We are MSC advocates, but are not blind to its shortcomings. Criticisms herewith are not a whinge, but rather to draw attention so that management at relevent levels might take notice in order to develop a good offering into an excellent one.
Magnifica is currently MSC's flagship (the title going to the newest ship in the fleet) and is sister to the Poesia and the Musica, both of which we have previously sailed on. At this time of year we were taking a risk with the weather, but we were blessed with bright clear days throughout and calm seas for the most part. Temperatures ranged from 16 to 21 C (61 to 70 F). Overall we were very satisfied with what we got for the price - not quite 4 Star as MSC would claim, certainly not a culinary paradise, and clearly lacking in finesse. Nevertheless, good value for money, which on this trip luckily combined wonderful ports of call with climatic good fortune.
Embarkation/Disembarkation: Every time we have sailed out of Venice or Genoa embarkation seems to have been designed to make one grumpy! Disembarkation was fine.
Reasonable Cabin: A balcony is essential on a ship of this size, even in winter when one would not expect to spend much time in the open it was a delight. The interior of our cabin was smaller than we have previously experienced on MSC.
Management & Communication: A ship with over 3000 passengers and 900 crew members needs to be well managed -- the captain of the Magnifica was low profile and rather dour in public, but he and his senior officers have done more to create a courteous and efficient environment than on most MSC cruises we have experienced. However, there is still room for improvement.
Dining and Food & Beverage: When considering the price of the ticket, the dining experience was not bad - not 4 star, but reasonable value-for-money.
Service: In the main it was so - so. Dinner service was quite good and room attendants were adequate; breakfast and lunch were hit and miss, bar service was generally good and Reception much improved over previous MSC experiences.
Activities Team: We kept clear!
Formal Entertainment: In my opinion, not too bad.
Health & Safety: Generally satisfied.
Shops, Photography, Excursions: Photo service was very disappointing, but otherwise generally poor range or quality and over-priced. The 'buy-me' factor was definitely missing.
Valuing Customers: On our sixth MSC cruise we certainly felt it was the best to date.
We are British -- husband & wife in our mid 60s and quite widely travelled. This was our twelfth cruise, and our sixth with MSC. This was our first during a European winter. We booked this trip quite late in the day as a pre-Christmas break at a bargain price.
We are members of the MSC Club and are keen advocates of MSC, with only one bad cruising experience with them. We find that whilst many are quick to criticise, the company offers stylish and spotlessly clean ships, excellent itineraries and very good value for money. This cruise proved no exception.
The Magnifica weighs in at c. 93K tonnes - a little more than its sisters, Poesia and Musica at 89K tonnes, and carries over 3000 passengers. The only obvious difference is that whilst the sisters have two open pools on the Pool Deck, Magnifica has one open and one retractable covered pool. This is certainly a benefit out of season. On this trip there were about 2,400 guests, approximately half of whom were German with about 30 other nationalities.
Travel to Port & Embarkation
We flew from London Gatwick to Venice Marco Polo by British Airways (on schedule and only half full) and were met on arrival by MSC staff, who after a short wait, guided us to our transfer bus to Venice Maritima port.
Embarkation: We arrived shortly after midday and lined up outside to have tickets inspected and luggage labels scanned, before being asked to dump our bags according to deck number. We then entered the terminal and were issued with a numbered card and asked to wait . . . and wait! At least this was orderly and we had a seat, which was a great improvement on our previous Venice embarkation in 2008, which was a huge rugby scrum! After some two hours we were ushered through to check-in. This line at least moved smoothly, but there was no real priority given to MSC Club Members or those who had completed on-line check-in. After a further wait and amble around various desks featuring wine packages, spa services, excursions, etc we were called to embark. Once on board we found our own way to our cabin (no white-gloved attendant to escort us this time) and surprise, surprise our cases were waiting for us - but then it had taken us three hours to get there!
Poor embarkation procedures seem to be unique in our experience to Italy. We have boarded ships (including MSC) in various other countries and have never had anything but praise!
Accommodation & Public Areas
State Rooms: We had an outside cabin with balcony towards the front of the ship on Deck 9. It was the smallest cabin of its type we have experienced on 4 different MSC ships. Always before, we have had a settee, but on this occasion only a single easy chair. However, reasonably clean and comfortably decorated. There was a queen bed, a flat-screen TV and fridge stocked with mini-bar.
The bathroom was somewhat bijoux, but clean and perfectly adequate for our needs. We were provided with amply-sized bath robes, which were very useful. Storage in the cabin was just about adequate. Towels and linens were changed more often than necessary.
Whilst on earlier MSC cruises, we were pleased to have a bowl of fresh fruit in our cabin each day, this has seemingly been the victim of an economy measure -- on this and the previous one, we had one per week, and this was in deference to our MSC Club status!
There was little sense of motion, but then the seas were benignly calm. Only when the wind got up did we sense anything at all.
Sun Deck Public Areas: The Magnifica is only a year old and is virtually identical in design to the Poesia, Musica & Orchestra. The pool deck area (Deck 13) is expansive with two pools, several Jacuzzis, a stage and two bars. An advance on its sisters, one of the pools and some of the jacuzzis are under cover, with a retractable roof. Forward there is a large and attractive spa, whilst aft there is a large self-service cafeteria, and the premium restaurant, which also doubles as an overflow to the cafeteria during the day. Part of the cafeteria is partitioned off at night as a pizza parlour (additional charge).
Deck 14 has a walking/running track, children's play area and deck games; whilst Deck 15 comprises a solarium forward (with jacuzzis), and mini-golf and tennis courts aft. There is also a walking deck level with 15, around the covered pool. This proved the best place for aerobic walking during the day, when the running track became an obstacle course of sun beds and meanderers!
Interior Public Areas: Decks 5, 6 & 7 house the Reception, Accounting Office, various poorly stocked and overpriced shops, two main restaurants, a very large and impressive theatre, a large and moderately used pokey room (casino) and a number of bars and lounges of various sizes. Daily bazaars were held with goods on trestle tables were held in the shopping area each day - a standard cruise ship feature with no real bargains to be had! Sadly none of the bars offer much intimacy - either too large and noisy, or along thoroughfares with a constant traffic through them.
There is a large photo shop and team of photographers. We found the photo product and service a sad disappointment after the excellent Poesia.
There is also a large oriental restaurant (extra charge), in which, as with the Poesia and Musica, we saw few customers throughout the cruise. Apart from the theatre and the 3-level reception well, we found the acoustics rather uncomfortable as the various bands, duos, etc did battle with the low ceilings and noisy crowds in an effort to be heard -- a cacophony!
Gleaming mirrors and bright brass banisters, handrails, etc in stairwells, lifts and so-on are hallmarks of all MSC ships.
Communication & On-Board Information
Language Skills: MSC's market is very international and they operate routinely in Italian, English, German, French and Spanish. On this cruise most passengers were German, Italian or English-speaking but all five languages were used in public announcements.
The Reception/Information Office has on previous MSC cruises been notable for brusqueness and unhelpfulness. It had improved on the Poesia, but on this ship it was much improved.
Our cabin attendants were Madagascan and had adequate English skills. Most waiters were Indonesian or and their command of English varied considerably. Our waiters at dinner were Italian and the senior spoke reasonable English.
Television: Each cabin had a TV, but apart from pay TV the only English language channels were CNN and Euronews - not very informative - oh how I wish there was the option of BBC World!
The TV also had a channel featuring the ship's position and wind speed -- but nothing else. There was a map, but it was very indistinct -- rather inadequate for people like me who find navigational and geographic information extremely interesting. This dreary system seems the same on all MSC ships.
Excursion information on TV was limited to a slide presentation with half a dozen shots of each destination - not even each excursion on offer. The English-language host did a presentation on excursions, but his knowledge and delivery were pore and he had exactly the same slide show as on TV - hopeless! There was nothing for people who wished to explore ports of call independently. Compared with the likes of Princess, HAL and Cunard the lack of port information on MSC is pathetic. There is no excuse for landing your paying guests in a port in ignorance and this continued lapse by MSC is inexcusable.
Daily Programme: Each evening a 'Daily Program' was distributed to every cabin outlining the on-board activities for the next day, restaurant times, etc. There were editions in all the main languages. This has exactly the same format as when we first sailed with MSC in 2004!
Team Spirit: The problems of multilingual communication are on the whole admirably managed by MSC, and Magnifica was no exception. However, I did not feel this was a particularly happy ship. Service people seemed to be doing a job, but no more - there was no sense of wanting to put wrongs right or going the extra mile. Perhaps the policy of charging guests a fixed service charge is taking away the incentive to exceed customer expectations.
Dining & Service
There are two formal restaurants on Magnifica and in addition the cafeteria is open until about 8.15 pm for those that do not want set dining.
We had most of our meals in L'Edira on Deck 5. For Dinner we had a good table for 7 which we shared as part of a cosmopolitan English-speaking group. We thoroughly enjoyed their company and for once it seemed that our request to be seated with non-British English speakers had been acted upon. One of the joys of speaking English is that so does half the world! Rather than being constrained with others from the same nation, out of choice we prefer cultural mixing over meals.
Whilst not Cordon Bleu, the food was sufficient, varied and perfectly edible - to prove it we each put on 4 lbs. over the duration of the cruise! To rate it I would say that dinners ranged from 3* to 4*. Fish, as usual on MSC, was more reliable than meat. Salads tended to be swimming in oil, but soups were fine and pastas/risottos were consistently excellent. Desserts were sadly uninspiring, whilst cheeses were very disappointing compared with previous cruises (tiny portions of the same selection virtually every night).
At dinner a different regional Italian menu was offered each evening and balance of diet across up to 7 courses was good. However, there was little in the way of 'healthy eating' options and there was little for vegetarians to get excited about. And if nothing appealed they would always provide from a bulk standard alternative option of salad, soup, chicken, etc - this proved acceptable overall.
But we were very disappointed at the final Gala Dinner - NO LOBSTER!
On Caribbean cruises iced water, iced tea and regular coffee/tea is served limitlessly by MSC at all meals. However, in European waters, as with this cruise, such courtesies are not offered. Bottled water is available at extra charge. To add insult, North American guests are provided with vouchers to cover the charge, but not so the rest of us - smacks of racism! MSC has different policies for different markets. In the Caribbean they provide free water, etc to satisfy the standard expectation, whereas in Europe they charge extra for everything!
The wines, including the packages, have become rather pricey, but a little known and unadvertised secret is that you can buy a half-litre carafe of perfectly adequate red or white wine for just €7.00.
We normally took all of our daytime meals in L'Edira restaurant, preferring waiter service to the bustle and noise of the self-service cafeteria. Having said that, we always found, when using the cafeteria that the food was good and standards meticulously clean. We enjoyed the cultural mix of daytime open seating in L'Edira - you meet so many interesting people. The lunch menu was often better than dinner, whilst breakfast offered the same choices every day - however, the breadth of choice meant that you could eat a different combination every day for a month.
Asian Restaurant: One lunch time we decided to eat in the Asian restaurant. Here the service was excellent, but there were only 4 guests in a restaurant that could probably take a hundred! But the choice was limited and the quality unexceptional. For the extra charge we had expected better.
Bars - we are not heavy drinkers and did not use these often. Bar service was generally good, but it seemed odd that one day they put on a promotion for Peroni Italian lager and from the next day onwards the only place you could get it was in the Asian restaurant!
Service: We had a friendly Italian duo looking after us at dinner and whilst a bit rough around the edges they had sufficient character and willingness to please.
However, at other meals the competence of the waiting staff varied significantly. I do object, when ordering several courses for breakfast to have then all put in front of me at the same time! This is the third MSC cruise where this has regularly occurred. Waiters also often failed to co-ordinate courses properly tended to reach over when serving or clearing dishes. This didn't happen as much at dinner, so why a more slap-dash approach at other times. This is nothing that proper coaching, training and supervision can't put right, so its down to the MDs and Senior Waiters to address.
I would rate dinner service as being 4*, whilst at other meals it was 2* to 3*.
MSC has a policy of adding a fixed amount per passenger per day, which is added to the bill at the end of the cruise. They then share this among all crew members, both the seen and unseen. The amount in question varies according to the area of operation. The charge is higher in Europe and the Caribbean than elsewhere.
In the past we have opted out of this scheme, preferring to tip on merit for exceptional service. However, on this occasion we went for the easy life, but got the impression that the policy promotes mediocrity with nobody going the extra mile.
Activities, Hospitality & Entertainment
Theatre Shows: There was a show in the theatre most evenings -- two performances, one for each dinner sitting. Being a multilingual operation, MSC are of course a bit restricted - comedians for instance would struggle in five languages! There were some excellent acrobatic and juggling acts, but the singers were undistinguished and the dancers were not up to the normal excellent MSC standard.
Other Entertainments: In the cabaret lounge there were the normal audience participation MSC favourites of Mr Magnifica, Miss Magnifica and Grease -- okay if you like that sort of thing, but events that we try and avoid like the plague. Never-the-less these events were quite popular - just too holiday-campish for our liking.
There were plenty of bars and lounges with music, but as already stated the acoustics did not enhance enjoyment.
Activities: Winter did not permit the various games and activities organised by the Entertainments Team to be held up on the open Deck 13. Instead most were held in one or other of the lounges. The Activities Team also put on various quizzes, competitions, handicraft events, etc. As we only had two days at sea there was little opportunity to try day time activities, although there seemed a reasonable programme - we just preferred to relax with a book on our balcony, or do deck walking.
We did a reasonable amount of deck-walking most days. Two complete circuits of Decks 14/15 equates to 1 km (3 = 1 mile). However, due to obstructions, we generally restricted our deck walking to the upper perimeter of the covered pool - one day we did 12 kms (7.5 miles), whilst enjoying wonderful sunshine, sea air and each other's company.
Spa: We did not use it on this occasion, but know it from the identical facility on other MSC ships.
Cocktail Parties: The Captain's Welcome Cocktail Party took place on the second evening and to over 1000 guests at each of two events, the drinks offered in all bars whilst the captain's speech and presentation of officers was held in the Theatre. It was the standard presentation, but the Captain lacked charisma. There was one other cocktail party (again over two sittings) for repeaters (MSC Club Members) - they certainly seem to pull in a lot of repeat custom on these winter cruises!
One matter I found objectionable. A cocktail party hosted by the Captain is a formal event, coinciding with formal evenings. We love to dress up for these events. Whilst those that don't wish to smarten up can dine without remark in the buffet, I take exception to their turning up at a cocktail party in jeans and tee shirt - let alone lining up to have their photo taken with the Master! I regard this as a gross lack of respect for the Captain and his officers, as well as the majority of decent passengers who turn out in good order, irrespective of whether they have a black tie. MSC have a clear policy and issue simple guidelines for formal, smart-casual and informal evenings. I wish they would police it.
The Cruise Critic Roll Call: We had started the roll call for this cruise on the Cruise Critic website, but there was only one other subscriber. Amazingly, we found that person and her friend were seated with us at dinner - excellent company. However, its a shame that CC is not widely used outside of North America as its such a great channel for pre-cruise discussion and meeting like-minded people.
Health & Safety
Lifeboat Drill: This important procedure was carried out in various of the lounges and at least it happened before we set sail. But it was not exactly attention-grabbing and we wonder how much people take in, whilst putting on life jackets in the comfort of an armchair!
Maintaining a Healthy Environment: On Magnifica there were plenty of hand-sanitisers around the ship, at the entrances to all restaurants and the larger bars and theatre. Hygiene notices were evident in public toilets and all in all we were impressed with the attention to cleanliness throughout the ship. Utter cleanliness in public areas, both inside and on deck, is evidenced by staff constantly rubbing, scrubbing and polishing! However, my wife did point out where our room stewards had missed! (nothing critical)
Shore Excursions & Destinations
Apart from in Israel, we did our own thing at all ports of call and cannot report directly on the quality of Magnifica's shore excursions elsewhere. However, we thought that prices were excessive. I have reviewed most destinations under the standard CC listing, but one port is not listed, so I cover it here:
Ravenna - this seems to be a new cruise destination. The cruise port is on the coast, whilst the city is about 11 kms (7 miles) up-river beyond an extensive industrial area. The port is poorly served by public transport, so ship's shuttle (€10 pp) is therefore a necessity. We had originally booked an excursion to Bologna, but only 6 of MSC's 2,400 passengers chose this, so the tour was cancelled. However, a trip into the old city centre of Ravenna proved most enjoyable. There is a famous Byzantine 1,500-year-old church called S. Apollinaire at Classe. We had been to this Basilica before and it is well worth a visit, but Classe is some distance out of Ravenna to the South, so it is probably necessary to get a ship's excursion to see this. However, there is plenty of late-Roman archaeology to be seen in the city centre. Don't be confused at the rather expensive sounding €9.50 entrance fee to any of the churches - it actually covers all the most important sites, so is reasonable if you give yourself the time to see them. If not, just a leisurely walk around the old city is enjoyable - lots of medieval buildings, stylish shops, markets and so on. We were there on a Saturday just before Christmas, so the city was buzzing with merry activity.