Background Information: We have cruised once prior to this, a 12 day NCL Baltic Capitols Cruise. We chose MSC for the dates (fit kids spring break) and that we got two kids "free" (taxes/port fees only) in our cabin.
Travel To Port of Embarkation: We flew from Belgium to the Barcelona airport, landing near 11AM. Taxi to the cruise terminal was smooth and easy. The cab driver did add a port supplement (I have no idea if it is valid) and the tab was about 28 Euro.
Embarkation: This ran quick and smooth. We had pre-registered through the internet, so they shot web-cam photos of us, got a credit card signature, and presented our cards. (Oops... first pass they handed me someone else's credit card and receipt to sign!) We were at our cabin within 15 minutes, and our luggage arrived by the time we finished a buffet lunch.
Ship Info: The ship was beautiful and very well maintained. The reception area is quite large and open. The theater was very good. The ship was quiet and smooth. One fact I didn't like is the lack of a real promenade deck. While it had the area for life-boat loading, the deck did not continue around the bow and stern, so was not used for walking or running. On the Norwegian Dream this was heavily used. The pools were cold salt-water. The hot-tubs were only luke warm. The recessed nature of the pool deck one deck below the upper sun deck made the pool area much warmer and less windy which was nice for an April cruise. They had a good supply of towels, but only 1 distribution and collection point... for the ship size four should have been provided. They called the upper sun deck the jogging track... no way. The sun chairs blocked the path too much to run on it. They have a big screen TV outside above one pool. It was neat, but several portions of the screen stayed black all the time.
Stateroom: I expected a little more room for the second highest category. The balcony was also much less than I expected. We were quite crowded having 4 people in the room, but since two were cheap it is hard to complain. There was a queen bed (two twins combined), a pullout love seat, and one fold down bed. The bathroom was small but nice. The shower curtain was well planned, with the curtain attaching down the whole length on one side, and then having about a 4 inch overlap with a glass edge, so leakage past it was not a problem. Storage space was at a premium. In a couple places corner shelves could have been placed above items like the TV and a corner night stand, without taking space away. The light were not well planned. First, you need to insert the room key into a slot near the door to turn on the lights (common in European hotels). Then, you could not turn on and off most lights individually.... and two were high power spots directly over the fold out bed, shining right on the face of the person in that bed. This plan did not allow me to stay up late and read, as everyone would be subject to the light. Also, I had a run-in between my head and the fold down bed when getting up one morning.... it is right where you sit up on the side of the bed.
Activities: With port calls everyday, we did not use many ship activities. The gym was good, with a nice view out the bow. Equipment included 6 treadmills, elliptical, bikes, a few weight machines, etc.
Dining: This was the weakest area. Here's the by-meal breakout:
- Breakfast. There is the buffet or in the restaurant. We used the restaurant day 1. The scrambled eggs were runny (yuck!), the bacon was to an American way under cooked (yuck!), the sausage and breads were good. The other days we used the buffet on Deck 13... at least we could see it before taking it. The menu sign said omelets to order. I tried to order one and was pointed to the pre-cooked ones with nothing in them. The bacon again was under-cooked, although the menu sign boasted of crispy bacon. There was a good selection of fruits, yogurt, meats, sausage, sunny side up, hard-boiled and scrambled eggs, plus breads. The only drinks included were tea, coffee, milks, water and so-called fruit juice (tastes like Tang). The buffet was crowded, and sometimes hard to find a seat, specially if the port call schedule drove people to eat at a certain time.
- Lunch. Although they advertise the buffet, pizzeria, grill, and Villa as all available for lunch, the first three are all the same place....I went looking for them, and finally called to ask where they are! The food was OK, and only OK. No drink except water is included.
- Dinner. The selection was decent. Most nights had 3 appetizer choices, a salad, 2 soups, 2 pasta/risotto dishes, 3 main choices, and dessert choices. They also had always available a beef, chicken, fish, and spaghetti meal plus a mixed salad. The quality was generally good, but not excellent.... clearly below our experience on NCL last summer. Beef was often overcooked. A real shortfall was NO DRINKS ARE INCLUDED. Not even water. A 75cc bottle of water was 2.60 euro. The service was not well organized. I expect everyone to receive the same course at the same time. This did not happen. Half the table might get a course, while the others sat with nothing for 5-10 minutes. We had the early 7PM) seating, and it normally lasted 90 - 110 minutes. We always were out in time for the evening show.
Children's Clubs: Not used with a port every day.
Service: OK. No ice in room first 36 hours until I asked (although the in-room material said it would automatically be provided). The room steward did a good job. The waiters/waitresses were not pushy.
Entertainment: Decent, at least most of it. We watched the show every night. Four African acrobats were the stars many nights. Not only did they have incredible strength/coordination, they put on a good show with their talents. There was an alright magician, who stared one night and was a short act two others. One guy threw knives into the floor.... could have done without that. Another spun balls on strings and hit them on the floor to make a tap dance type noise.... much of the audience loved it when he swung them so they brushed his long hair, but we found it dull. They had two excellent singers (male tenor and female soprano) who were very talented. The Cossack dancers could not compare to the real ones we saw in Russia! The introduction in 5 languages was painful!
Shore Excursions: We used the ship transfer to Marseilles, a fair deal at 7 euro each. We also used the cultural and historic Tunis tour. We were mostly pleased with the tour. It went to Sidi Bou Said (this is pushy sales people starting negotiation on a cheap dress at 160 euro, being insulted when we offer 10, then counter 80, 60, 40, 20 then being mad we didn't go for 20), and could be skipped. Also in this city they gave a carpet sales pitch.... I paid for a tour not a sales pitch. Positives were Carthage & the museum, plus unscheduled Roman amphitheater ruin and swing by the American Military Cemetery. The guide was knowledgeable, but really wanted everyone in a group and paying attention to him.... sometime we want to look around! The tour ran 5 hours vs. the 4 advertised (a positive).
This itinerary goes to some of the dirtiest large cities in Europe. Marseilles, Genoa, Naples and Palermo just are not that nice, and do not provide a safe feeling.
Also, the ship sold port maps for 50 euro cents, and provided a top ten list for each port. Helpful for those who do not research/plan in advance.
Disembarkation: Our bags had to be out by midnight the night before, which is fine. I didn't like that we had to clear the room by 0730, 2 hours before our meeting time for disembarkation, and had to haul our small bags until then. They did not offer a place to hold your bags at the Barcelona port if you had time to explore the city. We took a taxi to Estacio Saints Barcelona Central and put our bags into storage lockers. We fit 4 medium to large suitcases, and two carry-ons into two large lockers @ 4.50 euro each.
Summary: Good but not great. The food was the biggest let-down. The ship was super.