<p><em>Editor's note: From May 2018, MSC Splendida will join fleetmate MSC Lirica in China.</em></p>
The first thing you want to know about the stylishly big, bold and brash MSC Splendida, which debuted in 2009, is that this mainstream ship is European in style, food and language. A voyage on the 3,274-passenger Splendida in the Mediterranean will not be a typical North American Caribbean cruise. It is a good option if you want to cruise with Europeans, so that your experience aboard ship is as European as your time ashore.
For starters, English-speaking passengers are in the minority on Splendida, as they are on all MSC ships in Europe. So don't count on a lot of interaction with fellow passengers, many of whom may not speak English. Your menu, your daily newsletter and written messages all will be in English. Your tablemates at an assigned dinner seating will speak English. The crew will speak English when talking to you. But other communications on the ship -- from loud speaker announcements to the life boat drill -- will be in five languages, including but not leading with English.
On Splendida, you also may feel nickel and dimed when asked to pay for water and coffee, room service, ice cream and hanging around the spa. However, Europeans are used to paying for these items. (In North America, MSC ships change some pricing policies so Yanks are more comfortable.)
All employees I met aboard the ship were friendly and attempted to fulfill my requests. Their style was European, in that little effort was made to anticipate a need or to notice if something might be awry. So don't expect to be coddled or for the staff to notice that you have a problem; you'll need to be more proactive, but the staff will respond.
MSC has built a modern cruise fleet, and Splendida reflects the evolution toward prettier and more innovative ships. The ship is well designed, with fine materials, quality artwork, and good fabrics in grand public areas and in the cabins, 80 percent of which have private balconies. The ship serves middle-class Europeans, and is well priced to compete with other mass-marketed, mainstream ships in Europe.
Passengers who prefer a more exclusive atmosphere can book a cabin in Splendida's Yacht Club, which offers many of the services associated with concierge floors in luxury hotels. While the Yacht Club is pricey for a mainstream ship -- with fares two to three times higher than the standard cabins -- it got high marks from passengers on my cruise, and Cruise Critic members online have praised the Yacht Club experience. Noteworthy amenities include butler service, a private sun deck with pool and whirlpools, and an exclusive lounge offering concierge services, and light meals and free drinks throughout the day.
Most of the passengers aboard Splendida are from Europe. It's a popular ship for families on vacation from France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, the United Kingdom and especially Italy. You'll meet some singles, but a majority seem to be families or couples.
While meeting people from other parts of the world is one of the great joys of travel, some of the cultural differences have been known to be irritating to North Americans. They often have trouble getting used to the unwillingness by some Europeans to get in line, who push their way to the front instead of waiting their turn. Also, the more prevalent cigarette-smoking can be bothersome to people used to restrictions on indoor smoking in restaurants and other indoor establishments. On MSC's Europe cruises, cigarette smoke seems to linger near doorways and in other public areas, despite rules about passengers smoking only in designated areas, usually on the starboard (right) side of the ship.
The MSC Splendida daily newsletter explains the three evening dress code options. On Gala nights, men are encouraged to wear a tuxedo, dinner jacket or lounge suit, with evening or cocktail dress for ladies. Informal nights mean jacket and tie for gentlemen, cocktail dress for ladies, and no jeans. On casual evenings, men can be comfortable in sports shirts, trousers or jeans, and women don skirts, slacks, sweaters or blouses.
On a one-week cruise, two nights were designated as formal Gala nights, and some passengers dressed up, though many did not. Many passengers dressed casually, no matter what was recommended for the evening. For some men, formal night meant untucked shirts and no tie, while the women tended to dress a little nicer.
A gratuity charge of 7 Euros per person, per day, is added automatically to your bill. In addition, a service charge of 15 percent is added to restaurant and bar bills. The currency onboard is the Euro.