My wife and I have cruised with several lines but it has been Royal Caribbean for the last few years. However, we had a number of issues on our last trip with them so we decided it was time for a change. We were attracted to this cruise with MSC (who we hadn't used before) because of the interesting itinerary and they were offering a good deal on a Fantastica balcony. Also, MSC matched our RCL Diamond Plus status which meant that we had a Black Card which gives their highest level of loyalty benefits.
First impressions were very good indeed. Embarkation at Southampton was quick and easy and the ship was, in our view, the most attractive that we'd been on. It is both elegant and glitzy and the Swarovski staircase in the central atrium is stunning although I daresay some will find it OTT. Throughout the cruise the ship was kept spotlessly clean, both externally and internally. In fact, on numerous occasions when sitting in a bar we had to move out of the way of the guy vacuuming the carpet.
My wife is disabled and uses a mobility scooter so we were lucky enough to get a disabled access cabin on deck 10 (10145). It was very nicely decorated and furnished and was more spacious than the Junior Suites we normally have with RCL. The only slight drawback was that drawer and hanging space for clothes was rather limited. We managed but four people in the cabin (it has a sofa bed) would struggle.
With the possible exception of Guest Relations and Excursion Desk staff, who were rather supercilious at times, the crew, bar staff, waiters etc were friendly and helpful. My wife spends a lot of time in the cabin because of her lack of mobility and our cabin attendant, Jovi, went out of his way to look after her. This all round helpfulness is perhaps surprising in view of what we learned from other passengers and crew members about the crew's pay and working conditions.
My wife and I are smokers and one reason for moving away from RCL is that the latter are constantly making their smoking policy more and more restrictive and on most of their ships there is now nowhere indoors where smoking is permitted. This is just about acceptable when it's warm and sunny but cruises from Southampton often involve chilly, wet and windy weather for the first and last two or three days. On Preziosa there are several outside smoking areas and smoking is also allowed in the Casino and in a very pleasant little smoking room attached to it. We found this a big plus point but I do realise that others will regard it as a negative!
Unfortunately, however, there were numerous drawbacks which detracted from our overall enjoyment.
There is no facility for registering a credit or debit card for your on board account during the online checkin process as there is with RCL. When you board the ship you have to find a card terminal and laboriously enter the requested details. If, as my wife does, you use a debit card they immediately take a minimum of 250 Euro from it and if, like my wife, you don't spend that much during the cruise you have to queue at Guest Services on the last evening for a refund which they give you in cash (Euros).
MSC have a 'hop on, hop off' policy so there were many passengers embarking or disembarking at every port of call as well as those just getting on and off for excursions etc. At several ports this contraflow of passengers resulted in congestion and queues because the gangways were only wide enough for people to go in one direction. It took me an hour to get back on the ship in Hamburg, for example.
This cruise originated in Hamburg and we were told that there were 3000 Germans on board as against 800 from the UK. Germans do have an unfortunate reputation for rudeness and arrogance and I'm afraid that on this cruise many of them lived up to it. Queuing politely seems an alien concept and some would almost climb over my wife on her scooter to get into a lift first.
There appears to be a rising tendency for cruise ships to dock in the outer reaches of ports and this happened in Brest, Malaga, Hamburg and Le Havre. In addition, Guernsey involved tendering whilst the itinerary included Amsterdam but it was changed to Rotterdam. As we booked before the change was announced we were given a free coach transfer to Amsterdam but because the ship was late in arriving in Rotterdam and it took an age to board the coach there were only two and a half hours' free time in Amsterdam instead of the four originally scheduled. Yet the ship didn't leave Rotterdam until the following morning so why the rush to get everyone back?
Shuttle buses were provided in some ports but were charged for - up to 15 Euro pp which we and many others thought was unreasonable, not so much the level of the charge but the fact that they charged at all. Moreover, the buses provided were usually normal type coaches which meant my wife couldn't use them (hence she was unable to do the Amsterdam transfer) because she is unable to climb up the steps. Full disabled access buses were to be found in some ports but information on the ship regarding their availability ranged from sketchy to non-existent. Consequently, my wife was only able to leave the ship with her scooter in Lisbon, Cadiz and Vigo (the latter was, in fact, another change in the itinerary because we should have gone to La Coruna). Even then there was a problem because in Cadiz the steep angle of the gangway meant that she had great difficulty in manoeuvring her scooter on it. In fact, we heard that two passengers in wheelchairs had actually fallen out of them at the end of the gangway. We did mention these problems and were told that the steepness of the gangway was due to the state of the tide but we have been to Cadiz many times with RCL and had no trouble at all.
Still on the subject of embarkation and disembarkation, when we arrived back at Southampton we found ourselves at a different terminal (Mayflower) from the one we had left from (City). We weren't told about this beforehand and most people didn't realise it until they came out of the Mayflower terminal building. This caused a problem for those who had arranged to be met by relatives or friends, had booked taxis or left their cars at the City terminal car parks, in other words the vast majority. Shuttle buses (free!) were provided back to City terminal and its car parks but the process, including loading luggage on to the shuttles, was time consuming and frustrating. In our case, because my wife couldn't get on the bus, I left her and our luggage at Mayflower, took the shuttle to City, picked up the car and drove back to Mayflower.
In view of the above comments we think that MSC need to have a good look at their general organisation, particularly their procedures for embarkation/disembarkation at all ports and also for giving out information.
We were aware that announcements over the PA system would be in 6 languages but English was always first so we could ignore the rest. Eventually, however, the constant babble really irritated us, particularly when it meant that you couldn't have a conversation because of it. The positive side was that there were less exhortations to buy or do something than on RCL ships and, thankfully, there was no dreaded Art Auction!
We're not ones for shows so we didn't go to the theatre but others we spoke to that did said they were a mixed bag. There wasn't an awful lot in the daily programme and RCL are much better in that respect but we do appreciate the difficulties in catering for a multi-national complement of passengers. Live music in the bars and lounges was pleasant but not memorable. No British TV channels in the cabin except BBC World News.
Dining. The Inca buffet is similar in layout and operation to the Windjammer on RCL ships but we felt that the Windjammer offers a bigger choice and better quality. Breakfast was fine (except for a perennial shortage of mushrooms and bananas) but the choice at lunch and dinner was such that there wasn't much we fancied. Having said that, the burgers and pizza were excellent. However, my wife finds it difficult to use the buffet when she's on her scooter because the dishes are too high for her to reach. In addition, the cards on the counter describing the dishes were too high and in print too small for her to read. Because of this she had breakfast in the cabin every day and we had most of our lunches and dinners in the MDR (Golden Lobster). We always have MyTime dining with RCL but that wasn't available to us on Preziosa so we had to choose between 6.00 pm and 8.30 pm sittings, neither of which really suited us because the first (which we chose) was too early and the second too late. And in the second week the early sitting was brought forward to 5.45 pm. The service was excellent but the food was essentially the same as in Inca and generally ranged from poor to mediocre with a quite good dish occasionally, but not often enough, making an appearance. It was frequently not hot enough, portions were small, meat was generally tough, there were hardly any vegetables and, despite the fancy Michelin type descriptions, it wasn't aimed at British tastes (yet MSC made a big thing about providing kettles and Yorkshire Tea in cabins for the benefit of the British). There was a choice of six main courses but the first two were always some sort of pasta and risotto, the third was fish and the last was a vegetarian option so really there wasn't a lot of choice or variety. And some of the combinations were strange. Leek and potato soup frequently appeared which should have been fine but they'd added shrimps to it which put many people off. And how about asparagus soup with tapioca pearls or steamed cod with raisins and onions? My wife got so fed up with it all that one evening we ordered a T-bone steak to share (24 Euro supplement) but it was so tough as to be inedible. In the past we have complained about the food on RCL ships but it's streets ahead of MSC.
There should have been three speciality restaurants we could have gone to but Eataly wasn't open, we didn't fancy the one serving Japanese sushi and Butcher's Cut was closed for refurbishment. However, the latter did re-open on our last night so we went there. It was a complete contrast to the Golden Lobster and we had the best steak dinner we've had in a long time so they can do it if they try (and you're prepared to pay). However, even better was that one of the Black Card benefits is a meal in a speciality restaurant so it didn't cost us anything extra.
So, to summarise the major pros and cons:
Good: Beautiful, elegant and well appointed ship.
Good service from friendly staff.
Nice little perks with the Black Card.
Excellent dining in Butcher's Cut.
Reasonable provision for smokers.
Not so good: Unsatisfactory arrangements for getting off and on the ship
during and at the end of the cruise, particularly for anyone disabled.
General organisation, communication and dissemination of
Annoying multi-lingual PA announcements.
Indifferent shows, entertainment and activities.
Mediocre food (except in Butcher's Cut).
As for a comparison between MSC and RCL, we think that the Preziosa was nicer and better maintained than the RCL ships we've been on and it almost made them look rather shabby. MSC prices are cheaper, too. Food and on board activities are better on RCL and the way they run the cruise operation is very slick which makes MSC look amateurish.
Would we go with MSC again? Probably not but I see that Indy's cruises out of Southampton next year have been cancelled so you never know........
Disabled access cabin. Very spacious and nicely decorated and furnished but limited space in which to put clothes. Kept spotless by the room attendant, Jovi. Large balcony. We were very pleased overall.