Today we boarded MSC Meraviglia for a three night cruise to their private destination, Ocean Cay. It's a trip of firsts, which we'll discuss, and we're excited to experience and share it all. Because this is a three night cruise though, I'm going to keep the live blog short, but will cover more details in the days after our cruise.
A Little Background
We booked this sailing recently during an amazing promotion that we highlighted (we list spectacular value cruises here), and then got the chance to big on a Yacht Club suite. The Yacht Club is MSC's "ship in a ship" experience, which has butlers, exclusive restaurants, bars, a pool, and includes drinks, and WiFi. While we bid very low, we got the upgrade - so we're getting a real treat this sailing! This, combined with our recent experience in Celebrity Cruises Retreat is really going to spoil us. I'll put together specific information about Yacht Club, but I want to make sure to cover a spectrum of things on this cruise.
A Different Embarkation at PortMiami
MSC is building what looks to be a beautiful new terminal in PortMiami, but as it's not opening for another year, our sailing left from Terminal C, which was NCL's old terminal. For reasons unknown to me, guests had to park at Terminal G, and then take a shuttle to the terminal. This wasn't a big deal at all - but the port had very poor signage for this sailing. It's not the end of the world (and may not be MSC's fault), but it's something to note if you're sailing MSC from Miami.
Once we found the shuttle we were dropped off right where at the entrance. There was a tent just for Yacht Club guest. They checked the manifest and escorted us past the line and right to security, and then from security directly to each subsequent step. To be honest, this was really neat, and probably a great perk on busy sailings, but with around 800 guests on this cruise (so I've heard), it probably only saved us a couple of minutes.
A Yacht Club butler even handled our carry-ons while we boarded.
One step we're not used to was testing. MSC is currently giving all guests COVID tests at the terminal, regardless of vaccination status. On the initial sailings for this ship it slowed things down, but clearly they've smoothed out the process. We arrived right at our assigned time (noon), and we were on the ship around 12:40pm. While their embarkation doesn't feel as polished, using paper instead of apps, for example, it was certainly efficient. Note: As of Aug 27, all guests must present a negative test at the terminal, and all guests 12+ must prove they're fully vaccinated.
There are only a couple of stateroom types in the Yacht Club. The 'standard' YC rooms are similar to suites on many lines, with a larger living area, and a very large restroom with full size walk-in shower. There are a couple of much larger suites, and a handful of inside rooms which are part of YC, which is interesting - and they can often be had for very compelling prices.
Our room is interesting in that it's all the way forward, all the way up (only a pool deck and restaurant are above us). The balcony has a sloped window so the wind doesn't make it impossible to enjoy. It's a unique perspective, and may not be for everyone, but I think I dig it. The fit and finish is very nice, and the layout practical.
Roaming About the Ship
I had to work the first few hours of the cruise (yes, you just might be able to work from a cruise ship), but I did take a short stroll, and we had a quick but nice lunch in the Yacht Club Restaurant.
I also checked out a few areas of open deck. It's remarkable that in addition to the Yacht Club pool and hot tub, there are at least two more pools and at least five more hot tubs. One of the areas with these is the Bamboo Pool and Bamboo Bar area. This areas is two stories and has a retractable roof. On Seaside it's decorated in a way that feels a bit cartoonish, but on this ship it's lovely. Larissa actually thought it was just for suite guests at first. I can see hanging out here a lot, especially with the views it offers while still being somewhat shaded. The main pool has a very resort-like aesthetic that I personally favor over the "family fun time" look of some ships.
How is MSC's Buffet?
I've heard many cruisers discuss MSC's buffets - and while I'll admit that in the past, and tonight, there was less of a variety than on some other cruises, I really enjoyed what i had. There was a bit more variety tonight than on our Seaside cruise, which was great. The quality though, I found, was very good. I had some pasta that was cooked perfectly, as well as dal, pizza, a caprese salad, and soup. One benefit of the low capacity was that only a quarter or third of the buffet was open, so I didn't have to loop around time find all my options, and in the past, I think this long loop was part of what made some feel there weren't enough options.
Drink service at the buffet was fast and efficient. If you want a simple glass of water, juice, or something else that is complimentary, they do have someone stationed at the beverage area to assist, so that, much like the buffet itself, you don't serve yourself. The roaming staff was perfectly happy going to the beverage station for you as well.
Drinks & A Show - But Not Together
We got a drink at the onboard British pub, The Brass Anchor. Oru favorite scotches and a nice selection of beers are on the menu, so we were happy with this and the guitar player/vocalist, Russ (find him on Instagram). He has a fun, somewhat raspy voice that is full of energy.
From the pub we went to the main theater to see the show, Born to Rock. On the way in, we were told we can't bring drinks in. It was a bit of a bummer and the opposite of what I really like in ship theaters - cabaret seating with bar service. On the upside, it probably kept me from needing to get up for a bathroom break. The show is described as a "live tribute, dedicated to the most unforgettable rock legends." I said that MSC Seaside shows were the best I'd seen at sea - even though the entertainment didn't jive with some. Well this show was great, btu far more Americanized. The bottom line though, is that MSC manages to hire the most powerful vocalists willing to get on a ship. The folks are amazing, and have voices that are jaw-dropping.
MSC does three shows a night (even before COVID), so while the theater is small, it works well. There is another theater space on this ship for other shows as well. This is a lot of work for the performers, but means that every seat is closer to the action, and I like how it works out for guests. Also, the 10:30 show (which we attended) was for vaccinated guests only. Multiple crew members verified guests had on white wristbands (indicating we're vaccinated), and then we were told we could remove our masks while in the show. I'm definitely used to wearing a mask, but it was nice for sure.
Tomorrow's Big Plans
MSC's private island is called Ocean Cay (well, Ocean Cay Marine Reserve - but who has the time to say all that?). We'll arrive tomorrow morning, and we were originally scheduled to sail late at night, but it turns out we're actually leaving at around 8:00am the next day. There is nighttime entertainment, food and drinks, plus a light show that I am really excited to see and share.
The island has been around for years, but was 'rehabilitated' by the cruise line just recently, opening only weeks before the shutdown, so few cruises have visited. I'm really excited to see what they've done, and enjoy a full day in port.
Some things worth noting that I'll likely go into in future posts and videos:
- MSC still needs to simplify their drink packages. Royal Caribbean and others realized this a few years ago. Their packages can represent a good value, but having too many just confuses and disappoints folks
- The internet on this ship is good. Definitely one of the better connections we've had at sea. The prices for it aren't bad either, and vary a lot depending on the package, but their highest speed service is included with Yacht Club bookings.
- MSC ships look much nicer in person than in photos and videos. I suspect it has something to do with lighting temperature and the number of reflective surfaces.
- The crew so far, not just in YC, has been fantastically friendly and helpful. So much so that it's standing out, and worthy of special mention.