We always dreamed of seeing the Mediterranean and the affordability of this cruise allowed us to fulfill that dream. $1400 for a balcony cabin (price to 2 people not per person) for a 7 night cruise is a good deal in my book. We had sailed on MSC previously in the Eastern Caribbean; it was our first cruise experience and an enjoyable one overall. So with that great price we decided to try the again. We read all the reviews and knew from past experience what we could anticipate in terms of food, service etc. The bottom line is that after the cruise we felt for the most part we got what we paid for but will likely not cruise MSC again. We also learned that if you have the money, its best to see these ports via plane, ferry or some type of transportation that gives you the ability to stay at least 2 nights in each port. I didn't feel that way about the Western Caribbean but definitely feel that way about these ports we visited: Olympia, Mykonos, Santorini, Athens, Corfu & Dubrovnik.
Getting on the ship: It's a long walk with luggage to the ship from where the water taxi drops you off. The entire process took about 40 minutes but they did not give us what we needed for one of the packages we purchased so we had to go to reception and get that straightened out. Not a great start from a service perspective.
I don't have a lot else to offer that the previous reviewers have pointed out but I will just run down a quick list of observations:
1. Getting on the ship 1. Food in buffet for breakfast & lunch is pretty much the same every day and I would call it mediocre at best but edible.
2. Food at dinner in the dining room was usually pretty good. We were seated with 6 other Americans and we all said the food was pretty good and some dishes were really good. Only few were rated as poor. The far is Italian each night but variable enough that I did not get bored with it, except for one night where I just could not do any more Italian and just nibbled on a few things.
3. Service in the dining room was pretty good. Our waiter had a really tough time the first night, just could not get anything right, bringing dished out at the wrong time, giving them to the wrong people, forgetting things, etc. I recognize the waiters have a very hard job especially with the language barrier. They know some English but there is somewhat of a barrier. I did feel rushed toward the end of each dinner, the staff were usually rushing to get us dessert at the same time they were dimming the lights telling us we had to leave so the next sitting could begin. This was no fault of ours; we had no control over the pacing of the delivery of the courses. I might suggest they try something less than 7 or 8 courses so people have more time to enjoy their meal, & have coffee, tea or dessert wines after dinner.
4. Service in the buffet was hard to come by. The first day we sat down for lunch, our waiter did not come back for 15 minutes after taking our drink order. When we tried to find out where he was and the other waiters tracked him down, he proceeded to lecture us on how busy they were and we just had to be more patient. Not a good start for service.
5. Service at the bars was the absolute worst. I can't tell you how many times I waited 15 minutes or longer just to get someone to wait on me while standing at the bar, especially at the bars by the pool. They were understaffed, which I completely do not understand considering the amt. of money they must make on alcohol sales. I have heard other cruise lines have people trying to get drinks all the time; it's totally opposite on this cruise line. The other huge issue I had with the bar service is that they don't have any real bartenders. The bartenders have been trained to make whatever is on that drink list and that is it. I asked for simple drinks such as midori sour, amaretto sour, and chocolate martini and they had absolutely no idea how to make it. I tried to show them but it was to no avail. If you want a chocolate martini (not an ice cream drink or whipped cream drink but a real chocolate martini, go to the casino bar, they have crÃ¨me de cocoa and you have the best shot of getting the bartender to make a drink. There is no excuse for not hiring real bartenders.
6. Cabin - this was our first cruise with a balcony cabin and we enjoyed having the balcony. The room was big enough considering how little time we spent in the room. The bed and pillows were comfortable. Those are the two most important things for me. The bed quilt had a tear in it and the chairs of the balcony were in disrepair. The shower & bathroom were big enough to not feel overly cramped. Lots of storage space, suitcases fit under the bed. A couple were were seated with a dinner had a cabin towards the back of the ship and the motor was so loud the ceiling rattled and they had to be moved to different cabin.
7. Overall Feel of the Ship - decidedly Italian. I would say about 90% Italian and some Germans. I think there were less than 50 Americans on this ship. I welcomed the cultural experience but was ready to come home after the cruise. Let's just say it takes some tolerance, especially if you are accustomed to good manners. It was like a free for all at the buffets, not many courtesies are extended, and I can't remember one time when anyone held a door for me or held open an elevator to give me time to get one. Common sense courtesies where I come from were pretty non-existent on this ship. The ship was pretty well maintained but not as spic and span as the Opera ship we cruised on in the Caribbean.
8. Pools & Hot Tubs - they seemed clean to me and not too crowded.
9. Animation Team - they were pretty entertaining but not as good as the crew we had on the Opera. They pretty much did the same dances and games day after day. I remember a lot more variation on the Opera.
10. Shows - First night was very sexy and avant-garde. Second night showcased a very good tenor and Soprano. One night they had some really good acrobatic work, showcase of great strength. The rest were really not memorable, except for night with a big tenor that had enough vibratos to sink the ship. Oh and one person singing the theme from the Titanic, an odd choice I think.
11. Lounge Entertainment - this was okay, nothing to write home about. DJ in disco refused to play music we wanted to hear despite their being only a few people in the disco.
12. Stability of Ship - it was smooth sailing except for one night where we ran into high winds. I usually need the motion sickness patch but only needed it for one night.
13. Drink Package - we purchased the Allegrissimo package but not the premium package. It was $322 Euros for two people (not per person) for the entire 7 nights. We found a way to get our money's worth as added up our drink receipts and they came to $780 Euros. A lot of that was wastage as many of the drinks they delivered were undrinkable. The wines available with this package are just okay and they are the same every day. They have a very limited draft beer selection (Heineken, Budweiser, Amstel Light) in most bars and by the pool. Bottled beer is not included in the package. Most of the fruity and sweet blender drinks they serve by the pool are included in the package. Vodkas such as Smirnoff and Absolute (plain Absolute) are included. Grey Goose and any of the flavored vodkas are considered premium. Bombay Sapphire Gin is also considered to be premium. Jack Daniels is considered to be premium. Midori, Baileys, Courvoisier are not premium. You can order multiple drinks at one time using the package. You can also order doubles they usually want one drink card with package for every 2 drinks they bring. They put a star on your cruise ship card to denote your drink package.
To give you an idea of the cost of drinks if your not buying the package, Diet Coke 2.70E, B52 - 4.90E, Small Water 1.45E, Large Water 2.90 E (although Americans only get one free bottle of water per day per person), Cape Cod 6.25E, Cosmopolitan 6.25E, Jim Beam & Coke 6.25E,Baileys on Rocks 4.90E, White Russian 6.25E, Small Draft Beer 2.90E, Large (40CL) Draft Beer 4.90E, Daiquiri 6.25E, Glass of Merlot 4.50E, Pina Coloda 6.25E.
14. Ports -
Venice - we spent a few nights in Venice pre-cruise and absolutely loved it. We stayed at the Hilton Molino Stucky, which was beautiful. I recommend 3 nights here pre-cruise.
Bari - this is really one you can skip and stay on the ship to relax. The city does not do much to cater to tourist and there isn't much to see other than few churches. It is a moderately long walk into town.
Olympia - we took a private taxi tour and enjoyed the historical sites. We stopped at a beautiful restaurant overlooking a lovely beach. It was very nice. The ship was late in arriving; we did not get into port until 1:45pm and had to be back on board by 6pm so we really did have not much time. This had me thinking, I really came all the way from the US to spend 4 hours here? Not enough time.
Santorini - we took the ship tour because we knew we would be the first off the ship. That was important because we had to tender from the ship to the port and then if not taking the ship tour, you have to wait in line to take the vernacular up the mountain. The gov't workers in Santorini were on strike the day we arrived so we wanted to avoid that line. We were on the first tender and then a bus picked us up and took us to Ola. We had about 1.5 hours on Ola, which was barely enough time to walk through part of town and take some photos. The streets are narrow and crowded and it takes a while to walk through the street and you have to give yourself time to get back to the bus. From there they took us to a winery overlooking the ocean and it was a gorgeous view. We stayed there for about 45 minutes and then they took us to Fira and we walked around Fira but needed to find our own way back down the mountain. The line for the vernacular was over an hour long so we walked down the donkey path, not pleasant but was the only way we felt we would make it back to the cruise ship on time. The ship arrived in Santorini at 9am and we had to be back on board by 2:15pm.
Mykonos - Ship arrived at 7:30pm, by the time we got off the ship it was about 8pm. We took a taxi into town (too far to walk) sharing it with 2 ship friends. We walked around for a few hours and had a drink at bar right on the ocean with the water lapping at our feet. We had to get in line for a taxi about 11pm so we could be assured get back to the ship by 12am. Again, not enough time. When we booked the cruise it advertised that it overnighted in Mykonos, which was a big attraction. Well it you call getting back on the ship at 12am and leaving at 1am overnighting then I guess that counts but not in my book.
Corfu - one our most favorite days. Rented a car (50 Euros) & split cost with 2 ship friends. Headed to a gorgeous beach and rented a paddle boat and spent a few hours in and on the water. We then tried to find Mouse Island but could not find it. The ship arrived in Corfu at 1pm and we had to be back on board at 6:30pm. Again not enough time for as far as we came. Lesson learned.
Athens - we took the subway to a stop near the Acropolis (Monastrocky>) and walked up a hill to the Acropolis. It was breathtaking, all the history and view of Athens were breathtaking. We walked around the city and took the subway back to the ship. It's a very long walk from the cruise doc to the subway station so it going that route, would suggest building that into your time schedule. Probably 20 - 30 minute walk at a fast pace. Taxi is an option but traffic was really bad and some folks we know got stuck in traffic and almost missed the deadline to be back at the ship. Some folks we knew took the red bus tour but with traffic being so bad they did not get to many sites. The ship arrived at 7:30am and we had to be back on board by 3:30pm. The people in Athens could not have been nicer to us. They warned us of pickpockets and the tourism office by the Acropolis is a great source for information an d maps.
Dubrovnik - architecturally this city is beautiful. We arrived early in the morning so it was quiet and we walked the walls of the city without gaggles of tourists from other ships. It was a highlight of our trip. The setting is breathtaking. The currency is not the Euro so beware, many people tried to rip us off with the currency conversion trying to charge as much as 7E for a soda. No diet coke or diet Pepsi available here, they only have Coke Zero. No idea why. Once the tourists from the other ships arrived, the charm was lost; the inside of the cit is basically a ton of touristy gift shops, restaurants and wall-to-wall people. The ship arrived at 7:30am and we had to back on board by 1pm. We took the ship shuttle into town the cruise port; this is the best way to go. The cost was 10E per person round trip.
Departure: We booked the cruise shuttle back to the airport (15E per person). This is a great deal compared to the water taxi and takes only a half hour compared to the water taxi which takes about 2.5 hours unless you hire a private water taxi which then it would take about 30 minutes. The cost of a private water taxi was $150E for 4 people including luggage. We had a bit of trouble locating our luggage at the cruise port, they had them grouped by numbers and the numbers corresponded with the cruise shuttle, we were on the first shuttle so ours had no number. One of our bags was put in group number 4 by mistake so we had to look through tons of bags to find our missing bag. The loading of the bus was chaotic with someone getting on our bus that was not supposed to be on the bus causing them to unload and reload the entire luggage and then they forgot to put our bags back on the bus and we had to demand they be put back on the bus.
Two of the folks we dined with had one of their bags damaged (ripped up) by the cruise line when they were being loaded onto the ship. The cruise line refused to do anything to assist and told them to call an 800 number when they got home. Not a solution when you have clothes to pack and suitcase that can no longer function to hold your clothes. This is my biggest worry about cruising this line again, I understand that problems happen from time to time and I think cruise lines should be evaluated on the frequency of those problems and their ability to make things right. This cruise line seems to have frequent complaints and they seem to have no desire to make things right when something goes wrong.
We knew the service gaffe risks going into this cruise so while disappointed the cruise line did not exceed our low expectations, we still managed to have a good time and met some really nice people at our dinner table. As I said in the beginning set your expectations according what you have read on this site and take advantage of a good cruise deal if you can find it on MSC, if your willing to tolerate all the stuff I described above. If you can afford better and know other cruise lines can deliver better service, food etc, then go that direction. I think you have the information available on this site that is needed to make the best choice for yourself.