On 7 Feb 10, my wife and I board the MSC Splendida in the port of Genoa for a trip in the eastern Mediterranean. I chose the line since the ship seems new and beautiful and the price offered by my travel agency include three days in Rome with hotel. I entered the trip with eyes wide open knowing that it was an Italian line with different cultural approaches. The itineary included Israel and Jerusalem which seemed very attractive.
Pre-Cruise: We flew coach on Delta Airlines (great service) to Rome and were transferred free of fees to the Dominia Hotel in the Campanella section of Rome. The hotel was quite nice and the service was faily good, but there were very few places to eat and nothing to do near it. Americans usually have to look carefully for dining options since restaurants in Italy are very expensive and the Euro to dollar exchange rate is not very favorable. One can figure doubling the price of a meal in Italy over American prices for comparable food. Though tourist sites were far away, the hotel did transfer us to the subway station each day at no cost and the metro could be used for one Euro to go to any station on the line. The tickets were good for 75 minutes before timing out. With a map of the subway and a tourist map of Rome, we found everything very easily. Travelers should be careful of pick pocket on the subway. The worst part of this arrangement was getting back to the hotel. The subway ran frequently, but the hotel only provided early evening transfers from the metro station back to the hotel so the time frames became inconvenient. The bottom line is that you were stuck in Rome from 2 PM to almost 6 PM unless you used a taxi which was about 50 Euros ($75) back to the hotel. The buses involved changes and were somewhat confusing.
Boarding: We left Rome aboard a very early morning transfer bus (0545 AM loading time) and traveled six hours to Genoa. The transfer on to the ship was easy, but unfortunately, it took until 9 PM for my wife to receive her luggage and she was forced to dine in clothing she had worn since 4:30 AM.
Cabin: We chose and inside cabin for cost and the fact we use it only to shower, sleep, and change. It was very adequate in size and the cabin stewards were absolutely excellent. Very little U.S. news was provided on the TV satellite. The stations were all Italian or German with European CNN as the only exception. One complaint I did have was no robe, despite the fact I saw others with such a garment use for the indoor pool. I found out that only selected cabins and levels had this service, but upon complaining, we got robes. The cabin was equipped with a mini-bar and a small fridge that keep things only slightly over room temperature. I tried to lower the temperature, but there were no thermostatic controls. The sheets were changed every day and the attendants provided new towels twice per day.
Water: It seems that MSC tries to squeeze the last Euro out of every passengers. My biggest complain was that there was no drinking water. One had to buy drinking water by the liter bottle at 1.9 Euros apiece. We did get a 12 bottle coupon book for 12 liters, but it could only be used in the dining room. In the cafeteria, it would not be honored, but one could find some water at one of two tiny water/ice dispensers that were well hidden in the dining area. Waiters would not give you water and you had to get it only your own. We asked service personnel in Reception and they gave us a ludicruos answer. They said the Germans were the majority on board and the Germans preferred to buy their water. I wondered if the Germans would agree. Another one in reception told me that the water in the cabins was not potable which is ridiculous for they would then have a very sick group of PAXs aboard. At the water dispensers in the cafeteria only small juice glasses were available or coffee cups. The machine did dispense ice however. We, like most Americans are accustomed to getting water all over the ship and resorted to refilling bottles in our cabins. Most purchased bottled water was served at almost room temperature and the waiters seemed to resent bringing ice to the table. This was the single most irritable thing to us.
Beverages: Free coffee/tea was only available at breakfast. If you wanted a cup after lunch or dinner, you were told it was from the bar and one would have to pay for it. The alcohol and soft drinks were probably priced the same as on other ships and we noticed that drinks were not pushed as heavily as on the Caribbean cruises. In fact, you could not buy a drink in the theater area before a show, but the shows were short by comparison, so no problem if you were thirsty. The cappuccinos sold near the indoor pool in the afternoon were very good. Between 3:45 and 4:30 each day, the ship offered tea and snacks in the cafeteria area. It was the same snack on the same tray day after day which was a tea sandwich and some cookies.
Food in cafeteria: Poor at best. It was the same thing on the same tray every day. The only sort of change was a small carving table for roast chicken or ham, etc. on a daily basis. Breakfast offerings were exactly the same every day. The meat offerings were usually cold cuts (mortadella and ham, but on once occasion,we tasted a very good salami), We always got very undercooked bacon, and small Italian sausages that invariably seemed to be overcooked or undercooked. The eggs were always on serving pans, either moist and scrambled over overcooked sunny side up. There were no omlette stations, but they did offer a precooked cheese/egg something or other. There were various breads of the European variety, but the toast could be used for floor tiles. We'd have killed to get a good pastry or donut. We never did see French toast nor pancakes, but the variety of fruit was nice and waiters traveled about with glasses of juice on trays. Unfortunately, the cafeteria closed for the day at around 2:30 PM and never reopened for meals. You could get cabin service, but we were told it was at a cost. So much for 24 hour availability to food.
Food in the dining rooms: Mediocre at best. Lunch was geared mostly to suit a European clientele, but the did have some old American favorites like hamburgers, fries, and hot dogs. Problem was they didn't seem to be very much like real American not dogs and hamburgers! Somehow a hot dog without "the works" isn't really a hot dog and hard rolls are not conducive to American tastes on a red hot. Each lunch featured things like fish, beer and some sort of pasta for lunch. There were also soups. They did have desserts, but we stuck with the ice cream which was very good. One day they offered calamari and fries, but the waiter seemed to be insulted when someone asked for marinara dipping sauce. The even meals were so-so. There were appetizers, salad (iceberg lettuce with very little variety in dressing or other vegetables). Each meal offered a large pasta dish which was very filling. There was also a two soups, one chilled and one hot (lukewarm on arrival), but these were always absolutely excellent. The main courses were themed to some area of Italy and always some sort of fish, a beef/veal/lamb dish. There was no lobster night, but one evening we did get large prawns with the heads on. They were very overcooked, almost to mush. The desserts were fair. We had three "Gala Nights" which meant tie/suit/formal, but many of the Italians showed up in open collar shirts and no jackets. Frankly, we thought three was too much for a eleven day cruise.
Let me emphasize one thing. We are NOT picky eaters. We ate what was presented, but I am comparing this cruise to food on Celebrity, Princess, and Royal Caribbean and in every case, the Splendida was far below their Caribbean counterparts.
Clientele: The Americans were a small component of the total passenger load. Most were Germans with the Italians coming in second, and the French last as European counter parts. There were a few wonderful Brits and Australians too. With this in mind, it was obvious the crew catered to the Germans. All announcements were made in German, Italian, French, and English, but the explanations were long in the first three and short in the others, especially during the shows. We found ourselves outnumbered at about 2,800 Germans to 78 Americans, but those were pretty good odds at Bastogne and likewise on this cruise. We found the Germans to be very rude and the French polite to our surprise. The Italians were terrific as were the few very friendly Spaniards! One German who spoke English criticized his own countrymen saying the rude were from East Germany. They pushed on elevators, criticized other passengers in German, and would not politely cue up as others did. Their behavior in the pool area was obnoxious as if they were the only ones using a hot tub. During announcements, everyone tried to be quiet to allow the other languages to be heard.....except for the Germans.
Shows: The cruise line did OK considering the problems of multiple languages, but the shows were short (about 1/2 hour) and had two presentation per night. Due to the language differences, we had no com medians, but lots of no speaking acts. One mime was teriffic and put on a great show without one spoken word. They had what appeared to be an eastern European classical group with an Italian tenor and they were very good. The violinist was the best I had ever heard. We also enjoyed a piano virtuoso who was Italian.
Dancing: Almost non existant.
Day time entertainment. There was one cooking demonstration and little else available to English speakers. Games like Trivia were played, but the games were usually in Italian. I read three books during the cruise to keep busy.
Enrichment: Very limited English library with only about one shelf of dog eared books and many more suited for the younger traveler. Not on lecture in any language to my knowledge. The library also had a computer center for e-mail, but it was expensive and get up and running as well as downloads ate most of the time. We had no hook up in our cabin for a laptop.
Crew: Very professional, but sometimes the ones who were bilingual and worked the desks seemed to blow you off. The passport control became a mess at times and this was really evident when we had to get our passports back upon disembarkation.
Disembarkation: The ship ran us about to several locations on different decks as the result of passport control in conjunction with departure. We found our baggage easily, but one American couple lost one of their bags from the cabin to the terminal and had to leave without it due to their transfer.
Medical: One American member of our dining group fell on the ship and broke her arm. The ship treated her at no cost, but there was no x-ray equipment on board. She was x-rayed by a Greek doctor on Crete and casted ashore. The costs were hers alone. The ship seemed to show concern for her injury and she was treated aboard by a German doctor.
Overall: We are used to Caribbean cruise lines. This cruise was definitely different and I don't regret taking it for the itineary, but the service and food was difficult. The service was not as responsive and the idea of having to buy drinking water was entirely foreign to me. I went into it eyes wide open, but still I didn't like this feature. The language barriers created some lack of passenger interaction and we felt like we were second rate in the eyes of the crew. The MSC Splendida is absolutely beautiful, but if the line wants to be a success in the Caribbean, they must change a lot of their ways.
As for us, we will not sail aboard MSC again. Reason? The service wasn't as good and the food was mediocre at best. Entertainment was lacking.