SC Armonia Review
The cruise began in Venice a truly spectacular city. We had spent a week in Tuscany at a villa we rented with friends. It was heaven. We then drove to Venice and spent a night at the Hotel Danieli a beautiful, old-world hotel overlooking the lagoon at the beginning of the Grand Canal. Great dinning and shopping all was perfect. We were relaxed and ready for a long anticipated cruise to the Greek Islands and Dubrovnik. It was all down hill from there.
Let me say at the outset that MSC is the most poorly organized cruise company we have ever dealt with and we have cruised 8 times. The chaos began when a water taxi dropped us at an assembly point for a bus ride to the port where we would clear boarding registration. Several cruise lines were assembling at this location all had staff available to direct you and answer questions except MSC. We had to fend for ourselves and find the right bus without benefit of assistance that includes having to drag our bags across two parking lots and loading them aboard the bus ourselves. After waiting in high-humid heat on a non-air-conditioned bus for one-half hour, we were transported in about ten minutes to what we assumed was the embarkation facility. We were dropped in front of the embarkation facility, but no MSC staff met the bus, so no one was available to direct us where to go or what to do. We dragged our luggage to the main entrance only to be told that we needed to check our luggage in first at a separate building on the other side of the parking lot. So we dragged our bags again in 100 degree heat. After checking our bags, we returned to the embarkation facility to check in. We were asked for our tickets. I explained that our online travel agency told me that I did not need a ticket that my registration was all set and, because this seemed odd to me, that I had also contacted MSC's New York office, which confirmed that I did not need any additional documentation. The staff in Venice insisted that was wrong but eventually found our reservation and issued our on-board ID cards. Then we waited, and waited, and waited in a non-air-conditioned lobby. Finally, after about 2 hours, our group number was called and we prepared to go aboard our ship - Armonia. As we soon found out, however, we weren't boarding the ship at all - just lining up for another bus ride. This time it was a 20 minute ride to an industrial port area where MSC has a cargo shipping operation and dockage for our ship.
We were unceremoniously welcomed aboard no welcoming cocktail for example only to find that our ID cards were not valid. We had to stand in line again, explain again that we did not have tickets, hear again that we were suppose to have them, finally, after about one-half hour, new ID cards were issued and we were led to our cabin. It took 3.5 hours to board but we were finally there. Thankfully, the cabin was nice as was the ship itself. She is well appointed and clean. But, while the Armonia is a fine vessel, anything beyond that is not so fine. One of the first things we noticed was that there seemed to be an unusually large number of children aboard. We later learned that MSC offers free passage to all children during the summer months. Don't you think that someone should have told us that? We don't hate kids but we certainly didn't plan on cruising with a boat load of them to the Greek Islands. It really changes the complexion of a cruise. Going to the pool, for example, just isn't an option when it is filled with dozens of children. We also like to work out and enjoy spa treatments. The Armonia gym had three recumbent bikes one broken and two programmed for 10 minute sessions. Who bikes for 10 minutes? The tread mills were also programmed for short duration so that getting a good workout in required constant re-setting of the controls. Not good. More distressing was the fact that children under 18 were not suppose to use the gym but regularly did so because the facility was not supervised by MSC staff. So, we regularly found ourselves waiting to get on a machine while 15 and 16 years old played. The last aspect of the ship I will address is food. It was okay not great not horrible just okay. We expected more from an Italian company.
As for the ports of call some good and some not so good. Our first stop was Bari, an industrial port just above the boot heel of Italy. Very hot, not much to see definitely no worth the stop. Then a relaxing day at sea and a magical stop at Santorini. This is what a Greek island is suppose to be buildings of white washed stucco walls with bright blue trim, perched high on cliffs overlooking a picture perfect Ionian Sea. As perfect as Santorini was, MSC did its best to make the experience uncomfortable. Unlike every other cruise line in port (and there were several), MSC had very few staffers ashore and no signage to direct you to the tenders for the return trip to the ship. Next port Mykonos. There was nothing remarkable about the island. It had many, many bars a great place for college kids I suspect. The sunset was spectacular. Again, no MSC support staff at the dock and bus loading area had to miraculously find the unmarked MSC bus amongst dozens of others. Ultimately, we figured it out it was the bus without staff available to answer questions and direct you. Athens was as expected very cosmopolitan, quite modern. The Acropolis was as magnificent as we imagined. You won't be surprised to learn that boarding and disembarking the ship were hassle filled no one available to tell you how to exit the port. Corfu was our last Greek Island. We didn't see much because we arrived in port when everything was closed (most restaurants and stores are closed during the mid-afternoon and reopen at 4 PM). I should have mentioned this earlier, but this was often the case Armonia would arrive in port just in time for the shops to close. The last stop on our cruise was Dubrovnik, Croatia and it was beautiful. Croatia has gone through some extremely difficult times in recent years but Dubrovnik shines. It is an ancient walled facility, meticulously maintained and populated by beautiful people and wonderful stores and galleries. Truly a worthwhile destination. Throughout the cruise, MSC was, if nothing else, consistent.
Upon our return to Venice, we were again let off the boat without benefit of staff or signage to direct us to where we could collect our luggage. Finally, we asked a security guard who directed us to a distant building the wrong one. All in all this was a very bad cruise experience. The vessel was fine but the management of it was atrocious and many of the ports-of-call were second rate. Vacations are too important to be wasted on the likes of MSC.