This is our 2nd cruise. Our first was with the American NCL Epic. After much research and logistics-checking, we chose to sail on the MSC Bellissima.
Yes, I read all the comments for her sister ship, the MSC Meraviglia and noticed something: the Americans disliked MSC, the British tolerated it, the Europeans loved it. Since I am a Canadian-Israeli, I just warned my family to expect the same level of service we received on our last overland trip to Italy but emphasized that the ship would be gorgeous and with lots of things to do. With that in mind, we were not disappointed.
MSC is an Italian shipping company and nearly 75 percent of the passengers are Italian. The rest are Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, Russian, with some Israelis and Turks. It is a nice, spicy, fun international mix, especially when you factor in the origins of all the onboard staff. It DOES, however, pose a language issue in which ALL announcements are repeated in five languages at length. So yes, the lifejacket drill is a wee bit l-o-n-g.
Bellissima is a vibrant and beautiful ship with many amenities for all ages. The water park is compact but super fun, the challenge ropes course overhead kept my teens happy and busy for hours. There are several swimming pools as well as an indoor pool with a retractable roof for inclement weather. I counted at least 5 hot tubs, I may have missed one...
The buffet is on the 15th floor, same floor as the pool.
Advice to the overly polite: DO NOT wait in line for food, G-d knows the Italians, Israelis, and Turks very proudly don't. They believe that waiting in line is for suckers. You know the adage - When in Rome...Just smile and elbow your way in very sweetly.
If you insist on eating near the middle area of the buffet, it will be difficult to find tables and, yes, it will be noisy. If you spread yourself out to the back or sit outside on the pool deck, you will have a much more quiet and intimate experience. And you may see dolphins!
My issue with all the food on board is that I am on a Ketogenic diet, which entails less than 30 carbs per day and NO sugar! This was challenging but here are my food conclusions:
The buffet is the penultimate celebration of carbohydrates. There are several types of breads, pastas, they make fresh pizzas right in front of you, risottos, rice, noodles, battered foods, cereals, fruits, jams, you name it. The bread display behind the counter was this very cool montage made of bread of all sorts of animals.
But the bonus is the Bellisima has her own mozzarella factory on board! Woohoo!
I admit, I don’t eat piggy-parts or seafood, so my choices were even narrower than others, but here is a summary of how I ate the whole week:
Scrambled eggs, mozzarella cheese, provolone, edam, gouda cheeses, fresh pesto sauce, cucumbers, lettuce. There were always several forms of lettuce available with each meal. Sometimes I would take natural yogurt with toasted sliced almonds and pumpkin seeds. Sometimes I would add my own dark chocolate that I brought with me from home.
This took me a while to figure out: the hot dogs served in the grill section of the buffet are made from pork but the hot dogs served at the pool deck’s grill are turkey/chicken. So I would pop outside to grab one of those, minus the bun.
The rest of my plate was any non-sweetened meat I could find: sometimes a hamburger patty, sometimes the roasted meat of the day, roasted chicken, fish – I tried to vary my plate each day. Sides were mostly salad with the pesto sauce or Caesar salad dressing with parmesan on top that you could build yourself, green string beans, I even found cauliflower “mac’n’cheese”!
Usually the same fare as lunch, with international specials. By the way, I found that by cruising the whole entire buffet, from port to stern to starboard, I found that there were different items on offer. It also depended on what time you arrived to the buffet.
My biggest temptation? Surprisingly, NOT the parade of sandwiches, cakes, and cookies at the midnight buffet. No, I AM a former Canadian: the McCain’s hash browns were just beckoning to me. I’m proud of myself for standing up to them!
MSC! The string beans on offer are great for my diet but get boring. Fresh cooked mushrooms or asparagus or creamed spinach would have been equally welcomed. One day they did string beans in shredded toasted coconut - that was fabulous!
MSC, another point: your sugar replacement on board contains Sucralose, it is NOT safe for diabetics. Please switch to stevia or monk fruit sweeteners!
-Main Dining Room:
We only went to the main dining room once, not because we didn’t like it but, simply because it didn’t fit into our nutso schedule. It offered 4 different starters, 6 mains, and a slew of desserts. I took salad and stupidly forgot to tell them not to drizzle the dressing on top. For a main dish, I took the grilled salmon and gave the potato side to one of the kids. My big surprise? I asked the waiter if they had sugar-free ice cream and he said yes! Only vanilla is available but it made my evening!
I must point out: I did NOT ask to check food labels on board. I made the best keto-inspired choices that I could, coupled with a 12th floor cabin that entailed walking up and downstairs from the 15th floor buffet / pool deck. We also made sure to get off the ship at every port and walked around and explored a lot.
My biggest surprise? I lost 2 kilos on the trip!
I officially started Keto on 01 May 2019 and have lost 9.5 kilos and a whole bunch of centimetres from the old muffin top since then.
Again, this ship is BEAUTIFUL! The Galleria, with its Fremont Street-reminiscent arched ceiling, on the 6th floor is laid out like a shopping plaza, including a full out chocolate factory. They also run the ice cream parlour across the deck with many a tempting flavours to discover.
MSC ! Consider adding more minimum 74 percent dark chocolate options and stevia-sweetened ice cream for us ketogenics!
To my kids dismay, unlike onboard the Epic, there are no free soft-serve ice cream machines. If you want ice cream, you will pay for it or will have to go to the MDR to get it with your meal.
The Galleria is the place to be in the evening with dance lessons, disco parties with their very energetic entertainment troupe, and fun with their crazy ceiling video imagery.
Cirque de Soleil. Oh. My. God. Did I tell you I was Canadian? All my life I heard how fabulous CDS is. Well I finally went and it was terrible! Do NOT waste your money. MSC's own free stage productions were so much better. I was so embarrassed to have spent 15+ Euros per person on this and that I had actually psyched up my kids before: "Oh it'll be great, you'll see!". It wasn't. We didn't see "Syma", we caught "Varelia" and it starts with a be-wigged little girl and her pet Raccoon, who reminded me of the characters from the Sonic video game. They could easily scrap the whole section of the show with the girl and her raccoon, which I found entirely condescending and misogynistic - What? Again the girl needs rescuing? - and instead CDS needs to focus on the dance troupe and their antics, which would greatly improve the show.
Stage shows: lots of good fun. Short. To the point. Many different time slots to fit your schedule on board. They even had a staff talent night - the Samoan crew dance troupe was fabulous and infectiously fun.
Apropos infectious: MSC! Please put up signs in several languages explaining the virtues OF COVERING ONE'S MOUTH WHEN COUGHING OR SNEEZING! The Epic had at least 4 ladies who would pounce on you with disinfectant at the entrance to the buffet, all the while singing - Happy-happy! Washy-washy! MSC - LEARN FROM THIS!
Although the Euro has dropped a little in value, it is still expensive against the Shekel, so we only did one excursion to the castle in Caserta near Napoli, which was great, with a very well-versed tour guide. I think her name was Elizabetta - she was intensely knowledgeable. In most other ports we used public transit if it was available and fared very well with it.
La Valletta in Malta is an absolute gem. However, since it is an old fortress city, consider splurging on a taxi to get to the beaches. The number 14 bus gets to several beaches but it takes at least an hour to get to St. George's Bay. If you have difficulties walking, La Valletta is very steep near the port - talk to the excursion staff, they are very knowledgeable and give valuable advice.
MSC offers bike tours of the ports they visit. We didn't go on them but noticed the smiles on the passengers who opted for this. We may try this on a future cruise after we practice a while at home!
Service onboard is, on the most part, surprisingly good. It is not at the same level as the Epic, but then I was not expecting it to be. Most of the staff are friendly and genuinely helpful. Kudos to Oren and his other Israeli compatriot from Gedera who manned the ship's entrance/gangway - they always made us feel super welcome. The buffet staff are accommodating if you need help with anything and our waiter in the MDR was so patient and funny. Our room cleaner (Hortensia?) was a lovely lady with a great sense of humour and kept our room spotless (though we did our level best to make that easy for her.)
Entertainment troupe: They deserve a medal for non-stop energy and action. They managed to get everyone of all ages to get up and dance. HOWEVER!!!! Guys, I love the latin-south American energy as much as anyone but when you play the same song 3 times in one set...that's just supremely annoying.
MSC!!! This is a European ship! I'm not saying play every Eurovision song ever written, but you would have had everyone dancing to Mahmud's Italian hit "Soldi" and Neta Barzilai's "Toy". The music needs more variety. "Macarena" is a little old...
Kids - teen club: our kids are teens and made use of the teen club to meet other kids and play basketball in the huge sports complex. The club also has table soccer and ping pong. My Israeli kids found themselves playing ping pong with this cute 10 year old from Dubai and another teenager from Germany. Peace on Earth starts on cruise ships....
We did not use the bowling or formula one simulator.
We didn't use the GPS wristbands. Why? I'll tell you: 1. When we asked the price of several staff members, we got conflicting price quotes and that was annoying, 2. We trained the kids to phone our cabin at midnight to let us know where they were and when they planned to return. We're old-tech.
Summary: know what to expect so you can enjoy yourself. I noticed that a lot of Americans complained that there is no English TV. Uh, guys? It is a cruise ship, go enjoy your time completely disconnected from the world. They also complained about chair hogs - we swim or sit in the hot tub so we just bring a bag for our towels and hook it on a railing. I can suntan at home. We always found lots of available chairs and sunbeds. This was NOT a problem on the huge Bellissima.
MSC: please put signs clearly marking where smoking is and isn't allowed. The smoke is very bothersome, especially on a family-oriented cruise. In our opinion, it should not be allowed anywhere on the ship as a safety issue but, as a minimum, it should NOT be allowed in the casino as the whole area stinks of it.
Public areas: on At-Sea day, the water was a bit choppy so I went down to the lower levels to regain my sealegs. I found that I had nowhere to sit since the other several thousand other passengers were already crowded there!
Our cabin was mid-ship on the 12th floor and was conveniently located between the panoramic, exterior-view elevator and the main central lifts and staircase. I take higher floors simply to avoid the lifts during peak hours - we opt for the stairs. The cabin was much wider than what we had on the Epic, so we had plenty of room to walk past the sofa, which was kept permanently in the bunk bed configuration for our stay and made easy access to our balcony. Lots of storage space. We asked them to empty the mini bar - mostly so my kids wouldn't chow down on pricey candy bars but also so we could keep chilled water in the cabin. With 4 people, I missed the convenience of a split bathroom that we had on the Epic but we survived or even ran up to the pool deck to use the bathrooms there if we had a bathroom timing conflict.
In-Cabin TV: I didn't spend a lot of time in front of the TV except for a couple of minutes in the evening. MSC: could you please add subtitles as a default on the programming? It doesn't have to be translation but having the words in front of you make it much easier to understand what's going on. Yes, I know I previously made a comment about not watching TV. We were just curious what the results of the election were...
This is where we boarded the ship. We flew in the day before on a Vueling low-cost flight from Tel Aviv that landed in BCN at 08:30 - this gave us a full 1.5 days prior to boarding the ship. Transferred to our La Rambla hotel using the very well organized Aerobus service that deposits you at the top of La Rambla. We then walked 10 minutes to our hotel, checked in, deposited our trolleys, and then went to explore. We had a bad experience with one of the Blue Cruise bus drivers - he tried to convince us that the reason he short-changed us was because the price does not include tax. Be warned: The cruise bus price is 3 Euro per person. Make sure you have exact change so as not to get scammed.
The cruise offers bus service to the marina - it is very costly in our opinion. We just walked around the marina and went to a local supermarket and watched street performers. We already did the touristy train thing to the Notre Dame church on our previous cruise.
It wasn't an excursion, per se. We procured tickets to the aquarium via the cruise company as we exited the ship in the cruise terminal. The aquarium is only around 800 metres from the terminal and you follow the aquarium paintings on the pillars of the bridge parallel to the sidewalk to guide you to it. The boys really enjoyed it (so did we...).View All 10 Aquarium Reviews
The tour guide was so very knowledgeable and it was a great learning and cultural experience. Also a great way to burn off all the food we've been eating on board!View All 3 Royal Palace of Caserta Reviews
Just walked off the ship to go for a walk and stretch our legs. Cute town.
Could not get enough of Malta. She is an absolute gem. We fell in love with this island and hope to visit here again.