Firstly the positives: Beautiful new ship, great cabins which are spotless, very good itinerary and extremely good value drinks package which saved us a lot of money. Now the bad! Embarkation at Venice was shambolic - 2 hours herded into holding area with no information or MSC staff around to speak to. We were given a number and eventually when it was called, we were called into another queue to check in ( we had done this online, but don't bother -it doesn't save any time!) Checked in after another 40 minutes and then had to wait in a further queue to actually board, Disembarkation was similarly chaotic - no announcements, no crew around to direct operations and people eventually just took themselves off the ship and then had a long wait for luggage - some people even missing flights.
Food: if you did not avoid the 1-2 crush, when you could not get a seat and when you did, the food was cold, was mostly Mediterranean -- good pizza and pasta, but we abandoned the buffet after 3 days and took all our meals in the restaurant, which was better. Food overall was a bit hit and miss in L'Arabesque restaurant, sometimes good and sometimes really not, but the servings were very small overall and never hot enough. Restaurant staff were very nice but struggling with the number of passengers. The entertainment was only ok - quite similar every night, apart from the Queen tribute which was great. Ports we visited were very good, but there was no information given about the ports, as is customary with other cruise lines.
Getting off the ship at these ports was also chaotic and sometimes dangerous. When docked in Dubrovnik the staircases were jammed solid with a lot of pushing and shoving, very dangerous for children and the elderly - and again no crew in evidence to keep any sort of order. Only one X-ray machine at the gangway and one person swiping cards - ridiculous with so many passengers. We had the 8.45pm dining room seating, but rarely finished our meal before 11pm - this is probably a reflection on the Italian way of dining, where meals are taken very slowly.
In summary: having cruised with RCI, Princess and NCL in the past MSC do not compare well and we would not use them again. However this trip was booked to cover ports we wanted to visit and for a birthday celebration and was the only cruise that met that criteria. We much prefer the American ships with their slick service, organisation and professionalism, and in our opinion it is well worth paying the extra. We did share a table with some great Irish people, who were great fun and we met some very nice passengers - however none of them planned to be an MSC repeat customer. You pays your money and you takes your choice!