Having read reviews here about the MSC Magnifica, we were somewhat worried that our cruise would be a dissapointment. But, thanks to the reviews posted here, we were prepared for all the differences in this cruise line and knew what to expect. Yes, water is charged but we knew that and expected it. Yes, children sail free. Again, we knew that and expected it (although there were merely a handful of children on this cruise). Let's begin at embarkation.
EMBARKATION: Somewhat a slow process, but with almost 3000 people boarding it is understandable. I liked how they had tables set up for "packages" to be purchased (wine, coffee, water, etc), private dining options and excursions as well.
FOOD: Very nicely done. Only problem I had was the beef was always fatty so I just avoided that. The buffet does need more variety. There are only so many times you can eat hamburgers, hot dogs and salami.
SERVICE: The service we received was exceptional. Every employee I came in contact with was helpful, courteous and smiling. That made a huge difference. And contrary to what I read here, most of them spoke English well enough to converse with. Not one did not understand us.
STATEROOM: A little small for my taste but adequate for the amount of time spent in there. BRING CLOTHES HANGARS as you only get a few each. Also, if you MUST watch TV and speak english, bring pre-recorded shows or movies. All you will get in english is the British edition of CNN or another news program.
DISEMBARKATION: Seemed to go very smoothly. Some people were upset that we had to be out of our staterooms by 7:30 am, but when you are turning around a ship of 3000 people within a few hours it is a neccesity and I understood completely.
HOTELS: Prior to the cruise we stayed at the Hotel Rialto on the Grand Canal. WHAT A VIEW !!!(Be sure to ask for room 404 !!) It seemd like we could open our window and practically touch the Rialto Bridge. Amazing view of the Grand Canal. Probably the best in all of Venice. Post cruise we stayed one night at the Hotel Santa Chiarra on the Piazzole Roma. Again, a nice view of the Grand Canal in room 201. Both had helpful, friendly staff and clean , comfortable rooms.
EXCURSIONS: The excursions we went on were most enjoyable save for Tel Aviv. This was not MSC's fault but the tour guide we had. He led us through a construction zone and was asking people for directions. A sure clue we picked a bad excursion. He also left a Canadian couple in the market after telling us we would have time to stop and shop. They did and he ran ahead. Once we got to the end the pair called the guide (he had given us his cell number) and he told them we were leaving, and they would have to get a taxi to the next stop. Not good, but again, the guide, NOT MSC.
The excursion to Jerusalem and Bethlehem we had the most amazing guide. Her name was Monette (sp?) and her background as a history teacher sure came through. I probably learned more from her about Israel and the West Bank than I ever did in school. She was also funny and held everyone's attention for the entire almost 12 hour excursion. My hat is off to her. I wish there was some way to contact her and thank her again.
On the Port selections listed they do not have one for Ravenna, Italy. I can uderstand why. It is a cute old town, but you have to drive 20 minutes by bus through a host of chemical plants near the port. Not exactly breathtaking scenery. Once you get there though, it is a pleasant little town. DO NOT attept to walk from the Port. It would take all day.
And back to the cruise itself.
In general, everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time. There were some rude people on board. I will not say what country most were from but they never knew the end of a line. They seemed to have tunnel vision. They knew the end result of what they were looking for and did not let a line stop them from going right up in front of everyone else to be first. This is not a reflection on the cruise line. They cannot be blamed for an individual's rudeness. After a while you just learned to close ranks and block them from "cutting" the line. This was not new to me as we encountered the same on Cunard's Queen Victoria.
I would definitely recommend sailing on MSC Magnifica and would do it again in a heartbeat. It was an amazing experience.