Previous cruises with Princess, Celebrity, Fred, and Azamara. This was first with MSC and first visit to Gulf area.
Having heard many good things about Emirates the direct flight from Manchester was a disappointment. Nothing special about the service and the seats on the 777 were rather small and uncomfortable even for normal sized people. Also not helped by the MSC block purchase system which means individual passengers are unable to pre-select seats, so it is pot luck at check in. Return day flight on new A380 was more comfortable.
The flight timings produce the unusual situation of being on board the ship by 09.30 on the first day (good) but having to vacate the cabin by 02.30 on the last night (not good but accepted on swings and roundabouts basis).
The ship has not enjoyed very good reviews of late so I came to this cruise with modest expectations. There is nothing luxurious or opulent about it and there is no wow factor. However it is a comfortable well maintained mid-sized ship that does what it says on the tin. Balcony cabins are a very good size. Organisation up to disembarkation on the final morning was good and unfussy. Food was acceptable. Entertainment which I rarely rate highly on cruises was a bit better than average. Drinks package is good value but let down by a lazy approach to wine selection; same very limited and modest selection every night.
I thought I would be annoyed by announcements in 5 languages but MSC have the answer to this; they make very few announcements and they don't intrude into the cabin.
There are two gala nights where formal dress is suggested. On the first night most passengers made the effort to dress up but for the men there were many more in lounge suits than DJ and dickie bow. On the second night the overwhelming majority reverted to casual or smart casual.
The MSC laid-backed approach to communication and ensuring safe, prompt disembarkation went well south on the last morning. Cabin vacated by 02.30 as required, waited in theatre for 03.00 departure as stated, no MSC personnel in attendance till 03.15 and she scurried away when asked why there was a delay, someone else came at 03.30 telling us to get off into the hands of their transfer agents. 4 buses quickly filled up but they faffed around for another 30 minutes without telling us what this delay was about. Apparently they had insufficient capacity for all the cases, and their solution was to locate the excess in the passenger aisle. Must be contrary to all relevant legal and safety requirements but they ignored the protestations and drove us to the airport where it was even too much trouble for them to unload the cases. A formal complaint has been sent to MSC regarding their abdication of responsibility for customers once off the ship and into the hands of ill qualified transfer agents.
The itinerary is potentially interesting but it is clear that tourism is in its infancy in some ports of call. The ship mainly docks in commercial / container ports with limited outlook. Tours on offer are limited in terms of quantity and quality and as with most cruise companies seem very overpriced.
In view of limited information given by MSC or to be fair available on the internet the following suggestions and pointers may be helpful to others:
DUBAI. Plenty to see and do. Big red bus hop on hop off does a shuttlefrom the ship to one of their stops. Comprehensive and fairly good value compared to ships tours. Traffic is normally very heavy and it will be a struggle to fit both bus routes into 1 day unless you don't get off at any of the stops. There is also a free shuttle to the nearest mall. Taxis can be picked up at the shipand seem a reasonably priced alternative if you decide there a just a small number of places you want to visit. You can't walk out of the port. Free internet in terminal.
ABU DHABI. As Dubai, except that alternative shuttle is just to the port gates. Didn't see the point of this as taxis are available at the ship.
KHOR AL FAKKAN. Don't bother! 2 of the 4 trips were a shuttle to a beach at exorbitant cost. The East Coast tour was, I am told, uninspiring with little to see. There is a free shuttle to the port gate. Walk on about 100 metres to the road junction and you should see local taxis and shuttles immediately ahead. They will shuttle you to a beach and back for a fraction of the ship price. I walked 2 miles each way along the corniche to the Oceanic Hotel which has free wifi if you buy a coffee or soft drink.
MUSCAT. Interesting ancient port. Free shuttle to port gate from where it is an easy walk to the sea front, corniche and old town. If you prefer to ride the big red bus will again pick up from the ship. Not such good value here at 40 euros and a much more limited itinerary. Would make more sense to hire a local taxi at the gate and get it to replicate the bus route stopping as you want. The board clearly states that a 4 person taxi will only cost 7 rial per hour, about 14 euros.
KHASAB. Much more interesting small scale port. Nothing here but a small town 7 minutes away. Said to be nothing to see there so surprising that MSC charge 5 euros for a shuttle service! Khasab port is the gateway to the Oman "fjords" and for many people this will be a must see tour. It is a majestic and impressive area very much worth visiting. The ships tour on a traditional dhow costs about 75 euros which seemed a bit steep to me. I took a chance based on an internet review I read before traveling that said there were local boatmen who would do the same trip at a fraction of the cost and still be very pleased with their earnings. Six of us from the ship joined forces, found a boatman and didn't even haggle when he asked for 30 rials, about 60 euros, in total. We saw every part of the fjord network, saw dolphins at close hand and swam from the boat. They were even embarrassed about being given a tip. If you want to take a similar chance you will find the small boat docking area immediately in front of the ship. Just remember you may need to approach them as they are not in your face like in most other places, and there may not be many boats available.
I took UAE Dirham and Oman rials. Former is probably sensible as much more exposure to spending opportunities. Could easily have managed without rials as all Oman transactions were first offered to me in return for euros and dollars.
I enjoyed this cruise with MSC. I am not happy about disembarkation but do not feel let down in any other significant way. However neither was I wowed by anything on offer. Therefore for me it was a 3.5 star experience.