We travelled as a couple on an 11 night transatlantic from Salvador to Barcelona.
We primarily travel on Royal Caribbean and this was our first time on MSC. As such this review will be comparing the two.
Explained in the cabin review
The ship was designed beautiful and designed exceptionally with every detail almost thought out. The ship was kept meticulously clean
The in-house shows were very good although were 35 mins each. Costumes, make up, lighting were superior to RC.
We don’t drink much so don’t purchase packages. Drinks were about 20% cheaper than RC and tended to be a similar size. Nice touches in the Sports Bar was providing nachos and dips with drinks. The drink alcohol measures also tended to be large.
There was sun loungers always available even when very busy
At $45 for a three hour tour of behind the scenes of the ship this felt like good value compared to RC price which on Oasis was around $80-90 (which we didn’t take up).
Now to the negatives - there is a few:
Whilst the ship is beautiful they made some mistakes;
The theatre has 934 seats - on a ship with a capacity of 5300. This means that the performers are forced to do 3 x 35 minute performances a night. Whilst these didn’t always sell out (as booking is required) I feel the theatre should have had more capacity to reduce this to two maybe slightly longer performances. The seating is also very tight on leg room.
The pools are all 6ft deep with no shallow sections (with the exception of the kids play park)
The dinning rooms are too small. This cruise wasn’t full but heard previously of issues with not having enough tables in the restaurant. This results in some very closely configured tables which almost resemble banqueting halls where your almost sharing tables with your neighbour. This didn’t happen to us but it could be pot luck whether you land one of these tables. I’m also not sure if this is down to the table situation but they tend to run 4 dinner sessions 6pm, 7pm, 8pm and 9pm - there is also a my choice dining option. If you aren’t in within 15 minutes of that time then the restaurant closes. This policy leads to everyone arriving in a 15 minute window. Servers maybe with 6 tables or more each then need to take orders, serve drinks, bread and food. Not staggering tables affects quality of service and also I’m sure has an effect on the kitchen staff as well.
Very open venues. Many of the entertainment areas aren’t intimate or open and have limited seating - so often what happens is a performer is playing to people who are not there to see the act but people who are just there taking a seat. Often the venues are also corridors to other places which then has the effect of major background noise.
The food in the buffet and main dining at breakfast was to a similar standard to RC although with possibly slightly less choice
Lunch in the buffet offered less variety than RC and the one time we had lunch in main dining it was ok. Again they seemed to seat people in one waiters section meaning they had immediately 8 tables to serve in quick time.
We had dinner in the main dining each night and it was very hit or miss. Some dishes were surprisingly good others were just ok. Portions tended to be smaller than RC - which I think is a good thing - as often RC portions can vary and tend to be large.
We developed a system to ensure we got alright food on MSC - we found they tended to be better at seafood and fish dishes than other meat types.
For desserts their ice cream and ice cream sundaes were actually very good.
They were also very good at pizza and (crisp) fries at the buffet.
At dinner service we were entitled to complimentary bottled water - which seemed to be rationed with one bottle coming out at a time. I’m not sure why they don’t just serve water - I actually would prefer a big jug of iced water from the tap than create more plastic to be recycled.
Whilst cleanliness was very good on board hygenie such as hand sanitisation was more an optional occurrence. There was hand sanitiser stations and even hand washing stations in the buffet but many just didn’t bother. By the end of the cruise a large number of people seemed to have a cough.
We stopped at Tenerife and Malaga on this trip. Tenerife was actually very smooth. However Malaga was slightly dangerous. Due to three medical evacuations by air and bad weather the disembarkation time was understandably changed to 2:30pm. People queued from 2pm with no staff to manage queues these quickly got out of hand with no real queuing system, people joining the lines as they come down the stairs or out of lifts. Some of the queue were then sent to the crew exit to alleviate this. But that was somewhat a bottleneck > with again people coming down stairs and lifts and joining in a mass.
On board there was somewhat limited daytime activities. On RC we enjoy attending the trivia which is up to seven times a day. It is a great way to meet people as well as break up sea days. On MSC it tended to be dance classes with only three trivia sessions across 12 days. On one day they had 3 activities scheduled at one time and none for three hours. They also had a guest lecturer on board who we attended several talks and was quite interesting. On speaking to her she stated that she only does the transatlantic cruises - what would they have had if she wasn’t on board. There was a lot of entertainment staff even more than on other lines so felt they weren’t utilised as well as they could be.
It became quite monotonous to hear every thing repeated in 6 languages. MSC is European, and I was shocked how seemingly few US customers were on board which make up a large proportion of RC guests regardless where they sail from. Unsurprisingly the majority were Brazilians meaning Portuguese was the main language. Being from the UK and having a little grasp of a few languages I would have struggled without English which was certainly a minority language on board. I’m not sure there is a solution to this problem. Although perhaps they could announce in one language and display subtitles in other languages on screens in places like the theatre.
The shows which are imported tend to be languageless or language light. These were a mime act (x2), singing act (x2) and a Ventriloquist using somewhat common words from multiple languages. In fact the best part of these shows was often the audience participation bits which were only a small part. Overall these certainly were not as good as guests performers on RC.
I felt the staff were not as friendly as RC. They all did a good job but didn’t really talk. On RC servers of food and drink tend to be really bubbly, restaurant managers visit our table each night and most other staff great you in the corridors of all ranks. I felt this was in a minority on MSC. The staff were still good at their job and some were really friendly. For example a waitress at the chocolate shop remembered us for the rest of the cruise and greeted us each time we walked by, the maitre’d at main dining was very chatty and always acknowledged guests, deck staff cleaning the deck at 5am even gave out a strong good morning in Portuguese.
Some other points;
We had 3 air medical evacuations during this cruise and these were handled really professionally - it was good to see that if you need specialist medical help even 500km off the coast that attempts will will be made to get you that help. The Spanish Search & Rescue Service Salvamento Maritimo sent a Puma helicopter and an AirbusHeli plane to evacuate a staff member who was in labour with the baby in the breech position. An unusual announcement came over the tannoy in another language first and I picked up the words gynaecologist or obstetrician as they are very similar.
The next day whilst at the buffet they made an announcement of “Mike Echo” over the tannoy and the evacuation was in full progress.
MSC was the first cruise line to search my bags getting off at a port. As we were on holiday for 17 days we really needed to wash some clothes. I hadn’t preordered a washing package which were reasonable in advance. But per piece priced onboard. As we had washed clothes before off ship on our last transatlantic we thought we would do the same again. Last year on RC we carried off two rather large stuffed full weekender bags no questions asked. Even Spanish police and didn’t even look as we walked through with them. However MSC security were puzzled why I might be taking a weekender bag off the ship and wanted to know what was in it, scanned it and then did a quick visual search. This vigilance I believe is a good thing although what bag size is too big - I was shocked to have not been at least stopped last year with RC. On MSC others got off with backpacks no questions asked.
Beware of the shuttle sale at Malaga. This has been mentioned by others before but MSC somewhat tried to sell a $10 shuttle to the city centre from Malaga cruise terminal stating it’s a 20-25 min bus ride away. In reality it’s about 25 minutes leisurely walk by the marina. A taxi would be about €6 each way, and if you wanted to do specific things may just save you a few minutes.
Overall we left feeling we enjoyed a relaxing 11 nights on board. We would sail again with MSC possibly on their smaller ships (which we tend prefer) on itinerary rich sailings negating some of the activity issues although we have another two transatlantic sailings booked with RC for early next year so possibly not anytime soon.
We booked an inside cabin as we don’t often make use of the balcony. MSC upgraded us to a balcony cabin for operational reasons as I believe this cruise wasn’t fully booked.
The cabin was excellent and well planned out. There was ample sockets as well as 3 USB charging points for phones and devices.
Other points of note was the video on demand service which also had a free section. On this cruise 12 free movies available for an 12 day cruise and were generally recent releases.
The MSC and Me function on the TV also seemed to be very efficient compared to others we have used on other lines.
Whilst we travel as a couple - MSC also provide in some cabins, sofas which convert to bunks which would be better alternative to sofa beds - saving valuable cabin space.
The cabin had a full length and large vanity mirror which thanks to location gave the impression of a much larger room.
Storage was similar to most other lines for similar cabins.