Ship Reviews

Ship review: MSC Musica

At 294m, 92,409 gross tons and carrying 2,550 passengers, MSC Musica is the largest cruise ship that MSC Cruises has ever homeported in South Africa. From November, 2018 to March, 2019, she will cruise roundtrip from Durban to the coast of Madagascar, showing that cruising in Southern Africa is finally coming of age.

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With more swimming pools, more restaurants, more bars, larger lounges and a huge shopping boutique area, MSC Musica is intended to open the next chapter of the story of cruising in South Africa.

She has far more balcony cabins than MSC Sinfonia, and a plethora of public rooms that will have even experienced Durban cruisers carrying a map around with them for the first day or two.

While MSC Sinfonia (a sister ship to MSC Lirica) had a traditional, almost intimate feel to her in the modern cruise industry, MSC Musica is much closer to a city at sea. Her gross tonnage is just short of 100,000, which just a few years ago was considered the benchmark for a mega-ship.

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MSC Musica was the first newbuild designed and built specifically for the cruise line.

She was launched in 2006 and was the first cruise ship to be designed and built specifically for MSC Cruises. All the ships that came before her were second-hand tonnage that the line acquired through mergers with smaller rivals.

She was therefore a special ship, and was launched to much fanfare, with silver screen icon Sophia Loren as her godmother.

MSC Musica walk-through

The difference between MSC Musica and MSC Cruises’ smaller ships, such as MSC Sinfonia, which has homeported in South Africa annually for the past few years, is apparent from the moment one boards.

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The atrium lobby is a huge space, dominated by Bar della Cascata on one end and the La Scata Recetion (guest services desk) on the other.

This three-deck space is characterized by sweeping curved walls, a multi-tiered waterfall, and a piano set on a transparent deck atop a pool of water.

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It is on the lowermost passenger deck (Deck 5), and the first of the ship’s three main entertainment decks, that passengers board.

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L’Oleandro Restaurant

Aft is the L’Oleandro Restaurant, one of the ship’s two main dining rooms. The other is Le Maxim’s directly above, making Bar della Cascata and the Blue Velvet Bar on Deck 6, popular spots for pre and post-dinner drinks to the sound of live music.

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Le Maxim’s

While Deck 5 is dominated by a section of inside staterooms midships, Deck 6 and 7 are the two decks made up entirely of public rooms.

The Golden Bar, Bar Della Cascada (top) and the Crystal Bar.

Forward of Le Maxim’s is the Golden Bar and Diamond Bar to port and starboard, with the ship’s retail area separating these areas from the Blue Velvet Bar.

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Il Tuscano Lounge

Even further forward still is the huge Il Tuscano Lounge, one of two main show lounges on the ship, the other being the Crystal Lounge, all the way aft on Deck 7 above.

Il Tucano lounge is the venue for daytime activities/demos and evening music and dancing, while Crystal Lounge serves as the karaoke bar at night.

On all three of these decks, the ship’s Teatro La Scalla theatre sits at the bow, done up with the red-upholstered seating of its Milanese namesake, along with splashy art deco detailing and a plethora of glittering wall and ceiling lights.

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While MSC Sinfonia also had a bow theatre area, this one is much bigger, able to seat 1,240 people in one sitting.

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Up again to Deck 7 and the difference between Musica and Sinfonia becomes even more apparent, with an expansive casino Sanremo Casino that sits just forward of the card room and library.

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Kaito Sushi Bar

A small but charming art gallery separates the casino from the Kaito Shushi Bar, one of the ship’s speciality dining areas.

Kaito is widely regarded as one of the best Japanese restaurants at sea by former passengers, and is itself just forward of the topmost deck of the atrium lobby.

Up here the Cyber Café faces the Havana Club Cigar Room, the only lounge in which passengers can smoke in-doors on the ship (apart from the casino, where one must have a horse in the race to smoke).

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The Crystal Lounge is one of two main lounges aboard Musica.

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Aft of the Havana Cigar Lounge is the large photo gallery and photo shop, with the intimate L’enoteca Wine Bar to starboard.

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L’enoteca Wine Bar

In a clever bit of design work by MSC Cruises, they have turned the photo gallery into the primary throughflow between the Crystal Lounge and the rest of the public areas on the deck, unless you use the boat deck promenade.

Deck 8 through 12 are all entirely accommodation decks, with the ship’s huge pool area and buffet restaurant occupying Deck 13.

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MSC Musica’s pool area

There are actually three pool areas aboard MSC Musica, two for adults (with a giant movie screen) and one for kids a deck above, but in practice on a busy sea day the distinction becomes blurred.

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The central Laguna pool bar separates the two areas (with the kids’ pool area for its roof), while the MSC Aurea Spa occupies the whole of the bow area.

Unlike the compact but acceptable spa aboard MSC Sinfonia, this is a true wellness centre with a gym overlooking the bow, several treatments rooms to starboard, and whirlpool baths, thermal suites and saunas to port with epic ocean views.

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Gli Archi Cafetteria

The Gli Archi Cafetteria occupies a full third of the ship’s 293m length aft on this deck. It’s a massive buffet restaurant that seems to go on and on for miles as you walk through it, but it’s a concept that works and has been incorporated into all the ship’s of the MSC fleet from Musica onwards.

It ensures that there is always space to sit at or near the window even during the busiest breakfast, lunch or dinner hours. Though why would you have dinner in the buffet when the dining room food and service is always so much better?

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On the deck above this is the Q32 Disco, next to the teen’s club and virtual reality games area. Further forward is the children’s indoor play room and outdoor pool and play area.

Yet further forward still are the spa suite staterooms and on the topmost deck of the ship is the ‘Top 16’ exclusive solarium, popular with couples wishing to escape the family chaos of the main pool area.

It would be nice if there were some windbreakers and one or two whirlpools up here.

The MSC Musica experience

MSC Musica has traditionally been placed on roundtrip Venice and Athens cruises in the Mediterranean. This will be first foray into the South African cruise market.

While Italian is the official language on-board in the Mediterranea, for her Durban cruise season, English will become the de facto main language.

All announcement will be made in English and Italian, and all on-board materials from the daily program to dinner menus, will be printed in English.

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Similarly, MSC Cruises SA will bring its unique South African style to the entertainment line-up. As with every other MSC cruise ship that has ever cruises roundtrip from Durban, MSC Musica will be made to appeal to her unique source market.

“We have no doubt that MSC Musica will very quickly become [South Africans’] new darling of the Indian Ocean,” says Ross Volk, managing director, MSC Cruises SA. “Her first cruise in our 2018-2019 season is a four-night cruise with both Portuguese Island and Pomene Bay on the itinerary.”

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Aboard MSC Musica there is always something for everyone to do. From bowling lanes, mini golf, tennis, basketball, volleyball, virtual games, an LED wall, shuffleboard, age-specific children’s activity clubs, a duty-free shopping arcade, a gym, power-walking track, and a glorious health spa, to three different dance floors, offering three different styles of music, and a casino and Broadway-style theatre.

In addition to this, there is the cigar lounge, wine-tasting bar, specialty coffees bar and a cocktail bar, all also featuring their own brand of entertainment. If there were to be one criticism made of MSC Musica, it would be that she is a very big and very busy ship.

Those seeking a quiet, child-free, couples getaway will struggle to find secluded and intimate dining and tanning venues, although they are there if you seek them out, such as the Deck 16 solarium and the Deck 7 sushi bar.

Kids aboard MSC Musica

MSC Musica is a family-oriented cruise ship through-and-through. Kids get the space-themed “Space Trip” playroom, outfitted with games, arts and crafts supplies, PlayStations, etc.

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Here activities like puppet shows, group games, pizza parties, and acrobatics lessons are offered. Outdoors, there’s a second, enclosed play area with a tube slide and a wading pool.

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There’s also a teen’s area, which is located rather suspiciously close to the O32 Disco.

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MSC Cruises policies regarding where children can and cannot go are extremely laissez-faire, to the extent that it irks most American and British passengers on her Mediterranean sailings, that are naturally dominated by Italians.

However, this is an approach that South Africans tend to enjoy, with children able to join their parents in all bars and lounges on the ship into the wee hours of the night.

Kids have even been known to spend time in the casino and disco, although ostensibly these two areas are where ship’s security tend to draw the line.

Dining aboard MSC Musica

Along with the ever popular self-service buffet and pizzeria, and two formal dining rooms, MSC Musica also offers an à la carte Italian seafood restaurant and a steakhouse, as well as an authentic Japanese sushi bar.

Those who like MSC Cruises traditional two-seating dining concept need not worry, this remains the case aboard MSC Musica.

L’Oleandro, with its classic cruise ship restaurant look, and the more tony looking Le Maxim’s, with art nouveau, fin de siècle Parisian décor, both serve dinner in two settings, while one or the other is usually open for breakfast or lunch, so check the daily program.

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Both serve predominantly international dishes with a splash of the Mediterranean on MSC’s South African cruise itineraries, but both also suffer from low ceilings, which amplifies ambient noise.

As both dining rooms sit directly atop one another, it’s likely that MSC may in the coming years convert these two restaurants into one grand two-deck dining room during a refit.

Passengers looking for intimate alternatives can dine at the Kaito Sushi Bar, a beautifully designed, modern space that serves sushi, tempura, and other Japanese favorites, priced a la carte.

For casual meals, there’s a buffet restaurant that in the evening also offers a nightly a la carte option in its aft section, as well as extra-cost pizza and kebab. There’s also a standard pool-deck grill outdoors, serving casual meals during the day.

Accommodation aboard MSC Musica

The vast majority of the 1,275 staterooms aboard MSC Musica are balcony cabins, with ocean view cabins making up the rest.

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Inside cabin aboard Musica

There are a few hundred inside staterooms, but they are very much in the minority, reflecting the fact that Musica was purpose designed for MSC as the cruise line sought to enhance its brand away from the budget cruise segment where it was conceived in the 1980s.

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Outside cabin aboard Musica

All of the 199-square-foot outside cabins and balcony cabins are designed in a clean, modern style, with adequate storage, a small sitting area, TV, minifridge, vanity/writing desk, private safe, and an ensuite with shower and minimal toiletries. There is no discernible difference between outside cabins and balcony cabins beyond the terrace.

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Balcony cabin aboard Musica

There are also much larger 317-square-foot balcony suites, which come with a larger balcony, larger sitting area, king-size bed, more closet space, and a tub in the bathrooms.

Central retail area aboard MSC Musica

Designed with unashamed flamboyance that’s part Vegas, part Italian opera house, part Mediterranean resort, with a dash of classic cruise ship glamour, MSC Musica has already sparked intense interest among the South African cruising public.

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MSC Musica

With a new cruise destination on offer as well for the coming cruise season, she’s sure to entice new cruisers to take to the seas this coming cruise season, which is essential if South Africa’s cruise market is to continue to grow and attract more international lines, such as AIDA Cruises, to its shores.

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