First time on MSC, and never again! Have cruised Carnival 7 times and never had a complaint. MSC offered us a balcony cabin on deck 11 for a price comparable to an interior cabin on any previous cruise, so I jumped on it.
I am Canadian, the thought of a European influenced cruise appealed to me. I know there's this whole issue between Europeans and Americans and I see both sides have their issues, but coming from Montreal, I figured I could embrace some of the cultural diversity and it wouldn't affect me as much. I have read a lot of reviews about the bad food, arrogant crew members, rudeness, etc., and tried to keep an open mind, they just don't always do things the same way, I have been to Europe several times and experienced it firsthand. So here is how it went... from my perspective.
My sister and I had signed up for the Express Check-In and it went very smoothly, we easily jumped ahead of many others this way, the express line had only about 3 people ahead of us and we were on the ship within minutes. We boarded at about 12:30 and were told that our cabin was ready... what a nice surprise! We went directly to our cabin and found it to our liking, but they had omitted to separate the beds for us, however that was rectified upon meeting our cabin steward before leaving for dinner the first night. We saw her one other time the entire week, but have no complaints about cabin service, it was routinely well done. Although no towel animals on MSC, she did arrange our bed clothes in little arrangements on the beds on several occasions, which was a cute touch. We asked for more pillows, so had enough, but they were lumpy and hard, linens nothing to write home about, and thin polyester comforter would slide off during the night, definitely not superior bedding.
We then went out on deck to eat lunch and suffered our first buffet experience. It is very poorly designed and inefficient, people cut in everywhere, even through the salad carousels, causing havoc there. They do not have trays anywhere, you are expected to carry your salad, meal, drink all in your hands or make multiple trips. Luckily they had large oval plates that would at least hold a salad bowl as well as a slice of pizza or something, and I don't eat a lot of the 'tray food' so we got by using those.
On Carnival ships they usually put the pizza/burger/deli type counters at the ends or around the corner from the main buffet line, separating out those items and thereby reducing the line for the 'tray food' -- as this was not designed this way, there were 2 LONG lines for the 2 sides of the buffet, encompassing all types of food, with people cutting in and out of the line trying to get to the drink stations, which was just a recipe for more confusion and congestion. I tried to avoid the buffet as much as possible, but I will vouch for the pizza, it was EXCELLENT... especially the spinach/bacon... to die for! It was not offered all the time, only in two 4 hour blocks per day, but that was okay.
Can't tell you a lot about the shows, only saw one, since they generally put them BEFORE the late dinner seating, which was not to our liking, we could basically never even remember there was a show before dinner and would miss it every night. That is the time when I liked to be on my balcony sailing away, having a drink and just generally relaxing, then would be getting ready for dinner around 7:00. They also showed movies out on deck at 10:00 p.m.... again, having the late dinner seating, we would miss the beginning of the movie, so forget it. Found they really catered more to the early diners. There was also no magicians, no jugglers, no comedians... not a lot of varied entertainment. My favourite part of the entire week was a tribute to the Beatles one afternoon, but they cut it short to allow the early diners to get ready for dinner. They promised to continue later in the evening, and play some more Beatles music, but that was at 8:00-9:00, during our dinner time, so no good for us.
The ship was dead come 11:00 most nights, except for a few people in the casino, and it was totally deserted on the last night. Also no food to be found after midnight anywhere. Sometimes they served little sandwiches from 11:15-12:15, but that was it. Not even a little cookie or two with something to drink before bed, couldn't get anything but coffee, tea, or iced tea. Also no hot chocolate at the coffee stations.
We had a lovely dinner table, lots of good company and conversation, and lots of laughter and joking around. We were happy for the most part with the meals in the dining room, although not enough shrimp for me, and although I prefer Carnival's menu, all was fine until the last night, when the menu basically consisted of all kinds of leftovers! I found nothing appealing and finally chose the beef pot roast... imagine, pot roast on a cruise... which arrived dry and hard, full of gristle, with a gelatinous grainy brown gravy poured over it. It was the worst meal I have ever had, hands down... I ate 2-3 bites and gave up. I also didn't find their pasta all that great, considering they are an Italian line, (but the parmesan was very good) and on their gala nights the prime rib and lobster were nothing special. The filet mignon was more of a tough beef tournedo, very hard to chew. No Beef Wellington, Chateaubriand, nothing else very high end, and the meals really seemed to deteriorate as the week went on. No shrimp cocktail every night like on Carnival, I missed that. The first gala night there was shrimp cocktail, and it was good, but we never saw it again. They did offer a cheesecake almost every night, and they were good, although not my favourite dessert, and certainly not every night! I ordered the gelato twice, which was good, but just basically ice cream, not the same stuff they charged for.
Then came the coffee that last night. What all week long had been strong and good, full bodied and flavourful, now was dishwater, lukewarm and disgusting. It was like all of a sudden we just didn't matter anymore since we were disembarking in the morning. We were beginning to feel very betrayed.
We also did our best to try and overlook the HUGE problem this line seems to have with its wine packages and offerings, but it became a sore point almost every night with someone at the table. They made glaring mistakes in this regard, the maitre d' had to be summoned several times to our table, and never served to rectify much. The poor waiters would apologize relentlessly for something that was not their fault, but no one seemed to be able to do anything about They gave us a piece of paper (the back of a medical questionnaire from previous cruise guests... talk about a breach of confidentiality...) with a short wine list on it and told us we could only select from that. Then when we tried to, they said no, and then presented us with another paper and told us we were only entitled to that second list, not the first. By the second night they were already out of some of the selections!! That night I asked them to set aside 2 more of the same in order that I wouldn't go through this every night. Sure enough, different ones were blacked out through the week as having no more. Luckily I like most wines, am not very picky in that regard, since aside from the names of the wine on the paper, there was no information as to what type of wine it was, nor could anyone inform us, aside from 'They're ALL dry.' The last night they brought us something, wasn't even on the list, those were probably all gone anyway, and we had no idea what it was... at that point we would take whatever they gave us!
The ship itself is lovely, but I like a large breathtaking atrium, which it doesn't have. The Zebra Bar was bound to make you see double, but it was fun to walk through and see how many women blended in with the room in their zebra prints! The show room was nice, but I only sat in it once. The animation around the pool seemed adequate for those who like that, but we chose to get away from it all and went to the highest deck at the front of the ship where it was quiet. There is no segregated area for adults only, no adult only hot-tubs, and after a couple of days of being splashed and annoyed by small children using the hot-tubs as their own personal wading pool (and their parents were nowhere to be seen), we gave up on that idea. The pools were quite chilly, so only went in once. Went to the spa, and the steam room was great, as were the hot-tubs in there, finally no small children, just teenagers.
Yes, they do make announcements in 4-5 languages, but they are infrequent and not bothersome at all. Sitting through bingo in 5 languages is a different affair, however!
In terms of the Reception staff and their attitude, etc., we had extremely limited contact with them throughout the cruise, it was only on the last morning that we encountered a major problem there. My sister wanted to pay her shipboard account in cash upon disembarkation, and the flyer that came to the room on the last night said it would be possible to do so between 6:00 and 8:00 a.m. on the last morning. At 7:15 a.m. we vacated our cabin and went to Reception to settle the bill before going to breakfast in the dining room. She was informed that she could not pay it in cash, it was already taken off her credit card. When asked about why it said what it did in the information flyer, they asked her to produce such and prove it to them! Upon doing so, 2 of them told us that meant we had to advise them IN ADVANCE that the account would be paid in cash, not just on the last morning. Of course nothing was said to this effect in the flyer or anywhere else. They then simply turned their back on us and went on to help someone else. At that point my sister said she'd rather leave it as is anyway, as she didn't trust them to not charge her credit card as well as taking her cash, so we let it go.
But it didn't end there. We went to the dining room and met up with our friends from our dinner table for a last breakfast together. Since we had gotten hung up at Reception over the billing issue, they were halfway through their breakfast when we arrived. We sat for about 5 minutes and no one came to offer us coffee or juice, or a menu. When we asked, they told us that we could join a table being seated on the other side of the dining room if we wanted to be served, we were too late to get served at this table. I informed them that we were joining our friends and had every intention of eating with them, and demanded coffee and a menu immediately. I guess they chose not to challenge me, as they obliged... but it was just more dishwater coffee.
What I found to be an enjoyable albeit different type of cruise all week had now turned into a living hell, I couldn't wait to get off. They just don't seem to care, they were rude, impolite, obnoxious and arrogant, and nothing was their fault, it had to be the customer's misunderstanding. I also heard through the grapevine that some of the entertainment people on the ship didn't get paid for their week's work and were told if they didn't like it they could leave... which they did. I hope all the staff don't work for months and then don't get paid.
I will never cruise MSC again. Am thinking maybe NCL or Holland America if I ever leave Carnival again, but never MSC!