In April 2019 I hosted my first Cruising With Tom group cruise aboard MSC’s Meraviglia. Our group comprised of fourteen people from across the UK, some who had cruised before but most were entirely new to cruising.
The ship and the cruise managed to both wow and disappoint us in more than a few ways. So pour yourself another Bellini and come join us aboard MSC Meraviglia.
Our short, two night – three day, cruise embarked in Rome (Civitavecchia), sailed overnight to Ajaccio (Corsica) and then onto Genoa.
Because this was a ‘new to cruising’ group cruise I wanted to give the group a taster of cruising without throwing them in the deep end on a week long cruise if it turned out it wasn’t their cup of tea.
When we booked the cruise in December 2018 (five months before sailing), it was £89 per person for an interior stateroom, on the basic ‘Bella’ package.
Note: With this cruise only being two nights long there are many venues we didn’t get a chance to try – so this review is only reflective of what we could try in our two nights.
Getting to the port of Civitavecchia
Because there were fourteen of us, from across the UK, getting to the port at the same time was always going to be a challenge.
Seven of us flew from Gatwick to Rome FCO, four flew from Stansted to Rome CIA, One flew from Heathrow to Rome FCO, and two had made their way to Rome ahead of time.
Those of us who flew in that morning booked a taxi/minibus to take us directly to the ship – this worked out a similar price to public transport and saved nearly 90 minutes. We made it alongside the ship at 16:00.
Embarking in Rome Civitavecchia
We were at the port, on the pier, alongside the towering and gleaming MSC Meraviglia. Things were getting exciting, I could see the grins on my group’s faces – surely I could relax now? Unfortunately a chaotic and unprofessional boarding process put a stop to that.
We arrived ship-side at 16:00, and told the porters we were travelling with hand luggage only for our two night cruise. We were directed into one part of the terminal where there was no queue – just a mass of people. We waited 10 minutes or so when we were given a boarding number – and then directed to another part of the terminal.
We walked to the other part of the terminal and joined a massive check in queue. There were hundreds of people and out of twenty available desks only two were manned, there were plenty of staff but they seemed to be playing on their phones and eating from the buffet.
It took an hour to get to the front of the queue, still just two people serving, where we were told off for “missing” the 16:45 emergency drill and that we’d need to go to the 18:30 drill instead (more on that later). We got given our ship cards, put away our paperwork, and headed for the ship at 17:10.
At the bottom of the gangway up to the ship we showed our ship cards, but we were asked for paper tickets and passports again – we faffed around and got them out of our bags showed them and walked up the gang.
We got to the top of the gang way where they scanned our ship cards and asked for our paper tickets and passports again. There they told us we could relax and put our documents away.
As we stepped into the main atrium we were greeted by staff with tablets who needed to take our photos for our onboard accounts. They asked for our paper tickets AGAIN. This was too much for some of our group who became quite irate at this point.
The whole process was a slow, overcomplicated, unpleasant, and at times a rude, mess. A world away from embarking with any other cruise line I’ve used, where there are dozens of check in agents, you show your documents once and that’s that.
I actually had to make a point of apologising to my group members. But finally we were onboard at 17:30.
First impressions of MSC Meraviglia
The Meraviglia, which means ‘wonder’ in Italian in case you were…. wondering… is the biggest ship I’ve stepped foot on to date.
She’s was the first in the Meraviglia class of ships launching in June 2017, and joined this year by her sister Bellissima.
Weighing in at an impressive 171,598 gross tonnes, 315 metres long and 19 decks high. She can accommodate 4,500 passengers conveying them between destinations at 22 knots.
The initial feeling we had when we walked around Meraviglia was simply ‘wow’ – everything here was designed to impress.
The public spaces are designed to maximise the feeling of space which somehow also being filled with the coolest furniture and generally over-the-top bling you could image. Very Italian.
Images from around the ship – click to enlarge
As mentioned earlier on in the review we opted for an interior ‘Bella’ stateroom, priced at £89 per person for the two nights.
Our stateroom was 11259 on Deck 11, right towards the aft of the ship. It was a bit of walk to the main elevators but on the plus side it was a really quiet location.
We were pleasantly surprised at the size and layout of the interior staterooms. There was a lot more floor space than any other interior stateroom I’ve ever been in, and continuing the Meraviglia theme it was incredibly well appointed and stylish.
I had requested that our two beds be put together as a double when I booked, but they were still set as twins when we arrived but our stateroom attendant quickly fixed this. My partner and I are both tall gents and found the bed large enough and very comfortable.
Our group were also greeted by a bottle of sparkling wine and a fruit platter in their rooms – thanks to Antoni Paradiso for this kind gesture.
There was plenty of storage with lots of drawer space, a large wardrobe (filled with hangers), safe and bedside table/cubbies. Even the desk was cleverly designed so that the stool completely disappeared under the desk or could function as a small table. Next to this was the mini-bar but we didn’t make use of this.
Storage & Desk Space – Cabin 11259 aboard MSC Meraviglia (click to enlarge)
In room power options are two EU (220v) sockets, two US (110v) sockets and 1 USB socket – all located at the desk/dresser. You’ll also find the hairdryer in the desk drawer. Members of my group noted that they would have liked to have seen tea & coffee making facilities in their rooms.
The bathroom also impressed us. It was well thought out and spacious even for a modern cruise ship. We were pleased to see a glass shower door rather than the flailing-curtain-affair on other ships, along with well thought out storage and excellent lighting.
We did notice a certain amount of vibration in this cabin but only when manoeuvring into/out of port, and certainly nothing to be concerned about.
Bars, Lounges and Beverage Packages
The number of bars and lounges onboard MSC Meraviglia is crazy, you can’t walk 30 seconds without finding another watering hole, one that’s completely different from the one you just left. At final count I think we found twenty bars.
You might ask why you need that many bars on one ship, but with 4,500 passengers to keep hydrated you need to spread them around and it worked really well with no single bar feeling overcrowded.
Amongst our favourite bars onboard were The Champagne Bar where we enjoyed trying a few different champagnes and knocked back some oysters, The Edge Cocktail Bar for a pre-dinner martini and The Bamboo Bar at the Bamboo Pool for a mojito poolside under the glass dome.
Our stand out bar for the entire cruise has to be The Sky Bar, this adults only bar on Deck 18 is wrapped 270 degrees in glass and overlooks the main pool deck. We had some outstanding sunsets up here whilst enjoying a glass of Prosecco or a cheeky Mai Tai.
We did notice on a couple of occasions noisy young kids being allowed in The Sky Bar and this wasn’t policed by the bar staff which was disappointing.
Before the cruise we all opted for one of the beverage packages offered by MSC, some of us alcoholic packages and some non-alcoholic packages. I tend to find having a drinks package stops you worrying about checking your account every few hours to see if you’re “on budget” and lets you relax into your holiday more.
Our drinks packages were not without issue however.
The two alcoholic drinks packages ‘Easy’ and ‘Premium’ entitle you to unlimited drinks up to the price of €6 and €10 per drink respectively. These tiered drinks packages are pretty common on cruise ships, not everyone wants to pay for access to top shelf spirits and is happy with beer and wine.
But we found out very early on that almost all of the cocktails were priced €6.50 and above, and where every other cruise line charges you €0.50 difference MSC charge you the full €6.50. The same applied to those of us on the ‘Premium’ package, many of the premium cocktails cost €10.50 so we simply had to avoid those. We weren’t impressed.
Will & Craig had pre-booked the ‘Easy’ alcohol package ahead of the cruise, but as many of the cocktails were priced €6.50 and above they decided to upgrade to the ‘Premium package’.
When I took them to guest services however it transpired that the ‘Easy’ package hadn’t been applied to the account and that they were being charged for drinks, despite providing proof of purchase to the guest services officer they said they were “unable” to apply the drinks package, and that they’d need to contact guest services after the cruise for a refund on the package and the drinks they’ve had to pay for. It really felt like we were being nickle and dimed the whole time.
That aside, the folks behind the bars and providing service were really top notch however, there was nothing too much for them – and the effort really was appreciated when you’re trying to organise large groups of people on vacation.
We had one minor incident with a bar tender, called Grace, at the Bamboo Pool Bar. At 10am two of us went up to get a mimosa and she gave us a disapproving face, sighed and asked “wouldn’t it be better to have a juice?“. Now, I know not everyone approves of drinking – but if that’s your belief working as a bar tender on a cruise ship is an odd vocation.
A special shout out to Julia, one of the Bamboo pool waiters who kept us topped up with Tiki Mules and laughs on our second day.
And another special shout out to this Casino bartender who made up this cocktail on the spot when we asked for the cocktail on front of the Casino drinks menu. Apparently the image was a stock photo – really MSC?
The result was a sugary overload but he really out did himself. Many thanks to him for his ingenuity.
As we were only onboard for two nights we stuck to the complimentary restaurants, but between 14 of us we had plenty to chat about and compare.
Breakfast photos in Waves aboard Meraviglia – click to enlarge
We ate our breakfasts both days in the Waves restaurant on Deck 5. Here breakfast is served a la carte at your table.
Both days I had the Eggs Benedict with a side of crispy bacon, a brewed coffee, and an orange juice. On the second day I also added chocolate waffles – because why not?
Service was swift, attentive and polite. Although on the second day the kitchen seemed to forget those of us in the group who’d ordered waffles. This meant a considerable delay whilst they were made & delivered, with some people’s breakfasts arriving after everyone else had already finished.
We only had one lunch time aboard Meraviglia due to the two night sailing and the late time we embarked the previous day.
We all took this opportunity to head to the Marketplace Buffet on Deck 15.
The buffet area is large, light and spacious with the layout clearly well considered for the number of passengers onboard.
As you enter the buffet there are a dozen or so hand-washing stations on either side of the entrance with staff encouraging you to wash your hands.
Straight ahead is the onboard Mozzarella kitchen where they make their own Mozzarella each day. This was used liberally in the salads and on the pizzas and was excellent.
To the left you have the burger & hot dog stations, to the right the pizza station. Then a row of long counters which are identical on either side.
I came away with a half rotisserie chicken, a massive caprese salad, and some cheeky onion rings. Everything was perfectly cooked and piping hot.
Due to the size of our group, and differing tastes it wasn’t possible to get us all together for dinner but we did get most of us both nights.
We were in the Panorama restaurant on Deck 6. The staff were good enough to give us an excellent table right in the middle of the restaurant with ample room for the seven of us that were there.
The standout dish the first night was the Fritto Misto (fried seafood) starter, with the calamari and the tiger prawns being super juicy – the only thing missing was a dipping sauce of some sort.
After that I had the prime rib of beef and the lemon sorbet to finish. Both delicious, with the beef piping hot and served as I ordered.
The second night the same table had been reserved for us and we managed to get twelve of us to dinner.
I started with the Octopus carpaccio which was beautifully tender. For my main I had duck, which came served almost like a meatloaf rather than a single cut, with a delicious foie gras foam. I finished with a chocolate opera cake which rounded things off nicely.
A super special shout out to our waiter, Duanesh Chummah, from Mauritius who looked after us expertly both days. Our food was always just as we ordered, the drinks came quickly, he took great photos and cracked corny jokes. He really made our dining time into a fun experience.
Pools, Slides and Leisure Facilities
You won’t be left wanting for water on MSC’s Meraviglia. There are more pools, hot tubs and slides than you could ever want.
The main Atmosphere Pool Deck is located on Deck 15 and has two large salt water pools and several hot tubs.
Meraviglia’s ‘Atmosphere’ pool deck by night
If the view is just as important as the water for you then head to the Horizon Pool Deck up on Deck 16 aft. Horizon overlooks the wake of the ship, there’s a small plunge pool, as well as lots of loungers and day beds arranged amphitheatre style facing out to sea.
Weather not so good? Or simply want to turn up the heat? The Bamboo Pool & Bar on Deck 15 forward is where you need to be.
Here you’ll find a large heated pool, two large hot tubs, and two smaller hot tubs all arranged over two levels inside a glasshouse with tables, chairs and bar service. The upper level is wrapped in glass and gives excellent sea views whether you’re in, or out, of the hot tubs.
This stylish space is multifunctional as both a pool zone and a drinking area with the bar being open until late, unfortunately the pools & tubs close at 10pm unlike many other cruise lines.
Photos from the Bamboo Pool & Bar area on MSC Meraviglia – click to enlarge
Finally up on Deck 19 you’ve got the Polar AquaPark. This space, one of the biggest of its kind at sea, squeezes in: two waterslides, a splash zone and a high ropes walk course.
High ropes, high slides and high jinx – click to enlarge
Several of our group went up and tried the slides and although they enjoyed both the inner tube slide was by far the favourite, the normal waterslide although fun left quite unpleasant scratches on the backs of all of those who used it. Reminiscent of a 1990s UK leisure centre.
Disembarking the Meraviglia was much smoother than boarding although it didn’t go without a hitch.
We had tags for around 9am, so we left our cabins at 8am and headed to waves for breakfast. We then convened at the Edge Cocktail Bar at 9am with our bags ready to disembark.
The queue to do so however was spiralling around the atrium and down the central plaza. So we settled in at the cocktail bar, ordered a Mimosa as our cards were still active, and waited for the queue to die down. We finally disembarked about 10am, luckily none of us were in a rush to get a flight.
The MSC Meraviglia is, without a doubt, the most beautiful cruise ship I’ve ever set foot on. Every space is beautifully and thoughtfully designed and decorated, muted colours and elegant lines make for a relaxing environment.
Several members of the group remarked how clean the ship was too, we talked about how we’d not seen a single speck of dirt, a dirty plate or a dusty shelf. There were always people out cleaning – we really noticed and appreciated this.
Though she may hold 4,500 passengers the ship rarely feels “full” or “crowded” the way they’ve spread out the bars and pools means that there are few traffic jams onboard and we never saw a queue outside of embarkation & disembarkation.
MSC really are hitting the ball out of the park with ship design, decor and maintenance – top points for that.
Service & Management
This unfortunately is where the experience fell down when it came to our MSC holiday.
Embarkation was nothing short of a shoddy nightmare. Staff were disorganised and lazy. People in the queue were angry, children were crying – it was a mess. MSC’s brass need to do some cruises on Royal Caribbean, NCL, Princess etc and see how to do embarkation properly.
Guest Services were polite but ultimately unhelpful. Our friends paid £108 for a drinks package that they didn’t get, the staff were unable & unwilling to help – despite proof of purchase.
Two of us had our pool towels taken by children whilst we were in the pool. You bring your pool towels from the cabins, and are told there’s a €25 fine per towel not returned. So, soaking wet, we asked a pool attendant what to do he shrugged and went back to work. It wasn’t until we complained to an officer that towels appeared.
The penny pinching of pricing all the drinks just €0.50 out of reach of the drinks packages and then charging the full price of the drink instead of the difference – this in inexcusable. No other cruise line does this.
We had the incident with the bar tender telling us we should be drinking juice instead mimosas (this was our first drink at 10am – shoot us).
Because I’d organised a group booking for the 14 of us I had a letter in my cabin on arrival from the Entertainment Manager thanking me for the group booking and to come see him. Despite several phone calls and visits to Guest Services I never saw him, nor did he return my calls.
Remember us being told off for missing the 16:45 safety drill because we were stuck in the embarkation queue? We went to the 18:30 one, well we went at 18:00 as told over the PA system, waited until 18:30 and it took 7 minutes. The next day we got a fairly rude note under our door once again telling us off for not attending the 18:30 safety drill. This it turns out is because they didn’t bother scanning our cards at the drill – which illicited a concerned face from the officer I spoke to.
We were emailed repeatedly before the cruise to download the ‘MSC for Me’ smartphone app which would allow us to chat to each other for free over the ships WiFi – as a group organiser this sounded amazing. However once onboard we found out there was no chat function, and having talked to two Guest Services staff one said they didn’t know and the other simply shrugged.
All in all…
All of the elements are there for MSC to provide outstanding industry leading cruise holidays.
The ships are beautiful, well designed with excellent passenger flow and decor, the technology (when it works) is there, and the front line waiting, stateroom and bar staff are wonderful.
Where they fall down however is the pier-side procedures and the sheer ambivalence of senior staff and officers onboard. This really had a negative impact on my group’s first cruise. Nobody minds when things go wrong, it’s how you fix things that counts – and nobody is doing the fixing right now, they’re just shrugging and walking away.
MSC you can do better, and if you want to capture more of the UK & Northern American market you need to do better. Try spending some time embarking and speaking to desk and senior officers at other cruise lines and take that learning home.
So here we are, one week after our MSC cruise and I find myself in a weird position. I really did enjoy the holiday with my friends and I truly loved the ship but I find myself deciding that I won’t be sailing MSC again – not for a few years anyway…
If this was helpful to you consider sharing it using the buttons below. Have you sailed on Meraviglia before? What’re your thoughts on MSC? What’s your favourite cruise ship? Got a question I haven’t answered here? Feel free to leave a comment, or contact me on twitter at @CruisingWithTom or Instagram at @TomLovesCruising