A Southern Caribbean Cruise With An Italian Touch

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Exterior of MSC Cruise’s Poesia

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Zebra Bar

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Kaito Sushi Bar

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Carlo Felice Theater

MSC Cruises, the Italian cruise company with the newest fleet of passenger ships in the world recently brought their beautiful Poesia (it translates to a “sea poem”) to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. for a series of Caribbean cruises this winter.

Commissioned in 2008, this 93,000-gross-ton vessel accommodates some 2,600 guests with comfort, convenience, great continental cuisine, entertainment and one of the friendliest crews at sea.

The interior provides each guest with a vast selection of public rooms spread over several decks. The furnishings are the finest and similar to those you would find in the best hotels in the world. The staterooms are generous in size with most having private balconies.

If you enjoy continental dining, this is your ship. I found the food to be tops in every category. The meats, seafood, vegetables, soups and desserts could win awards every time.

The MSC Poesia attracts many Europeans who fly to Florida for its many attractions and also include a Caribbean cruise on this ship. If you enjoy Europe, you’ll especially enjoy this touch of Italy in the Caribbean.

I had the opportunity to meet with the hotel manager one day while we were at sea. Antonino De Maio has many years at sea in various positions and even served as captain at one time. He told me that there are essentially three captains on a passenger ship. There is, of course, the overall head, the captain, but the chief engineer heads the technical aspects and the hotel manager is the captain of the hotel facilities, which consist of the restaurants, cabins and entertainment.

The kitchens, or galleys, prepare some 12,000 meals each day on the MSC Poesia. There are 278 workers employed in the galleys; cooking for the officers, staff, crew and passengers.

There are some 1,000 total crewmembers on board. Of those, 320 are wait staff, working the various dining rooms. I have never seen more waiters on a ship than MSC provides. It’s easy to get their attention to any need you may have and there is always a smile.

The galleys bake fresh goods three times each day and the pizza is always right out of the oven. What’s better than pizza on an Italian ship, which is available many hours of the day and night?

MSC is in fact the second largest cargo ship operator in the world with more than 400 ships providing goods to many countries. They entered the cruising arena in 1990 and in the early 2000’s began building new ships for their modern fleet. They launch one new ship in the cruise market each year.

Since it is the Mediterranean Shipping Company their specialty has been in that market. However, today they have six cruise ships operating out of South America as well as the one from Florida in the Caribbean. A total of 10 ships with a new one coming into service this next spring.

I spend this time describing the MSC Poesia because it is new in the American market and few people know about it yet.

Kids cruise free! What a great savings for the family. MSC provides many programs for the young ones according to the various age groups. There are two main dining rooms serving two dinner sittings along with a large cafeteria on an upper deck offering lunch and late night snacks and two extra fare dining options. One features continental cuisine and the other is Japanese.

There are two large swimming pools, a very complete spa, many fine shops with goods of the finest quality, several bands and musical groups and wonderful nightly entertainment in the theater. Entertainment on the MSC Poesia features shows that are very animated in the form of dance, magic, and music. One evening features favorite show tunes, another is titled “Memories of Opera,” and still another is “Love Songs.” The dance troupe is top drawer and offers dazzling steps to fantastic music.

The casino is large and presents the opportunity to win big if you are lucky. I hear some men comment that they do not want to take a cruise because there is nothing to do on board. Well, try the MSC Poesia!

It was our pleasure to enjoy the MSC Poesia recently sailing out of Ft. Lauderdale to interesting ports in the Southern Caribbean for 10 days. We spent two days at sea before reaching our first island, Curacao.

In all ports there is a very complete selection of shore excursions from which to choose. Here, since we had visited the island several times in the past, we took a taxi into the town of Willemstad for a walk around. This town of some 150,000 people enjoys the historical past of Holland with homes and buildings that resemble those in the “old country.”

We had fun picking a nice restaurant for lunch with a view of the ocean. The seafood was good and we particularly enjoyed watching local people moving from place to place.

The beaches are good here and many guests from the ship took towels and departed the dock area for a swim in the warm weather.

Late that afternoon the MSC Poesia sailed away, bound for Oranjestad on the island of Aruba. Upon arrival, many passengers were escorted to the many buses waiting on the dock to take them to their chosen excursion ashore. Many selected the ones involving swimming and sea experiences such as sailing, snorkeling and kayaking. Norma and I simply walked into town to look around and again have lunch at a hotel overlooking an inviting bay.

Late that afternoon after the ship sailed from port, baseball greats, who were special guests on board, were introduced to an appreciative sports audience and spoke of some of their special moments playing the game. On our cruise were pitching great Bob Feller along with Stan Bahnsen, Frank Howard, Cito Gaston and Bill Russell. They also appeared at several other sessions during the cruise and gave autographs at the end.

The next day the MSC Poesia docked at Cartagena, Colombia. I had been to this part of the world 35 or 40 years ago and frankly was not prepared for the change that had taken place. There is the old city with its surrounding 12-foot walls and the new city, which hosts many high rise buildings of commerce, hotels and condos. We took an organized tour here consisting of both the old and new parts of Cartagena.

At 6 p.m. our ship sailed for the Republic of Panama and the city of Cristobal located on the Atlantic side. Early the next morning the MSC Poesia arrived in port, docked and at 9 a.m. passengers disembarked for various shore tours. We chose one that took us across the country to the Pacific side. We boarded a bus dockside that drove the new toll highway, which runs parallel with the canal complex for 50 miles. We stopped at the Miro Flores locks and entered a viewing stand to watch ships pass through this lock system. This is one of three lock systems in the Panama Canal.

It usually takes a ship six to eight hours to pass through the Canal. The locks raise and lower the ships 85 feet to pass between the oceans. Our return from the Pacific side was by train using the Panama Canal Railway. The trip is only an hour long and you enjoy parlor car seating in fine equipment. Snacks and beverages were served at your seat while the car attendant passes through describing the scenery and points of interest.

The ship sailed away just as the sun was setting between the palm trees and Norma and I sat on our balcony and watched as MSC Poesia headed out to sea, bound for Cozumel, Mexico.

We had another day at sea to relax after having four ports back-to-back and became involved in the books we brought on board. I have to say that having a balcony as part of your private quarters is most enjoyable. It allows you complete privacy while being able to experience the fine tropical climate.

Our last port was the resort island of Cozumel. At the dock was a very complete shopping center and we walked around, shopping for last-minute gifts to take back home. This island abounds in great beaches and many of our traveling friends took to the sands for their last chance to swim and relax on the beach.

After another day at sea, the MSC Poesia docked at Ft. Lauderdale at which time we left our beautiful ship and transferred to the airport for our flight home. As we have said in this column several times lately, if you are thinking of taking a cruise, this is the time with low fares and plenty of ships to cater to your every whim. As the MSC Poesia hotel manager said to me before we left the ship, cruising is a therapy for couples giving them time to find each other again. Why not try it yourselves?

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