We were on a MSC cruise on Grandiosa which left from Barcelona January 9 2020. We are Australians with teenage children 15 and 17 and have previously been on a Norwegian cruise out of Venice in 2018 and a Carnival cruise in Australia in 2017. We booked a Bella balcony cabin very close to front of boat on the left hand side on deck 11.
For us, this cruise was intended as one week not-too-expensive, relaxing and ‘warmish for winter’ break within a 6 week busy holiday to Europe which otherwise had us on the move a lot and jumping on and off trains plus this was a chance to visit Sicily and Malta. We already knew the other ports pretty well. Given the time of year and that we needed to leave from Barcelona there were hardly any cruises operating so we had no choice re company or boat but I subsequently read loads of reviews of MSC which set expectations low and I anticipated a few issues. How wrong this turned out to be. Zero issues of any sort and an amazing, luxurious cruise which was totally enjoyable in every way. Only regret: we didn’t bring our swimmers on the holiday and so missed out on using the indoor pool (retractable roof) and spas. Even the outdoor pool saw quite a few swimmers on the warmer days down south and on the one day at sea as it got fairly warm and the pool area was very sheltered. Actually, temperatures were not too bad all week for anyone contemplating winter cruising: good puffer jackets were all we needed for sitting out on the balcony and the cooler ports and in Palermo it was 18 the day we were there.
Re criticisms of upselling: we declined the photos on boarding: no problem. Same in the restaurant and same re the offers to upgrade drinks and meals. There was no problem at all with this. We did not feel any pressure and we were not asked again ever. I would rate the upselling efforts of MSC as way less than Norwegian.
CABIN: as above, Bella balcony at the front. This was amazing: bigger than our mini-suite on Norwegian with plenty of storage for a suitcase and two cabin bags and our day packs and shelves on which to keep all our packing pods. Lots of hangers for jackets. Very tasteful light greys and muted purple and many mirrors. Extremely comfortable queen bed plus good-sized sturdy bunks for the boys. Big balcony and generous functional bathroom. Big tv with English channels including bbc earth, bbc news, Euronews, Bloomberg and CNN. Wonderful, hard-working and unobtrusive cabin steward with twice daily immaculate cleaning. Our balcony had a metal balustrade which we really liked as felt more private. We spent hours out there every day watching the world go by and reading etc. I liked being able to watch distant lights on shore most nights as still scarred by seeing Poseidon Adventure as a kid and prone, on cruises, to frequent waking and fears of icebergs and (after Costa) running onto rocks etc. but probably the other side would be better for port views as I think really only in Genoa did we have the best view. Virtually no movements felt at all even though I thought the front of the boat might be bad for this so however this boat is stabilised: it works and none of us experienced any sea sickness for a change. (Note: very calm seas all voyage).
From the boat you can easily catch lifts up to the high part of the city cost 1 Eu – just walk further around the port until you reach them. Gorgeous town. We also visited Mdina on the public bus – you can take 51, 52 and 53 and probably some others. Tickets available from the bus driver. Malta uses Euros. The port office has free walking tour maps as you leave boat and the tourist office up top a little walk through the town has tplenty of helpful advice about buses around the island etc. We also visited the tunnels used in ww2: very interesting. You can catch a ferry to another war museum but we ran out of time at the end of the day.
Another port which is again close enough to meander from the boat into the city. Lots to see including street market with lots of gourmet products including saffron and excellent pistachio cream to bring home.
We took the free shuttlebus to the smaller city port then walked to the train station but was a fair detour so might have been quicker to just walk to the train station from the start. The city also offered a 2 Eu shuttle from the small port to the station which we caught back on returning to the ship. We caught a train into Rome Termini (36 eu for the four of us return - when buying ticket at Citavecchia take care to go into main train station to buy your ticket and not be diverted to tour operator close by who tries to dissuade passengers from the train and suggests a car tour instead) and then a metro to the Coloseum (we bought individual tickets from machines at the metro station) and then strolled back alongside the forum (not enough time to go in really due to long ticket queues but pre-booking these might help), then meandered back to the Trevi fountain and had some gelato, wondered around a bit then grabbed a taxi back as running short on time to Termini for the train back. If you are interested in the Vatican, the train stopped at St Peter’s on the way in so would have been easy to hop off there. If planning a day in Rome you would be able to do more by getting off the ship earlier as we were a bit slow that morning which cut our time short.
City in easy walking distance. Loved wondering this place and followed a few tourist-office suggested walking routes. Some seriously fantastic boats moored here in the opposite part of the harbour and Kids enjoyed admiring them researching online which billionaires/oligarchs/war lords had owned them etc.
Marseille was switched to Toulon on our cruise due to the interprofessional strike in France which we already knew about from train travelling there prior to the cruise. Toulon was great: kids enjoyed seeing the French naval vessels and MSC provided free shuttle buses and boats into town and we just explored by foot.