SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW, SOMETHING BORROWED…

A review of a cruise on MSC Meraviglia – The Ship Experience

Launch in June 2017, MSC Meraviglia, triggered an impressive hype in all on-line channels, bloggers and traveller from all around the world jumping to praise the “Wonder” (the English translation of Meraviglia), a ship created to amaze with her contemporary design and feature-filled decks plans. Hailed as the largest cruise ship ever to be built by an European cruise line, accommodating more than 5,700 passengers, the 13th ship in MSC’s fleet made its debut in grand fashion after being named by screen legend Sophia Loren at an extravagant ceremony in the French port of Le Havre.

The statistics are impressive. The 171,598-gross tonne ship is 315 metre long, 65 metres tall, and carries up to 5,714 guests at a time. MSC Meraviglia is one of the largest family-friendly vessels afloat.

After a week spent on board Meraviglia (December 2017 – January 2018) I can say the mighty ship is like Marmite for breakfast: you love it, or you hate it. More than once I had the feeling that a hand full of talented architects and ship designers planned with a lot of imagination, in line with trends and in a visionary manner different parts of Meraviglia, but the one in charge of bringing everything together lost completely the plot creating a kind of a sailing Babel Tower of styles and functions. More than once I had the feeling that somebody, a kind of an MSC James Bond, got the blueprints of the best at sea from all the competitors and again the one in charge messed up. You can argue that in the cruise industry, like anywhere else, is nothing new under the Sun. In the case of MSC Meraviglia, putting together all this “best of..” without having an unitary vision created a lovely ship with a lot of BUTs…

Something old, something new, something borrowed …

MSC’s Meraviglia is a real family wonder. The attention to details, the care for the little travellers, the activity packed schedule for children and teenagers bring the ship very close to the Disney fleet and actually in front of them. But this time MSC brought the innovation and size in to the equation. And the result is spectacular. Families are catered for with new modular cabins that can be connected to accommodate up to 10 people. At the back of the ship you’ll find the Himalayan Ropes Course and the Polar Aqua Park, both of which are impressive by any standards. The ropes course takes you right round the edge of the ship and includes two tracks side by side, one trickier than the other and neither for the fainthearted. The Polar Aqua Park is a kids’ splash park on the lower level, with spray guns, water dunkers and a small slide.

Above it are three water slides: two involve sitting in tubes and take you down to a watery finish via numerous twists and turns, often in the dark. The third is known as the Champagne Glass because after a very fast slide you end up going round and round in an open circular glass-shaped space. Brilliant even if I am in a different age group. Very impressive is the inside Sportplex, which is a multi-use facility, primarily for basketball, tennis and volleyball and for kids’ organised games during the day as it’s right beside the kids’ club, but at night it evolves into a disco, with a DJ, decks and podiums. Youngsters haven’t been left out with seven different children’s areas that include the line’s biggest teen’s space, new family music activities, and a kids’ lounge modelled on a TV studio.

Your kids can spend their time and your money in the pretty expensive Amusement Park, which includes two F1 simulators (10 euros for six minutes), a bowling alley with two lanes (30 euros for 30 minutes), a 4D cinema (eight euros or six for kids), a flight simulator (12 euros for a five-minute ride) and a video games arcade next door. But is you want to be a smart and popular parent buy one of the passes available which can be used on all the games and start at 25 euros, for which you get five euros free credit, and go up to 100 euros (plus 60 euros credit). Couple of evenings I was witnessing the kids club having dinner in the buffet and I was impressed with the dedication and the professionalism of the team in charge of the little travellers. In this category MSC Meraviglia scored very high but be aware of the downside: such a paradise will be full of children all year long!

When NCL launched on Norwegian EPIC and later on Norwegian BREAKAWAY the idea of circus at sea with their Spiegel Tent – “the first big top at seas”, the concept “Cirque Dreams and Dinner” show was an instant success. Another “déjà vu” on board Meraviglia but with a twist: MSC has seriously upped the stakes and teamed up with Cirque du Soleil, to create a series of original shows exclusively for the cruise line. The passengers will get to see these performances exclusively; they have been specially created for MSC Meraviglia and cannot be seen anywhere else in the world. The performances take place in the stunning Carousel Lounge, an intimate venue boasting lower ceilings that bring the audience closer to the aerial acts and incredible features: a 40 metre LED screen, a rotating stage, lifts and even a retractable staircase to name a few. Both 40-minute productions — Sonor and Viaggio- were great and as a passenger you have two options: the Dinner & Show experience (35 euros) or the Cocktail & Show (15 euros) which was my favourite choice, but to be honest to see a Cirque show for even 35 euros is a huge bargain

One of my favourite place on board was the Sky Lounge located on Deck 18, midship, a gorgeous space, designed in elegant black and white and chrome, is a sanctuary from the mayhem going on in the rest of the ship with a cigar room on one side. It has floor-to-ceiling glass windows which run right round the semi-circular space, overlooking the main pool deck and either side of the ship. It’s a perfect spot for a quiet pre- or post-dinner cocktail. After dinner you can enjoy some live smoky jazz tunes and an impressive list with various “molecular” cocktails and excellent service.  But here, once again, you discover another design “hic-up”: whoever brought to live the brilliant idea of this lounge decided to offer as the only view … the swimming pool. While Cunard, Royal Carribean or P&O placed this type of area in a location which offers stunning views, on MSC Meraviglia you can … admire the busy swimming pool during the day or the flashy huge outdoor screen during the night. I think the word “sky” got lost somewhere in translation of the blue prints.

And the “déjà vu” (literally) is happening again in the gym. Despite the fact that the Technogym equipment is state of the art, the classes and personal trainers are above expectations, the location is another architectural failure. On all cruise ship I travelled before the gym has a great view of the open sea…it’s a way to motivate you and to divert your thoughts from the 2k that you have to run every morning to balance the culinary excesses on board. On Meraviglia the gym with its floor-to-ceiling glass windows have the view of the deck. The only advantage is that your travel companion can check if you are indeed exercise or just flirting while standing on a treadmill.

MSC and dining quality have not had a great relationship, however, the line has clearly taken onboard the criticism, has rethought its approach to cuisine and as a result, food-wise, things have definitely picked up, both in terms of quality and presentation. And MSC Meraviglia scores very high especially regarding alternative dinning. Despite its size, there aren’t the number of specialty dining options on Meraviglia compared, say, to Norwegian Breakaway or Oasis of the Seas, where you are looking at upward of 10. There are just five, but what the ship does have, it does very well. With an eye on Meraviglia’s move to Miami in 2019 its two new-to-the-line offerings, a Teppanyaki restaurant and an American Steak House, are outstanding: food and service.

The Teppanyaki restaurant, which is on the upper deck of the Galleria, has two cooking areas and it’s a lot of fun and more importantly, the food is delicious. In Butcher’s Cut located on Deck 7, midship The steaks are delicious: thick, juicy and tender and cooked and served with real skill and precision. No surprise that I went there twice in a 7 day cruise. If you decided to go to Eataly Ristorante Italiano – another favourite of mine from Fantasia-class ships, don’t think twice and choose Chef’s Table For 100 euros per person you get: seven dishes and seven wines as well as your own chef and your own Sommelier to talk you through it! The tailored menu, the charming Chef and the knowledgeable Sommelier created one of the best culinary experience I ever had on MSC.

Normally when I’m cruising I try to avoid as much as I can the buffet area. On P&O and Norwegian I always had the feeling that I was part of a continuous daily bunfight and even Cunard never convinced me to stop there excepting late hours of the night after a long dancing/drinking session. The experience on MSC Meraviglia was completely different and, believe or not, I went to the buffet at least once a day. The ship’s buffet is huge at the back of the ship on Deck 15. As a result, it rarely feels crowded. This is largely to do with design: as well as a central food area (the “marketplace”), there are also food areas either side, plus an enormous number of seats, which include an area at the very back, as well as two wings of the restaurant. The food is actually better than your average cruise ship buffet, with a bit of flair and fun. There are plenty of open kitchens where you can watch the chefs prepare the fresh food, plenty of ethnic cuisine including Chinese, Indian, Mediterranean, a mozzarella production area where you can watch it being made and a “fruit and veg market” where you can pick up fresh food. Fantastic experience and quite an efficient service due to the “ring the bell” system placed on each table which is linked with the special bracelets of the waiters.

On Deck 6 Midship I discovered by chance another amazing place: The Champagne Bar. A very classy venue where a choice of seafood or caviar was complementing the fine champagne. The oysters were absolutely amazing, the deco was close to similar bars on shore and trendier than on other luxurious cruise liners. To be honest I preferred this place to the similar Laurent Perrier Champagne Bar on Queen Mary2. But once again somebody killed the concept of this bar when the location was decided. Placed too close to the main staircase, a location more appropriate for a passage area than a themed venue, the place was filled with noise from the atrium and always busy Galleria and was a favourite meeting place for passengers waiting for anything else apart of champagne or caviar. During my 7 days cruise I saw more people drinking beer and eating from buffet plates than ordering champagne or oysters. And I couldn’t stop asking myself why that particular location, why such a waist of energy, money and space? Why to have a glass with Prosecco when you can serve a flute of Veuve Cliquot?

Another surprise was Broadway Theatre which is not the biggest, or sparkiest that I have been in but I did really like it. Despite the fact, another “déjà vu” that looks like Royal’s Quantum-class Two-70. Is very modern with it’s trend lay out, colour scheme and LED screens and has only 985-seat for 5000+ passengers. But no worries because the scheduling of the show is brilliant: six different shows per cruise each show running three times a night to cater for the different dining times and lasting about 40 minutes each. There are good sightlines and comfy seats, though, oddly, no glass holders. But impressive was the positive general change in the entertainment

First of all MSC decided on Meraviglia to bring a live orchestra on stage which is a great idea making the performance more impressive. The shows were far much better from the ones performed on board of Preziosa, fantasia or Splendida: better singers, excellent choreography with, finally, synchronised dancers and a obvious passion and effort to perform a very professional production on stage.I didn’t expect something like tat especially when the shows are tailored for a multi-national audience and when the only general spoken language is music.

On the same line evaluated the entertainment team. Despite the fact that in 7 days I never saw the Cruise Director (who supposed to be THE FACE of the ship) the animation team was fantastic. No more screaming around the swimming pool, no more random dance routines and conga around the lounges. Each event was very carefully planned with music, lights, choreography and costumes matching the theme of the night: tropical, latino, disco, Italian, space. And even if you weren’t in a party mood those guys will bring you straight in to the middle of the party without being too intrusive or in to your face. Well done, great job! Because of you I slept around 4 hours every night

Another place that I will recommend you to visit is Brass Anchor Pub located on Deck 7, forward. It’s the MSC’s version of a “British” pub, complete with a picture of London on the wall and with tables outside overlooking the promenade. Inside, it’s nicely designed in soft greens, with low lighting and plenty of booth seating.. There are 12 beers on tap and 47 bottles, though nothing unusual, just a variety of well-known brands from around the world. Can’t decide? Have a yard of beer — a snip at 22 euros. There is also cider and bar snacks, including fish ‘n’ chips starting at a very reasonable three euros. There’s even space for a small band, which to be honest makes it more reminiscent of an Irish Pub. Talking about the band in the pub, another “designer hic-cup”: the pub is located to close to the Galleria and in 4 nights the band’s performance in Brass Anchor” was unpleasant mixed with the party music from outside. The poor duo was waiting for a moment of silence to justify their presence there. Maybe a different programming of the performance will eliminate the weird re-mix of Despacito with Irish pub rhythms.

The pride of all Fantasia-class ships – the magnificent Swarovski crystal staircase is on MSC Meraviglia a kind of Cinderella, pushed away on one side of the Promenade. The Atrium itself – the heart of the public spaces on most of the ships around the world – looked like a back entrance in a shopping mall. Such a waste when the lavish atrium can set the scene as soon as you embark with it’s lashings of chrome, marble and glass.

Did I say Shopping Mall? That means is time to talk about Galleria.

The main centre-piece is the new Mediterranean-style promenade, Galleria Meraviglia, where tradition and technology finely fuse together. The street is lined with boutiques, cafés, a gelato stand and the mouth-watering temptations of the ship’s own opulent chocolate “boutique” run by renowned French chocolatier Jean-Philippe Maury. As with most modern cruises, the retail opportunities are many but there seems to be a lot of options appearing aimed at children and emotional blackmail. However, that remains in the control of the passenger

Above is an 80 metre LED sky – claimed to be the longest at sea – that has viewers transfixed as it magically transforms into different scenes. The idea of having different projections scheduled at different times of the day with different themes was brilliant. I know that the central promenade is almost a carbon copy of Royal Caribbean’s Quantum-class ships that wasn’t the most disturbing element. I think the biggest mistake is that due to the hype around the Galleria the nearby venues lose a lot. On top of this for those familiar with MSC you will find the whole dynamic of the ship very different to the Fantasia Class ships. The open plaza, the high number of families of all ages both contribute to the Benidorm feel. I don’t know why,  but on Royal Caribbean I never had the same feeling like walking, day or night,  on Meraviglia ‘s galleria: a shopping mall on a Black Friday!

Click here to watch a video about Jean-Philippe Maury’s shop on board MSC Meraviglia

One area MSC needs to address urgently on board MSC Meraviglia is hand hygiene – they have installed relatively few sinks in alcoves at the entrances of the buffet, which are often less than clean and almost everybody ignores them. One day spending my lunch time in the buffet I counted only 4-5 passengers using the sinks. I know that the smiley loudly “washy-washy” crew from NCL or RCI are annoying but … I prefer to be annoyed than sick.

Oddly enough there were no life jackets in the cabins!!!! Of course, there was not enough space in the wardrobe, designed to accommodate the belongings of a family travelling with a low cost airline, hand luggage only. When I inquire during the safety drill regarding the life-jackets the answer was quite scary: they will be distributed in case of emergency at the entrance of each master station. Why scary? Just because, in a normal situation, staying in line is an adventure on board MSC Meraviglia…imagine in case of emergency! And on top of that do you remember the crowd control on Costa Concordia couple years ago?

MSC Meraviglia is impressive from outside and inside! But the architect made the same mistake like NCL with Norwegian EPIC: adding deck on top of a deck on top of another deck will create space but will limit the sailing comfort. My cabin was in Yacht Club, forward on deck 15 and every night the feeling of being on a ship was more than noticeable. I don’t mind a rough sea, I experience two years agon in January a storm grade Beaufort 10 on Queen Victoria but with Meraviglia was different. Passengers were asking for anti-sea sickness tablets during the sailing between Rome and Palermo and the ship was docked overnight in Civitavecchia in an evening with a grade 4 winds (as announced on the interactive television: 20-28km/h and 1-2m waves). For sure I will not book Meraviglia for an Atlantic crossing.

Another issue linked with the size of the ship and with the lack of before hand planning is the return on board after a day at shore. In Marseille, Palma but especially in Palermo returning back on board was a demanding test of endurance with screaming, pushing, elbowing and swearing in at list 5 different European languages. The Concierge in yacht Club, very apologetic, explained me that is the port t authority responsibility to coordinate the embarkation and disembarkation and the unpleasant situation is a weekly occurrence when Meraviglia is docked in Palermo. I can’t stop wondering: if this is happening again and again why MSC doesn’t rise the issue with all factors involved and eliminate the unnecessary memories (and photos on on-line media, see below) of the Sicilian experience?

Click here to watch a video about returning on board MSC Meraviglia in Palermo

So is Meraviglia a success? I don’t doubt is a great success for the target market, mainly families or for those who don’t mind a general vibe like a UKIP’s rally. There is style and class in abundance, but big doesn’t mean always necessary better, at the end of the day we are talking about cruising, nothing else.

The Meraviglia is much more a family cruise ship with the energy and enthusiasm for kids of all ages running free at all times, a sailing Benidorm. And the Meraviglia still has some way to go on cleaning and queue discipline, but the staff were all helpful and willing, despite being overwhelmed with more nationalities/languages than I have seen on any previous cruise.

I do love MSC and actually I already booked 4 cruises in 2017; is just January and I already have my eyes on another two but I’m looking forward to return to the Fantasia Class as they have a slightly less manic feel, whilst maintaining the high standards I expect from MSC in general and Yacht Club in particular.

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~ by leonard69 on February 13, 2018.

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