MSC Poesia cruise made for cost-effective fun family adventure

After almost three weeks on the road, the Fontaine Family Foray in Europe is over and we have safely made the long journey back to New Westminster. During part of our three-week vacation, we spent seven days on a Mediterranean cruise aboard the MSC Poesia – an Italian-owned and operated company.

Every passenger is provided with a special card they need to keep close at hand throughout the whole trip! It allows you to enter and exit the ship and make on-board purchases.

I realize I shouldn’t admit this [given that I’m still in my 40s], but this is already my third cruise. Previously I traveled aboard Carnival Cruise to both the Caribbean and the west coast of Mexico.

This time we were convinced by our travel agent that the two-for-one adult pricing and low-cost for accompanying children would make for a great cost-effective trip. Here is our family assessment which might help you make your decision whether to board an MSC ship or not.

On Board Messaging

The vast majority of the passengers on board are Italian, hence most of the ship’s public announcements were also in that language. Even the announcements that were made in English were a challenge to understand due to the poor quality of the speaker system. While this in no way ruined our trip, being able to understand the messages would have allowed us to get better engaged with the staff and become more aware of what was going on board every day.

Gala Dinners

On previous cruises, the dress up night for the Gala Dinner was fairly relaxed. One could enter the dining room with a nice pair of dress pants and shirt. Not on board the MSC Poesia. They take their two, not one, but two separate gala nights quite seriously. Get ready for the tuxedos and shiny dresses and high heels. No tux…you eat in the buffet on the 13th floor with the other handful of North Americans who wouldn’t ever think of lugging a tux on a hot and steamy Mediterranean cruise.

Onshore Excursions

I can’t say enough about how much fun and well organized the onshore excursions were. This is the first cruise where we’ve signed up for these day-long events and they provided us with a great opportunity to maximize our limited time at each destination. In fact, some of the ports were quite a distance from the main attractions, hence you needed to transport yourself a fair distance to see anything noteworthy.

With the exception of our tour guide in Athens, the excursion staff were very knowledgeable, friendly and pleasant to deal with. A big shout out to Daphne who toured us through Mykonos and Giovanna who did an excellent job with our visit to the ancient Olympic village near Katakalon.

The MSC Poesia is a beautiful ship but could use a bit of a refresh

I don’t envy them having to tour so many people in the searing heat and sun. Yet they do it every day and don’t seem to break a sweat.

One downside to the excursions is they can get cancelled at the last minute, one assumes due to a lack of interest.Nobody really knows as they don’t tell you that kind of information.

That was the case for us when we got a note slipped under our cabin door the night before our planned cycle tour through Croatia. In the end, we made our way into the walled city in Dubrovnyk and had a great time, but beware that a fully paid booked excursion is no guarantee it will actually happen.

Drink Packages

We purchased a separate soft drink and alcohol package once we got on board. Unlike all-inclusive resorts, this is not part of your base fee.

It was not cheap as it cost us $210 Euros per adult and $89 for a child. There is a hitch to this…in that if one member of the family purchases the plan, everyone has to do the same. There was definite value for my son as the pass includes unlimited gelato and milkshakes…but we barely broke even for the two adults in our party [full disclosure, Andrea drank way less than me!].

Cocktails can cost up to $11CAD, so if you consume only a glass of wine per day…don’t buy the package and simply pay as you go.

MSC Staff

We certainly did get a blast out of our “bigger than life” cruise director who – when not organizing the on-board bingo – could be found hosting the nightly “Vegas-style” show. His shiny suits, slicked back hair and obvious love for his job made him a fixture aboard the cruise. Sure his shtick was ultimate cheesie-oh…but that’s what made it all the more fun to watch.

As for the rest of the staff, I want to give a big shout out to Estella who worked in the bowels of the ship cleaning the cabins each day. She had to be the most pleasant and joyful person aboard…and helped to make the trip all that more enjoyable.

Same goes for a young woman who worked in the Zebra Lounge [yes, all the decorations were in black and white stripes] and came from Nepal. She was fascinated with my Microsoft Surface Pro and always seemed to take a genuine interest in the guests she served.

As for the other staff, well things dropped off from there. With the exception of an occasional bartender, the service you receive on board falls far short of what you would expect in North America. Order a drink [if you can find a server] and it may take upwards of 25 minutes to have it delivered to your table.

The “formal” dinner sitting at 7 pm also lacked any attention to detail and the menu left us a tad underwhelmed. That’s likely why we only went three times, but on our last evening did sit with a very pleasant father and daughter who were visiting from Montreal. Note there are very few Canadians [even Americans] on board MSC ships, there were only a handful that we met.

Entertainment

If you come aboard an MSC ship expecting high-level entertainment similar to what you might find on Royal Caribbean or other high-end cruise lines…you will be sorely disappointed. Our first night in the big theatre was nothing short of comical – as the entertainers were dressed in what can only be described as costumes from Star Wars Episode IV.

The meals served in the formal dining room lacked the quality found on previous cruises

This was followed up on the second night with a bad routine about some undersea adventure, which I’m certain recycled some of the Star Wars costumes – only this time they were reconstituted as ocean dwellers.

Most of these performances were not only very amateurish, they were insulting to the guests who sat around and watched them for 50 minutes.

In the end, we caught a couple of other shows hoping they got better as the week progressed, but alas, with the exception of a Paris themed night…they were all dreadful.

My recommendation is bring a good deck of cards or purchase some casino chips if you want to keep yourself entertained after dinner – because the formal entertainment just won’t cut it.

Pool and Deck area

Not sure what it was, but we never ended up using the pool or spending much time on the deck area. Perhaps it had to do with the fact it was often way overcrowded, constantly sounded like an elementary school playground during recess and was overall not very inviting. The deck chairs were oddly placed throughout which meant that even making your way from one side of the ship to the other was often an exercise in futility.

It might also be that I’m getting old, but the cheesy daily exercise classes led by the Spanish deck staff, who once even dressed up as Heidi from Switzerland, wore on me. It was all just a bit too much and unlike any other cruise I’ve been on…and not that enjoyable.

If you don’t like cigarette smoke blown in your face, then you definitely want to avoid the pool and deck areas. So many people smoke on this ship it’s unbelievable. They do have a “non smoking” section, but it is rather small and very ineffective. It’s like sitting on in row 13 non-smoking on a plane when passengers in row 12 smoking section are puffing away. I just wished they banned smoking all together, but that doesn’t appear to be happening anytime soon.

On a side note, if you don’t want to see a lot of grown men over 50 wearing Speedo bathing wear [illustration not included], then I would also suggest you give this cruise a pass! But as I’m told, 50+ men wearing Speedo in Europe is fairly common…so it may not be just an MSC thing.

Family Cruising

If you have a young family, you will certainly feel most welcome aboard this ship. Due to the discounted family pricing, there were literally hundreds of young kids running around the ship at all hours of the day and night.

Just think of the largest floating daycare in the world…and you have the MSC Poesia. If you are looking for an adult-oriented cruise ship, keep surfing the web – this ain’t it.

Conclusion

  • Overall, our family had a great time aboard the ship and really enjoyed all of our excursions. The weather was great and this made for breathtaking views from the top deck – in particular when we left Venice and also arrived in Dubrovnyk.
  • Compared to cruising in the Mediterranean or the Pacific, the Adriatic is a breeze. The seas are normally much calmer and it makes for a much more pleasurable cruise with a lot less people getting sea sick. With the exception of only a few hours, the Adriatic was calm and the conditions were picture perfect.
  • The MSC Poesia is a nice ship, but is looking a tad dated and could use a refresh at some point soon.
  • The ports of call – with the exception of Bari, Italy – were simply amazing. They included Olympia, Mykonos and Athens, Greece + Sarande, Albania and Dubrovnyk, Croatia.
  • Would give this cruise a Fontaine Family Rating of 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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On a final note, this will be the last of my summer holiday travel posts. It’s been a blast writing them over the last few weeks and I’ve received some very nice feedback from many of you.

My blog will now get back to providing commentary on municipal politics and such from around New Westminster and Metro Vancouver!

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Read previous blog posts I wrote about our trip:

London
Paris
Venice
Olympia, Greece
Bari, Italy
Mykonos, Greece
Athens
Sarande, Albania
Dubrovnky, Croatia