It was with some trepidation that we boarded the MSC Opera at Southampton. A lot of reviews of this ship are not very favourable, but I will try and be as objective as possible.
We embarked after await of about 2 hours, our fault for arriving early. On entering our first impressions was of the pleasing bright Italian art deco style. Our cabin was smallish but with plenty of storage space.
I had been told by others that you can eat yourselves stupid on cruises and this is certainly true of the Opera with seven course lunches and dinners a choice to eat more informally in the self service buffets pizza seemed to be on tap then there were the afternoon teas and midnight buffets,. For somebody who has spent a lifetime in the catering industry apart from a couple of duff dishes I found the food absolutely excellent, very Italian and this seemed to be a bone of contention with some of the Brits who would have probably been happier in MacDonald's.
We took an Allegrissimo drinks package at 28e per day per person which included unlimited drinks - cocktails, wine, draught beer, coffee, ice cream, everything in fact except premium brands, bottled beer and the minibar. This proved great value as we both like a drink and the bar prices are above average.
With hindsight I wish that we had arranged our own excursions in St Petersburg, although the ships trips were good value we would have seen more by pre-booking a local tour firm. However this does involve visas which adds considerably to the cost.
The staff were excellent, nothing was too much trouble a real United nations.I particularly liked MSC gratuities policy of billing everybody 6e a day. I inquired at reception as to whether or not the staff actually received this money and it was not used to pay the wages. I was informed that the staff did get this as an extra everybody receiving a share depending on their level of responsibility, This was later confirmed to be correct by some of the British crew members. We were also offered the option of have the gratuity charge removed from our invoice if we so wished.
As far as on board entertainment was concern we were not very interested. There appeared to be a lot of it and I gathered that the shows were very good if you like that sort of thing. The theatre looked very impressive indeed.
Our main gripe was the self service breakfast which was a real bun fight and not really big enough. It didn't help that most of the foreign contingent don't understand the concept of a queue but then you could go to the main restaurant for a more civilised time. Having not cruised before the three formal evenings were great lots of free booze but we were disappointed to discover the MSC unlike some ships do not enforce a formal dress code on these evenings and it was clear that many of our fellow passengers considered t shirt and sandals formal. Why cruise if you don't want to join into the spirit of the thing? There was always informal dining available.
To sum up, Like another of your reviewers we found some of the British OAP's very rude and negative I don't know what they were expecting after all this is budget cruising and considering what we were paying this represented excellent value for money. Would I cruise again probably yes, with MSC again probably yes. I'll also probably avoid Saga!