I am going to compare this cruise to our RCCL cruise which we took out of venice last year.
Our holiday started on a very good note...... we were upgraded from outside to balcony cabin Category 8. I was hesitant at first, since I have 2 young kids and thought this might be dangerous, but I had no problems, and it was very well worth it!
We had paid Eur990 per adult and Eur120 per child for this cruise, so I guess you cannot call it cheap, considering we only paid for an outside cabin on Deck 5. We paid the same amount of money for an inside cabin on Deck 8, on RCCL Voyager of the seas for seven nights, including return flights from Malta to Venice, two nights in 3 star hotel in Mestre and 1 night in 3 star hotel in Venice, plus all transfers from airport to hotel to port to hotel to airport. This ended up in a 10 night holiday for the same amount of money.
Check in started at around 12.15 in Malta. We were the first group to check in, 4 adults and 2 children. This process was very quick. A photo was taken once we went out of the terminal and we made our way to the ship.
We boarded from the first door we found and found ourselves feeling very lost. We started asking around, and noticed that we had boarded from the wrong door, therefore we were not shown to our cabins by the white gloved attendants I had read about, but a girl offered to show us where our cabins were. She just pointed them to us, and we had to get to know about everything by ourselves. We had been supposed to board from the middle door, but no one had guided us.
I checked the balcony door, and found it had a lock which was high enough for my one and a half year old not to reach, therefore making the cabin safe. We had agreed never to let the kids on the balcony by themselves, because of the table and 2 chairs. Otherwise, everything was safe. The cabin door itself was too heavy for the little one to open, therefore it was ok as well. The suitcases, though very very big fit snugly under the bed. There was a big red sofa, which at night would be opened into a big bed for my four year old. I had brought a travel cot with me, which I opened myself, and it did take a lot of space, but we could still walk around when the sofa bed was closed. The towels were very clean and so were the sheets. The blankets were the old type, not quilts, therefore they did not look so clean, and were covered with hairs, because they are obviously not washed every time. I suggest they should use quilts, so they can wash the cover after every guest. The carpets looked clean and free from stains and so were the curtains.
The cabins are very modern, with flat screen tvs and very comfortable beds. The bathrooms are big and very clean, though the shower on RCCL was more comfortable, with the shower door, rather than the shower curtain there was on MSC. There were 2 bathrobes on MSC as well, which there werent on RCCL. The basin was big enough to bathe my one and a half not so small baby. It had the perfect shape for this.
After putting our hand luggages in the cabin, we made our way to Bora Bora Buffet for lunch, because it was already 1pm and the children were getting hungry. Bora Bora together with Pago Pago is very big. We had no problem finding a table. In our 7 days on the ship, we always found free tables without any problems. You just need to keep on walking and you will find a free table.
From my first impression of the buffet, there were fewer choices than on RCCL. There was no roast and desserts were very limited. There were about 4 choices of pasta for lunch, 4 choices of daily specials, which included meat and veg, 4 choices of international dishes, which included Mexican, Asian, Indian or Spanish. Apart from this, there was a pizza station, which always had 4 choices of pizza and a grill which included different burgers every day (chicken, turkey, beef or pork), hot dog sausages and a different type of grilled meat or fish every day (most of the time very delicious grilled pork, which to in my opinion was the best dish in the buffet).
As for dessert, there was always jelly and 2 different types of cakes, which were hardly ever any good. Desserts surely do not compare to those on RCCL, which used to have about 10 different choices every day, including ice cream, and which used to be very very good. There was never any ice cream or chocolate cake in the buffet. Most of the time it was just a boring sponge cake with cream. The only good items I remember were a sweet rikotta stuffed pie and a mille foglie. The tiramisu was ok, though not to die for. Anyway, this might have been a good thing for me, because I ended up eating less sweets than on RCCL, therefore I did not gain any weight at all, whereas I had gained 3 kgs on RCCL.
I hardly ever noticed any pushing in the buffet. People queued in an orderly manner and always waited their turn. In general, guests were always cordial and friendly. Italians, Spanish and Maltese, though a bit loud are generally friendly and helpful. Everyone was holding doors open for me, to allow me to pass with the pushchair. The English and Americans were friendly as always, and the Eastern Europeans kept to themselves. Most people always said 'Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening', when we met in the lifts.
As for the staff, they were always nice and helpful, always smiling and saying Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening.
Let me tell you about my first impressions of this ship. It is so big...... Our cabin was right at the front. It took us around 8 mins to walk to the back, to make our way to the buffet or MDR. I enjoyed walking to the lifts at the front then walking across the pool areas to reach Bora Bora. On the other hand, I liked to walk all through the corridors to the lifts at the back of the ship to reach MDR, to avoid walking through the Casino, since this is a smoking area. This is one of the things that bothered me about MSC. They let people smoke inside, apart from the outside smoking area. You could always smell cigarettes when walking in the Piazzetta since there is a smoking area in it. Not that I liked the Piazzetta myself. I saw the ceramic seating area as cheesy. Not Italian style at all! I prefer the Royal Promenade Style of RCCL. This provides a nice walk with a city feeling, as well as interesting cabins for those who choose to stay in the ones above it. The Atrium on Splendida is not as grand as on RCCL as well. The swarovski crystal staircases are a nice touch though, and I liked the grand piano and the seating area on Level 5.
We were assigned to 2nd seating in La Reggia. I normally enjoyed the food very much, since I like seafood. My husband, who does not eat seafood did not like the meat as much. He felt that it tasted heated and not fresh. I always found the seafood to be cooked fresh, almost as if to order. I especially liked the Grigliata Mista di Mare and the king prawns. I also enjoyed the fish soups and some of the seafood risottos and pastas.
We did eat in the Buffet in the evening once, when we were too tired to wait for dinner time. Choices were very limited, especially compared to RCCL. But I used to take my sons to eat here every day at 7.30pm, before they fell asleep. It always used to be very busy at this time. Therefore the evening Buffet proved to be very handy for me.
I went to Villa Verde for breakfast sometimes. This provided some quality quiet time where I could enjoy a cup of coffee in peace and quiet (if my sons allowed me). I always ordered smoked salmon, which could not be found in the Buffet. Then I later made my way to the buffet for some waffles with cream and chocolate sauce.
Villa Verde is accessible by lift from the lifts inside Pago Pago or the lifts at the back of the ship on Level 11 (not sure if it is accessible from the other levels as well). This was a big issue for me since I was always going around with a pushchair (or two), therefore staircases were out of question. Actually, the only place I did not manage to visit on the ship was level 16 at the back of the ship, where they had the straw beds, since this was only accessible by stairs. But I'll try to do my best to go there on my next visit!
I liked to order room service breakfast every day since we are used to having coffee before going out and I felt it tasted better than the coffee in the Buffet or MDR. To the contrary of what I had frequently read, coffee tasted very good on MSC. It was actually better quality than on RCCL. Apart from coffee all day long, there is water, ice, hot and cold milk and a variety of teas available at Bora Bora 24 hrs. I found this especially essential for my sons. They both drink a lot of milk, and I also used to fill up a thermos with hot water in the evening and in the morning to be able to mix to formula for the little one when fresh milk was not available (at night and on shore). I did not especially like the water though. It had a faint taste of chlorine, but so did the water or RCCL.
MSC Splendida lacks a 24 hr snack eatery, like the Cafe Promenade on RCCL, where sandwiches, pizza and desserts are available 24hrs. If you missed lunch because you were on land, you had to wait until dinner time, or go to TEA at 4pm till 4.45pm. Sandwiches, cakes and biscuits are served, together with tea and coffee. This was very basic compared to RCCL, since Teatime on RCCL is a continuation of lunch, where at around 3.30pm, they start getting out more food, such as Nachos, and cakes, cookies, muffins and all sorts of English Teatime Goodies! You could skip lunch altogether and get yourself a good meal at teatime, not just tea!
We did not make use of the children's clubs, because my son prefers to stay with me. He did use the blue slide (teen tobaga), but it had a low flow of water, making it very slow and therefore not interesting enough! We also used the swimming pool where my sons had a lot of fun. My husband used the gymn and he complained that there are no lockers and saunas available for free, apart from the ones inside the Spa, which are not free.
Something about the ports to finish off my review:
Malta - our small island. It is easy to go up to Valletta on foot. There is the hop on hop off bus at the port though, which can be useful for someone who would like to go around Malta.
Messina - We didnt go to Taormina since we have been there numerous times so we stayed in Messina and did some shopping and at 11.45 we went to see the Clock near the Cathedral. Unluckily it didnt work! Nothing really special to see in Messina apart from Cathedral Square!
Civitavecchia - We didnt go to Rome since we have been there and we didnt want to go through the hassle of all that travelling for a couple of hours in Rome. There was nothing interesting to see in Civitavecchia and it was a total waste of time. Should have stayed on the ship.
Genova - We walked to the city centre ( a 20 mins interesting walk). Walked through the narrow streets for about 4 hrs, and even ended up in the Red Light District by mistake! This city is not to be missed.
Barcelona - We took the ship's shuttle to the centre since there was a long queue for the public bus and no buses in sight. It was a total rip off at Eur8 per person for a 5 min ride, which did not even stop near the Ramblas! Though we have been to Barcelona before, we couldnt resist going to this beautiful city again. Walked up the Ramblas to Placa Catalunya and down Avenue Portal de l'Angel to the Cathedral. Continued our walk through the narrow streets and down to El Born.
Tunis - Had planned to go only for a little walk in the Terminal, but when we saw the taxi office, we decided we could trust the taxi drivers and for Eur60 for 3 persons, the driver took us to the Medina and to Sidi Bu Said (5 full hours). It was a pleasant surprise. The Medina is so interesting and Sidi is beautiful. We even ended up walking the streets in Tunis and looking at the shops. The streets are a bit hectic, but we do like busy places, so it was worth a visit.
All in all, our cruise was very enjoyable. Would not hesitate to book MSC again. The cabins are beautiful and clean, the food is good and we felt the service was up to standard as well. We didnt find the drinks to be particularly expensive and no one ever forced us to buy anything, not even the photographers! I think we didnt have more than 3 photos of us taken!