This was our honeymoon, we had planned to travel RTW by plane, but my wife's back problems caused by osteoporosis meant that long-haul travel was out of the question. I found a special offer from an Italian travel agency (Falk Travel) who are linked to the supermarket group LIDL, where we do our weekly shopping.
A bit of a nightmare, the Italians do love their paperwork, and Falk demanded all sorts of documents to be faxed to them (as if we were another agency with office equipment and spare time to match) at very short notice. I researched MSC on-line, and pre-booked the water, news and two excursion packages over the net. I further visited a High St travel agency to compare our "savings" and find out about parking at Genova. I joined Cruise Critic to ask about my biggest worry: paying on board with my Visa Debit card. MSC is ambiguous on both it's website and in it's brochures, saying only that "Pre-paid debit cards are not accepted" but credit cards are. I don't have credit cards, and didn't want to get one just for this trip. A further enquiry, by phone to the MSC UK call center (to avoid language problems) taught me only one thing: Mark - the call center operator that I spoke to - has no training, manners, people skills or any foreseeable future in customer relations.
An easy drive, good car parking (not the MSC sponsored park, but a much cheaper one sourced on the web) courteous porters and not too many delays. Very unlike the experiences of less fortunate passengers, many of whom were flown from LGW to Nice (of all places!) and then they faced a long coach journey without food, drink or toilets after a flight delay of over 90 minutes. Needless to say, all the pre-embarkation check-in work had been a complete waste of time, but I found out (at this eleventh-hour juncture) that Visa and Mastercard were both accepted.
Why was this not PLAINLY stated by website, brochures AND call-center cretins alike? I was now carrying 2,500 in cash which i had had to queue up for in Christmas rush banks - I was not impressed.
We found our own cabin, no help offered, and were pleasantly surprised by it's cleanliness, relative spaciousness, equipment, furnishings and balcony view. We were further impressed by the availability, if not the quality, of an unexpected buffet lunch.
Universally bland - even the Tex-Mex menu was only enlivened by the sparse and unimaginative use of jalapenos. Where was the garlic, onion, rich smoked salumi and herby tomato cuisine so praised by international chefs when talking about Italian cuisine? Lavish use of costly ingredients and skillful preparation and presentation was ultimately marred by catering down to a standard guaranteed neither to excite nor offend anyone. Talk about living in a "Nanny State", now we had to endure "nursery food".
Our waiter was attentive, intelligent and charming, he should be in charge of training the others, who varied from inept, untrained and uncomprehending to downright rude and offensive (I cite the poolside drinks waiter who removed my drink while I was in the toilet, then said - not even sotto voce - "What a Disaster!" when I had the audacity to ask for a replacement).
Reception and accounting were not much better, I can only speak a few European languages: Three fluently and another four and a half in a broken manner. But if they don't want to hear what you have to say, they won't, and that's that! (NB never expect an apology, it's not in their vocabulary, in ANY language)
The on-board newspaper was an (almost) endless source of amusement, I have kept them all as a teaching aid to show my students how badly the English tongue can be mangled. My Italian wife has done the same with her Italian copies: we still chortle about the Padre celebrating "Holy Mess" in the theatre.
The least said, the better. I only booked two: Casablanca and Ostia. The former was smelly, uncomfortable (spiritually & physically) and overpriced. Our guide was an Islamic Evangelist, but so modern-minded that he boasted of only having one wife. The latter trip (Ostia) was cancelled at the last minute due to lack of interest - with a little notice we could have made other arrangements, but hey!
I agree with all the negative comments in the reviews of others who have endured - sorry, enjoyed MSC. The photographers are intrusive, the pricing irrational, the staff - with exceptions - poorly trained, and lacking in language skills. Many of them are Indonesian or from the former USSR - not the best linguistic heritage for working with a western European / American customer base. They are further hobbled by a company policy of regularly transferring crew members between vessels. A practice which stops the staff from ever building useful teams or esprit-de-corps.
The Other Passengers:
A great crowd with a few notable exceptions, cruising certainly makes it easy to make friends if you want to, and a large vessel makes it easy to avoid those who you find less than affable. I'm sure a few were avoiding me by the end of the trip.