The never-ending review continues
Copyright 2018 Debra Littlejohn Shinder
In Part One of this review, I might have left the impression that I really liked my experience on the Seaside. If so, let me correct that now: I really loved my cruise on the Seaside. This was my twenty-first cruise. Most of them have been at least very good; several have been fantastic, and only a couple have left me wishing I’d just stayed home. I can honestly say that in many ways, this was my best cruise ever.
There are many elements that go into making a cruise great – or not. For me, those factors include:
the ship itself,
the attitudes of crew and staff,
the destination ports,
the weather, and
even my own mood and physical health and things that are going on back home while I’m cruising.
My first MSC cruise gets big points for the first four items on that list. The ports and weather weren’t at all bad, either – but really, this cruise more than any other was all about the ship.
After all, no matter what cruise line you sail, which ship you’re on, what experience level you’ve booked, which loyalty status you’ve been awarded, whether you’re in the cheapest interior cabin in the bowels of the ship or the most expensive penthouse suite, the last three factors will be the same. I was there as a “Carnival refugee,” longing for an experience that wasn’t the same old ship, with my main objective to see what MSC – and Seaside in particular, and the Yacht Club experience, especially – had to offer.
So this review will focus primarily on the ship, the people, and service – with occasional forays into the other aspects of the cruise.
I covered embarkation day in Part One, so I’ll continue with an abbreviated day-by-day report before delving into individual topic overviews.
My week in a nutshell: Day Two (Sunday, Feb. 18)
Sunday was our first full day on board and our first sea day, and my agenda was especially full – I had come back to the cabin the evening before to find invitations to two parties: a Yacht Club welcome event with the Captain in the Top Sail Lounge at 11:00 a.m. and the Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle in the Haven Lounge downstairs at 5:00 p.m.
In addition, I had found myself with plans to eat lunch at the Teppanyaki specialty restaurant twice, on both the first and last sea days of the cruise (which turned out to be great as it was absolutely delicious) and so was meeting friends there at noon.
Sunday was also designated as both a formal night and “Gatsby” (roarin’ 20s) theme night, and photos with the Captain were scheduled for that evening, as well. Whew!
After walking around in a daze on embarkation from sleep deprivation (and my knock-down, drag-out with the glass door), I had slept like a baby Saturday night. In fact, better than some babies – including the one next door on some days. The bed was amazingly comfortable and after getting to sleep before 1:00 a.m. (early for me), I woke up around 8:00 a.m. feeling about a thousand times better, albeit with a sore forehead and knee. No bruise on the forehead, though; just a slight bump that was tender but not noticeable (I had been making plans to cut myself bangs if my head was purple). Fashion disaster averted.
I woke to a beautiful day at sea. This is what cruising is all about. It was so calm and relaxing, the water deep blue, a few whitecaps but not a lot of motion. Not that I don’t like motion; I do – and would get plenty of it later on as we hit some rougher seas. But the view from my balcony was pretty close to perfect.
Despite my slight claustrophobia that has deterred me from ever booking an interior cabin on a ship, I had already decided by this point that I would do an interior if that was the only choice available in the Yacht Club. Nonetheless, I was really happy to be able to sit in my cabin and look out at the sea going by, especially first thing in the morning.
Around 10:00 a.m., I was dressed and decided to make my way to the Top Sail Lounge a little early so I could grab some coffee and see what they had there for a light breakfast. I wasn’t disappointed. The coffee (first I’d had on the ship) tasted great (Americano, black) and they had a nice selection of pastries, and had also laid out small plates at each of the seating areas for the Captain’s party. A pianist and violinist were already providing wonderful background music to bring me more gently and gradually into the full world of the awake.
Captain Massa, Ziggy (the hotel director) and Ivan (the Yacht Club director) soon joined the party, and made their way around the room, spending time with each of us. I can’t emphasize enough how friendly and personable all of them are and how welcome they made me feel. We talked at length and it really set a wonderful tone for my stay on the Seaside.
I also heard from others, not in the Yacht Club, that they had similar experiences with the Captain. It was obvious from their stories that he cares about all of the passengers on the ship, not just those in the YC.
This was also where I met Judith, who was helping out with the party here in YC but I would also see her all over the ship that week, assisting with the photos with the Captain that evening and scanning cards and wristbands at the theater on other nights. She and I hit it off quickly but then bonded at a new level when we discovered we were both huge turtle fans. I showed her my pictures of Freddie and she was fascinated. I felt like a proud grandma showing off my babies (the dogs, too). I hope she’ll remember me as the “turtle lady.”
I had to hurry from the lounge to make it to the Teppanyaki restaurant on time, but luckily the specialty restaurants are right across from the YC area on the same deck. There were twelve of us signed up and we were all assigned to one of four hibachi tables within the Asian restaurant. Ours was the only “active” table that day.
Our chef was Joseph, and he was from the Philippines. Not only did he prepare a huge and delicious meal, but he also put on a great show.
I don’t usually eat sashimi unless it’s eel (yes, I can be picky), but it was included in the meal option that I chose, and I was feeling adventurous, plus the fish I was served was white, instead of red – and it was absolutely yummy. I may have to rethink my position in future visits to Japanese restaurants.
There are three main options, as well as a vegetarian selection. Prices depend on the proteins that are included. Because I don’t eat beef and both of the higher end options include steak, I picked Katana. It’s normally priced at $25 but we got a 20% discount because it was the first sea day.
It was a huge meal. It began with the sushi and sashimi and then proceeded to miso soup, which was very good. That was followed by a salad that was fine. For me, the star of this show was the mahi-mahi, a thick slab that was grilled to perfection, not dry but thoroughly cooked. Then came the excellent garlic fried rice (with egg) and grilled chicken with mushrooms, followed by dessert – ginger ice cream on pineapple slice. It was all excellent.
Photo by Dallas Smith
I had no problem using my deluxe drink package from Yacht Club to get drinks. A scan of the magic YC wristband and up comes the $0.00 charge on their little handheld devices. I came to really like that feature over the course of the cruise. More on that later.
After all that food, I needed to burn some calories. I went to the gym (which I’ll review in a later installment) and walked on the treadmill for another half hour. Then I had a nice Bailey’s Banana Colada in the Top Sail and enjoyed the view from the chair where I had already staked claim, at the side of the room with a full, unobstructed view of the ocean (unlike the front, where the outside lounge chairs and the windscreen somewhat diminished the view).
As I was to learn in the coming days, time in the Top Sail goes by very quickly. That first sea day was no exception; before I knew it, it was time to go get cleaned up and ready for the Cruise Critic meetup.
I rarely participate in the Cruise Critic forums as I much prefer the Facebook interface, but to give credit where due: their party was very nicely done. Kudos also go to MSC for providing such a beautiful venue and really doing it up right.
I’ve organized large Meet & Greets on Carnival cruises before and almost never has the CD or an officer attended. John Heald will (sometimes) provide a couple of bottles of champagne and a couple of “genuine solid gold plastic ships on a stick” to give away as door prizes. All you can generally expect is a reserved lounge or bar area (if you’re lucky – if you’re not, Guest Services tells you they have no record of your request and you’re out of luck, as Vlad on the Sunshine did last May. Fortunately, I’ve got friends in both low and high places, and Bob Burgess and CD Emma Nixon saved the day and found us both a spot and some great door prizes).
Anyway, on the Seaside, they sent printed invitations to the cabins and set us up in the gorgeous Haven Lounge, where they provided a beautiful cake and served free drinks and finger foods.
There was a live band playing, and both Andre (the CD) and Captain Massa spoke briefly. Ziggy and Ivan were also there, and there was an “official” group photo taken (which I completely forgot about until I was back home – didn’t even see how it turned out) and informal photo opps, as well.
Photo by Dallas Smith
It was a very pleasant time, and I got to meet a couple of the people from our Facebook group whom I hadn’t run across previously.
I admit it: I had more drinks that day than I normally ever do. It started with champagne at the YC Welcome party, then I had a couple of glasses of wine with the Teppanyaki. That BBC in the lounge, followed by more champagne again at the Cruise Critic event put me over the top. My usual limit is 3 or 4 over the course of a day, and often on cruises I only have 1 or 2.
I’d also had a few of those delectable sweet snacks in the lounge and a sampling of the finger foods – plus the very yummy cake – while meeting and mingling with the CC people. It was getting close to dinner time when the party was over, but my stomach was feeling a little queasy from the mix of two much food plus too many drinks. The last thing I wanted was to eat.
Since it was Gatsby night, though, and I had conducted a major hunt for a great costume – not settling for a cheap Amazon flapper dress that would fall apart after one wearing but trekking out to the vintage shop in Plano and going for sequins rather than just fringe – I knew I had to get dressed up.
So I did, and wandered down to the atrium where they had scheduled a “Gatsby Moment” for 8:00 p.m. on deck 6. I was over an hour early, though, and ran into my favorite threesome – Captain Massa, Ziggy and Ivan – at the Venchi bar. So I got to have another nice conversation with them, and Ivan showed me photos of his little daughter and told me how he missed her.
The photos with Captain Massa were scheduled for 7:00 p.m. so I decided to go ahead and do that while I was there, and got another chance to talk with both him and Judith, my turtle-loving friend.
I hung around for the Gatsby moment, which lasted until around 8:15, and then went back to my cabin. I intended to change clothes and go get some coffee in the lounge and then change back into the flapper outfit and go back down to the Gatsby party at 10:30 in the Haven lounge. However, I was comfortable in the lounge that I ended up just fetching my Kindle and reading in “my” corner for an hour or so, then going back to the cabin to kick off my shoes and get into my pajamas and finish a few more chapters before bedtime.
Not very exciting, maybe – but definitely very relaxing. And relaxing was exactly what I was after on this cruise. Oh, and for those who have said they don’t do towel animals on MSC, well, ‘tain’t necessarily so – at least in the Yacht Club.
I spent a little time on Facebook, and bid all my friends a good night from me and my elephant, as I looked forward to my second sea day on the beautiful Seaside, which would prove to be even better than the first.
A huge thank you to Dallas Smith for the great photos that he took of our Teppanyaki group and at the Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle. The bad thing about being a photographer is that you end up with few photos that have you in them, unless you resort to the dreaded “selfie” or can find someone else to frame the photo and push the button. That doesn’t always turn out so well – but Dallas is a talented photographer and was able to get some very nice shots, even of me.