This was our first cruise with MSC. It was probably our last. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being great, I give this ship and its crew for this cruise was a 3 +. Passenger Population was basically Italian, Dutch, German, French, Spanish and English. All basic instructions and info was in English and other languages. Most of the Dutch speak English so language is not an issue except sometimes with the crew personnel. Cruise director did good job on this. All transactions on board are in Euros and converted at the going rate. We booked our cruise thru Cruises Only. No problems but found out that other passengers paid less using a travel agent. We had no air or port to ship transportation and still paid more. Prices on European cruises on board are in Euros not dollars. MSC Opera, is not ready for prime time. Just too many things that were not right with this ship and its services and we saw no effort to fix them. Operated with typical "Italian efficiency" and I do not mean this as a compliment. Will start from the beginning Embarkation in Amsterdam
Received info ahead giving two different boarding times in Amsterdam: 12 and 14:00. Neither was correct as time was closer to 3. Since we booked via Internet we used limousine service from Schipol, about 25 minutes to the port both ways. Euro 120 and well worth it. Plenty of taxi's but not sure of cost. Start with what we did not like: Water is not free unless you drink ships water. You can buy a water, soft drink or wine package. They push these at embarkations and at every stop. Found out 3 days into cruise that US and Canadian PAX have a Water Package included in their fares. On my invoice from Cruises Only there was entry "1 cl water authorized per passenger per day based on voucher system". I went to several info places on the ship and no one knew what this meant. Finally got note under door to pick up water package. Map of ship was not available until 2nd or 3rd day. Compendium book that is supposed to be in every cabin and provides detail info about all the ship's features was not delivered to our cabin until 7th day of cruise. Did not even know one existed.
Food and Dining Rooms: The main two formal dining rooms are OK and food is OK. Our waiter was fantastic and I think most were because they really hustled. Portions are small but you can order doubles if you are hungry and they are more than happy to bring it. If you want water you have to ask for it and they will try to sell you bottled water. Dining in the Le Vele buffet restaurant, which was only open for breakfast, lunch and tee time was at best average. Food selection was pretty much the same for entire cruise. One main meat item at end of the line and it was not always good. Breakfast was not very good. Found out after three days there was a eggs to order and omelet source on the outside patio deck. Weather was very chilly on the outside deck, so all pre prepared food got cold very quick. Why this was not advertised from day one is beyond me. If you did not take the elevator that let you walk by the grill you would never know it was there. Just the haphazard way they ran this ship. The Le Vele buffet restaurant is far too small to accommodate the crowd, even when many opted to eat breakfast and lunch in the main dining room Tables are full very quick and you have to wander around to find seating. The waiters that are supposed to be busy busing tables and making space are the laziest or most uninterested bunch I have ever seen. They spent most of the time gathered together talking. I noticed that the dish rag they used was the same for every table and after a few it was more of a smear than clean. Kind of disgusting? Where was supervision? Never saw any. Restaurant is noisy and traffic flow is not good. Why do they put margarine in another separate line and not next to butter? Why are popular items so far back you need the arm of a NBA player to scoop them out? No thought given to item placement far as I could tell. For breakfast fishing out a boiled egg, all hard boiled, was like bobbing for a prize. Sometimes you got an egg, or two eggs or only water. Usually no one around to ask to get you an egg. Diabetic or sugar free foods were extremely limited. We asked several times why only orange jello and were told more were coming. They never showed up. In main dining room only diabetic or sugar free item was Fructose sweetened Ice Cream. Not sherbet or sorbet but chocolate or coconut ice cream. Fructose is not sugar free it is just another form of sugar. For me it is not approved so I did not eat desserts. The only alternative to dinner in the two main sit down restaurants was the Pizzeria which just serves pizza on one side of the Level buffet restaurant. It is not complimentary. Never went there so have no idea how good it was. One thing worthy of comment is the extremely bad coffee called "Coffee Americano" It was horrible. You are supposed to dilute it with hot milk but no matter what you did it was horrible. Did not meet one person except the Italians who drank it. We all used the instant coffee mix. Coffee/tee/juice bars are inadequate and lines are long every meal. I do not understand why they did not have one waiter going around filling up coffee cups in the morning. This would have reduced the congestion and long lines. Stations are only located on each end of the Le Vele buffet restaurant so lot of walking to get to it. One thing that is curious is why folks, who drink tee, fill their cups with hot water, dunk the bag then stand in front of the coffee/tee service stirring their tee. It is as if it cannot be done at their table. One other item is there are no tee spoons, only large soup spoons or wooden sticks to stir. Spoons are not in the silverware napkin and you have to get these on the dessert/fruit island.
Dressing for dinner: There were three formal or Gala nights and meet the Captain for cocktails. Dress ranged from formal, tuxedo, suit and tie, sports jacket and dark trousers with tie to untucked sports shirts and one guy with flip flops. Point is that they are not too particular and if you do not want to pack extra tux you can be OK with suit or sports coat and tie.
Summary: You will not starve for sure but buffet selection in the Le Vele is way below standards of other cruises I have been on. Did not go to Midnight buffet or any of the special finger food deals in the lounges. Tee time served same old pan cakes and horrible finger sandwiches. It is a stretch to call them a sandwich. Must be OK for English as they ate them. Lettuce on two pieces of bread with a cucumber slice is not a sandwich. The Hamburger Hot dog and pizza place on outside deck were OK but everything was cold. I am not sure where the folks who man these places were as I only saw folks at breakfast. By the way the two "cooks" who were doing omelets in the AM spoke almost no English or GE and it was little difficult to communicate with them. Best to know some sign language. One thing that really bugged me was how they cooked the waffles. They greased the bottom waffle iron with a pad of butter but not the top. The top stuck and they tried to scrape it off with a wooden spatula. That did not work so they pried it off with their bare fingers, non gloved!! Waffle was by then not really a waffle but cooked dough. Someone who can cook should show these guys how to make a waffle.
Tipping: MSC has a policy that gratitude's are assessed and charged to your ships card at the rate of $12.00 or Euro 6 per day per passenger. We were told that if you did not want to participate go to the accounting desk and have it changed. I prefer to tip individually so I went to accounting desk and was told it was not possible to change!!!!. I insisted but they would not change. Said I I had agreed by taking the cruise!!! The only two folks I wanted to tip were our cabin lady and our waiter. They were both superb. Now a bunch of deadbeats who did nothing got rewarded. Pure socialism. Plus we were assessed a contribution for UNICEF. No one ask me if that was OK.
Shore Excursions: Over priced but the ones we took were OK. In Russia unless you have an individual Russian visa you have to take a tour or not get off the ship. We took the 4 hour tour of St. Petersburg. Saw what we wanted to see. Hermitage was packed and I would either combine with another tour or make it separate. There is no explanation of alternate transportation modes available at any port if you do not want to take a boat tour. You are left on your own. In Stockholm the walk to the Old City is about hour but there is a " Hop On Hop Off" boat right at the dock that will take you there for minimal costs. This was never explained. You find out from other passengers, usually too late. In Helsinki for reason no one could understand we docked at the Industrial Terminal and it was a long way to the city. Ship arranged bus for Euro 14 or about$20 per person for a less than 20 minute ride. I heard other passengers saying it was a cost saving deal but am not sure if this is true. Unless you dock at the Cruise Terminal pay the price and take a cruise sponsored shore excursion. On 24 May, we were in North Sea headed for Rostock Ge the next day. Seas were little rough and there was high wind so it was announced that "The Germans had closed Rostock due to bad weather and we would instead dock at Kiel" which is only about 100 miles distance. After I returned I found that other ships including cruise ships had docked at Rostock. Early in the AM all the supply trucks were parked on the docks. I think it was another cost saving deal as it is shorter sea trip to Helsinki from Kiel than Rostock. I think we got snookered on this. Wish I could find out for sure.
Cabins: We had balcony cabin on 9th deck. Cabins are small and showers are really small. Room smelled moldy and musty. Lot of rust around balcony door. There is a small fridge with a very small selection of high priced soft drinks and beers. Two bottles of water for Euro 2 each. Cabin lady was very good and cleaned well and made up and turned down bed. I was able to look into one inside cabin and it looked twice as big as our balcony cabin. Furniture is showing wear. Only soap and shampoo in shower are provided. There is a safe. Closet space is adequate. If you need more hangars ask for them. There is a ice making machine down the hall that we found on next to last day. It was never mentioned. Just another omission that seemed to be all too common. TV in room. Only English Channel was Bloomberg and most of time it was not viewable. Lot of Italian channels and two German channels. If there were movies it was never made know to us. Entertainment: Shows in main theater were basically OK except for two. One was some kind of classical deal that was not good and other was a recap of some individual acts from prior shows. There were several good individual acts. Two shows and you need to get there early to get a seat. I assume there were not shows the first two days, Amsterdam and Dover because never heard anything about them. There are not marquee signs and you can only find out from the daily ships news paper. There is space by the theater to put up what's playing but no one did! Not sure why, Mabye they do not have sign maker.
Internet: expensive and you better know how to work an Italian keyboard. Instructions are on computer but they do not work. I spend $7 and never able to figure out how to type the @ sign. No one was around to assist. Phone calls are about $ 7 per minute. My European Cell phone worked most of the time when we were within a signal range.
One last comment on disembarking: We arrived at Amsterdam about 09:30 in the AM. On the previous day we were giving instructions about putting out baggage, various color codes for leaving the ship and it all seemed so easy. When we woke up on debarkation day there was note under door that we had to clear our cabins by 07:00 and wait in the assigned debarkation areas. Dining rooms opened at 06:00. We finally were able to disembark at close to 11:15. Why was this point not covered at the briefing? I am sure because the briefer would be booed off the stage. Summary: Worth the price? Absolutely not! Just too many small things that could easily be corrected with some supervision and care. I was especially turned off by the collection of tips and an involuntary charge for UNICEF. All beverages in the various lounges add a 15% service charge!