On reading previous reviews I have come to the conclusion that this ship can be classed as the Marmite of the Cruising World; it's either loved or hated. I have just returned from a 10 day cruise to Holland, Spain, Portugal and ... Read More
On reading previous reviews I have come to the conclusion that this ship can be classed as the Marmite of the Cruising World; it's either loved or hated. I have just returned from a 10 day cruise to Holland, Spain, Portugal and France. This is my second cruise on the Opera and my seventeenth cruise overall. Previous cruise experiences include P&O, Cunard, Princess and Holland America, as well as several other MSC ships. I therefore consider myself experienced enough to write a fair review and make reasonable comparisons.
Embarkation: This has to be one of our best embarkation experiences to date. We used the free car parking facility at Southampton. On arrival at the car park our luggage was taken from us and we did not see it again till we were on board. The passengers were transferred by mini bus from the car park to the terminal. There were no queues, so once the formality of checking in was completed we were on board within minutes. Disembarkation worked equally as efficiently.
Accommodation: We booked a balcony cabin on deck 9. I have to say that this was the smallest balcony cabin I have ever seen. The actual cabin area was no larger than an ordinary inside cabin! The balcony was also small. However, the cabin had all that we required, enough storage space, plenty of hangers and was perfectly adequate for our needs. The cabin was kept clean and tidy by our room steward, who provided us with a good service and clean towels twice a day.
Dining Experience: There are two main restaurants, a buffet, pizza bar and grill. We chose to eat all our meals in the MDR as the buffet was too much of a bun fight for my liking. Service at breakfast and lunch varied as you were not sitting at your normal table. Service for dinner was extremely good and the waiters were friendly and helpful. The food was in my opinion excellent, with reasonable choice and quality. I have read so many poor reviews of the food and do not understand how with a menu that offers a seven course meal plus an ‘always available’ menu offering simpler fayre, people felt the need to go to the buffet afterwards, as they were still hungry!!
There is no tea or coffee service offered after lunch and dinner; if you require a hot drink you have to either go to the buffet area, where you can obtain a tea or coffee without charge, or you can pay and have a good cup of coffee from the Aroma Coffee bar.
Drinks Packages: There are various packages that you can purchase either before the cruise, or once you board the ship. It is worth pointing out that if you pre-purchase online you will not have to pay the 15% service charge. As we are not big drinkers we chose to stick with the basic package that was included by our travel agent. This package enabled us to have unlimited wine, beer and soft drinks with our meals. This was perfectly adequate for our needs, but the quality of the wine was a disappointment.
Entertainment: There was plenty going on for those who wanted it: dance lessons, aerobics, arts and crafts and games and quizzes. Most of this was not my cup of tea, but was available. I cannot comment first hand on the kids and teens activities as we were not travelling with children. However by talking to two young people who dined with us, it appears that there was not much for teenagers.
There were some excellent shows in the theatre featuring singers, dancers and acrobats. Many of the shows received standing ovations (something I have never experienced before on a cruise ship). The Cruise Director, Massimo, had the most amazing command of at least 6 languages - yes all announcements are in six languages, but you get used to it.
There was music and dancing in various bars and lounges each evening and there were a few thieme nights, but we were not advised of these prior to the cruise, so did not take the relevant items of clothing to enable us to participate.
Something which appeared to be new for MSC was a guest speaker (for the British passengers). The speaker, Ms Lina Mookerjee, was a charming and interesting lady, who provided a series of talks on a diverse range of subjects. Sadly, these talks were very poorly attended. On other cruise lines I have often had difficulty in finding a seat to listen to a guest speaker.
Itinerary and Excursions: Amsterdam, Guernsey, Vigo, Lisbon, Bilbao & Le Havre. Guernsey, a tender port, was cancelled due to bad weather - this was unfortunate, as for many people this was the most highly anticipated call. But safety of passengers must come first.
We pre-booked the ship’s excursions in Amsterdam, Vigo and Le Havre - they were each on a dual nationality coach. This was far from ideal, as a commentary in two languages made it very difficult to follow. However, the guides worked hard to try to keep everyone happy.
We used the MSC shuttle bus in Bilbao. It was a public holiday, so many of the shops were shut. Our plan was to go to the Guggenheim which we ensured first was open. Bilbao is a pleasant city to walk around, especially the old city and the riverside, and there were plenty of bars and cafés open.
In Lisbon we took a private tour by taxi from the port; negotiating a price first and we had a wonderful day visiting most of the major highlights of the city, as well as going to Sintra and Cascais.
Service Charge: A few previous reviewers have expressed surprise at MSC’s policy of adding gratuities to the bill. I would just like to clarify here that this is nothing new - all the cruise ships that I have been on do this, and on some cruise lines the charge is twice the amount that MSC charge. However, it is also no secret that you can adjust or remove this charge at your discretion. Cruising is one of the best value types of holiday available and MSC are are among the most competitive lines. So personally, I think that the addition of 6 Euros (£4.80 / US$8.00) per person per day is not unreasonable to be shared among hundreds of crew that work so hard to give each one of us a fantastic experience.
Conclusion: I really enjoyed this cruise. The ports of call were interesting and varied. I enjoyed meeting some lovely people and I think that the ship is still as nice as it was 10 years ago when I first set sail in her. I loved the food and the shows - all things considered I think that MSC represents excellent value for money and I would happily consider them again, but probably not in high season. Read Less