My wife and I, and another couple booked 2 MSC European cruises about a year in advance. The first, on the MSC Orchestra, sailed from Hamburg on June 5th and visited ports in Scotland and Ireland. This was our first experience with MSC.
Overall, this was a lower priced cruise, and the lesson learned is you get what you pay for (unless it's on the drink package, then you may not even get that). When we bought the cruise, we also purchased the Deluxe drink package that was supposedly the best and it included the most expensive drinks. Since then, MSC has redefined their drink packages and our Deluxe had been renamed Premium which covers drinks costing up to 10 Euros. They also changed the prices of some of the best spirits to be 11 Euros or more effectively moving the best quality drinks out of our package into the new Premium Plus category - hence my 'Bait & Switch' title. We tried to explain the situation to the bar staff and also complained to customer service, but to no avail. On rum drinks, the best we could get was 8 yr old Bicardi's rather than the Zacappa 23 that we'd paid for. I cannot fault the bar staff, this was a recent corporate/management decision. The honest course of action would have been to honor the original package parameters. My only recourse is to warn other cruisers that if you buy an MSC package ahead of time, don't be surprised if it's downgraded by the time you sail.
One of the highlights of the cruise was the excellent staff members who do the actual work on the ships. The bartender in the wine bar, Louis from Peru, was an absolute professional. He is personable, extremely knowledgeable, multilingual, a natural leader for the rest of the staff, and an awesome singer & magician. The rest of the staff Sri, Pascky, Akash and Ace all provided excellent customer service and are valuable assets to MSC.
I am unimpressed with the leadership and management on MSC. The officers, while being polite to customers, were aloof and sometimes rude to the workers. In one instance, I watched a group of 4 officers hold an impromptu business discussion that went on for more than 5 minutes about 4 feet in front of the singer who was trying to entertain the people in the wine bar.
The dining room staff worked hard to make it a good experience. Olvin, our principal table waiter was great. The food variety and quality was fine, but not up the standards we've seen on other cruise lines. There was no problem getting enough to eat, but the budget aspect of the cruise was evident in the very thin cuts of meat and limited wine selection available in the dining room. There was no sommelier or wine steward.
Self disembarkation in Hamburg was a good experience and strongly recommended if available. Some ports don't allow it. We got off before the rush and caught a cab out front to the airport - easy.
We would never book another MSC cruise. The price was lower, but the way they cut corners and redefine services erodes the experience.