We did a review of our September cruise on MSC Preziosa where we concluded that the cruise and the on board experience was much better than we feared… that cruise was a planned dry run for Meraviglia which had been booked for a year and ... Read More
We did a review of our September cruise on MSC Preziosa where we concluded that the cruise and the on board experience was much better than we feared… that cruise was a planned dry run for Meraviglia which had been booked for a year and was to include 2 mid 70 year olds with us…
We diligently followed all the reviews of Meraviglia since her launch and frankly we were pretty concerned (understatement) by the reviews we read. We were within inches of cancelling before the final balance was due because all aspects seemed to be so truly awful… thanks goodness we didn’t as it would have been a horrible mistake.
Our biggest reflections before some of the specific details would be:
1. What one cruiser may intensely dislike may not feel as bad, or even might be good for another - everyone’s experiences and preferences are different and it’s important to remember and respect that. Generalising is difficult and maybe misleading – comments like ‘everyone I spoke to…’ can be misleading as there are 5,000 cruisers on board so it’s likely a tiny sample and behaviourally human beings rarely openly disagree with those they are chatting with.. particularly brits tend to avoid the conflict of open disagreement with those who have strong opinions… its easier to agree whether true or not….
2. You have to respect in an open minded manner that reviews when published are well considered, balanced and well thought through and not overly influenced by specific personal ‘one-off’ experiences. There is a real responsibility on reviewers to be authentic in their views but objective and factual rather than scare mongering and advising others not to cruise with MSC because it is so bad is probably not helpful.
3. Things change with ships, particularly new launch ones, and the experiences in the first few months may not be the same as those once the ship and crew bed into their roles, surroundings and on board processes.
So our overall experience – we had a great time…. Superb value and we would do the same ship again without hesitation…….. Not ‘perfect’, but then we always manage to find something ‘not perfect’ with just about all of the 30 cruises we’ve done on RCL, Celebrity and Azamara!!!! And we found a lot more wrong with our experience of P&O (which again is quite different to many others and we respect that).
Dealing with some specifics which we noted and were concerned about when we read reviews (am sure I’ve not got them all, so please treat this as just some we could quickly remember without doing tons of research!). Also please treat my observations as our reflections of OUR experience – am sure there were some of the same cruise who had very different views (indeed we could hear some on the coach to the airport…) and their views are clearly as valid as ours. They just experienced something different and saw the world differently.
Check-in at airport – brilliant at Gatwick with BA – we were able to get checked in the night before so just went straight to security and breakfast! We had some frustration in the run up to the cruise as MSC will not allow anyone to access their flight booking as they treat their guests as a group booking as a result we couldn’t buy extra legroom seats or do any form of online check-in in advance. That said being able to check in the night before at the airport was great.
Flight/ seating – the flight was very full and is frankly a bit of a flying bus service, but it was fine.
Transfer at airport – we were met straight away once we were through immigration and customs with a bit of a wait until all passengers from other flights were through and ticked off. The representative lady did a nice thing for everyone as it was pouring with rain and she asked the driver to bring the bus to the front of the terminal so we could load up under cover… I understand that normally you have to walk to the bus (true or not I don’t know but if it is she was kind to us all!).
Check in at port – at the port bags were transported for us directly off the coach to the ship without us seeing them and the check in process was very quick and clean (again whilst Genoa is one of the bigger embarkation/ disembarkation days for the cruise, for us, it was better that there wasn’t a full 5,000 person turnaround day and its phased over the course of the 7 days). We like this aspect and don’t see it as a negative at all.
Disembarking – jumping to the end of the cruise! Disembarking, getting cases and boarding the bus to the airport was excellent. We’ve never experienced it being so easy to get off and get to the airport on any previous cruise!
General On Board Experience/ Admin
Ship – the ship is beautiful, spotlessly clean and very modern. It reminded us a lot of Anthem of the Seas. We liked how open plan it was with plenty of walking space so rarely did it feel very crowded except when there was maybe a sale on with the fragrance or watches or a specific event over-spilling out of a bar. We found the layout easy to navigate and never had a problem re waiting for lifts etc. All in all it was very much in line with the ‘big ships’ lines we’d sailed on before.
Language – it felt like English was the primary language and whilst it did take a while to get through the announcements given the number of languages to be covered it didn’t inconvenience.
Technology/ booking – we’d read a lot about things not working and maybe things have now been upgraded as everything worked well for us. The ‘MSC for Me’ app worked with the free on board wifi really well and the touch screens were great for menus or booking shows initially. We were able to link on board accounts for 2 rooms to one room, sort credit cards out easily. It was good for us but we saw lots of people having difficulties although most seemed to be more a case of needing help to do basic and simple things rather than actual problems. (Some people from certain countries just couldn’t be bothered to read or do anything for themselves so went to guest services to be spoon fed some of the most basic aspects).
Guest Services – they have had some real hammer in reviews but I have to say we visited them 3 times during the cruise for little bits of things and we had a good experience. We never had to wait more than 20 mins and in each case the person helping us really wanted to just do their best and solve the issue. There was no ignorance, no bad behaviour, no nasty edge – we felt they were pretty good. I’m sure they get frustrated with some of the queries and some guests wanting to ask them everything under the sun as the queues get bigger and bigger but they try hard not to show it!
Charges – there is a daily ‘service charge’ of 10 euros a day per person which gets added to the cabin account each evening. These are not gratuities in the old manner they are charges for services and facilities (as the name suggests) similar to many hotels do now. If you experience poor service, don’t agree with the auto approach to service charges and want to hand over cash to those who provide you great service, or are too tight to pay them(!) they can be removed via going to guest services we understand. Midway through the cruise there is a 1 euro per person donation to UNICEF also added to the account. We had no issues at all with any random charges coming onto our bills from other cabins, or unexpected charges as it was all clear upfront re what would be auto charged to our rooms. We saw a lot of people at guest services querying accounts/ charges but overhearing most seemed to be surprise at the daily service charges or the UNICEF one – maybe they didn’t know about them or read the docs?
Drinks package – As per our review of Preziosa we cannot recommend this more highly. Having the ability to order pretty much anything you want and for the bill once processed to be zero to the on board account is excellent value for money. We checked with a very helpful guy as soon as we got on the ship whether all 4 of us had the right all-inclusive code and he checked his iPad and confirmed that to be the case – all good and away we went to the bar! If in doubt re any drink that might/ might not be included just ask a waiter/ bar tender they will happily tell you if it is or not (it does clearly say on each drinks menu that if there is an asterisk next to a particular drink its not included though). But the ‘Bar and Restaurant all inclusive’ package covers pretty much everything you need (including waters, teas, coffees, juices, soft drinks etc.) . The deluxe package, for us, was unnecessary to be an upgrade. With the on board account we never had a charge made to us for any drinks we ordered or wanted to order.
Included versus extra charge aspects – we’d read some pretty scary stuff that what you received included in the cruise price was very little and everything was an upsell. That was not our experience – yes we paid for the all-inclusive drinks package but we’d have had to pay that spend multiple times over if we had bought drinks at the bar by the drink… food and entertainment is included, except for cirque de soleil as a premium show and the speciality restaurants (just as all other cruise lines). It’s a choice to spend more to experience more and the basic cost plus drinks package worked really well for all of us.
Photo before boarding – the only naughty bit I’d warn future guests on is the ‘compulsory’ photo taken by the ships on-board photography team ‘for security reasons’ of all members of each cabin just after you’ve checked in and received your sea pass card (before you get to the boarding area). This is NOT the sea pass security photo that identifies each guest when disembarking or returning to the ship… guests will have either already uploaded this or have it taken by the ships security people as they physically board the ship… it is a con replacing (on other cruise lines) the entirely voluntary photo that can be taken for a souvenir of boarding day (typically with the ship as the canvas backdrop). They insisted on taking the photo despite our strong protests - we refused twice and they wouldn’t give us our sea passes back until we were prepared to stand there and have a photo taken!
The reason for this is that the photo will be printed and delivered to your cabin on about day 3 or so and if you do not want (to buy) it you must return it to the photography booth or they will auto charge you for keeping it – it’s not a complimentary freebie…
Shows – we quite enjoyed the included shows. There was no ‘laughing at the performance’ and very few people leaving shows even though we always went to the 10.30pm performances. They tended to last about 40-45 mins which is about right for that time of night and generally its clear they do put a lot of effort into them. That said, a bit like our Preziosa experience, it seems like MSC are trying to put almost too much into the shows, the cast is much bigger than other cruise dance/ singing casts we’ve seen, with too much content and sometimes this slightly detracts from focusing in on what’s going on. The quality isn’t anywhere near Norwegian’s Burn the floor or RCLs broadway shows but they are not likely to be so. Overall it was what it was – decent included entertainment that you can go to or not… your choice.
Music – on board the ship there was quite a lot of music or various styles – not all of it suited us but it was ok.
Staff motivation – we’d read a lot how downhearted and unfriendly the crew and staff were in people’s view and this had worried us too. Just to say whilst we encountered the odd individual who was not friendly and who looked like being on board was the worst life choice they had ever made (as we have on every cruise) generally the service, friendliness and effort to try to provide a service was really good. We experienced nothing more negative compared to other cruises we’ve done.
Stateroom – we went for 2 ‘bella’ balcony staterooms which is the lowest of the ‘experience’ levels and contrary to some reviews we found the rooms really nice. The space in the room overall is pretty good, with the sofa being the biggest we’ve seen on ‘normal’ balcony cabins. Storage is small with only 8 hangers (so we took 8 of our own too) but there is also a second pull down rail underneath the main rail in the cupboard which is a clever addition. We never struggled for storage space overall and certainly didn’t need to live out of the suitcases (which immediately went under the bed and were not seen again until the last night!) A big tip for people considering Meraviglia – we had cabin 8127… it has the biggest balcony we have ever seen outside the most expensive suites. It was permanently in shade as the superstructure overhung it but you could have fitted 9-10 people laid down on the balcony and held a party for 15-20 on it. It really was huge. TV was great – not many English channels but still at least 4 in English (remember they are catering for at least 5-6 languages on board).
Attendant – he was great. We are ‘low maintenance’ guests but he was always available and provided ice and glasses when needed for us to have a celebratory glass of champagne on our (enormous) balcony with the older folks. Everything kept really clean and tidy. No complaints at all re the stateroom.
Bars on decks 5 and 6 – these are very open plan and so feel almost more like coffee bars than cocktail bars and this does impact both on the ‘atmosphere’ of the bar and the degree of noise as people are constantly walking past you. The service was pretty good and generally a nice place for an afternoon beer or coffee, but not really night time bars.
English pub – this was a nice place to sit for a short time but seemed for reasons we couldn’t explain always to be slightly chaotic. The guys behind the bar didn’t seem to be in control of what they were doing and the range of beers, what was ‘on’ or ‘off’ at any point was inconsistent. It needs something to ‘get it going’ in our view as something was missing.
Sky lounge – this was our favourite bar by far. We went there every night after dinner and spent most of the evening and night in there. Great place, very club like atmosphere, drinks were good. It was adults only and was used in the day for private events but never in the evening. The jazz trio were tedious… but just about tolerable!
Pool deck bars – these were all good albeit the bar tenders seemed a bit surly at times in the afternoons (maybe they were cold having been outside all day!)
Food – is a critical element of our cruise. We were so concerned at this aspect going with our older folks that as mentioned earlier we nearly cancelled. However, we were very pleasantly surprised – we did not experience ANY of the horrible negatives people have written about – the food was not tasteless, when freshly delivered food was not luke warm, there was choice and we were really relieved and pleased. Maybe we were just very lucky or more tolerant I don’t know – but the fish and pasta were always very nice.
Breakfast MDR – we ate at the Deck 5 Waves restaurant for breakfast on most occasions and the menu stays the same (not surprisingly) each day for breakfast. Service was pretty good if not a bit chaotic, you cannot click your fingers for waiters to come to you, they will bring juice, breads, pastries trays on a circulating round the tables basis and tea and coffee pots to fill glasses – it means you can wait a while for a fresh cup. The hot food is cooked to order and was lovely (omelettes were very nice).
Breakfast buffet – we did the buffet a few times for breakfast – it was a bit chaotic and the behaviour of some of the Italian and Spanish guests was generally poor but nothing too negative re the food itself. In our experience pretty much all cruise buffets at breakfast resemble a rugby scrum!
Lunch MDR – we ate at Waves only a couple of times for lunch and it was nice. It was fairly quiet, good service and the food was good with portion sizes that were enough but not huge.
Lunch buffet – we tended to do this most often as we were off the ship a lot and only got back on towards the end of service. Food was good, hot and we didn’t experience the complaint that the choice didn’t change at all. Yes the breads, pastries, fruit, salad, pizza etc were the same but other items (particularly the ‘ethnic’ choices) changed each day.
Dinner MDR – we were allocated the Olivio D’oro restaurant on deck 6 for first sitting 7pm table for 4. We had asked for second sitting, but we decided to stick with 7pm as it actually suited our older guests a bit more than waiting till late to eat. Our experience of dinner was a positive one – the food was good, no-one complained re their choices, nothing was cold and we had no-one struggling to find a choice that they would like. We didn’t experience the issues reported re waiters not filling water or refilling wine glasses… it is true that there are less waiters handling each section than RCL and so the main waiter for your table does have to work harder and therefore maybe we were lucky. But the service was very good. The portion sizes are not huge (just as on Preziosa) but neither are they small – they were perfectly adequate. Also we never had any problem or funny look from our excellent waiter Imam when we ordered 2 starters (seafood or salad, plus a soup) and a main as a third course. He seemed to see it as perfectly normal and fine – again maybe we were just lucky.
Dinner buffet – we only did this once and found no issues with it. The chaos was less (whilst still poor behaviour from our Italian and Spanish cousins was still a feature…) and so it was more of a relaxed atmosphere than at lunch or breakfast. Food was good and hot.
Grab and go – we only used this once when we were back on the ship very late from a full and busy day of touring around Barcelona. The pizza and hot dog was good.
Butchers cut – we ate there on one occasion and we found the steaks to be very good. The filet mignon in particular is lovely, albeit with the dining experience we only were allowed one side dish each which seemed a bit tight as they weren’t big enough for table sharing. Overall for Euros 39 it wasn’t cheap but was very nice.
Ports/ excursions – this cruise was very port intensive (only one sea day) and we found that we really enjoyed this. We didn’t do any planned MSC excursions as they looked pretty pricey for the time/ activities involved and generally the ships docked close enough to the cities to be able to largely do your own thing.
Naples – we wanted to go to Capri (we’ve been before and wanted to take the old folks) but we felt on balance we didn’t have enough time so we got the hop on hop off bus which was a bit expensive at around 25 euros and not really great value. We don’t really like Naples very much and it did show some nicer parts but it still didn’t really ‘do it’ for us.
Messina – we had never been to Messina before and we found it really nice. Initially we got off the ship and just had a walk around the streets and then boarded the hop on hop off and did both lines for the rest of the day. As one guy rightly said on the bus, it was the best 15 euros he’d spent in a long time. One line was in town, one along the coast. Only downside was the commentary was via microphone and all nationalities showed their worst behaviours – Italians talked loudly during every language (including their own!), Spanish largely the same, germans all ex their own, French the same… you get the picture… no-one heard much as a result! Also a tip – don’t ever get a car hire in Messina and be careful crossing the road… we had never seen so many cars with scrapes, dents, banged up bumpers – I’m not exaggerating to say it was virtually every car….double parking everywhere… one business not to be in is car insurance in Messina!
Valletta – wow what a bonus. We had never been to Malta and the capital was lovely with fantastic weather even in mid-November. You dock within 20 mins walk of the town (quite uphill to get there, but all downhill back!). We got off and walked around the town, very clean, very nicely presented, nice bars and restaurants. We watched the mid-day cannon firing. It was very easy, lovely views from the cliff top. It was a real highlight and I’m surprised more ships don’t dock there. There is a real attempt to invest in the city. It was a real highlight.
Barcelona – we’ve been to Barcelona a number of times and sailed out of there a lot but the city never fails to impress. It’s such a well laid out, classy city with so much going on. We chose to walk off the ship and over the bridge to the WTC to pick up the hop on hop off bus rather than take the MSC shuttle which would have been 10 euros each to go to the same place. It’s about a mile and half but up and downhill to get there. We did both bus lines during the day (swapping over at the Plaza de Cataluna – brilliant place for food/ drink) for 28 euros each (25 for pensioners). Super tour and brilliant but a long day. We walked back to the ship which felt hard going on the way back!
Marseille – we’ve been a few times and so decided to stay on the ship. Easy day, a lie in, a few beers, quiet lunch….. some cocktails, then packing in the afternoon!
Overall, it was a super holiday. The ship is up there with RCL, the service seems to have improved and the food we found to be pretty good. For the price paid it was super value (much cheaper than RCL or NCL). My wife’s father summarised it best when we shared that we thought we ought to cancel way back in July – he said ‘look people see things differently, whatever it turns out to be like, we’ll make the best of it..’ – he was totally right. Fortunately we didn’t have to make the best of it because it was genuinely good.
Next up is my favourite ship in the world in December …….. the absolutely glorious and truly awesome Oasis of the Seas – it will be interesting to compare that to our last 2 cruises on MSC…….!!!! I hope this has been at least slightly helpful to people.
All the best. BIG ROGER. Read Less