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Cruising the Caribbean in an international ship

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We have just returned from a 14-day cruise in the wonderful Caribbean on a truly international ship, MSC’s luxurious Poesia. The name roughly translates to “poem of the sea.” We were on board with many passengers from the Northeast U.S. and Canada as well as Europe — many Italians, Germans, Swiss, Austrian, French and quite a few from England. We also enjoyed dining with people from Australia and New Zealand.

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Photo courtesy of Ken Brooks

MS Poesia, also known as “Poem of the Sea.”

MSC (Mediterranean Shipping Company) is well known in many parts of the world but is only more recently becoming known in America.

Presently, they have only one ship sailing out of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. this winter doing the Caribbean and will continue to do so into March.

The MS Poesia is rather large at 93,300 gross tons, 964-feet long and carrying 2,550 passengers in lower berths. This is really not large for today. Other ships carry 3,500 on up to 6,000 passengers in the popular cruise areas.

The Poesia is two-and-a-half years old now. We were on it in late 2009 the first time and after spending another 14 days last month in the ship I found her to be just as clean, well cared for and had the look of a ship that had just come out of the builders. Her interiors are very well designed and furnished and feel very upscale compared to other ships on which I have sailed. The staterooms are roomy for the most part and nicely furnished. We enjoyed a mid-ship veranda room on one of the upper decks. I could not have been more pleased with all the appointments, décor and service.

The ship is Italian, which makes it very special. It is not just aimed at the American market, but the international market as well. This is what makes it so appealing to us. The cuisine is Italian and Continental. And, let me tell you, it is fantastic! You aren’t going to find food so tantalizing on a ship cruising the American or European waters as on MSC unless you book the very high-end cruise ships charging thousands of dollars more. That’s a fact!

The crew of about 1,000 people is a mix of Italian officers and other key personnel as well as a service crew of Indonesians.

The cruise director, Anna Werner, is very experienced and has a warm personality. She is German and speaks fluent English, French, Italian and Spanish as well as her native tongue. I interviewed her during our voyage and she has been a cruise director for MSC for 10 years. This is a very demanding position and a most important one. The cruise director and her staff plan and schedule all entertainment onboard. And remember, she must please all nationalities. She introduces all shows in five languages. The entertainment fits the international market. All shows are dancing, music of various types, tightrope walkers and other assorted acts that do not require spoken language. The performers pull this off like magic. These very visual shows are a winner for the audiences. They stood with applause often.

One night there was an opera program that was very much appreciated by the Europeans as well as many Americans. MSC employ 34 entertainers for the main shows alone and they are seen on every cruise.

The cruise director also plans parties for single travelers. This is appreciated by those traveling alone allowing them to meet other singles and to get acquainted.

MSC says they have the newest fleet of ships now in service. They have 11 ships in the water and a new one coming each year for the near future.

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Photo courtesy of Ken Brooks

St. Johns Beach

So, where did we cruise?

The Poesia actually does 7-day cruises in the Caribbean right now. One week the itinerary is the Eastern Caribbean with a return to Ft. Lauderdale for the Sunday in port, then sails that evening to do the Western Caribbean. We enjoyed two back-to-back cruises to take in all ports offered by MSC this season in the Caribbean. Our first week was the Western Caribbean. Our first port and one of the best on this itinerary was Key West, Fla. After leaving Ft. Lauderdale late Sunday evening we woke up early Monday morning to see us docking in this unique southern port. In fact, Key West is the southern most land point in the United States and located only 90 miles from Cuba.

We spent a very interesting day here. This charming town of 26,000 residents is both permanent residents as well as many tourists. We purchased tickets on a sight seeing bus that permits on and off visits to 12 major points of interest about town.

Get off at one location of interest to you and another bus comes along to pick you up a half-hour later. You have in fact a day pass with the bus company. This is very convenient since it allows you to spend your time in those areas of interest to you. We got off first at the home of author Ernest Hemingway. His home is rather large since he often entertained many guests for days at a time and set in a lush, tropical garden with a rather large swimming pool. You are allowed to walk all around the estate and to visit inside the home’s various rooms. It was fascinating.

Much of old Key West was built in the mid-1850s, with homes to match the period. The town resembles parts of New Orleans. The wood frame homes are quite small and grouped together with not much space between many of the buildings. You find many bars and restaurants featuring seafood — and we can’t forget Key Lime Pie. Many Southern dishes are also on the menus. This is a beautiful town surrounded by water and worth seeing.

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Ernest Hemingway’s home in Key West.

Our next port after one day sailing at sea was Ocho Rios, Jamaica. This is one of the more tropical islands in the Caribbean and well worth a visit. Some 16 shore excursions were offered passengers on the Poesia in this port which included quite a few beach opportunities mixed with beach parties, snorkeling, swimming with dolphins or horseback riding on the beach. Plus there was an opportunity to take a chair lift ride over the jungle — this is what Norma and I chose. It was easy, refreshing and very enjoyable. The chair lift operates to the top of the mountain in back of Ocho Rios and gives you the opportunity to view the entire area. The lift takes about 20 minutes in each direction.

Then, it was on to Georgetown in Grand Cayman. Here are less crowded beaches along the Northern Coast. Famous Seven Mile beach is where all the action is with many upscale hotels. This is a banking and tourist destination. There is no income tax for the residents. It is a British protectorate, clean and safe. Our ship offered 10 shore excursions, which included kayaking, snorkeling or beach experiences. You could kiss the dolphins, swim with them, go kayaking, snorkeling, enjoy a catamaran, rent a 4x4 Wrangler Jeep and still more. There is a collection of shops near the area where passengers debark the ships and most tourists are roaming through many of them to pick up an item or two to take back home. We hired a taxi to see some of the island sights then the driver let us off at the Marriott Hotel on the beach and we enjoyed lunch by the sea.

We also sailed into the Mexican Island of Cozumel. I had been here several times in the past, so we did not do any organized tours. There are many tours available, including Mayan ruins, catamaran cruises, beach activities, island tours and an excursion to the Mexican mainland, which only 12 miles across the sea for visits to more Mayan ruins, Cancun and so on. I walked around town to take in the sights and came back to the ship in the afternoon. The temperatures in all the islands visited were between 82 and 88 degrees — Heaven compared to the unusually frigid Arizona weather of late.

We continued the week’s sail back to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. and spent Sunday there. Those of us who had back-to-back cruises with MSC were issued a day pass, which permitted us to debark then return in the late afternoon as we wished, or one could reboard and spend the day on the ship.

Later Sunday evening we sailed out of Florida again and headed for the Eastern Caribbean. We had two days at sea to relax, read a book or two, enjoy the ship’s activities and eat too much — Norma and I spent a lot of time on our balcony. We had two comfortable chairs, and a table to enjoy our private time outside. When next you cruise, do spend the extra money and book a cabin with your own veranda, it will be well worth the extra coins.

While at sea, I spent an hour with the Chief Purser Danilo Matrone. He imparted interesting facts about running a ship of this type. The Poesia serves three main meals per day to each passenger, plus the special feasts on the swimming pool deck and in other select rooms for parties. There is the midnight buffet, goodies in the afternoon and on and on — all for the price of your ticket! If you choose, there are a dozen fine shops to pick up items found in European stores at duty free prices. I purchased two pair of Italian-made loafers at a fraction of the price I would pay in a major store in the U.S.

The first port on this second week of sailing was Charlotte Amalie, the main town on St. Thomas in the British Virgin Islands. We had been here numerous times, so we boarded a ferry and spent a few minutes at sea to arrive at lovely St. John Island. Here, we hired a taxi and did some sightseeing on this wonderful tropical island and finished having a delightful lunch seaside at the beautiful Caneel Bay Resort that enjoys seven perfect beaches as part of the property. It was a perfect day in paradise.

Next we sailed to Philipsburg on the island of St. Marten in the Netherlands Antilles. One half belongs to the Netherlands, the other, France. Here, we took a tour that included both portions of the island, which has many beaches, nice villages and great shopping for all. Tours included Catamaran experiences, kayaking, snorkeling and beach time. You see many fine yachts both at anchor and sailing around the island.

Then there was more time to relax at sea as we headed to Nassau in the Bahamas. We walked around town, but could have taken a panoramic tour, gone to Atlantis for an afternoon of fun and gambling, boarded a glassbottom boat for undersea views or experienced more beach action.

The last night out, heading back to Ft. Lauderdale, we spent saying goodbye to the friends we made with the passengers as well as thanking the wonderful crew that served us so well and always did so with a smile. We really felt at home on the Poesia. You can too. Give them a try on your next cruise. They also sail to the Baltic and offer many cruises in the Mediterranean area.

Contact your travel agent or give MSC a call at: 1-800-666-9333. You will be surprised at how affordable a cruise can be this season.

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