While any day on a cruise is better than a day not on a cruise, in the end, this cruise is not one that we would likely repeat. Did we have a bad cruise? Definitely not! We (at least, I) had an enjoyable cruise. As with most things, you get what you pay for. This cruise was cheaper than most, and in the end delivered accordingly. This cruise provided an absolutely gorgeous ship, a wonderful connection to the sea, good food, and relaxation - all at a budget price. However, due to a metaphorical thousand paper cuts - the poor stateroom service, lack of usable stateroom storage, odd theater shows, unappealing children's programming, inefficient port-call timing, overly complex drink package, and similar frustrations - our future cruise money will likely be better-spent elsewhere.
My wife and I are in my early 40s, we have two tween-age girls (currently ages 12 and 10). This cruise was our fourth overall, and first with MSC. We are reasonably experienced cruisers, having taken (at the time of writing this review) five cruises on Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Disney, and MSC (and with five more booked on Norwegian and Disney). We travel as a family, and look for a mix of relaxation, family time (these two being my personal #1 priority), good food, entertainment, and fun in a cruise vacation. While I try to incorporate educational experiences, we do not usually seek out action/adventure experiences.
For this cruise, we traveled with my parents, as a celebration of their 45th wedding anniversary. We booked staterooms 15173 and 15163, which were (non-adjoining) category B2 Fantastica balcony staterooms, with the Fantastica experience and kids sail free, mealtime restaurant drink package, and 2GB free internet promotions.
3 out of 5
Check-in and embarkation went smoothly for the number of passengers. We arrived at the port around 1:00 for a 2:10 check-in time. The line was long (well outside the door), but with over 5,000 passengers, there is little more that can be done or expected. That said, the line moved continually and fairly quickly. As with, I assume, most people, we completed check-in online, which expedited check-in onsite. Total time from curb to embarkation was about one hour. One thing I don't understand, though, is why MSC doesn't incorporate the wristband into the check-in process. MSC provides (for $5 each) a key card bracelet, that can be used for all onboard key-card purposes, including unlocking your stateroom door and making onboard purchases. However, to get a bracelet, you first have to board the ship, and then go to Guest Services (and stand in the typically long, embarkation-day Guest Services line). For a ship that is promoted for its technological features (more on that, below), it makes no sense not to roll the bracelet cost into the base fare, and distribute them at check-in. That was a half-hour of embarkation-day time wasted. Another odd decision MSC made is to force passengers to use onboard kiosks to add a credit card to their onboard account. Every other cruise line we have experienced allows for payment information to be input during the online checkin process (or, at the very least, during the port check-in process). Using the kiosk was fast and simple - but still, and unnecessary task to add to embarkation day. The muster drill was one of the easiest and fastest I have yet experienced. Our muster location was Ipanema restaurant, and upon arrival we were directed to seats. (Any muster drill is better when endured while sitting down.) From there, emergency instructions were broadcast, incredibly fast, in multiple languages (English, Italian, Spanish, French, and German - possibly Portuguese as well?). The whole thing took maybe 15-20 minutes.
Food and Dining
3 out of 5
The MSC Seaside has two main dining rooms, Seashore and Ipanema, each of which has three nightly seatings (Ipanema at 5:15, 7:15, and 9:15; and Seashore at 5:30, 7:30, and 9:30).
Overall, we enjoyed the food and ambiance in the Main Dining Room. We had early (5:30PM) seating in the Seashore restaurant, and had an ideal table location: a round six-top table tucked into a semi-private alcove in the back of the restaurant, with walls on two sides of the table. The lack of neighbors, and distance from other tables, provided a lower-than-usual ambient noise level, that facilitated dinner conversation.
As with any cruise, some meals, and some dishes in each meal, were better than others. Some were excellent (the swordfish was a particular star; it was one of the best things I've ever had in a MDR dinner on any cruise), and some were forgettable. Other than prime rib night, I tend not to get steak during an MDR dinner, opting instead to try the variety of other meat (or, on occasion, vegetarian) dishes. That said: the prime rib was a bit disappointing. It was far too thin of a cut, and was covered in gravy. (Note that most/all steak served in the MDR was covered in gravy - and that this same gravy was used for several other meat dishes.) Overall, I had no issues with portion sizes. If anything, one or two meals surprised me with how big some of the portions were.
The dinner service wasn't perfect, though. For one, the MDR menu does not include even a selection of standards for children. The only option for children who don't want adult menu options is to order off of the toddler menu. My girls ate a lot of cheese pizza and french fries at dinner. Also, overall, the dinner service felt rushed. The two MDRs have three seatings each night, separated into two-hour increments. The pace of service reflected the tight seating schedule. And finally, I found it odd that coffee (if requested) was served *after* dessert was served, rather than being served before (or with) dessert. Since I typically had only a cup of coffee as my dessert, I regularly found myself waiting until everyone else was half-finished with dessert before even starting to drink my coffee.
Allow me a digression to discuss the coffee. Honestly, I expected better overall quality and consistency. At times, the coffee was very good; others, it was undrinkably weak. Now, if I wanted a consistently good cup of coffee, whether espresso, cappuccino, or Americano, Venchi always delivered. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for either the MDR or the buffets. Most mornings, I must endure hotel and/or airline coffee, so I anticipate good coffee on vacation. I expected an Italian cruise line to deliver good coffee. In general, it was on par with hotel/airline coffee. Except for Venchi, which always had excellent coffee.
The Seashore restaurant was also used as the MDR breakfast and lunch option. The MDR breakfast was, in my opinion, fairly typical for a cruise. The service was fairly fast, and the menu did not change from day to day, but the food was good. (My primarily food complaint with the MDR breakfast is that the menu specifically stated *crispy* bacon, but half the time the bacon arrived limp/chewy.) The MDR was also the only place I could find to get a made-to-order omelet, since as far as I could find, neither buffet offered a made-to-order omelet station (which I have come to expect in a cruise breakfast buffet).
The buffet food (both in the Marketplace main buffet on deck 8 and in the Biscayne Bay buffet on deck 16) was good, but became repetitive: 90 - 95% of the food offerings at breakfast and lunch did not appear to change from day to day. I found the food to be well-prepared, hot, and fresh (even a simple meal of burger and fries can be enjoyable or terrible, based on the freshness of the food). I'm sure you've heard good things about MSC's buffet pizza; it's all true. As someone who typically eats low-carb, I really enjoyed splurging on the pizza.
Since we were on deck 15 directly beneath the Biscayne Bay buffet, we found it to be especially convenient for breakfast and/or snacks. The variety and options in Biscayne Bay were smaller, due to it being much smaller than the Marketplace (which takes up about half of deck 8), but it was also generally much less crowded. Each day, I had a breakfast date with one of my girls. Each wanted to try the MDR once, but the rest of the time we went to the Biscayne Bay buffet, and ate at the outside tables, which were almost always mostly empty.
While dinner and breakfast were enjoyable overall, lunch was... not. The MSC Seaside has decided to shoehorn the vast majority of their lunch service into the Marketplace buffet. The Biscayne Bay buffet closed at 1:00pm, and the MDR was only open on at-sea days. We often prefer the MDR for lunch to avoid the chaos and stress of the buffet, but were unable to do so on this cruise.
Now, I generally don't mind buffets on cruise ships; I just don't like the chaos and stress of a *crowded* buffet (remember: my #1 reason to cruise is to relax). The trick is to know the off-peak times to go. But when the ship funnels its 5,000+ passengers into a single buffet during a limited lunch period, the chaos and stress are impossible to avoid.
The buffet lunch during our St. Thomas port day was probably one of the worst cruise buffet experiences I've ever had. A Caribbean rain passed through right before lunch time, which left all of the outdoor seating (which comprises about 1/3 of the Marketplace buffet seating capacity) unusable, since MSC made no effort to dry off any of it. We wandered around for 10-15 minutes to find an open table (ultimately taking one that had not even been bused/cleaned yet), then going to the buffet in shifts (which involved standing in long queues at each food station) so that others didn't take our table. Meanwhile, the tables had no bar service call buttons (the only way to make use of the mealtime beverage package).
Our one sea-day MDR lunch was fine, though the menu was rather limited.
On a poor communication note: the daily program indicated that the MDR was open for lunch on the St. Maarten port day, but when we tried to go there for lunch, a sign was displayed stating that the MDR was closed for a private event during the entire lunch period. We were incredibly disappointed to find out that it was not open as indicated by the daily program.
For the second sea day, we didn't eat lunch at either the MDR or the buffets; instead, we opted to have our specialty dining meal as lunch at Teppanyaki. I have to say: our Teppanyaki lunch was hands-down the best meal we experienced on the entire cruise. Our hibachi chef was engaging and entertaining, the food was outstanding, and the portions plentiful. They accommodated my gout-caused inability to eat shellfish, replacing the lobster and scallops in my Shogun experience with filet mignon. The meal was served in courses, with each element prepared on the grill and served on small plates, allowing time to savor each element of the meal. My only complaint was that I thought it was a bit over-priced, particularly for lunch.
The Fantastica experience is advertised to include free room service from 6:00am - 11:00pm. We used room service a few times, mainly for late-night snacks. In general, the room service food selection is forgettable, with extremely limited options. Over half of the menu is only available during dinner hours (6:30pm - 10:00pm, and even though the Fantastica experience specifically states that room service is free, the dinner-hour-only items incurred a $7.95 service fee. Wings billed as the "best at sea" were bland, breaded, and not crispy. A sandwich was delivered with stale potato chips instead of the requested french fries.
One, final nit to pick with dining: the hand-washing stations barely worked in the buffets, and the sanitizer dispensers in the MDRs were too few and horribly slow, causing a backup when passengers bothered to use them. There was no sign of "washy, washy!" when entering the buffet, which could be good or bad, depending on your perspective.
By contrast to our stateroom steward, our main dining room servers (head server Budi and assistant server Alvin) were fantastic. They quickly learned our drink preferences (including alcoholic drinks for the adults, chocolate milk for my youngest daughter, and a pitcher of water for the table).
While the dining experience had its positives and its negatives, and was overall comparable to most other cruises, I cannot say enough bad things about the drink package. MSC has created to most complicated, frustrating, and difficult drink package at sea.
Our drink package was unreasonably (and unnecessarily) complicated, combining the Fantastica mealtime (lunch-dinner) house drinks with promotional vouchers. The Fantastica mealtime drinks included unlimited house wines (a selection of 2 reds, 2 whites, and a rose) house beers, and soda at lunch and dinner, in the MDRs and buffets. The promotional vouchers provided 12 alcoholic drink vouchers to each adult, and 12 non-alcoholic drink vouchers to each child.
Using the drink package was easiest in the MDR, though even then, servers often seemed confused about how to handle drink requests. And I like to experiment with wine-food pairings, especially during dinner. But with MSC's mealtime drink package, if you order a wine other than an included house wine, you don't pay just the cost difference between the two; unlike most other cruise lines, MSC makes you pay full price.
The experience in the buffet was overall terrible. MSC places call buttons on each table in the buffets, which would summon a bar service person who would take the order - which would then be delivered by yet another person. The bar service order-takers were understandably over-worked. The only way to get a drink with one's buffet meal was to find a table, call the order-taker, and then place (and receive) the drink order before going to the buffet. If you wait until you already have your food, your drink will not arrive until after you eat.
Several times servers attempted to charge us for included drinks. As mentioned above, during the St. Thomas port-day lunch, the bar service call buttons were removed from the tables. When I asked a server where to get drinks, he directed me to the bar outside - which attempted to charge me for my mealtime-included house wines. So I went back inside the buffet and found the bar where I could order. (Why didn't the server direct me there? No clue. In general, they seemed as confused by the drink package as we were.)
To add even more confusion: non-alcoholic vouchers could be used at Venchi (the chocolate/coffee bar), but not alcoholic vouchers. So, I could order all the non-alcoholic coffee drinks I wanted, but if I wanted to try the Cuba Rhum Cappuccino, served at the very same location, I would have had to pay full price.
To be sure, not being heavy drinkers, we had more than enough to drink - and came home with many vouchers to spare - but found the package to be a consistent source of stress throughout the cruise. I can completely understand why MSC has abandoned the drink package that we use, ditched the vouchers, and changed to a (seemingly) simpler, tiered, anytime drink package.
4 out of 5
We were assigned a table in a semi-private alcove, which really facilitated conversation in an otherwise typically noisy MDR. Service was fine. Food was hit or miss. The swordfish was one of the best things I've ever eaten in an MDR.
4 out of 5
Nice decor. We were assigned to the other MDR, so I cannot comment on food or service.
4 out of 5
Some cruises, I am in the mood to take advantage of many of the activities onboard the ship, especially the daily trivia, the game shows, adult comedy shows, karaoke, and guitar/piano players and other musicians. This cruise, my focus was on simply relaxing as much as possible, and spending as much time as possible with my family. So, I made little effort to avail myself of most or all of these activities on this cruise.
So, while I can't comment on most of them, a perusal through the daily program reveals that they are all offered aplenty on the MSC Seaside. We did try trivia a couple of times, which we enjoyed. Most of the trivia seemed to be general, rather than themed, though there were a few. While I didn't go to listen to them, there were nightly musicians in the atrium, Seaview lounge, and (I think?) the Haven lounge.
One thing that the ship promoted quite a bit, and that I was very interested in, but could never figure out how to participate, was MSC's Master Chef at Sea. It sounds like a great competition, but I never saw, in the daily program or anywhere else, where or how to join.
The Seaside has a library (billiard room), deck 7 starboard aft between the Haven lounge and the South Beach bar, but it appeared to be only half-full with books. And the billiards table was only available for play while the arcade (deck 7 port aft, forward of the Garage Club) was open. Unfortunately, the arcade was only open late at night. So while I was wandering the ship mid-morning with my girls, when most of the deck 7 aft public areas were empty - in other words, the perfect time for a game of pool - we were unable to play.
We did not make use of the arcade. Playing arcade games on a cruise is a waste of money in my opinion, and while bowling at sea is an interesting novelty, at $25 per person per game, the price was a non-starter. Also, like the rest of the arcade, the bowling alley was only open late at night. Why would bowling not be available during the morning/day? That makes no sense to me, and combined with the ridiculous cost, is a huge miss by MSC.
Glass-Walled Four Decks Atrium
5 out of 5
The atrium on the Seaside is absolutely gorgeous. The three-deck-tall video screen is stunning.
3 out of 5
Unlike previous cruises, on this cruise I decided to take in the majority of the evening theater shows. I was intrigued by MSC offering a different, albeit shorter (30-40 minutes) show each evening, with a fairly wide variety based on the show descriptions.
The Metropolitan Theater, located on deck 6 and 7 forward with main entrances on deck 7, is a beautiful venue. The seats are comfortable and the seating is laid out well. There are few to no bad seats in the house. The lack of a balcony section, and the ceiling height it provides, resulted in the spotlights being at head height for the seats in the back. It is an odd design decision, and did impact show lighting at times.
One peculiarity is that the most viable way to exit the theater (without waiting for post-show crowded elevators) is through the casino, which only adds to the post-show congestion. It is another odd logistical/design decision. Note that there are small exits stage left and right that lead to corridors on deck 6, leading through the stairwell/elevators into Piazza Grande; but most of the crowd exited the main entrances on deck 7.
The Embarkation night show was called "Frank Forever". Description:
"A tribute to the king of cool."
This show was a Frank Sinatra tribute that we didn't attend, so I can't speak to it.
The second night's show was called "The Dream". Description:
"The best of the best. Some of the all-time great musicals are the inspiration for this must-see show. Hum along with your favorites and enjoy spotting the unforgettable characters in this "Vintage Collection" of musicals."
Half the show consisted of songs from "The Greatest Showman". Now, we loved "The Greatest Showman" and thus enjoyed the songs. But the show description gave no indication that it would be featured. Also, I have no idea what was being dreamed or even who was doing the dreaming, because the show had no discernible story or plot. The show featured many extremely talented variety acts, but those acts had no discernible connection to the story, context, or theme. There was the Chippendales-esque shirt-removing strongman doing rope/ring work, a man who rolled around inside of a giant hoop, a roller-figure-skating pair, and a guy spinning a giant, tubular cube.
The third night's show was called "My Life In Music". Description:
"An emotional collection of famous soundtracks for you to enjoy with our dancers and artists."
What the description failed to mention was the the featured soundtracks would all be a revue of Ennio Morricone works performed in Italian. The show featured many of the same variety acts. The strongman turned into a pair of strongmen, doing acrobat/pair work. The hoop roller, tube-cube spinner, and roller-figure skaters returned.
The fourth night's show was called "Fly". Description:
"Who doesn't love a Broadway show? Enjoy this toe-tapping, finger-snapping spectacular, filled with singing and dancing to the memorable music of great American composers.
We did not attend this show. This day also featured a matinee opera performance of "Butterfly," which we also chose not to attend.
The fifth night's show was called "The Wizard". Description:
"Who hasn't dreamed of finding the elixir of eternal youth? The mysterious alchemist known as the Wizard certainly has. But when he finally discovers it, it might not be all that it promises... in a fascinating steampunk world, you'll be astounded by the spectacular illusions and much more. Enter a world of wonder. Enter the world of the Wizard."
This show had a particular twist, in that it was almost entirely devoid of dialogue. The show began with a Macbeth-esque cauldron scene and later morphed into a Victorian/steam-punk theme (a theme that appeared to be a favorite of the designer, and that featured in many shows - except, as far as I could tell, in the one show that specifically called out a steam punk theme). The show featured many of the same variety acts. The strongman pair, hoop roller, tube-cube spinner, and roller-figure skaters returned.
The sixth night's show was called "Timeless". Description:
"Time travel. Truly man's last frontier. Our scientist has finally managed to discover its secret, and sets out with his faithful assistant on a voyage through the past of the ancient Aztecs and into an unknown future. Are you brave enough to come along for the ride?"
This show had a promising start, in that there was a semblance of discernible story line. A (presumed?) scientist activates a time machine (using cartoonishly large wrenches on human-sized sprockets) and travels back in time to an Aztec-like setting, then later travels to a Victorian-like/steam punk setting (which was more or less the same setting in which the show started). I couldn't identify anything that resembled/represented travel to the future. But the show suffered from the same issues as the other shows, with respect to arbitrary talent acts interspersed into the show. For example, the Aztec scene featured Asian contortionists/acrobats. Then, the scientist's assistant(?), who was dressed like a human hand grenade, brought a girl out of the audience to "power" the time machine using a hula hoop (assisted by the tube-cube-spinning artist, who mixed things up by spinning a tube-square). And the only dialogue in the entire show featured a singer in a non-period pinstripe suit, during the Victorian/steam punk scene, singing a song about brotherhood and Babushkas (Russian for "grandmother"). It made no sense to me. The show featured many of the same variety acts. The strongman pair, hoop roller, tube-cube spinner, and roller-figure skaters returned.
(Note: "Timeless" used to be the Michael Jackson tribute show, which we were disappointed to miss.)
That said, my youngest daughter attended the show with me, and we both agreed that it was very entertaining, even if we really had no idea what the story was.
The seventh night's show was called "Peter Punk". Description:
"Join the mythical Peter Pan as he battles his nemesis Captain Hook in a whole new take on Neverland. Action and fantasy combine in this stunning, beautifully designed adventure show."
This show featured a Captain Hook-like character, fairies who were captured by the Captain Hook-like character, and a ship. That's the good. As far as I could tell, that's where all resemblance to Peter Pan ended, and I didn't notice any steam-punk style or theme at all. Of all the shows, this show, the cruise finale, was the epitome of all the issues we had with the theater shows in general. The show consisted of the same, random scenes that comprised no semblance of a plot or story line. The fairies were "captured" by the magician-wizard from the prior "Wizard" show, using a magician's human blade-cutting box. The ship apparently sailed to an island, whereupon a Tyrannosaurus Rex appeared and chased the cast around. After a song/talent interlude, The dinosaur reappeared, this time chasing a baby t-rex on a stick, to the tune of (no joke) Yakety Sax. The same, arbitrary, talent acts appeared throughout the show: the bare-chested strongmen, the roller-figure skaters, the tube-cube spinner, the giant hoop roller. This time, the talent ensemble were joined by a ballerina, a fire-rope spinner, and a pole-dancer. And the grand finale was an ensemble performance of "We Are The World". (Perhaps this was an homage to the cruise-standard "parade of nations" event, celebrating the many nationalities represented by the crew members?)
We found the theater show performers to be incredibly talented and several of the shows were very entertaining, but thought that the shows were essentially a variation on a theme. The same talent acts were used/repeated, and only the costumes and music changed. The shows all featured many of the same variety acts: the strongman pair, hoop roller, tube-cube spinner, roller-figure skaters, etc. Did it get repetitive reading that in every show description? Because it certainly got repetitive while watching the shows. If all that the cruise delivers for theater entertainment is variety shows where the acts and singers remain the same and only the costumes and musical genres change from night to night, I have no problem with that. But at least say that up front.
The theater shows were entertaining, and featured some great, talented artists, but overall the shows were disappointing. The show descriptions did not seem to match the shows very well - particularly because none of the shows had any discernible story or plot - so we really couldn't follow what was supposed to be going on. Better, more-accurate show descriptions would go a long way in managing expectations, and helping the audience understand the vision, theme, and intent of each show.
I should also mention the cruise director, Gene Young, who opened the show each night, and gave the farewell at the end of the final show. I thought he was fantastic: friendly, energetic, engaging, funny; everything you want in a cruise director.
2 out of 5
MSC divides babies, children, and youth into several groups. Children 3 and under are in the baby program, Baby Club Chicco. Children ages 3 - 11 are in the kids/juniors program, divided into Mini Club (ages 3 - 6) and Juniors Club (ages 7 - 11). Youth ages 12 - 17 are in the teen program, divided into Youngs/Youth/Y-Team (ages 12 - 14) and Teens (ages 15 - 17).
All of the children's and youth facilities are contained within Doremiland, Deck 18 midship, just aft of the rear-central elevators aft of Forest Aquaventure Park. Doremiland has a single-point entry and check-in/out station centrally located immediately aft of the elevators. The main area includes the Doremi Studio, which is the central space with a small stage, room for group activities, and a . Along the starboard side of the area is a separate room for Baby Club Chicco and Mini Club. Along the port side of the area is a separate room for Juniors Club.
Baby Club Chicco (starboard side, forward of the Mini Club) and the Young Club and Teen Club (port side, forward of the Juniors Club) are physically separated from the rest of Doremiland, which seems to be intended primarily for children ages 3 - 11. Baby Club Chicco is intended to be used by children with their children present, and the Young/Teen Clubs are intended to be somewhat autonomous from the rest of the children's programming.
Let me caveat the following comments by recognizing that the tween ages are very difficult - for parents, much less cruise lines - to please with respect to activities and entertainment: they have largely grown out of their childhood favorites (fairies, ponies, etc.), but haven't yet fully developed the tastes of teenagers. It is a transitional stage of development that is the proverbial square peg in the round hole of both the children's and teenage programming. Due to their ages, our girls fully epitomized this tween dilemma.
That said, our girls did not enjoy MSC's facilities or programming for their age group. Our girls were 11 and (one week shy of) 10 during the cruise, and thus were placed in the Juniors Club (ages 7 - 11). All week the girls (especially my oldest) kept saying, "I wish we could go to the Youth Club" - because the Youth Club design and activities were much more appropriate for their age.
Doremiland (and the children's programming in general) clearly caters to the lower end of the 3 - 11 age range. The facilities are very cartoonish and size-scaled (seats, stage, etc.) for younger/smaller children. The Juniors Club room was a fairly small space, comprised primarily of large Lego pods and tables. Three computer-graphics stations were along one wall, and a foosball table was on the opposite side of the room. In short, there was nothing for 10 and 11 year-old girls to do in the Junior Club room. From their perspective, the activities in the central area also focused on the younger children. They also did not enjoy the planned activities outside of Doremiland, which consisted mostly of sports (which they are generally not into).
They attended a couple of times, but never went back after that.
I don't intend for this review to be a cruise-line comparison; this is a problem that can be found on almost any cruise line, for tweens. The girls had a similar experience with Norwegian, though this is an area where Disney excels. The primary culprit, in my opinion, is the age-grouping. A seven year-old and an 11 year-old have almost nothing in common in terms of activities and entertainment. A more-logical grouping might be Teens 14 - 17, Youth 10 - 13, and Juniors 7 - 9.
Thankfully, this is the last cruise for which this will be an issue for us. On our currently booked, future cruises, the girls will be in the Dolphins (ages 10 - 12) group in the Norwegian Splash Academy, and the Edge (ages 11 - 14) group in the Disney youth program. For many reasons, I'm looking forward to experiencing, and getting to review, tween-program offerings.
Service and Staff
3 out of 5
We had relatively few interactions with the general ship staff. In general, the interactions we had were mostly neither especially good nor terribly bad. Some staff members were more friendly and helpful than others, as one would expect. I thought that the captain and officers seemed generally more visible and approachable than they have been elsewhere.
I recognize that room steward service can vary, even on a given ship and sailing, and it is possible to luck into an exceptionally good (or exceptionally bad) room steward. Some are more talkative and engaging than others. Some make towel animals and others don't. Having said that, the room steward service we experienced on the MSC Seaside was hands down the worst of any cruise that we have taken.
Our room was cleaned well daily, but getting (and restocking) consumable supplies was a cruise-long struggle. When we first entered our stateroom, the bathroom hand soap was empty (is there anything more important on a cruise ship than hand-washing hygiene?). We ran out of toilet paper. We started the week with four washcloths, and by day two had none. Every time we returned to our room with wet pool towels, they would disappear without being replaced the next time our room steward visited. Each instance required a call to guest services to replace the pool towels, especially since MSC charges for un-returned pool towels. We ran out of hand soap part-way through the cruise, and again had to ask for it to be refilled. (I actually got the refill bottle and did it myself.) Upon arrival, our room had no room service menu or breakfast menu door hangers. Now, perhaps that is an intentional decision by MSC, to discourage use of room service, and not the fault of our room steward. Either way: not a point in MSC's favor.
In the end, this is the first cruise in which we did not provide an additional tip for the room steward, as we did not believe anything above the base service charge was warranted.
By contrast to our stateroom steward, our main dining room servers (head server Budi and assistant server Alvin) were fantastic. They quickly learned our drink preferences (including alcoholic drinks for the adults, chocolate milk for my youngest daughter, and a pitcher of water for the table).
The Aurea Spa facilities and services were excellent on the MSC Seaside. The spa is located on deck 8, forward, and includes spacious indoor facilities as well as outdoor space on the forward part of the deck 8 promenade.
We pre-booked cruise Thermal Spa access for only $130 per person, but only ever had the chance to tour the Thermal Spa area, which is an excellent facility: immersive aromatherapy showers, wet/dry saunas, steam rooms, salt room, snow room, pool, etc. - as well as an outdoor hot tub. The entire facility was calm and uncrowded. My pre-cruise intent was that the girls would spend a bit more time in the children's program/facilities, giving us some time to enjoy the spa. In large part because the girls didn't enjoy the children's program/facilities, plans changed; so I never got to enjoy the Thermal Spa. But, having toured the area, I can say that it otherwise would have been money well-spent.
After we toured the Thermal Spa, I booked a "holistic" massage (incorporating muscle stretches with less-intense massage), and my wife booked a concurrent mani-pedi service. Both were booked for the afternoon of the Puerto Rico port call day, and the spa gave us the port-day discount, even though the port call wasn't until the evening.
Upon arrival, we found the waiting area to be spacious - even moreso than on other ships. I brought my pre-completed form (which was much more concise than on most other ships), and was pleased not to be hounded with pre-service "consultation" or upsells. The service time was prompt, with a massage therapist that was typical for a cruise ship spa. I usually go with deep-tissue massage, but decided to try something different this time. I enjoyed it, but would probably stick with my usual in the future. As with before the massage, I was pleased not to get a product hard-sell after the massage. My massage therapist made one attempt to "recommend" a product at the conclusion of the massage, but quickly respected my indication that I wasn't interested. Afterward, I was offered the customary cup of water, but was not subjected to a post-massage "consultation" (i.e. product hard-sell). Kudos to MSC for that.
I booked a 90-minute massage, and my wife-s concurrently scheduled mani-pedi was still not complete when I was done. It would seem that the salon services are thorough and not rushed. She was happy with the results.
While I was waiting, I was able to get a walk-in with the barber to do a quick trim and line clean-up of my beard. He did a very good job, and charged me fewer than $15.
All in all, I give high marks to the Aurea Spa.
MSC promotes the Seaside as a "high-tech" cruise ship. In some ways, technology was well-implemented. The touchscreens found throughout the ship were excellent for information and navigation. The MSC For Me app worked smoothly to view activities and book entertainment and specialty dining. The wristbands ($5 charge) worked well as a key card replacement for stateroom access and onboard purchases. However, it was lacking in a couple, significant areas.
First, MSC advertises real-time tracking of children via their wristbands through the MSC For Me app. This functionality was not working during our cruise. Our girls are old enough to find their way safely around a cruise ship even of the size of the MSC Seaside, and we trust them to do so, but this was a major failure of an advertised feature targeted at families traveling with children.
Second, MSC advertises its ability to "connect" guests through technology, but the MSC For Me app is missing the single most-important feature for connecting guests: a chat/messaging feature. Disney has in-app messaging. Norwegian has in-app messaging. Royal Caribbean is rolling out in-app messaging. MSC simply cannot make the claim that they offer a high-tech, connected experience onboard without in-app messaging.
Other notes on the MSC For Me app: while viewing/booking shows/specialty dining was overall fairly simple, it did not handle linked reservations well. I had to search linked reservations twice, once each to add my parents, to a specialty dining reservation. Also, the app didn't include all of the information from the daily program (for example, the evening theme/dress code, daily specials, etc.). Ideally, the app could replace the paper program entirely.
5 out of 5
The ship is also gorgeous, and beautifully maintained. I have heard others who thought otherwise for a year-old ship, but I honestly didn't see it. (I did see a couple small rust spots off of our balcony, in the track used for the balcony cleaning.)
The public areas of the ship were laid out well, and the ship never felt like 5,000 passengers were on-board. True to its name, the ship felt quite connected to the sea, with ample outdoor space, promenades, and windows. The deck 8 promenade with infinity bridges, deck 7 south beach aft pool area, and deck 16 bridge of sighs (even the glass-enclosed, aft elevators) all contributed to a continual feeling of connectedness to the sea.
Much has been said about MSC's design decision with swimming pool depth. Personally, I like that all of the pools are six feet deep, with no true, shallow end. Why? Because it prevents the human soup that develops, especially on sea days, when too many people spend too much time lounging in the pools. With the pools each being six feet deep, swimmers had to swim, or at least float actively. As a result, people spent less time continually in the pool, thereby allowing more people to enjoy uncrowded pool time.
Our favorite pool area was the jungle pool. Located on deck 18, forward of the children's club area, children's water park, and water slide exits, and with deck chairs largely shaded/covered, the jungle pool area seemed to be less-frequented than the more-easily accessible Miami beach and south beach pools. The pool was generally empty for after-dinner evening swims, and even during a sea day, there were only about a dozen people using the pool. It was a great place to take the girls for swimming.
As a side benefit, the jungle pool bar was possibly the best bar on the entire ship. The drinks were always fast, well-made, and often strong. If you find other bars to be too busy/crowded, it is worth the walk to the jungle pool bar.
Note regarding the south beach pool: the starboard side of the south beach pool/bar area is a smoking section. If smoking, second-hand smoke, or latent tobacco smell bother you, you may need to avoid the south beach pool area entirely. Fortunately for those sensitive to smoke, even including the casino, I really didn't notice cigarette smoke anywhere else on the ship.
Another venue on our family's daily visit list was the Venchi Coffee/Chocolate Bar. While I never tried any of the alcoholic coffee drinks (refer to the drink package discussion), both my wife and I had daily coffee drinks. She prefers lattes and other flavored coffee drinks. I prefer strong, brewed coffee, espresso, and the occasional cappuccino. While the quality of the brewed coffee available elsewhere on the ship was inconsistent, the Americanos (no brewed coffee options, unfortunately) at Venchi were always excellent.
I attended the CruiseCritic meet and greet in the Seaview lounge, though since I didn't know anyone and the family had other plans, I didn't stay very long. I thought that MSC did a fantastic job with the meet and greet, providing refreshments, free drinks, and a cake. The captain and his officers attended and were presented, and the captain and cruise director spoke briefly to the group. MSC took a photo of all attendees with the captain and officers, and delivered a free copy of the photo to each attendee. Kudos to MSC to what, to me, appeared to be an above-and-beyond effort for a third-party meet-and-greet.
Cabin / Stateroom
2 out of 5
We booked stateroom 15173, which is a category B2 Fantastica Balcony stateroom for our family of four. We booked stateroom 15163, which is the same category, for my parents.
Both staterooms are located port side midship/aft, with stateroom 15173 more or less across from/adjacent to the stairwell and stateroom 15163 more or less across from/adjacent to the elevators. Both rooms provide convenient access to the Biscayne Bay buffet directly above on deck 16, and to the children's facilities, Forest Aquaventure Park, and Jungle Pool area two decks up on deck 18. (The Seaside, being an Italian ship, does not have a deck 17.) Note that you may hear occasional chair noise from the buffet, and on embarkation night we could hear feet and voices from two decks below the children's area. Neither bothered me.
Both staterooms slept four people via a convertible bunk-bed sofa. In stateroom 15173 the sofa was nearest the balcony, while in stateroom 15163 the bed was nearest the balcony. However, even though both staterooms were the same category, with no indication anywhere that I could find of any differences between the two staterooms, stateroom 15173 has 15 square meters of living space and a 2 square meter bathroom with a shower stall, while stateroom 15163 has 14 square meters of living space and a 3 square meter bathroom with a tub. Knowing this difference up-front would have made difference when booking, since the bathroom in stateroom 15163 would have been much more accommodating, both in terms of size and with respect to tub versus shower, than the bathroom in stateroom 15173 for our family of 4.
As it was, the bathroom in 15173 was woefully small, and, like the stateroom in general, provided insufficient storage or usable space. My not-skinny 6'2 frame barely fit into the shower (though I did appreciate a glass door as opposed to a shower curtain). Rinsing off required use of the removable shower head. The vanity had essentially no usable counter space, and only two small shelves for toiletry storage.
As for stateroom storage in general: one, small closet with eight hangers, two drawers, and two (usable) shelves. (The closet actually had four shelves, but one held the safe, and another held the pool towels. The desk had one, small drawer. The bed height barely allowed for under-bed luggage storage, though the location of the closet along one side of the bed, and the sofa on the other, left little room for accessing the luggage stored under the bed. There were no other drawers, cleverly located shelves or cabinets, or any of the other ingenious storage methods implemented on the other cruise ships we've been on.
Look: I travel, and pack, light. I travel weekly for work, and live out of a carry-on. My family has become fairly adept at packing appropriately for a cruise. Even for us - even for me - there simply wasn't enough storage space. And: 8 hangers for 4 people? On a cruise with no fewer than 4 theme nights (two of which were formal)? How is that supposed to work?
The beds were comfortable, and typically firm. The girls enjoyed the convertible bunk-bed sofa, which our room attendant left converted for the duration of the cruise. The girls appreciated their own space in the stateroom, but that left no seating space.
Fortunately, the balcony was generously sized. In fact, the stateroom balcony was one of the highlights of the cruise. It was larger than I had expected, and the furniture was comfortable and well-suited to spending lots of time enjoying the water and port views. Located on deck 15 with the Biscayne Bay buffet immediately overhead, the balcony has extra overhang that provided some additional shade. My number one objective for myself for this cruise (aside from spending as much time as possible with my family) was relaxation. Time spent on the balcony was easily one of my favorite parts of the cruise.
The jungle pool was generally empty for after-dinner evening swims, and even during a sea day, there were only about a dozen people using the pool. It was a great place to take the girls for swimming. As a side benefit, the jungle pool bar was possibly the best bar on the entire ship. The drinks were always fast, well-made, and often strong. If you find other bars to be too busy/crowded, it is worth the walk to the jungle pool bar.
The sail into port is stunning in San Juan, and we enjoyed watching the dolphins next to the ship in port. Otherwise, San Juan was a complete waste, arriving just in time to go to dinner and our show, and staying only until midnight. An evening port call may be great for those wishing to visit San Juan's nightlife, but it was completely pointless for parents traveling with children.
This may now be my favorite port in the Caribbean. We had a full day here, which meant that we could get off the ship early, enjoy the port before it became overly crowded, and then enjoy a quiet day on the ship. The port-side views from our stateroom balcony were amazing.
We had only a half day here, with an early-afternoon all-aboard time. We also shared the port with six other cruise ships, so the port was crowded and the views obstructed. That said, the cruise port area was really nice.
Once again, we had only a half day here, arriving around lunch time. Since we have been to Nassau before, and did not have a great experience - and also because we shared the port with four other ships - we had no particular desire to go into the port. Most of the passengers decided otherwise, though; so we enjoyed a quiet afternoon on a mostly empty ship.
5 out of 5
Express debarkation was probably the fastest and smoothest I have ever experienced. We were off the ship, through customs, and on the curb in no more than 10-15 minutes from leaving our staterooms.
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