Cruise from Venice to Bari (Italy), Rhodes (Greece), Haifa (Israel) and Pireaus (Greece) Feb 17-26 2012
We arrived at the train station in Venice, walked to Piazzale Roma (5 min), took People Mover (1 euro and it's just one stop), took free MSC shuttle bus to Terminal, left our luggage, queued 5-10 minutes (yes, there is a queue for MSC Card club, but the regular queue was as fast as MSC Club one) and it was our turn to do check-in, register credit card and have our pictures taken; waited another 10 min for our assigned number being called (while waiting we had a complimentary juice and browsed the stands with all packages offers) and at 11:40 we were in our cabin... Couldn't be easier and faster than this.
I've heard that later on it was busier, but I think that there was no chaos, just having to queue a little longer.
We've been upgraded from a balcony to a deluxe suite (15013). Compared to a regular balcony it's roomier, of course. You get a bigger flat screen Tv, a walk-in wardrobe, a bath tub and you have a little more space to walk around. Other than that they are identical.
There's no kettle and the safe is big enough to store cameras, tablets, but not a laptop.
You'll get shampoo, shower gel, hand soap and bathrobes (I think you don't get bathrobes in inside and ocean view cabins).
If you want, there's a laundry package available: 25 euros per cabin per cruise for a max of 30 items to be washed. We didn't take it, though.
If you use the minibar and you're a MSC Club member, you get 20% off. For example, a 1L water bottle was 1.94â‚¬ instead of the regular 2.42 (including 15% service). That does apply only for minibar items.
The cabin is spotless clean: they clean it twice a day: when you leave for breakfast/lunch and when you're at dinner. Beds are very comfortable, double sofabed is ok when open (the mattress is not as high as the bed one, though, and since it was just me, I asked not to open it and make the bed on the sofa itself: much more comfortable, and more space in the room if you don't open the sofa). The staff was very helpful and nice. Always ready to help you with anything. The only downside of being on deck 15 (or 14) is that there is only one group of elevators that goes up there (at the bow of the ship).
It's getting better: when buffet is open all coffee and water dispensers are open. When buffet is closed there are still a couple of dispensers open 24h on the left side (it's also written in the daily program). When you get ashore you can always buy water bottles and take them aboard: nobody stopped us from doing it when going through metal detector while boarding.
So we ended up buying just a bottle for dinner when on the main restaurant (2.42â‚¬ for a 1L bottle, 15% service included).
We bought Doremi/Peter Pan package: it includes 10 drinks (you can choose among milkshakes, smoothies, soft drinks, no alcohol cocktails...), which you can drink at any bar (also in the spa area). It costs 23â‚¬ (26.45 including 15% service). It's a good value for money (a smoothie alone is 3.90+15%). The other drink packages are not such a good value, also consider that if you don't use all the vouchers you lose the money (and be careful not to lose the voucher book, they are not going to give you a refund nor another voucher book).
Maybe it's worth checking with your travel agent what are the all inclusive offers for your country (some Germans got all drinks included for 120â‚¬ for 9 days: considering a cocktail is 6.70+15% if you like to drink it could be worth it). Be aware that there are different all inclusive packages depending on the country you are from: some are only valid during meals and not at the bar. Ask your TA all the details.
I really don't understand why some people have to complain about food on MSC ships: it's always between good or excellent. Ok, you don't get lobster, but how much do you pay for the cruise??? I'm sure you can find lobsters on other cruise companies but you have to tell me how much would you be paying for that cruise, not 399Â£ for a 9 nights cruise including airfare from London to Venice for an inside cabin, as Aitch said in a previous review.
If you're not into Italian cooking you have plenty of choices at the buffet with international dishes. Buffet is not open 24h: for breakfast usually it's open between 7-10, lunch 12-15, tea snacks 16-16:45 and dinner 19-22. The main restaurant is open from 7-9:30 for breakfast, 12-13:30 lunch and depending on your seating you have to be there either at 18 or at 20:30 (could be also 19 or 21:30, it depends on the itinerary).
If you're still hungry when all restaurants are closed you can always have room service, and if that is not enough you can always keep some snacks in your cabin (buy them ashore... what can I say...)
Excursions with MSC in Haifa
What I did not like about MSC excursions is that there were too many people in the group: 52! So you can imagine what that implies when you stop for shopping or toilets.
We stopped 40 minutes in Bethlem in a big souvenir shop (we were supposed to meet after 20 min, including toilets, but half the people didn't turn up so we had to wait), and same problem at the Western Wall in Jerusalem: we were supposed to meet after 30 mins and again we had to wait another 20 min extra for missing people that had gone to toilets. Same problem at lunch, so we ended up losing 1 precious hour all together. It's not a problem to wait when you have plenty of time, but in that kind of tour 1 hour means you're not going to see the grotto in the Nativity Church in Bethlem (the queue is very long) nor the tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It's true, it is specified in the excursion description that you might or might not be able to see them, but it would be perfectly doable if only groups were smaller and people were more respectful of meeting times. What I would do next time is either stay in Haifa and visit the beautiful Baha'i gardens (the temple and the lower part of the gardens are open only in the morning and we only saw the panoramic view from the top of the gardens before going to Akko on first day) or book a private tour for a max of 8 people. That way I would be able to see everything (and I would also skip lunch and have a couple of falafel instead, from a street shop). Said that, the guide for Bethlem and Jerusalem was very informative and very nice (Ron) and the guide for Akko tour was OK (don't remember his name). Next time I would hire a private tour.
For the excursions in detail, see my port of calls review.
Theatre shows are ok, but after a couple of nights it gets repetitive. So I didn't go after the third evening. What you can do in the evening: karaoke at the disco every night at 23, dance at the Ametista and Tiger bars, or at the disco after midnight.
During the day you have different things going on: dance lessons, bingo, flower arranging lessons, napking folding lessons (?)... I personally didn't attend to anything so I cannot say how they were.
Being in the deluxe suite, we've been the first group to disembark. Nothing to complain about. Our luggage was already at the terminal waiting for us.
This is my second cruise with MSC and will definetly go with them again. Don't be put off by negative reviews. Judge by personal experience.