We finally arrived home and I wanted to capture my thoughts before time and distance cause them to fade too much. For some background, my family has been calling this my "doomed" cruise because originally it was planned as a girl's bday trip with a friend who never had cruised before and she chose this ship for the Cuba stop but she had a car accident resulting in a crushed ankle and could not go. So we changed my husband into her place. Then our flight times got changed. Then Cuba was no longer on the table and it was too late to change all the other plans. Couple that with lots of negative reviews and things were not looking well. And, as a disclaimer, our other two cruises on MSC have been Yacht Club. For this cruise we were booked in an Aurea Suite 1217.
Monday - Embarkation - Rainy and steamy day in Miami. Our embarkation papers indicated a 4:15pm boarding time but since we had to check out of the hotel at 11:30am, we headed to the port and checked in @12:30pm. We walked right through security and were onboard within 20 minutes (if that). We snuck to our room and met our cabin steward, Emmanuel, who said our room was not ready but we asked if we could just stow our carryon in the closet and he let us. We ate at the buffet (not crowded) and explored the ship until we could get into the rooms @1:45pm. Our luggage arrived not too terribly long after and I unpacked everything. (Am I the only one who does this?). We had to take our life jackets to the muster drill which was not something we had to do on the other MSC ships. We added our credit card to the kiosk and only had to wait for one person prior. Dinner and then off to the first night's show which was a Grease show. Cute but not WOW! Seas were rocky and I felt really ill which is unusual. I think I really felt that it was a small ship.
Tuesday - At Sea day- Weather cleared up for the day and outdoor sun was the name of the game! The Cruise Critic Meet and Mingle broke my heart. MSC does such an amazing job with this (cake, champagne, hors d'orves, senior staff, photographers). Unfortunately, my husband and I were the only 2 that showed up. AWKWARD! The captain was not present but the other staff were lovely. SIDE NOTE: If you sign up, please go. They are generally interested in what we have to say and they want to please. They also will make you feel super special as they make it a point to say hello and chat whenever they see you. Rough seas again tonight so I had to leave dinner early and went to bed and slept it off. I have never had this issue. I was walking like a drunk woman and I don't drink. I did not attend tonight's show.
Wednesday - Roatan - Eh It was okay. We did the 3 hr island tour with an amazing guide named RJ or Burt or pretty much whatever you wanted to call him. Very charismatic. If I were MSC, I would make the Buccaneer an excursion. Gorgeous water with hammocks strewn over it and spectacular views. I could have spent the entire day there. Stunning. The beach we ended up at Las Palmas was disappointing for swimming but had amazing nachos. Tonight's show was ?? It was alot of classic songs. Nicely done.
Thursday - Costa Maya - We have been here before so we just shopped and then had the pool to ourselves for quite some time.
I think tonight's show was Adams Family. It was okay.
Friday - Cozumel - See Costa Maya above :-) Tonight's show was opera (I think)
Saturday - Sea day - My husband did the Behind the Scenes tour and really enjoyed it. This was the Captain's Cocktail reception for Voyagers Club members. There were about 25 families there. The captain spoke briefly. Tonight's show was The Beatles. What a great show! (If you were at the second show, I was the one celebrating the milestone birthday!)
Sunday - Key West -We had to be up and ready at 7am to meet with US Customs. Every person had to attend during their assigned group and present photo ID. (No declaration forms were needed for US Citizens) After your passport was checked (a visual match to your face), your key card was punched by a crew member. So for those of us without excursions, this was a downer to plans to sleep in. Boy was it HOT! Tonight's show was The Abyss. I got it and I didn't get it. But the costumes and black light were mesmerizing.
Monday - We were early disembarkers (Group A) and off the ship by 7:30ish. You walk right off with no customs check because they did it in Key West.
Overall thoughts on personnel: Everyone we encountered displayed the same professionalism, enthusiasm and pride in their work as we have experienced on all other MSC ships. On the first day, we told Emmanuel that all we wanted was ice in the ice bucket all day. He delivered. He was just like the YC butler ninjas who go in and out of your room and make it tidy and fill the ice bucket and you never know they were there. Miguel, the cruise director, is just a lovely and genuine man. The Captain was not as visible or personable as Captain Marco and Captain Scala were. That being said, my husband did say he saw him walking the ship in early morning hours.
Overall ship thoughts: It is an older smaller ship. Nothing has that "new car feel" but any issues were addressed quickly. The movement of the ocean is more pronounced. The MSC shop carries items from other ships but not anything specifically Armonia. The only fine jewelry shop is EFFY.
Overall food thoughts: There are only 3 gelatto flavors on any give day and vanilla, raspberry and pistachio seem to dominate. We ate the buffet for breakfast and lunch. The most frustrating part was that plates and cutlery were at both ends of the buffet which created some log jams as folks were going in opposite directions and meeting in the middle. Food was ok. Not spectacular but people were not wasting away. Our dining was in La Pergola dining room. Our waiters were David and Tartuan and they were great. My advice - don't order and cooked fish dish. By the time it arrives from the kitchen it is dry and overcooked. It happened everytime we ordered the fish. Your experience may be different. The menu was still cuban heavy during the night we would have been in Cuba. The main dining room is odd in that you have to walk through it to get from one end of the ship to the other (either deck 5 or 6 - I can't remember which one) Overall food was a solid B- some great some not so great.
Voyagers and Aurea Experience - We had a welcome fruit bowl with a plum, kiwi, pear and several apples. We also received 2 complementary drinks at the Vitamin Bar. Our gold Voyagers gift was pens with cruise ships that move as you tilt them. My husband had the Bali massage and said it was well done. I had the hot stone massage. It was different than others I have had - not better or worse just different. This was more like a Balinese massage and then after the body part was done, the heated stones were used for a minute and then placed on the various body parts. We also received a MedSpa diffuser. The spa is small. Some heated loungers and sauna room. Don't go planning on using it as a destination within the ship (like on Seaside). I almost think that unless the cost were not terribly different, I would pass on the Aurea balcony and go with the Fantastico (Is that the right term?)
Final thoughts: I was pleasantly surprised. We used this as a "relaxation vacation" and entered with the mindset that we are on vacation so how bad could it be. I was happy to see that the issues that some others have shared were not experienced. We definitely picked the ship for the itinerary. I don't think I would book it again unless it was definitely going to Cuba. The kids on board seemed happy. Most of the guests looked happy.
I did not take photos of planners or menus as there are plenty floating around out there and, honestly, I was lazy and on vacation.