We were a little worried after reading some of the reviews but I have to say we had a terrific cruise!
This is our first cruise so we have nothing to compare it to but the ship was beautiful, the food was plentiful and very good and the itinerary was terrific. The staff were very friendly and they loved the kids.
Our room was an inside room (No. 12025) but it was a little bigger than normal as it was a disabled room. This gave the kids a bit more room. My sister had a balcony room overlooking the rear of the ship (No. 9212) which she loved and my parents also had a balcony room on the side of the ship which was perfect for a couple (No. 9016).
The beds were comfortable and service by cabin staff was amazing. They made our beds morning and night, changed the bath towels everyday and cleaned everyday. Every night when we came back to your room they had made our kids beds with there toys sitting differently....popping there heads up over the blankets...the kids loved it.
We actually embarked/disembarked the ship at Dubrovnik as this suited us, and MSC was very accommodating. As we were the only ones doing this we had no problems or delays.
The ship is massive and the staff do a great job keeping it clean. There are 2 pools for adults, 2 pools for kids and 2 spas. I was very busy around the pool and it sometimes took a while to find a spare sun lounge but that is to be expected as our cruise was full. The entertainment around the pool during the day was good fun to watch (although a little loud). If we wanted some peace & quiet than we simply choose sun lounges at the other end of the deck.
The pools were a bit cold. (Our tour 28th May-4th June). It was only on the last day that I would go in the water (but I'm use to the Australian water temperatures). The kids still swam every day.
The food was great....and I love good food:
BREAKFAST: The buffet breakfast in "Gli Archi" Cafeteria was a little crazy, as everyone is trying to eat and then disembark, but it never took us too long to find a table and you can even take your food out to a table near the pool which is really nice. (Choose the non-smoking side if you don't smoke!). Choose from cereal, omelettes/eggs, bacon, baked beans, toast, bread rolls, cheese, hams, croissants, Danish's, fruit salad/apples/bananas, yoghurt, orange/pineapple juice, tea (not really good black tea so may want to bring your own but plenty of herbal choices).
You also have other options apart from the buffet. You can have a sit down breakfast in "L'Oleandro Restaurant" or order a continental breakfast to be delivered to you room for no extra charge.
LUNCH: Buffet served in "Gli Archi". Menu various but there is plenty of variety....you won't go hungry.
DINNER: Most nights we chose to have a sit down dinner (7:30 sitting) at the "Le Maxim's" restaurant. (The table was pre-booked before our tour). This was a beautiful restaurant and the food was amazing. The menu changed each night and you had to choose an entree, main & dessert (each had about 3 choices). I could not fault the food! If you like to drink wine and are on a bit of a budget than a tip is to not buy the wine package but just buy the carafe of white or red house wine (Cost was 7 Euros for about 4 glasses).
If you would prefer to than you can go to the buffet instead of a sit down meal. Or if you go for a sit down meal and are still hungry....which I very much doubt....you can go to the buffet afterwards. There is no shortage of food.
VENICE: It is beautiful look into Venice as the ship arrives and departs. We had already been to Venice a couple of times so did not do a tour and don't know if one is really needed. If you do some research beforehand and know what you want to see than it is really easy to walk everywhere. When we hopped of the boat we purchased tickets on the public ferry. I was the cheapest way. We then had to walk for about 10mins to get to the ferry. Plenty of other people were doing it so it was easy enough to find.
BARI: We hopped on the ship's bus which takes you into town. Where the bus stops there are tour operators offering there tours by either bus or train. Both had commentary in 4 languages and took you directly back to the ship once the tour was finished, which was perfect. We took the train and found it pretty good....the kids loved it. (Cost 20 Euro for adults and free for the kids. They were going to charge for my sister's 2 kids who are 10 & 12 but they quickly changed when we looked at the bus tour instead). In general I don't think Bari has as much to offer as other places ports we visited.
KATAKOLON: We arranged for a private tour with George from taxi katakolon. (www.taxikatakolon.com) He was very professional and will create the tour that suits your group. He took us to the Archaeological Site, (we did not do the Museum as we didn't think the kids would love it), shopping in the village of Olympia, tour of area and we stopped at the beach for lunch and a swim. Cost 130 Euros per taxi. We had 3 taxis' so George gave a discount to 125 Euros per car. Our driver was Takis and he spoke excellent English and was great with the kids.
SANTORINI TOUR: It was a little frustrating disembarking for the ship as thee was another cruise ship in port. We arrange a private tour with Markos from www.privatesantorinitours.com. We are so glad we arranged it as you would not get to see anything of the island without a tour. This is one port were a tour is necessary. Our driver Andrea was very good. He met us at the top of the cable car. We then walked a short way to our mini bus. He took us all around the island but we were a little short on time as we had to be back to the bottom of the cable car by 2:15pm (earlier than normal due to the port being busy). This is a beautiful island with excellent photo opportunities. (Mini bus which seated 15 was 85 Euros per hour. Our tour was for 3hrs but take a little longer if you can).
MYKONOS: I was going to stay of the ship at Mykonos as I had been there before but I'm so glad I didn't. We had dinner on the waterfront and the sun was setting....wow....and there are beautiful little streets to walk around. A perfect was to spend and hour or two.
PIRAEUS: We arranged a private tour and had one minibus & a taxi for the 10 of us. Andreas from www.taxidrives.gr was great. It cost 300 Euro in total excluding entry fees. If you would like a guide to walk with you around the Acropolis than you can arrange that while you're there but it is very expensive. We also visited the Temple of Zeus and the Parliament house to watch the changing of the Guards.
CORFU: We probably should have stayed on the ship! This is the only place we didn't enjoy. We decided to hop on a train tour of the city was a mistake....very boring and there was absolutely nothing of interest on the tour. Streets are quite nice and if you haven't bought enough presents than you could do some last minute shopping but otherwise relax on the ship...just my opinion!
DUBROVNIK: Well this is the most amazing city. We stayed there for a week before the cruise as this is where we disembarked. I would suggest that you do the Walls & Wars tour (Cost 70 kn). Visit www.dubrovnikwalks.com for times. The walk gave some insight into the effects of the war and also had fantastic views of the old town. This is a must do. Afterwards walk the streets with an ice-cream in hand or have lunch in on of the hundreds of restaurants.
More about the ship....Kids club was great. All of the staff spoke pretty good English and our kids aged 3-12yrs kept asking to go so that speaks volumes. Great just to give the parents a break!
In case someone is wondering the smoking never bothered us. My husband really hates smoke and he never complained once. There is a smoking side of the ship and everyone seemed to follow the rules. No smoking inside that I saw.
The ship also has a hospital. We know this because our son fell out of bed in the middle of the night (3am)...no fault of the ship...and hit his head. It was a freak accident and required stiches. We phoned reception and they had the doctor waiting for us in the ship hospital by the time we got there. The lady doctor gave him 3 stiches and did a great job. I think it cost us 70 Euro but it was well worth it to have that service.
I have to mention the Theatre. We thought the preformances were great. Quite professional. They only go for 45/60mins and are mostly in English.
If you are young and looking for somewhere to party than I don't think this is the ship for you. There really isn't much to do at night. There is nice piano lounges etc but not a party scene.
I think that might be enough information! I hope it helps someone. I know that reading reviews before I left helped me.
In conclusion, everyone in our group, aged 3 to 66 loved the cruise! We may just be easy to please......but to impress all 10 of us it must have been pretty good. At the end of the day though your holiday will always be what YOU make it!