First a little about myself. I or anyone else in the family (wife and two children 11 and 13) have never been on a cruise. But, we've traveled to numerous destinations around the world including Europe/UK over half a dozen times, a few times to various regions in Asia, Australia, South Africa, and many different areas in the USA. We are the type of people that will not go on packaged tours as we go about ourselves either by renting a car, taking a train, or using the local transit services (subway/bus) on arrival. If we take a packaged city tour, that's only because someone else that was travelling with us wanted to.
Being first timers on a cruise ship, I wanted a relatively inexpensive cruise in the area around Venice. MSC gave me the most bang-for-the-buck as our two children essentially sailed for free. If I hated the cruise/ship, at least I could say that I didn't spend a good chunk of change. For the past 10 years, I just couldn't stomach going on a cruise because as a family, we don't like to sit/lie on a sunny deck/beach and I never liked the 'constriction' where limited deck space/amenities we may encounter.
Overall, the experience was better than I expected. The ship itself is gorgeous. Check In was relatively painless...relatively, because I didn't know that we needed to drop off our luggage before checking in. Because the wife was in a leg cast, one of the MSC staff immediately came over and gave us tickets for priority boarding before we even checked in. He took us to CSR and check in is as smooth as I've seen flying business class on the major airline carriers.
My first impression when entering the ship was amazement. The common areas on the 6th deck and elevators are similar to a 5* hotel. A housekeeping staff had brought us to our cabin. Being Filipino, she spoke English clearly and was able to show us all of the amenities of the room.
Cabin. I had booked this cruise about 8 months before departure. I was always concerned how we would be able to sleep all of us let alone store all of our luggage. Those concerns were completely unfounded. We were in a cabin where a bed folded out of the wall. Similar to what you would see in those movies where beds fold out in a train cabin. The couch folded out to a twin size bed. Our bed was a Queen size bed. The mattress on the twin and queen were comfortable (we sleep on firm beds), but, my daughters commented that the wall bed mattress was stiff. As for storage, all of our luggage could be stored under our Queen bed and there were sufficient number of closet space/drawers to store clothing. We could also store all of our toiletries in the bathroom. Essentially, we didn't have anything on the floor, in passageways, or on top of the desk. Everything we had we could store. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with our cabin. The room also has a bar fridge, so, we've used that to chill our four 500 ml bottles of water before our excursions. The safe was too small as I couldn't fit our Lenovo x200 though the opening. Being a North American, I also missed the fact that we couldn't make coffee/tea in the room. Though I didn't have a need for it, I didn't see an iron. Overall, MSC designers certainly knew what they were doing in designing this room. Our cabin was on the 13th level mid ship. The 14th deck is the pool deck. We had an overhang from the 14th floor over our cabin. Good thing about that was that the sun typically didn't shine into our cabin or balcony. But, we could hear kids running along the 14th deck or furniture being moved around. It didn't bother us, but, it was certainly apparent. So for those noise sensitive people, be aware of that. At nights, our cabin was surprisingly quiet, yes you could hear people in the hallways, but, that's not much different than being in a hotel. At nights, I slept like a baby the entire cruise :). The AC worked well and made anytime spent in the cabin comfortable.
Buffet. When you have hundreds of people descending upon the cafeteria for meals, well you can imagine the mayhem. But that being said, we always sat in one area of the cafeteria and we shared our table with other guests on a couple of occasion. The lines could be long, but, because there are 4 different serving areas, we could usually find a line that didn't have a line up. In fact, even when we were in line ups, the lines moved reasonably fast. The people around me were always courteous. I had no issues with people barging in, jumping queues, or what I would consider really rude behavior. If jumping queues means if someone goes straight to the buffet because there's a 3 meter space where no one is alongside the food, I don't consider that jumping the queue because those people are targeting something specific in the buffet. We hit the buffet for breakfast five times, a few times for lunch/late lunch, and once for dinner. I preferred eating the buffet for breakfast much more than eating breakfast in the restaurant. The quality of the food was average...I really enjoyed that European style sloppy scrambled egg! MSC seems to have so many people busing to clear tables, but, the vast majority of them looked like walking zombies. Until you spoke to them, they really appeared to be working slowly and looked awfully bored. One thing that was irritating was that they seem to have specific jobs, so, someone would come to clear a table that previous guests had sat, but, that person wouldn't wipe the table down. That seemed to be someone else's job. I encountered this enough times that I would just grab a napkin and wipe the table down myself.
Restaurant. I had requested first sitting and received it. 1st seating is at 7:15pm. 2nd seating I believe was at 9:45pm. I'm glad we had 1st seating because we were usually in bed by 10pm so that we would be fresh for our next day's excursions. I purchased a seven wine seven 1L water bottle package. Our waiter was from Indonesia and spoke English well. I also have no complaints about the busboy assigned to our section. Food came quickly and was moderately hot. But, after a couple of days, I noticed that the food was bland. Especially the risotto. If there is a real disappointment with respect to the quality of the food, it was that the food wasn't as tasty as I would have expected. One of the most memorable secondi served was the fish-and-chip! If you are a hearty big eater, there's more than enough food at dinner.
Swimming pool and deck. The ship has two small pools. But, the pools are at least 2 meters deep on either ends. So, this keeps the middle free of kids. Yes, on occasion, the pool had over 20 people in it, but, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be as I was still able to swim around. My kids spent time at the pool everyday and it couldn't have been that bad as they indicated they only got kicked by a fellow swimmer only once! I would check the live video of one of the pools routinely and was surprised to see that numerous times, the pool was occupied by one to six people. So, there are times when you could swim end-to-end. We aren't sunbathers, so, I only walked along the 14th deck. Yeah, a lot of people sunning themselves, but, I didn't spend enough time up there to make a conclusion. One frustrating time I had was trying to get service at the pool side bar. I was standing there for over 5 minutes while there were four or more staff behind the bar, they were busy working, but, none of them attended to me. Frustrated, I went back to my deck table, sat down, and within 15 seconds I flagged down one of the servers and made my order with her. Now why didn't I think about doing that earlier?
Excursions. We booked the excursion in Bali (caves), Katakolon (Olympia), and Izmir (Ephesus). We only wanted to book the Katakolon and Izmir as we knew (based on the excursion reviews at this site) that it would be too far away to visit. Because MSC gave a family discount if you booked 3 or more excursions, we added visiting the caves close to Bali. Istanbul and Dubrovnik we took the public transit street rail car and taxi (there)/bus(back) respectively. Ephesus is a must see, wish we had more time in Istanbul, Olympia is worthy of a visit, and Dubrovnik is an interesting walled city. The cave was okay, but, I've been in some more spectacular caves in other parts of the world, so, it didn't compare. Just as a warning, when coming back from the walled city in Dubrovnik, don't count on a taxi to bring you back...everyone else on your cruise and other cruise ships have the same idea. Be prepared to take a bus as the queue for the taxi appeared quite long.
Children. I read so many reviews that there are unruly Italian kids running amok on deck, in the restaurants, cafeteria etc. There were certainly kids on board, but, not nearly as many as I had expected. My kids are very well behaved as my wife and I believe that kids should be seen and not heard. Only on one occasion I would say that I seen kids behaving unruly. That's when three couples sat a the bottom of the atrium (indoor waterfall) and their kids were talking loudly/yelling at times from the 6th level down to the 5th level. Parent's were obviously oblivious to that. But, after 10 minutes they went away. One thing that MSC should do is to recognize that "passengers aren't always right". If passengers are unruly, they should put there foot down. Anyway, for those that are being scared away from out of control children, my experience on the cruise that I took indicates that it's not nearly as bad as I've experienced.
Nickel-and-dime. I did feel that I was being nickeled and dimed. I got this impression because there's enough times where you would think that they would cover you especially when it came to eating. I thought it strange that coffee/tea wasn't offered during dessert or soft drinks during dinner, but, when I think about it, I think that's a North American eating peculiarity. Because we were allotted two 1L water bottles/day (the wine package and the North American traveller water voucher), that was sufficient for our needs. The cafeteria serves coffee/tea and water/ice 24 hours a day. But at times, they would run out of ice in the ice machine. If you really wanted to, they have Earl Grey/English Breakfast tea bags, Lemon tea bags, hot water, ice, sugar, and at times lemon wedges. Guess what, all of the ingredients you need to make iced tea! While on board, I thought that the prices for Gelato, beer, or soft drinks were reasonable by European standards.
Formal night. I made a *big mistake* not bringing at least my dark navy blue jacket and a tie along. Because the cruise was just one week of our three week European vacation, I didn't pack it. I wish I did. I felt so under dressed on the formal nights in the restaurant. About 10% of the men were wearing tuxedos, 80% were wearing jacket/ties, and many of the women were dressed very nicely in formal gowns. I had a white shirt, no tie, and dark navy blue trousers, and black shoes. I wear this when I want to be 'business casual'. It's not good enough for formal nights. I don't get a chance to wear a tux too often and on this occasion, it was sitting at home in my closet. For future cruises, I'll bring a jacket and tie along. I and the rest of the family felt so under dressed, that we didn't go to the 2nd formal night and went to the cafeteria and had a buffet dinner.
Shows, bars, and shopping. We hit the sack at 10pm. We didn't even see one show...we were just too tired. My wife and I never sat in the bar other than as a meeting place for the debriefing, excursion meet up points, and disembarking. So, I can't make any comments about the entertainment that was available. As for shopping, never needed to do purchase anything on board.
Administration/Finance deck. So much confusion trying to purchase Internet access. Back and forth from Finance to Administration. You would think that we weren't the first people to order Internet access on board.
Internet access. Wife needed Internet email access. I'm doing this by memory but I believe it was 100 minutes for 12 Euros. This is sufficient for emailing if you are using a POP3/IMAP email client(don't know if Exchange server is supported) such as Outlook or Mozilla Thunderbird. The ship can provide an Ethernet cable, but, we brought our own. The 6 foot cable we brought was too short. You need at least a 12 foot to reach the desk. There was no wifi access on the 13th deck...we didn't try on the public decks. One thing was that the Internet access doesn't support any IP tunneling protocols. So, PPTP was a no-go. We routinely need this because many ISP providers won't support SMTP servers. My wife didn't change her SMTP server and she was able to send email out. I'm unsure why it was working because it normally won't. Normally she uses either a Telus or Shaw SMTP server. Others may want to try Google's SMTP server if they are having issues sending email. BTW. Do yourself a favour before the cruise, use a website capture program such as HTTrack and point it to the port of call page on this site. Download and locally store the port of calls before you leave. That way, you'll always have access to reference material offline.
Illness. My wife was ill one day and couldn't make it to dinner. The waiter was wondering where she was and after I explained, he said that if she calls reception, they will send up food. The food wasn't what my kids and I had for dinner, but, the room service is available for free if you are ill. BTW. One daughter had a fever just when we arrived in Istanbul, then my wife was ill with a fever between Istanbul and Dubrovnik. I caught something three days afterwards, I figure that it wasn't Norwalk virus. One of my daughters never got sick during/after the voyage.
English language. I don't ever recall speaking to any crew member that didn't know how to speak English. If the announcements weren't first made in Italian, you would be hard pressed to determine that the cruise ship is catered for Italians. If you are worried about not knowing English on this cruise ship, rest assured, it's a non-issue.
Would I take another cruise? Yes, but, only if the port of calls were as interesting as the cruise that I was on.
Would I recommend MSC? Only to those that weren't too picky about their food. The blandness of meals will certainly disappoint some people that I know. For me and family, it could be better, but, not enough to keep me from sailing with them again.
Would I take another cruise with MSC? Yes I would. In the end, we paid under $4K for our outside balcony room. I thought I got good value for the money.