We booked a package through Transat Holidays. I was pleased with the ship - it was new and clean, and we had very good service in the dining room.
We did get the 7 p.m. early seating we requested. Although, because the booking was done as 5 people on one booking number and 2 on another, we were initially assigned to different tables. This was sorted out after the first night by going to the Maitre D' on Deck 5.
Because there is no dinner buffet on MSC, everyone eats in the 2 dining rooms. The food was fine, but not outstanding - mind you, there were almost 3000 passengers on board, and the food always came quickly and efficiently.
On the first formal night our men ordered steak: it came done as they had ordered, and was tender and tasty! Surprisingly the fish was always dissappointingly overcooked and hard, a lot of mackeral and cod. The turkey, pork, and chicken was always cooked solid, and served with sauces. They served us a lot of nice pastas, salamis and cheeses of course, and breads of all kinds. One night we sampled cuttlefish, tongue, and cuttlefish ink risotto. We did not try the specialty restaurants.
Room service breakfast (limited selection - cold items only) is available at no extra charge. Although the form states that room service breakfast starts at 7:30 a.m., one night I scribbled out the 7:30 time and wrote in 7:15 instead. It came at 7:15 a.m. as I ordered. Otherwise room service during the rest of the day is at extra cost, from a room service menu with prices listed.
I'd guess that 75% were Italian, with 10% Germans, 5% Spaniards, a few French and the rest made up of Canadians, Americans, Swedes, and we met 3 Russians. It was a young crowd, lots of young couples and kids and babies in strollers.
Very casual dress - a lot of men in tiny speedo bathing suits strutting around with their bellies hanging out, and women in bikinis sunbathing packed together on the pool deck. I saw no tuxedos on formal nights, unlike every other cruise I've been on.
The 2 pools were packed with people, and tons of kids just doing cannon-balls into the water on top of everyone. It was impossible to swim. The 4 whirlpools were packed full like pickles in a jar all the time mostly with adults, and there were always more still trying to squeeze in! The pools close at 8:30 p.m. so it wasn't possible to take a quiet and late swim after the kids went to bed. Oh, and the kids never went to bed- they were up running around the ship way after midnight.
There were indeed the things I'd been warned about:
1. The pushy Italians who do refuse to form lines at the front desk or at the buffet and wait their turn, but push and shove and crowd around.
2. The drinking water is not free, but we (all Canadians and Americans) were given coupons for 7 large bottled water per person to be claimed by presenting the vouchers to the waiter in the dining room or at the buffet. Unfortuately although it was clearly stated that the minibar prices were listed, my grand-daughter ate from the minibar and drank the bottled water there, and her father had to pay at the end for that.
3. The Italians do not believe that rules are firm instructions, but rather that they are suggestions only. On port days we obedient Canadians noted the time posted on the gangway and in the daily bulletin. And even though we would have liked to buy a couple of souvenirs or taken more photos, we rushed back to be on time boarding. Then we watched from our balconies as the Italians straggled on.They would not be rushed. One day the ship was 1/2 hour late leaving, and on another it was an entire 1 hour late departing from the pier.
4. We had to be very vigilent with the on-board expenses. At every turn MSC will try to "nickel and dime" you. The "accounting office" had fixed short hours each day, so they had lineups whenever they were open with people wanting to see their account and disputing items loudly. There was a hard-to-find place on the inroom TV to view your on-board account, but it wasn't posted there until later in the cruise anyway.
5. To get anywhere with MSC, you must behave like the Italians - shout, carry-on loudly, and wave your arms. For example, despite their posted policy on the MSC internet site, saying that the daily gratuity can be adjusted by seeing the Accounting Office Manager, when my eldest son went down to do so, he was told it firmly that "wasn't possible". I had heard of this happening from the boards on Cruise Critic...apparently they will adjust them but you must make a huge fuss and complain before they will honour it. My son was not prepared to make a huge fuss, so just gave up.
8. The drinks are very expensive. But we managed by getting 2 "wine packages" with 7 bottles each, so we had enough coupons to provide 2 bottles on the table each evening. These packages provide fixed wines, and there is no choice, but at a significant saving.
9. There is a charge for coffee and tea, except at breakfast.
10. The Italians have a different sense of space than we do. They stand very close to you. They pack into the elevators, and even if the elevator is full when the doors open, they shove right in anyway with strollers, and whatever they are carrying.
The three category 6 cabins on the port side towards the rear we had were very nice, not overly large but very functional. Everything was new and clean. The bathroom was rather smaller than I've had at times, and the corner shower only had a curved curtainrod and fabric curtain (the sort that when you get wet, clings to your body), not a door, but I managed just fine.
The category 9 stateroom for my son, his wife and daughter faced the rear of the ship, and it was larger and had a larger balcony also, than the class 6 balcony staterooms which the rest of us had. However, they didn't use their balcony because the black cinders from the ship's funnel fell constantly on that balcony and there was a constant smell of smoke in their room when they opened their sliding door. The loud roar of the the engines and the wake also made it noisy. Plus the people in the cabin above them smoked on their balcony and threw their cigarette butts over the railing, which occasionally landed on the balcony. Once again the stated policy is no smoking on the balconies, but you know the Italians...they don't believe in rules.
It was possible to open up between balconies of the 3 side-by-side cabins the rest of us had on the port side. After calling repeatedly for 3 hours we finally got someone to come and open the balcony dividers between two of the balconies, and 5 of us sat out there on the one sea day afternoon. It was very pleasant. The other couple preferred their privacy and so didn't open their balcony up with ours, but they sat out most days reading, talked to us around the divider, and clearly loved their balcony.
Language and announcements:
Announcements were infrequent, and done in 5 languages over the PA: English, Italian, German, Spanish, French, and one other I couldn't identify.
Because of the many nationalities on board the evening entertainment was quite interesting and different from any cruise I've taken: contortionists, acrobats, high wire artists, and visual gags. AND this is the only cruise I've taken where there was one evening of opera excerpts - which I really enjoyed. The MC for the evening had to present each artist over and over in every language, which slowed things down a little but was not too objectionable.
The printed English daily bulletin listed the daily activities - very few for English speakers - mostly exercise or dance classes. No lectures. No port information meetings. No movies on TV - although at the end I found on my in-cabin TV a place to buy a few English pay-per-view movies but nothing of any interest to me. The TV had 4 English channels: BBC news, American news, and 2 finance and business channels.
Not everyone understood English - our cabin steward was very cheerful and efficient but didn't really speak much English and I believe didn't read. I left a couple of notes for him, but quickly learned that if I needed something done I had to call the front desk and they would relay the message in his language.
Wake up calls are automated but are not reliable, and if they do come are usually between 10 and 15 minutes late. I remind people to take a travel clock.
The weather was great, only a little sprinkle one day for about 1 hour. The ports were very interesting - we loved Dubrovnik and Istanbul, especially. We only wished there was more time in each port, but it was an itinerary that covered alot of distance between ports! The seas were mostly calm, so no-one was seasick. However, to get to the next scheduled port on time, the captain had to really gun the big engines below. We had trouble sleeping some nights because of the powerful throbbing of the big rear engines which, despite the fact that we were up on the 9th deck, actually made our beds go up and down in rhythm, and there was noise because everything shook and rattled in the cabin! Some nights we absolutely flew across the water! I would recommend that anyone who books this itinerary avoid the rear of the ship for this reason.
Air Transat was delayed 2 hours departing out of Toronto. On arrival in Venice they had lost my grand-daughter's luggage. We almost missed the ship because the connection was tight anyway, and her parents needed to make a lost luggage report. We rushed to the ship in a small minivan, because the AT shuttles had long since left with everyone else. We ran onto the ship and they drew up the boarding ramp behind us. We were last onboard and checked in at the front desk. Her bag eventually was found and returned to her. No explanation. It arrived on the ship 5 days later in Istanbul, and her father had to pay €50 to retrieve it from the front desk.