Yesterday marked one year since I have stepped on board a cruise ship. My last sailing was aboard MSC Cruises’ MSC Meraviglia. Some of you may remember me embarking on that sailing at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. I wrote about the COVID-19 protocols put in place by MSC. But with all the craziness surrounding Covid onboard and ashore I glanced over the most important part of this trip – my experience on board.
Today I want to talk about my experience aboard MSC Meraviglia without dwelling on Covid, but before I do that it is important to quickly mention the success that MSC has had resuming sailing in the Mediterranean. MSC Cruises' Grandiosa has been sailing in the Mediterranean since fall of 2020 and will be joined by MSC Seaside starting May 1, 2021. The company also has plans to resume sailing in Japan in April.
MSC Meraviglia is one of the largest ships I have ever been on. As someone who is used to river cruising and small ship ocean cruising, when I first stepped onto the ship I felt swallowed by the ship’s two-story Galleria. There were shops and restaurants, an LED dome ceiling, and crew members and passengers everywhere. I was overwhelmed by the amount of stimulation I experienced in my first few minutes on board. So, while I waited for my stateroom, I headed up to the Marketplace buffet with my travel companion, my mother, to grab a quick lunch.
We easily found a table at the Marketplace and sat down for lunch. My mom and I both grabbed a slice of pizza, which became a favorite treat during the sailing. The Marketplace had many different food options, from pizza and pasta to smaller bites and salads to international cuisine. But we will talk more about dining in a minute.
Just after lunch, my mom and I headed to our stateroom. The room itself was pretty standard, but was plenty big for the two of us to store our things and sit in comfortably.
I found Meraviglia busy, full of life, and hard to navigate. Though no part of my experience in my first few hours on board was bad, I am not a fan of big ship cruising for many reasons. As I navigated the ship trying to get my bearings, the crowds I encountered solidified that.
It wasn’t until everyone had access to their staterooms that things started to calm down. Though the ship was still busy, it seemed like everyone on board quickly found their place. Some travelers were posted by the pool the entire trip, others played games in the arcade or sports in the gym, but many travelers did what exactly what my mom and I did, jumped around from activity to activity.
As everyone found their own groove and spots on board, the ship became significantly less crowded. The nice thing about being on board a big ship is the room to disperse. There were so many different venues on Meraviglia that it was fairly easy for us to avoid large crowds when we wanted.
Although I was overwhelmed by the size of the ship and the amount of people on in my first few hours aboard, my tune quickly changed. By day two I already knew my way around, with the Galleria and the lobby becoming landmarks of sorts. It was easy to find venues without loads of people inside and, as long as I stayed away from the pool decks on sea days, I didn’t feel overwhelmed by crowds on board at all.
In case it wasn’t clear from the last paragraph, my first impression was entirely wrong. Sure, there were some times that the ship felt crowded, but it didn’t feel like the zoo I thought it was going to upon embarkation. Much to my surprise, especially after my initial impression, this cruise ended up being one of the most fun trips I’ve ever taken. I met a wonderful group of people, played so much trivia that I’m surprised I ever went to a trivia night again once I returned home, ate some delicious meals, got taken care of by wonderful crew members, and some other things I’ll tell you about in a minute. Let’s dive into the experience.
There were so many entertainment options on board Meraviglia that I often felt conflicted about what to do. From late night dance parties like the white party pictured above to bingo to shows in the theatre, there was never a dull moment on board.
One staple in our daily routine was trivia at the Pub. 4 o’clock pub trivia was not the only trivia offered, but we enjoyed competing against the same groups of players day after day. Each group claimed their own table for the week and we played day after day. One day the team next to us didn’t show up to play and we joked the next day that we were terrified something horrible had happened to them. The appeal of the trivia didn’t only come from the excellent hosts and competitive atmosphere, but also from the camaraderie formed by each and every trivia team.
It seemed like entertainment was everywhere we looked, from multiple pools to fun events in the daily planner, but one place that we couldn’t miss was the arcade. The arcade houses Formula One simulators, claw machines, video games, a sportsplex with soccer goals, and even a bowling alley. As soon as I learned that Meraviglia had a bowling alley on board, I made it my mission to make sure our group went. I don’t want to brag, but I did come out on top. Two strikes on a moving ship? I’ll take it.
The last thing I have to mention is Merviglia’s Aquapark. Am I only mentioning this because I have a video of my 50-something year-old mother coming down a water slide? Maybe. But, jokes aside, my mom, our friend Karen, and I spent at least an hour in the Aquapark water sliding. Though water slides might not be for everyone, it was a good way to spend a small chunk of our day.
Meraviglia boasts 12 dining venues, with four specialty restaurants, and multiple bars. Though we mostly dined in one of the main dining rooms, Waves, we were also able to check out a few of Meraviglia’s specialty restaurants.
Our dining experience in Waves was enhanced so much by our waiter Sakti. He quickly learned our likes and dislikes, and was extremely attentive to our group. We had some wonderful meals at Waves, but not all of them were great. That’s not to say that they were bad, I just think that some of the dining experiences in Waves were mediocre. I would dine here again, but I would think of springing for a specialty dining package for at least a few nights on board.
My mom and I agreed that our favorite dining experience on board was at Hola! Tapas Bar. Located in the Galleria, it felt almost like a restaurant on a city street. Here you can see a selection of small bites we ordered. My favorite? The shrimp.
On our second to last day on board the ship we had lunch at Kaito Teppanyaki, also located in the Galleria. The sushi was great and the restaurant also has hibachi tables for those looking for a more immersive dining experience.
Butcher’s Cut was another favorite of the group. The beet and burrata salad pictured above was heavenly. I also feasted on a filet mignon, smoked tomato soup, and a chocolate lava cake for dessert.
If ever I were missing on during the voyage, there was a large chance that I could be found at the Champagne Bar. This became our group meeting spot before dinner. We fell in love not just because of the champagne (obviously), but also because of the wonderful Ana behind the bar. The bar served fun specialty champagne cocktails that were one of a kind.
This voyage was unlike any other that I had taken before. I was in wonderful company with my group of travel companions and had a great time aboard Meraviglia. I would be lying if I said that I were not put off by my first impressions of the ship. The size is truly something I didn’t think I could get over – but I did. And in the end, it is one of the best trips I’ve ever taken. Was that because of my travel companions? Or the wonderful crew? Or the speciality dining and drink packages I was given by MSC? Who knows. What I do know is that if I do have the chance to sail on one of MSC’s ships again, I will pack my bags quickly. And if you don’t hear from me while I’m on board, just remember, I’m probably at the Champagne Bar.
*MSC Cruises invited the writer on this trip for review purposes.
Your Travel Specialist