Booked a min inside cabin (1)guarantee on an AARP Single Fare on Dec 23, 2009. I learned about this cruise and the remarkably low fares from an email from a web site. Was assigned a Category 8 Balcony Cabin on the Starboard side on Deck 14. It was VERY NICE to have a balcony cabin. However, I would not have paid the usual fare which would have been about $1800 (200% Single Fare)
On Dec 23rd, this ship was WIDE OPEN with less than 10% of the cabins booked for this departure. On sailing day, there were still 3 cabins showing as available. In two and a half months MSC and their volume agents did a remarkable job of booking the ship full. I took the cruise to specifically check MSC out. I have been to all the ports many times and did not book any excursions nor the spa.
The is ship is new and sparkling clean. There is staff cleaning 24/7. The vessel is very functionally designed and decorated in an understated but yet bold way that is a little like Celebrity for its minimalism but not as bold or Mardi Grasish as Carnival. The soft furnishings are bright but not gaudy and are of sturdy commercial grade but are not sumptuous in any way and are showing signs of wear, particularly in the cabins, after only two years in service. This is definitely a high volume and passenger dense ship in 7 day rotational service.
My cabin was on the small side but well laid out and space functional. It was great for one person, but for two it would be tight, particularly trying to shower and dress for dinner at the same time. So many of the cabins have have 3rd. 4th, and 5th berths that ya'll had all better be able to get along VERY WELL in cramped quarters. There was a family down the companionway from me of two parents and 3 small children and in spite of the balcony, the parents were more than glad to be getting off the ship after 7 days, and I thought their kids were pretty well behaved.
There were a good number of kids on board since kids travel FREE with two paying adults. The kids program looked well attended. But I can bet that in the summer, MSC vessels are packed with kids because when I took a 14 day Eastern MED cruise on Costa, there were over 900 kids on board and they were everywhere.
The public rooms were well populated into the evenings with something always going on. The musicians on board were excellent, by far the best I have come across in a number of years. The Russian String Trio played each evening in the atrium on deck 6 and were great. Los Paraguyans, the Jazz Group, et. al made making the rounds of the lounges fun to just listen to the music and watch the passengers enjoying themselves.
The shows in the theater were very well received and were quite an attempt to mix Cirque de Soliel, Hip Hop, and Follies Bergere all together utilizing all of the most modern theatrics tools and technology available at sea. These shows were a small precursor to what NCL will feature on the EPIC which will usher in a new level and type of entertainment not seen by may American cruisers yet.
There were two classical concerts given during the cruise, one on each full day at sea, which alas were not well attended. Both were excellent. Each featured the Russian Trio and a Tenor and Soprano who sang operatic arias, duets, and love songs. The soprano particularly was good. A really nice and different touch On Costa in Europe, these type of performances were SRO.
The shops were pretty typical and way overpriced for my budget. There was a branch of the Colombian Emeralds chain on board but the shops in St Marten had much better prices. The Logo, Perfume & Make-Up, and clothing shops were well stocked but I only saw the Europeans spending money in there, not the Americans. The liquor shop had some good buys on some things if they happen to be of interest to you.
Ah yes, now as to the cuisine and dining. This is the weak area of the cruise. You will not starve to death, you will have ample to eat. However, it may be a journey through the menu and the items available in the Ville Pompeiana Lido Restaurant to that feeling of fullness.
For the most part the appetizers, soups, salads, breads and desserts were good to very good, particularly the desserts. The main courses were all over the place in quality and preparation, often having sat under the heat lamps too long before finally reaching your table having dried the fish out. Much of the vegetables were either over or undercooked. The sauces and gravies were generally pretty tasty.
The Menu each night was the 'Star and Stripes Menu" on the left page and on the right a different Italian Region's local cuisine was featured. You could pick from both menus for any given meal and there was no hassle about food being sent back to be replaced with another of the same item or a different entree. The waiters were more than fully aware that much of the food did not appeal to all pax and were quick to pick up on who was more likely to not be pleased, at least at our table, and always double checked to make sure one was pleased.
Steak, chicken or pork scallopini was always available and they were very good. After trying the Halibut the first night, I stayed away from the fish and most of the Regional Italian cuisine. I have traveled Italy a fair amount and I was not convinced that most Italians would consider this "homestyle cooking." The Roast Leg of Lamb was pretty good tho.
Dining in the Lido was much easier because you could eyeball the dish before committing yourself to a helping. The open sitting Breakfasts and Lunches were OK and were very well attended, so get there early. The omelets were good as was was the Italian Meatloaf, Lasagna, and Meatballs (sans pasta). Tea was served each afternoon in the Ville Pompeiana and was also well attended with tasty sandwiches and sweets and pizza which was quite good but nothing like what Carnival or Princess serve in their Pizzerias which are really pretty good. The Room Service is so limited as to almost not be worthwhile but what is offered was very good, and the Continental Breakfast in your cabin was good except for the yogurt. The coffee was very good, particularly that served in your cabin for breakfast. Fruit and cheese and cold cuts were always available. I certainly did not starve in any way and always managed to come away pleased one way or another.
Do not look for an all Italian crew on board because it simply did not exist. It was a typical international mix, with Italians far and few between. However, I found the service I received at all times to be very good to excellent, always with a smile and NO ATTITUDE, a rarity these days.
My maid and her helper for the cabin were always pleasant, efficient, and quick to please, and often quite funny.
The waiter and his assistant, both from Indonesia (ex Holland America) were almost flawless in their service. I was at a table for eight, where all but two of us had been on 50 plus cruises, and had high expectations. None of us were disappointed and most of us gave additional tip to these two over and above what was being charged to our daily accounts ($12 per adult per day). Any crumbs on the table from each course were cleaned off before the next was served, cutlery was replaced as needed between courses, water and wine glasses constantly re-filled without asking, bread baskets and butter plates refilled, after dinner coffee magically appearing, just amazing as they had alot of tables. I hope everyone on board has this level of service because that is hard to find on mainstream cruising these days, too many tables not enough help is norm currently.
The Wine List was superb and just endless. For $20 to $24 a bottle you could have some really excellent wine from all over the world. I stayed with Italian(Valopocino) French (white Sauvignon Blanc), and Chilean(Cabernet) and was never disappointed.
The Americans on board were well educated and traveled professionals, small business owners and teachers whether active or retired. The Western Europeans looked to be much the same BUT the Eastern Europeans quite frankly came across as very nouveau rich and were really quite rude and pushy just as they are on Carnival, Costa, and NCL where you will find hordes of them in great packs. It was quite visible that these Eastern Europeans are not well liked by Western Europeans. It was by far one of the very best cruises for people watching at all times and in all places, never a DULL moment. There were quite a few hung over Spring Breakers populating the chaises by the pools in the afternoon.
Overall, the cruise had a pleasant Pan-European savoir-faire feel about it and was alot of fun for the actual fare paid. It would be a reasonable budget choice for cruising in Europe or elsewhere (considering some of the fares) IF you can go with the flow of everything being done in five languages (which is becoming more common all the time out of American Ports) and everything having a more international feel and flair to it where U S citizens are not Numero Uno but just part of the international polyglot on board. If you can't deal with that, then do not sail on MSC or Costa because you will be unhappy from the get go and NO ONE wants to listen to a crabby cruiser.