I tend to write long reviews, so here it goes! My husband and I cruised on MSC on a 12 day itinerary RT Venice and the Mediterranean. We are seasoned cruisers, having cruised on Holland America, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Princess, but we had not cruised with MSC before. We chose this particular cruise because of the itinerary which included an overnight in Haifa, Israel and departure from Venice. We flew into Venice early to spend a few days before the cruise.
Embarkation -- We took the vaparetto (water bus) in Venice to Piazza Roma and then took the "people mover" to the Venice Port. It was a LONG walk to the farthest pier where the Lirica was docked. If I did it again, I think I would take a taxi from Piazza Roma or take a vaparetto to a stop nearer the cruise dock. We noticed people still leaving the ship when we arrived around 12:30 pm. Turns out the ship had gotten into Venice late, so boarding was delayed.
I must say that I had never seen such a chaotic boarding process. Signage was minimal, There were two security checks as well as the actual check-in with the ship personnel and then another long line once on the ship to turn in passports. (We later found out this was because of the stop in Israel, but there was no explanation at the time). There was minimal seating in the terminal and the entrance to the line to get onboard was in the midst of the seats, so you had to maneuver between people to get into the queue. There were announcements, but they were impossible to hear (and, of course, in several languages). Some simple TV monitors with instructions in several languages would have improved matters tremendously.
Crew and personnel seemed harrassed and not very welcoming. We tried to ask about our cruise cards which we had never received during the check-in process, but no one seemed to know how that was handled. The first crew person we encountered out of the passport process tried to sell us a drink package and we had a definite sense of being herded to the buffet to await the announcement of the cabins being ready. Knowing that the buffet would be a nightmare of people, we decided to see if our cabin was ready -- we thought also that our cruise cards might be in the cabin. Our cabin was ready and our cards were on the bed, so that was good. We also met our room steward who was a wonderful guy!
We booked an inside cabin -- it was like all inside cabins and was clean and nice. I will say that the shower was the tiniest shower I've ever seen! It was impossible to shower without the curtain clinging to one. There were dispensers with body wash and shampoo in the shower and another with hand soap by the sink. Towels were nice, the bed was pretty firm, and storage was about what one would expect for an inside room.
We travel light and carried on our own bags, so we unpacked and then went up to the Lido (La Pergola). It was still terribly crowded up there. Food was decent -- we did like the much less crowded pizza station on one side nearer the pool deck and the hamburger station with hot fresh french fries on the other. The beverage stations with water and coffee (and juice at breakfast) were in the corners right by the doors going out to the open back deck -- very poor traffic pattern there and always snarled up. Beverage stations by the pizza and burgers were much easier to navigate.
The lifeboat drill was one of the best managed drills I have seen. Very organized and the cruise card was scanned as you first arrived and it went quickly and smoothly. We LOVED the sailaway at sunset through the Venetian lagoon. The ship went by the most beautiful parts of Venice when the lighting was just lovely. If you go on Deck 9 to the very front of the ship, you can get out onto an outdoor deck right under the bridge. Hardly anyone knew the doors were there, so there was hardly anyone ever out there. There was also a staircase there to go to a similar area on Deck 8.
The ship itself was nice -- nothing flashy, but comfortable. It did have some weird traffic patterns -- in some places, you could only go through on one side of the ship and you had to walk through the dining room. Other places, you had to go up or down a floor to go all the way through. A little confusing at first, but we got used to it. One thing I do like on the older ships are the open back decks. On many of the newer ships, these are taken up by aft balcony cabins, but on the Lirica they were all open and had lounge chairs. We spent alot of time on the back decks and also used the stairs there for quicker access to the Lido buffet area.
We had early dining at 6:00 pm and a table for four with a Canadian couple. We got along very well with them and they were excellent table mates. They told us about a bar on Deck 12 on the back deck which we hadn't discovered yet. We loved this area as it had great views. I'm still puzzled why this area (it was the disco in the late evenings) was mostly underutilized. We played cards in there several evenings and it was virtually deserted despite having the best views on the ship. The bar was unattended and there was no music. I was really surprised, since the "crow's nest" areas are usually amongst the most crowded areas on the ships that I've been on. They did have a couple "private events" up there in the evenings that were closed to other guests. We poked our heads into a couple of the entertainments in the main theatre, but were underwhelmed. There were broadway production shows almost every night -- not our favorite, but we know that some like them. There were three bars with musicians and they seemed to draw some people into dancing. All in all, though, much less in the way of entertainment from other ships I have been on.
The library and internet center is simply not worth mentioning. It was a sad little corner in Lord Nelson's pub -- a pub in which people could smoke. We knew that there would be much more smoking since it was a European cruise, but we've gotten pretty spoiled by not having to deal with indoor smoking. The smell in the pub was too thick to deal with. The smoking was also bad on the one side of the pool deck that allowed it.
We had purchased a laundry package online before arriving in Venice -- there was no information in our room about it, so we went to the front desk to ask. They checked and told us to use the bag that our steward would give us and send out our 40 items at any time throughout the cruise. This worked out really well for us since we had packed light.
The food in the dining room in the evenings was excellent. We were pleasantly surprised. The selection was good, portions were reasonable and our two waiters were excellent. Water is not provided in the dining room unless you have a drink package. Apparently, though, they have had enough North Americans complain about this that a dining room "water" package was automatically included in our cruise fair. We asked our waiter about it on the first night, since our paperwork indicated "water drink package" and he said, "Oh yes, that's the American thing." So we got a big bottle of water at the table each night -- and we could get more if we drank that one. We had to sign for it like a bar drink but then it was automatically subtracted from our bill. It worked out well.
We specifically booked this cruise for the itinerary, especially Venice, Italy, and Haifa Israel. When we boarded the ship, we found out that they had engine troubles, so the itinerary times were changed slightly. No big deal. We had booked one independent shore excursion in Rhodes, Greece and ship excursions in Haifa (Israel), Limassol (Cyprus), Iraklion (Greece) and Bari (Italy). Unfortunately, a couple days into the cruise we found out that there was a spate of rocket fire and violence in Israel, so the ship made the decision not to dock in Haifa, Israel. This meant that 1.The other ports would occur in a different order and 2.The port of Istanbul (overnight) was substituted for Haifa. We were vastly disappointed, but understood how safety must come first. One incidence of violence affecting passengers would be a nightmare for the cruise company. This also meant, however, that our independent excursion in Rhodes (booked through Viator) was now supposed to be a different day and our stop in Rhodes would be both immediate (the next day) and also several hours shorter. We contacted the company as soon as we arrived in Rhodes and were able to cancel the excursion and get our money back. We were glad the Israel excursions were through the ship since they automatically refunded our account for those.
The ship excursions were OK -- the places were interesting, but it's really frustrating to be on a huge tour bus trying to keep everyone relatively on task and on schedule. The shore excursion staff was VERY good -- they had the process very smooth, spoke several languages fluently and divided up the participants by language. There were relatively few English speakers, so most of the time we were paired up with another language and had a guide that spoke both languages. The multiple translations do take up a good deal of time, though. I appreciated the tour company that had the headsets for everyone -- much easier to hear and to gather people together without shouting.
We liked all the ports and were pleasantly surprised by Istanbul since it was a last-minute overnight addition. Our weather was good, for the most part except for driving rain in Dubrovnik, Croatia. There was also historic flooding in Venice two days after the ship departed, so we could not return to Venice and instead docked in Trieste and were bussed to either Venice port or Venice airport. That had to be a major undertaking for the ship company to organize at the last minute! The seas were smooth -- except for the day we saw the waterspouts at sea! I've never seen that before!
All in all, we really enjoyed a little taste of the Mediterranean and are looking forward to going back to spend a longer time in some of the places. I would be hesitant to sail with MSC again -- just not our style of cruising -- but if the itinerary and price were right.....maybe.
We were only in Bari for a half day and took a ship excursion to Matera to see the Sassi caves. Beautiful city and the sunset and moonlight were beautiful. Wish we could have stayed longer!View All 1 Sassi Reviews
We took "The Villages of Crete" excursion with the ship. Visited a Byzantine church near the village of Kritsa -- not a very long stop and many of the shops were closed -- and then went to Agios Nikolaos. Nice seaside town with the "bottomless lake"; We would have liked more time there. We walked around Heraklion when we returned from the excursion. In retrospect, I think we should have just explored Heraklion, although it was nice to see some of the Crete countryside.View All 5 Agios Nikolaos Reviews
We wanted to see Larnaca and the church of St. Lazarus. Larnaca is at least an hour's drive from Limassol (which has a very nice cruise terminal). We didn't get a very long time in either Larnaca or Lefkara (a small town up in the Cypriot mountains) because of the driving time. Wish we had more time on the excursion and in this port. Lefkara is known for its lace and silver -- people were very friendly.View All undefined undefined Reviews
Very easy city to walk around on your own -- lots to see.
We took the cruise ship's shuttle boat to Mykonos harbor which was good since the city buses didn't seem to be running as the summer season was over. About half or more of the shops were closed for the season. Fun town to walk around and there is a beach within walking distance on the other side of the famous windmills. Pretty town with lots of cats!
We only had half a day in Dubrovnik, which was unfortunate. And it was POURING down rain when we arrived. We braved it anyway and took the city bus to the Pile Gate of the old city of Dubrovnik. Very easy to get Dubrovnik kuna (currency) at the ATM at the port and bought bus tickets at the magazine stand right by the port entrance. Much cheaper than the cruise ship shuttle bus (16 euros, if I remember correctly). It was pretty wet, but we walked around the old town until the city wall walk opened at 9 am. Price was pretty steep, I thought, to access the walk around the city on the top of the walls. It was 200 kuna (about $30) each! Still, the rain had stopped and we really wanted to see it and we are glad we did. Amazing views and a fun experience. We'd like to spend more time in Dubrovnik.