We decided to use the opportunity of the low cost of cruising in 2009 by booking 4 different cruises on 4 different cruise lines in the Mediterranea in November and December. It took a lot of research,but finally we booked consecutive cruises on the Costa Victoria,the MSC Splendida,the Azamara Quest and the NCL Gem. Even though at first sight these ships seem to fall into different categories,the daily price for a balcony cabin was very similar,so direct comparisons between the ships were realistic.The cruise on the Splendida was the second one and we boarded the ship in Genoa coming from Venice by train . The embarkation process was very smooth.There were still 6 attendants waiting for passengers to check-in at 16h00 and the paper work was completed in less than 10 minutes. We went to our cabin and our luggage was delivered within 15 minutes .
First impressions of the ship:it is HUGE and BEAUTIFUL !The public rooms are decorated with taste, with variations in style and color but the variation is harmonious and everything blends well in the total scheme. It is a new ship and it feels like it. Our cabin was spacious,nicely decorated and quite comfortable . We visited different types of cabins,inside and balconies and we found them to be bigger in size than what we saw on the other 3 ships. One negative point ,our cabin was at the back,on the 11Th floor and it was noisy when at sea ! We could feel vibrations while cruising and this seemed to generate small rattles. Our friends had a cabin in the middle of the ship on the 10Th floor and we did not feel the same discomfort ! There was a big Plasma screen and the choice of channels was good. The fitness and recreation areas were very well equipped, with professional supporting staff and a beautiful and inviting spa area. Entertainment was very good.The Strand Theatre where the major shows take place is very big and with a nice lay out;the sound is particularly good.I was quite impressed by the comics whose role was to warm up the audience before the presentations . There was music at 5 other locations that I counted and different sounds to satisfy everyone.We did not attend the disco but we got some good feedback from friends !
There are 2 buffet areas,2 main restaurants and 5 specialized restaurants to select from.The Bora Bora, where most people had breakfast, is very big,very well laid out and even with more than 3200 passengers on board,we never saw any long line ups nor did we had problems finding seating ! The choice of food in the morning and lunch was good, it was warm and except for desserts the quality was comparable to what we had experienced on HAL and Princess ! We had lunch at La Reggia and dinner at Villa Verde and were quite pleased with the quality of the food . There is a nice variation at dinner: each evening there is a regional menu from one specific area of Italy,it is like a mini gastronomical journey and it is quite educative ! The use of herbs though is very sparse and this is very surprising for Italian cuisine !
One major irritant:tap water is not served at the tables,if one wants water the choice is either to buy a bottle or bring his own ! Expresso or Capuccino is served only at breakfast ! The choice of wine is good and there is a wine and water package available ! Cheese is served cold even if it is asked for at the beginning of the meal and the choice of desserts is limited !Room service for breakfast proved to be late and the coffee was not hot ! The service is a bit different from what we have seen on all other cruise lines : the staff is not always smiling,it does not feel as friendly but it feels very serious and very professional ; this is not a fun line like Costa but a more efficient line .This is probably why we saw more Germans and British than on Costa and less Italian and French passengers ! North Americans were a minority but we saw more than on Costa.
The selection of ports of call was very interesting with Marseille, Barcelona, Tunis, Malta,Messina and Rome but we felt that we did not spend enough time in Tunis and Messina ! We visited all these ports on our own and by doing so we felt that MSC did not supply us with any information on the ports ! When we asked for info. or maps about the place to visit, the excursion staff did not have any knowledge nor documentation ! The disembarkation and embarkation process at ports of call was variable ; it ranged from poor in Barcelona and Tunis to excellent in Valletta and Marseille. There were no daily news provided to the passengers other than on T.V. or in newspapers sold for $5. There were no enrichment program ,limited dancing lessons and less pool activities than what we could find on Costa. There were a lot of the "new type of activities" in the area called the Virtual World, such as a F1 simulator,a virtual Theater,WII,Digital Games,Pin Balls but every time we went in this area,it was crowded with teens and young adults . Overall, we had a great cruise,on a beautiful ship,with very interesting fellow passengers but with a cruise line that still has work to do remove some of the irritants that it is itself creating. For the price it is a good value ! I will use again MSC if the destinations are interesting and if the price is good !