MSC Cruises’ latest ship is the first of the line’s new generation of vessels built to carry more than 5,000 passengers. John Roberts boards MSC Seaside from her homeport of Miami.
I looked out toward the scenic Miami skyline on a mostly sunny day, knowing I had the best view on the world’s newest mega-cruise ship and thought: “This is so cool!”
Moments later, I was gliding along the longest zipline on a cruise ship – 20 decks up and high over the lido deck on MSC Seaside – and for about 30 seconds I had a bird’s-eye look at much of what makes this vessel different. Officially named last on December 21, 2017, Seaside is one of the first in MSC Cruises’ next generation of ships and was built specifically for sailing in the Caribbean from its homeport in Miami.
The new ship boasts the greatest share of outdoor space when compared with all other cruise ships. An extra-wide promenade wraps around Deck 7 to create the sun-splashed Waterfront Boardwalk. At the back of the ship on this deck is the South Beach Pool, an ideal chill-out space that sits below a double stack of condominium-style towers that are home to fancy suites with wraparound balconies. The whole scene gives a feel that you are situated amid Miami Beach condos, which is just what MSC Cruises is going for with this ship.
The line touts Seaside as “the ship that follows the sun”, and its design wonderfully integrates the indoor and outdoor spaces, especially along the promenade, where several lounges and dining venues offer the choice of indoor or outdoor seating.
MSC is due to launch sister ship MSC Seaview in June to sail in the Mediterranean. Both ships can carry more than 5,000 passengers at maximum capacity and aim to give their occupants plenty to do inside and out.
The record-setting zipline attraction features two lines that run side-by-side and carry screaming passengers 105 meters across the length of the pool deck over the large video screen and through a set of rings. This is just one of several fun attractions at the top of the ship.
Hundreds of adults on my sailing lined up to ride down racing water slides and the interactive slideboard water ride (you use joysticks on your seat to compete in a video game with other passengers during your run). We also unleashed our childhood spirits by playing in the treehouse ropes course and splashing around in the ship’s Forest AquaVenture area.
MSC Seaside features plenty to do indoors, too, with a full menu of dining and activities. The ship is ideal for couples and families seeking a budget price on a ship that also offers a variety of activities. MSC offers the weeklong itineraries to ports such as Jamaica, the Bahamas, Antigua and Mexico – starting at US$800 per person.
Standard interior, oceanview and balcony cabins are a little cramped for two people, and we struggled a bit with the limited storage space. However, if you step up in class for your stateroom, you get added space and perks. Balcony cabins and deluxe suites can be booked with added experiences such as Wellness or Aurea Spa packages, which come with a full menu of included experiences and amenities focused on fitness and spa treatments, respectively.
The ship also offers connecting cabins for families or groups sailing together.
The MSC Yacht Club “ship within a ship” area is our favorite onboard feature. Cruisers have their own MSC Yacht Club lounge, a butler, concierge service, exclusive restaurant, unlimited drinks at MSC Yacht Club venues, complimentary access to the Thermal Suite spa area, and an exclusive sun deck, lounge and swimming area. If you book a stateroom in the MSC Yacht Club, you will have a decidedly more all-inclusive experience.
The MSC Aurea Spa is spectacular. It has a full range of treatments available, of course, but the best part is the Thermal Suite area, which includes heated ceramic loungers, private sun deck with hot tubs, multiple types of steam baths, saunas, shower pods, thalassotherapy pool, snow room and salt relaxation room. Passengers can buy day passes or cruise-long passes to access this serene haven.
A large gym is packed with all the equipment needed for your workout, and you can pay for fitness sessions such as personal training or spin classes.
The indoor spaces are elegant, with modern designs throughout. The line’s signature Swarovski crystal staircase is a centerpiece of the glitzy atrium. The atrium is a top gathering spot in the ship, with four levels of bars and lounges looking toward a stage, where song and dance routines take place.
A large Sports Bar offers a wide range of seating areas and plenty of TVs to watch the games. Plus, this is where you’ll find a greater variety of craft beers.
The Bowling Alley and Arcade features two lanes and interactive games and experiences, from video game consoles to the 4D Theater where you strap in to motion seats to play shooter games that target zombies or werewolves. A Formula One racecar simulator lets you test your driving skills while tucked into the cockpit of a full-size open-wheel car. At the back of the arcade area, the Garage Club disco is decked out in vintage 1950s Americana decor.
Production shows take place in the Metropolitan Theatre (the Michael Jackson revue is among the best productions we’ve seen at sea), and the ship also offers kids’ clubs with age-appropriate programming and family movie nights scheduled twice per cruise.
MSC designed Seaside with a specific emphasis on diverse culinary options and its specialty dining venues are the stars. Unfortunately, the main dining room experience was tedious, with meals stretching too long between courses and a menu of pretty standard cruise fare. The two buffet areas offered a skimpy variety, but the breads and pizza were delicious.
To make up for these downsides, there are four for-fee restaurants offering cuisines to tempt all tastes. Passengers can find fixed-price menus and a la carte options at Asian Market Kitchen, Butcher’s Cut (a steakhouse), Ocean Cay (seafood), and Bistrot La Boheme (French). Asian Market is a trio of venues serving teppanyaki, sushi and Hawaiian-Pan Asian cuisine. Asian Market was created in collaboration with celebrity chef Roy Yamaguchi, and his restaurants are located adjacent to Butcher’s Cut and Ocean Cay to form an attractive restaurant complex with spacious bar/lounge area to have a cocktail before your meals.
Venchi gelato and other sweet treats, crepes and specialty coffees are available for a fee at a café area by the South Beach Pool area. This is a wonderful space to relax under the moonlight after a food- and activity-filled day ashore or onboard.
HIGHS: The specialty dining restaurants, with an awesome variety of international flavors, the top-of-ship activities and the world of luxury at the MSC Aurea Spa.
LOWS: The ship layout is confusing in several main public areas, making it difficult to navigate to some onboard destinations. Service is slow in the main restaurant, and the buffets could offer a wider selection. The main pool deck has no shaded areas.
BEST SUITED TO: Cruisers who want a low price point and don’t mind paying for extras such as arcade games, 4D theatre, Formula One simulator, zipline, drinks, gelato, specialty coffees, alcohol, and spa day passes. Families also will enjoy the ship because of all the activities and a good kids’ club.
CRUISE LINE: MSC Cruises
VESSEL: MSC Seaside
STAR RATING: NYR
TOTAL CREW: 1,413
PASSENGER DECKS: 13
ENTERED SERVICE: 2017
FACILITIES: Nine eateries, a variety of bars and lounges, kids-only restaurant, bowling alley, water park, three pools, 11 hot tubs, gym, spa, library and billiard room, casino, theatre, adventure park, kids’ clubs, three pools.
BOOKINGS: Seven-night round trip on MSC Seaside from Miami to Jamaica, Cayman Islands and Mexico is priced from $864 per person twin share (interior cabin). msccruises.com.au