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Jeff

Age: 58

Occupation:Physician

Number of Cruises: 9

Cruise Line: MSC Cruises

Ship: MSC Lirica

Sailing Date: April 22, 2006

Itinerary: Eastern/Southern Caribbean


Embarkation Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale

Access road construction is complete at the FLL airport easing traffic congestion. The new construction helps immensely. We routinely fly in, arrive on departure day and make our own arrangements to Port Everglades. A one day rental car is about the same price as a cab ($18). If you’re a group of 4 or more, you’ll need something big enough to hold all the bags and it will cost more. A couple can get the smallest, cheapest car. So, arrive early, enjoy a day in Fort Lauderdale and return the rental car. Enterprise (off airport on Andrews Drive) will pick you up at the airport and take you to the terminal about 4 miles away when you’re ready to board. Enterprise has the best customer service lately of any of the rental companies – at least in Fort Lauderdale. I booked an economy car for $17.99 and got a PT Cruiser for that price – perfect for our four bags and one carry on. It’s gotten very competitive in the rental car business and they want your business and they want to keep it. Take advantage. River Walk is a nice place to hang out with several open air restaurants. Consider Los Olas Boulevard; numerous good restaurants and shops. We also plan on boarding the ship about 2 or 3 hours after the posted boarding time – 1300 hours. We walked on with ease and no wait about 1500 hours. The ship leaves at 2000 hours on this itinerary. This has turned out best for us – no crowds or impatient children (or adults). Baggage handlers at Port Everglades are union Long Shoremen. There’s a sign that says handlers are salaried. No tipping is necessary. Depending on the time of day and who wants to work, there may be two guys there or maybe four. You get the point. MSC has nothing to do with this rather inefficient state of affairs. The baggage handlers have a list with your name in alphabetical order so you can find your cabin number and obtain and complete your baggage tickets. Our tickets were purchased through an on-line agent and we were told to pick up the tickets and baggage tags at the terminal. As in most other lines, we could not complete our pre-boarding documents on-line. MSC has a web site but it’s very basic. Once in the terminal, check in was a breeze. This is also done by contract, not MSC employees – the usual Fort Lauderdale greeters seem to be getting much nicer. We’ve mentioned on post cruise critiques they can be unpleasant. Maybe those unpleasant ones are gone as a result of comments. Once on the ship, greeting and escort to your cabin was very good.

The Lirica

Lirica is a medium sized ship that accommodates 2200 passengers. I personally like smaller ships so this one was good for me. It was built in 2003. There’s nothing sweeping or impressive on this ship like there is on some of the mega ships but it is elegant, tastefully decorated in subdued colors and very well laid out. Public areas handled the less than capacity crowd nicely. It is the cleanest, best serviced ship we have been on since a Celebrity Mercury cruise in 1997. We’ve also sailed on Celebrity Millennium, Constellation, Century and Horizon, RCL Explorer, Grandeur and Carnival Inspiration – 9 cruises in all. I would rank this ship near or at the top of those I’ve experienced in terms of its feel and cleanliness. The other thing I liked is that it was clear that section staff (pool, bar, deck, dinning area) were all very well supervised by officers and petty officers. This has not been the case previously – especially Carnival. In reviews on Lirica I have read in the past, some negative comments were made about the aloofness of the all Italian crew. These reviewers had a totally different experience than we did or the Captain has changed. In any event this was a top notch, professional, service oriented friendly crew. It’s been our experience that the ships company and their conduct matches the character of the Captain. We didn’t see a lot of him and he was nice but not gregarious at the welcome aboard party. There’s no question though that he runs a quality guest and engineering operation. While the officers and principal hotel staff are Italian, Indonesia, Madagascar, Greece and the Balkan states are all represented. Small Casino. We don’t gamble. Lots of nice bars, a coffee/pastry bar and three very nicely set up outside pool side bars/seating areas that are protected from the wind. Few shops but completely adequate for us. In the Caribbean, the passenger mix is about 60% American and 40% European – it’s the other way around, I’m told, when the ship sails the Mediterranean. Average passenger age was probably mid to late 40’s. Very few kids mostly because of the time of the year. Cannot speak for the children’s programs but this line caters more to adults than to families with young children. I’d say the majority of the US passengers were from Florida in the form of former New Yorkers. We did meet couples from Nebraska and Washington State. A few Canadians – North American/English speaking guests seemed to stick together but we had a few conversations with Europeans who spoke very good English – there was no anti-American bias that I could detect. Hey, this is a cruise vacation. You’re supposed to have fun, not talk politics.

Cabins

We routinely book inside, guaranteed cabins. The price is right. We spend little time in our cabin. Those who prefer to do so would find our choice a poor one. Lirica has just a few balcony/suite cabins and many more inside and outside cabins. Apparently, Europeans tend to be more frugal and don’t splurge on accommodations and this ship was built for the European market. Lirica’s inside cabins are of a similar size and lay-out of other ships. The shower was a little small but we are small so this is not a problem. Large folks will find the shower too small. Storage in the main part of the cabin and the head area were fine. We had plenty of room for 11 days worth of clothes but we’re also smart packers after 9 cruises. There’s a min-bar and bottled water. We don’t use them. Potable water, fruit and ice as requested. Very attentive cabin staff. We had one small complaint. It was rectified immediately. Our experience has been, if there’s a problem, tell the cabin staff first and give them a chance to fix it before calling someone else and complaining. Works every time and these hard working people appreciate it. When a complaint reaches the ears of supervisory staff, the repercussions for the worker bees can be harsh. Avoid precipitating these kind of unpleasantries unless absolutely necessary. Be patient. You put on your pants one leg at a time just like most other folks.

Food/Beverage Service

Previous comments I read on Lirica’s food were mostly negative. I also heard a lot of negative comments from passengers on this cruise. I found the food to be very good. I think people’s expectation can be unrealistically high aboard mid-priced lines. If you want Five Star cuisine, pay the bucks for Crystal, Silversea or SeaDream. Otherwise enjoy the fine job most other lines do with 2000 or more plates per night. The dinning room service was not as elegant as I have seen it on Celebrity, for example, but it was top notch. Food prep and presentation was good. MSC offers a very reasonably priced wine package and also serves “jug” wine in a carafe for $8 (about 5 small glasses). There are no specialty restaurants. A feature we’ve enjoyed on Celebrity. Buffet food was good as well. Breakfast omelet/eggs/pancake bar – the pancakes were great. There was a hamburger, hot dog, chicken line and pizza line on deck just outside the aft buffet area. These were not always open but I didn’t notice a time when there was not some kind of food available. Water, tea (iced or hot), coffee always available. The buffet and inside/outside dinning areas were immaculate; tables cleared immediately, no trash, left over food on the deck or plates/empty glasses around at all. Very nicely done. Excellent sanitation and infection control awareness – probably some of the best I’ve seen. Both outside and inside seating is available. One thing I appreciated at the evening meal was that there were several options for food combinations. You could always get salmon, steak or chicken if nothing appealed to you on the main menu for that evening. There was also an “international” selection that was always interesting. The main menu was 5 courses including a pasta course and desert. The menu was unique and well thought out. I don’t think the “complainers” understood the varied nature of the menu if you looked at it closely. No one should not have found something to like. There was a daily drink special for $5, domestic beer was $3, imported more – excellent and varied beer selection. Sodas were $2.50. Well drinks were $6, call brands $7. I paid $9.25 for a Gray Goose martini - once. As with other lines, as cabin prices come down, beverage prices rise. Our first cruise in ’97 had gin and tonics for $4.50 and Martinis for $6 – no more. By the way, we bring our own gin and tonic these days, prepare and drink them inconspicuously.

Entertainment

Varied and mostly good. Nice theater with excellent sight lines. Seats do not have cocktail tables or drink holders. The shows were not terribly imaginative or well choreographed but thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable. Multitude of late night discos with DJs or live bands – we don’t stay up late so can’t comment. There was also a central area where ball room dancers danced to a two man group of singer/musicians. Small dance area but some of the dancers were darn right good. Several late evening deck theme parties - subdued and nicely done. Plenty of day time fun and games but not intrusive as with some lines. Bingo, bridge, art auctions, Italian lessons and more of the usual day time fare. Plenty to do. MSC also features this particular cruise as a big band and baseball special. I’m not a baseball fan but those that were had positive comments about the well known players that were on this cruise and had baseball seminars on hitting, pitching and coaching. Same with the big band performances which we did not attend.

Itinerary
Besides the excellent price and value, the itinerary was outstanding and was a big reason for choosing MSC – our first time. The cruise took us to several ports we’d not seen in the Caribbean (Tortolla, Granada, Antigua). These were all nice, low key ports. We are not fond of St. Thomas or the Grand Caymans and this cruise didn’t go there. Other ports were San Juan, St. Marteen, Barbados and the MSC Island of Cayo Leventado off the coast of the Dominican Republic. Lirica tenders at only one port of call on this itinerary which is the island, Cayo Leventado. The tendering was the best organized and well run operation of this type that I’ve seen outside of Celebrity. We don’t book tours instead choosing to use cabs if we want a tour. I usually do some research about the island pre-cruise and use it to plan what we want to do. We also don’t stray too far from the ship, eat a lot of local food (except fresh fish when the restaurant is willing to show it to me before it’s cooked) or go down dark alleys. St. Marteen has become a very well developed cruise port. On this itinerary it had the best shopping values. We also liked San Juan. We’ve been there before but the port time was cut short. We walked old San Juan on our own this time after picking up a map from the local tourist bureau just to the left of the pier. You cannot enjoy Old San Juan in a van. If you’re in decent shape, you can reach all the nearby sights and forts on foot in 4 hours.

Final Comments/Impressions

Great value. This was the least expensive per day itinerary I found this cruise season (under $85 per day, per person – almost unheard of these days). The itinerary was unique – something important to us since we love the Caribbean but have been to all the usual ports at least twice. Late April is an excellent time to cruise if you want good prices and no screaming kids. The weather is almost perfect this time of year in the Caribbean as well. My wife and I like to exercise together and the gym is not run by Steiner but rather another European contractor whose name is Freddy. We’ve finally realized we’re going to have to pay for classes if we want them. Unlike Steiner, this spa manager was willing to package 36 classes at a very reasonable cost. We were basically it in the classes and had what amounted to a personal trainer for 10 days doing aerobics and something called Strepel (sort of like Pilates except men can do it!). I lost 6 pounds and an inch on my waist line. My wife lost 8 pounds and we ate just about everything we wanted within reason. We’d return based on the fitness center experience alone but there’s plenty more to rave about. If you want clean, neat and tidy, MSC is the line for you. If you want a mega-ship with ice skating and rock climbing along with Five Star cuisine and Las Vegas style shows, its not. You also can’t be upset that the announcements – the few that there are - start in Italian and gradually make their way to English. I liked the European flavor of the crowd and orientation of the ship– it was different and a nice change of pace. I would return to this line and this ship based on our experience.

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