This was our fourth cruise, but our first time sailing with MSC. Having read a lot of reviews, some of which were quite negative, we decided to go with realistic expectations...so we wouldn't be disappointed or frustrated. We were excited about the itinerary, especially Ephesus, Istanbul and Dubrovnik so if our onboard experience was less than perfect, we were pretty sure we would still enjoy our week!
Embarkation was a bit slow, but we arrived quite early so we avoided the very long wait that some other passengers had.
The ship itself is stunning! The design is gorgeous--so many interesting places to explore and enjoy. The main atrium with the Swarovski staircase is glitzy and glamourous with lovely live music in the evenings. Every area of the ship was spotlessly clean. We had a balcony cabin which had attractive decor and the amount of space was comparable to other ships we've been on (Princess and Carnival Cruise lines).
A lot of the negative reviews seem to be from North American / English travellers who are not used to the European culture, particularly a Mediterranean culture! I am Canadian, but I've been living in the Mediterranean for almost ten years so the MSC experience was actually exactly what one should expect when travelling with an Italian company. Of course the announcements are made in many languages--English speakers are very much in the minority! Of course the food is different--they are catering to so many nationalities. While North Americans are looking for their bagels and peanut butter for breakfast , the English are looking for baked beans, mushrooms and grilled tomatoes while the continental Europeans expect olives and salami and a buffet of pastries and cheese! I think they did a fantastic job of trying to meet so many tastes. And we enjoy trying new things. The food stations are a good idea, and I think there are shorter lines this way. Yes, people sneak in front of you sometimes, but don't let that spoil your cruise. When in Rome, be like a Roman!
I think the food was delicious. There was way more than enough. One thing is for sure: it's far better than being at home :-) You definitely must try the fresh pasta, the fantastic assortment of cheese, the delicious fruit and of course the gelato! We didn't love the pizza, but it looked like most people sure did! When you go to the dining room, you have to expect a European dining experience. Relax, take your time and enjoy!! You should order several courses because the servings are not large. They assume you are going to have an appetizer, a salad, a soup, a pasta, a main course and a dessert so the portions are reasonable. I usually ordered four courses and left feeling satisfied, but not overly stuffed (like I often was when I served myself at the buffet!)
I read quite a few complaints about staff friendliness and quality of service. For sure the American owned cruise lines have extraordinary service and this cruise was of a lower standard. Again, if you are prepared for this, it shouldn't ruin your cruise. This standard/type of service is typical for a European holiday for two reasons: many of the servers have very basic English (and English passengers are quite few, remember) so they aren't able to chat like the workers on other cruise lines. Also, they are not looking for a tip! I have found it a bit suspicious that everyone that goes on an American cruise ship seems to become best friends with their waiter and their cabin steward. Maybe I'm cynical, but I wonder if slipping them a few extra dollars at the end of the week wasn't considered, would they be THAT friendly??!! Overall, the MSC staff were adequate. They got the job done. They didn't joke and chat and go above and beyond the call of duty.They did what they were getting paid to do, and they did fine. Go with that expectation, and you'll be fine too!
We didn't spend time by the pool on sunny days because it was too crowded. That's fine for us because we live on an island but would have been disappointing if we were going to spend time in the sun. We absolutely loved sitting on our balcony. The scenery was stunning.
We very definitely recommend the itinerary. We didn't do organised excursions; we prefer to do our own thing and we save loads of money!
I thought the evening entertainment was--by far--the best and classiest of any cruise we have been on. Fantastic! I think anyone of any age or culture would enjoy it, and that's an accomplishment!
We read reviews about the slow disembarkation so we were prepared. We relaxed over our buffet breakfast and extra cup of coffee, then found a comfortable sofa and read. When it was time, we went to the meeting point and after that disembarking was smooth and timely.
Overall, my advice is to know what your truly foreign cruise is going to be like and then relax and go with it! There is so much to enjoy and appreciate that it would be a shame to be disappointed with your week because you were expecting an American or British experience rather than a purely European holiday. We loved it and would absolutely be back in a heartbeat!