Just back from a week spent on the fabulous MSC Armonia visiting the eastern Mediterranean out of Venice. There are many negative reviews about MSC on this site, so I thought I'd give people considering this cruise line a different perspective from someone who really enjoyed MSC.
We are a couple on our eighth cruise. We've previously cruised with Royal Caribbean, NCL & Carnival. This was our first cruise with MSC.
We booked this cruise primarily because of the amazing itinerary, but also because of the great price. We got a balcony suite for about a third the cost of the equivalent on RCI.
We arrived in Venice the night before, then took our hotel shuttle to P.Roma the next morning. The port isn't far and you have a couple of options to get there. The cheapest is to use the People Mover, which I think costs a euro. Unfortunately we chose to take a taxi, which cost 20 euros to really just go round the corner! You live, you learn (or not as I shall explain later!)
Embarkation was very quick, very easy. Drop bags off, queue for about 10 minutes to check-in, and you're done! We'd pre-paid for the 23 euro per day drinks package and this is indicated by a sticker on your electronic room key. Disembarkation was as easy. We were staying in Venice so didn't have any issues with hanging around all day waiting for the usual late flights back to the U.K.
Our balcony suite was on deck 12,. An escort takes you to your cabin. This is by far the biggest cabin we've ever stayed in, very well laid out with plenty of storage space (including a huge walk-in wardrobe!), and a comfy sofa that you can sit on without giving yourself deadleg. The large balcony is very private. The bed was also very comfortable, but is two singles pushed together so prone to separating slightly during the night. The bathroom is a fair size, with a bathtub as well as a shower. Bathrobes come included. There is a hairdryer provided, and also a room safe.
All kept immaculate. T.V. is flatscreen but quite small for the size of the room. T.V channels, or lack of, are dire, but we always bring our own entertainment so this is never an issue for us....worth noting though. Cabin steward was great, like the invisible man. No smoking on the balcony, but smoking is allowed in the cabin.
Muster is unusual in that you are required to wear a lifejacket. You have to hand in a card to confirm your attendance. Very well organised.
There are several bars, all nicely laid out. There is a top bar with fabulous views, opens until late. There is a smoking section by the outside bar on deck 11, and in the bar on deck 5. Not obtrusive though, and there are plenty of non-smoking areas. Bar staff lack the personality of other cruise lines we've been on, but all were professional and fairly on the ball. No problems with the drinks package. Our particular package covered everything we wanted, I can thoroughly recommend, even for moderate drinkers. One criticism of the barstaff though was that at busy times, they took an age to bring orders. They don't encourage you to get your own drinks at the bar, which we usually do. We didn't use the theatre.
Public areas reminiscent of a nice hotel, but no breathtaking atriums. Shopping areas are again well laid out, and the 'heavy sell' is very low-key, unlike RCI or NCL.
Any dealings I had with the front desk were dealt with efficiently and professionally. To my surprise, queues were respected by everyone on this cruise, buffet queues, tender queues etc. Queues for tender tickets were quick. We took the newspaper package, where you receive a printed copy of papers from home for 12 euros per cruise, very good value. We also took the laundry package, I think it was 30 items for 25 euros (something like that) a bargain.
Queues for tenders very well managed.
Being from the U.K. we are able to purchase an internet 'eurobooster' package whilst overseas, which costs 5 pound sterling per day for unlimited internet access. This was worth every penny as we were never far enough away from land to lose the signal. A great way to avoid the on-board internet costs which are notoriously expensive and very slow.
Gym was well equipped, you need to sign a waiver before using. Got quite busy when the ship was at sea, but usually quiet before 8am.
I was most apprehensive about the dining options because I'd read in various places that the buffet is only open for 2 hours at lunch and not at all in the evening and we don't usually eat in the MDR. Well this wasn't the case at all. The main buffet IS only open for two hours for lunch, but the open air part of the buffet (which serves burgers, hot dogs, pizza etc) is open from noon until 4:30pm, and the main buffet IS open in the evening. Choices were good, but sometimes there were long queues, but as already mentioned, I didn't see any queue jumping. There is also a midnight buffet but we didn't use this. Room service very limited, didn't use this either. We noticed that there was a no encouragement to use the hygiene facilities....no staff on hand to remind you 'washy washy'. The MDR was a revelation, a great option for breakfast and lunch as well as the evening. Breakfast options excellent. We were sat with other cruisers from the U.K. Waiters were really nice. Portions were small, which is just as well, as there are several courses to choose from. All tasted really good, and the pasta courses were superb. Different options are available every evening. On this cruise, 2 evenings were formal dining. One evening was Italian gala.
Quick mention about the fantastic ports:
Ancona: you can easily walk straight into town. Reminded me a bit of Livorno, lots of markets on the day we visited.
Corfu: Didn't get off here, but quite a walk to town, or you can pay for the shuttle.
Santorini: Tendered. Although it sounds a short stop (i.e. about 5 hours) plenty of time to get the cable car and have a look around. Stunning.
Athens: Got the ships' tour. Was more like a shuttle drop off than a tour, but was cheap enough so worked out fine. The day we were in Athens was the day of a transport strike, so only other option would have been private taxi. Our tablemates did this and paid a reasonable price to be escorted around.
Kephalonia: Tendered. Breathtaking port. Good place to have a walk about and have lunch. Also a good option for hiring a car.
Kotor, Montenegro: Walk off straight into the Old town, Again a stunning port. Another good option would be to hire a car.
Venice: if you can, get a couple of days at the end of your cruise to explore this fascinating place. We will definitely cruise from here again. Note though. Our hotel in Marcon has a shuttle which we could have picked up for 5 euros. But instead we took a taxi which cost us 50 euros. Apparently this is the norm, but we did feel ripped off!
To sum up, this was a terrific cruise, the itinerary is amazing, great ports. I was surprised at how much I liked MSC. We'd previously done a bargain cruise with Carnival, which we did enjoy but felt that it wasn't the cruiseline for us and I was initially concerned that this would be the same with MSC. I felt like MSC pretty much left you alone to enjoy your cruise which I really liked, I also didn't feel like they were trying to extract every last penny from me. My fellow cruisers were not the raucous bunch I was expecting, all very well behaved ? Dining was a lovely experience, food was much better than I was led to believe from previous reviews I'd read. And the cabin was a lovely space to spend lots of time reading etc. MSC doesn't have the special feel of RCI, but doesn't have the price-tag to go with it either. I will definitely consider cruising with them again in the future.