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From Blah! to WOW! From Divina/Caribbean/2016 to Meraviglia/Mediterranean/2018

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From Blah to WOW! From Divina/2016/Caribbean to Meraviglia/2018/Mediterranean

 
Hello! I am fresh off the Meraviglia and I’m in the process of writing a detailed review, but I wanted to take a moment to share some thoughts about our experience, mainly for those wondering how the MSC experience in the Med compares to the MSC experience in the Caribbean. In my comparison, I do mention Royal’s Oasis class of ships several times because, in my opinion, the experience on the Meraviglia more closely compared to that. 
 
This was my 2nd MSC Cruise. The first one was in 2016 on the Divina out of Miami. I had chosen to sail on MSC driven by their amazing pricing and promotions. While I had an enjoyable time on that cruise, there were many glitches, snafus, and unmet expectations which I chose to minimize because that cruise had been so cheap, but which also made me think that I would most likely not choose MSC for a future cruise unless I found a deal “too good to be true”.
 
Well, during the summer of 2017, I was online reading about MSC’s (then) brand new Meraviglia and about its new accommodations called Aurea Duplex Suites (similar to Royal’s Crown Loft Suites). I’d always drooled about sailing on one of these Crown Loft Suites, but the price tag for my family of 4 was prohibitive. It would always be well over $12K in the Caribbean and over $16K in the Mediterranean. When I saw that I could book an Aurea Duplex Suite on the Meraviglia over Thanksgiving 2018 for $4K, I booked the last one available, one year and 4 months in advance. 
 
So here are some thoughts:
 
BOARDING IN CIVITAVECCHIA:
 
We arrived at the port around 2:00pm. With Aurea priority boarding, we were onboard the ship in record time. Check in at the port consists only of verifying documents and handing key cards. The rest (security photo, onboard account, kids club bracelets) is done later onboard the ship. I found this system to be more expeditious than doing it all at once.
 
THE SHIP AND INITIAL ONBOARD EXPERIENCE
 
Wow! What an amazing ship. My wife and I commented that we had not been this wowed by a new ship since we sailed on the Allure of the Seas during her inaugural season, and in many ways, the Meraviglia reminded us of that ship. Everywhere we went, there was something to be wowed about. 
 
Because smaller groups of passengers embark and disembark at each port of call, that feeling of organized chaos normally associated when all passengers are boarding at once wasn’t present on this Mediterranean itinerary. No long lines, no mobs of people trying to eat their first lunch onboard at the buffet, etc. In fact, the ship felt pretty quiet during the day, probably because most in transit passengers were out and about sightseeing in Rome at the time we boarded.
 
THE STATEROOM
 
As mentioned, a big deciding factor to take this cruise was the fact that we were able to secure an Aurea Duplex Suite. What an AMAZING stateroom! We are officially spoiled for life. Two bathrooms, two closets (one that doubles as a dressing room), and separate sleeping quarters on separate floors for the adults and the kids. Who could ask for more?? The forward facing views were phenomenal, specially going in and out of port sitting in our own jacuzzi tub. I was a bit concerned about motion being so far forward and on an upper deck, but even when we hit some choppy seas and the ship was rocking and rolling, it wasn’t bad at all. 
 
One drawback about the design of these cabins is that you don’t have an open balcony. A large glass wall provided protection against the oncoming wind, but it also limited our ability to enjoy the ocean breezes, or to be able to stick our head out and have a wider viewpoint to the sides.
 
Even though this is a wonderful suite with an Aurea experience, the service still feels like on a regular stateroom. Things like the lack of upgraded toiletries (just a shampo and body wash dispenser in the shower) cheapened the experience a bit. Unlike on Royal Caribbean where Crown Loft Suites are in a private area, and they come with butler service as well as a long list of suite perks, this suite didn’t have any of that. But once again, we paid a fraction of what we would’ve paid on Royal. Overall we were happy with what was included. But our cabin steward seemed a bit unfamiliar with things specific to these Suites. Like he would fail to replenish the Nespresso coffee pods, or would fail to leave new coffee mugs. He also took our used bathrobes on day one and never replaced them. 
 
THE ITINERARY
 
We visited Palermo, Valletta, Barcelona, Marseille, and Genoa. We chose to do a lot of research in advance, skip the costly shore excursions, and tailor our activities to our 6 and 9 year old children traveling with us. 
 
- Palermo: Hop on-Hop off bus. Palermo has some interesting sights, but it’s not the prettiest city. Still, this tour provided us an opportunity to see some sights in a kid friendly way.
 
- Valletta: We took the ferry across the bay to the Three Cities where we booked a self guided tour with Rolling Geeks. These are golf carts that provide turn by turn directions as well as audio commentary. If you make a wrong turn, you receive a call from the head office who guides you on how to get back on track. Great, easy way to see the Three Cities
 
- Barcelona: We pre-booked admission to La Sagrada Familia as well as the Camp Nou Experience, FC Barcelona’s stadium. We moved around town easily using taxis.
 
- Marseille: We took the complimentary public bus to the city center. MSC provided vouchers to use their pre arranged buses for a fee, but we decided to give the free bus a shot. Not a great idea. The walk from the terminal to the bus was about 1km, and it was cold and rainy. With three ships in port, the line for the bus was long. We waited over 40 minutes before we were finally able to get on a bus. Once at the city center, we toured the Cathedral, walked to Vieux Port, had lunch, browsed some shops, and took a taxi back to the ship.
 
- Genoa: Our last port of call. We went to the Acquario di Genova, the largest aquarium in Europe, located right in the port area. Great choice for small children and very comprehensive, although not impressive.
 
FELLOW PASSENGERS
 
A lot has been commented on these boards about fellow passengers on Med cruises being unsavory, loud, obnoxious, and plain rude. I’m glad to say that in the most part, we didn’t encounter such a thing. I loved the passenger mix and interacting with so many people from all over the world. Yes, there were a handful of “socially challenged” passengers, but we’ve found that on all cruise lines we’ve ever sailed on and in all regions of the world. We just learned to laugh them off rather than let them ruin our day. For me, it was a welcome change to disconnect from life back in the USA. We only met one family from the USA and only heard English sporadically in passing. Even the TV channel lineup in the cabin was blissfully free of US channels, except for CNN international which thankfully didn’t provide 24/7 coverage of US news.
 
Passenger mix was widely European, and it changed every day a bit with newly embarking passengers. There was also a huge group from Asia that boarded in Civitavecchia. As mentioned above, we only met or saw a very small number of Americans onboard.
 
DEBARKATION
 
We were given red tags for our luggage, which meant we would be on the first group off the ship. Interestingly, there was no mention of self assist debarkation on our paperwork, which we wanted since we had an early flight back to Atlanta. But when I asked at the front desk, I was told to proceed to the gangway before our arrival in Civitavecchia and we’d be off the shop before anyone else. Either people were not aware that they could self assist, or they didn’t care. There were only about 15-20 people waiting in line, contrary to the hordes of hundreds of people normally lined up to self disembark when we’ve cruised form US ports. No customs getting off the ship so we were outside the terminal within 5 minutes of leaving the ship. 
 
WHAT WE LIKED
 
- The staggered embarkation over various ports of call. Made the cruise feel less chaotic and during the day, the ship felt quiet and uncrowded.
- Service: HUGE improvement over what we experienced on the Divina in 2016. Back then, the crew seemed grouchy, aloof, and unwilling to help. This time, crew members were smiling, attentive, and willing to help. Made a big difference.
- NO announcements over the loud speakers! If there’s one thing that annoys me are the constant announcements about bingo, sales, tastings, etc. No such thing on this cruise!
- Cirque du Soleil at Sea: With this addition, MSC has truly stepped up the professionalism of their onboard entertainment (although stage entertainment at the main theater felt as if it had taken a small step back). Unfortunately, because of technical difficulties, Cirque shows were canceled two nights which meant that we didn’t get to see Sonor, but we did see Viaggio later that week. Great show with great effects, and all the elements of a Cirque show on land. But it’s a shorter show and it does feel a bit “watered down” (no pun intended). But at 15 Euros, you also pay considerably less than for a Cirque show on land. One think to consider is to check your seat assignments in advance. We were literally given the seats farthest back in a corner which somewhat hindered our enjoyment and I didn’t realize this until we were given our tickets on the morning of the performance.
- Food at the main restaurant and buffet. Vast improvement over our cruise on the Divina. More selections, fresher food, better ingredients. On the Divina we ate pizza a lot because there were so many unappealing options, but on the Meraviglia, we enjoyed the food much more (and for the record, we did eat pizza several times as well).
- Heated water at pools and water park. With air temperature hovering in the 50’s and 60’s, I wasn’t even sure if the outdoor pools or waterside would be open, but they were. We enjoyed the water slides on our day at sea and it was comfortable. The water slides were wonderful! 
- Fun Pass. We purchased a 70 Euro pass to enjoy the simulators, 4D cinema and bowling. All great for family fun. The 4D cinema is more advanced than the one on the Divina and provided a more realistic experience. 
- MSC for Me App and the ability to track activities, reserve shows and pay for activities. Really useful and for me, it meant ditching the paper list of activities. It just made figuring things out much easier. The electronic signage and shows reservation systems made the cruise feel more like when we’ve sailed Oasis class ships on Royal, which is a system that I’ve really enjoyed.
 
WHAT WE DIDN'T LIKE
 
- The hours ashore were changed at every port of call and differed from what we had on our printed itinerary. This was a nuisance, specially since we had picked scheduled entry times at places like La Sagrada Familia and the Acquario di Genova based on our originally scheduled arrival/departure times. Many times we’d arrive an hour later or depart an hour earlier. This proved extremely stressful when we learned that we would not arrive back in Civitavecchia until 8am instead of our originally scheduled 7am. Against my better judgment, I had booked an 11:00am flight back home since it was the only nonstop to Atlanta where we live, so I was a nervous wreck during the last 24 hours of the cruise, thinking of the compressed time frame and logistics. But it all worked out and we made our flight home. Lesson learned for the future.
- Tons of places to eat, but most are for an extra fee: The ship had a wonderful selection of restaurants, many which we wanted to try, but most come with an extra (and hefty) fee. So that limited us most of the time to the main dining room or the buffet. I am aware that the trend these days is towards extra fee restaurants on newer ships, but on other cruise lines, you still get more than just the buffet and main dining room complimentarily. 
- We could get unlimited bottled water and sodas everywhere on the ship with our drink package, but if we grabbed them from our mini-fridge in our cabin, we’d get charged for the same exact item. Just felt petty and like an unnecessary way to nickel and dime. We just learned to restock at the bars throughout the ship and bring them back to our cabin.
 
FINAL THOUGHTS
 
Overall, our cruise on the Meraviglia was absolutely fantastic. The ship was wonderful, the itinerary was great, the overall experience was better than we expected, and it seems like MSC has ironed out many of the glitches and issues that have been a source of discontent. I found that many of the negativity or emphasis on differences are blown way out of proportion, at least as far as I’m concerned. With the Meraviglia coming to the US next year, the continued expansion in that region, and the improved product, I believe that they will give the US based cruise lines some stiff competition, and they will become a common name on this side of the Atlantic. If you’re someone concerned about the negative reviews and who is having second thoughts about booking an MSC Cruise, don’t be concerned. After 32 cruises over various cruise lines (Disney, Royal, Carnival, Holland America, Costa, Princess, etc), I can certifiably say that this was easily one of the best cruises I’ve taken in my life. Do some research and become an informed traveler. Embrace the differences, both onboard and ashore, don’t sweat the small stuff, and you’re bound to have a wonderful time. 
 
 

 

Edited by Tapi

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20 minutes ago, champagne123 said:

Thank you Tapi!!!!   This makes me even more excited for our October cruise on the Meraviglia!!!

Hope you have a wonderful time! We’ve had horrible cruise withdrawal symptoms since we got back 😂. Normally we have some withdrawal, but not this bad. My kids keep saying that they wish we were still on the Meraviglia. 

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1 hour ago, portofrome said:

Thanks for your review!

You welcome. 

 

Love the list of your past cruises! 

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Some photos from our cruise 

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CF3BD50C-EC28-4C5B-B55A-86F4D24EEBD2.jpeg

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Thanks for the great review. Do you recall how much MSC wanted for their shuttle bus to Marseille?

Also, what did it cost for your taxi from the old port back to the ship?

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1 hour ago, Jimbo59 said:

Thanks for the great review. Do you recall how much MSC wanted for their shuttle bus to Marseille?

Also, what did it cost for your taxi from the old port back to the ship?

The vouchers were 9 Euros per person. They were delivered to our stateroom the night before our arrival in Marseille. They stated that if you wanted to use them, all you had to do was sign them and hand them to your driver. The taxi back to the ship was around 15 Euros. 

 

In Barcelona, MSC also provided similar vouchers but I don’t recall how much those were.

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3 hours ago, KmomChicago said:

Thanks for this review and stunning photos; way to go on a reasonable price for an incredible suite!

Thanks for reading it!

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Great review!! Have booked 27 nights B2B in 2020 when she returns to Europe so eager to hear feedback and suggestions on this ship. Thank you for sharing!

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Thanks for the review. Like you, I would describe my last two sailings on Divina as 'blah', but a GREAT value so no complaints. Out of curiosity, how many times have you sailed in the Mediterranean? 

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Thank you for posting your comparison.

 

After many years of sailing with RCI plus the odd detour to Celebrity , Princess and others we took our first cruise with MSC back in Feb 17 on Splendida in the Med , have sailed Magnifica and Seaview since and cruise on Meraviglia in January 19, all in the Med.

We enjoyed the  interporting making the ships feel less crowded on port days , our flights have been later in the day and it is great not having to be rushed off the ship for the next embarking passengers enjoying a leisurely breakfast and leaving the ship in our own time.

 

We have loved our MSC experiences so far in the Med but are still hesitant to book a cruise sailing from the USA as I had read about the Med experience being diluted to suit the American market  having said that we just returned from the Vision of the seas Panama Canal cruise and I have to say it was the worst food ever on all our cruises !

We currently have no plans to cruise with RCI again unless the itinerary and price are right.

 

Once again than you for posting .

 

Edited by heatherb1958

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5 hours ago, BermudaBound2014 said:

Thanks for the review. Like you, I would describe my last two sailings on Divina as 'blah', but a GREAT value so no complaints. Out of curiosity, how many times have you sailed in the Mediterranean? 

 

5 hours ago, BermudaBound2014 said:

 Out of curiosity, how many times have you sailed in the Mediterranean? 

This was our first Mediterranean cruise! My wife and I had both been to Europe before, but on land vacations. The only two places that we’d visited on this itinerary prior to the cruise were Barcelona and Rome. We absolutely loved taking this cruise, specially since it was an easy way to introduce our children to Europe, but the main drawback about it was that there wasn’t nearly enough time at each port to see as much as we would’ve liked to. Still, it was a wonderful experience and I don’t regret it one bit. 

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6 hours ago, heatherb1958 said:

Thank you for posting your comparison.

 

After many years of sailing with RCI plus the odd detour to Celebrity , Princess and others we took our first cruise with MSC back in Feb 17 on Splendida in the Med , have sailed Magnifica and Seaview since and cruise on Meraviglia in January 19, all in the Med.

We enjoyed the  interporting making the ships feel less crowded on port days , our flights have been later in the day and it is great not having to be rushed off the ship for the next embarking passengers enjoying a leisurely breakfast and leaving the ship in our own time.

 

We have loved our MSC experiences so far in the Med but are still hesitant to book a cruise sailing from the USA as I had read about the Med experience being diluted to suit the American market  having said that we just returned from the Vision of the seas Panama Canal cruise and I have to say it was the worst food ever on all our cruises !

We currently have no plans to cruise with RCI again unless the itinerary and price are right.

 

Once again than you for posting .

 

Than you!

 

We bounce around various cruise lines, but the reason why I referenced Royal in my original post is because the Meraviglia is big and bold, and it’s a technological marvel, like the Oasis ships. But MSC definitely has its own personality which is considerably different than Royal. 

 

About sailing MSC in the Caribbean, I feel that, at least back in 2016, MSC was trying to figure out how to appeal to the American cruiser which led to the glitches and snafus that I referenced. But I also feel that, in general, the American cruiser tends to be a little bit too set on their ways, and any deviation from what they are used to can be source of exaggerated uproar.  I think that MSC has received some unjust backlash because of that. 

 

With all of that said, if MSC can deliver in the USA what I experienced in the Mediterranean, I think they’ll be wildly successful on this side of the Atlantic. They don’t need to appeal to everybody. Those who want a more American cruise experience already have plenty of options. 

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Great review and the duplex suite looks really amazing!  It's strange how those suites aren't part of YC.  How old are your children and did they like kids clubs? 

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1 hour ago, kodesthemoose said:

Great review and the duplex suite looks really amazing!  It's strange how those suites aren't part of YC.  How old are your children and did they like kids clubs? 

 

They are 6 and 9 and they do like going to the kids club, no matter what cruise line we sail on. They always beg to go for a few hours every day.

 

The first time time they went to the kids club on this cruise, they said that they didn’t like it and didn’t want to go back. But then I realized that I had dropped them off between activities and they just had them lay on the floor and watch Mr. Bean movies, haha. So we sat down back at the cabin, with the kids club itinerary for the week, and we highlighted what they liked (mostly Sportsplex activities and Doremi Lab). Once we figured out what activities they liked, they loved it, and wanted to stay longer. 

 

The facilities on the Meraviglia are indeed much nicer than on the Divina. And being right next to the Sportsplex area is an added bonus, at least for active kids. 

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Thanks so much for your review.  We are booked on our Meraviglia cruise for 17th January and having only done one cruise previously (with RCI) I was anxious about this MSC one as I'd read some awful reviews.  We aren't fussy people and know that the weather will be unpredictable but are now looking forward to the experience.

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2 hours ago, Sandypaws21 said:

Thanks so much for your review.  We are booked on our Meraviglia cruise for 17th January and having only done one cruise previously (with RCI) I was anxious about this MSC one as I'd read some awful reviews.  We aren't fussy people and know that the weather will be unpredictable but are now looking forward to the experience.

We sailed Meraviglia, albeit in YC, and found the general areas within the ship very good and service even outwith YC was (in the main) excellent. That said, we did not experience MDR which is often reported as a poor to medium experience....so we cannot comment on that aspect.

 

With 43 cruises under our belt, with 14 different cruiselines, I will say that it is mostly about attitude. So, being pleasant and courteous to staff who are serving you almost without fail will result in a happy experience on any cruise. Also, remember that not everything can be perfect on any cruiseline and that no matter what you are on vacation....so what's not to like? You will enjoy Meraviglia, we certainly did! 

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5 hours ago, Sandypaws21 said:

Thanks so much for your review.  We are booked on our Meraviglia cruise for 17th January and having only done one cruise previously (with RCI) I was anxious about this MSC one as I'd read some awful reviews.  We aren't fussy people and know that the weather will be unpredictable but are now looking forward to the experience.

Hope you have a fantastic time! My best piece of advice is that you don’t let small things affect your enjoyment. Embrace the differences in food, service, and overall experience!

 

I am glad that I gave MSC a second chance. After sailing on the Meraviglia, they have now become one of my favorite cruise lines. We’ll still sail other cruise lines but will be glad to return to MSC.

 

 

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4 hours ago, hamrag said:

. That said, we did not experience MDR which is often reported as a poor to medium experience....so we cannot comment on that aspect.

I enjoyed the MDR. It was better than what we’d experienced on our previous MSC cruise and at par with other similar level cruise lines. I enjoyed everything that I tried. My biggest gripe with the MDR is that, after a few days eating at the same venue, everything starts tasting the same, which subliminally makes one seek alternative, extra fee restaurants. I feel that  a ship the size of the Meraviglia could offer one or two extra venues included in the price to break up the monotony of eating at either the MDR or the buffet. 

 

But overall no real compaints about the food. There was nothing remotely worthy of some of the appalling reviews I’ve read. In my humble opinion, if someone’s taste buds are that offended by the cuisine on MSC, then I believe that they should dig deeper in their pockets, and seek more upscale cruise lines where there’s a stronger emphasis on fine cuisine. 

Edited by Tapi

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4 hours ago, Tapi said:

I enjoyed the MDR. It was better than what we’d experienced on our previous MSC cruise and at par with other similar level cruise lines. I enjoyed everything that I tried. My biggest gripe with the MDR is that, after a few days eating at the same venue, everything starts tasting the same, which subliminally makes one seek alternative, extra fee restaurants. I feel that  a ship the size of the Meraviglia could offer one or two extra venues included in the price to break up the monotony of eating at either the MDR or the buffet. 

 

But overall no real compaints about the food. There was nothing remotely worthy of some of the appalling reviews I’ve read. In my humble opinion, if someone’s taste buds are that offended by the cuisine on MSC, then I believe that they should dig deeper in their pockets, and seek more upscale cruise lines where there’s a stronger emphasis on fine cuisine. 

 

We have enjoyed the MSC  MDR  experience , so far, on all 4 cruises we have done in the Med. All the waiters we have had , again, so far, have been fabulous with the one we had on Seaview being by far the best waiter ever out of all our cruises . We would order , we knew he would be watching from a distance for clues if we liked the dish and straight away if he saw anything untoward he was over to ask what else would we like to try.He learned very quickly hubby liked fish and without even having to ask he would bring double . 

The waiter is going to be on our Bellisima Cruise in March and I will be sure to ask for his station if he is still there . 

Some mutual friends of good friends , all from the UK , recently sailed on Seaside out Miami and they had nothing good to say, complaining about rude crew, poor food and the ship being dirty. Hearing this does make me again think twice about booking a cruise out of the USA. Having said that the good friends are going to be on the Seaside in January , I trust their judgement and will wait to hear what they have to say , after all they booked their MSC cruises on our recommendation, they flew to Dubai today to join Splendida which was our first MSC cruise and loved. They went on Seaview a couple of weeks after us and enjoyed that.  I am keeping my fingers crossed they like Splendida as much as we did. 😆.

 

Edited by heatherb1958

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Can I ask what you meant by different groups embarking and debarking, and also what interporting is?

Thanks, looking at MSC for Med in spring of 2021 and loved what you had to say! Thanks

 

Maybe I just answered my own question, is that what why when Im searching, it looks like the same ship leaves a different port every day and you can start there or the next port. Kind of like a continuous on and off not one start and one end? Here I thought it was a website glitch, but now it makes sense, I think!

Edited by bartzcrew

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2 hours ago, bartzcrew said:

Can I ask what you meant by different groups embarking and debarking, and also what interporting is?

Thanks, looking at MSC for Med in spring of 2021 and loved what you had to say! Thanks

 

Maybe I just answered my own question, is that what why when Im searching, it looks like the same ship leaves a different port every day and you can start there or the next port. Kind of like a continuous on and off not one start and one end? Here I thought it was a website glitch, but now it makes sense, I think!

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. 

 

 

Edited by Tapi

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Thank you so much for sharing your experiences!  We are sailing the Meraviglia next year to the Caribbean.  Looking forward to it as we loved the Seaside last year.  Your review has me even more excited.  We are dying to do a Mediterranean itinerary and reading through your comments have been helpful, thank you again!

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