We chose MSC Sinfonia as our very first cruise in September 2007 and had an excellent time.
Embarkation We embarked at Monte Carlo which is our home town, and found the whole experience very straightforward. There were only six people embarking at Monte Carlo, but I understand from other passengers that at Genova it was also very easy. We boarded straight away and were shown to our cabin immediately where we found our luggage waiting for us. The cabin steward showed us in detail all the features of our cabin.
Cabin We had booked a suite on the 10th floor. It was very big with a huge double bed, adequate sitting area, large balcony, spacious wardrobes/cupboards, good size safe and an adequate bathroom with bath. The room was always clean and was made up while we were at breakfast and when we went to dinner - even though we kept forgetting to put out the sign asking for the room to be made up! We found it was nice to sit on the balcony when entering and leaving the ports especially as this was sometimes early morning or evening and wasn't really convenient to go up on deck in our pyjamas! The only thing we would suggest being aware of when choosing a cabin is the location. We found we were underneath the pool deck and could often hear the sunbeds being moved around in the mornings and evenings although it did not bother us that much. We were also on the left-hand side of the ship which meant that with our itinerary our view was mostly just the open sea whereas the other side had great views of the coastline, but again this is not a complaint - just something we will be aware of when booking next time.
Food We found the food to be excellent at all times (which probably explains the extra kilos we came back with) Being vegetarian I was particularly impressed with the variety of food I ate during the week. Breakfast was either restaurant, buffet or cabin. We went to the buffet every day where there was a wide range of cooked food, cold cuts, fruit, cereal, yoghurts, fruit juice, tea and coffee. Lunch was either the restaurant or the buffet. We ate in the restaurant on the first day but the other days we found the buffet to be more convenient for us time-wise. There was a good choice in both, there was a large variety in the buffet - salads, pasta, pizza, cold and cooked meats always at least one vegetarian dish, fruit and desserts. 16.00 was tea and snacks, here there were sandwiches, cakes and biscuits along with different varieties of tea. There was only one choice for dinner at your assigned table in one of the restaurants. We had requested a table for two, but we actually had a table of four for just the two of us which was great. Dinner was a many course affair - we settled on just four - antipasti/pasta/main/dessert. Excellent quality and variety again here. There was also a surprise dessert halfway though the week with music thrown in for atmosphere. And if you still had space after all that, there was the midnight buffet to look forward to. Particularly impressive was the Buffet Magnifique on the pool side which was so fantastically presented it seemed a shame to eat anything.
Entertainment The entertainment team were great, providing pool games and quizzes during the day and shows at night - the Miss Sinfonia contest was particularly amusing! They worked really hard all hours of the day to make sure everyone had a great time . We didn't go to all of the evening shows, but what we did see was great - magician, singing, dancing etc.
Service We found that the service from all staff was fantastic, everyone always had a smile on their face despite the long hours they all worked and always had five minutes to have a chat with you. I've heard a lot of negative comments from English speaking passengers regarding language barriers which I find quite hard to believe. Personally I speak English, French and Italian so I had no problems whatsoever and spoke whatever language that particular member of staff was most comfortable with, but even for those who speak only English I couldn't see any problems all -announcements/games/entertainment were in Italian, English, French, Spanish and german, and most staff spoke at least English and Italian - some actually spoke better English than Italian - which is bizarre as it is an Italian ship! Reception staff were fluent in all the main European languages and each language group had its own "social hostess" who would give a presentation of the ship and would be available to give any information and help with any problems. People must remember that this is an international ship, passengers are mostly Italian, followed by Spanish, with small groups of other nationalities and the team do work very hard to cater for this wide range of people and I think that they do succeed.
Itinerary Our itinerary was : Monte Carlo - Valencia - Day at Sea - Malta - Tunis - Civitavecchia/Rome - Genova - Monte Carlo. We took an excursion in Tunis but the other days we did our own thing. You can get a map from reception for €0.50 and your social hostess can give you any information you need about any particular ports. I was particularly impressed that there is no pressure to take the MSC excursions as you'd expect, and as I've found with holiday reps on previous holidays. In Valencia the town buses were easy to negotiate and very cheap to get into town. I had already researched the tourist attractions here so I knew what to look for, we then got off a couple of stops earlier on the way back to visit the Arts and Science Centre before getting the bus back to the port. We were lucky to have good weather for the day at sea so we stayed by the pool all day, but even if the weather wasn't so great there seemed to be plenty of activities going on. In Malta we got a bus from the port to the town centre for a bargain €1, and once there we decided to take a horse and cart ride around town which we managed to negotiate from €50 to €35. That was a really nice way to see the town of Valletta and the driver was a good guide stopping along the way for us to take photos. In Tunis we went on an excursion which I will write about later. Our initial plan at Civitavecchia was to get the train (1hr ride) into Rome centre and do all the usual sights, but it was a very hot Sunday and expected it to be very busy, so in the end we decided not to bother and instead we spent the morning in Civitavecchia port which was very pretty then we made the most of the boat being quite in the afternoon. In Genova we decided not to get off the boat at all as it is not that far from where we live and instead made the most of the boat being quiet (and getting a whole Jacuzzi to ourselves for most of the morning!). At first I thought that just half days in certain places were too short, but we actually found we couldn't wait to get back on the boat and were always back early to get by the pool or relax in our cabin (especially as whenever we were on land we could still feel the boat moving beneath us!! Which continued for at least two days after we got home!) Overall I think the MSC itineraries can be improved. This trip was great but looking forward to next trips I find them quite repetitive. Next year I will probably book an eastern Mediterranean trip (Greece, Croatia etc) but after that I'm not sure - to get more variation I may need to change company which I would prefer not to do as I found MSC to be great.
Shore excursions We chose to do the Tunis Shopping excursion for €38 each. Initially we found this to be quite expensive as it was only four hours but in the end it was worth it as it isn't really a place I would have liked to have visited on my own. The port is quite far out from the city and the only other option is a taxi but I'm not sure how much this cost. We went with an Italian group and our guide Sana was excellent, even though it was a shopping trip along the way she told us the history and culture of her city, she very obviously loved her city and country and was very proud to show it off. Our first stop was the Medina and as we walked through Sana would tell us little bits of information about the city. We visited the Souks, saw an exposition of hand-made rugs, drank Tunisian mint tea and visited a perfume making shop. Here was an excellent place to pick up souvenirs cheaply - as long as you had the courage to bargain down the price. The thing to remember here is not to ask the price of something unless you definitely want to buy it, and then never accept the first price, offer a much lower (but reasonable - remember they've got to make a living) price and you will see that even if they refuse straight away, they will soon come running after you when you leave the shop and accept your low price! Our next stop was Sidi Bou Said a picturesque market village. We didn't have much time here and in the end had to rush back to the boat with the fear that it would leave without us. A lot of people blamed the guide for not keeping track of time, but I blame the group for spending too much time shopping in the Medina! And in the end, even though people were worried, as long as we were with the MSC excursion the boat would not leave until we were all back. We had bought all the souvenirs in the Medina so at Sidi Bou Said we were just happy to admire the hilltop views away from the bustle of the market.
Disembarkation Just like embarkation, disembarkation at Monte Carlo was very simple. As there was only a few of us getting off we were lucky enough to be able to keep our luggage until we were ready to leave and just call reception for a steward to take our luggage off. As we arrived at 7am we had to be out of our cabin by 8am for them to get it ready for the next arrivals, but we did not at all feel rushed. I had had our account printed off the day before to check the majority of transactions (that's the accountant in me!) and the final account was pushed under our door during the night. There was one extra mini bar item on there that we hadn't took, but when I told the accountant this he took it off with no fuss in the morning. We had time for breakfast before we left then we were straight off where our luggage was waiting for us.