My wife and I are US expats living and working in Romania and I've been wanting to get her into the cruising scene. I've been on HA (Baltic Sea) and RC (Eastern Caribbean) before, this was her first cruise. We are 27 and 25 years old. The price was killer, especially if you fly WizzAir into Rome!
I lived in Rome for 6 months during college so we stayed in Rome for 3 days seeing the sites before embarking in Civitavecchia on a Friday afternoon. Check-in was an absolute breeze, as we did the web check-in and thus received priority boarding. I was amazed by how many people were standing in a long line waiting to get embarked, as they did not do the web check-in. Boarding started at 2 pm for us in Civitavecchia.
Once on board, we were escorted to our room, an interior room, category 2, on the 8th deck. I never splurge for nice hotels/hotel rooms or oceanview/balcony cabins as we are never in the cabin except for sleeping and showering. The interior cabin was very adequate for our needs. The bed was quite comfortable and we drank plenty of tap water from the faucet in the bathroom which tasted fine. We drink tap water everyday in Romania too, if that makes any difference to you. The shower isn't large, but we don't need a large one. Our stateroom was situated near the very rear of the ship which was nice as we could take a relatively unused elevator up to the buffet for breakfast and/or lunch.
We bought the allegrissimo package through our (German) travel agent before the trip for 23 euros per person, per day. This came out to 322 euros that we booked before the trip and the package is noted on your cruise cards. Every time you order a drink, you must use your cruise card and sign a receipt. The receipts list the food/drinks you ordered with their price, but the cabin charge is listed as 0. This came in handy as we saved all of our receipts to see if the package was worth it... and worth it it was! After disembarking, our receipts totaled over 1200 euros, of which we paid 0 (not including the pre-payment of the package). In essence, we saved at least 870 euros by booking the package. There are plenty of threads in the MSC forums if you want more info on the package. We drank quite a bit (obviously), so it was worth it for us.
The ship: The ship itself is large, but does not feel that way (in a good way, for us) once inside. The main public area stretching three decks tall isn't huge, but is the largest public sitting/drinking area on the ship. We enjoyed the coziness of the all of the lounges throughout the ship. The ship was extremely clean and as others have said, there is always someone cleaning. We never had a problem with getting a seat at lunch (go to the back of bora bora/pago pago, as others have said). The pool decks were nice, seemed crowded around the pool some days, but there were always deck chairs available as they wrap around the entire 15th deck. Overall the ship fit our needs of relaxing quite well. My wife went to the recreation room a couple times and enjoyed running on the treadmills. They are situated at the very front of the boat so the view is great! She had no problems getting one or getting into the room.
The food: We were seated at La Reggia at a table with 4 Italians. They were lovely, but after three nights we asked for a table for 2 as we wanted something a little more Romantic. Our request was happily made. The food was great, not amazing, but we liked everything we ate. It is mostly Italian (MSC is an Italian line... sailing from Italy... so I'm confused why some people on here complain about the mostly Italian food) and it varies every night. Each night is around 7 courses and you order all at once. We had no problem with this and when we liked a course, the waiters would happily bring us another plate if we requested. The buffet for lunch was satisfactory - it kept us full. There is a pretty big variety every day, the quality isn't bad, but a lot of the food was cold. This happens at a buffet, so I understand and it doesn't bother me too much. Breakfast was great - meats, eggs, cheeses, waffles, pancakes, everything was pretty good. We ate breakfast at the buffet every morning and when we had lunch on the ship, we also went to the buffet each time. Overall the food was good and better than I expected.
The people: We live in Romania and speak English. Part of the reason we chose MSC is because we like the diversity of other cultures and enjoy interacting with different people than ourselves. MSC Splendida was truly a European vibe, through and through. No one was ever overly rude and no one was ever overly nice - just what we were looking for.
The staff: The staff was great. They speak so many languages that it is fun to sit back and watch them interact with passengers from all over the world. We never had a problem communicating and it was fun that we didn't have to ask for tequila by the 4th night -- they just brought it to us :) Our waiter at dinner and his assistant (both named Yoni, both from Honduras!) were excellent. Our cabin attendants were brilliant as well (and non-intrusive). The information desk was helpful and polite and the casino staff as well. The entertainment on board (which for us consisted mostly of the lounge musicians) was not very good, but what do you expect? They were still enjoyable after a few cocktails. Something that gets overlooked on these boards a lot is that the staff is usually on board for 6 months, working everyday, and working exclusively in customer service -- that ain't easy folks. Overall the staff was excellent and put forth a lot of effort to make our holiday a good one.
The ports: We disembarked at every port (Genoa, Barcelona, Tunis, Malta, Messina) and enjoyed them all. We never went on a cruise-sponsored excursion but had done a bunch of pre-planning for each port. Everywhere we went was great and we were able to see all the sites while spending a LOT less than the excursion prices. The itinerary was great, especially this time of year (late September). We never had any problems embarking/disembarking at any of the ports. Very quick, smooth, and easy.
I spoke earlier about the people, but I want to divulge a little more information. There was a large mix of not only nationalities, but age groups as well. Plenty of old people (it's a cruise afterall), but a lot of families too. I dodged countless strollers! I think there are a lot of people on these boards and similar websites who expect too much from a cruise such as this. You don't pay a lot (in fact, it was the cheapest 7 night med cruise I found at the time of booking), so why should you expect 5 star service, 5 star food, and everyone parting the seas while you walk by? Take a deep breath and remember you're on vacation -- try to enjoy yourself -- it can make a big difference.
Conclusion: If you are looking for a cheap, laid back, relaxed atmosphere with a diverse set of people who aren't in a rush, go with MSC and the Splendida. I feel we got a heck of lot more bang for our buck with MSC than other lines offer. If you're looking for the ultimate cruise with pampering luxury, no children, small amounts of diversity within the passengers, and only English speakers, look elsewhere. Splendida was exactly what we were expecting and a little more. What else can you ask?