Our cruise on the MSC Opera left Southampton on May 26, 2014 and returned to the same port on June 7, 2014.
The cost of the cruise was low and the ship departed and arrived on schedule. All stops on the itinerary were as planned. The plumbing worked and the captain did not run the ship aground. The direct contact staff personnel (cabin attendant and wait staff at dining rooms and buffet) were attentive and courteous.
The food was inconsistent and not as tasty as expected from an Italian cruise line. The free beverages did not include juice all day or iced tea, and the hot coffee was too often undrinkable. The buffet counters and seating were far too small for a ship of this size and seemed to be less than 50% of buffet sizes on other comparable ships on which we have cruised.
We purchased the London-Southampton transfer and were not met after we cleared customs (after an overnight flight) because MSC had not correctly noted our arrival time. When the lady at the information desk called the local contact number provided on our vouchers, it proved to be a non-operating number. Only by persevering and finding a gentlemen with MSC on his clip—board were we able to find our way to a shuttle bus.
The security line (yes-only one line was open!!!) at the Southampton terminal was unacceptably long with no provision made for elderly guests or those with mobility challenges. And once we got thru security.....there was another line to check-in for the cruise.
The TV in our cabin was an old model (no flat screens for MSC) and did not have a DVD player.
I assume MSC can keep its cruise fares low by paying lower port fees. We had a day in the Netherlands. MSC docked at Ijmuiden which is an hour by coach to Amsterdam. This leaves a little over 5 usable hours to see Amsterdam. In Helsinki, the Reception Desk people advised we would dock at South Harbor. Instead we docked at West Harbor. For those who plan ahead, where you dock is important to know. So, at the last minute we had to rework our plan to visit Helsinki due to the docking change. It is worth noting that West Harbor is in an industrial area and requires a tram ride into town while South Harbor is described by Rick Steves as “conveniently and scenically located within walking distance of downtown.” In Stockholm, we were told by MSC we would dock (and therefore planned around docking at) Stadsgarden and were even given berth numbers. Guide books advise that the best way to navigate around Stockholm from Stadsgarden was via hop-on/hop-off boat tours available at that port. So where did we dock??? You guessed it.....at Frihamnen, a less conveniently located port area to which the hop-on/hop-off boats do not go “all the way out” again quoting Rick Steves. My conclusion.....MSC chooses less convenient port areas to both reduce their port fees and steer travelers to the MSC excursions and/or for-a fee shuttles MSC provides
A word about the MSC Opera excursion/reception desk and the quality of the information they provide. As described above, they mislead us about where the ship would dock at several ports. We heard from passengers that they were advised to use an MSC excursion to see Tallinn when the reality is that the old city is an easy walk from the pier, obviating the need for a costly excursion. Further, for Russia, where a visa is required for US travelers, the MSC excursion printed materials mistakenly tell visitors that their choices are limited to use of MSC excursions (and the ship's collective visa) or possession of their own Russian visa. There is a third choice which is to book a tour independently, as we did, and have that company provide the documentation required to clear Russian immigration.
It is therefore my conclusion, with regard to shore travel, that consciously or not, MSC is not working in the best interests of its passengers by acting as they do. They are acting to minimize their costs and maximize their profits and the passengers interests are a distant third, if on their list at all.
Finally, with regard to excursions, we have had to file a dispute with our credit card company because MSC refused to credit us for an excursion one of us could not use due to a physical problem.
As for our cabin, we have never experienced mold in the shower on the five cruises we have previously taken with other lines. Our shower had mold growing on the floor and wall tiles and the shower curtain was moldy as well. This unsightly and potentially unhealthy situation was only remedied after several calls to housekeeping and the reception desk (same number if you can believe that).
If what you want is a low-cost basic cruise experience, MSC might be right for you. For the majority of North American cruisers, especially those who have been travelers on other cruise lines, MSC is simply “not ready for prime time.”