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MSC Lirica 
March 9-20, 2006
Southern Caribbean

by Dale Griffen

Our 11 day cruise on MSC Lirica to the South Caribbean visited San Juan, St. Maarten, Grenada, Barbados, Antigua, Tortola, and Cayo Levantado. I had plenty of time to relax on the balcony and compose some great info from the trip! Enjoy.

Staff: I found most of the waitstaff and hardworking jobs filled by Indonesians, but a ton of Italian, Romanian, Bulgarian, and a few German staff as well.

Shows: We are in our 30’s, so we skipped the Strings At Sea show, but loved the Latin, Oriental, and Variety Shows. Hated the ventriloquist… horrible voice and totally not funny. We sat up front and were chosen to help with the acrobatic act! The juggler, magician, and acrobats were all excellent. 

SHIP
Stateroom: We were greeted by the white gloved staff that showed us to our room and explained how to use everything. We had a suite. Very well appointed, plenty of room, walk-in closet with 15 hangers, 7 drawer dresser, floor room for luggage, 2 shelves and a high shelf for shoes and 3 life-vests. In addition to the walk-in there were two closets in hall with 1 small shelf, 3 medium, and one large shelf, separated by a large 3’ glass shelf, with floor length mirror behind it. Daily fruit bowl left here. Main room with corner desk with large hinged mirror that opens to a safe, and shelves. Two 3’ wide floor length mirrors in main room. Love seat that folds out to a bed, with nice coffee table. . Bureau with 3 doors with 2 shelves on either side, middle is mini-bar. TV on top, as well as ice/water tray. The cabin steward refills a few times during the day. Occasionally I would go to the pantry (every door in the ship is labeled, and most of the non-guest rooms on 10 are on the inside of the ship) for ice, or to drop off a tray that I didn’t want in the room anymore. Just know that the 10th floor (mostly suites) is just below the pool deck 11. You will hear them when they put out the lounge chairs, when the few kids on board run, or when they have the pool party it can be loud. 

CREW 
Anna Maria was our cabin steward. Very nice, Italian lady. Always asked if there was anything at all we needed, very sweet. I gave her $20 the first day and although with her, I think we would have gotten excellent service anyway, she was superb. At times, or when there are heavy seas, they have a robotic balcony/window washer, they will notify you the night before, so you don’t sleep with the balcony open!) But other days, if you want to spend time on the balcony, just ask (or leave a note) for them to wash your balcony down for you. I was surprised at the amount of salt that accumulates on the balcony!

Alin (Romanian) at the fore bar on deck 11 (La Canzone de la Mar fore) was also excellent. Very good service excellent espressos and very friendly. Jose in the Blue Bar disco is a good bartender. Courteous and attentive. 

Mateus the gym instructor is also nice. Attended the free 8am stretch class. Make sure to check out the Turkish steam room and sauna. Beautifully appointed. The best view for locker rooms I’ve EVER seen. The Balinese women are constantly trying to give you a ‘free’ 5 minute chair massage (especially if you go near the gym). I declined because I knew that once they started I’d sign up for the whole package and they are expensive. 

Andrea Olivieri is the cruise director. Very nice guy. Since our cruise was primarily Italian, German, Dutch, French, and English, he announced everything in each language on the loud speakers and in introducing the shows He doesn’t even take a breath between translations and his use of the language seems perfect. Listening to him is entertaining in and of itself! 

FOOD 
Lunches and Dinners in the restaurant. We only attended one dinner and one lunch Eating at a table with others is ok, but we weren’t in the mood to dress up and we had an early seating and preferred to eat later anyway. Had lunch one day at La Bussola. Service both times was horrible. The people we had dinner with said that the three previous nights were horrible as well. One problem, if you don’t go to the pizza buffet or the burger/hot dog buffet on 11 aft behind the pool on either side of the bar by 8pm, you have to wait until the “Midnight Buffet” which at times can be anything from a fruit Flambé to a full on tropical buffet, but unpredictable. Desserts were fair at best. Drinks somewhat expensive even for a cruise. We asked our cabin steward to keep us stocked on Miller Light in our rooms, just about the best deal – except for the $4.50 large Heinekens on tap at the bars – about 1.5 bottles worth. 

They don’t allow you to bring your own alcohol on board, but we and many others did anyway with NO problem at all. Security seems pretty lax. I did however, put my Seagram’s 7 (amber) in a large, cleaned Hydrogen Peroxide bottle, and my rum (clear) in a large, cleaned rubbing alcohol bottle. Then mixed it with sprite, or orange juice (ordered extra with breakfast) 

Room Service: 24 hours and quick 

Breakfast: just fill out card and hang on door. Always came at requested time. Grab some Nutella at the breakfast buffet for your room when you order room service. The espresso on the ship is EXCELLENT at 1.50/shot (I would order a double and add it to my coffee for that added ‘kick’).

PORTS OF CALL
The ship was always right on time as stated in the itinerary. 

San Juan – walked around Old San Juan, up to the Fort (bought some sodas to replace the ones I used in the Mini Bar) 

St. Maarten – 2nd favorite port! Used Joe the cab driver to get to Lucky Stables ($15) for a 1 hour ride in the hills and out into the beach. Michel was our Venezuelan guide… excellent! Gave us a great tour (saw John Travolta's house) and then he showed us some of the foals, the largest horse there, and their semi-albino horse. Then Joe met us at the stable and gave us a complete guided tour of the island for $40.

Grenada – make sure your taxi driver is licensed, has a picture ID, and will actually be your driver. They have commissioned guys begging for your business and will promise you the world and then turn you over to another driver that will know nothing of your demands, requests… be careful. Demand A/C… a lot don’t have it. We walked first up to the Fort/old prison. Then got the taxi (our guy was also a constable during the evenings) and had him take us on a tour ($35) to a spice stand on the side of the road with a great view of the valley. The lady gave us a great spice demonstration and we bought some goods. We saw two waterfalls, and had him take us to Grand Etang to see the volcanic lake at the top. It was raining, so our views were limited. Had dinner at Deynas on Mellville St. in St. George before embarking. Food was homemade and good. 

Barbados – be careful here too. We just walked around the port. And got back on ship. 

Antigua – 1st favorite stop. By far the most beautiful island on the cruise. Do rent a car; call ahead, Dollar will pick you up and take you the Factory Road office. You have to get a 3 month Antiguan Drivers License for $20. Plus request an SUV, roads can be potholed and they don’t cover tires. Drive to Jolly Harbour, then through Fig Tree Drive… buy some home made preserves, etc from Elaine at “The Cultural Shop”… walk up to the Dam behind her stand and pet the cute donkeys. Watch for mongoose, pretty birds, etc. Go to Abracadaba for lunch in Nelson’s Dockyard, then try Shirley Heights for a good view ($5 to the park). Then try Half Moon Bay… best beach they say (of the 365 they have). Then drive to Devils Bridge for a natural limestone ‘bridge’ you can stand on while the surf pounds on either side of you. 

Tortola – Tied for 2nd favorite stop. One of the prettiest islands. Walk up the port past the scooters and rent a car at Itgo. They gave us a 20% discount on a Range Rover because we were going to be back at 1pm to get on the ship by 1:30. Make sure you have enough time to gas up, and find the way back to the agency… the streets are a little confusing in Road Town. Take a drive to Beef Island (the first turn off on the right after the bridge has a beautiful beach near Well Bay). Then drive back along Ridge Road for spectacular, if not precarious views. We drove up Lambert Rd, and saw the unpublicized prison! Oops. We wanted to go to The Baths, which requires a ferry to Virgin Gorda, but we didn’t want to be rushed to see it, as we will probably be at the beach all day tomorrow. In Cayo Levantado.

Cayo Levantado – this island, only used for about 4 years and doesn’t have a pier so you are tendered to the island. Ask your cabin steward for an early number… she gave us a #1 lottery number. (I heard it go up to about 12 or more) that way you can be off the ship earlier, as you have to be back pretty soon – it will give you more time on Cayo. (They also give you large beach towels to use the night before with your lottery number) We got right to the island and staked out our lounge chairs. When you get off the tender boat, there are MSC tents along the walk. We grabbed a map and made our way to near the “Pelican Nest” (a rock that Pelicans land on?) We got our lounge chairs poised between two palm trees so no one could park near us. We wanted to nap in the shade… this is the perfect spot. Just far away enough to hear the steel band, but far away enough to relax. When they serve lunch (more burgers, dogs, chicken breasts), you just leave your towel on the lounge and pop over the hill, grab lunch and we ate at our ‘spot’. The whale watch area was under construction and inaccessible when we went. 

TIPS

  • If you live in Florida (or near your cruise port), rent an economy car – for like $20 and just drop it off at the location. There is a Dollar Rent A Car near where I live and the Ft. Lauderdale Airport has a free shuttle to the cruise port. This way I avoided parking at like $15/day, mileage on my car, and got better mileage (I have an SUV). Same for going home… the bus picks you up at the exit of the cruise terminal and drops you off at Dollar’s door. (Just be sure to fill up on gas before turning it in… they charge $4.99/gal. 
  • Get a couple of Cruising/Caribbean books. We used the 2006 Fodor's Caribbean and a dated 2001 Cruise Vacations for Dummies. Both were VERY helpful. 
  • Print up labels for the people you might want to send postcards to on clear address labels. That way when you are ready to send them, all you have to do it stick the address on. This makes it much easier. 
  • Get your stamps and postcards together (most vendors that sell postcards, also sell stamps but run out at the end of the day) Then drop them at a post office or box where you are… most stamps are only valid in the country that they are for, you can only use US postage in Puerto Rico. 
  • Bring a couple packages of flushable wipes. The toilet paper is pretty dry on board. 
  • Bring bug spray 
  • Bring assorted sized baggies and bags (to save snacks for later, put passport, wallet in to keep dry, grab a handful of sugar white sand or shells whatever. 
  • Bring an alarm clock – they don’t have one in the room 
  • Bring a hair dryer – theirs sucks 
  • Bring an electric power bar, they only have two plug sockets at the desk, you might need it for recharging your phone, laptop, battery charger, hair dryer, etc. 
  • Bring DVDs and a player (or your laptop) or some good books. Their movies are very repetitive and boring. 
  • Bring a couple dimes and elastic bands for motion sickness wristbands. They sell the same idea at the pharmacy for a lot more money. Just put the dimes on your inside wrist about two finger widths above the palm (near your pulse). It works! 
  • Turn your phones off before you go to bed the night before you get to Puerto Rico, Cayo Levantado, and back to Ft. Lauderdale (although you may pick up reception passing Puerto Rico at about 6:30 the night before). There are Verizon cell towers in these areas and you will be awakened early by your voice mails coming through. 
  • In Cayo Levantado it was suggested to try to get up early that day if you can, they say that about 3000 humpback whales winter off the coast of Samana from Dec to March. You may see some on your way in/out of Samana to the island of Cayo Levantado. I didn’t see any myself though. That way you don’t have to pay for a whale watching excursion… you may have your own free one. 
  • Bring a travel iron on board. I usually figure on my clothes getting wrinkled in travel and plan to just iron them when I get there. They don’t have any for you to use, and don’t have self-serve laundry on board. Their prices are pretty expensive for laundering and/or ironing. Shirts and trousers or jeans are 2.20 ironed, 4.30 laundered and ironed. Pants dry cleaned are 2.50 ironed, 10.00 laundered and ironed. Shorts are 1.30 ironed and 2.50 laundered and ironed. I just washed some things in the sink and hung them to dry in the shower on the retractable cord provided. 
  • You can adjust your tipping any way you want; they will charge you $12/day per adult automatically. We just had a couple people we used, and tipped them in cash accordingly. And adjusted our automatic tips to cover room service etc, and you can write the amount and who you want to receive the tip on your form at the accounting desk. 

Embarking and Disembarking are a cinch! We walked on AND off the ship without waiting at all. When leaving, they separate the US from Foreign passengers. Just have your room key and passport handy, they keep the key when you leave. They give you a color coded tag for your luggage and ask you to put what you want them to carry off the ship to the terminal at your door. I wasn’t about to do that (I read earlier that MSC lost someone's luggage and expected the passenger to pay the shipping from Italy and wouldn’t budge). But the color of your tags tell you what order you will be called to get off the ship. Depending on if people have an early flight, etc., and they ask you to be out of your room by 8am. Two things. We asked our stewardess if we could just wait in our room, she of course agreed to clean our room last. Secondly, some of the passengers said they weren’t strict about waiting for your color tag to be called and left early. We were orange and weren’t called to leave till 10am.

Don’t take any fruit off the ship. Make sure your kids don’t pack any away either. Customs charges $250 per piece. I had $2000 worth of pears, kiwi, oranges, apples that were left in our room from the daily fruit basket filling – thankfully I had it in one bag. There was a family behind us whose kid put a couple apples in their backpack and almost got charged $500. 

Well, as you can see, I had a lot of time on the trip to type this. Hope it helps and answers some of the questions for you that I had before leaving.


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