I wanted to start this review by saying that my first experience of cruising (this trip) reminded me of an overpriced Butlins on the sea - but then I thought this wasn't particularly constructive & also very deterimental to many of the staff working on this ship, who are very smiley & helpful. So I'll break it down.
Check in/Embarkation was a bit of a bunfight & takes place in a large warehouse type of building - ship side, with people pointing you in a variety of directions, no one giving you any useful information, but lots of vouchers being shoved at you for different restaurants & services. NOTE to MSC - if you've never been on a cruise before this is disorientating, overwhelming & not particularly helpful (& we're people who DON'T need our hands holding), but a bit of useful information prior to getting on board would have been helpful.
Cabin - I cannot fault the cabin (we were on floor 10), our bed was a large Queen size, with room to move around in, bathroom was adequate & the balcony really lovely. My only gripe would be not enough hangers. However, we had a wonderful man who looked after our cabin, & supplied us with more hangers & pillows upon request. The room was kept clean throughout the cruise.
NB: Although we embarked at about 13:30 & could get into our cabins from 14:00 - our luggage unfortunately didn't arrive until about 17:30 - which meant we had to stay in our travelling clothes & inappropriate footwear for touring round a large ship (next time I'd pack or wear trainers & swimmers in my hand luggage).
Cards - your card gives you access to everything - including your cabin. Unfortunately I had to get mine replaced 5 times! during our 7 day cruise, as it stopped working on various occasions (no fun when you've walked the entire length of the boat to reach your cabin, just to then turn around and go to Reception to get another card). So Ladies take notes (as we don't always tend to have clothing with pockets), I was informed on the FIFTH occasion - that this might have happened if the card was in proximity to any other credit cards, camera's, phone's etc. I had a small bag with various sections, so nothing else was touching the card, but obviously close enough.
Extras - as this trip was to celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary (on 24th May), at the time of booking we were allocated vouchers for a couple of extras - a plate of cakes & chocolate strawberries & a bottle of Prosecco - all very nice. Unfortunately these were waiting for us in our cabin on our first night (18th May) & had obviously been put there fairly late at night whilst we were having dinner. Therefore whilst it was a really nice gesture, it was unfortunately at the wrong time to enjoy these fresh, (& ultimately on the wrong day).
Ship - The ship itself looks great, and all of the areas where kept clean & tidy. I totally agree with a previous review that we too had too many VERY rude & badly behaved French children, who's parents seemed to think it was up to the staff & other passengers to discipline their children - & nothing to do with them, so long as they could carry on doing what they wanted on another part of the ship - e.g. 3 pairs of french parents clearly wanted to sit in the so called 'Zen area' - which I gathered was supposed to be a quieter area away from the main pool & jacuzzis, however so many kids, dive bombing the pool (even though the pool man was very good at telling them not to), just kids climbing around everywhere, squealing (as they do), & music playing in the bar - didn't really make this a 'ZEN area'. Ban the kids from this area please! They have the use of the bigger pool anyway, so I think parents with kids under 15 need to use the larger pool & leave the Zen area - for exactly that.
Also a lot of the ship seemed to be dedicated to kids (pity they preferred to use the more adult areas), so this seemed like wasted space. & also, not good that you would have to pay extra if you wanted to get up onto the top deck (Top 18) where I imagine it would've been much quieter - as hardly anyone seemed to use it.
Getting sunbeds was difficult - there just wasn't enough for the number of people on board.
Food - the buffet option in the mornings whilst there was a reasonable choice - this didn't change from day to day & the food was frankly barely warm. Also, Breakfast was a bunfight every morning, lot's of people, very hard to find a seat - walking around for ages to try and get one plate of food. Too many people (this really WAS like Butlins of yesteryear).
The standard of food in the other 2 restaurants was marginally better, and you are served, but frankly not up to the standard I expected (still had that feeling of production line e.g. I ordered a prawn cocktail & it arrived without any sauce - the others had sauce, so mine must've been on the end of the line?) - & everything was luke warm! without exception!
Dining - I have a further issue with the dining set up, & that's shared tables - I appreciate it appears to be a 'cruise' thing - but when I'm spending that much on a holiday of which dining out in the evening with my Husband should be a pleasure - I object to having to sit on tables of 6-8 with total strangers & make small talk. I have nothing against the other people (as I'm sure they'd rather not be sitting with us either), but COME ON - the price of this holiday should mean you can allow couples to have a table to themselves. I appreciate there are lot's of family groups etc. - but please cater for couples too.
Staff - the majority of staff were lovely. Overworked & run ragged, especially by having to 'parent' rude children basically 'abusing' them by shoving their service cards under their noses & pushing infront of adults waiting patiently. But on the whole they were lovely. A few problems with language barriers etc., but to be expected. However, there was one chap who appeared to be the main barman for the Gaudi bar in the Zen area (he wore the black suit), who remained grumpy, non communicative & downright arrogant for the whole cruise. Culminating in our penultimate day of my husband being the second up to the bar to order 2 drinks & then being systematically overlooked whilst this barman served a further 6 people who came up after my husband (my husband is 6ft 4" - so overlooking him is difficult). We were left with a really sour taste - after that we avoided the Zen bar. This particular member of staff appeared jaded & disinterested & if he was my member of staff, he'd have a warning to shape up or ship out.
Entertainment - The theatre is huge & we did see one fantastic acrobatic show, but then nothing else really appealed, apart from the Michael Jackson show - which we annoyingly managed to miss.
There seem to be a lot of duo's - entertaining at the various bars, some very good, others lacking personality - but the sound systems in all were dreadful, & made everything sound like it was coming through some 'Ronco' christmas gift. A real shame as there was clearly a lot of talent on the boat, but execution wasn't great.
Bars - Transatlantic was really nice - However underneath it is the Casino which allows smoking & which drifts up a large open staircase - hence by day 3 we stopped using this bar, as it just smelt of stale smoke. The Manhatten bar sounded & looked like it should be a bit edgy, New Yorky - maybe even with some jazz ??- but everytime we visited they were playing 'e viva espania' or some such & so we kept walking.
Overall suggestion - more diversity please - allow the acts to bring forward their own personalities & make it slightly less mainstream - you might be surprised with the results.
Liquid disco - empty most of the time - look at the average age of most people on the ship & aim it accordingly & maybe calling it 'Club' might make it more inviting for the majority of people aged 25 plus (disco went out a long time ago).
Kids again - I can't believe they run kids clubs until 2.00 a.m!!!! - no wonder some of the kids appeared to be so badly behaved. There were some absolutely lovely kids too, but again - does everywhere need to be a kids zone - all day, every day?
Excursions - Expensive - Bari was pleasant but not worth the price. Corfu - had a lovely guide & the Island was lovely, BUT one glass of wine handed out with a small plate of Greek titbits - doesn't warrant the title of 'wine tasting' - so the title is misleading.
WIFI - ridiculously expensive.
The last night - bags to be left outside your room - no problem, apart from the fact that our toweling robes had already been removed - so we passed several people trying to manoevre their cases out whilst wrapping a towel round them (as your evening wear needs to go in your case unless you want to carry it with you). Again, just left you feeling that the ship either feels you are going to 'steal' their robes (believe me, they're not worth stealing), or they need to wash them all before the next travellers - either was it was strange.
In Summary - A great ship, with some fantastic staff & the rest of the staff mostly genial & pleasant, but overall just poor execution of just about everything. It felt more like we needed to fit in with the boat, than the other way around.
What have I learnt:-
1. I would not go on an MSC cruise again.
2. I would choose an Adult Only cruise next time.
3. I would only choose a cruise where they can accommodate dining tables for 2 (sorry, but this is important to me), maybe not even every night, but certainly with the flexibility to sit on your own if you want to.