First, a bit of background about ourselves. We discovered cruising about 15 months ago, and since have been on 13 cruises on Celebrity, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Costa, and MSC. All our cruises have taken place in Europe and Asia. Since all our cruises have taken place over a short time span it puts us in a good position to make comparisons and rate the different cruise lines against each other. This review concerns our 2nd cruise on the MSC Armonia on a 7 day cruise to Venice-Ancona-Corfu-Santorini-Athens-Argostoli-Kotor-Venice in August/September 2012.
No special items to note here. Check in can be completed online and is a bit easier than most cruise lines. Some drink packages can be pre booked as well as excursions. No credit card is required during the pre booking process as you are charged to the room account when you get on board.
A note on drinks -- the only drinks included with your fare are juice (breakfast only),tap water, coffee, and tea. Iced tea and lemonade are NOT included -- this seems the norm with non-American cruise lines (Costa free drinks are the same).
You can purchase a coupon book for beer, or soda. Be warned however, the bar staff is very strict on the use of the coupons. Beer coupons for example are only good for the draft beer of which there are only one or two varieties, Carlsberg being the most available. Cocktail coupons are good all top-12 cocktails (e.g. pina colada or BBS) and for a classic martini, but not good for any other drinks such as special martinis like an appletini even though the listed price is the same.
We took a blue line boat from St. Mark's square to the cruise port. From the boat dock it was a short walk to the ship. We booked last minute and did not have a ticket booklet, but the process was smooth and painless. The staff placed tags onto our bags, we handed them to the porter staff, and headed inside with a boarding number. Walking to the check in desk (no line) we checked in are were given our room keys. As we walked away from the desk are boarding number was called, and we proceeded through security and boarded the ship.
It should be noted that this section is what you can expect with most cruises in Europe and Asia, especially when American or British passengers are not in the majority. Different cultures have different views on personal space and the way to stand in line. Different cultures are not better nor worse: they're just different. Expect people to cut in front of you in the buffet line, push their way ahead in line for the front desk, and run in front during excursions (actually, the excursion run is common even in the mostly American cruise too, especially with our Holland American cruise). The people themselves seem very nice, but when they're in groups -- watch out!
About what can be expected for a ship this age. Some areas starting to look old, but the ship is kept up very well. Public areas are very clean and in good shape. Bathrooms always clean.
The Armonia is an older ship and the majority of the cabins are oceanview or inside. The rooms with balconies are classified as "suites" and have a price tag to match the name. The suites aren't special from what we were able to see through an open door while the steward was attending the room, maybe even a bit small compared to most ships' balcony rooms.
Back to our oceanview room -- the room was nice and the window was great. The largest and cleanest window we had seen during our cruises (clean during the first few days anyway). We had a bed for two (the beds had some trouble staying as one unit), a desk with a chair and a small stool. Bathroom was average size with a standard shower. Soap and Shampoo was available using an on-wall dispenser. (The dispenser was okay, but wash cloths are not provided. Having been on an MSC cruise before, we took along a small sponge for the soap) Room was cleaned well and cleaning staff was very friendly. Don't expect any towel animals :(
Temperature control seemed to be very sensitive, but controlled the temperature well once set.
Room Service Breakfast:
Nothing too special. Only breads, cereals, fruits, yogurt, coffee/tea/juices were available. No hot food items. Juice was very watered down and was without a doubt the worst juice I ever drank -- anywhere!
Room Service Lunch/Dinner:
We didn't order lunch or dinner but from what I was able to tell there was a charge of 3 euros for one plate and 5 euros for 2 plates. Menu was very limited and did not include items from the dining room.
General -- we never had a problem finding a table inside or outside. Not sure why, but it was a nice surprise on a ship.
Breakfast -- skip this. Go to the dining room instead. The items are identical, only the dining room has them hot and fresh. Stay away from the juice unless you like tomato juice.
Lunch -- not bad. Low selection, average quality. We were surprised that with an Italian ship that they would have such a poor selection of salad greens (only iceberg) especially considering the dining room salads were pretty good. Dressing was a very runny Ranch, so-so Caesar, Thousand Island, and Italian.
Fighting off the line cutters, some food was average, some was terrible. The grill was better than average supplying us with hot dogs, hamburgers, fries, and fixins. The pizzeria's pizza was non-consistent, but on the good days it was excellent. The high point of the lunch was the fresh pasta. Available drinks at no cost are water, tea, and coffee. If you can, spring the extra cost for bottled water. The tap water had a taste that it had been through a garden hose.
Deserts were average.
Dinner -- similar to the lunch fare. Same salad, same grill. Nothing special to report. Drink service can be hard to come by, as the same great staff that had been helping you out at lunch are now spread over the many lounges throughout the ship.
General: The wait staff on the Armonia wasn't as friendly as most ships we've been on. Our particular servers were great but you can tell the employees don't seem as happy to be on board as with most cruise lines. (noted with both our MSC cruises) Not sure what's going on with MSC but some employee programs to boost morale seem to be in order.
Breakfast -- The dining room is your best bet for breakfast on the ship. Did I mention to stay away from the "juice"? The wait staff is plentiful, but it seems that they aren't as helpful as during dinner. (something we've noticed on many different cruise lines)
Lunch -- we never made the dining room lunch.
Dinner -- Dinner times were 7pm for the 1st seating and 9:30 for the 2nd seating. No anytime dining options are available. Upon request we were able to get a table for 2. (was actually a table for 4 but without other guests) We felt a table for two was rare to come by as the ship only has 3 or 4 tables of two. The majority of tables are set up for 6-8 guests. Food quality was average for a cruise. Good portions, excellent pasta. Surprising again was the need to request olive oil and balsamic vinegar which is normally a staple of the Italian dinner table. Our servers were excellent and happy to please.
On the dinner attire, we had 5 casual nights and 2 formal nights. Dress code was not enforced. Although we dress up, I'm happy to see the lack of enforcement. You paid for your vacation -- you choose how to dress. No need to carry a tux or dress halfway around the world if you don't want to wear them for vacation.
2 pools and 2 hot tubs. Water was a bit chilly, but acceptable. Seating was available everywhere, we never had a problem finding a seat -- also a nice change to most ships.
You'll have to use your key card to check out towels. Save the receipt so you won't be charged upon return.
Basketball, mini golf, ping-pong and shuffleboard are available on the 12th and 14th floors. Equipment is available on the 5th floor at the reception. Please MSC, put the putters and balls near the mini golf course. Leave a basketball or two at the court. Leave some paddle and balls at the ping pong table.
Shows -- The European ships have a challenge for entertainment as the passengers come from all over the area speaking German, Italian, English, French, Spanish, and other languages. The entertainment has to be mostly non-verbal to accommodate so many languages. Mimes, acrobats, visual artists, and instrumentalists are the norm. Quality of entertainment is not up to RCI / Princess / Costa standards. All music is taped and some of the singing is live.
Lounge acts are mostly a one to a three person group, with electronic karaoke like backing. The entertainers are actually reading a karaoke screen on their laptop accompaniment. It does the job - but without the presence that comes with a live band.
Very well organized -- especially the city shuttle services. We only took one tour with the ship and were happy. English tours can be hard to come by -- some of the less popular tours may have the English group canceled. Our tour was a German and English combined tour. As we told you about the different cultures earlier, we were really surprised when we were making a leisurely walk towards the bus when a German man literally threw his body in front of us when we were one step away from boarding. He split up from his wife just to make the jump in front of us and nearly knocked us over. I'm pretty sure he must have been running because there was no one immediately behind us. On that note, make sure to stand up as soon as the bus stops. Unless you're really lucky don't expect anyone to let you out of your seat. If you're okay with being the last one off the bus it's not an issue.
Shopping area staff:
Great -- very friendly, very helpful.
Nice photos, friendly staff. Not too pushy at all.
Specials every day. Prices seem lower than most ships. We didn't use the services.
Helpful, friendly. Keep in mind that most passengers bring problems to the front desk. A smile and asking the staff about their homes or day can go a long way.
Learn to say thank you in Italian, Filipino and Indonesian. You'd be surprised how that can make someone's day.
Standard color tags for your luggage. Assigned rooms to wait. You'll get two copies of your final bill on the morning of departure. Sign one and give to front desk, keep the other. Well organized.
Even though we signed up for the club with the survey of our first cruise we found ourselves as non members. We just happened to check if we were members and found this out on this 2nd cruse. Although we were then signed up we will not receive any credit for the first cruise. That can't be a good way to encourage repeat business. I'll make another attempt to get credit for this but I'm not expecting anything.
On the value scale, sometimes you get what you pay for. We had a very discounted fare on this cruise and we didn't feel that we were cheated. If we had paid a bundle however, we wouldn't be too happy.
I don't want to sound like we had a bad time; on the contrary -- we love being on the ocean on any cruise. We were sad to leave.
My suggestion though is to check the fare and don't expect a Costa, RCI, Princess or Holland American experience. Embrace the other cultures, enjoy the ports, and happy cruising!