My previous four cruises were on Princess, and I found the services with MSC similar. The main difference was the low price of this MSC cruise as well as the ports of Malta and Tunisia included in the itinerary. We got more than our money's worth in entertainment and pleasant memories.
Time of year: We cruised the last week of September, so temperatures were warm enough to enjoy the pools and sunbathing while at port or at sea, but it wasn't too hot. I recommend this time of year-summer crowds are gone at the ports but it's still pleasant.
Embarkation: We boarded at the Barcelona port, and it was a breeze. The taxi dropped us off at the door with an hour to spare before final boarding. We were on the ship within ten minutes of arrival. No lines, and no hassle. We have found long lines at the earliest check-in time for Princess. On MSC, passengers arrive and depart at all seven ports, which spreads out the numbers of passengers boarding.
Reception-Quick,friendly responses to our various questions. When we passed by throughout the cruise, I rarely saw a line.
Restaurants-The fine dining experience is a must on MSC as well as Princess. It was confusing the first night since La Reggia is on two different levels. I had requested a table for two, but instead we were seated at a table for nine, all Americans. I was annoyed because we were really crammed into a corner, with chairs touching, but the maitre d' said there was no other option. The atmosphere lightened up after we ordered bottles of wine. By the second dinner, we looked forward to seeing our table mates to find out what excursions they had participated in. All of our fellow diners had traveled extensively and we shared travel tips, wine recommendations, and our favorite destinations. Our first dinner consisted of a seafood salad served warm, and filled with fresh crab, shrimp, fish, celery, in an olive oil sauce. I'm still waxing poetic over the delicious smoked gouda risotto, and the perch sauteed with lemon, plus a Neapolitan dessert. All were well prepared, used high quality ingredients, and were professionally presented. We were pleased with all our food choices throughout the cruise, and with six courses, it was easy to satisfy any taste. The four year old at our table seemed to enjoy her selections off the kids' menu. Most of the time, the service was excellent, but sometimes we had a long wait for our wine orders. We had the first seating at 7, so we could enter on time. The 9:30 seating was delayed a couple of evenings if our service was slow.
Buffets-I recommend the International Buffet located near the stern. Their curries were delicious. The regular buffet stretches seemingly the length of the ship, with loads of breads, fruits, desserts, and a wide variety of choices. One side is Bora Bora, and the other side is Pago Pago. It was difficult to find the pasta station somewhere in the middle but only on one side. It had the best selection. It's a buffet, so the food wasn't as fresh and tasty as the fine dining.
There is a Santa Fe Tex Mex steak restaurant on deck 7 that charges extra. With the quality and choices of food in fine dining, we never bothered. Plus, southwestern food on the Mediterranean just would not be the same.
Room service for breakfast worked out great. It arrived right on time, and we enjoyed it on our private balcony, skipping the feeding frenzy at the buffet.
We ate lunch once in the Villa Verde restaurant. It was lackluster and the service was slow, but a breakfast we ate there was quite good. Villa Verde's windows and wider spaced tables give it a better ambiance than La Reggia.
There are several pools scattered from one end to the other plus an indoor/outdoor pool with a glass roof that slides open. Showers disguised as palm trees added a tropical feel. The adult pool at the stern was our favorite hangout. The pool mid-ship is the focus for all activities and music with a big screen broadcasting all activities. Every event was televised on a ship TV station, making it the most public place on the ship.
Bars and Lounges-17 bars and lounges offer plenty of choices for musicians and ambiance. Strangely, our favorite bars didn't open until six, whereas on the Princess cruises, you had service at the wine bar any time. MSC is the glitziest ship I've sailed on-lots of mirrors and lights and glass, very beautiful but distracting when navigating the stairs. A great opera singer and pianist performed near reception. Check your daily bulletin, which is provided in English, for all activities and times. Lounge servers and musicians were always pleasant and customer service oriented.
Entertainment-We attended a few shows with good dancing, singing, magicians, and acrobats. Dialogue was limited in the shows. Since the people on the cruise haled from mostly European countries, announcements were repeated in six languages, which grew tiresome, as did Bingo, unless you want to learn your numbers in five other languages. The quality of entertainment and activities was similar to Princess, but MSC lacks comedians.
Rooms- On the night with the roughest seas, I felt like a cork bobbing on the water; no rolling, and the boat shuddered a bit, but I slept well on the comfortable bed and bedding. We got a free upgrade to balcony room since 80% of the rooms have balconies. The balcony provided a private view of all the historic ports we visited. Sailing into these historic cities really adds to your appreciation of the ports visited.
Cleanliness-The rooms were cleaned twice a day with a turn down service. Throughout the ship, the glass and golden staircases gleamed, and the elevator mirrors were never smudged. We did get one towel bunny out of five nights on board.
Summary-This cruise is great for the price. It has the same add-ons as Princess including a daily service charge, and drink prices were similar. However the base price for the cruise is much lower. Our visit to off-the-beaten-path ports of Tunisia and Malta were highlights. I recommend this cruise if you want a short trip that's full of great excursions, and/or if you want to cruise in warm weather on smooth seas. Even with the add-ons it's a pleasant, inexpensive way to spend a week.