MSC is the #1 cruise line in the Mediterranean and is well known to European cruisers. It is the world's largest privately owned cruise company. MSC Seaside, based in Miami, is the line's first ship to be built specifically for the North American market. When I heard that the ship would feature 28 affordable cabins with private Jacuzzis on the balconies, I knew I had to give MSC a try!
The ship entered service in December of 2017 and I knew that a new ship with a new crew always has issues, so I booked a cruise in mid-January of 2018 in hopes that by then, most of the initial glitches would have been worked out. In retrospect, I wish I had given them a little more time to get their act together!
This is the story of our 7-day Caribbean cruise on the MSC Seaside...
I often find that one picture will stand out from all others of a particular cruise.
This photo is what I'll always remember about the MSC Seaside:
Our suite's most important feature: the Jacuzzi on the balcony.
Before I dive in to the story of our cruise, I think I should probably introduce myself... so that you know who's telling the story, and what my perspective is. My name is Jim Zimmerlin, but everyone calls me Jim Zim. I live with my wife, Kellyn (it rhymes with Helen), in a small beach town in California. We've done a lot of cruises! Our first one was back in 1996, and since then we've done 43 cruises... including Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Princess, Viking Ocean Cruises, and now MSC. I've done more cruises with Carnival than any of the others, but lately I've come to think of Norwegian as the cruise line I most closely identify with. I work in an administrative job at a nuclear power plant, and back in the 70's and 80's I was a radio announcer and the Program Director of a radio station. In recent years, I unexpectedly developed a side job as a creator of YouTube videos. My YouTube channel has over 160,000 subscribers, and my videos have had over 175 million views! Much to my surprise, I discovered there's money to be made from YouTube videos... and that money pays for the cruises these days. As things have gotten more lucrative with YouTube over the last year or two, I've been able to stay in some much nicer cruise ship suites than I ever was able to before.
Our first nine cruises were on the west coast of Mexico, but after that we started cruising in the Caribbean... and that's mostly what we stick with now. We love spending time on the best beaches in the world, and almost all of our shore excursions involve either hanging out on a beach and/or having some fun in the water. Vacation time is precious, and we have no interest in touring towns, visiting historical sites, or exploring the history. For us, vacation is all about warm beaches, warm water, good food, and some tasty beverages.
With every additional cruise, we learn a little more about what makes "the perfect cruise" for us... and one of the things we've figured out in recent years is that we totally love having a Jacuzzi all to ourselves. It really started with the Haven Spa Suites on Norwegian Cruise Line, which have a Jacuzzi inside the cabin. We tried that, and loved it. But we came to realize that what we really want is an outdoor Jacuzzi all to ourselves. So, we tried several different cruises where we were in suites with a private outdoor Jacuzzi on the balcony. That's usually pretty expensive!
The closest thing to "the perfect cruise" that we ever experienced was the Deluxe Owner's Suite on the Norwegian Pearl, where we had a nice big Jacuzzi all to ourselves on a big balcony with a spectacular view of the ship and the ocean. But that was $1600 a night... so ever since then, we've been trying to find ways to do something similar, but more affordably. And that eventually led us to the "Suite With Whirlpool Bath" on the MSC Seaside, at less than $500 a night. It's a VERY unusual cabin. Let me give you a full tour...
The inside of our cabin - MSC Seaside suite 14211
It was just the two of us... me and Kellyn... sharing the cabin for the week. We figured that since it had a Jacuzzi on the balcony, MSC probably designed the cabin for a romantic couple. But when we started to explore our cabin further, we were surprised to find that MSC really designed this particular cabin for a family to share. I don't know if all 28 of the Jacuzzi suites on MSC Seaside are this way... and my guess is that they might not all be... but ours actually had enough beds to sleep up to six people. You just had to start popping things open to find them all.
As you can see, the loveseat opens up to become a single bed and the couch opens up in to bunk beds! If you look real carefully above the main bed, you'll see that there's an additional single bed that pops down out of the ceiling. We were able to open up the loveseat and the couch ourselves... but the pull-down bed in the ceiling requires a special key to get it to pop out. Only your stateroom steward can do that for you.
An odd thing about this setup is that when you pop out all those extra beds, the room can sleep six people... but MSC only allows a maximum of five people to book this room. Odd! The bed that pops down out of the ceiling is really awkward, and makes it very difficult to get out to the balcony... so, my advice is not to use the pop-down bed at all. Just use the other beds if you'll have a whole family staying in this cabin.
The cabin stewards are VERY overworked, because MSC has assigned 20 cabins to each steward. That's a LOT of cabins to maintain each day. On some of the other cruises I've been on, stewards have had as few as 12 cabins assigned to them. So, if you do have a family that will be staying in one of these cabins, be aware that your stateroom steward is not going to want to put the extra beds away each morning and pop them out again for you each evening. He's going to want to pop them out once at the beginning of the cruise and leave them that way the entire time. That's going to make the room look kind of messy for the whole cruise, but that's the way it is when MSC has stretched their resources so thin. I didn't want to make our cabin steward do a bunch of extra work, so I popped the couch and the loveseat out myself for this photo, and I didn't ask him to put sheets and blankets and pillowcases on them to make them pretty for the photo. I figured leaving the beds un-made would be good enough for this photo.
An important thing to understand about our cabin is that it is huge compared to a regular balcony cabin! Take a look at a close-up of the deck plans, and compare the length of our cabin, 14211, with the cabin next door, 14205...
Notice that 14211 is nearly twice as long as 14205 and the other standard balcony cabins! The width of the cabins are all the same, but the "suite with whirlpool bath" is tremendously long. That allows for all those extra beds, plus the walk-in closet, and a bathroom long enough to fit a bath tub.
By the way, if you'd like a very nice PDF of the deck plans for the MSC Seaside, you can download it here. I made it myself, created from the individual deck plans on the MSC web site. It's set up to be printed double-sided on 11x17 paper... and then just fold it in half and take it with you on your cruise. It's handy to have a printed set of deck plans when you're trying to figure out where something is. Also, it's a nice thing to download on to your computer or tablet so you can just look at it on screen and zoom in to any areas of interest.
Something else that you need to understand in order to fully appreciate the "suite with whirlpool bath" is that it comes with some pretty great perks! When you stay in this cabin, you automatically receive "the Aurea experience". On an airplane, there's coach for most passengers, business class is a lot better, and first class gets all the best treatment. It's a lot like that on MSC. There are five different "experiences" available on MSC... with the Yacht Club being the best (first class?) and Aurea being the second best. There's a table here that shows you all the differences between the five experiences.
When you stay in the suite with whirlpool bath, you automatically get the Aurea benefits... and that includes free drinks at all the bars, free gelato, two free massages (per cabin) in the spa, priority boarding, priority tendering, free 24-hour room service, and the ability to dine in the main dining room at any time in the evening rather than at a set time.
Now, let's continue the tour, as we take a look at the bathroom of our suite...
On the positive side, there is a bath tub... and that will come in handy for anyone travelling with young children. I liked it, too. There was one night when I was having a heck of a time sleeping... so I took a warm bath, and that really helped.
Notice the drain in the floor, just below the toilet. That's handy in the event the toilet were to overflow, but also quite necessary because of one really bad design decision that the designers of the MSC Seaside made: there are no shower doors or shower curtains. Notice that one piece of glass between the shower and the toilet. That's the only thing separating the shower from the rest of the bathroom. When you take a shower, water gets flung EVERYWHERE within the bathroom. It creates a huge mess. Not wanting to leave it that way after my shower, since my wife would want to use the bathroom after me, I ended up having to use a towel to clean up all the water that had splashed all over the bathroom. Cleaning up a bathroom is the last thing I want to do on a vacation! This is the first cruise ship cabin I've ever seen that did not have a shower curtain or shower door to prevent water from splashing out of the shower... and I have to say that it's one of several bad design decisions I saw on MSC Seaside.
In this next photo, I'm going to show you a little trick I use when I'm on vacation. I have a little shaving mirror that I bought at WalMart, and it has suction cups on the back. I attach it to the shower when I go on a cruise, and it makes it really easy to shave. It also gives me a handy place to hang my razor.
Notice that the shower head is on a rail, so the height of the shower head can be adjusted up or down to suit your height. This works really great for me and Kellyn since I'm about a foot taller than she is. The shower head can also be taken off the rail, and used handheld.
The bathroom has a very cramped feel to it, though. That bath tub basically takes up most of the space within the room... leaving only enough extra space for a toilet and this single sink. I kept thinking about the Haven Spa Suite that we stayed in on several different Norwegian Cruise Line ships. They had a fantastic, roomy bathroom with a shower big enough for two people to share, a very wide sink with double faucets... and a sliding glass door that very effectively prevented the bathroom from getting all wet when I took a shower...
A well designed cruise ship bathroom on the Norwegian Escape
Our cabin on MSC Seaside was huge, but they used most of the vast cabin space to put in extra beds. I think they would have been smarter to have one less bed in the cabin, and devote some extra space to a larger bathroom with double sinks.
An unusual feature of our cabin was a walk-in closet...
The walk-in closet provided an awful lot of storage space, plenty for the two of us. But I have to think that if you had a family of four or five in this cabin, it wouldn't be enough. And overall, I think the walk-in closet was actually quite impractical. We did like having all that storage space, but there was only enough room for one person to walk in and access the stuff in the closet. This was inconvenient when it came time for us to change clothes. On a cruise, the two of us do everything together. We're totally on the same schedule... doing every single thing together at the same time. So, we both want to get ready for dinner at the same time, or change out of swim suits at the same time, or pack for a shore excursion at the same time. All of the storage for the entire cabin is in this walk-in closet. There isn't any other significant storage area outside of the closet. So, everything we both needed to access when it was time to dress for dinner was all in this one small space. It made it very inconvenient to get ready at the same time.
There are a couple of things I'd like to point out in this picture of the desk area. Notice that there isn't a real chair, just a padded cube. A chair would have been more comfortable. On the positive side, notice that reed diffuser in front of the mirror. That's one of the perks of the Jacuzzi suite... it comes with it. I loved the way that reed diffuser made the room smell nice. In fact, I liked it so much that at the end of the cruise I packed it up and took it home with me... and now it's in my hobby room at home, making it smell good, too.
At the right side of the desk, notice that there are two USB charging jacks, two 110 volt American-style AC outlets, and two European-style 220 volt outlets. I have converted those two European style outlets to American style 110 volt outlets by adding an inexpensive little converter that I bought from Amazon. Add that to your cruise packing list, because that gives you four electric outlets at the desk instead of just two.
Another gadget I like to bring with me is an indoor/outdoor digital thermometer. I place the outdoor sensor on a shady spot on the balcony, and mount the indoor display unit next to the cabin's thermostat. It helps me to know what the weather is like outside, and also helps me set the cabin's indoor temperature to an ideal setting. I attach the indoor thermometer display to the wall using an easily-removable 3M command strip.
The most important feature of the cabin is, of course, the Jacuzzi on the balcony. Before the cruise, I got very worried that the Jacuzzi wasn't going to be big enough for two people to share... after I saw this picture posted to a Facebook group of MSC Seaside fans:
While the MSC Seaside was under construction at the Fincantieri shipyard in Italy, I was scouring the Internet for any pictures or videos that would show what our cabin was really like. Up until that point, all I had to go by was a few artist's renderings that MSC had posted to their web site. When I saw that photo of the guy in the Jacuzzi, I immediately recognized that it was one of the 28 "suite with whirlpool bath" Jacuzzis. With the way that guy was sitting in the Jacuzzi, it didn't really look like there was even enough room for him... let alone him and a companion. So, I was REALLY concerned when I saw that picture... because me and Kellyn sharing a Jacuzzi on our balcony was basically the entire point of our cruise on MSC Seaside.
But it turns out that the guy in the photo must be REALLY tall, and he's also sitting in there at an awkward angle. Because when we finally got onboard the MSC Seaside and made it to our suite, we immediately filled up the Jacuzzi and got in. To our great relief, there was plenty of room for both of us. In fact, if we had been cruising with our 32-year-old son, which we sometimes do, he could probably have squeezed in there with us, too. It would have been tight, but I'm just saying it would have been do-able as long as all three are friendly.
I do an awful lot of pre-cruise research... trying to learn as much as I can about a ship and our cabin before we get to it. It is always a true delight when there is a genuine surprise... when I discover something that none of my pre-cruise research turned up. Regarding our Jacuzzi, I was delighted to find that it had an underwater light that made it look really cool at night! You can select from several different colors, or you can have the light change colors over time. Or, of course, the light can be turned off if you want to have some night-time fun in the Jacuzzi without the neighbors being able to see you very well.
There are jets in the Jacuzzi that you can turn on or off. In fact, there are two different sets... and you can run either one, or both at the same time. Mostly we left the jets off, just to make it easier for us to hear each other when we were chatting in the Jacuzzi.
I mentioned that before the cruise, all we knew about our balcony and our Jacuzzi was what we had seen in some artist's renderings. Here are the two renderings that basically sold us on booking this cabin...
The renderings didn't paint a completely accurate picture of what our balcony and our Jacuzzi would be like, though. Notice the plants in the second rendering. I think that represents "artistic license". There were no plants on the balcony of our cabin, or any of the other cabins that I saw. More importantly, look at the step leading to the Jacuzzi. That didn't exist on the real Jacuzzi... which was actually a little awkward to get in and out of. It would have been nice if they had actually put in that step! The other thing is that their renderings make the balcony look a whole lot wider than it really was. The balcony in the renderings looks spacious. The actual balcony was narrow and a bit cramped.
As you can see in that last photo, our balcony looked out on a whole lot of other people's balconies... and that meant, of course, that a whole lot of other people had a good view of whatever was going on at our balcony. I was invited in to the cabin of one of our neighbors, about five doors down the hall from us, and from their balcony I snapped this photo looking towards our balcony...
Notice that as you look down at the lower floors, you get a better view in to the balconies and the Jacuzzis on those lower floors than you do the upper floors. So, the lesson you should take from this is that if privacy is important to you, book a Jacuzzi suite on one of the upper floors.
Here's a pretty shot I took from our balcony one evening as the sun was setting...
To get the effect you see in the ocean, I shot that photo with the camera on a tripod and with an exposure time of 15 seconds. In case you were wondering, most of the photos you see on this page were shot with a Canon EOS 80D digital SLR camera.
I've previously mentioned a couple of bad design choices that were made for the MSC Seaside... but that last photo gives me a great opportunity to point out a really brilliant design choice that was made. Take a look at that last photo and notice that nowhere in the photo do you see lifeboats. On many cruise ships, lifeboats are hung along the side of the ship and interfere with the view from the balcony cabins. In fact, on a lot of ships, they offer what are known as "obstructed-view cabins"... those are cabins that are so close to the lifeboats that the lifeboats actually obstruct most of the view from that cabin's balcony. Notice that on MSC Seaside, none of the view is obstructed by the lifeboats. That's thanks to a brilliant design idea that someone came up with... they extended deck 8 out so that it hangs out over the side so far, it covers the lifeboats. The lifeboats are down on deck 7, but they're hidden by deck 8 which covers them. This next photo shows it very well...
Besides the fact that all the passengers on their balconies don't have to look at those unsightly orange lifeboats, there's another benefit to this design, too. On some cruise ships, the lifeboats are quite high up on the ship, but on MSC Seaside, they're fairly close to the water... on deck 7... and being close to the water makes it quicker to deploy them in an emergency. It also makes deploying them more reliable. So, this was a truly brilliant design on MSC Seaside, and I bet we see it on a lot of other ships as time goes on.
While I'm sharing the view from our balcony, I want to show you a couple of other versions of essentially the same "view from the balcony" photo. Here's one shot at sunset...
And here's one shot at mid-day. What I want to point out about the mid-day photo is how that upper deck provides total shade to those cabins underneath it. So, if you like a shady balcony, a cabin on deck 15, such as cabin 15205 or anything nearby, would be the one for you. But if you like a sunny balcony, you need to go much lower on the ship to get away from that big overhang.
This next photo shows you what that big overhang looks like from above. It's the sun deck surrounding the Miami Beach pool on deck 16. A word of caution: there are all sorts of noisy events that happen up on deck 16... and you'll hear them extremely well from the balconies on the upper decks such as deck 15 and 14. The lower the deck you chose, the less you'll hear the noise from the Miami Beach pool area. I got really annoyed by the sound of morning Aerobics classes on deck 16 while we were relaxing in our Jacuzzi. It's not at all relaxing to hear an aerobics instructor coaching his class for 30 minutes. So, I think if I had it all to do over again, I would probably book one of the Jacuzzi suites on a lower floor.
Still photos are great, but seeing a video of our cabin really makes it come to life.
The following 16 minute video gives you an even better look at this unusual suite,
and at the end of the video I spoil the entire surprise of my review by giving you a quick overall opinion...
(To start the video playing, click the triangle in the middle of the video screen)
So there, at the end of the video, I probably surprised a few people by revealing that in spite of all the great things about our cabin, and all the perks that came with it, our cruise on MSC Seaside not only had quite a few problems, but all things considered it was actually the worst of all of the 43 cruises we had ever been on!
Maybe that isn't the most accurate way I could phrase that, though. Look, we did have a lot of good times on MSC Seaside. We loved having the private Jacuzzi on our balcony, and the free drinks, and the free gelato. We even had some fun in some of the ports, in spite of some horrible weather, which was certainly not MSC's fault. But compared to all the other cruises we had been on, this one was not in the same league... due to the fact that we didn't care for the food in the buffet, we didn't care for the entertainment, and MSC was really bad at logistics and customer service. I will elaborate on all of this as we go along.
I think the best thing for me to do at this point is to simply write out two lists for you... a list of the major things we liked about our cruise on MSC Seaside, and a list of the major things that we didn't like, including things that went horribly wrong during our cruise. These lists will give you an overview, and then I'll provide details later on in my review.
Things We Liked:
1. The "Suite With Whirlpool Bath"... a very large cabin with a private Jacuzzi on the balcony.
2. Numerous perks that came with the "Aurea Experience" included with our suite:
- Free drinks at any of the bars onboard
- Free gelato at any of the four gelato stations onboard
- Two free massages (per cabin) in the spa
- Access to the thermal suite in the spa
- Access to the Top 19 Sun Deck with upgraded patio furniture, Jacuzzis, and the Aurea bar.
3. A quick and easy embarkation process in Miami, thanks to two factors:
- A brand new state-of-the-art cruise terminal that MSC built at the Port Of Miami
- Many MSC passengers arrive late in the day, after flying in from Europe. This makes embarkation early in the afternoon less crowded.
4. The shortest safety drill we've ever experienced in all 43 of our cruises
5. Low cruise fares
6. A lifeguard on duty at the Jungle Pool, which is the one used by children
7. Comfortable temperatures throughout the ship. (On many other cruises we've been on, they've had the air conditioning set way too cold.)
8. MSC fully supported and encouraged the CruiseCritic meet and mingle
9. The brilliant design of deck 8 completely hides the lifeboats from view, and provides nice outdoor dining opportunities, too
10. The best sports bar I've ever seen on a cruise ship
Things We Didn't Like:
1. Food issues
- Food in the buffet was not to our liking
- The dinner buffet was almost a joke, it had such a limited selection
- To get better food, you had to eat in the main dining room, which meant long meal times and issues dealing with waiters
- Kellyn was frustrated that MSC made little effort to satisfy gluten-free passengers
- They seemed to think that all they had to do to satisfy the American passengers was to offer hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken nuggets
2. Entertainment issues
- Big productions in the main theater were poor compared to other cruises we've been on
- An emphasis on Opera and classical music
- American songs sung with an Italian accent
- Little effort given to live music in lounges and public spaces... typically a solo performer or a duo, rarely a full band
3. Logistics issues
- A total disorganized mess reporting for a shore excursion in Ocho Rios
- Difficulty by the ship's crew in properly executing embarkation and disembarkation in ports of call
- A fouled-up disembarkation process in Miami
4. Customer service issues
- Long lines at the guest services desk
- Bad customer service from the guest services staff and the shore excursion staff
- They tried everything possible to prevent me from cancelling a beach excursion on a rainy day
5. Language issues
- Many crew members had dismal English skills, much worse than we've experienced on other cruise lines
- Announcements had to be made in multiple languages, sometimes six
- Language problems between passengers and crew created other problems
- We had to give up trying to start conversations with other passengers, because so many of them did not speak English
6. Late sailaway time in Miami, making it a non-event
7. The Captain woke us up from a nap by making an un-important announcement direct to all cabins in the middle of the afternoon.
8. No self-service laundry facilities
9. Improv comedy shows were inferior to stand-up comedy
10. Steakhouse was expensive and the experience was sub-par
11. A slow, clumsy process for placing drink orders at the bars or with the roaming servers
12. Internet access was terminated at 8:50 PM on the final night of the cruise
13. Bad design choices in the "suite with whirlpool bath"
- No shower door or shower curtain
- A cramped bathroom, when the rest of the cabin had so much extra, wasted space
- Walk-in closet was impractical
- Very little storage elsewhere in the cabin, outside of the closet
- Awkward entry/exit for the Jacuzzi... they should have included the step from the artist's renderings
- There should have been electrical outlets on both sides of the bed
14. The "MSC For Me" smartphone app did not have a chat feature
15. All swimming pools were over six feet deep, even the one used by families
If the reason you're reading my review is to find out what I liked and disliked about the MSC Seaside, that's basically it right there. You don't really need to read any further. But if you do stick with me and read all the way through this very long review of our cruise, you'll get a lot more details on all those things I liked and disliked... and it might help you to put it all in to context, and to decide if a cruise on the MSC Seaside is for you or not. I concluded that it wasn't for me, but as they say in automobile ads: your mileage may vary.
"Built For The North American Market"
For at least a year, the MSC public relations machine has been spewing out stuff to the American media about how MSC Seaside was designed specifically for American cruisers. A phrase they used many times in press releases and interviews with the media was that "MSC Seaside is the line's first vessel built specifically for the North American market".
In an interview with the editors of CruiseCritic, posted on December 3rd, MSC's Chief Executive Officer, Gianni Onorato discussed the fact that MSC Cruises has historically received low marks from North Americans in the areas of food and service, and said that the line is working hard to address both. He said that MSC now has a dedicated team for North America -- covering everything from marketing, public relations and human resources to hotel operations and sales -- and it had worked diligently to get a better feel for American tastes. At the christening of the ship in Miami, he actually said U.S. cruise passengers no longer are an afterthought for the brand, but an essential market. “We know what North American guests are looking for, and we deliver,” Onorato said.
Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman at MSC, said that only 40% to 50% of MSC Divina's passengers were from North America and that with the arrival of Seaside, MSC hopes to boost that number to 80%.
Please keep those last three paragraphs in mind as you read the rest of my review of MSC Seaside. I'll be speaking from the point of view of an American guy from California, who has no interest in having a European experience, and who booked a cruise on MSC Seaside because he had read in numerous media outlets that MSC was going to be making a serious attempt to make MSC Seaside appeal to the tastes of American cruisers.
I've received numerous comments on social media from Europeans who say that I shouldn't have expected an American experience on a cruise liner that belongs to an Italian company, was built in an Italian shipyard, is staffed with an international crew, and which carries passengers who live all around the world. But based on what MSC's marketing, public relations, and executive team have all said to the American media... I think I was quite justified in being surprised by a very European experience when I got onboard the ship.
"I Don't Have Time For This, Jim!"
It takes a lot of time to sit and read this full review. Some people just don't want to devote that much time to getting all the little details, and would appreciate the review in a more concise format.
For those people, I present the following video...
Let's Start With Day #1
Let me take you through the story of our cruise one day at a time, and you'll see how some of the good and bad things played out.
The cruise got off to a really good start when we arrived at Terminal F at the Port Of Miami and began the embarkation process. MSC had spent a lot of time and money building a brand new terminal, and it was money well spent.
The new terminal was spacious and clean, and it had everything you want in a cruise terminal. Furthermore, the embarkation process benefited from the fact that so many passengers were from Europe and were flying in the day of the cruise. This meant they would be arriving at the cruise terminal late, which helped to spread out the flow of passengers over the length of the entire afternoon and in to the evening. On most cruises we've been on, there's a huge rush of passengers trying to board the ship between 11 AM and Noon, and most passengers have boarded by 2 PM... compressing the embarkation of thousands of passengers in to a three hour window... which causes a lot of crowding and waiting.
On MSC Seaside, the embarkation of all the passengers was spread out over a much longer window of time, which made for much less crowding. Many of the Americans arrived in the early hours, and many of the Europeans who flew in that same day arrived much later. We left our hotel about 11:15 AM and arrived at Terminal F about ten minutes later. The check-in process was fast and efficient, among the fastest I've ever seen in all of our cruises.
One other thing about the boarding process I should mention is that our embarkation paperwork specified that our designated arrival time was 4 PM. Don't let this worry you or change your plans. That time is only a suggestion. We ignored it, and arrived when we wanted to, and that was no problem at all.
You can see in that last photo that the terminal had a lot of seats where passengers could be asked to wait if there were large crowds of people all trying to board at the same time... but we never had to wait... we walked right onboard after our initial security screening and check-in. This wasn't because we had the Aurea perk of Priority Boarding, either. Priority boarding at this particular time of day saved us maybe a minute or two at the most. The boarding process was fast for everyone, since so many MSC Seaside passengers arrive much later in the day. We were onboard at 11:50, before the buffet even opened for lunch!
Because we had a few minutes to kill before the buffet opened, Kellyn decided to use the ladies restroom near the buffet. There was a line to use the restroom, and when it was finally her turn, she was horrified to find that the toilet had been completely clogged up and was a gross mess. This surprised me, as usually on a cruise ship, especially on the very first day, the cleaning staff is usually very visible and right on top of things.
The Marketplace Buffet on deck 8 opened up at 12:00 noon, and we were among the first to have our lunch. At that hour, the buffet restaurant hadn't gotten very crowded... but later in the day, it definitely did. We walked through a few hours later as we were exploring the ship, and it was just as crowded as any buffet on the first day of any cruise we've been on. But at 12:00, it was much less so. Therefore, my advice to you is that -- if your travel plans will allow it -- you should try to arrive at the cruise terminal at around 11:30, and that way you can enjoy a somewhat less hectic experience in the Marketplace buffet than you would if you arrived later in the day.
Regarding the food at our first lunch in the buffet, we were able to find things to eat, but it was clear that this was not a buffet that was tailored to our tastes as much as some of the other cruise ship buffets we've enjoyed. I sampled a few different things to see how I liked the cooking on MSC Seaside. One that surprised me was the mashed potatoes... they didn't taste good at all. That's surprising, since it's not that hard to make mashed potatoes. But I think the issue was that they had used little or no salt when they mashed the potatoes. This turned out to be a recurring theme throughout the cruise. Apparently there are big differences in how Europeans season their food and how Americans do. More about that, later.
Because we had arrived at the buffet right when it opened, there was excellent service... as the staff to passenger ratio was fairly high at that point. As soon as we sat down with our food, one of the roaming bar servers asked us if we would like something from the bar. Since one of our Aurea perks was free drinks, we figured that was a very good time to see how this whole free drink thing was going to work. We ordered cocktails.
I have to say that the drink ordering system is a little clumsy, and I don't think the bar servers like it much. They carry around a big tablet computer about an inch thick, and they place the orders in to that. It's a very awkward process with a whole bunch of data entry that takes a surprising amount of time. I bet years from now they'll have a much smoother process and laugh about the days back in 2018 when it took so much effort just to process one simple drink order.
The easiest way to "pay" for your drink... even though in our case, there was no charge at all... is to hand over your cabin key card. The alternate method is to have them scan the bracelet that is given to Aurea and Yacht Club guests. Scanning the bracelet is super awkward, as they have to place their tablet computer right next to your bracelet, and you have to hold still. Giving them your key card is much easier. After a day or two, I completely stopped wearing the little bracelet. In a perfect world, the bracelet would transmit some kind of signal to the server's wireless device that wouldn't require the two to be right next to each other. If they wireless device and the bracelet could talk to each other at a distance of three feet, it would have been super convenient. But that's not how their technology works.
The other thing that's clumsy about their drink ordering system is that you have to sign for the drinks, on the server's tablet computer. So, after they've fumbled around for a good minute or two to get all the data entered in to their tablet computer, they have to hand it over to you, so you can sign for it. Then you hand it back. This is all very clumsy, time consuming, and truly unecessary. As the week went on, we noticed that some of the bar staff would speed things up by simply signing for us.
The good thing about having to sign for the drinks was that we got to see how much the drinks would have cost us if we hadn't had the Aurea package... and also that we got to confirm that the bottom line was zero... no charge. After seeing this the first few times we ordered drinks or gelato, we were confident that there were not going to be any problems with the billing. The system clearly knew not to charge us for drinks or gelato. That was reassuring. I also thought it was cool that the pricing information on the screen clearly showed that the bar server would get a tip for the transaction... and that MSC was paying the tip, not us. In other words, you could see an amount on the screen for the mandatory gratuity, but you could also see on the bottom line that the amount charged to our onboard spending account was zero. I liked this system, as it ensured that there was an incentive for the bar staff to take your drink order. The more orders they take, the more they get from the mandatory gratuity, paid for by MSC as part of the Aurea package.
One last thing on the subject of drinks... I noticed that the prices for alcoholic drinks were more reasonable on MSC than I had seen on some of the other cruise lines. Royal Caribbean is the worst... the price of their drinks is outrageous, almost laughable... they're so high. So, if I had been paying a la carte for my drinks on MSC Seaside, I would have been pleased at the more reasonable prices compared to what I've seen on some of my previous cruises.
At 2:00 PM they announced that they would now allow passenger access to the cabins. We were very pleasantly surprised to find, upon arriving at our cabin, that two of our three suitcases were already waiting for us outside the door! I can't recall this ever happening on any of our previous cruises. Clearly, not only did MSC have a world-class terminal and embarkation process, but a fantastic logistical operation for getting the luggage aboard quickly. I figured it was a good indicator that all of MSC's experience in Mediterranean cruising had paid off in many lessons learned about cruise logistics. Unfortunately, later in the week I found out that they still had many processes that they needed to improve.
Here's a cruise tip for you... something we learned long ago during our many cruises. Always bring your bathing suit in your carry-on... so that even if your luggage doesn't arrive until much later in the day, you've got your bathing suit with you and you can enjoy the swimming pools and the Jacuzzis on that first afternoon when they tend to be very un-crowded. I mentioned that one of our suitcases didn't show up right away... it was the one with Kellyn's clothes in it. But she's a pro cruiser, and had her swim suit in her carry-on, so we were able to immediately fill up our Jacuzzi and enjoy it right away, long before the ship's safety drill.
The safety drill was quite a bit different than what we had seen on other cruise lines. It was the shortest one we had ever experienced! The safety drill went something like this: They demonstrated how to properly don a life jacket. They explained it in multiple languages, which took a couple of minutes. They read a couple of very quick safety messages, and then they basically said that there were complete safety instructions available in multiple languages on the cabin TVs, and they asked that we all take the time to watch that information on our TV back in our cabin. And then they dismissed the drill. It was quick and fairly painless. I especially liked that our group met in one of the restaurants, so we all got to sit down in chairs. I have been through many cruise ship safety drills where I've had to stand up through the entire drill, at a muster station outdoors, on a 90 degree day in Miami. So, this was much better.
For dinner on the first night of our cruise, we ate at the Butcher's Cut steakhouse. Up until this point, I was feeling pretty good about how our cruise was going, but this was the point where I really started to see some issues that would recur throughout the cruise. I wasn't entirely sure where the Butcher's Cut steakhouse was located, but I knew that it was somewhere on deck 16. Our cabin is near the mid-ship elevators, so we took one of those elevators up to deck 16 and started looking around for the steakhouse. Couldn't find it! It turns out that deck 16 has a very poor design and there's no way to walk from one end of deck 16 to the other. It is completely blocked in the middle. So, if you make the mistake of going to deck 16 mid-ship when you're trying to get to something at the front end of deck 16, your only option is to take the stairs down one level, walk across deck 15 until you get to the forward stairs and elevators, and then go up to deck 16 from there. Bad design!
The other thing that complicated our search for the Butcher's Cut steakhouse is that I stopped and asked for directions! That was a mistake, because many crew members have poor English skills... even the officers. We were mid ship on deck 16, and unable to find the steakhouse, so I asked an officer for directions. Bad mistake. I don't think he understood English well at all, and didn't understand me when I asked him how to get to the steakhouse. He told me it was on deck five. And remember, this was one of the ship's officers, wearing stripes!
I knew that the steakhouse was not on deck five, so I disregarded his very bad advice. Then I vaguely remembered reading on CruiseCritic that the layout of MSC Seaside was goofy and that some of the decks don't go all the way through. At that point, I figured it out, took us down to deck 15 and then walked to the forward stairs and back up to deck 16 forward where the steakhouse is located.
Upon arriving at the steakhouse, we ran in to another example where the crew just didn't have their act together. There's a hostess that is supposed to greet you at the entrance to the steakhouse, and she has a little tablet computer with a list of all the reservations so that she can check people in when they arrive. However, for some reason, instead of standing at the entrance to the steakhouse, she was sitting at the bar next door and wasn't paying any attention to the people entering the steakhouse. So, we ended up standing by the steakhouse entrance, and eventually having a very awkward encounter with one of the waiters in the steakhouse who was puzzled by the fact that the hostess had not met us and walked us to a table. Later, after we had been seated, I noticed the exact same thing happened to another group of people as they arrived. It was as if it was the first night the steakhouse had ever been open, and they hadn't yet worked out a system for dealing with guests as they arrive. Very strange.
I liked the decor of the steakhouse and thought it was beautifully designed, but the ambiance of the place was messed up by the choice of music they had playing in the background. It wasn't playing softly in the background, either, it was loud enough to be heard quite clearly. What they were playing was a mix of American pop songs. The one that really jumped out at me as inappropriate for the elegance of the place was Taylor Swift's "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together". There were a dozen other pop songs they played that were all in that same genre. My point is just that in a classy joint like the steakhouse, some soft instrumental music playing in the background would have been perfect. Pop songs played at a moderate volume level didn't seem to fit the scene.
There was also a very strange thing that happened when the waiter came to take our order. For an appetizer, I ordered the seafood chowder... and when I did, he proceeded to advise me against it. He said that the seafood chowder was not good tonight. He explained that the cooks had used too much salt when they made it. He advised I order something else instead. I told him I wanted to give it a try anyway, and if it turned out to be bad, I just wouldn't eat it. When it arrived, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the seafood chowder. It was perfect. But this was my second indication that there was something seriously different about the European perception of how to properly salt food, versus the American way. If you recall, the day before in the buffet I had some mashed potatoes that tasted all wrong... because they hadn't used enough (or possibly any) salt when they made them.
You can take a look at the menu for the Butcher's Cut steakhouse here. For my entree, I ordered a Porterhouse steak, for which their was an extra charge of $50. I'm OK with paying an extra $50 on top of a $3500 cruise, if it gets me a really great steak dinner... but it really didn't. The steak was quite large, but not really all that great.
I don't know how much you know about Porterhouse steaks and t-bone steaks. On one side of the bone, you have what is basically a filet mignon, and on the other side of the bone you have something similar to a strip steak. The filet side of my Porterhouse was excellent, and I totally enjoyed it. But the other side, the strip steak, really wasn't good... and I ended up leaving about half of that side of the steak uneaten. It was not what I expected for a $50 steak. Believe me, in my home town, I can get a hugely better steak for $25 or so. I think the folks that picked the steaks for the steakhouse may have been picking their Porterhouse steaks by size, not quality. It was big, I'll give them that.
Kellyn was more pleased with her steakhouse meal than I was. She had the halibut for a $29 additional charge, and she was happy with it. One of the things that surprised her about the steakhouse, though, was that they could not certify anything as gluten free. Even if you ordered a food that ordinarily wouldn't have any gluten in it, like halibut, they would not guarantee that it would be gluten free... because they do not operate a gluten-free section of the kitchen. In other words, something like the halibut could get cross-contaminated with gluten from some other meal, because all of the meals are prepared together in the same work space. So, they made it very clear that they weren't claiming anything they served at the steakhouse was gluten free.
So, I had a bowl of soup, a steak, some onion rings, and some mashed potatoes. Kellyn had a beet salad, the halibut, and some brussel sprouts. At the end of the meal, the total bill was $108.62. That seemed like one heck of an over-priced meal to me! We had a $150 onboard credit, thanks to a special promotion at the time we booked... so I didn't let the price of the meal ruin my night. But I truly think their steakhouse prices are way too high.
Another aspect of our first night onboard that's important to understand is the sailaway experience. We've cruised out of Miami many times before... it's one of the greatest cruise ports in the world, with a whole lot of interesting stuff to see as the ship heads out the channel, sails past the world famous South Beach, and heads out to sea. On every other cruise we've ever been on, sailaway has been a BIG DEAL... a party... an event not to miss. And sailing out of Miami is so spectacular, that you'll just never forget it or confuse it with any other port. For most cruise ships sailing out of Miami, sailaway time is somewhere around 4 PM or 5 PM. Enjoying the sailaway party gives you something to do after the safety drill, but before dinner. And it's usually a whole lot of fun.
The planned sailaway time for the MSC Seaside was 7 PM, and since we were sailing in January, that means it was in the dark. The sun had long ago set. For our cruise, it was even worse, because there was a group of about 80 passengers that were flying over from Europe and who had encountered a delay. The Captain elected to delay sailaway until 8 PM, so that those 80 passengers could make it onboard. A sailaway at 8 PM, or even 7 PM in January, is simply a non-event. There's no party on deck, and people are all busy either eating dinner or being entertained somewhere inside the ship. We were at dinner in the steakhouse and at least got to see the lights of the Miami skyscrapers go by outside the window of the restaurant. But a sailaway at that hour simply negates one of the most momentous events of any cruise. Knowing how much fun it is to watch a daytime sailaway from the Port Of Miami, I felt like we had missed a very enjoyable part of cruise life this time around.
Another disappointment on this cruise was the entertainment in the evenings. During the days, we were busy enjoying our Jacuzzi and all the perks that came with the Aurea experience. In the evenings, we expect to be entertained. It's one of the reasons we cruise on big cruise ships... to get big entertainment in the evenings. On the cruises we've been on with Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Norwegian, and Princess, we've been very satisfied with a variety of entertainment... everything from big Broadway-style production shows to stand-up comedy shows, musical headline acts, and variety acts like ventriloquists, jugglers, and hypnotists. The entertainment on MSC Seaside paled in comparison.
In the Metropolitan Theater, the big entertainment act of the evening was a musical production show called "Frank Forever"... a tribute to Frank Sinatra.
This was basically the most "Americanized" musical production show of the entire week. I could certainly see why they decided to start the week with this one. But the thing that bugged me about this show is that there's something very strange about hearing a classic American song like Sinatra's "New York, New York" song with an Italian accent. If MSC was really serious about trying to make MSC Seaside a ship that would appeal to Americans more, they'd hire an American cast of singers for their big production shows.
There were two performances of "Frank Forever" in the Metropolitan Theater that evening... one at 8:15 PM and one at 9:30 PM. If you'll be cruising on the MSC Seaside, please be aware that reservations are mandatory for the big production shows in the Metropolitan Theater. You can make reservations on the "MSC For Me" smartphone app, or on your stateroom television, or at any of the interactive electronic kiosks throughout the ship. When you arrive at the theater, just present your cabin key card to verify your reservation. Please note that you can only get reservations for one show per night... so, if you had a reservation for the 8:15 PM show but got delayed and couldn't make it, you will NOT be able to make a reservation for the 9:30 PM show.
After seeing the "Frank Forever" show, we wandered around the ship for a little while, in hopes of finding a band playing some good music. I would have thought that at 9 o'clock at night there would have been a band playing in a lounge somewhere, but all we could find was a DJ playing pre-recorded music in the Piazza, with a guy playing along on saxophone.
A DJ and a guy playing saxophone seemed like a really weak attempt at musical entertainment to me. I kept thinking about how Carnival's entertainment department had gone to the trouble of going to places like Nashville, Tennessee, and Branson, Missouri, to audition musical acts for their ships. We did a cruise on the Carnival Breeze a few years ago, and Carnival had a band that they put together after hiring two super talented musicians at the auditions in Branson. It was the best band I had ever seen on a cruise ship, and we spent hours every evening in lounges watching that band do their thing. By the end of the cruise, we had not only gotten to know the lead singer of the band, but also her husband, parents, grandparents, and siblings... all of which happened to be on that particular cruise with them. One night, we stayed up until about 12:30 in the morning at one of their performances, sitting with the singer's family, and having the time of our life. That was great musical entertainment on a cruise ship, and the DJ in the Piazza of the MSC Seaside didn't really compare very favorably. But I bet it's a heck of a lot cheaper to hire a DJ and a guy that plays saxophone, than it is to go to Branson, set up auditions, and hire the best acts you can find.
At 10:30 PM in the Metropolitan Theater, there was a classical music recital with violin and piano. It was lightly attended compared to the big production shows. I like music, so I found it entertaining, but one of these types of recitals during the week was enough for me. I never attended any of the other shows of this nature.
Six nights during the week, at 11:15 PM in the Metropolitan Theater, there was an improvisational comedy show called the BeerProv comedy show. I really like comedy when I'm on vacation. Having some good laughs at a comedy show is simply one of my favorite vacation activities. That's one of the reasons I've always had a good time when I've cruised with Carnival... they're REALLY in to comedy on Carnival. On a 7-day Carnival cruise, they'll have shows from four different stand-up comedians... and each comedian will do multiple shows with different material. So, it's not uncommon for us, during a Carnival cruise, to go to two or three different stand-up comedy shows in one night, and to do this 3 or four times during a 7-day cruise. I find Carnival's stand-up comedy shows to be VERY entertaining, and I always look forward to them. So, Carnival had set the bar pretty high in that regard... and I was wondering how MSC's improvisational comedy shows would compare.
Three of the four members of the improv troupe on MSC Seaside
I definitely had a few laughs at the BeerProv show, but it just didn't measure up to the very high bar that had been set for comedy by Carnival and their stand-up performances. Think about it. On MSC, you had four performers in their 20s, and they were improvising the comedy as they went along. On Carnival, many of the comedians were in their 50s and 60s and had been doing comedy, and honing their act, their entire lives. A stand-up comedian gets the opportunity to deliver the same material week after week and to edit and adjust it over time until the act has been perfected. At an improv show, they're literally just trying to come up with funny lines as they go. So, it was occasionally funny, but I think MSC made a bad decision when they decided to go with improv over stand-up. I imagine it's a more cost effective solution to have four young comedians permanently based on the ship than it is to fly four professional stand-up comedians to meet the ship for a week, and then fly them to a different ship the next week, which is what Carnival does.
A full list of all the shows in the Metropolitan theater is available here. This includes the show schedule for both of MSC Seaside's itineraries. Two other items you might want to download to get the full picture of what happens onboard each day of the cruise are the Daily Planners for the entire week and the Daily Programs for the entire week.
Day 2: At Sea
Our bed was quite comfortable and we got a good night's rest. For breakfast, we headed to the Marketplace Buffet, for our first buffet breakfast. Breakfast is actually my favorite meal of the day, and my normal eating pattern at home is to have a big breakfast, a big lunch, and then, believe it or not, Kellyn and I generally don't eat dinner at all. We either just skip dinner altogether, or at most we have a light snack, such as some popcorn. On vacation, I still like to have a big breakfast and a big lunch, and then go somewhat light at dinner. What I'm trying to say is that getting a good breakfast is important to me. On most cruise ships, that's not difficult... it's usually pretty easy to get an omelet, some potatoes, a little bacon or sausage, and some kind of pastry. That would be my ideal vacation breakfast.
Getting a good croissant was no problem at all in the Marketplace buffet. They were readily available, and I thought they were actually quite tasty, with a nice butter flavor to them. You can't tell from the picture below, which gives no sense of scale, that the croissants were quite small... I had to take a couple of them to satisfy my croissant craving... but I give MSC a good grade for their tasty croissants.
The best cruise ship croissant I ever had was on the Viking Star. They served a much larger croissant, with an even stronger flavor of butter than the ones on MSC. I also really liked the croissants whenever I stayed in The Haven on Norwegian Cruise Line, because in The Haven, they would gladly warm up a croissant for me. A warm croissant beats a room-temperature croissant, for sure. In fact, on several of my cruises in The Haven on NCL, if I asked for a warmed-up croissant at breakfast on the first day, they would automatically bring me a warmed-up croissant as soon as I sat down, without even having to ask, for the entire rest of the cruise! I couldn't help but wonder if we had stayed in the Yacht Club instead of in our whirlpool suite, would I have been able to get a warmed-up croissant in the Yacht Club's restaurant? My guess would be yes.
So, the croissants were fine, but the rest of the breakfast was a bust. Surprisingly, the ham & cheese omelet that they grilled to order for me was not good. The omelet chef had spread it out very thin in the pan, and that caused it to get overcooked and have a rubbery texture. It was also a very small omelet. If you went to an American restaurant and ordered an omelet, you would almost always get an omelet made from three eggs. But on the MSC Seaside, the omelets were about half that size. The big problem, though, was the fact that it was overcooked. That really ruined it.
The breakfast potatoes they served in the buffet were also not to my liking. They were similar to the potatoes they serve in a McDonalds restaurant at breakfast time. Basically, a deep-fried potato patty. Finally, the nail in the coffin of the buffet breakfast was the bacon...
Instead of serving full strips of bacon, what they served was more like the kind of crumpled up bacon you would put in to an omelet. It was basically bacon pieces. I liked that it was well cooked and not limp, but it was odd how there were no full strips. On the left side of the photo, notice the baked apples they served at breakfast. Kellyn absolutely loved those... she said it was like eating an apple pie without the crust.
The rest of the morning, we spent some time in the Jacuzzi on our balcony, plus I did some exploring and photographing of the ship. As noon approached, we were actually a little sleepy... and hey, we're on vacation!... so we decided to take a little nap. Right in the middle of a wonderful little nap, the Captain came on the public address system and made an announcement to the entire ship, including on the speaker inside of our cabin. Obviously, it woke us up from the nap. What was so important that he had to address the entire ship about, including inside all the cabins? He made a routine announcement that he would end up making at around noon every day of the cruise... concerning the ship's position and course, the weather conditions, and the time he expected we would arrive at our next port. This lasted about two minutes. Then he delivered the same announcement in Italian. Then he handed the microphone over to a woman who read the same announcement in several other languages... I think it may have been four other languages... each one lasting about two minutes.
This was a mistake by the Captain. I've toured the bridge of several cruise ships, and I actually have a friend who is a Cruise Director and who makes ship-wide announcements all the time. I know that there's a panel for the public address system, and when someone goes to make an announcement, they can choose from an array of buttons that determine where that announcement goes to. An announcement can be directed to just the crew areas, it can directed to all the public areas of the ship, and it can be directed ship-wide to every speaker in every nook and cranny of the ship. But the general rule is that the only announcements that are ever made to every nook and cranny of the ship are emergency announcements. All other announcements are usually targeted to certain areas of the ship. In this case of a routine announcement about the ship's position and the weather forecast... that should have just been directed to the public areas of the ship. It's rude to send an unimportant announcement to all the cabins, because you'll wake up the couple taking a nap in 14211. Thanks, Cap'n!
With our nap over, we headed down to the Marketplace buffet for some lunch. It was interesting to see the lunch buffet two days in a row. Not much had changed. I was hoping that they would switch some things up and offer some different selections, but it was very similar to what was offered on the previous day. There were a few minor changes... a slightly different pasta... a different meat at the carvery... but it struck me as a near-repeat of the previous day's lunch. That's too bad, because I didn't like the previous days lunch enough to want to experience it multiple times during the week!
Let's talk pizza now. I bet I get a whole lot of negative comments to what I'm about to say, but in the spirit of writing an honest review, I'm going to say it anyway. I've read nothing but good things about the pizza onboard MSC Seaside. The Seaside came out of the shipyard and did 4 or 5 weeks of cruising before we got onboard. I read as many reviews from those previous cruises as I could... and anytime they mentioned the pizza, they all had good things to say. I even read reviews from the Divina where people talked about how good the pizza was. So I was surprised when I finally tried the MSC pizza and it did not live up to my standards for pizza.
As I understand it, this is the style of pizza that Italians like. Not the pepperoni... I know that's not really the Italian pizza topping of choice... that's more an American thing. I'm talking about the thin crust, and the small amounts of sauce, cheese, and toppings. As I understand it, that's how the Italians like their pizza.
I'm not Italian, I'm from California... and I've just got to say that this is not the way I like my pizza. Let me show you a pepperoni pizza from my home town. This is the way I prefer my pizza... with very generous amounts of sauce, cheese, and toppings, and a crust that is softer, not crunchy.
Which one of those two pizzas looks better to you? I'm going to guess that if you're European, you're going to say that the first one looks better. But I'm guessing that if we were to put those two pizzas out in front of a room full of Americans, the second pizza would disappear first.
What I'm saying is that I didn't care for the pizza on MSC Seaside. The crust was crunchy. There was not enough sauce on it. There was not nearly enough cheese on it... by a factor of at least three, maybe four times. And there was not nearly enough pepperoni on it... again by a factor of three or four times. I know I'm going to get heckled about this by the Italians, but I call 'em the way I see 'em in my cruise reviews!
The big event on our schedule this day was a social event in the Haven lounge, exclusively for CruiseCritic members. On CruiseCritic, they make it really easy to chat with other people who are going to be on the same cruise ship on the same week as you will be. Recently, they teamed up with MSC to arrange for weekly cocktail parties with the Captain... where CruiseCritic members can meet each other in real life, and mingle amongst themselves or with the Captain and some of his officers. Thus the name of the event: a meet-and-mingle. They not only serve free cocktails, but they also had a pretty great tasting cake, too...
They also shoot a group photo of all the people attending the meet-and-mingle, and they printed up a copy and delivered it to our cabin a day or two later. And the total cost to the folks attending the meet-and-mingle was zero. That's a pretty nice gesture from MSC to thank the folks on CruiseCritic for being cruise fanatics who have chosen to cruise on MSC.
At the meet-and-mingle, I had a chance to thank the Captain for something I had appreciated during the ship's construction: he had personally posted many photos and videos of the ship to social media. I appreciated this, because there was a long period during the ship's construction when all we knew about the MSC Seaside was what was on the deck plans, what was in the artist's renderings, and the very minimal information that MSC posted on their web site. Captain Scala's posts to social media helped show off some of the ship's features as they really were, not just as they had been designed.
On to something completely different now...
Let's talk about the debacle that is the dinner buffet on the MSC Seaside.
I understand that a two-hour sit down dinner at a nice restaurant is the European way. Heck, even a lot of Americans love that. I have plenty of friends that love to cruise and love to have a nice dinner in the ship's main dining room. It's a food experience, as well as a social experience. I get that. That's just not the way my wife and I like to do dinner. We have a big breakfast and a big lunch and don't like to eat a big dinner, even on vacation. And we certainly don't want to spend two hours at dinner... that just takes away from the time we could be having fun doing things on the ship... like attending a show, or listening to music, or sitting in our Jacuzzi watching the sun set.
We also prefer our meals buffet-style, rather than ordering from a menu. It allows us to see exactly what the food looks like before we commit to it. It also allows us to choose the portion sizes. Maybe we want a lot of one thing and just a little bit of something else. Or maybe we want to taste a little bit of three different things, figure out which one we like the most, and then go back for more. It just works out better for us. There have been so many times we've gone to a regular restaurant and ordered off a menu and found that when the meal arrived, something about it wasn't what we expected. For us, buffet-style works much better.
Well, if you like a buffet dinner... you're in big trouble on the MSC Seaside. The first thing you have to understand is that the MSC Seaside has two buffet restaurants: a large one on deck 8, the Marketplace buffet... and a much smaller one on deck 16, called the Biscayne Bay buffet. The large one isn't even open for dinner! They throw table cloths on the tables, add waiters, and turn it in to an extra dining room with two scheduled dinner seatings. The only available dinner buffet is at the small Biscayne Bay buffet on deck 16... and they put very little effort in to it. Clearly, they expect that anyone in their right mind is going to go to dinner at one of their main restaurants. From the selections they offer at the Biscayne Bay buffet at dinner time, it seems obvious that they mainly intend it for children. Parents can take their children there for a quick dinner, then drop the kids off at the children's facilities just one floor above, and then the parents can have a civilized two hour meal in one of the main dining rooms. Or, older kids can simply be left to have the run of the ship, and when they get hungry they can stop in at the Biscayne Bay buffet.
The thing that really made me shake my head in amazement at the Biscayne Bay buffet at dinner time was that even though it's a VERY small buffet with VERY limited selections, there are two different redundant stations serving hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, and French fries.
So, clearly this buffet is aimed at the 16 years and under crowd. Either that, or MSC thinks that all they have to do to satisfy the Americans is put out some hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken nuggets... and that should keep them happy.
In either case, we found the situation at the dinner buffet to be completely unacceptable. If you're a dinner buffet kind of person... the MSC Seaside is not the ship for you.
After dinner, we did some further exploring of the ship and discovered something I was so impressed by! The sports bar. I thought it had the best design of any sports bar I had ever seen on a cruise ship. Of course, there was a large bar and a staff eager to set you up with your favorite drinks... and of course, there was a giant television that you could watch big sporting events on in a large group of cheering fans... but what really impressed me was that all around the outer edge of this very large sports bar, there were numerous little private nooks with their own TVs.
You could sit in one of those nooks and watch the game with just your friends and family, rather than in the large area with a big crowd around the biggest TV. There wasn't just one or two of these nooks either. There were quite a few of them. I thought it was a really nice design.
In the Metropolitan Theater, the big production show on the second night is called "The Wizard", and it's a song and dance show with magic & illusion woven in to it. You know, the kind of show where a beautiful woman climbs in to a box, they close the door, and the illusionist proceeds to thrust swords in to the box from multiple angles. Later, they open up the box and the beautiful woman is alive and well.
The big story of this particular performance on this particular night was an illusion gone wrong! I've been kicking myself ever since, because if I had been lucky enough to have my video camera rolling during the illusion gone wrong, I would have ended up with a YouTube video that would have received millions of views and which would have more than paid for my cruise. We were sitting in the second row of the theater, and I had a perfect view. My camera could have easily recorded the whole thing... but it was sitting in my lap, turned off.
What happened was they were doing the big illusion where the beautiful girl gets in the box and they close the door and the illusionist thrusts swords in to it. The way that illusion works is that as soon as they close up the box, the girl wiggles her way in to a small secret compartment on the left side of the box. As long as she's inside that secret compartment, she'll be fine when the swords come through the rest of the box. Well, on this particular night, there was some kind of mixup. The door got bumped opened while the girl was wiggling in to the secret compartment. From where we were sitting, you could clearly see her wiggling in to her hiding place as the door opened. Very quickly, the illusionist closed the door, but by then it was too late... the illusion was blown. The audience let out a gasp, because they all realized that they weren't supposed to see what they just saw! And my camera sat, completely unused. No viral YouTube video for me... at least, not this time! I've got ten others already, so I'll be OK.
Another surprise on this particular evening was regarding the show scheduling. Something I've never seen on any other cruise ship was three performances of the big production show in one evening. Look at the schedule of shows for the week... there was a performance of "The Wizard" at 7 PM, another at 8:15, and a third at 9:30. That must have been really hard on the performers... especially the dancers, but also the singers. Another thing to point out on night two of the show schedule... the first of many opera performances, at 10:30 PM in the Metropolitan Theater. During the week, I counted three different opera-related shows on the schedule, plus there was a fourth show whose description didn't give any indication it was anything but a standard Broadway musical... but when I sat in the theater to enjoy it, I was distressed to hear several songs sung in Italian... plus one of my favorite Barbara Streisand songs sung in operatic style. To me, the emphasis on opera and classical music in MSC Seaside's nightly entertainment showed quite conclusively that they are not serious about appealing to an American audience, or possibly that they just don't have a clue what kinds of things Americans find entertaining. Let's just say that Placido Domingo and Andrea Bocelli don't show up on the American music charts very often. But if you've got a CD or a DVD of either of those two, you might find the MSC Seaside more entertaining than I did.
Day 3: Ocho Rios, Jamaica
After a bad, over-cooked omelet yesterday morning, I decided to switch to a different omelet station in the buffet to see if the problem was with the particular omelet chef I had used the prior day, or if thin and over-cooked was just the way they made omelets in the Marketplace Buffet.
It turns out that thin and over-cooked is the way they make omelets in the Marketplace buffet. Two different omelet chefs, two identical results. This was very bad, because breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. Tomorrow, we would have to try a completely different strategy.
At the buffet, I snapped a photo of something that is apparently a signature dish on MSC... something I've never seen before anywhere else: breakfast pizza.
Yes, those are eggs, sunny side up, on top of a pizza crust. I didn't try it... and I didn't see anyone who did... is this a popular thing? Not where I come from!
During the cruise, there were two big incidents where the crew was disorganized and the logistics were a mess. I was about to experience the first one, at our first port of call: Ocho Rios, Jamaica.
Weeks before the cruise, I had booked a beach shore excursion on the MSC web site, and paid in full for it with a credit card. Once we were onboard, tickets were delivered to our cabin, and they indicated that we should meet for the excursion in the Haven lounge at 9 AM. We arrived at the Haven lounge a few minutes early, and found a scene that I can only describe as chaotic. There was a group of about 20 passengers crowded around several MSC employees who were standing in the middle of the room. The passengers weren't in any kind of a line, but were just crowded around the employees. We stood in the back of the crowd of people, to try to make sense of what was happening. Multiple foreign languages were being used as the employees tried to help the passengers. I couldn't understand anything that was being said, but it appeared that one of the employees had some kind of checklist and that this was probably who we needed to check in with. For quite a while, the employees were overwhelmed with trying to answer questions (in multiple languages) for the passengers in the crowd. They did not take the time to make any announcements over the room's public address system for quite a while, as they were simply overwhelmed with the chaos of a whole bunch of confused passengers asking for help in multiple languages. Since there wasn't a line, whatever passenger pushed to the front of the group or shouted the loudest got helped next. It was truly the most fouled-up shore excursion meet-up I had ever witnessed on a cruise ship.
Since there wasn't a line and we weren't pushing to the front or shouting, we never got the opportunity to ask any of the employees if we needed to check in with them, or if we should just wait until an announcement was made, or what. We decided to step away from the chaos and see if any of the other passengers in the room, not part of the group crowded around the employees, knew what was happening. Eventually we found a passenger that spoke English who told us that we needed to check in with the employees where that big crowd of people was.
We decided to sit back and wait until things calmed down. Slowly, the employees were able to answer the questions of the people crowded around them, and eventually the scene calmed down enough that we were more comfortable approaching. I snapped a photo...
We checked in with the employee with the checklist, and were told to have a seat in the lounge until they were ready to assemble our group.
I should mention that the weather on this particular day in Jamaica was cloudy, windy, and cool, and when I looked up the weather forecast on the Internet, it said there was a strong chance of rain. It definitely didn't seem like a good day for a beach excursion, but I figured it was probably too late to cancel at that point. As we sat waiting in the Haven lounge, I leaned over to Kellyn and said that in retrospect, I wished I hadn't booked the beach excursion... because we probably could have had a much nicer day just staying on the ship and enjoying the Jacuzzi on our balcony.
A minute or two later, a miracle happened. One of the employees made an announcement over the lounge's public address system stating that the local tour vendor advised that the weather was poor and that anyone who had tickets for the beach excursion could turn them in for a full refund, if they wanted to. I felt as though I had received a very lucky break! We turned in our tickets, left the lounge, and headed back to our cabin for what turned out to be a delightful morning in our Jacuzzi.
This was day 3 of our cruise, and at this point Kellyn and I had eaten five meals in the buffet already and had determined that it was not to our liking. So, as we sat in our Jacuzzi, looking out over this gray day in Jamaica, I proposed a plan that would result in a decent lunch.
We had been to Ocho Rios before, and knew that one of Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville restaurants was an easy walk from the cruise ship pier. Looking out over Ocho Rios from our Jacuzzi, it looked like maybe the weather was getting slightly better as the morning went on, and we speculated that if we just waited a little while longer, the weather should be decent enough for us to walk off the ship and head over to Margaritaville for a nice lunch.
After a nice time in the Jacuzzi, we got dressed for our trip ashore and headed off the ship. We each had light jackets, and a travel-sized umbrella. As we walked off the ship and down the pier towards town, the weather looked a little ominous. It was a good thing we had those umbrellas! We made it out of the secure port area and were about two minutes from Margaritaville when it started to rain. The umbrellas got us to Margaritaville, and not long after we got under the big tent that covers their patio dining area, it just started to pour! Our town in California is in the middle of a severe drought, so it had been a few years since we had seen a heavy rain. It was amazing to see the rain just pour down in Ocho Rios that day... heavier rain than we had seen in quite a long time.
Our waitress at Margaritaville was extremely considerate and noticed that the big umbrella over their patio was leaking slightly on one part of our table. She moved our table out of the way of the leak, and also noticed that the table was wobbly and out of balance... so she took the time to place napkins under one of the legs to stabilize it. It was a great example of customer service, and we appreciated it. After a delicious lunch, I tipped her generously for being so considerate, and we headed back to the ship.
After the rain stopped and the sun came out, I snapped this photo from Margaritaville
Day 4: George Town, Grand Cayman
When our ship dropped anchor off the shore of Grand Cayman, we were not alone. There were several other really great cruise ships visiting Grand Cayman that day. From our balcony, we had a pretty great view of the Norwegian Escape, and several other ships.
We had sailed on the Norwegian Escape two years ago, and remembered it quite fondly... especially the good food we had aboard. Norwegian Escape even has one of Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville restaurants onboard! We never had a problem finding food we liked during that cruise.
That was then, and this was now. Different ship, totally different food situation. We were 4 days in to a cruise on MSC Seaside and we were trying to figure out what to do to get some better food. We were looking forward to heading ashore to George Town later that afternoon, so we could get some lunch ashore and avoid the ship's buffet. But first things first: the immediate problem was breakfast, not lunch.
After two days in a row of bad breakfasts in the Marketplace buffet, we were desperate... so we decided to do something that we almost never do on a cruise ship: eat breakfast in the main dining room, not the buffet. Out of over 280 days we had spent at sea on cruise ships, this may have been only the second or third time we had ever eaten breakfast in the main dining room rather than in the buffet! We really were desperate to find a way to get a good breakfast... especially a good omelet. I'm happy to report that our new strategy worked well, and my omelet was a lot better on this particular morning. Not over-cooked!
I ordered two different kinds of potatoes, to see which was better. The big deep-fried triangular wedge of hash browns, at the top of the plate, was not quite as bad as it had been the day before in the buffet. The one in the buffet tasted like it had been cooked about two hours earlier and just kept warm ever since then. But the one in the main dining room tasted fresher and more recently cooked. Still, the smaller chunks of potatoes, which I think were baked in an oven, tasted better to me. The problem item was the bacon. At least there were full strips of bacon... I'll give them credit for that. But only the top half was cooked crispy, and the bottom half was limp and inedible. The surprise of the morning was something I've never had on a cruise ship before: a decent glazed donut.
The picture doesn't show it off very well... it was a lot better than it looks in that photo. Most cruise ships that I've been on have not served donuts. Royal Caribbean's Oasis-class ships do serve donuts, but I never liked them. This glazed donut was a definite winner, and the best surprise of the day.
So, the breakfast food in the main dining room (Seashore Restaurant) was much improved over what was offered in the buffet, and we never went back to the buffet for breakfast again... until the very last morning of the cruise when a quick breakfast was more important than a good breakfast. The downside to eating breakfast in the main dining room was a situation that we've seen in the main dining rooms of many cruise ships... one of the factors that has motivated us to eat meals in the buffet, rather than in a setting like this:
I'm talking about the way the tables are within a few inches of each other. This is especially uncomfortable when you're seated less than one foot away from some stranger who doesn't speak English. You're so close to this person that it's awkward to never acknowledge them verbally. But we could hear them speaking to each other in a foreign language, so there was no point in trying to strike up a conversation. All we could do is smile and nod at them. It was awkward.
Luckily, breakfast service in the Seashore Restaurant was surprisingly quick and efficient... so we weren't stuck there in that awkward situation for very long. I think we were probably in an out of there in less than 40 minutes. Beverage service was immediate, as soon as we were seated. Pastries were served. Our orders were taken quickly. And it was amazing how quickly they returned with our food... especially considering the fact that we both ordered omelets, which had to be custom made. But once again we were reminded of the bad English skills of many of MSC Seaside's crew... as they managed to mess up Kellyn's omelet order, probably because they didn't understand English well. She told them exactly what she wanted... but that's not exactly what arrived. Thankfully, they were very fast at making it right.
The other thing that was goofy about our breakfast experience in the Seashore Restaurant was that they don't bring you everything that the menu says is included. For example, if the menu says that omelets are served with toast and potatoes, you'd think that if you ordered an omelet, it would arrive with toast and potatoes. Nope. Unless you specifically say I want X, Y, and Z, it's not going to show up... even if the menu says X comes with Y and Z.
Now, about our day in Grand Cayman...
We had been to Grand Cayman on previous cruises many times before, and had already done all the classic Grand Cayman shore excursions such as visiting 7 Mile Beach, Stingray City, the turtle farm, and the little place they call Hell. So, I hadn't pre-booked any shore excursions there. Once again, the weather was not cooperating, so it was definitely not a good day to head to 7 mile beach or spend any time in the water anywhere. Since we overwhelmingly wanted to avoid having lunch in the ship's buffet, we decided to head in to town and have lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe which is very near the pier where the tenders arrive.
In case you've never been to Grand Cayman before, there's no pier large enough for cruise ships to dock, although they've been talking for years about possibly building one. Until the day that happens, cruise ships have to anchor off shore and tender their passengers ashore on boats that are small enough to be able to dock at the existing small pier.
At the Hard Rock Cafe, I ordered a $23 steak... and it actually had better overall flavor, and was certainly a better value, than the $50 Porterhouse I had a few nights earlier on MSC Seaside. The filet portion of the Porterhouse was more tender than the $23 steak at the Hard Rock, but all things considered, I would never order that Porterhouse again for $50, but would definitely order the Hard Rock's $23 steak again.
The Hard Rock was very busy, and the tables were crammed pretty close together. It would have been awkward to not acknowledge the people seated right next to us, so I started chatting with them. They were passengers on the Norwegian Escape, and we had a very nice chat about cruising. I was sure to let them know that they had chosen an excellent ship, and that they should stick with NCL and never give a thought to cruising on MSC Seaside.
One last note about Grand Cayman. The territory's capital, and the city where the tenders take you to, is called George Town. Two words, not Georgetown. I was surprised to see in the ship's Daily Program that MSC had spelled it as one word. The MSC Divina has been going to George Town for the last two years. Did they never in the last two years pick up on the fact that it's George Town, not Georgetown?
The big production show in the Metropolitan theater that night was "Fly"...
It was one of the better shows we saw during the week, so my advice to you, if you'll be cruising on the MSC Seaside, is to be sure not to miss this one.
Day 5: Cozumel, Mexico
The next day the ship docked in Cozumel, at the Punta Langosta pier downtown. Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Princess dock at the south end of town at the Puerto Maya pier, so that's the pier I knew from my previous visits. The Punta Langosta pier downtown was new to me. We started the day off with a nice breakfast in the Seashore restaurant:
If you've ever read any of my reviews of our previous cruises, you will be familiar with the jar of Lawry's seasoned salt. I bring it along on all of our cruises to sprinkle on to the omelet and potatoes. It came in handy on MSC Seaside at lunch, too... because I watched one of the cooks pull a batch of French fries out of the deep fryer, and noticed that he did not add any salt or seasonings before placing the fries out in the buffet. So, a little Lawry's seasoned salt help improve the taste of the fries, too.
We have always had a great time during our previous visits to Cozumel, and there are all sorts of great beaches to spend the day at. I had pre-booked a beach shore excursion, and fully paid for it by credit card from home, weeks before the cruise.
This story actually should start the day before, when I checked the weather forecast on the Internet to see what the weather in Cozumel would be like. It predicted a cloudy, windy, and cool day... with a 90% chance of rain. So, I headed to the shore excursion desk and asked if I could cancel the beach shore excursion I had booked for the next day in Cozumel. The woman at the desk wasn't helpful. First, she tried to convince me that the weather in Cozumel would be good. She said it would be sunny, with high temperatures in the 80s. I explained that my information from the Internet indicated rainy, cool, and windy. She wasn't sympathetic. She explained that I could cancel the excursion, but that I would incur a 50% penalty. I told her the short version of the story of how the vendor cancelled the Jamaica shore excursion, with a full refund. She said that if the vendor in Cozumel decided to do that, the decision would be announced at the tour meeting point in the morning. So, I held on to my tickets and decided to see what happened the next morning.
I thought about a cruise I did a few years ago on Royal Caribbean, where the situation was very similar. I had tickets for a beach shore excursion in Cozumel, but the Internet weather forecast said there was a strong chance of rain showers. I went to the shore excursion desk and asked to cancel. The person at the desk was much more patient... explaining to me that it's common for there to be a few afternoon thundershowers in Cozumel, but that he expected mostly nice, warm weather in Cozumel. Nevertheless, he let me cancel the shore excursion without any argument, and gave me a full refund. When we got to Cozumel, it was a nice warm day, and I regretted cancelling that excursion. That was how it went down a few years ago on Royal Caribbean, and I wondered how it was going to turn out this time on MSC. They certainly were doing everything they could to avoid refunding any of my money.
Regarding the fact that the person at the shore excursion desk tried to convince me that it would be sunny and warm in Cozumel...
The weather information that MSC had was very out of date. For all I know, they may look up the weather when the ship is in Miami, write down the 7-day forecast that day, and use that forecast for the entire week without ever looking for updates. Let me show you what I'm talking about. Here's a photo I snapped the day after our visit to Cozumel, to show how way off MSC's weather forecast was. In their daily newsletter, they predicted that the low temperature would be 78 degrees that day, and that it would get up to 84 degrees that afternoon. But look at what my thermometer said the actual temperature was...
So, it was 63 degrees outside on a day when MSC predicted the lowest temperature of the day would be 78. They were off by 15 degrees! It makes me wonder if the newsletter had even been updated for this week. When a cruise ship repeats a 7-day itinerary over and over again throughout the year, they simply use the newsletter from the week before as a template for this week's, and then go in and change the dates and anything else that may be different from the previous week. They're supposed to change the weather information in the newsletter, but in this case I wonder if perhaps they never got around to it.
Back to my story about Cozumel, and trying to get out of the beach shore excursion we had pre-booked...
When the ship arrived in Cozumel, it was so windy that I wondered for a while if the Captain was even going to be able to dock the ship. I've seen port calls cancelled in the Caribbean before, when winds were so high that docking the ship was just too dangerous. A ship is so long and so tall that if the wind is blowing directly against it, the ships thrusters don't have enough muscle to fight the wind... and the Captain will just cancel the visit rather than put the ship in danger by docking in high winds. It was so windy on this morning in Cozumel that they actually locked some of the doors leading out to the outer decks! But I guess they must have been blowing in the right direction to not cause a problem for docking the ship, and the Captain was successfully able to get us tied up to the pier.
Besides being completely cloudy and windy, a few drops of rain had begun to fall, and were visible on the outer decks. Kellyn and I were in complete agreement that our beach shore excursion would be miserable on a day like this, and we agreed that even if we had to take a 50% penalty, we needed to cancel the shore excursion. The shore excursion desk didn't open until 9 AM, so I went to guest services instead. On Carnival, anytime the shore excursion desk is closed, you can just go to guest services instead and they will help you. But on the MSC Seaside, I was firmly told by guest services that if I wanted to cancel my shore excursion, I was going to have to wait until the shore excursion desk opened up and talk to them about it.
So, I parked myself in a chair near the shore excursions desk and waited for them to open. They opened up right on time, and I explained my situation, and pointed outside to the inclement weather. This was a different crew member behind the desk this time, and she used a much more sympathetic tone in speaking to me, but stuck with the company line that if I cancelled, there would be a 50% penalty. She suggested that I pick a different Cozumel excursion, as there would be no penalty for an exchange to some other excursion. I took a quick look at the excursion list, but declined to make a switch... since almost every shore excursion in Cozumel involves being outside. I told her the short version of the story of how the vendor cancelled the beach excursion on a rainy day in Jamaica, and granted a full refund. She said that my best option would be to report to the meeting point for the excursion and see if the vendor was going to cancel this excursion. So, that's what I did.
While I was there at the shore excursion desk, I snapped this photo of the architecture in that part of the ship... which I thought was pretty cool looking. Out the windows, you can see that skies were completely gray.
At the meeting point, in the Seaside Theater, things were well organized and not at all chaotic like they had been for the Jamaica excursion. I explained the situation to a member of the shore excursion staff. They said that the vendor had not decided to cancel the excursion. So, I figured I had no other choice... I handed over my tickets and asked for a refund. She explained there would be a 50% penalty. I said, reluctantly, that I understood and accepted.
I headed back to the cabin, and Kellyn and I spent another nice morning in the Jacuzzi on our balcony. It was way better than being miserable at the beach on a cold and windy day.
After some quality time in the Jacuzzi, I did a quick check on Google maps to see if there were any good restaurants nearby, and was delighted to discover that we were docked right across the street from a Señor Frogs restaurant. Lucky break, as we really did not want to have lunch in the ship's buffet! I've been to several of the Señor Frogs in various Caribbean locations, and the food is always good, and there's always a crazy party there. Honestly, this 60 year old could do without the crazy party, but when the food is good, I'll put up with it and treat it like it's a show I get to watch. So, at lunch time, Kellyn and I headed off the ship to explore the area around the pier and hopefully have a nice lunch at Señor Frogs.
As we walked the length of the pier, the wind was really going crazy and beating the heck out of our umbrellas! A light rain was falling. I was glad we were not at the beach! There's a little shopping complex at the end of the pier, and escalators that take you up a level to a pedestrian bridge that safely takes you over the busy main street below, and in to a pretty nice shopping mall across the street, with everything a cruise ship tourist might need. There was even a pharmacy, where you can get antibiotics without a prescription.
In Cozumel, we had a fun lunch at Señor Frog's:
For those who have never been to Señor Frog's before,
here's a video I shot there that clearly shows that this is somewhere to go for a FUN lunch, not a quiet lunch:
Here's a footnote to the story about the beach excursion in Cozumel. Remember that the last thing I told you about it was that I turned over my tickets to one of the shore excursion staff, to cancel the excursion. She reminded me that there would be a 50% penalty for cancelling, and I accepted that. Well, there's a happy ending to the story.
At the end of the cruise, I got a look at my bill for our onboard spending account... and to my surprise, I discovered that they ended up refunding 100% of the money for that Cozumel beach excursion. They never told me that they were going to do this. In fact, the last I heard was that it was going to cost me 50%. But in the end, they did the right thing and gave me a full refund. I don't know if it was because I was always polite in talking to them and never got visibly angry, like a lot of passengers would have in that situation. (I was certainly angry and disappointed inside.) Or perhaps they simply decided to do the right thing because the weather was so crappy that day in Cozumel and they couldn't blame me for not wanting to go to the beach. I'll never know why they did that, but I do appreciate it.
Customer service is a funny thing, though. The company can do the right thing in the end, but if they give the customer a whole bunch of grief all along the way, they don't really end up with any goodwill at the end, even after issuing a full refund. MSC should look to my previous experience on Royal Caribbean as their guide for how they should have handled this. If a customer wants to cancel a shore excursion, the answer should always be yes. Never put your passenger through the wringer just to try to save the company $59 that he paid for a shore excursion. Or even if it had been $109, or $289. Never put your passenger through the wringer. That should be the lesson learned here.
Day 6: At Sea
On day six, we finally got a few hours of decent weather. It didn't last long, but we finally had sunshine and temperatures in the 70s, at least for a little while.
I decided to take a walk around the ship and shoot a few photos of people having fun outside. These kids were having fun playing basketball and soccer at the same time in the sports arena...
The aquaventure park (the water park) and the water slides were doing a pretty good business today, too... since it was finally sunny and warm. I consider myself a cruise ship water slide connoisseur, after going down quite a few water slides during our many cruises, and making some pretty good money on YouTube from videos about waterslides on cruise ships. Three of my YouTube videos about cruise ship waterslides have gone viral, with a combined total of over 110 million views just from those three videos!
I would give the MSC Seaside a grade of "B" on the subject of waterslides. They have some good waterslides for all ages, but they don't have any one great waterslide. The one you see in that last photo is the fastest one... but compared to the state-of-the-art in cruise ship waterslides, it's not quite in the league of the vertical-drop waterslides you can find on some Disney, Norwegian, and Carnival ships, or the cool new waterslide that Royal Caribbean added to Liberty Of The Seas back in 2016. I'd say the best ship for waterslides is actually the Norwegian Escape.
MSC did try something innovative with the waterslides on MSC Seaside. They were the first cruise ship to have a waterslide with slideboarding technology. However, I think it sounded like a better idea than it really turned out to be. It turns out that a waterslide ride is just too short to really be able to enjoy a video game that has been integrated in to it.
Since this was a sea day, we weren't able to get off the ship and have lunch ashore, like we had been able to do the last three days. So, it was lunch in the marketplace buffet for us today. I was encouraged to see that they had one of my favorite foods in the buffet today: lasagna. Unfortunately, I can only give their lasagna a grade of C-... it just really wasn't all that good. I've definitely had much better lasagna in restaurants on land, and also in a few cruise ship restaurants.
Something funny happened in the marketplace buffet as we were eating our lunch. Since it was a sea day and everyone was onboard the ship, the buffet was VERY crowded. We almost couldn't find a table at all. But finally we found one right next to an Italian family. The mom had a bowl of tomato soup, and she hated it. She told her entire family that the soup was awful, and specifically that it was way too salty. Ah, yes, the European versus American salt issue has raised it's head again on this cruise! OK, I absolutely could not resist after hearing her rant about the tomato soup... I immediately went over to the buffet and got some tomato soup (and some lasagna) for myself.
I think you know where this is going. The tomato soup was fine... absolutely consistent with every other bowl of tomato soup I've ever had in my life... and the amount of salt in it seemed fine to me. So, it seems quite clear to me that the salt thing is a big issue when trying to please a ship full of Americans and Italians all at the same time.
Another interesting thing in the buffet on this particular day was a big tray of onion rings. I hadn't seen these during the previous lunch we had in the buffet, four days earlier. I liked that they offered these at the buffet.
The big event on our schedule today was a cabin crawl with some of the people we had met at the CruiseCritic meet-and-mingle event earlier in the week. A cabin crawl is basically a tour of several different types of cabins on the ship. It's fun for people with "regular" cabins to see some of the fancier cabins, and it's fun for the people staying in the fancier cabins to see what the less expensive cabins are like. A cabin crawl is not organized by MSC or by anyone of an official capacity. It literally is something just organized informally by people who all like to hang out on CruiseCritic online. The fact that CruiseCritic now has a section of their site with roll-calls for specific sailings makes it really easy to meet other CruiseCritic members who will be on the same ship the same week you will be there. And it's all completely free, so that's cool, too.
The first stop on our cabin crawl was one of those very cool suites at the back end of the ship, overlooking the South Beach pool, and with a big balcony that wraps all the way around from the side of the ship to the back of the ship. These are the cabins you see at the back of the ship that look a little like a Miami high-rise condo.
A little further down this page, you'll find a photo of the back end of the ship... and you'll see what this suite looks like from the outside. Notice one of our CruiseCritic members visible through the window... he's out on that big balcony that wraps all the way around the back corner of the ship. This is a seriously great cabin!
We toured quite a few cabins, and I won't take the time to show them all to you... but another interesting cabin we got to look at was the least expensive Yacht Club cabin... a very small interior cabin with no windows. This is the way to go if you want all the benefits of staying in the Yacht Club, and you really don't plan on spending much time in your cabin except to sleep.
Several of the people from our CruiseCritic group were staying in the Yacht Club, and they got permission for our group to come in and have a look around. This was way more than I expected from our cabin crawl, because the official rule, at least as I understand it, is that Yacht Club guests are NOT allowed to bring non-Yacht Club guests in to the public areas of the Yacht Club. Otherwise, it could get abused by people trying to sneak all their friends in to the Yacht Club.
Here's a shot of the Top Sail Lounge, which is the main social area of the Yacht Club. It sits at the front of the ship, on deck 16, and has spectacular views forward out those big picture windows.
I have to say that I've stayed in The Haven on several Norwegian ships, and I think the Top Sail Lounge beats the indoor social area of The Haven. You can see on the left side of that last photo that there's a bar, and just above that on the next level is a restaurant, just for Yacht Club guests. The big picture windows offering a beautiful view ahead of the ship certainly beats the view from The Haven. However, many of the NCL ships with The Haven also have a glass dome that can slide closed to cover the pool area. I bet the Yacht Club guests would have loved that during this week of cool, windy weather.
Now I'd like to show you the most amazing suite that we visited during our cabin crawl. In fact, it's the most expensive suite on the ship... the Royal Suite. When I first heard about the MSC Seaside, I figured I would want to book the Royal Suite... since it has a private Jacuzzi on the balcony. But after I learned about the much less expensive "suite with whirlpool bath", I decided to try that instead. In retrospect, I'm not entirely sure I made the right decision! Many of the food issues I had on the ship might not have existed if I had been eating in the Yacht Club restaurant... and many of the customer service issues I ran in to probably wouldn't have occurred if I had a butler and a concierge on my side. I still would have disliked the entertainment, but with many of the other problems gone, I probably would have had a very different overall reaction to the MSC Seaside if I had booked the Royal Suite. Let's take a look at it. Here's the living room...
One of those couches is a sofa bed, allowing this suite to sleep up to four people.
Here's the living room as seen from the other side of it...
It's a real suite, by my definition of suite. The bedroom is completely separate from the living room.
Here's a look at the bedroom...
Here's my favorite part, the gigantic balcony...
I like the fact that the Jacuzzi is nicely shaded by that structure above. I found it interesting that the Jacuzzi on the balcony of the Royal Suite was the exact same model that was on the balcony of our "suite with whirlpool bath". The exact same model! I would have thought that the Royal Suite would have a larger Jacuzzi... something that would comfortably fit four people.
I enjoyed meeting the folks that were staying in the Royal Suite, and I really appreciate how they encouraged me to stick around after the cabin crawl and shoot as many photos and videos as I wanted.
Here's my video of the Royal Suite:
Interesting trivia fact:
I used a different camera to create the video of the Royal Suite than I used for the video of our "suite with whirlpool bath". For the video tour of the Royal Suite, I used my big Canon DSLR camera... handheld, without a tripod. For the video tour of our "suite with whirlpool bath", I used a GoPro Hero 6 mounted on to a gimbal for stabilization. The gimbal helps the GoPro get smooth video without the shakiness that you normally get from using a video camera handheld without a tripod. Can you see the difference in the shakiness of the video in those two videos? I definitely can! The GoPro on the gimbal worked very well! I'm sure I'll be using that for many upcoming YouTube videos.
By the end of the afternoon, the weather cooled down and the skies started to get a little cloudy again, as you can see in this photo I snapped of the unique design of the aft end of the MSC Seaside:
That unique look of the rear end of the MSC Seaside, a design inspired by the high-rise condominiums of Miami, makes it very easy to recognize the MSC Seaside from a distance. No other cruise ship has a rear end quite like that! In the photo, notice the suites on each corner of the back end of the ship. We toured one during our cabin crawl. They have some great views! Those suites, and their balconies, wrap around the corner of the ship... so not only do you have a great view behind the ship, but also off to the side.
Another thing to notice in that last photo is the "bridge of sighs" up at the top. It's a walkway that extends over the rear end of the ship, and the floor is made of glass, so you get quite a view down below! At the bottom of the photo, cut off so you can't really see it, is the South Beach pool. There's some interesting art work at the South Beach pool, a sculpture:
Is this a whimsical piece of art,
or the Italians' perception of American tourists?
The increasing cloudiness made for a nice sunset.
Here's a time-lapse video of it:
That evening, in the Biscayne Bay buffet, there was a nice surprise...
some food that was better than average!
Kabobs, beef ribs, and pasta with a fettuccine sauce.
For a little entertainment, we went to see the show "Timeless" in the Metropolitan theater. The big musical production shows all feature the same singers for the entire week, so with each new show there are different songs and different costumes, but the shows have a similar feel.
Of course, there ARE some differences between each show.
Timeless featured a segment that showcased a pretty good Michael Jackson tribute.
After 3 performances of Timeless in the big theater, they did an Opera show at 10:30, which I definitely did not attend, and then an adults-only version of the improv comedy show... which I definitely DID attend. It was funnier than the G-rated version I saw earlier in the week, but I still wish MSC had gone with stand-up comedy instead of improv.
Day 7: Nassau
We've been to Nassau many times before, and there are several beaches there that are a lot of fun to go to if the weather is warm. Alas, the weather was not warm on this day in Nassau! You can see in this next photo, which I shot from the balcony of our cabin, that it was another cloudy day... making this the only one of our cruises that I can remember where there wasn't at least one perfect warm sunny beach day.
That's a pretty cool photo of the Carnival Liberty coming in to the harbor in Nassau. I think I'm going to have to print that one up and post it on the wall of my office at work. You can see how they've carved out a passage at the harbor entrance that's deep enough for the cruise ships to safely enter. As long as the ship stays to the left of that green buoy... and the Carnival Liberty sure came close!... they won't run aground. At first glance, though, it sure does look like that ship is too close to that penninsula!
My GoPro Hero 6 has a really nice built-in method of creating time lapse videos. I've found that time-lapse videos are a really great way to show things that move slowly... like a cruise ship when it's docking. So, here's a video version of that last photo... a time-lapse video that not only shows the Carnival Liberty entering the harbor, but which also shows it spinning around and backing in to the dock next to us. I think it's one of the best time-lapse videos I've ever shot. Take a look:
An interesting thing to notice in that time-lapse video is the crew members opening up the partitions between the balconies. They were preparing to hose down and clean out the balconies, which they do once each week.
With the Go-Pro Hero 6, it's really easy to make those time-lapse videos. I have a special little device that makes it real easy to clip the GoPro on to something, and that's all it takes to keep it steady for a time-lapse video. Here's a look at the GoPro attached to the glass on our balcony, next to the Jacuzzi...
With the ship docked in Nassau and most of the passengers ashore, Kellyn and I stayed onboard to enjoy the un-crowded ship. For part of the time, I went up to the Miramar Bar, which has a great view overlooking the Miami Beach pool.
I didn't go up to the Miramar bar for a drink, though. They were actually closed. I had picked that location as a great spot to sit down in front of my video camera and record my thoughts about our cruise on the MSC Seaside.
Unfortunately, it got very windy up there, which created a lot of wind noise on the audio track of my video... especially since I had forgotten to bring the microphone windscreen up from our cabin. And there were a few passengers still onboard, who occasionally wandered through the scene behind me, which looked a little odd. And most importantly, I think I kind of sugar-coated my comments... putting a huge emphasis on all the things I liked about MSC Seaside and glossing over all the things that went wrong or weren't to my liking. So, in spite of all the time I spent recording my thoughts about MSC Seaside for a video review, they all ended up on the ol' cutting room floor. I think what I've written here on this page gives a much more accurate representation of our cruise than my little video review would have given.
However, making YouTube videos is what I do these days! The income from YouTube more than pays for my cruises, believe it or not... and as you may have noticed, I don't cruise in cheap cabins anymore. Thank you, YouTube. I still have a lot of unused video from our cruise, sitting on my computer's hard drive. I might very well still put together a couple of more videos about our cruise on the MSC Seaside. So, keep an eye on my YouTube channel, and if you subscribe to my channel you'll get notified whenever I post a new video.
There was a rude surprise on this last night of the cruise: without warning, all Internet access was terminated at 8:50 PM. Normally on a cruise, I've had Internet access all the way until the minute I walked off the gangway at the end of the cruise. But for some odd reason, on MSC Seaside they reset all the Internet accounts at 8:50 PM on the final night of the cruise. It was a good thing I didn't need to do an airline check-in, or anything else important online that evening. Luckily, early the next morning, the ship pulled in to the Port Of Miami and at that point I was able to connect to a cell tower on land and use my phone for 4G Internet access.
The Jungle Pool
The weather was cool and cloudy for almost our entire cruise, and I certainly don't blame MSC for that... but it's definitely one of the factors that made this a less-than-perfect cruise for us. January is always a good time for me to take some time off from "my real job", but you don't always get the best weather in the Caribbean in January... at least not in the northern part of the Caribbean. This wasn't the first time we've had less-than-perfect weather in the Caribbean in January, so I think that in the future I'm going to be careful to only cruise the southern Caribbean from now on, if I book a cruise in January.
With the weather so cool during the entire week, one of my favorite places on the ship turned out to be the Jungle Pool on deck 18. So, before I wrap up my review of our cruise, I want to spend a minute highlighting this unique part of the MSC Seaside.
There are three swimming pools on the MSC Seaside... four if you count the one within the Yacht Club that most passengers don't have access to. The South Beach pool on deck 7 is for ages 16 and older, the Miami Beach pool on deck 16 is the "party pool" where there is always music playing and the bar is quite active, and the Jungle Pool on deck 18 is the family pool because it is located very near to the kids clubs there on deck 18, as well as the water park on deck 19. By the way, there's no deck 17 on the MSC Seaside! 17 is considered an unlucky number in Italian culture, much like 13 is in the United States, so if you take the stairs up from deck 16 you'll find that the next deck is 18, not 17.
I think MSC made a BIG mistake in designing their swimming pools, though. All three of them, even the Jungle pool that is primarily used by kids and families, are over 6 feet deep, and there is no shallow end in any of them. So, there's no way for anyone, even adults, to stand up in the pool but still have their head out of the water. Which means you can swim, or you can tread water, or you can cling on to the edge like these ladies were doing at the South Beach pool...
Kellyn and I liked to spend time at the Jungle pool because it was quite warm and humid in there with the glass dome closed. Warm and humid is the weather we come to the Caribbean to enjoy! So, whenever we needed to get out of our cabin for a while to let the stateroom steward do some cleanup, we would come up to the Jungle Pool to relax for a while. One of the best parts of hanging out at the Jungle Pool was that it's one of four places on the ship where the offer gelato, and since the Aurea experience came as a perk with our Jacuzzi cabin, the gelato was always free for us.
Looking back on our cruise, I should have had more gelato! It was one of the best parts of the whole cruise! I limited myself to one gelato per day, because at 60 years old I do have to watch my weight... but darn it, I was on vacation... I should have allowed myself two a day! I bet that's probably going to be the only cruise we ever do in our entire life where the gelato is free. I should have taken better advantage of it for the 7 days I was there.
The other thing that's unique about the Jungle Pool is that the bar is very un-crowded. Since it's the pool where a lot of families with kids go, there just aren't a whole lot of people drinking booze there. So, every now and then during the week, I'd say to Kellyn "how about a drink?" and we'd head out looking for a nice place to have a drink. A lot of the bars would be very busy and it wasn't the relaxing experience we were looking for, so inevitably we'd end up at the un-crowded bar at the Jungle Pool. After a few visits, we even developed a favorite bar server, a friendly young guy named Prince.
In that photo of Prince, you can see the electronic device the servers carry around to take drink orders with. Also, in the background on the left, one of the electronic kiosks where you can make show reservations, view a map of the ship, locate the nearest restroom, or see what activities are scheduled to take place.
Just next door to the Jungle pool is a fun little bench made for photo ops with kids. We didn't have any kids or grandkids with us on this cruise, so we borrowed a couple of cuties for this photo op at the Lego bench..
If your kids or grandkids are in to Legos, the MSC Seaside is the ship you should bring them to! MSC teamed up with Lego and the kids club has all sorts of Legos for kids of all ages. And by the way, yes, that bench and sculpture in the photo is made of real Legos, and they're glued together so that no one can mess them up!
Also in this same area were some nice comfortable couches to sit on, and even some covered day beds that would be perfect for a little snuggling. If I were on this cruise with kids or grandkids, I'd send the kids off to have fun on the waterslides (which are right next door) and I'd tell them that when they were done, they'd find me and Kellyn right here...
Does This Ship STINK?
There has been a whole lot said on social media about a foul sewage smell on the MSC Seaside. It's a hot topic on CruiseCritic, on Facebook groups about the MSC Seaside, and even on YouTube. For example, take a look at this YouTube video featuring Amy Donoho:
Amy sailed on the January 6th sailing, and I was on the next week... the January 13th sailing. I can say without any hesitation that we did not smell anywhere near the kind of thing in the Piazza that Amy refers to in her video. Whatever happened on that January 6th cruise to cause the foul odor in the Piazza that Amy described... it certainly didn't happen on the January 13th cruise. We walked through the Piazza numerous times during the week, and very definitely did not smell the overwhelming horrible smell that she described. She also said she smelled it in the buffet area, another place that we spent quite a bit of time in. There was no such odor in the buffet the week of January 13th.
I should also add that while I do not have a particularly sensitive nose, my wife definitely does. She can smell odors long before I do, and can even detect faint odors that I never detect at all. My wife definitely did not smell the overwhelming horrible odor that Amy describes in her video.
I don't think Amy is lying about what she experienced. What I'm saying is that one week later, that situation did not exist in the Piazza. I also want to say that I know the kind of odor she's talking about... we've occasionally smelled it on other cruises we've been on. In walking around the ship, Kellyn and I did very rarely catch a very brief and very faint foul smell in random locations... but this is something we've experienced on other cruise ships... and it was nowhere close to the horrible overwhelming smell that Amy described in her video.
I can think of quite a few good reasons not to sail on the MSC Seaside, but an overwhelming sewage smell is not one of them. During the week we were aboard, that problem simply did not exist in the Piazza. Don't let yourself get freaked out by reports in social media that say otherwise. Whatever caused the smell that people have reported in the Piazza... it seemed to have been fixed by January 13th, 2018.
The "MSC For Me" App
MSC has a smartphone app called "MSC For Me" which you can use onboard the ship. It connects via the ship's WiFi network and not via a cellular network, so you can leave your phone in airplane mode (but with WiFi turned on) and be assured that you are not using any roaming data. Even though it connects via the ship's WiFi network, you do NOT have to purchase an Internet access plan to use the app.
The app really doesn't offer a whole lot of functionality, and I certainly wouldn't say it's something you absolutely need to download and use to enhance your cruise experience. The most useful thing about it is that you can make reservations for the shows in the Metropolitan Theater... but when you fire up the app, you'll spend a long time trying to figure out how to do so. It's not intuitive at all. It's a lot easier to just make show reservations from the TV in your cabin, or from one of the interactive electronic kiosks throughout the ship.
The other thing that's handy about having the app is that it gives you easy access to the deck plans. So, if you're trying to figure out something about the ship's layout, it's pretty easy to look it up on the app. A handy feature built in with the deck plans is the ability to have the app show you, based on where you currently are, where the nearest restroom is.
What struck me more about the app wasn't what it did, but what it couldn't do. In a perfect world, you'd be able to look up the menu for every night of the week in the main dining room. You'd also be able to look up the current location of other people who have given you permission to look up their location, such as your wife and kids. When MSC first announced the development of the app, they did say a kid-finder feature was going to be included. But either they couldn't get it to work reliably, or they ran in to some other roadblock... because there was no such functionality during the week I was onboard.
Perhaps the most important feature they didn't build in to their app was a chat function. I had sailed on the Carnival Vista a few months earlier, and they, too, had a smartphone app. The coolest feature of Carnival's app was the ability to chat with the other people you were travelling with. We were sailing with some friends of ours, and being able to contact each other via Carnival's app made it SO EASY to coordinate schedules and arrange to meet.
Disembarkation In Miami
Remember that earlier I mentioned there were two ugly incidents where things were poorly organized and customer service was poor. The first had been in Jamaica, and on disembarkation day in Miami I was about to have the second incident.
As I mentioned, we had pre-booked two beach shore excursions from home, and paid for them by credit card, long before the cruise. Due to the bad weather during our cruise, both of those beach excursions ended up getting cancelled. But instead of refunding the amount we paid back to the credit card that we had paid with, MSC posted the refunds as onboard credit to our spending account on the ship. In addition, as part of the incentives offered at the time I booked this cruise, we had a $150 onboard credit on our account. So, that was a whole lot of onboard credit, and by the end of the cruise we had not used it all. There had been daily service charges of $25 deducted (that's basically the mandatory gratuity that goes to the crew) and we had spent $108 for our meal at the steakhouse, plus $23 to upgrade to the fastest Internet package that they offered. But that wasn't enough to use up all the onboard credit we had. At the end of our cruise, we had a negative balance on our onboard spending account of $187.58. In other words, we didn't owe them any money at the end of the cruise, they actually owed us $187.58 due to the refund of those two shore excursions that I had paid for before the cruise.
That brings us to the morning of disembarkation, and things were a little bit of a mess onboard. Our flight wasn't until 11:45 AM, so we weren't really in any big rush to get off the ship. But MSC made it very clear in their disembarkation instructions that they wanted all passengers out of their cabins by 7 AM, to give the room stewards enough time to do their thing. In the disembarkation information that MSC gave to us, the schedule showed that "express walk off" (where you carry your own luggage off with you) would occur from 6:30 AM to 7:30 AM. Yet, by 7 AM, there hadn't been a single announcement about disembarkation getting started. Finally, a few minutes past 7, the Cruise Director announced that express disembarkation could begin, and that ANY passenger that was ready to carry all of their luggage off the ship could proceed to the Piazza for disembarkation.
I've been on 43 cruises, and I've seen how a proper disembarkation is done. They never tell everybody all at the same time that they can leave. This causes a gigantic stampede. The way it's always done is they do it in groups... usually by floors. For example, they'll say if your cabin is on deck 10 or deck 11, and you can carry all your luggage with you, you can proceed to disembarkation now. And then 10 minutes later they'll do two more decks, and ten minutes after that two more. This spreads out the flow of passengers so that there isn't a giant stampede all at one time.
So, on MSC Seaside, there was a stampede a few minutes after 7 AM, as everyone that wanted to do express walk off all proceeded to the elevators at the same time. And after waiting and waiting and waiting for an elevator, when they all finally made it through the elevators, they all reached the Piazza at the same time. This was a bit of a mess, but the worst was yet to come for me and Kellyn.
When we finally made it all the way through the very long line in the Piazza, and reached the final door leading from the Piazza to the gangway ashore, I handed over my keycard to the guy that scans it to record that we're officially off the ship. Instead of hearing the nice little ding sound that you hear when you're cleared to exit the ship, there was a loud buzzing sound instead. The guy looked at his device, and told us "You can't leave the ship. You've got a negative balance on your onboard account. You're going to have to go to guest services to clear this up first."
Now keep in mind that we had a NEGATIVE balance on our account. All they had to do was process a refund back to the credit card that I had on file, the same credit card I had used at home to purchase those two excursions which ended up getting cancelled. We didn't owe them any money. They actually owed us money. But instead of just crediting that money back to my credit card that they had on file, they denied us disembarkation, and made me go to guest services to clear things up.
So, I found a place to tuck Kellyn and all of our luggage out of the way, so that she wouldn't cause a traffic jam for all the other disembarking passengers, and I headed down to the guest services desk. Oh my, what a horrible mess awaited me there!
Lined up in front of guest services was a gigantic line of unhappy customers, all waiting to resolve issues before disembarking It wasn't a happy crowd. I stood in that line for 45 minutes, until I finally got to the front of the line and got to speak to someone to resolve things. Luckily, our flight was not until 11:45 AM, which meant I had plenty of time to get all this resolved, but I hate to think of how upset and frustrated I would have been if I had a somewhat earlier flight.
The way MSC dealt with that line of people was strange, too. There was one guest services rep who kept coming out from behind the desk and talking to people in the line. It seemed like perhaps she was doing a form of triage... checking to see why people were in the line, seeing if maybe she could direct some of them elsewhere, or trying to answer a quick question so that they didn't have to be in the line. But she didn't start doing her triage with the people in the front of the line who had been waiting the longest, she seemed to randomly pick people in the line and see what they were there for. A lot of them she spoke to in Italian. Some of them she would pull out of the line, take them up to the guest services desk, and immediately help them. (Yacht Club guests, perhaps?) After helping someone at the desk, she came back to the line but started helping people at the BACK of the line... the people who had been in line the shortest amount of time. At no point did she ever check with me or the people immediately in front or behind me, to see if she could help us. We were just left to stand in the line for 45 minutes. It was a bizarre customer service moment. But wait, there's more!
When I finally got up to the front of the line, I explained my situation to the guest services rep. I explained about the negative balance on my account, and how it had occurred. I requested that he simply refund the balance to my credit card on file. He brought up my account on his computer, thought about things for a while, and then said he wouldn't be able to refund the money, because of the $150 onboard spending credit I had been given as part of the booking promotion. It was an onboard credit only, and had to be used onboard. It could not be refunded. I explained that I had a plane to catch, didn't want to be late, just wanted to disembark the ship. I requested that he please just zero out the account. Forget about the $187.58 negative balance. As far as I was concerned, I didn't need it. Let's call it good, set my balance to zero, and let me off the ship.
He stepped away from the counter and disappeared through a door in to the office in the back. He was gone a few minutes, presumably conferring with his supervisor or someone with management. While he was gone, I witnessed another example of MSC's stellar customer service. I noticed that every time the phone rang at the guest services desk, one of the staff would pick the phone handset up off the cradle and then immediately set the handset back down. In other words, I watched them hang up on every person that called the guest services phone line.
When my guy came back from the back room, he said that while he was not able to refund the $150 since that was non-refundable onboard credit, that left $37.58 that he was able to refund. And he proceeded to go in to his cash drawer, and hand me $37.58 in cash and coins. That seemed like it would be the end of the story, and I would be allowed off the ship. But it got even stranger after that!
After he handed me the $37.58 in cash, he was looking at his computer screen for a while and then he excused himself and went back through the door to the back room. After a few minutes back there, presumably conferring further with his boss, he came back out and announced that he was able to refund the whole amount after all... and he proceeded to hand me another $150 in cash from his cash box. Then he closed out my account, and told me I was good to disembark.
It was a totally odd example of customer service. In the end, they somehow managed to do the right thing... but they sure put me through the wringer to get there!
Was I the first passenger in the history of MSC cruises to ever end the cruise with a negative balance? Had they never developed a procedure for this? Look, if their rules say it's not refundable, just zero the account automatically. Don't deny the passenger from disembarking. And if the rules say the amount is refundable, just automatically credit it to the card on file. Don't deny the passenger from disembarking and then pay him his refund in cash. That's really a lousy process. And that's the way my cruise on the MSC Seaside ended.
If you're interested in the MSC Seaside, I think you'll also find the following PDF files to be quite interesting. Most are scans of documents that MSC gave me during our cruise, a few are interesting things I found on MSC's web site...
Daily Planners from our cruise
Daily Programs from our cruise
Miami Disembarkation Information
MSC Seaside Brochure
MSC Brochure (198 pages!)
Deck Plans (for 11x17 printing, double sided)
Shore Excursion Price List
Priority Tender Information For Aurea Guests
Welcome Aboard Information
Butchers Cut Steakhouse Menu
Roy Yamaguchi Menu
Ocean Cay Menu
Getting There Is Half The Fun!
We live in California and our cruise departed from Miami, so we had a bit of an adventure to get from here to there. Normally, we'd fly out of the little regional airport 20 minutes from our house, but to get to Miami from that airport involves three flights. Since our cruise was in January, I didn't really want to gamble on three flights. January is notorious for weather delays, and the more flights you have to take, the greater your odds of having a snafu. So, I thought I'd try to reduce the chances of a snafu by just scheduling a non-stop flight to Miami out of the Los Angeles International airport. LAX is about a three and a half hour drive from our house, but I figured my chances of travel success were higher doing a three and a half hour drive so that I only had one flight after that. In retrospect, I figured wrong. Here's my travel snafu:
Photo by Mike Eliason - Santa Barbara County Fire Department
The direct way to get from our house to LAX involves driving down highway 101 through the Santa Barbara area. Unfortunately, a few days before our flight, there were heavy rains in the mountains behind Santa Barbara that caused huge mudslides in areas where wildfires had burned off the vegetation earlier in the year. Those mudslides completely blocked highway 101 in both directions, for almost two weeks! Not only was I not able to drive the direct route through Santa Barbara to get to the airport before our cruise, it still wasn't cleaned up a week later at the end of our cruise. So, in both directions, we took a long detour to get around the mess in the Santa Barbara area. But that's OK, it only added about a half hour to the drive in each direction.
That non-stop flight we took from LAX to Miami was pretty cool. No, I've understated it. That non-stop flight to Miami was GREAT... the best flight we've ever taken! We flew with Jet Blue, and used their first-class service, which they call "Mint". We had big, comfortable seats that could fold all the way down flat if you wanted to take a nap. And there was a nice entertainment system built in to the seatback in front of us.
Shortly after take-off from Los Angeles, I snapped this photo of Catalina island, off the coast of Southern California...
Along the way, there were cocktails for the first-class passengers.
It was a 8 AM flight, but hey, it's five o'clock somewhere, right?
When we finally reached the west coast of Florida,
there was a pretty great view of Sanibel Island and the Fort Meyers area...
Still photos give you a glimpse at the fun we had on the way to our cruise, but a video brings it to life.
Please take a look at the video I made that shows all the fun we had getting from California to Miami:
Finally, one last video for you, before we officially conclude the story of our cruise on the MSC Seaside.
Here's a video I shot in Miami the morning of embarkation:
Summary & Conclusion
This has been a long-winded review, and I thank you for enduring it. Let me see if I can summarize the whole thing in a couple of paragraphs.
There was a lot I liked about the MSC Seaside... especially the suite with a Jacuzzi on the balcony, and all the perks (such as free drinks and free gelato) that came with the cabin. I enjoyed the CruiseCritic meet-and-mingle, and LOVED the cabin crawl that the CruiseCritic members organized. The weather sucked, but it was great that MSC had the foresight to design a swimming pool area with a glass dome over it... a great place to hang out on a cool, cloudy day in the Caribbean.
It seemed like MSC made a lot of decisions to please their European passengers at the expense of their American passengers. This surprised me, since the MSC public relations team spent about a year trying to convince American cruisers that the Seaside was the first MSC ship designed specifically for them.
There were several big logistics snafus and customer service snafus during our cruise. They have a long way to go to learn what good customer service looks like. I imagine the logistical problems will get solved over time.
I honestly can't recommend the MSC Seaside to my American cruising friends. There are so many other cruises you could take where things are tailored to American tastes in food and entertainment, and where logistics issues have long ago been worked out. My suggestion would be that my American friends should cruise on the Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Breakaway, Carnival Vista, Carnival Breeze, Anthem Of The Seas, or Harmony Of The Seas... long before they cruise on MSC Seaside. For my American friends that do still think they'd like to experience the MSC Seaside, I'd suggest stepping up to the Yacht Club.
European folks will be much happier with MSC Seaside, but please keep in mind that as of January 2017 the crew was still fighting a steep learning curve. You'd be better off to give this ship a year to work out some of its issues.
The Cruise Ships We've Been On
If you've enjoyed this page, you would probably also enjoy reading my web pages about:
September 2017 Carnival Vista cruise in a Havana Suite
October 2017 Norwegian Sky cruise in the owner's suite
The $1600 per night owners suite: January 2017 Norwegian Pearl
An Un-crowded Small Ship Experience: Viking Star
One Of The Best Waterslides At Sea: Liberty Of The Seas
Quite Possibly The Best Cruise Ship In The World: Anthem Of The Seas
January 2017 Allure Of The Seas
One of the best cruise ships we've ever experienced: The Norwegian Escape
2015 Carnival Breeze back-to-back cruises
Back-to-back cruises on Independence Of The Seas
World's largest cruise ship: Allure Of The Seas
2015 Carnival Freedom repositioning cruise
Our first VIP cruise in The Haven: The Norwegian Getaway
Our June 2014 Alaska cruisetour with Princess
Our first cruise with Princess! January 2014 Sapphire Princess
2014 back-to-back eastern/western Caribbean cruises on the Carnival Glory
The completely refurbished Carnival Sunshine
One of Carnival's best ships, the Carnival Breeze
A sister ship to the Breeze, the Carnival Magic
Our 2013 cruise on the Carnival Conquest
One of the oldest ships in the fleet, the Carnival Inspiration
Our first Caribbean cruise: the Carnival Glory
Our many cruises on the Carnival Spirit
Our February 2010 cruise on the Carnival Splendor
Our January 2008 cruise on the Carnival Elation
Our April 2008 cruise on the Norwegian Star
Our first cruise! 1996 on Carnival Cruise Line's MS Holiday
Click here to see the complete chronology of all the cruises we've ever taken.
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