We had read all of the reviews and by the time we had discounted the very best and the very worst, we were left with a reasonable view of the MSC Splendida and certainly one which we felt was worth what we were being asked to pay. Our intention was to have a few days break after Xmas and to explore a bit more of the Med which we hadn't seen before. We took note of comments about not booking trips through MSC - although we felt safer opting for a guided tour of Tunis, particularly as the leader of the opposition was assassinated on the day of our arrival. Overall though, we managed perfectly well and saved ourselves a considerable amount of money by booking excursions at the ports. I am quite sure that this option exists at every cruise port of call throughout the world if you are adventurous enough to go it alone.
We arrived at the the Barcelona Cruise terminal about an hour before boarding and were surprisingly issued with a priority boarding pass which was very useful! We checked in and the only hiccup was that the Allegrissimo drinks package ordered online didn't show on their system. This was soon resolved and what a deal it turned out to be - 23 euros per day each (plus 15% Compulsary service charge!) and for our total of 322 euros paid, we enjoyed over 700 euros worth of drinks (not all alcoholic - some bottled water and some coffess!!). We would certainly recommend the package as the drinks bill can mount up pretty rapidly when you are a captive audience! The package entitled us to the choice of red, white, rose and sparkling wines at the bars and restaurants - white included Italian Soave which was fine for us; I often had Merlot from the red selection and I can't remember what variety of Rose we were offered. Our choice of sparkling was a sufficiently dry Prosecco. Spirits and cocktails were plentiful in choice although I was surprised that a Bloody Mary wasn't allowed as Tomato Juice wasn't on the list!
From the outside, Splendida isn't quite as attractive as I had imagined but internally you can't help but marvel at the size and quality of all of the public areas and glass lifts in the atrium. We were equally impressed when we later viewed all of the public rooms although the often mentioned smoking problem was an issue in some of them.
After boarding we went immediately to our cabin - 9038 near the front - and initial impressions were: reasonable size, decent bathroom, sufficient wardrobe space, tiny but adequate balcony although we didn't have a glass screen and wouldn't choose it again, dirty windows, blue and rather dark decor but with large full length mirror, large enough bed but disappointed with rather worn looking dark blue cover and a blanket which looked equally old and tired! It didn't look spotless but not bad enough to complain. After unpacking we attended the bunfight in the Bora Bora buffet restaurant and we were quite happy with the vast choice of food to cater for all tastes.
For dinner we were assigned to a table of 8 (with 3 other couples) in the La Reggia upstairs restaurant and although we unsuccessfully tried to secure a table for 2, we were lucky that our companions turned out to be a good bunch. The quality of the food was pretty mixed and on balance I would say that it was average to good at best but perfectly adequate for the most part. We had no problems with the size of portions nor indeed the choices available but sometimes it wasn't quite as good as expected. Service was good apart from one night when one couple waited ages for their roast duck meal and when it eventually arrived, you wouldn't have served it to a dog! The situation was rectified with a change of choice but by them the rest of us had long finished our meal - nowhere near enough effort made by the Maitre D to apologise or compensate.
We particularly enjoyed our vists to La Enoteca (wine bar) where the staff were very customer focussed and our other favourite was the coffee bar overlooking the atrium. We deliberately steered clear of the smoking areas although the temptation to visit the casino was too much but we didn't win a bean!
As mentioned previously, we opted to book the majority of trips at each port and this gave us the flexibility we desired. La Goulette was the only exception and I didn't consider that 55 euros each was worth the money. We boarded a coach at 8.30 am for a four hour trip to Carthage and Sidi Bou Said and neither were very far from the port. We had a Tunisian guide who thought his English was better than it was and who impressed with his detailed knowledge but wasn't very engaging in delivery! We weren't very impressed but we had a useful snapshot of history and captured some good photos in the pretty village of Sid Bou Said. Local taxis could have delivered the same trip for considerably less money.
The next day we were looking forward to a fleeting glimpse of Sicily and took an open top bus tour (20 euros each) from outside the port building which was interesting. We walked back through Palermo and had a pleasant stroll back to the boat. Genoa was our next stop and again we took a bus tour (10 euros) which gave us a decent overview.
Having been to Rome several times previously, we decided to take a train from Civitavecchia into the centre which cost us 12 euros each (return and includes metro travel in Rome) and it turned out to be excellent value for money. It is quite a trek from the boat the port exit but you can take advantage of a free shuttle bus to the gates which isn't publicised by MSC! The walk is about 20 minutes and then a further ten minutes to the train station.
We took a taxi at Marseille which cost about 24 euros into the centre and we enjoyed a nice meal in a restaurant near the harbour. Again good value for money and I'm not sure how much more we would have seen on an organised MSC trip.
Our trip was slightly marred by an incident in La Goulette. After lunch we took a walk around the boat and noticed that the weather was starting to take a turn for the worse - the skies went black and all of a sudden there was a strong gust of wind which sent a few sun beds flying. But worse was the fact that the boat broke it's mooring and the rear of the boat drifted towards a concrete pier eventually demolishing it with a collision at the back of the boat just above the waterline. The gangway was still connected at the point of the storm and it was extremely fortunate that no-one was injured. Our departure was delayed by a few hours but MSC made no mention of the problem other than to say that we were departing due to bad weather! The next day we saw the full impact of the collision when we saw a decent sized hole at the rear being repaired. The staff were not too pleased to see everyone taking photos of the damage and we were rather surprised that the vessel was allowed to sail with such damage - anyway, we all survived!
We didn't attend any of the shows having heard that they were pretty amateurish but there were plenty of other options to occupy our time.
Our conclusion on arrival back in Barcelona was that we had a very enjoyable time - by no means the most luxurious cruise we've ever taken - but pound for pound it was worth the money. Would we go MSC again - maybe.