This was our 4th MSC cruise, which I think is pretty rare for North Americans. We were early risk takers with MSC Fantasia when it first came out, then Poesia, Splendida and this last time with Preziosa. Although we are Americans, both my ... Read More
This was our 4th MSC cruise, which I think is pretty rare for North Americans. We were early risk takers with MSC Fantasia when it first came out, then Poesia, Splendida and this last time with Preziosa. Although we are Americans, both my wife and I lived in Europe in the past and enjoy the experience of seeing Europe with fellow Europeans rather than exclusively with other Americans. This cruise was no different, although we do think that we ran into a few other American families on the ship which was a pleasant surprise to see how other Americans have discovered this cruise line.
Look, it's no Royal Caribbean, nor NCL (although I find it most like NCL), and definitely not Carnival. MSC ships are stunningly beautiful, modern and clean, but the style of cruising is different. Not a ton of activities, but we always pick MSC for the ports and the ability to spend quality extended family time while seeing sights. On this cruise, we were a party of 11, from 7 to 71. We had 4 people in our group who had never traveled with MSC.
The good... Again, beautiful ship, great stateroom- we had family connecting rooms, so plenty of space and an oversized balcony. The package with the room also gave us coupon books for included alcoholic beverages as well as bottled water. We weren't expecting the included alcoholic drinks, as we had never seen that in the past. Room was always well maintained (no towel animals until the kids requested them), and something that pleasantly surprised us was how well the wi-fi worked and how reasonable it was for a package lasting the entire cruise.
Ports were awesome, especially Tallinn and St. Petersburg. We booked our own shore excursions with a Russian tour group, so they took care of the Visa issue- no worries. Just get off the ship and clear passport control by showing your reservation bookings. On this cruise, we were expected to go to Stockholm, but due to weather, we diverted to Helsinki. Helsinki is not really that interesting of a port (sorry my Finnish friends!), but I'm glad we went there rather than just another sea day. Overall, the ship didn't move at all (like nothing) over the course of the cruise.
The shows in the main theater were very good, but a bit redundant as far as the circus acts were concerned. The performers were primarily from Russia, and of really high caliber. They kept trying to repurpose the circus performers into different themed shows. One night they had a "Grease" theme, another "Ghostbusters". It was kind of weird to see (and hear) Russians and Italians playing out American cultural iconic shows, but they did a solid job (despite some phrasing issues when singing). Dancers and costumes were phenomenal.
A very personal touch that left an imprint on my three young daughters on this cruise, was how they just happened to run into the Captain as they were practicing their own show, inspired form watching the evening performers. The Captain said he liked their dancing and asked if they would perform for him and the show dancers the following night. Of course they responded yes.
The next day, upon returning form port, the girls returned to their stateroom and there was a note on their beds at the request of the Captain that they meet him by the elevators an hour prior to the evening show. Alongside the note were 3 backpacks full of MSC branded goods, such as stuffed animals, keychains, etc. The girls were ecstatic. They met the Captain and he and two crew members escorted the kids to the crew area of the ship and backstage to meet the performers. The girls got autographs and took pictures with the Captain and the performers. Instant brand loyalty!
Service is typically noted as a fault on MSC, and yes, we have pretty regularly had issues with our bill prior to leaving the ship, inconvenient (especially late on the last night), but not fatal. Kind if something we just expect now.
Food- on our previous MSC cruises meals were longer at 7 courses, but now they have streamlined down to 3- probably for speed, complexity and cost. I had the fish meals every night. Sometimes hit or miss. Still, not a strong point. Also, they don't have free ice cream on the ship anymore, only gelato for sale. Same goes for free beverages in the buffets, not limited to water (which was fine, but a cut back). Again, for the alcoholic drinks, we used the free coupons we received, which included all gratuities as well when buying beverages. I heard that the MSC Yacht Club food is quite delicious from fellow American passengers that we met onboard- the standard fare is passable, but nothing to write home about. The breads though were a highlight, and the breakfast buffet, although pretty much the same daily, had a large variety of items.
Smoking- still a European experience here. More smoking on MSC than the American ships for certain, but I think it has gotten better from our previous cruises on MSC. Smoking relegated to only one side of the ship outside. Just hold your breath when walking by.
Kids club- this time the kids didn't really take part in the kids club that much. The ship, although quite full, was primarily an older clientele (which we have found pretty much across our MSC cruises, but this one took things a notch higher). Maybe it was because it was the Baltic and not the Caribbean, but there were few children on the ship, so the kids stayed closed to the family. They had a few fun events with the kids club, but nothing too unforgettable. I will add that they have a special kids buffet area in the buffet area that is lower and has kid friendly foods, so that was a nice touch.
Embarkation/Disembarkation- Super easy getting both on and off the ship every stop. Because MSC picks up passengers at more than just one port, it divides up the number of new guests boarding every port. Also, we are never rushing to get on the ship so let others get there early and as a family we wait until later in the day to leisurely board without any lines. At the ports, we typically were among the last to board too, so no wait! On the last day, in Copenhagen, we had only a short wait, grabbed breakfast and walked off. Our luggage was ready and we were off.
Overall, we had a great time. My wife (who is very picky!) said she wants to cruise no for every vacation, and she wants to do it with MSC. My sister and brother-in-law are already booking the MSC Seaview cruise and this was their first MSC cruise. They had been on other cruise lines, but were so impressed with how clean and modern the ship was. As I said in the beginning, they don't have a ton of activities all the time (although this cruise they added informational sessions about the history and what to see in each port seminars), so it is a little more kick back than other cruise ships we have been on.
Next year, to mix things up again, and because we are cruising from New York to Canada, we are going to take Royal Caribbean. But when Europe calls, I would definitely recommend MSC. Read Less