Like many other visitors to this site, I have read some pretty horrific reviews about MSC, so much so that you do embark on a MSC cruise with some trepidation. Well my wife and I, along with a male friend, have just experienced our first MSC cruise. This may be a wordy tome but I hope my review will help other travellers in the future.
A couple of days before the cruise we travelled from Sheffield to the Arora International Hotel, Crawley for an overnight stay before our BA flight to Venice the following day. Our first time at the Arora and we knew we would not be disappointed when we say a crew from Emirates Airline arriving in front of us. I had booked the hotel (including a fabulous evening meal), parking, taxi transfer to North Terminal with meet and greet service on our return with Holiday Extras for less than £180 for the three of us (2 rooms) which was a real bargain.
Our flight with BA to Venice was booked 7 months ago and we paid less than £200 each for the Club Europe tickets so no worries about baggage allowance with a whopping 46k each and use of the lounges in Gatwick & Venice. The flight was on time and arrived ahead of schedule in a wet and windy Venice. A quick transfer by taxi to our overnight hotel, Hotel Tritone in Mestre opposite the railway station. We have stayed in Mestre before and found that staying landside has always been very convenient thus avoiding the struggle with luggage on water taxis and dragging luggage over the bridges in Venice - we are getting too old for that! The Tritone was very good and offered good service similar to that previously experienced at the Hotel Bologna Best Western 100 yards down the road.
Now to the cruise review. Our cruise tickets indicated a 10.30am check in and we arrived there on the dot by taxi. The MSC terminal area is, as you would expect, in the best location at the Venice Cruise Terminal - other cruise lines such as NCL using a "communal" area. Our luggage was whisked away and we made our way to the check-in area and we joined a very short queue for the procedure. By 10.50am the three of us had completed check-in and we had to wait for a 11.30am embarkation - we had been given ticket number two. Embarkation commenced on time, some wheelchair passengers taking priority. It was then a bit of a scrum to get through security but all in all not too traumatic and we were on the beautiful MSC Magnifica by 12 noon. Just another word about the "scrum" - hold your own, certain nationalities do not queue so when in Rome...........as they say!
We were greeted on board and shown to our cabins. We had booked two balcony cabins on deck 9 and we were not disappointed. The cabins were well appointed, plenty of storage space and a good-sized shower room, etc. I am a big fellow and it was more than adequate for me. My only disappointment is that there is not settee in the cabin, the provided seating being a single chair and a stool. I knew this when I booked and there are plenty of photos on the web to see for yourselves.
As we had an early embarkation we had plenty of time to look round the ship before the rest of our fellow passengers were on board. The ship is very modern with lots of chrome, stainless steel, glass, led's, etc and I like it. We have seen similar styling on the new Celebrity Eclipse. The ship is immaculate and it has to be said that nothing ever looks out of place at any time day or night. The staff do a great job keeping the ship clean - it gleams.
This was our first cruise with MSC having previously travelled with NCL (10), Azamara Club (1), and Celebrity (1). We have never experienced dining in 2 sittings as we have been freestyle or anytime dining. Our first evening meal at the 6.00pm first sitting in the Quattro Venti MDR on deck 6 was a shock to the system. We had been allocated a table for 3 which was in a very tight corner of the dining room and very close to three tables of 8. The tables were so close together that the waiters could not get through to serve us. Other passengers at the three adjacent tables refused to move their chairs and after 15 minutes or so the Maître De resolved the situation so that service could commence. To cut a long story short we were allocated a different table for 3 in the MDR the following night.
What about the food? Well, it was nothing special, nothing to write home about but it was adequate. There was plenty of choice on the menu and you will not leave the table feeling hungry. On the whole, we did enjoy the food. On a couple of occasions we ate in the Oriental Speciality Restaurant and it was excellent. No cover charge but dishes are charged for at about 4 or 5€ for a starter and 8€ for a main course. Be aware that the buffet restaurant is only available for breakfast and lunch and that part of that area is used as a pizzeria during the evening - a small charge is made for the pizzas but we did not use thatv facility. We did get used to the mass dining experience but much prefer freestyle and anytime dining.
Much has been written about the availability of tea, coffee, water and juices on MCS ships. Quite simply, these drinks are only available free of charge during breakfast service. If you want drinks during the day you will have to pay or take your own on board. MSC do offer an "all inclusive" package that can only be purchased before you cruise, either via your agent or MSc direct. The cost of this is £33 per person per night which may seem a lot of money. My take on this is as follows. Our double occupancy balcony cabin was £650 pp and our friend's balcony cabin for single occupancy was £850. My yardstick on the price of a balcony cabin is £100 per person per night and anything less is a bonus. £650 for an 11 night cruise was good value for money so we paid the extra £330 each, Was it worth it? Yes, it was. You can read about the all inclusive package on the MSC site but basically we could drink almost anything from anywhere and use the items in the minibar, which were replenished daily. You can soon spend £33 per day - a few coffees, a couple of G & T's, a beer at lunchtime, wine with dinner and a coffee and a brandy after dinner! We know how to live! You can also get ice cream, milk shakes, speciality coffees, cocktails, etc, etc.
The restaurant staff and bar staff are some of the best we have come across in our years of cruising. MSC seem to employ most of their staff from places like Bulgaria, Ukraine, Slovakia, Nepal and India. There are fewer staff from the Philippines on this ship. The cabin staff do a good job and are rarely seem, probably because they do not disturb you if you are in the cabin. None of these rotating signs outside the cabin - simply a very small light "secret" on the outside of the cabin that indicates to the steward if you are in or out - it works on the key card slot in the cabin.
We had an early flight back to Gatwick and we requested an early disembarkation and we got it! In fact, we were first off the ship and our luggage was waiting for us so we jumped into the very first taxi in the line - brilliant!
Would we go on another MSC cruise? Yes we will! BUT - if you want a "quiet" cruise please avoid school holidays. MSC do not charge for children and the staff told us that 600 children on a cruise is a nightmare for them and would be a nightmare for passengers travelling without children. Also remember that the cultures of countries within Europe are very different. If you want a British way of life on a cruise do not travel MSC. The Italians and Spanish speak loud, they gather in large groups and they do not queue! You get the picture!
Now looking for new offers with MSC! Sorry about all the words but could have written a book!