We did Amsterdam down to Lisbon and back, with stops at Vigo, Spain, Bilbao, Spain, Le Havre, France, Southampton, England and Guernsey.
We twice went ashore and explored on our own, twice used private small-group tours NOT booked through the ship and twice used ship-booked excursions. We are still new at cruising, this being our 3rd cruise, but we are learning fast. We have no desire to ever book a ship-booked excursion again - overpriced, overcrowded, few stops, most of the time wasted waiting for 70 people to get on and off the bus.
We are very glad we tried booking our own private excursions. We used We Hate Tourism Tours in Lisbon and Discover the South in Southampton. We were delighted with both. It is worth paying extra for the customized, small-group experience.
The main dining room was excellent. The food was great and the service was great, with one exception: an adjacent table (#55 in the L'Approdo dining room, 1st seating) had a family of 6 adults with 4 loud, hyperactive kids whose parents had no interest in controlling them. We were struck by flying objects, the kids were constantly yelling and shrieking and would not stay in their seats. The dining-room staff took no responsibility for controlling those people, who really should have been kicked out of the dining room on their first night and told not to return, at least not with the kids.
The same family of idiots ruined our bus tour in Bilbao, and we were told by other bus passengers that they had done the same on a previous tour. The tour guide also took no responsibility and did nothing.
The same family of idiots disrupted the stage show one night in the theatre, and at least on that one occasion, they WERE kicked out. MSC, your staff REALLY dropped the ball here - this is ample reason for me to avoid booking with MSC in the future. It really took away from the pleasure of the trip. You are too concerned with making sure the family of idiots had a good time, and not concerned enough with the fact that they were ruining the good time for everybody else who was ever near them.
The buffet was open at suppertime, but had very limited choice. This is NOT good enough.
The casino was good, but not very lively. We loved our staterooms and our balconies - we saw groups of dolphins 4 times, and watching docking and castoff was interesting. Room service was perfect. They need more do-it-yourself activities, and they need to upgrade those that they do have. The mini-golf, for example, was so dilapidated as to be useless.
The worst performance by MSC was the usual (I have done an MSC cruise before) - they do NOT organize disembarkation properly, either for port visits or the end of the cruise. Information is sparse, vague, and often just plain wrong. Getting off the ship is slow, and wastes precious hours that we want to spend visiting the port cities. The staff who actually talk to us are trying and are usually polite, but clearly there is a problem higher up - it seems clear to me that the leaders just do not care. Eventually we will all trickle off the ship somehow, and then they will be free of us - that is obviously their attitude.
The only thing I have to compare with is the one Royal Caribbean cruise I have done, and Royal Caribbean did this part of the job RIGHT. It was done quickly and efficiently every time. MSC need to wake up, and realize they will lose customers to their competition because of this.
Lastly, the usual towels-on-the-lounge-chairs problem. MSC had placed signs on the pool decks saying that belongings left unattended on chairs for more than half an hour would be removed. And that is a good sign. But unfortunately all it was was a sign - I saw no evidence that they ever did it. ALL cruise ships and ALL beach resorts need to put up signs like this, but then they have to assign staff members with the duty of actually DOING IT.