To give you some information about us, we are a married couple in our mid sixties from the UK. We are experienced cruisers and have sailed on various different lines this being our 6th cruise with MSC. We booked 3 months prior to departure as a last minute pre Christmas break.
Included in the cost were BA flights from Gatwick and transfers to and from the port. Our early morning flight was on time and we were met in Venice Marco Polo Airport by the MSC representative. After a short wait the coach arrived to take us to the port.
Embarkation with MSC out of Italy is always a bit of an ordeal. After getting up at 4am the last thing you want to do is wait another 3 hours to board the ship. However, to be kind I have to say that there was organisation involved in the embarkation process and this was much improved from our previous experiences out of Venice and Genoa. On arrival at the port, we had to queue to hand our luggage to the porters. We were then directed upstairs where we were given a card with a number. There was adequate seating available and once your number was announced you were then invited to join the check-in queue and the line moved very quickly. Having completed all the check in formalities there was another short wait before being allowed to board the ship.
Once you step on board the magnificent Magnifica the embarkation debacle soon becomes a distant memory. The ship really lives up to its name: the decor oozes Italian style, the colour scheme is calming, inviting and classy. There are many public lounges; all with comfortable seating areas and most have some sort of live music in the evenings where you will find something to suit all tastes. One thing that is sadly lacking is a quiet intimate bar where you could go for a drink and a chat.
The layout of the ship is almost identical to its sisters the Musica and Poesia, the big difference being that the Magnifica has a lovely covered pool area, great for winter cruising in Europe.
We had a grade 6 balcony cabin on Deck 9. The cabin seemed slightly smaller than other balcony cabins but it was perfectly adequate for our needs. The bed was comfortable, but the pillows were not so good - in fact we needed 5 between us! Our room attendant was very happy to provide the extra pillows.
There were two attendants who looked after our cabin and kept it clean and tidy. Towels were changed twice a day. They always said "hello" if they saw you in the corridor. Other than that we did not see a lot of them. We did ask them to bring us ice every afternoon, but they chose to deliver the ice in the mornings! Good job it was winter or we would have been asking for more ice.
Food & Service:
The food on the whole was good, the menu in the MDR was themed around a different Italian region each night. There was also an 'always available' menu that you could chose from if you did not like any of the Italian selection. The choice of dishes was reasonable and always included a fish and vegetarian option. A word about portion sizes, the portions are generally small, but, the menu offers seven courses: appetisers, soups, salads, pasta's, main courses, cheese & desert . . . and the most wonderful freshly baked bread served at every meal. You can have something from each course if you wish. In the UK and US we are used to filling our plates with huge portions all on one plate. This is a different style of eating, believe me, if you choose at least 4 courses you will not go hungry.
The waiters will always bring you more if you ask and if you leave anything they will generally offer to bring you something else. I have even seen guests ask for something and when they got it decide they did not like it and ask the waiter to bring them an alternative choice. There are not too many restaurants that would allow you to do that!
The waiter service in the MDR is generally okay to good in the evenings, when you have your regular waiters. However, whilst the waiters are friendly and accommodating there are some minor shortcomings - they tend to lean over you to deliver or collect plates from other guests, food may arrive in the wrong order and main courses for the whole table are sometimes not served together.
Breakfast and lunch have open seating in the MDR, so you are not with your regular waiters. Therefore, the overall service for lunch and breakfast tends to be inconsistent. You might be rushed, or it may take a long time, the food may arrive in the wrong order (cooked food comes before fruit and yogurt) - or it might not come at all and you have to ask for it. There seems to be little evidence of any coaching or training being given by more senior restaurant staff. I feel that these are not huge issues but they make all the difference between a cruising experience that is OK to one that is excellent.
There were three Gala nights on this 11 night cruise, most people dressed appropriately for the occasion. The last Gala night was for me a little disappointing because this was the first cruise that I have been on where lobster did not feature on the Gala menu.
We are not too keen on eating in the buffet, so I am unable to give a thorough review of the buffet service. However, on the odd occasion that we did eat in the buffet there always seemed to be plenty of choice. My main issue with the buffet is finding or keeping a seat and keeping the food hot whilst looking for a seat. We mainly chose to eat both breakfast and lunch in the MDR. There is a 24hr hot water tea/coffee station available in the buffet, but I do not like the cheap looking blue plastic cups that are used.
There are other eating alternatives, the buffet is available in the evenings until 8.15pm and there are two alternative restaurants at an additional charge. The oriental one offers a very limited menu and I personally feel it is not worth the extra cost. Due to lack of customers there is little ambiance and the food is nothing special. The L'Oasi a la carte restaurant on Deck 13 (part of the cafeteria during the day) is nicely decorated and has wonderful views. Part of the cafeteria is also sectioned off in the evening as a pizza parlour (additional cost). We did not use either of these on this occasion, so cannot comment on the food.
All staff members that we had any contact with whether they be reception, excursion office, bar and waiting staff or room attendants were all polite and helpful, they all spoke some degree of English. We certainly never encountered any rudeness from any staff members.
Entertainment was good - the quality of the shows was of a high standard and there were some unique acts which were very entertaining. Putting a show on for a multi national audience is not an easy task.
There was also live music for dancing in some lounges and a classical trio in another bar.
We are not very keen on the silly games and antics that the entertainments team put on (reminiscent of Butlin's in the 50's and 60's) but these activities are well attended and obviously enjoyed by many.
The itinerary: Venice, Bari, Rhodes, Limassol, Haifa, Katakolon, Dubrovnik, Ravenna, Venice + two sea days.
An interesting itinerary, some places we had visited previously, other were new to us. The highlight for us was the two days in Haifa, which allowed us to visit Jerusalem and Bethlehem on one day and Acre and Haifa Bay on the other day. We used the ship's excursions for both of these. The trip to Jerusalem and Bethlehem was excellent. We had a wonderful Israeli guide - her name was Monette and she made our visit a most enjoyable
experience. The visit to Acre and Haifa Bay was not so good, mainly due to the fact that the guide did not make the excursion interesting.
For all of the other ports we did our own thing either by walking into the centre or using a shuttle bus or local bus.
The cultural mix on board was very interesting. This cruise was out of Europe, so the majority of people were naturally Europeans. Reportedly the largest group of people came from Germany, followed by Italians. There were also French, Austrian, Spanish, English, American, Chinese, Japanese, South African, Australian and New Zealanders, to name but a few of the reported 29 nationalities. We enjoy speaking to people from different countries, so open seating at breakfast and lunch gave us the perfect opportunity to get to know our fellow passengers from many different backgrounds and cultures.
In summary, I really enjoyed this cruise despite some minor shortcomings in service. I have aimed to give an honest and balanced appraisal of my experience. MSC is rather like a box of chocolates, some you love, some are ok and some you do not like, but you eat them all. Without doubt MSC represents outstanding value for money, the ships are beautiful and the itineraries interesting. However at the end of the day the joy of cruising to me is the privilege of being able to visit some beautiful destinations and experience a different culture, it is also a real pleasure to be able to meet and share with so many delightful people from around the world.