MSC Seaside: The Ports!

I really should have titled this one “The Port!” since we only got off the ship once :). The final itinerary we sailed changed a couple of times, impacted the most by the devastating hurricanes that came through the Caribbean back in September. Originally included on our itinerary were San Juan and St Martin, with both being (understandably) pulled from the schedule not long after the storms devastated both islands. As a result, our final itinerary ended up being Antigua, St Thomas, and Nassau. Of those three stops, Antigua is the only one we’d never been to, so we decided to stay on the Seaside in St Thomas and Nassau, as we wanted to get as much time on this new ship as possible.

Not seeing much on the list of ship excursions in Antigua that we really wanted to do, we decided to get day passes to Sandals Grande Antigua. We’ve had good times with day passes at Sandals in the past, and wanted to check out this resort and its beaches. Having a pool with a swim up bar doesn’t hurt either!ย The Seaside arrived early in the morning, sometime before 8am. We really weren’t in a big hurry to get off the ship, so while the girls slept in, I just walked around, ate some breakfast, and took a few pictures:

After a relaxing and slow morning, we finally got off the ship a little after 10am. Things in the port were a little hectic, it’s a small port area and including the Seaside there were 4 ships docked that day. We did find a cab pretty quickly, however, and were on our way at a cost of $12 for all three of us (one way). The drive over was interesting, to say the least. It was Boxing Day, which is celebrated on the island, so many of the streets in the port area were blocked by different activities, including an actual boxing match. Apparently anyone can just challenge someone else to a fight and step in the ring! We did eventually get around all of that, arriving at Sandals roughly 25 minutes after we left the port.

Upon arriving at Sandals, we checked in, got information on when our tour would take place (a requirement for travel agent day passes) and headed down to the pool/beach area in the Mediterranean Village area of the resort. Since it was approaching lunch time, we decided to eat first, so we stepped in to the open air restaurant Barefoot by the Sea for a quick bite to eat. From start to finish, it was definitely an enjoyable experience. Beautiful setting, tasty burger, excellent service, yea, it was a good choice!

Next up was some beach time. Their beach is connected to a public beach, so the only thing that’s really limited to Sandals guests only are the loungers. The ones with umbrellas were all taken, so we grabbed three in the sun and spent a little time relaxing. The beach itself is beautiful, but due to time of year, the water was a little chilly, so none of us went in for more than a minute. It was a bit windy, too, so after about 30 minutes or so, we decided to move to the main pool in the Mediterranean Village portion of the resort (full map here). This is the part I really enjoy, as I’m a fan of swim-up pool bars. We probably spent a couple of hours at the pool, both relaxing on the loungers and over sitting at the pool bar. Excellent drinks in a quiet atmosphere with blue skies overhead. Definitely the way to spend a port day!

Just before 2pm we headed back up to the lobby for our tour. This resort had just reopened after a 3 month closure for renovations, so it was nice to get to see the place right after all of that work was completed. I’ve got a bunch of pictures of the resort at the end of this post, but I will say that we were impressed with what we saw. The views from those ocean-facing rooms is amazing, everyone we met during the day was friendly, and the property has plenty of space to allow for activities, entertainment, or just plain relaxing. One of the highlights for Bayley was the cat cafe. They have a few cats roaming the property, so over by the spa they have a little open air cat house where they keep some food and water. We didn’t initially see any cats in the area, but as we were walking away, one jumped out of the bushes and eventually let Bayley pet it.

After hanging out with the cat for a bit, we headed over to the Garden Pool in the Sunset Bluff portion of the resort (resort map) to relax a little more before departure. We’d pre-arranged a departure time with our cab driver, so I think we had something like 30 more minutes at the resort before he arrived, and we weren’t going to waste it! This is a beautiful resort, and we enjoyed all of our time there. A big thank you to the staff for the tour, as well! Enjoy a few more pictures from our time at Sandals Grande Antigua, and (shameless plug) if they inspire you, feel free to contact Jen about booking a stay here!

 

MSC Seaside: The Food!

Having been forced to eat non-cruise food for almost a week now, I figured it was time to go back and relive everything we had to eat on the MSC Seaside. In my ‘initial thoughts‘ post I talked about the service issues we encountered in the MDR and at the buffet, so I’ll skip those here and focus on the food itself. I’ll be starting with the buffet food and working my way up to the Teppanyaki specialty restaurant, so stick around and enjoy all of the pictures along the way!

When I think of an MSC buffet, the first thing that comes to mind is the pizza. Oh that glorious pizza. It’s one thing I really look forward to when we set foot on an MSC ship, so the Seaside had a lot to live up to. I’ll just say she didn’t disappoint, and I was happy to enjoy the buffet pizza more than once. It felt slightly thinner than the buffet pizza on the Divina, which is fine with me, but in the taste department, I was completely satisfied. The other thing I liked, something else I mentioned in the initial thoughts post, is that there are multiple pizza stations in the main buffet on deck 8, and when the buffet was full of people, I don’t recall a single instance of having to wait for a slice of pepperoni, they seemed to be keeping up with demand just fine.

The rest of the buffet was actually pretty good, at least what I had, with one exception, the bacon. For whatever reason, most of the time I got bacon in the morning, it was fairly flavorless. I’m not really sure how you can do that, but when I’d find warm, crispy bacon, it just had no flavor to it. One morning I tried some softer, slightly less cooked bacon, and it had a decent flavor to it, but for whatever reason, anything resembling crispy bacon had none. Outside of that, I enjoyed the buffet, and once I discovered the soft warm pretzels, I was in heaven:

The last day we also found some corn dogs up on the smaller deck 16 buffet, and they were pretty tasty. I think you see where I’m going with my buffet choices here, I basically eat like a kid in there :). That falls in line with one tip I posted early on, they have delicious fries, and some pretty good mac and cheese (only found the mac and cheese on 16 though), and when you combine them, you get total deliciousness:

One other thing to mention with the buffet is the ice cream. If you’re looking for a soft-serve machine, save yourself some time and head up to the deck 16 buffet. It appears (unless I missed others) that the only soft-serve machine on the ship is located in the ‘family & kids’ section up here. The nice lady behind the counter was quick to get everyone cones, so it’s not a big deal, just don’t forget about it if you want ice cream:

While I’m talking about ice cream, let’s also talk about the gelato. The Aurea experienceย includes the non-premium unlimited drinks package. That drink package includes gelato!ย Did we take advantage of that? Heck yea! Even on the 2-day sailing we made stops at gelato stands pretty often. Their gelato is soooo tasty, it’s worth at least one try. It’s offered in cups, cones, shake, and even in bar form. I absolutely loved the bars (lemon and dark chocolate were my favorites), but during the Christmas sailing they were hard to come by, as the gelato stands were having a hard time keeping it in stock, as this stuff is all made fresh. Regardless, my goal of at least one cup/bar of gelato every single day was met, and I enjoyed all of them. There are multiple places to get gelato on the Seaside, be sure to try them all!

Next up, the MDR! As Aurea guests, we were assigned any-time dining in Seashore restaurant on deck 5 aft. For this sailing, the starboard half of the restaurant seemed to be reserved for Aurea and Wellness any-time passengers. You enter the MDR down a little side corridor on the starboard side, are greeted by a very friendly hostess who then takes you to an open table fit for a party of your size. I don’t think we ever had to wait to be seated more than 5 minutes on any night. I should note that we also ate here for lunch twice, and like any cruise ship MDR at lunch, you just walk in the main entrance, tell them how many people you have, and they seat you pretty quickly.

As far as the food, I’d say pretty good! The various pastas and lasagna were easily the best in my opinion, but everything else I had was good too, except for the Philly cheesesteak I had in there for lunch one day. The bread was fine, but the meat and cheese just weren’t up to snuff in my opinion. Jen had some short ribs one night she wasn’t a big fan of as they were overcooked, but outside of that, I think we were all pretty happy with our food choices. The menus themselves usually had a decent variety, save for the holiday and elegant menus, which didn’t offer the ‘classic menu’ options, the things you can get any night if that night’s choices didn’t appeal to you. Here’s a sampling of the menus, along with some of the items we had:

Last but certainly not least, let’s talk about the specialty restaurants! While I wish we’d have also tried the steakhouse, we only ended up going to the Teppanyaki restaurant, which is one of the three venues in the Asian Market Kitchen by Roy Yamaguchi. I mentioned in my ‘5 things we’re excited for‘ postย that I was really looking forward to eating here, which we did for lunch on Christmas eve, and it did not disappoint in any way. We also got a small sampling of it during the two day inaugural, and while the food we sampled was excellent, nothing prepared me for how good the entire experience would be.

We had a noon reservation, and once seated, realized we were the only ones in the place. Not sure if people didn’t realize you could eat here for lunch right away, didn’t realize it existed, or simply didn’t want to pay the premium, but it was kinda cool to have our chef and the staff in there all to ourselves, at least for a while, as another family did show up ~12:45, followed by a group of officers around 1:00. Everyone working in here was excellent, starting with the wait staff all the way up to the chefs who made our food. They were very accommodating on some changes to the menu Bayley and I asked about, namely subbing chicken in place of the salmon and noodles in place of the sushi on the set course we were ordering, which is the “Sencho” option on the menus below (click a page to see it larger)

Every single thing I ate here was delicious, and our chef was outstanding, making each course at a perfect pace, and cooking everything exactly as it should have been. I’ve mentioned in past blog posts that I’m not a shrimp/seafood guy, but I decided to give those huge shrimp a try, and was not disappointed, I started questioning whether I should be avoiding shrimp at all! The chicken he made us was also really, really good, and cooked perfectly. By the time it came to the filet I was ready for a little red meat, and it too was outstanding, cooked exactly as I’d requested. He also cooked some of the best noodles and rice of any Teppanyaki-style place we’ve been to in my opinion. Again, everything that hit my plate was delicious. I highly recommend giving this place a try if you’re on the Seaside and looking for something outside the normal MDR experience one night. You won’t be disappointed!

All in all, we were pretty happy with the food we had all week. I’m no foodie, and Jen likes to claim that Bayley and I only eat yellow food, so your experience might vary, but for me, I could spend another week on this ship eating what it has to offer and be totally satisfied! Next time, maybe we’ll spend the week eating at a different specialty restaurant each day, or maybe we’ll just eat Teppanyaki each night ๐Ÿ™‚