We choose this ship and voyage for the spring break, after the good price and the new ship and value. Booked early. We are experienced cruisers, took many cruises on different major lines. We read about the different approach of European based cruise liners, and monitored the clients' review carefully before the journey. We adjusted our expectations and made sure we board with an open mind. It appeared to be a very valuable move to make sure we enjoy the trip.
EMBARKATION / DISEMBARKATION
Great, fast, efficient service. We board / disembarked in Barcelona. The fact MSC boards passengers in all ports resulted less new comers in any given port. We checked in at 1 p.m. and was boarded within 20 minutes. Disembarkation was less organized, any one can walk off the ship at will. But the luggage comes out fast (disregard of the number assigned) and it was relatively painless procedure.
The ship is brand new and beautiful, very well maintained and cleaned. The design has modern clean cut flavor, lacking of huge high ceilings, etc. But overall a very modern, super clean ship.
We optioned for the duplex suite, for 2 adult and 2 children. It was an excellent choice. Price wise, the two floor suite stands out for great value, much more affordable than any other major lines' equivalent suite. It features a large private balcony with large jacuzzi, 1 st floor sitting room with sofa bed converted to king, a dinning area easily accommodate 4-6 with very comfortable table and chair, 2nd floor bedroom with king bed. Both floor has plenty of storage with both huge walk in closet. Both floor has separate bath room one with tub and one with shower. The suite comes with Aurea experience - including all unlimited wine / beer / drinks throughout the journey, dine as you wish (not set dinning time) at Panorama restaurant, and complimentary massage for 2 adults at spa.
The suite was kept superbly clean, two housekeeping per day. Yes the living room sofa bed was turned back to sofa in the day time, and converted to bed at night, daily.
I dined at both Panorama Restaurant and Wave. The Panorama Restaurant was assigned as part of the Aurea experience. It is well docorated with lots of space, and service apparently is more attentive. We walk in as we wish at any time and never experienced any waits to obtain a table,
I also dined in Wave - along with some friends booked on the same trip. The restaurant manager was very nice to re-arrange the table size for us from day 3. It was set time dinning daily - early dinning at 5:30 p.m.. To my observation, the Wave is more crowded, and the service was not as nice but acceptable.
Both restaurants offer the same menu. Food quality wise it was not great, but acceptable. Size / portion wise it was ok. Passengers used to US based carriers of offering lobster night / steak, will be disappointed. These were offered and sold as "cost extra" items.
Thus no free lobster, no free steaks. Other than that, the food quality / portion / presentation are acceptable, not great, but no bad either.
Due to busy itinerary (we arranged own shore excursion every day), we did not have time to attend the show. From past clients, their feedback ranges from great to nono. Thus I can not give my opinion. Circle O Solei show cost money - since we have seen them in Las Vegas, we did not attend, but the kids who saw them seems to be enjoying.
There are plenty of activities - Himalayan high walk rope adventure, water slides, etc., these were free of charge, but one has to line up at the deck below to sign paper and get wrist band to be allowed to line up at the venture. No clear instruction and signs were given so many experienced lots of frustration to begin with. Pool sizes and public Jacuzzi are small and are frequently crowded.
Live music played around the ship are nice. We enjoyed them. They were not exceptional great or impressive, but we are happy with what they are.
PORTS and SHORE EXCURSIONS
This is a port intensive journey. We arranged our own activities in all ports. From the 7 days journey there are only 1 sea day which comes on the last day. It was kind of fully packed. The voyage was officially designed from Genoa - for those who gets on from Genoa they can enjoy three days of port day, followed by a sea day to take a breath, and then another three days of port day activities. But for those embarked from Barcelona, they have to go port days 6 days in a row, before they have a sea day to take a breath - that is the end of the cruise.
Thus the itinerary was very intensive. The city / port it docks was a wonderful combination. But was a very tired "vacation" if one wants to see every ports and started their journey in Barcelona - which I believe most of the US passengers do..
Also it seems MSC purposely make those who arranged their own activities (rather than book ship tours) to encounter some last minute surprises. Docking time / shore time was changed almost at every port, in most cases shortened, only at last minute (the night before after dinner), thus many passengers who arranged own activities were scrambled to get hold of their local operator to inform them the most updated timing. In many cases they have to cut short the initial planning. This is new to us - as we have cruised to Europe before on HAL and RCCL, both sticked to their initial docking schedule announced almost months in advance. MSC seemed to in favor of changing their mind at every port. Docking time as changed from 10 a.m. to 8 a.m. last minute, leaving time was changed from 6 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. last minute. It creates lots of confusion and last minute surprises for those who arranged their own pick up / activities.
TIPS TO ENJOY THE TRIP
1. Adjust your expectation - for those who have cruised other lines before. For European based lines, don't expect them do the same as US based lines. They have their way of operation. If you can not accept the difference or adjust your expectations, you should avoid this line.
2. Book higher / more expensive modules. For example, pay a little extra to book Aurea Experience (rather than Fantastica etc). The all inclusive drink, the free massage, the complimentary use of SPA and Pool and exclusive sundeck area with pool, makes all the difference, and is cheaper than paying after boarding.
3. Prepay for services you feel necessary to enjoy - for example, I prepaid for a unlimited photo download package for US$59 before the trip, while onboad it sells for 119 Euro. I prepaid a US$59 laundry package (40 items) for a week, and it turned out wonderfully.
Overall speaking, it was a great vacation. The family enjoyed the ship and the experiences. We knew it was different from RCCL or HAL or any other lines we have been on, but we adjusted our expectations and never went on to expect them to do the same. As a result, it was a very rewarding trip. We would travel on MSC again, but only at Aurea experience, and probably at higher catagory of cabins for space.
Excellent value - price wise cheaper than other major line's equivalent suite. Two floor, lots of space, generous walk in closet on both floors, two full bathroom one with rain shower one with tub, plus out door large jacuzzi tub.
Jacuzzi tub was cleaned and refreshed when on-board, filled. The first floor living room sofa was turned into king bed at night, and return to sofa at day time.
Large dinning area can easily sit 4 - 6 with large table. In room coffee / expresso machine. The suite comes with Aurea experience - free unlimited drinks inlcuding beer and wine, one massage for two adults at spa, dine at your time (go as you wish, no set time dinning). free access to thelasso pool, and exclusive Aurea area with sun bed and pool.