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I travelled on MSC Cruises ship MSC Lirica on a seven-night Mediterranean cruise. It was the third time I had cruised with the line – and the first on one of their smaller ships. This is my detailed review, observations and tips about the ship, cruise line to help anyone considering going on a cruise and with MSC Cruises based on this trip. I also recommend you read “Who MSC Cruises if for – and Why” and the pages I have with videos, audio podcasts, photographs and articles on the MSC Preziosa, MSC Divina and MSC Lirica.
Impressions and Details
The first time I saw the MSC Lirica docked in Marseilles it looked really small. I had cruised on large resort-style ships over the previous year and am used to seeing vast structures waiting to welcome me on board. The ship is not that small as it holds up to 2,069 passengers in 646 cabins. But as the taxi pulled up along the ship, it did feel more manageable and petite versus the vast monster cruise ships that dominate the sea today. Big is the mantra of the cruise industry as they look to leverage costs to keep fares low and meet growing demand.
The MSC Lirica carries about half the passengers of MSC Cruise’s Fantasia class ships like MSC Divina and MSC Preziosa that can host up to 4,300 guests. It is also one of the older ships in the fleet having originally been constructed in 2003. Its age is clear in the design, as it has relatively few balconies and predominately provides ocean-view cabins. This means it has an external style reminiscent of traditional cruise ships unlike ships built recently that look like floating apartment blocks. New ships have to offer as many balconies as they can to meet the demand of modern cruise passengers. The ship’s internal decor is well maintained and understated, avoiding the Las Vegas glitz of many contemporary ships.
Some of the main differences of this ship and the larger Fantasia class are:
The MSC Lirica spends the European summer cruising around the Mediterranean, mostly on seven-night cruises, and usually relocates to Brazil in the winter. The routes are planned satisfy family vacation needs providing good weather in familiar and popular destinations like Spain, Italy and France.
It is a bustling ship and feels busy much of the time, especially on the pool deck in the day and around the theatres and restaurants in the evening. The atmosphere is like that in a thriving family resort hotel with lots of excited children and teens about. This feel transfers into an informal lifestyle on board with casual dress predominating. There are dress codes but most nights they are based on party themes, like Carnival or Italian, rather than traditional cruise codes of formal and smart-casual.
My Top Tip: Book a balcony cabin if you think you will want to have a quiet spot to relax outdoors. The decks on the MSC Lirica are busy and there are outdoor activities and entertainment all-day and so finding a quiet and calm area to relax in is difficult. Some people retire to the decks at the rear of the ship that few passengers seem to use.
Itinerary and Implications
I travelled on a seven-night Mediterranean cruise. The ship operates a circular route calling on the same ports throughout most of the European summer. It then usually relocates to South America during the winter where it is popular with Brazilian cruisers.
My cruise travelled from Marseilles to Palma de Mallorca, Valletta in Malta, Trapani in Sicily, and Civitavecchia and La Spezia in Italy. The constant circle means that passengers embark and disembark at any port they wish although Marseilles, Civitavecchia and La Spezia are the three stops with the greatest changeover with roughly a third of passengers leaving at each.
The implications of this approach to cruising the Mediterranean is:
My Top Tip: Consider joining and leaving the ship at one of the quieter ports on the itinerary as you will find it easier and a more leisurely start and end to your vacation. You can avoid the long lines and waiting usually associated with big ships in big ports.
Passengers on MSC ships cruising the Mediterranean are mostly Italians, French and Spanish. Although there will always be a good representation of Germans, Portuguese and English. On my cruise there were 1,000 Italians and 700 French with groups of Spanish, German and English speakers from United States, UK and Australia.
Unlike traditional and long-established cruise lines like Cunard, P&O Cruises and Holland America, I noticed much less grey haired passengers on board. The line predominantly attracts families with children, ranging from infants through to teenagers, young couples and groups of young friends. The older people on board seemed to be travelling as part of an extended multi-generational family group than alone.
Cruising is seen as an attractive alternative to land-based family vacations among travellers from countries around the Mediterranean. It is also easy and convenient to join the ship with so many port options around the region. MSC Cruises has embraced this attitude and their marketing and promotion is clearly for these groups and so is the on-board experience. It is a product designed to satisfy families. The pricing, the food, the on-board dress code, entertainment and facilities like kid’s clubs and family friendly excursions make this a line that world for these passengers.
My Top Tips:
MSC Cruises embraces the all the Mediterranean although it has a strong Italian influence based on its roots and ownership. It is very different to the major United States and UK-based cruise lines as it does not just accommodate different languages but gives them equal prominence. While most lines ensure they have one host dedicated to the needs of non-English speaking guests and keep those guests are suitably briefed and informed, MSC have a totally different approach.
Everything on board the ships is always communicated in 6 languages: Italian, French, German, English, Spanish and Portuguese. This includes the brochures, daily programs, excursions, announcements and TV channels with shows from each country. Even the movies (of which are 12 showing through the day) run in each language.
Based on the language you have identified when booking, everything you receive before and during the cruise will be in your specified language. Every member of crew you engage with can hold a conversation in your chosen language. When you book an excursion you are allocated one with a guide that speaks your tongue. You may occasionally find that you are on a dual-language tour with a guide speaking two languages.
My Top Tip: Ensure you are comfortable with the multiple language approach. Announcements will always be repeated in different languages and English speakers used to US and UK cruise lines find this unfamiliar and jarring at first. Use it as an opportunity to broaden your language skills – and maybe brush up on those languages you studied at school!
The multiple ports of embarkation in the Mediterranean lead to a more painless process, as the ship is not changing over in same port. On my MSC Lirica cruise there were only around 500 passengers joining the ship in Marseilles out of the over 2,000 on board. It was a very fast and simple process and from arriving at the port to stepping on board took only about 15 minutes.
The following was the procedure:
My Top Tips:
Embarkation day is an exciting time. There are a number of events that MSC Lirica held on these days that included:
• Safety Drill. This was held at 3:30pm on my day of joining the ship. I had to hand in the red card I had been given at check in at my Muster Station to show that I had attended the event. These compulsory events have to take place before the ship departs and include a briefing on the process should there be an emergency, some key safety information (such as not throwing anything overboard, what to do if you spot a fire or a man overboard) and how to put on life jackets.
My Top Tips:
Promotions and Spending
Like most cruise lines, MSC will be trying to entice you to spend money while you are on board. Generating income is an essential part of the revenue model for every cruise line. Attractive fares get passengers on the ships and the more you spend with the line the happier they will be. As result you will find many promotions and activities every day to try to urge you to part with more Euros.
On MSC you will usually hear announcements of special events and offers broadcast once or twice a day. These are not broadcast into your cabins but only in public areas and corridors. The only announcements piped into your cabin are those related to the safety drills and in the case of a real emergency. You should also expect to receive a daily sheet of offers along with your daily program called “Daily Specials”.
The following are some examples of the promotions offered during my cruise:
My Top Tips:
I was staying in 10069 on Deck 10. The room is called a suite although strictly speaking it is a balcony cabin as there is no separate bedroom or divider between the sleeping and seating area. However, most cruise lines call their larger rooms suites and so this is consistent with the rest of the industry.
Watch the video tour I made of the room: http://youtu.be/yMe-cN09lNo
My Top Tip: Always check the ship deck plans in the brochure or online before committing to a cabin to check what is above and below you to help avoid areas of likely noise. For example, on the MSC Preziosa my suite in the Yacht Club was right above the fitness class area and every day at 8am and 6pm the room filled with loud music while a class was held. Rooms under restaurants or open decks where runners exercise may create scraping and thumping noises in your cabin.
Meals and Food
MSC offers plenty of food with good variety that was popular with passengers. The food is comparable to a good resort hotel, there is plenty of choice and caters for different dietary needs and tastes. In my view the food is not at the same level as premium cruise lines I have travelled on, but this is to be expected as they charge much lower fares than those lines. Their real strength is in Italian dishes and food and the pizza, pasta and risotto are excellent.
Fares include all meals in the buffet or main dining room. 24-hour room service is available with a small charge for delivery. You should not need to use this though as, such as, on the MSC Lirica there was somewhere open to eat from 6am to 2:15am. On the larger Fantasia Class ships there is an extra charge speciality-dining restaurant, such as Eataly on MSC Preziosa and MSC Divina. The smaller ships, like MSC Lirica, do not always have speciality dining venues.
Breakfast and Lunch
The menu follows a typical Italian approach with multiple courses. The following is an example of the menu:
Service in the restaurants is efficient but not effusive as waiters are covering multiple tables. The food comes fast as it is pre-plated in the kitchens.
Tea, Coffee and Water Station
My Top Tip: Stick to the Italian dishes and meals. This is where MSC excel on the culinary side. This includes their pizza, pasta, risotto and Italian desserts like gelato and Tiramisu. If you travel on a ship that has the Eataly chain you should spend the extra to try it at least once. The food is outstanding.
MSC suggests dress codes each day in the daily program. The codes come into effect from 6pm each evening but they are not enforced, allowing passengers to wear what they feel comfortable in. There is a range of styles of dress in the evenings although people dress smart casual most evenings and will dress up more smartly on Gala Nights – reflecting a European approach to clothes and dress. MSC discourages people wearing shorts to dinner and the shows and most people comply with this. During the day people wander about the ship in shorts and swimwear – and a number of people attended the muster drill in their swimsuits!
The four codes on MSC are:
On my seven-night Mediterranean cruise the themed nights played a major part in the cruise. This is mix of evening dress codes through the week:
My Top Tip: Bring something smart to wear and embrace the Gala Nights as a chance to have your photograph taken in your finery with the Captain as a souvenir of the trip. Bring along a number of core coloured items that can be used on theme nights.
MSC Cruises excursions are each run in different languages. This means that they have to offer many permutations and so minimum numbers are required before an excursion will take place. To avoid disappointment they occasionally combine two language groups on one tour. For example on my city tour of Palma De Mallorca the tour consisted of both French and English passengers so we had one French and one English-speaking guide. They alternated giving the same commentary on the bus and then escorted us separately when off the bus. In Rome it was also a joint tour but the guide escorting us on our walking tour but he spoke both French and English.
There are eight categories of tours offered by MSC, and most are available in each port. These are:
If you are planning to go on an MSC excursion consider the following:
If you are considering self-touring in ports:
My Top Tips:
MSC Cruises provides many services and facilities for families with children. Some of these include:
Teen Cruise Cards
Family and Teen Excursions
In some ports there are also excursions that only teens can go on. These supervised tours allow teenagers to explore a destination together.
Child Drinks Packages
Children and Teenagers Club
In addition to running daytime clubs the following programs run to help parents enjoy some time alone during the cruise:
Children under the age of twelve have to wear ID wristbands throughout the cruise to help in case of any issues and for identification purposes.
My Top Tip: If you are travelling with children use these facilities and options as they enable them to meet new friends and give you time alone to enjoy yourself knowing they are being carefully supervised and entertained.
MSC has a range of entertainment throughout the day. The following was offered on my Mediterranean cruise on the MSC Lirica:
Examples of the shows staged were:
Despite the warnings that guests should not video or photograph the show this was ignored by many guests on my cruise and it proved distracting as there was a steady flow of flashes going off and the lights of people videoing the shows with their smartphones and tablets. Guests also were comfortable coming and going throughout the show and the presence of young children in the audience meant it was inevitable that parents sometimes had to leave the show if their child got bored or restless. Personally I found this disruptive so I would sit as near to the front of the theatre as possible as this would minimise the intrusion.
Passenger Participation Activities
During the day these take place around the pool on Deck 11 that serves as the daytime entertainment hub. It is a popular area and is noisy and busy. Activities include aerobics, beauty demonstrations, aqua gym, beer games, mega bingo, T-shirt making, water games, Pilates, dance lessons and fashion shows.
There are also regular demonstrations held in one of the bars or lounges like chocolate and martini making.
Bingo is held every day with a 25,000 Euro prize if won in first 40 numbers and 10,000 Euro if called between 41 and 44.
My Top Tips:
Although the MSC Lirica is smaller than the large Fantasia Class ships there is a vast range of facilities and choice. Some of these are:
Free fitness classes are held every day around the pool area and there is a male and female sauna, steam room and a relaxation lounge with great views over the ocean.
I had two sessions:
The treatments were excellent and the therapists friendly and skilled. The only unusual, and jarring, aspect is that the ship announcements are piped into the massage rooms. This was not ideal as it interrupted my relaxation.
Virtual Reality Games Room
Library and Card Room
Social Events and Occasions
MSC Frequent Traveller Club
On my cruise there were over 400 guests invited to the event in the beautiful Lirica Lounge. The event also celebrated couples with long wedding anniversaries as well as guests with many repeat voyages.
Special Event Treats
Wi-Fi and Communication
Wi-Fi is available in the cabins and public areas. It proved reliable most if the time and was stable and fast enough for me to use FaceTime and make Skype voice calls on sea days when out of mobile phone range. I found it worked better on my smartphone and tablet using apps than on the Internet browser (e.g. when posting photos on Facebook it worked faster and consistently versus when I tried these same tasks via my browser).
On sea days and after leaving port there was no mobile phone signal but you can use your in-cabin phone to make satellite calls at 5 euros minute. It was actually cheaper to do FaceTime or Skype calls by Wi-Fi.
Like all cruise lines relying on satellite connections it is fairly costly to use. You can buy packages that bring down the cost per minute as follows:
My Top Tip: Buy Skype phone call credit before your cruise, download the app onto your smartphone or tablet and use that over Wi-Fi if you need to stay in touch with the office or friends and family. It can work out cheaper than mobile roaming in many cases based on your plan. It also means you can stay in touch on sea days or at night after you lose your mobile connection.
MSC Cruises add a charge to all bills to cover tips for the staff on board. A service charge is also added to drinks and coffees purchased throughout the ship. You are not expected to tip staff in addition to these.
The rate changes based on the length of cruise and destination but as a guideline you can assume the following charges will be added to your bill:
• Adults (18 and over): 7 Euros per night
My Top Tip: Gratuities are an important element of crew pay and although you are not expected to tip in addition to the fixed charge, if there is anyone that has made your trip special a small additional tip is always a nice gesture. As important though is mentioning that crew member by name in your end-of-cruise survey. Comments about crew are noted and are likely to be taken into account when considering people for promotions, special awards and future contracts.
The drinking age on board MSC ships varies based on the laws of the region you are cruising in. This is usually 18 in Europe and 21 in the Caribbean and cruises sailing out of the United States.
You can’t bring alcohol on board at the start or at any point during the cruise to consume on board. If you do it is taken by security and held by MSC until the end of your cruise. If you do have it taken then make sure you get receipt from the team taking it off you.
When cruising in the Mediterranean MSC cannot sell duty-free alcohol on their ships but can in other regions. However you will also only get given it at end of cruise.
If you are cruising to destinations that are known for local drinks like wines, port or liquors this should not put you off taking some back home. You will find that many suppliers understand the restrictions that cruise lines like MSC have in place and offer shipping direct to your home.
My Top Tip: There are blogs that share tips and tricks on how to avoid alcohol being detected while taking it on board ships. However remember that cruise lines are aware of these and it is simpler to follow the policy.
Smoking is fairly prevalent on board to meet the demands of its Mediterranean guests. I did encounter smokers fairly often around the ship and found the smoke in bars and lounges intrusive – as it is something I am not used to on land and many other lines.
Although the policy is constantly being reviewed, and was tightened up on the MSC Divina when sailing out of Miami to satisfy the demands of North America passengers, there is a fairly generous smoking policy around the ship.
Smoking is permitted in many of the bars, the casino and on one side of the pool deck. It is not allowed in the restaurants, children’s areas, lifts, public toilets, corridors, medical centre and theatre. It is also prohibited in the cabins and on balconies and the line will charge an additional cleaning fee if people do.
MSC Cruises support UNICEF via their “Get On Board for Children” campaign. This raises finds to support programs to cut malnutrition around the world. Guests are encouraged to make a donation via their bill or by buying branded merchandise in the on-board logo shop.
MSC donated over 3 Million Euros (US$4 million) in 2014 alone as a result of this campaign through their own contributions and guest support.
Future Cruise Sales
There is a sales desk on board and a booth open on the pool deck in day. If you book a cruise on the ship you will be given extra on-board credit based on the length of the cruise and cabin grade reserved for that trip. It ranged from 150 to 400 Euros per person. This credit can be used for items like excursions, drinks, on board shops.
Every day is a disembarkation day on the MSC Lirica in the Mediterranean. This makes it a less hectic process as the ship is not eager to leave at the same time. The process is slick and well organised.
Two days before disembarkation every party is asked to send someone to a talk about the process. It is not essential to attend but is advisable although the materials given explain the process very clearly.
Each cabin is allocated a time to leave the ship which is indicated by the colour of the tags supplied for your suitcases. The times are staggered across the morning starting around 30 to 45 minutes after docking to allow time for the ship to be cleared by the local authorities and the suitcases to be taken off the ship. You leave your cases outside your room by 1am of the morning of departure with the proper tags on. The next time you see them is on the quay.
Cabins have to be vacated by 8am to give the crew time to clean and reset the room for the new guests. You are allocated a waiting area in one of the bars or lounges based on your time slot and when the ship is ready for you to disembark they collect everyone from that venue. This avoids people cluttering up the exit area where guests will also be heading off to self explore or go on tours.
My Top Tip:
Travelling on one of MSC’s smaller ships like the MSC Lirica does not mean you will lack choices, as there are many dining options, bars, lounges and a wide range of entertainment.
The Mediterranean Way of Life is still provided in all aspects of the cruise experience. The fewer numbers can mean that getting on and off the ship at the start, end and in ports can mean less lines and hassle too.
The post MSC Cruises Tips: My Observations, Review and Top Cruising Advice appeared first on Tips For Travellers.
Gary Bembridge author of “The Cruise Traveler’s Handbook” provides another 60-Second Cruise Tip. For more visit http://www.60secondcruisetips.com and http://www.tipsfortravellers.com/cruise-travelers-handbook.
Listen to the episode:
Mass-market cruise lines now usually only provide non-branded shower gel and shampoo in large refillable pump dispensers in your stateroom bathroom. This is instead of smaller individual bottles of branded products you may be more familiar with if you have been cruising before or stayed in land-based hotels. Many lines will not even provide individual bars of soap. Therefore, you should consider bringing your own preferred brands of personal cleansing products when heading off on a cruise.
While luxury cruise lines still provide premium branded toiletries, and often give you a choice between two different brands, the trend towards bulk product dispensers of everyday toiletry products is growing across the cruise industry. This appears to be an example of how cruise lines are finding ways to reduce costs without completely withdrawing products like these.
You will still find prestigious brands like Bulagri on Silversea, L’Occitane on Uniworld River Cruises and Penhaligan of London on Cunard ships. However, if you are cruising with mass-market lines like Carnival, Costa and MSC Cruises then remember you will only be receiving pump-dispenser bulk toiletries and decide if you want to bring your own instead.
The post 60-Second Cruise Tips 032: Bring your favorite toiletries appeared first on Tips For Travellers.
MSC Cruises is the newest of the four largest passenger cruise lines to be created. Their rapid growth over the last decade has seen them join the longer established Carnival Corporation (1972), Royal Caribbean (1969) and Norwegian Cruise Line (1966) as one of the larger players in the business. However, Carnival and Royal Caribbean still dominate cruising carrying, based on Cruise Market Watch estimates, over 70% of passengers.
The Italian Aponte family created the line as a spin off from their privately owned Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), which they had already built into a major sea freight operator. MSC Cruises is Mediterranean inspired and promises a “Mediterranean Way of Life” on board. This means they have a strong focus on families, relaxed but efficient service and food from the region – especially Italian. There is a laid-back atmosphere and informal dress codes. They provide more traditional entertainment and activities rather than attractions like water slides, ice rinks and brand name production shows. The ships have partnerships with famous Italian brands such as Nutella, Segafredo coffee, Disaronno liquor, Venti Gelato and the premium Italian food chain Eataly
MSC embraces a more multi-lingual and multi-cultural approach than most cruise lines. It uses six official languages and so attracts cruisers from many countries. It is popular with families as children under 18 travel free, when staying in the same cabin as their parents, and they offer good kids’ clubs and family friendly entertainment. Some English-speaking passengers are put off by the idea of announcements being made in all languages but most enjoy the mix of different nationalities once on board.
The line is more popular in the Mediterranean, South America and South Africa. They are trying to attract more North Americans to the line and even placed the MSC Divina in Miami and run a large Caribbean schedule in the European winter. MSC are also trying to tap into the fast growing Australian cruise habit by placing ships there and running Grand Voyages from Europe through Asia to Australia.
MSC Cruises operate busy, bustling ships providing good-value fares with service, food and facilities to match this pricing. They especially appeal to families as children under 18 sharing a cabin with their parents travel free; they have good kid’s clubs, special family tours and traditional-style family friendly entertainment. Their ships are not full of added features like ice-rinks, water slides and brand-name production shows and provide a more interactive and classic approach to entertainment. MSC attracts a mixture of nationalities and run with six different language announcements, on-board materials and tours to reflect their wide cultural appeal. In Europe most of the passengers are likely to be Italians, French and Spanish, in South America Brazilian and in South Africa the locals.
MSC Versus Luxury Lines
MSC Cruises provides a good value vacation. Their fares are priced attractively compared to many cruise lines making them especially appealing to families.
Common with luxury lines MSC does offer:
MSC Cruise operates a number of classes of ships. The “Fantasia” Class ships are their large resort-style ships carrying over 4,000 passengers. These ships include MSC Divina, MSC Preziosa and the MSC Splendida. They also have ships that pre-date these which are smaller and include ships like the MSC Lirica that carries fewer than 2,000 guests.
They have a fairly young fleet, although not the youngest in the industry. Stuart Chiron of The Cruise Guy provided data at the time of writing showing Aida has the youngest fleet at 6.9 years, Cunard at 7 years and MSC Cruises third at an average age of 7.08.
In this episode of the Tips for Travellers video podcast I take you on a video tour of one of the luxurious Cunard Cruise Line Queen Mary 2 Queens Grill Q5 Suites. These generous sized suites are the main style of suites in Queens Grill class and have a large seating area, bedroom, dressing room and bathroom – along with a vast balcony. For more visit http://www.tipsfortravellers.com/cunard
The post Tips for Travellers Video Podcast 156: Cunard Cruise Line Queen Mary 2 Queens Grill Q5 Suite appeared first on Tips For Travellers.
Gary Bembridge of Tips for Travellers shares observations, tips and advice for visitors to Sydney in Australia.
This show covers among other topics:
Where to stay
Top things to do
Explore the icons
Visit the beaches
Sydney Tower and Skywalk