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brillohead

Royal Diamond tries MSC... any tips for a first-timer?

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I just did a last-minute booking of the amazingly affordable Meraviglia repo from NYC to MIA departing October 28th ($748 for a Fantastica balcony including port fees, no single supplement!).

I started cruising in the 1980s and have been on a few different lines in that time, but since 2013 I've been Loyal-to-Royal while building up to Diamond status.... now that I hit that mark, I'm ready to branch out and test the waters on other lines.  This will be my first time on MSC, and I'm reading as much as I can in the various threads here, but would appreciate any tips or words of wisdom from MSC regulars. 

For starters, it's my first embarkation in NYC -- any tips there?  (Saw that the first cruise was an absolute cluster for embarkation, hoping things settle down by the time I get there!) 

What would be a good time to show up to avoid standing in line? (I have no need to be the very first person on the ship -- it's a 13 day cruise, I'll have plenty of time on board!)

What beverages are included for free / how easy are they to find?  How much is just a soda at the bar?  (I rarely drink booze and just can't see myself purchasing $30/day worth of soda to bother with buying the non-alcoholic package.)

Talk to me about the Thermal Pass for the spa... do you really have unlimited access the whole cruise, or do you have to make reservations, or limited to one hour per day, or is it busy/crowded all the time???

How's the internet access?  I'm mainly looking for Facebook and email -- no streaming necessary -- so just planning on standard internet, which gives me 3.5GB for the 13-day cruise.  I have NO idea how much data I "normally" use, because my phone is connected to Wi-Fi almost all the time.  How much do they charge to "reload" your limit on board, does anyone know?

I'm flying Southwest so I have two free checked bags, so I'm not going to bother with laundry.  I'm actually pretty impressed with the cost of the various laundry packages, to be honest.  Royal's laundry is not cheap!  

How's the deck chair situation?  As a redhead from Michigan, I **require** shade as much as possible... will I be able to find a lounger on the pool deck in the shade, or will they all be saved by chair hogs who got up at 6am to put a towel and flip-flop on each chair?  Is there any rule about saving chairs?

Speaking of towels, I'm assuming pool towels are available on deck or in my room?

I'm pretty low maintenance -- MDR or buffet is fine for me, no specialty restaurants required.  But is there anything unique that I should be on the lookout for?  For example, Royal offers lunch in the MDR on sea days, including their Tutti Salad Bar -- but most people don't realize the MDR is a lunch option, or don't know about Tutti Salad.  Are there any insider food tips I should know?

I'm aware of the Daily Service Charge and would never consider removing it (and shame on those who do!).  With that being said, I've seen several places on the MSC website where it says they don't recommend tipping individual workers... do people really not give cash to bartenders, drink waiters, MDR staff, or room stewards?  Does the DSC really cover all those people adequately?  

Can you think of any other MSC-related info that would be helpful for a first-timer traveling on MSC in general or the Meraviglia in particular?  

Thanks for any info you're willing to share!  

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Also forgot to ask -- is there a mini-fridge in the room where I can stash my water bottle?

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thermal pass-I didn't purchase it but spoke to someone who prepurchased it for$400 app. and then found it was selling onboard for $300 app. when they questioned they were told it didn't sell well so they reduced and no they didn't get $100 refund.

tapas bar was selling buy one get one at la carte at lunch time, good deal.

yes mini fridge is open and has some space.

solo meets unhosted but listed in daily, never found anyone there.

sky lounge has 2 small refrigerators that offer assorted, oddball , leftover?, finger foods thru the evening, comp. look for Choco strawberries, prosciutto and the salmon there seemed a grade better then MDR, when you could find it.

you will enjoy☺

 

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PS- watch for people cheating at trivia. too many people getting 100% correct, too often, they either are b2b or googling.

Even the CD commented on it, 

Edited by bones774

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5 minutes ago, GratefulRIC said:

Are you Royal Diamond?  


Diamond status on Royal Caribbean, yes. 

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Hi Brillo, I am also Diamond on Royal. We also have tried Celebrity & about 6 Carnival cruises back in 90’s. We tried our first MSC in late September of this year. We got a great deal on a 7 day cruise onboard the Armonia which we thought was good time to try them. 

 

They also matched our Diamond to Gold. Their loyalty program does not give you as many goodies as Royal Caribbean but that isn’t important to us. 

 

We were happy with the cruise and service. It is a little different then Royal but not in bad way. Some things I liked better then Royal other things they feel short.  However we have already booked our next cruise on Divina in December. 

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1 hour ago, kidless said:

We were happy with the cruise and service. It is a little different then Royal but not in bad way. Some things I liked better then Royal other things they feel short.  However we have already booked our next cruise on Divina in December. 


I'm going in with my eyes wide open and no preconceived notions.... I know it won't be exactly like Royal, but it's encouraging that it wasn't so very different that it scared you off!  

I think my biggest issue is that I booked this last-minute, and now I'm scrambling to learn all I need to know... with Royal, even a last-minute booking is easy-peasy because I already know how everything works!  But in the end, I'm on a ship in the Caribbean and someone else is cooking and cleaning -- that's the REALLY important part of it all!

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We took our first cruise on MSC Seaside last year and loved our 14 nights on her.  We loved it so much we will be on her this coming June for 14 nights again.  We still love to cruise Royal and will be boarding Liberty today.  Dis not leave Royal but it seems we are doing about 2 cruises every other year during the summer with MSC.  We tried MSC after 34 cruises on Royal.  We went in with an open mind and enjoyed ourselves like I am confident you will.  Have a very good cruise. 

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We loved our cruise aboard the Meraviglia in the Mediterranean. She’s not quite like an Oasis class ship, but she has a “wow” factor that I can only compare to that class on Royal.  

 

We had weeklong access to the Thermal Suite as part of the Aurea experience. Yes, it’s unlimited. The facilities are great, but I found them to be a bit enclosed and claustrophobic in comparison to what we experienced on a previous MSC cruise aboard the Divina. It was always crowded, but we enjoyed these facilities tremendously.

 

I paid for the cheapest internet package that’s good for light social media usage, and the data allowed was more than enough for that. You definitely can’t be glued to the internet all day, but if all you’ll be doing is to check once or twice a day, it should be sufficient for you as well. 

 

Our Aurea experience also came with a drink package, so I don't know how much individual drinks cost (plus they were priced in Euros when I sailed). But the included drinks without a drink package are similar to what’s included on Royal. Word of caution, MSC serves Pepsi products 🤮.

 

Since you’re asking about the thermal suite, as well as drink cost, have you looked into how much it would cost you to upgrade to the Aurea experience? Sometimes the upgrade costs less than purchasing things a la carte, plus you get additional perks like priority embarkation, access to a private solarium deck, and open seating in a reserved section of the MDR for Aurea passengers. 

 

Lastly, since you’re Diamond on Royal, did you status match with MSC? This is one of the reasons why we tried MSC to start with. You get an additional 5% discount on your cruise fare plus a longer list of perks. I’m guessing that they’ll match your Diamond status to MSC’s Black Card level, which is their highest status.

 

Have a wonderful cruise! I’d love to sail on the Meraviglia again!

Edited by Tapi

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I can try a few.  The embarkation process in NY was very simple.  When you arrive at the pier, you hand your luggage over on the lower level.  You then board an elevator to the upper level, pass through a passport check, followed by a security screening of yourself and hand luggage.  Then you are sent to a line to check in based on your experience booked or status.  We arrived at 12 and we had priority since we were Aurea but none of the lines were long.  They give you your cruise card at check in and a boarding number, then you sit and wait for your number to be called to board.  We boarded immediately and went straight to lunch in the buffet.  Rooms were ready about 130pm.

 

Beverages are free at the buffet, in the morning it’s milk, fat free milk, chocolate milk, several flavors of juice, water, coffee, tea and hot milk.  In the afternoon and evening, there is water, ice tea, lemonade, two juices, coffee, tea.  A soda is about $3 at the bar but depends on the bar as I have seen different pricing.  It’s been Coke products on this cruise so they must have changed when coming to USA.  You will also have a mini bar and can buy a soda from there as well for $3.25.  I have a package that includes the mini bar but you can buy individual.

 

Internet access is slow but ok for email.  No streaming and slow to load photos.

 

I can’t really answer on deck chairs because on this cruise we are in cold weather.  Yesterday at sea barely any were in use.

 

Pool towels are provided in your room.

 

I will for sure give extra cash for tips on top of the daily service charge, specifically to our room steward who is excellent.

 

Edited by smile145

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9 minutes ago, smile145 said:

It’s been Coke products on this cruise so they must have changed when coming to USA. 

That’s so good to know! I wonder if the change is regional for the USA market or if it’s a company wide change. Our experience was in the Med.

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The internet worked well for us.  We had the 3.5 GB package for our 10 day cruise.  It was enough but we were careful.  You will need to sign in and out when you use it but that is very easy.  Their app is one of the best I have ever seen and we have sailed on most cruise lines.  I find that so ironic because their website is so bad.  Toward the end of the cruise, on our sign in page a "top off your internet" offer popped up.  It was $35 for an additional 1.2 GB  Not too bad.  Definitely buy it before you sail.  It is more expensive onboard.

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51 minutes ago, Tapi said:

That’s so good to know! I wonder if the change is regional for the USA market or if it’s a company wide change. Our experience was in the Med.


 

5AC01E21-3DEB-47B4-AD65-8C6FA0857243.jpeg

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5 hours ago, Tapi said:

We loved our cruise aboard the Meraviglia in the Mediterranean. She’s not quite like an Oasis class ship, but she has a “wow” factor that I can only compare to that class on Royal.  

 

We had weeklong access to the Thermal Suite as part of the Aurea experience. Yes, it’s unlimited. The facilities are great, but I found them to be a bit enclosed and claustrophobic in comparison to what we experienced on a previous MSC cruise aboard the Divina. It was always crowded, but we enjoyed these facilities tremendously.

 

I paid for the cheapest internet package that’s good for light social media usage, and the data allowed was more than enough for that. You definitely can’t be glued to the internet all day, but if all you’ll be doing is to check once or twice a day, it should be sufficient for you as well. 

 

Our Aurea experience also came with a drink package, so I don't know how much individual drinks cost (plus they were priced in Euros when I sailed). But the included drinks without a drink package are similar to what’s included on Royal. Word of caution, MSC serves Pepsi products 🤮.

 

Since you’re asking about the thermal suite, as well as drink cost, have you looked into how much it would cost you to upgrade to the Aurea experience? Sometimes the upgrade costs less than purchasing things a la carte, plus you get additional perks like priority embarkation, access to a private solarium deck, and open seating in a reserved section of the MDR for Aurea passengers. 

 

Lastly, since you’re Diamond on Royal, did you status match with MSC? This is one of the reasons why we tried MSC to start with. You get an additional 5% discount on your cruise fare plus a longer list of perks. I’m guessing that they’ll match your Diamond status to MSC’s Black Card level, which is their highest status.

 

Have a wonderful cruise! I’d love to sail on the Meraviglia again!

Royal D and D+ status matches to MSC Gold now.  I think the status matched changed for D to Black about a year ago.

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29 minutes ago, frank808 said:

Royal D and D+ status matches to MSC Gold now.  I think the status matched changed for D to Black about a year ago.

That’s a bummer. Good news is that even with Gold, you still get the 5% discount. 

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One thing I found odd is at check in you do not give them your credit card. You have 48 hours once you board to go to a kiosk onboard and swipe your card. You can make purchases until you get it done. We did it as soon as we boarded there was no one in line and it was easy peasy! 

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Glad to see you're making the jump! I was super loyal to Carnival but I tried the Divina and I have been hooked ever since (even though I am cheating on MSC with Royal in January :D)

 

One thing I will definitely say is a little different is the clientele. Maybe you're used to this with Royal if you've cruised them out of a homeport that is not in North America, but a large chunk of the ship, and on some sailings, even from the USA, even the majority, will not be American. So expect different cultural customs and vibes on the ship. For example, you're hear some music you haven't heard before in the clubs and from the onboard singers, you'll see some food on the buffet you don't eat often, and you're frequently hear languages like Spanish, Italian, German, French, and Chinese, both from passengers and from the announcements. If this doesn't bother you, or you have cruised outside of American waters before, then you should be fine. But many negative MSC reviews that I read seem to have this focus on a failed attempt to "Americanize" the ship, but why would they do that? They don't advertise themselves to be American, so don't expect that. However, I really love the diverse passenger base, and that's actually something that attracts me, so to each his own!

 

As for the shade, MSC loungers often have the movable top so you can certainly shade your head and hair, while leaving your body exposed. This makes reading and preventing facial sunburn very easy. However, since the newer MSC ships are very long and have many open decks, you can likely find a completely covered sunbed - maybe just a little bit away from the pool itself. The loungers near the pool are typically full, and have no sort of shade/coverage, so if you're sensitive, you may want to migrate away from the pool. Don't worry, though, because MSC has showers up and down the decks, and hot tubs sometimes as well. 

 

I think (and hope) you will be pleasantly surprised with MSC, I really hope you enjoy it! 

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2 hours ago, OceansOfTravels said:

I think (and hope) you will be pleasantly surprised with MSC, I really hope you enjoy it! 


Thanks.... a bad day on a cruise is still better than being at home, so I'm not worried! 

Thanks for the tip on shade -- I definitely don't need to be near the pool... just close enough to walk over and take a dip once in a while. 

And totally okay with a more diverse population -- I already knew to expect that before I ever booked, and my TA even mentioned it when I booked with him, b/c he's also heard of people complaining that not everything is totally American.  :classic_rolleyes:  

Sounds like it's going to be a lot of what I'm already used to on a cruise.... fun and sun and food!

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2 hours ago, brillohead said:


Thanks.... a bad day on a cruise is still better than being at home, so I'm not worried! 

Thanks for the tip on shade -- I definitely don't need to be near the pool... just close enough to walk over and take a dip once in a while. 

And totally okay with a more diverse population -- I already knew to expect that before I ever booked, and my TA even mentioned it when I booked with him, b/c he's also heard of people complaining that not everything is totally American.  :classic_rolleyes:  

Sounds like it's going to be a lot of what I'm already used to on a cruise.... fun and sun and food!

 

I love that quote, it's so true!

 

Looks like you're in for a great cruise, hopefully you come back and let us all know how it was

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1 hour ago, OceansOfTravels said:

 

I love that quote, it's so true!

 

Looks like you're in for a great cruise, hopefully you come back and let us all know how it was


I definitely will.... and I'll try to keep Explorer in one piece for you, too -- I'm doing the 9-day ABC on her the day after Thanksgiving, and I see you're doing it in January.  

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12 hours ago, brillohead said:


I definitely will.... and I'll try to keep Explorer in one piece for you, too -- I'm doing the 9-day ABC on her the day after Thanksgiving, and I see you're doing it in January.  

Yes I am! It's actually my first Royal cruise in ages, and I have never been to any of the ports, so I am very excited.

 

Hopefully you do a little Q&A or something after Explorer because I'll likely have many questions. Really don't know what to expect so I'm both excited and nervous!

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19 hours ago, little britain said:

@brillohead  - it may be a bit out of date but this was my review of my first experience....with many comparisons.  Hope this helps.

 


Thanks, I'll go check it out!

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