We are a family of four, two adults and two teens ages 16 and 17. We are from New York. This was our 12th cruise. We have cruised eastern Caribbean, western Caribbean, southern Caribbean, Bahamas, Mexico, Alaska, Galapagos and Baltic. We are fairly well traveled on land as well, both within the USA, Europe, Central and South America and Asia.
We chose MSC Splendida because we wanted a Med Cruise in February that would coincide with our school break. Initially I was dismayed at the awful reviews, but decided this was the itinerary we really wanted, and if the ship was really that bad, we'd simply use it as a floating home base.
We booked the cruise through an online cruise booking that offered us stateroom credit. The pricing was excellent. The MSC cruise in Europe allows you to embark at Genoa, Marseille or Barcelona. Our travel agent selected Barcelona for a few reasons: Easier to fly into from NY, excellent city to spend some time pre-cruise and most passengers DO NOT embark in Barcelona, therefore just a little less crazy at embarkation and disembarkation.
We flew nonstop from New York to Barcelona two days in advance and stayed at Hotel Casa Fustar. This is a wonderful gem of a hotel right down the block from the "Block of Discord." We arranged for a private transfer from the airport to hotel, hotel to cruise port and cruise port to airport.
We arrived at the Port of Barcelona at 2 PM (sailing was scheduled for 6 PM) and we were promptly met by a porter. Since we were in the Yacht Club, the porter waved over the butlers, who loaded our luggage on a hotel style trolley and whisked the luggage directly to our stateroom. Our butler then escorted us to the Yacht Club lounge where we completed our registration.
This ship is magnificent. Incredibly clean and looks brand new. Simply stunning. Our cabins were in the Yacht Club -- the "ship within a ship" we had standard balcony rooms. The cabins were well appointed with room for a sofa, desk, coffee table and balcony with chairs. Walk in closet and marble bathroom. Shower was in a tub, with excellent shower head and always plenty of hot water.
The privileges of the Yacht Club are a private lounge, where drinks both alcoholic and non-alcoholic are complimentary, light snacks provided throughout the day, a continental breakfast and small finger food at lunch time and dinner as well as high tea service every day at 4 PM. There is also a private sun deck with a pool and 2 hot tubs and an outdoor bar and seating area.
Every evening we dined in the Yacht Club only dining room L'Olivio. This was sensational. Each evening we were greeted like long time customers returning. Our waiter was the same every evening (Salvatore) as was the manager (Luigi) and the Sommelier (Leonardo). Our dinner was seven courses each evening -- soup, a starter, salad, pasta or rice dish, main course, cheese course and dessert. I saw many others ordering food that was not on the menu (Indian cuisine or something from the main dining room or buffet) and it was presented without issue. The portions were not large, but since we were having so many courses, we were so full every evening. The food was very good, artfully presented and interesting variety. My teens truly enjoyed trying everything -- fully knowing even if they didn't enjoy something fully, more would be coming. Every evening we ordered a bottle of wine, even though in our dining room complimentary Prosecco, white wine and red wine were poured. We enjoy fine wine, and the prices for most wine we ordered were the same as in a wine shop in the states. Our sommelier did an excellent job of steering us to wines we had not experienced before.
After dinner each evening, the teens joined the teen group. It was a little awkward initially, as they were the only Americans aboard, but they soon found that although the first language of many wasn't English -- they were quite conversant. They had a wonderful time. The adults went to the night clubs on the ship. Biggest difference from American cruiselines with Americans aboard and the MSC with many Italians, germans and French? The stay up late and party -- the entire family -- from younger kids to grandma and grandpa. It was really incredible. One evening on our ship it was "Fat Tuesday" or "Carnivale" and they had a giant party where everyone dressed up and dance all night. We learned many new Italian line dances.
We attended almost every show. They were well produced and interesting, particularly since most of them could not have any dialog as there were so many nationalities aboard. The magician was fun as were the dancers and acrobats. Hats off to the cruise director (Maritza?) that spoke at least 5 languages fluently.
I know this is a long review, but I have so benefited from everyone else's, I wanted to give as much detail as possible.
Now, on to the Ports.
Barcelona: We spent a few days pre-cruise here and since the adults were here before, we could "cherry pick" some interesting and varied sights for the teens. We did the HOHO bus (good if you are in town for a few days, but probably not worth the time if you only have a few hours), La Rambla, the market, old town, the Picasso Museum, the Gaudi Houses and Park Guell. We went up to Montjuic and toured the port area as well.
Malta: RAIN! OH No! We did the ships tour to the ruins and harbor city which was just OK. The ruins are really not much to see, and they are cordoned off so you must walk around the periphery. The harbor town was cute, but mostly closed up due to the rain. No worries -- we went back, and headed for the spa. The spa facilities are included for the Yacht Club members with a private elevator and entrance.
Tunisia: Ships tour to Carthage and Medina including a stop at a Souk. DO NOT TOUR ON YOUR OWN! We felt fairly safe on this tour with our English/French speaking crowd and our very competent tour guide. Carthage was another Roman ruin -- and just fascinating. You are able to walk around the ruins, and go from room to room. Medina was interesting -- we toured a carpet store, essential oil store and the souk. Lots of selling pressure (we're from NY -- it doesn't bother us) and major negotiations in the souk. An interesting day for sure. Police were always around, and at the end of our trip, I watched our guide "tip" the police to keep the pathways to the souk clear for us. Like I said, culturally, very interesting. Our guide also took us to the American Cemetery from WWII. Very Similar to Normandy in style, but obviously not scale.
Rome: Since the adults have been to Rome a few times before, we took the ships bus into town and did "Rome on your Own". The bus picked us up right outside the ship and took us right to St. Peters. From there we took a taxi to the Coliseum, waited to have ourselves scanned and then skipped the line for tickets only by signing up for the guided tour in English. The tour was conducted by the Coliseum agency and was well presented and interesting. We left the Coliseum and walked through the Arch of Constantine and past Palatine Hill quickly taking in the sights. We next stopped at Vittorio Emmanuel and went to the top on the elevator to have a bird's eye view of the city. Headed out next to the Trevi Fountain, then the Spanish Steps and finally the Pantheon. For lunch we ate at Tre Scalini right on Piazza Navona and ate outside, basking in the 70 F weather.
Finally, we hustled along to cross the Ponte Sant'Angelo admiring the Angels and past Castel Sant'Angelo. Stopped for a quick gelato and then onto St. Peters Square. Quick day -- time to head back to the bus. The teens vow to return to Rome (they did throw coins in the Trevi Fountain) and visit so many of the sight we passed by but did not spend time in, including a visit to the Vatican Museum.
Marseille -- We selected the ships tour to Aix en Provence. Honestly -- it was really just transportation as the "tour" part was not really well done for one guide and 50 clients. We split from the group and wandered around the very pretty city on our own, had lunch and shopped then back to the ship.
Genoa -- We opted to head out on our own and hired a taxi to take us to Portofino and St. Margarita as well as a tour of Genoa. Portofino was just gorgeous. I can't imaging what it must look like in the summer with yachts and summer action. We had lunch at a family run Italian restaurant in Genoa and then back to the ship.
In Summary -- MSC exceeded our expectations. Clean, beautiful ship with friendly staff and good food and excellent service. We enjoyed cruising with people from so many other countries and found small differenced in manners, but nothing different than you would encounter on any given day in New York. Lucky for us, most passengers spoke a little English, so communication was fine. My family would gladly return to an MSC product -- we have sailed on Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Celebrity, Disney, Norwegian, Princess,X, and Crystal. You will need to be a little adventurous. I would not recommend this ship nor itinerary for your first foray outside the USA.