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Tapi

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  1. I’ve had to eat my words more than once when I’ve said that I will “never” sail a cruise line ever again. First time was after sailing on the Tropicale back in 1994. The cruise was, in a nutshell, horrendous. I swore I would NEVER set foot on a Carnival cruise ever again. Well I waited 6 years before I summoned enough courage to sail on them again. Long story short, I enjoyed my second Carnival cruise so much that I sailed on them almost exclusively for years, until I attained Platinum status. The second time I had to eat my words was more recent, this time on MSC. My first MSC cruise was on 2016 aboard the Divina, and while the cruise was OK, it was a mediocre experience. My wife was less forgiving and said that she would never sail on MSC ever again. Well, we decided to give MSC a second shot last November, this time aboard the Meraviglia in the Mediterranean. The experience was well beyond our expectations. It was an absolutely fantastic cruise and it easily ranks as one of my best cruises ever in over 30+ years cruising. I now rank MSC as one of my absolutely favorite cruise lines. So morale of the story is to never say never. I would’ve missed out on some wonderful cruise experiences.
  2. I don’t have an answer to your question, but what I do want to share with you is that, with a year to plan, you have plenty of time to do some in depth research and figure out how to do things on your own. We took our first Med Cruise last November which we booked a year and 4 months in advance. We also spent 2 nights in Rome pre-cruise. Almost on a daily basis, I read and read, and researched and researched. Long story short, we didn’t do a single ship excursion. I pre booked admission to all the attractions that we wanted to visit directly with each place. We also figured out how to get places on our own. From St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, to La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, to the Three Cities in Malta, we navigated these destinations like pros even though we’d never been there. And it was surprisingly easy. I also researched places to eat locally which made these ports of call even more memorable. Sometimes we’d walk, sometimes we’d take a cab, and even Uber. One of the best things about this cruise was exactly staying away from ship excursions and the large groups of people. I hope you have an absolutely fantastic time. We loved every minute of that cruise and can’t wait to do it again!
  3. I do get your logic, but I’m extremly grateful that we spent additional money on better accommodations when we sailed the Med last November. Our itinerary was port intensive (only one sea day), and it was SO nice to have a comfortable place to go back to and relax for a few hours after sightseeing all day. And even though many times the ship did arrive and/or depart when it was dark outside (specially in the late fall when there are less hours of sunlight) it was wonderful to sit in our balcony and watch. I remember getting to Barcelona early in the morning when it was still pitch dark, but it was so exciting to see the city all lit up from the comfort of our balcony. We planned our activities so that we were never rushing off the ship in the morning, which gave us time to order breakfast from room service and enjoy a bit of leisure time as we watched the ship dock. And we took things further. Sailing “off season” allowed us to afford a suite, something that I normally would’ve never considered. But the pricing made a suite not only enticing, but well within our budget. I don’t regret it for one bit. It was absolutely fantastic.
  4. At the suggestion of many here on CC, we brought the inflatable rubber ducky / tub on our son’s 1st cruise. We found it to be cumbersome and a waste of space. He didn’t care for it. He just wanted to get out. So we never brought it again for him or for his sister. About the pool situation, I’ll echo what others have said, although you always see parents trying to sneak their toddler in pull ups either in the pool or hot tub. My kids are now 7 and 9 and just completed cruise #10 across 5 different cruise lines. I don’t regret for one minute starting them young, and the memories are definitely priceless. But I won’t sugar coat things. It was challenging at the beginning. There were moments when we questioned our sanity and even considered cutting the cruise short and going home. But the good news is that with every cruise we took, we became savvier and each one kept getting progressively better and better. We also learned that different cruise lines are better depending on the age of the children, so we bounced around from cruise line to cruise line as our kids aged. From 0-2, Royal and Disney with their kids program (specially on ships with pools and water parks for babies and toddlers) are best. At 2, Carnival becomes the better choice since the kids program is free starting at that age (most others start at age 3). From age 3 forward, then the playing field among most mainstream cruise lines becomes more even.
  5. I believe that you have to place things into perspective before you even choose to take this cruise. You say that this is a very important cruise for you and your sister. But you’re going cheap due to budget considerations which is why you’re choosing a short Carnival Cruise. First of all, I believe that no matter what you select, you will have a wonderful time just because you’ll be spending time with your sister. But you need to adjust your expectations. A short Carnival Cruise will most likely not live up to what you’re used to on Royal, specially if you’ve been sailing their newer and larger ships. All the ships that you have pinpointed will be a step up over the Elation in terms of facilities, but some things, like cuisine, entertainment, and customer service are pretty consistent across the Carnival fleet, no matter what ship you’re on. Unfortunately, Carnival has further cheapened the stage entertainment and spread the crew members a bit too thin which has impacted negatively the overall experience. Also, selecting a shorter cheap cruise means that it will most likely have more of a raucous atmosphere, with fellow cruisers drawn by the short length and cheaper prices. I have sailed on Liberty twice (first time when she was just a few months old and was Carnival’s flagship). She’s an “older gal” now, but I have absolutely wonderful memories from both cruises and I believe that she may provide a better transition from what you’re used to on Royal. All 3 ships listed are Joe Farcus designed ships (Carnival’s former interior designer of the 90’s and early 00’s) which means that all have a wilder, crazier and bolder decor, but I found the Liberty to be tamest one in comparison. No matter which one you pick, focus on your reasons to go on this cruise which is to have a great time with your sister. Go with an open mind, embrace the differences, avoid making comparisons with Royal, let your sister decide for herself whether she likes it or not, and if both of you decide that Carnival isn’t for you after you take this cruise, then let her know about what you’ve experienced on other cruise lines to give both of you something to look forward to in the future.
  6. Go to the Travel section of the US Dept of State and type ANY country. You’ll see that many popular vacation destinations have a level 2 warning, similar to the Bahamas. Long story short, don’t worry unnecessarily. Be a smart traveler and use the same precautions that you would use back home. Many times, we are exposed to worse crime in our own communities than at the places we visit on vacation.
  7. I hear ya. We traveled over Thanksgiving week. We planned things so that the kids would only miss one day of school. We went straight to the airport after picking the kids up in school on Thursday for our 6:00pm flight. We then spent the next two nights (Friday and Saturday) exploring Rome. We sailed Sunday to Sunday and flew home as soon as we got off the ship. We landed back home around 4pm Sunday afternoon and the kids returned to school the next day. I thought the kids would be exhausted to return to school that Monday, but with the time change, they were in bed and asleep by 7:00pm. They slept for 11 hours and woke up the next morning rested and ready to go back to school. So we turned one week of Thanksgiving Break into 10 nights of vacation. Yes, it was tight but it worked out perfectly. Much better than expected. Interestingly, the school counted the day they missed as an excused absence because they considered the trip to be a cultural and educational enriching excuse. As the teacher told me, “the kids probably learned more in one week than I could’ve ever taught them about Europe the whole semester!” 😂
  8. If there’s one port I wish we would’ve had more time to explore, it is Barcelona. I was dreading getting back on the ship with so much that we couldn’t remotely do. I’d definitely choose a cruise that starts in Barcelona and spend a few days there before or after the cruise. Glad you had a time to enjoy this wonderful city!
  9. Have a great time on the Meraviglia! We truly enjoyed it. I thought about waiting a few years until my kids were a bit older to pull the trigger on a Mediterranean cruise, but I’m so grateful that MSC lured us with their competitive pricing. The kids had an absolutely fantastic time. The transition to the Med wasn’t as dramatic as I thought it would be. Outside of longer flights to meet our ship, everything was pretty easy and straightforward. Speaking of flights, that can be one of the tougher parts to swallow since airfare to Europe will undoubtedly be more expensive than for a Caribbean cruise, but with some creativity and traveling off season, it can be done fairly affordably. We used credit card points to pay for some people and booked our flights way in advance which provided the best price possible for the specific flights that I wanted (I wanted to make sure that we flew nonstop from our home city).
  10. That’s one of the big reasons why we started bouncing from one cruise line to the next, rather than sticking to the same one over and over for the sake of price, convenience, or familiarity. Every time we set foot on a new ship or new cruise line, I feel that same excitement and giddiness that first timers get. I walk around in wonder, discovering the ship, learning my way around, trying new things, different food selections, different entertainment, and just discovering the little details that differentiate each cruise line. It’s truly a wonderful feeling, and it beats any loyalty perks. We sailed on Carnival earlier this year after being away for 8 years. While we had a fun time and, in a sense, it was good to be back on familiar soil, I found myself looking forward to something different. It was the same old, same old. Some things on Carnival have changed over the years, but not enough to make it feel like a new experience.
  11. Yes, you answered your own question! 😀 In the Mediterranean, at least on our particular itinerary where all ports of call are in the Shengen Area, you’re allowed to start and end your cruise at any port of call. This meant that smaller groups of passengers board at a time alleviating some of the chaos normally encountered when the entire ship is embarking and disembarking at one port. initially, I thought that this would create more chaos but it was the contrary. MSC does a fantastic job performing this task and run it like a well oiled machine. Muster drills are held every day for newly embarking passengers, but they are much smaller muster drills. Ours was held comfortably at the main theater where the muster presentation was made on stage. Also, when we boarded, the ship felt somewhat deserted because most in-transit passengers were ashore enjoying their day while the only passengers onboard were just the ones beginning their cruise. Embarkation lunch at the buffet was void of the crowds normally found on more traditional embarkation days. While we could’ve started our cruise at any port of call, we chose Civitavecchia (Rome) because it was the one that met our needs the best. It was the one port we could fly to nonstop from our home city in the US and it fell on a Sunday which best matched our vacation days. Debarkation was a breeze, since we didn’t have to fight large crowds to get off the ship. Only a handful of passengers were disembarking with us. In addition to the smaller crowds, there are no customs/immigration so you walk right off the ship. We were outside, boarding our transportation to the airport within a few short minutes after getting off the ship. The official “turn around” port for this itinerary was Genoa, and the night before our arrival there, a “farewell show” was held at the Plaza Meraviglia. But otherwise the cruise lacked other elements normally associated with a cruise with only one embarkation port. No welcome aboard show, and it was a bit hard to predict beforehand when formal nights would be. Overall, it was a welcome change, and one that made embarkation and debarkation day much more enjoyable.
  12. The bottom line is that you don’t have to pay for tap water. Period. But there were different rules before MSC started sailing from US ports. If you wanted water with dinner, you had to purchase bottled water (according to what’s customary in other parts of the world). Knowing that this wouldn’t sit well with Americans once MSC started sailing from Miami, they created different rules which applied to their US based cruises and which allowed Americans to order tap water with dinner to match what they were used to on American cruise lines. They also started allowing Americans to order tap water on non-US sailings. But having different rules based on region and nationality proved to be an absolute mess for years. Besides the water issue, there were different drink packages which included different things based on what country you lived in. They had different names and each included something different. People sailing on the same exact ship were entitled to different things simply because of their country of origin or what region of the world they were sailing on. Needless to say, this created A LOT of confusion. On websites like Cruise Critic, which is frequented by people from several countries, there always seemed to be a lot of confusion because you’d have someone from one country answering a question from someone from a different country, so the information wouldn’t be accurate. MSC has finally smartened up and is in the process of streamlining and simplifying their drink packages so that they are all the same no matter where you cruise to or what country you live in. When we sailed on the Meraviglia in November, they had just introduced the new drink packages, so some waiters were a bit unsure at times. But as mentioned before, each had a handheld device that would let them know on the spot what drink package each person had, if any. Our waiter would always approach our table with a jug of tap water. But we had the Aurea Experience which came with a drink package, so we’d order bottled water most of the time, not only with dinner but also throughout the day, to take back to our cabin, or to take ashore. One swipe of our card in the handheld device is all it took to get our bottles. Very easy and we never got questioned.
  13. I respectfully attribute those comments to cultural intolerance. There are definitely tons of nationalities onboard, unlike a Carnival cruise where the vast majority of cruisers are Americans. On our last MSC cruise, we only met one other American family. Everybody else was either from European or Asian countries. Needless to say, everybody had a different idea about etiquette and what’s socially acceptable. Yes, we encountered various degrees of behaviors, ranging from curious, bizarre, funny, to objectionable. But that’s a byproduct of traveling in such a culturally diverse environment. We embraced it and allowed it to enrich our travels rather than let it bother us. But I can see how many Americans would be completely annoyed and turned off by it.
  14. On our last MSC cruise, the waiter would scan our card on a handheld device and automatically knew what we were entitled to. No need to fight tooth and nail for a glass of water. It worked very well.
  15. I’m Platinum on Carnival. We have sailed twice on MSC, once on the Divina in the Caribbean and once on the Meraviglia in the Mediterranean. Our cruise on the Divina was OK. The ship was beautiful, the stage entertainment was pretty good (better than Carnival for sure), and we appreciated the loyalty match program and all the perks that came with it. But the food selection was repetitive and a bit lacking, service wasn’t consistent, and we encountered several glitches and snafus throughout the week. But considering the price we paid, we really couldn’t complain about the negatives. We still had a great vacation. We decided to give MSC a chance again last November, this time in the Mediterranean aboard one of their newest and largest ships (the Meraviglia). This time we were wowed and impressed. The ship was amazing. Beautiful, tastefully decorated, with tons of activities, and technologically advanced. We haven’t been this wowed by a new ship since we sailed on Royal’s Allure of the Seas during her inaugural season. Both food and service were greatly improved since our previous MSC cruise 2 years prior, entertainment has been taken to a new level with MSC’s partnership with Cirque Du Soleil (with a dedicated theater and performances exclusive to MSC), and we didn’t encounter any glitches or snafus as we did before. We LOVED the cultural mix of passengers onboard! It was wonderful to sail with fellow cruisers from so many countries. We only met one other family from the USA during the entire cruise and only heard English sporadically. For us, it was a welcome change to disconnect from home. It was an amazing cruise and now I place MSC at the top of my favorites. To make things even more wonderful, their competitive pricing allowed us to splurge and book an Aurea Duplex Suite for less than a standard balcony in the Caribbean on another cruise line would’ve cost us. This amazing suite was a 2 deck loft, with separate sleeping quarters upstairs, living room and dining area downstairs, 2 full bathrooms, 2 closets, forward facing balcony with jacuzzi, priority embarkation, unlimited drinking package, unlimited access to the thermal area, free massages, access to a private solarium for suite guests, and access to a reserved area in the MDR with open seating. Once again, all of this cost us less than a standard balcony in the Caribbean with no perks on our previous cruise on another cruise line. Overall, MSC offers a fantastic experience, and it seems like, as they roll out their American product and iron out some wrinkles, the product keeps getting better. It will NEVER be Carnival or other American cruise lines. It is still a very Italian cruise line that caters heavily to its very loyal International clientele, so it can’t alienate them completely in order to cater to Americans. Yes, announcements will be in various languages, some food selections may not appeal to the American palate, there won’t be comedians or dueling pianos and instead you’ll find less verbal entertainment, your fellow cruisers will speak several different languages and may follow different social behavior and etiquette, etc. But if you’re someone who can embrace the things that differentiate MSC from the American cruise lines, you will love it. If you’re not someone who embraces chance easily and prefer a cruise line that caters heavily to Americans, then MSC may not be for you. Here’s a thread that I started with more information about our last MSC cruise. I hope it’s helpful!
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