by T. Douglas
January 28, 2006
Our cruise on the MSC Opera from 1/28/06 to 2/4/06 was a truly wonderful experience. We researched MSC prior to our trip due to the unfamiliarity of the ship line. We read both positive and negative reviews. Yet, as we reviewed the negative reviews meticulously, we began to ask ourselves if the writer's comments were likely to affect our enjoyment of the cruise. We determined they would not. Also, from the tone of the reviews, we suspected the writer was overly particular or critical. We booked the cruise and we are so glad we did.
In every aspect we found the crew to be attentive to detail, customer-service oriented, friendly, and devoted to excellence. Our inside cabin was spacious with an exorbitant amount of storage/closet space. Our bed was quite comfortable. It was fixed as a queen; we thought it would feel like two twins with the slice in the middle but somehow it felt like a queen bed. Dining was in six course meals at lunch and dinner. Salmon, steak, and other American dishes were always available as alternatives; although we always made selections from the daily menu. The cold soups were delicious-a must-try. Our waiter, Desi, was by our side to remove one course after the other immediately upon completion. We established a bond with him and it was sad to say good-bye at the end of the week. The entire crew works so hard to please. The high level of attention to cleanliness is readily apparent. We saw the common walls and stairwells being steam-cleaned on a daily basis. Signs were posted at the public restrooms to use hand towels to open the doors upon exit. Activities such as pool games, bridge tournaments, dance and language lessons, and crafts were available throughout the day. The evening shows were exceptional-Las Vegas quality. Don't miss them. Each show is unique and creative with superb choreography offering a variety of talent throughout the week. Every passenger we spoke to echoed the same thoughts.
The ports of call were also a reason for our selection of MSC. Although arriving in the evening in San Juan, it still allowed us to enjoy the flavor of Old San Juan, which is where the Opera docks. The cobblestone streets, the Spanish colonial architecture and historical city walls immersed you in the local culture. Even though El Morro, a massive fortress, is closed, the nighttime view from outside is still worthwhile.
St. Martin is beautiful. We rented a car and toured the 37 square mile island. We reserved a car from Best Deal Car Rental in advance for $60 but realized upon arrival we didn't need to. The car rental company booths are to the right, just behind the bus parking lot, off the dock. It is just a few minutes walk from the pier dock. Anyways, the car rental companies are very negotiable and fight for your business. You can easily negotiate $40 for the day. Make sure you drop your car off at the rental office rather than the separate car lot. We were told to drop the car off at the separate car lot; there is no office there. Bring your car back to the rental office, get your final papers and head back to the ship. We went to Dawn Beach, beside Oyster Pond, among other places. It was an attractive small beach. All of the beaches were small with the exception of Orient Beach. If we had to do it again, we definitely would have skipped Dawn Beach. Orient Beach was gorgeous. Plenty of water sports with gentle waters on the longest beach we saw in St. Martin- 2 miles long- and especially white sand. The colorful buildings there were also a sight to see-very picturesque. One note is that Orient Beach is recognized as a swimsuit optional beach. I thought we would be able to walk along the French Cul-de-Sac, as I had read prior to our trip, but discovered it required a short motor boat ride over, so we skipped it. We circled the western edge of the island without stops due to our concern about time. Traffic was congested in some of the towns. Mullet Bay looked beautiful. The terrain on the eastern side of the island is low lying hills where the western side is low land surrounding a lagoon. St. Martin is truly a charming island.
The place to go in La Romana is Altos de Chavon. It is a must-see, regardless of your age. It is a re-creation of a 16th century Mediterranean village on the grounds of Casa de Campo resort. There are art galleries, boutiques, restaurants, and souvenir shops surrounding a cobbled square. There are cobblestone streets lined with lanterns, wrought-iron balconies, wooden shutters, courtyards, and gardens. It is on a bluff overlooking the Rio Chavon. You can go to Altos de Chavon and Casa de Campo's luxurious yacht marina for a round trip cost of $6 pp from a shuttle at the ship's dock. The Kandela show is shown at the amphitheater at Altos de Chavon. It is colorful and entertaining in a beautiful setting.
Taxis are available at the ship's dock. The local transportation service at the dock pairs people up in the taxi according to your destination making it very easy to get a reduced rate per person. The taxi driver waits for you an hour or two or however long you wish and drives you back. We went to Bayahibe Beach for 2 hours. It took ½ hr by car. Six passengers-total cost is $52($8.66 pp plus tip) The beach was quite small; yet we still enjoyed the time there. A resident was in a motor boat offering ½ hr snorkeling in an area just offshore. We would have gone except our time at the beach was almost up. Others we met did go and negotiated $6 pp; they said the fish were colorful and that they had a great time. We were going to go to Dominicus Beach but discovered it is a private beach.
Cayo Levantado is the Caribbean at its finest. Be sure to pick up your ticket for the tender early in the morning of your arrival there because you'll want to be in one of the first tenders over to enjoy every single second. It is gorgeous. The bluest, clearest water of any we've ever seen with the most pure white sand on the palm-tree-lined beach. Although we did not go on any excursions there, we learned from talking to other passengers who had gone on the whale watching excursion and jeep safari that they thoroughly enjoyed it. Marco, the cruise director, said MSC has had a high satisfaction rate on all of their excursions on Cayo Levantado.
I hope this information is helpful. We are sure to cruise on MSC again due to their commitment to excellence, high customer service level, exceptional entertainment, and focus on maintaining a clean ship.