Meraviglia – Ship Of Nightmares?

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Meraviglia/Barcelona – Disembarkation above, customer services queue below (Source Unknown).

MSC’s Meraviglia (‘Wonder’ in English) has been called their most exciting ship yet. She is certainly their most expensive yet and biggest, in terms of gross tonnage and passenger capacity.

Meraviglia is 171,598 gross tonnes and carries up to 5,714 passengers. She is part of a rapid expansion of MSC’s fleet comprising of three new classes of ship: Meraviglia, Seaside and The Word Class.

Last month she complete her maiden cruise and the internet is now receiving reviews form Meraviglia’s maiden cruise and her subsequent cruises.

I’ve not been on the ship myself and I’m unlikely to be welcomed on-board after writing this.  However if you ‘google’ “Meraviglia Reviews”, you will find that many  passengers feel that the ship is genuinely ‘wonderful’,  but there also comments suggesting that everything is not well.

Now I fully appreciate all reviews are very subjective, but certain criticism are appearing again and again.

Below are a few lines that I have borrowed form some pubic reviews on the net:

  • Found our 1st cruise very stressful & spent a lot of time queuing & trying to either get an answer or help sorting things out. Found staff & people very rude pushing & shoving & no manners buffet area at times reminded me of a shop sale – getting a table at times was a joke.
  • The ships public area interior is stunning visually but the whole experience was disappointing, due to amateurish dining service and failing IT systems. We know cruise lines have issues in the early days, but queuing for hours on board should never happen daily, new ship or not.
  • For the Brits on board there is the additional problem with the lack of control on any queue – so much so that I had queued at the Cirque de Soleil desk for about 20 minutes, just got to the front when a MSC rep said I had queue jumped and needed to go to the back of the queue which stretched a further 20 yards by this time.
  • BUT the most significant failure was the IT system and inadequate contingency planning as it impacted the dining, billing and bar service. Our MSC app never worked on board.
  • Throughout the cruise we never saw the Customer Services queue take less than 1 hour, morning, noon and night.

(MSC )

Poor Design & Poor Passenger Organisation?

Meraviglia is currently under media, industry and public scrutiny.

It’s not so unusual for a new ship to have teething problems. There is normally a mixture of experienced and inexperienced crew members, all working in a new environment, all trying to form an effective team.  Some service issues are not uncommon, such as slow and/or inaccurate dining room and bar service.

All reviewers agree that Meraviglia  has some excellent ‘hardware’ (the ship itself), but many feel that the ‘software’ (crew/service) has some serious issues. These have been highlighted again and again, in early reviews. Nevertheless, some reviews still have good star ratings, but NOT all.

personally I would be able to turn a blind eye to the number of issues and the scale of the issues, reported on-board Meraviglia in recent reviews. There include poor on-board organisation, poor crowd-control, resulting in queues and congestion.

I never  want to visit customer service during a cruise. If I do, something has clearly gone wrong for me. If passengers are queuing for an hour at Meraviglia’s customer services desk, that must mean 1)The staff are inefficient and/or of an insufficient number. 2) The number of passengers with problems must be considerable.

Some passengers on the maiden voyage seem to have already been put off from cruising on Meraviglia again or even MSC as a whole.

Stiff Competition

Meraviglia is now just one of many family-orientated/high-energy ships available from a number of different cruise lines. MSC are competing with mega-ships operated by Carnival, RCI, NCL, P&O, Princess, Carnival and Costa .

In the past decade ‘Royal Caribbean’ and the ‘Norwegian Cruise Line’ have been very successful at introducing a variety of big new ships into service, such as Oasis, Epic and the Breakaway class. I’m not suggesting that their respective maiden experiences were all perfect, but they often managed to avoid serious service issue from the very start, including handling the large numbers of passengers that their mega-ships carry.

In the case of the ‘Oasis’ class which currently carries the largest number of passengers afloat (up to 6,296) the ship generally feels spacious and not overcrowded, even during embarkation, disembarkation and in the ports of call. So how was this achieved?

Well firstly the ‘Oasis’ class has a better space-to-passenger ratio (more room per passenger) than Meraviglia: 35 Oasis, 30 Meraviglia, based on all berth occupancy.

Secondly the ‘Oasis’ is very well designed with few bottle-necks.

Thirdly RCI have build big dedicated cruise terminals and new docks at Oasis’s ports of call. Swiping on and off in the ports of call take place on the shore-side, rather than on-board.

Fourthly RCI’s on-board organisation is excellent.

MSC have some stiff competition.  Meraviglia represents a $1 billion investment so MSC cannot afford to get it wrong for too long.

Just Teething Problems?

I’m not completely heartless.  I can forgive a new ship and its crew for minor service issues on a maiden cruise.

However early reviews suggest that Meraviglia’s has many issues, some of which sound quite major.

I would expect even the cheapest cruise to have elements of luxury about it. The on-board experience should NOT feel like a last minute shopping at a big mall on Christmas Eve. Nobody should have to tolerate their cruise being an ‘experiment’ or ‘training ground’, unless it’s free!

However some reviewers still gave Meraviglia  4 or 5 stars (out of 5). This is their prerogative of course, but this is over generous, given the content of their reviews.

For me to give a ship to give a ship 4 stars (out of 5) most aspects of the experience would need to be “very good”.  Likewise for me to give 5 stars (out of 5), most aspects of the experience would need to be “excellent”. I could not ignore long queues and disorganisation on-board, happening on a regularly basis.

Before I get flamed by MSC fans: Of course it is too early to call Meraviglia ‘unsuccessful’ and probably far too sensationalist. However it’s not been the great start that MSC had  hoped for.

A Need For Remedial Action

Fortunately service issues and on-board organistion are much easier to rectify that if the hardware had been wrong.

I suspect many of the crew on board Meraviglia are on a steep learning curve.

I would imagine that MSC  are already making improvements to the various service issues, particularly the passenger-flow.

I bet ‘Geniuses’ are looking at all those unreliable IT systems very carefully.

I’m sure that the management will be doing everything within their power to turn Meraviglia’s early reputation around.

The lack of infrastructure (a suitably big cruise terminal at Barcelona for example) would not have helped Meraviglia’s disembarkation and embarkation. However I believe MSC have plans to invest in new cruise terminals, in homeports.

However Meraviglia is too expensive for MSC to let her fail.

Lessons must be quickly learned. MSC also have  more big ships on the drawing board, including the even bigger ‘World Class’.

The ‘world Class’  will carry up to 6,850 passengers, that’s around 554 more passengers than RCI’s ‘Oasis’ class, the world’s biggest cruise ship. However the ‘World Class’ will be some 25,000 gross tonnes (12.5 per cent) smaller.

MSC really need to get it  right.

(If you don’t agree with me, or even if you do, please post a comment.)

Meraviglia Review

Guest contributor, Tony Barraclough (UK), was on  Meraviglia’s maiden voyage.

In fact Tony did a back-to-back itinerary: Le Havre to Genoa, then Genoa to Barcelona. He occupied two different grades of cabin.

Tony has done ten MSC cruises, as well as ten with other cruise lines, so he knows what he is talking about.

Tony  has written two straight-talking reviews which feature many positives and negatives.  He has kindly given me permission to share his reviews with you.

MSC Meraviglia review: HERE

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3 Responses to “Meraviglia – Ship Of Nightmares?”

  1. Malcolm Oliver Says:

    Hi Rick, thanks for you comments.

    I have been on many big ships including Oasis. I though that the Oasis crew and ship handled the high passenger numbers amazingly well. However this was probably also due to the new infrastructure that RCI had invested in including a massive new terminal at Miami and adapting all of the ports of call on her regular routes.

    I’m not anti-MSC or anti-Meraviglia. I’ve not been on-board the ship yet, but my article reflects what many early review have said about Meraviglia: the ship is lovely but the on-board organisation leaved a lot to be desired.

    These may just be teething problems – or something more serious. I will be watching new reviews for improvements.

    Malcolm

  2. Rick Says:

    Hey Malcolm, Have you been on Oasis Class ships? We have done two trips onboard Allure of the Seas and trust me that ship is also overcrowded when at full capacity. As I am pretty sure those ships had similar teething problems as Meraviglia is now facing (but time heals all wounds and makes us forget). Terminal capacity is an issue MSC cannot be held responsible for since it is not their terminal, so yes it would be a good idea if MSC could invest in larger terminals themselves (but then again try getting very smoothly on or off an Oasis Class during rush hour at the terminal, even in a terminal built for Oasis ships) and using two terminals (in Barcelona) could be an option when available. Does this mean that the ship and crew are perfect? Absolutely not. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. Unfortunately it has become some sort of (inter)national sport to trash new ships (as far as I could see Meraviglia was pretty finished, unlike some Quantum Class ships when they came into service). Hopefully you will have the opportunity to experience Meraviglia yourself in a few weeks/months when the excitement settles down…

  3. Edwin Todd Says:

    Of course she does. All of these mega cruise ships are far too big and carry too many passengers. To be on a ship, no matter how big, with a passenger list as large as the population of the place where I live, would fill me with nothing but dread.

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