My wife and I scheduled a cruise in December of 2016. Our previous experience with cruises were quite different, in that they, unlike MSC, apparently did concern themselves with customer satisfaction.
It began with an absolute disaster of an embarkation process. Rather than assigning arrivals to group boarding, thus enabling them to remain seated and comfortable in the interim, MSC opted for the cutthroat approach; everyone gets in line and stays there. We arrived at 11:30 and did not actually make it onto the ship until after 5 PM. Additionally, we were told that the reason the boarding process was so long, was an extreme vetting routine performed by the Customs for all egressing passengers. That was a lie. We spoke to departing passengers who mentioned nothing of this at all but instead regaled us with tales of disoriented and uncoordinated egress routines from the line – which, as we discovered, is absolutely the truth.
When we finally did board, we eventually found our room despite the incorrect information on the provided maps. My guess is, the Divina was retrofitted, and they never bothered to update the paper maps. That fact speaks volumes for this cruise line.
We reached the room to find out luggage had not yet made it. Odd, considering in less time on other lines, our bags were waiting for us and the room steward paraded the halls introducing himself and memorizing customer names. On the Divina, the bags were missing, no steward to be found. We finally did meet ours, though only saw her once. I didn’t bother to mention since it was days later, that upon our arrival the bathroom was dingy, and there were hairs in the sink.
We had not eaten since breakfast, so we sought something sate ourselves. The buffet (an accurate term if one is merely describing a function that presents copious quantities of food-like substances) was open, so we placed a few items onto plates and looked for a beverage station. The coffee bar was open (or so we thought), and my wife merely asked where one might get a beverage. The attendant rolled his eyes and appeared impatient that his reverie was disturbed. We were astounded and disgusted by this person’s lack of even the most basic of manners and discarded our food trays, having now lost our appetite. Rest assured, she nor I, are prima donnas, expecting the employees to act as servants to our every whim, but likewise, we don’t expect rude behavior as a response to a simple query when a simple direction would have sufficed. It is interesting to note that on a different occasion, my wife wanted a real coffee (the free stuff at the buffet is watery nonsense) and was willing to pay. She requested a cappuccino and with another disgusted look by the barista and a dismissive wave of the hand, he informed here the ‘free coffee is over there.'
My wife is a smoker (vapor, to be fair) and after the stresses of the day thus far, needed a release. Following the false map once again led us to an area that at one time allowed smoking, but no longer did. Her inquiries to bartenders and wait staff alike again resulted in rude, curt, and abrupt responses, also with no direction, but merely resolution that ‘this was not the area, go somewhere else.'
About that time, a garbled announcement started all passengers were required to obtain the life vest from their cabins and attend the safety meeting. We had experienced this previously on other lines, as a coordinated effort, broken out into small manageable groups, each that would be assigned a lifeboat. The address in these previous trips had been clear, short, and to the point. Not so with MSC. A large group formed in one of the wrap-around dining areas. Where we sat, we could neither see nor hear the briefing. We sat immobilized, unsure of what to do when some folks started to try on their life jackets. Most just sat there and waited. No one heard or understood what was being said, if anything, but we did waste 45 minutes doing it. At some point, people just started to filter out. The comforting thing was, we realized after the fact we could have merely checked in with our key card and walked away.
We decided to consider the cigar room, as I am an avid cigar enthusiast. I noticed several things about this so called “well appointed” cigar lounge; it was not a lounge, at least not until a certain time, it was remarkably warm (as was the entire ship – which makes for ‘fun’ formal nights), and there lacked any smoke removal process within that small area. During my week-long detainment in this gulag of a ship, I noticed that by the time the bar opened (around 5:30) the smoke was so thick, most people could not breathe in there, and your clothes reeked of stale cigar smoke and sweat. Side note, Alex the bartender and his sole waitress were the singular high points of the entire trip
Our first dinner in the dining room. I was anticipating this, as previous cruises meant wonderful vistas (ocean through the windows), clean and appropriately defined tables, excellent food, and superior customer service. I still recall the head waiter’s name and his three kids from our first cruise; he left such a good impression. “Jeff” on this cruise left an impression as well, but not a positive one. The food was disgusting. Ossobuco that was 95% bone, 4% fat, and 1% edible. I had one and a half bites. Alfredo that was overcooked pasta and a teaspoon of some sauce that was not Alfredo. I have pictures. The table ‘decoration’ was a single, decrepit, and fake orchid that was stained with the food particulate from previous guests. It epitomized our trip.
For an additional fee, they will feed you edible food; how comforting. We never saw the maître d; I guess he or she doesn’t visit second seating. Other in first seating saw him and told him of the same woes. They were given coupons for the Eataly restaurant and found it to be devoid of value and were glad they didn’t pay. Not only was most of the food inedible, the portion sizes were ridiculously small. Even the ladies at our table were asking for second appetizers, only to be met with consternation and disapproval from the waiter. Oh, no views either, and it was hot as hades in there.
As for “Jeff” the waiter. Our first night, we had no idea you only get water or bad coffee with dinner, so my wife asked for iced tea. The waiter rolled his eyes (a common theme) put his hand in my wife’s face, and said “you’ll just have to wait a minute” and walked away without taking our order. I leaped from my chair asking if there was a problem, as I didn’t appreciate his putting his hand in my wife’s face. He said there was no problem, and walked off. No matter what we or the other diners at our table asked for if it was out of the ordinary in Jeff’s mind, it was a clear problem.
At the coffee/gelato bar near the cigar room, I attempted to garner my cup of cappuccino, as noted previously, no one ever serviced the cigar lounge and the bar was closed all day. I was at first ignored by the barista, then pointed toward the waitress also just standing there at the counter, who reluctantly helped me by repeating what I had just ordered (as though the barista did not comprehend it – yes she also spoke English).
Our first night, the door which separates the balconies from the rooms (which I assume opens in the base of multi-room suites for families) was not secured and banged all night. I attempted to call the service desk, several times, with no response. The next morning, after getting no sleep because of it, I went to the desk, explained the problem, and they informed me someone would fix it. No apologies, no empathy, just a conditional response.
We met many others, in fact, everyone we spoke to across the internment agreed to the horrible conditions of this ship and the poor customer service. We honestly considered leaving the ship and flying home at the first port. Departure day came, much to our excitement, only to find we were forced to evacuate our rooms by 7 AM, but not allowed to leave the ship until after 10:30 AM. The only offer of advice during the entire trip from the staff was to “not evaluate the whole ship based upon single episodes (plural) of disappointment”. That indicates they are aware of the malaise on the part of the crew and the impact to customers, and yet, still do not care.
I sent a typed letter to several key individuals at MSC, including the CEO and to the parent company’s CEO Diego Aponte in Geneva. The lackadaisical response is one I should have anticipated, given the state of their employees. I clearly stated each of my concerns, and in every circumstance, I was offered false condolences followed by pathetic excuses. In fact, the Mr. Richard Sasso, chairman of MSC Cruises immediately negated my entire argument right from the start by stating that he receives many complimentary letters; an indication that I must be somehow responsible, or overly sensitive. Most of my comments were ignored and presented with some canned response that does not even remotely address my concerns, and the entire letter is dismissive – so much like their staff.
In the end, he offered me a $200 per person cruise credit, should I opt to try them again. As I explained, I would not take another cruise if they gave me one. I am less concerned with the wasted money (but I would have accepted a partial refund in principle) as I am with the wasted time. That was the most significant loss and not something that is replaceable.
I would avoid MSC altogether unless you thrive on constant disappointment.