For those of you who don't know already, we were lucky enough to win a ticket to an MSC Splendida cruise departing from our charming island, Malta. It was short notice so my partner and I were forced to check what dates we could take leave from work. We settled on 11th to 18th April. It was my 3rd cruise but my partner's and our 2 Â½ year old daughter's first cruise.
We were told to meet at Magazino (the Maltese departures port) at 12pm. Of course, we arranged to be there a little bit earlier, worrying that we could find traffic and be late. They made us wait till 12.20pm because they needed permission from onboard the ship but then the check-in was really quick. Our group consisted of around 50 people and there were about 4 people doing the check-in at a time. We were on the ship in around half an hour. Everyone was very nice and helpful as they even took our daughter's stroller up the ramp themselves. We ate lunch at the Bora Bora at noon and we were given a quick emergency drill later in the day.
If you are usually seasick, do take medication with you. My partner took a Meclizine based medicine once a day and was fine for the whole trip. He is usually seasick even in the calmest sea so we were prepared. We had a lot of rough sea on our cruise, especially in Malta and between Rome and Barcelona.
The Splendida is really huge, I mean it took around four days for us to get used to where things and places were. They, of course, provide you with a detailed map of all the deck plans so I carried that in my handbag. Our daughter loved the ship! She loved the crystal staircases which I'm telling you, the pictures don't do them justice. They are really beautifully detailed in teardrop crystals arranged all over the steps. As others said, it was impeccably clean, with staff vacuuming, dusting and polishing all the time.
Do yourself a favour and go around the Piazzetta for bargains. They had nice designer jewellery and handbags at great prices everyday. Also, we found the Logo shop to be well priced. We bought some stuff including a metal repica model ship of the Splendida for just 18 euro.
I found the staff very eager to help in general but I found it strange that some people that were behind the reception desk couldn't speak neither english nor italian. We never had a problem with any of the staff really, they were all very nice especially to our daughter. A lot of staff actually played with her, even as she passed them. She's very outgoing so maybe that's why.
Let me tell you something, if you don't like kids don't go with MSC. We weren't cruising during holidays, yet there were a lot and a lot of kids, from babies to teenagers. Most of them were well behaved but a very small number were unruly, especially early teen age kids. They will try to skip lines, especially near lifts. There were a couple of times where they closed the lift on us, even though there was ample space. One time we managed to get in and the little bastard even had the audacity to snarl when we made it in. They will also squeeze in when the lift is completely full even for just one floor. But seriously, you cannot expect teens to be considerate so we just took a deep breath and went on enjoying our cruise.
Some people really have no manners and contrary to what was said before, it wasn't italians that were rude. We had a couple of times when people jumped the queue at the lifts and they were never italians. Some spoke Spanish, French and even other languages which I didn't recognise but I experienced absolutely no rudeness from Italians. Italians are loud, it's true, but so are Maltese so we're kinda used to that.
We had a couple of breakfasts at the restaurant and then decided to try the buffet. We actually preferred the buffet here since there were a lot of choices and it was tiring ordering every single thing we wanted on one plate at the restaurant. It was very busy most of the time but most people are more than happy to share their table. If you go very early it will not be that busy. It is always the same but there was a lot of variety so we never had a problem deciding what to eat. The sausages are absolutely horrible and so is the fried ham. It is sliced canned ham and it tastes of preservatives.
I do suggest you take your own mugs since I found a washed cup that still had lipstick on it and a few others that had coffee stains all over and still smelled of the stuff (I detest coffee and the smell)
We preferred lunch at the restaurant since it was so much less frantic and more refined. You can notice though that some items on the menu are a variation of the previous night's menu. Still, the waiters got used to us and it was nice to be served for a change.
We were in the first seating at 6.30pm in the gorgeous Villa Verde restaurant.
Food ranges from good to excellent. There were only a few things I ate that I thought were nothing special. As others said, don't expect lobster or even a nice thick juicy steak. A lot of frozen vegetables used but they do dress them nicely. They even managed to make me like canned mushrooms which I absolutely hate. I couldn't, however, swallow the new potatoes, which from their powdery consistency, I realised they were from frozen too.
There was an instance where I was served food in a chipped plate and even a chipped water glass. Since chipped china harbours bacteria I think this was unacceptable. It was just one time though so maybe they slipped the checks.
Food service was generally at a nice flowing pace. You were neither rushed nor left waiting long periods before your next course. I really recommend Sunarta, he was happy to serve us and nothing was really a problem for him. The portions are small, we are used to larger meals in Malta. Our 2 year old ate a bowl of soup, half a plate of pasta and dessert. We always ordered the appetiser, soup, pasta/risotto, two main courses and dessert each. By the end we would be full of course.
You will find a lot of seafood on this cruise but strangely enough they don't provide a lemon wedge with them. I absolutely loved the seafood tempura and please don't miss out on the limoncello cream cake. WOW!! The waiter saw how much we loved it and he brought us another one! I did find a very dirty prawn on my plate. Unfortunately, I had already eaten the other two and it did give me an (tmi) urgent watery number 2 toilet trip. So be careful. The pasta is horribly plated, just thrown on the plate and served. Other courses are nicely plated. Don't miss out on the Focaccia bread on the Gala nights (which were in Messina and the At Sea days).
There weren't nearly enough activities on the ship. The only things that we went to were two Arts and Crafts, Bingo and the shows. The first time I went to Arts and Crafts it was really nice. We made a paper flower which was really lovely and my daughter really enjoyed it. On the day we were at sea the Arts and Crafts was so busy, with around 20 people trying to understand what one single entertainer is showing them. I spent half an hour waiting for supplies to start (since they started earlier than planned) and got fed up and left. Bingo was 10 euros a card. Only played it once.
The kids area is not that big but they do organise a lot of activities for the kids in one of the discos. Unfortunately, since my daughter is under 3 years old she couldn't participate in any of them, even under supervision. They told us that she could use the play area, which has some big soft shapes and a small ball pit, between 9-10am, supervised by a parent, when we are docked...so practically...never. Did they really expect us to stay aboard just so she could play in there? They did let us in on the At Sea day for that hour and told us they're closing at 10 due to safety reasons. I do understand that since the sea was a bit rough and my daughter fell over a couple of times due to the sway.
Just a small note, the splendida is said to be 'La nave dei Bambini' (the Ship of Kids). Yet you cannot find a single diaper on sale on this ship. We were delayed by 9 hours on our disembarkation day and I couldn't find any for sale. Just plain stupid.
The shows were all nice and surprisingly my daughter loved watching all of them and was eager to go every night. I thought she would get bored or something. They mostly consisted of musical shows that required no translation of course. We especially loved the one in Genoa called Prestige. The juggler was having a bad day, but the hula hoop girl and the hand puppeteer were amazing. The acrobats in Olympo were great too. We had one night where we didn't have a show, and they also did a show just for kids which was nothing special. In fact, that was the one my daughter least enjoyed. I found it disappointing that there aren't any ramps in the lower part of the theatre. They only have a small gallery upstairs where someone with a wheelchair could watch the show. We used to leave our pushchair at the entrance and then walk our daughter to the seat, but for someone who cannot do so it is very sad.
The announcements ARE annoying. In 5 different languages even in the theatre. I understand important information being relayed in all the languages but not the introduction to the show. We were annoyed and insulted that nothing was said in Maltese, not even a thank you. They were even said in Chinese and Japanese, but not in our language. Other Maltese said the same thing.
We decided to walk around the city since we had been to Taormina just a year ago and never to Messina.
We went to see the Tempio Votivo the Kristo Re (Votive Temple of Christ the King) which had a fantastic view of all Messina. We got lost on the way, thanks to Google Maps stating there was a street when there was just a huge wall. It was a long uphill walk but well worth it. Then went to see Messina Cathedral and watched the clock tower at noon. Not as impressive as the one in Venice. If you've never been to Taormina do so since Messina is really nothing special; Taormina is.
Decided to take our daughter to the Rome Zoo since our partner and I had already been to Rome. Took the free shuttle to the port entrance. We took the train to Rome which was relatively easy, the way back wasn't that much since we decided to board at Roma Termini and it is a huge station. We asked several staff members were to go and all told us different things. Finally, we took Montalto train and reached Civitavecchia in time.
Took a taxi to zoo (about 9 euro) Anyway, zoo was really nice. There was a lot of work being done, so some exhibits were empty but we enjoyed it just the same, especially our animal adoring daughter. It started raining and we opted for a taxi back to the station instead of walking around Rome.
Rain was predicted here too so we opted for the aquarium and were really pleased we did so. We walked to the Cathedral first which was really amazing (about 30 minutes walk from ship) Then we headed to the aquarium and spent a good 3 hours there. It was Saturday, so it was quite busy but we saw everything and had a really pleasant time. We especially loved the penguins and the sting rays Walked around the old port where there were some stalls with local produce and crafts. Walked back to ship since it started raining.
Took the local shuttle for 3.50 euro. There was a long queue for it but we didn't wait long since when one was full and left, another one came by and started taking people on. The MSC shuttle was 8 euros which was ridiculous. We went to MareMagnum mall since we're visiting Barcelona again next August. We did some shopping and decided to go walk around Barcelona. We visited the Catedral (not Sagrada Familia) which was fantastic. It was raining heavily by then so we decided to go back.
Bored to wits end since activities are limited and hardly interesting for my daughter. Indoor pool is tiny for all the people to fit in. At one time, there were around 13 people crammed into one jacuzzi.
As we came down from the ship we found camels waiting there so me and my daughter took a camel ride for 5 euros (not even 5 minutes) My partner took a photo with a falcon for another 5 euro. Both a bit of a rip off but we did them anyway. We were going to take a stroll around the town when we realised there is absolutely nothing to see. We had decided not to take a taxi for safety reasons since there was some unrest lately in Tunisia. But it was such a beautiful sunny day that we decided to risk it just not to waste it. We were very lucky to find a very nice taxi driver. He took us to Sidi Bou Said, Carthage and Tunis. Sidi Bou Said was exquisite. We found a small market at the beginning of the entrance and we were amazed at the beautiful handcrafts and souvenirs. Be aware that the local vendors will pester you to the limits of your patience, but we found that if you don't look at them and just keep walking, they'll stop. Don't take their first offer. We had a vendor that went down from 45 euro to just 5 euro on a leather handpainted drum.
Carthage was nice. Go to Tunis only if you want to shop. Be forewarned that prices are not cheap. Only food is. We decided against Medina since even the driver told us that they grab at women, and by then, it started to rain heavily yet again and we went back to the ship.
If I were to do it again, I'd only go to Carthage and Sidi Bou Said.
We were delayed to disembark by 9 hours since the ship couldn't enter the Maltese port due to strong wind and rough seas. They told us to go eat lunch and to keep our rooms till 3pm. Some people were told by cleaning staff not to use the beds since they would have to remake them. We weren't told anything so we took a nice nap and at 3 pm went down to meet the others. We were sent to shore at Marsaxlokk (south of Malta) instead on Valletta (East of Malta) by life boats. We arrived to shore at around 6pm. Terribly tiring day.
We did have some ups and downs on our cruise but all in all enjoyed it since we already knew what to expect. I am willing to cruise with MSC again, as long as the itinerary is very busy, without days at sea and not in school holidays. So, after this horribly long review...any questions?