Forward on Brahms Deck (7), next to the library, is the Sinfonia Lounge, a lovely light room with pale beech walls, gold and maroon decor. This is a popular venue for early evening dancing and late-night cabaret singing and magic acts.
The ship's main show lounge -- the Teatro San Carlo -- mounts spectacular Cirque du Soleil-style shows in a lovely setting with a pretty starlit ceiling, comfortable red and gold seating, and good sightlines.
Shore excursions -- largely coach-based -- were not particularly active or exciting, and could do with updating if Sinfonia is competing for bookings from more go-getting British and American passengers.
Discreet good taste is the order of the day on this ship; even the San Remo Casino on Mozart Deck (6) is understated, with red and cream leaf patterned carpet and curtains, walnut veneered walls and a pillared entrance.
The most ornate bar on board is Le Baroque Cafe -- also on Deck 6 -- which has a pleasantly 18th-century feel with its red velvet chairs, and olive green and cream walls embellished with silhouettes and scenic paintings. But prettier, in my opinion, is the Buddha Bar, which lies between the casino and the photo gallery; decorated in soft shades of green with a stunning chandelier as centerpiece, this would be a very relaxing venue if it didn't overlook the hordes of passengers milling about the photo displays. A couple of well-placed screens would work wonders here.
Another cozy watering hole is the Manhattan Bar on Deck 6, a popular pre-dinner drinks and dancing venue with a bandstand and substantial dance floor, large porthole windows and sophisticated blue and gold decor.
Shelagh's House -- the ship's Irish pub -- is less successful: cozy enough but nondescript and not really attuned to the clientele (though British passengers will like it as any pub's better than none).
Late at night, the Italians prefer to see and be seen at the elegant Pasha Club -- a large-windowed, roomy lounge-cum-nightclub on Deck 12.
The Italians are also great shoppers, and Sinfonia offers them plenty of scope with the well-stocked Galleria Mazzini jewelry shop on Deck 6. (Cartier watches from 2,400 euros [$3,240] anyone?)
One deck down, other shops include a general store selling an affordable selection of cosmetics, perfumes and toiletries, a logo goods shop and a boutique selling linen goods, designer swimwear and polo shirts.
MSC Sinfonia also has a smart Business Centre on Deck 6. Resplendent with leather and wood veneered walls and comfy red and gold seating, this hosts shore tour talks but could be put to better use as a cinema when not in use by incentive groups.
The ship's Internet cafe (on Deck 5 near reception) keeps passengers connected for 3.33 euros ($4.50) for the first 10 minutes online, then 0.33 euros ($0.45) for each minute thereafter. While cheaper than on many cruise ships, this is still dearer than cafes ashore.
There is a very restful, plant-filled and surprisingly well-stocked library just off the keyhole-shaped Sinfonia Lounge on Brahms Deck (7). MSC's UK office keeps this stocked with English books and offers an excellent choice. Unfortunately, opening hours are very limited and vary from day to day; so bookworms need to be vigilant.
Right at the stern end of the ship on the top deck is a large ball court, while one deck down is a mini-golf course. At the forward end of the top deck are an indoor golf simulator and roomy sun deck, while one deck down, Deck 12 has a rock-climbing wall and a jogging track. But the rock-climbing wall is cordoned off and out of use and there is, absurdly, a "no running" sign on the jogging track! Fitness-oriented passengers quite reasonably ignore this, though most use the track -- which offers splendid sea views -- simply for a pleasant evening stroll.
The track overlooks a blue and white tiled, twin-pooled area on Deck 11 -- a popular sun spot and venue for a weekly open air Buffet Magnifique. Unfortunately, use of the pools is restricted by the fact that the water is cold (so much so that even kids won't go in for long) -- and the pools are netted and sun beds are cleared away, stacked and tied down by 6 p.m., far too early. This also means passengers miss out on a Jacuzzi during the lovely early evening "golden hour" just before the sun sinks.
They can, however, head indoors to La Ferme Spa, which has a well-equipped gym with six treadmills, four steppers, three sit-up bikes, three reclining bikes, weights and resistance machines and a large aerobics studio offering free stretch and aerobics classes, salsa or merengue lessons at 12 euros ($16.20) per class and step aerobics for 8 euros ($10.80).
There is a large-windowed relaxation room adjacent to the gym equipped with very comfortable deep-cushioned steamer chairs and, next to this, a very pretty Thermal Suite. This has a beautiful mosaic Turkish-style sauna and a hot steam room fragranced with chamomile, as well as tropical rain showers and heated white-tiled recliners facing floor-to-ceiling windows.
The thermal suite costs 12 euros ($16.20) per hour to use, but as the cruise progresses sessions are often thrown in free as an incentive to book spa treatments. It's well worth waiting to book these as prices are steep to begin with but fall quite a bit as pressure builds for staff to meet their targets.
MSC has some fantastic facilities for kids on Sinfonia, starting with the line's family brand partnerships with Lego and Chicco. The ship has three children's areas -- the Pinocchio playroom, which lies next to the spa on Deck 11, and the Planet Teen's Club and separate Galaxy video games arcade, near Club Pasha at the stern end of Deck 12. It also offers wonderful care for the under-3s as well as babies under its new BabyCare program.
The baby-sitting program onboard is called MSC BabyCare, and allows parents to leave children in the Chicco-designed Baby Club under the supervision of trained MSC staff during lunch and dinner times on sea days, between 1 and 2 p.m. and 6 and 7 p.m. Children must be between 1 and 3 years old. The bambinos doze in name-brand cots or are kept busy with activities by the staff.
The MSC BabyTime program is set up so that parents have a dedicated space onboard to play with their children in the Baby Club between 8 and 10 a.m., 4 and 6 p.m. and 8 and 9 p.m. on port days. On sea days, it is available from 8 to 10 a.m. and from 8 to 9 p.m. Again, children must be under 3 years old to participate.
Diapers and baby food are not available to buy onboard, but MSC does sell wipes, bottles, bibs and other products in the Chicco shop onboard. Chicco-branded high-chairs, travel cots, bottle-warmers, strollers and baby backpacks are available to borrow free of charge.
Pinocchio's is a large and cheerful room, with an elephant patterned carpet, a soft climbing frame, a TV, plenty of soft toys and an area with tables and chairs for arts and craft activities.
A Mini Club caters to 3- to 6-year-olds with baby discos, painting, dance, and arts and crafts sessions; the Junior Club keeps 7- to 11-year-olds happy with treasure hunts, parties and other activities. Both are both sponsored by Lego and offer varying levels of Lego-themed play, from the biggest Duplo blocks to the kid-sized "Vertical Play Wall." Both clubs are monitored by trained staff and are open from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. on sea days and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., 2:30 to 6 p.m. and 7:30 to 11 p.m. on port days
Other activities include team challenges to see who can build the most impressive Lego structure, copycat competitions to build the Lego figure displayed on the play wall and Lego games on the PlayStation, X-Box and Wii. Each child taking part in the competitive activities receives a Master Lego Builder Diploma.
A private "Kids Around the Clock" baby sitter costs €6 per hour for children ages 3 to 11 years old. The service is available every night from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. and must be reserved in advance.
The Young Club for tweens ages 12 to 14 years old is full of arcade games, table games (foosball and air hockey) and televisions for movies and gaming systems. The club is open between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. on sea days and 10 to 11:30 a.m., 3 to 4:30 p.m. and 9 to 11 p.m. on port days.
The Teens Club (for 15- to 17-year-olds) is situated near the Starlight Disco and has a dance floor, a game system and circular, recessed wall seats (watch out for canoodling). Open hours are 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. on sea days and 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., 4:30 to 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. to midnight on port days.
Staff are on hand at all times when the Young and Teens Clubs are open. Organized activities for both age groups include sports tournaments, discos, dance contests, video game challenges, DJ lessons, talent shows and karaoke.
* May require additional fees