We flew to Rome to embark and the embarkation process was very efficient. We soon made our way to our suite on the top deck and found the suite and the ship in general to be very clean and well presented. She's a mid sized ship which is just what we prefer. There are the usual amenities (gym, sauna etc) but we don't use them.
First stop was to the buffet while we waited for our luggage. There are 2 sides to the outer buffet, each serving different food. Here's the first disappointment! There were burgers, hot dogs, fries etc which were kept warm from underneath. This meant the top of the food was cold. We stuck to the inside buffet after that. This was a little better but still not too good. On sea days this became a bit of a bun fight with other guests pushing in front of you, standing blocking the aisles etc looking for a free table. The food in the restaurants was better though still not up to my standard. The potions were small and if the menu said "slices of veal", that's what you got. No accompaniments. This means having a 5 course meal to fill you up. There was no coffee afterwards and as others have said, water was charged for. No complaints with the service from the waiters and the room service.
One big problem for me was a lack of enforcing of the rules. People were smoking on balconies and adjacent to the pool despite notices saying this was not allowed. Food was also taken to the pool which presented a danger when dropped on the floor. There were lots of children on board who were well catered for with kids clubs, mini golf, wiis and so on. You could even leave your kids with the team while you went off on an excursion. Unfortunately, most of the kids preferred to run riot round the ship knocking things over, bumping into people, playing in the lifts pushing every button then running down the stairs to start again.
Evening entertainment was very poor with some awful singers in some lounges and decent ones in others. The theatre and Lirica Lounge were totally underused with shows lasting an average 20 minutes.
We don't go in for many excursions as we prefer to mooch about in port. However we did book one excursion. Right in the middle of our cruise was an overnight stop in Haifa, Israel. One full day on Saturday and a half day Sunday.
As the Saturday was the Shabbat we knew everywhere would be closed, so we decided to book an excursion on Saturday and stay on board Sunday morning. We didn't fancy an all day excursion so the 5 hour trip to Acre and Baha'i Gardens was ideal. This included the 2 places we wanted to visit and left us the afternoon to chill around the pool.
On board ship, we were advised to confirm our places on the excursion. When we did this we were informed that there was a change of plan which nobody had bothered to tell us about. The visit to the Baha'i Gardens was cancelled and the trip to Acre was now taking place on Sunday leaving at 06:30 am! We couldn't cancel if we wanted as it was too short notice. That left us with nothing to do on Saturday.
The staff on the excursion desk were happy to let us book another trip but that would cost over two hundred pounds extra to go to places we weren't particularly interested in.
Never mind, we could always get the free shuttle bus which would take us around Haifa and we could hop on and off throughout the day. "Yes it did run on the Sabbath" we were told - sorted.
So, on Saturday morning we got off the ship, walked through passport control and were told the shuttle was due to leave at 9:00 but we had probably missed it. When we got to the stop at 5 past there was no bus there. They run every 90 minutes so we decided to walk to the Baha'i Gardens and catch the shuttle from there to do the city tour. The sweat was dripping off us by 9:30. We arrived at the gardens to find only the lower most section open as it was the Shabbat! After the obligatory photos we walked back to the bus stop to find the shuttle didn't run on the Shabbat at all. And if it had done, none of the places it stopped at would be open. There was no public transport to anywhere. A taxi to Nazareth or someplace would be expensive. Apart from a few cafes in the German Quarter, everywhere else was shut so we returned to the ship and spent the rest of the day there. At least it wasn't as busy as a normal day.
On the Sunday we set off for our trip to Acre and the first stop was, you guessed it, the Baha'i Gardens! The tour guide told us we would have to hurry around the Templar Halls and Acre old town as we had to be back on the ship in plenty of time.
So, why was the itinerary changed without notice? It's not as though we had booked it months in advance, but a few days before the start of the holiday. MSC must have known but hadn't changed the web site. Why did MSC book into a port on a day when they know everywhere is closed? Has anybody else had a similar experience where excursions were changed or cancelled without notice?