Having cruised before (on Carnival's Destiny in 1998), I felt I knew what to expect. This cruise was chosen because my husband works for a company that sends its employees on annual trips when their goals are met. Knowing their penchant for amazing trips, we were wildly excited to get prepared for this one.
We were unable to embark at Venice due to travel restrictions complicated by the volcanic ash, so we embarked at Bari, Italy on the second day of the cruise. It was then that we learned that all drinks (alcoholic or not) were charged to us; we had to sign up for drink packages for soft drinks, water, beer, and cocktails. When we sailed with Carnival, only alcoholic drinks were charged. Even signing up for the packages, the soft drinks were nearly $3.00 a piece, and that's just a 12-oz can. We were blessed by my husband's company that they paid for bottled water for every person on our trip.
The room was wonderful, but I'm basing this off of my only one other cruise experience, which was an inner room that resembled a large closet. The MSC room was open and clean (though not a lot of drawer space) and the balcony was large. The bathroom was bigger than what I'd experienced before, and shampoo and body wash were provided in a dispenser in the shower. Our cabin was directly off the bank of elevators, which I loved. I never thought it was too noisy, as we were in the middle of the ship (slightly forward). The closet was big, but there was only one bank of drawers, so one of us had to live out of a suitcase, which had to sit on the chair in the room. I loved the desk/vanity space, which held my laptop. The balcony was really nice (the divider doors between balconies sometimes squeak, so take the umbrella from your cocktail and wedge it in there so you can sleep at night. The cabins have a strange air/heat system. If the balcony door is open, the large air vent above the bed will start sending out heat. If the balcony door is closed, it will get cool. There was no on-off switch. I loved leaving the door open to hear the water, but not at the expense of having a sauna directly above our bed.
The first night we were starving for real food, and therefore looking forward to an amazing cruise ship dinner. We were rather disappointed; the food was just not good. It wasn't the worst I'd ever eaten, but the flavors were lacking. The second night one of the soups listed was some kind of broth with vegetables and "meat fingers", which got a laugh out of all at our table. When the soup was brought to the table, it seemed like a joke; dirty water with three pieces of cut vegetables (a carrot and some squash) in the bottom. No sign of any meat or fingers. That same night we had filet medallions. They were the size of cucumber slices, and we received two. As the week went on, we actually found ourselves hungry. Something I really didn't expect on a cruise. When we would get off at port for excursions, we would run into little convenience stores to buy chips and drinks to have in our rooms for when the meals on ship were less than adequate, which was daily. The buffet line was something we tried the third day after deciding the food in the dining rooms weren't going to cut it; we found cheeseburgers and pigs-in-a-blanket as the main fare. One night we decided to order room service, hoping something might be on there we could eat. Club sandwiches and cheese were all that were available the whole week, and they were charged to the room at around $5 (3.5 Euros) each. For drinks on the room service menu, there was one choice - coconut water.
Thinking still that we could out-wit the terrible food, we tried the "pizzeria" one night. It was actually the buffet line shut down. It was also charged to the room, and I've had better pizza at home when I've made it. Further straining to find food, we attempted two of the midnight buffets. Having experienced the amazing food sculptures and such on Carnival, I was excited. Again, the big hit of the first buffet was pigs-in-a-blanket. The second one we tried was not in the buffet area, but in the lounges. Intrigued, we went down to the Blue Velvet Lounge and lo and behold, the buffet was actually servers with trays of puff pastries. Giving up, we went back to the room and ate Pringles.
The night we made port on Mykonos, we shopped after a lackluster dinner on-board and came around to a small Gyro shop that smelled so good we had to stop. I had the most amazing pita stuffed with pork shishkabob, fries that were better than anything I'd ever eaten, Greek tomatoes, and a wonderful dill sauce of some kind. It was the best thing we ate the entire trip, and we bemoaned the lack of a microwave and fridge in our cabin; we would have gladly bought 100 Euros worth of food there to eat the rest of the week.
All ports of call were amazing, but this has nothing to do with the ship. Anyone can go to these places on their own. Several of the excursions, to me, were somewhat wasted.
The last night on board the ship was supposed to be a big deal at dinner, as they apparently did something fun with baked Alaska. It was an interesting end to a not-so-wonderful dinner, though it was noted that the meringue on the outside was actually marshmallow fluff that had been caramelized. It was sort of grainy and crunchy. As I'd never had this dessert before, I didn't know what to expect, so I thought it was okay.
On our final night when we received our bill, we found that there was a $1 charge for UNICEF and we had to opt-out by taking a signed paper down to reception to have it removed. After a week of annoyances, this bothered me a lot. We donate to charities that we choose, and I didn't like having one chosen for me.
In all, I have to say that the travel/cruise part of the trip was really disappointing. For a vacation that's "all-inclusive", it certainly ISN'T. Paying for food on-board, drinks that are non-alcoholic on-board, and food that can be found on any buffet in the states is something that seems to defeat the purpose of cruising. I would never recommend MSC Cruise Lines to anyone. We'll be sticking with Carnival for our own trips down the line; hopefully my husband's company will go with someone else next time.