We wish you a Meraviglia, and a happy new tier! (Part One)

An overview of my 3 days on board MSC’s new-to-the-USA ship

This is my review of my first time to cruise on the MSC Meraviglia, shortly after her repositioning from Europe to the United States for a winter season sailing out of Miami. 

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Photo credit: Gretchen Cooper

After three wonderful cruises on Seaside, I was wary about trying out this new (to me and to the U.S. market) class of ship. The many not-so-great reviews of her first couple of U.S. sailings didn’t help. I honestly didn’t think I’d like her nearly as much as Seaside, but I did want to see it and judge for myself (and blog about it). Thus booking this very short sailing (3 nights/4 days) seemed like the perfect way to get a taste without making a week-long commitment.

SPOILER ALERT: My worries turned out to be baseless, and the only big complaint I have about the cruise is that it was over way too quickly. 

MSC Diamond Card

This was a special cruise for me in that it was a milestone in a couple of ways. It was my 25th cruise overall, and it was also my first cruise after earning Diamond (the top-tier loyalty status formerly known as Black).

Diamond card

It might seem odd that I booked this particular cruise for such a special occasion, but this was not your typical 3-day “booze cruise.” This short pre-Thanksgiving sailing was originally scheduled to call at Ocean Cay, MSC’s brand new private island. Many MSC corporate people, including MSC Chief Operations Officer Ken Muskat (pictured below), were on board, along with many travel agents and media folks.

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Well, ship happens and the opening of the island ended up being delayed until December 5th.  That was okay with me — I have another chance to see it next month — but didn’t sit so well with some of the passengers.

The upshoot of this, though, was that the staff and crew seemed to be always going out of their ways to impress all the VIPs on board — and it seems the rest of us benefited from that, too. Or maybe I just got mistaken for a VIP; I certainly was treated like one.  Whatever the reasons, this ended up being a wonderful cruise, even though (or perhaps because) I never left the ship.  In the following sections, I’ll go into some detail about what made this short but very sweet cruise so great.

PRE-CRUISE MUSINGS: Meraviglia vs Seaside

This  was a last-minute booking, something that I rarely ever do. I’m a obsessive planner, and my normal M.O. is to book a cruise (or other trip) months or even years in advance, giving me time to prepare as fully as possible.

As mentioned above and as those who have read my previous blog posts know, I love the MSC Seaside. I found Meraviglia’s coming to America interesting, and was excited in a general way that MSC was expanding its fleet here, but I didn’t really have a lot of interest in booking her in the beginning. My research led me to believe that although the ship looks beautiful, it wouldn’t appeal to me in the same visceral way Seaside does.

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Seaside was designed to “follow the sun.” She was made for the Caribbean, and every element of her layout speaks to that core principle. Her public areas are open to the sky and sea with lots of floor-to-ceiling glass windows that make her light and bright inside unlike other ships I’ve sailed.  Every time I walk into her atrium, I stand and stare in awe.

Meraviglia is impressive, too – but in a very different way. Her interior reminds me of a grand Las Vegas strip hotel, with her closed-in interior promenade made to look like an avenue lined with restaurants and shops and the changing LED ceiling running above it. if the ocean is calm, you wouldn’t even know you’re on a ship at sea.

NOTE: I’ll be doing a much more detailed comparison of Meraviglia, Seaside, and Divina in a future blog post to be titled “A Tale of Three Ships.” 

The price is right

Everyone around me was getting excited about booking the new (to the U.S.) ship for the past year, and of course – being naturally curious – I sort of wanted to try her out even though I was pretty sure I’d end up preferring Seaside. But not enough to spend a lot of money and a week of the limited time I get to travel on a ship that probably wasn’t going to be my favorite.

Image result for dollar signsInstead, to satisfy my craving to cruise on a different MSC ship after three (wonderful) times on Seaside, I booked a short December cruise on the Divina. It would be my Christmas present to myself. It was only 3 nights so I knew it would be over in a flash, but it fit my parameters, and a number of friends from the MSC Facebook groups were going.

But then I discovered that they were also offering a couple of short cruises on Meraviglia in November, a 4-night sailing November 17 and a 3-night sailing Nov 21.  The prices on these short cruises were very low, and I would be away from home for a shorter span at a time, which is important to my dogs and my husband. I wanted to do the 4-night but ended up settling for the 3-night due to scheduling conflicts.

And then there’s the island

Booking the November cruise offered a double benefit: I’d get to see a new ship and I’d get to be on one of the first cruises to MSC’s new private island, Ocean Cay, which was scheduled to open November 9. Well, that was the plan. But you know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men – and of cruisers.Image may contain: one or more people, ocean, sky, beach, outdoor, water and nature

No itinerary is ever set in stone. Every cruise ship contract specifies that ports can be cancelled or switched at any time. Weather, mechanical issues, operational issues, the vagaries of the sea – anything can interfere with the planned itinerary. In most cases, it’s something that you just have to expect and accept. I learned early to never book a cruise for a particular port, because you may or may not end up actually going.

And over two decades as a software beta tester taught me that anytime you sign up to be the “first” for anything, you’re taking risks. Risks that it won’t be all that it was supposed to be, or that it will even materialize at all.  And beta-testing a new island turned out to be no different. The November 9 opening date that we’d all been looking forward to was cancelled at the last minute. For a while we had hopes that it would only be delayed by one sailing, but soon MSC dashed those hopes by announcing a new opening date of December 5th. So much for seeing the island on my November 17 mini-cruise.

no ocean cay

And you know what? That’s fine with me. The cruise groups on social media were awash with weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, angry people disappointed at not getting what they thought they paid for, demands for full refunds, and folks (who obviously never read their cruise contract) threatening to sue and/or vowing never to cruise on MSC again.

But I was actually a little relieved. I’d wondered how in the world I was going to explore and get to know a new ship and explore and review a new island all in the space of 3 days. Now I would have more time to just focus on the ship. So when we got the letter telling us we were getting a sea day instead of Ocean Cay, along with $100 OBC and a 20% future cruise credit, I was more than happy.

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SNEAK PREVIEW: I did, in fact, make it to Ocean Cay the following month on the MSC Divina, although that visit was cut a little short. I’ll tell you all about it in my next review. 

GETTING THERE: ‘Twas the night before Cruisemas

I flew out late on Wednesday afternoon so as to further minimize the time away from home, Tom, and the animals. Got to DFW almost two hours prior and settled in at the Admiral’s Club in terminal A for a nice, leisurely pre-flight snack and coffee — I thought. Once again, I was reminded that plans are fluid, and I logged onto the airport wifi and opened my email to find that my gate had been changed (again – it had changed once on the way to the airport). This time, it had moved to a whole different terminal.

So I packed everything up, trekked over to the Skylink, and got to terminal C without enough time to go to that Admiral’s Club. I just visited the ladies’ room and then proceeded to the gate. Boarded the plane, where I was in a bulkhead seat, to find that the overhead bins there were already filled and I had to put my bags three bins back. Oh joy. Going against the crowd to get them down was going to be fun.

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What made it worse was seeing others who were sitting behind me in econ come in and put their bags in the first class overheads. I asked the flight attendant if I could move mine, he said as soon as all the first class passengers were seated, if there was room left, he would move them for me. Of course by that time, so many other econ people had put theirs there that they were full.

I guess it’s true that it’s better to ask for forgiveness afterward than permission beforehand.

Oh well. The flight was smooth, and I had a good conversation with the flight attendant, who was sitting in the backward-facing jump seat across from me.  He was apologetic about the overhead bin situation. When we landed, I was ready to leap, and managed to get out of my seat and back to the bin with my bags before those people stood up. I was stuck back there until people started moving, but at least I didn’t have to wait until the whole plane emptied to go back to get my bags.

HEARTBREAK HOTEL

Image result for eurostars langfordNot really – but it definitely wasn’t the Doubletree by Grand Hilton that I always book when Tom is cruising with me (described in my review of our September cruise). To save money and because I was getting in late – flight arrived at MIA after 8:30 pm – I went with a place that had good reviews but that I’d never heard of: the Eurostars Langford. It was downtown, fairly close to the port, a bit less expensive than those I usually stay in, and had rooms available (my other choices, such as Holiday Inn Port of Miami, were full since I booked the cruise so late). 

True to its name, the place resembled a European hotel. I guess the best word to describe it is “quaint.” Decor was minimalist, the night clerk wasn’t very helpful, and the room was clean but a little sparse and cold (not the temperature, but the general feel).

It had a really nice looking bathroom with a very large shower (that I couldn’t get to work). There was a desk with a very fancy coffeemaker (that I also couldn’t get to work, at first — but coffee is far more important than a shower so I called down for help with that one).   There was no view, and some street noise, but I had my headphones and my “relax and sleep” app that drowns out ambient noise with soothing sounds such as air conditioner, water fountain, ocean waves, summer rain, etc.

There appeared to be no food or restaurant, no ice bucket, and when I called down to ask about room service I was told they didn’t have it. There was no book or pamphlet or even a mimeographed sheet of paper telling anything about the hotel or its amenities. I was starving, but didn’t really want to go walking in this part of Miami after dark. I had an energy bar in my bag, thank goodness.

On the up side, wifi was free and fast. After two phone calls and not much help from the guy at the front desk, a female staff member came up to help me get the coffeemaker working. I was gratified to see that it wasn’t just me – she couldn’t figure it out either, at first … but we kept trying different things and finally some button combination worked and I had coffee. Which made me a lot less grumpy.  Then I discovered the very well hidden mini fridge (it was in a closet) and that was even better. It would suffice, and it did. My thirst and hunger quenched, I slept well.

The next morning when I went downstairs to check out, a lady was manning (LOL) the front desk and was the opposite of the man from the night before. She was extremely helpful and I found out from her (too late) that there is a lounge on one of the floors and a restaurant on the roof. That would have been a nice thing to mention when I called to ask about room service.

EMBARKATION/DEBARKATION

It took a while for my ride to arrive, but he dropped me off right at the YC tent and it was only a few minutes’ wait there before a butler came to escort me and a few others to the terminal.

One  of the advertised benefits of Yacht Club is priority embarkation. In theory, you get on the ship ahead of almost everyone (with the exception of B2B cruisers, wedding parties, and the like).  In practice, sometimes it works that way and sometimes it doesn’t. This time, it didn’t.

Everything started out nicely enough. I had arrived at the port a little before 11:00 a.m., proceeded to the white YC tent where my checked bag was processed quickly, and within minutes I and six others were led into the terminal and through security.  We had a bit of a holdup as one of our party had a pair of scissors in her carry-on that caused a bit of a delay, but soon we were headed up the escalator and around the corner to the “VIP lounge” — a route with which I’m now intimately familiar.

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In the lounge, there were pastries and champagne waiting, as usual. I got mine and found a seat, and was quickly called to the desk for check-in.  At this point, all was normal. All we had to do was wait for a butler to escort us onto the ship. And so we waited. And waited. And waited.

Meanwhile, we heard general boarding begin. They had already called Group 8 by the time we finally got someone to take us on board.  To say some folks were getting impatient would be putting it mildly, although it was a small minority. Once we made it through the last checkpoint, we were greeted by another butler and whisked through the boarding walkway and into the atrium, then to the (priority, of course) elevator and up, up, and away to the rarified air of the 16 floor access-controlled Yacht Club area.

The first thing I noticed as we passed the concierge desk was the difference in layout between Meraviglia and Seaside – but I’ll be addressing all those differences in detail in a separate article.  We were taken into the Top Sail lounge first, where I prepared to settle in to wait for my cabin to be ready.  But unlike the wait in the embarkation lounge, I had barely taken a seat before my butler appeared, called me by name – without being introduced, told me he “had been waiting for you to arrive,” and picked up my bags to take me to my room.  Total time from the tent to the cabin, even with the wait in the terminal lounge, was only around 45 minutes.

The tiny glitch in the embarkation procedure was quickly forgotten as this wonderful cruise unfolded. It was no more than a momentary irritation that was made up for 20x over by the amazing service I experienced over the next three days. 

 

goodbye in sand

On the final day, I was a little worried that there might be delays again. For the first time ever, I had booked an early flight out of MIA — at 10:30 a.m.  I knew I was taking a chance but the next flight had been at 3:00 p.m. and I wanted to get back to Tom and the dogs as early as I could. I need not have worried.

Debarkation went as smoothly as silk. I was up at 6:00 a.m. and ready to go at 7:00.  I hadn’t checked a bag (for such a short cruise, I had a small one) so I wheeled my luggage to the concierge desk where a butler was just leaving to take a couple of families off the ship. I joined them, we made our ways down past some very long lines of “regular” people waiting to debark, through a door to a “secret” exit, and waited about ten minutes until the people staffing it got the “clear” signal to allow debarkation to begin. I was the third person off the ship, walked to the taxi line and got the second cab, and was at the airport by 7:35 a.m.

Despite my good luck, I don’t recommend booking such an early flight and I probably won’t do it again. There’s too much that can go wrong: late docking, customs delays, waits for a ride, etc.  I rolled the dice and won – this time. I’m back to booking a 2:45 p.m. flight for my next cruise. 

YACHT CLUB STAFF, SERVICE, AND AREAS

It seems that very time I have a cruise booked, shortly before I go, there will be a flurry of social media posts lamenting how the Yacht Club service on whichever ship I’m booked on has gone way downhill.  Suddenly everyone will be talking about how the food quality in the restaurant had deteriorated, how the butler service has gone downhill, how the amenities are being taken away. As usual, reviews of the Meraviglia’s first few U.S. sailings were full of negatives.

edrisBut every time, I get on board and I find that my experience in the Yacht Club is even better than it was the time before.  This was no exception. After numerous complaints about Meraviglia in the Yacht Club forums and groups, I had set my expectations low — and then YC director Idris Esergul and his team absolutely blew me away.  From the moment I set foot on the ship, I felt catered to and pampered and taken care of to an even higher degree than on my most recent cruise on Seaside (September 2019), which had been utterly amazing.

Butler Service

Back when I was contemplating my first Yacht Club cruise, I couldn’t imagine why I would want or need a butler. I’m pretty self-sufficient, and the word conjured up images of staid English gentlemen helping me on with my coat (who needs a coat in the Caribbean) or greeting my guests at the door (not many people get invited to my cruise ship cabins).  I’d heard tales of butlers carrying your drinks to your room for you or even unpacking and packing your clothes, either of which I was perfectly capable of doing for myself.

20191121_124951But I soon found out that the best Yacht Club butlers really do enhance your cruise experience. Far from being in the way, they pave the way for you, making everything easier.  They find out what your preferences are – drinks, ice, towel animals, newpapers – and see that those things are waiting for you in your cabin each night. They escort you past the long lines – on and off the ship at ports, to shows and parties and specialty restaurants – and they just generally make you feel pampered to whatever degree you are comfortable with.

Not all butlers are created equal. I know some of my fellow YC guests have lamented that they rarely saw theirs. I’ve been lucky to always get good butlers, but on Meraviglia my good fortune increased exponentially and I got possibly the best butler in the whole world, ever. At least that’s how I came away from this cruise feeling about my butler Mevin Appadoo. 

Apparently I’m not the only one who feels that way. MSC usually assigns its very best butlers to the two Royal Suites and those cabins adjacent to them. It was my proximity to one of the Royals (thanks to my TA, Christina) that caused me to be blessed with Mevin as my butler.

The butler did it – and did it beautifully

So what makes Mevin so special?  It’s partly his demeanor. He’s professional and attentive without being at all obsequious. He’s friendly without getting overly buddy-buddy.  He seemed to “automagically” appear whenever I needed something, but he never hovered. He’s smart – he seemed to be able to read my mind and know what I wanted even when I didn’t.  He seemed to really enjoy making his guests happy.

It might have taken a little longer than I’d have wished to get on board the ship, but from the moment we stepped through that door, everything was much more than okay. The butler led us quickly through the atrium and to the forward elevators where his magical card summoned the priority car to whisk us up, up, and away to the rarefied air of that elite retreat that I know and love so well.

I had barely situated myself in the Top Sail before a butler rushed over to introduce himself as the famous Mevin, known on the YC Facebook groups as “the man” on Meraviglia; having him assigned to your room is like winning the butler lottery. I already had an inkling that I was going to be one of the lucky ones, as a group member who had been in the same cabin on a previous cruise had sung Mevin’s praises. She wasn’t exaggerating.

The first evening I came “home” to my room to find roses, candy, and a towel animal on the bed, more flowers on the table, and even more flowers in the bathroom. Talk about feeling welcome.

I thought that was impressive, but the next night, I arrived back at my room after dinner to discover that my inner door was covered with butterflies, my mirror was covered with flower stickers, a second bottle of sparkling wine and chocolate covered strawberries were on the table, and a new towelie was standing guard over a whole handful of chocolates.

Color me gobsmacked, as my Australian friends would say. What a wonderful surprise. I have never had a butler who went so far above and beyond the call of duty to make my cruise a completely over-the-top experience.

Tea and sympathy

And then there was tea time in the Top Sail lounge. I like going to tea (the event) on cruises but I’ve really only been there to enjoy the pastries and wear my hat or fascinator, and disappoint the staff by ordering coffee.  I’ve spent most of my life avoiding tea (the drink). When I was a kid growing up in the south, “tea” meant sweetened iced tea, which I could not stand. Then when I got into my 20s, I was introduced to hot tea in the form of Earl Grey, which was only slightly less awful.

Ergo, I concluded that tea was not for me.  I actually forgot all about tea time on this cruise, or rather assumed that since it was such a short sailing, it wouldn’t happen. So I was surprised when I wandered into the Top Sail a little before 4:00 and found Mevin setting up the tea service and tables.

I took a seat away from those tables and settled down to read, but 4:00 pm came and nobody had shown up for tea (like me, most probably didn’t even know it was taking place).  I didn’t want him to have gone to all that work for nothing, so I moved over to a “tea table.”  We chatted a little and I told him how I usually wear one of my Kentucky Derby hats at tea, but had only brought a small fascinator this time. He suggested I go put it on, so I ran back to cabin and did so.

When I returned to the lounge, Mevin instantly appeared with the tea cart, ready and eager to serve. I didn’t have the heart to ask for coffee. I decided to step outside my comfort zone and try it.  I asked for a recommendation and he told me about each of the teas. I settled on an Italian variety,  and he brewed it up, all the while regaling me with stories about the history of how “tea” (the event) came into being, and details about the different flavors.

To my surprise, I found that I actually liked this particular brand of tea, and finished off the whole cup, along with a couple of bite-sized sweets. 4

It was a very pleasant, very civilized (with a nod to James Edward Bolger) experience, and one more example of how Mevin added to the enjoyment of my cruise.20190915_132458

Mevin continued to amaze me throughout the entire cruise, from the little special touches in the cabin to his ability to just “automagically” be there whenever I needed something, with my having to ask.  I’m afraid Mevin has spoiled me; I’m sure that forever after, I’ll subconsciously evaluate every butler against the ultra high bar that he set on this cruise. 

When a friend booked on a future Meraviglia cruise posted online that she was torn between bidding on an upgrade  from her YC interior cabin, which is in Mevin’s section, to a YC deluxe suite in an unknown location, I didn’t even have to stop and think for a moment before giving my opinion:  I would keep the YIN and Mevin even if the upgrade price was one dollar.  That’s how much I value his service.

As of mid-January, Mevin is no longer on board Meraviglia. He had to go back home due to family issues. There are other great butlers on this and other YC ships, but he is truly in a class of his own and will be missed by many people. I feel privileged to have had him as my butler. 

Concierge staff

Mevin was by no means the only member of the YC staff and crew who stood out on this cruise.  I don’t usually have a lot of interaction with the folks at the concierge desk (although there have been exceptions, such as Alejandra Garcia on our September 2018 Seaside sailing).

Maybe it’s because the concierge station is right there at the head of the stairs from deck 15 (where my cabin was located) and deck 16 (where the Top Sail lounge is located), but it seemed I was constantly saying hello to the concierges, and I called on them more for assistance with small things than I had on previous cruises because they were so personable and helpful.

Caio and Luciano both went out of their ways to help with any questions or minor problems I had, straightening out billing issues, making change, helping with reservations, and sharing tidbits about their own lives and experiences.  I would love to cruise with either or both again.

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YC restaurant and wait staff

Many of the negative reviews of Meraviglia’s first U.S. sailings centered on the Yacht Club restaurant. Complaints ranged from the usual Euro/American cultural differences – “Dinner took two hours” or “food wasn’t seasoned” or “was served warm instead of hot” to more concerning comments about tough steaks and inability to get simple substitute dishes such as a plate of pasta when no menu items were appealing.

Despite all that, I already knew that my dining experience on Meraviglia was going to be wonderful when I found out that Arthur Javier had been assigned to the YC dining room as head waiter. Then I learned that Alex Cunanan was one of the top waiters, and I knew with that combination, I could never go hungry. I was right.

SERVICE WITH A SMILE

I had first met both Arthur and Alex on Seaside and had absolute faith in their abilities. I also have a few aces up my sleeve: although in some ways I’m picky about food, in others I’m not. I’ll talk more about that in the “Food” section below.

As for the service, it was exemplary every step of the way. Alex’s assistant, Junny, was also fun and friendly and provided excellent service. I felt completely pampered at every meal. Junny kept my wine and water glasses full, and also brought a small bucket of ice on the side for the water. 20191123_193937.jpg

On the first day, Arthur greeted me with a hug and he came by a few times each night to check on how things were and chat. A big advantage of dining early (6:00 p.m.) is that the dining room is less crowded and the staff has more time to interact with guests.  On one night when I wasn’t excited about any of the entrees on the menu, I asked if the chef could prepare me a simple plate of pasta with pesto sauce. Arthur made sure it happened. 

Luis, the maitre d’, was friendly and helpful, as well, and always asked if everything was okay and how he could make things better.  I honestly don’t know how my Meraviglia dining experience could possibly have been any better.

When I’ve cruised solo in the past, I’ve usually felt a little awkward about dining alone. Thus I would often get room service, eat at the buffet, or make friends with someone else on board and go to dinner with them.  On Meraviglia, I savored my solo dinners. I didn’t feel alone at all with Arthur, Alex, and Junny catering to my every need and providing great company.

One of the things I have loved about MSC from the beginning is the way the crew and staff make you feel like part of a family, and I felt this strongly in the Yacht Club on Meraviglia. The only other cruise can compete in this respect was my birthday cruise on Seaside two months earlier.

DINING ROOM LAYOUT AND DECOR

As for the location, layout, and decor, the YC dining room on Meraviglia is absolutely stunning.  Unlike on Seaside, it’s not open to the lounge so you don’t have the extra noise. I had thought I might not like not being able to hear the live music in the lounge, but I found that the quieter atmosphere actually made for a more pleasant dining experience.

Unlike on Divina, this separation is not achieved by placing the restaurant all the way at the other end of the ship and necessitating a long walk to get there. While I didn’t mind that walk, I wasn’t fond of the view of the aft pool and sunbathers while sitting in Divina’s YC restaurant. Meraviglia’s big picture windows show only the sky and sea ahead of the ship.  And there are far more tables “on the glass” than on Seaside.

To get to the dining room, you take the spiral crystal stairs between the concierge desk and the entry to the Top Sail. Those stairs bring you to the open hallway just outside the dining room instead of opening up into the dining room itself – something that was a little annoying on Seaside (and would be especially so for those seated at the table right next to the stairs with people going up and down all evening).

The dining room on Meraviglia feels intimate due to the dark colors and the greenery (neither of which Seaside has) but also spacious because of the mirrored ceiling. Overall, the ambiance is much more traditionally elegant.  It’s my favorite of the three YC dining rooms I’ve experienced.

Top Sail lounge

After my first YC cruise on Seaside, I pronounced the Top Sail lounge my “new favorite place in the world.”  The lounge on Meraviglia is different from that of Seaside, in many positive ways and one negative way.  First, I like the separation from the restaurant (something I’d been unsure of before sailing on Mera).  The lounge feels much cozier and more relaxing without the ambient noises of clanging silverware and chatter from above.

I also like the darker decor. With all the sunlight coming in, it provides a contrast that works well, and I’m biased because the dark red and black combination is my favorite and is what I have in my living room and master bedroom at home – so it makes me feel even more at home.

The snack bar on Meraviglia is larger than Seaside and had a bigger selection, and I like the way it and the bar are at the entry to the lounge. The piano/small stage area isn’t centrally located but that’s actually a good thing, since those who want to hear the music better can sit on the port side of the lounge and those who don’t can go to the starboard side farther away from it.

One Pool deck

I love the idea of the pool deck on Seaside. The grill buffet is so nice and the food there is so good that I often have lunch there instead of going to the YC restaurant. But when I finish eating, I leave. I don’t hang out on the pool deck because the only place that’s not in direct sunlight is the small handful of tables right under the grill’s roof overhang (and even those aren’t always shaded, depending on the angle of the sun).  The second reason I don’t stay long is that the seating choices are mostly the chairs at the tables or loungers.

Meraviglia has plexiglass tops over much of the deck area that provides some shade while still being see-through. That means I – and others like me who burn to a crisp in direct sunlight – can settle in and stay for a while. The pool itself has shade, as well. I don’t ever get in public pools but if I did, I’d be glad of that. And I do like to just sit and enjoy the view, and love how that’s enhanced by the very comfortable big round sofas at the front where you can sit and sip a drink and feel as if you’re at the top of the world – because you are, at least at the top and front of the world of the ship.

As for the grill, I will conceded that Seaside’s has a bit larger selection of food and the flow through the buffet is better. On Mera, people would order a hamburger or pasta plate and then stand there while it was being made, blocking access to the hot buffet serve-yourself dishes.  I do, however, like that the buffet is over on the side and not front-and-center of the deck area.

Summary: Yacht Club area

On Meraviglia, the Yacht Club areas make up the forward sections of the ship on decks 14, 15, 16, 18, and 19. There are seventy-seven deluxe suites, fifteen YC interiors, two Royal Suites, and eight duplex suites which were formerly designated as Aurea experience but are being changed to Yacht Club suites in 2020.  These duplex suites are outside of the Yacht Club proper, on decks 12 and 13, but will enjoy all the amenities and exclusive areas of the YC experience.

The Ship

Meraviglia is the most beautiful ship I’ve cruised on. Seaside is amazing, but the decor is just a tad too slick glass-and-chrome modern for my tastes. Divina is old-world lovely, but is looking slightly worn and some of the decor, such as the YC dining room, is a little too ostentatious for me. Meraviglia, like baby bear’s bed in the Goldilocks tale, is (in my opinion) just right. 

Even though there are some things I like better about Seaside’s “downstairs” area, if given a choice between the two with the same itinerary, price, and dates, I would now choose Meraviglia since I spend more time in the YC areas than out on the rest of the ship.  And even though I like the location of Seaside’s specialty restaurants better, the YC dining room on Meraviglia is so good that I never wanted to miss a night there, so that didn’t matter.

Cabin 15007: A room without a view (and that’s okay)

This cruise was a new experience for me in more ways than one. It was my very first time to ever stay in an inside cabin. I’d booked interiors before, but I always got cold feet and upgraded before the cruise. I’d done twenty-four cruises and had always had at least an ocean view and most of the time a balcony.  I have experienced a little claustrophobia at times and thought it would feel like sleeping in a closet.

In fact, my original plan with this cruise was to take a deep breath and try something completely new – seeing how the “other half” lives in a Fantastica cabin. But I got a great price on the Yacht Club interior and chickened out on that idea.  I admit I was a little anxious about it, but I needn’t have been.

If I’d been traveling with my husband or a roommate, I might have felt differently but as a solo, I really enjoyed my little “cave.”  It was roomier than I expected, the setup was fine for working on the computer (something I’d worried about), there was plenty of storage for just me, and it was quiet (except for the last night, and I wasn’t going to get any sleep then anyway).  And Mevin kept it decorated and stocked with surprises every time I came back to it.

Christine Wandell, my travel agent, had put me in 15007 instead of the room I had asked for (15029).  I’ll be forever grateful to her for that. 15007 and 15009 are the only two YINs on the ship that each have a long private hallway separating the room from the main public corridor.

The deck plan is misleading when it comes to this room. It makes it appear that there is a U-shaped hallway that runs in front of it and 15005. In reality, each of those two rooms has its own separate little long private hallway, giving them “double doors.” That is, there is an outer door that looks like all the other cabin with your room number on it and a peephole and a lock that you open with your card or wristband. However, when you open it, you’re not in the room. You’re in a narrow hall, what I called my “entrance hall.” At the end is a second door that also locks and is opened by your card/bracelet. This hall, while it seems like wasted space, actually provides several advantages.

You can prop open the inner door (I always pack doorstops) and make the interior room feel much more spacious and less claustrophobic. When both doors are closed, it provides a sound buffer from any noises in the main corridor. And instead of being surprised by your butler’s knock on the door, you always have a few moments to prepare because you hear him open the outer door first.

The hallway also has a small recess and you can stick magnetic hooks to the wall there and hang things there for extra storage space if you want. Unfortunately, it won’t work for an idea I had at first: I was thinking if my husband and I ever cruised in that room together, and his snoring got too loud at night, I could take a blanket and pillow and go sleep in the hall. Well, scratch that — there’s no way to turn off the light there, and there is soft music piped into the hall most of the time. You can’t hear it when the inner door is closed, but it would definitely keep me awake if I were camped out in that space.

These two interior rooms also are assigned the same butler as the Royal Suites (which are diagonally across the main corridor), and that usually means the best butler on the ship.

mera deck 15 deck plan

When I booked the cruise, both 15007 and 15029 were available. I agonized over which to pick and decided on 029 because it was closer to the hallway to the YC stairs and it only shared a wall with one other cabin, whereas 007 had cabin both to the side and backed up to it.

I got my confirmation and didn’t really look at it for a few weeks. When I did, I saw that I was in 007, and contacted Christina to ask about it. She said she had put me there because it was across from the Royal Suite – and thus would probably have the same butler (traditionally, the very best butlers are assigned to the Royals). She said she could change it, as 029 was still open. I said nah, I’ll just keep this one — I sort of liked the sound of 007 anyway; it’s all secret agentish, you know. And I’m so very thankful that I did.

My initial thought about getting an interior was that I wouldn’t spend much time in the room, but I actually ended up spending more time there than I’d planned. Although the desk is a good bit smaller than in the deluxe suites, there was plenty of room for my laptop, the one chair was comfortable and the right height for typing, and Mevin even made the small table work for room service dining, so I had breakfast there most mornings.

I liked it much more than I thought I would, although I admit to having a few thoughts along the lines of “if the ship started sinking, I’d never know it in here,” and “No way to jump overboard if the corridor outside my room caught on fire. (Can’t help it; considering all the possibilities isn’t just the way I was trained, it’s the way I am.

On the other hand, pirates aren’t going to be able able to pull up alongside and climb into my room via the balcony, and a foreign Navy’s sniper won’t be able to shoot into my room from a hostile vessel beside us – so it all evens out. And anyone who wants to break into my cabin will have to work twice as hard as for the other 2,242 staterooms on the ship that don’t have double doors.

Another slight worry I’d had about the room was being on deck 15.  On my Seaside cruises, I’d always booked a cabin on deck 16, which is in the “thick of things” on the same floor with the concierge desk and Top Sail lounge. I wondered if I’d feel cut off from the YC experience down on 15.

That was yet another needless worry. I found that I loved the privacy and quiet of being in a “residential-only neighborhood” and the proximity to the Royal Suites ensured that my cabin was in no way “forgotten” by the staff.  It was a short jaunt up down the hall, around the corner, and up the stairs to get to the lounge, and for those with mobility issues, there is an elevator that opens right by the concierge desk. You can also take it up to deck 18, where the dining room is, and deck 19 (the pool deck).

Atrium and central promenade

The central promenade design is one of Meraviglia class ships’ defining characteristics. It features a curved modular LED display on the ceiling of the walkway that runs down the center of the ship on decks 6 and 7.  It’s designed to look like a Mediterranean street scene with shops and restaurants lining the sides, and it’s a very impressive looking area.

The ceiling display changes frequently, showing 16K static and video content on a system that was developed and built specifically for this purpose. The dome is made up of more than a thousand panels and the light shows are run by a cluster of seven custom media servers.

The lower level of the promenade (deck 6) includes Jean Philippe gelato and crepes shop on the port side (not free to Yacht Club guests like Venchi on Seaside) and its chocolate and coffee shop across the way on the starboard side, HOLA Tapas bar, Ocean Cay seafood restaurant, the jewelry shop, boutique, and Plaza Meraviglia where perfume, cosmetics, costume jewelry and such are sold. The excursions desk is also along this level and at the aft end before you get to the Edge Cocktail bar and the Swarovski staircases, you’ll find the MSC logo shop and a fashion jewelry shop.

The upper level of the promenade features the Brass Anchor Pub, Kaito Teppanyaki and Sushi Bar, the Butcher’s Cut steakhouse, and the TV Studio and Bar. The Champagne Bar spans both sides of the ship at the aft end.

My favorite venue on the promenade was the Pub. It was the only one that made me want to sit and stay.  I loved the English atmosphere and it was quieter, being at the front end of the promenade.  To me, it was the best place outside of Yacht Club to meet up with friends and have a leisurely drink.

Pools, tubs, and waterworks

I’m not a pool person. I don’t get into public pools, so I can’t report on this from a “user” perspective. From an aesthetic standpoint, I thought the pools on Meraviglia were prettier than those on Seaside.

Of course, the one that I saw the most of was the Yacht Club Pool, on deck 19 forward.  Unlike on Seaside, this pool gets a lot of shade so if I did use public pools, I’d be much more apt to get into it than the Seaside’s.  It’s not big – but it doesn’t need to be. I rarely saw more than two people in it at a time. It’s tucked back out of the way, too, and is around the corner from the grill area, so you can sit and eat without fear of being splashed or having swimmers as your main view.  There is one adjoining hot tub on a raised platform.

The Atmosphere pool in front of the outdoor big screen with nice statues (not the strange ones at the Seaside pool) and lighted square pads for sun beds during the day is a really attractive backdrop for the white party that was held there and there’s room in front of the stage for a dance floor. It’s reportedly one of the longest pools at sea, at 80 ft. long. This is the main pool and appeared to be the most crowded one. This is the pool for hardcore sun worshipers, with its double sun beds fully exposed to the elements.

The covered pool (with retractable roof) on Meraviglia is the Bamboo Pool on deck 15, open to deck 16 above. It’s a bit more elegant than Seaside’s Jungle Pool and there are whirlpool tubs on the upper deck cantilevered to overhang the lower level, which is pretty cool looking. There are plenty of loungers and a nice bar in this area on the lower level, with table tennis, foosball, and tables and chairs overlooking the pool from the upper level.

The Horizon Pool at the aft end of the ship on deck 16 is a small, square pool that has an amphitheater in front of it and transforms into a dance area at night.  This one does have one of the “weird lady” statues similar to those at Seaside’s South Beach pool.

horizon pool

There are additional hot tubs on deck 15 in the Solarium and near the walking track.

On deck 19 aft, you’ll find the AquaPark waterworks, which has a kids’ area with a splash pool and spray guns. For older kids and adults, there are three water slides, the most interesting of which is the Champagne Glass where you go around and around an open glass-shaped space.  Not my thing, but it looked as if those who were so inclined were having a good time.

meraviglia water park

Other outdoor activities

Near the water park is the ropes course, for those who wish to test their sure-footedness. Since it doesn’t involve getting wet (unless you’re very unlucky), I wouldn’t have minded trying it out but simply never got around to it. Three days isn’t enough time to do everything you want on a ship this big, even when you never get off at ports.

meraviglia top 19There is also a sports complex that has tennis, basketball, and volleyball in the daytime. It becomes a disco at night.

The Top 19 sun deck is for Aurea passengers. It doesn’t have a full pool like the Yacht Club area, but does have a long narrow sort of lap pool at the front.  I only passed through and didn’t take time to thoroughly examine this area. I know Top 19 on Seaside has a bar but am unsure of whether this one did.

One major plus in comparison to Seaside, for me, is that Meraviglia does have a walking/jogging track. This is on deck 16 mid-ship to aft and provides a way to walk all the way around from one side of the ship, across the back, and back up to the front of the mid-ship section. It does not go around the front of the ship – Yacht Club occupies the forward one-third of this deck.

In Part Two, I’ll go into detail about the food, the theater and specialty restaurants, the shows and parties and the other activities on board. Stay tuned for more.

NOTE: I’ve never had a bad cruise on MSC, but this one was extraordinary.  It set the bar high, and I know that I can’t expect this level of amazing service on every future cruise. I also caution readers to realize that if you cruise in Yacht Club, don’t expect to get everything I’ve described it. I didn’t, on any other YC cruise. That doesn’t take away at all from the quality of those other cruises. Every experience is unique and I enjoy each one, savor the best parts, and don’t dwell on the parts that aren’t as good. 

I’m not so naïve as to think I would have been treated exactly the same way if crew and staff weren’t familiar with my name and face from my blogs and social media. I don’t think it’s just because TAs, travel writers, etc. can influence others’ decisions to cruise with them, though. I think a lot of it is that there is a natural inclination to cater more to people you feel you “know” in some way — i.e. people in the travel industry feel like “family” and people whom they’ve seen and gotten to know through the online forums feel like “old friends.”

Anyone can get out there in the social media groups, become a regular poster, and make yourself familiar to the MSC personnel who read those group postings. 

About debshinder

Technology analyst and author, specializing in enterprise security. Author of or contributor to over 25 books, including "Scene of the Cybercrime." Fourteen-year Microsoft MVP, married to Microsoft FTE Tom Shinder, and proud mom of two wonderful grown-up human children and three amazing Japanese Chin pups. In my spare time, I love to travel - especially on cruise ships - and write about my grand adventures.
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