A bit about us:
We traveled as a party of 8, two families with children aged 19-22. We have done 8 or so cruises in the past around the Mediterranean so we have quite a bit of reference.
We felt embarkation was pretty well handled. We had a private transfer to the ship, so can't comment on the transfers, but it was all very smooth. Once aboard, we wanted to swap two of the cabins within our party so that I could be next to my parents so that we could have adjoining balconies. Once they understood, this was handled efficiently and with no charge.
The ship as a whole was one of the larger ones we have been on. It is rather magnificent to look at, the navy and white colour scheme is very nice, it definitely looks smart.
However, we all agreed that the ship is VERY confusing to navigate. We are regular cruisers, and never before have we had this problem. After a week on board, I still couldn't tell you where I was on the ship at a given time without a map. I am surprised I haven't read this in other reviews, I really must stress, it is very confusing!
We decided that there are a few reasons why that is. First of all, it is a big boat! Another reason is that it is very poorly signed; the signs around the boat are dark brown with a sort of silver lettering which you have to peer at closely to read. The lifts don't tell you what is on each floor, and the toilet symbols for girls and boys are pretty similar, we had more than one experience of someone being in the wrong toilets! One of the main restaurants is on deck 6, but you have to go to deck 7 and then down again to get to it.
In my opinion the main reason the ship is confusing is because most of the time wherever you are on board you can't see out, so you can't see which way the ship is going. In most of the bars they close all the curtains at 6 ish (even though it's light out), and at that point you are blinded by the blingy interior and all sense of direction is lost! Another big reason is on most ships there is a corridor that runs the length of the boat on leisure decks, and decks that run the length of the ship on the outside, and from there you have a reference point of where you are, you can see where you're going, etc. However, the Splendida has only one deck with promenades outside, and there isn't really a corridor on the leisure decks, so in order to get from one end of the ship to another you must walk through all the bars, lounges, etc, which as I say, you can't see out from. This makes it all very confusing.
The confusion isn't helped by the interior of the ship. In a word: bling! Many have said the ship is beautiful, so it really is down to taste, and most cruise ships are a bit bling but we thought it was very tacky. The main atrium/reception area (if you can find it) has the most horrendous staircase I have ever seen - it's as if swarovski vomited all over it! The lounges are often themed in bright colours and sparkles. This isn't really a big problem, and the ship is always clean and comfortable.
The ship has these sort of alcoves on the sides. We could see no reason for these bits on the ship, so we assume they are aesthetic - so the ship doesn't look like a big slab. However, having a cabin in the alcove was a real disadvantage - more on this later. The ship was probably the smoothest we've ever been on - perhaps due to it's size. Any wavy-ness was very minimal.
Other guests aboard tended to be European, it is definitely a family ship, there are lots of children around so there was a good mix of ages aboard, and this gave for a nice busy atmosphere (except for two children who pressed all the lift buttons then ran away!). Announcements are muffled and come in several languages so it's easy to miss them, but it's not a problem really. Europeans don't know how to use a lift, they get in regardless of the direction it's going, and regardless of people trying to get out. The lifts are, as other have said, very busy at peak times.
The cabins were very nice and clean. Almost all of the cabins aboard ship were balconies, and we very much enjoyed ours. Two of our cabins were next to each other so we had the balcony partition removed so we could sort of share the balcony. They clean the balconies twice a week, which seemed a bit excessive, but they are very into their cleaning.
However, some of the cabins (ours included) are set in a sort of alcove on the side of the ship. We could see no reason for these bits on the ship, so we assume they are aesthetic - so the ship doesn't look like a big slab. However, being in this alcove means far less sun on the balcony, and a huge overhang over the top, so this was a real shame. I would advise others to request cabins that aren't in the set back sections, as the price is the same.
It's also worth noting that some of the cabins lower down in the ship are nicer, but are the same price. Some of our party were on deck 9 and they had a slightly nicer interior and a bath as well as a shower (we just had a shower). The showers were nice and powerful.
Overall, the cabins were very comfortable and we were very happy with them.
The Lounges/shops/communal areas:
As I have mentioned, the main thing to say here is that it's all very sparkly. There is lots of choice in terms of bars and places to hang out, and everywhere is comfortable.
Many reviews comment about excessive smoke, which we felt was rather unfounded, there are only a couple of places where smoking is allowed, but you can avoid those if you wish. We sat in one of those areas one evening, and it didn't bother us much.
The pool areas are fairly typical of pool areas on cruise ships. There are 5 pools in total, and they are pretty big and have fun fountain type things in them which the children enjoyed. A criticism of mine would be that they were almost always packed with children, which makes it unappealing for adults! Jacuzzi's were also always packed, which was a shame.
There are a few shops which sell everything you'd expect. There are some good deals to be had on perfume. We bought two watches and the guy serving us was very cocky and generally a bit unpleasant.
With a few exceptions including our dinner waiter and waitress who were wonderful, we felt the staff were probably the worst of the cruises we've done.
Generally, they seemed a bit miserable, and uninterested in us! Bar staff had a tendency to (I suspect purposefully) ignore when you were trying to get their attention, and were rather sullen. We had a bad experience one lunchtime in one of the main restaurants where someone confused the order, and we missed two or three of our courses. The staff seemed like they couldn't care less, until we started to complain loudly at which point they became rather overbearing. However, that was a one off, and usually the staff were perfectly adequate, they just didn't smile or make eye contact.
On previous cruises we have found staff far more friendly and willing to chat or at least look at us.
We love good food so it would probably be fair to say we have high standards in terms of food!
There are a few places to eat aboard. There are two main restaurants which are essentially the same, you will be assigned to a table in one. There is a buffet which they call two different things, but they are the same thing - food, decor, etc. they are just different sides of the pool. There is also a Tex Mex restaurant which is paid.
The buffet is on the main pool deck has a HUGE variety to choose from. I would say that it does everything you want a buffet to do, the food is fine, just what you'd expect for a buffet. It is loud and chaotic in there, especially at peak times (breakfast probably is the worst). The buffet goes very far back on both sides, so if you walk further round (if you think you've reached the end, keep going because you haven't), you will discover even more food options. From the buffet you can take the food to wherever you like, so we always took it and ate at one of the tables by the pool or on the balcony in our cabins, because it seemed far nicer than in the buffet itself. Breakfast by the pool is the way to go!
The two main restaurants serve the same food, so only the decor is different (they are both very shiny). The food in the main restaurants was poor. Most days there were a couple of things on it that were nice, but it wasn't consistently of high quality. I feel that on a cruise the evening meals are what you look forward to, and you bear in mind that catering for 3000 people is tough, but it just wasn't very good. High point: spaghetti carbonara, low point: pina colada soup(!) and crab-stick salad. I would also say that there is a decent amount of choice in the main restaurants (2 or more options for most courses), but I think they tried to make food that is a bit complicated; if they weren't trying so hard to have 'fancy' food it might have been better. There are 6 courses, but they are fairly small portions, so it is possible to manage all courses if you wish! They are perfectly happy to accommodate whatever you like, for instance, I often had two appetizers but no soup.
We tried the TexMex place for lunch, which charges a surplus, and we spent about 8 euros each. We had serious problems with the decor and theming of the restaurant (it feels kind of like a cafe, not like it was something worth paying extra for) but the food was good, much better than the restaurant. It's worth a visit.
We had the allegrisimo package and we think we got good use out of it. We thoroughly enjoyed all the cocktails, we particularly liked the BBC and Pina Coladas. On the package there was a very limited choice in terms of wine - just one white, one rose and one red option! It was fine, but there was no real choice. We were dissapointed that in the main restaurants where we ate dinner every night and some lunches that you can't have coktails or mixers, so the choice is basically: beer or wine or soft drinks.
We only went to the theatre once, probably because we thought it wasn't very social, the seats are all in rows, where on other boats seats have been arranged in little groups, and you can't have any drinks in there! Shows were visual to accommodate many languages and were entertaining.
There are singers and musicians in all of the bars in the evenings. Some people may like it, but we found it a little annoying, as they are very loud, and music is always a bit cliche!
As is the case on many cruises, we are plagued by photographers. In the evenings there is one at every turn, all around the hideous staircase in the atrium, and prowling around the restaurants. They are only doing their job, but they are rather pushy - they don't take no for an answer. I found myself seeing one and going another way to avoid them.
On the whole, we tend to enjoy the experience of cruising as much as the ports, so the ports aren't really our priority in terms of the holiday. This time of the year the ship goes around Barcelona, Marseille, Genoa, Naples, Messina and Tunis. We got on at Barcelona, but people were getting on and off everyday, so there is a constant change of passengers.
Getting on at Barcelona we didn't see much of it, but we've been before so we were fine with that. Marseille was a pleasant enough place to visit. The shuttle bus service was 15 euros and was essential as there was no way we could have walked into town. We wandered around the harbor museum which was quite interesting, and overall it was a perfectly nice place, but we felt that there are much better stops to visit in France.
Genoa is a nice little place, where we have been before, and while it is nice to wander around, there isn't really anything to see. It is an easy walk from the ship to the town, which is nice, and Children will enjoy the pirate ship!
Naples is somewhere we've been before too. The town itself isn't very interesting; the real things to see are Mt.Vesuvius and Pompeii, which were good, Pompeii is really interesting and I would recommend it to anyone. This year we did the Mt.Vesuvius excursion which was fine, but my mum was disappointed there was no bubbling lava! It was a fairly difficult walk up the hill, so it's not for everyone.
Messsina was a nice enough place, we wandered around the shops and did a city bus tour. There is an interesting astronomical clock in the town center which is worth a look at. It's a nice port because it's right by the town, so the town center was just 2 minutes from the ship, so no shuttle buses to deal with.
Tunis is somewhere we have been a few times. The port is in La Goulette, so if you want to actually see Tunis, you must go on an excursion (there is no shuttle bus and I wouldn't trust a taxi). We have done excursions in the past in Tunis and they were alright, if you want to have the souk shopping experience and barter for souvenirs, it's worth a go. This year however, we just had a look in the little shopping complex right by the boat in the harbor; they've built a pretend shopping souk with a few shops selling souvenirs, spices, perfume, doing henna tattoos, etc. If you're not feeling adventurous enough to do an excursion into Tunis, it's a great option, we really enjoyed it.
Overall, most of the ports we have been to before, so they weren't new to us. They were all pleasant enough, but generally they weren't anything too special. Pompeii is great, so if you haven't been you should go, and it's fun to get a taste of a different culture in Tunis, but overall I felt the ports were a bit boring. I would recommend different ports or an Eastern Med cruise around Greece, Turkey, etc. as they tend to be more interesting!
We had a fabulous holiday (holidays are always great!) and we enjoyed MSC. Overall we wouldn't rush to recommend MSC, but we wouldn't avoid it.
It is a very similar style of cruise to Royal Caribbean, with a nice atmosphere. It's a busy ship and we were a bit let down on the food and some of the staff, but overall we had a great time, and would have no problem with doing it again!