This was my first cruise. I was really looking forward for this as other members of my family, including my wife had gone on cruises previously and were really happy with them from all aspects. However, I must say that I ended up as disappointed with this cruise as much as I was looking forward for it before!
First of all, before going any further in my review, I have to tell you that the main reason I was looking so forward to the cruise was food. I love food and had been advised previously that on cruises you get the highest quality food and in abundance!
As soon as we got onto the ship we went for the lunch (mid-day) buffet and I was already disappointed. There were 4 or more different kinds of pizza - but which tasted all the same and all had the same ingredients. There was also carvery which usually tastes quite good, but this tasted like the frozen meat you boil to make broth.
No drinks were free, except for two small, out of the way, ice dispensers which incidentally dispensed water too. However, you need to hike from your table to reach the dispenser, and usually the nearer one was switched off so you had to walk to the second dispenser.
Anyhow, I said to myself that probably this was a bit bland because it was just a mid-day snack and reassured myself that dinner would be fantastic and I could order two juice medium-rare steaks to make up for that. Alas, dinner time came and was so shocked when I looked at the menu. NO STEAK! Blimey! The menu was in a number of languages, so I looked in the English section, Italian Section and French section to figure out if there was anything that looked like steak. The nearest to steak I found was in the English section, in the "Always Available" menu. This was a "paillard of beef" or so it was written if I recall correctly. So I asked the waiter if it was a beef steak. Getting a blank look I asked if it was a "bistecca di manzo" (same thing in Italian) - to which the waiter eagerly nodded. Well... so that's what I ordered.
Guess what I got? I got a tasteless piece of dried up cube roll cooked without any gravy over which I spent around fifteen minutes munching. It seemed to grow bigger in my mouth the more I chewed on it!
Besides being tasteless, it was so small that I remained as hungry as I had been before I started eating. So I went through the menu again and saw that they had chicken breast. I ordered that too. It looked nice, but again, although it was not as dry as the previous cube roll it was as tasteless! The food cans I get for my dog will probably taste better. So that was day 1.
By the way, between the mid-day buffet and dinner there was a tea-break - but I'm not even going to bother about that. Basically all you have is a few colourful trifles and some jellies if I recall correctly. There wasn't even any ice cream!
Second day the food wasn't that bad and on the same day or the third one we had a Gala night. The food was much better this time, but funnily enough it was a one off. We had steak on that day and it was good - but only lasted as far as it went as the rest of the days we had bland food again (although not as disastrous as that on the first day). Portions were pretty small and presentation was greatly lacking.
Drinks had to be bought, including water. Nothing free.
One particular day we also had a midnight food display and buffet. There was octopus (one of my favourites) so I got some for me amongst other stuff. As soon as I tried to pick up the first bit, the rest came up with it stuck with fatty sludge - same thing that happens when you cook octopus/meat in stew or gravy and leave it overnight in the fridge! So I had to leave it there against all I wished for!
Another thing to mention is that you can barely communicate with the waiters as they hardly speak any English and only little Italian. However, what really got on my nerves was that the waiters just literally threw the cutlery on the table instead of placing it nicely. I know, you're still going to do the same job with a fork whether it's put nicely or not, but when you pay so much money you would expect at least a certain level of cordiality. What got on my nerves even further was the fact that the waiters differed between tables, and treated certain tables better than others.
Please note that this is an Italian ship, and Italians are known for their exquisite cuisine! I must say that this ship did anything but give a good image of the Italian cuisine!
So anyway, besides the biggest food disappointment I could have ever expected, there was other stuff on the ship. The rooms were OK, quite clean, and they used to be done around 3 times daily I think. The bathroom was clean although the toilet was a bit uncomfortable to sit on, small diameter and a bit too high above the floor - and might make your feet go numb if you are one of those persons who sit on it for a lengthy period!
Air conditioning was great - kept temperatures quite cool (although you can set it to a higher temperature if you feel cold).
The pools were OK. There were 2 pools in the main area and another one in a secluded area that didn't allow children. The jacuzzis were nice too except for the fact that people were at time a tad too rude and took up all the space or pushed you over.
Entertainment was OK but in my opinion a bit childish.
Another thing was that we had a cocktail night, where we had 1 hour free cocktails in the lounges. Although there was only one type of cocktails (or so it seemed) they were quite sly in reducing the amount of free alcohol distributed. The machines could dispense alcohol as per their timer. However the timer was set around 10 or 15 minutes fast, so whilst the period should have been 18:30 to 19:30 (if I recall the times correctly), in actual fact it was 18:15 to 19:15. So by the time people start gathering at the lounges, which would be around 18:45, the free cocktail period would already be half way through, and in fact when I asked for a cocktail at 19:20 my request was rejected. Notwithstanding that, the trays were arrayed with 25% cocktails and the other 75% juices or whatever they were. That wasn't a very honest gesture was it? It would have been better if they had not done the "happy hour" at all rather than take us for a ride the way they did!
We only took 2 excursions, the one going to Rome and the one going to Portofino. The visit to Rome was accompanied by a guide whose English was hopeless. I was on the verge of asking her to speak in Italian. Otherwise, the visit was nice. The one to Portofino was sort of OK. The drive was pretty boring and the guide (although her English was comprehensible) didn't have anything better to say other than "look at the nice valley" or "this is the pencil shaped building" or "this street has old houses on one side and new houses on the opposite side". I felt as if I was was in a pre-grade class with children trying to make up coherent sentences. Anyway, humour apart, the destination itself was nice (but very expensive) and besides the picturesque views not much to do except have an expensive ice cream (which tasted really good by the way) and wait for the time to return back.
The price... one of the most important determining factors! My wife and I travelled alone, although we were part of a group of 15 people. However we booked one room alone. However, families with children under 18 do not pay for the latter. So what does this mean? It means that my wife and I, or a family of 4 with the children under 18 would pay the same price. This means that some lack of service would be acceptable for a family of 4 paying the price of 2. However, people like my wife and myself would not find that worth it as they're paying the full price and getting a lousy package. You don't get the towels in animal shapes on your bed spread, or the chocolates when the rooms are done like you get on other cruise liners. I know you can still live without these things, but especially if you're paying full price and if you've already been on other cruise liners where you experience these things you'll feel neglected. Mind you, as I said in the beginning this was my first cruise, but I was well prepared by my wife and family and had high expectations which where totally let down on day one of this cruise.
Overall I would never go on a cruise with MSC again and would not recommend it to anyone, except maybe if you have kids under 18 and would get 4 for the price of 2! However, as long as I'm going to pay full price, I will go on an American cruise liner such as Carnival, Holland America and the sort.