MSC Meraviglia Review

Click to enlarge (Courtesy MSC)

Reviewed By: Tony Barraclough, Guest Contributor, 10th Jun 2017

(Star rating: 5 out of 5)

Guest contributor, Tony Barraclough (UK), has just returned form 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 cruising with many other cruise lines, so he knows what he is talking about.

Tony  has written two reviews and tells it, how it is.  He has kindly given me permission to share his reviews with you.

Nobody Does It Better – Msc Meraviglia Yacht Club.

Many of you will remember the films of the 20th century where the debonair hero arrives in Monte Carlo, pulls his Aston Martin up in front of the hotel and leaves it to the valet, straight to check-in, welcomed by name and up to his luxury suite to have a bottle of champagne waiting. He then lives in a cocoon of martinis and gourmet meals.

A fantasy world that cruisers in mega ships can only dream about – until recently where MSC introduced the ship within a ship concept – The Yacht Club – at the front of the Fantasia Class ships.

Now the next generation is here with the MSC Meraviglia. There are 2 major changes in the Meraviglia Yacht Club. Firstly the exclusive restaurant is now part of the complex, compared with the previous ones, where the restaurant was at the back of the ship. The second change is that they have added a small number of inside suites which offer the full YC experience at about the same price as a main ship balcony cabin.

So having experienced the Yacht Club on the Divina a couple of years ago we booked a Yacht Club Inside cabin on The Meraviglia’s maiden cruise from Le Havre to Genoa.

Le Havre is not a major embarkation port and the embarkation for the main ship was a nightmare with luggage dropped in the front of the terminal on the opposite berth to the ship. Then into check-in, wait on a coach and then to the centre staircase.

Not so for Yacht Club passengers. You are escorted to a dedicated drop-in point, escorted via a short walk to a separate building with 3 check-in desks, a quick passport check and then a security check and escorted by a butler to an exclusive boarding point, into the lift lobby and a quick flash of his special card at the lifts calls one on priority. Straight up to the 16th floor,through the glass doors (special card of course) and to the concierge desk. Again a quick passport check and you receive your magic card. Then escorted to your cabin and first look at the cabin, sorry suite. Waiting for you is a bottle of bubbly on ice. and 2 glasses.

The cabin is, not surprisingly, not quite a suite. It is a lavishly designed small inside cabin with a shower and remarkably little storage space, but we knew that from the descriptions.

Click to enlarge (T.Barraclough)

So upstairs for a tour of the public areas.

Starting on the top deck (Deck 19) you have your private sun deck with more than enough padded sun loungers, 3 cabanas, several settee groups, several dining tables, a small plunge pool and a hot tub. To go with this there is a full bar and buffet area.

Next floor down is the exclusive restaurant, with a stunning forward view.

Down one more to the Lounge, again across the front of the ship with a huge bar and a cold buffet with plenty of nibbles throughout the day and a small stage with piano.

In the Yacht Club you are cocooned away from the rest of the ship and I will review the main ship separately, but once outside the Yacht Club you have all the facilities of a mega ship and now your magic card gives you the all-inclusive drinks package throughout the ship – not quite as expansive as the choices in the Yacht Club but more than enough.

You often hear the phrase “Nothing is too much trouble” but in the Yacht Club that is never said because it is simply what they do.

So down to practicalities.

Food in the Yacht Club is at worst the same as the best in the main ship. The restaurant is open for Breakfast, lunch and dinner and is a real step up from the Divina, both in decor and the food. It has its own kitchens and the menus are well thought out, superbly cooked and presented, if somewhat meagre in portions with some dishes but always as many courses as you wanted.

Seating is anytime and we never had to wait more than a couple of minutes for a table for two. Pace is easy-going and never rushed out to make way for later eaters.

Breakfast and lunch can be taken al-fresco and on the first day the lunch comprised a roast beef carvery with a whole leg – It took 2 lift it onto the counter – Toby carvery was never like this.

IMG_6136_zpsmqq1gxjl

Meat! (T.Barraclough)

Drink in the Yacht Club is all included except for a very few top shelf drinks and bottles of wine. If you want any drink and can explain it they will make it. (Vodka Martini, shaken not stirred gets the reply what vodka would ypu like). The mini-bar is replenished twice a day and whilst not an extensive range, if you have a favourite beer or soft drink they will swap it.

Negatives – not many but MSC need to change the canned music during the day – it is best described as Ibiza party music or morose, no happy medium. Language skills(English) in the butlers and staff are noticeably poorer, but this was the inaugural cruise with few English speakers amongst the passengers.

Although other mega ships are now moving to the exclusive area offer I think the YC has upped the standard again, and when you can get all this for the same as a basic balcony offer from the competition roll on my next chance to travel YC.

Tomorrow we are moving into the main ship for a 5 day back to back cruise in a balcony so I will post a full review on the main ship next week.

MSC17010761-1-1280x640.jpg

(Courtesy MSC)

Msc Meraviglia – Like Benidorm On Steroids.

Reviewed By: Guest Contributor Tony Barraclough, 17th Jun 2017

(Star rating 4 out of 5)

As detailed in my review of a week in the Yacht Club we moved into a standard Balcony (Midships deck 14) for a B2B 5 day Genoa to Barcelona cruise.

Firstly, the ship is, as expected, beautiful in many ways and many of the features in MSC ships are to be found, including the Swarovski staircases and great Ice Creams.

The cabin is pretty much what you expect of a new ship, but surprisingly features a full bath. The fittings are various shades of brown, but generally quite dark. Although not over large, it has a settee and a stool, but not enough storage for longer than a week for 2. Families would struggle for both storage and access to bathroom if there were a second bed set-up. There are 2 continental sockets and a USB point. The TV is interactive with the new “MSC for you” app, which takes a degree to navigate (or a 10-year-old).

Worth pointing out that as we were B2B we had to register at customer services on changeover day. Throughout the cruise we never saw the C S queue take less than 1 hour, morning, noon and night.

We didn’t bother with the MDR which has a pseudo flexi dining system, which, by the way, if you don’t check you will find a time has been allocated for you. However, the buffet has been very good and there have been plenty of seats at the times we have wanted to eat. Also on the one sea day the buffet was but very busy surprisingly not rammed.

One area MSC needs to address urgently is hand hygiene – they have installed relatively few sinks in alcoves at the entrances of the buffet, which are often less than clean and almost everybody ignores them. Bring back hand gel please.

For those familiar with MSC you will find the whole dynamic of the ship is very different to the Fantasia Class ships. The open plaza, the high number of families of all ages both contribute to the Benidorm feel, but mainly the choice and volume of the music, particularly on the pool decks. The sea day was particularly manic on deck. By 1000 every sunbed was reserved and passengers were spreading towels on the running track floor.

Peace and quiet and pleasant background music are the exception throughout the ship.

The best way to describe the dynamic is imagine the Solana hotel (From TVs Benidorm) on steroids. The pool deck is full every day, even port days, and on sea days it is impossible to find any space upstairs to relax.

Click to enlarge (T.Barraclough)

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 – we hadn’t checked in with her when we came through the first door, despite the fact she had no signs up and just seemed like any member of staff simply showing a couple how things worked.

Needless to say, neither I nor the ones behind moved an inch, but a German couple still forced their way despite being told to wait in line.

Highlights for us included the Sky Lounge on deck 18, quiet most of the time and a great view of the pool area, and the Chocolate bar area, which does great coffees and brandy. If you can get one of the cubicles you even have a porthole view. One tip if you are on the all-inclusive package order your coffee and a spirit separately – not a French or Irish coffee which are chargeable.

The highly publicized Cirque Du Soleil event is an extra-charge show at 20 for a cocktail and show or 35 for the show and a novelty 3 course meal. Starts with a guitarist and rhythm box duo, joined later by an excellent South American singer. As the dinner ends and the cocktail audience get settled the main show starts and lasts about 40 minutes. Suffice to say it involves a light and sound show and a stage show with aerial and stage based artistic gymnastics. The meal hides its mediocrity in a novelty presentation but the fact that the menu is in very small white on red print and is unreadable says it all.

The C De S is good but beaten by the 270 lounge shows on RCI Ovation of the seas, which are included in the price of your cruise.

The Casino has a split layout and is an absolute delight because there is no smoking in there at all. The bar is well stocked and a decent place to dwell and people watch.

Much of the back half of the upper decks is for kids and big kids, with flight simulators, Formula 1 simulators, 2 full size ten-pin bowling lanes, The Sports Bar, The Sportsplex hall, Kids clubs for all ages and a water park with an elevated rope-walk.

As with most modern cruises, the retail opportunities are many but there seems to be a lot of options appearing aimed at children and emotional blackmail. However, that remains in the control of the passenger.

One other serious issue came to light on our embarkation day. The ship docked at 0900 and there were 2 gangways opened, one supposedly for disembarkation and one for guests staying on. It seemed as if everybody wanted to get off at the same time and by 0930 the main plaza was like a Jeremy Corbyn rally. Scheduled disembarkation times dropped by 45 minutes we just went off before called and our luggage was already on the belt. I guess those just there for the day had to queue to get back on as well, but tempers were fraying in the morning as waiting times were over 30 minutes and anarchy seemed to rule.

One of the issues is that the mid-ship exit is very close to where the Plaza meets the Atrium and splits around the barrier. (This area is also where the Captain meets passengers for photos and again it blocks all movement).

Also several extra members of staff have been brought in temporarily and staff numbers are planned to reduce as the new staff settle in.

IMG_3979_zpspfpstcee

Click to enlarge (T.Barraclough)

So is the Meraviglia a success?

I don’t doubt it will be a great success for the target market, families and young-minded people who like to party – similar to RCI and Norwegian. There is style and class in abundance, but for Alison and I, we will be looking to return to the Fantasia Class as they have a slightly less manic feel, whilst maintaining the high standards we expect from MSC. ( Or of course The Meraviglia Yacht Club if prices and availability coincide with our holidays.)

The Meraviglia is much more a family cruise ship with the energy and enthusiasm for kids of all ages running free at all times.

And the Meraviglia still has some way to go on cleaning and queue discipline, but the staff were all helpful and willing, despite being overwhelmed with more nationalities/languages than I have seen on any previous cruise.

Tony Barraclough

Below – MSC’s next class of ship, ‘Seaside’:

Below – and The ‘World Class’:

Meraviglia images by Golhen, Frannz – HERE

Malcolm says: I was not on-board, but it sounds form Tony’s reviews that MSC have got their ‘hardware’ (facilities, public rooms etc.) right with Meraviglia, but not all aspects of their ‘software’ (the on-board services).  In particular, MSC have not got the organisation and  passenger-flow right on this ship yet.

Organisation is critical on such a big ship (171,598 gross tonnes) carrying so many passengers (up to 5,714 ).

Unsuitable infrastructure (Barcelona cruise terminal) may not have helped disembarkation/embarkation.

abc

Meraviglia – upstairs disembarkation, downstairs the customer services queue (Barcelona – source unknown).

Meraviglia represents a $1 billion investment and is currently under media, industry and public scrutiny. MSC cannot afford to get it wrong for too long.

From Tony’s review, it sounds like some crew members  are on a very steep learning curve.

Queuing for an hour at customers services would definitely leave  a bitter taste in my mouth. As would taking part in a scrum to get show tickets. Both experiences would be totally unacceptable to me.

Passengers on the maiden voyage, may have already been put off from cruising Meraviglia again or even MSC as a whole.  I know that Tony has not been put off MSC, but I don’t think that he will be re-booking Meraviglai in a hurry.

Tony has said subsequently to me “MSC didn’t put the extra cruise terminal facilities in place, thinking that the change in size was insignificant compared to the Fantasia class, which they handle well. Unfortunately they didn’t start at that passenger level or transfer over the learning on queues and staffing levels/expertise. Hopefully they will take the feedback constructively”.

I was on-board early ‘Norwegian Epic’ and ‘Oasis of the Seas’ cruises, when the ships were very new. I’m not suggesting that their respective on-board experiences were perfect, but NCL and RCI had largely got all the major things right from the very start, including handling the large numbers of passengers.

Worryingly MSC have more big ships on the drawing board, including the even bigger ‘World Class’.  These giant ships 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.  Is that wise?

MSC really need to get their customer service passenger-flow right.

Malcolm

PS. I’m impressed with Meraviglia’s deck names: Babylon Deck, Piramids Deck, Iguazu Deck, Tour Eiffel Deck, Angkor Wat Deck, Kilimanjaro Deck, Grand Canyon Deck, Acropolis Deck, Hagia Sophia Deck, Alhambra Deck, Machu Picchu Deck, Taj Mahal Deck, Petra Deck and Colosseo Deck.