reviews, travel

Final Review: MSC Grandiosa Mediterranean Cruise

We started this early in the process (though we added throughout the cruise) in hopes it would free us up to be less complainy in the day-to-day posts.

So. Yeah.

On our first full day on board, we had gone to the show. You know, the one that was included but we needed to reserve seats for it (there’s no popping in to check things out and see if you’re interested, on this ship) because monstrosity?

They started the show 4 minutes early. Which would not be bad in itself, but not everyone had arrived and was seated. They continued to let people in after it started, but they didn’t make any efforts to organize getting people to seats.

Although the singers were very talented, the show is operatic… I had no idea what was supposed to be happening after the first few minutes because there were 100 interruptions while people in our view tried to find a seat. In fact there were so many interruptions for this reason that I didn’t even realize that the show was already underway, at first. So I literally missed at least one whole act, at the start.

Poorly managed.

Eventually S and I skipped out. I was not even the one who suggested it. For some lucky pair, that meant they finally got a seat. (Because that was still going on.)

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We went to the chocolate cafe. It’s listed as one of the bars and lounges, not specialty dining. Only specialty dining isn’t supposed to be on our plan. It’s ‘apparently’ the only bar or lounge where our drink packages were no good.

Delicious, but unnecessarily spendy. Also I doubted later that my decaf had been decaf. (There is no decaf at the coffee bar in the buffet, either. That requires bar service.)

The bar that does have coffee and chocolate specialties on our plan? Is on the central drag. It’s always full, crowded and loud.

As is literally everywhere other than our cabin.

This is what happens when you’re on the 7th largest ship with the 2nd largest capacity.

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Filed under food: the buffet is excellent. One of the best we’ve seen on a cruise.

The selections in the formal dining rooms by comparison are … meh. Nothing that I have there is memorable in a positive way. Not that it’s bad. Just … meh. Not a lot of selection, not a strong set of always-available options, not impressive.

But we do love Mark, our server “helper” who seems to do all the running around on our behalf. We can’t say enough nice things about him.

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Our cabin steward lets us know that the reason he didn’t refill the tissue slot in the bathroom as we requested is (something like)… MSC doesn’t provide tissues to the passenger cabins.

(Actually he says they “no longer” provide them. There’s a built in slot for tissues in the bathroom. The ship has been in operation for less than 3 months).

S actually wonders if he means they didn’t onboard any, and they are out of them. We make a full loop and tissues never appear.

We learn later that the balconies have tissues, when we meet a couple on one of our tours (who incidentally paid $100 less pp on their balcony than we got for our inside cabin, and we thought we were getting a deal).

So it’s just that we can’t get tissues. In our cabin.

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They also don’t provide top sheets on the beds (very European, and FYI very hard to regulate temps if you tend to run warm, without a sheet). This can be resolved though, on request. (Our cabin steward may be confused by the request but he complies. We think he’s wonderful BTW. We will miss him and the way he makes everything seem to just get done, like Magic, when we get home.)

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They don’t provide washcloths. (That is not a thing on MSC. Pack your own if that matters to you.)

There are no vents/fans in the bathrooms. Not sure why they now have ventilation to the rooms (thank God because we were dying last year on the older ship with no thermostat) but they didn’t think of this.

Or, as I mentioned on move in day — no closet space nor hangers for more than 1 person (or more than a couple of days).

It’s good that I’m low maintenance as far as fashion goes, or I’d have been ticked to have to drape multiple shirts over each hanger, rather than be able to hang each one up as planned.

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Oh, and the Fantastica experience that included 12 drink vouchers per person when we signed up for it (not that they confirmed that part to us in writing of course) — that doesn’t exist anymore. They discontinued it sometime in the 11 months between our booking and our sailing. Without a word, just changed, poof. Now it’s a waived fee for room service and a single photo by the pro photographers.

Not one per person, either. ONE. Which must be an at-dinner photo. What the heck is that??

(PS: take a screen shot of anything they tell you online is included at the time you book, because they may have changed it by the time you board. And you’ll have no proof of that.)

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They have this app to find what’s going on (and it’s an app which is a half-step up from Princess’ onboard site offering). It sends notifications, which is great – that was a gap we felt in Asia.

But not everything is on the app and there’s no way to add a custom item if we have something on our schedule that’s not listed on the app. (We took the behind the scenes tour, and there was no way to add that to our schedule to be reminded of it. Had we made an alternative dinner plan with friends, that also would not have been something we could add. But then… well, I’ll come back to that thought later. Suffice to say you can’t add things to the schedule yourself.)

Also re: the app… despite attending the mandatory safety briefing on day one, we continue to get notified by the app to attend all of them. Um, no. We were checked in as attending. Why can’t it stop notifying us about these once one has been attended!? It knows every other dang thing we do on board!

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Breakfast one day includes yogurts with 2019 dates. Check your calendar – it is decidedly not 2019 anymore.

Also apparently “coffee” is a fruit yogurt flavor. Luckily I eat coffee yogurt and S will eat plain, so we could switch on the literally half the days that they sent coffee yogurt to fulfill her fruit yogurt request. (Yeah we room serviced breakfast almost every day after we learned of the Fantastico change.)

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All the champagne sales events and Effy giveaways we are used to on cruises? None. Not that we are big jewelry people. But we notice their absence. We suspect they are not having these drawings and champagne / mimosa sales events because they are giving nothing away.

Even the wine tasting event that runs 5 or 10 dollars on another line is 100-170 euros here. I don’t drink 100-dollar bottles of wine – why would I ever pay that for a tasting?

(What the heck could that wine tasting experience even consist of, to warrant that price??? It must be something (right?), but they don’t say. It’s just a sign with prices. Seriously??)

That everything feels like an upcharge is not our imagination. On one of our excursions, other travelers who have cruised before note the same thing. All the activities we aren’t doing – bowling, VR Maze, there’s a water slide on the upper deck. That passenger informs us, you can’t just go anyway. You have to buy the pass for it. And then you have to schedule it, because there’s still 4000 passengers (though of course not all 4000 are buying that pass).

It’s not just one or two “add on” experiences that cost extra — everything feels like it costs extra.

And that’s all they push, all the time.

First time cruisers didn’t realize it isn’t normally like this on other cruises. They just know they don’t like it.

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And in that vein…

What is this €1 charge on my bill? Oh, that’s our charity. Blank stare. Blink blink. No explanation of what the charity is.

Folks let’s just review terminology for a moment, shall we? A charity is voluntary; something we offer or are asked to give to, not something someone just takes. If someone just takes it, it’s not a charity, it’s a fee. Or a mugging.

I know it’s just 1 euro, but refund it.

They do, on request.

How many people just eat that cost because they can’t be bothered to stand in the (always slow, always long) line over it? If I hadn’t had another issue at the time, I probably wouldn’t have bothered either.

But there’s over 4000 passengers on board. At an unvolunteered euro a piece, every cruise… that racks up!

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The only semi-quiet public space is the Champagne Bar. It’s quieter because they only serve champagne. (Point of comparison: when ND wanted to drink something they only served at one bar on our last night on the Sapphire Princess, they sent a server over and rang it from that bar, and brought it to him where we were.)

That kind of service is not found here. Even though we do buy a drink, S can’t also get a cup of tea from them because champagne only (except that I need to stretch my legs and don’t mind running up to 15 to get one for her).

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I don’t mind taking stairs by any means. Running up or down more than a couple of floors gets old though. More than once I walk up to 15 (apparently 17 rather than 13 is the unlucky skipped number here – things you learn along the way), because although there are 6 sets of elevators in each bank, we never see more than 2 actually responding to calls at any one time.

Sometimes not even that many. You may recall that one of our excursions got back late, and when we got back on board on level 4 forward, we eventually realized they had turned off all elevator calls to that bank period. We walked up and over — but we are more mobile than some.

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Even without the little frustrations … There is just so much nothing to do on this ship. If you are not buying the passes for the activities (which to be fair we have no idea what else is up there) – bowling and VR Maze get promoted, and from port we can see the water slide on the top deck (though we never see anyone using it) — and you’re not a Yacht Club member with the private deck — it’s boring.

Everything that does get scheduled, happens on the promenade, so that’s always loud and crowded. Everything else is a sales event or offered at an up charge.

Or there’s the buffet. It is included. And as I said, the buffet is excellent. But c’mon, I know there’s a standing joke about cruisers and buffets, but we are NOT going to eat 24/7.

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We are going to famous and fascinating places every day.

Yet there’s no educational or port introduction sessions offered. Not even watchable on the in-cabin TV.

Which says it has video on-demand, but that can’t be accessed.

Just as well. I’m sure there’s an extra charge for it, anyway.

If they could figure out how to charge us extra for air, they would be doing it.

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This occurs to me at our first dinner seating, and then again once I’m home. I would never have had a group of found-friends (as I did in Asia) on the MSC Grandiosa. There are no larger dinner tables for unassigned groups of people – tables are mostly small, and sized to fit your party. S and I are at a table for 2. (We’re friends, and we are perfectly ok with meeting other people when we travel. That’s kind of part of the fun.) The night she isn’t up to eating, therefore, I sit alone. At my assigned table.

There are no singles-solos events to meet others if you’re on your own. There are bars, but all narrow and on the main drag. No meeting spaces, no quiet spaces. No real opportunities that we encounter to make new friends.

Maybe the experience is very different up on the active decks 16 and above, with the passes needed. (We never find out what it costs. Maybe it’s not that spendy and well worth it. We wouldn’t know. We didn’t want to go bowling, were not up early enough (or were on excursions) to join an AM exercise class, nor looking to do the VR maze (the only 3 things promoted up there) and it was cold on the outside decks because winter so we didn’t venture up or out.

We mostly see families with kids headed up there. (Makes sense – that’s the only place there’s anything kids will like other than the outdoor pool on 15, and if you paid for it you’re going to try to get the most of it.)

So I can’t judge if there’s good family-friendly activities going on @ upper decks. Or even if there are good solo-friendly activities up there.

Those upper decks weren’t on the behind the scenes tour even, for us to see what’s what.

I can say, I would have been really at loose ends had I been traveling solo on the Grandiosa.

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Summary: The ship may be ginormous, and well appointed… but MSC is not currently providing a first class experience on board.

I enjoyed the trip because I was seeing cool places with a good friend. But I’m underwhelmed by the MSC Grandiosa offering.

We both agreed: if they had pulled up the older, smaller ship we were on in January 2019 and let us switch over, we would have in a heartbeat.

Or give me Princess, thanks.

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In the interest of fairness though – the bathroom is better laid out on the Grandiosa (lack of tissues notwithstanding)

Tissue slot. No tissues available.
A shower I can wash my hair in and (at least from one angle) NOT bang my elbows into the walls. (PS I am not a giant so that shouldn’t be such a big deal.)
Smart. Full wide drain (does not easily clog) and a foot rest. In case someone in your party wants to wash their feet or shave their legs. Nice touch! Take note Princess. This is one thing MSC got right and you didn’t.

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