MSC Bellissima – equatorial thoughts

This time last year I was about to finish a fantastic New Years’s Eve cruise aboard the MSC Splendida feeling just ever so sad that a fantastic week had to end.  I made my resolution – next New Year’s Eve I’d do the same cruise again, sailing around the Persian Golf, but rather than finish after a week, we’d do a back-to-back.  So, the first week of my 2020 cruise has almost come to an end, and a new week approach.

I should be glad and grateful; glad that I decided to book an extra week, and grateful that I’m able to spend the free time and money needed to take an extra week aboard the well-equipped MSC Bellissima in Yacht Club.  I might be grateful but I’m not exactly glad, rather I feel, at least so far, that spending my 2019/2020 New Year’s Eve on this ship from Dubai was the biggest mistake and underestimation I could ever make.  Let me explain why in four (out of a number) of ways.

1: You never had a second chance to make a first impression.

If you’ve never been on Yacht Club before, you may have never experienced what is sometimes the most incredibly exclusive, professional and above all fast embarkation process available.  I’ve reviewed previous cruises and have explained how sometimes taxi door to cabin door is 10 minutes with all the necessary immigration and paperwork dealt for you whilst you sip a glass of Prosecco from the Yacht Club lounges and areas MSC make available in their main embarkation ports.   Dubai is the main embarkation port for this itinerary yet it’s possible the worst ever experience I’ve had on MSC Yacht Club; much of what happened was due to the fact I’ve been so often I know what’s supposed to happen, who’s responsible for that to happen and where they might be found in the terminal building.   On arrival there was no one outside for Yacht Club guests; we went hunting in the terminal for someone in a Yacht Club uniform; found that person and explained we needed helping with our luggage.  “Are you in Yacht Club?” he grunted, “What’s your cabin number?”.  I say “he” as he seemed to forget to wear his name badge for his shift.  Eventually he realised we were in Yacht Club and so rather than apologise for no one being outside on their busiest day of the week simply excused himself saying he was “overworked”.  As a seasoned MSC Yacht Club traveller, I can overlook these things but I do wonder – what if this was my first ever Yacht Club cruise?  Is this the sort of welcome I can expect to receive?  Should I bother to come back?  Does it get any worse or is this the MO  of the company’s star product?  Once five couple had been herded into the Yacht Club section of the terminal a butler told us to follow him.  Now I know the routine – go to the Top Sail Lounge, await further instructions, see if your cabin is ready, have a drink and relax.  No one in our group had clearly been told this or experienced it before, as some tried to escape at deck 15 only to be told “Come back! You must go to the lounge!”.  When the deserters were recovered, we were deposited in the reception.  I made my way to the lounge and got in an order; our fellow travellers stood like lost sheep still in reception, no one explaining to them what to do.  They were eventually told to go to the lounge where they stood not really knowing what was happening.

Yacht Club guests have priority luggage delivery and you can (usually) expect them to appear in your room fairly soon.  For the first time ever in Yacht Club, however, the luggage arrival was slow and our cases were left outside the room, lined up down the corridor and blocking the entrance to the room door.

Welcome to your Yacht Club experience on board the MSC Bellissima.

2: “Move tables unless you want to drink from a dirty table”

I expect I’m not the only one who also things that a basic operation of tending tables is to clear away the dirty glasses and plates, then give the table a wipe, and if needed, replace the dirty ashtray with a clean one.  This requires two things on your serving tray  – a damp cloth and a clean ashtray.  Indeed, a fellow guest commented how, at the busy “main” pool side, waiters rotated around, clearing glasses, wiping tables, and setting them up with clean ashtrays for the next guests.  Nothing incredible about that, I’m sure you’re saying.  Well clearly on the same ship, in Yacht Club, this is an unknown concept.  I was sitting at 10am with a fellow traveller having a coffee in the smoking section on the sun deck of the Yacht Club pool.  At 3pm, the cigar butt was still sat in the ashtray and my used coffee cup and empty glass to tomato juice sitting in the Arabian sun.  In 4 hours, no one had bothered to clear the tables in the Yacht Club pool.  This has not gone unnoticed by other guests; comments about how dirty the pool area is, with tables left uncleared and often dirty from the previous guest’s usage a common conversation.  I was curious why the main pool area was apparently so tidy when our Yacht Club section was always so untidy and (quite frankly) dirty.  I paid the main pool area a visit and soon found out.  Waiters rotated the pool area, with a clean ashtray and damp cloth on their trays, ready to clean up and take orders if needed.  Indeed, we didn’t have to wait more than a minute before a waiter came, changed the ashtray I’d been using, take and then serve the order.  In Yacht Club things are very different.  It’s far quicker – as most of us have discovered – to go to the bar and make the order than to wait for someone to get to your table and  take it there.  It’s also far quicker to pick up your food and drinks from the bar grill than to wait for that order to reach your table.  The usual routine of having someone rotate the Yacht Club pool area tidying up and taking orders seems to be outside the service flow on MSC Bellissima – even if in the main part of the ship it clearly happens.  In Yacht Club you’re better of hunting down your own drinks if you want them.   One example of this lacklustre service stays in my mind.  A fellow guest told me today an interesting anecdote that happened in the Top Sail Lounge yesterday evening.   We are creatures of habit and sometimes we like to sit on the same table, if possible, in an exclusive lounge that the Top Sail Lounge is onboard MSC Yacht Cub ships.  Their preferred table was dirty i.e. it hadn’t been wiped down, but they just thought the waiter would wipe the table for them.  When the waiter arrived they were told to sit on a clear table; they said they liked that table.  “Do you want to drink from a dirty table?” was the reply; and indeed this was the end result.  Drinks were served on a dirty table.  Welcome to Yacht Club aboard the MSC Bellissima.

3: Perfect is the enemy of good – and mediocrity is the result of complacency

As one fellow traveller said “I’ve been on MSC Yacht Club before, and this isn’t perfect”.  Indeed it’s not perfect but does something have to be perfect?  If you strive to be perfect you end up spending so long trying to do one thing, everything else falls to the side and nothing gets done.  Consequently, you end up with almost nothing rather than perfect.  However, this doesn’t mean you should strive to be good – you will probably be good or even better if you aim for the to top, with some leeway to make mistakes.  We can all forgive mistakes if you tried your best; we all work hard to earn money and many people on Yacht Club have used those hard earned hours of work to come to what is promised to be a superlative experience but this week clearly it has not.

4: “I love my boss – he doesn’t put pressure on me at all”

I was told this one day by a member of the crew.  A fairly innocent comment and perhaps having a power freak of a boss isn’t nice.  However, there’s a fine line between having that power-crazy person nagging you every two minutes and having a manager who is more interested in keeping his crew “happy” to the detriment of corners being cut, service standards being ignored and, about all, guests feeling that service is totally lacklustre, and a general sloppy “I couldn’t care less” feeling about what goes on in Yacht Club.  If I had heard – even from one fellow guest this week – that things on board the MSC Bellissima Yacht Club were great then I’d have a think if I am being unreasonable.   Unfortunately, this is a constant topic of discussion.  Fellow travellers who did this same cruise with me last year, and who we all met up this year, have said how standards and general experience in Yacht Club has plummeted this cruise.  What I’ve mentioned in this post is really not just my own eye casting a sometimes-critical gaze on the levels of hospitality that I see; others have mentioned the same things to me.  It seems that the Yacht Club management have passed on a message that guests are clearly too stupid to compare one experience to another, to realise that dirty tables need clearing and that dirty surfaces need a wipe.  That guests will pay silly prices to go in Yacht Club over the festive period and so deserve little beyond a clean bed and getting fed and watered eventually.  Many have said that this has been the worst MSC Yacht Club they have experienced and some say they won’t come back.  Why?  Because it seems that with MSC Yacht Club it’s a roulette ; you might get a fantastic, professional and experienced team who know what they’re doing and how to do it.  You might however get a couple of “old hands” desperately trying to maintain standards whilst the people around them, from top to bottom, don’t know what that looks like, don’t want to make the effort to make that happen or simply don’t really care too much.

Did I speak with somebody in YC about it? Yes of course, more than once but less then three times as I got board to hear excuses. Takes longer to find explanations than finding solution … and that’s a fact!

As someone who has travelled in MSC Yacht Club considerably over the past few years (next week is my 40th cruise in YC in the last 4 years) and has experienced amazing service and product from people that care – from the Captain, Hotel Director, Yacht Club Director, Head Butler….all the way down to the pool attendants – this is a very disappointing cruise.  It breaks my heart that there are some people here on MSC Bellissima working incredibly hard to make Yacht Club work. I even saw the amazing Capitan doing a routine technical inspection starting to inquire about the tidiness of the YC or the way how (not al all) clean the table in the Bar&Grill area were or the fantastic Hotel Director walking around and moving dirty glasses from tables but they are most certainly in the minority and I can count them on my hands.  Too many just don’t have the necessary service skills (e.g. how to clear and clean a table) and far to many clearly lack any hospitality acumen.  Some will come with training, but that training needs to be done on the job and it’s not happening.  Some will come with experience but the “my boss is great I don’t have to bother” isn’t the sort of experience I’m talking about.  Bottom line: if you see a good deal for an Arabian Gulf cruise aboard MSC Bellissima this winter don’t come – you’re better off spending your money elsewhere.  I foolishly have another cruise to take next week and will keep you updated with a full review when it finishes.

~ by Leonard69 on January 3, 2020.

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