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vince5251

MSC - Comparison to other lines?

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I am intrigued by a summer itinerary offered on the MSC Armonia  that includes a couple of days to Havana, Cuba.  My DW and I have been on approx. 11 cruises between RC and Carnival.  We have always had an easy time in gathering information on the ship, activities, reviews, COMPARISON SHOPPING (between rooms, categories, ships, lines, etc.), but attempting to do such with MSC is very frustrating.  Even speaking with the TA (not associated with MSC) is of no use, because she states that they face the same roadblocks without any personal information to go from.

 

Can someone please tell me how:

 

- they best gathered SUFFICIENT information on the line/ship to make a decision?  I am going through past comments, but not getting the best feeling for the line at this time.

 

- the categories/levels work?  We are not accustomed to such a system having only traveled RC and Carnival and this just seems to be bothersome at best.  Recommendations on best level/category?  I'm not looking for the "cream-of-the-crop", just wanting to be able to cruise comfortably, have what we like, and not feel like we are third-class passengers in the process.

 

-  how the ship, amenities, entertainment, offerings compare to the BIG THREE? 

 

- they felt overall after having sailed on the Armonia ( or / MSC ) in general?  Likes, dislikes, overall impression, recommendations on booking categories, etc?

 

I really do appreciate any and all input.  I am hoping to book something sooner-rather-than-later, but feel that I might end up going back to the tried-and-true of RC or Carnival because MSC makes  procedures more difficult than necessary.

 

Thanks in Advance - Vince 5251

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I've read so many conflicting MSC reviews and comparisons.  People love it - people hate it.  Americans seem to react to it differently than Europeans.  I figure the only way to find out is to try it for myself - so that's what I'm planning to do.  I'll wager that you'll never really know either unless you give it a try.  Reading CC left me with more questions than answers.

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We have cruised several lines but until most recently Carnival (we are platinum) and now have gone between MSC and Carnival.  The experiences are different but both great and hard to compare in print.  We have been on the Divina two times (and going again in January) and on the Seaside two times.  We always enjoy cruising and do not feel we are hard to please and if something bothersome comes up we deal with it and go on, not allowing it to ruin an entire cruise experience.  We have never had any problems with the Cabin Service on MSC or the Dining Experiences and the Entertainment is superb.  I always search the Deck Plans (of any ship we go on) and have my choices made prior to either calling MSC or booking on-line, I have booked  both ways and never had any problems with either.  MSC makes the Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle an event not to miss so make certain you sign up for it  The Captain and other Officers are always very visible on the Divina and the Seaside.  True we have never cruised on the Armonia so I cannot tell you about that ship in particular.  Only our overall experiences on MSC and the fact that we would not hesitate cruising MSC again.  (One note about I suspect any Cuba sailings on any cruise line - from what I have heard and what I have read people either 'could do without the experience' or 'love' the experience - so again that depends on the individual and what they expect to get out of it.)  MSC offers great prices and I do not feel that in any way affects the experiences we have had so far.  We have always booked Fantastica Experience as we like to choose an upper deck cabin (inside) but in January we chose Bella Guaranteed Cabin as it was the "drinks on us" experience so felt the $100 difference in price at time of booking was not worth it and we ended up with a Cabin on Deck 12 so pleased with that.  As I said this is a real general response but if you have any specific questions perhaps I can answer.

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We have three cruises in with MSC and a fourth booked. I am a former ship crew member myself, having worked on ships in the 90s. And, we love MSC!

 

The experiences: Bella is your basic experience...all the regular things are included - food, entertainment, etc. - but, all else is ala carte. Fantastica offers better cabin locations - free breakfast and room service and some "free" drink coupons. Aurea offers free massages, free thermal spa access, unlimited drinks, priority boarding, more cabin perks, private sun deck with towel service and bars and hot tubs, anytime dining, etc. And, then Yacht Club is the top experience with butler service, ship within a ship, etc. 

 

Our first two cruises, we went Fantastica and loved it! But, found we were adding so many spa package items that, for us, Aurea, clearly became the perfect fit. That is what we have booked again for the fourth cruise. 

 

I sum the MSC cruise experience up in this way. Tourist vs. Traveler. If someone is a tourist...they like to go to different places, but they still want the same experience from back home...ie: Starbucks, Johnny Rockets, go karts, etc. then maybe MSC is not for them? Maybe...

 

But, if someone is a traveler and they like to go different places and are seeking new and different experiences, then that person will LOVE MSC! 

 

 

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I'm booked on the Armonia to Cuba for April sailing. I've been on 20 previous cruises with all the major lines. This will be my first time on MSC. This is the first time ever I'm wondering if I made a poor decision to book this cruise/line. 

 

When I booked, I had the fantastica package that was to include 14 drink coupons per person. I read on CC they were discontinuing this soon. Yesterday I noticed that they just released the drinks on us promo for my sailing. I called today, and customer service rep confirmed that we would NOT be receiving the drink coupons since our sailing is after March. I'm not sure how this is ok since that's what was promised when I booked the room and that rate. Also zero notification from MSC of the change. Had I not ready this on the message boards in advance I would have been even more disappointed than I already am. They told me that perk is being replaced with "in room breakfast" which I'm not even sure exactly what that is since no information is available online. 

 

I also asked if it was possible to get the new drinks on us promotion for our sailing (now that we don't get the drink coupons) and if so how much it would cost. The price increase was over $400. So basically only a few dollars less than if you were to book the easy drink package yourself? How's that a promotion if you're just increasing the cost of the promotion? 

 

Another disappointment - they automatically put myself and DH in the first seating for dinner. My dad and stepmom are both booked with the same fantastica package and we're given my choice. I called to ask if we could have my choice so we could dine with them. I was told no because my package didn't include that. I told them we both booked the same fantastica package so how was theirs any different? So basically under no circumstance would they changed my seating to my choice. 

 

Not to mention the countless issues with the website that never recognizes your logon or booking and will not connect the two. 

 

Cuba excursion options are extremely limited through the ship (the whole reason we booked the cruise). There are currently only two tours available on the second day!

 

So far it's been one issue after the next. My biggest concern isn't for myself, but for my dad (this will be his first cruise for his 60th birthday, that I'm treating him to). I just hope it's better once on board and we don't have any issues (because pre-cruise it's been nothing but). 

 

I'd recommend doing more research prior to booking. In hindsight I would have! Hopefully my concerns are unwarranted, but we shall see once on board! 

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I'm on the Armonia in February going to Cuba from Miami and will let you know if the negative reviews are true. Based on the reviews (on here), the ship is very old, so I'm keeping my expectation low. However, all the cruise lines are using small and old ships to get to Cuba, so it's not a surprise to me.

 

I've been on the MSC Seaside and don't expect the Armonia to be ANYTHING like the Seaside.

 

The only reason I booked this cruise is they offered the cheapest rate for inside and oceanview staterooms. The the 12 vouchers for Fantastica rooms are not bad.

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On 12/2/2018 at 1:20 PM, vince5251 said:

Can someone please tell me how:

 

- the categories/levels work?  We are not accustomed to such a system having only traveled RC and Carnival and this just seems to be bothersome at best.  Recommendations on best level/category?  I'm not looking for the "cream-of-the-crop", just wanting to be able to cruise comfortably, have what we like, and not feel like we are third-class passengers in the process.

 

The Experiences - I can't comment on Bella or Fantastica since I don't have first- or even second-hand information.  A friend of mine was in Aurea on the Seaside in October and loved the dedicated spaces for Aurea passengers.  We were in Yacht Club on the Seaside a few weeks ago and loved the experience.  If you read the MSC reviews, the higher (and more expensive) experience levels tend to have better reviews.

 

If you budget allows it, go for Aurea or YC.  You won't regret it.

 

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Am on the Divina now and would equate all the experiences, except the Yacht Club, with lines like Carnival.  But you can expect a majority of Europeans on this line.  As to the Yacht Club, it is many steps above and I will try to write a lengthy review and comparison when we return home.

 

Hank

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We were on the Divina this past Jan and will be on it again this coming Jan.  Yes, there were Europeans aboard, (so????)  but the majority of pax were from the US and Canada. I really didn't think it was that much different than any other cruise line. We were not and aren't going to be YC.  Food was fine, service was fine, ship is beautiful and some things I liked more so than other ships/lines we've sailed.  I liked the pool areas more than on  some other ships we've been on, they have the best pizza at the buffet, ,  if  you are "black" which is their highest repeater/loyalty status some of the perks are nicer (I think) than on some other lines.  The only thing I found odd and different for other lines, is that you had to be a certain class of booking in order to choose "anytime"  dining.

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We are Platinum cruisers on Carnival and Platinum (one cruise away from Emerald) on Royal Caribbean. We just returned from our second MSC cruise and we absolutely loved it. They have now become one of my favorite cruise lines. You need to sail on MSC NOT expecting Carnival or Royal, but expecting MSC. Yes, they do things differently than the American cruise lines, and it does take some learning and getting used to, but that’s part of the reason why I enjoy sailing on them. 

 

With that said, not all MSC ships are created equal just like not all Carnival and Royal ships are created equal. We just sailed on MSC Meraviglia and that compares to Harmony of the Seas. MSC Armonia is going to be more like sailing on Empress or Majesty of the Seas. Same cruise line but completely different experiences. Understand that, on Armonia. your main focus will be the destinations. She’s older, smaller and lacks the newest bells and whistles. She’s  gone through a recent refurbishment so she’s been updated. But sailing on an older and smaller ship is the current price to pay (no matter what cruise line) if you wish to sail to Cuba. 

 

About Cuba, we sailed there on Empress of the Seas during the summer. It was an absolutely fascinating cruise. Havana is a wonderful destination. We did quite some research before that cruise, so we were able to steer clear of the ship excursions and create our own itinerary for the 2 days we were docked there. Very few destinations have impacted me the way that Havana did. It’s mind boggling. But Havana (or Cuba in general) is not for all cruisers, definitely not for those who would feel uncomfortable stepping outside of their comfort zone and into unfamiliar surroundings. Cuba is only 90 miles from the United States but it’s a world away. You need to be open minded and willing to embrace all its indiosincracies. That will be key if you want to enjoy it. 

 

To summarize, my recommendation is that, if you choose to sail on the MSC Armonia to Cuba, please understand that it will be a unique experience, and it WON’T be representative of what the normal MSC experience is like.

 

Just like a cruise to Cuba on the Empress of the Seas will be very different than other Royal Caribbean cruises, a cruise to Cuba on MSC Armonia will be very different than other MSC cruises.  But all can be wonderful in their own way. 

 

The cruise line will be different, the ship will be different, and the destination will be different. Go with an open mind, avoid comparisons, and embrace all the differences. Your ability to do so will determine if this cruise is truly for you. As someone mentioned above, this cruise will be for travelers, not for tourists. 

Edited by Tapi

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2 hours ago, HeatherC430 said:

I'm booked on the Armonia to Cuba for April sailing....

See the excellent comparison by Tapi above.  MSC has had the after March 25, 2019 Fantastica voucher exclusion, granted it's in the fine print, for a while now.  It's sad to hear they are talking about offering hot breakfast in the cabin as a replacement, at least for me that's not very useful.  Perhaps on a more port intensive cruise it is better.  Regarding the new "All In" promotion, I think everyone here realizes these promos are not totally free, you can even often see it easily when you flip between promo rates while looking at the comparison details for a particular sailing.  It sounds like you are still before final payment, so cancel & re-book if it is worthwhile, otherwise stick to the first deal if you are still happy enough with it.  The only way your dad has "My choice" dining and you not is if he's in a balcony and you are not.  On the second page of the online web check-in there is a place for you to enter each others cabin numbers for combined seating.  You can still do this even if you are not both balconies, it might pull one out of My Choice or maybe it might move the other up, I don't know.  But if you are traveling together they will figure out a way for you to dine together.

 

MSC has created a very informative Cuba section to their website.  If you are not familiar with the oddities of a Cuba sailing from the US I recommend that you do a lot of research about it.

 

https://www.msccruisesusa.com/en-us/Discover-MSC/MSC-Cruises-Cuba-Program.aspx

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TAPi, your text is right on.

 

We have been to Cuba a few times, but not on cruises.  Your appreciation of MSC Armonia would go, in my opinion, to the 4 Mistral class ships that MSC operates, including MSC Sinfonia.  We simply loved that ship, cruising and MSC only lately, and have enjoyed (only) cruising since. 

 

OP As for packages, this is really personal. Our first cruise was on Sinfonia, with Fantastica experience.  Sea view.  All was nice.  I added a drink package that was known as Allegrissimo; somewhat like deluxe today.  It was a wise decision.  Cost was 1, consumption was 1,5.

 

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