I've submitted my review (4 stars) but it's not posted just yet. Here it is, for anyone interested. If you have any questions, feel free to ask. Also, I haven't spent much time proofreading this just yet, so feel free to point out spelling or grammatical errors.
To begin, I have a love hate relationship with MSC. If you wish to find more details, you can search MSC Comedy of Errors on cruise critic's MSC forum for more information. I'll detail a few of them before I get into the meat of the review:
1. Booked a 4 night cruise out of Barcelona. We had sailed on Divina out of Rome 2 years prior. MSC changed the itinerary to a much longer cruise out of Brazil, but never informed us in any way about the change. No letter, no e-mail, no text, no phone call. When I finally found out, I called MSC, asked about losing status since the change was their fault and not mine. They told me I wouldn't lose status and then took away all of my Voyager's Club points.
2. Booked this cruise on Seaside. Package showed to be free drinks, but for some reason my sailing only included drinks at dinner. Later, better promotion including drinks anytime appeared. Was told I could change to the new promotion and keep the same nice midship balcony cabin. Moved to the new promo and they moved the cabin to a far less desirable room, very front of the ship, so less desirable location, apparently smaller, with a steel balcony (rather than the usual glass), and obviously it's hard to see through steel. Took months and an Act of God to get the problem fixed. Again, you can search through the rest of post as noted, but MSC's customer service has been hit and miss, with more miss than hit. That aside, we think their newer ships are beautiful and generally represent a good value, if you can get past the nagging customer service issues.
Pro Tip: Once you have the cruise you want, try to avoid calling MSC customer service. They'll screw things up as often as not, if not more so.
Now, onto the cruise review.
MSC Seaside is a beautiful ship with some similarities to Bellissima but distinct differences as well. I'll touch upon some of those in the body of the review.
Cabin: 4 stars. Quite comfortable, but not quite as good as Bellissima. Usually quiet, but we were on the 15th deck in Cabin 15113 right under the smaller Biscayne Bay buffet and during the day it was very noisy due to chairs being moved around. Fortunately it was quiet at night. There were some stains on the upholstery, but for the most part the room was in good shape. We found it to be a bit on the small side, like Bellissima, but it was large enough for our purposes. The cabin was mostly kept clean. However there were 2 nights where it was not cleaned and I'm still not sure why that was.
Dining: I thought the food was quite good, better than on Bellissima or Divina. We were given lamb chops that were so wonderfully seasoned and cooked just perfectly. The same with respect to prime rib, just a perfect medium rare. I sent compliments to the chef on both occasions. The menus were often stained with oily food stains which was not so great.
There was a heavy gasoline smell that permeated the Ipanema restaurant which I found to be quite foul. I asked staff about it. They said the smell came from a "diesel compressor" and it was the 2nd week that they'd had the problem. Not good. We found the Seaside restaurant to be nicer than Ipanema, which my girlfriend thought looked like a Denny's.
The restaurants were nicer and restaurant service were better on Bellissima (which we sailed on in May out of Barcelona), but I think the food was better on Seaside.
We enjoyed the food in the buffets and found it to be fresh and the variety reasonably good. Be aware than you may have a less crowded experience in the smaller Biscayne Bay buffet on the 16th deck. Less variety, but for breakfast it was similar to the larger buffet, but not as many people to fight your way though.
Pro Tip: Things like New York steak, shrimp cocktail, Caesar Salad and salmon were available every night on the right side of the menu. The salmon was excellent as was the small but very fresh shrimp cocktail. The New York steak was pretty good, so if you don't see something you like on the left side, check out the "standard" options on the right side.
Embarkation: We've had rapid and smooth embarkation and disembarkation experiences on all 3 of our MSC cruises. I think they do this very well. 5 stars.
Entertainment: Entertainment was a mixed bag. Generally, we felt that the shows were disjointed and lacking in theme and quality. It seems like they said, "Hey, we've got a good guy who rolls around in a hoop and a couple of good roller skaters, so let's build shows around them". While I felt the Michael Jackson show was very good and the performer who played Jackson was excellent, many of the other cast members of all shows were just okay. The shows were much, much better on Bellissima. Also, I believe Seaside had recorded music in their shows where Bellissima had a live band. It made a big difference.
We saw various other performers live throughout the ship. Not bad, but probably the worst of my 3 MSC cruises. On Divina, some of the performances and performers were amazing. I'm not a big opera guy, but there was an opera singer who was fantastic and a pianist who was incredibly talented. We didn't see much of that on Seaside.
We thought they did a nice job on the Halloween party. Not as many passengers dancing as Bellissima, and the music could have been better. That might have played into things.
Pro Tip: If you don't have a reservation for the show, you'll have to wait until the last 5 minutes to be seated and there won't be many seats left. So reserve the shows in advance.
Fitness and Recreation: While I didn't use the gym, we did check it out and it appeared to be of a very high quality.
Onboard Experience: Not sure what they're looking for, but I'd have to say that generally it was very good. We did have an engine failure our of St. Maarten which lasted for nearly 1 hour, but fortunately that didn't alter our schedule.
Public Rooms: For the most part, spotlessly clean. They aren't as elegant as Divina or Bellissima, but generally pretty nice, in my view. I think Divina has the best soaring atrium, but they did have a fairly high atrium on Seaside. While Bellissima didn't have a soaring atrium, it does have that great promenade with a high-resolution ceiling, which was missing on Seaside. I think future ships should add the same promenade but also feature the soaring atrium where the lit elevators glide gracefully up and down the various decks.
Service: Staff: On Divina, we had a snotty Eastern European staff who seemed like they hated their life, hated their jobs and hated their passengers. Things had improved on Bellissima and the service level was quite high. My girlfriend is from the Philippines and I've suggested that they should hire more Filipinos. They are a hard working people and very naturally friendly, for the most part. They did just that. While frankly, I thought the service was a bit better on Bellissima, the staff was super friendly on Seaside, which made for a more enjoyable experience.
In terms of the bars, they couldn't make a decent cocktail on Bellissima. The same drink tasted wildly different from one bar to the next. On Seaside, the drinks were sometimes on the weak side, but at least the quality was consistent.
Pro Tip: If you don't like your restaurant assignment, see the Matire 'D and see him early. We had a 5 pm dinner seating which I changed to 9:30 pm. The Maitre 'D on Seaside was a nice guy, but on Bellissima he was a total jerk.
A Gripe and Suggestion: We had the easy drink package that provided basic drinks. If you wanted something fancier, you had to pay for the entire cocktail. I suggest that MSC allow credit for the basic drinks towards the fancier ones. So if the general limit for an easy package drink is $6 and one wishes to buy a drink costing $10, charge the customer $4 rather than the full $10 since they do have a drink package already in place.
Shore Excursions: We only did one of MSC's shore excursions and that was the "Sweet St. Maarten, Maho and Marigot". For the most part, this tour was enjoyable and was a good value. But I could have skipped the visit to the ice cream shop, where you had to buy your own ice cream. I guess it did give one an opportunity for a restroom break.
While I did enjoy the tour, our bus broke down in sweltering heat. So we're sitting diagonally in the middle of the main road, largely blocking both lanes of traffic. Oh, and no air conditioner either. And if that wasn't bad enough, everyone was honking their horns at us and police had to be called to direct traffic around our disabled bus. They did eventually get us another bus, but it was an uncomfortable experience and limited my ability to shop in the ports. In fact, I lost a dress I purchased for my girlfriend, in part, because I was rushed due to the bus' mechanical failure issue. Normally I'd give our excursion a 4 rating, but I'll knock off 1 star and a 3 is generous in light of the bus breakdown.
Value for Money: I'd probably give it 5 stars. As noted, the newer MSC ships are gorgeous, the service was pretty good, food is getting better. I think that if you can put up with some funky customer service issues and a glitch here and there, MSC represents a very good value. We currently have a cruise booked next year and in 2021.
Cabin: As mentioned, it was clean but on the small side. No cabin service for 2 our of 7 days. Body wash not replaced for 3 days. For the first 2 days, they apparently used shampoo for body wash and diluted it about 75% with water so it was the consistency of water. Most cabin stewards only had shampoo or body wash, not both (I looked at their carts). Some stains on upholstery but not too bad. Lots of noise from upstairs buffet during the day. Closet too small, could use more storage.
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