Year Started: 1987
Ships in Fleet: 12
Summary: A pan-European mainstream cruise line that competes with Costa. New, massive ships with decent food and entertainment, Look for bargains in Caribbean.
Regions:Mediterranean, Western Mediterranean, Transatlantic
Good for: Foodies. Seniors. First-time Cruisers.
Regions:Caribbean, Mediterranean, Transatlantic
Good for: Group. Value for Money. Families.
Good for: Children`s Programs. Families. Foodies.
Good for: Foodies. Families. Group.
Regions:Mediterranean, Western Mediterranean, Scandinavia/Northern Europe, Transatlantic
Good for: Children`s Programs. Group. Families.
Good for: Foodies. Children`s Programs. Families.
Good for: Foodies. Group. Families.
Regions:Mediterranean, Scandinavia/Northern Europe, South America, Transatlantic
Good for: Foodies. Children`s Programs. Families.
Regions:Southern Caribbean, Mediterranean, Scandinavia/Northern Europe, South America
Good for: Foodies. Children`s Programs. Families.
Regions:Mediterranean, South America, Transatlantic
Good for: Foodies. First-time Cruisers. Families.
Regions:Caribbean, Mediterranean, Scandinavia/Northern Europe, Transatlantic
Good for: Value for Money. Foodies. Group.
Regions:Africa, Mediterranean, Transatlantic
Good for: Foodies. Group. Families.
I have just returned from the January 23rd sailing of the Poesia with 50 of my family members. I'd have to say that the stage entertainment was excellent, though the food was of uneven quality; some nights were commensurate with a cruise, but some nights were really no better than a mediocre coffee shop.
The issue that was the most difficult was the room that my husband, I, and our son shared. It was at the very stern and rocked quite dramatically. I think it is because the ship is very rectangular. It is quite like a shoebox in the water; any waves make it pitch quite a bit. When looking at other cruise ships, all the others have some tapering to the hull to deflect waves, this one had none at all so on windy days with some waves, the ship moved more than any I had ever been on. Perhaps this ship was designed for the calmer waters of the Mediterranean, but it is not at all suitable for the typical waters of the Atlantic. It was worse than any of the many cruise ships I have everbeen on and I have cruised in the Caribbean during hurricane season when conditions are very windy with high waves.
But that wasn't the worst part of our room. Even though we were on the 12th floor, the mechanical vibration from the rudder and engine created so much vibration in our room that it was as if we were in a non stop earthquake. I tried to fall asleep in my berth, but it was as if someone was constantly and violently shaking the bed in time to rhythmic mechanical motions of the engine and rudder. The walls of the stateroom were constantly rattling and loudly squeaking. I am not a princess or one to complain unnecessarily, but this room was uninhabitable. We toured another stateroom of other members of our family that were in a room directly below us and it was the same. They had a 3'X5' mirror on the wall of their stateroom that was constantly, loudly rattling against the wall so that it was absolutely impossible to sleep. Their beds were also shaking violently.
I tried to get a different stateroom but the staff at the reception desk was absolutely uncooperative. On the third night, I met with their customer service representative and spoke to him for a good 20 minutes. He insisted that the motion was from the waves. I told him over and over that the waves were only part of the problem but that the mechanical movement from the engine and propeller made the room uninhabitable. I was so tired from the first night in that horrible stateroom that I slept most of the next day in complete exhaustion. My sister-in-law allowed me to sleep in an extra bunk of her stateroom midship the next two nights. My husband and son however, remained in that horrible room. After speaking with the staff each day and getting no assistance from them, I was finally able to prevail with getting another stateroom by the 4th night.
A number of people in our party became ill over the cruise with the flu. I think they contracted it on the ship. For some it was very debilitating requiring injections of anti diarrhea medication. I don't think the crew was as clean as they should have been. For example, at breakfast one morning, six of our family was eating at tables in the 13th floor cafeteria. Two tables away a sweet little girl in a high chair threw up with projectile vomiting that spewed over the table, floor, and her high chair. It was a horrific mess. The parents tried to clean up some of it, but there was more than they had the means to clean. It was at least 10 minutes before the staff came to clean it and they did a cursory job at that. The dishes were cleared and they wiped the table though from my angle I could see quite clearly that there were still flecks of vomit on the table. The high chair remained at the table with the seat of it and the floor coated in cups of vomit. My party sat two tables away and watched as people cleared away.
I was absolutely horrified as the staff motioned for two recent arrivals from our family to be seated at the unclean table. It was horrible! There was a vomit coated high chair and floor at one end of this six person table, and the staff tried to seat my family at the other end. I was glad I was there and motioned them away before they actually sat down. Our family sat two tables away while we wondered how long it would take the staff to clean up the vomit on the floor and high chair. No less than 20 minutes later, the vile mess was untouched. I finally asked the staff in a polite manner to clean it up. It was at least another 5 minutes before they came with cloths and a mop to clear the vomit.
Another experience with lack of cleanliness and vomiting at an eating facility occurred on Tuesday. We had a family luncheon arranged for 50 people. We had a section of the formal dining room set aside for us and we were having a nice time. Suddenly, two members of our family at a table adjacent to mine became violently ill and vomited all over the table and chairs. A third followed so that the table was covered with a horrific mess. I don't envy the staff for the mess they had to clean up, but they did a cursory job given the potential for the spread of flu. Yes, the table cloths, dishes, and vomit covered chairs were removed, but the staff did not wipe the table with a disinfectant before putting the new tablecloth on. I stopped them and asked them to wipe the table with a disinfectant, they stalled and a few minutes later returned to complete putting the new tablecloth down without using disinfectant.
As I mentioned before, the food was of uneven quality. I don't expect prime rib every night, but what was offered in many instances was no better than I could have had at Denny's. In fact, Denny's is superior in some instances. The chicken on the first night was particularly awful. The chicken patty was made from preformed and prebreaded chicken, not unlike the chicken fingers that are served at a typical McDonalds. It was covered in crushed tomatoes that were completely lacking in any spice. The lot was then covered by a rubbery piece of melted cheese. I remember thinking that I hoped the meals would not all be this bad.
The food on the last two nights were good, however, I was disappointed in the lack of food in the evenings. Our family sat at the early seating at 5:30 pm. After dinner, we went to the stage for entertainment or to dancing. By 9 pm many of us were again interested in some sort of food, but there was none, absolutely none, available in the cafeteria. Each night we had to wait until 10 pm for a paltry display of thin crust pizza. The sauce and toppings on the pizza was far from inspired, but the worst part was that the thin crust was most often burned black as the staff has not yet mastered the use of the pizza ovens. If one stayed up for dancing past 11pm, it would be best to pack a few pizzas in their pockets as even the paltry pizzas were only served for an hour.
One evening there was quite a nice deck party hosted by the ship. There was a good amount of merriment; dancing and games. However, there was absolutely no food served. One would think that an evening party would include some sort of appetizers to satiate the revelers, but there was none. Being hungry is not what I anticipate ever happening on a cruise ship.
The shore times are not conducive to excursions. In particular, the port time in Puerto Rico is from 4 pm to 11 pm. We bee lined from the ship to the fort for some sightseeing, but the late port time allowed us only 15 minutes in the fort before it closed for the day. The museums and all other attractions also closed by 5pm.
While the ship’s decor is attractive, there is an enormous amount of hard surfaces in genuine stone, faux stone, or glass. While these surfaces look very attractive and are typical for current decorating trends, it creates much ambient noise from sound vibrating off hard surfaces. It was almost impossible to have a conversation between six people seated at a table in the cafeteria during meal times. The formal dining rooms were better in this regard and were our preferred choice for all meals.
The pools and outdoor spas are only open from 7am to 7 pm.
Given these experiences, I would not recommend this cruise line to any one.
wish i had better news..but having cruised several times before i was expecting a real nice cruise with this new cruise line and ship, but didn't get it. More specifically i always look forward to not only good food but plentiful and always available to some degree and this was the biggest let down. The food was sub par in it's preparation...only available in small windows of time...(at one point pans were literally being pulled out of line as i was putting the food on my plate..lol) room service was extremely limited and poorly prepared and tiny portions. Passengers were so put off that the midnight buffets the two they had on a seven day cruise were mass food and practically fist fights in lines for food that was again bland and unimaginable. to cut short my woes service was poor and extremely slim and slow 20minutes between courses at dinner ...my room was dirty most days..attendants randomly threw away my papers..and i rarely saw them.. in past cruises i not only saw them but new their names all in all i spent over 5k on my trip total very closeto 6 and i now find i need a vacation to get over my vacation.. the only bright point was the calibre of the shows in the evening.. very talented ..bright and glamorous really liked them.. albeit a bit short at barely thirty minutes..still well worth the watch.. our children went with us.. as this was our christmas cruise.. and i felt very badly for them as the child care staff all except for the leader of that section who was very nice and treated the kids very well were lackluster and unmotivated and made them watch movies or videos most of the time... they made an attempt to reward the children and give them gifts for christmas a few times.. (my son recieved three fanny packs..lol ) obviously an item for an adult..not a childs gift.. all prizes and gifts were adult in nature and seemed to be merchandise that the logo store couldn't sell...one little girl even burst out in tears on recieving her extremely lame gift.. i'm ashamed to tell people i took this cruise.. really sad.. disembarking today.. this same story was all i heard over and over again... just ask anyone on that particular cruise.. i'd rate it a D grade out of kindness.. at best! i cannot recommend this line..sorry
Save yourself the disappointment and go with another cruise line. We have cruised several times now and we were really really looking forward to this trip.
It seemed like a nice new line with an elegant feel. Nothing was good about this cruise except the night show. The boat of course, being new is nice enough, but hardly enough to counter all the negative. The maintenance crew were often lacquering the wood or painting during the day, which interfered with the access.
I saw the bad reviews online before we left and went with an open mind as we wanted to have a nice holiday with our family.
The bad reviews were all true.
The food was pitiful at best. Lukewarm and bland. Not one good meal the entire trip. They put the drinks away so you could no access them if it was not a meal time. They only offered tea and water. Nothing for children to drink. The food was also scarce. We were often hungry, our children especially.
Everyone was upset so it made for a bad atmosphere. People were all very upset and voicing it.
The first thing wedid when we went off the boat was get a meal, and for the first time in a week we felt satisfied and full.
Our children did not even want to go to the kid program since all they did was watch tv or "dance".Some children cried from being yelled at, and all the children were VERY disappointed in the fanny packs and mouse pads from the MSC logo shop as gifts, as they had been promised all week a gift. One child burst into tears as she got a bandana. The kids club crew were mean and unfriendly they did not even like children. This would seem important on a kids sail free cruise and a holiday cruise. The main guy who ran the kids club was nice enough but he was not ever there.
The pool and hot tubs close at 7. There was NOTHING to do. For us, for the kids ... really awful.
The activity directors hid out, unless they were hitting on young girls ... lol more interested in their laptops than their jobs.
The 2 nights they had activities were the 2 nights we had to be up at 6am for port of call and 6 am dissembarkment. Which was another sore point.
So all in all EVERYTHING was higher price, drinks food etc than any other cruise I have been on. I am really trying to come up with something positive to say.... but I am at a loss as there was just no high point... I suppose the night show would be one thing without a complaint... but they were short ... and I am from a tourist town full of shows and I did not come to see the once a day show.
We were hungry, bored and ready to come back home after the first day. Unfortunately it was a 8 day, 7 night cruise and the 1st and last days were treated in the itinerary and by the staff as unimportant or non existent as if they didn't count... we had to be out of our room by 6:45 am EVERYONE had to be ... on the last day ... and the 1st day there was no planned itinerary... etc
I wish we would have just stayed at home, at least I could have spent the money on something we could have actually enjoyed. I could have taken 2 cruises for what we paid for this one on seemingly lesser lines ... and had a much better time!
MSC Fantasia Western Med. week cruise review.
Relax and enjoy this wonderful cruise . After reading so many negatives we were a bit nervous about our choice of MSC since we are first time , American English speaking only, cruisers in our mid sixties. The ship is lovely, the rooms are large, immaculate, as is the entire ship. The food was abundant and varied. The entire crew were all very polite, well groomed, and eager to help. When language was a barrier , ( very seldom) they were most patient muddling through until we all were clear on the question and the answer. The nightly entertainment in the theater varied each evening and lasted about 45 minutes . Go, do not expect Broadway Stars, but very talented , multi cultural , enthusiastic performers. Each presentation was a delight to the eye, extravagant costumes, brilliant lighting, and great musical numbers. All can be enjoyed by any language or age.
We changed our dinner seating , we were assigned a table with French speaking only couples. They were very nice, but we felt sort of awkward doing charades etc. People change every evening asthey meet people they want to eat with . The procedure is easy, just go to the dining room you are assigned between four and six. Speak to the maitre d and they will switch you . We found, that a smile or a laugh , and common courtesy is the best way to get anything , just as anywhere else in the world. We did not encounter any rude Italians, French, stodgy, whiny British, that have been alluded to in other reviews . Everyone was friendly, and in a vacation mood. I wonder, after reading so many negatives reviews , if these people are unpleasant when seeking help etc. , then are met with the same attitude . Just a thought. Coming on board was easy in Marseille, a que of about twenty minutes . Our luggage was at our door by the time we had walked around the public spaces . ( There is an orientation meeting held in your native language , but we were not aware of that . It is listed in the daily paper that in your room when you arrive. We just didn't read . So check that as soon as you get to your room .) Disembarkation was easy, there is a meeting the night beforeand you also get papers on what to do with passports etc. It was fairly simple, you do not need to be in the lounge at 8 am, but you do need to pick up you passport at reception AFTER 8 am. We didn't leave until around 9:45.
A hint : The ship sells goodmaps of each town at Reception for .50. Well worth it so you can plan ahead. We basically did our own thing in each port except Naples and Barcelona. Naples we did the Pompeii tour, but would suggest you do the Museum in town since most of the artifacts from Pompeii are housed there. Barcelona: we caught a Blue bus to town, meets at the terminal, 3 Euros round trip compared to the MSC shuttle at 6 eurs. Then caught the Hop on and Off bus right at the drop off spot. There are people at the terminal with information and pamphlets, just ask. This was a more reasonably priced way to go than a tour.
Marseille: The Old Port. You need to take a taxi or walk out of the terminal ( about a mile and a half ) to the bus stop at the entrance the terminal or take a Hop on and Off bus which was there at the dock, too far from town to walk . Genoa: the port and the back streets. We just walked to town, you can walk to the Aquarium too. There are inexpensive harbor tours , like 10 euros. Palermo: we walked to town , head for the old town and the main shopping streets. We found an old market street that was absolutely glorious in colors along with some old, incredibly beautiful 1600s churches tucked in among the food vendors. Tunis , get a cab right at the dock for about 40 euros for three hours , the driver will wait for you when you want to get out and walk, shop or eat etc. and tell you about the area . Palma, again we walked to town. The harbor is vibrant, some fun seafood spots, the Cathedral is at the far end of the harbor, a couple of miles. Worth the leisurely walk .The grounds are interesting as are the back streets . Wonderful little shops tucked in the side streets with pastries, and other goodies. Barcelona: ( Hop on and Off ) the huge food market was immaculate in the old town area, a good place to have paella for lunch. The Olympic Games grounds offers a good view of the city. We were impressed at how clean the city is. The tram to the fort was a hit with others in our dinner group. The itinerary of cities was excellent.
A couple of suggestions. Take some wire hangars and a few clothes pins fo the clothes line in the shower, ask for a room on the left side of the boat since that is the side that faces the coastline. We took two insulated/covered coffee mugs and instant ice tea and lemonade . Used the ship water and had ice delivered every day ( no charge). The ship's water is fine to drink. We chose the soft drink package for 29 euros.If you want to go on an excursion you need to book them within the first day or so to save 5%. They do their darndest to book you on a tour in your language, but sometimes it may be two languages.
Meals: The waiters bend over backwards to make you happy. Get to know them. We had breakfast and lunch ( when on board) in the dining rooms. The Zanzabar Cafeteria on deck 14 is a bit of a mad house. But, the view is wonderful. There are hundreds of choices and a super place for kids with huge appetites. All you can eat.) The dining rooms have a more limited menu , but much quieter . Breakfast and lunch are casual attire, but no short shorts , swim wear etc. Some reviews complain about not having twenty four hour food etc. Well breakfast starts in the cafeteria at 6:30 am and is open until 10. The lunch opens at 12 and closes at 4. Tea is at 4 to 5 at the Zanzabar , first dinner starts at 6:45 , there is a midnight buffet . So there is ample time to eat. PLUS you can buy gelato, pastries, etc. through the day. No one starves. Actually some passengers seemed downright gluttonous.( A reason we chose to skip the cafeteria.)
Dress: Again posted in the daily news letter . Sadly, there were some who chose to ignore the dress code and came across as crass . Tuxedos are too formal , but a dark jacket, slacks, shirt and tie for the men works for Formal and Informal evenings. The Causal night is shirt with no tie and jacket. Ladies usually wore cocktail dresses, but basically a snazzy black, wrinkle free dress with a couple of dressy jackets or wraps and you are set. I did see a few people turned away from dinner because of their extremely casual attire. ( flip flops and bermuda shorts ). I felt people were allowed to flaunt the dress code because the crew were too polite to embarrass them.
On Deck: Upper deck in the BACK is the ZEN area , no children allowed. There are deck chairs all over the ship, no need to worry about getting one. The pools were a bit chilly , they are emptied each night and didn't seem to warm up much. The main pool areas were busy with families , games, dance classes, and a giant screen showing a variety of things going on . The exercise area is in the front of the ship , you have to go through the spa. A wonderful panoramic view, lots of equipment .
The Room:Shampoo and soap are included, some reviews have said they aren't. Plug ins are various types . Blow dryer is in the drawer. Towels are changed almost every time you step out of the room by the wonderful room elves. Pool towels are provided by the pools and hot tubs. Beds are turned down each night , and the steward ( Patricia) made us feel spoiled.
We would recommend this line , the price was about $3500 less than friends who are going on a similar cruise on another line with a balcony room. That's another two trips! There were few children , but this time of year that was to be expected. We were in minority as Americans, but we weren't going on the trip to be with Americans. The service was excellent, the ship is amazing,we didn't feel like we were being hustled at all. We spent a total of 129 Euros on board for a tour and pop. Plus our tipping fee at the end. So we felt we certainly got our money's worth and had no surprise charges. Bon Voyage. Arivederrci .. Ciao...
We had an amazing time, in spite of MSC Cruises. From beginning to end, this cruise line's customer service and SOPs lacked immensely. Our itinerary said that we would be boarding the ship at 10:30am and departing at 6:30pm, and recommended that we be at the port two hours before boarding time. We arrived at 8:30am and there was only one other couple there, and no staff. The staff started showing up and informed us that we could check in after a little longer. A line started to form sometime around 11:00 am, so we got in it only to be told that we all should sit down again since they would not be checking anyone in until noon. A little before noon, the line started forming again and by now a mob had formed around the area as well. When they started motioning that people could finally check in (1:30 pm), everyone rushed the counters, paying no attention to the barriers. We were finally onboard at 5:00 pm. However, the cruise tickets stated something to the effect of "we are not responsible for service you receive while not onboardthe ship." so we figured that was why they put in that disclaimer.
We had chosen late dining thinking it would be around 8:00 pm. It was actually 9:00 pm every night, which would have been okay, except every night it didn't start until 9:30 pm and in the case of that first night on the ship, 10:15 pm. We had wanted to attend a show that was supposedly timed for the late dining crowd to begin at 11:30 pm, but we made it right on time for the final closing of the curtain. This was true of every show, since dinner always started late, and it also ran late.
We had assumed they would at least provide tap water with dinner, but no drinks at all were included. You could purchase a bottle of water for 4 euros (over $5) or a can of soda for 3 euros ($4), or you had the option of buying a book of coupons which discounted these by 1 euro each.
The food on the ship was okay. It was not bad, but not up to the standards I had heard about with other cruise lines' food.
The excursions were extra, which we knew, but somewhat expensive. So we had decided to just catch a cab or the shuttle buses that were offered for many of the ports at a 9 euro charge. Taking the shuttle bus out was fine, but returning on one proved to be a feat. Again, it reminded me of the chaos at check-in -- people in a huge mob trying to push their way onto the buses. We may have been able to maintain some sort of line, except that the buses kept stopping at different places along the street instead of pulling up to the sign. Sometimes they would go past the sign. We made it back after waiting to get on a bus for almost 2 hours.
We met some friends on the boat that had booked a private excursion to Santorini and invited us along. We had been informed in the daily newsletter that we would be receiving numbers indicating what order we could disembark at Santorini, beginning after the people who had booked the MSC excursion. According to the itinerary, we were docking at 7:30 am and everyone could leave the ship sometime around 8:30 am. Our friends had arranged to meet the driver by 9 am. When we all received our numbers, they had number 10 and we had number 16 (no idea how these were allotted). When they asked the front desk roughly what time they would be disembarking with this number, they were told sometime around 11 or 11:30. Essentially, after they not-so-calmly argued about this, they were given number 1 for all 4 of us. We were able to meet the driver at 10 am and had a great but somewhat rushed tour. When we returned to the boat, we found out that people who had numbers 15 and up ended up getting off the boat with only 2 hours left before they had to return.
The stop at Mykonos was scheduled during the evening, so we had decided not to leave the ship since it would cut into our dinner time. Apparently they had decided to make the early seating open and have no late seating. It was printed in the newsletter, but not very clearly. It did not specifically state that late seating was cancelled completely. Our friends had not even received a newsletter that day, and every other one they had gotten was in German. Bottom line, there was no food except the restaurants where you could purchase food. After arguing with the customer service desk again, our friends were able to get us dinner at the sushi restaurant on the house. Had they not spoken up, we wouldn't have gotten a meal at all unless we paid for it.
All of the spa massages, facials, etc. couldn't be booked because there was one person there at any given time running the reception/appointment desk AND giving the massages/facials. They had no openings for the entire week when we checked the second day. We were also unable to use the jacuzzis because the rules were not enforced about a 20 minute time limit and a maximum of five people. There were at least 10 or more kids in all four jacuzzis every time we checked.
We were given a letter about two days before the end of the cruise stating that they would be automatically charging our account 6 Euro per person per day for gratuities, totaling 84 Euro (over $100) for my husband and myself. We had been giving tips to the wait staff that deserved it and we had planned on leaving something for the woman who serviced our room, but had not been told this at any point, even by those we had tipped. We were informed that the only way to change this amount was to fill out a request at the Accounting Desk, which was only open two hours a day. We not only made it a point to visit the desk, but we also changed the amount to zero, citing on the request exactly why and that we would leave what we thought was fair for the housekeeping staff. The staff at the desk responded with a rude, "thanks a lot" to my husband when they saw that.
I know some of this may seem trivial, but in my opinion this was a lot of money to spend to experience this level of stress and inconvenience. After my experience with MSC for my first cruise, I am not sure if I will ever take another cruise period. If I do, it will definitely not be with MSC. I filled out their comment form and mentioned all of this in it, but I do not know if they will take it seriously. But talking to several other people on the ship, including the new friends we had met before check-in, no one was at all satisfied with the quality of this cruise line.
after many cruises, this was one of the worst ones i have ever take. no coffee, except at breakfast and mid day tea. the rest of the time it cost. same for water. no drinking fountains.
the food was rated by our group as cheap italian food
tasteless pasta. meat that one could not cut or chew let alone digest. in other words poor no crappy.
cabin staff, great. dining staff, ok.
reception desk lacking. if you did not speak italian or german it was hard to get a answer. felt i was being looked down upon. i will never sail with mac. nor recommend it to anyone. they nickle and dime you to death.
you will not gain weight on this cruise, the food was really bad. i would suggest steel toed shoes. people are in such a hurry to get on the elevator they will not let you get off had my feet steped on several times. and not one sorry.. i have been on several cruises this is the first for msc. and last. the ports were nice, but they gave no info on where to shop or go. would not recomend to a american who wants to relax and have fun. should send this ship back where it came from.
Clean smart ship but all rather impersonal. Anything purchased on board was very expensive, whether it be a drink, a shore excursion or a photo ! "Posh" restaurants were too posh and slow, buffet was too crowded and chaotic ! Not enough time in port, shore excursions all left far too early in the morning. We always seemed to be leaving port during dinner or lunch or breakfast, rarely had an opportunity to witness arriving or leaving port from the decks.
We just completed a 12-day Baltic Sea cruise on the MSC Opera. In a word: GRAND.
Check-In (in Copenhagen) was a breeze. MSC was very well prepared and remarkably efficient. We heard there had been a line-up when embarkation began at noon, but we arrived about 1:30 pm and had no line-up whatsoever. Note, however, that many passengers had embarked the previous day in Kiel -- the Opera lets you embark at either Kiel or Copenhagen. We had no problem bringing on board a few bottles of our favorite wine.
Cabin We were very pleased with our cabin. We had a 12th deck "suite." The Opera has no real suites -- ours was a slightly larger room, with a bathtub. We had ample storage space and a reasonably large closet with plenty of room for 10 dresses, 4 suits, 10 or so shirts, -- we did not pack lightly. The regular rooms have less closet space, and no tub, only a shower. NOTE -- the two forward facing suites face into the wind, and on a Baltic cruise you will be typically cool if not freezing. The port and starboard suites aremuch better protected from the wind. In fact, we hardly ever sat on the balcony -- it was too cold (~9-14 C / 48-57° F) most of our trip.
Food The food was excellent. Not everything was sublimely superb -- but could your favorite restaurant give you 36 consecutive sublimely superb meals? When cooking for 1,000 diners twice a night? Let's be reasonable. The pasta was consistently sublimely superb. I recommend a pasta course with every meal; you can diet later. Some main course meat dishes were very good, some were ok. Based on our traveling companions' reviews, I never ordered beef. Instead I had chicken cacciatore, guinea fowl, duck, fish, etc. Remember that this is an Italian cruise line, and the menu reflects this. I was pleased; I'll order steak some other time.
LUNCH we usually ate ashore. For the few lunches we had on board, we always had pizza (& beer). The pizza was superb. But remember that it's ITALIAN style pizza -- not Domino's or Little Caesar's.
BREAKFASTS were great -- either in the self-serve cafeteria or in the table service sit-down dining room. Lots of choices, and excellent waffles.
We found only two disappointing things about food: we ate far too much and we had to leave after only 2 1/2 hours (we had the first sitting). We could have quite happily lingered longer over our dessert and cheese. Overall, I enjoyed the food far too much -- it's not good for your waist line.
Service The service was excellent throughout the ship. Everyone was friendly, helpful, and eager to please. We travel a LOT, and we have never come across a more friendly, accommodating, eager-to-please staff. Language was not an issue. Some staff have better English than others, but (a) it's better than my Italian or Indonesian; and (b) if foreign accents annoy you then why travel?
Activities I can't really comment because we do not gamble, did not partake in any organized activities, and only rarely watched the entertainment. We went with 2 other couples so we amused ourselves with conversation when not ashore sightseeing. The bars & lounges, etc. were all very nice, in a Holiday Inn lounge sort of way; but I reckon that this is par for the course on any cruise ship. We spent most of our lounge time in the 12th deck disco at the stern. Its ceiling-to-floor windows (on 3 sides) gave a panoramic view, and it was quiet, since the disco music doesn't start til 11 or 12. Some entertainment struck us as a bit hokey (again reminiscent of a Holiday Inn lounge) but others (such as the "special guest" Swiss Dixieland jazz band) were entertaining. But we spent almost no time in show bars. We preferred to visit & chat in quieter bars, catching up with old friends.
Facilities It was too cold to swim, so no one used the pools. Early June in the Baltic is too cold for pools unless you're very, very hearty. I tried the "hot" tub once, but at its advertised 22° C / 72° F, it was a tad too tepid for my liking.
Drinks We bought the buy-ahead beer package (14 bottles for US $38 or so), and it's worth it. Otherwise bottled beer is 4 or 5 Euros, depending upon the brand. We bought a wine package at embarkation -- saves you 20 Euro, but I didn't find it to be any big deal. The house wine at 8 Euro per 1/2 litre was cheaper than the package and quite drinkable. We also pre-purchased an embarrassingly large number of bottles of wine for our cabin, at about US $19 each -- this I recommend if you enjoy a glass of wine on your balcony. But you CAN take unfinished wine from the restaurant to your cabin or a lounge.
Ports of Call Great! The ports were the primary reason for us taking this cruise, and we were not disappointed. I like medieval old-town centers, and we saw a few of them.
Gdansk: Dluga Targ (pretty much the medieval main street) was gorgeous. But my camera broke so I was able to take only a few pictures on my PDA. A great place for lunch in Gdansk is "Salonik" on Deluga. It's a wonderfully decorated room, featuring traditional Polish food. At about 4pm it started to pour and got quite cool, so being creatures of comfort we took a taxi back to the ship, thus cutting a bit short our sightseeing. Note that it's about a 45 minute taxi ride from the cruise port (in Gdynia) to the Gdansk Stare Misto. Six of us shared a min-van taxi, and he charged us 200 zloty. We suspect this is about half the meter rate, but Poland's hurting, and split 6 ways it's not a bad fare. Anything to help a suffering economy, I say.
Riga: Riga was very nice, but has not yet completed its post-Soviet makeover. Once their EEC economy kicks in and they complete their medieval old-town center renovation, Riga will be as strikingly beautiful as Prague or Tallinn. Depending upon your ship's berth and your walking pace, it's a 20-40 minute walk to the medieval old-town center. It is NOT a scenic walk (from ship to old town), but we welcomed the exercise so we enjoyed it. It poured (again), so we spent more time than we would have planned having a thoroughly enjoyable lunch. Our friends reported a superb lunch at a different restaurant. I'll try to track down restaurant names if anyone is interested. The Latvian Museum of Occupation (soviet & nazi) is an educational MUST-SEE. Missus bought a very nice amber bracelet in Riga for what seemed to us to be a better price-to-quality ratio than other Baltic ports. But we are in no way gemological experts, so buyer beware. Riga also featured the cheapest beer -- CAD $2 / pint at an otherwise expensive, trendy, fashionable & good-food restaurant. The primary reason we chose MSC was the inclusion of Riga (and Visby) and we were NOT disappointed. If you're only going to take one Baltic cruise -- capitalize on the opportunity and sample as much as possible. GO to Riga.
Tallinn: Tallinn was the gem of the trip -- an absolutely gorgeous medieval old-town center. There is too much to see and enjoy during a 1-day port call. Tallinn is the only port-of-call to which I would gladly make a special trip to re-visit.
St. Petersburg: St. Petersburg is ... St. Petersburg. You've already read all about it. Glorious churches, near-decadent architecture, Romanov legacy, and the Hermitage. But it's also bureaucratically tourist-unfriendly, and most of the city is 200-year old run-down and seedy following years of neglect. Call me a Philistine (I shan't protest it), but a 2-day cruise call is sufficient.
Helsinki: Helsinki. Sigh. More rain, more chill. This is the only cruise ship excursion we took -- to Porvoo -- and I cannot recommend it. On the other hand, Missus highly recommends the fresh-fried smelt (?) at the dockside market. At the risk of once again revealing my Philistinity, I declined the opportunity to eat entire fishes -- heads, tails, bones, GI tracts and anuses.
Stockholm: Stockholm was fun, architecturally interesting, wet, cold, rainy, and expensive. A gorgeous (big) city, with lovely looking cafés galore, but with $20 soups and $15 beer (or glass of table wine), it's not high on my list of must-go-back-to places.
Visby: Visby was picturesque. Unique in its small-town densely packed old-town "cottages" combined with long-lost Hanseatic glory. MSC may be the only cruise line stopping in Visby, and it's well worth it.
Kiel: Good shopping, just past the block or so of sex-trade merchants. But (at the risk of being racist), with typical German gemütlichkeit, it's a tasteful, well-scrubbed, tidy and not in the slightest bit seedy sex-trade block.
Copenhagen: Copenhagen -- the start & finish. We spent 2 nights prior and one night after the cruise. One of the most vibrant cities we have visited. Cafes everywhere, generally busy with people enjoying themselves, evidently immensely. The old-town core is full of people enjoying themselves. It's catching.
Excellent cruise value especially considering kids under 17 yrs sail free.
Ship was immaculate although considerable ship movement/vibrations felt regardless of deck level or location.
Superior embarkation/disembarkation process. Picked up kids' life jackets and yellow identity bracelets upon boarding the ship.
Maitre 'D was available upon boarding (12:30-3:30pm) in the Orchestra meeting room (Deck 6) for any special requests.
Room cards are inserted inside room for operation of lights and also acts to notify room stewards of room occupancy/do not disturb.
Easy operating safe without the need of swiping credit card, etc.
Some passengers, including myself, experienced dark blackish water while showering and after flushing toilet. Apparently this occurs occasionally and we were told to run water for 5 minutes to flush out the system. Inquiry made at information desk seemed to suggest this problem was a well known fact.
There are two identical pool areas, except one is without a kid's wading pool and stage, which provides for quieter ambiance if desired. Amazing deck chairs, each with an attached shade canopy.
Smoking areas well adhered to.
Large washrooms throughout the ship.
Fitness area small, but adequate to achieve a basic workout. 25 minute limit for cardio machines. No water infitness area. Need to bring your own water bottle.
Mini putt is only 5 holes and very unremarkable. Found that the supply of tennis balls and ping pong balls becomes depleted during the latter part of the cruise.
There is a large jungle gym for kids. Advertised age groups (3-8yrs and 8-13yrs) were actually 3-6yrs (Minis), 7-12yrs (Juniors), and 13-18 (Teens), although there were times where Minis and Juniors combined for common activities. No pager available for kids' programs.
Passengers must pay for soft serve ice cream which is located behind poolside bars.
Draft beer ($59 for 14x14oz) and tropical/mixed drink ($69 for 12) packages available from the bar. Purchased as a coupon booklet which equals two free drinks compared to buying separately.
Dining room only wine packages available (7-10 bottles of house white and/or red for $70-$100 or choose from select wine list for $105-$150). Best to pre-purchase these wine packages as all package options do not seem to be offered when onboard. Wine bottles (corked or uncorked) can be taken from the dining room for later use. Bring your own corkscrew for opening corked bottles.
There is no activity sheets/crayons handed out to children in the dining room. No Spa (low calorie) menu items offered.
The MSC Orchestra is a peanut-free ship.
The Four Seasons Restaurant, located at the back of the ship, opens as part of the buffet during breakfast and lunch offering almost identical choices (except fast food options and pizza) and is significantly less chaotic with no lines. There are no trays to use for the buffet, although they do offer extra large oval plates. Soy milk is available for those with dairy allergies.
Port times sometimes differed from those advertised, causing some problems if private shore excursions are booked. Tender coupons to Cayo Levantado unnecessary as far as needing to present them for tendering.
Quality of shows was excellent and they were very refined.