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Blain Fowler

Age: 32

Occupation:Public Relations

Number of Cruises: 5

Cruise Line: MSC Cruises

Ship: MSC Opera

Sailing Date: n/a

Itinerary: Southern Caribbean

The MSC Opera is a very different kind of cruise ship. That said, that is not a bad thing, though some might find it such.

Embarkation was very easy. About 30 minutes after arrival, we were on board the ship. This being my fifth cruise (Disney Magic, Norwegian Norway, Carnival Paradise, Holland America Zuiderdam), it was as easy as any other line. Disney's was much longer, but much more entertaining.

I was traveling with a very large party. We had three staterooms. One was a balcony stateroom. Very sizable, well situated and easy access to the balcony. It was one of the nicest staterooms I've ever seen. The bed was parallel to the wall with a giant sliding glass door leading out to the balcony.

Two of our other staterooms were on the eighth deck. Very small but plenty of storage. We had four people in our room (me, my wife, a 15-year-old family friend and my 20 month old daughter). The bed for the extra person came from the wall and hanged over the bed, leaving about three feet of clearance from the lower to upper berths. I hit the upper birth a couple of times in the night with my arm, but it was OK.

Inside the room, there are two night stands which hold a lot of clothing. Under the bed, a lot of storage exists for the luggage. There is also a desk, which has significant, if not odd, storage. Above the desk, a large mirror can be opened up leading to the safe and even more storage. The chair doesn't fit well under the desk, but our cabin steward let us put the chair in the hall, which several people did. That created plenty of walking room. Also, there was mini-bar fridge that we emptied to keep bottles of soda. At $2.40 a can, it was a good idea to bring as much soft drink product as we did. The bathroom is quite small. The shower is very cramped and is tough for even the smallest people to manage. It does work, however, but I showered with the curtain open most of the time.

The ship is as clean as can be. I saw more constant cleaning on this ship than any of the previous lines I've been on. The public rooms are very well done and have plenty of room. By the pool, there was never any trouble finding available deck chairs.

Deck by deck, it is a very stately ship. It is outfitted with an understated beauty. The lowest of the public decks is deck 5, Aida. It contains the lobby, a public lounge, shopping arcade and one of the restaurants. Deck 6, Othello, has Teatro Dell'Opera, a very solid theater. Sight lines are great, except in the way back. A coffee bar is near by, very smoky. The casino is very small and has a couple of black jack tables, a couple of roulette tables and a shoved in, tiny craps table. All the slot machines have a maximum of 25 cents. Behind the casino, is the photography area (they have some of the nicest, most personable photographers on the sea) and the second restaurant. It is cramped and tiny and it gets very loud at times.

Deck 7, Rigolletto, has another lounge that is extremely spacious, amongst the largest I've seen on board five ships. Decks 7-10 are all staterooms. Deck 11, Tosca, has the spa and gym. The gym staff is not very push and that is nice. The gym was used very rarely. It consists of four treadmills, a couple of stair steppers, and a couple of cycling machines. There are also some dumbells and a few sets of weight machines. There is also a children's room, but it was never open when convenient, so my child didn't see it. The pools are on this deck. They mirror each other. The shallow end is 6-inches increasing to 10-inches. Then it drops instantly to 5-feet-10-inches and goes to 8-feet. There is a fence separating the two ends. The pool was always very cold. The two hot tubs were warm, but not hot. Also, Il Patio served pizza and burgers and the indoor buffet, Le Vele, served a variety. Deck 12, La Boehme contains some state rooms and a disco. Deck 13 is for sunning and some tremendous views.

The staff is cordial but not very talkative, like on board other ships. They let you have your vacation and aren't trying to be part of it. That is very welcoming at times, troublesome at others. On other ships, the first night at dinner, you order a drink and they have it waiting for you the subsequent nights. Not on this ship. But at the same time, there is no one bugging you to buy drinks at the pool. The staff is friendly, but doesn't go out of its way to invade your space. However, having a terribly gorgeous daughter leads to several of the staff to stop and play. Also, as mentioned, the photography staff is very good and very personable. Photos are expensive at $20 a pop for a 5x7, but we heard several people commenting behind us as we walked, "Is that the little girl we saw in the yellow dress in the pictures?" Needless to say, they did a great job and we had to buy some of her fabulous pictures.

Prices are expensive for goods. Make sure you have everything you need before boarding. Clothing is exquisite, but terribly overpriced. Sodas are pricey. We never saw a spa menu, however. Drinks seemed to be reasonably priced, although we don't drink.

My daughter wanted to spend almost all of our time at the pool. "I-go-seeming," she said almost non-stop in her toddler speak. She had a blast. When we weren't at the pool or on land, we were napping in the room, watching movies. There were three movie channels, two in English, one in French, Italian, Spanish and German, rotating. The other channels included USA, A&E, DIsney and TNT. No ESPN Deportes for the sports lovers out there and no networks. Very little news got to and around the ship.

Spending so much time at the pool, there were very few annoying games played by the "Animation Activities Team." There are so many languages spoken on the ship, it was hard to organize people, so they just offered dance lessons and a couple of games. Very refreshing to not have to listen to all of that. There was no Caribbean music however, which is so familiar on a Caribbean cruise. They did play some older 90s pop and the same three or four songs in Italian, which did get old.

We also went to a couple of shows. One was a magic show. It took a while to get into the show because they had to lead into it with five languages of explanation. The show was fine. My daughter also dragged us to one of the shows which involved the two singers in opera style. She liked it. It thought it was OK. My daughter just danced the whole time.

The passenger make up was very multi cultural, with about half from the US. There were, as usual, several annoying passengers. We like the late seating so we can hang out at the pool and go to the hot tub. One night, there was a group of people hogging the hot tub for at least an hour and a half. It was annoying at first and then got down right rude. They wouldn't leave, despite the queue of people forming. This group also filled two tables near our table at dinner and most of the time, they came dressed very inappropriately. Jeans, shorts, never formal, sandals usually were their norm.

We had a weird itinerary. We were in San Juan from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. We ended up getting off the ship at about 6 p.m. We docked halfway between Condado and Old San Juan, but the provided busses to take us to Old San Juan. I love Old San Juan, but nothing was open, so we just walked around, but couldn't see much. The next day, we were in St. Thomas, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. We docked away from Havensight mall. They look like they are trying to re-do the dock there, but it was nice to be somewhere different, although it is a little more run down on that side of town. But it left us free to explore different places. We went to the University of the Virgin Islands, the greatest view of any school in the United States, shopped a little and hit a beach near the airport. This beach was better than any in Fort Lauderdale. It was un-crowded and very clean. The next day, we were in St. Croix from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. We took a taxi tour that we arranged for on our own and had an hour in Christiansted. Fredericksted is average, but Christiansted is amazing. We would love to go back and were unhappy that we didn't have enough time. After another day at sea, we were in Nassau from 2 p.m-7 p.m. We were able to get off just after noon. I am not a big fan of Nassau, so we went to Fort Fincastle and the Queen's Staircase and shopped a little. My daughter kept asking to go "seeming," so I figured we'd have more fun with her at the pool than walking around the annoying straw market, so we played on the empty ship. One thing, only four excursions were offered per port. All were expensive and none were much more than a city tour. Plan accordingly.

As mentioned, the staff was very hands off and there were very few announcements. That caused small issues with getting off at stops. We were usually allowed to get off early, but it was never mentioned. We just had to figure it out.

The biggest thing that makes or breaks a cruise is the food. The food was very well done. I enjoyed it very much the first couple of days, but it seemed to suffer after that. The food was completely well done, but it was very European (not even all that Italian) and I didn't enjoy it as much. Our teenage traveling companion is a vegetarian and had trouble with its limits. We did enjoy the pizza that was made from 2-6 p.m. Deserts, my favorite part of a cruise, left plenty to be desired. I am a chocolate person and there was zero chocolate. It was all fruit tarts and the like. Breakfasts were kind of American, lunches were a mix and dinner was all over the place. Portion size was larger than on any other ship. The appetizer course (always the best) was followed by a salad and then soup. The pasta/rizzoto course was easily the size of a typical dinner meal. Then the entree was huge and dessert followed.

All in all, the MSC was very enjoyable. It was a great departure from typical American cruises in the Caribbean. There were several items that we missed, but there were several things that were different that we enjoyed. Feel free to take an MSC cruise, but go in with an open mind that things will be different from the usual expectations.

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