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Overview The MSC Lirica is the first of two new medium-sized cruise vessels for the privately owned MSC Cruises. A seasoned European cruise traveler might recognize the 58,600-ton and 1,560-passenger MSC Lirica. She is actually a sister ship to three ships already operated by First European Cruises (Festival Cruises in Europe).
The sleek and traditional looking MSC Lirica is tastefully designed and decorated with Italian flair. Forget about Costa-style neon, however; the ship's famed Italian architect Giuseppe de Jorio is known for creating more traditional, as opposed to flashy decor, relying on marble and brass. Most of the public rooms are small and intimate.
During the summer season MSC Lirica entertains mainly Europeans with multiple languages used onboard, so prepare to learn some Italian, German, French and Spanish if you want to communicate with your fellow passengers.
In winter, when the ship sails 10-night cruises from Ft Lauderdale, the company expects to carry Americans and Europeans on a fifty-fifty ratio. MSC Cruises says that around half of its crew is Italian, while the rest of the hotel crew comes from Eastern European countries and a few from the Far East.
Ultimately, Lirica, which was christened at its spring 2003 launch in Naples by Sophia Loren, offers a genuine Italian-style cruise experience (particularly in the Mediterranean). Lirica's Caribbean season begins with a variety of sailings (more unusual itineraries than the typical American-influenced cruise line).
Dining MSC Italian Cruises believes in a traditional dining concept, so forget any thoughts of "freestyle" when-and-with-whom-you-please options. Cuisine mostly focuses on Italian fare (banish thoughts you may have of more Americanized "Olive Garden" style interpretations) with specialties that include risotto-made-tableside, fresh fish, such as cuttlefish, veal stew, and penne al 'arrabiatta (to name a few).
There are four different dining areas onboard: Both La Bussola Restaurant on deck 5 and L'Ippocampo on deck 6 serve sit-down meals, although the latter is used only for overflow. Le Bistrot Cafeteria on deck 11 is the spot for informal buffet breakfasts and lunches. The fourth dining venue, La Pergola Restaurant, is adjacent and offers outdoor dining -- including casual fare, such as pizza, pasta and burgers. Tables are tucked under a large canvas and well protected from the sun, rain and winds.
The meal times are rather short and are designed more according to European tastes than to American. Buffet-style breakfast and lunch are served at the Le Bistrot Cafeteria from 6:30 to 10 a.m. and noon to 2 p.m. respectively. The more formal La Bussola is open for breakfast from 7 - 9:30 a.m.; lunch is served from 12:30 - 2 p.m. There are two seatings at dinner (6:45 and 8:45 p.m.). There is no casual alternative dining during evenings. MSC Italian Cruises, however, seems to be among the last lines to feature the midnight buffet - it varies each night, from a fruit-themed spread to a gala anything-goes repast.
Room service is rather limited. The menu includes only cold sandwiches, and there is in-cabin continental breakfast available. MSC no longer charges for room service on any of its ships.
A hint: If you miss breakfast and don't want to use room service, there are croissants available at the Coffee Corner, which surrounds the atrium on deck 6. But be prepared to pay for your coffee: an espresso costs 1.50 pounds.
Public Rooms MSC Lirica offers a great selection of public rooms and lounges with different design and entertainment. Most of them are located on decks 5 and 6 (graciously connected by a marble staircase), although there is a large "secondary" lounge on deck 7 and a huge disco surrounded by glass walls on deck 12. The high number of public rooms helps to keep passengers spread throughout the ship. All in all, Lirica offers eight different bars/lounges.
My favorite spot was the expansive Lord Nelson Pub, which is a quiet place to enjoy a beer or a pre-dinner drink. Although located in the path of the show lounge, the bar did not tend to attract much clientele - perhaps because there was no live music. This made it a great place for quiet conversation or reading.
Another interesting area is Beverly Hills Bar and Rodeo Drive shops on deck 5, just before the entrance to the dining room. Fitted out with a lot of marble and shining brass, this is a favorite spot for pre- and post-dinner drinks, and an excellent place to dance with the tunes of slow music. Occasionally, you can listen here also to classical music as well. On the starboard side it is flanked by a group of duty-free shops, which offer souvenirs and luxury items.
There is also an Internet cafe with 10 stations. The charge for using the Internet is 4.90 pounds for the first 10 minutes, then 24.90 pounds per hour thereafter.
Cabins The most interesting detail about the passenger cabins on Lirica is that all are located above the ship's mid-level public rooms. Otherwise, they are average in size and contain no major surprises, decor- or layout-wise.
Of the 780 cabins, 64 percent offer outside views, but only 132 have balconies. All balcony cabins are actually mini-suites. Every cabin is equipped with a safe, a television (there are no interactive features) and a fridge. The mini-suites have larger bathrooms with a bathtub. One down-note: we were rather appalled at how badly-soundproofed cabins are (perhaps our neighbors were unusually rambunctious, but still...).
Fitness and Recreation The Lirica Health Center is located on deck 11, and offers truly magnificent views to three sides through the floor-to-ceiling windows - along with the usual workout equipment. The spa is operated by an Italian spa company and offers traditional treatments, such as facials and massages.
In the main pool area on deck 11, there are two swimming pools and two whirlpools. The pool area is surrounded by open deck space and lounge chairs. More space and lounge chairs can be found on deck 13, which is protected from the winds by windscreens. As a European ship, topless sunbathing for ladies is accepted in secluded areas.
Family The cruise line actively invites families, particularly in the Mediterranean, where about 75 percent of their voyages promote a kids-sail-free special. There is a children's facility, geared from ages 3 - 17, on deck 11. The ship will staff up if enough children sign up, but it must be noted that one challenge is the multi-lingual nature of MSC's audience (and so there are kids speaking all ranges of languages). There's a 24-hour video arcade.
Organized children's activities are less likely on Caribbean sailings because these itineraries are generally longer and more exotic than the usual.
Fellow Passengers During the summer time most of the passengers are Europeans, mainly from Italian-, French-, Spanish-, and German-speaking countries, but the cruise line carries guests also from English-speaking nations, such as the U.K., USA, and Australia. Europeans tend to smoke more, even in the no-smoking areas. Dining rooms are off limits to smoking.
Entertainment There is a lot of entertainment available during the evenings, and it is mainly tailored for the multi-lingual European tastes (except in the Caribbean, where North Americans are more catered to). The main stage is the Broadway Theatre, which normally has two seatings (both rather late); at 9:15 and 10:45 p.m. The show lounge itself, two decks high, is rather cramped with its theatre-style seating.
The ship offers a great selection of music: from slow tunes in Beverly Hills Bar to Latin dance music in the Lirica Lounge to piano faves in L'Atmosphere (it's popular, so come early as this place fills quickly). You can sample faster dance music with a live band in Le Cabaret Lounge and disco music nightly in the Blue Disco Club.
The ship also offers, daytime, "crazy" contests (men's sexy legs and such) as well as enrichment classes in Italian cooking and language.
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