First time on an MSC cruise having previously had a number of cruises with Celebrity and Princess.
Embarkation was smooth. Luggage was taken from us a few steps from our taxi and we proceeded to check-in hall where we were given a group number and asked to sit until called. Ten minutes later our number was called and we checked in and proceeded to ship. One of the smoothest check-in procedures of any cruise we have ever had.
Our cabin was 12100 with a balcony and was midship. It was opposite an entrance to the hallway where two lifts are located but we heard little in the way of noise. The cabin was large with a 3 seater couch, flat screen TV and a small balcony. Only BBC World service channel in English but plenty of films to hire at 7 euro each if that is what you wanted to do. Tea and coffee making facilities replenished daily. Plenty of storage space and the bathroom had glass shower screen that could be folded back when not in use. Easily on a par with Celebrity and better than Princess cruise cabins.
Food was the biggest let down. For breakfast we found the Inca & Maya buffet restaurant chaotic. There was a reasonable range of food both hot and cold but the hot food was seldom hot. Eggs were especially a problem as even new trays of fried eggs taken from the "hot" cupboard under servery were cold - no temperature probes ever seemed to be used to check how warm the food was and it was the same situation with omlettes, etc. In addition nobody checked whether coffee, juice or milk dispensers were topped up and on a number of cases I had to ask one of the white coats (head waiters?) to ask for this to be done. Lunchtime was better and the fresh pizza was great and varied with the cheeseburgers worth a mention as well. The midnight buffet we only visited once and the fish & chips were really good and tasty. The highlight for us was dinner each evening in the L'Arabesque restaurant where we had great service from an attentive waiter and hot food if sometimes the portion size was small. However, our waiter had no problem in bringing an extra portion or on at few occasions telling his assistant to double the portion without us asking.
Speciality restaurant - Butchers Cut has recently replaced the previous Italian restaurant. The cost was an additional 62 euros plus 15% service charge for the two of us and the food was good. However at the beginning of the evening the staff looked after us but unfortunately we were sitting next to the table where the Captain and senior officers were to be seated with two VIP guests. When they arrived things changed as staff either ensured they were not in the same area as them or waited attentively next to their table. We sat for over 15 minutes with our main course plates waiting to be removed and had finished our wine but no one came near us. Eventually some one did and apologised for "forgetting" about us! What should have been a special evening was spoiled as we had to listen to senior officers in loud voices talk about the virtues of the newest ships! The total cost including drinks for what promised to be a wonderful experience was 135 euros for the two of us!
Entertainment in the bars was fine although a bit repetitive and we did not fancy many of the shows in the theatre although the one we did attend "Songo Italiano" was excellent. One thing though there are kids and teen clubs but no adult only spaces! Tried to have a quiet beer in the sports bar to no avail as two different Italian groups of kids aged between 4 and 8 tried their hardest to destroy the ten pin bowling machine by throwing the balls in the air or climbing into the machine underneath where the pin mechanism operated watched on by parents and staff who did nothing. Eventally the ship mechanic had to be called as one lane ended up with all the pin cables twisted.
Drinks package - We chose not to have a drinks package as we felt that they were not value for money. We had a bottle of decent wine each night with 3 or 4 drinks afterwards in the bars and we still saved money on the Premium package at 39 euros per person per day and I was drinking either beer and/or malt whisky with the better half on prosecco.
Excursions were expensive and we found that with a bit of research precruise we could visit the same places for around 50% cheaper than MSC was charging but that is the same for all cruise lines. Downside on returning to ship for everyone (except Royal Yacht passengers) was that they seldom had more than one gangway open and this led to queues which was a problem in really cold port of calls. Other cruise lines provide hot coffee or tea in instances like this but with MSC it was only available for Yacht Club passengers.
Shopping like most cruise ships there are a range of shops - duty free, clothes, gifts, jewellery, etc. Unfortunately every day and night they put out stalls to try and to sell mostly the same stuff as the shops to passengers. It detracts from the Italian styling of the ship and makes it feel down market. I know most ships do it but every day on MSC!!! The Phoenicians Plaza is an area where you can have a light breakfast and during the rest of the days complimentary snacks. It is surrounded by shops but they then set up stalls on the walkway to sell items forcing the tables into a smaller area. What should be a pleasant area to sit and have a coffee becomes a tight squeeze to make room for these stalls
Disembarkation was the best of any cruise. Left cabin at 8am, met at theatre at ten past, off ship 8.15 in a taxi with luggage by 8.25am. We'll organised, quick and efficient.
To conclude I would certainly consider MSC again but the food offering needs to improve in the buffet especially at breakfast. Plus give us an adult only space during the day to get away from unruly kids. In addition they should introduce feedback cards on the ships so that passengers can highlight good or bad practice from the staff or about the service they are receiving which would give the management the opportunity to start to address any issues. Also we had a card on our dinner table telling us who our waiter was but nothing in the cabin naming our steward. Why? As he was just as important in ensuring we had a good holiday.