Soon, I will be traveling to Miami, Florida, for my first cruise with MSC Cruises. I have spent quite a bit of time reading about them, and I am very excited to try the Swiss-based cruise line, which has become one of the largest cruise operators in the world.
A family run business, MSC has strong Italian roots, and I am all about gelato, excess pasta carbs, and good wine. They even have an F1 racing simulator onboard, which I want to try if the kids will let me take a spot in line.
I have never sailed in early fall or to 3 out of the 4 ports on my eastern Caribbean itinerary, which adds an extra layer of fun to my upcoming cruise.
Here’s a look at what I am doing to get ready.
Getting to know MSC Cruises
As a newbie to MSC, I have been doing a little research about the European cruise line to prepare me for what to expect. Every ship is slightly different, and I want to know about their procedures and protocols as well as some tips and tricks from previous MSC cruisers.
I have spent some time going through their website and the MSC for Me app. Reviewing their embarkation procedures and current Covid-19 protocols, I will have to test 3 days before boarding and provide proof of vaccination.
For the fun stuff, I have joined a couple MSC focused Facebook groups, including a specific one for our sailing. This has been helpful in sharing information such as favorite places on the ship, excursion ideas, as well as tips on internet, and dining packages. One thing that surprised me is that your boarding time can change with MSC. As I was beaming about my 10:30 am check-in time, it was suddenly pushed back to 1 pm with no explanation, but no worries.
Working with a travel agent
Working with a good travel agent is very helpful in the planning process, especially when trying out a new cruise line. Although I quickly zeroed in on the ship and eastern Caribbean itinerary I wanted, my travel agent Melissa has been instrumental in guiding me through the MSC cruise process.
One important tip she gave me was that you cannot share devices on the MSC internet package, which is unlike other cruise lines I have been on. Buried in the fine print, I don’t think I would have caught this detail on my own until I was onboard.
Using a travel agent is also helpful as they can get in touch with the cruise line and clarify any questions you may have.
My ride – MSC Seashore
For my cruise, I will be sailing on MSC Seashore. Launched in 2021, it is the third ship in the MSC Seaside class that has been designed for sailing in warmer climates such as the Caribbean and Mediterranean. As MSC describes it, they follow the sun. Slightly smaller than some of the other mega-ships out there, it is still a good size, with a capacity of 5,632 passengers.
I plan on spending lots of time outside, enjoying some of the great activities and al fresco dining. The ship boasts a glass walkway that provides incredible views, along with a number of pools and hot tubs.
Also on my radar is Venchi 1878 Chocolate Bar, which has my name written all over it, and a gelato shop that I will definitely try.
Itinerary and excursions
I must confess that I am a little bit of a planner, and I love reading about the places I will be visiting. I want to get a sense of what makes them special, a bit about the culture, history, and one of my favorite things, food. For this trip, I have four incredible port stops.
Our first port is San Juan, which has always been on my bucket list of places to go. We are arriving relatively late in the day, 5 pm, and sadly some of the places like the fort are closed at that time. To make the most out of my visit, I have booked a walking tour to see some of the other major sites as well as a stop at a local restaurant to try the famous mofongo, a legendary Puerto Rican dish that features plantains.
Next up, we are heading to Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas. On a previous visit to the island, I did a boat tour and went to the beach, so this time I plan to explore the town, see the sites and try out some local food.
From there, we are heading to Puerto Plata for the day. Located on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, this area is famous for its beaches, so I am planning a relaxing day in the sun.
MSC’s Private Island
Lastly, and probably one of the most anticipated stops, is Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve, MSC’s private island in the Bahamas. The cruise line has spent years converting this formal industrial site into a natural, Caribbean paradise. They have replanted thousands of indigenous treats and worked to restore coral life.
The island has lots of free activities, with numerous places to explore, including 8 beaches. I plan to go at my own pace and enjoy our full day there, not leaving until 9 pm.
One great benefit to an extended day at Ocean Cay is the late night activities. Evening events include unique options such as stargazing, glow in the dark paddle boarding, and I am looking forward to the lights and music show they put on. It seems like a great way to experience the island from a different perspective.
Now that I have sorted out where to get the best drink and what fun activities to do, I arrive at the less exciting logistics of getting to the cruise port.
I have two plane rides to reach Miami, so I am flying in early to hopefully avoid any major flight hiccups. For the first time ever, I have purchased air tags that will be placed in my luggage.
I have only been to Miami once, and I thoroughly enjoyed my trip there. I have booked a hotel in South Beach and plan to explore the area and try some of the Miami cuisine the city is famous for.
Flying and cruising still have some added complications. I have downloaded all of my apps, including MSC for ME app, Uber, and airline app, along with a few others such as ArriveCAN, for my return home.
Traveling in September
Cruising in the fall means that you can have tropical rain storms and lots of heat. I plan to pack lots of light clothing and comfortable gear, especially for walking in port.
Although I am very excited to visit each port, I know that things can change, so I am telling myself to be flexible and patient.
In the days leading up to my cruise, I am keeping a close eye on plane schedules and weather so I can be proactive if anything changes. I have purchased travel insurance, including trip interruption and cancellation insurance. The peace of mind is worth it.
The right luggage
I am a firm believer in not overpacking; I like to leave room if I buy anything, and my airline has a weight restriction on bags. You practically need to get a second mortgage with the fees they are charging for extra or overweight bags. I like a hard case, 4 wheel rolling suitcase, never a soft cover after mine was soaked through from a long stay on a rain-drenched tarmac.
On my last trip south, I walked 4,000 steps between the two gates for my connecting flights (this is not an exaggeration). Toronto airport has some of the longest terminals known to mankind, and I have learned over the years that a backpack style carry-on is the best for this marathon style connection.
I spent a lot of time in the black hole of Amazon looking for the "best" travel backpack. I settled on a durable, spacious bag that promises to easily carry 3 days' worth of stuff. We will see about that.
What to pack
Hoping for lots of sunshine, I will pack lots of sunscreen, a sun hat, and sunglasses. I will also add a compact umbrella for port days and a small portable fan for a tiny breeze and a little white noise in my cabin.
I have traveled a decent amount and have become fairly organized as the head travel planner for my family. Packing for just me is fairly easy. However, this time I am cognisant to add a little more in my carry-on given recent luggage delays.
I also bring a small selection of first aid and medicines like Gravol. Tylenol and a few other basics. While some are available on the ship, they are expensive and in limited supply. In my experience, sunscreen is one of the most costly things to buy in the Caribbean islands I have been to, so I always pack at least one bottle.