March 24, 2009
10-night eastern Caribbean
Recently, I had the opportunity to sail aboard the MSC Lirica on a ten-night eastern and southern Caribbean cruise. MSC is an Italian owned cruise line which operates a fleet of eight ships worldwide. By 2010 the MSC fleet will have ten beautiful cruise ships sailing the globe. The average age of their ships is five years old.
This isn’t a Ma and Pa Kettle cruise line. An MSC cruise is truly an Italian/European experience. If you come aboard expecting to find a rock-climbing wall, bowling alley or dining rooms without seating times, forget it. What you will find is a white gloved escort to your stateroom, a mélange of nationalities among your fellow passengers, a “quiet” ship where you aren’t constantly bombarded with Bingo announcements or gold-by-the-inch sales pitches. For three consecutive years, the Lirica has a 100% sanitation score from the US Dept. of Health. The ship is beautifully decorated with glass, brass and marble; no neon anywhere. The color schemes throughout are deep, rich muted tones without loud patterns and very easy on the eye. Come aboard the MSC Lirica with an open-mind, a friendly smile and a yearning to relax and have fun. If you do that, you will experience a uniquely wonderful cruise with a decidedly different European ambiance.
MSC LIRICA INFO
Built in 2003, with 14 decks, the Lirica weighs in at 59,000 tons and accommodates 1,560 passengers based on double occupancy or a maximum total of 2,069 guests. For those who like to stay connected, there is an internet café with 10 computers. Internet packages are available and well-priced for shipboard internet.
There isn’t much I haven’t seen in the Caribbean. The itinerary consisted of San Juan, St. Maarten, St. Lucia, Antigua, Tortola, Samana-DR. This would be my first visit to “Simply Beautiful” St. Lucia. Aside from experiencing a new cruise line, there would also be a new island.
Ft. Lauderdale is vastly improving their embarkation process and the staff at the MSC embarkation computers is friendly, knowledgeable and most important, quick. Going from the parking structure to my stateroom took less than twenty minutes.
As soon as you step onboard you are greeted by a white-gloved attendant who will escort you to your stateroom. Direct to your stateroom, drop off your carry-on bag and you can be on your way to the luncheon buffet.
The Lirica has four elevator banks and stairways, more than I’ve seen on ships twice this size. If someone has trouble walking, you are never far from an elevator. This isn’t a “you can’t get there from here” ship layout. Everything flows and there are easy to read directional signs at each hallway.
Of the 791 staterooms aboard the Lirica, nearly two-thirds are oceanview or balcony. NB: There are no adjoining staterooms. This translates into not being disturbed by neighbors’ voices through the paper-thin doors which connect your staterooms.
Balcony (Mini-Suite) Cabin 10010
BALCONY: This is my stateroom, above. Without a doubt, there is more storage space in this stateroom than two people can ever use in seven or seventeen night cruise. My room was absolutely perfect; TV worked fine, A/C thermostat was right on target and the water pressure in the bathroom was terrific…better than at home.
Walk-in Closet w/Armoire
My Large Bathroom w/Tub/Shower
OCEANVIEW and INSIDE: The oceanview and interior staterooms are ample-size for two people, still with plenty of storage including little hideaway storage areas. The cabins that I toured were the same layout, just without the window. The shower in the bathroom is the typical cruise ship small shower with a shower curtain. Every cabin is equipped with a safe, a television (not interactive) and a mini-fridge. Hidden behind the large mirror over the desk is the safe with plenty of storage room on three shelves and around the safe. More “hidden” storage is available behind the doors on the night stands, near the mini-fridge and the desk has two storage cabinets and a drawer.
Oceanview Room Cabin 10134, 140 sq. ft
Inside stateroom 140 sq. ft
The wheelchair accessible stateroom was particularly impressive. On the Lirica they are all inside staterooms on various decks. Extremely roomy and easy to maneuver a wheelchair, especially in the bathroom.
Wheelchair Accessible Cabin 9052
The Lirica has four dining areas including two formal dining rooms, La Busscola on Deck 5 and L’Ippocampo on Deck 6. I was assigned to La Busscola at a table for six. The noise level was quite low, considering our table was more towards the middle of the dining room. Another dining venue La Pergola, is a wonderful al fresco area on Deck 11. It is definitely a fabulous place to have your breakfast or lunch and gaze out at the ocean. Next to La Pergola is the fourth dining, Le Bistrot, for a casual buffet breakfast and lunch. I preferred to have lunch at Le Bistrot because of the wide variety of salads and lighter fare, although there were always several hot dishes plus soup.
Speaking of breakfast, I have to say that La Busscola had the best Eggs Benedict that I have eaten onboard ship. No gloppy neon yellow sauce atop over-cooked eggs, but a wonderfully thinner and flavorful sauce over perfectly poached eggs with a slice of grilled ham with the standard English muffin. My favorite selections in the evening were the pasta dishes and the fish. As on any cruise ship, beef can be hit or miss, but my prime rib was done exactly as I requested with a nice portion of the tenderloin still attached. I usually avoid the sirloin option on any ship, and the cuts that I saw were varied in shape and size. Comments went from good to very good, and one table mate sent his back because it was too rare. When it was returned, it was not overcooked at all and he enjoyed it. The dinner menu offers six courses as well as the Chef’s Suggested menu and a vegetarian choice. If you don’t order the pasta, you are missing a treat. My favorite item, and offered every night, was the pasta Bolognese. One night I even ordered it for my entrée instead of just a starter portion (which is nearly big enough to be called an entrée.) Fruit is very fresh and plentiful at meal times as is a good selection of cheeses. .
Dining times are reflective of European expectations. Breakfast is served in the buffet from 6:30 – 10am. A continental breakfast from Room Service is available if you decide to sleep later. Buffet lunch is from noon – 2:30PM. Snacks begin again at 4PM. My advice is to read the Daily Program and note the dining times. Depending upon the port, the dining times may vary by thirty minutes. Formal breakfast is served in La Busscola from 7-9:30am and lunch from noon – 1:30pm. It’s not like a 24-hour food fest that we have grown to expect on the American-type cruise ships. Of course there is the pizza bar and an outdoor grill for lighter fare or in-between lunch and dinner snacks. There are two dinner seatings; 6:00 and 8:15pm in La Busscola and L’Ippocampo. On formal nights Le Bistrot is closed and there is no casual alternative dining. In the evening the waiters pass around freshly prepared crepes, sandwiches and a variety of snacks, should you be hungry after 11:30pm. There is a fabulous midnight gala buffet which is reminiscent of the midnight buffets from several years ago. Room Service is available 24 hours and has mainly salads and sandwiches. I think that I ate healthier on this cruise than I ever have in the past. Never one to pass on pasta, I also included more fruit, salad and fish than usual. And lots of calamari, prepared in at least six or seven different ways.
The chocolate desserts were very good, as were the pastry selections. But the biggest surprise was the Baked Alaska. Presented in the old fashioned, flaming parade, it was like I remembered it from 30 years ago. The meringue was real, not some plastic-y coating. The cake and ice cream were thickly sliced and tasted like real Baked Alaska used to taste. It was my favorite.
La Pergola – Outside dining area Deck 11
LOUNGES AND PUBLIC AREAS
The MSC Lirica has nice little library with books in several languages. It operates on the honor system and you can return your book to the reception desk if the Library is closed. The kids arcade has several of the popular video games and there is a very spacious and well-equipped children’s center. Check your Daily Program for staffing hours.
Surprisingly for a ship of this size there are nine lounges plus the Vitamin Bar and Ice Cream Bar. Most of the bars/lounges are on Deck 5 and 6 with another lounge on Deck 7 and the expansive Blue Club Disco on Deck 12.
Blue Club Disco
The Lord Nelson Pub on Deck 5 is the only bar that allows smoking. There are enough lounges to keep traffic flowing, especially through the ones en route to the dining rooms. The Beverly Hills Bar was my favorite place to meet friends before dinner. Charlie the Bartender deserves a mention. He is cheerful, hard-working and knows how to make the very best and very dry Grey Goose martini. There is nightly music in the center of the Beverly Hills bar, which on most nights was a one-man-band performer singing and playing hits from the 40s, 50’s and 60’s.
Charlie at the Beverly Hills Bar
Nearby the Beverly Hills Bar is Rodeo Drive for shopping. There are five well-stocked shops consisting of a boutique, a duty-free shop, a jewelry store, a perfumerie and a Colombian Emerald store. There were some good sales especially in the perfumerie/cosmetic store at the beginning of the cruise.
MSC prides itself on their entertainment and it’s easy to see why. If it isn’t to your liking it certainly isn’t because of the quality of the entertainers. There are several night spots for listening to live music. International music in the Lirica Lounge, Latin music in Le Cabaret, guitar music and vocalist in the Beverly Hills Lounge, L’Atmosphere for romantic piano and of course on deck 12 is the Blue Club Disco. DJ Tapia knows how to get everyone on the really large dance floor and keep them moving!
During my ten day cruise I didn’t miss one show in the Broadway Theater. On the contemporary American cruise ships, I generally try to show up for the gala production numbers on formal night. The first night’s show in the spacious Broadway Theater opened with songs from The Phantom of the Opera, better than any I’ve seen at sea. The lead singers were operatically trained and carried it off perfectly. The dancers looked as good as any of the Rockettes, including the men. Their movements were crisp, professional and in their rendition of Lord of the Dance, never missed a beat. We were also treated to a Russian concert pianist, male and female opera singers as well as two concert violinists for accompaniment. The Lirica also has an “Entertainment Team” who performs around the ship at various times, with high-energy dance numbers as well as leading audience participation. Do try the Italian language lessons offered almost every day. They are a lot of fun!
The huge pool area is on Deck 11 with two very large swimming pools and two whirlpools. The swimming pools also have a wide ledge around the inside edge of the pool which offer a wonderful way to keep cool and still get some sun. Most remarkable to me were the deck chairs. They all have a little “sun visor” attachment which you can easily position to keep the sun off of your face. Surrounding the pool on the deck above is another sunning location. There are more lounge chairs throughout the outdoors areas including some very cool aft location chairs. There are some sunning areas with a good wind block due to cleverly positioned plexi-glass screens.
The Aurea Spa Wellness and Relaxation Center on Deck 11 features traditional spa treatments. The spa facility is owned and operated by an Italian company and has a nice selection of it’s own skin care product line. The adjacent gym is equipped with the usual workout machines. Bring your ipod because the machines don’t have an attached television. However, the view from the gym area is so truly spectacular with wrap-around floor-to-ceiling glass windows, it gives your mind something to do other than watch TV.
My overall impression: I believe that MSC is a company with passion towards its product. Where other cruise lines are cutting back due to the economic situation, MSC seems to be towing the line. If they have made cutbacks, it isn’t noticeable. I would recommend an MSC cruise for almost everyone. Even in the Caribbean, Americans comprised only about 50-60% of the passengers. Would I sail again? Absolutely. None of the rumors I heard prior to my cruise were true. There weren’t lengthy announcements in five languages, the service staff was attentive and friendly, the food was very good and the entertainment was fabulous. Many times, Captain Romano was seen mingling amongst his passengers, creating a friendly and warm environment for all. Except for a snowflake, nothing is perfect. I’ve been on all-inclusive luxury cruises to really “fun” ships, and I have to say that my experience aboard the MSC Lirica was right up there with the best of them.
Library and Card Room
Entrance to Le Cabaret
L’Ippocampo Dining Room
La Busscola Dining Room
Beverly Hills Lounge
Broadway Theater (note: perfect sight-line)
Gym Equipment Area
Aurea Spa Relaxation Room
Spa Treatment Room
A Night at L’Opera
Le Bistrot Buffet
Sherry is editor and creator of CruiseMaven.com. An expert on ocean and river cruises plus trains in the US and Europe, Sherry’s goal is to share her experiences to entertain, inform and inspire readers to travel the world.