Spring Break on the Disney Fantasy – Part 1

We’d originally planned on staying home over spring break this year, but as the date got closer we started rethinking that plan, realizing that with our daughter graduating college this year, family getaways like this would probably be few and far between. With that in mind, we started casually checking out a few cruise options in January. After a bit of a search we narrowed it down to a couple of different itineraries, one on the Crown Princess and another on the HAL Nieuw Amsterdam. As we were headed down to see visit her at school in early February, that quickly changed. I was getting a little work done in the car and happened to check Disney’s travel agent rates, and sure enough, they had availability on the Fantasy the week we were looking at, and even better, it was a Star Wars Day at Sea sailing! In the blink of an eye, our minds were made up!

One thing to call out before I get started with this, it won’t be a day to day account like some of our posts are, as a lot of what we experienced was similar to our Disney Dream sailing last year. Think of it as more of a multi-part summary, which will also compare our experiences this year to the positives and negatives I laid out in my final post from that sailing. Frankly, I was surprised at how wrong I was in some of my perceptions last year, but we’ll get to all of that.

First, I’ll admit to breaking one of the big packing rules for any warm-weather vacation: Never forget your bathing suit. Yea, I forgot it. Even though my packing list is somewhat out of date, it still includes at least one bathing suit, but with all of the cruises we’ve been fortunate to do over the past few years I’ve grown a bit complacent when it comes to packing and didn’t even check my list. We were about two hours in when I realized I’d forgotten it, so I ended up stopping at one of those large beach stores to pick one up. You know the type of place, large store full of cheap beach crap that might hold up for three or four uses if you’re lucky. Oh well, the one I got worked fine.

On the day of our sailing, my ego slightly bruised from the bathing suit incident the day before, we got up and prepared to head to the port. We once again stayed at the Radisson right near the port, and while we could have used their included shuttle service, decided to grab a Lyft to the ship, as I’m all for not dealing with the crowds that come with hotel shuttles if I don’t have to. We’ve read stories online of others who claim it’s hard to get a driver that wants to deal with the port, but having now used both Uber and Lyft to get to and from Port Canaveral, we have yet to experience issues. Our driver arrived at the hotel about 5 minutes after we requested one, and after a short ride to the port, we headed inside! It was around 11am at this point, check in was pretty smooth with no real wait in the Castaway Club line, and with boarding number 17, we settled in for a bit of a wait.

Boarding itself moved along pretty steadily, and if I recall, we were on the ship by around 12:15. No major issues, but every time we get on a non Oasis-class ship, I’m reminded of just how efficient Royal is with the boarding of those things. They run a tight ship (pun intended) and keep things from getting crowded or bogged down along the way. Back to the Fantasy, as soon as we boarded we split up and headed two places: Bayley and I to guest services to see about Frozen gathering availability, and Jen went to line up in front of Animator’s Palate to see about Palo brunch reservations. Both worked out flawlessly. Bayley was easily able to get tickets for the Frozen gathering on the first sea day, and Jen able to get us brunch reservations on the same day. With as much amazing food as Palo offers, doing it on the earliest day possible is recommended (they only offer it on sea days). I can’t imagine trying to enjoy that spread after stuffing myself during the 5 days leading up to that second sea day.

Boosted by our early successes, we headed for lunch in Enchanted Garden, the same place we had our first meal on the Dream. This time we somehow managed to score one of those circular booths you see as you walk in!

After devouring some tasty eats, complete with the first Disney sundaes of the week, we headed to the room to drop our bags. For this trip, we went with the cheapest option available, an inside, specifically cabin 9023. It’s been 7 years since I’ve been booked in an inside cabin, and I admit I was a little worried about not having a balcony to relax on. I did miss it a few times, namely in the morning when I’d wake up before the rest of the family, but overall this was a cool little room, complete with Disney’s magic portholes, but more on that later when I get in to the room review. This first visit to our room also gave us an opportunity to show off a little surprise to Bayley. Her birthday fell in the middle of the cruise, so we decided to have the room decorated. In addition to the decorations, the spa had also left a $50 gift card on the door!

We hung out there for a little bit to relax, and during that time before the muster drill, all of our suitcases arrived, which seemed pretty fast! The rest of day 1 was filled with typical stuff, the sail away party, muster drill, an activity or two, and the first show of the week, which was a comedy juggling thing with Jeff Civillico. We really enjoyed all of Jeff’s events the two days he was on, frankly we wish he’d been on longer, and you’ll hear more about his activities in the next post. We also boarded on St Patrick’s Day, which meant a themed trivia event in O’Gill’s. Maybe it was the whisky, but the questons in this trivia session were stupid hard, a theme we encountered during the other one or two trivia events we attended. Pretty sure we gave up halfway through (as did a few other tables) as we’d answered only one of the first 10. Still, a glass of Irish whisky on St Patrick’s Day hit the spot!

As we had last year, we were assigned late seating for dinner on this cruise. Normally we’re not big fans of eating that late, but there seemed to be fewer kids in second seating last year, so we decided to stick with it. Our first dinner aboard the Fantasy was set for Animator’s Palate, our favorite main dining room on board.

For those not familiar with how rotational dining on a Disney ship works, the short version is that you rotate between 3 main dining rooms all week, with your servers following you along the way. You can find a longer write-up on it here. For our first night, we were alone at our table for 6, as our table-mates had dinner at Remy to celebrate a birthday (as we found out later). Dinner was delicious as usual, with most of mine consisting of pasta, followed by another delicious sundae. In fact, aside from having a pasta dish instead of steak as my entree, my meal was identical to what I had last time! I covered Animator’s Palate pretty well in that last post, so I won’t repeat it, but suffice to say, it was another outstanding meal aboard a Disney ship, filled with the fun of watching people chat with Crush along the way!

Following dinner we caught the Match Your Mate show in The Tube, one of the adults-only venues back in the nightclub area at the aft of the ship. Good stuff, but already being a little tired, and with a full week of fun ahead of us, I was happy to get to bed. We did end the day with a little treat, as we called room service for some Mickey bars before bed. I do love that these are included at no additional cost 🙂

Next up: Palo, characters, and all-around fun as our Disney Fantasy series continues!

 

 

MSC Seaside: The Ship!

The Seaside is, in a word, beautiful. There’s no denying that. If you want to see for yourself, check out the videos we’ve been posting from on-board that include public area walk-throughs and cabin tours. We’ve got plenty more to come too, so be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel! If you’d rather watch them on a dedicated VR platform, follow us on VeeR, as all of the 360 videos in question are posted there as well! In addition to all the video, throughout this post I’ll be including pictures we’ve posted on Instagram of the ship, and even including a slideshow of mostly interior shots at the end, including a bunch of shots from the various kids club areas, so read on!

I called this out in my “initial thoughts” post, but if you consider the traditional ship design, you generally an open open upper deck or two, and one lower deck that while providing a view of the ocean, also has a number of obstructions of that view, typically involving the ship’s lifeboats. The Seaside changes that by moving the upper decks inward, allowing them to create an open lower deck that gives you a much more immersive outside feel, almost like walking in a park, if that park was in the middle of the ocean. I’m once again going to be using one of MSC’s initial renderings to show what I mean:

The design definitely lives up to the goal of bringing you closer to the sun, and provides plenty of lounger space on those outer decks. There are multiple highlights of these new outdoor spaces, as well.

  • Infinity Bridge: On each side of the ship out on deck 8, there’s an Infinity Bridge with a clear glass floor that allows you to walk out over the ocean. 360 video of this is coming soon on our YouTube and VeeR channels!
  • Bridge of Sighs: At deck 16 aft they’ve placed another clear glass bridge that allows you to walk out over South Beach pool, which is 9 floors below. It’s an incredibly picturesque spot, definitely one to see during multiple times of the day. Don’t believe me? See for yourself with our 360 degree tour of it!
  • South Beach Pool: In the rendering above, this is the open aft section on deck 7 that contains a pool, loungers, and a bar / gelato station. When you’re hanging out back here on a sunny day, the look of it, with the condo-style balconies towering above you, really does give you that South Beach condo-scene feel.
  • Forest Aquaventure Park: A multi-story waterpark in the center of the ship that contains kids pools and 4 water slides. One kids slide, two high-speed racing slides, and one with Slide-boarding technology, combining an interactive game, lights, music and a 367-foot water slide. We rode the racing slides and the interactive slide, and personally, I prefer the racing slides, mainly because the whole points-based game on the other slide didn’t really appeal to me. The kids riding it really seemed to like that one, however, as there was usually a line at the bottom to get one of the slide boards you have to ride down on.
  • Zip Line: The Seaside boasts what MSC calls the longest zip line at sea. We took a run down this while docked in Nassau, and I have to say that it’s worth a ride, it’s definitely better than the zip line on the Oasis class, and gives you a great view of everything around you. The downside of the open design of it is that windy sea days might mean closure, as we encountered early in the cruise. On our sailing it was free, which meant really, really busy. I’d heard of people waiting ~45 minutes to ride, as they were only opening one side at a time. We got there about 30 minutes before it opened the second time in Nassau and were first in line for a 2pm run. We’ve heard that after our sailing they implemented a fee for the zipline, $10 per person or $50 per cabin. As mentioned, it’s a fun time offering a great view, easily worth a try!

Even though the decks above 8 appear to almost be squished inward to accommodate the open-air design, you don’t really lose anything in the way of public space. That mostly appears to be due (in my totally uneducated guesstimate) to the public areas like the atrium, shopping, and entertainment spaces existing on decks 5 – 8, where the ship is still the full width. Those interior public areas are just as beautiful as the outside area, too, with the Seaside’s atrium being the center piece of it all. In keeping with previous MSC designs, this 4 deck atrium houses the signature Swarovski crystal staircases, along with a bar on the bottom floor, and stages positioned on each of the three floors above it. I’ll have some pictures of it below, but if you want to take a virtual tour, check out my 360 degree walk-through!

Up next on page 2, interior entertainment venues!

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! 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 experience includes the non-premium unlimited drinks package. That drink package includes gelato! 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‘ post 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 🙂

 

MSC Seaside: Initial Thoughts

Well, the fun has come to an end. We debarked the Seaside yesterday morning for the final time on this trip, so I figured I’d get a start on covering our time on board. I purposely held off on writing posts while on the ship to allow myself time to digest everything that we saw and experienced. This is a brand new ship, and as such, there is a lot of interest in it. Hopefully the information we provide by way of this blog helps paint a picture of our experience for those sailing or thinking about sailing the Seaside any time soon. I have a short series of posts I’ll be doing on the experience over the next two to three weeks, starting with this overview of some of the highlights and lowlights. Details may be light, but in most cases will follow in the more detailed posts that come later.

First, we had an absolute blast during the two day inaugural. I previously covered the naming ceremony itself, but as far as the time on board, we had fun, and were very happy to have been invited to be part of it! The crew treated us very well, and while there were a few hiccups, those two days on board were really fun. Getting to see the ship while she’s not even close to capacity was awesome, as it really allowed us to explore the various public areas, as well as different categories of cabins. I’ll be including the latter in my planned posts on cabins.

Moving on, our actual sailing over Christmas is what I suspect those interested in the Seaside want to read about. This sailing represented the first time the ship was taking paying passengers out of its new home port of Miami, and it was amazing to be a part of. Full disclosure since I’ve seen people in various online communities make accusations of paid cheerleading by anyone that had anything positive to say: We paid full fare for this trip. No TA rates, FAM rates, or any sort of industry discount from MSC, we were just normal paying passengers who booked on our own over a year ago out of excitement for the product, and this is written from that point of view.

Going in, I expected there to be issues. I assumed we’d hit some of the following, and adjusted my expectations and patience level accordingly:

  • Embarkation would be a little chaotic in the newly renovated terminal F
  • The new technology on the ship (the MSC for Me app and wristbands) would be problematic
  • Dining might be a little out of control the first night as getting seating and serving processes down when the ship is at capacity might take a night or two
  • Room issues might arise. By this I mean things might physically fail or break. The ship is brand new, and even new things fail when introduced in such a large scale. We were aware of a few room issues during the 2-day, so as the ship reach capacity on the Christmas sailing, I figured we might see or hear of more of it.

Some of those did occur, and in larger doses than others, but nothing that ruined our trip. Let’s take a high level look at some of the good and bad. I’ll start with the latter so we end on a high note 🙂

Keep in mind that the ship just launched, this crew has only been working together a short time (since training started in Italy like a month or so before the ship launched) and as a result, I personally expect this to get better as systems get ironed out and processes are made more efficient.

The bad

Storage space in some of those cabins is really at a premium. We were in 11054 (Fantastica Balcony) for the inaugural and 9250 (Aurea Suite) for the Christmas sailing. Calling 9250 a suite is incredibly generous in my opinion. The interior of the room was identical to 11054 except for the bed and couch positions being reversed. Both suffered from the same lack of storage space. You get a closet, two smallish drawers, and three and half shelves (the half is shared with the safe). You also get two very small shelves in the nightstand on each side of the bed. Jen and I never unpacked in 11054 due to the short time on-board, but having that same small amount of space in 9250 with 3 people was a challenge. I think we’d have used the mini fridge for storage if we could have. We made it work, but due to the closet access being partially blocked by the sofa, all had to store our shoes under the bed instead of in the closet, which really wasn’t ideal. The bathroom is also really small. That shower (the same in 11054 and 9250) was absolutely tiny, and if you’re at all tall, forget about drying off in there :). Here’s a look around both the room and bathroom in 9250:

I also have 360 degree walkthrough video of this room and a few others that I’ll be processing and posting on our YouTube channel after we get back to Charlotte, so subscribe and be on the lookout!

Calling guest services proved to be frustrating. We had an issue the first night regarding luggage delivery with a key bag, and after calling a couple of times and getting no answer at all, the automated system finally asked if we wanted to request a callback, so we did. It never came. Ever. Okay, that was on the first night, so maybe they were just overloaded. Well, people were still having issues getting anyone on the final night. Someone next to us in line to be seated in the MDR had been trying to call room service for over an hour, no one ever picked up, and they also requested a callback that never came from the automated system. Not good.

The buffet is a mess. Literally. First, there are two buffets on the Seaside, the main one on 8, and a smaller snack-sized one on 16. This may end up being a common theme in my posts, but it just feels like they don’t have enough crew to service a full ship. When everyone was on board (sea days, before getting off in port or after getting back on), the buffet areas weren’t well-kept during prime eating times. In multiple instances, it was nearly impossible to find silverware and/or napkins. Paper napkin dispensers were constantly empty, and you could pretty much forget about finding cloth napkins/silverware. Tables also took quite a while to be cleared from what we saw. It wasn’t that crew were standing around doing nothing, we saw them busting their butts, it really just seemed like there weren’t enough of them to keep up with the crowd.

Note that this was far less of an issue on port days since many passengers obviously aren’t on the ship. The staff was better able to keep up in these situations.

Public bathrooms are also a mess. I actually don’t think I ever used one, but Jen and Bayley did (or attempted to) on multiple occasions and almost always complained of toilets that didn’t work, either overflowing or continuously flushing, stall doors that didn’t stay latched, bathrooms that were really messy overall. In each case where they encountered someone trying to clean a women’s bathroom, it was a man, and no announcement was made before he entered in any of those instances.

Overall, the ship’s cleanliness not up to Divina standards. We’ve always found the Divina to be a very well-kept ship, probably the cleanest we’ve sailed. We expected those same standards to exist on the Seaside, but on this trip, that expectation wasn’t met. In addition to the issues mentioned above, we constantly noticed a lack of cleaning across the ship. Examples of this: Coming down the aft stairs a couple of days ago, we came across a piece of bacon just laying on the floor (which we aptly named “stair bacon”), we found half-full cups just sitting on stairway rails a number of times, and more small things like that. Granted that type of thing is just as much on the passengers who felt it was okay to leave things like that in places they didn’t belong, but on Divina, things like that disappear quickly. In a bigger example of what I’m talking about, I went out to the South Beach pool area on the morning of the final sea day to catch the sunrise, only to find the tables and chairs around the bar still strewn about from the night before. Chairs all over the place, not set up with the tables they went with, etc. Tables in the buffet would sit with used plates and cups for long periods of time before being cleaned up, as well. Again, it felt like there simply wasn’t enough crew to keep up.

Bar and gelato service was hit or miss. Of the bars we frequented, we found the best service to be in the Haven lounge, and under the right circumstances up on deck 16. This isn’t a knock on the bartenders, they were doing their best to keep up, they just didn’t have the manpower to deal with a full ship, and bar service could be slow as a result. In a number of cases with both bars and gelato stands, we saw managers and officers stepping in to assist with basically everything, which I highly commend. If empty glasses needed to be removed, they were on it. If drinks needed to be made, they were on it. If gelato needed to be scooped, they were on it. There are also station inefficiencies that I have no doubt they’ll iron out. Heck, we saw one fixed over the course of the week in the Venchi chocolate/coffee station on deck 6. The bar manager was making us shakes and having to walk the length of the station 4-5 times per shake going back and forth between where we were, the milk was, and the gelato was located. A couple of days later, we noticed the milk had been moved to the chocolate side of the station in a chilled bucket to save time. Things like that will definitely help over time.

MDR service was very hit or miss. When it was a miss, it was a big miss. Being Aurea, we were assigned any-time dining in the Seashore restaurant. The first night there were no signs out telling Aurea/wellness guests where to check in, so it was a little chaotic among the other passengers that were trying to get MDR issues sorted, but once I got to the podium and asked, we were seated immediately. Service that night was pretty bad, with speed being the primary issue, taking over an hour and a half to serve 3 courses. I assumed that being the first night it’d get sorted out, but in the end really didn’t seem to be a process issue, more of a training issue. One night would be really slow, the next great, it really depended on what section you got seated in. The same held true for lunch in Seashore. I think the longest we spent in there for a dinner was 2 hours one night, while tables in other servers sections were out in well under that. On the bad nights, it really felt like we were being served by head waiters that had never worked on a ship prior to Seaside and didn’t understand any of the flow in how it all worked. I will say that on the good nights, we had servers who really knew what they were doing. Overall, the women were killing it, with two of our best nights being at Barbara and Brenda’s tables. I don’t want to leave Kikit out of this either, the night we were in his section was probably our quickest dinner all week. Those bad nights and lunches were incredibly frustrating, though. The last couple of nights we let our servers know ahead of time that we were trying to get done quickly to get to a show or some other activity, and that did help, but that really shouldn’t be necessary. It shouldn’t take 20 minutes to get a menu, and then another 15 minutes to get a drink, and so on. We actually walked out in the middle of one lunch in Seashore because we were tired of waiting and our wait staff had simply disappeared. Don’t get me wrong, they were all friendly, and all appeared to be working their tails off, but it again seemed to come down lack of experience with some of the head waiters.

Things around the ship were literally breaking. Remember that expectation of room issues I mentioned earlier? Yea, we’re aware of several instances of it. I’m not surprised. You install this many of the same items at this scale and some are bound to break, it happens. We had one panel in our first room on 11 (below the storage drawers) that was broken off, and our bathroom door wouldn’t latch shut, but other than that, nothing wrong in either of our rooms. We did, however, see reports in the Facebook group for our sailing and the group for our travel agent community of other things, like power outlets not working for the first few days, water leaks under floors, and other breakdowns like that. The worst, however, had to be the balcony issue for one family. The parents got up early on Christmas morning and went out on the balcony to see the view, only to get trapped out there when their balcony door wouldn’t open back up. After finally flagging down someone else out on a balcony, ship’s security had to guide them back in via another balcony, with their own taking a few hours to be repaired. With small kids in the room during all of this, I can’t imagine how they felt.

The Good

The ship is beautiful. Seriously. The design is stunning, and it’s a really photogenic piece of hardware. You’ve got the signature Swarovski crystal stairs in the atrium, well decorated hallways, elegant shopping areas, and awesome venues around the ship like the Sports Bar, the Haven Lounge, and of course the atrium. Oh that sparkly atrium. I can’t wait to get my 360 video walk through of that processed. In the meantime, here’s a full view of it from the top level:

I posted other shots of it here, here, here (that’s a multi-shot post), here, and here too. There may be a few videos from events in there on our Insta, too.

The real beauty in the design of the ship comes from the awesome outdoor spaces. The ship’s design is inspired by the Miami condo scene, and it doesn’t disappoint. Outside there’s a lot to enjoy. There are Infinity bridges on each side that extend out over the ocean with see-through walkways, along with a “Bridge of Sighs” on deck 16 aft that extends out over the South Beach pool and also features a see-through walkway so you can see what’s happening below. It’s also a prime picture spot, with my favorite examples being my 360 shot on one of the sea days:

along with my shot of Bayley standing out there on our final formal night:

Seriously, this ship is incredible. Most ships have a lower outside deck, but on most, your view is obscured in some way by lifeboats. Like the outer deck lit in blue light here, with lifeboats overhead:

(Note – this obviously isn’t just a Carnival thing, I just happened to take this picture while docked in Nassau with this specific post in mind 🙂 )

Liberty

That’s not the case at all on the Seaside, as the lifeboats are on a lower deck passengers can’t get to, while the outer boardwalk style deck on 8 has no lifeboats in view anywhere. The original renderings are pretty accurate in this regard, showing the deck 8 outside areas right above where the lifeboats are kept:

I know I’ve already said it, but she really is a beautiful ship, and if you’re not following us on Instagram, you’re missing out! I’ve still got plenty of ship shots left to post, so feel free to check us out over there!

Our balcony was pretty nice. While I stand by my point above that the room doesn’t really warrant the “suite” title, even with the Aurea benefits, having a longer balcony with loungers on it was nice. No crowding of the balcony if all three of us want on, and a place for all three of us to stretch out. The only downside was that we did end up with some trash out there, mostly in the form of jellybeans. Not sure if someone on an adjacent balcony dropped them and they rolled in, or if they were thrown from a higher balcony, but they got there, and got stepped on accidentally. Note that while people can see down in to this balcony from above if you’re out in the sunny part (on a lounger, near the glass, etc), you can slide back under cover near the door and get more privacy if you want. Take a look around and see for yourself!

The new technology on the ship worked really well! We got RFID-ish wristbands at check-in (free for Aurea and above, small charge for everyone else if I recall), and Jen only wore that, didn’t carry her ship card with her on-board at all, and we had no issues. We could pay at the bars with them, use them to open our cabin door, basically use them anywhere you’d normally use your ship card. The only exception to this was at the spa. If you use the thermal area, they prefer you hand over your card to get your pass into the thermal area vs handing over the wristband.

The MSC For Me app seems to really work well on-board. There were issues with it before sailing, like the itinerary not including Christmas day, but once you’re on the ship’s wifi, it really lights up. Bayley used it to book our show times all but one night, and it worked perfectly.

Additionally, the little tablets the bar staff had seemed to work pretty well for ordering an paying. You tell the server what you want, they enter it into their tablet and scan your card/wristband for payment. Then the order is transmitted to the bar to be made. I was surprised at how well these things worked so early in their use, and wish that they’d extend use to the MDR to make ordering/food prep more efficient vs using the old “write orders on a pad” method.

The buffet design is soooo much better than Divina. I’m sure I’ve noted in past Divina posts that one of my biggest gripes on that ship is that the walkways in the buffet are too small, with posts popping up at bad times, resulting in backups during busy times. That’s all been sorted from what I saw on Seaside. Walkways are much wider, allowing better flow. Obviously you still get people walking slowly in the middle of a walkway, or stopping for no apparent reason right in front of you, but the overall layout is much better in my opinion. There’s also more than one pizza station in the deck 8 buffet (the larger of the two buffets), so during busy times the wait for whatever flavor of pizza you want should be non-existent. Maybe I just got lucky, but I had zero wait getting a slice or two of pepperoni whenever we went, no matter how busy things were.

The entertainment team is still tops. This groups is one of the things we fell in love with on the Divina, and to be honest, I was a little worried they’d lose their edge on a bigger ship, but that wasn’t the case. It’s mostly a new cast of characters for us, with a few returning favorites (Andre as CD, Tyrone, Carlos, Wally, and Chante), and whether new to us or returning, they were all great. We attended numerous activities including trivia, scattergories, the evening parties in Haven, and all of the “moment with your cruise staff” activities in the atrium and enjoyed them all. Those last ones, the cruise staff moments, are oddly fun. It’s a 5 minute dance party with the entertainment team dressed in whatever the night’s theme is (Gatsby, horror outfits, western wear for country night, etc). They’re also well attended, with each floor of the atrium packed with people at each one we went to! Honestly, this team puts in more effort than I’ve seen on any other line to help ensure passengers are having fun, and they genuinely seem to be enjoying themselves regardless of the long hours they put in. They easily cancel out any of the issues I called out in the “bad” section.

The Captain is out and about quite a lot, and always friendly. We’ve sailed with Captain Scala before, during one of our Yacht Club sailings on the Divina, and were happy he’d be the captain for the first sailing of the Seaside. In that time, he’s developed quite a social media following and stays pretty active throughout each cruise posting various pics. We saw him out a number of times with his family as well, once at the Jungle Pool where he was filming this, as well as at shows, and even making an appearance at the Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle! I have to say, it was a pretty well attended event, and very well done on MSC’s part, with a couple of cakes prepared for us, as well as a variety of cocktails handed out to everyone. Good times were had by all 🙂

The crew were always friendly. No matter how hard they were working trying to keep up, they were always smiling, asking how you were doing, and how your day went. I can’t imagine the hours they were having to put in to try and keep up with some of the issues I called out above, but they always seemed to do it with a smile.

The gifts! The wonderful gifts! There are two parts to this one. First, all cabins got presents for being on the first full sailing out of Miami. We came back to the cabin one night to find these sitting on our bed!

Combined with the gifts we got on the 2 day inaugural (these, among a few other items), we’ve got some cool stuff that we’ll definitely treasure!

Second, Santa did show up again this cruise, and like our Christmas sailing on the Divina two years ago, handed out gifts to all the kids 11 and under (I think that was the age group, anyway). Santa and his helpers (Rudolph and some elves were positioned at center stage in the theater, and lines were formed in different areas for different age groups. Kids went up, got a gift, and had their picture taken with Santa. I love that they’re still doing this 🙂

All in all, it was a great week. Yes, there were issues, and things on the MDR and buffet side really need fixing, but overall we had a great time and would do it again without question. I have no doubt they’ll get past the issues experienced this week over time, but I can understand how what we saw this week could frustrate people considering it was a Christmas sailing, and a fairly pricey one at that. Keep in mind that everything I’m posting here was based on our own experience, so what you read elsewhere may vary. Personally, I’m happy to have spent another fun Christmas at sea, this time aboard a brand new ship!

This is definitely a ship I expect we’ll sail on again, which isn’t something I say lightly, since we rarely sail a ship twice (the Divina being the only ship we’ve sailed on more than once at the time of this). Over the next two to three weeks I’ll be writing in more detail on the ship, the rooms we saw, the food, and maybe a few other things, and as previously mentioned will be working on getting all of my 360 video uploaded to our YouTube channel, but for now, it’s a New Years Eve in Miami for us!