sailed in the eastern Caribbean twice prior to this, we had already been to many of the islands and this itinerary went to several that we had not yet visited.
Since this was our first cruise with MSC we didn’t know what to expect. MSC is an Italian cruise line and their slogan is “The Mediterranean way of life” and we weren’t sure just what that meant. We’ve sailed on several cruise lines over the years and we decided to give MSC a try.
Let me start by saying that no cruise line or cruise ship is perfect. All have their good points and bad points, and they all have their own way of doing things including rules and policies, how they treat their passengers, what’s included in the price of your cruise and what costs extra, how they operate, how good their food is, etc. Let me also say that things that one person likes or dislikes isn’t necessarily the same as what someone else likes and dislikes; everyone is different. So I’m going to talk about what we liked and disliked on the MSC Musica. Remember this is only one ship and one cruise with MSC, and I don’t know if these things are the same on all their ships or cruises. This was just our experience on our cruise.
Since MSC is an Italian cruise line, it attracts a different crowd. Most of the passengers onboard were French and Italian, with some Germans and Spanish/Hispanics. We were two of the very few English-speaking passengers. We heard very little English being spoken by passengers onboard. In fact I think we only came across about a half dozen during the whole cruise. Because of this passenger mix, very few of the crewmembers seemed to speak English, at least not very well, so communicating was sometimes difficult. There were some crewmembers that spoke perfect English but they were in the minority. There were at least two crewmembers, one of which was the Cruise Director, who spoke five languages fluently. We thought that was quite impressive.
First the things we liked (in no particular order):
1) The main reason we chose this cruise was its unique itinerary which took us to some of the less popular Caribbean ports such as La Romana, Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Tortola.
2) Their Daily Program included where the ship was sailing and islands that would be visible on the route. That was kind of nice if you’re on deck and you see an island in the distance and are wondering what it might be.
3) The ship, and our room, was very clean. We had a nice room, with a balcony, refrigerator, TV, free soap/shampoo, and a large, comfortable bed.
4) The room had both 110 and 220-volt outlets, two of each.
5) We almost always arrived at each port earlier than scheduled. It was nice to have some extra time in port.
6) MSC apparently allows passengers to embark/disembark at almost any port in the itinerary. That’s kind of nice and it spreads out the number of people getting on and off at each port so it’s not as chaotic.
7) They didn’t constantly badger you to buy drinks on this ship. If they saw you eating at the buffet and you didn’t have a drink, they would ask you, once, if they could get you something, but we’ve been on some ships where every wait staff that passes your table asks you if you’d like to buy a drink, regardless of whether you already have one! There also weren’t any waiters walking around selling drinks in the theater at night to get in your way while you were trying to watch the show.
8) The ship had an awesome salad bar with several kinds of mixed greens, and a couple dozen types of salad ingredients to pick from.
9) There was also an awesome fruit bar which included the usual fruits like cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, grapefruits, apples, pears, pineapple, kiwi, fruit salad, etc. but during lunch they also had some treats like papaya, mango, and passion fruit.
10) Their pizza was one of the best we’ve had on cruises. It was pretty much available all the time and there were four types to pick from, two of which changed on a daily basis.
11) Their desserts were quite good too. There weren’t as many desserts to pick from as on some of our cruises, but the ones they had were very good, not too sweet, but just about right.
12) The buffet had signs over each of the food areas so you could look down the line and see what type of food (pasta, pizza, main dishes, desserts, etc.) was offered and where.
13) All their condiments were together in one place at the buffet so you didn’t have to go searching for some mustard, or sauces, etc.
14) On the breakfast buffet, their dry cereal choices were all together in dispensers for easy access.
15) Also on the breakfast buffet, they offered four kinds of juices, as well as coffee, tea, milk, etc.
16) If you like jellies/jams, they had quite a selection to choose from.
17) The ship had shows in the theater every night of the cruise and, although they were usually only 30 to 45 minutes in length, they were all very good. They were a creative and entertaining mix of dancing, singing, some amazing acrobatics, sometimes a little comedy, and some magic thrown in here and there. We enjoyed the shows very much, and other cruises we’ve been on only had shows, on average, every other night.
18) Speaking of the shows, the Italian male singer (Aldo Maldonado) was excellent. Really. This guy should have a recording contract.
19) There was a card slot just inside the cabin door on the wall that, when you inserted your keycard into it upon entering the room, allowed the lights to be turned on. In fact, you couldn’t turn the lights on without inserting your card. MSC does this for two obvious reasons. The first reason is that when you leave the room, and take your keycard with you, the lights turn off after a couple minutes automatically. This saves them on electricity and prevents people from leaving the lights on when they’re not in the room. The second reason is that, when you insert your keycard into the slot while you’re in the room, it turns on a little light outside above your door to tell your room attendant that you’re in the room. They know not to just barge in without knocking first. We thought that was a pretty cool idea.
20) They didn’t automatically refill your room’s ice bucket every day like on some cruises, which was nice. That’s just a waste of water when they do that without asking, like when a restaurant automatically fills your water glasses without asking if you even want water.
21) On some of our shore excursions, an MSC shore excursion desk employee came along with us. It was nice to have a representative along in case we had any problems or questions.
Now the things we didn’t like about this ship and MSC (in no particular order):
1) The MSC website is poor. It’s hard to find anything, hard to navigate, and we couldn’t even pre-book excursions for one of our stops (La Romana). We just kept getting an error. Plus, everything is in Euros on their website so you have to convert the amounts to figure out how much things cost.
2) MSC is very lacking in communication, both before the cruise, during check in, onboard, and when disembarking. They upgraded our room before the cruise (which is not a bad thing) but they didn’t even tell us or even our travel agent, no email, nothing. We had no idea when we could check in and get onboard so we showed up at the cruise terminal at noon. All our other cruises let us onboard around that time so we assumed, incorrectly, that MSC would start checking people in around noon too. No. We had to wait until almost 4:00 PM to get onboard, therefore missing lunch. Another example of their poor communication is how they handle shore excursions. They tell you to meet in the theater but when you get there you have no idea what you’re supposed to do. It turns out that you have to go to the front of the theater and show your excursion tickets to one of the crewmembers and they give you a number for your tour. This wasn’t apparent to us, or many other people for that matter. Lots of passengers were walking around trying to figure out what they were supposed to do.
3) We had purchased an airport transfer through MSC. That turned out to be a serious screw up. MSC didn’t give us any kind of transfer ticket so we were told to just disembark and the shuttle would be waiting for us. Not quite! When we got on shore, we went through immigration and customs and looked everywhere for our shuttle. We asked several MSC employees and they had no idea what we were talking about and kept asking us for our transfer ticket. We finally found a guy who had a clue and he took us out to pick up our shuttle. The problem now was that the shuttle driver had no record of us on his passenger list. We finally got it all straightened out after awhile. We should have just taken a taxi to the airport. It would have been cheaper and without all the problems.
4) We were told that tipping is mandatory onboard when we tried to remove some of the tips off our account at the reception desk. Mandatory tipping? Huh? What if I didn’t like the service I received?
5) The charges on our account were screwed up so we attempted to get them fixed the day before our last day on the cruise. They told us they were all fixed and the change would be reflected on our bill when it was delivered to our cabin that night. It wasn’t fixed, so we had to scramble on the busy morning of our disembarkation to try to get it resolved.
6) Many of the food staff didn’t know what they were doing. Many didn’t speak English so you couldn’t even ask them a question without them just looking at you confused. Each of the dishes had a description above it to tell you what the dish was, but they were often mismarked, and out of order. For example, the sign said “scrambled eggs” over the fried eggs, etc. A couple of times my wife took some of the “omelet with cheese” dish only to find no cheese in the dish. I pointed out to one of the staff that the “beef burger with cheddar cheese” had no cheese in it and the guy just looked at me confused. In the dessert area, there was a sign that said “chocolate éclairs” but there were no éclairs to be found. I asked the food staff person and she said they didn’t have any éclairs. So why was the sign there?
7) Most of the crewmembers on this ship were not friendly, with the exception of the room attendant staff. On our other cruises, when you passed a crewmember in a hall, etc. they would say hello and smile. Not on this ship. They didn’t even acknowledge you. They also stood in groups talking in the buffet area, blocking you from getting your food. We even saw a crewmember (an officer) cut in line at the buffet.
8) The salad bar was run by a guy we dubbed the “Salad Nazi”. If the buffet was supposed to open at 6:30, he would stand at the salad bar and make sure no one took anything until exactly at 6:30. And he ran one of the fruit bars for breakfast. Once my wife took a couple prunes two minutes before opening time and, when he saw this, he took the dish of prunes away from the buffet. One evening I tried to get some salad three minutes before opening time and he yelled at me, even though everything was ready to go on the buffet.
9) We found the main food choices for lunch and dinner to be repetitive, often just leftovers, and unimaginative. Breakfast, the salad bar, and the fruit bar were the same choices every day, and you expect that, but the choices for lunch and dinner got boring after a while. Plus there didn’t seem to be many vegetable dishes and too much bread, pasta and starchy food.
10) There was a design flaw when it came to the walkways around the circular salad and fruit bars. They were too narrow and it was the only route to get to the other side of the buffet. Whoever designed the ship wasn’t thinking. The walkways became traffic jams during eating hours when tons of people were getting their salad and others were trying to get across the buffet to the other side. To make matters worse, the drink bar was located in between the circular salad and fruit bars so the waiters had to squeeze through these bottlenecks to get drinks for passengers.
11) There just weren’t enough seats in the buffet. More than once we walked around looking for somewhere to sit and, when we finally found a seat, our food was cold. Plus, once we gave up and stood at the bar to eat.
12) No chocoholics night on the buffet on this cruise. Boooo!
13) Valentine’s Day fell within our cruise’s dates and we were surprised that MSC did nothing special, other than offering a rather expensive Valentine’s dinner for two. They didn’t even announce this dinner until Valentine’s night so I’m not sure how many people even showed up for it and paid the price. There wasn’t anything special on the buffet for Valentine’s Day. We thought there would be some chocolates or something, but no. They did carve a watermelon to say “Happy Valentine’s Day” and put it above the desserts. Big deal!
14) Not much was free onboard like on other cruises we’ve been on. They didn’t even have any free ice cream, something we’ve had on every other cruise we’ve been on. Other than breakfast, there was no free juice available either.
15) MSC provided hand sanitizer stations outside the buffet, but no one used them, and the MSC staff didn’t enforce it. On our Norwegian cruise, they wouldn’t let you into the buffet unless you used the hand sanitizer.
16) We didn’t think there were as many onboard activities as our other cruises. It would probably be hard to conduct a trivia game in five languages.
17) As I said before, being the English-speaking minority onboard made communication difficult at times, especially with the food staff. Most of them just didn’t know what we were saying to them.
18) Because of the passenger mix, all announcements were in five languages so whenever there was something that needed to be conveyed to the passengers you had to sit though five, often lengthy, “noise” interruptions.
19) Also because of the passenger mix, they had to offer shore excursions in specific languages. For example, an excursion would be in English only, or French only, depending upon the people who signed up for it. On one of our pre-booked excursions we were told that it was only offered in French and Italian. We decided to take it anyway because otherwise we were stuck with nothing. We were the only two English-speaking people on the tour. Even the tour guide didn’t speak English.
20) Your pre-booked shore excursion tickets come one day at a time, along with your nightly Daily Planner for the next day. On our other cruises, we got all our excursions tickets given to us the first day of the cruise. There were multiple meeting places depending on your excursion and you didn’t know the time or place until you received your Daily Planner.
21) In the hallways and around the elevators, etc., there was nothing to indicate which way was the front or rear of the ship so it was difficult to figure out which way you had to go. Some ships we’ve sailed on have a picture of the ship as you enter the hallways to show you which way you’re headed.
22) There was no peephole in the cabin door to see who was knocking.
23) Our bed only came with two pillows, and they were pathetic. They squished down to nothing when you put your head on them. My wife likes an extra pillow or two but there weren’t even any extras in the closet like there are on many other ships. There were a few throw pillows on the bed though so we made use of those.
24) When we travel we take a nightlight with us so we can find our way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Unfortunately on this ship, when the bathroom light was turned off, the outlet in the bathroom didn’t work so we couldn’t plug in our nightlight.
And finally here are a few things that were different on this ship than our previous cruises. These are not likes or dislikes, only differences:
1) Everything onboard was in metric, Euros, and military time rather than AM/PM. Because, of course, this is an Italian cruise line.
2) There was apparently no ship band. On all the other cruises we’ve been on, there has been a band that plays behind the performers, at least sometimes, in the evening shows in the theater. No band on this ship.
3) The deck plan/map of the ship they gave us on this ship was large, the size of a foldout map. On our other cruises, they gave you a pocket-sized deck plan to carry with you.
4) MSC has no towel animals. Not every cruise line does towel animals, but MSC doesn’t. We look forward to these little guys in our cabin every night.
5) The room staff had an interesting way of turning down your bed at night, kind of artistic.
All in all, we enjoyed the cruise, but there were many things we didn’t like about MSC, the ship, the staff, the food, etc. and we’re not sure if we’ll sail with MSC again. They would have to offer another unique and interesting cruise itinerary that would make us consider it.
All images copyright © 2014 Eric T. Christensen