“EVERY CLOUD HAS A SILVER LINING” – a luxury cruise with a lot of “BUTs…”

A review of a 2 week cruise on MSC Preziosa

MSC was never on my wish list as a frequent cruiser. Don’t ask me why…maybe because of the assumption that being Italian Company will be more or less like Costa Cruises…So it was a big NO! Doing some research regarding exclusive products on board of different cruise liners I start watching promotional videos of the MSC Yacht Club product. And I started to be tempted to have a go. Later, on another cruise, two travel companions with a previous MSC YC experience spoke very highly about their cruise on Yacht Club.

And I made the mistake to say YES. We booked a back to back 2 weeks cruise on MSC Preziosa at the end of January and we experience a 14 days of “BUTs”, apologise, excuses, promises and 24h Daily Program of contradictions and frustrations

The first contact with MSC as a company was a big disaster. We needed 5 days to book something using their website. www.msccruises.co.uk. The site looks very attractive and user friendly and initially I was thinking that the booking will take couple of minutes.

BUT… the website was crushing all the time and always block the reservation and the cabin we wanted. When I contacted the call centre I have an impressive collection of unhelpful, ignorant, rude agents shouting at me. Finally after couple of message on Twitter and Facebook (Thank God for Social media) the booking was made. But as a suggestion maybe somebody from HQ can look in to the level on Customer Servic at MSC UK branch. Or maybe use http://www.vivavoyage.co.uk , far much easier and for sure more professional!

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We got the Royal Suite on deck 16 – 16008 with a departure from Genoa on 31st of January.

The flight with British Airways out of Gatwick was fine, if I ignore a broken suitcase on arrival. We took the MSC transfer to the port which was a little bit hectic due to some guests but efficient as a bottom line.

The arrival and the embarkation had indeed a WOW factor. When the transfer bus stopped a butler was waiting for us already, he took care of our luggage and escort us to the special Yacht Club check-in area. A welcome buffet with some nibbles and Prosecco was waiting for us, the check-in formalities were quick and after that another butler escorted us straight to the ship passing all the lines and queues. We spend around 10 minutes in the Concierge area to have our credit card registered and we were escorted to the room. Our luggage was already there. From our arrival at the airport to entering the room we needed only 1h30minutes. Impressive and well done MSC!

With all this quick and stress-less process we had enough time to explore the ship.

The 2013 debut of MSC Preziosa moved the family-owned Italian company MSC Cruises up another level to become the world’s third-largest cruise company. The 12th ship in the fleet — and the fourth in MSC’s flagship Fantasia Class — Preziosa is making its mark with all facilities and the company’s distinctive Mediterranean atmosphere; which sometimes can be a disadvantage. The decks, named after precious jewels and gemstones, provide a clue about what to expect. Crystal-studded stairs, opulent public rooms decorated with animal prints, and lavish amounts of shimmering glass mosaics, white marble and Murano glass may overwhelm traditional cruisers who prefer classic, understated décor.

She is a beauty in a very Italian, Cinecitta style. If you like glitzy and glam, Preziosa is your perfect match. Of course the ship is new, so everything from the upholstery to the carpets is squeaky clean. Having been on a fair few cruise ships over the past couple of years, we expected garish interiors. But MSC Preziosa’s lounges and bars are different . Sure there is the standard opulent staircase and ornate chandeliers but the lounges and all public areas are decorated tastefully, bedecked with subtle colours and modern furnishings.

MSC Preziosa Public Rooms

What I liked about the public areas is that using an inspired deco and lighting, each space has a completely different personality complimented with the right type of music. I was quite surprised to see that the acts performing in the lounges were better than the ones in the theatre.

Most of the public rooms are on Decks 6 and 7, connected by pillared and invariably ornate walkways dotted with sculptures and works of art. On Deck 6, there’s a shopping plaza that includes a duty-free mini-mall, perfumery, sweet shop, accessories store and an outlet selling upmarket sunglasses. Deck 7 has a jewelry and logowear shop, an art gallery and a photo shop.

There are 20 bars, including the new Diamond Bar that’s one of the quieter venues and two outside pool bars. Others include the Green Sax jazz bar, chic El Dorado piano bar and the large Safari Lounge that hosts smaller shows with a very annoying animation team and has a dance floor. Our favourite place was with no doubts Green Sax with nice deco and good music (especially the mix duo Romanian-Ukrainian); and of course an amazing Romanian bartender, Vlad, who’s cocktails very close to perfection in mixology.

BUT … MSC having a very cosmopolitan crowd on board all the announcements are done in 6 languages…even the safety ones (can you imagine if you speak Japanese you will be the last one to find that the ship is sinking…oops…sounds like Costa Concordia story). The annoying thing is that while you enjoy a lovely cocktail with some good music in the lounge the charm is destroyed by a Chinese man screaming on PA system something that’s sound like a menu in a Chinese Takeaway. Priceless moment(s)!

 

The impressive atrium, with its sweeping, glittering staircases, water feature and glass-sided elevator, is the focal point midship on Deck 5 having most of the time a live musical performance.

BUT … such a pity that the crowd wasn’t there to appreciate this…was more like an waiting room in their eyes.

Entertainment

This is not a ship where the majority of passengers are running to bed before midnight. The main entertainment venue is the 1,600-seat two-story Platinum Theatre on Decks 6 and 7. The emphasis is on visual shows which supposed to appeal to an international audience. The theatre is, once again, like the entire ship impressive and has all the ads on to host amazing shows.

BUT… MSC definitely cut costs in the entertainment department because I never saw such a poor offer in my entire “cruiser career”. The cast, sets and costume are repetitive and the production are just a line-up of well-known songs with no concept or imagination. The dancer were quite good but looking at their performance you can realise the different background and training: ballroom, cabaret, street dance. It was a repetitive performance of how they couldn’t manage to synchronize their movements every night and lift their hands or legs in a random order, for sure not created by the choreographer. As I said the dancing was not so bad. What really made me leave the theatre before the end of the show were the two leading voices…Painful most of the time, far from being a duo when was a need for that, more interested in their stage pose than their vocal performance and managing to kill every song in a very personal and powerful way. Worse than the first pre-pre-pre-pre selection for XFactor in Margate! I wonder if MSC found that Italians invented big lavish TV entertainment on Canale5 or they host every year the high quality Festival San Remo ?

A video of the shows on MSC Preziosa: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJuBvAgashI

Fortunately on board you have other options. There are 20 bars on board with amazing atmosphere created by deco and lights. And the musicians performing there were most of the time above average and sometimes very good. Actually in the second week we decided to avoid the shows and spend most of the evenings in Green Sax or El Dorado listening to some very good performances and sipping fabulous cocktails.

One of the biggest surprise on board was the night club Galaxy. Forget about what you are used with on other cruise ships. No line dancing, no annoying animation team with stupid dance routines…this is a REAL night-club. Fantastic choice of music, great DJ and the lights and deco create a “party all night long” atmosphere.  Maybe s quick suggestion for MSC: what about a curfew in the night club and other lounges for, let’s say under 16’s ? I saw couple of night’s parents with sleeping babies (no older than 8-9 months) in prams, dreaming in smoking areas or 8 years screaming children running at 2AM on the dance floor. Especially that the Children’s Club on board is, as I’ve been told by some parents, amazing and very flexible timewise.

Spa & Fitness

Occupying a prime spot forward on Deck 14 is the Aurea Spa, including a new thermal area with a sauna, steam and frigidarium ice room. The large, adjoining fitness centre, with panoramic views over the bow, has Technogym running machines, cross-trainers and other aerobic equipment, as well as weight resistance equipment, free weights and an area in the main gym for spinning classes on stationary bikes. The high quality of the area made us, big anti-gym fans to go there 12 times in 14 days. Fantastic place, excellent taste in deco and very modern and clean. And to don’t forget the Healthy Bar which has on offer fresh smoothies and juices…a true healthy pleasure!

BUT… will be a good idea that the staff in the Spa to observe and impose some basic rules relating to what to wear and how to behave in such a space. Couple of time I had next to me passengers exercising in jeans, shirts and shoes used in the yesterday excursion or I was in the middle of a loud conversation in Italian between two signore while using the treadmills.

Dining

Preziosa has nine dining venues, including a buffet that’s open nonstop for 20 hours a day from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. The main restaurants are the two-deck Golden Lobster on Decks 5 and 6, with seating for 1,155, and the panoramic 766-seat L’Arabesque, aft on Deck 6. Both operate two dinner seating and offer identical menus. Breakfast and lunch are served in the ship’s main restaurants and self-serve buffet restaurants, the adjoining Inca and Maya on Deck 14, which offer all-day dining and the option of a more casual setting for dinner.

BUT…again cutting the costs showing the results. The dining experience is far from a Mediterranean experience and you wonder where the famous fresh, spontaneous, inspirational Italian cuisine disappeared. While adequate, the food was not particularly fancy in terms of presentation. Courses seemed rushed, and the wine service was rather haphazard, with wait staff acknowledging empty glasses but not returning to replenish for some time, if at all. Similarly, in the buffet restaurant, there was a feeling the team hadn’t really gelled. Some staff couldn’t have been more helpful, while others barely made eye contact, let alone smiled.

The situation is different in the paid restaurants.

The Galaxy restaurant open-kitchen boasts delicious all-day dining and a panoramic disco that keeps the beat ‘til late ensures the fun continues into the evening. Is an interesting concept: half restaurant have night-club. The menu is very cosmopolitan, the food presentation is original and the service reach almost 5 stars. Here you have a choice of 3 set menus: one tester menu, one with 5 courses and the most expensive one (53 Euros) 7 courses with a different type of wine included. A must do culinary experience on board.

Eataly is part of an international concept trying to demonstrate that high-quality Italian food and drink are at hand. Very casual with recycling paper cups and fresh food Eataly on board offer set menus or a la care with fresh pasta and pizzas at reasonable prices.

BUT…even if they claim that one of the greatest sources of joy is what happens around a dinner table, on board you still need to frown once or twice to get a decent service. But when they manage to deliver the standards is a great experience. I remember that first time when we went there having a reservation made by our concierge the Maître D’ raised his hand and shout at us that he is busy without asking anything else. The second time, after we mentioned that to the Concierge, the service was perfect…maybe too perfect!

MSC Voyagers Club

Is the scheme for frequent travellers on board of MSC ships. All cruise lines offer a series of benefits depending the level that you have in the framework. MSC made a step forward, trying to encourage passengers from other lines to try MSC by offering them the equivalent status they have attained in their loyalty club in the MSC Voyagers Club. Genial marketing idea !

BUT…in reality is a little bit different. We are Diamond on Cunard and Platinum on NCL so we got an equivalent Black level on MSC. A statement from the line said: “As with the previous MSC Club, members qualify for a whole range of benefits and extras which increase as they rise up the membership tiers. Gold and Black members will now receive additional tier benefits as standard. The only benefits that you will get is a Welcome back cocktail, Complimentary basket of fresh fruit in cabin, Complimentary MSC Voyagers club photo, Complimentary speciality restaurant dinner (no beverages), MSC Voyagers Club black party, MSC Voyagers Club chocolate ship, Complimentary dancing class sounds more like budget scheme the a loyalty one. And don’t expect to get all of this without asking. In two weeks we manage to get the party invitation, the chocolate ships and the free dinners. Actually, quite sad, the person who supposed to be your Voyagers Club host and the one who can make you to book another cruise with MSC, the Cruise Consultant, was the rudest and unprofessional person on board. When we try to speak with Melanie about another booking she push her hand in our faces and shout at us to wait because she was busy! If she’s working on commission for sure she lost a lot and she needs some training in customer service. And reading the online reviews the changes in their benefits for Voyagers Club members is not very popular.

Yacht Club

The Yacht Club, MSC Preziosa’s “ship within a ship” is targeted to cruisers who prefer an intimate, small ship experience, without having to give up the amenities available on larger vessels. The experience is distinctly different from the rest of the ship: There is more space, privacy, pampering, and personal service, akin to the perks associated with a concierge floor at a five-star luxury hotel. The Yacht Club is located on portions of three decks: Decks 15, 16 and 18, all towards the bow of the ship. (Similar to buildings in the U.S. without a 13th floor, there is no 17th floor because Italians consider the number 17 to be unlucky.) The three-floor enclave with 69 suites in total has its own eye-catching spiral stairway with Swarovski crystal steps, and an exclusive elevator that provides private access to the spa. Club entry is restricted to “members,” accessible only with their keycards.

Indeed an experience to remember a real “exclusive haven”. The reality is not far from the description even if a lots of “BUTs” are spoiling the efforts of MSC to bring the concept “ship within a ship” in line with similar products on the market (Cunard, NCL)

As I mentioned earlier as soon as we stepped out of the bus at the port in Genoa to embark on our Mediterranean cruise, Vishesh, the stately head butler of the Yacht Club greeted us warmly by name. He led us to the check-in desk inside the terminal as our bags were whisked away. At the desk, we were offered a drink, photographed before receiving cruise identification/key cards, and introduced to our cabin butler, Edwin, who took over from there. He led us to the Yacht Club reception desk on Deck 15 of the ship

Edwin, the butler and our cabin steward Audrey were the most professional and consistent staff ever meet at sea. Manners, humour, respect, skills and a constant pro-active guest care attitude made them a pleasure and one of the heights of the entire experience.

Accommodation

We stayed in cabin 16008 – The Royal Suite. An excellent choice, even if the name “royal” will mislead a little bit if you take in the account the size of the cabin. The advantage was that the 2 rooms (living area and bedroom) were completely separated by a dorr which make the cabin a real one bedroom apartment at sea. Our room was attractively furnished with mauves, browns, and dark woods. It included a sleeping area, sitting area with a desk, a coffee table, a sofa and two arm chairs, walk-in closet with drawer space, and sliding glass doors leading to a balcony with two chairs and two sunbeds. Sounds fantastic doesn’t?

BUT… the balcony was the weirdest design ever. More long than wide had in the middle a handrail which reduce the available space. Actually both sunbeds and chairs can’t be used at the same time. The handrail can be useful if you practice for your classical ballet lesson, but no more than that…

The bathroom had a single marble topped sink, attractive hardware, sufficient shelf and cabinet space, and a combined shower/bath with a half-glass panel that kept water in and allowed light inside. Again a good idea…

BUT… for a “Royal Suite” it was the smallest bathroom I ever seen and later I realised that is not difference between its size and other cabins in Yacht Club. While other cruise liners compete on the market with famous brands as amenities, toiletries this times were MSC-branded rather than luxury brands. And to be honest reminds me of Travelodge or Novotel.

But we loved our cabin and with the precious help of Edwin and Audrey we felt like royals for 14 days!

Video of Royal Suite 16008 on MSC Preziosa at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CVEFLMQSc8&feature=youtu.be

Public spaces

The club’s virtual living room is the spacious Top Sail Lounge and Bar on Deck 15. Furnished with curved brown banquettes and loveseats, it has a serene ambiance, which is never crowded and has unobstructed, 180-degree views of the sea. Waiters circulate offering guests hot or cold drinks or snacks. A little bar is always full with funny but delicious snacks and the bar list (all included) is quite generous. Again a nice place to spend SOME time during your cruise.

BUT…the YC is like a Golden Cage. Once you left the restricted area the level of service and the benefits that you paid for melt down quite dramatically. No consistency or standards in service outside YC and no free drinks. You will say that the solution is to stay there without leaving YC. Believe me after 3-4 days the food is getting repetitive and the music (despite the talented Irina playing the piano every night) made you jump overboard like Kate Winslet in Titanic. No surprise that the Top Sail Lounge, even if elegant, full of piano music and assorted with every day the same filled croissants, was most of the time empty. Why MSC doesn’t think to transform Top Sail Lounge in an attractive meeting space, with more food as an alternative to the restaurant, with different types of music every night to be in line with the deco and excellent service of the staff( thank you Putu and Bogdan) working here ?

Dining Options

Guests in the Yacht Club can eat all their meals within the club, totally bypassing the traditional buffet lines and main dining rooms. The Top Sail Lounge serves buffet breakfasts and lunches, traditional high tea service, and small plates accompanied by soft drinks, bottled water, wines, beers, cocktails, snacks, and excellent specialty coffees throughout the day. (At no additional charge, except for premium wines and liquors). The lounge is conveniently located only steps away from the cabins, so it is an inviting place to sit, chat, read, or listen to soft, live piano music. Again the excellent service manage most of the time to balance the repetitive menu.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served at La Palmerie, the formal restaurant dedicated to Yacht guests with free seating. Some reviews speak hard about “logistical drawback” created by the fact that La Palmerie is located at the opposite end of the ship from the Yacht Club. I did enjoy to trek through busy bars, lounges, and shops on Deck 7, or follow the narrow labyrinth of cabin-lined hallways on Deck 13 to get there.

BUT …I think La Palmerie has two main problems which need to be addressed as quickly as possible if MSC wants indeed top compete on “ship within a ship” market. One is the quality and presentation of the food. A luxury option for cruiser must be a little bit more elaborate with a higher attention to details. Traditional southern Italian dishes, including fresh pastas, were the most appealing and tasty choices; continental dishes were often disappointing (either overcooked or of poor quality) and not up to par with luxury cruise dining. The second problem was the service; MSC needs to pay attention to standards and consistency. One night our wine glasses were filled up with a completely different wine from some leftovers from another table, the service flow was never the same and we always wonder if we will get butter fist and bred 20 minutes later or vice versa. Is weird how the local staff are quite rude and not at all attentive to international guests but pay a great attention to Italian passengers. After 5 days and some conversation with Maître D we manage to secure to our table two excellent waiter who manage to deliver an acceptable service (thank you Flavio and . One of the house rule ask to announce the restaurant the time for dining, even is a free seating, to avoid waiting in line. The Maître D in theory will wait for you at the entrance and escort you to your table. Happens only 2 or 3 times. Most of the time we were waiting 10-15 minutes watching waiters passing by and ignoring the little line formed outside the restaurant

Weather permitting, a  hot and cold  breakfast and lunch buffet with waiter service is set up daily on the Deck 18 sundeck, just steps from the pool. Drinks are also available throughout the day at the pool bar. Excellent idea …

BUT… the quality of the food is far from luxury cruising and closer to a budget buffet. Non existing presentation and cold food make this buffet to look like a leftover collection from the previous night. Do you remember how quick the eggs change their colour when you are having breakfast in the plane? That’s the image of the buffet on deck 18. Fortunately the service and attentive waiters make this place perfect for a drink in the afternoon or late mornings.

The minibar in each cabin is generously stocked with complimentary juices, spirits, soda, bottled water, and nuts—and a fresh fruit bowl is replenished daily. Another minor disappointment: 24-hour room service is also limited in terms menu choices and doesn’t offer course-by-course delivery. But the pizza delivered in the room (on certain times, of course) is divine!

But what makes the experience of Yacht Club on MSC Preziosa unbeatable is the service! Wherever you turn, Yacht Club crew is there to greet you or extend help. The butler assigned to each stateroom makes sure the guest experience is seamless. Instead of having to call an anonymous reception desk for problems or requests, the butler is unobtrusive but always available. He can help guests unpack, connect to the Internet (which, incidentally, was the best Wi-Fi connection we’ve ever experienced on any ship), or make reservations for activities on the boat, or for excursions or transportation on shore. And for sure that is what make us to think to return to MSC !

Would I go back to MSC Yacht Club?

YES and NO at the same time!

With a predominance of International passengers on board the cosmopolitan experience is a must if you can ignore the frequent announcements in 5 languages

Preziosa is staffed by a multilingual, international crew but sometimes if you don’t speak Italian or French you are a little bit lost in translation.

The ship’s service, style, and décor are decidedly Italian and stylish. Most of the food is provisioned in Genoa; the pastas, espresso and cappuccino are heavenly but you need more than that to think about MSC YC as a luxury dining option. Indeed it’s hard to resist the piece of Venchi chocolate left on your pillow each night.

In terms of age, MSC cruise passengers skew about a decade younger than many other lines. Children, ages 11 and under, cruise free and children under the age of 17 sail at a reduced rate. That can be a problem as leaving your children in a kids club (and MSC excel in the offers for different ages) is not a cultural thinks. I saw couples in the Club and lounges with 4 months old toddlers and children running around the ship at 2.00AM. But again is a cultural thing…”La Dolce Vita”!

One of my biggest sock on board MSC Preziosa was the smoking policy. On MSC you can smoke indoor (and as a heavy smoker that keep me happy). Quite annoying if you don’t smoke and Safari Lounge or Top Sail Lounge remind me of a flight when smoking was permitted on board – if you are on the last row in the non-smoking section you will “enjoy” the unlimited cigarettes of the smoking section.

The biggest surprise during this cruise was the conversation I had with the Captain and the Hotel Manager. They found time to discuss, in a private meeting, for about 45 minutes about our experience and take seriously all the feedback, both positive and constructive. But not only that! The next day some changes started to be visible. That shows, with no doubts, that the team on board really care and are passionate about the quality of the YC product and the way how it is delivered.

Would I go back to MSC Yacht Club?

YES ! As a test, to see if all those BUTs were just a one-off glitch in an amazing product. At the end of the day, for today’s value-conscious traveller, the Yacht Club offers the feeling of a luxury small ship with all the advantages of large vessel cruising at a very decent and reasonable price. And each time you use your key card to enter, you’re reminded that you’ve found a yacht-like sanctuary away from the density and anonymity of a large ship

Thank you MSC Preziosa for an interesting experience and see you soon !

~ by leonard69 on February 21, 2016.

One Response to ““EVERY CLOUD HAS A SILVER LINING” – a luxury cruise with a lot of “BUTs…””

  1. I had the most amazing week with my daughter,son in law and grandchildren,Preziosa is wonderful and i can’t wait to return. I have to say Antonionio?? waiter in the Golden Lobster was wonderful and was a pleasure to spend our evenings with. Many thanks. Marilyn

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