Gail & Thomas Fitzgerald
Number of Cruises: 3
Cruise Line: MSC Cruises
Ship: MSC Melody
Sailing Date: n/a
Itinerary: Jamaica, Columbia, Panama Canal, Costa Rica
We got off the MSC Melody yesterday and are trying to get back into our everyday mode, very reluctantly I might add. We had searched for trip reviews for this particular ship without much success prior to our own trip so I thought I would pass along what our thoughts were. We loved it and had a wonderful, relaxing time. The ship is about half the size of the large megaliners so don't expect a huge Carnival ship. For us, it was perfect.
We had upgraded our room and were on the Premiere deck which was convenient to everything. The room itself was great. Queen bed which could be separated from the living area by a curtain. Large suede sleep-couch, desk, fairly good sized bathroom with tub, fair sized window. Ample storage areas. Bed was very comfortable and all was very clean. We were able to check out rooms on lower decks and although not always as large, were more than adequate. A mini-refrigerator in the rooms would have made it perfect! The smaller size of the ship makes it very easy to get around and not get lost. The Dining Room is quite nice and the food was very good, although quite different from what we are used to as it is definitely an Italian ship. Expect many, many courses at dinner. Portions are not huge since there are so many courses but seconds will be provided if requested. Service is also very attentive. Wine is fairly inexpensive. You can order a whole bottle and they will recork it for you to finish another evening. All 3 meals are available in the dining room. There are 3 “gala” formal nights when you need to dress. There seemed to be much leeway in attire as some were all dolled up and others had fairly plain sundresses on. One of the booklets indicated that short-sleeved shirts for men are not allowed in the dining room but that was not the case at all so ignore that. Their explanation was this stipulation relates to sleeveless T’s. However, on formal nights men must have tuxes, suits or jackets and ties on. Our seating was the early one at 6:30 PM which was perfect for us as you could arrive anytime after 6 PM, finish dinner by 7:20 and catch the first show by 7:30 PM. Supposedly the first show is for those having late seating but many of us went in anyway and no one complained. Alternate buffet style for breakfast and lunch is also available. We ate buffet style for most breakfasts and lunches as we liked being on deck. There are two swimming pools, one with a retractable roof, and two hot tubs. They drain the pools and tubs fairly early each evening so don't plan on nighttime swimming. And, they are salt water, not fresh. Lots of deck chairs all over for people watching. Tea and snacks are served everyday at 4:15-ish. They offer some type of entertainment at tea as well, usually a violinist who was great. All the shows were excellent and last about 1 hour and they offer at least two per evening. They also have midnight buffets each evening for those who just can't wait to eat more until morning. Some are simple, some are more elaborate. Mixed drinks are very weak; they offer frozen drink specials everyday at $3.99. We brought a bottle of rum and filled a large insulated mug everyday with pineapple juice. You may want to do the same. We used the mugs for our morning coffee as well. We also brought some soda with us and kept it in the cabin. You'll want to bring suntan lotion and hats as well unless you want to buy hats at one of the ports as it's very hot! Ask your room steward to keep replenishing the ice in your ice bucket if you like your drinks cold as we do. They do not add much ice to any of their drinks.
The first port you'll go to is Jamaica and it is just horrible. I would never again bother getting off the ship. We didn't purchase any excursion tickets and we're glad that we didn't as those who did were not happy either. Friends bought the city tour and left after about 15 minutes. You can do the beach tour on your own which is what we did. A bus will take you there for about $4 and it's very easy to get a taxi back to the ship. Montego Bay is filthy and dangerous and you will be besieged with vendors and beggars......they surround you and do not take no for an answer. Little kids included. The beach is okay, we have just as good here in Florida. We ended up at Margarittaville bar and restaurant for most of our time there as no one could hassle us while in there. They have trampolines set out in the water that you can jump on. Most parts of the city are off-limits due to hostility toward Americans and the drivers tell you not to even attempt most areas. One tour (which I think may be in Montego Bay) was some type of boat ride on a very calm river---a few people said they enjoyed that and it was very relaxing so you may want to give that some consideration.
Panama Canal was great--very interesting. You'll have to get up early AM to get a good spot on deck so you'll be there when entering the locks. I don't think you'll want to miss that. As far as the tours available on Gatun Lake....people were very disappointed in the lock tour itself as it was not very comprehensive and didn't bring you underneath the locks, etc. The tour to the yacht club was raved about and we're sorry we missed that. We read about it and thought it would be boring!!! Local tribes put on shows, barbeque was provided, etc.
San Blas Island is a little spit of land. The Indians bring their wares over to this island by boat every morning and row back to their home islands at night. The women (very tiny little Indians) specialize in intricate needle work, very brightly colored. You will see row upon row of their work hanging on clotheslines. We bought some beautiful, original shirts here. You can tender over to the island by yourself (which is what we did) or take a tour and see that island as well as another where apparently they have a school, etc. The Indians will let you take a picture of them for $1.00....no freebies here. The island beach is nice for swimming. It's really too hot to stay there for very long and too small to see much of anything else.
We both loved Cartagena, although you are besieged with vendors again. We took the historic city tour and it is a beautiful city filled with a long history. Also toured the "old city" and the fort there, as well as beautiful churches. You can really barter on prices here...never pay asking price for anything. And the prices go down as you are leaving the city! Vendors follow you to the bus telling you there was just a price drop!
In Costa Rica (Puerto Limon) we took the jungle tour at a national park which was very good. Bus ride takes about 1 hour of bumpy roads to get there and then you walk for about 1-1/2 hrs looking at the foliage and fauna, seeking out monkeys (we saw 3 types) as well as sloths. The guide will provide you with mosquito repellant so you don't need to bring any from home. The end of the walk brings you to a great beach where you have time to swim and it had great surf. The ride there was very informative as well as you drive by banana plantations, etc. There are shops set up right at the port which carry some nice things at reasonable prices. Great wooden jewelry. Also a good place to buy coffee. I wouldn't suggest trying to tour yourself in Puerto Limon as the town itself isn't much to look at or spend time in. It's economically depressed and you would really need to have an interpreter or be very fluent to get anything out of it. An official tour is really the only way to go.
Suggestions: since this is a smaller ship it gets a little rockier than larger ones if the waves are high. If there's any chance of you getting seasick, get the patches to take with you. I was queasy one day due to the rocking and rolling and was glad to have them with me. Do bring insulated mugs with you to keep your drinks hot or cold. Ice is not always available or available in the quantity that you are used to. I had also brought one of those insulated drink containers that has the built-in straw and had it filled with ice and water each morning. You can hook it right to your fanny pack and, believe me, you'll appreciate the drink of water when you're taking some of these tours. Also, we brought a lot of travelers checks with us and discovered that the ship charges 3% for cashing them. Try to have a lot of $1.00 bills available as you will need them for vendors, cab drivers, bus tips, etc. None of them will every admit to having any change and there were quite a few people who ended up paying much more than they would have had to if they had the smaller bills. The Purser's Office is not always open on the ship so change is not always available, nor are any of the shops open anytime you are in port. If you like to play cards or board games, take them from home (at least the cards anyway) as if something happens to the cards you borrow they charge $12.00.
You'll want to have your bathing suits on at all times when you go on tours, or in a carry bag, with towels. Ship provides you with 2 beach towels everyday. If there's an opportunity to cool down with water, you will want to be able to do that.
I estimate that about 65% of our cruise were foreigners. One annoying thing is that all announcements, etc. made on the ship have to be done in 5 languages to meet all needs. My husband thought this created a certain ambiance and didn’t mind it at all. And the crew are not always very fluent. And the tour guides can be a little difficult to understand as well. But we found ourselves picking up a few words in various languages before the end of the cruise.
In summary, this is not a luxurious ship, many of the bar areas, etc. are furnished with plastic tables and chairs, buffets are not lavish. The show stage is small but the entertainers make full use of it and are very talented and imaginative. If you’re looking for a “friendly, smaller ship” then this is a great one to try.
I hope this long narrative is helpful to you. Make certain you have enough film and batteries----a lot of people forgot and if in port, the shops are closed and you're out of luck!
Take care and have a great trip!
Gail & Tom Fitzgerald