This was the first time we had cruised with MSC, previously having sailed with Princess and Royal Caribbean. We were very nervous before we went after reading the many very mixed reviews and had prepared ourselves for the worst. Firstly we got to the terminal parking with no problem and rather than waiting on the bus to take us to the check in we just walked (5 min) and the bus took our cases. Despite very negative reviews the check in was very quick and efficient and we were on board for around 12noon sipping a cocktail of the day in the sun!
The ship is lovely, the layout is great and I was very pleased with all areas. The only negative is the gym equipments is quite dated and there was no sports deck for my 15 year old (football and basketball crazy) but apart from that there is absolutely nothing I can complain about. I am basing this on my previous cruises experiences and have to say when it comes to facilities, entertainment, food and drink this was just as good as my other cruises. I think it was fantastic value for money given that our 2 kids travelled for free. The layout and outside food areas, bars etc are very similar to Princess and the drinks selection was fantastic. For the first time we decided to take the drinks package and for 2 adults and 2 kids this cost 700 euro. It was fantastic value as we certainly spent double that and there is the choice of beer, wine, spirits, sparkling wine, cocktails (excellent menu), tins of fizzy juice, mixers, liqueurs, ice-cream, coffees, kids cocktails, bottled water and milk shakes. Once you pay for the drinks package there is no service charge to pay. Even if you do not opt for the drinks package the prices are very reasonable 5.50 euro for the cocktail of the day, cocktails 5.50 up towards, beer 4.90 euro , wine 5 euro a glass, water 2.70 euro (large bottle), spirit and mixer 6.50 euro and tins of juice 2.80. The buffet restaurant had a great choice and you could also eat from the outside grill which had a more English breakfast. From 11.30 am until midnight the outside grill serves a freshly made range of fantastic pizza and at the other side chips, burgers, hot dogs etc and at certain times of the day there is also a pasta station and a kids station. As with all cruises at certain times of the day the buffet and grill gets very busy but you just need to try and judge the best time for you if you want to avoid the very busy periods i.e. the hour before the time to get off the ship when docked and 1pm. We went for the second seating for our evening meal which started at 9pm and given there was seven courses to choose from sometimes we were leaving at around 11ish after around 4 or 5 glasses of wine and a liqueur!. We thoroughly enjoyed the restaurant, service, quality and choice of food – we never had one bad meal and our 15 year old tried a lot of new things whilst our 11 year old had pasta, ice cream and then usually left us to go and watch a movie. The arts and craft classes were great fun and the shows in the theatre were really entertaining and enjoyable. The dancers and singers were amazing, as were the other more acrobatic acts and the team who did the entertainment around the pool and the other various venues were friendly and enthusiastic. We probably joined in more activities on this cruise than previous ones.
We never do any ship excursions as we find them to be very expensive for 2 adults and 2 kids so we usually just do our own thing. Here is our opinion of the various ports of call. IJMUIDEN – Crazily you are not allowed to walk in this port so you need to get a bus from ship to terminal (about a 30 second drive). Once off you can walk over to the bus stop, it is across the road and over the steps from the terminal. We went on the local bus (14 euro return for 2 adults and 2 kids) to Haarlem. It about 35 min away on the bus and is a nice place to wander about but as you arrive on a Sunday many of the shops are closed. You can also get the local bus into Amsterdam that takes around 1 hour. There is a beautiful beach where you dock and a Bunker Museum in the sand dunes – I would do this if returning rather than sitting on a bus. I am kicking myself that we didn’t go to the beach when we got back as it looked lovely and the kids would have much preferred that. ST PETER PORT – You need to get off by tender boat and it took ages! – you collect your ticket for the tender (letters A-Z) between 10 -11am at reception, we did not get one until after 12 noon so we were letter U and in the end we did not get off the boat. I think they have got their schedule wrong for this port they should arrive much earlier and leave later so everyone has a chance to get off and back in good time. The length of time they are there it is just not practical for everyone to get off and on. VIGO – This is our third visit here and we love it loads of lovely streets to wander around, good bars and shops and you just walk straight there from the ship. LISBON – Again our third visit and this was by far the best visit as we docked right in the centre of Lisbon (the beauty of a smaller ship) when you are in a larger ship you dock further down and it is a bus ride or long walk into the city centre. Again this is a lovely place to wander around and soak up the atmosphere. It is a large city so I would not recommend trying to see all the main sights unless you are happy to spend most of your visit sitting on a bus (the red hop on hop off) – I think you get a better feel for a place wandering about. BILBAO – Again you walk straight from the boat into this town which isn’t Bilbao but a lovely place called . You can go to information in the terminal and they explain how to get to Bilbao – you need to walk to the metro station and get a metro to Bilbao which is only a few stops away but we decided just to wander around this town, get the funicular up the large hill and then spent the rest of our time on the beach and in the sea – Great waves and beach! LE HAVRE – Again you just walk right of the ship into this town but because we arrived on Lundi (Monday) most of the shops were closed so we just wandered around the Town, lovely gardens and had a wander along the beach front. You can travel to Paris from here and get details from information but as we have been before we did not want to make the journey. Overall we all thoroughly enjoyed this cruise, there was a lovely friendly, chilled out atmosphere and I loved the fact that at every port of call there were people ending their holidays and new guests getting on. The ship was filled with a range of nationalities and it was really nice not being on a ship were 80% are Brits. I would certainly go on another cruise with MSC and recommend them as I had absolutely nothing to complain about as we had a great holiday that was fantastic value for money.