This post is not a review per-se. It is simply our observations and experiences on a recent cruise aboard the MSC Seaside. We’re a fairly well traveled middle aged couple and we have a fair amount of cruises under our belt, across many different lines. We’re not demanding, we’re open-minded and pretty much go with the flow. We’ve only cruised on MSC once before. That was on the maiden voyage of the Divina in 2013. Draw your own conclusions, but it took six years for the memories to fade before we decided to give MSC another try. FYI: both cruises were the Bella experience and those six years made a difference. MSC has come a long way in six years with regard to the guest’s experience, but they still have a ways to go, especially in the Customer Service department. On this singular cruise, I visited the front desk more times than all of our other cruises combined. However, our interactions with the rest of the crew and staff were delightful.
While the cruise was mostly enjoyable, there were some striking differences from the contemporary cruise lines that cater to mostly North Americans. We enjoyed meeting people from other cultures and having announcements in several languages was no big deal. Actually, nothing, in and of itself, was a big deal, but added together, they diminished our overall experience.
The cruise didn’t start off under ideal conditions. We were assigned a stateroom that had a horrendous creaking noise in the ceiling. Every time the ship moved, the ceiling sounded like a bowl of Rice Krispies on steroids; Snap, Crackle and Pop. I tried calling the front desk, but some reason, no one answered our call. So, I went to down to Guest Services at 3:30AM to voice my concerns. The gentleman at the desk assured me that the sounds were “normal” because of the ships movement. I emphatically begged to differ. After a protracted back and forth session, he eventually said someone would come up to investigate. So, back to the room I go. After about 30 minutes, a more sympathetic gentleman entered our room to observe the commotion. He called the front desk and told them it was very loud and it would be difficult to sleep. He told me he would check out some other cabins to find a more suitable environment. After about another 30 minutes, he returned and took me to another cabin for approval. I happily accepted, as it was now 4:30AM. I was relieved and appreciative, until I was told we could “sleep” there for the remainder of the night. We were then told there were no assurances that this would be the stateroom we would be moved to. That decision was to be made by a Supervisor at 9:00AM. Trips to Guest Services would become a recurring theme. At least we finally got some sleep.
Fast forward to 9:00AM. I once again tried calling the front desk, again to no avail. So, yet again, I go down to Guest Services to wait in a very long line to find out our fate. FYI, the line is much shorter at 3:30AM than at 9:00AM. OK, so we’re getting somewhere. I speak with a “representative” of the Supervisor who informs us we can indeed move into the new “quiet” room. All we have to do is pack our own bags and move our own stuff by ourselves, AND return the card keys in person. Oh Boy! Another trip to the front desk after we move our own belongings to another cabin at the opposite end of the ship! With that episode behind us, at least we have the remainder of the cruise to look forward to. Sort of.
Unlike the other cruise lines we been on, it was clear from this episode, and a couple of other incidents that the personnel at the front desk can’t resolve any issues, until it’s approved by a supervisor. Unfortunately, this resulted in repetitive and redundant interactions with Guest Services to resolve even the simplest of issues.
On to the next observation. As I stated above, we had the Bella Experience, so I can’t unequivocally address whether or not this relates to the other experiences that MSC offers. So, back to the cabin we go. In no particular order here are three conspicuous things that are different on MSC. First: I always thought that “short sheeting” was just a prank. On MSC it seems to be standard operating procedure. There was no top sheet on our bed. The bed was topped with only a comforter. I don’t know if they are replaced after each guest vacates the cabin, but, by all appearances, it looked like it has been in direct contact with a plethora of other people’s skin. To put it bluntly, it was gross. This was not an isolated incident either. We traveled with two other couples and they reported the same thing. What’s up with that? Second: They do not automatically provide wash cloths. Third: They also do not provide facial tissues. We asked our cabin steward to put a top sheet on the bed and to provide some tissues and washcloths. Unlike Guest Services, our request was handled immediately and in a friendly and professional manner. Thank you Antonio!
This observation concerns “something got lost in the translation”, or, a distinctly different way of thinking. Once again and at the expense of being repetitive, these aren’t gripes, but our reflections of the way MSC does, or does not do things. Frank Sinatra and MSC have something in common; they both do things their way. Here’s a case in point. As on other cruise lines, MSC offers a Continental Breakfast for no charge. Sort of. They have the typical door hangar card with selections for complimentary breakfast items on one side of the card. On the other side of the card, they also offer hot breakfast items for a $7.95 fee. So, the first morning of the cruise we ordered a continental breakfast. It was delivered right on time and the order was correct. So far, so good. But, when we reviewed our on board charges there was a $4.05 fee for the continental breakfast. Well, since I’m now on an almost first name basis with the front desk, (still no answer on the phone) I went to inquire about the charge. I was informed that the charge is listed in the “full” room service menu. Well, they got me on that one. I was told it was my fault for not reading the full room service menu. Because, you know, it’s in there! OK, now I get it. It’s caveat emptor for breakfast. From now on I’ll be sure to read the fine print in the full room service menu buried behind a stack of sales brochures, instead of the prominently displayed door hanger menu. In their defense, they said the charge could possibly be removed, if I came back and spoke to a supervisor. Now I’m in a quandary. Do I wait in line AGAIN to resolve a dispute over $4.05? Nope, I instead went to the commissary and bought antacid tablets to soothe the case of heartburn that suddenly came on.
Okay, so let’s move on to the Photo Desk. We were assigned Gold Level on the MSC status match. Along with other benefits, there is a 20% discount on individual pictures. Sort of. We inquired at the Photo Desk and they confirmed that “Yes” we get the discount. So, we go over to the kiosk and select a picture, complete the transaction and return to the desk to request the discount. The person then proceeded to tell us that if we order from the kiosk we don’t get any discount. I thought he was kidding, because this all transpired in fewer than 5 minutes. Nope! He told us there was nothing he could do, because we had to order the picture directly from him, although he didn’t mention that pesky little detail until after the fact. So, yep, you guessed it; I could go to the Customer Service desk and try to get it rectified. This, my friends, is customer service by attrition. Now, where did I put those antacid tablets?
Here’s the last observation and some unsolicited advice. DO NOT use a Debit card to secure your onboard account. In case you missed the last sentence, DO NOT use a debit card to secure your onboard account.
MSC does make it easy for a customer to use a debit card and select a debit amount of their choosing in increments of $100. However, if you have any funds remaining on your account after it’s been settled, you have to go to the Customer Service desk to have the funds returned to you in cash. They will not credit your account. They also will not return the funds on the spot. We found this out the hard way. You will have to wait until after 6:00pm to complete the transaction, along with 200-300 other people waiting in line. They actually distribute boxes of currency to the customer service reps to process refunds. Not exactly the epitome of efficiency nor very customer-centric. But, while you’re waiting in a line that snakes all the way back into the elevator vestibule, you’re being entertained by people gleefully singing karaoke with the PA at full volume in the adjacent atrium. Some of the singers were okay, but I didn’t particularly like the woman that sounded like a cat was being scalded in boiling water.
In closing, we made the best of our cruise experience. The ship was flashy, shiny and new. We always enjoy engaging with the crew and staff, and almost all of them were friendly, warm and approachable. The food was decent. The bar and restaurant service was good. Aside from the repetitive Customer Service SNAFU's, it wasn’t much different than the other contemporary cruise lines we’ve been on. Will we go on another MSC cruise? Ask us in six years.