I went on a cruise with 18 other college students for spring break. The ship was modern and full of amenities. Nonetheless, I would caution college students and younger students, as the ship is geared more towards a European and elderly crowd.
Food: The food was simply ok. They did beef (steak, burgers, etc.) very well, but often times missed the mark on fish, Italian, and more complicated items. Food was also not available at all hours, and there was a lull before the midnight buffet every evening. The pizzeria from 5:00 to 10:00 pm was very good. Although there was limited room service available, the items they have were tasty and arrived within 10 minutes after ordering.
Ports: Unfortunately, the port times for the cruise were a bit early. We left Key West at 2:00 PM, Cozumel at 3:00 PM (Local time), Grand Cayman at 4:30 (Local Time), and Cayo Levantado at 3:30 PM. It seemed that many of the other cruise lines had better port times. Nonetheless, we were placed on close docks and at the closest tender. Cayo Levantado was the least enjoyable port we visited, as they charged for lounge chairs and there was very little beach space for the thousands of visitors (it didn't seem quite as private as they advertised). We didn't feel as though we had an opportunity to experience culture of the Dominican Republic.
Service: The table service was a little slow, and we never spent less than two and a half hours at dinner. As a European cruise line, it definitely had the feel that time was not a concern. All of the staff were very accommodating and they remembered our preferences later. Many of us got the feeling that the cruise line catered more towards Europeans as the staff would often times not understand exactly what you were saying. The cabin staff was friendly and attentive. We were impressed by their work ethic and speed in cleaning our room in the morning and turning down our sheets at night. Additionally, the staff often would give priority to Italian cruisers. For example, we were playing a pool game where we tried to land rings on bottles and were next in line. The staff told us the game was ending and we could not participate in the contest. A family went up to them and spoke to them in Italian and was able to participate in the game. Although most announcements were announced in five different languages due to the diversity of passengers, occasionally some announcements were in Italian only. I was also disappointed in the helpfulness of the staff at the excursion desk. I asked them if they had any scuba trips in Cozumel and they provided little assistance beyond "There should be many of scuba shops as you leave the ship" although I did not find this to be the case. The photo staff was one of the worst parts of the cruise. During dinner they would take two and three pictures and even after saying "no thanks" told us to sit up straight and take the photo. The photographers had ambitious quotas they had to meet and were set on meeting them, even at the expense of guest satisfaction. We were disappointed to find the first night of karaoke consisted of slow, melodic Italian and French songs that were not to the liking of many Americans.
Rooms: We were upgraded to balcony rooms on floor 11 (huge plus - the balconies really were a highlight of the trip). They were gorgeous and relatively spacious. The TV system (a flat LCD-screen) was convenient, as you could do almost everything from ordering shore excursions to reviewing your billing account. Another plus was the ability to connect the balconies, making it very easy to go from room to room if you had a large group with multiple rooms reserved in a row, without taking your room key.
Amenities: The gym was nice albeit small (6 treadmills, 2 ellipticals, 2 bikes, 2 stairmasters, and relatively few weights) and no water was provided, so be sure to bring your own. They also allow cruisers to visit the sauna, steam room, and hot tub for free. The casino was relatively small and we found ourselves consistently waiting for tables. Due to a small casino staff, they did not have all the games running all the time and would alternate nights between roulette and craps. Blackjack was European rules where the dealer pulled their second card after everyone had made bets. Statistically, this provides lower odds.
Entertainment: We did not partake in much of the entertainment, as much of the entertainment catered to an older crowd (e.g. musicals, cabaret, etc.). They had no comedians because all the jokes would be lost as they translated it into the five languages spoken on the cruise.
Embarkation/Disembarkation: The embarkation process was incredibly fast and we boarded in almost no time (the CEO of MSC was there that day). There alcohol policies are incredibly lax, and we were able to take on alcohol at embarkation and at all ports. Disembarkation was a bit confusing as they never gave us the proper forms to request early disembarkation. Disembarkation was slower than embarkation, but nothing unreasonable. Be sure not to book a flight early in the morning, since we found ourselves competing with cruisers both from MSC and other cruise lines to find cabs to the airport.
Conclusion: Overall it was a good cruise. We had a great time and were incredibly impressed with the ship. MSC clearly has growing pains and is trying hard to improve their problems. The Italian aspect of the cruise is both a plus and a minus. I have spent much time abroad, and feel as though I am relatively accepting of other cultures. Nonetheless, sometimes you just want to hear American songs at Karaoke and see shows that aren't translated into many languages. Would I go on MSC again? With my family definitely. With my friends not until we're a bit older.
Spacious, inviting, and wonderful balconies