We chose MSC cruises based on their "family friendly" policies and although the reviews weren't great we were willing to give it a go.
I have previously cruised with many other lines, however these were all pre-children and so i was interested to see if this was going to be a good way to travel with a small child.
I will state that not all my findings were within MSC's control and some things are observations that will hopefully assist others when planning their trips. Some things i never in my life thought would be annoy me...but did, perhaps i am not so easy going now i've entered motherhood!
MSC boats appear to have 2 family rooms, these are a such a perk when booking with young children, on the Sinfonia these are rooms 9002 and 9006. They are at the very front of the boat and give you a bedroom and a sitting room (that can be converted to another bedroom). Plenty of storage and loads of rooms travel cots.
I pre-booked a travel cot via email before travelling.
When reading the pre-boarding FAQ's it did say you are meant to declare pushchairs upon booking, but when i rang them prior to our trip they said this was unnecessary...which brings me to the first "annoyance"
Their website is rubbish, lots of misinformation...such as timings for the baby and mini club. Advertised Mini Explorer tours for some of the ports we were visiting but not available when going to check on excursions, when i emailed to ask they said to keep checking back as it may open up closer to disembarkation time. These were never available on this boat so might be worth bearing in mind if it's something that is swaying your decision to book with them.
Embarkation in Venice was ok, you get to the terminal and then go on a bus to the actual check in, after that it was fairly quick, we embarked after 2 so our cabin was ready and our cruise cards were available. The muster was awful, we got there on time but it didnt seem to start until the last person arrived (30 minutes later) and took almost an hour to complete, 30 minutes of which is explaining everything in 5 different languages.
The buffet closes in the evenings from 4 until 7, we didn't realise this would be the case every night and it was tricky to feed the little people...the grill is open, offering burgers, hot dogs, chips and pizza. There is a small selection on healthier food available as well. No highchairs in these areas though.
We ended up eating in the restaurant in the end as they had special children's menus available, this wasn't our plan originally as we were worried about taking them into a formal setting every night but actually it was fairly nice and they behaved well.
The worst part of this cruise was the tenders, they were very disorganised. In MSC's defence, it was a slow process due to the weather conditions but there was no real communications or estimates and this made it extremely frustrating. First tender in Santorini took almost 3hrs from when they expected us to leave on our tender number to when we actually made it to the tender, we spent 40 minutes queuing in the stairwell with 2 (tired, over crowded and fed up) toddlers and in the end i found it so overwhelming that i ended up crying. Thankfully the very short time we have remaining to explore Santorini made it worth it, but it is certainly something that i would not like to experience again.
Tender off at Sarande was not much better but i think we were more prepared for it. We did not go to the waiting area until they started to call and thankfully as we were on earlier tenders we managed to get off fairly quickly.
The major issue experienced was the complete lack of organisation, people waiting everywhere, later number numbers clogging the entrance and not allowing people to pass, later numbers in with the earlier numbers causing some anger amongst other guests. If they adopt n approach similar to disembarkation it would be much easier.
People in general were fairly rude, elevators were a nightmare (one of the things i didn't think i'd moan about!), people press the button to close the doors as soon as they open, preventing entry. If you are in there they push and push as many people in as possible and they do not make it easy for you to get out on your floor. My baby got backpacked in the face a couple of times and i managed to not to lash out, so i'm proud of that!
You have to book into all but the first and last show, for most this will be fine, but we didn't know what timings we following being out of routine, we did manage to see a few though and our small people LOVED the shows! I thought they were fairly good but this could be more the joy of seeing how excited my little was watching them.
Most of the staff on board seemed friendly enough, appreciate that English isn't their first language and most made an effort. The guys in the restaurant made a real effort at dinner times. The food was OK, not as bad as most make it out to be, portions are small but this was enough for us.
Our 3 year old went to the mini cub a couple of times and enjoyed it, i took the baby to baby club (where the parent stays with them) a couple of times and there was a good selection on chicco toys to play with and the place is very clean. I didn't leave the baby in the babycare service, it's not something i am comfortable doing.
The timings on the website do not match the timings available on the ship, it may differ per MSC trip but it made it tricky to determine when you would use it. It's not as available during the sea days as it is when in port, which seems odd as this is when we need to entertain them more.
Disembarkation - due to the weather we were unable to go to Venice and had to be re-routed to Treist, from previous experiences on the tenders we anticipated this to be a nightmare but actually it was fairly good. they assigned colours and asked you to wait in specific lounges at specific times and this was adhered to and was fairly easy to get off the boat.As we then had to bus back to Venice they put on different buses to the port or airport, so we were able to go straight back to the airport where we had booked our hotel.
All in all, it was a good way to see lots of places with small people in tow, but i perhaps chose a cruise that had too many stops and it was a fairly hectic itinerary. I'm also not sure I would chose to travel with MSC again.
The room comes with a bedroom and a livingroom (the sofa converts to another bed)...this was ideal with 2 small children and plenty of space for putting pushchairs away etc
Think the bathroom may have been bigger as well as there was a decent amount of room in the shower.
Easy to get off the boat, we just did the easy walk and a spot of shopping. A lovely lunch at Trattoria da Irma by the terminal, well worth a visit
We only had a few hours as time was limited and the tenders were running slowly. The port itself is fairly scary but the walk along the seafront was nice. Not a lot open at this time of year.
My favourite stop in the end, you have to pay for transfers from the port to the old town, if choosing to think it was €14 per adult €10 for over 3. You can take a private taxi, we felt it was easier to go on the coach.
Lovely walk, lovely lunch and we also went up in the cable car.
The main port looked nice as well and there is a little market next the ship for last souvenir bits. There is also a supermarket within walking distance for essentials.
Dilemma here as the port was lovely and my wish list for this cruise, however the experience of getting of the boat and the very short time we ended up with (around 3hrs) marred the experience. Will defo go back here for longer one day.
Weather wasn't great but still managed a nice walk and a nice lunch. we had very little planned at this port so were happy to just mooch.
Cruise terminal is easy to get to from central Venice, we used the people mover, located by the bus station and we there in around 10 minutes.
We booked an excursion for the way home but this was cancelled due to the weather conditions not allowing the ship to return to this port.