Background: this was my 3rd cruise, one on Royal Caribbean Voyager, then Carnival Glory, now this. I can't directly compare them since my learning curve has improved each time in terms of what I can and can't do, etc.
I booked this cruise because I received a Cruise Critic newsletter just at the right time. I researched MSC and found mixed reviews. I got the impression that the people who knocked the line were maybe just knockers. So I booked. Aside from the reviews, the price, length (10 days), and itinerary were all to my liking. Of the six destinations I had only visited one.
I booked 3 months before the cruise. Received my travel documents in less than a month. Plenty of time to research. MSC does not provide for booking excursions in advance.