“The Unvarnished Traveler” by Brian Raymond

When it comes to providing value for your money, MSC truly understands its audience. After experiencing a cruise with MSC, it becomes abundantly clear that they know their demographic inside out and deliver exactly what they desire. During our conversations with many of our fellow guests, the two words that they used over and over to describe their primary reason for choosing MSC was because of their “cheap fares.”

MSC boarding mess

Boarding nightmare

Some online comments have previously mentioned issues with unfriendly or unavailable staff, as well as difficulties in ordering drinks due to a lack of personnel. However, our personal experience contradicts these claims. In fact, the majority of the staff we encountered were extremely friendly and attentive. However, to often, they were ill-trained to address some queries or resolve problems that arose.

MSC safe - slightly taller than a credit card

Safe is barely taller than a credit card

We booked a balcony stateroom, which boasted a clean and appealing contemporary design. The only drawback was the limited storage space beyond the small closet. There were no drawers or cabinets near the desk or beds. Interestingly, the desk chair doubled as a table for the sofa, showcasing innovative use of space.

During our cruise, the passenger composition consisted of approximately 40% Chinese guests, 10% children, and an average age of around 40 years old.

“You get what you pay for”

No Frills: MSC distinguishes itself from competitors by avoiding the additional expenses associated with elaborate adult and children water slides, Flo-riders, go-carts, and other amusement park-like rides. These attractions come with high installation, maintenance, and operational costs. By excluding these elements, MSC can pass the resulting savings on to their loyal clientele in the form of affordable cruise fares. And it’s no wonder that their passengers appreciate them for it.

MSC stateroom

Comfortable stateroom

Service Standards Acceptable to the Guests: Guests willingly accept a certain level of inconvenience and average-to-poor services in exchange for the budget-friendly fares. It’s important to acknowledge that MSC may not be the cruise line of choice for everyone. However MSC, like Royal Caribbean, Carnival and NCL, has constructed dedicated and separate suite areas. We wanted to explore what it would be like to sail with a mass-market cruise line. This time, we opted for a premium balcony stateroom. For our upcoming trip on Royal Caribbean, we have reserved one of their larger (650 sq ft) Ultimate Panorama suites.

MSC limited storage

Limited storage – this is all

Our ship departed from the Brooklyn Cruise Port in NYC, which unfortunately proved to be an inconvenient location for a 4,500-passenger vessel. Situated behind residential and commercial buildings, the port lacks a dedicated grand main entrance. Instead, you navigate through narrow, single-lane, and one-way streets. It took us 45 minutes to cover just 2.1 miles to reach the port entrance. Rather than waiting an additional 30 minutes for drop-off at the terminal, we decided to walk approximately 5 minutes in the rain. Moreover, the roads leading to the port are disproportionately congested given the size of the traffic.

Unhappy Kent after standing in the rain

Unhappy Kent after waiting 8 minutes in the rain for a porter to take bags

To compound matters, Kent endured an 8-minute wait in the rain for a porter to handle our bags. Normally, a porter is readily available to assist with baggage upon arrival. This incident exemplifies one of several instances of poor planning and execution by MSC.

Upon entering the terminal, we were greeted by three vast halls that necessitated navigating through mazes to pass through security and obtain our room key. These lines consumed an additional hour of our time.

The MSC Meraviglia, the ship we traveled on, accommodates 4,500 passengers and employs 1,500 crew members. This poor ratio of one crew member for every three passengers was noticeable. Like Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and NCL, MSC provides only once a day stateroom cleaning.

MSC closet

This is the only closet

Food Service Meets the Guest’s Expectations: Among the various meals offered, breakfast was our favorite. The Express Breakfast, consisting of eggs, bacon, sausage, and deep-fried potato wedges, was a delightful way to start the day. However, we found the rest of the meals to be satisfactory but not particularly inspiring. The quality of the food was just okay, on par with fast-casual restaurants, and occasionally falling short of those standards. Nevertheless, it’s worth mentioning that regular MSC guests were genuinely pleased and satisfied with the dining options and the overall quality.

Confusing and Misleading Website: MSC provides specialty dining packages; however, it’s important to note that these packages include a limited selection from the restaurant’s main menu, which is à la carte – each menu item comes with a price, and sides cost an additional $4 each. Some guests were disappointed to discover this upon entering the specialty restaurants, and unfortunately, MSC does not offer refunds to disappointed guests.

Another peculiar aspect pertains to the Internet packages. MSC offers packages for 1 to 4 devices, but unlike other cruise lines, the 1-device package is device-specific. In other words, you cannot use your 1-device package for your laptop after turning off your smartphone. Each device requires its own package, even if you intend to use only one device at a time. Regrettably, MSC does not make this clear on their website or smartphone apps.

MSC pool deckWhile the ship itself was comfortable, with the exception of a few bar chairs, many public spaces were quite loud, making it challenging to engage in conversations with fellow guests in dining rooms or at bars.

Additionally, MSC seems to have a tendency to create long queues during disembarkation. These queues often stretch from one end of the back inside promenade to the forward dining rooms. When they are set up, using the front stairs to move from the promenade and dining rooms to the reception and bar areas becomes virtually impossible and requires a lot of backtracking.

As the saying goes, “You get what you pay for,” and its corollary holds true as well:

“You don’t get what you didn’t pay for.”

Hence, since MSC’s primary allure lies in its affordable fares, it comes as no surprise that there were various issues that fell short of our expectations. Here are a few examples:

  • Bartenders were sometimes unfamiliar with MSC’s signature cocktails, and even when they did attempt to make them, different bartenders had their own variations. Surprisingly, MSC does not provide its bartenders with cream of coconut, a crucial ingredient for a perfect Piña Colada. The solution we found was to visit the front covered pool, where they served virgin frozen Piña Coladas, and ask them to add Myers Dark Rum to the bottom of the glass, resulting in a reasonably decent drink.
  • During breakfast and lunch, butter was not readily available on the tables, and more than half of the tables lacked salt or pepper. Furthermore, the salt grinder often failed to work properly. On one occasion, when different guests ordered pancakes, French toast, and waffles, no butter, syrup, or other toppings were brought out or offered.
  • Waiters often lacked knowledge about the “Soup of the Day” or the available ice cream and sorbet flavors.
  • We witnessed cocktail and martini glasses being served with lipstick stains on the edges. While such incidents can be forgiven once, encountering this issue repeatedly suggests a lack of attention to detail from the management’s side. Consistency was lacking in this aspect.
  • Bathrooms did not provide tissues/Kleenex or bar soap.

To sum it up, MSC may not be the cruise line for everyone, particularly those with higher expectations. However, their loyal clientele adores them, appreciates their service (for the most part), and willingly accepts any shortcomings in exchange for MSC’s attractively low fares. MSC knows precisely what their guests desire, and they consistently deliver it at affordable prices.

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Abercrombie Kent

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