The MSC Opera - a beautiful, well appointed and maintained ship! The service staff was superb - both attentive and friendly. Each port-of-call and tour was outstanding - great sights and tours that were not overly rushed while being informative. Unfortunately, the same level of excellence does not pervade the ship. Activities involving process and procedure usually result in organized mayhem. By way of example, I arrived at the embarkation terminal in Amsterdam and was greeted by an MSC Cruises staff member at the main entrance. He directed me to fill out tags for my luggage, to place my luggage in a collection bin and to board the ship directly upon reviewing my Express Check-In paperwork. Taking the escalator to the second floor and following the signage indicating where to go, I was immediately attacked by Attila the Hen for entering the passenger processing area while it was closed. Note I arrived at the terminal at the time specified by the cruise line and no barrier was in place to prevent my entry. Attila, however, quickly located and strung a barrier across the entry way. After waiting for an hour, my wife and I were processed and permitted access to the ship and our cabin. Time passed and I became concerned as every other cabin on my deck had their luggage by their cabin door while mine was nowhere in sight. Despite being assured by the Reception Office that everyone was "working hard" on two occasions, the ship pulled away from the pier and I was still without luggage despite the passage of five hours. Making my third trip to Reception I was asked if I could identify my luggage from a collection of suitcases that all bore the same hand-completed luggage tags. I found my bags; they were eventually delivered to my cabin. Three days later, however, I returned to my cabin to discover a complete ticket package that contained printed luggage tags. I still wonder why I wasn't linked to the ticket package at the terminal, or why the representative was telling passengers to hand-complete luggage tags. I also wonder how long the ship's staff would have left the luggage in the holding area rather than matching a name to the passenger manifest. To be completely candid there are serious security implications within this tale - the ship had departed the pier without verification that corresponding luggage owners were on-board.
My next disappointment, unless you cruise with the express intention of loosing weight, was the food. Actually, it was an enormous disappointment. Overall, the food was bland and the portions miniscule. For example, one evening I ordered Chicken Cacciatore. What I got was a baked chicken thigh - no sauce, no flavor - just a baked thigh on a plate. To add insult, the thigh had to have been purchased from a preserve for pygmy chickens. How about the Duck a l'Orange? What I received was a slice of duck skin, but this time with sauce. The Risotto was a pile of starch - being served at every multiple course dinner. Deciding to try the top deck buffet as a means of avoiding the main dining room for breakfast and lunch, I was again disappointed to find similar conditions. The breakfast juices were nothing more than highly sugared powdered drinks. To label them as juice is outright fabrication. The toast could have doubled as roofing tile. Any meats were dry and typically tough as an old buffalo. The lettuce for salads was always deeply submerged in water. The salad dressing was watery and had no flavor. I will stop with the culinary disappointments list to keep this critique from becoming voluminous. Suffice to say I made it a point to find a snack while ashore especially enjoying the tours which crossed meal times without food being provided by the ship.
After numerous days of being held prisoner, my last experience aboard was not surprising. According to the ship's bulletin, the breakfast buffet was to start at 6:00 am on the day of disembarkation. Arriving in the hallway to the buffet at approximately 6:15 am, my ears were greeted with loud and very angry voices. A ship's officer was preventing passengers from entering the buffet as, according to him, it was not to open until 6:30 am. Ultimately, the crowd surged past him into the buffet. When I finally turned the corner and entered the buffet - I had absolutely no desire to impede the progress of the crowd which had formed behind me - there stood the same officer with his fists and eyes raised to the ceiling sobbing, "It's not my fault." One would rightly conclude it was highly fortunate that we never encountered a true emergency while at sea. Although I do wonder why anyone was in a hurry to get anything other than some coffee and perhaps some yogurt - the yogurt was terrible even though I digress. I have to suspect that whoever was responsible for buying the ship's food loved cheap without giving any regard to quality.
The cabin was well appointed and spotlessly clean. Of all the cruise ships I've been on with a veranda it was the smallest although the company's web site accurately cited its dimensions. The veranda was also the smallest I've experienced. One great plus, however was the drapery. For one of the very few times in my travel life the drapes completely blocked the morning light - no beams of light to wake before you are ready to wake up. The TV also needed replacing - got tired of watching semi-purple people and so on. The beds were comfortable and high enough off the floor to enable the storage of luggage under it. Overall, even though the room had its shortcomings, it was bright and cheerful - a nice stay.