My partner, our 14yr old daughter and I set sail very recently from Venice, visiting Bari, Katacolon, Izmir, Istanbul and Dubrovnik and this was our firt cruise experience. First impressions were not wonderful, despite embarkation being relatively painless. The cabin was what you might call just adequate, but the carpet was dirty in places and made us investigate everything in the room before unpacking anything! The divan cover clearly hadn't been changed; 2 scrumpled white dressing gowns had been left in the foot of the wardrobe and there were only 2 glasses on the tray, when clearly 3 of us were to occupy the limited space. Day 2 - and a pink scimpy bikini top was found folded within the bath towels in the bathroom (NOT ours!). As other reviewers have pointed out, everything you touch that isn't a meal inclusively paid for in the holiday settlement is charged for - even bottles of water within the room. Surely one bottle of water per day would be a goodwill gesture.
Staff: On the whole, we were more than happy with the service overall, with some exceptionally hard working (arguably over-worked) staff, who appeared to be working every mealtime shift without a break. To earn a day off, staff have to have had praise from customers given to their managers. Frankly, some of the poor chaps (mainly Indonesian)looked wrecked with fatigue. I sincerely hope that the service charge taken from customers on a daily basis is seen by these staff. They more than deserve it (in my opinion as based on the very revcent experience)
Other customers: Mainly Italians and Germans and yes, they have different cultural approaches to things like queues for breakfast buffets or the manner in which they steer past you in the corridor. The multilingual skills of many staff was commendable and personally, I don't think we Brits have the right to simply expect people to automatically speak English.
Pools: Absolutely ridiculous. We have never had a holiday abroad without access to swimming, whether that be the sea or a decent sized pool. The only water we could swim in on this holiday was on our last day, at a public beach in Dubrovnik. Our daughter really missed out this year as a highlight for her is swimming and generally having fun in the water. The pools on this ship are TINY and over-run by kids. Hoards of people throng alongside them, making the time spent there unpleasant really. A major disappointment to us as first-timers to cruising.
Food/Restaurants: Mention of michelin starred standards is impressive in the promotional materials and we looked forward to that. Firstly, breakfast in the buffet-styled Sahara restaurant provided the choices that most of us would expect to see, but finding a table to eat anything at was challenging on every occasion. The staff do work very quickly to clear things between eaters - but, the place is SO crowded, that this is difficult. We walked three times around the dining area on our last morning before finally finding a square inch to sit down in. So - be prepared. The ship is so huge that with in-excess of 2,500 people on board, facilities generally don't cope and what should be a relaxing time can be exasperating. A potentially six-course dinner at night can be a little unexciting and time between courses is little. We were sure that the 'second sitting' for dinner was one that began at 8.30pm, whereas in fact, it's 9.30pm, which can be too late for many digestions!
Excursions: On the whole, reasonably well organised, with (in our case) good tour guides. Many of us sought out little shops to buy water and soft drinks in in order to avoid the persistent charges for these commodities on board. Be aware though that occasional enquiry about what you are bringing back on board with you is made (there is no bag search as such though!). Alcohol etc is taken away from you and returned upon your disembarkation.
Entertainment: a good mixture of music; gymnastic display and dance - something for everyone and not too long a programme.
Interestingly, the MSC company define a child as someone under the age of 18yrs, YET, on excursions, that adult definition drops to under 14 years old!
Although this review appears mainly negative, we did enjoy a lot of the week. Cruising is not something I'd discount from doing again (if financially able to justify the expense), but like other reviewers, maybe not the MSC company.