MCS -USA has brought one of its premier cruise ships, the Lirica, to compete in the Fort Lauderdale/Caribbean market.
The cruise line is part of Mediterranean Shipping Cruises, a privately owned company, that is headquartered in Italy, but has its U.S. branch in Fort Lauderdale.
We recently experienced a seven-night Western Caribbean cruise aboard the 59,000-ton Lirica.
We like to call this experience "cruising out side the box."
The first difference about the Lirica, which was built in 2003, is that it is just about half the size of the mega ships that currently service the Caribbean routes. Like her famous godmother, Sophia Loren, the Lirica is a classy, elegant, sophisticated lady.
The ship is kept sparklingly clean, with staff wiping, polishing and vacuuming constantly. The cabin hallways, as the cabins themselves, are beautifully maintained.
There are hand-sanitizing stations at entrances to the main restaurants and the Bistro Cafeteria area.
With all this emphasis on cleanliness, we can understand why the Lirica has never had an outbreak of the Norwalk virus, which has affected other cruise ships. U.S. Coast Guard health inspections have consistently given the ship a 100, or very close to it, rating.
Upon boarding the ship, we were welcomed by a white-gloved steward who helped with our carry-on luggage and escorted us directly to our awaiting clean and comfortable stateroom.
This white-gloved escort service is another one of the "outside of the box" features that we really appreciated.
Most of the 778 cabins are on Decks 8, 9 and 10, with a few on Decks 7 and 12. All the decks are identified with Italian names, such as Paganini, Albioni, Bellini, etc.
The public areas - restaurants, lounges, bars, theater, shops, small library, cyber café, photo gallery, casino, reception desk and excursion office - are on Decks 5 and 6, with a large dance floor and night club on Deck 12.
The pool area, ice-cream bar (extra cost), healthy fruit-drink bar (extra cost), children's area, steam and sauna room, gym, health center (spa/massage) and beauty salon are on Deck 11.
We got to know the ship layout quickly and found getting around to be very easy. Elevators, located forward, midship and aft, service the nine passenger decks. Most of the time, we found the elevators were not crowded and had a minimum of wait time. There were lots of folks with canes, wheelchairs and scooters who seemed to have easy access to all areas on the ship. We noticed many staff members being helpful to everyone, especially the physically impaired. We think this is another "outside the box" feature.
Many of the service staff are Indonesian, a warm-hearted people by nature, who were always helpful and trying hard to please us. It's interesting to see their favorable reaction to my saying, "Trima kassi (thank you in Indonesian)." We find that just a couple of friendly words to the staff, in their own native language, brings multiple dividends. Try it sometime and see what happens!
Regardless of nationality, all the staff was courteous, helpful and pleasant. Our ocean-view stateroom had a large window and comfortable beds, which were kept very clean, and included a bathroom with sink, shower and hair dryer.
Also, the cabin had a mini-bar and safe. There was plenty of closet and drawer space for our clothes. We did appreciate the fresh fruit basket that would be replenished upon request.
MSC-USA aims to give American travelers a chance to experience and appreciate the flavors of European, especially Italian, cuisine. We faced this experience with open mind and an attitude to try it all and we'd encourage you to do likewise. Some dishes were fabulous, but some were sort of different. In this case, the dinner menu has an "always available" selection, which includes grilled chicken, steak, salmon, Caesar salad, etc., for folks who prefer a more American-flavored cuisine.
Another "outside the box" feature is how gratuities are handled. The ship automatically charges $12 a person per day to aa person's onboard account. Sharing in this amount are all the servers and staff in the dining room, the buffet/cafeteria, the stateroom, room service, and bell boys. Gratuities for bar servers are included in the cost of drinks. These costs, we found were not unreasonable. Gratuities are not mandatory and can be adjusted as you see fit.
The nightly shows were excellent, with several great Italian performers. There were lots of daily activities so we could do as much or as little as we wished.
MSC-USA regularly organizes theme cruises. The Dec. 3 cruise for 11 days to the deep Caribbean will feature big bands. We will not miss this one.
Rose & Eric Mascarenhas are travel consultants with Gadabout Travel. They can be reached at (772) 589-0633. Gadabout also has an office in Melbourne, (321) 253-3674.