MSC Seaside Cruise Review by honeychile
- Sail Date: July 2019
- Destination: Western Caribbean
- Cabin Type: Bella Balcony Stateroom
This was my 15th cruise. I usually cruise with just my sister or a group of no more than two couples. But this time, I traveled with a family group of 13 people – 7 adults and 5 children ranging from ages 2 to 12. We chose the MSC Seaside for the experience of cruising on a mega ship and because 3 of our party had previous cruised on the Divina and enjoyed it.
We decided to fly to avoid the 12+ hour drive and the first challenge was packing light so that we could avoid waiting for (and worrying about) dealing with baggage. I was sharing a cabin with my 12-year-old grandson and we packed two small carry-on suitcases and two underseat bags (his backpack and my underseater). Our group likes to roll our own bags onto the ship (without use of porters), so this was another reason to pack light.
We flew from North Carolina to Miami the day before the cruise, staying at the airport LaQuinta which offered free breakfast and a free shuttle to the cruise port. LaQuinta did not disappoint with the rooms which were clean and comfortable. Breakfast was adequate. Unfortunately, there was an hour+ delay waiting for the shuttle. Turns out there was a mechanical issue with one of the vans. These things happen, and our group managed to shrug it off.
Even with the delay, we still arrived earlier than our 2pm assigned time, but embarkation was fairly quick. My grandson and I both had passports and I had taken the precaution of bringing a limited power of attorney signed by his parents and notarized, permitting him to travel with me and for me to seek medical attention for him, if required. I am still not sure whether that was actually required. Noting the different surname, I was asked if I had permission to take a minor out of the country, and I whipped out that form, which was copied and attached to our other info, but then a minute later, the clerk said it was not required for this ship. I was glad I had it, though. It would have been an anxious moment otherwise.
We trundled our luggage onto the ship, found our way to the buffet, parked the luggage, and enjoyed lunch while we waited for our rooms to be ready. I also registered my credit card in one of the kiosks while we waited, an easy task. Since I had to register a credit card ahead of time, I do not understand that, but it was painless.
BELLA BALCONY CABIN 9115:
The 13 members of our group were divided into four balcony “Bella” cabins, all fairly close together, midship, on the 9th floor (Lanakai deck). Our cabin was 9115. The cabin was functional and adequate, but as many have noted, the storage was skimpy and hard to access. It included one single column of shelves and two drawers, and one closet. One shelf is taken up with the safe, and the entire left side of the closet was hard to get to because of a sliding door which completely covered the shelf/drawer area when closed. My grandson and I had requested two single beds, but we ended up pushing them together so that we could get to the shelf and closet area. There were two small nightstands that offered a tiny bit of extra storage.
The room was extremely narrow with just enough room to get by the end of the bed to the rest of the room. There was a nice sized desk/vanity area, but I found no drawers or other storage there. My sister told me later there is a single drawer with the hair dryer in it. Our sofa ended up being the repository for many things throughout the cruise as there was so little storage area. In rooms designed for 4, the sofa pops up making 2 bunk beds. So for those with 4 in their cabins, space was extremely tight and a bit claustrophobic.
The balcony itself was adequate with 2 chairs and an ottoman (no reclining chair). Because this cruise was in July (a first for me), it was really too hot to spend much time out on the balcony except in the late evenings or just to take a look or snap some photos. The balcony was covered, which was nice, so even if it rains guests can still enjoy the balcony. We had nearly perfect weather so I only experienced this one night when a storm woke me and I stepped out onto the balcony to watch the lightning fireworks.
The room did offer more opportunity for connectivity than any I have had before with double electric outlets and usb ports and another usb port by the bed. We had two phones, a tablet, my fitbit charger, and a couple of portable chargers to keep powered up and we had no trouble with that.
Our room steward, Felician from Madagascar, was the very best steward I have had in my fifteen cruises. Felician was in our room tidying up, replenishing ice, replacing wet towels, and so forth multiple times each day. I am sure that the stewards like the system on the Seaside which requires the card to be left in the slot at the door in order to turn on the lights. This notifies the stewards whether the cabin is occupied.
THE YACHT CLUB
We did not choose the expensive Yacht Club cabins, opting for Bella balcony cabins. We felt with so many ports of call, we would be spending limited time in our cabins. Ordinarily a balcony cabin is pretty exclusive all by itself. But I quickly found out that part of the reason our balcony cabin was so small and storage so measly was to accommodate the MSC Yacht Club, an uber-exclusive group of less than 500 people among the 5300 passenger max. On other cruiselines, there are perqs for frequent cruisers and, of course, choosing more expensive cabins is always an option. Some even have discreet extra special perqs. But the MSC Yacht Club was the most in-your-face example of exclusivity that I have ever endured on a cruiseline. High-frequency cruisers or those who opt for expensive cabins on other cruiselines might get a snack and priority boarding or first tender rides, but these perqs are set up discreetly, and generally these elect cruisers blend seamlessly into the cruise population for the balance of the cruise, their different-colored cards being the only clue that they are upper echelon cruisers. Not so on MSC. The Yacht Club had parts of two decks available only to them, their own exclusive dining area, their own elevator (especially annoying since there was always one elevator not working), their own pool, their own gangway into/off of the ship, a reserved section of the theatre, and other exclusive privileges. Did it make me want to be one of these few? HECK NO! I cringed at the pomposity and enforced segregation and doubt I will cruise on MSC again for very reason. Sure, spending extra has its privileges, but the indiscreet, restrictive, and prohibitive treatment for Yacht Clubbers smacked more of snobbery and posturing than classy perquisites.
CARD AND WRISTBANDS:
One note about the card. I like to hang my card on a lanyard when I cruise and have noticed that some cruiselines now punch a hole in the card for that very purpose. MSC did not, but part of my gear included a small one-hole-punch and I punched our cards. And then I found out I had ruined them. Ugh. I found out later that if you have a very bright light, you can see the antenna in the card, but I just chose a likely spot near one corner and messed up both cards. Guest services was very nice about it and replaced both cards quickly while I waited without fussing at me. I then put them into clear badge-holders for the lanyards.
On the first day, we also purchased the wristbands that act as ship cards for everything but leaving the ship. I had not planned to buy one initially, as the reviews seemed to pan them, but it was only $5 and so I got one for myself and my grandson. They worked like a charm the entire cruise – we never had a single problem with them. And we found them to be very convenient. After the first day, we left our lanyards in the room and just relied on the wristbands which were small and fairly discreet. Take note, though, that if you lose one wristband, you will have to replace ALL the wristbands and cards in your cabin. This happened with one of our party and they had to spend an extra $20 to get new wristbands and new ship cards for all four in their cabin. We left our wristbands in our cabin whenever we left the ship as the cards were needed then.
I understand that cards are available to show exactly where another passenger is at any time. No one in our group chose to purchase these. They were originally pitched to parents with children, but when we were there, there were promotions for them to be used to locate fellow adult passengers.
SHIP INFORMATION and MSC App:
The ship is very beautiful, kept sparkling clean. There are numerous small areas that can easily be commandeered by groups to sit and chat and enjoy time together. Unlike other ships, there was adequate shade and deck chairs near the pools. The beautiful atrium is a jaw-dropper and the Infinity Bridge and Bridge of Sighs are intriguing. The decorating style is elegant and continues throughout all areas of the ship. Some areas are understated (corridors to the staterooms, for example) and others are glamorous (the Swarovski staircases in the atrium), but all elements blend nicely.
I believe I might have been perpetually confused about where I was on such a large ship except for the MSC App. It had an interactive ship map that directed you to anywhere you want to go, using, I assume, the GPS capability of the phone. Leaving your cabin (or from anywhere on the ship), you could get turn-by-turn directions to anywhere else. The app does not have chat for communicating with fellow passengers which I missed. Other cruiselines include this and it is very helpful.
The app can also be used to make the required reservations for theater shows or extra services. It also allows guests to view their billing information, which is very useful.
Fun Pass – I purchased the $100 fun pass ahead of time. For $100, I got $180 worth of credit. I figured I would burn that up on the zipline, but…no. The advertising says that the fun pass is assigned to one guest, but it can be used for anyone in the cabin. As it turned out, I was permitted to use the credit for anyone, but I had to be there with my card or wristband to authorize the use. This was good because otherwise I would have wasted most of the credit. As it was, I left $14 unused (no refund, of course).
Zip Line -- My grandson and I used the $11 per ride zip-line just one time because it was mostly closed throughout the cruise due to winds. It took probably twice as long to get strapped in as to ride, but I did appreciate the emphasis on safety. The ride was short and slow (not very zippy) with a neck-breaking jolt to slow the ride at the end. But it was indeed a zip line as advertised. We had planned to use credit for other kids in our group, but the zip line was never up when we were ready to use it.
Water Slides – the water slides were also frequently closed due to winds. As we did not seem to experience extremely high winds, I wondered about this.
Pools – there are several pools, but they are inadequate for the crowds. They were nearly always packed. Pools seemed to open late and close early, which also limited their use. The jungle area for the children had to be used for zipline or the waterslides and it was nearly always open.
Arcade – we ended up using most of the fun pass credit for the Formula One racecar in the arcade and also for the VR games there. I noted that smaller games had a prominent sign that they were not included in the fun pass. I felt that was a poor decision, especially since the Zip Line was down so much of the time. Another poor decision was that racecar and VR games were closed from 5:30pm to 10pm each night. This made no sense to me at all since this was prime evening time for kids. My grandson enjoyed the race car several times and once we all got together at 10pm to fill the VR theatre-style game with family and enjoy a little competition. Everyone enjoyed this. I noted there was a bowling alley (two lanes) which we did not use. My grandson played a couple of games of air-hockey on the single table in the arcade.
Theatre Shows – as we had cruised on MSC before, we knew a bit about what to expect. The shows are entertaining, but entirely random without much of a theme. So you might enjoy an opera song, followed by a magic trick, then maybe a spot by a contortionist, ending with a can-can song and dance. Very odd, but 40 minutes of entertainment. Reservations are required and a guest can only attend each show once (they are offered 3 times each evening). The final Michael Jackson show is especially well done.
Photos – my sister purchased a package and was able to choose photos from among the whole group (even though the website said otherwise). I purchased 3 photos for $49. I really only wanted 2, but a single photo was $24.99, with 3 for $49. ::sigh:: The whole photo thing is such a ripoff on cruiselines. I usually purchase nothing, but as I was with my grandson, oh well.
CRUISE CRITIC MEET and GREET
This MSC Cruise Critic Meet & Greet was the best EVER. I've attended several Cruisse Critic meetups, but MSC really knows how to put on a party! It was scheduled for the afternoon on a sea day and included several prepared cocktails (apple martini, whiskey sour, wine, and another choice or two, along with sodas or juice). Each table had fancy appetizers, baskets of crackers and chips, and a big and delicious cake was also served. The Master of the vessel himself along with most of the senior crew turned out in their dress whites to give speeches and mingle and take photos with the guests. In fifteen cruises, I have never had my photo made with the Captain, so I was pleased. And he is Italian. And charming. And handsome. Be still my elderly heart.
Buffet – the buffet was lovely. We ate breakfast here every morning and even at 6:30am, there were many choices available, and even more after 7am. We ate a couple of lunches in the buffet and I thought it was laid out well and offered plenty of variety. I hit the buffet late night twice and it was entirely adequate for a snack. As I am diabetic, I was disappointed in the self-serve soda machine. It only offered one diet soda – diet coke – and half a dozen regular sodas. As diabetes affects roughly one in three, I felt another diet soda (maybe sprite zero or another caffeine free choice) would have been welcome. Other choices were available at the bar, so it was annoying, but not a deal-breaker. Desserts were lovely – light, delicious, and small portions – exactly what I was looking for instead of heavy, high-calorie choices. Fruit was also always available.
Dinner – I ate dinner every night in the dining room. I was a little disappointed in the dining room food. There were few choices and I felt the food was bland and odd combinations were offered. I expected hearty Italian offerings (as we had on the Divina) but not only where they MIA, I was surprised that neither steak nor lobster was offered during the seven night cruise, although both could be ordered at an extra cost. It also took quite a while to receive food. This led to nightly re-orders on the bread basket. But as we had a big group, we took the time to chat about activities of the day and those coming up. We were not able to sit at a single table, but our two tables were close together and we had a beautiful ocean view each evening. The dining room staff was pleasant and accommodating insofar as they could be.
Easy Plan – when I booked my cruise, it included an easy plan for internet and beverages. The internet plan worked perfectly and was adequate for checking email or posting on social media. After a couple of days, I was offered a crazy-cheap upgrade ($4.81 for a single device for unlimited internet for the duration of the cruise) which I took advantage of.
However, the drink package was disappointing. I am not a big drinker, but I like an occasional glass of wine with dinner. I had hoped to enjoy some sparkling asti that was listed on one of the lists of easy plan drinks, but by the time I cruised, that had been eliminated. So several times I ordered sprite and white wine and made spritzers at the table. Not very elegant. Once I ordered one of the half a dozen cocktails available but it was forgotten and did not arrive till the end of the meal, watery with melted ice. I usually do not pay for a beverage package, so that was sort of a bonus for me, but it turned out to be lackluster. As others have mentioned, it would probably be better to get your drink at the bar and bring it to dinner. However, it was fine for the kids, who often ordered sodas with their meals. Sodas were always served in cans. So, yes, you got the whole amount due, but those cans on the table did not look very elegant. Oh well.
Gala Nights – Very few dressed for a black tie gala affair. Our group opted for fancy cocktail dresses for ladies and dress shirts and ties for the guys. That was much more than most other groups did. But we felt spiffy and had our photos made on the two elegant evenings.
I will include more info in the excursion section, but this ship had four ports of call (other than Miami). In Jamaica, we opted for Mystic Mountain, a budget-friendly excursion that we booked ourselves as it is only offered by the ship in combination with other destinations. In Grand Cayman, we spent our time at the Turtle Farm which offers snorkeling with colorful fish and hatchling turtles along with the biggest freshwater pool and waterslide on the island. We saved 20% booking this ourselves online in advance. In Cozumel, we visited PalMar private beach club on the Dzul Ha reef, which is the best bargain ever. In Nassau, we booked the Blue Lagoon Beach Day through the ship. This was a big disappointment. We were at Blue Lagoon this past January and knew what to expect. But the ship started the excursion too late and we had less than 3 hours on the island with an over-crowded tender. I am in my sixties and did not enjoy standing up for the entire ride over (about 30-35 minutes).
We opted to roll our own bags out, and we were off the ship and in a taxi headed toward the airport by 7:30am. Very painless disembarkation procedure. I was surprised to find customs using face recognition software. We filled out no paperwork and did not even have to get out our passports. I noticed a few people taken aside, but not many.
We spent most of the day cooling our heels at Miami International Airport. As we were tired, that was not a big deal. We napped and ate and played card and phone games. Note that near Gate E5, there is a not-to-be-missed playground for kids and adults will enjoy it, too.
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