by Leslie Roberts
Even the most ardent critic of cruising may be surprised by how MSC has upgraded the cruise experience. North Americans may not be familiar with the MSC brand, but it is the most popular cruise line in Europe and Africa. My travel partner initially resisted the idea of an European cruise on the Mediterranean Sea, but after looking at the itinerary and what the MSC Meraviglia offers, including exclusive dining experiences and extensive wellness options, he agreed to give cruising another try. With stops in Spain, Italy, France and Malta, our challenge was to maintain a healthy lifestyle over the sevenday cruise. Could the MSC Meraviglia – launched in June 2017 and accommodating over 5,000 passengers – check all our boxes?
Healthy Dining Options
We aren’t fans of lining up for food, so the upscale kitchens in four exclusive restaurants allowed for delicious and healthy meals beyond the typical buffets – and without the lineups. Each menu had a healthy option making it easy for any passengers to watch their weight. Plus, the Market Buffet offers a daily spread of mostly fruits, vegetables, toppings such as seeds, raisins and coconut, as well as three yoghurt options. We opted for the Tryptic restaurant package at an additional cost of 75 Euros (about $85 U.S.), per person which includes dinner at the Sushi restaurant, Butcher’s Cut steakhouse, as well as my favourite Eataly, the famous food market and restaurant originally designed by Celebrity Chef Mario Batali. It was so delicious, we ended up eating there twice. Overall, temptation may be your greatest challenge, but you will be pleased with the healthier options should willpower prevail. When you decide a special treat is in order, the exclusive Jean Philippe Maury Patisserie is most certainly worth the indulgence for the chocolate and gelato alone.
When we weren’t relaxing in the spa, we were working out in the gym. As part of MSC’s emphasis on wellness, they’ve partnered with Italy’s Technogym, with state of the art equipment and weights.
Our experience began with what you could describe as “foot wellness”, specifically custom-made orthotics, personalized inserts made “on the spot” at a fraction of the price from a podiatrist. Cost is 60 Euros (about $68 U.S.). They served us well outside the gym as we spent many hours walking while seeing the sites in each of the ports of call. Although the gym can be busy at times, never did we have to wait for a machine. They also offer several sports activities with a trainer, from early morning stretching to afternoon Spinning, which I signed up for three times during our seven days on board at a cost of 6 Euros (about $7 U.S.) for each class. It relieved my guilt over the extra pastry or cannoli consumed while visiting each port. Our final day we tried the “transform” class, a mix of stretching, yoga and pilates. The class was not too difficult, but it did make us break a sweat.
Exclusive Spa Experience
The 12,000 square foot spa on the MSC Meraviglia lives up to its promise of a “holistic sensory experience.” My favorite was the “hot walk”. A glassed-in walkway with four different showers alternating hot and cold showers. Another Cold shower option sprays a pine scent in the chill waterfall that I can only describe as a walk through a forest on a rainy day in spring. You come out refreshed and more alert! At 40 euros (or less depending on time of booking) per day to visit the spa, we found that the upgrade to The Aurea Wellness Package, was well worth it. It offered reduced rate for daily access to the on-board state-of-the-art spa, a massage, plus 50% off classes and training sessions. Promoted as the only authentic “Balinese spa at sea,” the facility offers 13 different thermal treatments including, hot, cold, dry, wet and even light therapies.
We started many mornings, and even ended a couple of our nights in the spa, both trying 50-minute Bali massages and exclusive facials. The massage was included in The Aurea option. The facial, an extra 90 Euro (about $102 U.S.) but they offered it at 30% off that day. Passengers can choose from 19 different massages, and 26 facials all from Carito their line of natural plant based products from France. They also carry a large line of Aveda products.
More on MSC’s Meraviglia
Yes, the ship accommodates over 5,000 passengers, but just once did we have to line up upon returning from a shore excursion. Embarking and disembarking were a breeze, again no line ups even through security checks. The MSC Meraviglia is tastefully decorated and has on-board activities you would expect on a cruise, but there’s certainly no pressure to play bingo or even join in the nightly karaoke, unless you want to.
Another MSC Meraviglia exclusive are the two Cirque de Soleil at Sea shows. They are an additional cost of 15 euros but include a cocktail. They are a nice alternative to the nightly cruise show with a tribute to pop music and Broadway shows. On the final day at sea, the opera presentation of La Boheme was a nice touch. One point of distinction is that MSC offers a First Class Yacht Club. Much like an airline’s first class, the Yacht Club allows passengers to skip the lines, offers separate floors, private cabins, butler service, even its own dining room with a special menu.
What’s New for MSC
The cruise line will launch two ships new in 2019 – MSC Bellissima (March 2019) and MSC Grandiosa (November 2019) – but neither are scheduled currently to come to North America. MSC Meraviglia, will journey to North America in October 2019 with two sailings from New York to New England and Canada, and then a third repositioning cruise from New York through the Caribbean ending in Miami. They will also be adding their own private island – Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve in the Bahamas – to the itinerary.
When our seven-day cruise was over, my travel companion and I both agreed MSC lived up to the promise of an upscale cruise with enough wellness options to meet our standards. We also agreed that next time, we would pay the extra cost to try the Yacht Club experience. More on MSC
~ ~ ~ ~
Leslie Roberts, the Editor at Large for Travel to Wellness, traveled at his own expense. Connect with him on Twitter