Background- We are a couple in our early 30's from the U.S. This was our second cruise together, and our first med cruise. It was also our first anniversary.
Pre-cruise: We had spent the week before our cruise in Germany, so we had a short (around an hour) flight from Munich into Turin. As a U.S. traveler, I was very impressed by the Munich airport. We didn't have to take off our shoes to go through security! In fact, the entire time from when we got dropped off at the airport to when we were standing at our gate was about 20 minutes (this included checking bags.) The Turin airport was similarly easy. We collected our baggage, and went to the tourist information desk to buy bus tickets into the city. The bus took us to the main train station and our hotel (the Majestic Hotel) was across the street. Our hotel was fine. I did not sleep much b/c there are no clocks in the room, and there was a fair amount of light coming into our room due to very thin curtains, and the bright sign outside our room. We enjoyed walking around Turin that evening and had a very good dinner that was quite reasonably priced. We would have liked to have more time there. The next morning we took the train to Genoa. We took the regional train because we wanted to get to Genoa earlier than we could on the IC train. It was easy to use, and the journey took about 2 hours. It was drizzling for most of our ride, so we couldn't see much. We arrived in Genoa about 10:30. Upon arriving at the Genoa train station, we walked around the train station to see if we could see the port. We could see the Fantasia! We thought about trying to walk, but we couldn't really see how to get there, and it was raining harder, so we went back up to the train station and got a cab.
Embarkation: We weren't sure if we would be able to get on or not, since it was about 10:45 at this point, and we had found the documentation about when embarkation starts to be sort of vague (but mostly seemed to say it would start at 2pm) but in light of the rain we thought we would try. There were plenty of people there, and upon arriving at the port we were greeted by an MSC representative and a bellhop who put on our luggage tags and whisked our luggage away. The entire check in procedure took about 45 minutes- not much at all, and we were on board! We proceeded to explore the ship, and then we went to the buffet for lunch.
OUR ROOM: We had booked the lowest category of balcony room. Our room was really nice. It was bigger than the balcony room we had the year before on the Crown Princess. Our balcony was bigger as well. We really liked the balcony furniture- very comfortable wicker instead of plastic furniture. The bathroom had a full tub rather than just a shower. We were on deck 8. Our location on deck 8 had pluses and minuses. The pluses, we took the stairs almost all the time and didn't need to wait for the elevators, which could be quite crowded. The minuses- The promenade deck was directly below us, so if anyone was on the promenade, they could see our balcony. The lifeboats are on deck 7-so looking down from the balcony, that is what we saw. (Looking out we saw the ocean and whatever we were passing.) For some odd reason, every morning around 9am they crew would clean the lifeboats by spraying them with water, and would also turn and spray the deck 8 balconies. This meant that our deck furniture was soaked. We only really noticed this on the days that we didn't have early port calls. We weren't sure if we needed a balcony for a winter med cruise, but we loved having it. During the day we were comfortable on the balcony in jeans and long sleeve t-shirts, at night I would add a sweatshirt and be fine. We loved being able to see different islands and the Italian coast line from our balcony. We passed through the straights of Messina from 11:15-1am or so on New Year's Eve, and we were able to watch fireworks going off all over Sicily- this was an unforgettable experience. Unfortunately, we were less impressed by our room steward. She was fine, and we are not that picky, but I expected better. We ran out of toilet paper, and had to track it down, she took away 1 washcloth after 1 day and didn't replace it until day 6. At one point we couldn't find DH's sweatshirt- we found it late that night when we went to bed- it had been made into the bed. Also (and I guessing this may be the company, not her fault) she took away our robes and the MSC book the day before disembarkation. This was annoying, partly because we did not realize the robes were gone until we were about to put them on.
FOOD & DRINKS: drink package- We had pre-purchased drink package 704, which for $16 a day gave us unlimited bottled water/ soda's/ beers/ and wine in the restaurants. This worked out really well for us. I am a HUGE water drinker, and this meant that the common MSC complaint about no tap water was irrelevant for us. Every night in the restaurant our waiter automatically brought us a bottle of quite good red wine, and a bottle of water. He would bring us another bottle of water at the end of dinner to take with us, and offered us more wine. (1 bottle a night is enough for us, so we declined additional wine.) At lunch we got bottles of water, and soda in cans, and then would get additional cans of soda and bottles of water to take with us at the end of the meal. I used the water on our excursions as well. Dinner in Dining Room- We were in the C' di Oro dining room second seating at a table for 6. Our waiter was truly outstanding. He was fast, efficient, polite, and accurate. The food was in general pretty good. The pasta dishes were the best things on the menu. Every night there was a 'regional' menu featuring a different region of Italy, ordering the straight regional menu generally resulted in the best food. We were seated with two other lovely couples, one from Switzerland, and one from Belgium. Our seating arrangement was somewhat awkward b/c one of the couples clearly preferred to be speaking french, and were quite disappointed to discover that we spoke no french. A few nights when we wanted to finish dinner a little sooner we just ordered through the pasta course, which also worked fine. I did miss the anytime dining options on Princess, while we loved having the same waiter, dinner did get somewhat tiring, the combination of struggling to communicate with our table mates, and not eating until 8:45. Lunch in Dining Room- we had lunch in the dining room several times. It was quite good. Lunch was in the Red Velvet restaurant, and we did like it better than our dining room. Lunch in Buffet- we ate lunch in the buffet 3 times. The first time we thought it was okay. The second time was as we were leaving Naples, all aboard was at 2:30, and the buffet closed at 3. We were not the only ones who had the idea to go there right before closing, and it was insane. After lapping the tables twice and being completely unable to find any seats we carried our food down to our room and ate on our balcony, our food was completely cold. We weren't that hungry on the second sea day and decided to go there for lunch- we were able to find a seat without a problem, but the food just wasn't very good. It always took a LONG time to get drinks in the buffet. Another odd thing about the buffet is that they put plates on both sides of every station- which means there is no correct way the line should flow, and people are sort of colliding with each other reaching around and getting food. Room Service Breakfast- a fairly basic menu, but perfectly fine. We especially liked the yogurt. Buffet Breakfast- we only did this once, and thought it terrible. There was a quite limited selection, and all of the egg varieties were completely cold. Dining Room Breakfast- We did this twice. Both times it was quite good. Le Etoile, French Restaurant- We made reservations here for our anniversary. We were somewhat disappointed in it. We loved the atmosphere, it was quiet, there was a nice piano player, we had a wonderful view, and a table for 2. The food was just okay. The service was just okay, our service in the main dining room was better. The wine we ordered (for some 39 euros) was significantly worse than the wine we got as part of our drink package in the main dining room. Tex Mex Restaurant- we went here twice for snacks. The prices were pretty good, and the food was fine. A warning to any American guests- at least what we got was not what I think of as Tex/ Mex- it is more Central American. The quesadilla was good, but quite spicy, and much thicker then a traditional tex/mex quesadilla. The toppings on the tostada were cold, as in just out of the refrigerator cold. La Cantina Toscana- we LOVED this wine bar and went here several times before dinner. Both of the Ukrainian waitresses were excellent and quite knowledgeable about wines. They would make great recommendations to us, and would bring us tastes of wine before we ordered. Our glasses of wine came with perfectly paired appetizers, that were included in the price of the glass of wine.
ENTERTAINMENT: We went to two of the shows and thought they were quite good. They were both cirque de soleil style acts. I was impressed by the quality of the performances. We also went to several of the bars after dinner and sat and listened to the music, all of the musicians were very good. There was a band and dancing every night in La Insolita lounge. The dance floor was always pretty full with lots of people dancing, most of whom were much better than us! DISEMBARKATION: I seriously doubt there is a good way to disembark that many people from the ship. That being said- I found disembarkation to be fairly odd. We were given luggage tags with colors, and we got the sheet the night before which identified which groups should get which colors. But the sheet did not give any times, or priority to which color would be disembarked first. The morning of disembarkation it appeared rather random which color would be called over the loudspeaker. Fortunately, we were not in a hurry, so we just sort of ignored it. The papers that we got had said our passports would be ready for pickup at 9:15, but about 8:15 an announcement came across the loudspeaker saying that the passports were available for pickup.
MISC NOTES AND IMPRESSIONS: I loved the more laid back atmosphere of the Italian cruise line, I did not feel like MSC was trying to make sure that I was fully entertained at every minute of the day. There appeared to be 1 activity at every time slot, rather then multiple things at all times. I did not feel at all pressured to buy drinks, it was perfectly acceptable to sit in the bars and listen to music, we were generally only asked once if we wanted something to drink- I enjoyed this. Having everything done in 5 languages, and struggling some to communicate, tired me more than I thought it would. I also discovered how much American slang I use in every day speech. (ie- in response to a question such as would you like more bread, if I say "I'm okay" more bread is likely to appear, when what I really meant was no.) The elevators were quite crowded, and fellow passengers did not help this. It appeared that most people simply got in the first elevator that came, whether or not it was going the way they wanted to go- and rode it until it got to where they wanted to be. This did not help with crowding, we generally avoided this by taking the stairs. I was quite surprised at how many children were at the second seating. At the tables near us there were several children under the age of 5, who were not coping with the late long dinner well. They spent a significant amount of time rolling on the floor, which was a constant threat to our poor waiter trying to step over them. At one point a child knocked over an ice bucket into my husband's lap (this did result in him getting taken out of the dining room.) I was even more surprised by MSC's decision to pass out noisemakers to the children at dinner on New Year's eve- they blew them all through dinner this was REALLY annoying. On our formal nights, people were VERY dressed up- this might have been because one was NYE. There were several men in tuxes, and almost all other men were in nice dark suits. Women were more mixed, but very well dressed over all. The weather was better than I expected it would be- we were generally comfortable in long sleeve t-shirts, and it only rained the day we embarked. The seas were very choppy- I felt the motion of the boat much more than I had in the Caribbean last January. (This directly contradicted what our travel agent had told us- that the Caribbean was choppier than the Med, he was wrong- but then again he was wrong about most of the things he had told us, so this doesn't really surprise me.)