As veteran cruisers, it’s always exciting to experience a new ship, and a new brand, for the first time. So Pam and I were looking forward to our first voyage on MSC, taking MSC Seaside from the Port of Miami.
MSC, well-established in Europe and South America, is looking to capture the American market with big, shiny new ships like Seaside, the first in its Seaside Class, which launched in late 2017. Sister ship Seaview debuted in 2018, with two more planned for 2021 and 2023. The company also showcased a new, state-of-the-art terminal coming to Port Miami at SeaTrade last month.
Our seven-night cruise will take us to Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, Nassau and back to Miami. We opted to go the port from our home in the Palm Beaches via Brightline (now known as Virgin Trains in partnership with Richard Branson’s Virgin brand), the private intercity rail line serving West Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. For us, it eliminates the stress of driving on I95 and parking at the port. Rumor has it they are working on extending the train directly to the port. Sign us up for that!
Experience has taught us to arrive later in the day for boarding. That way, you avoid the crush of the early arrivals who want to be the first to grab a seat by the pool and get in line for food, as well as the thousands departing the last cruise. Since Seaside accommodates 5,100 guests and almost 1,500 crew, that’s a lot of people coming and going.
So by waiting, getting on was relatively smooth. One thing different from other cruises we’ve taken — they didn’t register our credit card when we checked in. You have to do that yourself at the Service Desk or using one of self-serve kiosks around the ship. More on that later.
After spending a week on Seaside, here are some takeaways and observations:
- THE DECOR. When it comes to design, no one does it quite like the Italians. Seaside is indeed a beautiful ship. Sleek and modern, with muted tones of maroons and neutral colors, it carries an understated elegance throughout its 20 decks. The centerpiece atrium is the ship’s beating heart, featuring a wraparound bar and multi-story screens displaying ever-changing, bold visuals.
- OUR STATEROOM. We had a Bella-class balcony room, the basic-level accommodation. You can choose to upgrade, which includes various perks, but the room configuration is much the same. While we found the living space adequate, we quickly discovered the closet and storage space quite inadequate. There were only two drawers and the closet doors were awkward to operate in a tight space. You are pretty much relegated to either piling clothes around the room or leaving them in the suitcase. We heard other guests weren’t happy about it, either. On the plus side, this was one of the quietest rooms we’ve had. Very little noise from the adjoining rooms or the hallway. Many will find the shower a tight fit, and housekeeping was a little stingy with the linens — we had to request washcloths on a few occasions.
- THE FOOD. Prior to the cruise, we requested late dining. We discovered after we got on they assigned us early dining — 5:15, which for us is a late lunch. They were thankfully able to switch us to 7:30 starting day two, and moved us from the main Ipanema Restaurant on Deck 6 to the Seashore Restaurant, on Deck 5. While some of the meals were good, most of the food we had throughout the cruise was average at best. That included the one specialty restaurant we tried — the Asian Market Kitchen by Roy Yamaguchi. The crab cake was excellent but the braised ribs not so much. We did appreciate the specialty restaurants offer the option of a fixed price menu or ordering a la carte. We enjoyed the two buffet areas — the Marketplace Buffet on Deck 8 and the Biscayne Bay buffet on Deck 16. Lots of options, including ethnic food, pizza, deli sandwiches and delicious desserts. Plus you could snag a table outdoors and enjoy a beautiful ocean sunset. SIDENOTE: They aggressively push their specialty restaurant and drink packages, almost until it was time to disembark.
- Along with he comedy shows and individual music acts around the ship, there’s a different show every night in the Metropolitan Theater, spanning Decks 6 and 7 (although it doesn’t have a balcony). While each show has a different theme, they feature the same mix of singing, dancing and acrobatics — a little like Cirque du Soleil meets Broadway. But how many ships feature an opera? On Seaside, you can experience “Madame Butterfly.” The most popular show is the Michael Jackson tribute, which was sold out, or more accurately, “reserved out.” While the shows are included, you need to reserve your seat, which you can do at one of the many touch-screen kiosks around the ship. I reserved seats for myself and Pam, but be aware each person’s sea card is scanned when you enter the theater, so make sure you both have your cards with you. That wasn’t clear and the attendant was a little rude about it.
- THE TECHNOLOGY. Speaking of kiosks, the aforementioned stations where you register your credit card were a little hard to find. I couldn’t locate them on the main kiosk menus and happened to see one near the Service Desk. Give us a little help on this one, MSC. But other than that, the on-screen guides are great, especially pared with the smartphone app, “MSC for Me.” You can check your personal schedule and see how much you’ve spent so far, if you dare. The app works with the ship’s WiFi even if you don’t buy the Internet package. There are helpful digital message boards in the elevators and each room has color-coded lights that indicate “Do Not Disturb” or “Make Up the Room.”
- When it comes to places to soak up some fun and sun, this ship is just the ticket. From the lower decks to the pool areas, Seaside has devoted acres of real estate to lounge chairs that beg for a good book and a good beverage. We found a less-crowded refuge around the Jungle Pool on Deck 18, adjacent to the Forest Aquaventure Park, which kids will absolutely love. This area is also your gateway to the giant water slides (yes, I took the plunge) and the longest zip line at sea (no, I chickened out). There’s a basketball court as well, where I swished a few (Pam has the video evidence).
- BARS AND LOUNGES. If you get thirsty, a bar is never far away, wherever you are. Pam’s favorite was The Champagne Bar on Deck 7, where they knew about and served one of her favorites: Cava, the Spanish bubbly (when she tried to order one at the Seashore, she got a blank stare). If you’re looking for a place to sip and enjoy, try the seating areas along the windows on Decks 6 and 7. Those curved couches are divine.
- Seaside boasts some fancy, upscale and duty-free shops. But Pam was waiting for the $10 sale. So apparently were lots of others. When they announced the “$10 Flash Sale,” a herd descended and the line to buy soon stretched out of sight (That’s what Pam said — I was sipping a beverage and watching the waves go by). She endured the jostling only to find the attendants were having to hand-write receipts. But she loved what she got.
- THE AUREA SPA. Located on Deck 8, this is where you go for the ultimate relaxation therapy. There are hot rooms, there are cold rooms, there are multi-head shower rooms with water that changes color, as well as heated loungers and private cabanas. Check your stress at the door. For those who relax lifting weights, the ship also boasts a state-of-the-art gym.
- THE SERVICE. We were told not to expect the bubbly, gushy treatment you get on some ships — that’s apparently not the European way. But while the staff was definitely more reserved, they were for the most part very professional and courteous. The head waiters at the Seashore frequently checked on us, and our stateroom attendant was pleasant and responsive to our needs. We were somewhat surprised that in the restaurants, the waiter would often take my order before Pam’s. Clearly a need for more training.
- ALSO OF NOTE: Without a doubt, Seaside provided the smoothest sailing experience we’ve had. Whether it was the nice weather or calm seas, we never felt any motion at all … The traditional White Party held poolside was a blast. The music was great and the Seaside staff know how to get down for sure … Pam qualified for the MasterChef at Sea competition and competed with a partner against two other couples on stage. Unfortunately, she was “chopped.” … This ship holds down the daily announcements, which is both good and bad. We were surprised to open our curtains and find our balcony being cleaned. That could have been embarrassing! … There was quite a security bottleneck for guests returning from Old San Juan. Can that be streamlined? … Our cruise included guests and crew from 115 different countries. It was truly a cultural melting pot. … We were able to breeze through Customs thanks to the new facial recognition biometrics system. Instead of showing a passport all you do is stare into a lens. Cool, but a little scary, too.
- IN CLOSING: A cruise, like any travel experience, is mostly what you make it. As MSC first-timers, we had a great time. Yes, the food could be better, and we would really appreciate more closet space, but we loved the ports of call and overall had one of our most fun and relaxing cruises. MSC, we’ll be back.
Story and photos courtesy of Gerry Barker