We took our parents (80's) on a 14 day Caribbean Cruise in February 2012. Was sold on the fact that MSC prices are substantially less (about 1/3 less) than the competitors.
We have all taken an Alaska cruise on Norwegian Sun and an 18 day Princess Coral Cruise through the Panama Canal, I believe, we are able to fairly compare for reader's benefit.
MSC is a discount cruise line . . . not just to make less money! They have to cut costs somewhere! Before I get into the finer details, the four keys: 1) Ship; 2) room; 3) food and 4) entertainment were definitely 4.5 star without hesitation.
SHIP: Real pretty, standard and comparable to other two. Getting on and off was VERY organized and quicker than Princess. Has same type of on ship stores and with duty free status on board with their item costing about the regular at home prices.
ROOM: excellent (larger than Princess's same as Norwegian) with balcony larger than both others: The beautiful bed spread was frayed along the top (we didn't notice until 3rd day) but on a positive side when we asked if could have another pillow, they brought us a "pillow menu" (never saw that before) and had every type of pillow ever made. Room service was almost instant (ate breakfast in more than at restaurant) never waited more than 5 minutes for breakfast. Had our local daily newspaper (there are about 60 major city papers available ($2.25/day)) delivered every morning. Room decor and lay up, storage space was wonderful and as displayed on their web site. Internet (extra cost) in the room was really high speed unlike the other two ships. TV movies were good but like with satellite TV, it took a while to figure out what was on as there is no TV schedule available.
NEGATIVE: never had a chocolate on our pillow and only one night we had a towel animal on our bed. We wanted a flower arrangement in our room (my wife loves flowers) but the ship was unable to supply a single flower for the 14 days. REAL NEGATIVE: we were at sea for Valentine's Day and there was not a flower to be had, real or artificial (except on the dining room table)! Had to draw some so she awoke with flowers by her bedside (so far married 42 years and never missed flowers for Valentine's Day yet!).
CAUTION: the ship only has liquid soap! If you want a bar of soap for showers, bring your own. Cannot get or buy any on the ship.
FOOD: It is an Italian Cruise line. As one would expect from any upper end Italian Restaurant they have plenty of very tasty and delicious Italian meals. They were truly delicious! Mainly we had western dishes, steaks, pork, chicken (never a menu without plenty of western choices) and unbelievably, every dish comes with sauces to die for, was mouth watering. After 14 dinners, can truly say we were never disappointed with the choices and presentation. The dining room service was absolutely first class.
NEGATIVES: The buffet was the very worst selection . . . for every meal. Late night buffet is so small it is none existent. We get up at 10 am usually and too late for breakfast and no late breakfast services or any early lunch services are available anywhere on the ship. There are no real hamburger places, sandwich bars or snack bars on the
ship . . . MSC missed the boat on this issue. The Sushi Restaurant is a pay as you go restaurant. The food was terrible! (yesterday's rice). We are very devoted Sushi fans! When they gave my wife a suggestion card, she filled it out right away . . . close the restaurant! MSC would be better served to convert it to a 24 hour MacDonald's and Subway combination restaurant and deal with their lack of snack bars.
ENTERTAINMENT: Nightly shows were far more professional productions than both the other ships. Watch the daily sheets as something is happening almost all day long and without planning you will miss most of the events that would interest you. The daily events seems to give everyone a prize. The event are fun and had a country club atmosphere. There is music of every type (except the Blues), including country and rock and roll, somewhere on the ship and a chair nearby to enjoy it and a dance area if one was so inclined. If you have no one to dance with the entertainment staff (male and female) will get you to your feet.
MISCELLANEOUS: Staff was excellent, helpful and very polite. This ship caters to four main language groups so everything is repeated in four languages . . . is this a negative? . . . Well I am Canadian and although only speak English I can appreciate the Italians, Germans or Spanish that can't speak English. I am glad they could understand the comments as much as I. Having said that, it is strange to have 1000 people in the auditorium laughing at four different times when the same joke is told in 4 languages! Glad the other three languist groups had as much fun as us English folks. English was never a problem anywhere on the ship. Kudos to MSC for finding an entire staff that speaks so many languages!
CONCLUSION: Biggest disappointment really was no chocolate or towel animals on bed. Second biggest; Munchies after midnight not available anywhere on the ship with only room service available (service fee after midnight). DROVE US NUTS; MSC won't let you bring any wine on board. Bringing a locally purchased wine for dinner was one of "our" excitements of each port of call. Didn't mind corkage fee but bringing no wine??? What is MSC thinking? WHAT WE MISSED MOST: When you return to the ship from a port of call, MSC does not have any towlets or water stations.
BIGGEST BENEFIT: was the half price cost cruise! Will we cruise MSC again . . . you bet we will! BEST MONEY SAVER: get the 10 bottle advance purchase of wine ($110). The selection was great! and a bottle of reasonably decent wine at the dinner table is $35-$85.
SPECIAL THANKS TO SHIP'S NURSE and DOCTOR: Parents caught a touch of bronchitis from the wind in Fort Lauderdale river tour. They were down for three days and eventually took a trip to the ship's doctor. The staff was great, very detailed examination and the total cost was $72 for both including antibiotic pills.