Friday, November 12, 2010

MSC Poeisa Review 11.1.2010

MSC Poeisa Review

Just the Facts:

Cruise: MSC Poesia 10-day Southern Caribbean
Date: November 1-10, 2010
Captain: Giacomo Romano
Cruise Director: Anna
Weather: Very Good
Ports: Cozumel, Mexico—Puerto Limon, Costa Rica—Christobal, Panama—Cartegena, Columbia— Montego Bay, Jamaica

This is my first cruise on MSC, an Italian cruise ship operator, and many of my comments will be comparisons to more U.S. oriented cruise lines. There are a lot of differences.

Day 1--Monday November 1—Embarkation
We left the ranch about 7:00am to begin our new cruise adventure. We drove to Austin’s Bergstrum airport via FM roads, SH36, I-35 and toll road arriving about 9:30 am. This was perfect for our 11:00 am flight on Southwest Airlines. We like this very easy to maneuver airport and it will be an option for us on future travels. The flight went well and we arrived in Ft. Lauderdale about 2:40. After retrieving the bags we proceeded to the shared shuttle kiosk and arranged a shuttle ($11 pp) to Port Everglades. We were actually the only ones on the van and arrived at the MSC terminal in just a few minutes. The check-in went smooth as we were behind the initial crowds and we were on board by 3:30. We were very pleased with the travel taking just over eight hours from doorstep to ship.

Upon boarding we went directly to the cabin and dropped our carry on bags. We then went to the buffet as we suspected it may close soon. We just made it as it does close at 4:00 pm. We had a light snack: the roast beef, salads, and four cheese lasagna were excellent. We now needed to orient ourselves to the ship. It is very different from many cruise ships as there is no central focus or atrium area, but a series of smaller spaces. This is very different to us and an interesting concept. We took a quick walk around the lido deck then went back to the cabin to settle. Soon they delivered our checked bags (very quick service). They began announcing boat drill about 5:00pm. You still have to wear your life jackets and proceed to the muster area on this ship. We unpacked our luggage and familiarized ourselves with the cabin. It is a very nice balcony cabin on deck 9 and is very nicely decorated in dark blues and wood, a very classy look. There are a lot of drawers (not shelves) small sofa, and other little amenities that make it a premium cabin. The layout is nice with the bed on the entry/toilet side and the sitting area on the balcony side of the cabin. I like the layout much better than most cruise cabins. We had a short rest, reviewed the deck plans and Daily Programme then off to explore the ship before dinner. With no large central area the standard lounges are very large and the large lounges are huge. There are shops scattered on the deck between lounges and it really has a very good traffic flow. We really liked the Zebra lounge (photo right) decorated in zebra print and African motif. The Del Poeti lounge was also nice. Both lounges feature live entertainment. We were supposed to sail at 7:00, but didn’t get away until after we had gone to dinner. We have late dinner in the Il Palladio dining room. All the food is Italian and features a different region of Italy featured each night. An information card is on each table explaining the unique foods of the region. They also have two always available menus, one American and one Italian. Tonight was food from the Milan area of Italy. We mixed our choices from two of the menus and from the always AA menu: a Mediterranean Salad, Fruit, and Pasta Pomodoro, from Milan I had the Encrusted Pork Chop (excellent-and it had a much fancier Italian name) and the Marscapone for dessert. They also have chocolate and a different flavor of Gelato each night, tonight was banana. The gelato was just OK, but the Marscapone was the best I have ever had. They do have a premium gelato stand and I will sample that soon. There were no shows or events this evening, but all the lounges were very busy. After dinner we retired to the cabin for needed rest after such a busy day.

Day 2--Tuesday November 2—at Sea
It was smooth sailing overnight and we slept very well. I would have been late to breakfast, but the ships time changed overnight so we are now on Texas time. DW had room service and I ate in the Le Fontane dining room. They have a wide selection of items in the dining room, but the room service is very limited with only pastries, juices, and coffee. I had Eggs Benedict with bacon and potatoes. Very good, but very different. The ship activities are more traditional. No hairy chest contests or such, but Trivia, Italian lessons, Shuffleboard, etc. A bit more refined I would say. The lounge chairs around the two swimming pools filled early. The lounge chairs themselves are different with a small upper tent/shade to cover your face. We found a spot on the shady side this morning and enjoyed a nice breeze. We usually do a buffet lunch when on a cruise, but because of the reputation of the food on Poesia we had lunch in the dining room. A good choice as it was very good. They have a standard everyday menu for lunch with a daily special that changes. You can order just about any combination of pasta and sauces. I had Penne Pasta with cherry tomato sauce. DW had Mozzarella sticks with marinara. On the daily menu was a very nice grilled Sirloin Steak. The Gelato flavor today is mint, and it was better than the banana. After lunch DW found a spot on deck and did some swimming and had some deck time reading. The pools are fresh salt water and very comfortable. I explored some more of the ship and had some cabin time. We have had an excellent view of Cuba all afternoon. Our balcony is on the correct side of the ship to watch as we sail along the Cuban coast. Obviously MSC has a different relationship with Cuba as no other cruise line I have sailed has ever been this close to the island. The western portion of the north Cuban coast is very mountainous. We thought we would sample the room service. The room service menu is very limited compared to some cruise lines, but what we tried was very good. We ordered an egg salad sandwich, tuna sandwich, fruit platter and of course an antipasti plate. It took about half an hour for delivery, but a good option for late afternoon snack. We had some nice balcony time with our snack and watching the Cuban coast until it disappeared as we entered a rain cloud. We broke through the rain and clouds just in time for beautiful sunset. The feature show for second dinner seating begins at 6:45 in the Carlo Felice Theater (photo) and tonight was Euphoria. It was a very visual show and enjoyable. This is the first Gala or formal evening with a Gala night menu in the dining room. I had the Shrimp Cocktail (very nice with large shrimp), Shrimp Risotto (just OK), and the Prime Rib with Baked Potato and vegetables (very good). For dessert I had the Peach Melba. DW had an excellent Crepe with julienned vegetables, one of the better vegetarian dishes she has had on a cruise ship. We retired after dinner to watch election results on the cabin TV.

Day 3--Wednesday November 3rd—Cozumel, Mexico
The seas were calm overnight and weather is very nice. We arrive early in Cozumel and docked just after 8:00 am, well before our scheduled 9:00am arrival time. There are six cruise ships scheduled for Cozumel today so it will be busy. The ship’s Daily Programme said local time was one hour later so we thought we get off early and go San Miguel to take care of some business and beat the crowds. We soon found out that the local time was one hour earlier. Perhaps something lost in the translation? We took a taxi from the pier ($7) ending up in San Miguel an hour before Antonio’s barber shop would open. First stop was the 7-11 for our first diet coke in a few days. We soon did see our friend Nelly next door to the 7-11 opening her new shop, Caribbean Angel. She has nice paintings, pearls, and purses among other things especially jewelry. If you visit say hello from Ray. She can also direct you to places to see on the island and has even been an unofficial liaison for Americans stranded on the island. While DW visited and shopped I went to the Internet shop ($1 an hour) while waiting for Antonio's to open. Soon afterward I saw Martin, my barber, on the way to the bank. It has been a while since my last haircut so we exchanged greetings and planned to meet when he opened. I got a great haircut and Martin showed me the new location he will move to next month. He has cut my hair for almost five years and I will see him again in January. We had heard a lot of internet chatter about Wet Wendy’s a new margarita bar that I knew was near Nelly’s and she took us over to visit. They are remodeling with a very nice bar and an open air concept just off the main square. We met the owner and they will have reopened by the time I post this review. I look forward to visiting her in January and sampling one of her 20+ favors of margaritas. With our shopping and business finished we wanted to spend the day at a beach club. We were trying to decide between the Money Club and Buccanos and decided on Buccanos since DW was there just two weeks ago, I wanted to see it, and mainly because they have a swimming pool (photo at right). We took a taxi ($7) to Buccanos located north of San Miguel in the Zona Hotelera norte. The location is at the old hotel Caribe, but the hotel has not reopened since hurricane Wilma. All the open air restaurant areas and beach facilities are restored and very nice. They have a beautiful private beach and a designated snorkel area. The large freshwater swimming pool is very nice with good showers and view of the water. There are a lot of cruise excursions that visit here for either rock climbing or the snorkeling and I saw cruise ship towels from RCCL, Princess, and Carnival. I had a wonderful swim in the Caribbean and the pool. We ordered guacamole and chips and had a few beers and margaritas. Overall it was a wonderful afternoon. We took a taxi ($15-I thought too much) back to the International pier about 3:30 pm and looked at some of the shops and bought some diet coke on the way back to the ship for our scheduled 5:00 pm departure. We ordered some fruit plates and antipasti plates from room service and enjoyed some balcony time with a view of Cozumel and the Grandeur of the Seas docked next to us. Based on my contrarian cruise theory we went to lido to swim in the main pools while most were preparing for early dinner or sail away. There were only a very few in the pool and it was refreshing from the local heat and humidity. While we were in the pool they began to play Con te Partirò (Time to Say Goodbye) and I knew what that meant, sail away. Italian ships may not leave on time, but they do leave with a dramatic flair! After the song they began 3 long horn blasts that were returned by two of the ships docked near us (and I suspect with Italian crews). Very cool. We were docked next to a Costa ship once on a sail away and they played Time to Say Goodbye as they sailed away, but it was great to experience it on your own ship. Bravo! Show time was again at 6:45 and Extraordinaire was another good visual show with a few songs in this performance. Tonight’s region in the dining room is Sorrento and it is also Italian Day on board. I had a Mediterranean Salad and combined two entrees into a single. One entrée featured Sorrento Meatballs and another Fettuccine Alfredo and the waiter was able to make a Fettuccine with Marinara and Meatballs (excellent). Just what I was wanting for Italian Day! Sorrento is known for it’s Limoncello so the waiters make a presentation with the Limoncello Delight desert and sang some Italian songs. After dinner we went to the Pigalle lounge to watch some of the Mr. Italy contest, but retired soon to the cabin.

Day 4--Thursday November 4th—at Sea
Smooth seas overnight and the ship is sailing much faster than previous days. I had a nice dining room breakfast. The eggs seem to be true to order and not overdone as you find on many ships-no keep warm lamps I’m guessing. A new friend at our dining table is a Travel Agent and arranged for a tour this morning. We were able to see a suite, a handicap cabin, and an interior cabin. All very nice and the interiors have all the same amenities that other cabins including mini refrigerator and hair dryer. All the cabins are very well done. We looked to booking an excursion for tomorrow, but it was sold out. We had lunch in the dining room: Fried hearts of artichokes (different and good) Fucille pasta with tomato & mushroom sauce (very good), and a veal in mushroom sauce with rice. We had some rest full cabin time most of the afternoon with a lot reading and blogging. The show this evening was mini Italian opera called Grazie Maestro featuring music by Puccini. The soloists were tenor Aurelio Gabaldon and soprano Rosita Tassi Certainly not a show you would see on any other line than MSC. The regional Italian food this evening was from Florence. I had the Soup, Pasta Pomodoro, and a chicken dish with regional spices (good) and a very good Tiramisu for dessert. DW had a very good Cannelloni with three cheeses. We had a late walk on deck and some Gelato from the premium Gelato stand at the Mojito Bar before turning in for the evening.

Day 5--Friday November 5thPuerto Limon, Costa Rica
The seas were calm overnight with a few more rolls than previous nights. We arrived about 9:00 am and it was foggy and misty early, but cleared during the morning. We were able to meet a private tour group from GreenWay Tours I had contacted by email before leaving and join the group for the day. We had a very nice small bus, a small group (13), and a good guide and driver. First stop was a jungle station for a ride in a jitney pulled by a tractor through the jungle and up a mountain. We saw a lot of plants and wildlife including Sloths and Dart Frogs (photo left). We also walked an elevated walkway for an up close look. Next stop was a banana processing facility. Costa Rica is the worlds 2nd leading exporter of bananas and this particular facility was a Del Monte unit. Next stop was a boat trip on the Tortuguero canals where we saw birds, butterflies, sloths, and monkeys. Following the boat ride we had some local fruit: pineapple, mango, and watermelon. We returned passing the beach area and dropped off next to the ship and the market area set up inside the terminal area. I wanted a bit of the local flavor and we ventured into the town of Limon area for just a few blocks. It was rough. They did have a serious earthquake in 1991, but the town is really third world. We returned to the area within the terminal, to look at the stalls and then returned to the ship. The show this evening was “Sam” as in Uncle Sam and featured American songs and dance, including a few from Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. The Italian region tonight in the dining room was Roma. I had the Roman style egg drop soup, Risotti with meat sauce, the Veal entrée, and Roman Pie for dessert. Probably the weakest menu of the cruise.

Day 6--Saturday November 6th—Cristobal, Panama
Weather was the same as previous day, cloudy but the rain held off until sail away. I had a dining room breakfast this morning as we were in no rush today. We really only just wanted to see the Panama Canal so didn’t want to do a tour. We hired a private taxi to take us to the Gatun Locks (photo) and we were able to see a couple of ships go through the locks. It was very interesting and certainly the thing to see if in the area. After the locks we got a quick tour of Colon, not impressed. Some friends went to Panama City and said it was nice, others said the Portobello tour was not good. Glad we kept it simple today. After returning to the port area and the adjoining shopping center we found a grocery and stocked up on diet coke and some snacks. I also got a new Panama Hat from one of the shops. We were back on the ship in time for lunch in the dining room. We did some swimming after lunch, had some cabin times, and tried to watch some NCAA football as only one TV channel carries American sports. The show this evening was Stars on Broadway. This was also the second Gala night and gala dinner menu. I had the fried shrimp, Italian Salad, Fettuccine Alfredo, Beef Sirloin (sliced) entrée with potatoes and vegetables, and Peach Helene for dessert (all good). DW had Pumpkin Rissato (very good) and Cheese Lasagna. We had a walk around ship and checked the lounges before retiring to the cabin.

Day 7--Sunday November 7th—Cartegena, Columbia
The seas were smooth overnight and we arrived in Cartegena early. We had breakfast in the lido buffet before leaving the ship and we dressed for hot weather. The humidity was very high and it was very hot even for us. There is a short walk to the cruise terminal (walk it as it is a waste of time to wait for the shuttle). Booking an individual tour here is very easy and fairly cheap ($20-30 pp) but in addition to the sites agreed upon you have to visit their emerald and souvenir shops It’s a good inexpensive way to see sights, but operators then have a captive audience. Our plan was to spend the day in the ‘Walled City’ or the old town so we took a taxi ($10) to the Plaza de los Coches (photo-right) the clock tower entry. The ‘Walled City’ is a designated historical area with very old colonial buildings, churches, museums, shops, restaurants and plazas. Plaza de Bolivar has the famous equestrian statue of Simon Boliver. We really had a great day going at our own pace. We really liked the St. Pedro Claver Church & Cloisters Museum (photo below), the Oro (Gold) Museum, and the Café San Pedro. The mojitos from Café San Pedro (photo below-yellow bldg) were very good and the coco pie (like a southern pecan pie, but with coconut) was very unique and very good. Some of the shops were closed as it was Sunday, but most opened at noon. The downside of the area is the number of peddlers pestering you see their merchandise. There are some with little displays on the ground on blankets that were fine, but the ones walking and following you around offering: free tours, T-shirts, etc. were annoying—They should clean that up or it will spoil a beautiful atmosphere. We went back to the ship about 3:30 pm and by chance had the same taxi driver. The cruise ship terminal is really one of the nicest I have ever seen. It’s very clean with beautiful trees surrounding, it also has: a gift area, a display of exotic birds, a small emerald museum, rest rooms, café, and duty-free area. To cool off we went to the pool on lido deck. It was refreshing, but got busier as more returned to the ship. We stayed on deck for sail away so we could hear the Italian sail away with flair! They actually sailed very close to on time and gave another salute when they passed the statue of Cartegena in the harbor. Back to the cabin to prepare for the Italian show in the theater. It was Cuore Classico Italiano with highlights from famous Italian operas. For us, this is a very different show and very entertaining. Dinner featured items from the Palermo Region, I had Fried eggplant lasagna , Fusilli pasta with tomato & eggplant (an entrée I had as second course), Chicken Marsala as the entree and Cannola stuffed with riccotta for dessert. This was the best of the regional menus, all items very good. This was a long day with a lot of walking so we retired soon after dinner.

Day 8--Monday November 8th—at Sea
Calm seas with just enough roll for a nice nights sleep and we did sleep late. The weather is very good, sunny skies with a few scattered clouds. We had an advance copy of our account status under the door this morning a good idea as you can not review on the TV. They do charge $12 a day for gratuities which is higher than other lines. We did a small buffet breakfast and we did a walk on deck. Cabin time for me this morning and DW did a line dance class on lido deck. We had a very nice late lunch in the dining room (veal cutlet). They had an afternoon show in the theater with classical Italian music called Music Forever featuring the soloists and classical trio. The regular 6:45 production show was Atlantis, the show was very colorful and featured the dancers, a soloist, aerial acts and more. The Italian region tonight at dinner was Polairmo, I had the Stuffed Zucchini (good), a Pasta with a pesto sauce (not so good), a veal entrée (just OK), and a lemon sorbet for dessert. A very easy and restful day.

Day 9--Tuesday November 9th—Montego Bay. Jamaica
Weather was typical for this week: cloudy and nice. We arrived in Montego Bay very early and they were disembarking by 8:00 am. I had breakfast in the dining room and DW had some items from the buffet. This was to be our ‘stay on board day’ that we now like to do on cruises, but we did go down to the terminal area and little village next to it. Nothing really to see or buy and we returned to the ship. We were the only ones in the pool for quite a while and that’s a benefit of SOBD. DW continued to swim, but I did go back on shore in order to use free internet as long as the battery lasted on my laptop. When I returned we went for a late lunch in the dining room (fish & chips) and then nap time before sail away. We went to the top deck to watch the sail away from Montego Bay. From there we could see that they pushed away just as they began the aria Time to Say Goodbye, then the three blasts from the ships horn. Very cool and the last time we will experience it this cruise. We didn’t attend the welcome party, but did attend the Farewell Cocktail Party. They served complementary drinks in the Zebra lounge and we discovered a new drink: a pinky-pinky. The Captain and officers toasted the passengers before the production show. The show, Follie Barock, was the best of the cruise with another eclectic show with the dancers, and various acts. The highlight was when the soloists sang Time to Say Goodbye and were then joined by all cast members and entertainment staff. This was also the final Gala evening, the third of the cruise. It was the best menu of the cruise as well. I had Spring Rolls, Greek Salad and a Surf & Turf of lobster and filet mignon steak. All were very good. The presentation of the Baked Alaska brought back experiences of cruises long ago. They were the old fashion flaming Baked Alaska and the waiters marched then through the dining room. (I didn’t see any carried on the head though) It tasted very good too. I was a fun evening.

Day 10--Wednesday November 10th—at Sea
It was a cloudy morning and seas were rolling, class two waves, they said at the morning announcements. Not too bad really. I had breakfast in the dining room, sampled the pancakes and they were good. If you have read some of my reviews it can be hard to find good pancakes at sea. The weather cleared and was very nice. We got a table on lido deck (lucky) and DW did some swimming and I used the internet as this was a ‘hot spot.’ I did finally purchase a internet package (100 minutes is $30) and you get a cable to have access in your cabin or you can find a ‘hot spot’ somewhere on the ship. We can again easily see the north coast of Cuba. We actually came right across the far eastern tip, but it was early in the morning, but we sailed along this part of the coast for 8+ hours. We had lunch from the lido buffet, they have a fresh pasta each day and a carving station. After lunch I used the balance of my internet time from the cyber café, the best ‘hotspot’ I found. The production show was highlights of previous shows, I think they ran out of shows on the ten day cruise. The region for our final dinner was Venice. I had a Fruit Plate, Pasta Pomodora, and the Pot Roast. Also the final Gelato and Lemon Sorbet. After dinner we packed.

We choose early debarkation and were told to meet at 7:00 am in the Zebra lounge and that was about the time we docked. We made it there about 7:10 and as we suspected there were not that many using early. It really went very well and we were off the ship by 7:40 a.m. We took a taxi to the airport ($18 with tip) and was there in just a few minutes. From the airport we could see the new Allure of the Seas dock. Our flight was at noon so we had plenty of time. We arrived in Austin, found the truck in remote parking and drove home to Bosque County.

The ship was built in 2008 and has a passenger capacity of 3600. There is no large central entry or point of focus in on the ship other than a small three level staircase atrium at reception. There is a series of larger lounges that are the main public areas. The dining rooms are similar with no central area, but a series of smaller spaces on a single level. Decks 5-6-7 have the public lounges, dining rooms, shops, etc. The Villa Pomppeiana or lido buffet is similar to most cruise ships. The public rooms and areas were all very well done with a lot of marble and pleasing colors. The Zebra Bar was our favorite. There are a lot of elevators with five sets. We had a daily announcement at 9:30 am. each morning. There are not many announcements (I like fewer), but when they do them they are made in many languages.

We had cabin 9161 a category-10 balcony on Ungaritti deck. It has a nice couch and small sitting area. As mentioned the sitting area and dresser are on the balcony side of the cabin and the bed is towards the bath and closet. It has a standard three door wardrobe, one section is all drawers. Also in the cabin: robes, a very good hair dryer, number keyed code safe, drawers-not shelves in dresser, mini-refrigerator, flat screen interactive TV, two prints on wall, and a large floor to ceiling mirror. The bedding is not up to par with Carnival or RCCL, but adequate. The cabin lights are unique, you have to insert your key card into a slot by the cabin door in order for the lights to work. It also tells the cabin steward if the cabin is occupied. There are NO American television stations although some individual shows are on International channels.

The production shows such as Euphoria, Extraordinaire, and Aquarius were very visual shows with colorful costumes, dance, juggling, unicycles, balance beam, aerial acts, knife throwing, contortionists, etc. to cater to a multilingual audience. They usually had recorded music, but it went very well. The principal soloists, already mentioned, are very good and featured in all the Italian shows. They were very consistent with a production show every night (for those of us on late dining from 6:45 to 7:30 pm). The primary live musical acts were a three piece classical group and a three piece Italian folk group. The theater is very nice with large plush individual seats. The beautiful lounges had other musical groups or singers each evening.

The dinners were very good. I have listed common names for the selections I made, but the menus had a beautiful description of all the dishes each night. The regional Italian menus are a wonderful idea. Since we weren’t familiar with all the Italian dishes and we wanted to try new things some of the dishes were hit or miss as far as liking or disliking them. It was fantastic experimenting with the various dishes. You could get a steak every night from the always Italian option on the menu if you wished. The buffet was fine, but not as good as many cruise lines due to fewer choices and limited hours. In fact the buffet is not open on Gala nights. I was told that room service was very prompt with coffee orders in the mornings. We used room service a few times and it was quite adequate. The off time snacks were sandwiches and PIZZA. The pizza was excellent. In fact all the bakery items were excellent, the rolls, the muffins, the croissants, and there was a different type of bread each night. This is a Pepsi ship, no coca-cola products. Ice Crème machines are located on lido deck and available most of the day. Drink prices seem to be less than other lines. The DOD (drink of the day) was about $5-6. You could also buy drink coupons for wine, beer, or cocktails and save a bit.

Our favorites in order: Cozumel, Cartegena, Costa Rica, Panama, Jamaica.

After re-reading this review it may seem that I am being critical on some points, but I only wish to emphasis differences from a European based line and an American based line. Not necessarily saying one is better than the other. A cruise on a non-American line may not be for everyone, but after sixty previous cruises we really enjoyed the differences and new things to experience. We would not hesitate to cruise MSC or the MSC Poeisa again. I would love to see an MSC ship in Houston's Bayport facility. Our favorite Italian phrases we learned: Ciao (chow), Cin Cin (chin-chin, a toast), and Keepa Go!