Our cruise departed from Venice. As we've booked direct with the cruise line we made our own way to the port and we were greeted by an MSC rep with a coach organised the terminal. The bags were taken from us at the terminal and arrived at the cabin shortly later. Embarkation was remarkably well organised and we were on the ship within 20 minutes (actually far quicker than our last Princess cruise).
The ship set off on time after the usual lifeboat drill. The views of Venice sailing from the port were spectacular.
I've read lots of complaints about the food on the ship on previous reviews so wasn't really looking forward to meals. However the food was lovely (although the portions are small - we got around that by ordering more courses). It probably should be noted that this is an Italian ship so meals are all Italian and are in the course sizes that are served in Italian restaurants in Italy - which are small by UK/US standards. We didn't really eat in the self service restaurant other than afternoon tea and an occasional breakfast but the food we had there was good. Service across all the restaurants was excellent.
Our cabin wasn't a standard one as it was squeezed into a space at the end of the corridor. This was actually a bonus as it was larger than the standard ones. It was cleaned twice a day and we had clean bedding every other day.
Our cabin was on of the lowest grades so we paid 6 euros a night. This actually seemed quite reasonable as Princess charged us $11 last year for a similar cabin. Drinks have a 15% service charge.
I can't really say much about this as we didn't go to any of the shows as the times of them clashed with our getting ready for dinner or having our dinner as we were second sitting. Although from speaking to other people on the cruise it seemed they were the usual standard for cruise ships. The day time activities included exercise classes held in the sun on the deck and dance classes (these were all well attended).
The ships is lovely and is cleaned constantly. There is also a constant painting programme.
Our cruise went to the Black Sea - so included Bari, Athens, Yalta, Odessa, Istanbul, Olympia, Dubrovnik and returned to Venice. The variety of places visited was the main reason we chose the cruise. The time spent in each location varied however it was long enough.
We went on tours in Yalta, Istanbul and Olympia. The tour guides were all local and spoke excellent English. The tours were good value as particularly for Olympia you need someone to explain the ruins. We didn't intend to take a tour in Istanbul but the palace was only open to those on tours on the day we went there so to see that we paid for the tour(opening times are on the Topkapi palace website).
This wasn't the fault of the staff on the Opera but MSC had also booked the port for another ship on the same day. We returned to the port at 10:45. Our ship was moving to a tender position (we were told) at 11 but it had already departed when we arrived, to make way for the other larger MSC ship. Presumably this was intended to save port fees for the company. However it meant that we were on a tender which arrived at the Opera soon after it had moved - only to discover that the sea was too rough for the tender to dock. After a couple of quite hair raising attempts to dock we were directed to the other side of the ship and waited for a while, whilst the facilities were set up to dock. The most annoying thing about this wasn't MSC or the rough sea but the back seat drivers on the tender who seemed to believe they knew better than the crew of the ship and the tender!
Prior to departure there was the usual briefing and everything seemed well organised. On the morning of departure we were told to leave our cabins by 7am which we did. We had breakfast and went to read in one of the lounges until we reached Venice. We sailed in past St Marks Square, everything seemed fine. Having reached Venice at 9am we went to our departure point. We eventually left the departure point at 11:15am - after having sat there for 4 hours with no drinks and no announcements about what was causing the delay.
People around us were catching trains and flights - they had told MSC this but were told that it wasn't urgent enough for them to leave the ship sooner (with hindsight it would appear that if you have travel arrangements and haven't booked excursions or transfers with MSC I'd suggest you don't hand your bags in and take them off yourself).
Anyway when we eventually got off the ship we realized what was causing the delay. There were 2 MSC ships offloading passengers in Venice and MSC appear to employ only a minimum number of bag handlers who had been split between these. I actually saw my case coming off the ship as I walked down the steps - so it wouldn't have helped to leave the ship earlier as we would have been waiting on shore.
We enjoyed the cruise. The staff were all friendly and helpful but the organisation having arrived back in Venice left a lot to be desired.