The fastest growing cruise line in the world may be the least known in the United States and that is a shame because MSC Cruises offers something truly special - beautifully elegant ships, first-class Italian hospitality, international cuisine and the best theater shows we have seen on any line.
MSC, which stands for Mediterranean Shipping Company, is an Italian line owned by Gianluigi Aponte. Mr. Aponte owns nearly 400 container ships and 11 cruise ships making MSC the second largest carrier in the world.
MSC cruise ships have won multiple awards including the prestigious Magellan Award for Luxury Design. That is no surprise to MSC Cruises President and CEO Rick Sasso, "Our owner didn't want his cruise ships designed by some cost cutting board concerned with pinching pennies. He wanted his ships to be top-of-the-line. Look at the design of this ship. It is exceptional."
You might expect such a luxury experience and international flair to come with a hefty price tag but it doesn't. MSC Cruises prices are comparable to the most budget friendly lines. Kids sail free on MSC is one of their mottos. Providing high quality cruises in a budget friendly manner is an MSC Cruises goal according to MSC Poesia Hotel Manager Neven Zdunic. “Children and teenagers under the age of eighteen do not pay. We even take care of the children so that their parents can go enjoy some free time for themselves.” MSC Cruises provides Kid’s Club, Junior Club and Teenager’s Club activities free of charge!
“Our cruises offer many things you cannot get at a hotel. It is cheaper as well because of all that is included in the price such as entertainment, food, personal service and even a relationship with your wait staff,” Zduric explained.
Gay Cruise Passengers:
We asked Neven Zduric about MSC Cruises' level of acceptance of gay travelers. “My best friend is gay and he is an excellent professional and a great friend. In Europe, gay is considered normal. MSC offers gay cruises but on all of our cruises, everyone is accepted and welcomed. Our company is open and inviting to everyone. We respect everyone. I think this is a good thing.”
The MSC "gourmet dining experience" combines Italian regional specialties with the best of Mediterranean and international cuisine. The chefs "incorporate daily specials into the menus, always tailoring the culinary experience to guests’ preferences while providing fresh products to complement the itineraries at all of the ships’ restaurants, including the main restaurants, a la carte dining experiences and specialty/alternative restaurants.”
We were given a private tour of the galley. We found it to be a very professional and very organized system meant to provide the best and freshest food to guests. Cleanliness was obviously top priority. Tim Skinner, MSC Corporate Hotel Manager, told us that every kitchen crew staff member goes through a rigorous antibacterial process including a check with a bioluminosceter. The United States does random inspections of the kitchen and food preparation with one-hundred being the best score. “The MSC Poesia galley has received five one-hundreds in a row and we are very proud of that,” Skinner said.
Several specialty restaurants provide guests with a variety of choices to suit their tastes. We enoyed the Kaito Sushi Bar where food is prepared in the traditional manner by experienced master Sushi chefs in an authentic Japanese minimalist setting.
We also enjoyed contemporary Italian cuisine at L'Obelisco where a fixed-price menu offers a starter, main course and dessert served in a private dining room. Each course was brought to our table in silver covered serving dishes. The covers were removed simultaneously with flair by the wait staff.
We thoroughly enjoyed The Winemaker Experience aboard the Poesia. Led by Napa Valley winemakers, it is a great opportunity to learn the art of winemaking. The experience includes 1) tasting five different wines 2) creating and crafting your own blend 3) enjoying your own custom blend 4) making a full bottle of your custom blend 5) bottling and corking your blend 6) naming and labeling your custom blend wine.
“Whether you are an experienced wine connoisseur, a curious novice, or simply enjoy great wine, we offer a rare opportunity to be a wine maker,” said Jeffrey Maltzman, President of Winemakers Experiences.
We have traveled on multiple cruise lines around the world. In our opinion, the MSC Cruises theater productions on the Poesia are the best we have seen anywhere.
“The shows are designed by three companies in Naples, Genoa and Australia. They provide quality shows and we employ quality performers. We change our shows to make them better and better and to keep improving. We want them to be the best anywhere,” said Neven Zduric.
The MSC Poesia offered a different show each evening in what may have been the most beautifully designed theater on any cruise line:
Divas: With songs made famous by Barbara Stresiand, Maria Callas, and Cher
Little Italy: Sung completely in Italian, this show even included a bicycle trick artist and a ladder acrobat.
Extraordinaire: With black-light dancers, a contortionist, a Michael Jackson tribute, a juggler, trapeze aerialists and can-can dancers.
Follie Barock: With baroque period costumes, eclectic dance choreography, songs and one of the most amazing jugglers we have ever seen.
Stars on Broadway: With song and dance routines from Broadway
Isha: A Cirque-like production imagining “the spirit of the tree”
Sam: Historic song and dance favorites from the U.S.A.
The MSC Poesia is an elegantly designed ship with a distinctively Italian feel. The Italian marble floors, polished woods, brass ornamentation, creative use of mirrors, original paintings, sculptures and flowing Italian design with floor to ceiling windows and “open vistas” combine to create a uniquely glamorous and classy style. “We invest a lot on the inside of our ships with beautiful brass and marble and design but we also invest in finding a quality crew to provide quality service,” Zduric said.
Getting onboard the ship was a very speedy and pleasant experience. We were on board and in our cabin within 15 minutes of entering the port. CEO Rick Sasso explains how this is possible, "It is all about first impressions. We want people's first impression of MSC to be a positive one. We have the ship turned around and cabins clean and available by 11:30 a.m. We want to make boarding the ship a very easy and positive experience."
Since MSC Cruises has such an international clientele, announcements are offered in up to five languages but you won’t hear them as much as you do on other lines and that is one of the goals according to Sasso. “We want you to enjoy a peaceful environment. We respect our passengers’ privacy. We don't have crew members trying to constantly sell you over-priced drinks or photographs.”
The MSC Poesia offers the impressive MSC Aurea Spa where “guests can select from a wide variety of massages, wellness and beauty treatments while surrounded by an ambiance of pampering, elegance and sophistication.”
MSC Cruises features Balinese massage treatments (massage, acupressure, reflexology and aromatherapy) by expert masseuses trained at the line’s special academy in Bali.
Other spa features include thermal suites with saunas, Turkish baths, manicures, pedicures, a hair salon and a gymnasium with resistance training equipment, treadmills, upright and recumbent exercise bikes and professional instructors to help guests make the most of the facilities.
The Poesia can accommodate more than 2500 guests and a crew of almost 1000.
Our Caribbean cruise began at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida which has been called the “Venice of America” because of its expansive and intricate canal system. The city of Fort Lauderdale boasts seven miles of Atlantic Coast beaches.
The first two days of our cruise were sea days which offered ample opportunity to explore the ship and enjoy the many activities that were available. Our cruise featured “Baseball Greats” where retired professional baseball players provided “interactive question-and-answer session with the players, player-hosted trivia games, a lively story-telling session in which the players share candid revelations about some of the characters of the game” plus pitching, hitting, and defense strategy clinics as well as a light-hearted passenger pitching contest.
St. Thomas / Charlotte Amalie (U.S Virgin Islands)
The MSC Poesia docked right in the heart of the Charlotte Amalie tourist district. The shops and restaurants (including Sushi Bar, Hooters and Senor Frogs) were just steps away from where we stepped off the ship. MSC Cruises offers multiple excursions including St John Beach Tour, Ultimate Island Experience, Tortola Dolphin Swim and Coral World.
For our St. Thomas adventure, we chose Godfrey Tours. Renal Godfrey led our Historical St. Thomas Island Tour in one of his red, open-air tour buses. We worked our way 1500 feet above sea level to the mountain top where we visited the world’s most famous banana daiquiri factory. We viewed Magen’s Bay - one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. We visited Sir Frances Drake’s seat and then drove down the mountain to Coki Point Beach and Coral World Ocean Park where we enjoyed a refreshing swim in the neon blue waters. Godfrey also allowed us ample time to stroll the seaside, open-air flea market and over 500 duty free shops for souvenirs.
“What makes us special? Our goal is always the complete satisfaction of our customers. We have been doing this for seventeen years and we have many repeat customers who come back again and again because they have enjoyed our tours so very much,” Renal Godfrey said.
Most gay clubs have relocated to St Croix but The Greenhouse (bar and restaurant) is known as welcoming for GLBT guests.
San Juan (Puerto Rico)
The MSC Poesia docked right in Old San Juan where historic attractions begin literally feet from the water.
MSC Cruises offers multiple excursions including the San Juan Panoramic Tour, El Yunque Rainforest Tour, ATV Adventures, and Beach Day in Puerto Rico.
If you decide to explore on your own, San Juan, which was founded in 1521, offers some fantastic historic attractions in easy walking distance from the port. Much of Old San Juan dates back to Christopher Columbus. The impressive 42 foot high sandstone city wall still stands at the seas edge. The San Cristobal fortress (1634) is the largest fort ever built by the Spaniards in the new world. The Castillo San Felipe del Morro fortress (1539) rises nearly 150 feet above the sea and survived attacks by both the British and Dutch.
We chose the Flavors of San Juan Food & Culture Tours in which our tour guide led us “on an easy two hour walk through the 16th Century Spanish Colonial city streets of Old San Juan, sharing savory signature items of the top restaurants on the islet and inside knowledge only a local can provide.”
Michael Jurado of Flavors of San Juan Food & Culture Tours provided us with one of the best tours we have experienced anywhere – and we have toured the world! To say that we highly recommend Flavors of San Juan Food & Culture Tours would be an understatement.
Michael’s knowledge of the history of San Juan is extensive and impressive. He was able to both enlighten and entertain by mixing serious history, historical peculiarities and local humor. We learned about everything from the Taino Indians to Christopher Columbus and Ponce De Leon, from the Catholic Church and convents to historic brothels! It was a thoroughly enjoyable and educational tour.
The MSC Poesia docked in Nassau within view of world-famous Atlantis resort and a few minutes walk to the always-entertaining Bahamanian Straw Market and shopping district.
MSC Cruises offers multiple excursions including various Atlantis tours, Athol Island Snorkel tour, Glass Bottom Boat, Panamoric Tour, and Seahorse Sailing Catamaran.
On this trip to Nassau, we chose to explore on our own. Within approximately a mile’s walk, we were able to visit The Queen’s Staircase, Fort Fincastle, the Parliament Square with its statue of Queen Victoria, and Nassau’s Public Library and Museum which was once the city’s jail and where the prison cells are now bookshelves!
Nassau advertises a gay bar named Club Waterloo, but according to Frommers, "The Bahamas isn't a gay-friendly destination. If you're gay, think twice before choosing to vacation here. Although many gay people visit or live here, the country has very strict anti-homosexual laws. Relations between homosexuals, even when between consenting adults, are subject to criminal sanctions carrying prison terms."
Fort Lauderdale, Florida (USA)
The greater Fort Lauderdale area is one of the top ten most visited GLBT destinations in the USA and the number one destination in Florida with over one million GLBT visitors in 2010 alone. The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau offers a fantastic website dedicated to GLBT visitors at http://www.sunny.org/rainbow
For GLBT travelers who enjoy European / nude sunbathing, Haulover Beach is Florida's largest legal nude beach. It is located in Sunny Isles between Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Liberty Suites in nearby Dania Beach is the closest GLBT resort to Haulover Beach and our favorite place to stay in the area.
MSC Cruises has coordinated with several local tour companies to provide post cruise excursions highlighting South Florida attractions.
We were very pleased with our MSC Poesia Caribbean cruise and its international vibe. Customer happiness seems to be a high priority with MSC Cruises. “The most important thing to me is seeing the guests smiling and hearing them say they want to come back,” said Neven Zduric.
We found the Caribbean cruise on the MSC Poesia to be one of the most enjoyable, entertaining and elegant cruises we have experienced.