This was my third MSC cruise, all in Europe. If you have not taken an MSC cruise, it mainly markets toward the European customers therefore most of the passengers are from Italy, Germany and France. All the cruise employees speak English and all announcements are in five languages including English. The MSC Armonia was the nicest of the three MSC ships I’ve been on. It’s capacity is around 2000 passengers. Small enough to get into most European ports, so we docked at each of the ports on this cruise.
Embarkation: It was difficult getting detailed information on the embarkation location and process prior to the cruise so you find this review useful. I flew into Milan and took a train to Venice (2.5 hrs & 30 euro). Upon departing the train in Venice St Lucia station, an MSC representative was their with a sign and directed me to the right side of the station where I could check my bag for 5 Euro. This was extremely convenient and allowed me extra time to go tour Venice before boarding the ship. If you arrive from the airport, take a bus or taxi to Piazza Roma (near the train station). MSC has a free shuttle bus from Piazza Roma to the MSC cruise terminal. Keep in mind several cruise ships use this port so make sure you go to the correct terminal dock. The cruise ship shuttle buses are behind and to the left of the local buses. The shuttle comes every 15-30 min. One passenger was charged 20 Euro for a 5 min taxi ride from Piazza Roma to the terminal, so be aware if you don‘t take the shuttle. Once at the terminal, MSC was very organized and it took me only 5 minutes to check in and board the ship. This is in part because I checked in only 45 minutes before departure, I assume it would take longer if I checked in at peak time.
I recommend arriving at least one day if not more before your cruise departure date. The Iceland volcano is going to impact European bound flights all summer (as it did mine) and Venice is one of the most beautiful cities in the World. It was my third visit to Venice and I still discovered new experiences. Another option is staying in Padua, a 30 minute train ride from Venice.
Ship: The Msc Armonia was similar to US cruise line ships. It was clean and had several restaurants, bars and pools. I had a mid-category inside room, which was typical size. They showed first run movies in several languages along with international news channels.
Food: The food was average and focused on Italian. The main dining areas were open for all three meals but the buffet was only open for breakfast and lunch. This meant your only dinner option is the main dining room. MSC tries to match dining tables by language, so everyone at our table spoke English. But two of the couples changed to the earlier seating, so there was only two of us at a big table for most of the cruise. I thought MSC could do a better job in this area. They had two excellent midnight buffets and served snack food in the bars and lounges the other nights.
Entertainment: The entertainment is not as good as the US cruise lines. There is a variety show every night along with a theme party or show by the cruise staff at midnight. They had the typical pool games and trivia and bingo games.
Port of calls: This is why I take MSC cruises. They visit many European ports that the US cruise lines don’t. This cruise stopped in Dubrovnik, Kotor, Corfu, Cefalonia, Athens and Ancona. Yes, we hit a port everyday. This was good but exhausting. The MSC shore excursions were excellent but a little pricy. I took four excursions as mentioned below.
Dubrovnik: We docked about a 10 minute ride from the Dubrovnik old city. MSC offered a shuttle for 10 Euro return. If you have more than two in your party, take a taxi. The old city of Dubrovnik is a must. I walked the walls around the city (10 Euro). Since time is limited at this port, go to the old town for sightseeing and enjoy the cafes.
Corfu: I took an shore excursion to the most scenic part of the island, Paleokastritza. Steep cliffs plunge into amazing blue water with beautiful beaches and coves. Take a short boat ride to several colorful caves. The tour ends with a short tour of Corfu town. At minimal, spend some time in Corfu town, which has a few beaches.
Piraeus/Athens: Several options here. Most head into Athens but you can also go to Cape Sounion or Corinth canal. I went into Athens. If you have never visited Athens before, it is best to take a shore excursion in order to see the most in the shortest time. I took a taxi to the Agora and then walked the Acropolis and new Acropolis museum. There are several taxi drivers waiting outside the cruise terminal. Prices greatly vary from $12 to $40 to go to downtown Athens. The drive can be between 20 to 60 minutes depending on traffic. The other option is taking the train/Metro. It is about a mile walk to the train station in Piraeus. I took the train back from Athens to the ship. It was only 5 Euro including a taxi ride from the train station to the ship. But, it still took an hour because they were repairing the train line so we had to get off the subway and take buses to another station to finish the train ride. I also visited the Plaka area in Athens for shopping and nice cafes.
Cefalonia: I recommend taking a shore excursion or hire a private taxi to see the island. The ship docks in Argostoli, a pleasant town but not much to see. My shore excursion drove through the mountains and stopped at a nice monastery and winery before stopping in Sami for an hour. The highlight was a boat ride in the Mellisani cave. The cave is OK but the water color is amazing. We then drove the scenic north shore of the island and stopped for a photo at the beautiful Mythos beach.
Kotor: This was the highlight of my cruise. You will hear about Kotor and Montenegro more and more in the future. Kotor, a medieval town similar to Dubrovnik, is tucked in a beautiful Fjord. The cruise ship sails into the fjord about 2 hours before arriving at Kotor and is very scenic. Small scenic towns dot the shore line with mountains rising steeply 3000 feet up. Two small islands have churches. I took a shore excursion to the scenic Riviera along the Montenegro Adriatic coast line. The highlight was the Stevi Stefens island and the old town of Budva.
Ancona, Italy: A pleasant port city with a nice old town. I took a shore excursion to the Conero Riviera, a beautiful coast line that looks more like Hawaii or Big Sur. We visited a small town, Sirolo, perched on a cliff above the colorful Adriatic sea, then a beach area and church. I wanted to visit the hill town, Umbino, but the excursion was not available in English.
Disembarkation: I took a boat transfer special offered by MSC. We had a return transfer by private boat for 15 Euro. It picked us up from the ship and dropped us at St Marcos Square at 9am and picked us up at 1pm. Our bags were stored at the cruise terminal and we picked up after our return transfer and then took the free shuttle bus to Piazza Roma for my train ride back to Milan.
Summary: If your looking for something similar to a Caribbean cruise experience, MSC may not be for you. The food is good and the ship is clean. But, the on board experience is different and most take the cruise as a convenient and economical way of seeing some European ports. All ports we visited were excellent. Happy cruising!