We cruised on MSC Splendida the week 4th to 11th August. I am going to be as objective as possible so as to help those of you who are undecided whether to book with MSC or not. In a nutshell, although it was a good holiday overall and we had a pleasant time and the ship is beautiful, we would not again sail with MSC. There are various reasons for this. Please bear in mind that what is not good for some may be acceptable to others and vice versa. This is just my opinion.
We have sailed Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Holland America before and the service and style offered on these ships is way above that on MSC. Now some people say that it is European style cruising and should be regarded as such - well then, I don't like European style cruising because it means missing out on many special things that make you feel pampered and special for at least a short time while you're on holiday. (I should point out that I am not American; I live in a European country and love Europe!) But I prefer American style cruising.
So what are the main points to keep in mind?
(1) Smoking...this ship reeks of cigarette smoke! Too many areas where people may smoke. Absurdly, in the same lounge for example, there was a no smoking sign and then just a few paces away a sign permitting smoking! What a joke, except that it's not funny at all having to live with it. The Casino is disastrous - you have to walk through it to get to some shops or to one of the dining rooms and it is absolutely disgusting; it smells terrible even when it is not in use. On Celebrity no smoking is allowed, not in the Casino either. Walking along the ship you are all the time passing through smoke filled areas; even in the lifts you get it although smoking is not permitted there.
(2) Dining. The food...now I had read a lot about this and I thought people were exaggerating, especially because we were always very satisfied on other cruises even after having read negative comments prior to the cruise. However this time I must say that the food is just not adequate, judging by cruise standards that is. It's edible and there are some items better than others and you can eat as much as you want of course but there is a very limited choice and presentation is hopeless - even at home I try to present simple food imaginatively but here it's just thrown onto the plate...I mean it. Forget the gourmet style presentation on Celebrity, forget the succulent steaks and meat cuts on RCC, Carnival, HA and Celebrity, forget waffles and pancakes, forget customised egg stations, forget Asian food, forget sandwich bars, forget ice-cream available most of the time, forget pizza round the clock, forget water/ tea/ coffee/ lemonade/ ice tea with your midday buffet. And for those who keep saying that this is a different style I reply that ok, I can accept that, but what's on offer should be on par! Salads are just lettuce dripping oil. Pastas and risottos are ok but nothing spectacular considering that this should be their forte as Italians - we come from a country quite similar in dietary habits and we cook tastier and more varied pasta dishes at home. Main courses are nothing to speak of. The chicken or fish or chop is just there with some boiled veg sitting around it. If the menu says 'with mushroom sauce' or 'mashed potatoes with sundried tomatoes' you need a magnifying lens to find the mushrooms in the sauce or the tomatoes in the mash. I mean it! The worst main course I had was pork ribs with sesame sauce - there were two ribs and believe me they were ribs, I managed to get a teaspoonful of meat off one of them and the other was just bone, honestly! And forget lobster on Gala night! There were three prawns on a little rice instead, though nicely cooked. There is the list of items always available on the menu and we tried the beef they had on offer. What a disappointment! It was a thin piece of meat and cooked tough, not the steak we were expecting. Over the week we concluded that they don't have an idea how to cook meat at all. Now, this being an Italian cruise line, and knowing that Italian cuisine can be superb, we have come to the conclusion that the low standard and variety of food available must be due to cost effectiveness since this line makes certain price offers (more in Service section).
Drinks...you just have to buy it all. It is not very expensive, 1 litre water 2 euros including the charge. We bought a package for 109 euros that consisted of 14 cans of soda, 14 litres of water and 4 bottles of wine - we couldn't choose the wine it had to be a soave or trebbiano of their choice. You can have red if you prefer it to white but again of their choice if with this package. There are other packages available. Their packages make sure you do not 'overuse' your soda card because you get a fixed number of items! In fact we ended up having to buy more soda because we are a family of 4. How different from the soda card on the cruise lines mentioned before where you could get any amount at any time at any bar! There is a small, very, very out of the way water dispenser during the midday buffet and we were quick to discover it. However it is really out of the way and too many people on board and glasses available are really small. But you can drink it, we did on occasions. Gala Nights...such a low standard here! They let everyone in, even in jeans and in t-shirts. It spoils the fun for those of us who enjoy dressing up. Now, for those who do not like dressing up I would suggest booking a free-style cruise where such attire is ok. In this situation however I blame the dining room staff for permitting persons who do not conform to the dress code to enter the dining room. Unfortunately there is no alternative dining in the buffet on MSC, another point against them.
Positive food points: food is brought hot to the table, bread is very good, soups and desserts are very good. You can order as many dishes of each course as you want and the waiters do not bat an eyelid - I expect they got used to it. (I'll speak about waiters in the service section) The midnight Gala Buffet had a fantastic display of arrangements to see, truly artistic and the best we've seen so far. The food on offer was the usual. And it was not a chocolate extravaganza; the usual deserts were available. We preferred the dining room for breakfast and lunch as there were many waiters available so the service is very good and you don't have to queue; you sit comfortably in a quiet and elegant setting. Again the choice is limited (but then so it is in the buffet) but there is as much to eat as you like.
(a) Getting on and off the ship at all times was very easy, the best so far. You are not made to wait until excursion people get off the ship if you don't have an excursion.
(b) We got off to a good start because we were escorted to our cabin and our hand-luggage was carried for us.
(c) We never got to know who our stateroom attendants were. However the room was kept clean and towels changed regularly. Not knowing attendants may be interpreted as no pressure for extra tips (as tips are charged compulsorily) but it doesn't make you feel very welcome or pampered.
(d) The bed linen was changed only once, midway in the one week stay. The quilt lining was ripped. Bed sheets had stains (very small but I don't like this and I'm on the lookout for it). The towels were white, clean and soft. By the way no towel animals or chocolates or cookies to greet you each night.
(e) Nearly none of the staff you meet along corridors greet you or smile at you.
(f) The dining room staff members don't get to know your names; ours could barely understand English, not even Italian, which we can speak fluently (although we are not Italians). They don't chat with you. Sometimes they get orders wrong as they don't understand clearly. At the end of the cruise we didn't feel the usual urge to thank them profusely and feel that we are going to miss them. Neither did they say goodbye to us mind you.
(g) We have always travelled on 'large' ships, full capacity as we can travel only during peak season but this seemed to be the most crowded ship of all. In fact last year on Celebrity Solstice we used to wonder where all the people seem to go; they spread out sort of. On Splendida, in the evenings, you can hardly walk through the lounges to get to the restaurant. However it didn't bother us because there was a jolly atmosphere but some may find it too much.
(h) Poolside - we always managed to find loungers in the shade. The pools are among the nicest we have had so far as they are quite large and the landscaping is very attractive. The towels look tired; different shades of orange, some newer than others (or some older than others), most with dark stains - from laundry detergents?? The poolside screen is not very large but ok. There are many children running about, splashing, shouting and screaming. We don't mind this at the pool at all, but if you do beware!
(i) Kids go free offer - speaking of children, this is what I referred to before when I mentioned the offers on MSC. Kids go free means there are many, many but many kids! As I said before, I don't mind this poolside but I did mind the running about and slamming of stateroom doors that made our stateroom rattle and shake all day long! Well, at least while we were in the stateroom as most of the time we go out. But when you go in it is usually to rest. Actually what got to us was the afternoon slot, when we wanted to rest - we just couldn't as our neighbouring stateroom had their grandchildren coming over all the time, knocking on the door, asking to be let in and then, once let inside, running about and jumping and making us feel we were next to a battlefield. Thing is, even sitting in our balcony for relaxing, we had to hear them talking loudly all the time in theirs. Perhaps we were unlucky in our neighbours. I do appreciate however that for families with children this is an ideal offer. BUT, IF YOU DON'T HAVE CHILDREN TRAVELLING WITH YOU, THIS IS WHAT I MEANT ABOUT MSC HAVING TO BE COST EFFECTIVE BY CUTTING OUT ALL THE LOVELY FRILLS, AT EVERYONE'S EXPENSE, NOT JUST THOSE WHO HAVE CHILDREN.
(j) Shows and entertainment. There was a show every day except once. We enjoyed all the shows. We've seen more spectacular ones on the other ships but they had some good performers, the guest performers were the best. There was an excellent mime act and a pair of men who did body balancing acts who were really exceptional. However the resident dancers and singers are not so good. But all in all we enjoyed the shows and would recommend you see them. Most nights, after the show, there was another 'funny' activity in one lounge or another. The animation team is really good. They do mange to perk things up and one of them did a 'Michael Jackson' that was awesome - we could have watched him do it all night instead of the actual show. The animation team also got a great party going in the Disco every night, top deck, floor to ceiling windows watching the waves rush by, good music. In fact this is the first ship where the Disco was in full swing, probably as there are many young people on this ship. We are in the 40-45 bracket mind you but we danced a bit and there were many our age too. This was after the show and the other activity so really you have plenty to do into the small hours.
To summarise, we had a good time but we will not sail MSC again because: (1) too much smoking (2) food inadequate in taste, variety and presentation (3) no pampering and too many missing things that would make a cruise a luxurious experience. Plus, if you can't stand crowding and shouting and running about this cruise is not for you.
It is such a cold feeling. You just get on the ship, have a reasonably good time and just leave without anyone knowing so to speak - not what we're used to at all. American cruise lines we sailed with value their clients and make you feel that you are doing them a favour by choosing their line, to ensure you do so again. This is definitely not the case with MSC.
For those interested a brief note about the ports:
Malta - the most beautiful, most picturesque port by far. Easy to walk up the hill to capital city Valletta and easy to explore this city built by the Knights; plenty of excursions to lovely spots such as the various Prehistoric temples, Blue Grotto at Wied iz-Zurrieq and the jewel Mdina (a must see) - time stood still here at Mdina and it is so clean and there are such breath-taking views from the bastions!
Messina - we had gone to Etna before so we decided to stay in Messina. Quite pretty, a lovely clock that is nice to watch at midday 12.00pm, moving figures and roaring lion... Some good shops for a spot of shopping.
Civitavecchia - If you've never been to Rome you must go! One of the most beautiful cities if you love art and history and all that goes with it. An excursion is a must as otherwise you will not manage to do as much on your own in the time available. Plus you don't want to risk missing the ship as Rome is about 1 ½ hrs drive away, 3 hrs driving both ways together and depending on traffic. We had been for week long spells to Rome twice before so we walked down Civitavecchia. Quaint market, some bargains. Went back to the ship and relaxed by the pool.
Genoa - took excursion to Portofino, stopping at Rapallo on the way. Picturesque port but that's it - nowhere to explore. Once we got there by ferry boat we saw it all. Lovely but nothing to do for two hours till they took us back, and we've seen more picturesque places along the Italian coast such as the Costa Amalfitana. I'm not sure the excursion was worth it.
Marseille - we took a taxi from the port straight to Notre Dame de la Grade. Cost 35 euro for 6 persons so worth it as we didn't have to walk in the heat at all. The Cathedral of Notre Dame de la Garde is beautiful and the views are marvellous. You can also see the Chateau d'If on its island. We managed to hear Mass as there is one every hour on Sundays. We know people who didn't want to take a taxi but they had to walk all the way out of the port in the sun - 45 mins approximately, and then did it by bus, three buses but which did end up at the very top by the Cathedral. It worked out costing same as getting a taxi but also having the walk in the heat and the hassle of changing buses and wasting time. And having to do it twice - to get back! However from the cathedral we did have to take a bus because (a) there is no taxi stand and (b) we wanted to go down to the Vieux Port, the old port of Marseille. We walked around there for a bit, quite pretty, bought soap (savon de Marseille!) then got a taxi back to the ship just in time for lunch in the dining room, that is just before 2pm because then it won't accept more persons.
Barcellona - lovely city! Wide roads lined with trees, good for shopping in pedestrian area off Placa Catalunya. Taxis are really worthwhile here. We got one straight off the ship (shuttle not worth it) to Sagrada Famiglia, just 12 euro for 4 persons. The shuttle leaves you at the bottom of the Rambla and then you still have far to Sagrada Famiglia. So worked out better by taxi. We then spent just another 5 euro for taxi to Placa Catalunya, shopped a bit, taxi back to ship. Saved a lot on excursion price. You can walk back down the rambla from Placa Catalunya then get taxi short distance left to ship. Still saves. But we had done the Rambla before and preferred more shopping time as this was the only port we really could find some decent shops in. THIS PORT STOP IS TOO SHORT. MSC would do well to make this an overnight stop and cut out Tunis and sail straight to Malta.
Tunis - never again! Sooo dirty, the Medina is a shambles as are the souks, and they took us to the best places!!!