Arrived port check-in 08.35 (our allocated check-in time 09.00). Well organised, but all rather laborious (Covid vaccination certs, PCR test certs, Passports, Photo ID, make copies of various certs). Once on board some of the staff seemed a little uncertain. Had to join a very slow moving queue for Reception as my photo ID had failed to transfer to my boarding card. Arrived at our Aurea balcony cabin (11,254 perfect location), whilst the room looked typical it became clear of two real downsides, 1. a very small/narrow balcony (I would be able to sit on the chair but not stretch my legs, and 2. REALLY minimal wardrobe space. To be truthful we were quite disappointed, in particular we knew immediately there would not be anywhere near enough space to store our clothing for a three week cruise. I was contemplating our situation when very nearby a baby started crying, and being a very light sleeper I realised this could be a problem. Back to the long queue at reception to enquire about upgrading to a suite. I felt we should have had a suite from the off as we had booked a suite on the Magnifica but due to the cruise being cancelled had been offered the option to transfer to the Virtuosa, but had been given a third week onboard at no extra charge. All types of accommodation were obviously available as the ship was running at 30% capacity. The move to a suite (10,414 central at the very rear of the ship - sometimes known as sunset suites) was superb (at a considerable cost), but it should be noted that this is also classed as a family suite and could theoretically have six people. It has more than double the wardrobe space and a very large balcony. Whilst the suite was more than suitable in every way there are no frills (no enhancement over our previous Aurea balcony whatsoever - one large wall would really benefit from a picture to be honest), not even bathroom toiletries (Ladies, MSC no longer supply facial tissues - not even in suites). There are no tea/coffee making facilities (not sure if this will be the case when she sails out of a UK ports?), pen nor paper (supply your own pen to fill in the breakfast order card) in the room, and no binoculars or umbrella. Just a word of warning about accommodation at the rear of the ship, you have the Carousel lounge underneath you on deck 7 (lot of Boom box noise can be heard, this lounge is normally open until 11.30 pm, also afternoon practice sessions), the Horizon pool area above (deck 18), where the music STARTS at 11.00 pm and the music stops around 01.30>. We actually met a couple who chose to get off the ship four days early as they could no longer stand the continuous thump from the boom box base units. There is almost continuous rubbish music, I realise this is a generational point of view, but MSC really should have at the age profile onboard. With the Aurea package you should receive robes & slippers, but no slippers available (slippers arrived on the third night - success). Indeed, this was an indicator of things to come, there were many things in short supply, it started with no sugar free soft drinks or draught beer available (Coke zero & Peroni did appear on the third day & draught larger on the 4th but Heineken and not Karlsberg as stated on the menu, and in only a few bars). Bottled/cans of beer were available but at an enhanced price for a smaller quantity. We listened to others ordering drinks only to be told they were not available at this time. I really did feel sorry for the people who had purchased the very expensive drinks packages (€64 per person per day for best package = €128 per day as you both have to purchase the package, and not sure if this included the 15% gratuity?). Over the years we have purchased the drinks packages and they have proven good value, but our previous experience on MSC found that this is not the case, as the wine by the glass choice has been very poor, by not taking the package you can order exactly what you want. As we have been cruising for well over two decades we are accustomed to some cruise lines really hiking the drinks prices but MSC really do appear to have gone to town here! (275ml bottle of Beck's larger €7.48, 50ml spirits €8.05, Fanta €3.45, water at €2.18 a litre seems quite a bargain!). By day 4 of the cruise all the larger bottles of beer had run out, back to the 275ml bottles, but miraculously the 330 ml did reappear some days later (330 ml bottles ashore in Napoli €1.50). There is no premium added to items from the in-room mini-bar (just the same high prices as elsewhere around the ship). At a bar we ordered two glasses of sparkling wine, when they arrived I questioned the quantity and asked what measure they were serving? I received an apology but no reply (my guesstimate would be around 100ml for €9.20), also more often than not the cocktails are rather weak. There is a pub onboard and there are a few offerings to accompany your drink e.g. burgers etc, but here's a first, surprise surprise there's a charge. Crew gratuities were included in the fare, but a 15% charge is still applied to ALL beverages and any speciality restaurant booking. Breakfast in the room is included in the cost but the choice has become extremely limited (no hot food or fruit anymore) and the quality of most items is poor (cornflakes in particular). Whilst lunch in the buffet restaurant is good on choice it is obvious cost has been kept to a minimum, and similarly with dinner (but a small menu choice), everything is of a low grade. The dinner menu & wine list are just a poor quality A4 sheet (dinner menu 1 sheet, wine list 2 sheets - with many wines scratched out due to not being available). No doubt MSC will attribute this to Covid, but it's just cheap! The final "Elegant night" was quite good as there was an improvement in the menu, and there was a ice carving display (small by previous displays) and what looked like a pretty good feast in the buffet restaurant (too full to partake ourselves). The buffet restaurant is always very noisy. The daily program that's delivered to your room is painfully short on information of port of call (basically what time you need to be back onboard and the weather forecast, nothing about currency or the locality). 90% of daily program is dedicated to what you can spend money on whilst onboard. Port talks are provided in the theatre if you wish to attend. The staff are absolutely wonderful, but there is an almost continuous push to ..... as the americans would put it, to "nickel and dime" you, even to see the acrobatic show (€15 pp entry - includes a drink - really???). There's continuous big talk on MSC's onboard Covid policy, but nobody enforces it whatsoever (other than a regular public address announcement in six different languages, many on board just ignore the whole thing sadly). There is a weekly Covid swab test of all on board, what an absolute waste of time, they swab the very rim of one nostril for no more than two seconds. We booked the Aurea package, as such it allows you access to the "Exclusive" Top 19 solarium area, well as I've previously said the ship is only at 30% capacity and the area is fairly busy. The service/facilities have also been scaled back, there is no longer a bar in "Top 19" area but has been replaced by an occasional bar steward, also, gone has the complementary fresh fruit plate given on previous cruises and of course the drinks package that came as part of the Aurea package has also been removed. This ship is however the most spectacular ship that we have been on, and very high tec. The lift/elevator system is outstanding, simply tap the floor you require on one of the pads available and it allocates you a lift (A - E). Sadly the soot (smut's) problem still exists on the balconies of the aft suites, but oddly enough not during the day, but some mornings the balcony/rail/glass/walls & furniture are covered in smut's and have to be wiped down to take breakfast on the balcony (I can only assume the there is is change of fuel being burned after dark on occasions? Bring on LNG). An interesting policy on this ship is that there are no life vests in the cabins, apparently you have to make it to a muster station in order to receive one in the event of an emergency (can't say I'm happy with this policy if I'm honest). MSC seem to be selling cruises with a low upfront cost, but wow just wait until you get onboard, this could prove devastating for families on a budget. Elegant (used to be Formal), is almost a non event, approx 0.5% of men wore a tux (wouldn't recommend tux, suit possibly or jacket and trousers), 70% made no effort whatsoever from their normal daily attire. Out of the blue one evening prior to the commencement of the 7.30 pm show we had a presentation of the ships senior officers (to be honest I was beginning to wonder if any of them really existed?). On the 14th day of being onboard we receive an announcement over the public address system that we are commencing our approach to the South entrance of the Suez canal, this is a first, at 5.25 pm we have another first, the captain makes an announcement over the public address system that we will be anchoring soon and waiting until approximately 04.30 am before we progress into the canal (amazing, I thought he had got off?). In over 20 years of cruising never have we experienced so little interaction between the ships senior officers and passengers. The theatre whilst not spectacular (unlike P & O Iona) has very good seating as the angle of descent ensures everyone has a good view of the stage. The theatre entertainment is fair to reasonable, but as always with MSC you get your fair share of opera. Well as for the disembarkation, it has to be the easiest ever (but obviously there were only 1,800 on the ship and not all were getting off by a long way).
See review above.