Our one and only port of call on this three night cruise is to MSC's private island in The Bahamas. The major cruise lines all have these types of destinations, but because this property was only recently developed, I was excited to see how it compares to others.
Breakfast in the Sun
We started our day a bit too late for breakfast in any of the dining rooms, but the buffet by the Yacht Club's pool was still open. There was a selection of cold items, including smoked salmon, pastries, and fruits. Additionally, a chef was there to make eggs in any style, and could also make fresh pancakes, French toast, or waffles. The friendly staff prepared plates for us and brought us espresso. Enjoying the sun before things got too hot, we sat out on deck gazing at the island and both remarked that the omelet I ordered was incredibly good. It wasn't too oily, and the vegetables were fresh.
Going Ashore In Style
When ready to head to the island, we stopped at the Yacht Club Concierge, and they escorted us through crew corridors directly to the gangway, and handed us off to a driver who took us and a couple of others to the special Yacht Club area on the island. The ride was welcome, since the area we were visiting was on the opposite corner of the island and would have been a very long walk in any weather. I was able to scout out some of the island during the drive as well, which was good because it being our first visit, I wanted to get the lay of the land and not just see the suite area and leave.
First Views of Ocean Cay
Quickly I realized there were many pretty beaches and lagoons for all guests to enjoy. One even had a series of floating platforms in the middle of a large body of water that some swam out to and were laying out on. All along the various beaches were restrooms, bars, and places to get food. Some dining options are walk-up "food trucks" of sorts, and others were more typical outdoor restaurants. These areas were all connected via paved paths, which had speakers placed all along them playing relaxing music. I really like this, as you feel very much like you're on a remote oasis, but with the additional ambiance of the music.
Every strip of beach and area of rocky shore was met by turquoise waters that looked to be right off a postcard. On the beaches was plenty of seating. Sure, there were traditional loungers, but some beaches had beanbag style chairs and other fun and comfy looking furniture. In fact, I think this island has the greatest variety of beaches and seating options of any I've seen. What it doesn't have is a pool, a waterslide, or zip lines. The goal at Ocean Cay appears to be rather different than Coco Cay, where we recently visited. This island is a place you go to enjoy a beach - and they seem to have executed that very well.
Looking out at the island, you don't notice a ton of shade, but when you walk around you quickly find plenty of trees just large enough to provide protection from the sun, as well as covered bars and other spots to cool off.
Yacht Club Beach Area at Ocean Cay
On arrival at Ocean House, the restaurant and bar with beautiful outdoor and indoor seating (indoors only for vaccinated guests), the staff explained when lunch would be available, where restrooms were, and pointed out the adjacent beaches. We scanned QR codes on the table to get the food and drink menus, and I was immediately impressed by the dishes and specialty cocktails offered.
The outdoor seating is on a large wrap-around patio of sorts, and covered enough to be very comfortable. There are couches, comfy seats, plus more traditional tables and chairs for dining. Just a few feet away were some loungers in the grass overlooking large rocks on the water. I didn't know what to photograph, as every angle looked amazing.
After a few drinks we ordered lunch. I had a blue crab salad and blackened mango mahi. If I paid for these dishes at a specialty restaurant, I'd have been delighted with the quality. Everything was fresh, and the staff was happy to customize things. We also ordered a veggie burger, which wasn't on the menu, and it was clearly made by the chefs, not a store-bought patty. As I write this, I'm thinking this may have been my favorite meal of the cruise so far.
Heading Back to Meraviglia for a Recharge
I was determined to see more of the island, but I also needed to drop off my laptop and camera gear, (I was shooting this week's episode of "Billy's Cruise Takes" on the island). I probably would have schlepped it around, but I knew I'd also feel better ducking into the a/c a bit, and cleaning up. Returning to the ship just meant an easy cart ride back and we headed right to our rooms - though through the standard passenger corridors.
In our room, I cleaned up, enjoying the spacious shower, and made some espresso to recharge my mind. Yacht Club rooms have a Nespresso maker (different branding actually, but the same machine I have at home - perhaps just rebranded for Europe), so while I could call up the butler and ask for anything, this was really simple and hit the spot.
There is a large lighthouse on the island, sitting just forward of the ship, so easily seen from our forward balcony. We wanted to go there to hear the pub singer and check out a different part of the island. It is, according to the staff, a seven minute walk. It was hot, though, and we were told they ran a shuttle. We waited, and waited, and were assured it was coming...until they said it wasn't. This was frustrating, and contrary to the great service we've received both in and out of the suite areas so far. Moments later, someone came up, apologized, and said that while the shuttle had stopped, they'd be happy to give us a ride.
The trip there took us along another beach with multiple bars. Pulling up to the lighthouse, we were impressed by the size up close. They do offer "tours" where you climb to the top, but this is only at certain times. At the base is a large covered bar with a sort of Key West theme. There was a second section of seating a bit closer to the water, with large umbrellas to offer shade. All of the seating was comfortable outdoor couch-style furniture. In fact, that's something I've noticed MSC does well on the ship and on the island - comfy chairs.
We enjoyed the music from Russ (the pub singer), and chatted with him between sets. There weren't many guests at the bar (the ship only seems to be at about 20-30% capacity), so we enjoyed a private show and a team of bartenders. This is where I noticed that this bar had not only a unique drink menu (something I like about MSC), but a food menu, too. The food items at this bar aren't complimentary, but they're inexpensive (a few dollars for the most part) and all made to order. We enjoyed a yuca salad and conch fritters.
Eventually, the sun got low in the sky and we remembered all the things we wanted to do back onboard. There was no shuttle to take us back, but the walk was pleasant, and allowed us to see more of this section of the beach - which may be the closest beach to the ship, and seemed the most popular.
Dinner and a Show
We decided to have dinner in the Yacht Club Restaurant so we will have tried all three meals there, and hit other spots tomorrow. I felt it was good, but not stunning. I actually preferred the food we had on the island. The service was excellent, though, and Larissa really enjoyed her meal, noting that the fish soup and sweet rice dessert dish reminded her of dishes her grandmother makes in Brazil. I could tell she was really delighted with it, so to me, that made it the best meal I could ask for.
The restaurant is all the way forward with large windows looking out (right over our room, in fact). This gave us a nice view of the lighthouse, which suddenly came to life. Each night on the island they put on a light show where in addition to robotic lights shining and dancing from the lighthouse, the structure seems to be covered in LEDs, turning it into a massive screen. This was stunning, and a wild contrast to the dark surroundings. In fact, even the beach party and associated DJ booth on the beach just down from the lighthouse shut down so as not to distract from the show. Fortunately, they re-ran the show at 10pm, so we could see it from the outside deck. The times and number of shows can vary, so check the schedule when you visit. You certainly don't want to miss this.
Nightcap at a Hidden Gem
Many ships have venues that should be more popular, and on Meraviglia it's probably the Sky Lounge (a venue name used on ships from seemingly every cruise line). This spot is mid-ship on deck 18 and overlooks the main pool. The view and position make it feel very much like the Viking Crown Lounge on Royal Caribbean ships, although it's much more open and a bit larger.
When scanning the code for the menu here, I found that they tout this as a mixology bar, and they do have some really unusual options. Not only do they mix unique things, but they have some ingredients here that aren't at other bars, as well as a smoker and other fancy tools to make nice drinks. Some cost quite a bit more, $16 to $18, but if you have the premium-plus package, they're included. I'll cover MSC beverage packages in the coming days.
The bar also has several display cases of both sweet and savory items which are complimentary, but they're listed on the menu, and the servers are happy to bring anything to you without you needing to head to the bar.
Two Brazilian women, one a pianist, the the other a singer and guitar player, entertained us with wonderful songs in several languages, including English, French, and Portuguese. As I write this, they've been socializing with Larissa for quite a while, so I know she'll want to be back - and that's fine by me, as they're quite good.
Sea Days Are the Best Days
I love seeing new places, don't get me wrong for a moment. That said, when I'm on a nice ship like Meraviglia, with so many options, and the real desire to just relax, I LOVE a good sea day, and that's what we've got scheduled for tomorrow. I'll be looking to personally test all the bars, loungers, and maybe even a few of the hot tubs - many of which, on this ship, offer wonderful ocean views.
I know many are curious about MSC, so I'll keep trying to share some things I think are worth mentioning but don't fit elsewhere.
- Timing is flexible on MSC. Live musical performances, for example, don't have end times. When do they stop? It depends on how busy things are and what they feel like doing. Even our port times are not concrete. We were scheduled to leave Ocean Cay tonight at 11:00pm (or thereabout, I forget) - the actual departure time? 8:00am (though guests were asked to be back on the ship by midnight)
- MSC is more thorough about boarding security than any line I've been on - something I noticed on Seaside as well. They carefully analyzed the x-rays and had me open my bag, asking about specific items. This makes sense, as I can't imagine how strange a laptop, tablet, tripod, gimbal, wireless mic set, and cables all look to them. It was more than just sunscreen and a hat.
- Every bar has its own unique menu, and it generally corresponds to the venue's theme or use. Scan a QR code and discover special cocktails (and sometimes snacks) that are only available in one place, instead of a boilerplate "example cocktails" menu.
- All guests are wearing what are clearly reprogrammed/repurposed Fitbits. These are for contact tracing, but they also work the same way your key card does, for unlocking your door, charging purchases to your onboard account, etc. One way to improve this would be to tell guests they actually do these things - I thought they were just for contact tracing until the gelateria staff told me to tap by wrist on a pad to pay.