European Travel and the Coronavirus
MSC Preziosa Cruise Review: North Sea
A roundtrip 7-night voyage from Rotterdam, with port calls in Hamburg, Le Havre, Southampton, and Zeebrugge.
We hadn't cruised for a while, so when we saw an ad for a roundtrip seven-night cruise from Rotterdam that fit nicely with an already-scheduled Paris trip in September, 2019, we booked on the spot. (The fare of USD 849 per person for a balcony stateroom made the decision a no-brainer.)
The cruise was aboard MSC Preziosa, and it was our first Mediterranean Shipping Company voyage since a roundtrip MSC Poesia cruise from Venice. In this article, we describe the cruise, give our verdict on MSC Preziosa, and offer a day-by-day photo diary of an itinerary that took us to Hamburg, Le Havre, Southampton, and Zeebrugge.
MSC Preziosa: the ship
MSC Preziosa entered service in 2013 and is the largest ship we've been on at the time of this writing in January, 2020.
The ship, which belongs to MSC's Fantasia class, has a gross tonnage of 139,072 and a capacity of 3,959 passengers (double occupancy, with a maximum passenger count of 4,345 when all berths are filled).
MSC Preziosa is massive, at least by our standards, although it's a good deal smaller than newer megaships such as Royal Caribbean's 228,081-ton, 5,518- to 6,680-passenger Symphony of the Seas.
Despite MSC Preziosa's generous size, it doesn't feel vastly bigger than some of the other large ships that we've sailed on, such as Norwegian Jade (93,558 GRT, 2,402/3,590 passengers) and Costa Magica (102,587 GRT, 2,720/3,470 passengers). Its dimensions are manageable, probably because the ship's public areas are confined to half a dozen of the 13 passenger decks, with the remaining seven decks reserved for cabins and suites.
From a naval-architecture point of view, MSC Preziosa is more satisfying than many of today's megaships. It has simple, uncluttered lines, and even its water slide looks like part of the design instead of being a klutzy add-on. (We can think of several major cruise lines whose ships rank far higher on the ugliness scale.)
MSC Preziosa also struck us as being extremely clean and well-maintained. Even on the open boat deck, where we'd expect to see the occasional rust streak, the paintwork looked like new.
Ambiance and fellow passengers
There's a certain predictability to modern cruise-ship design, especially on megaships. If you're looking at a deck plan, it may be hard to tell the Behemoth from the Croesus or the Big Kahuna.
The biggest differences between ships of comparable size, in our opinion, have to do with the passengers. A ship that caters to one nationality will have a wholly different vibe than a vessel which serves a multinational (and multilingual) audience, as MSC Preziosa does.
Although MSC is an Italian cruise line (and is owned by an Italian family), its European cruises attract passengers from throughout the EU and beyond.
On our North Sea itinerary, the predominant groups seemed to be German and British with a generous sprinkling of Russian, French, Dutch, American, Canadian, Chinese, and other nationalities.
Another point about ambiance that's worth mentioning: We liked the fact that MSC didn't try to hustle and upsell us at every turn. MSC Preziosa has plenty of shops, it offers shore excursions, and you can dine in extra-cost restaurants if you wish. But you almost have to go looking for opportunities to spend your money, because there's much less "sell" than you'd find on some competitors' ships.
Cabins and suites
MSC Preziosa has 1,310 outside and 327 inside staterooms, including a number of one-bedroom suites. The vast majority of outside or "ocean view" cabins have balconies.
Cabins are mostly on decks 9 through 13, with a few dozen "MSC Yacht Club" suites on Decks 14 and 15 in the forward quarter of MSC Preziosa's superstructure.
(MSC Yacht Club is an upmarket "ship within the ship" experience with a concierge desk, a private dining room, a members-only lounge, a gated sun deck with pool, and 24-hour butler service.)
We had a standard double ocean-view cabin with balcony on Deck 9 and were pleased by our accommodation. The cabin was typical of its genre, with a bed that could be configured as a king or twins, a love seat, a small desk with a hassock, and an efficiently-arranged bathroom with shower.
MSC Preziosa has eight restaurants and snack bars, including a handful of extra-cost venues such as Ristorante Italia ("slow food"), La Locanda (a pizza and wine bar), and Butcher's Cut (an American-style steakhouse).
The main dining rooms are the L'Arabesque and the two-level Golden Lobster, which have assigned seating at dinner. We purchased an optional "Fantastica" package for USD 50 each at the time of booking, which entitled us to priority choice of dinner seating plus still or bottled water and coffee in the dining room at lunch and dinner.
The ship also has a buffet on Deck 14 that is either the Inca Buffet or the Maya Buffet, depending on where you've found a table. And good luck in finding a place to sit--during our cruise, the buffet was vastly overcrowded at mealtimes, forcing diners to wander around in circles with food-laden trays while scouting for empty tables. Buffet seating may be even harder to find during school vacations, when children push up the ship's guest count.
There is some good news:
We aren't big drinkers, so we pretty much ignored the bars. Still, MSC Preziosa has plenty of places where you can order a tipple or an expresso if you're so inclined. And because MSC is an Italian cruise line that mostly caters to Europeans (who like to sit without being disturbed), you're unlikely to be hustled by a waiter every time your glass runs low.
MSC offers a variety of drinks packages, but we'd suggest thinking carefully before buying one. On a port-intensive European itinerary, you're likely to spend much of your time ashore, so you might be better off paying by the drink when you're back on the ship than splurging on a pricey all-you-can-swig booze pass.
Pools, fitness, and spa
MSC Preziosa has two main pool areas: one outdoors, and the other under a transparent canopy. Hot tubs are also on tap. The pool areas are child-friendly, with shallow satellite sections where kids can splash or wade.
Sports facilities include a jogging track, a well-equipped gym, a huge water slide, a bowling alley, table soccer, and other games.
There's also a Balinese-themed spa that has the usual assortment of "treatments" as well as a sauna, a steam room, and a frigidarium where you can chill out between spells of self-braising.
Entertainment and activities
Cruise-ship entertainment is fairly predictable, and MSC Presioza sticks to the formula. The ship has a large and well-equipped theater where shows blend the usual singing and dancing with acrobatics and other thrill acts.
On our cruise, the vocalists were first-rate, and the circus acts were outstanding. (It may seem a bit odd to have a trapeze artist performing daredevil feats during a tribute to a Stephen Sondheim musical, but if the show works, why not?)
Small orchestras, duets, and solo acts perform in the reception area, bars, and lounges. We were especially impressed by Lucky Shore, a young duo with original songs and a harmonic approach to old favorites.
The ship also has a casino, which we walked through once or twice. (We'd rather gambol than gamble.)
If you're fond of organized activities, you can choose from dance lessons, stretching classes, arts and crafts, trivia competitions, pool parties, and more--especially on sea days, when the daily program is packed with events.
Shopping and Internet
Like most large cruise ships, MSC Preziosa offers a good selection of shopping opportunities. You can buy logo wear, MSC-branded toys and souvenirs, Swiss watches, Swarovski crystals, gold chain by the inch, and so on.
If you prefer browsing the Web to browsing in shops, you can sign up for an Internet package before you leave home or during the cruise. Service is charged by the Megabyte, which is a better deal than by-the-minute schemes.
Side note: We chose the "Standard" Internet package, which turned out to be more than we needed. Unless you know you'll be using a lot of data, we suggest buying the cheaper "Chat & Social Apps" package.
Like most cruise ships, MSC Preziosa offers a range of shore excursions. Whether these are worthwhile depends on your budget, your degree of mobility, and how much you enjoy (or dislike) group coach tours.
On this particular itinerary, we were happy to just wander around the ports of call. And while we didn't use MSC's shore excursions, we were pleased to see that the ship offered extra-cost shuttle buses in several ports--especially in Hamburg, where our pier was in an industrial harbor beyond the city center.
Italy is a child-friendly country, and MSC puts a lot of emphasis on serving a family audience. (You won't find any "adults only" ships in the MSC fleet.)
Facilities for kids on MSC Preziosa include Doremi on Deck 15 (with clubs for children from 3-6 and 7-11) and a teen club.
For up-to-date information on children's programming and other services, see the MSC Web site's Family Cruises page.
Crew and service
MSC Preziosa's captain and senior staff are largely Italian. Service workers (such as restaurant staff and room stewards) mostly come from Europe, Asia, and Africa.
We had no complaints about service, and the people we came into contact with seemed hard-working and efficient.
A note about tipping: Like many cruise lines, MSC charges a small daily fee per person to cover gratuities. A 15-percent service charge is added automatically to bar chits. Beyond those fees, you can tip as generously or minimally as you like.
Our overall verdict:
If you like attractive megaships and a multicultural atmosphere, you'll probably be happy with MSC Preziosa and similar ships in the MSC fleet. This is even more true if you want the most value for your euros, dollars, or pounds.
On the other hand, if you have a low tolerance for chaos, the overcrowded buffet may be a dealbreaker.
Next page: Embarkation in Rotterdam
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