While we were pleasantly surprised with our dining experience and some special superstars within the staff, by the end of our cruise we did not feel that this cruise was superior to the ones offered on other lines. Our suite was the biggest disappointment with all of the troubles with the jacuzzi and sewage backflow which was unexpected on a newer ship and upgraded cabin. Overall, we felt that MSC was trying to cram as many people as it could onto a large ship to maximize profits. Many of the activities on board are scheduled while the ship is docked and excursions underway. Rushing the staff during dinner in order to catch an evening show ruined the dining experience, and if the show is sub-par, is a crummy way to end the day. The excursion choices at each port need to be expanded and improved. We saw a lot more unique places on foot that were not available in any of the packages.
2 out of 5
The embarkation in Rome/Citivecchia was not as smooth as we liked. To start the process, you must walk past the first door that says "Check In". There is an attendant at the door who is basically there to direct people to the other door at the other end of the building. Once at the other end, ignore the staff stationed near the entrance who look like they're supposed to take your baggage. Enter the building and after signing in at the tables, you're supposed to tell the people at the table that you wish to leave your luggage in order to have it delivered to your cabin. We did not do this and ended up at the metal detectors at the opposite end of the building before we realized that we were supposed to leave our luggage at the previous station. Stay with your luggage until MSC staff takes it behind the line. This experience pretty much mirrors the rest of our cruise. It seems like someone developed a process and never bothered to test it, and there are no incentives for the staff to genuinely help the passengers to have an easier time. There are a lot of subtle details which are neglected most likely because they have to translate all of their instructions into half a dozen or so languages. They do seem to try to cater to American customers, but they really need someone to formally go through all of their processes in English and iron out the problems.
Food and Dining
4 out of 5
Having read the poor reviews, we were somewhat apprehensive about our meals. To our surprise, we thought that the food was quite good overall. We are accustomed to eating light, with more vegetables and grains and less red meat. Much of the meat at the Rotisserie buffet station seemed overcooked. We found the food at the other stations very satisfactory, and not overly greasy or heavy. We enjoyed the food at the Ethnic and Kids stations. We also enjoyed the dinners at the Panorama room, although by the end of the cruise we could see the pattern of how they were rotating the ingredients from day to day. We did not leave the cruise feeling like we never want to eat again, as in past cruises on other lines. Our Aurea package included complimentary basic drinks and ice cream. We thought that the convenience was very worthwhile. Free ice cream! We also took a lot of bottled water from the central drink bar/station at the buffet. They should really just provide 2 bottles of water per person per day at each cabin. The air conditioning on board is very dehydrating.
3 out of 5
We took advantage of several spa packages and group cycling. We had the Aurea package which was supposed to include a complimentary 1-hour massage. On the ship, they stated that it was only 45 minutes and we had to protest to get 55-minutes of time.
I attended a 45-minute group cycling session on my At Sea day. One of the other participants stated that she showed up each day at the scheduled time for three days in a row and there were no other participants and no instructor. On the day that I showed up, there were three other participants and no instructor until someone asked. The woman who manned the front desk went to change and came back 5 minutes later to lead the class. Although this was my first stationary bike class, I am a very fit cyclist and found the cycling portion to be fairly easy and got a pretty good aerobic upper body workout. I usually do not move my upper body that much during my rides so it was a bit awkward for me. The other participants seemed to be having a much more difficult time. By the end of the class, the person behind me was already gone. I would recommend this class if you are in shape. Be sure to bring a water bottle and towel. They do provide towels at the gym but there's no bottled water for sale anywhere near the gym which is odd. I would have attended more of these classes, but they are scheduled at 10am and 5pm, which is during the time that the ship is docked in port and you are on an excursion tour. I wish there was an evening and night session instead.
3 out of 5
Having attended the theater shows, I highly recommend the shows that feature classical music, opera, and ballet. The more modern shows seem to be themed around 1970-1990 and were pretty awful. Our first show was a magic act featuring old tricks that I had seen too many times before. For example, in the tricks where subjects were supposed to appear inside an empty box, I could see the cloth panels moving as subjects entered the box. In the shows featuring opera and ballet, European talent and art still reigns supreme. It would be helpful if they rescheduled their evening shows to better align with dinner times. We were travelling with a child who enjoyed the shows, so in order to see the early evening show, we had to have dinner very early so that she could go to bed early. The Promenade on Deck 6 is a traffic jam of people leaving the aft restaurants rushing to get to the theater at the front of the ship, and trying to rush the dinner staff to make your show ruins the dinner experience.
3 out of 5
My child attended the Doremi cooking class, which involved making gnocchi. This was a complimentary class included in our Aurea package. Unfortunately, there was only one class during our week cruise and they highly publicized it, so the class was packed with kids and parents. At the end of class, they provided the kids with cooked gnocchi (from a professionally prepared batch, thankfully) and a certificate of completion. It would have been nice to have more sessions with fewer people per class and scheduled earlier in the morning.
Service and Staff
4 out of 5
For the most part, the Asian and minority staff on board were excellent. Very courteous, greeted us whenever we crossed paths, and always cheerful. Most of the issues with poor attitude that we encounted were with a handful of the Caucasian European staff. Again, some exceptions here and there but this was the pattern that we noticed after a week of dealings with the staff.
Many of the staff we encountered were also very new. They did not know where things are on the ship, did not know the ports of call, and were unfamiliar with services. Most claimed to understand English, but it's very basic English. Some would not speak to us as much because of the language barrier and I could see that this could come across as rude. We tried to smile and be as friendly as we could be and this helped ease the tension in most cases.
Note that in port, "Transit Guests" means that you are already checked in and passing through. I don't know who came up with that term as I had never seen it before. All ports require you to go through a metal detector. Make sure all your pockets are empty, ID/wallets are stowed in your packs for minimum hassle. There's no instructions anywhere so you basically learn this the first few times. Again, this process needs better instructions and testing by MSC.
3 out of 5
We had a suite at the front of the ship and found that most venues are in the mid-to-back sections, so there was a lot of walking back and forth. By the end of the cruise, we knew to avoid walking through the Promenade on Deck 6 as it was often packed with people.
Ship safety involved attending a meeting at the Broadway Theater on Deck 6 forward where they tell you to meet with your group at some designated spot on the ship. No practice sessions with life vests and walking to the life boat area. So if you're thinking MSC is safer than Costa, no it's about the same. If the ship rolls or pitches and your meeting area is unreachable, good luck. Also, from what I could see from the outside of the ship and given the new staff, there are not enough lifeboats.
Cabin / Stateroom
1 out of 5
We had a suite to accomodate 4 people. If we had to choose again, we'd rather have two adjacent balcony units which would have cost much less. The suite has two rooms and one shared bathroom. It is more suited for families with 1-2 smaller children. One bed is in the living area and is a pull-out sofa bed. We had to rearrange all of the furniture to accomodate our luggage and to allow the refrigerator door to open. Space in the closets was very limited. There needs to be more shelves, hooks, racks, and luggage stands.
The suite features a jacuzzi which we had problems with immediately. The temperature was set to 34C and locked. The tub had not been cleaned and there was a ring of yellow soap scum. After 5 calls to the room steward, maintenance, engineering, maintanance, and maintanence and engineering, they finally reset the temperature to 38C. When we finally went to Deck 5 Billing to complain after the 3rd call, we discovered that none of our previous service calls were logged. The room steward cleaned the tub after this complaint. Billing logged our problems and after the jacuzzi problems were finally resolved, we went down to Deck 5 again and they comped us for our troubles.
Placing the jacuzzi out on the balcony at the front of the ship is a huge mistake. Although there is a partial glass shield blocking the wind, the jacuzzi really needs to be entirely enclosed. In the winter months, the jacuzzi is unusable during the evenings and when the ship is moving. The exposed public jacuzzis on the upper decks are only minimally warmer.
The jacuzzi was only cleaned once during our week aboard, and at the middle of our cruise. Cleaning consisted of draining the tub, wiping the sides, and refilling. I had wiped the yellow scum ring off with soap and a towel myself after the first day aboard as I could not stand looking at it even though we could not use it. They do not use any chemicals or salt in the tub.
On day 3, we turned on the bathroom faucet and bright yellow brownish water came out. It cleared a few seconds later.
After docking at Genoa, we had sewage backflow from the bathroom floor drain and shower. I ended up throwing all of our bath towels on the floor to block the outflow. We told the room steward and he did not clean it properly and merely opened the windows to air out our suite. I ended up hosing off the bathroom floor myself with the shower wand and scalding hot water and soap. After a second call about the smell which had not dissipated, he cleaned the shower drain at 8pm. Again we went down to Billing and told them of the problem and again it was not logged. Since it was the last night of our cruise, I will be contacting their customer service with a complaint. My recommedation would be to notify the room steward and go to Deck 5 Billing immediately with any complaints. I can only guess that the staff does not want to log problems as it is reflected on their performance. When we complained to Billing, they basically took it out on the Staff by zeroing out the daily service fees for our entire stay. We didn't think that this was entirely fair either, so we will need to contact customer service again to get a proper refund from our booking charge. For a fairly new ship, and an upgraded suite, this experience was unacceptable.
The port is really far from the heart of Rome and FCO airport. We spent 150-175euro each way for private shuttles from Rome to port, and 60euro each way for private shuttles from Rome hotels to FCO airport. We were travelling with a small child, elderly grandma and a lot of luggage so there was little choice. It would've been more cost effective to start our cruise in Barcelona or Genoa and take excursions into Rome. We stayed for about 6 days in Rome and saw most of the noted places. There's a lot to see and take in so we did not regret the added cost, but would probably not go back again to start a cruise now that we've seen it. Going through Italian Customs was a joke. When entering, the person at the head of the line directed me to a station and the agent directs me to another while he stands up and leaves because his shift is over. When leaving, 4 agents standing in the cubicle chatting and did not even look at us or stop talking while stamping our passports.
The excursions were very limited at this port so we opted to walk around on our own. Beware of the agressive and dishonest horse carriage and taxi tours. We took a horse carriage tour and ended up in a huge argument with the driver who tried to scam us. In the end we got a pretty good deal but it ended in a huge shouting match and nearly a fist fight. Our general impression of Italy was that the economy is depressed and in dire condition.
A long, not scenic walk from port to city center so we opted to take the shuttle bus. Most of the noted sights are around the rectangular harbor area. We wanted to walk to the Notre Dame cathedral but it was too far uphill.
Again, limited availability of excursions. There's an aquarium, which you could just walk to and visit on your own. We walked to the streets above Castelleta for a nice view. Otherwise, it seemed like another economically-depressed smaller Italian city.
2 out of 5
Again, massive confusion as they instructed us to look at the Information screens throughout the ship for instructions and most of the screens showed "Temporarily unavailable, system maintenance" for most of the early morning. We ended up sitting in a lounge on Deck 5 before finally finding out that we were to exit on Deck 4. On Deck 4, passengers with larger luggage pieces were redirected to Deck 5. It was unclear how they were determining luggage size so at first they were telling us to go upstairs and then waved us through after looking at our hand luggage. Again, someone needs to go through the instructions in each language to make sure that they are adequate.
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