We are back from our MSC Splendida cruise (6 April to 13 April) and Italy tour this week. Personally would rate this cruise as 4 out of 5. The itinerary was Genoa - Marseille - Barcelona - Valencia - Sea day - Tunis - Civitavecchia and back to Genoa.
It was my DD3 first ever cruise and the three of us very much enjoyed our cruise together. We didn't go with high expectation, and were pleasantly surprised in most aspects.
1. Embarkation and disembarkation
Both were fast and efficient, arrived at Genoa port from Venice before 10:30am. And by about 11am, we were in our cabin (quite a surprise, as I thought the room won't be ready that early).
Disembarkation was smooth also, though the official check-out time is 7am, there was no problem for us to stay in our cabin up to 8:45am. A quick chat with our Madagascan room steward the night before ensured that.
Our cabin was upgraded from oceanview to aft balcony 8248 (which is supposedly an accessible cabin) by MSC. Though we asked our TA to note that if there was a need for this cabin by people with special need, we would be willing to move back to our booked cabin, but we still ended up with 8248.
The room is obviously spacious and has fantastic aft view. The room was not spotlessly clean (it's so big that there were corners not clean thoroughly), but sufficient to impress even my DW (who likes to keep things clean, neat and tidy).
We did find a cigarette butt on our balcony once (we are non-smokers), though we didn't notice our neighbour smoked on their balconies, my guess is it was probably thrown by someone from a higher deck and it got blown back down to our balcony.
We didn't hear loud engine sound or lounge music (right below our cabin is the deck 7 aft lounge) or feel excessive movement in our cabin. The only disturbance was when the thrusters were used in port. Which was not really a big issue, as we were more often than not already up by then.
We also mostly used the lifts or stairs at the aft to go to the MDR and buffet. Only need to wait for lift to go kids club or disembark and walk to the theatre, so to us, it's convenient in a way.
3. Service quality
We found the MDR wait staff (both our waiters are from Bali, Indonesia) and room steward excellent.
The reception was mostly helpful and problems solved within minutes (I dealt with them a few times: asking for a replacement cruise card as I left mine in our luggage sent for disembarkation, sorting out our missing safety drill attendance record, and others were to ask for local weather forecast, collecting passports etc), and the account department efficient (I wanted to pay part of my on board expenses with my extra Euro on disembarkation morning, and it was done within minutes) and the bill was correct without error (the final part by credit card was charged yesterday).
Ship crew from ranking officers to cleaners I met on the ship were polite and would usually greet us first. Bar staff are not pushy sellers, and the photographers would not aggressively pursue you for more photo takings too. Photo taken were very nice too, and eventhough we didn't budget for it, we still ended up buying ship taken photo.
The biggest negative was the buffet wait staff, which sometimes would left used plates and dirty tables unattended to for a relatively long time. This was not a big deal actually, as we usually could find empty tables if we walked to the aft (which was easy for us, as we stayed in an aft balcony). The only time we found the buffet crowded was on the morning we visited Tunis (the ship ported at 7:40am ship time), so probably everyone was eager to have their breakfast before going on excursions.
4. Public area, facilities and overall atmosphere
As noted by many reviewers, the ship is elegantly beautiful, so I will skip this part.
Deck 18 solarium and deck 15 aft pool were usually full early, the pool was in heavy use on sea day, but one could still easily locate empty sun loungers. May be not as spacious as other higher end cruise ships, I never felt overly crowded. When we need to use baby stroller to go on shore excursions, we usually used the aft lifts, as they were less crowded.
There are many nice and cushy lounges, most of the times, there were live music/song performances. Though if you have young teens who want to enjoy more than the mini bowling, 4D cinema, F1 simulator available, it is not on a same par with newer RCCL ships.
We were generally happy with the surroundings, didn't encounter rude fellow passengers or staff (though we could probably interact better if there were more English speaking passengers). Other than slight smoke smell in the casino, we felt that the air quality on the ship was good in general.
5. Entertainment and kids club
I can't comment on teens entertainment (disco, electronic games etc) as we didn't have one in our group. But I have to say (for our family and friends group), kids club (3-6, 4-11), wine bar, pool deck, theatre etc were all above our expectation.
Even my DD3 enjoyed the shows, live music at the atrium and lounges and she even joined the dancing at L'Enoteca wine bar. We didn't stay up past 11pm as our DD needs to go to bed early, but our mates would enjoy themselves till 1am.
My biggest disappointment is they didn't have theatre show on our last night (Civitavecchia to Genoa). Instead they were holding something they called circus (mini games), which we didn't take part. I spent the time with my DD listening to the songs at the La Piazzetta while waiting for DW to finish her shopping.
Kids club facilities are adequate, the caretakers could all speak English to some degree. The activities I saw were more geared toward younger kids. My DD3 loved her time at the mini club (age 3-6), but I have a feeling bigger children might not find it as good.
6. Food and beverage
I think the MDR food was hit and miss, may be 2 out of 5 times were miss, menu translation could be Googlesque at times. I think pasta was better than risotto. My biggest disappointment was actually the main courses for the kid usually were accompanied by french fries! The dessert were too creamy for my taste too.
Went to dinner buffet for snack once (because my DD wanted to sleep early), the choices were not many (mainly some grill stuff, pizza and pasta), but don't think I would ever go hungry.
Buffet lunch exceeded our expectations by miles, we love two out of three of the ethnic corner dishes we had (Spanish and Indonesian were good, Greek was average).
Morning buffet was just average, with little variation. We usually ordered room service (free from 7:30am to 10:30am) and grabbed some extra bacon, omelette and fruits from the deck 14 buffet ourselves. A little disappointing that they don't have an omelette station to cater to your taste.
Fruits and salad were good. Drink choices (fruit juices by the machine in the morning only) and sauces were average. I also took the fresh sliced lemon, ice and sugar to make my own lemon drink in our cabin.
The bar prices are fairly reasonable though I didn't try anything other than non alcoholic cocktails. Paid for gelato was really tasty, in fact, cheaper and better than what I got at highly-recommended gelateria on TA (I had gelato in Venice, Rome and Florence too).
Didn't use the fee Tex Mex restaurant, Santa Fe though. I always thought this restaurant is actually to cater for American guests who miss burgers and steaks?
Overall, I think MSC could do with some improvements in the quality food (for me, choices are good, as I don't really fancy steak or fried or grilled stuff anyway), but they are surely not as bad as some reviews.
7. Ship organised excursions and enrichment programs
We DIY at all the ports, and didn't part take in any seminars. My feeling was that there weren't many seminars or demos, but I will just skip this part.
Overall, it was a good value cruise, especially for family with young children and I think if the itinerary is right, we have no hesitation to cruise with MSC again.
We were lucky that during all our port days, the local weather was either sunny or cloudy. Never excessively windy and no rainy day at all. A brief recap of our port activities:
Genova: Embarkation port, only a slight walk around the train station and maritime port.
Marseille: We took cab (outside cruise terminal, by meter) to St-Charles station and take bus #50 to Aix-en-Provence. Chanced into a local Easter music festival and bands parade, went to local markets and Cathedral. Took metro to old port in Marseille and petit train to Notre-Dame de la Garde. Cab back to cruise terminal.
Barcelona: We used port shuttle bus + metro to get to Sagrada Familia (must book ticket on-line, as a guide, we used 50min to get from ship to Sagrada), metro to Casa Milla, tapas lunch. Followed by walking and shopping along La Rambla to the shuttle bus stop. The ship stopped for an extra hour in Barcelona than what was originally stated in our cruise ticket. Though we also left Tunis half an hour earlier. So, no complaint here.
Valencia: We took free port shuttle bus to the gate ans bus #4 into the old town (we disembarked at the final station, near the townhall). Went to see the Nord train station and the bull fighting arena beside it. Walked to Mercat and La Lonja (the church opposite La Lonja is worth a visit too). Wife decided against further sight seeing, so we went to Colon to shop and bought grocery at a local market too. Again took buses to go back to the ship.
Tunis: We shared taxi with our mates, Tunis port has organized taxi operations right outside the terminal (price is fixed and payable back at the terminal, btw, the custom officer didn't even bother to check passport or immigration card). Our driver wanted to bring us to more places for more $ (he wanted 100 euro!), we just told him that we didn't have the time and rejected. But we did give him extra as he advised us on museum opening times (problem being ship docked too early, it's only 7:30am local time then). The standard price was 70 euro (6 pax taxi, Sidi+Carriage+Bardo museum). If I ever go back again, I would learn French, change dinars with our driver (Bardo museum entrance fee is 11/adult and the money changer there don't take Euro coins, so we ended up with spare dinars) and pay 1 dinar to take photos at Bardo.
Rome: It's already well documented on how to travel to Rome using trains and its many interesting places. So I would just mention that we were stuck at Termini station for over 40min because of some kind of local train worker strike that day. So do build in extra time allowance if you are not using ship excursions. We went to Spagna, Fontana de Trevi, Piazza Veneiza and Colosseo. All easily walkable with prior homework.
As we DIY the travelling costs for the three of us were much cheaper than if we took MSC's shuttle bus or excursions. An example, in Valencia MSC charging 10 euro and 6 euro respectively for adult and child for its shuttle bus service. We only paid 6 euro by taking port shuttle bus + public bus.
A quick recap, it's about 84 euro (Marseille, exclude petit train, two taxi trips were about 30 each), 20 euro (Barcelona), 6 euro (Valencia), 38 euro (Tunis, half share), 24 euro (Rome).
Overall, we are happy with the port choices and times available. The only time we were slightly pressed for time was Rome (reason mentioned above).