We chose this cruise because the itinerary included three ports of call that we had not previously visited. This factor coupled with no 'days at sea', which we do not particularly enjoy, made this package very interesting despite some earlier reviews that were not overly positive.
The embarkation process was very smooth both at the airport and the port. The last thing anyone needs, after a long flight, are delays and queues, this process was one of the fastest and easiest we have experienced.
The ship itself was well maintained, both inside and outside. Staff cleaning and painting the external parts of the ship in port and others, with portable hoovers, cleaning the inside areas. The only disappointing issue was that some passengers found it acceptable to dump rubbish on the floors.
We had selected a Fantastica balcony stateroom and were very please with the same. It was not cramped and was well maintained. The room was regularly serviced and cleanliness was excellent.
With regard to dining, our overall impression was that the food was generally good although the portions in the restaurants were smaller than we had expected. The menus however lacked the variety of food that we had experienced on other cruises.
A special note on the breakfast facility on deck fourteen. This was always overcrowded, despite being a large area, and the available staff struggled to cope although, in fairness, they did their best.
Entertainment was very 'hit and miss' and we include both the theatre and the lounge entertainment in this comment. Generally we were able to find some entertainment to which we could relax and enjoy a drink in the evening. We have cruised on a number of occasions and, sadly, we would rate the overall entertainment on this ship as one of the poorest we have experienced.
One final point on entertainment. If you do resort to your cabin, and you are English speaking, do not expect too much from the in cabin television service. The vast majority of channels are in a foreign language. I appreciate that all nationalities on board must be catered for, but perhaps a couple of the many French channels, could be substituted with English speaking channels.
With regard to service this again varied on the ship. Our cabin steward was excellent. Staff in the bar areas responded well despite heavy demand. The reception staff were helpful if your question / request was straightforward, but struggled when they viewed the issue as difficult. As just one example; the luggage labels for the return flight. As premium economy passengers we were entitled to two suitcases each on this flight. We therefore expected four luggage labels to be delivered to our cabin, we received only two. As we wished to take a third bag, we called reception to request a third label. Thereafter a series of calls and visits to reception followed, in virtually every case we were told something different and it took the best part of two days to secure our third label.
We were pleased with the itinerary, but were slightly disappointed that the two visits to Guadalupe were both on a Sunday, when the majority of the island was closed.
Shore excursions were extremely expensive and we would not recommend taking the same. If you undertake some research before you go, as to what you wish to do on each of the islands, you will find numerous options for tours / taxis at the port, which will provide the tour / trip you require for half or a third of the on board cost.
A small recommendation now; we had previously visited St Kitts and had decided not to undertake a tour on this occasion. When in the port area we met a lady called Beulah Mills (Welcome Tours) who offered a tour for $15 per person. The tour was excellent and is highly recommended. Should anyone wish to take this tour, you will easily locate Ms Mills as she is the lady with the flag, you won't miss her.
Other points to note;
At most ports, if not all, passengers embarked and disembarked the ship. This clearly resulted in the need for safety / muster briefings. With a single port exception, these were undertaken without disturbance to the other passengers already on board. However, with regard to Martinique, which was the only other island visited twice, both visits being on a Saturday, the process was different. The whole ship 'closed' for approximately an hour, around 8.45 pm while this process took place. This proved to be a major inconvenience for the majority of us who had boarded elsewhere. No food, no drinks, no entertainment and no facilities at that time. MSC you need to rethink this one, particularly as there is only one scheduled show in the theatre that evening which is completed before the briefing starts and is therefore an obvious location for the same.
A small issue regarding the flights. MSC chartered Virgin Atlantic flights for the journeys we undertook between Gatwick and Barbados and the return. Therefore every passenger on these flights was an MSC customer. When asked about seating arrangements, we were told by Virgin staff there was nothing they could do as it was MSC's responsibility. When on the ship and raising the same issue, the MSC staff told us it was Virgin's responsibility. Of course, you are never in a position where you can speak to a representative of each company at the same time and, based on what the representatives said, the companies do not seem to liaise with each other in any great detail. The stock response seems to be to blame the other company. We spoke to other passengers, who had raised other issues regarding the flights, and they made the same observation to us.
Whilst crowded in many areas, passenger behaviour was generally good. But a couple of observations. Firstly the importance of hygiene. It was sadly noticeable that not all passengers washed their hands when using the toilet. This factor alone made the use of hand wash facilities, when entering a food outlet, of particular importance. It was disappointing that the hand washing facilities were not always manned on the deck 14 outlet, particularly as this facility is self service. We witnessed many guest walking straight past the hand wash. In the restaurants, where the food was served, ironically the hand wash facilities were always manned.
Secondly the lifts. At busy times there was a constant problem with some guests charging into already crowded lifts before passengers therein had been allowed to exit. This in the end caused more of a delay whilst those wanting to exit had to fight their way through those who had charged in. In our experience this is a problem on most ships but, sadly, it occurred fairly regularly on the MSC. You can perhaps understand this behaviour with young and excited children but not adults. If you are a person who 'charges in', whether on the MSC or elsewhere, please consider your fellow passengers in the future!
Finally the return to Gatwick. We were passengers on the flight that was quarantined at Gatwick by the Health Authority. (It was a news item on the television on that day). Approximately seventy passengers reported some form of illness, largely coughing, sore throats and sickness. Five of the Virgin crew were also effected. During the five hours of quarantine that followed at Gatwick, we spoke to other passengers. Many of whom who had health issues stated they emanated on the ship, although I understand MSC denied this to be the case. It was interesting to note that at least three people mentioned they had intended to visit the Ship's doctor until they were notified of the cost, none mentioned a figure under 100 Euros. My point here is that we have always been fortunate on the health front but not everyone is that lucky. Surely it would be in MSC's interests to make medical assistance, in the case of sickness more accessible financially, to avoid cases sometimes reported, where whole ships are taken out of service to be cleaned.
On the issue of the problems created by the five hour quarantine; i.e. missed flight connections, missed taxis pick ups etc., we do believe Virgin Atlantic staff responded well to these problems, despite the difficult circumstances.
Would we travel with MSC again? On balance, no.
We might be tempted by a superb itinerary providing subsequent feedbacks indicate an improvement upon the issues we have commented negatively on.