MSC Meraviglia Aurea Duplex Suite 9002 Review
As I sat, sipping an espresso in my private whirlpool tub, I pinched myself to check if this was real life.
Let's rewind to March 2016, when bookings opened for MSC Meraviglia's maiden season. While others got wrapped up in the promises of new entertainment, a certain cabin stole my heart: the Duplex Suite.
The Duplex Suite is not a million miles apart from Royal Caribbean's Loft Suite that I long lusted over but know I could never afford. Indeed I expected the Duplex Suite to be priced at an equally eye-watering price. But it wasn't. Maybe it was a mis-price? Perhaps it was my lucky day? Might it have been priced to fill the ship up quickly? I didn't care and snapped it up - it was too good a price to miss.
As time went by, I hoped - nay, prayed - the cabin upgrade fairy skipped me by, just like she has reliably done to date. Never have I wished not to receive an upgrade. This was one cabin I did not want to miss.
Fast forward 18 months and it was time to fly to Barcelona to board MSC Meraviglia. I immediately took a beeline to cabin 9002.
So how was it?
* SPOILER ALERT * It was seriously awesome. Best. Cabin. Ever!
Never in a million years did I expect to find myself in a luxury suite, let alone a two-storey one. I loved every second of this cruise, with the worst bit leaving just one week later.
I've put together 10 reasons why you should whip out your credit card and book this ultimate suite right now.
1) Hot tub
Naturally the private whirlpool tub on the balcony is a standout feature. As you enter the cabin on the lower level, your eye is drawn beyond the large panel glazing and over to the hot tub.
The tall white tub is wrapped in dark wood, with a step for easier access. The round tub is big enough to comfortably fit four people, and is a hit with kids of all ages. Even the water splash park wasn't enough of a temptation to draw my son away from the cabin.
The water stays at a comfortable 35°C day and night, and is easily topped up with fresh hot water from the tap. Two modes of bubbles and a colour changing light suits all tastes.
It's surprisingly easy to slip into life with a hot tub. Spend the mornings on a port-intensive itinerary out exploring the land and return to the ship in the afternoon for a soak, while watching and listening as the world goes by. Better still, there's no judgmental strangers to contend with, unlike at the hot tubs on the pool deck.
2) Sheltered balcony
You would be forgiven for thinking a balcony at the front of a cruise ship is a daft idea. Even on a calm day the winds on a cruise ship can be forceful.
MSC's answer to this conundrum is relatively simple. Stick a tall piece of glass in front of the balcony, angled for aerodynamics, of course.
Most of the wind passes over the balcony while the ship sails, so you can still enjoy the heated hot tub even out at sea.
It's not completely windproof, but in the baking heat in Naples or Valletta, you'll gladly welcome the soothing lick of a light breeze.
The steel sides to the balcony act as sun shields, casting shade around the balcony throughout the day. If, like me, you burn easily, this is a godsend.
3) A captain's view
How could you tire of an uninterrupted view like this?
Never before have I had a Captain's view on a cruise - and the view is amazing. It's not a wraparound balcony so you don't get any form of side view thanks to the steel sides (for the best of both worlds you'll want the Yacht Club Royal Suite 15011 or 15008, or the Aurea Suite with Angle Balcony 9009, 9010, 10007, 10008, 11011, 11010, 12007, 12010, 13001, or 13004). Even so, it's an exclusive view otherwise restricted to fellow front-facing cabins, the Captain, and the folks in the Yacht Club Lounge. That's just a privileged few.
Incredible vistas come at a cost (besides the actual cost). The early morning wake-up calls as the mooring lines were extended together with the extreme shuddering as the ship used its bow thrusters took its toll. Duplex Suites 12001, 12003, 12004, 12005, 12006, and 12008 on Deck 12 may have had a better time of it, being higher up.
4) Outdoor privacy
You might have spotted the view from the balcony occasionally stars crew members. The very front of the ship is reserved for crew use.
As I could see them, naturally, they could see me, and the sight of me getting in and out of the hot tub may well have scarred one or two of them for life.
Even so, the cabin felt very private. Neighbours can't see into your balcony just as you can't see into theirs. The view from the bridge covers a sliver of the hot tub and the very end of the balcony, so it's largely private with no onlookers.
So if you want to set free your inner nudist for that all-over tan as is popular in the Med, you can be sure that your neighbours won't see anything - just be mindful of the crew and Captain.
My son loved the freedom of being able to move around in such a large area, and I loved that he wasn't in the way.
Space also extends to the two walk-in wardrobes (one upstairs, one downstairs). Two spacious areas with plenty of shelving and drawer space means storage is never an issue. You could easily hide suitcases away in these rooms, although I parked mine underneath the staircase.
Want the whirlpool tub on the balcony but not necessarily the two-levels in the cabin? For the Aurea experience, book the Suite with Angle Balcony. The cabin features a wrap-around balcony complete with a whirlpool tub tucked behind wind-deflecting glazing. Fancy something on the next level? Book the MSC Yacht Club Royal Suite for the Yacht Club perks on top of the whirlpool tub on the balcony.
6) Two floors
Having two floors means you effectively get two cabins in one. If you are travelling with friends or family, it's nice to have separate spaces, even if it's vertically stacked.
Bedtime with a three year old can be a tricky affair. If the lights aren't out, he wants to stay up. On previous cruises, this has occasionally led to an early bed time for everyone. However, in this suite, the space upstairs is invaluable as you can switch off the lights downstairs, plus there's a second TV upstairs.
I liked the posh touch of electrically-operated curtains, and the blackout lining really did keep the sun out of the room completely. Speaking of gadgets, I only counted two USB sockets in this suite that can easily accommodate four people (one downstairs by the television and one upstairs in the walk-in wardrobe). Expect battles with your gadget-hungry kids over who gets to use the sockets first.
7) Two bathrooms
No fighting over who gets to use the bathroom first in the morning, and no fighting over the shower after a dip in the hot tub.
Two bathrooms seems to stop many arguments it seems.
8) A bathtub
On a cruise ship, space is a premium and so the first thing to go is a bathtub in favour of a shower cubicle.
This suite has both a shower cubicle (downstairs) and a bathtub (upstairs) which is especially handy for washing the kids.
There's no view from the bathroom and it's not a whirlpool bathtub so you'd probably want to spend more time in the hot tub on the balcony than soaking in this bath.
9) A dining table
In-room continental breakfast was free and it was great to make use of the dining table once the room service staff stopped lingering awaiting a tip.The lingering was awkward and unnecessarily intrusive.
The table was also great for planning day trips and picking through tasty treats picked up in port.
Room service at other times in the day is delivered free of charge as part of the Aurea experience level, but every item on the menu is charged for, making the table fairly redundant unless you splash some cash.
10) Nespresso machine
Espresso on tap? That's the Mediterranean way of life, isn't it?
Four Nespresso pods sit in a wooden box along with spoons and sugar sachets. Used pods are replaced twice a day with a random selection.
The Nespresso machine itself is easy enough to use - pour some water in the back, slip in a pod, and press a button. Hey presto, a hot and steaming espresso.
The Duplex Suite is sold under the Aurea experience. This means you, along with fellow Aurea grade guests, get a few extra perks over someone sailing in the Bella or Fantastica experiences.
Bonus 1) All inclusive drinks package
Forget racking up a bar bill as an all-inclusive drinks package is included in the fare. Adults get a range of alcohol, soft drinks, hot drinks, and ice cream included, while kids get the same minus the booze.
The package covers many drinks ordered in the bars and restaurants, although you'll need to upgrade to the Premium package for the high-end labels . It covers ice cream from the poolside soft serve counter, although venture up to the splash park where tasty Italian Gelato is sneakily hidden. Ice cream from the Jean Philippe counter in the promenade is excluded.
Where the all-inclusive package falls down is that it excludes the mini bar. I'm not sure there would be much of a cost implication for the cruise line if the mini-bars in Suites were stocked only with complimentary bottled water and soft drinks. It is a pain having to trek to the bar just to get a quick drink, especially with a tired child in tow.
Bonus 2) Complimentary massage
Who would turn down an excuse to spend up to an hour in the very capable hands of a masseuse without paying a penny?
As part of the Aurea package, you get to choose one free of charge massage from a small selection. I picked the most popular choice of a 55-minute authentic Bali massage (which also happened to be the longest session available).
Be aware that as pretty much every port on the Mediterranean itinerary is an embarkation point, the range of available dates and times isn't as great as you would expect if everyone got on the ship in one port of call. I had the choice of 5pm on a port day or 9am on a sea day.
I opted for the 5pm appointment and overall it was a pleasant experience. It was a nice indulgent treat, although I couldn't even escape the sound of the mooring lines and the vibration of the bow thrusters during the massage! Bonus points to MSC for not pressure selling any products afterwards.
Bonus 3) Free reed diffuser
'Med by MSC' is the cruise line's signature scent and it's everywhere on MSC Meraviglia. You'll smell it in the corridors, you'll find it in the soap, and it's also in the shower gel and shampoo in the dispensers.
I guess the 100ml reed diffuser (which sells onboard for around €30 (≈ £27)) is designed to make the suite smell just as nice.
Mine inadvertently fell into my suitcase (as I'm sure others do) - oops. But now my home smells like the ship, and when I smell the scent, I am instantly back in that hot tub. And then I want to book another MSC cruise. Perhaps that's the point of the diffuser. Who knows?
Bonus 4) Anytime dining
My Choice Dining meant I could rock up at the Panorama Restaurant at any time I liked between set times for dinner. This is a relatively new concept for MSC Cruises and is a great feature.
Having a young hungry child in tow meant we abused the system by always turning up at the start of service at 6.30pm. The combination of a regular timeslot, a three-year-old child, and a group of fun waiters meant we were fought over. Having a regular table with regular waiters makes a cruise that little bit extra special, and the knowledge that we could change our dining time without any notice was invaluable.
Food service on MSC Meraviglia is markedly improved compared to older ships. The introduction of a digital ordering system has sped up the ordering and delivery processes, meaning less time waiting for food in the dining room - and it's hot when it arrives.
Bonus 5) In-cabin bathrobe and slippers
Aurea cabins get in-cabin bathrobe and slippers to use during the cruise.
Alas, you'll need to sail in a Yacht Club suite to get the nice waffle bathrobe over the scratchy cotton ones. But they were free and both came in handy.
Have you stayed in an suite before with MSC Cruises? What did you think of the experience? Let me know in the comments below.
Disclosure: I paid for my MSC Cruise in its entirety. My opinions are my own.