A SPLENDID ESCAPE ON SPLENDIDA
After 3 memorable experiences on MSC’s ships was not at all a surprise that I decided to comeback. This time I was cheating on my first MSC love “Preziosa” and choose, for a 9 day trip, her sister ship “Splendida”
MSC introduced the luxurious Yacht Club — where passengers have their separate section of the ship, including a lounge, pool and restaurant — on Fantasia, when it debuted in 2008. Since then, the Mediterranean line has added the Yacht Club to all of its new-builds, including Splendida, Divina and Preziosa. Even larger versions of this exclusive-access area will follow on the line’s 2017 vessels, Seaside and Meraviglia. The Yacht Club aims to create “a ship within a ship”, dedicating the prestigious foredecks to guests who sign up for this unashamedly elitist experience. The fortunate few (up to 142 passengers) enjoy benefits including superior cabins, inclusive fares, a butler and concierge, access to exclusive dining and pool facilities and priority check-in and an air of calm – a tall order on a ship with hundreds of children on board.
Since the very first moment on board MSC Splendida I had the “back home” feeling; the ship has the exact layout of the Preziosa with some theme-lines changed slightly, just perfect to give me the comfortable balance between NEW and FAMILIAR.
Splendida is big on bling, with an eye-popping golden Swarovski-crystal-inlaid staircase in the Yacht Club’s double-height foyer which pales into insignificance when compared with its larger sister in the main atrium.
We start our voyage in Lisbon, an ideal embarkation port if you don’t like big airports and long taxi rides to the port. In the Portuguese capital is pointless to book a transfer when the taxi is always waiting for customer and a trip to the port will cost no more than 35 Euros.
Even if was stated on our travel documents that the embarkation will start at 1.00PM, due to our early flight we arrived in port around 10.30AM. We decided to leave the luggage in the terminal and run for a coffee waiting for embarkation procedures to start. The staff in the terminal informed us that they will call the ship to let them know that we arrived already but, to be honest we didn’t expect to board the ship earlier than the official boarding time. Wrong assumption and great proof that MSC Yacht Club service is most of the time above any expectations: in less than 10 minutes the Assistant Head Butler Dani find us in the terminal and in less than another 10 minutes we were in our stateroom – 15016 which was …. READY! I checked my watch and it was 11.15AM…that’s a big WOW!!!
What else can prove that your Yacht Club experience begins at the curb. No lengthy embarkation lines for you. Instead, a butler checks you in and you’re whisked immediately onto the ship. Your bags will also arrive when you do; everyone else must wait a few hours for their luggage. This front-of-the-line service doesn’t stop on day one. Yacht Club members also disembark the ship first for excursions, for tenders and to leave the ship on the final day. If the idea of queues gives you the heebie-jeebies, this alone will make the Yacht Club worth it.
Our cabin, 15016, was a YC1 grade, which doesn’t compete with similar cabins on other cruise liners; is not very generous from the space available point of view. A living area gives the cabin the “luxury air”, the walk-in closet – quite small if you care about your appearance on board – is a big plus taking into account the limited storage space in the room and the balcony is the size of a normal balcony cabin. Maybe the only feature which doesn’t match the “exclusive” marketed image of the Yacht Club is the bathroom: a very small space trying to accommodate a normal size bathtub. A big plus for the decor and colour scheme of the room which creates an elegant, home like feeling.
With no doubts the biggest asset of our journey in Splendida’s Yacht Club was our butler Edwin. This was the third time when we had the privilege to have him on board and I was more than happy and please to see that his standards hadn’t change at all. Originally from Honduras, Edwin has the perfect personality and knowledge for his position, recording with maximum care the likes and dislikes of guests and always add a sort of special touch for any requests that he received. Having Edwin for 9 days created a sense of calm. He quietly and discreetly thought ahead and ensured that every detail that makes the day go smoothly happened with maximum efficiency and minimum fuss. With his assistant butler Oleana, a charming girl from Ukraine, the kept our room in a perfect state, with everything being in the same place, the right one, all the time. Is interesting how during the entire voyage we didn’t need to ask for anything, and both Edwin and Oleana, were one step ahead us anticipating any type of requests, bringing a sense of security in our experience in an unnoticeable way.
The Yacht Club offers to the guests the “Top Sail Lounge” a perfect multifunctional laid space for any moments of the day: an attentive Continental breakfast service in the morning, a high tea in the afternoon, a pre-dinner drink ambiance in the evening and even a late snack for those looking for a quiet night-cup. A small army of butlers and assistant butlers were always around ready not only to take orders but to suggest our next delicious choice. Anna, a lovely Ukrainian young lady, was an elegant and charming presence in the Top Sail lounge, always ready not only to serve but to have a smooth pleasant conversation with all the guests. The atmosphere was complimented with live music sometimes in the afternoon and evening. I must say that my previous suggestion regarding the diversity of musical acts was implemented and three different musical styles were rotated in the lounge during our cruise. Maybe something more lively will be a good idea, especially in the evenings when the audience was up for some fun
The perks for Yacht Club’s guests don’t end with a nice room and personalised service; even during the day when we were part of different shore excursion, the YC status gave us the chance to avoid long lines and wasting time in different areas waiting for the excursion to starts, like on Norwegian Cruise Line or Cunard. With our tickets, we received the time when we will meet our host in the lounge, relaxing with a cup of coffee, before the excursion starts. The host will escort you directly to the point where the guide will start the tour: no lines and waiting for the elevator, access to gangway or security checks. Smooth and very pleasurable!
Another big asset for the MSC Splendida’s team was the Assistant Head Butler – Dani. More than once I was sure that he must have some clones in his cabin because he was always anytime everywhere if you will need any assistance. I mentioned our early embarkation in Lisbon, but Dani surpassed himself in Malaga when he appeared from … nowhere and escorted us straight to the shuttle bus avoiding the long and unnecessary queue. More than that his way to anticipate needs and wishes was more than a skill, it was a talent! One day, before a long tour he overhead myself talking about having a typical Italian pizza room delivery later that day. And what a surprise, at my return in the cabin, a lovely MSC Splendida Special fresh made pizza was waiting with all the toppings that you can dream about. What an amazing little special touch! And the pizza was delicious too! I do hope that, on my next MSC cruise, I will have the privilege to have Dani as a Head Butler, he deserves it 150%.
“The One Pool”, the special sundeck dedicated to Yacht Club guests, is a well design area where you can enjoy the sun without facing the invasion of pools, overcrowded hot tubs and eternal fight for sunbeds in the rest of the ship. A full drink service and a basic lunch is offered there and the entire place is a very pleasant and, surprisingly, quiet for a big noisy ship, outdoor space. Again, another victory of MSC in the fight with the competitor with the same “ship within ship” product.
This unashamedly elitist experience vanished when I left the YC and I was wondering the rest of Splendida trying to enhance my experience on-board. No difference with the other cruise ship: a feeling of mass produced cruise, with “must have fun” dictated by a, maybe too energetic, animation team and a service which seems to be rushed and tributary to a general routine and “whatever” attitude. Maybe I exaggerate a little bit, but the difference between YC experience and the rest of the ship is more than obvious.
I discover a single “breath of fresh air” in the entire ship outside Yacht Club: Alex a bartender in the Aft Lounge. Originally from Romania, Alex didn’t stop to amaze us not only with his bartender and mixology knowledge but with his positive attitude, his high standard manners, his sense of humour and conversational abilities. Actually he was the only reason for which we were spending couple of hours every evening in quite a noisy and busy lounge filled up with low key entertainment. I was wondering couple of time why Alex was not a presence in the Yacht Club where his skills and talents will be well used and appreciated?
What I do like about Splendida lay-out is that the designer manages to create a lot of different spaces with different personalities, able to attract different sub-populations of guests: a cosy piano-bar, a quite trendy disco-club, a bright light “piazzeta” style area, an elegant wine bar or the large glitzy atrium. No matter how fussy you are for sure you will find on-board your favourite spot. And nothing is too big or too much.
An intrigue choice is the speciality restaurant; on Preziosa you can choose between an Italian and a trendy up-market Fusion restaurants, but here, on Splendida the only choice was a Tex-Mex! I was a little bit reluctant initially, but, after the first dinner there, the efficient service, delicious food and reasonable price made me to return before the end of the voyage
Moving to things that need to be change if MSC wants to be a strong competitor on the very busy cruise market I think the biggest disappointment is from far the on-board entertainment. On one hand, some acts are on expected cruise ship standards: the duos in the Purple Jazz Bar, Irina – the pianist in the Top Sail Lounge or the excellent Swarovski trio are filling the space and time with decent performances. On the other hand, what I don’t understand is the “talent competition” level of the big theatre shows! On a ship under a flag bearing a history of fantastic Italian entertainment (San Remo, Rai Uno or Canal 5) the dancers and especially the singers made any attempts to watch the shows painful. The lack of interest or personality of the Cruise Director Franco was maybe the reason for the performance of noisy and amateurish animation team, in line more with a cheap holiday all-inclusive resort than a famous cruise line. All the team parties were full of screaming and jumping with the same line dance routine no matter the music! Fortunately, the cocktails in the Aft Lounge manage to ease the pain created by a very annoying animation team. Who told them that good entertainment means screaming in a microphone and rolling on the dance floor?
Don’t be surprised that I didn’t mention anything yet about the dining experience on board MSC Splendida. That was, I think, the only downside of our trip. L’Olivo, located at the back of the ship, is the restaurant dedicated to Yacht Club guests and is an elegant Mediterranean ambiance. Unfortunately, our experience on Preziosa was repeated this time on Splendida too: the quality of the dishes and variety of the menus seem to be results of a dramatic budget cuts. Nothing that will remind you of the fresh and simple Italian traditional cuisine. But as I eat to live and vice versa the over-processed and not at all inspired meal choices didn’t bother me at all. Most upsetting was the level of service. A Maitre D’ quite arrogant and with little manners, a complete absence of standards and consistency in service and a rush and “whatever” service style made me to avoid as much as possible (only 3 nights of 9 dining in the restaurant) the place. If MSC wants to impose the Yacht Club product on the luxury cruise market a lot of work must be done in the restaurant department, where the lack of efficient and professional middle management ruin the culinary experience on board placing the standards of the Yacht Club restaurant on the same level with P&O or Costa main dining room. And that’s not a compliment!
What I would like MSC to change? Couple of small but important things:
- A restaurant menu and service which match the level of service in the Yacht Club and expectations from an exclusive product
- A Concierge Service more focused in finding solutions than using NO as a general answer
- A real package to differentiate the different loyalty level of guests to the same standards as other cruise liners.
- An entertainment more modern and flexible without the air of a cheap holiday resort.
- The extension of the perks associated with the Yacht Club on the entire ship (beverage service for example)
I know that nobody is perfect but being a great believer in MSC quality and future, I am sure that the company will start moving in the right direction in the Restaurant and Concierge/Front Desk department to support the amazing efforts and results of the rest of Yacht Club team.
For me, MSC Yacht Club is for sure one of the choices when is time to book a new cruise. Is close to what exclusivity and luxury means when I am thinking about cruising. The almost perfect product, the amazing crew and the feeling that pampering is a lifestyle on board MSC ships make me hope that the company is on the right path.
That’s way I can’t wait for our next MSC Yacht Club experience: a week on Fantasia in December and a return on Splendida in January.
Thank you very much MSC Splendida, thank you amazing crew of Yacht Club team! See you soon!