The reason I have decided to write this review is that I had read so many contrasting opinions on MSC that we had become very wary indeed . In fact we approached our cruise with apprehension. Our experience in cruising is four cruises on the Norwegian Gem.
We sailed on the Splendida in the Med in November. Our first impression of the ship was that the statement " the most beautiful ship in the world" was true. We had previously sailed exclusively on NCL, and while their ships are lovely, we felt the Splendida outshone them in luxurious fittings and design. The Svaroski studded staircase in the atrium we had heard so much about was truly magnificent.
I had done a lot of research and was fascinated when we actually boarded and started seeing in reality all the things I had seen in the virtual world.
As MSC takes passengers on board at almost each Port of Call, there aren't thousands of passengers all embarking at the same time so we were on board about 15 minutes after entering the terminal. We were met by a line of white gloved stewards/stewardesses and were escorted to our cabin.
It was great having our cabin available as soon as we boarded. Our cabin was roomy, sufficient storage and well designed with a modern look and spotless. The bathroom wasn't huge but large enough. I had heard so much about the shower curtain. They must have changed the design as it can't cling to you. However, so much was spent in fitting out the ship that I can't really understand why they didn't put in a door instead of the curtain.
We went up to the Buffet for lunch. The Cafeteria (Bora Bora and Pago Pago) is large and stretches the entire width of the ship so you have windows at both sides. At the very back are large windows and tables were always easily available in that area . In fact, we always found empty tables whenever we went to the Cafeteria.
We then explored the ship. I had printed the deck configurations so that made it some what easier. The lounges and wine/coffee bars were lovely all with comfortable armchairs. In the evenings there was live music in most. Those that didn't have live music overlooked the atrium where the main Splendida Bar is with its glass piano. One of the most attractive is La Piazetta which is made to look like a square in Tuscany , complete with starry sky and original decorated tiles. Another popular lounge is the Aft Lounge where animators put on shows and group dancing with the passengers. There is also Karaoke .
The only place we smelt smoke was in the Casino. There are various signs showing where smoking is allowed but we rarely saw people smoking. Even the La Prua lounge that has a staircase leading to the Casino does not have a smell of smoke - the ship must have some very efficient filters. One of our group suffers badly from asthma and even she didn't complain. It seems that people are learning to obey the rules.
Overlooking the main pool are the disco's. Again with comfortable armchairs and so ideal for relaxing with a view during the day.
The main pool is the Aqua Park with fountains and hot tubs and a lovely original design. Not just a rectangular pool like many ships. As our cruise was in November , not many people made use of it !!! There are tables all round under cover so we often got a coffee or drink from the bar or lunch/tea from the buffet and spent some time there as we had lovely weather there throughout. There is also a bar selling moderately priced ice cream.
Leading off from the main pool is another pool - again with tables round it and a gallery with more tables. This pool can be covered so people made full use of it during our winter cruise. There is another smaller pool in the Zen area (adults only) at the very front and one for the children.
The shows are a matter of opinion. Some found them very good , others so so. However, they are a good way of spending some 45 minutes after dinner. The dining rooms are at the very back while the theatre is at the very front - so you'll also be getting some exercise walking the length of the ship.
We never had any trouble disembarking at the Ports of Call.
A highlight of the cruise was when the ship stopped near the volcano of Stromboli at sunset with awesome background music.
A lot of the criticism was regarding the food ,service and water so here are my honest opinions.
Breakfast is served either in the Cafeteria or in the dining rooms till 10.00. Room service for continental breakfast is free from early also till 10.00. The Italians aren't big on breakfast - most have just a coffee and croissant. On the ship there are cereals, yogart, fruit, juice, bacon, eggs, sausages, mushrooms, baked beans, cheese and cold cuts. But the choice is not as vast as on NCL. However, there is ample and you won't end up hungry. The Buffet is self service and they don't have 'action stations' Coffee/tea is served by waiters as is the juice and there is no coffee available free 24 x 7.
Lunch is from 12 to about 3/3.30. Again there is more choice on the NCL . For example there aren't action stations for pasta, sushi or asian food. There are the obligatory hamburgers and hot dogs though. The food served was at the correct temperature and we found it satisfactory. The bread is freshly baked. The dining rooms are also open for a more leisured lunch.
Tea/coffee is served at about 3.45 to 4.30 with sandwiches and cakes in the cafeteria.
The Buffet is not open in the evenings on the ships sailing in the Med. Dinner is in the usual two sittings in two very elegant dining rooms. The menu has the 'always available' as well as the daily menu and is in various languages. Each evening is dedicated to a different Italian region. Obviously, the food is Italian i.e. the food the Italians eat in Italy. It may not be the Italian food you find in an Italian restaurant in your home town. The Italians are very critical and knowledgeable when it comes to food and they all seemed to be satisfied with the standard offered. Our table companions all enjoyed the food. There are 6/7 courses. The portions aren't huge but you can order as much as you want. There isn't free coffee at the end of the meal.
Some of the waiters may appear aloof. Waiters in Europe feel they are there to take the orders and to serve the food efficiently. They don't act as if they are your buddy and are thrilled to see you. Many don't ask how your day was and don't always serve you with a big smile. They move around and are always ready to attend to your needs. Our waiter happened to be rather glum. However, one of our group had diet restrictions and the waiter was very helpful and kind even if he rarely smiled ! I don't need a waiter to be my friend, what I need is a knowledgeable one and that they are.
We rarely saw officers strolling the ship as we used to see on the Gem, but the few we saw were polite when approached by any passenger but, like the waiters. did not act as if were all one big happy family.
WATER (In the Med.)
Free iced water served in jugs is not available. You can buy packages of vouchers for eur 20 for 14 bottles of 1 litre. In the buffet at lunch time there is an ice machine with water available in very small glasses. The machine is not in an obvious place though. There are various packages for wine and wine/water as well.
The Ship is so beautiful and elegant, the cabins roomy and you don't have servers trying to sell you drinks at every possible occasion eg theatre and by the pool. Neither do you have crew trying to sell you Bingo or other games while in the theatre. There aren't the frequent announcements either . You aren't approached and encouraged to visit the Speciality restaurants .
Announcements and menus are in 5 languages. The info left in your cabin is according to the language of your choice. Quite efficient really as on the Gem every thing is in English.
The animators did their job well even though we are not the type to join in.
So - would I sail on MSC again ? My only real criticism is that the ship (in the Med) is not Freestyle. We missed not having tea/coffee, water, snacks, a diner like Blue Lagoon available 24/7 and we also missed not being able to choose each day when to dine. Room service is not free after breakfast and the choices in the Buffet are not as wide as on the Gem.
However, we didn't miss them enough not to choose MSC if the price and itinerary were right !!!!!!
We all enjoyed our cruise because we knew in advance that the ship was not Freestyle. We knew that coffee/tea/snacks/light meals were not available 24 x 7. We knew that iced water is not freely served. We also knew that the style of service seems to cater mainly to Italian tastes - not surprising as the ship IS Italian.
Many of the complaints I've read show that people book a cruise blindly and then complain if things are not to their liking. A case in point is the eur 1 donation towards UNICEF eg the kids in Brazil that appears on your invoice. It is mentioned on the MSC site, on the TV, in the leaflet on your desk under the TV, on the paper left on the bed explaining that you can tell Reception to remove this eur 1 and yet you still get people complaining that they were not advised and were upset. The principle of the thing they say as they would have been willing to pay even more.
The Ship is Italian and things are done the Italian way - laid back with crew keeping their distance until needed. Many Americans enjoy this and feel that while in Europe they prefer to have the Italian experience even while on the ship. They also enjoy being surrounded by mainly Europeans as it makes the cruise more obviously part of their European vacation . Just as we were in the minority on the Gem, they will be in the minority on the Splendida. But if an American is looking for a home while away from home than he may be disappointed.