I don't usually write reviews but I'm sick of MSC getting slated on here. This was our 15th cruise with MSC, 3rd on the Sinfonia so they must be doing something right!
Embarked in Venice, we arrived in Venice the day before and stayed at the Ca Doge B&B which is ideally located in Piazzale Roma right next to the people mover which takes you to the port for €1.50 each. Embarcation was very quick, we had an Aurea package so had priority boarding but the other queues seemed to be moving quite quickly aswell. We boarded the ship around 13.00 and even though our cabins weren't supposed to be ready until 15.00 we were able to drop off our hand luggage and pick up our cruise cards from the cabin straight away.
The ship is getting quite old now and some areas are showing it's age, but all areas are kept spotless. We much prefer the Lirica class of ships to the bigger ones in the fleet as we feel that there is a better atmosphere you get to know the staff better and it doesn't seem as crowded (even though with over 2.500 people on board you tend to see the same 50 over and over!!).
Our cabin was 1201 an Aurea suite with balcony right at the top of the ship, perfectly placed and a great place to drink a cocktail while leaving the Venetian lagoon.
I never understand why people criticise the food on MSC ships as I've always found it fantastic (a little too much as I always put on weight!) I am vegetarian but am always spoiled for choice. For breakfast we tended to go to the buffet, mostly because we never get up in time for the restaurant breakfast. It can be quite crazy there at times but I find that there is a good selection. On the last day we went to the restaurant for breakfast but there wasn't much choice. For lunch we usually went to the restaurant. This format has changed over the last couple of years as it is now a mix of a la carte and buffet. On the menu there is a small selection of table service dishes, otherwise there is a small buffet. Having My Choice dining meant that we had a special area of the restaurant, the buffet is still located in the main area of the restaurant which is slightly inconvenient as it is quite far away, but at least once you are back at your table it is a lot quieter and you get a table to yourselves rather than sharing with other people. Evening dining is usually a 1st service at 19.00 or second service at 21.30 at a fixed table in the restaurant or at the buffet. Throughout the day snacks are available and we often had a slice of pizza or ice cream in the afternoon. As Aurea guests we had My Choice dining which is a dedicated area in the smaller restaurant and in theory you can choose at what time to eat. I say in theory as it is best to reserve in advance (usually the night before) to make sure you get a table. We chose to eat at 20.30 which was perfect for us giving us time to watch the show and have an aperitif before dinner. On this cruise were a lot of germans and australians in the My Choice area who preferred to eat earlier so by the time we got to the restaurant they were already on desserts and some evenings we were the only ones left, so nice and quiet and we had time to chat with the staff. We didn't always have the same table but we were always in the same area with the same waiters. We had one problem on the last night as the people who were eating earlier were taking longer with their meal and there was no tables available with our waiters, we could have been seated straight away with different waiters but we decided to wait 10mns to get 'our table'. You must remember that this is an italian ship, so food is mostly italian based. The menu is not set out very good now so it seems that you can only have 3 courses but you can have as many as you like and even seconds if you want - one night my husband ordered almost everything on the menu!! My husband is italian so we eat the italian way - starter, 1st course of pasta or rice, 2nd main course - meat, fish or vegetarian, dessert. One thing to note as even though it is no longer written on the menu there is always available green salad and pasta with tomato sauce. The waitors couldn't do enough for us and nothing was a problem. The head waiter for my Choice, Mariana was also fantastic and would go out of her way to help us.
We had the all-inclusive drinks package included in our Aurea package, but even if we had the Fantastica package we would still get the drinks package as we've always found it to be worth it even though we are not big drinkers, as juice in the morning (don't touch the free juice in the buffet it's watered down cordial and disgusting!), some soft drinks or beer during the day, ice cream, coffee, aperitif and a few cocktails in the evening soon add up. Not all cocktails are included in the package but mixed drinks generally are. At dinner I drank the house merlot which was very good although I'm not a connosseur of wine. One thing to be noted is that you can get most drinks from any bar even if they are not included on the menu for that bar. The menu for the bar on deck 6 near the photo shop only has cocktails not included in the package but you can ask for any cocktails that you would normally get at any other bar. Bar service isn't great as they always seemed to be short staffed especially at the pool bars, you just need some patience.
Being a smaller ship there aren't that many activities, we were never bored but we go on a cruise to relax. On this cruise there were 2 days at sea and for me this is too much as the days at sea are very busy, it seems that the whole ship is by the pool. The first day at sea I sent my husband out very early to get some sun beds by the pool, but the second day we got up too late so never went in the pool all day as already by 10am all the beds were taken. There is a rule that you're not supposed to reserve sunbeds and in theory your belongings will be removed if unoccupied for more than 30mns, however noone takes any notice of this so neither do we! We didn't join in any of the games or the group dances, but we did do minigolf quite a few times and football on one of the quiet days. For children there is the miniclub with activities most of the day. My son is 5 and didn't want to join the miniclub on this cruise even though he has in the past as he just wanted to stay all the time with us. This was absolutely fine as holidays for me are family time, but I do think that apart from the pools there is a lack of activities for young children to do with parents, a small playground would be much appreciated as there is on some of the larger ships.
Included in the Aurea package is a massage per person, my husband didn't want his so I took them both. I did 2 45mns full body bali massages which were fantastic. We didn't use any other of the spa services or gym. We also didn't take advantage of the private solarium as it is adults only and we always had our son with us.
Evening entertainment can be quite repetitive but in my opinion it is always high quality. There is a theatre show each night which is usually cabaret with some magic/acrobats. Its a shame they can't do other types of show but with so many different nationalities on board it would not be practical. All the bars have live music, there are some group dance lessons and the entertainment team usually do some sort of game in one of the bars. Where the entertainment team are it is usually quite busy but all the other bars will be quiet. I was disappointed that they only did one pool party and it was a shame that they did this on the last evening as it only started at 23.30 and we had to put our suitcases outside the cabin by 00.30 so we didn't stay until the end.
As I have already mentioned we go on a cruise to relax so don't really pay much attention to the itinerary when choosing a cruise. We don't get off the ship every day as the best times to use the pools are when everyone else gets off!! The ports of call were Split, Santorini, Mykonos, Dubrovnik, Ancona. Split was new for us so we got off here, the port is walking distance to the town, when we arrived it just started raining so we hopped on a tourist bus just outside the port, in the end there wasnt much to see on the bus but then we were dropped off in the old town and the guided tour continued by foot, luckily by this time it had stopped raining. It cost €20/person and children were free, it was well worth the price as the guide was excellent. For Santorini we booked an MSC excursion to a nearby volcano, we went to a nearby island by boat at then proceeded to hike up the volcano, this was quite a hard walk and I would not recommend for young children or older people especially in the summer when it is scorching. Our 5 yr old managed to make it to the top without complaining (about 1 hr walk) but had trouble on the way down as he kept getting stones in his sandals (highly recommend closed footwear) and had to get a piggy back down. The boat then took us near another island where we could get off and swim in the sea. Mykonos I found was badly timed on the same day as Santorini and only in the evening. We got the shuttle boat to the old town and just had a wander round then went back. Not much to see being evening and it was very busy but nice all the same. We didn't get off in Dubrovnik or Ancona as after a few busy days we just wanted to rest.
We found all staff to be excellent, I think it helps that we always make an effort to chat to them, they work long hours for months on end to make our cruise excellent and it really makes the difference to ask them about their lives and families they've left behind. It is an italian ship but there is such a wide range of nationalities that the main language spoken is english and we never had any problems being understood, but we speak english, italian and french.
When we got back to Venice we had to quit our cabins by 8.00 and were off the boat by 9.30 all perfect. It went so well that I wished I'd requested to be moved to a later disembarcation group as we were so quick getting off the boat that we had to wait 2 hours at the train station!
All in all a fantastic cruise and I would recommend to anyone.
Very spacious cabin with balcony, sofa bed pulled out at night for our son. Great location always spotless. Huge wardrobe, space under the bed for our 2 large suitcases with plenty more room. Bath with shower over and glass panel.