Since this was our first cruise (m+f from Sweden, ages 30 and 27), we do not really have a frame of reference from comparing to other cruises. Having said that, we will try our best to rate this cruise in an objective manner.
We purchased a Fly-and-Cruise package which greatly reduced the hassle of getting to Civitavecchia port (although changing flights in Amsterdam felt unnecessary given the multitude of direct flights between Stockholm-Rome). There were no problems finding our way, we were met at the airport by MSC representatives who greeted us in a very friendly way and gave us a ride to the port in a big taxi.
Firstly, Civitacecchia port is a lot more adjusted to industrial freight purposes than to cruise liners. Although the MSC crew did their best, the terminal embarkation procedure (which took place in a big hangar-type building) felt a bit crowded and at times, it was hard not to feel like being part of a sheep herd.
However, it all worked out without problems, we received our cruise cards and a load of other documentation and got on board after about a one hour wait. On board, we were greeted by friendly staff who guided us to our cabin where our luggage awaited us.
The cabin was very nicely decorated and sufficiently sized. Our cabin (11287) was situated on deck 11 at the very back of the ship. Cabins in the back have HUGE balconies, it was about 10x10 feet and probably 2-3 times bigger compared to a standard mid-ship balcony, which of course felt very luxurious!
The only negative thing about cabins in the back is the noisy vibrations when arriving at new ports in the morning. After having read other reviews, we were prepared for these vibrations and did not mind them, but have this in mind if you are easily bothered by such things.
Ship and Public Rooms:
The MSC Splendida is incredibly big, impressive and jaw-droppingly beautiful in every way. The ship is continuously cleaned by the staff and basically looks just as fantastic in real life as it does in pictures and video clips, both inside and outside. Enough said.
I don't know about the situation during summer, but during our mid-september cruise there were plenty of space in all public rooms and finding a seat or a sun chair was never a problem. The Bora Bora/Pago Pago lunch buffet did get pretty crowded but one great advice in the buffet is to go to the very back of the ship, where finding a seat is a lot easier.
As stated in other reviews, the food was good but I am sure it could have been better. We enjoyed the Mediterranean-style lunch buffet, but if you want hot cooked food for lunch you should probably look elsewhere on the ship. We never used the buffet in between major meals but really recommend the Sports Bar, which had great food at a low price. Their Chicken Wings were great!
Evening dinners in the La Reggia restaurant were also generally good, with some dishes being great and some not so great. Regional menus were good, although the soup dishes were pretty forgettable and often looked more like a cup of tea. Also, ordering items "from the grill" outside of the regular menu suggestions is probably not recommended as not even salad was included! Just some fries and some overcooked dry chicken in my case.
Since you have dinner at the same table every night and there was only two of us, we were placed together with two other scandinavian couples. We all got along great and had a really good time every night, this was probably the biggest positive surprise of the entire cruise!
Again, we don't really have any other cruises to compare it to, but the general feeling is that MSC wants to embrace their european cultural heritage by emphasising live music and theater entertainment on board. The theater variety-style shows were really good with a different show every night, and the theater is huge! The acrobatic acts (like the awesome rope climbers and balancing artists) were personal favourites. Also, there was a lot of musical live entertainment in the various lounges and bars.
There was a fairly large selection of excursions for every stop, although they were often a bit expensive for our taste and we only did one or two. Instead, we mostly just left the ship to explore the different cities by ourselves.
The stop in Barcelona was way too short and we barely had time to take a sightseeing bus tour, let alone do any shopping. However, the bus tour is recommended for sightseeing as it is very time efficient.
Spa & Fitness:
For those interested in massages or spa treatments, there is a huge selection in the big MSC Aurea Spa. We only tried the gym but the spa looked promising. The Fitness area on deck 14 is big and well equipped with a great view and no overcrowding. Upon every visit, we were almost alone in the gym.
As europeans, we felt the service level was mostly very good by our standards, although there were a few exceptions.
The La Reggia breakfast service was not very impressive, there were too few options and the crew seemed anxious to get rid of us so they could start clearing our table. At the Bora Bora lunch buffet, the service was OK considering the amount of people being served. The cabin cleaning procedure was flawless (the cabin was cleaned 2-3 times per day) and never felt intrusive or disturbing. The people at the information desks were all very helpful.
Dinner service in La Reggia was very good and fast-paced, the system with having the same waiter every night seemed to be working really well. At our table we soon became friends with our waiter and after a while he even learned our names. For my birthday, which amazingly coincided with the big gala dinner of the last evening, our waiter (Mushin!) brought me a candlelit extra big piece of cake and sang for me in Indonesian which was a great surprise!
Rates and Value for money:
Our only real complaint with MSC (the reason for not giving it 5 out of 5) is that beverages and the 15 percent service fees are not included in the cruise price. It is beyond us why MSC maintains this system although almost everyone seem to dislike it. For many people, this is THE primary reason for choosing another cruise line after having tried MSC. Everything should be included in the menu price, with a text that says "Tips are included". All in all, value for money is OK but when you consider these "hidden" extra costs, the cruise does not feel cheap although I am sure there are more expensive ones.
We had a great cruise and would gladly recommend it to anyone, but you should know what to expect in terms of food and payment structure etc. If you have read through this and other reviews, you hopefully do :)