The never-ending review goes on
Copyright 2018 Debra Littlejohn Shinder
In Part Two of this review of my week on the MSC Seaside, I left off at bedtime on Sunday night, at the end of a very full and very fun first sea day. On Monday morning, when so many people back home were plunging back into the work week, I opened my eyes once again to blue skies and blue water, and that unique smell and “feel” of being in the middle of the ocean, so many miles away from the deadlines and demands and worries and responsibilities that live on the land.
I understand why some people get addicted, why they go from one cruise to another to a another, spending more time at sea than at home – although, much as I love it, that’s not for me. For me, at its best a cruise is a special time; it’s a respite from the “real life” routine, and I don’t want it to become my routine.
I want it to be something that I spend weeks or months planning for and counting down to as the excitement and anticipation slowly build. And then I want to savor it like a good glass of wine, to swish it around in my mouth a bit and let it permeate my taste buds and burn the memory of it into my neurons But that’s just me. We’re all different, and I enjoy being a hybrid land and sea creature.
My week in a nutshell: Day Three (Monday, Feb. 19)
Clocks were set forward an hour overnight, which made for less sleep since it was officially later than it felt when I woke up at 9:00 a.m. (my body said it was 8:00). This time change is noted in the Daily Program and also on the TV, which my cabin steward had left on with the notice prominently displayed the evening before.
The sun was, of course, already up, and it was a nice day, temperatures in the 70s, partly sunny skies and another lovely view from my cabin. So far seas had been smooth. This first leg of the cruise, sailing from Miami to St. John’s, Antigua, was the longest – a distance of 1167 nautical miles.
I had ended the first sea day feeling stuffed and bloated from all the eating, drinking and being merry. My stomach still wasn’t completely back to normal Monday morning, but I couldn’t have asked for a nicer environment in which to recover. I spent most of the morning in the lounge – my new favorite place in the cruise world. So civilized – that description fits the entire Yacht Club environment but the Top Sail in particular.
Note: Yes, I Photoshopped the picture. It doesn’t really say that – but it should.
Since after all, it was Monday morning, and when you’re self-employed, you’re never really completely on vacation (at least in my field), I did have a little work to get done so I set up shop in my familiar “spot” in the lounge.
I’m lucky in that in my home office, I have an expansive view of the lake from the big picture window across from my desk. The only thing that beats that is having the whole expanse of the ocean a few feet away on the other side of the floor to ceiling glass. My “home away from home office” in the YC lounge made working while on a cruise an absolutely pleasant experience.
View from my office at home vs view from my Top Sail Lounge “office”
Lounge-as-office grew out of my difficulty with the ergonomics of working at the desk in the cabin. It is a great desk, with a nice long surface for spreading out with my Surface and its peripherals, but unfortunately it’s tall and I’m short.
Stacking pillows in the chair (and there were plenty of pillows) was a workaround but still not as comfortable as having a shorter table, and the ones in the lounge are exactly the right height. And nice as that view to the side from the desk is, it can’t hold a candle to the view when I lifted my eyes from the keyboard at my lounge “desk.”
I wasn’t up to a big breakfast (which is something that I normally don’t do anyway) so coffee and perhaps a bite of one of the breakfast snacks in the lounge sounded like the perfect solution to easing my stomach back into normality without overloading it again.
Not that it wouldn’t be entirely possible to overload on the lounge offerings. They even had tiny pancakes, along with a wonderful array of croissants and pastries (my own personal weakness). But I exercised self-control, remembering how I’d ended up feeling the night before, and knowing there would be plenty of tempting, tantalizing, taste-bud-teasing goodies to come in the hours ahead.
After a couple hours of intermittent writing, reading, and relaxing, I was up for another quick round on the treadmill so I dropped the computer off in the cabin and headed for the gym. I came back, showered, and headed up to at least check out the Yacht Club grill for lunch. I had missed out on it the day before, what with the Teppanyaki experience.
Speaking of Teppanyaki, I actually had plans to go again for lunch that day, with a different group of friends.
It was a windy day so not as comfortable up top as it might have been (and as it was later in the week). The breeze felt good but napkins and such were blowing away if you didn’t anchor them down. The biggest problem, though, was the lack of seating in the shade for those who wanted to eat.
There were plenty of loungers (out in full sun). No worries about “chair hogs” and not being able to get a place to sunbathe, as at the regular public pools on the ship. However, there were only six tables under the canopy. I did a group of tables with stacks of chairs around the corner, and commandeered a corner there.
The food was plentiful and smelled wonderful. There were several fish dishes, beef, pasta, veggies, salads, breads, cheese, and desserts. I had a small helping of mahi-mahi, roasted cauliflower, and a spinach pasta, and only ate about half of it.
I wished I was hungrier, because it was so good – but I really needed to completely recover from the previous day since I had reservations at 7:30 that evening at Ocean Cay, the seafood specialty restaurant. I was impressed that the bar waiter found me, and came to check on me often, even though I was in that hidden corner, but I knew better than to have a drink while my stomach was still in flux.
I enjoyed the ambiance of the area despite the wind. The Yacht Club pool isn’t large, but it’s lovely – and I rarely saw more than a couple of people in it (usually kids). I never saw anyone in the hot tubs, which are around at the very front of the ship where it was a little windy most days and especially so on Monday).
I have never, in 21 cruises, used one of the pools or hot tubs so none of this really mattered much to me. We had a pool and hot tub at home that we didn’t use for a decade, too. I’m also not a sun worshipper so the loungers are irrelevant to the quality of my cruise, but I know there are people reading this review who care about those things.
Next up on the day’s agenda was the cabin crawl event planned by one of the Facebook groups. Although I couldn’t reasonably take a big group of people trekking through the Yacht Club, I did want to see some of the other cabin categories, and I offered to show my cabin to those who wanted to see it, two or three people at a time.
NOTE: If you’re in the Yacht Club, you can bring non-YC visitors to your cabin, but they aren’t allowed to use the YC shared spaces. This makes sense, as the exclusivity and lack of crowding is one of the things for which you pay a premium when you book a YC cabin. I was told that sometimes, when YC is not filled to capacity (it was on this cruise), they will sell one-day passes for $110 to a small number of non-YC passengers. This also makes sense, from a marketing standpoint, to allow those who might be thinking of booking YC next time to see what it’s like. A brief tour of the Yacht Club common areas is also part of the $49 Behind the Scenes tour, which I’ll also talk more about later.
But I digress. Getting back on track, the plan was to meet up at the casino bar for the crawl. Approximately thirty people had signed up. Far fewer showed up. That’s normal, to an extent. I’ve organized several cabin crawls on other ships and generally you can expect half to three-fourths as many people as are on the list to make it to the event.
On a cruise ship, time slips away from you and the best laid plans go awry. There is so much to do, so much to see, so much going on, and often you’re dealing with “issues” – things happening back home, problems on board with your cabin or account or luggage or whatever – and you completely forget that you were supposed to be somewhere at a certain time.
Sadly, though, our cabin crawl ended up being more of a bar crawl and poker run (neither of which interests me); we only actually saw one “official” cabin, but I did get to sneak a look at another that wasn’t officially on the list.
I did get to see one of the Aurea aft wrap balcony cabins. I had considered booking that category at one point, when the Yacht Club was sold out, but I booked an Aurea whirlpool suite instead. Seeing the aft wrap confirmed that would have been the right decision for me. Oh, it’s nice – but I certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as my YC deluxe suite or even, I think, the Aurea whirlpool.
The room itself felt much more cramped than my YC suite, perhaps because one corner was cut off diagonally. There was a lot of wasted space in a little wrap-around entry hall, although it was nice that it had a little extra window in it. Because the room is on the corner, it has a decent sized window that faces outward to the side of the ship (in this case, the port side) as well as the sliding door that faces the rear. It also has one really neat feature: storage space behind the mirror above the corner dresser/desk. In addition, the shower was much larger than in a regular cabin, but didn’t have a bench (or granite) like mine, and the counter wasn’t as long.
I didn’t like that the TV was small and was sitting directly on the desk instead of being wall mounted.
The balcony itself is very large and wraps around on the side of the ship, so for people who spend a lot of time out on the balcony or especially if you have a large family or want to invite friends to share your balcony, that would be a big plus. I prefer a balcony stateroom because of the “big view” through the glass doors when I’m in the cabin, but I rarely go out there.
This is a cabin for people who like to be in the middle of the “action.” The deck 7 South Beach pool is right below you and it’s a pretty view when it’s empty, but in the evenings, when that area is full of people and loud music, I think it would destroy the tranquility of the best part of having an aft balcony: watching the wake.
But again, that’s just me and I’m not typical. It’s great that we have so many different options, and I know the Yacht Club was the best choice for me.
One of the couples who were crawling with us had a Fantastica cabin just down the hall, and I asked for a sneak peek since I had heard they were pretty cramped and I wanted to see one for comparison. They are indeed small, especially the bathroom, and there is very little storage space. It’s a bit smaller than a Carnival regular balcony, for sure. On a positive note, the decor was nice and the smallish TV was mounted on a swivel (my giant screen TV in the YC1 was mounted flat against the wall; I’ll talk about that later).
Another reason I wanted to see this cabin: it’s one of the balconies near the front and back of the ship that have solid metal instead of see-through material under the railing. There had been some speculation about these in the groups as people examined photos of the ship’s exterior to try to determine whether their views would be obstructed by this.
I labeled the decks on the exterior photo of the ship shown here on the left, to try to help people figure out whether their cabins fell into the “white metal” group. As you can see, this affects quite a few of the balconies at the front on decks 10 through 14. At the aft, fewer are impacted, but in this case it extends all the way from deck 9 to deck 15, as shown in the photo to the right.
The balcony seemed very narrow to me after getting accustomed to my YC1 balcony, but it was the shower that was the real “ouch” moment. I think it was even smaller than the shower in the tiny hotel room in London that I once stayed in, and I could see that those people who talked about having to “sit sideways” on the toilet weren’t exaggerating after all.
Later in the cruise, I got to see an oceanview cabin on deck 5. It was similar to the Fantastica balcony, except for the large window instead of the full glass door. The most notable thing about these cabins – other than the amazing shrunken bathroom – is the very short distance between the end of the bed and the desk. The OV had one of the sofas that turns into a bunk bed, which I like better than the pull-out sofa beds, especially in these smaller cabins, since it takes up a lot less of the floor space with the same sleeping space.
The Seaside has many different types of cabins, at many different categories and experience levels (and prices), so there really is something for everyone. Whether you’re in a low-budget Bella interior or you’ve booked the multi-room Royal Suite in the Yacht Club, there is plenty to do and see and eat and drink and plenty of memories to make in the many public venues on the ship.
I admit it: the cabin crawl made me appreciate my week-long “house” and “neighborhood” even more than I already did. Afterward I was happy to get back to the comfort of my lounge, where there was a piña colada calling my name now that my digestive system was finally feeling normal again.
I took a quick look at (and a couple of pictures of) that night’s menu for the YC restaurant, but I wouldn’t be trying any of those delicacies, as delicious as the roasted swordfish sounded. Tonight was the evening I’d chosen for my pre-booked dinner at Ocean Cay, the Seaside’s seafood specialty dining experience. After getting cleaned up and changing clothes, I met up with the rest in our group at the Welcome Bar outside the grouped specialty restaurants that occupy deck 16 mid-ship. They have an extensive bar menu there, but I only got a glass of Moscato.
The restaurant itself is very shiny and new and clean looking, decorated with (not surprisingly) a nautical theme. I’ll provide more photos of it in the “drinking and dining experience” installment of this review.
The “dining experience” (which is part of the dining trio package that others in my group had purchased, as well as the “seafood fest” that I had booked) consists of an item from each menu page (an appetizer, entrée, and dessert). I went with the conch fritters, sea bass, and creme brulee. All of them were very tasty. Friends ordered the oysters and crab legs, which came in an impressive size.
The service was good after some initial confusion over use of water coupons to get bottled water and which wines were included in the drink packages. Our waiter, Eugene, was professional but not particularly personable – one of the few staff/crew members I dealt with who somewhat fit the “not very friendly” description in some of the early reviews of Seaside. It didn’t, however, detract from the relaxing and delicious experience. I would definitely go to Ocean Cay again.
By the time we were finished with dinner, it was almost time for the 9:30 showing of “Fly” so we went to the theater. I had made reservations for all of the shows on the first day (you can do this on the TV, the phone app, or one of the kiosks around the ship; I’ll go into more detail about it in the “That’s entertainment” section.
I thought I had reserved the 9:30 show, but apparently not; when Judith scanned my wristband, it didn’t show up. One other member of our party was in the same situation, so we waited while the others went in. At 5 minutes until show time, if the theater isn’t full, they open it up to those without reservations, so we were able to get in and our friends have saved us seats. No big deal, but if you aren’t used to needing reservations for shows, it takes a little getting used to. After that I always checked my reservation times for the evening before heading to a show.
The shows take place in the Metropolitan Theater on decks 6 and 7 forward. This was also where we had gone for muster drill on embarkation day. The theater isn’t huge, but they have several showings per night of the same shows and the smaller size lends itself to a more intimate feel that’s nice.
The sets are fairly simple but pretty, and the emphasis is on dancing and singing; there’s not as much of a “story” as with some shows. There is also more of an international flavor.
I’ll discuss the shows more in the “That’s entertainment” section, later in this review. I enjoyed the show and thought the performers were talented and high energy.
After the show, I wandered back down to the Atrium to see what was going on there. The theme party for the night was “country and western.” I hadn’t brought a costume for that one; I thought about it, but boots are too bulky and heavy to pack and I didn’t really want to wear them on the plane.
The big triple screen in the atrium reflected the theme and there was a band there, playing C&W music. The triple screen is an ever-changing display that’s reminiscent of (but also an improvement on) the funnel-shaped “dreamscape” in the atrium of the Carnival Vista. I found myself going down to that end of the ship several times most days, just to see what was up on those screens. Some of the displays were very impressive, some were even touching, and this night’s cowboy scenes were just fun.
The party was going strong in the Haven Lounge, and photographers had western backgrounds and props set up so that those who did go all out with the ten gallon hats and string ties and ostrich-skinned boots could capture the moment forever.
It looked like fun, but it was loud and I was beginning to get tired. I did stop by one photo “studio” setup on the way back toward my Yacht Club retreat, to have a few photos taken. One of them turned out “not bad” and I ended up buying it.
When I got back to the cabin, I found my towel animal de jour along with the next day’s schedule and a couple of surprises: a nice folder containing one of my photos with the Captain, and a lanyard with a reminder that we would need to take our cards with us when we left the ship in Antigua the next day. The wristbands substitute for the cards on board, but don’t work for getting back on in port.
It had been another busy day, and a good one, but it ended on a less happy note with news of troubles back home (pet issues along with a downpour that was creating other problems, including an indoor ant invasion) that kept me up late. They say into every life a little rain must fall, and apparently more than a little was falling (literally) back at the house, where my husband was holding down the fort.
As Gilda Radner (remember her?) used to say, it’s always something. I did sleep well after I finally dropped off, and was glad to be able to snuggle down into the comfort of the YC bed with my latest towel animal and dream it all away. Feelings of guilt for being gone and helplessness to do anything about it aside, and discounting my lumps and bruises (which were healing nicely), the first two and a half days of the cruise had been nothing short of wonderful.
Buon principio fa buon fine
A good beginning makes a good ending.