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2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: January 2019
Just got back from cruise in Rome beautiful ship cabins good size restaurant waiters cabin staff excellent I don’t know how they put up with so many rude customers. Food in Buffett lukewarm was told to ask for freshly made if I wanted it ... Read More
Just got back from cruise in Rome beautiful ship cabins good size restaurant waiters cabin staff excellent I don’t know how they put up with so many rude customers. Food in Buffett lukewarm was told to ask for freshly made if I wanted it hot . Ridiculous this is how health issues start also no regard for health standard where was the hand sanitizer that all other cruise ships insist you use when attending Buffett. I saw many customers not using tongs supplied filing water bottles when clearly states not to no one stopped so I wouldn’t drink free water purchased bottled . This cruise company would be my last pick of all other cruise lines I have used. Shuttles not supplied like many other companies do profit put first used taxi instead same price. Security staff some rude butted in on conversation need more scanners for this amount of customers. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: January 2019
First of all we boarded a ship that we believe had the Noro virus on it and had over 100 cases on the ship. It made the cruise a total disaster from overall terrible food, poor menus that did not change. The service in Windows was terrible ... Read More
First of all we boarded a ship that we believe had the Noro virus on it and had over 100 cases on the ship. It made the cruise a total disaster from overall terrible food, poor menus that did not change. The service in Windows was terrible food was not hot nor served in a timely manner. The hallway to our room always had a horrible odor. The speciality restaurants were fair at best and out of item on the menu. Cagneys served old baked potatoes and very small portion of vegetables. The lettuce was not crisp and had a lot of brown leaves. The tables were so close you could not have any intimate conversations. Because we had our hands sprayed with a bleach or alcohol solution all day long our hands got so dry that they were cracking. The still demanded to spray the solution as it burned. I will continue to suggest that anyone who is thinking about Norwegian not to consider this line. The employees on this ship has no personality and not a lot of fun. The spirit is a horrible ship and the shows were cancelled multiple days. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: January 2019
We had not been on Norwegian Cruise Line before and chose this cruise because of the port calls and itinerary which were fine. Prior to the trip, we felt the information was lacking - for example, we never received a travel package with ... Read More
We had not been on Norwegian Cruise Line before and chose this cruise because of the port calls and itinerary which were fine. Prior to the trip, we felt the information was lacking - for example, we never received a travel package with tickets and luggage tags (which I was expecting from experience with other cruise lines) and it took a bit of navigating to figure out I needed to print everything from the web page before travel. We also had booked with NCL a transfer from the airport to the hotel pre-cruise; the transfer never showed up and our attempts at the airport to call wasn't successful. We also hit a taxi strike on arrival which meant transportation was difficult and costly. Although we were a bit flustered, we are fairly savvy travelers and were able to get to the hotel; I can't imagine how other or older travelers would have dealt with the situation. When we got on board and reported the transfer issue, there was very little sympathy and nothing was done about it. Although there was a long line at embarkation, it was fairly smooth as was debarkation - no complaints. The Spirit ship itself is dated and worn, it also felt very crowded with few places that were quiet and secluded, especially inside. Thank goodness the weather was decent and we could spend time on the deck or we would have felt claustrophobic with the inside spaces. Although we liked the variety of dining options for dinner (we bought the 4 meal package) and the option of eating when you like, lunch and breakfast were limited to Raffles (buffet) and the main dining room for breakfast, and only Raffles for lunch - neither was that good. Breakfast service in Windows was very slow, we waited 2 hours to be served one morning, for example. Because of the slow service and lack of options, a few days that we had an early excursion we chose room service - which had limited options and charged an additional service fee. Raffles food quality was poor and it was over crowded. On day 2 they reported an increase number of GI cases which caused the ship to take additional sanitary measures - certainly this was necessary (and we're glad we didn't get ill), but it added a bit of concern and frustration with the cramped dining in Raffles and being in the common areas. We had an excellent cabin steward and I believe the employees were trying, but it just felt like the ship didn't have enough employees. It was rare that there was more than 2 waiters in the large Galaxy bar area, hardly any waiters on deck or in the show area and they just didn't seem excited to be there (maybe I wouldn't be either). Pretty much you had to go to the bar to get service in most cases. I also thought that dinner service in general just didn't hit the mark - lots of little things missing at every service. Perhaps this is just the standard of this cruise line - it was ok, but we've experienced better. We thought the costs on board were high for things like drinks and services; we had the drinks package but that didn't even include the coffee at the cafe or juices. They add a 20% service charge on everything so you're sometimes surprised at the adds; they also charge a per day service charge at the end. I'm ok with paying service charges and tips, but when the service isn't great, I have a problem with being forced to pay a flat rate. I had one spa service on the cruise; I didn't pay attention to the cost when I signed up and when I got there learned it was $230 for the massage (with the added service cost, and then a line for additional tip). I know spa service on cruises are expensive but $230 - wow! On top of it, we felt the crew was routinely trying to sell you additional things, whether its products at the spa or a decanter at dinner or another cruise, it seemed a bit over the top. Regarding the excursions, we went on several and found them to be interesting and of good value. We also had excellent weather which was a real plus. We wished there had been more activities on the ship besides dance lessons, bingo and quizes; we've been on other cruises that offer lectures, food demos, tours of the ship,etc. which have been a nice variety. We only went to one show as a few got cancelled and the auditorium was a bit clumsy with seating and access. The singers and musicians in the public areas and bars were generally very good. I think I comment in the next section about the cabin but I'll include info here as well. Our cabin was smaller than we expected and very dated. The bed was comfortable and we slept well however. There was adequate storage,but again, the decor, carpet, etc was worn. The bathroom was our biggest complaint; size wise pretty standard for a cruise ship, but the tiles on the floor in the shower and bathroom area were cracked and looking very unhygienic - actually kind of gross. While standing on the broken tile while showering rust or some dirt would come up from under the tiles which didn't make us very confident. I think our room steward did a good job keeping things clean, but I'm not sure you can ever really clean the problem areas like that. We enjoyed being away from work, the ports and the weather and the flexible dining options. We would not go on this ship again as we've experienced better options on other cruise lines. Not sure if we would go on another ship with NCL; some things we liked, but the service issues and costs, etc. put us off. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2019
We choose this cruise because it was our first cruise in 20 years and the ship was sailing out of Barcelona where we were going on holiday. The Spirit will always hold a fond memory for us. Our dining experience was excellant at ... Read More
We choose this cruise because it was our first cruise in 20 years and the ship was sailing out of Barcelona where we were going on holiday. The Spirit will always hold a fond memory for us. Our dining experience was excellant at every restaurant and the food was out of this world. We were treated like a queen and king the entire trip. Read 3 books from the Spirit library and my husband attended AA meetings every night. A fitness instructor was available for us and we thoroughly enjoyed the land excursions we took. An excellent trip!!!!’ We have another cruise planned for March 2019 . The cruise will be on the Bliss to the islands. We have not booked our shore excursaions as of yet but we are looking into taking care of.everything in the next couple of weeks. Our cruise planner has done a wonderful job in keeping us up to date on everything we should know about the cruise. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: January 2019
I chose this cruise as a winter sun break on a ship I enjoy. Things didn't go well from before I left. My printer blew up as I was printing my documents, it snowed hard a few hours before my taxi was due and I had a message from the ... Read More
I chose this cruise as a winter sun break on a ship I enjoy. Things didn't go well from before I left. My printer blew up as I was printing my documents, it snowed hard a few hours before my taxi was due and I had a message from the taxi company in Barcelona that because of a strike they would not pick me up from the airport, all this before I had left home. Fortunately I got to Barcelona and was able to get to the hotel and then to the port. Embarkation was it's normal boring self but we got on fairly quickly. The ship looked it's old self and I was pleased to see some crew members were still on from my last cruise. I went down to my cabin and though small it was clean and tidy with enough room for my clothes and another if I had been with someone. My cabin was 9692 which is a balcony aft cabin. The bathroom was clean but small. I was a bit perturbed on the third day when the water came out a browny/yellow colour but was told this was due to them cleaning the pipes and that after running for five minutes it should be alright, which it was but it did make me question the potability of the water after that. I ate mostly at the speciality restaurants and they were as usual fantastic other than they had stopped the free gift from the chef which I thought was a bit mean especially if it was due to cost cutting. Service around the ship was excellent until the outbreak of the GI infection (possibly Novro virus) then things went down hill. Obviously I know it was for the benefit of the passengers but once the crew went on sanitization duties the services dipped to the detriment of my holiday. The ports we visited I was looking forward to especially Casablanca but I don't know if this is due to the amount of port fees you pay but at each port we seemed to be as far from the port entrance as we could be and because of my low mobility I did not get off at most ports. Still I enjoyed being back on the Spirit and met a number of very nice people so overall it was a good vacation. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: January 2019
We as a couple and as a group have cruised the Carribian many times and we were looking to travel somewhere different. This cruise certainly filled that requirement! Arriving at Barcelona Airport we found out there was a Taxi strike. ... Read More
We as a couple and as a group have cruised the Carribian many times and we were looking to travel somewhere different. This cruise certainly filled that requirement! Arriving at Barcelona Airport we found out there was a Taxi strike. Taxis parked all over the main roads, we spent two additional days prior to the Cruise Touring this beautiful City, upon boarding we found the ship to To meet our every desire, Morocco with the exception of the Mosque and “ Ricks Cafe” was a bit of a disappointment. The Canery Islands were spectacular! The Volcano Trek is incorrectly listed it should be a class 3-4 out of 5 Between the elevation and steep terrain not to mention the pace of the tour it certainly should be upgraded for Safety reasons.and if you have any Heart, weight or mobility issues to take a different Tour! Portugal is wonderful and scenic, the Rock of Gibraltar tour Driven by a retired Local Police Officer “Tony” was among the highlights of our trip Along with Sagarita Familia in Barcelona led by David, among other excursions we took a Tapas Walking tour, our guide Ana did a great job bringing local heritage and food together and “Wine always Wine” I recommend since debarking from the ship and a late afternoon Flight to better utilize your time by taking another tour or Senic bus ride until your flight requires your presence, Asfar as the Ship goes getting on or off was easy, our Cabin Steward Mohammad was a pleasure to speak with and did his job well, dining,Casinos,and especially the Blue Moon was excellent. I found the upper decks wonderful for reading.this trip was a wonderful,relaxing, adventure and worth the time and investment Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: January 2019
We have been on 5 NCL cruises, The Star, The Epic, and The Spirit. The Star, Epic, and the first of 3 on The Spirit were all great, but the last 2 on The Spirit have not been a good experience for us. Last year 3 major ports were ... Read More
We have been on 5 NCL cruises, The Star, The Epic, and The Spirit. The Star, Epic, and the first of 3 on The Spirit were all great, but the last 2 on The Spirit have not been a good experience for us. Last year 3 major ports were cancelled because of the weather, and I appreciate that this was just one of those things that could not have been avoided. Our main problem was that we had loud hammering and drilling noise in our stateroom from maintenance work on the deck above. This was every day of the cruise, and apparently there was no other stateroom to move us to. Then we had the problem with Spanish VAT. We had prepaid for a beverage package, as we had done the previous year, with no problems. This second cruise on Spirit was different, we were told that we had to pay VAT while in Spanish waters, even though we had prepaid. On returning home, we found out that we should not have been charged, and it was refunded. Now onto this years cruise on The Spirit. First of all, we had a gastrointestinal virus on the ship, which was discovered during the first port of call. Obviously measures had to be put in place to avoid it spreading, but we feel that more could have been done to make passengers enjoyment of the cruise better. A lot of meals had to be taken in the buffet, and because of cross infection, we were not allowed to serve ourselves. All of the food areas were cordoned off to allow staff to serve us. This meant that there was a lot of congestion, and long queues because there didn’t appear to be enough staff to serve. On top of this,I was informed that a lot of staff had to be taken from non public areas, which resulted in communication issues. Plus, if you wanted food from another area of the buffet, it was necessary to join another queue, by which time the food already on your plate was cold. The dining rooms were not open for lunch on port days, but we feel that they could have opened one of them to alleviate the problem. Apart from what I have already mentioned, we found the food in general to be not as good as before. On our first cruise on The Spirit we had a particular brand of gin before dinner. On the second cruise, we were told that this gin was not on the drinks package as it had been increased to $16.95, and you could only have drinks up to $15 on the package without paying more. Imagine our surprise, when this year, that particular gin had been increased to a staggering $19.95. Now onto the Lattitudes party for returning passengers. We used to receive a personalised invitation card in an envelope, now just a non personalised piece of paper under your stateroom door. No prize draw, and on this occasion no canapés. We were told that this was because of the virus on board, but to be honest, a waiter using tongs to put a canapé on your plate, would have been no different to food being served in the buffet or dining rooms. Some dishes that were on the menu, both in the dining room and the speciality restaurants were unavailable when we visited.. Also, the lunch menu in the dining room while at sea, seemed to be basically the same every day, but on previous cruises the menu alternated. Summing up, we feel it unlikely that we would book another cruise. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: January 2019
As a seasoned cruiser on many different lines and ships i have just returned from a ten day cruise on NCL SPIRIT. I last used this ship about six years ago on the same tour. At which time we thought it to be an excellent cruise with all ... Read More
As a seasoned cruiser on many different lines and ships i have just returned from a ten day cruise on NCL SPIRIT. I last used this ship about six years ago on the same tour. At which time we thought it to be an excellent cruise with all conditions and services meeting high standards. Alas what a letdown, the food appeared to be mainly for Asians several types of rice and pasta with meats mainly having the Asian twist. For instant there were a dearth of potatoes, you had chips every meal, baked potatoes once and some “black” potatoes (natural). Cheese was another rare item it appeared lunch time with salads (cut small) but none was available at dinnertime for desert. The majority of the food was tepid so by the time you ate it was cold. Breakfast time there were at least three egg stations catering for all tastes – until you wanted ‘Poached’ eggs when you had to go to a special one, heaven forbid you asked for eggs Benedict this you were charged for and on the last day they did do any –when a chef was asked why he replied it was company policy. A good point was the presence of a coffee machine (good for making tea) in the cabin. A big downside was room service which is normally free (at least to midnight) is charged for at over $7 per request. Our balcony cabin was good although we had a single fold –up fouton which was excellent as a mini settee but it did take up a lot of room. The toilet, washroom and shower were separate the toilet and shower each having a solid door. Opposite was a large wardrobe with plenty of hangers and a couple of dressing gowns also a stack of shelve tucked away at the side. There was a mini bar which had a lock on it I can only assume being a non-drinker, the room maid had the key. The TV was awkward to operate and had the usual channels plus lots of foreign stations leaving us with mainly the news and one film channel. On our first day at sea ‘NORO VRUS’ myself and my wife succumbed and spent the next five days in quarantine. We soon got over the sickness and diarrhoea but were only allowed to eat plain boiled rice and grilled chicken accompanied with beef broth, dry toast and jelly which was cold and had to twiddle our thumbs or sleep. Apparently we were informed some people got fed up and went to the buffet which resulted in the spread being up graded to a serious outbreak.. When we were released on day six we found more ‘agro’ the passengers weren’t allowed to touch anything not handed to them. All cruet sets were removed you had to queue up at a drinks terminal and receive small packets; sauces were doled out in little pots. Queuing for drinks took forever, not because the boys were slow it was a continuous queue whether you wanted a bag of sugar or salt, or 6 glasses of water and four glasses of orange juice. Even here so many people started reaching for things under the barrier that they moved the barrier so far from the food that people were moving around the food in single file. One respite was the dining rooms but even here you had to ask for bread to go with the meal and of course the condiments came in little sachets. And all the time in the buffet and dining rooms when a passenger finished his table was striped and ‘Sanitized’. The excursions seem to go alright, the ship sent out cleaners to sanitize the buses even the ‘hop-on, hop-off bus’ was done. The sanitization of the ship seemed continuous with all rails, door knobs in fact anything which could be touched continually coated with cleaning foam. At every entrance and exit was a waiter with a squirt bottle using the phrase ‘washy washy’ and giving you a dose of anti-bacterial spray. Forgive my rants, please check your travel insurance make sure you’ve got ‘Cruise extra’ otherwise you’ll not be able to claim for incarceration. Finally I think it unlikely for me to use Norwegian Cruise Lines again Read Less
Sail Date: January 2019
Got on the ship within 20 minutes! Very prompt. The ship is small and incredibly old. Which is ok but means the walking deck was roped off alot as they were maintaining. The jogging track often had workers on it . Not enough areas for more ... Read More
Got on the ship within 20 minutes! Very prompt. The ship is small and incredibly old. Which is ok but means the walking deck was roped off alot as they were maintaining. The jogging track often had workers on it . Not enough areas for more than one show and there was no entertainment in the day - not even a film was shown on sea days! Usual bingo and art auction dire rubbish! So old fashioned - as was the shop! Incredible that it is so bad! Our cabin 4536 was really grotty. There was so much silicone in the bathroom patching it up! The hairdryer was an old type in the bathroom, useless to dry hair. Brilliant power shower and bed was comfy. Excellent cabing girl and the staff were very friendly. Terrible smell of gas through the aircon i guess! I went to yoga one day - i am a beginner 0f one year! It was unbelievable - i left and didnt pay ! Disgusted was he even qualified? - it wasnt ANY yoga i recognised!! 12$ for half an hour. The evening shows were good i thought. Apart from mistika illusion thing very old fashioned lots of swishing and flailing! You know the stuff. The ship was VERY hot everywhere i wasnt surprised when there was a Gastro Bug outbreak!!! So no library no games to be had! Was horrid. The ship had alot of Asians which have a slightly different view on politeness than us brits or americans! So plenty of pushing and shoving - hey you go ahead!!! Anyway . We had the ultimate dining package which said it included coffee denoted by C and juice denoted by J. Which did NOT actually include the nicer coffee or juice! Rather mean i thought. You could have a liqueur coffee however ! You could NOT have sparkling water but could have a club soda!! Weird !Drinks, prosecco, wines and cocktails were nice when the soda wasnt flat! Aperol spritz was ALWAYS served with proper prosecco which is good as other cruises sometimes fob you off with the horrid sparkling wine! Buffet selection was VERY poor and the same for the whole 10 days, as was food in the dining room for lunch! The coleslaw was delicious! As were the made to order breakfast eggs! The blue lagoon was just a walkway/corridoor that had tables in serving food!! We had the speciality food package for the 10 days. which meant cagneys le bistro and Trattoria - which is just the upstairs buffet sectioned off- not even a table cloth for the cost! But the pastas were very nice. Teppenyaki is far too greasy for me. I am vegetarian and all these restaurants were excellent in accommodating anything you would like! And saying if there was beef stock in the soup etc. very good. You could mix and match which was a real plus. Shame Le bistro didnt serve the 'emperors cocktail ' though. The place was open to the kitchen so was very hot. Steaks in cagney were excellent apparently. NO atmosphere in the ship no nice music in the day at all. All very grim! Singers etc were good but the 'acts' were all singing the same songs so you heard them alot!!! Considering there are millions of songs out there it seemed ironic!!!! First time we havent put on half a stone on a cruise! Canaries and spain were good where you could just walk off. Casablanca was a filthy place which i had read so i didnt get off there. We always love NCL so this was such a shock at the poor quality! I wonder if the next cruisers knew the whole ship was contaminated! The staff said they would be informed.....with a letter before they boarded the ship! A V O I D ! Read Less
8 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: January 2019
I have taken more than 50 cruises on nine different cruise lines, but this was my first cruise with MSC, and the new Meraviglia was a very pleasant surprise. It is an absolutely gorgeous ship with a very polite and helpful crew. I had ... Read More
I have taken more than 50 cruises on nine different cruise lines, but this was my first cruise with MSC, and the new Meraviglia was a very pleasant surprise. It is an absolutely gorgeous ship with a very polite and helpful crew. I had seen all the western Mediterranean ports on our itinerary before, but they are some of my favorites. I will give you ideas on what to expect on your cruise and how to enjoy each port on your own, at minimal expense. Because this review is so long, I will divide it into sections so you can skip to the parts that interest you. THE SHIP: The MSC Meraviglia is enormous, one of the largest cruise ships in the world at 171k tons, with more than 4,500 passengers and 1,500 crew. The interiors are stunning, mostly white and shades of gray in the public areas and muted colors in the cabins, with none of the cheesy decor that one often sees on low priced cruise ships. There is a good online video from MSC that will give you a look at the Meraviglia's elegant (contemporary Italian design) interiors. The deck plans are standard for the industry, with a few exceptions. Long hallways are zig-zagged into shorter segments, and the two elevator silos (forward and midship) are in alcoves, which can be confusing as one exits them. The open deck was too cold and windy to be enjoyed midwinter, so I cannot comment on how well the pools, sundecks, and jogging track might function in a tropical environment. The spa and gym are separated, and the gym is relatively small for such a large ship. As a result, the usual complimentary stretch and exercise programs had to be given among the chairs in the public lounges since there is no aerobics area in the gym. There is a large indoor basketball/soccer court separate from the gym, a court that was rarely used on this cruise but is probably busy during school vacations. I did not use the spa so I cannot comment on its services or prices. As on other ships, most dining, entertainment, bars, and lounges are clustered on decks 6 and 7. The central promenade between these two decks is open and its ceiling is covered with an enormous LCD screen that provides glamour in the daytime and entertaining sound and light shows each evening. The best place to view these LCD shows is from the balcony on deck 7 at either end of the promenade. MSC uses similar large LCD screens instead of the usual stage scenery in its main theater and circus lounge, and also next to its open-deck pool. This is ingenious and entertaining, and is one of the highlights on this ship. Kids of all ages will love the effect. The atrium spans decks 5 though 7 and sparkles with millions of glass crystals embedded in its spiral staircases. Similar sparkle is present in the walls shelving wine bottles outside some of the dining rooms. Reception and cruise services are clustered on deck 5. I found the personnel there were very helpful and efficient. Waiting lines for these services are common on a ship this size, but the lines moved quickly on the Meraviglia. As an aside, we experienced two nights with hurricane force winds (72 knots actual, 83 knots perceived, Beaufort scale 12) and the ship handled them with ease. There was minimal list in spite of the ship's enormous wind profile, and I felt minimal rocking and no pitching in my upper deck cabin, which was far above the ship's center of gravity. There was the usual thud of the hull against waves that one hears in severe weather, but no noise from structural flexing. I felt very safe and would trust this ship to be comfortable even on a transatlantic itinerary. FELLOW PASSENGERS: On this western Mediterranean itinerary the passengers were an enjoyable mix of nationalities -- something I enjoy when I travel in Europe. Based on overheard languages, I estimate that about 20% were native English speakers, 20% Chinese or Japanese, 5% Russian or South Asian, and 55% an equal mix of European languages (Italian, Spanish, German, Portuguese, and French). Announcements are multilingual but reasonably infrequent. Ironically, the Japanese and Chinese announcements were the easiest to understand because they were done by native speakers. The European languages were sometimes less clear because they were often rushed and given by non-native speakers. In this age of smartphone apps and smart TVs (each cabin has a smart TV), MSC would be wise to give all (except its safety and emergency) announcements via smartphone or TV. The ship already has a TV channel in each language where announcements and updates could be posted. Overhead announcements could be limited to one sentence in each language, giving the topic and referring passengers to their smart devices for further info. Also, most announcements are standard in content and could be pre-recorded at reasonable speed by native speakers. In any case, the variety of nationalities and languages is one of the pleasures of traveling abroad. If you want a Disney version of the world, then stay home. CHILDREN: I am not fond of children running loose on cruise ships, which is one of the reasons I chose a midwinter departure. Another bonus is that we were the only cruise ship docked in each port, and each port was relatively free of tourist crowds during the off-season. Our cruise had about one or two hundred children at most, preschool age or Australians on school summer holidays. The children were easily accommodated by the extensive play areas and children's programs on this ship. The school holiday calendar and a ship's quota on younger passengers is something to consider whenever booking cruise. CREW: All crew members I met were very polite and did their jobs very well. Even though this is an Italian cruise line, the crew were of diverse nationalities and usually used English as their common language. A special effort is made to provide some crew members for each language group, although passengers and crew were not always matched in this regard in the dining rooms or cabins. The ship is new, and it is maintained spotlessly clean by an excellent housekeeping staff. The officers are not as visible as on some other cruise lines, although opportunities are made to introduce high ranking officers to passengers. This is a non-issue for me as long as the junior officers maintain the safety standards of the ship so that fires and evacuations can be handled well in an emergency. CABINS: MSC is unusual in that it has relatively uniform cabins over four cabin grades called "experiences" -- Bella, Fantastica, Wellness, and Aurea-- based on what amenities are included at each price level. In addition, there are are the Yacht Club cabins, which I believe are not that much nicer than standard cabins but are isolated in a locked area of the ship with special dining, decks, and lounges (corresponding with the old first class). You can read further about this system on the MSC website. I was fortunate in that I applied to MSC and was ultimately given reciprocity (MSC gold status) to correspond with my elite status on some other cruise lines. In addition, I booked this cruise relatively late before departure when the price was so low that I thought it must be an error, but fortunately was real. It was by far the most "bang for the buck" that I have had on any cruise. I also got the 12 free drink vouchers with my Fantastica level cabin, a bonus that will be discontinued in late March 2019. My upper deck mid-ship Fantastica grade balcony cabin was absolutely beautiful. It was a little larger than the standard for the industry. Most of the extra space was devoted to a long (2m) sofa that could be converted to a queen size bed for two more adults. The cabin came with all the usual amenities, but no robes and no body lotion, so bring your own if needed. The bathroom was compact but had a shower large enough for almost anyone. The balcony was large enough for two standard chairs and one ottoman/table. The glass wall of the cabin and glass railing of the balcony offered beautiful views. Given the choice, I think that a starboard cabin provides nicer views in most ports on this itinerary. I did not realize how enjoyable a balcony view can be, even in winter, in this part of the world. For those with an inside cabin, there are two TV channels showing the view to the port and the starboard sides of the ship, which is an improvement over the usual single forward-facing bridge-cam channel. My cabin was especially well-maintained by my cabin steward. After a severe wind storm that coated my balcony with sea salt, the huge glass windows were immaculate the very next day. I did not go on a cabin crawl on this ship, so I cannot comment on the inside cabins or the suites. My cabin was a wonderful respite in the evenings, when the public areas and the entertainment venues tended to get too loud for my taste, as is too common on cruise ships. I do not understand why louder entertainment is considered better. To me, louder entertainment just sounds more amateur. DINING: The food on the Meraviglia is usually good to excellent, with only a few disappointments. For me the buffet breakfasts were by far the best meal of the day, equal to or better than that of any other cruise ship. The light and flaky croissants are some of the best I have ever had. The meats, fruits, cereals, and eggs at breakfast are all very good. The waffles (tough and soggy) and the orange drink (real orange juice is available at a surcharge) were breakfast disappointments on this cruise. I cannot comment on the coffee and tea, since I tried neither. There is only one sea day on this itinerary, so I tried the buffet lunch once and the dining room lunch once (I skipped Rome because of heavy rain and the usual transportation hassle of going from Civitavecchia port to Rome and back). The dining room lunch menu is limited but good, and the buffet lunch on the Rome day featured the best beef (rare filet mignon) of the cruise. The afternoon buffet snacks are also good, although the pizzas are surprisingly soggy rather than crisp. No free ice cream is available in the buffet (it is a favorite of mine on other ships), but very good ice cream at dinner in the main dining rooms is free. The food and service in the main dining rooms (based on my limited experience) is not up to the level of that on other cruise ships. The menu tends to be limited compared with other cruise lines (one appetizer, one soup, one salad). Upscale choices (lamb, beefsteak, lobster, salmon, etc.) are absent, although some of them can be purchased with a surcharge of about 15-20 euros. The fish is invariably the best main course on the menu, in small portions but perfectly prepared. The beef at dinner was often a disappointment on this cruise. The "chef's special" prime rib, for example, was a thin slice of lean, over-cooked beef that was as tough as leather. My waiter offered to bring me another item from the menu, but I was already running late for a show I had reserved. Similarly disappointing, the veal shank was a large cross-section of bone with a scant rim of meat along one edge. The dining room service is also not on par with other cruise lines for several reasons, and not the waiters' fault. There are fixed dining times -- early or late. Only the most expensive cabins have the freedom of flexible dining times. Diners are supposed to arrive within 15 minutes of their designated time, but they tended to wander in gradually. With flexible dining, a table fills quickly and the service begins promptly. With a fixed dining time, I usually spent the first 20 minutes eating bread until there were enough diners at his station for the waiter to start service. There are no sommeliers in the dining rooms, but if you enjoy wine and know your labels, you will do fine. There are multiple choices of wine by the glass in each major category (red, white, rose, sparkling). Unfortunately, the waiters are delayed in starting service in part because they show newly embarked diners to their assigned tables. Also, table assignments did not make sense on my cruise. Waiters' native language often did not match that of their diners. Worst of all, my waiter and his assistant were at a work station up one level and around the corner from my table even though my table was just a few feet away from another waiter's work station. My waiter had no way to anticipate my needs or see any of my requests. Finally, all waiters are burdened with bulky touch screen tablets the size of a library book. Most restaurant waiters make written notes at table and then enter them into a computer at their work stations. Entering each order in the computer as it is given slows down the entire process. If MSC spent just a little more on ingredients (especially the beef), trained and assigned waiters in a logical way, and allowed dinner service to start promptly and progress efficiently, dining on the Meraviglia could be second to none. The one thing that disappointed me the most in the main dining room was the absence of free drinking water. If one wants to drink water at dinner, one must pay for it -- a new bottle of water with each dinner. If only half of the 4,500 passengers have water with dinner, that generates more than 800,000 bottles of plastic waste every year, not to mention the fossil fuel wasted in shipping bottled water to various ports. Since water is free in the buffet area, making bottled water a requirement in the dining rooms is hypocrisy for a cruise line that claims to be environmentally sensitive. Bottled water should be available for purchase in all venues for those who need it, but it should not be the only source of water in any venue. DRESS: The Meraviglia passengers were well-dressed (no ball caps, rare slashed jeans) but were still casual during the day. There were two formal nights when about a third of men wore a suit and tie, a third wore a sport jacket, and a third wore a good shirt with no jacket. Women dressed correspondingly. SANITATION: Hand washing is much more effective than alcohol gels at killing bacteria and viruses. The good news is that MSC wisely installed multiple hand wash stations at the entry to the buffet and in restrooms near the main dining rooms. The bad news is that almost no one used them. There is no one to remind passengers to wash hands, and unfortunately the automatic sinks in the restrooms rarely functioned properly -- the spigots and sensors are hidden by a shelf, and it takes multiple attempts to get any water. Those sinks would never pass a health inspection. Not once did I see a man successfully use the sink in the restroom. To protect my own health I not only washed my hands before each meal, I washed my hands again after touching any buffet tongs, which hundreds of passengers had already touched. Then again, I am aware of infection risks because my former profession involved infection control in hospitals. ENTERTAINMENT: The Meraviglia has very talented singers and dancers on the main stage, and talented musicians in the lounges and atrium. Because of the multiple languages represented, almost all entertainment is musical -- no lectures or enrichment activities. Most of the music is popular and familiar to Americans, but there is one abbreviated opera performance (La Boheme) by two well-trained opera singers. The opera used ballet dancers onstage to interpret the music, which added interest for those not used to opera performances. As I mentioned, the scenery relies on huge LCD screen backdrops, which worked very well and added interest (and sometimes humor) to each performance. In addition, Cirque du Soleil presents two different shows (Viaggio and Sonor) on various nights during the cruise. These can be reserved online prior to the cruise, but schedules usually change, so check soon after embarkation to verify your reservations or to add new ones. The Cirque desk is adjacent to the reception desk. Of the two, Viaggio is probably better for kids since it involves a little more clowning around. Both programs are surcharged via a drink or a dinner package. Ironically, the less expensive drink package offers the better seating. The problem with all of the entertainment on the Meraviglia is the decibel level. Singers are over-amplified to the point of distortion -- one can feel the sub-woofer bass in one's gut. I tried the stage shows each evening (wearing ear plugs) but gave up after a few days and instead just relaxed in my cabin in the evening. This problem is not unique to MSC -- it occurs on most cruise ships. Only the luxury cruise lines seem to keep the amplification at a reasonable decibel level. Parents taking their kids to the Cirque performances should definitely consider ear protection for the younger ones. EMBARKATION AND DISEMBARKATION: This cruise was unique in my experience because passengers embarked and disembarked at every port. This made embarkation much easier -- just 1,000 new passengers daily instead of 4,500 on a single day. I am not certain, but I believe that demand and pricing varies by embarkation port, so check this if you want the best price for your cruise. This system also makes disembarkation easier at the end of the cruise -- far less baggage to offload and claim each disembarkation day. It does add a bit of a disturbance each afternoon as the newly arrived passengers are summoned to their mandatory safety drill, but this is a minor inconvenience. If you are just spending the day ashore and then returning to the ship, check the daily program since the arrival and departure times for several of the ports were changed from the original cruise schedule. SUMMARY: The Meraviglia is a beautiful ship, the crew is wonderful, and the western Mediterranean ports are enjoyable. At the right price, you will enjoy this cruise very much. WESTERN MEDITERRANEAN PORTS ON YOUR OWN AT MINIMAL EXPENSE: GENOA: I love Genoa because it seems so completely Italian, especially in the historic center, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. Our ship docked in the main harbor in the middle of the city's waterfront -- an easy walk to almost any attraction and just a few minutes from the main (Principe) train station. Genoa is built on a hillside, so there is some climbing, but the waterfront alone has enough attractions to fill a half day for those with mobility issues. Pick up a map in the cruise terminal and exit right (east) along the waterfront until you reach the Galata Museum del Mar (Museum of the Sea). This is a large, modern, very enjoyable museum that is worth at least an hour or two when you are returning to the ship. See their website for hours and current prices. From the museum, cross the street and head uphill through the narrow lanes (gritty but safe) to the main street (Via Balbi). From there continue east to the Palazzo Real. There are five major palaces remaining from the days of Genoa's peak power and wealth. The Palazzo Real is the most interesting, but combination tickets are available, and it is fun to see more than one. From the Palazzo Real walk farther east to Via Garibaldi, where there are beautiful historic buildings and three more palazzi -- together called the Palazzi dei Rolli on the Strade Nuove, designated a UNESCO world heritage site. Combo tickets for the palaces are available at the nearby bookshop. The fifth palace, and the one with the most art is the National Gallery of Palazzo Spinola, on Piazza Pelliceria nearby. From there walk downhill to the cathedral and nearby fountain on Piazza de Ferrari, where you will find the Genova sign/sculpture for a photo op. The view down the historic Via XX Settembre is grand. It is an easy walk back west to the waterfront for either (or both) the maritime museum or the modern aquarium. Even if you do not enter the aquarium, there is a cute floating park at the end of its pier, with good views of the ship and the city. From the aquarium and maritime museum it is an easy walk back to the ship. ROME: I usually skip Rome when it is just a single day visit from Civitavecchia. The shuttle/walk/train/metro each way takes more than an hour (about the same as a rental car). If you decide to go into the city, I recommend getting a BIRG ticket, which covers the regional train and all transport in Rome. Rick Steves guides have excellent info on what to see and do in Rome, with self-guided walking tours. His Mediterranean Ports of Call guide includes detailed info on how to get from the port to the city. Highly recommended guides. PALERMO: Palermo has a gritty beauty and vitality that I always enjoy. Some of its main streets have been blocked off and are now pedestrian friendly. The ship docks at the maritime station near the ferry terminals. As you exit the port, pick up a city map at the TI in the small wood cabin near the gate. From there it is about 15 minutes to the Teatro Massimo, another 10 minutes to the Quattro Canti intersection, and another 15 minutes along Via V. Emanuele to Piazza Independenza where you will find the bus #389 to the fabulous Cattedrale Monreale. The best place to get on the bus is at its rest stop on the far (inland) side of the plaza across from the row of small gas stations. You are more likely to get a seat from there because when the bus starts up, it swings past the wall of the Palatine Chapel and quickly fills with tourists. Check the schedule on the internet -- I believe there is a convenient departure at 10 am and about every 30 minutes thereafter. The trip into the hills takes about 30 minutes and costs 1.80 euros each way, ticket purchased from the driver. The cathedral is near the end of the bus line and there is a gorgeous view of the entire Palermo city and harbor from the walk between the bus stop and the cathedral. Inside the cathedral are the most extensive and beautiful byzantine mosaics in the western Mediterranean. It is absolutely breathtaking. For a restroom there is a friendly cafe across the plaza, and there is a small park ideal for picnics if you pass the front of the cathedral on your left, and walk under two arches past the mini-post office. The return bus leaves from exactly the same spot where it dropped you off. Back in Palermo, the new tourist entrance to the Palatine Chapel is on Piazza del Parlamento, on the opposite side of the palace from Piazza Independenza and the former tourist entrance. If you are there Fri-Mon when parliament is not in session, you can see the royal palace at the same time that you see the chapel. The chapel is a mini-version of the Cattedrale Monreale, and just as breathtaking. The chapel can be a mob scene in high season, so go early or during the lunchtime lull. From there it is a leisurely walk back to the ship. A detour through the Palermo Cattedrale and the Ballaro street market is worthwhile. On your way back, near the Quattro Canti, is the too-sexy-for-prudes Pretoria Fountain. Near the fountain are some old Norman churches, useful because all the Norman sites have free wi-fi access. VALLETTA: Almost the entire walled town of Valletta on the island of Malta is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The ship docks on the waterfront below the city walls. The easiest way to enter the city is by the new elevators which are an easy 10 minute walk to the right (northeast) as you exit the port (the TI has free maps of the city as you disembark). The elevator costs just 1 euro to go up and is free to go down. Best of all, the elevator leaves you in the upper Barrakka gardens, which have a fine view over the harbor. From the garden make your way to the Triton fountain, which is at the new gate to the city and is the terminus of bus lines that cover the island (in case you want to take a bus to one of the beach towns or to the historic town of Mdina. Bus fares are cheap and many towns are within 30 minutes by bus. From the Triton fountain walk down the main street (Republikka) to visit the spectacular St. John's (co-) Cathedral, the impressive Grand Master's Palace, and (least interesting) the archeology museum. In high season the cathedral can be a mob scene, so best to go when it first opens before the tour groups arrive. In the afternoon you can take a bus to picturesque Mdina (again, heavily touristed) or to a beach town. The only annoying thing about Valletta is that the return to the ship zig-zags through a gift shop with no apparent exits. BARCELONA: Barcelona is so heavily touristed (and so filled with scams and pickpockets) that I tend to avoid the crowds and spend my time on the periphery. The Gaudi sites, Ramblas, Picasso museum, and Gotic old town area are all worthwhile, but not fun in crowds. From the cruise ship I like to walk over the bridge (30 minutes) to the Drassanes metro station near the Columbus monument at the base of the Ramblas. Most ships offer a pricey shuttle, and later in the day the city offers the T3 shuttle bus for about 4 euros round trip. I buy a T10 packet of metro tickets (about 1 euro each, can be shared) and am on my way. I take the metro to Paral-lel for the funicular up Monjuic or to Placa Espana when the funicular is closed (it is under repair as I write this in early 2019). Bus #150 goes up the mountain from Placa Espana, with spectacular views over the cruise ships from the fort at the top (terminus of the bus). Along the way I always stop at the Catalan National Museum. The view over the city from its entrance is worth the trip, but the museum is also one of my favorite museums in all the world -- I usually spend 2 hours there every time I visit Barcelona (seniors are free -- a bonus for the elderly). The museum has Catalan art from the Romanesque through the 20th century, an amazing collection in a beautifully modernized building. I also check the Caixa Forum near Placa Espana to see what special exhibits they have. In the afternoon I usually visit some of the other tourist sites or simply amble through the old town. There are nice bike tours, walking tours, and many other things to do. The Rick Steves guide to Barcelona has great suggestions. Be aware that the current price to enter Gaudi's Sagrada Familia is now 33 euros! TOULON (and La Seyne-Sur-Mer): If you are on a large ship, you will probably dock across the bay from Toulon at La Seyne-Sur-Mer. From that dock you exit the port and turn right (west) to get to the ferry (#8M) dock about 10 minutes away. It helps if you view the port area from the upper deck of the ship first, so that you can see where the ferry stops -- it is at Espace Marine in a somewhat bleak industrial area. Any local can show you the way. The ferry costs 2 euros each way, but is included in the day pass available at the Toulon tourist information office. If you are on a smaller ship, you may dock southeast of Toulon's center, just a 10 minutes walk away from the tourist information office. Whichever dock, I suggest that you first go to the Toulon tourist information office at Place Louis Blanc. They have all the information and maps that you will need to enjoy your day. They also sell the 4 euro transit pass, which is good for all buses and ferries in the area. Just outside the office is an enjoyable street market that extends for several hundred meters up the hill. There is a pleasant walking tour of Toulon on the tourist map, or you can hop on a bus #3 or #23 to go to the attractive beaches and parks of the Mourillon district southeast of town. Alternately, you can enjoy the beach and park at Sablettes, south of La Seyne-Sur-Mer. From Toulon ferry # 18M (or less enjoyable bus #18) goes there. Bus #18 passes a few blocks west of the La Seyne-Sur-Mer cruise dock on its way north to Toulon or south to Sablettes. For those who want to see Marseille rather than Toulon, bus #23 and bus #3 go from near the waterfront area up the hill to the train station (Gare Toulon) for the ride to Marseille's St. Charles train station. Check the internet for prices and schedules. Read Less

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