We just returned from a Panama Canal cruise on the MSC Lirica. While the cruise ship was immaculate, clean, and well-equipped, it fell short in some areas. Let's cover the good things first: Cleanliness - no one became ill. There were hand sanitizers everywhere. The food was good, not great. We enjoyed the Italian pasta dishes and the risoto. Fish and meat dishes were not very good. Not many dessert choices on the menu. The entertainment in the shows was fantastic - very talented singers and dancers. There were lots of lounges and we enjoyed trying the different ones each night after the show. The entertainment staff did a lot to get people involved, and the skits were fun. The lounge singers and bands were great - great dancing music for all ages.
Now for areas of improvement, but first I must point out, that we had terrible weather on the cruise and very rough seas for more than 50% of the time, so that may have made the negatives seem more than what they actually were. This is a European line, and there were lots of Europeans and Canadians on the ship. They appeared to outnumber the Americans. All announcements were made in 5 languages - English, Italian, French, German and Spanish. I felt this was unnecessary as all the passengers understood English. The Cruise Director (who was only visible before each show at night) introduced the cast in 5 languages, and spoke so fast, you could not understand her. She lacked personality, and did not contribute to the fun atmosphere people like to see on a cruise. However, her staff of young singers and dancers, were always about on the ship and were friendly and entertaining.
Due to the inclement weather, we were not able to use the outdoor restaurant on the ship for several of the days. This was unfortunate, as they had delicious pizza, and an outdoor grill. One of the nicer days, we went to a "pasta party" outdoors and the food was delicious! We only attended one midnight buffet - there was ONLY one. The complimentary ice tea and water stations provided very small glasses - size of a juice glass. You had to get up and refill your ice tea 3 or 4 times! We had the first seating which was at 5:30. When we booked the cruise, we were told it was 6:30. The 5:30 time was way too early, and limited our daytime activities. In fact, on two of our excursions, we got back to the ship too late to shower and change in order to make our dinner. They did accommodate us at the later seating, however. One of these was the "gala (formal)" night, so there was not much thought put into the timing. The early dinner time also left us with about 1.5 hours between dinner and the show. We spent time in the lounges and casino, but it seemed out of synch for us. The rooms are tiny. When we checked in, our beds were separated, and we decided to leave them that way as this provided some extra room for us to move around in the room. There was no small sofa or table - just a corner desk, and a tiny bathroom with an even smaller shower. Any large person would definitely have difficulty with the shower! It did have a refrigerator where we were able to put in some bottled water and soft drinks to take with us on our excursions. We did bring some wine onboard with us and we brought a couple of bottles into the dining room one night. The waiter opened them for us with no corkage charge. We appreciated that and tipped him at the end of the cruise.
Compared to the other U.S. Cruise lines - Celebrity, Princess, HA, Norwegian, I felt that MSC fell short. While the waiters and room staff were courteous and did a good job, you didn't get that "special" treatment. The waiters didn't assist you in the buffet dining room in finding a table. One morning we walked through the buffet dining room at least 5 or 6 times to find a table, to no avail. We finally put down our trays and went to the formal dining room for breakfast. There seemed to be more people than tables in that restaurant all the time. With the rooms being smaller, they can accommodate more people, and the ship always felt crowded. Many times we felt as though we were "herded" like cattle to get from one place to the other. Some of the silly little things that were missing - not a big deal - after dinner mints when you left the dining room. There was turn down service in your room, but no chocolates on your pillow, and no little animals made from the towels. Not a reason to complain, but they were missing. Overall, I would probably not cruise on MSC again. I know they are trying to establish a presence in the U.S. (Caribbean), but it has more of a European flare and falls short of some of the amenities on the U.S. cruise lines. One last thing I would like to mention if you enjoy working out in the gym - the gym is small - only 3 treadmills, and one was not working. The hours for the gym are 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM. We enjoy working out first thing in the morning - around 6:00 AM, but it was closed. At 8:00 AM, it seemed like everyone on the ship was vying to get to some piece of equipment. This was quite unpleasant, and limited our time in the gym. I like to work out at night too, but it was closed.