Just back from the Opera, after the help given here before we went I felt it right to write a review. Sorry if it is long.
Do not know quite were to start, we had heard of the MSC Opera horror stories before embarking: food, service, multi language etc., etc., etc.. So we went with a truly open mind, a bit of trepidation and a little fear.
We need not have worried, food was in general good, cabin was fairly standard, entertainment from the excellent to the dire, drinks package was good value and service across the board was in general friendly and attentive. So like any other cruise really.
I cannot complain about a ship, which serves Crepe Suzette fresh from the pan in every bar on formal night
MSC Opera is a good ship to sail on and would appeal in its layout to the Aurora and Oriana fans. Decor is classic in style but not much artwork (no art auctions at all ?) mainly mirrors all over the ship giving a light and airy feel to the ship. All public lounges have views to the outside and there was plenty of seating space in all lounges. The ship was sailing full but we never once had problems finding a space to sit.
There is also a large area at the rear of each deck with about 40 loungers per deck. The prom deck does not wrap around but is very wide. Bizarrely there are no loungers or seats here at all. I assume it has to do with the muster stations being on deck and not in the lounges. Talking of muster this was not held until after Amsterdam so really pushing the 24-hour limit for muster after boarding.
Pool area is nice with plenty of loungers, 2 pools and 2 hot tubs and poolside showers and you can access the pools from central lifts that enter almost straight on to the pool area. To get a pool towel your card is swiped and if not returned you are charged €20 per towel. At first I thought this would annoy me but the massive advantage is that people take care of the towels returning them rather than leaving them lying on beds, towels can be refreshed as often as required so no returning to a soggy towel after lunch if you went swimming first, so I am a convert to this now, you can ask for multiple towels so only 1 person needs to go for them. Food was banned from the pool area again aiding the clean appearance of the area no plates, bowls, napkins etc. flying around. There was a large patio area for eating outdoors if you wished.
There is a similar deposit to the towels for board games, cards etc. and the mini golf equipment.
Embarking at Southampton was a breeze, we arrived and dropped bags at 11:50 and even allowing for the fact we had to park at a car park some distance away from City Terminal and get the shuttle bus back we were in our cabin after all formalities at 12:20. It was a nice touch to have a steward take your hand luggage and guide you to your cabin and another traditional touch was the bus-boys around the ship.
Disembarking on return was by the attending a lounge and getting told to disembark no announcements through the ship. We were off the ship by 08:00 with the only delay caused by waiting for the shuttle back to the car park.
It was odd to see people come and go at every port of call but it was all well managed by MSC. It was one cruise that when you had the thought that you had never seen someone before on the cruise you were probably correct.
We had the visit from the upgrade fairy before departure so we went from inside guarantee to outside cabins, we were in 8227 (a twin) and my mum in 8041 (a triple), the extra bed hanging on the wall rather than been hidden in the wall or roof of the cabin.
Good idea to have storage and safe behind dressing table mirror set in to the corner and plenty of plugs easily to hand. Storage space was similar to other lines. Bathroom was also similar to other lines the only slight problem being the triangular shower and my new best friend the shower curtain who scrubbed my back every shower.
The drink's package included the mini bar and water and snacks in the cabin so that was good given the lack off tea/coffee facilities in the cabin.
Cabin was kept clean and tidy and we had no noise or bad creaks in the bumpy seas and we seldom saw the room stewardess so that worked well.
Downside was blankets and sheets, personal taste I know but I prefer a quilt.
No extras in the cabin by way of cotton wool/buds or lotions and potions apart from the wall mounted soap and shower gel dispensers.
Food and drink
The self-service was the same elbow to the ribs, walking stick whacked of shins, queue jumping, eye poking experience of most other ships. Food if you stuck to the Italian and continental style was always good, I loved the different breads at breakfast and lunch. The British items were acceptable. All the pasta was made fresh on board daily and tasted exceptional. The outside grill had pizza, burgers, sausage and a daily special although this was only open until 4pm at the latest.
Restaurant service was good with a wide breakfast selection; breakfast could be a tad chaotic similar to other cruises. Lunch could be 7 courses if required with great pasta and Italian dishes; there was an always-available side to the menu. The lunch items that were non-Italian were again in general good.
Dinner was 9:00pm for second sitting and was a 7-course journey (Appetizer, Salad, Soup, Pasta/Risotto, Main Course, Cheese, Dessert) through a different Italian region each night. It was good to get a card on the table each night explaining the region and the food, which came from that region. The always available menu had beef, fish, chicken, salad and pasta, I never had to eat from this side over the 8 nights so I was very pleased. Highlights for me were 2 Italian steak dishes a Filet Mignon with a mushroom sauce and also another Italian filet steak dish. The soups were always hot and tasty and the Pasta and Risottos were exceptional.
There were 2 communal desserts paraded into the restaurant by the waiters over the cruise, 1 was an Italian flan doused in liqueurs, and the other on the last night were the biggest Baked Alaska I have seen on a ship and also possibly the biggest flames. With the baked Alaska a glass of Prosecco was served to all guests.
My wife is a coeliac and requires a Gluten Free diet so that was a slight concern before boarding, we need not have worried. In the restaurant Carlos, a Station Captain introduced himself on the first night and he was the proverbial genie in a bottle. Every time we entered the restaurant (no matter from which door) he was at her side. Anything she wanted from the menu's he arranged (Danish pastries and Croissants being a real surprise at breakfast). If a fish dish was not suitable he had another fish dish made for her etc., etc.. Gluten free pasta was made fresh to order, in some dishes sauces were removed but in general she was happy with the coeliac options.
This year both of us celebrated birthdays ending in 0 with my wife's being the last night of the cruise. After the parade of the Baked Alaska's and the parade of the Chefs she spotted the waiters being suspicious, yes she got the Italian version of Happy Birthday with the largest Gluten free chocolate cake we have ever seen. This was a really nice touch as we had not seen any other celebrations while on board.
I should say that additional veg was available but that we never felt the need for it, tea and coffee was available at lunch and dinner if you asked for it, as was tap water. We stuck to the bottled water, as it was part of the drinks package.
Drinks and Bars
We took the standard drinks package so this covered house wine in the restaurants, all wine in the bars, spirits, beers, cocktails, smoothies, freshly squeezed orange juice, water, soft drinks and in the cabin the mini bar (this was great for bottled water in the cabin with the lack of tea and coffee facilities).
The spirit measure used was certainly more in line with Celebrity and therefore larger than P&O, although the drink price was more expensive than P&O so swings and roundabouts in reality.
Ports and Sea Days
We used the shuttle at La Rochelle (€7) and Bilbao (€12) and at the other ports - Amsterdam, La Coruna, Cherbourg - simply walked off. At all ports we had a wander and did our own thing. We were asked to present ourselves on board for a passport check on the morning of arrival in Amsterdam. All non-UK citizens had to do the same on the sea day before arrival in the UK.
On the 2 sea days the weather was not great, the first we sailed in a milky fog with the horn sounding. It was a weird one as the sea was smooth as glass, there was no wind, from the pool deck you could not see the sea or the funnel, from the mini golf deck you could not see the pool - the weirdest fog day we have had. The second day was wet, wet, wet, bumpy and lumpy
Animators, Entertainment and multi-cultural living
The Animators (entertainment staff) work really hard, are constantly around and always bubbly it would be easy to criticise quizzes in 5 languages etc. but that is part of the fun and hats off to the staff who can converse and ad-lib in 5 languages.
The theatre entertainers were all ship staff so no guest entertainers, it was a mix of an English singer, dancers, acrobatic performers, operatic singers, a flamenco troupe, quick change/juggling duo. For us the highlights where the tenor and soprano teamed with a piano and violin duo who normally played in the martini bar and also the flamenco evening as a dance group they were outstanding. The cruise director made his nightly appearance with a welcome to the audience in 5 languages, yes it could seem long winded but again he spoke with no script and would ad-lib in any of the 5 languages depending on the audience reaction to what he was saying.
There was music and frolics in all the bars and all nationalities seemed to enjoy it. The majority of vocals were in English but often interspersed with songs in Spanish or Italian.
The 'theme' of the ship was definitely 'holiday time', so no sign of serious lectures or talks her that might make your brain hurt.
Dress code was in theory 6 informal and 2 formal nights. It is fair to say that informal was not well adhered to, but that more of an effort was made on the formal nights. We dressed to the code and enjoyed ourselves - why worry about others.
The kids club at all ages seemed to be well attended with various activities through the day and at night, all the nationalities seemed to gel well.
In conclusion we had a good cruise on a good ship with a happy crew. Would we go again yes, even whilst it sometimes felt we had stepped on to the set of the Eurovision song contest. We would rank the experience along side P&O although not as formal in style or approach.