MSC Seaside Review
MSC Seaside is MSC Cruises year-round cruise ship departing from Miami and their first brand new ship to start cruising exclusively from the United States. I recently sailed on the MSC Seaside on a 7 night Eastern Caribbean itinerary to Nassau, Bahamas, Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas and St. John’s, Antigua. The following is my account of the experience I had with my family and my observations and comparisons to other cruises I’ve experienced over the past 20 years.
UPDATE: June 22, 2018 – I just came back from my second cruise on MSC Seaside. This time I sailed to the Western Caribbean stopping at Ocho Rios, Jamaica, Georgetown, Grand Cayman, Cozumel, Mexico and Nassau, Bahamas. I’m happy to report that my cruise was equally as good as the first one, but I have a few updates. On this cruise we were a party of five, so we chose a two-bedroom Grand Suite #12001. The suite was incredible, with a master bedroom, separate bedroom, two full bathrooms and plenty of space and storage. The main drawback was since these rooms are located all the way forward and have a glass wind barrier atop the slanted solid hull of the ship, there is virtually no view from the balcony. Even while standing, the view down to the water was minimal. They are no longer operating the slide board water slide, instead they are using single and double rider inner tubes and repurposing the same side. Apparently, guests were getting stuck using the boards and thankfully, I can personally attest that the speed using the tubes is much faster and wilder. MSC has improved the efficiency in the dining room. Service was definitely quicker than we previously experienced and we received our dishes without large waits in between. You no longer need to bring your towel back to spa reception after using the Thermal Suite, instead, they have a basket outside the changing rooms. For some reason bowling, the 5D Theater and the F1 Simulator were closed almost all day while we were in port. In addition, bowling is closed during dinner hours because of the noise. With 4 port calls during our cruise, this made getting the Fun Pass (see activities section) not worth it as they were open so few hours during the entire cruise.
Shows were a perfect length (approx. 30 minutes) and featured a diverse array of singing, dancing, theater, acrobatics from a very talented cast. The small size of theater can make getting seats difficult, but the Metropolitan Theater allows guests to be more immersed in the performances. Every evening the show will be repeating 3 times to allow as many guests as possible to experience it and you must make a show time reservation in advance using the MSC for ME app or one of the many display screens onboard. Reservations are held until 5 minutes before the start of each show, then they open up space for all guests. There were some common elements throughout all of the shows, but the high energy performances, stunning visuals and great acoustics made watching each show delightful. The highlight of the week’s entertainment was the show “Timeless”, featuring a series of unbelievable performances by one of the best Michael Jackson impersonators. Elsewhere around the ship, you can find live music of all varying types, comedy shows and occasional movies on the outside screen.
Tip: Pick your preferred show times on the first day of the cruise. Select show times that give you enough time for dinner before or after the show.
Food & Beverage
For casual dining the MSC Seaside is limited to buffet options only. Something not seen on other ships, is two separate buffets. The larger main (Marketplace Buffet) on Deck 8 features a large variety of foods commonly found on cruise ships, plus freshly made pizzas, pastas and rotisserie chicken. The pizza is by far the best I’ve had on any cruise ship. This location offers an incredible amount of outdoor seating along the expansive promenade. Another great feature are the self-service beverage machines. With a simple touch of your cruise card or wristband, you can select and purchase a limited variety beers, wines and soft drinks. If you have one of the unlimited beverage packages, you can also use these machines without any extra cost. On Deck 16, the smaller (Biscayne Bay Buffet), offers a much more limited variety of food options for breakfast, lunch and late-night snacks, A great advantage to this location, was that it was rarely ever that busy and still served made to order omelets in the morning, along with the same great pizza and they also had a kids buffet featuring staples like mac and cheese, chicken fingers and french-fries every day. In addition to the self-service drink machines in the Marketplace buffet, on each table in both buffets, there was a button to notify staff that you would like to order a drink. I found the service to be excellent at most times with minimal waits and a large variety of beverage options. Again, this option is available for free with those on unlimited drink packages.
Main Dining Room
The Main Dining Rooms onboard are on the small side. We had dinner in the Seashore Restaurant. Aurea Experience guests have a special entrance the left side of the restaurant. Guests with myChoice Dining may visit the restaurant anytime between 6 -10pm. The service, menu selection and overall food quality and presentation was outstanding. Beverage service was prompt and they refilled our drinks and water glasses regularly. The only issue we encountered was the speed of dinner service. We regularly arrived for dinner at 6pm as they opened the dining room. No matter what we ordered for dinner each evening, we typically were not finished before 7:45. On a couple of nights, we forwent dessert, since we had an 8:15 reservation for the shows each evening. I don’t mind a leisurely dinner but being up against a time crunch to make the show, made it less enjoyable.
As a perk for having Black level loyalty status on MSC Cruises, we were provided with one complimentary meal at a specialty restaurant for two guests. We decided to use our meal at the Butcher’s Cut steakhouse. For the complimentary meal, we were only allowed to select from the Dining Experience menu. This Dining Experience regularly costs $39 per person and has more limited options. You can select 3 dishes from the menu as an appetizer, entrée and dessert. I inquired about selecting two appetizers instead of dessert and was told it had to be one from each section. I ordered the Beet and Burrata salad, 8oz Filet Mignon and Chocolate Lava Cake. Everything was very nicely presented and delicious, however, I had to send back my filet as it was cooked over my preference. The second one arrived quickly and cooked to my liking. One thing I noticed right away is that the specialty restaurants on MSC Seaside are quite expensive as compared to other cruise lines and you do not get full selection from the menu unless you order a la carte.
Tip: Plan your dining and show schedule on the first day of your cruise. Traditional dinner times in the Ipanema Restaurant are 5:30, 7:45 and 9:45 and in the Seashore Restaurant and Marketplace Restaurant (section of deck 16 buffet) are 6:00 and 8:30. Nightly show times are 7:00, 8:15 and 9:30
MSC Seaside has a large spa with both interior and exterior relaxation areas. On both the port and starboard sides of the ship, you’ll find a private deck area for spa guests with loungers and hot tubs. You’ll always be greeted by friendly staff and there is a very spacious reception and waiting area. The treatment rooms are nice and provide a tranquil spot to enjoy a massage or other services. The crown jewel of the Aurea Spa has to be the Thermal Area. This oasis has several ways to destress with highlights including a therapy pool, light and dark sensory steam rooms, two saunas, snow room, salt room and a series of showers enclosures featuring cold and warm rain and misting showers complete with aromatic scents. Access to the Thermal Area can be purchased for the duration of the cruise for $190 for one person and $280 for a couple. Guests booked into Aurea Experience accommodations, have unlimited access to the Thermal Area as well as a complimentary massage up to 55 minutes for two guests per stateroom.
Tip: Make your spa appointments on the first or second day of your cruise (preferred times, plus sea days fill up very quickly). There are a limited number of Thermal Area passes sold each week.
MSC Cruises prices and packages their cruises differently than most cruise lines. They classify their staterooms not merely be a category, but as an experience. Experiences are a grouping of included benefits that are tied to a specific allocation of staterooms and suites. I thoroughly enjoyed the Aurea Experience which is the top experience, other than the Yacht Club. Firstly, you can book the Aurea Experience in a selection of Balconies and Suites with prime ship locations or special attributes. Regardless of choosing a balcony or suite, the Aurea Experience inclusions are the same. While, this is different from most cruise lines, where suites typically get enhanced benefits, the inclusions for all Aurea Experience guests are some of the best I have ever seen. The already mentioned Thermal Suite Spa access and two free massages were amazing, but just the beginning of what would be the most pampering and inclusive cruise I’ve experienced on a mainstream cruise line. We also received an unlimited (Classic) beverage package. This included all non-premium beer wind by the glass, cocktails and specialty coffees. Another nice inclusion was the freshly made gelato available from 4 different venues onboard. Aurea Experience is also the only way you can enjoy My Choice Dining onboard, instead of the traditional early or late assigned dinner seatings. This a great benefit that allows you to enjoy all there is to offer on MSC Seaside without feeling rushed to get to dinner at a certain time. The last major benefit and one that comes in really handy of busy seas days is the private access to the Top 19 Sundeck and Aurea Bar. You will need to show your keycard in order to enjoy the use of this area on Deck 19 forward, complete with sun loungers, two whirlpools and a large bar with comfy outdoor lounge seating.
Tip: Use the mains pools and loungers earlier in the day and then head up to the Top 19 Aurea Sun Deck in the afternoon, when the main pools are their busiest.
Ship Design & Layout
The MSC Seaside is one of the most visually stunning cruise ships afloat. Around every corner you’ll find an artistic flare and beautifully finished spaces. The aft scenic elevators that run from deck 7 to deck 16 were are constant source of entertainment for my children and provided an awesome vantage point when at sea on in port. The location of the kids splash area and waterpark within the extended funnel section provided great cover from the hot Caribbean sun. I also loved the wide open outdoor promenades with infinity glass bridges and strategically placed bars with ample shaded areas near the South Beach pool on Deck 7 and the Miami Beach Pool on Deck 16. There were some areas around the ship were you would walk into a dead end due to crew only access (such as the lifeboat stations on deck 7) or areas restricted to Spa or Yacht Club guests (Deck 8 forward is the outdoor Spa area and the entire forward sections of Deck 16, 18 and 19 are Top 19 Aurea Sun Deck and the Yacht Club).
Tip: When walking on the outer decks, stay on the port side of the ship if you want to avoid walking through designated smoking areas. The heaviest smoke we found was at the South Beach Bar starboard side on Deck 7 .
There is no shortage of things to do on MSC Seaside. On the Miami Beach Pool Deck 16, there are always daily activities happening with the cruise staff. Everything from morning yoga and dance classes to movie trivia, karaoke, and even a “Snow Party”. Elsewhere on the ship they offer arts and crafts, Basketball Tournaments and cruising staples, like The Love Game Show, Bingo and belly-flop competition. There are two zip line that take you from the top of the funnel area to aft of the Miami Beach Pool. The view from the zip line is spectacular especially if you spin around during your flight and take in the 360° views. The water park offers 4 water slides including two racing slides, an open spiral slide and the board slide, where you go down the slide on a small board with buttons that you press in sequence with colors to earn points. Not the fastest slide, but the final drop was cool. There is also a kids splash area complete with dump bucket, small water slides, spray nozzles, fountains and shallow pool. A little less thrilling and definitely a dryer, there is a two-lane bowling alley, Formula One simulator and 5D Theater in the arcade on Deck 7. Each of these activates and the Zip Line are an extra cost. If you have a balance left on your pass, you will not be able to use it as partial payment towards an activity. I had $12 left on my pass and wanted to use the money towards a 30-minute bowling game for $25. Instead of allowing me to pay the difference of $13, I had to pay the full $25 and was told to use the balance towards arcade games or the simulator.
Tip: Purchase the Fun Pass that gives you extra credit towards more activates. We purchased the $70 Fun Pass and received $30 free. We also purchased the unlimited zip line pass for $20 that covered everyone in the room, instead of paying $5 per ride.
Boarding in Miami was quick and efficient. The new terminal F has plenty of check-in agents to assist you. A potential major issue with Terminal F is that it is located between parking garages D and G, so be prepared to walk a good distance if parking your car at one of these garages. As an alternative, there is a surface lot located in front of Terminal E where Carnival docks their ships. We were fortunate to find a great sport there, but the lot was very busy. MSC uses colored tags to indicate disembarkation times as most other cruise lines. We opted for express walk-off and that process started around 7:30am. Even though there was a very long line of other guests also doing express walk-off, the two gangways expedited the process of getting of the ship. Once back in the terminal, there was some congestion at the elevator and escalator. The elevator line was long, so we decided to use the escalator. Keep in mind, the port personnel will ask you use the elevator if you do not have one hand free to hold the rail down the escalator. Once on the main floor we whisked through customs in less than five minutes.
Tip: If you get to the port early and are either Aurea or Yacht Club, there are special designated areas inside the terminal with refreshments.
We booked an Aurea Suite, one of the “condo” rooms on the aft of the ship. Our room was #15239 on Deck 15 port side. This room surpassed my expectations in almost every way. The general layout of the room was very spacious and having both an aft and side view was great when going in and out of ports. There was an ample amount of storage, however, walking past the closest when opened presented some issues passing back and forth to the bathroom. For those like myself that travel with many gadgets, I appreciated the three USB ports. There was one near the left side of the bed and two near the vanity/desk area, one of which was rated for high power devices. The bed was extremely comfortable, which may be due to its newness, but had a great sleep every night. There is sitting near the balcony door area with a table and sofa. I liked that the table could be easily stowed under the desk (have had too many nighttime falls on these small glass stateroom tables). The sofa converted into a double bed and was also quite comfortable. One major issue was when the bed was folded out, it was impossible to get out on the balcony without climbing over the bed. It literally touched the side of the desk area. On one morning I wanted to go out early and take some pictures and I ended up with a tear in my pants and major gash in my leg from the sharp metal edge of the desk. The bathroom was very large (by cruise ship standards) with the biggest shower I have ever had on a cruise ship. You could fit 8 people in there. One thing I was disappointed with in the bathroom was that the shower only had a basic hand-held showerhead. Considering this was a suite and Aurea Spa accommodation I would have liked a more elaborate shower system, with multiple sprays like I’ve enjoyed on Norwegian Cruise Line and Celebrity Cruises spa staterooms. In general, the level of the finishes in the suites on MSC Seaside is not up the same caliber as the MSC Divina or other cruise line suites. The true star of these rooms is the wrap-around balcony. The balcony area on the side of the ship is wider and a good spot to use the reclining chairs and foot stools. You can still place chairs in the aft-facing section, but I used this spot to stand and watch the wake of the ship and the panoramic views when entering and departing port. From this area you have an almost 180° view. One other benefit of these rooms is the easy access around the corner to the panoramic glass elevators. These two elevators run from Deck 7 to Deck 16 and for the majority of the time we had minimal waits.
Tip: Try to book aft Aurea Suites on Deck 15. All of the other decks have window-washing equipment that will block some of your view.
MSC Cruises has invested in technology they’ve branded MSC for Me, to make the onboard cruise experience easier with a combination interactive screens throughout the ship, smartphone app and wearable tech. There are dozens of the touchscreens strategically placed in all gathering spots onboard such as elevator lobbies, stairs and the entrance of all lounges and restaurants. They provide a snapshot of all daily activities, help you navigate the ship or simply find your stateroom. With the embedded RFID chip in your cruise card or for those guests with the wristband, a simple touch on the screen will bring up your cruise profile and allow you to make dinner and show reservations, book shore excursions and see all of your scheduled activities. The smartphone app is really like a pocket-sized version of the touchscreens, providing most of the same information, in a more discreet manner. The app is also your gateway to logging into the ships Wi-Fi and Internet. The app uses the ship’s wifi to keep you connected in real-time to all of the onboard services. The MSC for Me wristbands, provided free with Aurea and Yacht Club accommodations and $5.00 for all other guests, replaces the common cruise card in almost all situations. These soft plastic wristbands are designed to be worn at all times and are fully waterproof. Once we put them on, they were comfortable to the point I forgot I was wearing it. The MSC for Me wristbands allow you to open your stateroom door, make purchases in the shops, order drinks, activate lockers in the spa, and it worked as my electronic ticket for the nightly shows. The are some exceptions to when you’ll still need your cruise card. You will be required to show your cruise card when getting off and returning to the ship in port and to gain access to the Top 19 Aurea Sun Deck. My children also received wristbands color coded to their kids club level. Parents can use the MSC for Me app to track their kid’s location onboard if the children have the chip-enabled wristbands. I never experienced any issues using the app or wristband regardless of my current location onboard MSC Seaside.
Tip: Connect your smartphone to the ships Wi-Fi to enable all of the features of the MSC for Me app. Use the MSC for Me app to make your show time reservations as soon as you board. It literally takes just a few minutes.
We received the Standard Internet package as a free perk when we booked our cruise. The Standard Package allows you to connect up to 2 devices and use up to 3GB of data for the entire cruise. I was impressed with the strength of the WIFI with no noticeable drops in speed or signal no matter where I was or time of the day. Using the SpeedTest app on my phone, I measured download speeds of 7.63 Mbps downloads and 4.27 Mbps uploads. Certainly not lightning fast as compared with land-based Internet, but it was superior to most other cruise lines. I was able to access most my iPhone apps including iMessage, websites and social media including Facebook Messenger, Instagram and Twitter. The speed allocation of the Standard Package will not give you enough bandwidth to use streaming apps like Netflix or use FaceTime or other video chat services.
Tip: Don’t forget to logout of the Internet when you are not using it. You can logout and check your data usage through the MSC for Me app.
It has been reported several times that all of the pools onboard MSC Seaside with the exception of the kid’s pool in the Forest Adventure Aqua Park, have no shallow end. I can see this as a problem for many people who like to wade around, maybe while enjoying a cocktail or two or five. Unless you are well over 6 feet you can’t stand around in the pools. My thoughts are that most cruise ship pools are way overcrowded. People cram into these pools and stand around for hours to the point that the water becomes cloudy and probably not very sanitary. Cruise ship pools should be used to take a refreshing dip and maybe swim some laps (when there are not many people). Unlike resort pools, shipboard pools are just way too small for lounging around or playing in all day. There are plenty of hot tubs all over MSC Seaside, including the two in the Top 19 Aurea Sun Deck and outside areas of the Spa. One notable omission is that there are no hot tubs near the South Beach Pool on Deck 7. This is the adult only pool and while there two showers flanking the pool and plenty of deck space available, MSC Cruises did not put even one hot tub. The closest and most accessible one is all the way up on Deck 16.
Tip: There are two less busy hot tubs located on Deck 19, just forward of the Forest Adventure Aqua Park
The Doremi Kids club onboard MSC Seaside occupies the entire aft area of deck 18. It’s not the largest kids club I’ve seen, but it is well laid out and the bright colors make the spaces inviting. Lego is the main theme for the Mini-Club (ages 3-6) and Junior Club (ages 7-11). Both clubs feature large Lego building areas and an assortment of games, arts and crafts and a television. The space in between the clubs is the Doremi Studio. This area is used for common activities between the clubs like entertaining shows, movies, dancing and parties. From our experience with two children, one in each of Lego Clubs, we were somewhat disappointed in the amount of engagement the club staff seems to have with the children. Most of the time we found that the kids did not have structured activities like on other cruise lines, but mostly played with the Legos. We also found the music to be way too loud for a space catering to children. There are also two other clubs for teens, the Young Club (ages 12-14) and the Teen Club (ages 13-17).
Tip: As soon as you board the ship, there will be desk to get your kids outfitted with their wristbands. This is not the registration for the kid’s program, you will also need to visit the kids club separately to get them registered. I suggest going to the club early the first day to get it out of the way. Depending on the time of year, the lines will get long.
MSC Seaside is visually one of the most stunning cruise ships at sea today. There are many features that set this ship apart from the rest. From the design of the pool areas to incorporate enough space for sun worshipers as well as plenty of shaded spots, expansive boardwalks with features like outdoor dining and glass bridges to several types of accommodations to appeal to couples, families and extended families. MSC Cruises did a great job in taking some elements that have been done by other cruise lines and making them better.
My overall experience when interacting with members of the crew was very positive. I found most to be friendly eager to offer assistance. There were some minor issues with be misunderstood due to language differences, but these were rectified quickly. There were some crew standouts for me during this cruise. Our server Barbara in the Seashore Restaurant always had a smile and did her best to make sure everything was to our satisfaction. The entire bar service team in the Top 19 Aurea Bar were always fantastic. Lastly, Captain Massa, who we had the fortune to meet twice during our cruise, is a captain of the people. He was regularly seen in the public spaces talking with guests and even though he certainly had a schedule to keep, he took the time to listen and greet those who approached him.
Opportunities for Improvement
No cruise is ever going to be perfect and there are some areas where I felt MSC Cruises could make the experience better for guests onboard the MSC Seaside.
Kids Club: There is a curtain separating the kids club registration desk from the kids area. This inhibits parent’s ability to discreetly check on their kids.
Towel Exchange: One pool towel per person is located in your stateroom. Towel exchange is only possible at one location on Deck 16 (starboard side), otherwise, you must return your towels to your stateroom to avoid incurring a charge for a lost towel.
Recreation: Bowling can only be reserved on day of play, and the desk doesn’t usually open until 11 AM. There is no accessible phone extension to call the staff for a bowling reservation or question (you must go in person). At times, the staff arrives 30 minutes early than opening time, and there is already a line for bowling reservations to be made. Popular 30 or 60 minute slots may be taken very quickly, especially on sea days.
Soft Serve Ice Cream: The Biscayne Bay Buffet on Deck 16 is the only place for soft serve ice cream and it is only available for a few hours between lunch and dinner. If you have gelato included in your drink package or you purchase one a la carte, note that the whipped cream machines, dispense a less sweet product than you may expect.
Spa Thermal Area: There are water dispensers located in the Thermal Area, however, they were regularly empty without being replenished.
Registering a Credit Card: Unlike most other cruise lines, MSC Cruises does not have a process to capture credit card information for charging onboard purchases during online check-in or at the check-in counter in the port terminal. Instead they use automated kiosks onboard the ship. If you forget to do this as you are boarding, remember to go back and register your card within 48 hours.
Value and Quality
MSC Cruises is a relatively new player in the U.S. cruise market. They are relying on guests having positive experiences on their U.S. based ships in order to grow their share of the market. To persuade cruisers to choose MSC Cruises over another cruise line in an extremely crowded market, sailings on the MSC Seaside are priced well below their competitors. Not only will you be getting a great price on your cruise, you will also benefit from a very generous bundling of inclusions. For example, choosing an Aurea Experience room in a balcony or suite, already priced below similar offerings from other major cruise lines, will also include a free beverage package for all guests in the room, two massages, free thermal area access and private sun deck. If you’ve purchased any of these extras on a cruise before, you know it amounts to a substantial cost. Of course, getting a great price or receiving all of these include perks means nothing if the cruise you experience isn’t up to your expectations. My experience onboard MSC Seaside was in some respects on par with any cruise line I’ve sailed, but in most instances far exceeded my past experiences of over 70 cruises. In a time when the current cruise line focus seems to be about reducing included benefits, increasing fares and maintaining the status quo, MSC Cruises has a real opportunity to make an impact in the U.S. by providing cruisers with a quality alternative.