Embarkation was total chaos - it took an age to be called from the reception hall to check-in, then the check-in seemed very long winded.
The cruise began with a four hour delay in sailing from Buenos Aires due to problems with the ship's engine(s) which meant we "missed our slot" on the River Plate. The following day brought another delay as unfortunately a passenger was taken ill and had to be airlifted by helicopter to hospital. We all received a letter explaining that as a result of "a force majeur" we would no longer be visiting the port of Cherbourg. This was a problem to those disembarking there but as this affected very few passengers it seemed to be a logical decision. The letter also stated that we would get 20% off our next cruise booked before 30 April 2013. MSC have no obligation to offer this for a missed port, however the letter didn't seem very official as it was not on letterhead and there was no signature and it was printed on pink paper, so goodness knows if it's worth the paper it's written on.
Our cabin stewards were very efficient and we found the ship to be generally clean. Despite the the public rooms having hand sanitizers positioned outside them there was no one to enforce their use. Mind you, very few of the sanitizers seemed to work until the last day when we had heard that inspectors were due on board.
The first morning we had breakfast in the buffet but it was so chaotic that for the remainder of the cruise we had breakfast in the MDR. By the second day our waiter knew our breakfast requirements exactly and had no need to bring us the menu. The good thing about having breakfast and lunch in the MDR on MSC was that, unlike other cruise lines, we were not forced to join other people at their table and could choose to sit where we knew there would be an excellent waiter.
Unfortunately we weren't so lucky with our waiter at dinner who was uncommunicative and not interested in how we were enjoying our meals. We don't appreciate being pestered all the time while we are eating but not once did he ask if the food was ok. He didn't acknowledge us at all when we saw him in the MDR at other times, however we made allowances for him and decided that either his English was poor or that he was shy. He still received his tip at the end of the cruise.
The ship was made up of a great number of Argentinians whom we felt, generally, were very polite and who always took time to greet people in the corridors or lifts. There were a number of Brazilians, about 60 Brits and a handful of Aussies, Kiwis and Europeans.
My wife and I have travelled extensively as had the majority of the Brits on board but we don't go around bragging about where we've been. We couldn't get over the attitude of so many of the Brits who came across as the biggest braggarts we've ever met. They all seemed to be trying to outdo one another with stories about all the places they had visited. Two songs came to mind when speaking to these people "Anything you can do, I can do better" and "I've been everywhere man". They were such bores, the worst of these were the Black Card Holders who thought they were MSC Royalty and were invited to dine with the Captain. Whoopie Ding!!!! I wouldn't say anything if they were travelling on a 5 or 6 star cruise ship but a 3 star budget cruise line? Most of them only travel with MSC because it's so cheap and they don't have to pay a single supplement.
We decided after our last MSC cruise 9 years ago that we wouldn't cruise with them again but the itinerary attracted us with the added advantage of sailing from Buenos Aires to Southampton, therefore only 1 flight. On the whole we enjoyed the cruise itself, the meals were generally nothing to write home about but the lunches were pretty good. The bar staff were excellent and the passengers we chose to spend time with were extremely nice people who didn't feel the necessity to show off.
The ports of call were great, Rio being the jewel in the crown but it was also interesting to see other parts of Brazil - Salvadore and Recife. Unfortunately due to the delay we hit Recife on a public holiday so there was nothing open apart from a prison which had been converted to a shopping centre/craft market. Crossing the Equator in the rain was an experience, especially for those who took part in the King Neptune ceremony. The city tour of Mindelho in Cape Verde was a rip off at $71 each and very little to see. MSC certainly try to get their pound of flesh. Las Palmas, Gran Canaria was great to see from the open top bus tour, especially on a lovely warm day. Lisbon was visited on a damp day but it is still a very interesting city. Our last port of call was Vigo in Spain, we had been before so there was nothing of great interest for us there. Another public holiday so apart from the local shops in the old town nothing else was open.
We had a number of days at sea and the deck games were so silly. Luckily the weather was good most of the time so we were able to relax with a book. However when it became colder and the weather worsened there was next to nothing organised by the entertainment staff on board. I was not at all impressed with the cruise director who just seemed to be showing off introducing the shows in 6 languages, just because he could. It was evident what the show was about, he didn't need to spend about 10 minutes before every show. At the end of the show many passengers made a sharp exit rather than having to sit through more of his "jabbering on".
We felt that MSC really need to get their act together as far as organisation is concerned. On port days it took ages to disembark the ship because only one exit was open for passengers who were not on tours. People queued for about an hour to get off, it was ridiculous.
The disembarkation process at Southampton was farcical. We had to be out of our cabins by 7.00 am but did not arrive at port until 8.15 am. Luckily we got to breakfast early because it was manic later in the morning. We were told to wait in the public areas until we were called but it was around 10 am before the first people were called. When we got off the ship the luggage had only just started appearing in the luggage hall. Normally when we have disembarked at Southampton everyone's luggage is waiting for them and it is extremely organised. This was the worst we've ever experienced on 25 cruises. After 2 lines of luggage had arrived everything came to a standstill. There were no announcements made about the delay and noone from MSC to be seen. The Port Authority staff could only tell us that there were inspector aboard the ship. We don't know what was happening because the ship was also inspected in Las Palmas and Lisbon - what must this tell you about MSC? Around 200 passengers were waiting in the luggage hall for approximately 2 hours with no announcements and no MSC representative present. Passengers began slow hand clapping and whistling to try to draw the attention of MSC officers on the decks but we were ignored. Eventually, after a 2 hour wait, our cases started to appear but still no explanation/apology from MSC. I don't think we'll be using our 20% discount to book another MSC cruise!