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MSC Lirica
March 16-27, 2007

We chose the Lirica based on three criteria: ports of call, particularly the Panama Canal, price, and our available dates. The Western Caribbean itinerary out of Ft Lauderdale consisted of stops at Ocho Rios, Cartagena, San Blas, Cristobal, Puerto Limon and Roatan. Tours included the Panama Canal by boat, the zip line canopy tour high above the jungle in Costa Rica, and the Cartagena city tour.

We’ve been on perhaps ten cruises, so we have some idea what we can expect. We had read the reviews on this ship prior to signing on, so we were aware of the shortcomings others felt characterized the Lirica. We talked with many fellow passengers and were able to get their reactions and opinions as well. Following is a summary of what we found:

This ship has truly an international clientele. Some may find this unfamiliar and disconcerting; we were pleased to meet so many people from various countries. It is not a typical American cruise. 

The entertainment is, well, odd. The shows are distinctively European, and of necessity more visual than auditory, since whatever is said is repeated in five languages. Think a watered down Cirque de Soleil. Not much in the way of stage setting – mostly smoke and lights. There is a group of roving people called the Entertainers. We dubbed them the Nitwits. Their humor consists mainly of stuffing their shirt fronts with balloons and wearing wigs, rubbing against female passengers, and other third grade humor. Enough said. The shows are surprisingly short.

First and second dinner seatings are at odd times, so that the usual procedure of flip-flopping the nightly shows doesn’t work. The second show follows the second seating. If you retire fairly early, you’ll need the first seating, if you want to see the entertainment. First seating is an early 5:45.

Our fellow passengers were surprisingly old, perhaps due to the length of the cruise (over seven days). There were only a handful of children and young couples. There were few single people onboard.

Because the Lirica encourages a predetermined gratuity rate (12%), the staff do not overly ingratiate themselves. This is a very refreshing change. You can always tell accounting you’ll do it yourself, if you don’t agree with the rate or you want to recognize service individually. We did, and it’s a hassle-free procedure.

The Western Caribbean itinerary was outstanding. The ports listed above are not the usual Caribbean stops, except perhaps for Ocho Rios. Each location was unique. The tours we took were well worth the time and money. No one should miss the Panama Canal. The zip line (Crazy Monkey Canopy Tour) was exciting and everything we hoped it would be. We observed a variety of jungle life from high atop the canopy, including sloths, a viper, and toucans. The ride itself was exhilarating. The city tour in Cartagena was well-run, interesting and informative.

The ship was the cleanest we’ve ever sailed on. There wasn’t even a water mark on the silverware. The Lirica makes every effort to eliminate the possibility of contamination, including sanitizing hand dispensers at the head of every buffet line and prominent signs telling the passengers not to bring used plates or glasses back for refills, but to get new tableware. Food is well protected behind glass or covered trays. Cleaning and polishing is ongoing.

Our balcony suite was spacious and well laid out. We had plenty of room for everything, with many closets and shelves. The bath was large for a ship’s cabin.

The Lirica disdains unnecessary announcements, a real plus. That even included disembarkation procedures. We’ve grown to hate those incessant blatherings on many ships. We can read the program.

The cabin steward was attentive and unobtrusive. He kept things in tip-top shape, including a supply of ice and fresh fruit at all times. He didn’t torture napkins into weird shapes, thank God.

The wait staff in the dining room was attentive and professional. Past reviews indicated there were complaints of indifferent service and advances towards female passengers in the past. The Lirica seems to have cured this problem by hiring a more international staff. 

Embarkation and disembarkation were the smoothest we’ve experienced. Luggage handling is painless. When boarding, each group is met with a white-gloved staff member and escorted to their cabin, a very nice touch. 

Most passengers felt the food was below gourmet level, and that seems true when it comes to meats and desserts. The Italian dishes were very good. For instance, spaghetti bolognese was an option every night and delicious, probably the best we’ve ever had. The pizza station served tasty varieties at pretty much all hours. The meats seemed well below choice cuts – tough and fatty. The desserts are not very tasty or imaginative – more European than American - and we never found something rich like chocolate cake or cookies. Every dessert seemed full of air. One oddity - there is no free ice cream. Some passengers felt the menu was very limited. 

The suite balconies become small lakes a good part of the time. That’s because the decks are canted inward towards the stateroom, and water puddles there, sometimes so high the level is above the shoe sole. If the Lirica ever goes very north, suite passengers will have their own mini-ice skating rinks. When the balconies were washed, the accumulated water was soapy. We are not shoppers, but other passengers uniformly felt the shopping lectures vague, overly long, and uninformative. 

The tour desk was manned surprisingly little of the time, and the personnel at that desk did not appear overly concerned or helpful. They were not very familiar with the actual tours, and as a result were of little help. Perhaps this is because we understand this was only the second time the Lirica visited these ports. Two examples: no one knew whether women should take purses for the zip line tour (yes, they could leave them on the bus) and the ship sold water for the Panama Canal tour when there was plenty available free on the boat.

If you are looking to rest and relax on deck, near the pool, you will have a hard time as there is incessant “entertainment” spewing from the microphone, whether athletics, quizzes, or games. 

The MSC literature concerning ship’s dress is misleading. Everyone brought way too many dressy clothes. There are only three nights requiring coats and ties, and the other evenings are informal, despite the literature calling for coats and ties almost every night. The Lirica scheduled a formal dinner night on the evening of the Panama Canal tours. This was madness. Everyone got back barely in time for dinner, or later, and the formal evening would have been a better bet on a day at sea. When we pointed this out, we were told “that’s the way they always do it.”

In the casino, the two blackjack tables were invariable full, yet a third was not manned. 

The chaise lounges are fiendishly poor in design, with only one awkward reclining position. You’ll see.

Deck six is the wide promenade deck. Strangely, there are no deck chairs anywhere, and it’s the only deck. The chaise lounges are found by the pool on deck 11, on the track on deck 12, and on the fantails. The fantails are the ship’s secret. They run from deck six all the way up to deck 12. Most people don’t even know they are there. You should check them out.

Don’t bring more than three dress outfits.

Find out about the tours in advance, even if you have to e-mail or call the tour operators. The ship is virtually no help.

If you take a similar itinerary, the bus ride to the Panama Canal is long and there is a considerable wait to embark on the tour boat. For many passengers, especially the elderly, the lack of rest rooms until they had boarded the boat – which was very crowded – was very uncomfortable. 

The Lirica is a well-appointed, clean and tasteful ship. For the most part, it is well-run and well worth the cost. If, as others have said, you are looking for strictly American-type cruising, the Lirica may not the vessel for you. The negatives noted above can be easily remedied by MSC, for the most part, and I hope they do because there is much to recommend the Lirica. We were very pleased with the cruise and would repeat with MSC, depending on the itinerary.

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