Do you enjoy being yelled at by fellow passengers because you speak English? Do you like being ignored by waiters? Do you find company representatives hitting on young men so loudly that you can't hear your tour guide speaking to be a real turn on? Do you wish you had been alive during the Inquisition? Well, have I got the cruise for you!
Can I think of anything nice to say about the MSC Sinfonia? Ummm... errr... the waiter in the second restaurant actually served us!! That's it.
You've heard of "customer friendly"? The crew of the Sinfonia was "customer belligerent". My husband and I have been on ten cruises, ranging from 16 people on a not so big sailboat up to Queen's Grille on the QE2, and we have never, NEVER, encountered anything like the crew of the MSC. They clearly resented having passengers there to spoil their cruise. And they made sure we knew it.
Normally when I read a review that starts like this I think "well - if you had complained to management it would not have been so bad." But then, I'd be wrong! Management was worse. They say a fish rots from the head... MSC is living proof.
First - the dining experience...
The maitre d' was in a league of his own. When we first boarded (the reservation was royally screwed up and we booked DIRECTLY with MSC), we noticed A LOT of kids running around. So we checked our daily program and saw that the Maitre d' would be in the bar to meet passengers. We were the first in line, having been well trained on a previous Costa Cruise. We requested a quiet table for 2. The Maitre d' informed us that we had one. This smelled a bit fishy, given that the check-in process had the two of us down as a family of four and the room cards had the table pre-assigned. So we pushed a bit and asked him if it was in a section of the restaurant that would be quiet and asked if it was a good table. He assured us that it was a great table. Yeah. Right.
We arrived at dinner, and were seated at a table for four smack dab in the middle of tables for 8 with AT LEAST 4 kids per table. AND - our table was about 3 feet from the front of the service area. The noise was ridiculous. But then there was the service... Our bottle of wine arrived shortly AFTER the first course - but the waiter delivering it wouldn't open it. Fifteen minutes later (I checked my watch) the guy with the corkscrew deigned to open it. During those 15 minutes, my husband prepared to kick the next waiter who hit him. Can't say I blamed him. You see, our lovely quiet table was positioned so that our chairs were in the middle of the walkway between the kitchen, service area, and the rest of the restaurant. And we had the audacity to actually sit in them! The wait staff was not amused... and they made sure their displeasure at our being there was well known.
So, we did what any intelligent couple travelling without children would do - we AGAIN asked the maitre d' for a better table in the moderately less noisy restaurant (there are two on board). We made it clear that the very very very noisy restaurant was unacceptable, our table was awful, service was abysmal, and asked what he would do to help. His response was to look down his nose (OK - he was tall but we got the feeling he'd have found a way to look down his nose if he was 4'3") and tell us that the other restaurant was full. We reminded him that we were FIRST in line when table assignments were done. His ignored us and walked away.
So - we went to the main desk and complained. We were informed that we needed to talk to the maitre d'. We said we had. Twice. The front desk then informed us that he was the senior person on board and if he said that was our table then that was our table. Customer service... Eventually, after FOUR complaints we were given a table in the second restaurant as opposed to the original noisy restaurant. Now, you're thinking, well - there were lots of kids. Nothing they could do. Wrong! The second restaurant was a fraction of the size of the main one. They could have simply made sure that families with small children were not seated there. But they did not.
Of course, they could also have moderately enforced the dress code too. It was delightful to find, on FORMAL night, that jeans and sleeveless (wife-beater) t-shirts were acceptable attire. Now, my husband does not wear a tux (even on the QE2) but he does wear nice suits. The sight of the guy across from us flashing hairy armpits as he yells and signals for the waiter (on FORMAL NIGHT) was just not right.
Then there was the "service" at the buffet. On several occasions, the buffet ran out of clean cutlery. Once, I was "lucky" enough to have a waiter walk by me carrying a whole tray of clean cutlery. I reached out as I asked for a set. He quickly moved the tray and informed me that if I sat at one of "his" tables that I could use it. But he absolutely (and rudely) refused to allow me to take a set off his tray.
Second - the cabin...
We were in a category 9 (out of 12 including suites). Our assumption was that 9 out of 12 was a good thing. On the QE2 it would have been like Princess Grille versus Queen's Grille. Nope. Not on MSC.
We had a teeny room, made smaller by the presence of two bunk beds which folded down on either wall - leading to frequently bruised shoulders and heads since even folded up they were less than a foot from the bed.
We asked for extra pillows since the bed pillows were very flat and inadequate. We were asked by the cabin steward how many people were in the room. "Two". "Then you have extra pillows." "No - we have the 2 on the beds and the 2 in the closet and we want 2 more." "No - you are only 2 people - there are extra in the closet." "No - we have those." "No more pillows for you."
After several complaints at the front desk, the cabin steward finally gave us 2 more (flat) pillows.
So now, I'd be thinking - "jeez - these guys need 3 pillows each and they're complaining?" Why yes - because there were no chairs you could sit in and read a book in the cabin. In fairness, there wasn't actually room for a chair. "So why didn't you use the library?" Because that's where the MSC musicians practice! There was literally not ONE quiet area on the entire ship. On MSC, kids travel free. That means that the unsupervised kids who run around, scream, crash into you, and ruin your every waking moment are actually subsidized by you! They certainly don't eat less, and they actually take more space, but they travel free. So someone has to pay since their parents don't. And that someone is you if you are travelling with only your partner.
Third - the excursions...
Given that it was an Italian ship, we were not surprised to find that English tours tended to be bi-lingual. We don't have a problem with that. Unfortunately, the Italian passengers did. On one English/Italian tour, the Italian passengers shouted down the tour guide when she switched to English. The MSC rep on the tour agreed that the tour guide no longer had to speak English. It was our own fault for BEING ENGLISH. Refunds? Yeah. Right.
On another excursion (French/English), someone was talking so loudly during the English portion that no one could hear the tour guide. A French passenger? No. The female MSC representative on the tour was LOUDLY chatting up a male passenger whenever the guide switched to English!
Yet another excursion (we regretted having pre-booked and paid) - the Italian, German and Spanish tour left within 20 minutes of the departure time. The English/French tour was still waiting... and waiting... Several people asked why - the MSC rep would not answer. When she was asked to at least make an announcement (an hour past scheduled departure) to let folks know why we were still waiting, she informed the requestor (my husband) that she was not authorized to use the microphone for this purpose. Eventually, with 3 hours left in port, we left for our 4 hour tour. The tour guide was as perturbed as the passengers since she and her driver had arrived well ahead of time and no one informed them of what the delay was either. She gave us the full 4 hour tour, much to the visible chagrin and vocal protests of the MSC rep.
Even when not an excursion, the excursion crew could be counted on to be unprofessional. In Ibiza, there was a fairly long queue for the shuttle bus back to the boat. Apparently though, the line was only for non-Italian passengers since the crew at the head of the line allowed Italian passengers to cut in front of passengers who had been waiting for 30 minutes or more. When passengers objected, the crew shrugged, let the Italians in at the front of the line, and kept everyone else waiting.
And finally - disembarkation.
Run by the ever unprofessional excursion staff on land. Although the pouring rain was not their fault, their insistence that taxi drivers could not come in to the port unless they had been pre-booked via MSC was unacceptable. Passengers wanting to take a cab were rudely informed that they had to carry their bags (no carts) to the gates of the port and wait in the rain for a cab. No exceptions.
A group of Swiss passengers who had paid for and booked the trip via MSC, including the bus to and from the boat, asked where their bus was. The woman at the desk said she did not know and it was not her problem. They politely reminded her that MSC had booked the bus. Tough - she would not call. The cruise was over and it was their problem. Another MSC rep stood up for the passengers and asked for the phone to check on the bus for the group. The woman at the desk promptly started to yell at her for offering to assist passengers and they continued to actively argue for 15 minutes.
This was a very long review for me - but whenever I give a 0 star review, I believe it must: (1) be justified; (2) be verifiable; and (3) I must have made all reasonable efforts during the trip to get problems fixed.
Would I recommend MSC? Are you kidding?