This cruise line (MSC) received very mixed reviews on line which made me nervous. At the deal we were getting it seemed worth the risk - they could serve McDonalds food and we would likely get our money's worth.
We arrived in Ft Lauderdale by 11:30am and quickly noticed the yellow "Park and Ride" buses we were familiar with from our airport travel. We found the cost at the PnR to be less than the port parking, so pulled in and waited for the shuttle. On the way out of the lot, we saw monkeys in the trees (including some with little babies).
Though we were not supposed to begin embarkation until 2:00pm, we were too tired to do anything else but wait at the terminal. Turns out, they were already processing passengers, so we sailed through the whole process in about 20-30 min. A pleasant surprise was that we had been upgraded from a class 1 cabin to a Class 11 cabin with a balcony. We carried all but one of our bags on board, so we took a quick shower in our stateroom and were eating lunch at the buffet by 12:30pm. Then back to the room for a well deserved nap. The smoothest embarkation we had ever experienced.
The emergency drill seemed pretty lax compared with other cruises we have experienced. They didn't really track who showed up for the drill (unlike other ships that insisted you check in to be counted on the checklist). The announcements in 5 languages was definitely not my favorite (throughout the cruise), but they did a fairly decent job of keeping the announcements to a minimum (except in the shows).
The first couple of days were at sea which gave us a good opportunity to explore the ship. One of the first things we wanted to do was to check out some reading material at the library. I use the term "library" very loosely as it basically consisted of a disorganized stack of books. They did separate the titles by language, but after that it was pretty much a big free for all system of disorganization. This was also our first experience with the less than stellar customer service afforded by some of the European staff. We mostly had great experiences with all other staff except for the occasional language barrier - I twice received a bowl of ice after asking for a glass of ice in the dining room.
The entertainment was pretty hit and miss from our perspective. Generally, the singing and dancing was average (or poor in the case of bald guy) while the acrobatics were good to outstanding (the handstand guys were spectacular). The Italian trio was consistently good wherever they performed on the ship. Another must see is the girl who performs gymnastics on a beam held by two men. Not really relevant to the experience, but the cruise Director and the American Activities Director were a bit creepy.
I thought the food was fairly consistent throughout. By staying on the Italian side of the menu we rarely were disappointed. And when we were disappointed, there was always the pizza to keep us happy. I could eat that pizza all day every day and never grow sick of it. The free ice cream on deck was the low quality corn starch stuff - OK, but nothing special. Dessert was lacking on this ship (not sure they have ever seen dark chocolate) - no soufflE, crème brule, or anything you typically associate with fine dining dessert. They did have a mascarpone dessert one night that was outstanding. The gelato was also generally good - depending on the flavor offered that day.
One major flaw we found was the lack of buffet "pods" that are the current standard in feeding people quickly. The "secret" back buffet was a big help, but even the main buffet lines were never too unwieldy. A ship this new should really have the pod concept implemented. The breads (specifically croissants) were great. The midnight buffets were nothing special and the lines discouraged us from sticking around.
Others we dined with described crowded decks and contention regarding the saving of deck chairs, but we spent much of our time in our cabin enjoying the balcony.
The Spa and Fitness Center were good, but they could have used more treadmill machines (they were always full). We spent some time running each morning on Deck 7 which worked fairly well. We also joined a yoga instructor for her morning yoga each day (by day three there was a group of us).
The ship Internet was definitely better than I have ever experienced. I was able to connect in the state room and had a slow connection. This was a significant upgrade to anything I had experienced on any other cruise where I was forced to pay through the nose for sporadic/poor Internet service. The service was good enough to handle a few emergency e-mails and to stay connected with the kids.
The ship was beautiful and in great shape. We were very impressed with the layout and the design. I heard the elevators were fast, though we never touched one while on board. Our "always take the stairs" rule helped us burn off some of the unwanted calories and is something I will continue on all future cruises.
Debarkation was smooth and easy. We agreed to carry our own bags and were rewarded by sailing through customs arriving back at the car at 8:00am (ship was only cleared at 7:00am). A fantastic 20th anniversary trip! MSC didn't disappoint this set of picky Americans - definitely worth a shot at the great bargain deals that were being offered.