An Italian ship from an American perspective
Embarkation at the Port of Miami, Terminal F, November 10, 2019
This was the first cruise out of Miami for the MSC Meraviglia. She had been in NYC for a couple of cruises after coming out of Europe. Truthfully, embarkation at Terminal F in the Port of Miami was a mess. Hopefully they will get it figured out in the near future. The Meraviglia had to undergo inspections in Miami before she could sail from the port. I guess that everything was inspected, including the ship and the paperwork of each employee. This put everything behind and we were told that we would sail two hours later than expected.
Terminal F is a very large terminal and holds quite a few people. It didn’t seem like it was prepared for the 5,000 boarding the ship, everything was disorganized. We stood in line for an hour just to check in, and later we saw Facebook posts that showed the line was even longer. After we finally got checked in, the waiting area was just as disorganized. They had plenty of nice comfortable open seating for priority guests, but folding chairs, and not enough of them, for everyone else. Many people were sitting on the floor. They did have fruit infused water for everyone.
Since the ship was leaving late we were told that we could not board until 2:00 pm, which meant hungry people waiting, and one candy machine for everyone. When they finally did start boarding, they had no loudspeakers or boarding numbers on the TV’s in the terminal. They had employees trying to yell out the boarding numbers over the din of the crowd. It was chaos. This was the most unorganized boarding that I’ve ever seen. Hopefully this was just a first day glitch.
The MSC Meraviglia is a beautiful ship, inside and out, and was very smooth sailing. You could barely feel her moving. When you walk into the atrium area, you’ll see beautiful Swarovski Crystal staircases, and a huge Promenade LED screen. But this is a very big, noisy, and crowded ship, and is not big enough for the number of passengers, compared to Oasis of the Seas, which had a similar amount of passengers, but was much bigger and quieter. Keep in mind that this ship is geared towards a European market, even though it’s sailing out of Miami right now. It’s not the same as you’d expect on an American Cruise line such as Carnival or Royal Caribbean. One odd thing is that they skip deck 17, instead of deck 13 like most ships. Seems to be an Italian superstition, like the number 13 for Americans.
The Promenade Dome is beautiful and wonderful, I think that it’s the best part of the ship. It changes pictures often, and sometimes has shows playing on it. It’s comparable to Fremont Street in Las Vegas. Also on the Promenade are shops and restaurants. There is a big candy shop with some wonderful chocolate sculptures. There’s a gelato shop, and a coffee shop. All of these cost extra. This is also where they do the parties. The bad thing about the Promenade is that it gets unbearably crowded. The theater lets out into the Promenade, and you can’t move at that point. It’s also very noisy. Early in the morning it’s wonderful though.
Elevators were slow on the ship, and often crowded. There are smaller elevators that look outside on both sides of the ship that are sometimes easier to get to.
Reception Desk Area
The reception desk and the Cirque du Soleil desk often had long lines, especially on the first few days of the cruise. The Cirque du Soleil line got shorter late on the first night of the cruise. The reception desk as staff that will go down the line while you’re waiting and see if they can help. I did manage to get help on my questions by them. On the last day this is where you can go if you want to get a different disembarkation number.
Next Cruise area
There was a small desk used for people to book their next cruise. We didn’t use it, but it was only open certain hours and there was only one person working there. We heard a lot of complaints that she was slow and that they could not get in to book their next cruise with the onboard discount because their weren’t enough agents to handle the desk.
Shops & sales
There are a number of shops down the Promenade. The only one that we shopped at was the MSC Logo store. I always try to buy a ship ornament for my Christmas tree. They didn’t have one, but they did have a small ship model. I can put a hook on it, and use it as an ornament. They have a small pharmacy, but everything is written in Spanish. They are always selling perfumes and watches in one area. It got a little too scented in that area for my taste. I did see sales for purses and a few other things, but no T-shirt sales on this ship. There’s lots of jewelry and alcohol for sale. There is a huge candy store named Jean Philippe Candy and everything looks so good.
Bars and lounges
We never did spend much time at any of the bars or lounges, but they have plenty. We saw one menu and the drinks were $10-$12 on that menu.
The ship has an amusement area that has a basketball court, Formula One race car simulators, a bowling alley, a 3D movie, and an arcade. I rarely saw anyone in the entire area anytime that I walked through. The basketball court would maybe have 3 or 4 people using it, the games area had no one ever, I saw a few people in the arcade once. I never saw anyone at the Sports Bar. It’s a really good place to walk through if you want to get away from people. The door at the end goes out to the small pool in back.
We didn’t check out the kids areas much, but the theme for them is Legos. We saw the staff with some of the kids each evening in the Marketplace buffet. There is a really good kids pool and play area on the top of the ship by the waterslides. They have a shallow pool, along with a lot of water features, and statues. Watch out or the big bucket of water will pour right on top of you. And I never saw it very crowded.
Game Room / Library
There is a game room and library on the ship with a pretty good size library, and also a table with a number of different board games. You could bring cards and play here also. I think that you can buy used cards in the Casino.
Theater & Entertainment
The Broadway theater is one of the best theaters that I’ve seen on a ship. It’s plush and comfy, and has plenty of seats with no posts to get in your way. There is no balcony level. There were always open seats, so it doesn’t get too crowded. They have three shows each evening to handle the number of people. The shows were mixed. We liked some, we thought some were strange, and we didn’t enjoy the frequent opera numbers in the shows. The entertainment staff is very talented, however.
To get a good seat, you need to make reservations ahead of time in the ship kiosks. They also have outdoor movies which seemed to all be Disney or children’s movies, such as the new Aladdin, and the new Dumbo. We didn’t watch any because they also conflicted with the main show. They do not try to sell you drinks before the show in this theater, and drinks and food are not allowed. Also, there are no comedy shows, except for an R-rated improv show that we didn’t go to.
The casino is rather small. It has a non-smoking side and a smoking side, but the whole thing is smoky. There are game tables and jackpot games. There is a bar in the center.
The gym is very small compared to other ships that I’ve been on. There are a handful of weight machines, some free weights, some treadmills, and some elliptical machines. The gym does not look out over the front of the ship, but over the pool area. It was crowded when we were at sea, not as bad when we were at port. The treadmills have screens that you can watch as you run or walk showing different locals, such as a beach. They also sell workout clothing.
I’d guess that the passengers on the ship were about 75% European, and 25% American, Canadian, and a few other cultures. This made for an interesting cruise, but it’s definitely different than what American’s have come to expect on American cruise lines. Americans, be prepared for a bit of culture shock. Announcements are made in several languages, menus in the dining room and buffet are in multiple languages.
Everything that is announced on this ship is announced first in English, then in six or seven different languages. This ship is predominately European in passengers, so they have to make sure that everyone understands what they are saying. There are a number of crew members that do the announcements in the different languages.
The Cruise Director is named Gene Young and is from Utah in the US. He was okay, definitely not one of the best that I’ve seen. Being American, I’m used to Cruise Directors who are fun and kind of silly. Gene is more dignified, I guess, and wore a black suit every time that I saw him. We didn’t see him a lot, mainly at the shows. He always seemed to have the same punchline every single show. We saw him once outside the theater and he didn’t look at us or say hello. Not my favorite. That honor goes to Mikey on the Carnival Sunshine.
I’m so used to connecting with crewmembers during a cruise. Our room steward and our waiter were nice enough, but there was no connection. I didn’t really get to know anyone. One busboy in the back of the buffet at night tried to get to know us a bit, but he was really hard to understand. He was from Bali. And that’s about it. MSC discourages additional tipping besides the tips that are added to your bill, and maybe that’s why the crew is less friendly with passengers. We tipped our room steward extra, but since service was so slow in the dining room, we didn’t tip our waiter.
I didn’t realize till I was on the ship that I had forgotten my Bonine for seasickness. However, the Meraviglia is such a smooth sailing ship that you barely knew it was moving. Green apples, found in the buffet, were enough to keep me feeling well. You can get a couple of seasick pills at the reception desk for free if you really need them.
The muster drill was very simple. You meet at various indoor venues around the ship, according to your muster station letter. They show a film of someone putting on a life jacket while a crewmember puts on a life jacket. Then they explain it in various languages. And that’s all there is to it. Hope they never have a disaster, it will be chaos since nothing was explained.
They do take professional pictures on this ship. We didn’t find any we liked, and a 5×7 was $19.99. You can buy them ready made, or print them out yourself at a kiosk. Don’t get excited, when you view the picture on the kiosk, it’s full of white MSC logos all over the top.
MSC for Me app
MSC for Me is an app for your phone. You can get it before your cruise and it will help you count down to your cruise. Once you get on the ship, you hook it up to the MSC internet hotspot for free, and the app will do much more. Once you open it on the ship it will prompt you to hook it up. You’ll need the Internet number on your sea card, and your room number. It has a chat feature on it, you can chat with others in your group, but it doesn’t always work. It goes out a lot when you’re in certain areas of the ship, like elevators. You can see what the entertainment is for the day. Supposedly you can see the menu, but that never worked for me.
You can also get a wristband that works as your room key, charge card on the ship, and it also works when you make reservations on the kiosk. It costs $5 at the reception desk.
The only wi-fi package that we got was the Social apps one. It was $69.99 for the entire cruise, and allowed you to use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and a few others. I only had a problem with it once, and that was because the internet was down on the ship. Any other time it was pretty fast. My family has a secret Facebook Group that we use to communicate when we’re gone, and the 1500 MB was enough for me to check in on them a few times a day and post a few pictures on my Facebook page. I even had some time left over at the end of the week. It wouldn’t be good if you’re going to post a lot, or download a lot of pictures.
There are a number of pools on the Meraviglia. There is a main pool towards the middle of the ship with really comfy looking beds to the side and plenty of deck chairs. There’s a solarium pool, with a roof that moves. It was always really hot and humid in there. And there is a small pool at the back of the ship, which really wasn’t very crowded. Lots of chairs there too, on tiers. They had a number of whirlpools also.
Waterslides & Rope course
I only rode on one waterslide, the one that you take a tube down. It was actually a lot of fun, but since I had not taken Dramamine, I got a bit sick with the twists and turns. My husband rode all of the waterslides, and said they were fun. There was never a line for the waterslides that I saw. They only have them open certain times of the day, and you have to sign a waiver back behind the slides, and get a wrist band. I never saw anyone on the ropes course but it looked like a good and challenging one. I don’t like heights, so I wasn’t getting near it.
We had a Bella Balcony cabin on deck 9. It was a very nice cabin, comparable to a Carnival balcony cabin. It was tastefully decorated, although I did not like the pictures in the room. The balcony door was a sliding door that you could leave open, and there were two chairs and a foot rest on the balcony. What I did not like about the balcony was that it did not look straight down on the ocean. The balconies on deck 8 below us were much bigger, but looked straight at the lifeboats. We could see the top of the lifeboats, and the ocean out past them. There wasn’t a lot of privacy on any balcony. People below on the extended balcony could look up at us, and since the balcony’s curved around, people on the end balconies could see us.
There was a nice sized sofa in the cabin, along with two twin beds pushed together. The beds and pillows were comfortable. However, there was no top sheet, only a quilted duvet. That meant that if you wanted to cover up at night, you had to turn down the thermostat to a cooler setting so you didn’t roast all night. The thermostat was easy to use and worked well. Our room steward was very good, and kept our room made up. Instead of a hanger that you put out to have them make up your room, they have two buttons that activate a light outside your door. One says Do Not Disturb, and one says Make up the Room. The doors are metal, so you can use your magnets. No towel animals, which made me kind of sad.
There isn’t a lot of storage in the cabin, but there is enough. Luggage will fit under the bed. There are plenty of hangers in the closet, and enough room for two and two drawers and two shelves on the other side. In the closet there is a small safe that uses a four digit pin. There is also one drawer with a hair dryer in it in the vanity area and a mini fridge with items in it for sale under the vanity area also. You’ll also find an ice bucket and glasses.
The bathroom is comparable in size to any other ship’s bathroom. It has enough shelves for your items, and glasses for brushing your teeth. What I liked best was that instead of a shower curtain, there is a plexiglass shower door. No wet floors after your shower. They had shampoo and shower gel, but they seemed to have no smell. There’s a small shelf in the shower, and a pull out clothes line to dry your swimsuits. There are beach towels in the cabin. If they get wet, leave them on your bathroom floor and the steward will get you clean ones.
To keep on the lights you need to have your sea card in the slot. You can’t just use another credit card. To fix this I got an MSC for Me wristband at the reception desk for $5. You can use this wristband to get in your room, make reservations, get into the theater with your reservation, and buy things. You just can’t use it to get on and off the ship.
Restaurants and food
We were not terribly impressed with the food on the Meraviglia. The NY Strip Steak was sent back or not eaten by numerous people during our cruise. Some food was good, some was pretty bad. A lot of the desserts were good. We’d heard rave reviews about the pizza, but we were not impressed. The exception was the food in the Cirque du Soleil, which was excellent. There is no lobster or prime rib included, even on Elegant night. There is an an upcharge for the Prime Rib and Lobster.
They do make fresh mozzarella cheese right in the Marketplace buffet. You can find it on the buffet in bowls of water. I tried it once and it’s pretty good.
Breakfast in the buffet is okay, but not great. The ready-made eggs were rubbery, the scrambled were okay. If you can stand in line for the fresh made omelets, they’re better. The bacon is good. They only have white toast, although they have a lot of different pastries and breads. They have French toast and waffles, but I was avoiding carbs. Basically, the food stations all the way around the buffet area are just duplicates. Same with lunches, although the only thing that ever looked tasty to me were the hot dogs and fries. A lot of the desserts were very good though, although there is not a chocolate buffet day. Also, outside by the pool there is a food station with ready-made hamburgers and hotdogs, plus fries. The fries on this ship are so good. But the buffet could use a lot more day to day variety.
Waves Restaurant for lunch
We found that although the Waves restaurant has a limited menu for lunch, the food was better. The hamburger was delicious, reminiscent of Guys Burgers. And they had sweet potato fries!
Restaurants & Buffet food
The food in the Marketplace Buffet is not impressive. There is not a lot of variety either around the buffet stations or day to day. The hot dogs and French fries are really good, and that’s what I mostly ate. The pizza is okay. The area itself is nice, and there are plenty of tables. In the very back outside there are some nice quiet tables, if you can get one. The very back area inside is quieter and less crowded and it always had empty tables. They like to squirt you with Purel, and there are wash stations near each entrance.
We were in the Waves Dining room early seating. It’s a very noisy dining room. Some of the tables are too big to carry on conversations. We had a good waiter, but he could not keep up with the demand so the service is very slow. One night we gave up and skipped dessert. The food in the dining room was better than the food in the buffet. Well, most of it. The desserts are the best of the food.
The Carousel Theater (Cirque du Soleil) had the best food that we tasted. The service was great, and the food was excellent. We didn’t eat at any of the other specialty restaurants, but we heard that the Butcher’s Cut was also very good.
There were two elegant nights on this cruise. First one was the first Sea Day, and it was the day that we went to Cirque du Soleil. People were pretty dressed up, and the professional photographers were out. Second Elegant night was Roatan Night, day 6. Again people were dressed up. But the menu wasn’t exciting, and no lobster tail or prime rib unless you paid extra. And no escargot either.
We didn’t go to any of the other restaurants, but here are some pictures of them.
Carousel Theater / Cirque du Soleil / Viaggio
Cirque du Soleil was our favorite part of the trip. The food was the best we got the entire cruise, and the show, Viaggio, was fun. I definitely recommend it. The worst part of it was that you have to wait in line inside the casino to get in, and it’s pretty smokey. You need to stand in line by the reception area to get your reservation time. It can be a long slow line.
The ice cream area is to the side of the main pool adjacent to one of the pool bars. The soft serve was not working, but they had someone scooping vanilla and chocolate ice cream a lot of the time. You could get a cup or a cone. Get a spoon out of the buffet.
Tenders and excursion
MSC seems to be kind of unorganized when it comes to excursions. We had a ship sponsored excursion in Belize, and we had to tender there (take a boat from the ship to the port). We met in the theater at 8:00 am as instructed and sat there for about 15 minutes, then followed the excursion staff guide to a tender. This was quite a big boat with two decks and a lot of people. It was a very smooth fifteen minute ride, but the tender was packed totally full. Some were standing.
When we got off at port, we saw our guide and he hurried away. He really wasn’t watching out for us, and others got between us because he was walking fast with the excursion paddle too low. We totally lost him, and it took us at least 20 minutes to figure out where he was because no one in port had any idea of where we should be. We were sure that we were going to miss the excursion, but we didn’t. If you’re not on an excursion and want to go into port, you have to get a tender number, and then go when they call your number. Also, pay attention to what time the last tender leaves from the port to go back to the ship. They won’t wait for you.
Totally opposite of Embarkation, Disembarkation was extremely smooth and effortless. The luggage tags you get for disembarkation go by color, such as Lime, and the number 1 or 2. We had gotten a yellow tag that allowed us to start the process at 8:30 am. However, we had a long drive home so he went to the reception desk and asked for an earlier time. It was no problem, we got Lime 1, and we could meet up at 7:40 in the Carousel Lounge.
We got there a bit early and sat down. And at precisely 7:40 am, our number was called, we followed the staff to the door, and got off the ship just like that. We found our luggage easily (we always put a red pompom on the handle for easy visibility, and walked straight to the Customs officer. That took about a minute and we were out of the terminal.
My thoughts on the MSC Meraviglia
The Meravigilia is a beautiful ship, and as her names says in Italian, a wonder. We loved the Promenade dome, and the cabin was very nice. However, we’re used to American ships in the Carnival and Royal Caribbean cruise lines, and the Meraviglia didn’t compare to them for us. It’s probably because we’re American ourselves, and like different things than you find on European ships. I’m not really a party person, but you just don’t find as much fun on the Meraviglia as you’d find on the other lines. The food wasn’t as good, and the shows were just…different… And no comedian, just an R rated improv show. We definitely missed the comedian.
Crowds were large, and even though the ship is large, there wasn’t enough room on the ship to spread them out a bit like they do on Oasis of the Seas. When a show let out, the Promenade was very difficult to navigate in. It seems that a lot of the area of the ship was allotted to cabins, and not common areas. The sports area, however, was never crowded when we were there, mostly it was pretty empty. It seems that maybe part of that area could have been used for a larger gym.
For both of us, this cruise was somewhat of a disappointment. At this point, we have decided that even though we have a $300 credit for a MSC cruise because we didn’t get Ocean Cay, we probably won’t use it. We’re ready to try Carnival or Royal Caribbean again. Our last few cruises on those lines have been exceptional and MSC didn’t compare to them.
UPDATE August 2021: We did schedule a cruise on the MSC Divina in 2020 for Halloween 2021 because of the good price. And then we cancelled. They would not honor our $300 credit and actually raised the price of our cruise by over $1,000 after we had already booked it. We won’t be cruising with them again.