This was our first MSC cruise, having use Norwegian three times previously. We chose the Red Sea as a good winter sunshine destination and the companies who sail there in February are very limited in number.
We wanted this to be as low-cost as possible and to spend on excursions to Valley of the Kings, Petra and the Pyramids. We paid only UKÂ£265 for an inside cabin plus UKÂ£250 EasyJet flight from Gatwick and 49 Euros auto-gratuities (all per person).
Earlier reviews worried us somewhat but we decided that, for what we were paying, it was worth a risk.
We booked a transfer from Sharm el Sheikh airport to the cruise port for 10 euros for both of us with suntransfers.com This worked perfectly and saved money against both the cruise company's transfers and local taxis. (It cost us double the price after haggling to get back by taxi at the end of the cruise!)
Embarkation was a breeze, except for waiting in line for a MSC host to escort us to our cabin, which was unnecessary. Our luggage was already there and our cabin was fine.
The cabin on Deck 8 had lots of storage space and was clean and comfortable. Our only issue was the tiny shower where the plastic curtain sticks to you whilst showering. Norwegian jewel class ships have far better shower cubicles with glass doors. The TV was not a flat screen but BBC World was available and some English language films.
We ate most meals in the MDR but occasionally used the buffet. Food was adequate, not special, but waiters were friendly, helpful and efficient. Water is sold by the bottle, not free, and coffee is not provided in the MDR but is free in the buffet or bought at bars. The buffet coffee was pretty awful but sachets of Nescafe were available, which we preferred. The other drink we found unobtainable was orange juice. You could order it at breakfast from the menu or buy it at the bars but it was NOT orange juice, NOT fresh, NOT long-life, just NOT juice - it was a fairly unpleasant orange squash. Surely it is not too much to expect decent fruit juice to be available?
Overall, however, we found the food just about acceptable, given the price we paid.
We decided against the cruise company's overpriced excursions by coach and instead pre-booked our own private trips for a similar price or less. Our trip from Safaga to Valley of the Kings was booked with Ramses Travel and was superb. We were met at the ship by an excellent driver and guide in an air-conditioned very comfortable mini-bus and saw the sights at leisure avoiding the crowds. Our other two trips were from Aqabato Petra in Jordan and from Port Sokhna to the Pyramids near Cairo. These were pre-booked with cruisingexcursions.com, an ABTA-bonded UK agency. Both worked out very well and again our guides and drivers were excellent. Cruise companies tell their customers that they risk missing the boat by organising their own excursions but all three returned us to the ship in good time. We also had a day in Eilat, Israel, but took no excursions here. Others went to Jerusalem from here which was very long day.
Entertainment in the Fenice Theatre focused on dancing in stunning outfits and amazing headgear. There was an excellent contortionist and a pair of good acrobats. Also some singing. Entertainment is geared at a multi-national audience and did this well but we much preferred NCL's entertainment offer.
The cruise director Nicholas was only seen at shows and simply introduced them in several languages. He was unimpressive, to put it politely. MSC management to should sail on Norwegian Jade or Pearl and learn what being a good cruise director is all about.