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  1. The bottom line is that you don’t have to pay for tap water. Period. But there were different rules before MSC started sailing from US ports. If you wanted water with dinner, you had to purchase bottled water (according to what’s customary in other parts of the world). Knowing that this wouldn’t sit well with Americans once MSC started sailing from Miami, they created different rules which applied to their US based cruises and which allowed Americans to order tap water with dinner to match what they were used to on American cruise lines. They also started allowing Americans to order tap water on non-US sailings. But having different rules based on region and nationality proved to be an absolute mess for years. Besides the water issue, there were different drink packages which included different things based on what country you lived in. They had different names and each included something different. People sailing on the same exact ship were entitled to different things simply because of their country of origin or what region of the world they were sailing on. Needless to say, this created A LOT of confusion. On websites like Cruise Critic, which is frequented by people from several countries, there always seemed to be a lot of confusion because you’d have someone from one country answering a question from someone from a different country, so the information wouldn’t be accurate. MSC has finally smartened up and is in the process of streamlining and simplifying their drink packages so that they are all the same no matter where you cruise to or what country you live in. When we sailed on the Meraviglia in November, they had just introduced the new drink packages, so some waiters were a bit unsure at times. But as mentioned before, each had a handheld device that would let them know on the spot what drink package each person had, if any. Our waiter would always approach our table with a jug of tap water. But we had the Aurea Experience which came with a drink package, so we’d order bottled water most of the time, not only with dinner but also throughout the day, to take back to our cabin, or to take ashore. One swipe of our card in the handheld device is all it took to get our bottles. Very easy and we never got questioned.
  2. I respectfully attribute those comments to cultural intolerance. There are definitely tons of nationalities onboard, unlike a Carnival cruise where the vast majority of cruisers are Americans. On our last MSC cruise, we only met one other American family. Everybody else was either from European or Asian countries. Needless to say, everybody had a different idea about etiquette and what’s socially acceptable. Yes, we encountered various degrees of behaviors, ranging from curious, bizarre, funny, to objectionable. But that’s a byproduct of traveling in such a culturally diverse environment. We embraced it and allowed it to enrich our travels rather than let it bother us. But I can see how many Americans would be completely annoyed and turned off by it.
  3. On our last MSC cruise, the waiter would scan our card on a handheld device and automatically knew what we were entitled to. No need to fight tooth and nail for a glass of water. It worked very well.
  4. I’m Platinum on Carnival. We have sailed twice on MSC, once on the Divina in the Caribbean and once on the Meraviglia in the Mediterranean. Our cruise on the Divina was OK. The ship was beautiful, the stage entertainment was pretty good (better than Carnival for sure), and we appreciated the loyalty match program and all the perks that came with it. But the food selection was repetitive and a bit lacking, service wasn’t consistent, and we encountered several glitches and snafus throughout the week. But considering the price we paid, we really couldn’t complain about the negatives. We still had a great vacation. We decided to give MSC a chance again last November, this time in the Mediterranean aboard one of their newest and largest ships (the Meraviglia). This time we were wowed and impressed. The ship was amazing. Beautiful, tastefully decorated, with tons of activities, and technologically advanced. We haven’t been this wowed by a new ship since we sailed on Royal’s Allure of the Seas during her inaugural season. Both food and service were greatly improved since our previous MSC cruise 2 years prior, entertainment has been taken to a new level with MSC’s partnership with Cirque Du Soleil (with a dedicated theater and performances exclusive to MSC), and we didn’t encounter any glitches or snafus as we did before. We LOVED the cultural mix of passengers onboard! It was wonderful to sail with fellow cruisers from so many countries. We only met one other family from the USA during the entire cruise and only heard English sporadically. For us, it was a welcome change to disconnect from home. It was an amazing cruise and now I place MSC at the top of my favorites. To make things even more wonderful, their competitive pricing allowed us to splurge and book an Aurea Duplex Suite for less than a standard balcony in the Caribbean on another cruise line would’ve cost us. This amazing suite was a 2 deck loft, with separate sleeping quarters upstairs, living room and dining area downstairs, 2 full bathrooms, 2 closets, forward facing balcony with jacuzzi, priority embarkation, unlimited drinking package, unlimited access to the thermal area, free massages, access to a private solarium for suite guests, and access to a reserved area in the MDR with open seating. Once again, all of this cost us less than a standard balcony in the Caribbean with no perks on our previous cruise on another cruise line. Overall, MSC offers a fantastic experience, and it seems like, as they roll out their American product and iron out some wrinkles, the product keeps getting better. It will NEVER be Carnival or other American cruise lines. It is still a very Italian cruise line that caters heavily to its very loyal International clientele, so it can’t alienate them completely in order to cater to Americans. Yes, announcements will be in various languages, some food selections may not appeal to the American palate, there won’t be comedians or dueling pianos and instead you’ll find less verbal entertainment, your fellow cruisers will speak several different languages and may follow different social behavior and etiquette, etc. But if you’re someone who can embrace the things that differentiate MSC from the American cruise lines, you will love it. If you’re not someone who embraces chance easily and prefer a cruise line that caters heavily to Americans, then MSC may not be for you. Here’s a thread that I started with more information about our last MSC cruise. I hope it’s helpful!
  5. I agree with this. One of the biggest takeaways that I took from our first Med cruise was to focus on one or two points of interest rather than trying to squeeze too much in. The time ashore is insanely limited so there’s NO way to see it all. I’ve always known that a cruise only allows people to barely sample each port of call rather than truly visit and explore in depth. But contrary to Caribbean cruises where I’m usually satisfied with what I can squeeze into the limited time ashore, on our Med cruise, I had this terrible sinking feeling at every place we visited, realizing that I hadn’t even remotely scratched the surface. And it happened at every port of call. I dreaded getting back on the ship because of that sinking feeling. There’s SO much to see, SO much to learn, and SO much to experience, it’s mind boggling. Most of these ports of call are better suited for an extended land vacation. But with all of that said, I don’t regret for one minute taking this cruise. It was still an amazing experience. Our goal was not to explore in depth, but to introduce our young children to Europe in an easy and kid friendly way. Our cruise more than met our needs. We will hold of until they get older to take them on a longer land vacation.
  6. Check with your specific cruise line to see what’s the latest they’ll let you stay onboard. Also, your itinerary will determine what customs and immigration procedures will be required. If you’ll be on an itinerary that stops only in countries in the Shengen Area, chances are that you won’t be going through customs. When we sailed on MSC last November (round trip sailing) we walked right off the ship with all other in transit passengers. No customs or immigration requirements. They allowed passengers with late flights to stay onboard until 2:00pm although I don’t recall if they were allowed to stay in their staterooms. We left early because we had an 11:25am flight. For reasons that were never explained to us, our arrival time was changed from 7:00am to 8:00am which made me worry about making our flight. But we didn’t have anything to worry about. We made it to the the airport with plenty of time. We had pre-paid for transportation arrangements with a 7:00am pickup time through Rome Cabs. They were waiting for us when we finally walked off the ship at 8:15am. Great service!
  7. I’ve encountered loud noises of varying nature before (mystery noises, public venues, music, neighbors, loose equipment, etc), some lasting the entire cruise, but it honesty never occurred to me that I should be compensated for that. The worse one was on the Empress of the Seas. There was some sort of metal door above us that clanged loudly every time the ship moved side to side. It was mind numbing after a few days. We called guest services a few times and they were dumbfounded as well. They couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. I made a few rounds myself on decks above and below our stateroom to see if I could locate the culprit but was never able to locate it either. Long story short, our “compensation” were some ear plugs and a verbal apology. After that, I’ve just learned to bring ear plugs with me on every cruise and hotel stay as well. It’s better to have them and not need them than to need them and not have them. There’s not enough compensation that can provide a restful sleep if noise is keeping me awake.
  8. I guess there’s a big difference between seeing Cirque du Soleil on a screen and seeing it live. On our last MSC cruise they had a dedicated theater with performances twice a day of real Cirque du Soleil shows exclusively created for MSC (for an extra charge). Every single show was sold out. You couldn’t get in unless you pre-booked it.
  9. I was in your shoes last year. After a year and 4 months of planning, we took our first Mediterranean cruise last November and it was absolutely wonderful. More than I could’ve ever hoped for. For me, I started by narrowing things down by date, length of cruise, and most importantly, departure port. We wanted to sail over Thanksgiving week which limited our options since there are less sailings as well as less flights from the US to Europe during that time of year than during the summer. But on the upside, cruise prices were substantially cheaper, and we wouldn’t be dealing with the oppressive summer heat or the larger crowds. We finally narrowed things down to the MSC Meraviglia departing from Civitavecchia (Rome). We could fly nonstop from our home city to Rome which made that part of the journey very easy and stress free. We spent two nights in Rome and selected a hotel near the Vatican. Having a pre cruise stay was great, first to acclimate to the time change, and also to explore this breathtaking city. We did most of our sightseeing on our own. Our itinerary took us to Palermo (Sicily, IT), Valletta (Malta), Barcelona (Spain), Marseille (France) and Genoa (Italy). To be perfectly honest with you, the only ports of call I was truly interested in were Valletta and Barcelona, but it was the itinerary that met our time constraints. Turned out that all the ports were easy to navigate on our own and each one had something great to offer. Booking a year and 4 months in advance meant that I had A LOT of time to research each port, activities, and how to get places. We visited wonderful places like the Vatican, La Sagrada Familia, the Three Cities, and many more. Every port was great in their own way, even the ones that I didn’t know much about before I started doing my research. We didn’t book a single excursion and did it all on our own, both in Rome and at all the ports of call. I booked admission to everything in advance and directly with each attraction. No middle men. It all worked out beautifully. I would even get on Google maps, pull up the street views, and “virtually walk” where I wanted to go. By the time we sailed, it truly felt as if I had already been there and I walked confidently everywhere we went. It was a great tool to get my bearings before our cruise. In a nutshell, it was an absolutely wonderful experience. Truly worth all the preparations. Read reviews, get on travel sites, and have as much planned in advance as you can. It will make a big difference for your first visit. Hope you have a wonderful time! Here’s a link with more detailed information about that cruise:
  10. We sailed on the Allure. It was an absolutely wonderful cruise. Truly one of the most enjoyable cruises I’ve ever taken, and nothing out there compares. BUT, we are not rushing to sail on the Oasis class ship again any time soon. Why? As noted above we had a great cruise, but I felt it was more of a “been there, done that, got the T-shirt” kind of cruise. I’ve felt the same way when I’ve sailed on other “niche” cruise ships, so it’s not just the Oasis class. For example, we sailed on the Disney Fantasy. Wonderful cruise as well, but one time was enough. But a large percentage of fellow cruisers on that sailing were rabid Disney fans that compulsively sail on them.
  11. Absolutely not. Besides all the possible delays, cancellations, etc, your body will greatly thank you if you have some time to acclimate to the time change before you get on the ship. We sailed from Civitavecchia back in November. We flew in 2 nights prior to to the cruise (not including the overnight flight). We were zombies on our first day in Rome. Wife was grouchy and we were making every effort possible not to fall asleep too early. Day 2 was MUCH better. We enjoyed breakfast, toured the Vatican, the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum, and had a relaxing dinner near the hotel. By Day 3 we were fully acclimated and ready to go on our cruise! We boarded the ship rested, refreshed, and ready to enjoy our vacation!
  12. Storms are a byproduct of hot and humid weather. Very common in the tropics. As others mentioned, your day may start beautifully with sunny blue skies, clouds may build up throughout the day, you may get some passing showers or thunderstorms in the afternoon, and then it all goes away. I was born and raised in the Caribbean. “A chance of thunderstorms” was an almost daily part of life.
  13. 1150am is fine. We’ve been to FLL so early, that we’ve been able to stand by on flights as early as 845am.
  14. We’ve had that creaking on several ships, including the Liberty when she was brand new. The seas were rough for the first few days and things in the cabin creaked and groaned as if something was about to break. After a few days, we had smooth seas and the creaking stopped completely. On our last Carnival cruise (Fantasy), the crew was friendly and helpful, but I also had the feeling that they were exhausted and spread too thin. They all had that look on their faces. About crowded pools, and long lines and less than stellar buffet experience, some of it may have had to do with the freshness and quality of the food (which is why we try to avoid the buffet as much as possible, not only on carnival but on all cruise lines), but a contributor may have been the time of year (spring break, with all berths filled and the ship at max capacity). You may just need a change. As someone mentioned above, there are other cruise lines out there, and it’s always nice to try something new. From personal experience, when a product stops loosing its appeal, we tend to see it worse than it actually is, and things that may have not bothered us, or weren’t even noticeable before, all of a sudden become more apparent. If that’s the case for you, then that should be your queue to see what else is out there.
  15. Bahamas in December can be iffy. We did Castaway Cay (not too far from Coco Cay) in November, and while the air temperature was wonderful, the water was COLD. We went in, but it wasn’t comfortable. Another time, we took a cruise in early December and a cold front had swept through. The air temperature was in the mid 50’s to low 60’s. The locals were wearing winter coats 😂. I was in Nassau on Friday for work, and it was windy, overcast, with the temperature in the low 70’s. People on the beach were using beach towels as blankets.
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