Our last trip before Covid-19 shut down the world in March 2020, was a Caribbean cruise on the MSC Meraviglia. The Level – 4 travel advisory recommending that Canadians avoid cruises came out the day after we had embarked the ship. Since we were already on board and, in the middle of the ocean, we decided to finish our 7-day cruise that departed from Miami and would take us to Ocho Rios Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, Cozumel, Mexico, and MSC’s private island, Marina Cay, in the Bahamas.
MSC Cruises is not one of the well-known cruise lines in North America but is a global cruise line that is part of the Mediterranean Shipping Company S.A. (MSC), the world’s second biggest container shipping operator. In addition to being the world’s largest privately held cruise company, employing about 23,500 people worldwide and with offices in over 45 countries including Canada, MSC Cruises is the fourth largest cruise company in the world.
We spent our first day at sea enjoying all the amazing features of the Meraviglia. The ship offers several dining options and out-of-this-world entertainment with new panoramic areas, a spacious ocean-view aft lounge, and a two-deck “inside promenade” with a 480m2 LED domed ceiling which projects a show several times a day. Each show lasts about 5 minutes. These shows certainly mesmerize you if you happen to be in that area. Check out this video for one that I managed to remember to record!
For children and young – at heart – adults, there is a spectacular amusement area connected to an outdoor water park. There are several active participation video games including Formula One race cars, and a 7D motion theatre ride where you attempt to catch the bad guys. Paul and I were easily beaten by the 10- and 12-year-old in the ride with us!
There are also nightly Broadway- style shows, 2 different Cirque du Soleil shows and a full feature casino, with plenty of other adult fun as well. We took in both Cirque du Soleil shows and enjoyed them immensely. They are performed in The Carousel Lounge specially built for these shows. It is a very intimate space, hosting only 413 guests for each performance, making the interaction between the guests and performers even more special. Each show costs around $15 USD which includes a signature cocktail. “VIAGGIO, the first of the two shows, is the story of a passionate and eccentric artist who hears the call of his Faceless Muse. Mysterious and seductive, she beckons him into the vivid world of his unbridled imagination to complete his masterpiece. With each stroke of his paintbrush, the Painter reveals the details of his grandiose tableau. Majestic acts transform the theatre into a living canvas. Before our very eyes, a masterpiece came to life. With sound at its heart, SONOR – the second show – took us on an auditory adventure with dancers, acrobats, and characters, all moving to the rhythm. It conjures a world of unique sensations, astonishing sounds, bold music and immersive projections and culminates in a grand finale for the senses. “
Our first port of call was Ocho Rios, Jamaica. There are shops, souvenir booths and a beach within a 5-minute walk of the cruise terminal. Many of our fellow passengers opted to spend the day at the beach. We had booked a “Swim with the Dolphins and Dunn River Falls” tour prior to our trip. We met our driver in the parking lot just outside where the ship had docked. The port is a little chaotic, with no regular taxis available, only small shuttle van group types. We paid $10 each, round trip, to get into a shared van. Dolphin Cove is about a 10-minute ride from the cruise terminal. The Dolphin swim was great fun, a one in a lifetime experience not to be missed and a wonderful option for all ages.
After our fun – filled swim, we headed just a short distance up the road to Dunn River Falls. It is an extremely popular tourist spot and was really busy with kids and adults of all ages. Water shoes are a must for manoeuvring the falls (see picture above). You could easily spend the whole day there. We had some difficulty locating our driver, but he had given us his phone number, so we were able to call him. He arrived about 15 minutes later and drove us back to the Meraviglia.
The next day we arrived in Georgetown, the capital of the Cayman Islands. It lies to the west of the largest island, Grand Cayman. It is known as a financial hub and has Tax-free shops clustered around Cardinal Avenue. The harbour is not deep enough for the ship to dock, so we had to take a 5-minute boat shuttle, a tender, to shore. Once on shore we were right in the middle of the shopping area. Here, you can find everything from Rolex watches to $1 souvenirs and lots of “free” stuff offered to cruise ship passengers. There are many 2-hour tours available of all the main attractions costing about $25 per person. The main sights to visit include” Hell” from where you can send a postcard that will actually be postmarked as being sent from Hell. There is also the world famous 7 Mile Beach, the Tortuga Rum Cake Factory, stingrays, a turtle farm and, of course, some of the world’s best snorkeling and scuba diving. It took us about 1.5 hrs to walk around the main area and do a bit of shopping and then we headed back to the ship for lunch and to enjoy the ship’s amenities.
The following day we docked in Cozumel, an island and municipality in the Caribbean Sea off the eastern coast of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, opposite Playa del Carmen. The economy of Cozumel is based on tourism, with visitors able to benefit from the island’s beaches with fine coral sand and crystal-clear blue-green sea, and world class scuba diving, and snorkeling. The town is an easy walk from the port as you step off the ship. Lots of shopping, restaurants, and bars are within 50 feet of the dock. It is very crowded and busy on cruise ship days. We took advantage of some photo opportunities and posed with some statues along the main street. We sampled some rum cake and enjoyed a cold beer and did some people watching!
Meraviglia is one of the MSC ships that sails to the company’s exclusive Bahamian destination, Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve. This Bahamian Private Island is a paradise for anyone who loves the beach. The island had just recently opened when we arrived. We were greeted by a marching band that toured the island finishing up on Main Street which led right to the ship. There were food trucks with lots of casual food options, bars with cold drinks and snacks all included at no charge. There are several beaches and open ocean for motor water sports. Small boat tours are also available for a fee and they depart from the smaller dock on a regular basis. Our only complaint was that there were very few chairs available, and even rentals were difficult to secure. Luckily, we had brought along towels, so we found a spot on a beach, then took a dip in the warm water. At sunset, there was a dance – type event that took place at the foot of the lighthouse. It culminated with a light show just before the ship set sail for Miami.
In our opinion, MSC provides an economical option for cruise enthusiasts who enjoy good food, but can live without high- end dining, and enjoy a high energy, busy atmosphere. The staterooms are well – appointed, and the service is excellent. MSC is a great option for anyone and is especially well-suited to multi-generational groups, solo travellers, and families. If you’d like more information about an MSC cruise, please feel free to contact us!