Booking this cruise was a shot in the dark as there were no North American reviews at the time, but the price was good for the holiday week I wanted and I took the dive. I'm writing this to help others decide if this ship is a good fit for them. I've taken Caribbean cruises on Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian , and several Caribbean all-inclusive stays in the past, so those are my comparison points.
First, let me point out this is an Italian cruise line. Yeah, it's now cruising out of Florida, but there remains lots of Italian flavor, including (no surprise) lots of Italian people who don't speak English. So if you are not comfortable being in the minority, and being around lots of non-english speakers who have different cultural norms that Americans (and lets be honest, there''s a lot of Americans who can't handle this) THEN DON'T BOOK IT. If you enjoy an international flavor to your international travels, you might find it an interesting change from normal cruise lines. We did, although at times, I did miss standard American cruise line stuff like sing-alongs at the piano bar.
OK, so that out of the way. Cleanliness was good, ship design overall was cool. Balcony stateroom a little smaller than normal, with a lot less storage (but manageable). Ship seemed have a little more sewage odor from toilets at times, but it's not like this hasn't happened on other lines at times, and keeping the bathroom door closed was an easy solution. A mix of European and US power outlets was not an issue, I don't understand how people can't manage to keep their personal devices charged with what they give you; we had 2 cell phones, a tablet, a fitbit and a laptop. Bedding and cabin decor comparable to other cruise lines.
Service - cabin steward friendly and effective, service in dining rooms was friendly, very slow in Waves, we moved to L'Olivio for a later time and service was much much quicker, still friendly. A quick comment on this - Waves is clearly where they stick their lowest valued customers -it's understaffed, the decor is bland, the staff is really getting hammered and the cruise line is clearly apathetic to the plight of both its paying customers and its overworked employees. Disgraceful... Bar service: again, understaffed. Long waits to get drinks almost everywhere. Drink service around pools and lounges: almost non-existent. Each area drastically understaffed. I was asked if I would like another drink on the cruise exactly: NEVER. In addition, I watched a drink server at the back pool talk to another employee for about half an hour before I finally got up and got my own drink at the bar. Seems the employees are not motivated by tips on this ship like other American cruise lines. I would rate overall service on this ship to a C- where the other cruises I have been on would be B to B+. MSC needs to adapt to American service expectations if they are going to succeed in attracting US customers.
Food - sit down dining was comparable to other cruises in terms of food quality, better than the last Norwegian cruise I was on. Main dining room offered a surf and turf option one night, have not seen that in years. Seafood was better than most, beef and lamb not as good in my experience. The variety of interesting dishes (primarily European) was a nice international touch you don't get on the American lines. Buffet food quality was also comparable, but variety was definitely not as broad. No Asian food at all (which I missed), they did have some Indian and some Mexican. On a cruise that hit ports in Mexico and Jamaica, there were NO Jamaican features at all at buffet or dining room, same for Mexico aside of the 3 or 4 everyday options (and one of those is Nacho chips). We're all on vacation here, try offering some local flavor...jeez how hard is it to make jerk chicken. Make an effort...
Entertainment - first a word about the shows outside of Cirque - most shows I've seen on American cruise lines are, well, not so good. The talent MSC has hired for their in house shows is AMAZING. Dancers and singers were crazy good and leagues above the other lines. Really actually worth seeing. HOWEVER, it comes with a caveat. The shows are designed for an Italian/European audience, and there are some differences - some of the singers have opera training, and hearing a pop song sung with that style is...unusual... for my American tastes. Also, the songs they choose to perform may be big hits in Europe, but not always in America. Having said that, I really liked most of it and wow, the talent! Cirque was booked up months before sailing, so we didn't go. I saw another Cirque show on Royal Carribbean, it was great, but these shows are much smaller and reviews have been weak, so oh well. Entertainment in bars was also focused to European/Italian tastes (violin performances in Atrium bar, Italian songs at karaoke). The whole ship was awash with modern tropical dance music in all the bars & clubs, alot of it not familiar to the average American.
Other things - clear and consistent communication is a big problem for this cruise line. Getting clothes pressed - had a huge snafu due to incorrect information given by front desk. That cheezy picture they make you take right before boarding? Automatically billed and delivered to your room. Want to make any changes or have a problem that needs to be resolved (like I don't want to pay for this stupid picture?) Be prepared to wait up to an hour in line at the front desk, which is.... understaffed. Surprise!
We waited a cumulative total of over 3 hours in line at this desk resolving various issues. I don't think I've ever spend more than 20 minutes total on any other cruise.
DRINK PACKAGE - one cabin we were with had the upgraded drink package. Given the time investment in waiting at the bar for drinks, it's just not worth it. There were several times at bars that were very slow where bar tenders didn't want to make certain drinks like mojitos or things that required a little more effort. Also, want your drink package gin and tonic at dinner? Too bad....we only do beer and wine in the dining room, sorry.
TIPPING - I'm a firm believer in distributing a little cash above and beyond the standard 15% tip tacked on by the cruise line. First, these people all work really hard and the cruise line doesn't pay too well. Second, I know if I give the bartender, server or steward a little extra cash they will look out for me if I need another drink or if I would like something slightly different, etc. Well, that does not seem to have any effect on Meraviglia, except in the dining room. Perhaps the European culture of no tipping has kept the staff from learning how the service culture functions in America, but if I still can't get a drink at the pool even with extra cash, it makes me pretty unhappy.
Pools - very nice. The standard main deck pool, a covered pool with retractable roof (that was never opened - leaving it pretty damn hot in there), and a pool on the stern. The boat was jam packed full booking and they were all full at peak but most of the time there was space at one of them.
Premium Restaurants - based on what we had read about them previously and what we heard on board, it didn't sound like the food or service was any better despite the fact you are paying extra, so we didn't do them.
Boarding/Disembarkation - a snap. Best ever. And we were not in a preferred class either.
The Photographers - actually one of the highlights. Friendly and lots of fun, took a zillion pictures, bought the lot.
Gym- WAYYYY too small for a ship this size. Always packed, so much so that it was pretty much non-functional.
Spa - mixed bag. Some good services, some bad.
Class Stratification - Something I've never really experienced before on an American line. Yes, there are the exclusive limited entry sections on the other lines. But nothing compares to what MSC has done. The entire front of the ship is not accessable. The effort to provide exceptional service is only provided within the confines of the Yacht Club bars and restaurants. Yacht Club passengers led to the front of lines, better service in common areas, etc. I was unhappy to see European class stratification brought to American shores in such a blatant and unapologetic way.
Would I go again? If it's crazy cheap compared to the other lines for the same itinerary, yeah. But you get what you pay for in terms of service. We did enjoy the international feel for a change though. Some times you feel like you are in a floating 51st American state when cruising the caribbean and it doesn't feel like much of an adventure. If they get the service act together I would definitely cruise with them again. Next cruise, no. The future, well, we will see.