My wife and I have been on 7 cruises before, all on Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, or Carnival but this was our first MSC cruise. We chose this cruise because it started in Venice and cruised the Eastern Med during early April and that's what we wanted.
Check-in was a 3-hour process of waiting in long lines with nothing provided by MSC to make passengers comfortable (uncomfortable waiting area, limited access to restrooms, no food/water provided, etc.). After check-in, we had to wait in line another hour to "register" our credit card and another hour in line to "confirm" our excursion reservations. All this in spite of having done all of this previously with the MSC Web Check-In two weeks prior. As far as I can tell, the web check-in has no function and the check in process is a nightmare.
At first blush, the ship was very nice having recently been renovated. Most cabins have large balconies and they all appear to have unobstructed views. The rooms were larger and better furnished than any previous cruise that we have had.
There were, however, big problems here too. The bed lacked sheets or a blanket the first night, just a mattress, and we were told that bed linens would be provided. When they had not been by 10 or so PM, I went roaming the halls and stole some from an unattended cart on another deck. There was an "interactive" TV but I never found useful information on it concerning our ports of call, the ship, or excursions. It could not access our account. We sent 4 articles of clothing to be cleaned in the laundry service -- it took a full 3 days for the clothing to be returned. A minor but important point: neither us nor anyone we talked to ever had a little "towel animal" as part of the cabin service -- apparently that's not done on this ship.
There were two places to eat on the boat not counting the pay restaurants (of which there were several). One was the buffet which only had food a few hours of the day and during those brief times the place was badly overcrowded. No table service and inadequate bussing staff so if you were lucky enough to find a vacant table, odds were that it would still have the plates from the previous set(s) of diners. The buffet itself had a very limited set of choices and the food was not particularly appetizing. No drinks were included with the buffet but you could find tap water in the ice machines. One of the most infuriating aspects of the buffet was how the crew members would come and push their way in front of you to feed themselves.
The other place to eat was in one of the two assigned dinner restaurants. We were assigned the L'Arabesque which also had breakfast for the ship. The food here was WAY too salty in a fairly transparent ploy to sell more drinks. No drinks were included with the meal without additional fee -- you even had to pay for water. Americans received coupons for 6 "waters" at check-in so apparently there have been complaints about this in the past.
By the way, the breakfast offered in this restaurant was very nice and fully "cruise ship grade." The food was good, staff attentive, the entire operation run efficiently. Whoever runs that breakfast ought to be promoted to chief of dining services (and whoever is the current chief should be fired).
I think that we were most put off by the attitude of the crew toward the passengers. You almost never received a smile or hello, they never offered to help, they were often confrontational or even cruel. With the exception of the breakfast staff, our courteous cabin attendant and friendly (but badly overloaded) dinner waiter, every interaction with the crew members was neutral or negative, never positive.
The shows were very lame. Each night was the same stage set, the same performers with essentially the same show: singing, dancing, some acrobatics all to canned music. The only thing that changed from night to night was the songs and the costumes (which were simple and crude). The performers themselves were talented but were really just regular crew members and, during the day, you would see them bussing tables, waitressing in bars, etc. I doubt that MSC spent more than $1,000 in all of the theater shows combined for the entire cruise.
The port calls were very short: 4 - 5 hours typically. In spite of this, it took a full hour to disembark for an excursion and another hour to re-embark the ship. So, if you had an excursion, nearly half of the time in port was spent simply getting off and then back onto the ship. One of the reasons for this is that the ship uses very cheap hand-held scanners to verify cruise cards rather than the much faster autofeeding scanner machines used by the other cruise lines. Because of the lost time, the excursions were all much shorter than advertised, did not go to all of the advertised sites, and were very rushed. Truly, MSC's procedures made each port of call a chore and hardly worth the effort.
Even more maddening, at several of the ports of call, all of the ship excursions went to the same "demonstration" which were actually pressure sales jobs. We experienced a leather company that pressured us to buy overpriced leather jackets and, on another excursion, a carpet-making company that tried to sell us $8,000 rugs. Both of these trips were very disagreeable and, since all excursions went to the very same places, I have to assume they were required parts of the contract with MSC that the independent excursion company had to agree to do. Presumably MSC gets a kick-back from this reprehensible practice.
The ship had far too many passengers for its modest amenities. The "aqua-park" is sized for a ship with half as many passengers; the atrium area sized for a ship a third of this size. As a result, there are long lines for everything, everything is overcrowded. Imagine waiting in line for an hour so that you can get into an 6-foot wide jacuzzi with 8 other people.
Check-out was just as nightmarish as check-in -- it took us 4 hours even though we had no questions on our bill.
There are a lot of problems on this boat and we did not meet any fellow passengers who intended on taking another MSC cruise. We did meet a few people who had had MSC cruises before and they all said that they were so disappointed in this one that they might not do another one.
I know that my wife and I won't be on another MSC cruise and, as a result of this one, I will never recommend them to anyone.