My wife and I have been on a number of cruises, but this was to be a first with MSC.
Boarding on the 28th April in Cape Town was a shambles - no porters to assist the elderly with heavy bags, no trolleys, 3 hours of queuing, and when finally aboard, told that cabins not ready.
We had an Ocean View (no.3086, just below the balcony cabin deck), which was considerably smaller than on any other cruise ship we've been on - a two bed cabin, but with two more bunk beds folded back against the bulkhead, further reducing the space therein. Cupboard space was well planned, allowing everything to be put away after unpacking. A safe for valuables was provided, as was a small fridge stocked with limited supplies. The television was of the old square boxy type (why no flat screen wall mounted TV..?), taking up unnecessary cupboard top space. No CNN or BBC news channels until we reached the Canary Islands and others - from experience we know that mid-Atlantic there is a "blind spot" for a day or so, but all African countries have satellite reception, and we were never that far away (we called at Walvis Bay & Dakar), so we should have had these programmes... The en-suite constantly had an aroma of sewage, the toilet was of the vacuum type, but a fault (reported but never rectified) meant that the toilet bowl constantly filled up with water almost to the rim, which was alarming. It never overflowed, but had to be constantly flushed...
Most of the hangers provided in the cupboard were broken (no crossbar, so no hanging trousers..), and replacements offered by the room steward were of the flimsy type commonly given out by dry cleaners.
For those holidaying aboard a cruise liner, the quality of the food served is usually of paramount importance, and usually a most enjoyable experience, but it was here that there were some serious shortcomings. The grandiose menus produced each evening for dinner each evening in the two restaurants promised something that never materialised - indeed, our first evening's dinner was totally inedible (mussels marinara, but not cooked, as none of the shells were open - the second attempt produced open shells, but no mussels..!), my wife had a "minute steak" that was simply a thick slice from an overcooked roast..! Granted, standards did improve as the cruise went on, but never up to the quality of dinners we have had the pleasure of experiencing on RCI, Celebrity and Fred Olsen boats. Theme dinner evenings were yet another unwanted experience - for example, on a "Greek Evening" the dolmades (lamb mince & rice flavoured with herbs & wrapped in vine leaves) turned out to be some kind of Japanese sushi roll, sliced into 2 inch tubes.. - and the kleftiko was beyond description, and tough as well...
The Il Patio cafe on deck 11 provided a buffet style menu, and the quality of the food was better here, although quite basic when compared to other cruise lines. The main problem here was that it was too small to accommodate large numbers of passengers during inclement weather (half the cafe was open to the elements above, although protected at the sides) - on such occasions it was an absolute bun-fight, particularly for breakfast and luncheon, at which time one of the lower deck restaurants was always closed.
Mid-morning snacks were always available, in the form of pizzas, hot-dogs, burgers, and it has to be said that these were excellent - without doubt, the Italians do excel in such dishes, and various breads, as were the pastries produced. Coffee and tea were available here 24/7.
An unusual and quirky procedure was in the library, which seemed to consist solely of grubby and well thumbed paperbacks, in about 4 languages. A $15 deposit was required from the borrower against a non-return, and each receipt was laboriously hand written, so the whole exercise of borrowing a book was a lengthy process..! All this for a grubby paperback worth no more than 25p on a flea market stall - quite ludicrous..!!!
The entertainment on board was mixed. During the day, there vere various activities, mainly centred around the pool on deck 11, but there were the other usual shipboard activities, such as lectures, bridge, etc., etc..The lounges (all 6 or 7 of them) had live music each evening, some of it very good, and variety to suit all tastes. The theatre produced two shows each evening, but by the time we had reached Teneriffe, everyone was a little tired of repeatedly seeing the stage dancing & singing boys & girls (some of the singing was a little off key) and the classical singers (tenor, baritone & two sopranos, plus pianist and flautist) who were very good, it has to be said - but after evening after evening some change was needed.... Unusually there was no ship's orchestra, and there wasn't a separate cinema, either.
In general, the staff were willing and pleasant, but clearly hard pressed, and in some cases lack of proper training and language skills was apparent. Waiting staff in public rooms were overstretched, andseemed to be fewer in numbers by comparison to other cruise lines, and as a result were often unfairly critisised for service delays. Certainly, if one wanted a drink in a hurry in a moderately crouded lounge, better to get it yourself... A non-optional service charge of 15% was added to any food or beverage taken outside the main restaurants or cafe.
Ship organised shore excursions seemed to be the most expensive we've ever come across, in some cases costing in excess of $100 per person - another example of unrestricted pricing was the shuttle bus organised on behalf of passengers who wanted to be transported from Cherbourg pier to the centre of town, a mere 5 minutes away - that's $13.90 thank you..!
We have been on 10 cruises now, including SAGA, Fred Olsen, RCI and Celebrity, and whilst not as experienced as some travellers, it's enough to make fair comparisons. The general impression gained was one of economy at all costs - fewer staff in the lounges than one would expect, no satellite news coverage for over half the voyage, no free daily news sheet, minimalist buffet meals, poor quality food in many casses, no ships band, no counterpanes on our beds (apart from the first night, then they disappeared..!), and many other little touches experienced in other cruise ships which are done as a matter of course, such as no chocolate on your pillow in the evening, no ice in the ice bucket, etc., etc..
This ship and what it offers is most DEFINATELY NOT in the same league as those others I have mentioned, and light years away from the likes of Cunard, Silversea, and others. Based on my own experiences, I wouldn't classify this ship above 3* at best. Without doubt, this ship is too small for the number of passengers capacity (2,200 pax in a ship of 59,000 tonnes, equalls 37 passengers per 1,000 tonnes, compared to Independence of the Seas, 160,000 tonnes carrying 4,400 pax, equalling only 27 passengers per 1,000 tonnes). It may be OK for the short Indian Ocean cruises around the East African coast and Madagascar plus other islands, where the "Opera" and its other sisters regularly operate, catering for a largely South African clientèle (many of whom do not have experience of other cruise lines, possibly on the grounds of lack of affordability), but if the "Opera" is going to be a success when operating out of Southampton, and in a competitive market, then something needs to change.
Having said all this, we did enjoy the cruise, once we had shrugged out shoulders and got used to all the shortcomings, and as always, we met new people and made new friends, which is what cruising is all about... - just wish I'd chosen another ship.
Would I use MSC again in the future..? Not if I can help it - there is much better value & quality out there. Would I recommend MSC to other would-be cruisers..? In short, NO..!!