Myself, Husband and our 7 year old recently cruised MSC Magnifica - Venice-Bari-Rhodes-Alexandria-Katakolon/Olympia-Dubrovnik-Venice.
What we LOVED.
The entertainment is first class. We were thrilled to wander and hear a tenor and/or soprano singing beautifully or listen to a classical violinist play.
The evening shows, in the extremely impressive multi level theater, were enjoyable (with the exception of the multi language translations that generally took ages). Perhaps MSC need to consider the UN style translations - eg headsets with live translators in languages of choice - so presentation is ONCE but people hear the translation live.
The food was an experience. Prior to this cruise we rarely ate Italian food with our preference being spicy Thai or Indian food - however the cruise showed us a new side to Italian food. See more food comments below.
The ship itself is awesome and inspiring to explore - with it's immaculate 'spit and polish' it received frequently from dedicated staff it literally shone. Each lounge was themed and it was like wandering into entertainment city The sheer size and newness of technology of MSC MAGNIFICA adds to the ship stability - I generally experience motion sickness so was not sure how I would go - however only once I may have ben a little sea sick (or maybe it was overeating - see comments below!).
The formal evenings added a touch of glamour and style to our holiday - our 7 year old was especially thrilled to dress up and join us. Plus we have returned home with stunning photographs that the official MSC photographers took (and yes the photographs cost). I felt that the price of 1 photo is high (small ones E10 with larger A3 ones at E20 each) but they also give offers for multi purchases. In the end it is your decision to buy or not, you are not forced or coerced to do so. We found it hard to resist as the photographers were skilled and formal evening shots taken were once in a lifetime special images?
The service - especially the room service/cleaners and dinner service, who were mostly Indonesian staff with very polite friendly manners. They made it seem like we were central to their days and they were there to help us have an excellent time. When these staff were working elsewhere on the ship (eg breakfast buffet) they still recognized us and gave beaming welcomes and hellos. I knew a few words in Bahasa and every time I used them there seemed genuine pleasure from the Indonesian staff.
The daily program was highly informative and a must read and carry with you to be across all the activity happening that day.
The kids club - which is not really advertised, is a bonus for parents. The staff are dedicated child care providers and the club comes at no additional cost. Our 7 year old thoroughly enjoyed it - they have 2 clubs one for 3-6 year olds and the other for 7-12 year olds. They even mind children in the evenings so parents can enjoy romance and the evening show.
The excursions - gave us a quick taste and feel of a location to help decide if we visit it at another time for an extended break. Most ports were just 4 hours visit time - with Egypt and the long bus trip from Alexandria to Cairo being 13 hours.
However for us we took the cruise to; (a) test if we liked cruise life and (b) to get a snapshot view of various locations - so we found that whilst shore time was short they were action packed and we certainly left with thousands of photos and videos and heads full of information.
The choices - we tried the 4D cinema, games room and ten pin bowling (which are at a cost) but we decided to pay and try them out. The library had decent kids books as well as english novels for adults. When the indoor pool and spa got too noisy and crowded we moved to outdoor - it was WINTER and cold BUT the heated spa and one smaller heated pool made it workable.
The price - it was winter and we got an excellent price inclusive of our 7 year old. Yes the cabin was compact but hey we weren't there to stay in the cabin all day - besides the cabin had a lovely balcony with table and chairs that we enjoyed and the bed at night was comfortable.
The elegance and overall experience. You make it what you wish but with all the facilities and gorgeous ship design we found total holiday joy with a touch of sadness when it was over.
What others have 'complained about but seemed all aok to us.
The food - In our experience the food was fantastic - many choices, multi course lunches and 7 course dinners with delicious offerings and highly attentive staff (mostly Indonesians). There was the option to eat lunch and dinner at the casual buffet (Sahara on deck 13) where the food was less impressive and fairly standard buffet fare however the restaurants provided 5 star gourmet food (e.g. lobster, salmon, marlin...) and elegant service, where a nice touch each evening was featuring specialities of certain Italian regions. One evening we ate in the Oriental restaurant (where payment is required) however it was 7 star food and service so well worth the small additional cost.
The water and drink availability and pricing - the web site and pre boarding material provide ample information for passengers to understand the system and to pre purchase vouchers that suit. We took a cocktail package, water package, and soft drink package as we could not decide on wine - but ended up purchasing half bottles of wine most evenings with special champagne for New year of course - and that turned out well with all vouchers used and seemed to fit the trip timing just right.
The daily service fee - again this is clearly indicated on the web site and pre booking material so need not be a shock at the trip end.
Cost of excursions - this is a matter of individual choice. The excursion schedules and costs are clearly indicated and there is an induction session on excursions provided on board. We pre informed ourselves and used web sites to read reviews as a result we initially booked one ship excursion (pyramids and sphinx a MUST DO), booked a local tour guide for Rhodes - so we could do the old town the new town and Lyndos at our own pace, plus we had selected Bari and Dubrovnik for no paid excursion just us walking ourselves.
After attending the excursion induction we decided to book the ship tour for Katakolon/Olympia and also for Venice on departure to gain transport to the airport. This turned out excellent choices for us. Both Bari and Dubrovnik are easily managed via self walking (or on the ground touts). In fact in Dubrovnik, a surprisingly delightful town, we basically walked the entire city wall appreciating stunning views and our complete enjoyment, as well as exploring the towns highlights - no paid tour was required. While in Bari we wandered around and fell upon the main attractions easily (Churches and Norman castle).
Embark/Disembark - We did not experience any major issues or delays - naturally there are queues but processing seemed efficient enough, with good use of technology. Our only issues were (a) knowing where to actually start/embark when we first arrived at the Venice port, and (b) at the end of our Venice excursion there was not adequate information to clearly know how to get back to the ship for the trip to the airport. It did happen but there was a fair bit of confusion.
What we didn't like
Pre arranged dinner seating - In an attempt by MSC to seat people with potentially like interests we were placed for dinners with an English speaking Australian - however this made us uncomfortable as their conversation did not suit us and was not suitable for our 7 year old child. By the second nights dinner we did ask to move however this did not occur so we ended up 'bearing it' for the week and surviving. Our dinner waitstaff were excellent and helped make the experience better. PS one evening there was no pre arrangement (on departure from Egypt as return to ship times varied) and it was a seating disaster so I understand why pre arrangement is far smoother - besides it lets your waitstaff get to know you and your dinner preferences.
We also did not like the rude, pushy, 'this is my space' people - which we worked out seemed to mostly be Italians. We were stunned to see inconsiderate behaviour in places such as lifts - eg not moving to make room for others, blocking passageways, pushing to be served first etc.
The wireless internet access was available (good) however it was at a high cost and was flaky with lengthy delays making it an even higher cost as it generally took 30 minute sessions to check simple web based emails and reply to a few.
What we never took advantage of
The day spa, the massages, the disco, the evening lounge entertainment, the daytime lounges fun and games, the fitness centre, the topic of interest workshops, the casino, the sports bar and activities, the on board shopping, the card and poker rooms, the cigar room, the cabin TV program ..... So many options not enough time.
1) Pre inform yourself - read reviews, read the MSC web site, read your trip ticket conditions - know about excursions, drink packages, service fees etc in advance so you are positioned to make informed decisions. Eg some ports you do not need a paid excursion to get great value. There is enough public information out here to be well informed in advance.
2) If you have kids check out the kids club it seems to enhance both parents and childrens cruise experience - staff there are multi lingual.
3) Be prepared for 2-3 formal evenings eg bring clothes to suit.
4) Know that official photographers are around and there is a cost to buy photos so either do not ask for photos to be taken, or be prepared to love the result and pay for it.
5) Apparently (we only discovered this on the last day) you can order a full bottle of wine and have any remaining served to you at your next meal so no need to drink a full one.
6) The water in your cabin is not redeemable via a water drink voucher so if you use this know you will need to pay for it on your bill. Otherwise use your water voucher at a bar and bring the bottle to your cabin.
7) Laundry service is provided (like hotels at a fairly high price) We had been travelling for 5 days before the cruise so arrived on board with washing to do so did use the service which cost us, but was efficient.
8) When at the embarkation hall walk around to see what information is provided that may help you as they have little stands of flyers and more information.
9) If you decide on a ship excursion pre book as they do fill up and your options may be limited if you leave it to the last moment.