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 More
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. Less
MSC Magnifica Cruises to the Eastern Mediterranean
Probably one of the most visually stunning ports to enter, aside from Monte Carlo. Gorgeous is an understatement. The Old City is simply beautiful and easy to get around, provided you do not try to go down certain "side streets" that seem to rise to the heavens with the amount of steps to get up there. Take a taxi from the port. Very cheap at 15 euro and easier than the shuttle from the ship at 10 Euro. Good shopping and local delights. Go to the square where the tables are set up and look for a woman selling sea salts. She grows her own herbs and mixes it with sea salt for a cooking blend that has a heavenly aroma !!
If you are on the starboard (right) side of the ship at port you will have the most incredible views of Mount Carmel and the city of Haifa. From Haifa we visited Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Do yourself a favor and take the excursion to Bethlehem and Jerusalem. It is the most moving experience. BE ADVISED - When the excursion says not for someone with mobility problems, they really mean it !! If it says 2.5 km of walking, it is every bit that AND most of it is UPHILL on steep inclines !!
Sleepy Port Town. If you do not do an excursion here you are delegated to walk the small street that makes up the shopping district. They way this town survives is from cruise ships so you have a large selection. On a shopping excursion you may be limited to which shops you are allowed to enter as they try to "spread the wealth around" so best to go out on your own.
The city center was a good way away from the port. Do NOT attempt to walk. The ship offered a shuttle service for 8 Euro a person. Good investment. More shopping here and nice cafe's to get authentic food.
Shopping Paradise or as I called it "Knockoff Central." You can buy any type of hand made items but the majority is knock off designer stuff. As one woman on our cruise put it, she was tired of seeing "Phooey Vuitton" bags !!