I was invited to experience the private MSC Yacht Club aboard the Splendida for a cruise departing from Genoa. It was a familiarization trip with a consulting company for MSC and the product manager for the Yacht Club, a luxury cruise within a cruise concept. MSC is one of Europe's largest cruise lines that mainly operates Mediterranean cruise ships and largely caters to the European cruiser. We were asked to evaluate the Yacht Club experience from and North American point of view because the line is marketing in the US and growing its base on American cruise guests.
European cruisers are accustomed to a more a la carte cruise experience. The cruise accommodations and meals are included, but pretty much everything else is extra: pizzas, ice cream, all drinks at meals. Even water at dinner is extra. For American cruisers, the best Mediterranean cruise ships provide most of those things as included in the price.
MSC offers a flexible boarding policy -- that is, it allows embarkation at ports along the cruise itinerary. We embarked in Genoa, but others embarked in Naples, Barcelona and Marseille. Shows and announcements are made in several languages onboard. MSC does seat passengers with the same language together for dining.
The Yacht Club is an exclusive section of this luxury cruise ship, just 71 suites. Service begins with priority check-in, where you are escorted to your suite by your European trained Butler as you pull up to the pier. Your luggage is immediately taken to your cabin. Within the Yacht Club enclave itself refreshments are included.
The staterooms for MSC Yacht Club guests are all balcony cabins in the front of the ship. The cabins were comfortable with plenty of storage space. Bathrooms were nicely appointed with marble counter tops and a bath/shower combination. Some commented the tub was difficult to get into and out of due to the height of the sides.
There is WiFi service in the stateroom for a fee. I purchased 100 minutes for 20 Euro. The internet speed was better if you went to the Top Sail Lounge. Movies are available in your stateroom, but there is a 6 Euro charge. Laundry is not included but MSC offers a package for up to 30 items for 20 Euro. When collected by 10am it is returned by 5pm the following day. We sent some laundry and it was actually returned the same day.
MSC offers international newspapers printed and bound on board. Depending on the paper you get a full newspaper. One from our group got the Quebec City newspaper and it was 45 pages on Saturday.
MSC Yacht Club guests have their own special concierge, Top Sail Lounge, specialty restaurant L’Olivo and The One Pool. Other than to go to the theater you really never have to leave the Yacht Club areas. Your personal butler escorts you everywhere you go. They escort you to the L’Olivo dining room and the theater, where MSC Yacht Club guests have reserved seats in the front row.
The Top Sail Lounge has a variety of snacks 24 hours a day that change depending on the time of day. We chose to have a light breakfast there a few mornings rather than go to the L’Olivo dining room. The bar offers a specific selection of complimentary drinks. Not all brands are complimentary. The lounge is at the very front of the ship with spectacular views. It would have been nice to have some type of entertainment there in the evening. Currently there is only a piano player at 6pm for an hour. Of course, Yacht Club guests can enjoy the rest of the ship.
Room service is limited. You cannot order lunch or dinner from room service except in the case of illness. The menu is salads, sandwiches and cheese & fruit plates.
We did not have much time to spend at the One Pool. It was wonderful that it is exclusively available for the Yacht Club, because the other pools on the ship were extremely crowded, especially on the sea day. There were always plenty of chairs available at the One Pool. The only drawback was there was very little shade.
The L’Olivo dining room used to be a specialty dining room for the entire ship but is now exclusively for Yacht Club guests. Being an Italian cruise line, I expected the food to be really good on this luxury cruise ship. I was disappointed. The food was not appetizing and had no plate presentation. We were part of a group of 15 from the US, and everyone felt the food should be better. We had a representative from MSC with us for a portion of the trip. After we expressed our concerns about the dining we could see some changes immediately (could that have been for the benefit of our group only)? The toast in the morning was now hot and there was an attempt at plating. I had heard in the past you just had to remember that they are appealing to Europeans not Americans, but it goes beyond that. There was a noticeable lack of seafood, which seemed odd for Mediterranean cruise ships.
MSC is making a concerted effort to market to the American cruise market. It will be a mixed message especially since the MSC ships currently cruising the Caribbean do not offer the Yacht Club. I think MSC Yacht Club will appeal to some cruisers but they need to know about it before they go to avoid disappointment.