Our first ever cruise was with MSC four years ago, and we haven't sailed with them since. We were therefore aware of the language problem etc. We'd already cruised twice this year, but when a great deal came up with them for October, we thought we'd give them another try.
We have to say at the outset that we had a fab time - we were both stressed from work and really needed some down time - and we got that. Embarkation at Villefranche (not Nice as stated above) was very simple and easy. We stayed overnight in the Welcome Hotel in Villefranche and simply walked the 50 yards to the cruise 'terminal' (those who've embarked at Villefranch will know that it can hardly be called a terminal). We were tendered onto the ship and were aboard by 10.00 a.m.
Our cabin was ready for us, and although it was a bit on the small side compared with Cunard and Princess, it was perfectly adequate, and very nicely decorated.
The ship itself is beautiful, and our only criticism is that they seem to have traded public areas for cabin space so that they can pack more people on board. At times it was a real fight to get through the atrium/shopping area, and the tables were very close together in the restaurant. There's also no forward facing lounge/bar, which we really missed.
The food was perfectly edible, and certainly not powdered or 'all cooked from frozen' as some people have said. However, you could tell that it was, for cruise food, a bit on the cheap side. Certainly not a patch on Cunard or Princess - if Cunard is an 8, MSC would struggle to get a 5. Hubby was very disappointed that there was no lobster on Gala night!
We always managed to get sun loungers when we wanted them, despite the cruise being completely full at one point (3,200 passengers).
Our biggest complaint was the noise volume of the Italians on board - having sailed with MSC once before, we knew what to expect, but the ones on this cruise (particularly those taken on in Livorno and Naples) were incredibly loud. Groups of 8 or 10 (or more) would literally be shouting all at once - and there would be 20 or 30 groups all doing the same. We never stayed in the atrium area, or the poolside, for long, as the noise was just too much for us.
We always managed to find a quiet area either at the back of the ship, or in one of the inside lounges, but sometimes a group came to sit next to us and started smoking and shouting, and we'd have to move again.
The shows were, considering the variety of nationalities on board, very good indeed. We had lovely waiters, fab cabin stewards, and without exception found all the staff to be friendly and willing to help.
Every effort was made to speak English by all the crew, and you have to ask yourself whether such effort is made in reverse on English-speaking ships!
So, on balance, we think we'll probably stick with English-speaking ships in future, but would certainly consider MSC for a second or third cruise of the year if the price was right. If you're short-tempered and expect to be spoken to in Queen's English, don't go on MSC, but if you can make allowances for the (sometimes rude, and always) loud Italians, and appreciate that you've not paid a lot for it, then give them a try.