I went on this cruise with my husband and my parents who are in their late (age 67 and 69). None of us had ever been on a cruise before and we only had minimal travel to Europe in the past. We chose this cruise for the itinerary and location. I have to admit after I booked the cruise, I read some reviews about this ship and was a little nervous, but my fears were completely alleviated by my experience. We boarded at Civitavecchia after spending 2 days in Rome first. The clientele is definitely quite international, lots of Italians. I heard plenty of Spanish and French speakers as well. There were several Japanese tourist groups as well as I think one from Hong Kong. I met a few Americans on the trip, so we were definitely not alone from the U.S. This ship is absolutely sparkling clean, which is amazing considering it's size and the number of people on the ship. And that's something coming from a clean freak like myself. Everything seems well-maintained.
So, to address different parts of the trip:
BOARDING and CHECKIN: I was given check-in time between 3:10pm and 5pm. We got there probably around 2:30pm, but were checked-in immediately with no line. Between leaving our car service (used RomeCabs as they can drive directly into the port), we were on the ship within about 15 minutes. They pause you quickly to take a photo in front of a ship's steering wheel that you can buy later if you want, security photos, and then you walk through a few people who ask if you want drink packages and then, that was it. Nobody was pushy. It was so fast that once we got on, we were all like, "so we're on the boat now right?" We went to check out our cabins and our luggage arrived in front of our door within an hour.
CABIN: Clean, modern, simple. Yes, the storage is limited but adequate. My husband and I still managed to unpack and store everything so that we didn't have to live out of suitcases I had a balcony room. It was a little cold for use, but I'm sure in summer time I would've enjoyed it immensely. The room was cleaned twice a day by our cabin attendant, once in the morning and once during turndown service.
DINING: Assigned dining was fine. I'm not sure what other reviewers' comparison are for food, but I thought the dinners were acceptable. My parents loved going to the dining room for dinner because they felt it was elegant. Once they figured out they could have as many items as they wanted off the menu, they were ordering multiple entrees and appetizers every night! I thought that for a mass-produced meal that the dishes were nicely plated and acceptable. Sure the Butter Chicken didn't taste like the dish from my favorite Indian restaurant at home, but it was certainly an acceptable resemblance of it. So just keep in mind this is not some Michelin star restaurant, but a ship kitchen trying to make all these different cuisines. The waiters are courteous, remembered our drink orders from the nights before and would ask if we wanted the same thing.
We never used the breakfast or lunch dining rooms, mainly because we didn't realize until the end that these existed. They don't make it very obvious. We ended up at the Marketplace Buffet for breakfast and lunch. They have an adequate spread of different foods, something to suit everyone. There's an "Ethnic Corner" that changes everyday (Mexican, Chinese, Indian, etc). The croissants are delicious in the morning when they first come out of the oven. We usually had no trouble finding a table to sit at except after the day at port in Barcelona when I presume a TON of people boarded the ship.
By the way, if you have free mineral water as part of Fantastica package, the bottled water is free ONLY in your assigned dining room, not at Marketplace Buffet. The Marketplace Buffet has water, juices (in the morning), tea, coffee for free.
There was always people asking if we wanted the T-Bone Steak or Lobster dinners every night, as well as drink packages. I wonder if they have to meet some quota, and that sucks if they do. They were persistent only in that they asked everyday, but when you said no they'd leave you alone afterwards that day.
Different show every night, definitely had European flare, much to my mother's delight. There was a medley of pop songs, Broadway hits, shortened version of the opera La Boheme, flamenco show, magician/finger shadow puppet performer, medley of Italian love songs. I suspect that American cruise lines don't have this variety of cultural component in their theater shows, but this is my first cruise so can't say for sure. Mostly the same singers and dancers every night. Some were pretty good, others were adequate, but probably not going to Broadway anytime. Still good entertainment.
During the day, limited entertainment I think on-board, but most people were out doing shore excursions anyways so it didn't matter too much.
They had a themed party everynight, but I was too tired to actually check it out. It did look like some people would dress for the party, but also significant number didn't. You could probably go either way and not feel like you were sticking out based on what you were wearing.
We went to the Sonor Cirque show. They had some aerial and tumbling routines, simple compared to land-based Cirque shows but still impressive on a moving ship. I wonder whether they have to cancel shows if the ship is pitching too much. We did cocktails. There was only a single option for non-alcoholic drinkers and none of my group liked the option (some sort of yogurt-based drink). It'd be nice if we could've selected a soda or something else instead. The theater is circular (not completely 360, maybe more like 270). Good view from all angles I think. They had sort of three tiered layout with dinner and show audience members in the 2nd tier.
Didn't use the casino. It has a few tables, lots of slots. Only open in evenings.
I did use the Spa for a massage and a facial, especially once I found out they could do a prenatal massage, which they didn't advertise. Sure it was a little pricier than something you'd find on land, but I'd have to say it was one of the best massages I've had ever! They have deals everyday so if you're patient wait for a day they have a sale on whatever service you want. You can see the sales on your MSC for Me app or on the ship board information screens.
I had no problems with anyone being rude. I'm also a pretty friendly smiley person in general so maybe that helps. But I found that all the workers were helpful and willing to engage if you put in the effort as well. I'm still absolutely amazed by how multilingual their workers are (coming from someone who speaks two languages fluently and two others at an intermediate level), although I guess you find that a lot in Europe. Only in America do people ONLY speak English...going off topic there.
Nonsmoking in most parts except casino and designated outdoors. I was afraid smokers would be everywhere given the European clientele, but the ship's crew were pretty good about reinforcing smoking only in designated areas. I saw one crew member ask two guests to put out their cigarettes when they were caught smoking in a no-smoking deck. I don't think smoking is allowed on balconies, but some people did it anyways. But otherwise, most of the ship was pretty cigarette smell-free, thank goodness.
We did shore excursions at Barcelona (Panoramic Tour and Shopping), Marseille (Aix-En-Provence), Palermo (Taste of Sicily), and Valletta (Mdina, Mosta, and Rabat). Barcelona excursion was just "eh" considering how much there is to see in that city. The free time for "shopping" we spent eating our way around a food market, so that was pretty cool. The Marseille stop was not bad, some free time to walk around on our own. I thought it was actually going to be more rural and country-sideish, but it's more of a college town according to our tour guide there. Palermo was not particularly impressive, although it was also raining that day unfortunately. The food was good though, especially the Middle Eastern-inspired rice balls that we got to try. My father and I LOVED the Valletta excursion just maybe because the guide was amazing and the sites were just different from the other cities. I have no illusions that a <1 day shore excursion will give you an idea what a city is about, but I do think that it is an opportunity for them to entice you back for future vacations to spend more time there. I would say that the Marseille, Barcelona, and Valletta excursions did that, but not the Palermo one. Most shore excursions we did got us back to the boat around 2pm or so.
My husband and I explored Genoa on our own. It is EXTREMELY walkable! We left the ship and walked into town, saw what we wanted to see and then walked back. Maybe about 1 mile or less to get into the area where the different siteseeing things are.
We were assigned a disembark time of something like 945am, but I asked them if we could get off earlier. If you want your luggage taken off for you, you have to go with the disembark time (grouped by priority and deck). What they didn't advertise though is that you can also self-disembark. I was finally told about this option after I them I needed to get off before 9am (they had said they could only move me to the 915am disembark group at the earliest). You just have to drag your own suitcase off with you. Which actually ended up being more convenient because if you have them take luggage off for you, you have to leave your suitcase out the night before. It was easier for us to have our luggage with us until we physically left the room so we could do some last minute parking. We were estimated to get into port around 8am, but we were already able to disembark at 8am and were sitting in front of the terminal at 815am waiting for our driver to take us to the airport.
Overall, great experience. Would definitely consider traveling with MSC again! My parents loved their first cruise so much that they are talking about doing a family reunion cruise every other year now.
Great location, central, near elevators but not close enough to hear the traffic from them.