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Donna Sherf

Age: 70's

Occupation:Travel Writer

Number of Cruises: 20+

Cruise Line: MSC Cruises

Ship: MSC Lirica

Sailing Date: December 18, 2006

Itinerary: Eastern/Southern Caribbean

MSC had an offer almost to good to be true! An 11-night cruise on the Lirica over the holidays. Adults, regular price and 3rd or 4th person in cabin "Free"! However, 3rd and 4th were responsible for government and port fees. I had sailed the Lirica in 2005, transatlantic and knew this would be the perfect ship for a family cruise.

By the end of July eight Sherf's, ranging in ages from 17 to 79, had booked passage. Then came questions. Enquiring minds wanted answers as five had never cruised before. "Will I fall off the ship while running on the upper deck?" "Will I get seasick?" "Will my laptop work?" "Has there been norovirus on the Lirica?"

On December 18th, we met for a group picture before walking the gangplank to board the Lirica. Four of our group flew from Phoenix, one from Evansville, and the other three drove from St. Petersburg, Florida. We entered the ship through the Grand Foyer. At the foot of the staircase stood a tall fir tree, fully decorated. We wouldn't miss Christmas after all! We were greeted by stewards who escorted us to our cabins. All of us were on deck 9. Our dinner time had been changed from 6:15 to 5:45 so we had to scramble with limited unpacking for a change of clothes. I had checked and rechecked to make sure we were all at the same table but Kimberly fell through the cracks and was placed at the wrong table. She had cruised before and knew whom to ask to be righted. For eleven nights we read eleven different menus. Not once was a dish repeated! And, a comment from "yours truly", the chefs on the Lirica make the best chilled soups afloat!

Coffee is ready by 6 am in the Le Pergola area on deck 11. This is a partially open air space. I watched a worker early one morning pushing away rainwater with a squeegee. He then took the same squeegee and wiped the tabletops. How sanitary was that?

Breakfast and lunch can be eaten anywhere food is being served. We chose the Le Bistro Buffet every morning because of the variety of foods and the panoramic views from the windows. We learned early in this cruise to let everyone do their own thing so as not to spend time looking for one another. But, because of this excellent buffet our kin joined us. Except Stacey, who slept until noon!
The live shows in the Broadway Theatre were A+ productions! Accolades to the cruise director, Frano Pili, for scheduling family-style entertainment!

The first port-of-call was St. Marta, Colombia. This is a new cruise port. We could walk from the ship to an un-crowded beach. St. Marta reminded us of Acapulco forty years ago. The next day we sailed into Cartegena, Colombia. The skyline looked like lower Manhattan. A walk in the Old Walled City is not to be missed. Cristabol, Panama was next and to get to an excursion bus, you must walk through a shopping mall. Even if you don't take an excursion this mall is be experienced. Shopping to the beat of live Caribbean music. Christmas carols no less, is some kind of good! On to Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. This port has a big flea market off of the pier. I saw many people buying Christmas presents. The next day we sailed to Roatan Island, Honduras. Here we tendered in. When we passed through the gates, everyone was turning right so we followed the crowd. Wrong! We should have turned left and walked through the "high-rent district". We left Roatan at 3pm and sailed around the island. This was when you needed to be on the aft of this ship. The Lirica has fantail decks where the lounge chairs are never stowed. A fabulous place to be for watching, reading, and snoozing! Then on to Grand Cayman, a port not to be missed. Well, missed it was as due to high winds the port was closed. But not to fret...on the upside, the ship sailed from the south of Cuba to the most western tip, then the northern side of the island through the Florida Straights. We ship arrived in Fort Lauderdale early the morning of December 29th and de-boarded while throwing kisses to our family. It was hard to hold the tears back.

The only downside of MSC is their ships are registered in Italy so they bank in Italy. If you pay for passage by credit card your bank may charge you a service fee to concert US dollars into Euros. In my humble opinion, if MSC is sailing in the Americas they should bank in the Americas! On the other side of the coin, MSC offers cruising that goes beyond glossy brochures!

Our #3 son, Zachary, who burned his candle at both ends; walking the deck at sunrise and discoing in the Blue Club until the wee hours of the morning, summed-up his first cruise experience by saying, "Sleep is for the Weak"! Hear! Hear!

The answers to the questions that were asked are; Aaron did not fall off the ship while running, Cary didn't read the instructions on the box of Dramamine and suffered from seasickness, the ship was equipped with Wi-Fi so Kimberly could use her laptop, and to my knowledge no cases of norviris were reported.

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