My MSC cruise was brought to my attention by my son with a Voyage Prive (travel agent) advert that was offering a 9 day cruise in the Eastern Med for Â£399 including the flight from Gatwick to Venice.
Allowing, say, Â£129 for the flight, left Â£270 for a 9 day cruise - Â£30 per day.
I have to say I was taken in by the - offer available for 48 hours only - and booked without doing my usual research.
Once I started the research I thought I had made a horrible mistake.
There were a number of complaints about - embarkation - a long walk to the terminal - smoking - hundreds of children running around like rats - foreign passengers queue jumping and generally pushing - food - availability of water/drinks - lack of service - entertainment - dress code - disembarkation - everything seemed to be wrong
There were a few surprises - the Â£6 per person per day 'compulsory' service charge (tip).
I would normally expect to tip Â£50 to Â£60 so yeah - probably double what I would have given.
Then on top of that a 15% service charge on all drinks - again put another Â£40 on the bill.
Transfer between the airport and terminal not included.
As there were 4 of us we booked a private mini bus for Â£100 - Â£12.50 e/w each for a 20 minute transfer was not unreasonable and worked efficiently.
We were originally notified that our flight was through BA, but it was ultimately booked with Easyjet.
The original deal of Â£399 was for an inside cabin - we upgraded to an outside cabin with balcony.
The Easyjet flight was on time - we landed at 11.30 am local time - progressed through baggage reclaim - our mini bus was waiting through Customs - we transferred to the cruise terminal - booked in - we were sitting on the balcony overlooking Venice by 1.00 pm - our cases arrived at our cabin by 2.00 pm - not a problem.
There were people walking the mile or so from the rail station to the ship but that seemed to be a choice - there was a shuttle bus every 10 minutes and/or taxis.
I am a devout non-smoker but didn't find the smoking policy an problem.
One bar in particular allowed smoking - we never went in there, smoking was permitted in the casino - never went there either, and on the port side of the open pool area - if we walked through that area we did it on the starboard side.
We never encountered smoking in any of the restaurants or non-smoking bars.
So yes, there was the smell of smoke in some areas but it never impacted on my holiday.
I am also a devout hater of badly behaved children, and this was my biggest fear, because from my research I discovered that the middle of February was Italian half term.
There were children - probably a couple of hundred (10%) - and yes there were some horrible screaming brats - but I would not consider them a nuisance.
We all know there is less of a queueing culture abroad and my old footballing skills of shoulder barging, back elbows and an apologetic smile proved useful tools at the coffee machine queue at breakfast.
I cannot believe that anybody could criticise the food.
Breakfast choice was extensive - full English through continental, cereal yogurts.
The buffet lunch was similarly extensive - cold meats, salads, grills, pizzas, ethnic section (curries etc), pastas.
Dinner was served in 2 sittings in 2 restaurants - a choice of 7 courses every night (appetiser, salad, soup, pasts, main, dessert, cheese and biscuits) - at least 2 choice for each course and 4 choices for the main meal.
The food was quite pasta based but it is an Italian company.
Water/tea/coffee freely available in the buffet restaurant at breakfast, lunch, tea, and in the evening if you chose to eat there.
All drinks elsewhere and in the main dining room payable.
We took our own 'illicit' travelling kettle to make our own tea and coffee in our cabin.
The staff worked hard and were quite attentive, although I felt the cabin staff did not go the 'extra mile' they might have, had they been trying to sweeten us up for a tip !!
The entertainment was 'adequate' - Franco the Cruise Director very multi-lingual - but very irritating hearing all introductions in 4 or 5 languages - we only did 3 shows.
The dress code was very flexible - for the men - do not bother to pack a Tux/DJ - you will be in the 5% minority - most people dress up a little for the informal or gala evenings, but not beyond collar and tie and dark suit, and there were many in the main restaurant who dressed the same for casual, informal or gala evenings - eg on our next table, fleeces and I mean the same - one guy wore the same hooped fleece for dinner 9 nights on the trot - bizarre !!
Disembarkation was a dream - I must have been one of the first in on Tuesday with a request for early disembarkation to meet my flight out of Venice - we were in the first group off and had collected my luggage and met my return mini bus by 9 am - Simples !!
All in - not a bad holiday - the downside for me was too much time at sea - only 5 hours ashore in Athens in the last 3 days of the cruise - I got bored .
Extra costs - my total extras were around 700 euros for 2 people, and that included 200 euros for excursions, and 100 euros in the spa, and 140 euros of the balance was service charges.
Would I cruise with MSC again ?
I prefer Child Free to Free Child so probably not - but for those of you considering a trip, don't be put off by the negative reviews.