So me and some friends of mine decided relatively last minute that just for a change, we would try a proper cruise holiday in the summer. Some of us had done a couple of mini cruises to Ireland and Paris with RCI and Celebrity, and enjoyed it, but thought a full week would be a nice change to the normal beach holidays we normally go on.
We went to a travel agent who gave us various options with a few cruise lines, but in August, everything was either full, or ridiculously expensive, until she offered us MSC Opera, out of Southampton, for 8 nights. Compared to the other cruise lines the price in August was amazing! Meaning we could afford Balcony cabins. A luxury never before experienced. The other cruises I've been on, my cabin was somewhere near the engine room, I swear! We also opted to add on the All Inclusive drinks package (It seems expensive when booking at 38 pppn, but being a group of 19 - 23 year old, this was VERY good value for money! This can also be done on board) So, confirmation in hand, we left, waiting for August to come round.
Embarkation went ridiculously smoothly. From getting out of the taxi, it took around 20minutes to check in, have the mandatory photo, negotiate City cruise terminal, clear security, drop our hand baggage in our cabin, and be sat at the pool bar with cocktails! Immensely better than the crush and ques I had experienced before when boarding the Independence. One thing I also liked was that even though we were some of the first to check in, our cabins were ready for us when we boarded. (I've always had the later times, but I'm told with some lines you sometimes have to wait in the public areas) One thing I would say, however, I panicked a little when we sailed from Southampton as my suitcase wasn't outside my cabin like everyone Else's, but it did arrive around an hour later, so would advise that anything you think you might need in the first couple of hours, pack it into your carry on.
Our cabins, and in fact, the entire ship was immaculately presented! Everyday I seen the same poor man, on his hands and knees, cleaning the glass and brass on the staircases! Considering this is also one of MSC's oldest, and smallest ships, the quality of the decor and furnishings is fantastic I think!
The Food on board was actually amazing! The main restaurants have a LOT of choice, although sometimes a bit fancy for my tastes, but they are more than happy to prepare adults portions of the kids menus, so simple stuff like burgers and spaghetti bolognaise. The buffet restaurant was OK for a quick lunch, but not fantastic. However, the main restaurants are open at the same time so not a problem, but we got friendly with one of the south African staff, and she told us that the things like the buffet restaurant, afternoon tea, breakfast in cabins etc. Had been specifically implemented for the British, and as this was its first Season out of Southampton, there were bound to be some teething issues. Understandably. The same could have been said for the itinerary The majority of places weren't reached until mid afternoon, giving only a few hours in port. (This didn't bother us as we only really get off for a couple of hours and look around anyway) But this seems to have been sorted for next years sailings. They've reversed the itinerary and it now docks at 9:00am almost every morning, and the earliest she leaves is 17:00. (Apart from Guernsey, but how much is there to do there anyway?!)
A couple of things did annoy me however. Not about the cruise line, but from other British passengers, ESPECIALLY this pompous old woman who was on the table behind us at dinner! So I want to set a few things straight as it seems to be said on here a few times as well.
1) The annoying woman behind us continually complained that "The shampoo here is awful compared to the products we had on the Queen Mary" Yes, the stuff in the showers isn't the best, No, it's not a top brand, but it does the job. If you don't like it you can A)Pay 4 x the price and go back to Cunard, or B) Spend a few pound and bring your own shampoo!
2) Hard entertainment facilities (i.e. climbing walls, ice rinks) aren't amazing, but the animation staff are! After All it is a reasonably small ship, so not really the space to have masses of it anyway. We never made any of the theatre shows as they didn't really interest us, but in various bars around there was always SOMETHING going on. Silly games for children and adults alike, live music/jazz acts, the casino, karaoke and so on.We were never bored! And at the end of the day MSC have some of the best port intensive itineraries anyway, so days at sea are minimal, but the all inclusive package helped us entertain ourselves anyway!
3) THAT 15% SERVICE CHARGE!!! Possibly the most moaned about thing about MSC! I would just like to say, that this is a culture thing. The whole time I was on the boat it was solely the British who complained about it! And the same on here. British people HATE to tip. Point blank. Just about everywhere else in the world has a tipping culture, the USA for instance, adds 10% to just about everything you buy, but there are no reviews complaining about this, because people know its there and expect it. Technically when on the boat you're in Italy, so the tipping culture is there. If anyone can find me a review on here that is NOT by a British person and complains about the service charge. I will by them a drink. but there are two ways to get around this if that extra euro or so really breaks the bank. A) Add the all inclusive. The service charge is taken off. at 38 a day it does sound expensive, but a couple of cokes during the day, a couple of beers at dinner, and a cocktail afterwards and that's about it covered. or B) Remove the gratuity's from your cabin by going to reception to offset it. Gratuity's can also be adjusted to your liking, either up or down.
I hope that this review helped set some peoples minds at ease, especially if they've booked up for next year and are reading all of the appalling ones! But to sum up the Opera Honestly? No, it doesn't have as many of the built in facilities as things like the Independence, but the entertainment team go above and beyond to compensate this. If your a seasoned cruiser with the likes of Cunard, P&O, Holland America etc. Then the Opera probably won't be your ship of choice, but if you do find yourselves going, then it was probably the amazing price that made you book, so either get off your high horses and relax a little, or stop being a cheapskate and expecting Michelin starred food, for McDonald's prices. At the end of the day you get what you pay for. But if your a first time cruiser, or relatively new to cruise and are just looking for something very casual, with a great, laid back atmosphere, good food, Amazing cocktails (Possibly THE best strawberry Daiquiri ever!) and just a week away to recharge the batteries without breaking the bank. Then go for it! I thoroughly enjoyed the Opera, and my first MSC experience, so much we've booked again for next year! And all inclusive for 1?!?! what a BARGAIN! So watch this space for a Fantasia review next.