We are from New York State and this is our 2nd cruise with MSC. Last year we(my wife, 12 yo son and myself) were on the MSC Splendida and enjoyed it very much, enough to take another cruise on this MSC ship. This cruise left on June 25, 2011 from Venice and stopped at Bari, Greece, Turkey and Croatia.
The embarkation process went very smooth. We got there early and dropped off our bags. Then checked in with the MSC representative before boarding the ship. We did not experience long lines to wait in. They also provided water and different juices while you waited to board. Instead of boarding the ship early, we decided to go back to Venice (short walk) for a few hours and sight see a little and have lunch.
Overall we were very happy with everything. Our balcony cabin (12105) was very clean and new looking. Our cabin room stewart (Pandra) was excellent in doing all he could do for us with a smile! The first afternoon I asked him for a bucket of ice. Everyday after that when we returned to the ship he had a bucket of ice waiting for us. Before retiring at night he made up the beds and would surprise us with a towel animal. Very pleased with the service he gave us. We had a FREE coupon book for water, 1 FREE bottle everyday. The ship was very clean and new looking.
The breakfast buffet was excellent, lots to choose from, more than we have to choose from back home. They made eggs every way you could make them and they were fresh not powdered. We made sure that we ate a lot so we were not that hungry lunch time. This way more time to sight see and also we would pick up a snack to carry us over till dinner time. Also you can bring some fruits with you. Yes water, coffee and tea were FREE. Their coffee was also excellent, plenty of it and yes they have free milk for your coffee.
We thought the lunch buffet was very good too, again a lot of different things to chose from and more than we would have at home. We tried to go to lunch when it wasn't crowded or before the crowd got there. As for finding a table, found the back of the ship had a good amount of empty tables. Sometimes my wife would get us a table while I got her a plate of food while getting mine. Yes the water, coffee and tea were FREE.
For dinner we ate in the main dinning room (early seating). The food was good, better some nights than others. But you can choose several dishes in case you don't like something. Also you can order something that's not on the menu which we have done. We also ordered 2 desserts each. Coffee and tea are not free at dinner but you can use your FREE water coupons. Our dinner staff that waited on us were all excellent, very cheerful and with smiles. I believe most cruise ships have other guests seated at the same table as you and this was no different. We were seated with other Americans and had a very pleasant time talking with them. When dinner was just about over they would turn up the lights, a signal to let us know that we need to leave soon so they could clean up and get ready for the next dinner seating. We had no problem with that and we were ready to leave after sitting all that time. A couple of nights we went to the dinner buffet where they had a nice selection of food. They also have their specialty food area of Italian foods. We enjoyed all the different foods.
As for the pools (2 of them), they were crowded at times and very crowded when we were out on a day at sea. When you're on a day at sea of course the pools are going to be very crowded, over 2500 guests and nowhere to go what do you expect? I would suggest getting to the pool early and claim a nice spot.
I noticed that some people commented in the reviews that children are all over the place. Yes there is a lot of children because children are free to travel. No other cruise line that I know offers free travel for children. That's one reason why we travel MSC. However I didn't find it that bad where it was annoying, it's no different than being at Disney World. If you don't like children around on a cruise, then I would suggest going on an adult cruise.
Entertainment was excellent every night! We laughed and had a good time. Musicals were very good too.
We did not do any MSC shore excursions because you can see by the high prices that they charge for each person at each port. They will not give you any information about other transportation options or tourist centers so don't bother asking. This is because they are in the business to sell their excursions and we had no problem with that. At each port we would go to a tourist information center and get a city map, and then get on a local tour hop on/off site seeing bus. If we took a taxi we used one that is next to the ship, or in a taxi waiting area. Don't us a taxi that is outside the gated area or on the street. You could be ripped off. We prefer the freedom of our own time and the cost is a lot cheaper. We also did our homework before we went on the cruise and planned what we wanted to see at each port. Getting on and off the ship was very easy with no waiting. We made sure that we back on the ship at least an hour before it left port. The evening pool party they had was a lot of fun too. My son enjoyed the line dancing and the fruit drinks were nice. They also had a mid-night food buffet (every night).
We do not smoke, but only noticed it in the casino and one lounge. The casino was nice looking but we did not get a chance to play anything because of our busy schedule. I liked the Atlantic City Casino look they have and machines since we go to Atlantic City every year.
You have to remember this is an Italian cruise line not an American cruise. So you will have a lot of different nationalities on board that speak different languages. That's why announcements are made over again in many different languages. I believe there were less than 200 American guests on board out of 2500 guests. We had no problem with that and enjoyed mixing with the people of Europe. If you not interested or have a problem being around different types of people from different countries, then I don't think this cruise is for you.
If you fly into the airport, you can take a air condition bus to the train station in Mestre for a few euros each. Train leave to Venice about every 10-15 minutes, takes 13 minutes and cost 1 euro each. Don't take a taxi like some people and pay 50 euros.
Gratuities are added to the final bill automatically. No need to figure out who gets how much. This is noted before you book your trip.
Bringing liquor, water or soda back on the ship. We brought back usually one bottle of water each and 1 can of soda too. They never questioned us about bringing it on board. On the other hand, they will hold a bottle of liquor until the end of your journey and give it back to you when you leave. The reason is they want you to drink their liquor on board because this is one of many ways they make their money.
Overall we had a very good time and would travel with MSC again.