It’s been a little over a week since I returned from my MSC Cruise to Ocean Cay and back to Miami. Today I want to tell you about that experience and what I have heard and noticed between the cruise line’s first and second cruise.
About two weeks before my cruise, I was emailed and told that my boarding time was at 11:00 am on Friday morning. I thought this would be good as I was going down on Thursday night and it would give me time to get ready in the morning. I also had some friends who were given the same boarding time so we thought it would be nice to get together for breakfast before heading to the port.
Two days before the cruise I was emailed again from the cruise line saying that my boarding time was moved up to 9:00 am. My friends still had 11:00 am boarding times. I called MSC and asked if they could move my time back to 11:00 am as I made plans for that morning based on their first email. They said they couldn’t do anything.
I emailed MSC’s support desk asking if they could move my time because I had planned my day based on the 11:00 am time that they originally gave me. Their response was “We checked with operations and they advised in future it is strongly advised you please respect and follow your check-in times, however, this time only they can make an exception and allow you to embark with your friend. Make sure both guests show at the entrance (at 9:00 or 11:00 a.m.) and share that they are traveling together to be assisted accordingly.”
This trip was already starting off on the wrong foot because I felt the same way, why did they disrespect me with that comment when they decided to change my time without checking with me first, especially when it was two days before sailing.
We decided to skip breakfast and show up at 9:00 am. The buffet would be open on the ship and we thought we could just grab breakfast once we were on the ship.
At 9:00 am on Friday we were allowed into the terminal. There were two buildings, the first one was strictly medical. They didn’t check our names or tickets to see what time we were supposed to show up, so the whole ordeal of having a boarding time was pretty useless.
Our first stop was to fill out Covid waivers. Once we did that each of us was placed into a cubical where a nose swab was taken. We then went to a big room where we would sit in groups of about 20 people for an hour while we waited for the test results to come back.
After an hour they came and gathered our group to take us to the next building which was the actual terminal. The first thing we did here was to go to a ticketing agent. They asked if we had a Covid passport. If we did then we got a white wristband. If we didn’t then we got a different color so people could tell who was vaccinated and who wasn’t. The agent behind the counter finished my check-in and gave me my room key. Then I was directed to another waiting area where I stay until around 12:30 pm.
This second waiting area was where we sat while we waiting until they finished clearing the guests from the previous cruise. It took them until 12:30 pm to get everyone off the ship. I’m telling you this because it will become important later on when I talk about my disembark experience.
Finally, I was allowed on the ship. We were instructed that we had to wear masks in any public area that was inside. If we were outside and could not social distance, we had to wear masks as well.
My first stop was my cabin. I got to the cabin and had a quick look around. I was only in the cabin for about 5 minutes when the room steward arrived with my luggage which was nice because I am usually waiting several hours to get my stuff.
After lunch, I went up on deck to see what was going on up there. They had a person playing steel drums and people gathering by the pool. It wasn’t as crowded as I expected and there were lots of seats available. Usually, when I go on deck on embarkation day it’s packed. No one had masks on other than the cruise line staff.
Later on, I was in my cabin out on the balcony and watching while people were still getting on the ship at 5 pm. I am assuming that the way they set up the check-in times was why there were still a lot of people checking in that late. It would also account for the number of people that were out by the pool earlier. As a footnote, the cruise was only sailing with about 60% capacity.
The only other bad experiences I really had were on this first day on the ship. My friend’s AC unit wasn’t working and he had to call down to maintenance three times before it was finally fixed the next morning. And for myself, I was not happy with the dinner service that first night.
We went out to Kaito Teppanyaki Restaurant & Sushi Bar. This was one of the paid restaurants, not included in the cruise fare. It was a Japanese steakhouse where they come and cook at your table. There were three tables with about ten people each. Of the three tables, we were the first ones seated and the last served. We had just gotten our deserts when the other tables were already being cleaned off. Our dining time was 8:30 pm and we missed the 10:30 pm show.
After dinner it was 10:45 pm and we decided to go to karaoke. When we got to the bar we were turned away because they had already met their 25-person maximum capacity for the night. I ended up calling it a night and went to get some sleep.
The next day we woke up in Ocean Cay, MSC’s private island. We were the only ship in port and with only 60% capacity it wasn’t very crowded on the island.
Just like on the ship, there was a buffet on the island in which you told them what you wanted and they served you from behind a glass divider. This was one of the two places on the island where I found a mask was required. The other place was inside the stores.
I spent some time on the beach and went swimming. There wasn’t much in the way of social distancing at the beach or in the water. Being it was outside; I don’t think people really cared much for the distancing and no one was enforcing it.
I did go back to the ship to clean up and have lunch instead of eating on the island. I hung out for a little bit on my balcony and then went back to the island to do some shopping.
Both the shops on the island and on the ship had the same Covid restrictions. You needed to wear a mask and use hand sanitizer before going into the stores. On our day at sea, I went around shooting videos in each of the stores. Some stores were right next to one another and even shared the same hand sanitizer. If I came out of one store and went right into the next, I was still required to sanitize again even though I sanitized right before going into the previous store. I thought my skin was going to start falling off from all the sanitizing I did that day!
So back to Ocean Cay… They were supposed to have a big bonfire that night. Because of a storm coming in that was canceled, they added more showtimes to the show scheduled for that night. We had to be on the ship by 11 pm but stayed in port at Ocean Cay until 7 am the next day.
One of the other Covid restrictions was that there were some shows (usually the last show of the night) that were only open to vacinnated passengers. They also had some areas of the ship that were off-limits to people who were not vaccinated. The only places I actually came across that had signs saying it was only available to vaccinated guests were the casino and a couple of the specialty restaurants.
The day after Ocean Cay was a day at sea and then we were back in Miami the next morning. I spent part of the day running around taking videos of the ship which I will eventually compile into a short video I can share. The rest of the day I lounged at the pool and then on my balcony.
On the Ocean Cay day and day at sea, I ate in the regular dining hall. The food on the ship (buffet, specialty dining hall, and main dining hall) was top-notch. I didn’t do very good on my diet during this cruise.
When you went into the main dining hall you were only seated with people in your party. Fortunately, me and my friends put that we were traveling together otherwise I would have been at a table by myself. I kind of missed the old days of dining when they sat you at a table with eight or ten other strangers and you got to make new friends at dinner. I hope that comes back.
The last major event for me was getting off the ship. I decided to not have the room steward pick up my luggage but instead walk off with it at 7am. That didn’t go so well as probably about 1/3 of the passengers had the same idea. It was 8am before I got to the passport checking podium to get off the ship. And guess what? I won something! I was randomly selected to participate in US Customs and Border Patrol’s interrogation process. I think they knew I was a travel advisor and wanted me to have the complete experience!
It wasn’t that big of a deal, they asked me if I had anything to claim and went through my luggage. That was pretty much it, but the process took about an hour because they had several other people there before me, they had to process too and they only had two tables open for doing the inspections.
What I did learn while doing the border patrol process which I wouldn’t have known otherwise was what a cluster disembarkation was. I overheard some of the agents talking about how the previous cruise (the one causing me to not be able to board until 12:30 pm) didn’t have all the people off the ship on time and some of the crew got reprimanded over that. This week it seems they were rushing everyone off the ship and it was causing trouble for border patrol agents and customers because they had a warehouse people would exit into and then get in line to process back into the U.S. There were only so many queue lines for people to stand in and then it just opened into a huge hall. The agents said about half the people on the ship were just standing around in the open area with no idea where they were going or what they were doing because of how disorganized that was. US Customs and Border Patrol was also not expecting to have that many people come off the ship at one time either so they didn’t have enough people to handle the crowd. MSC had given people tags for their luggage of different colors and you were supposed to get off based on your color, but if they didn’t check that like they didn’t check the boarding times, then it’s no surprise everyone was trying to get off at the same time.
Being this was only their second sailing in over a year, I am giving them the benefit of the doubt that they are still learning how to handle the new Covid protocols and that is why there were issues with the service on the ship.
Overall, the experience was OK all things considered. I was already biased when I got on the ship from the email I got before the sailing so that might have influenced how critical I was being. I hope that some of the things I noticed are corrected in future sailings.