What a great time we had on this beautiful two-year-old ship! MSC was a different experience for us and we loved it. Everything I had read prior to sailing on the Lirica was mixed, so I want to give you a good feel for our experience -- albeit from our perspective.
We started cruising in the mid-1980s and are veterans of 27 cruises on most major lines. We have cruised with Commodore, Premier, RCCL, Costa, Carnival, NCL, HAL, Celebrity and Princess -- some many times -- and we truly enjoy cruising. We lived in Naples, Florida for 10 years and cruised several times a year since the ports were so easy to access. We love good food, and we were especially looking for something different from the normal mass-market cruise this time. Since we now live in Chicago and have to fly to the port, we wanted to book a longer cruise and one we thought we would really enjoy, since we aren't cruising so many times in a year now.
After researching MSC we decided that the international flavor of the line, the size of the ship and its age would all be pluses. We booked about two months out, an inside guaranteed cabin. Our documents arrived about two weeks prior to departure and our cabin wasn't assigned at the time. A day before we were to leave, I called the travel agency and was given our cabin assignment -- it turned out to be an inside cabin, but an upgrade from what we booked and a handicapped-accessible cabin. This turned out to be a real plus because the cabin was about twice the size of a normal one, and the bathroom had no ledges and a huge shower. The cabin was on Deck 9 forward, perfect for going up or down.
Cabin 9052's beds were on each side of the room with tons of closet and storage space as well as a vanity and mini-bar (which we didn't use). Towels were huge and replenished as needed. Shampoo, body gel and bubble bath were in the bath, and so was a hair dryer that was good for short hair. There were not many electrical outlets, so bring a strip if you need to plug in battery chargers, etc. This was a very quiet cabin, and we got fresh fruit daily.
MSC Lirica is a two-year-old ship and the maximum passenger capacity using all berths is 2,065. Double-occupancy capacity is 1,560 passengers. The line is the second largest shipping company in the world; since it branched out into the passenger cruise business it now has seven cruise ships, with two more to come. The Lirica was designed for international sailing and I believe this is her second season in the Caribbean, along with her sister ship, the Opera. Reviews from passengers have been mixed but all agree that the ship is beautiful and clean, with a true mix of passengers from many countries.
The officers are all Italian; so are the upper echelon staff in the dining room, and the style and flavor of the ship is Italian. The captain on this voyage was Mattia Manzi and the cruise director was Andrea Olivieri. The entertainment team that he oversees was excellent. All the staffers are multilingual. The few announcements are in five languages, and so is the entertainment. The passengers on this cruise were from Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Canada, USA, Great Britain, and other countries. Menus in the dining room are in different languages to accommodate passengers who do not speak English.
After we arrived at Fort Lauderdale Airport, we took our time, got some coffee, and then took a cab to the port once we retrieved our luggage. Since this was an 11-night cruise, we were sailing on a Thursday and returning on a Monday, so the airport was not crowded with cruise passengers. Just two other ships were leaving from Port Everglades that day and we would be the last to depart. We got to the port about 11:45 a.m., left our bags with the porters and got a number for boarding. The check-in lines opened at noon and we were among the first to be processed. The person checking us in was doing it for the first time, but it went very smoothly and we were on board in about 15 minutes. We were greeted by a staff member to lead us to our cabin and were settling in quickly. A welcome-aboard lunch was being served, but it was delayed by a surprise inspection. (A footnote: The Lirica has scored 100 on all inspections; it is probably the cleanest ship we have ever sailed.)
We decided to acquaint ourselves with the layout. We had a great map of the ship and started at the top. There are 13 decks, so we worked our way down. Deck 13 is for sunning forward, and aft is a miniature golf course. Deck 12 is an additional sunning deck and also is the walking/running track -- with eight times around to a mile (by my calculations). Deck 11 has the buffet restaurant all the way aft, with a grill on the port side and a pizzeria on the starboard side. Directly in front of that is a bar and shaded seating area, and forward of that are two beautiful salt water pools with space for sitting all around. The lounge chairs had shades on them. Forward was a place to get ice cream (extra charge) and then the gym, saunas, massage, etc., were all the way forward. Decks 10, 9, 8 and part of 7 were passenger decks. Decks 6 and 5 are public decks with lounges, restaurants and shops as well as reception etc. With the exception of Caya Levantado, we disembarked in each port from Deck 5 forward.
The itinerary for this cruise was: two days at sea, San Juan, St. Maarten, Grenada, Barbados, Antigua, Tortola, Caya Levantado (private island), day at sea and back to Port Everglades. We spent a good amount of time in each port; the only one we could have done without was Grenada. Caya Levantado is absolutely beautiful -- a small island off the coast of the Dominican Republic -- and the seas were gently rolling. The day was beautiful -- a great beach day. Since we have been to all these islands, we were familiar with them. In the past we explored each of them and found places we like to return to. We like to shop and enjoyed each port thoroughly. We always walk into the town; it's great exercise and usually an easy walk. Our weather was exceptional each day except the day we were in Grenada, where it rained and we didn't care; we were only off the ship for about 15 minutes anyway. A number of excursions were offered in each port but we haven't done those for many years so I can't comment on them.
There were three formal nights; the others were a combination of informal and casual. The captain had a welcome aboard party for the first formal night and another party on the last formal night. Not everyone adhered to the dress code, but the majority of passengers did. There were very few children on this cruise; I can't comment on the facilities for them.
We checked in at the dining room immediately after settling into our cabin. We had requested late seating, which we got, and we wanted to request a table for two. The maitre d' was very gracious in granting our request. We were later told that early seating was full but late seating was not. Our waiter was Windia and his assistant was Agus, both from Indonesia. Our table supervisor was Salvatore. The supervisors and the maitre d' and his assistants were very visible all the time, and service in the dining room was excellent. It was also leisurely since it was late seating, and that suited us very well.
There were certain menu items you could order each night; there was always a choice of appetizers, soups, a pasta of the day, choices of main courses and desserts. The portions were very nice -- not huge -- but if you wanted more than one thing or something not on the menu, all you had to do was ask. We rated the food overall as good. My husband had one meal that he had to send back (a pot roast -- the meat was not acceptable) but other than that, we had no problems. We tried things we had never had, and we enjoyed MSC's version of dishes we were familiar with.
We ate only two meals in the buffet (the welcome aboard lunch and one breakfast); all other meals we ate in the dining rooms. We were assigned LaBussola dining room for dinner, so we ate breakfast and lunch in the Ippocampo dining room. Both rooms are beautiful, and the service was excellent in both. The wait staff was comprised of Indonesians, Italians, Romanians, and some other nationalities. The maitre d' and his assistants and most of the table supervisors were Italian. First seating for dinner was at 5:45 p.m. and second seating was at 8 p.m. Breakfast in the dining room was served from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., lunch from noon to 2 p.m. On deck the hours were a little longer, and there was afternoon tea from 4 to 5 p.m. each day.
Continental breakfast was offered via cabin service, and there was a small room service menu available 24 hours a day. Our overall assessment is that the food is good: Breakfast was great, lunch very good, and dinner was very good. We found the pasta dishes to be somewhat bland, but the beef was always prepared to our order and very tender; the lobster was excellent, as were the soups. Desserts were good (some great); the baked alaska was some of the best I ever had.
We found the crew and officers to be exceptionally friendly. They always had a smile in greeting you. The entertainment team was exceptional too. We didn't attend all the shows so we can't comment on most of them. The entertainment team had something going on each night on Deck 6, and they were lots of fun. They were out by the pool during the day. There were food demonstrations, Italian language classes, dance music for every taste, some Bingo, an art auction (not well attended), a small display of Inch of Gold (very unobtrusively). The shops on Deck 5 were nice, very low key. Drinks were not "hawked" on deck or in the lounges. If you wanted something, all you had to do was ask, but you were not approached time and again.
Announcements were kept to a minimum -- you were expected to read your daily program to find out what was going on, and when. It was very relaxing.
Some additional items -- there was a $12 per person tip amount added to your bill each day. You could remove it if you chose to and tip each person yourself. We did the automatic tipping and it seemed most people did this. I did see a number of people giving extra money to their cabin stewardess or steward and some to the waiters. Tips are automatically figured into drinks on deck and in the bars. Wine packages can be purchased and glasses of wine were reasonably priced. On board Internet costs $6 for the first 10 minutes and 60 cents a minute after that. If you travel with a laptop, you can buy prepaid packages, and the ship also has three laptops equipped with Wi-Fi that you can rent. The library was on the honor system -- you could walk in, take a book and return it when finished -- and there were books in multiple languages.
Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have additional questions. We would sail MSC again in a heartbeat. The feel of the ship, the ambience -- all of it was just great. And taking a cruise longer than seven days was so nice. Embarkation and debarkation were a breeze. I tried to learn some basic Italian prior to cruising, and that was always received well. All in all, it was a perfect vacation for us.