Length: 763 ft
A small but lively pan-European vessel with every activity presented in five languages. Not one of top MSC shipsBest For People Who Want
A true bargain on a very clean, classy ship that appeals to mostly European passengersShould Be Avoided By People Who Prefer
All American cuisine for every meal; alternative restaurants; large cabins; all English speaking fellow passengers.Onboard Experience
Passengers of MSC Cruises are greeted and escorted to their cabins by white gloved housekeeping staff upon boarding. This service is a surprise that typified the friendly, elegant atmosphere of the cruise. MSC's focus during the Caribbean season is trying to accommodate American tastes , but happily, the onboard still ambience remains charmingly European, with Italian officers and a mix of Italian, Balinese and international crew. Stellar entertainment by European performers, and the genuine Italian food and wine, set the MSC Armonia apart from her other ships in this price range populated solely with Americans. As in the Mediterranean, the announcements are still in five languages, but while the ship is in the Caribbean they make them in English first. The majority of the crew is comfortable conversing in English as well as their mother tongue.Decor
Each of Armonia's public room has its own distinctive color scheme, all more subdued than Opera's, and each room blends well with the next, giving a sense of unity. Cabin decks are similarly color-coordinated, each with a different hue. Abundant polished brass, mirrors, glass, and marble make the insides of these immaculate ships resplendent. The interior lighting is kept low, but during the day the sun streams through the many windows brightening the rooms and offering generous views of the sea.Public Rooms
The Armonia offers eight different bars and lounges, each of them unique, and most of them situated on Decks 5 and 6 connected by a grand marble staircase. Lord Nelson Pub, in the traditional English style, is a favorite for pre-dinner drinks. With no live music, it is a great place for conversation. Smoking is allowed in this lounge so it is fully occupied by the smokers on board, as is the casino bar, the pool bar, and the starboard side of the disco. Smoking is not permitted on any passenger cabin balconies. The majority of the public areas are smoke free.
There is another large lounge on deck 7, and a huge disco surrounded by glass walls on deck 12. The Beverly Hills Bar and Rodeo Drive shops near the dining room entrance on deck 5 are all duty-free shops. There is a little bit of everything, from jewelry to souvenirs. A die-hard shopper might find the shops small however, and the merchandise selection somewhat limited.
Located at the stern on Deck 12 is the Disco, the Blue Club. By day, this generously sized lounge with expansive windows is popular with the book readers, card players, and those just looking for quiet solitude while enjoying a great view. There's even access to a small outside deck overlooking the wake of the ship when underway. At night, the lights go down, and the action heats up. The bar goes into operation and so does the entertainment staff to get the passengers onto the dance floor.
Adjacent to the disco is a space called Virtual Reality Games. This video arcade is rather large for a ship this size, a bonus for families with children.
The Cyber Café, located on deck 6, has 10 computer stations. The first 10 minutes of internet is $5.00, and 50 cents per minute after that. If you bring your wireless equipped laptop, you can prepay blocks of internet time ranging from $15 for 30 minutes to $100 for 250 minutes. The photo shop and gallery are also located on deck 6.
The "I Pirati" Mini-Club is a delightful haven for younger children. Resembling a tropical "Little Gym" the kid's club is staffed by energetic, experienced staff. Children under three are welcomed to use the space when accompanied by an adult. The facility is open for 3 hours in the morning and afternoon, and 2 hours in the evening. Babysitting for children under three or for extended hours on port days is available for a charge. And while on the topic of children, expect extra friendly, helpful service when cruising with young ones. From the dining room and housekeeping staff the crew at the gangway, all are ready to lend a hand with a genuine smile.Cuisine
Freshly made pasta and risotto dishes are available for lunch and dinner as well as a specialty dish from a different region of Italy each night. Grilled chicken, steak, and fish are always available as an option for more traditional fare. The menu lists appetizers, soup, salads, pasta, main courses and garnishes, as well as vegetarian and healthy choice selections. The dessert menu includes cakes, pastries, ice cream and sorbet, along with after-dinner drinks. Second helpings are yours for the asking, and portion sizes are above average.
Breakfast begins with the Early Birds' Coffee and Danish at 6:00 am, the full breakfast buffet runs from 6:30 to 9:30 am. Fresh eggs made to order and omelettes are offered at a station located in the grill area, just outside of the buffet restaurant. Piping hot coffee is served in cups and saucers by wait staff at the drink stations. No oversized mugs are available, or large sized drink glasses either for that matter. Juice is offered in the morning, replaced by tea during the day. The dining rooms served breakfast open seating style, from 7:00 to 9:30 am, and open seating lunch from 12:00 to 2:00 pm. A continental breakfast is available through room service from 7:30 to 11:00 am. The buffet is closed in the evening, so the dining room, grill and pizza stations, or room service are your choices for an evening meal.
Entrees in the Le Bistrot Cafeteria during the lunch time of 12:00 to 2:30 pm ranged from the unusual octopus stew towards more American meal staples such as broiled fish and chicken. A carving station serving of either beef or poultry is available here everyday, along with the ever tempting huge selection of rolls, breads, and crispy breadsticks.
Hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken breasts and pizza are available in the poolside grill areas from 12:00 to 3:30 pm and then again from 5:30 to 9:00 p.m. The freshly made pizza is hot and delicious. The all-American favorite pepperoni is present, along with a few other not so ordinary varieties.
On "gala" nights in the buffet areas, passengers are treated to Crepes Flambé' and other delicious specialties artfully presented and served. On other nights, simpler snacks of sandwiches and sweets are served, usually by strolling waiters in the lounges and other public areas of the ship.
The Ice Cream and Vitamin bar, not complimentary, located on lido deck is open from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Afternoon tea from 4:00 to 5:00 pm consists of finger sandwiches, cakes, and cookies, and is usually served in the buffet area and out on the adjacent deck area.
A variety of club sandwiches, chicken Caesar salads, cheese and fruit platters, along with ice cream and dessert of the day is offered on the 24 hour room service menu. The food is good, and delivered within 20 minutes.
A coffee and tea station is available at the casual dining area after hours, but the best coffee onboard is at The Coffee Bar. Authentic Italian Espresso ($1.60) and cappuccino are available at most of the bars onboard.
A glass of house wine is available for just over $4.00, a draft beer for $3.00, and a soda for $2.20. Signature cocktails are $7.95 and mixed drinks $7.25. Reasonable wine, beer, and soda packages are available for purchase. A $28.00 MSC Junior Card would bring a grin to your little one as they ordered their own special 5 virgin drinks and 5 soft drinks. Bar wait staff did not hawk drinks in the public areas, but servers are never very far away to take your order.Restaurants
There are two dinner seatings in each of the two dining rooms at 6:00 and 8:15 p.m. La Bussola (618-seat) and L'lppocampo (380-seat) dining rooms are situated on Decks 5 and 6 respectively. Both dining rooms are single decks, crowded with seating options ranging from tables and chairs or bench seats, to booths.
La Bussola (618-seat) and L'lppocampo (380-seat) dining rooms are situated on Decks 5 and 6 respectively. Those prone to seasickness may prefer the mid-ship location of The Caravella. Breakfast and lunch are both open seating, while dinner is assigned.Service
Dining room service by the waiter and assistant waiter is spotty, and is not yet as polished for Americans as it could be. However, the multitude of dining room section supervisors and assistant maitre-de's are very much out on the floor and more often than not, working right along side the waiters taking care of special requests or refilling your glass.
Cabin housekeeping services are topnotch, and requests are responded to in a timely manner. The Reception and Shore Excursion desks are adequately staffed, and there is rarely a line to ask a question or book a tour.Tipping
In the Caribbean, a daily gratuity of $12 per passenger is automatically added to the onboard account. If you're under 18 and sharing with two adults, it's only $6.00 per day. The amount can be adjusted at the Reception desk.
A gratuity for bar staff is already included in the price of drinks. Spa and casino staff may be tipped in cash at the discretion of the passenger. In the Caribbean, they have come to expect a tip from the North American clientele. In Europe, tradition dictates that tips be presented to service personnel on the last night of the cruise. The cruise line suggests $3.50 to $5.00 per person per day for the Waiter and Stateroom attendant and $1.00 - $2.00 per day for the Maitre D'. Children under 12 pay half those amounts. Again, the gratuity for bar service personnel is included in the price of the drink.Entertainment
The Entertainers, called Animators or Palace, create a lot of lighthearted fun and mischief. You will find them throughout the ship, surprising you with their antics. Every evening, musicians perform in the various lounges, and there's jollity in profusion in the Lyric Lounge. It's here in the Lyric Lounge where you can laugh at, or be laughed at, during the passenger participation "shows".
The main show lounge, the Broadway Theater, offers two shows every evening, one at 8:15 and one at 10:15. The DGM Dancers along with other featured entertainers, offer after dinner entertainment ranging from Las Vegas type song and dance productions to magicians and comic routines. Show up early for a good seat; the early show especially fills up fast.
Italian cooking and language lessons; trivia, mini-golf, ping-pong, shuffleboard tournaments; a new type of dance lesson and arts and crafts everyday; leave barely enough time to lounge in the sun, or sneak away for an afternoon nap. Bingo is offered on board, but pay attention or you might miss it.
The two large swimming pools are separated by a duo of whirlpools with their own elevated lounge deck. There's plenty of deck space around the swimming pools, and the staff brings the fun outdoors for the pool crowd with games, dancing and parties. An expansive sun deck is located forward on deck 13, two decks up from pool deck. The pool and sun decks are furnished with adjustable loungers, each with their own attached sun shades. There's a table set up with a check in/check out for pools towels, but enforcement of the policy is rather lax, so no worries if you forgot to return your towel.
Baseball themed Caribbean cruises allow passengers to rub elbows with five All-Star and Hall-of-Fame baseball legends. Hitting, pitching and batting clinics, interviews, Q&A, storytelling, and autograph sessions are all popular. Golf fans will enjoy honing their skills under famous trainers and other professional of the game during selected Mediterranean cruises. MSC has additional themed cruises in the planning, including culture, hobbies, cuisine, music, well-being and more.Cabins
Inside staterooms at 140 square feet, are on the small side, but well appointed, as are the rest of the cabin categories, with a mini-bar, safe, and closet and drawer space for a one-week cruise. A corner vanity below a mirrored corner cabinet (here's where the hairdryer is stowed), provides table top space, along with the usual two small nightstands. There's a chair tucked under the vanity and another by the bed. Ask your cabin steward to have one of the chairs removed if you prefer more floor space than sitting space. If you book an outside cabin with a window, the only thing you will gain is the ocean view, not more square footage. The inside and outside cabins designated for triple or quad occupancy are outfitted with upper bunks.
Suites, the only category with a private balcony, are a roomy 250 square feet. The additional space is furnished with a glass shelf serving as a convenient entry table, a larger closet, a full size bathtub, and a comfortable sitting area with a love seat. The love seat is a sofa bed, making all the suites suitable for triple occupancy. The remote controlled television is perched on top of a long cabinet opposite the love seat, with additional storage and the mini-bar. A coffee table and chair in the sitting area, along with another chair serving the vanity area, and two nightstands, complete the furniture inventory. The private balcony is a comfortable size, completely sheltered from above, and furnished with two chairs and a table.
There are two, two-room family suites measuring 237 square feet. The four handicapped cabins are all inside staterooms and are 226 square feet.
The bathrooms are small, but offer adequate storage space. The towels, although not overly luxurious in texture or weight, are huge. The bath towel, measuring 3 x 5 feet, is more of a bath sheet, with matching oversized hand towels. Shampoo and bath gel are provided in small bottles, along with a shower cap, shoe shine sponge, and a travel sized sewing kit.
Most of the mattresses on the Armonia have been replaced with extra firm new ones, without a cushy pillow top. Foam egg crates are not available, but an extra blanket folded up and placed under the mattress pad did the trick if you prefer a softer feel. Pillows are abundant, and you could bounce a dime off those expertly made crisp sheets.
The telephone did not have the capacity for voice mail, but you could program it for a wake up call. The remote controlled television offered several different news and movie channels, as well as programming for children. Some of the programs are in European languages, but there is always something for the English speaking passenger.Fitness/Spa
The gym, deck 11, offers aerobic equipment in a light-filled room with floor-to-ceiling windows. The spa offered the usual cruise ship fare of facials and massages, with different Bali massage specials just about everyday. Aerobics classes are free, with personal training sessions and Pilates classes for a fee. There is a jogging track on deck 12 above the pool.Attire
The dress code is resort casual with two formal nights on ten-night, three on 11-night, and four on 17- and 18-night cruises. In the Caribbean, dress on formal nights is varied, with women wearing dressy pantsuits, cocktail dresses, or evening gowns, and men in either dark suits or tuxedo.Fellow Passengers
This ship is marketed primarily to Europeans who are used to living with people who only speak their own native tongues. Onboard you will hear German, Italian, French, Spanish and anything else except for very little English.
The review which was entered by the person in 2005 hit the nail on the head.
The only improvement has been in the entertainment. In fact, many things may have even gotten worse in other aspects of the ship.
Table water is no longer available when dining. Water must be purchased by the bottle. No tea or coffee is available after the evening meals unless purchased. The tea and coffee in the self-service buffet restaurant is served from huge urns. All food areas are closed after meal service. The only drinks or ice creams, etc., available after this time must be purchased.
Unlike many other ships, this ship docked too far away from anything interesting. We would have to walk miles or use the transport laid on by MSC, which was also charged for.
We had visited most of the ports on previous occasions and never experienced this situation.
We have also experienced quite a few cruises, and I am pleased that this was not our first. We would have missed out on many of the other delightful cruises we have experienced before this one, because I would have been hesitant to try furthercruising had this been our first cruise. Indeed this was our 4th cruise with MSC, and we have not had this experience on their other vessels.
I disembarked the MSC Armonia in January 2005 after we sailed seven days from Rio de Janeiro to Salvador and back. For anyone thinking about booking this line, my advice is to do some homework first. As detailed below, I thought this was a horrible cruise, although in fairness to MSC I have heard that the Armonia experience outside of Brazil is not as bad. It could hardly be worse.
I have been on 35 cruises, on Seabourne, Crystal, Orient, HAL, Carnival, Celebrity, RCCL and others. I am knowledgeable and do not consider myself a snob. I have no axe to grind. This was by far the worst cruise I have been on, both in absolute terms and in terms of value.
Since we sailed over the New Year, prices might have been inflated. An inside cabin cost about $300 per day per couple. I can usually get outside cabins on Carnival and RCCL for that price or less. Without regard to price, the food was horrendous. The only breakfast available free from room service is a continental one of bread and coffee. Other room service breakfasts came with a charge. Therewas also an extra charge for all other room service snacks. The breakfast buffet was scrambled and hard boiled eggs only -- no omelet station -- sometimes accompanied by reheated hot dogs, greasy bacon or unappetizing cold cuts. The fruit was all canned except for the melon; there was only white toast -- forget English muffins or bagels. The juice was like Kool-aid. There was no variety day after day.
The lunch buffet was not much better. It seemed like the food was recycled. The desserts were bad. As Italians, they ought to be ashamed of what they call pizza: It was worse than any improperly cooked frozen pizza I ever tasted (and I was a bachelor for a long time). They served poor quality hotdogs and hamburgers at the poolside grill, and there was no option for a cheeseburger or veggie-burger; nor was there any relish or pickles. Food handlers often were not wearing gloves, so it didn't come as a total surprise when I got sick the last day of the cruise.
Curiously, in the buffet lines and at the grill there are no food trays, so you must carry a large plate and put everything on it, including utensils and drinks. This was quite challenging for even the most dexterous of passengers. Forget about service: The waiters were there to clear the tables, nothing else. My wife and I played cards for four hours one afternoon at a poolside table on deck, and no one ever asked if we wanted a drink. The ice cream bar was closed - I was told it wasn't profitable.
Dinner in the dining room was bad. Service was marginal at best. I attribute the poor service to senior dining room staff, including the manager. An incident that occurred right boarding provided a clue to the level of service. Through no fault of our own, we were not provided with a dining room seating assignment. I called Reception to get one, but I was told (after some delay and a couple of follow-up calls) I would have to go to the dining room to get one. Consequently, I had to wait in line approximately one hour just to get a table assignment. Though service was lackluster, it was nowhere near as bad as the food itself. Pasta was served every day -- which is fine, but with only the identical mundane tomato sauce every day? Breadsticks and rolls were ordinary – there was no bread tray. Soups all tasted the same no matter what they were called. The food was over-salted. The meat was as tough as shoe leather. Fish came without all the scales removed. Some dishes were downright inedible. My tablemates concurred.
The dancers were OK as performers, but the production values of the shows were poor. The costumes, lighting, props and decor were all amateurish. Music in the lounges was very limited and ordinary at best. We like to dance and have a cocktail before dinner, and we couldn't find a decent spot to do so.
There was no functioning library or card room. On the last day, the library was open one hour. It had only a small selection of English paperbacks, probably left behind by passengers, and one Spanish-language Scrabble set.
The cabins were smallish at 144 sq. ft., but had adequate storage space, some of which would have been better devoted to making the uncomfortably tiny shower larger. There was a small refrigerator - good for keeping your own drinks cold, although the price of drinks aboard was reasonable. TV in the rooms advertised pay movies, but they were not operable in any language. There was not much programming at any time, though we did get CNN for a while one day. The cabin attendant provided the best (in fact, the only) decent service.
The shops were only open limited hours, but that was no problem since they didn't have much to offer. I thought the layout of the shops was disorganized. The underutilized casino had a couple of roulette and blackjack tables and a modest number of slot machines. I don't remember a craps table although there was ample space to install one.
The pool was always crowded because on this South American run there were loads of kids...to whom I have no objection. It's just that it was noisy and crowded. The ship had a smallish gym with minimal weight and cable machines. It cost extra to use the steam room and sauna - a first in my experience.
Bad First Impression
Probably the worst part of the cruise was the very first part -- embarkation. We somehow got left off the passenger list. A friendly land agent of MSC (I later learned) who didn't want me to recognize his affiliation told me to go F* myself as we frantically tried to convince MSC staff we had indeed paid for this fiasco. When I complained to MSC management (after boarding and in a detailed written memo), I was told they would get back to me. No apology was forthcoming while we were on board, nor was any explanation given as to why we were not on the passenger list. When I contacted MSC management after the cruise, they told me my complaint memo had been lost, and could I please resubmit it! I did. No apology or explanation was ever given. They just ignored me.
Unless this cruise was an aberration I advise against spending your money with MSC: Caveat emptor.