MSC Cruises Reviews

Year Started: 1987
Ships in Fleet: 12
Category: Mainstream

Summary: A pan-European mainstream cruise line that competes with Costa. New, massive ships with decent food and entertainment, Look for bargains in Caribbean.

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MSC Cruise Ships

2 Reviews

Regions:Mediterranean, Western Mediterranean, Transatlantic

Good for: Foodies. Seniors. First-time Cruisers.

5 Reviews

Regions:Caribbean, Mediterranean, Transatlantic

Good for: Group. Families. Value for Money.

3 Reviews

Regions:Mediterranean, Transatlantic

Good for: Children`s Programs. Families. Foodies.

28 Reviews

Regions:Mediterranean

Good for: Foodies. Families. Group.

4 Reviews

Regions:Mediterranean, Scandinavia/Northern Europe, South America, Transatlantic

Good for: Foodies. Children`s Programs. Families.

6 Reviews

Regions:Southern Caribbean, Mediterranean, Scandinavia/Northern Europe, South America

Good for: Foodies. Children`s Programs. Families.

21 Reviews

Regions:Mediterranean, Western Mediterranean, Scandinavia/Northern Europe, Transatlantic

Good for: Children`s Programs. Group. Families.

15 Reviews

Regions:Mediterranean, South America, Transatlantic

Good for: Foodies. First-time Cruisers. Families.

16 Reviews

Regions:Caribbean, Mediterranean, Scandinavia/Northern Europe, Transatlantic

Good for: Value for Money. Foodies. Group.

0 Reviews

Regions:Mediterranean

Good for: Foodies. Children`s Programs. Families.

6 Reviews

Regions:Africa, Mediterranean, Transatlantic

Good for: Foodies. Group. Families.

6 Reviews

Regions:Mediterranean

Good for: Foodies. Group. Families.

User Ratings

Overall Rating
3.73
from 112 reviews

Cuisine

Service Level

Value for Money

Ship Décor

Public Rooms

Staterooms

Kid's Programs

Daytime Activities

Nightlife

Shore Tours

Itinerary

Alternative Dining

User Reviews

112 User Reviews of MSC Ships
Other (Specified in Review)
Publication Date: March 20, 2006

This was a cruise in the central Mediterranean, Naples, Salerno, Sicily, Malta, Alexandria, and Libya, for 12 days.

Get used to everything being late - and don't expect to be warned so you can do something with your wait time.

Of 30 plus cruises, this was near the bottom.

Biggest Disappointments

1. Service was uniformly poor - in the cabin, in the dining areas, on the excursions, in the show rooms.

2. Food was minimally adequate to awful.

3. Excursions were cancelled in Libya - the reason we booked the cruise.

4. Americans are not really welcome here.

5. The bed was hard as a rock - reactivated an old shoulder injury.

Service

In the cabin, we never figured out the names of the people handling our room. One never spoke, and the other was unintelligible. Immediately we noticed no ice in the cabin, and virtually always had to either ask or get it ourselves. Early in the cruise, we found our evening turn down service had occurred prior to 5 pm, though we had late seating. We informed the crew we did not want turndown before we left for dinner. To their credit, this never happened

again. Crew would enter either without knocking or after a very brief interval. (Our neighbor was highly offended that a male crew member walked in on his teen age daughters without knocking). Do not disturb signs disappeared or were ignored.

In the dining room, our waiter meant well, but could not get orders right and had no help from the assistant. We got a new assistant after complaining, but this did not improve order taking, pace of the dinner or quality. Our table mates seemed happy with the service, but we attributed this somewhat to the waiter's penchant for bringing extra deserts.

We rarely found anyone informed or helpful at the excursion desk or the reception desk.

When meeting any crew member, be sure to step aside and make way as they surely do not ever give way to a passenger.

3. As to food, we looked forward to having 12 days of Italian experience, but were sorely disappointed. The pastas were good, as were the bread sticks. Also, salads were always fresh and tasty. Even here, however, the waiter was never sure whether she had the dressing described on the menu, and usually just offered 1000 islands. Deserts were tasty, but not a great selection. The safest bet was the good ice creams, though some nights chocolate sauce was inexplicably unavailable.

At dinner, choices were limited, fish was usually full of bones, and ordering beef was a crap shoot whether you would get it cooked right - and the dice were loaded against you.

Soups were unusual, often served (unintentionally) cold. Of the two intentionally cold ones, gazpacho was excellent, but the vichysoisse was really just some cold potato soup that had never seen a drop of cream.

Lunch was okay, both in the dining room and the buffet.

NOTE: No evening buffet for those who like casual dining. This was strickly for the kids.

Breakfast was okay at best. The selections were limited. However, you could get an omelette cooked to order - but only after the chef had prepared as many sunny side up eggs as he thought necessary to fill the buffet tray - though in 12 days I saw one person eating them prepared this way.

In the dining room there were no pancakes, French toast, eggs Benedicts, or other goodies on the menu. There was a chef special, never volunteered by the waiter. When I asked, two days the special was chicken meatballs, another it was scrambled eggs and toast! What is special about that?

Condiments were often served from jars - with signs of great age from less popular ones.

Excursions in general on any cruise are a disappointment attendant to large groups. However, when there is a place you don't want to miss, the excursion booked on ship can be the safest alternative.

Not on this ship. Our Libya excursion to Leptis Magna was cancelled - the buses did not show up. Some were put in mini-vans (for a 1 1/2 hour ride over, and similar one back) and never got their box lunches or a guide. After the cancellation, an announcement was made that there would be more buses, a full 3 hours after the planned departure, leaving inadequate time for the entire itinerary. My basis for booking this cruise was because of the Libya stop. We salvaged the day by going into Tripoli on our own. The ship did offer a free shuttle into town. There, we found the Libyans to be friendly, willing to help, and so the day turned out okay.

We still do not have a refund for the prepaid excursions!

Americans were told we complain too much. There is apparently something wrong with expecting to get what you paid for.

Many announcements were in Italian, but not in English. Every afternoon there was something done only in Italian. Still not sure what that was. One evening after the show, the cruise director came on stage and spoke in Italian for nearly 15 minutes - we never did learn what he said.

On the day of the Libya excursion fiasco, the cruise director came out and yelled at the passengers who refused to accept that the cruise ship had a responsibility for the problem (though excursion staff indicated they knew there would be as there always is in that port). He ended up telling the Americans it was because they had a problem with Libya - he of course did not, as he is Portuguese!

Other issues were a lack of activities. Bridge was offered only once; there was no wine tasting; no special dinners (French night or Greek night). There was no pre-dinner dancing. Dance class was often during our dinner hour. Shops' merchandise was limited and expensive.

There were no port talks, no port maps offered.

Disembarkation was awful. EVERYONE was told at 8 am to line up in the lounge. An hour later, still in line, we learned that the passports had not even been returned from port authorities.

At the same time the passports were released to the crew, they began announcing the colors to disembark. The people with the first colors were not the people first to get passports.

I suggested to a crew member that it would have been a better plan if they had told everyone to stay put until passports had been released by the authorities. Then when they were released, they could have told the first color group to proceed to get their passports and disembark the ship. Then the next color group could be called.

It was like a light bulb went off in her head! Unfortunately, her response was for me to find someone important to make such a rational suggestion. When I suggested that she could make the suggestion to someone important, her answer was that "No one listens to me."

Why was I not surprised?

This is the only cruise we have ever been on where all dishes were clean, all of the time. This and a very pretty ship are not enough to redeem the experience.

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Eastern Caribbean
Publication Date: March 18, 2006

With a name such as Opera, Italian MSC cruise line seems to promise a lot of impressive entertainment; and in fact - it actually delivers completely and then some. We had the privilege to travel on that ship from February 18th to the 25th, 2006

The excellence of entertainment is true of the magnificent and unusual stage shows we saw and the ongoing on board dynamic activities, animated (brought to life if you will) by an especially dedicated clownish crew called the "Animatores".

Contrary to other cruise companies - that only offer two major stage productions - MSC Opera offers nearly every night an exceptional production and most of them feature the dancing cast made up of 6 gorgeously shaped and physically matched young ladies and 3 very handsome young men.

One of their most impressive productions was called "Le Cirque Imaginaire"; it has great similarity with the productions of "Le Cirque Du Soleil" without the ridiculous high associated price tag. Indeed "Le Cirque Du Soleil" does not own the exclusivity to this style of shows no more than it does not owns le denomination of cirque, or circus in English. I am

only surprised to see that no one else thought of doing this before.

In addition the dance team presented a couple of shows outside the theater, on the top bridge – by "le piscine" area - dancing an exquisite tango, presenting an extract of the play Cabaret and offering a delightful fashion show. In the theatre a 26-year-old tenor from Romania called Adrian Mocanu deeply moved us with his wonderful operatic renditions of very famous Italian songs.

The "Animatores" drafted with genteel insistence the participation of all hesitant guests to their numerous games and rewarded them with a multitude of various gifts. Unfortunately the Animatores are so continuously working that they barely sleep 5 hours a night and they are actually exhausted, several of them confided this to me. We got very close to these individuals because we love people in general and are always willing contestants. By the end of the trip they all knew our names.

I was NOT particularly impressed with the selection nor the quality of the food served on board; in fact, even though I can eat nearly anything, I usually found very little interesting food choices.

However the way I see it, we - as a society - eat way too much! So I did not regard the lack of food choices as necessarily a negative in this particular instance; one must eat to live not to live to eat. Still we were served lobster on the second formal night, a selection that we did not get on the Costa Allegra cruise last month.

One of the most serious weaknesses of the cabins was the shower compartment! Imagine a square of 2 ½ feet on two sides cut in two diagonally by the shower curtain and this is your shower area – I AM NOT KIDDING!

Needless to say that if you drop anything onto the floor, with the shower curtain closed, you are facing a serious dilemma. Ad to that fact that the shower controls are round and you don’t have much of a grip on them, after you soap up, it is extremely difficult to open or turn off those valves.

A rather large man explained to me that he was taking his showers with the curtain opened and afterwards was wiping the excess water that fell outside the shower area. However, he also pointed out that because of his size, not that much water passed by him outside the shower compartment.

We found the personnel courteous and seemingly anxious to resolve a couple of negative issues we experienced.

The selected ports of calls were most interesting, especially in the new stops of the Dominican Republic - that other cruise companies seem to constantly bypass.

There, we stopped in La Romana where we visited Altos De Chavon – A gorgeous 16th century, Mediterranean artist village replica created by Italian cinematographer Roberto Copa who spent 6 years of his life building this little town, which is perched high on a cliff above the Chavon River.

This faithfully executed historically styled architecture village, is decorated with mosaics of River Black pebbles and built with coral and terracotta bricks. We also stopped on a paradisiacal private island called Cayo Levantado; nearby, we actually got to see for the first time in all our cruising years, several large whales.

As usual and probably more so with each new cruise we take, we received lots of compliments from others - on board guests, and Animatores - regarding my wife and my own innovative dancing techniques.

Should you experience the MSC Opera? Without the shadow of a doubt I answer a resounding YES! I am now anxious to try the other ships of this wonderful Italian Company.

I think that it would be marvelous to have other theme-type vessels presenting an ambiance of other foreign countries, like France, Greece Russian, Polish, Spanish, possibly even Canadians Eh? It would be a pleasant change to have the MAIN onboard language in something other than English and only use it as a means of secondary communication. This way I could learn and constantly improve on my knowledge of other tongues.

Copyrights Roger Holstein 2006.

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Eastern Caribbean
Publication Date: March 9, 2006

What a great time we had on this beautiful two-year-old ship! MSC was a different experience for us and we loved it. Everything I had read prior to sailing on the Lirica was mixed, so I want to give you a good feel for our experience -- albeit from our perspective.

We started cruising in the mid-1980s and are veterans of 27 cruises on most major lines. We have cruised with Commodore, Premier, RCCL, Costa, Carnival, NCL, HAL, Celebrity and Princess -- some many times -- and we truly enjoy cruising. We lived in Naples, Florida for 10 years and cruised several times a year since the ports were so easy to access. We love good food, and we were especially looking for something different from the normal mass-market cruise this time. Since we now live in Chicago and have to fly to the port, we wanted to book a longer cruise and one we thought we would really enjoy, since we aren't cruising so many times in a year now.

The Cabin After researching MSC we decided that the international flavor of the line, the size of the ship and its

age would all be pluses. We booked about two months out, an inside guaranteed cabin. Our documents arrived about two weeks prior to departure and our cabin wasn't assigned at the time. A day before we were to leave, I called the travel agency and was given our cabin assignment -- it turned out to be an inside cabin, but an upgrade from what we booked and a handicapped-accessible cabin. This turned out to be a real plus because the cabin was about twice the size of a normal one, and the bathroom had no ledges and a huge shower. The cabin was on Deck 9 forward, perfect for going up or down.

Cabin 9052's beds were on each side of the room with tons of closet and storage space as well as a vanity and mini-bar (which we didn't use). Towels were huge and replenished as needed. Shampoo, body gel and bubble bath were in the bath, and so was a hair dryer that was good for short hair. There were not many electrical outlets, so bring a strip if you need to plug in battery chargers, etc. This was a very quiet cabin, and we got fresh fruit daily.

The Ship MSC Lirica is a two-year-old ship and the maximum passenger capacity using all berths is 2,065. Double-occupancy capacity is 1,560 passengers. The line is the second largest shipping company in the world; since it branched out into the passenger cruise business it now has seven cruise ships, with two more to come. The Lirica was designed for international sailing and I believe this is her second season in the Caribbean, along with her sister ship, the Opera. Reviews from passengers have been mixed but all agree that the ship is beautiful and clean, with a true mix of passengers from many countries.

The officers are all Italian; so are the upper echelon staff in the dining room, and the style and flavor of the ship is Italian. The captain on this voyage was Mattia Manzi and the cruise director was Andrea Olivieri. The entertainment team that he oversees was excellent. All the staffers are multilingual. The few announcements are in five languages, and so is the entertainment. The passengers on this cruise were from Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Canada, USA, Great Britain, and other countries. Menus in the dining room are in different languages to accommodate passengers who do not speak English.

Embarkation After we arrived at Fort Lauderdale Airport, we took our time, got some coffee, and then took a cab to the port once we retrieved our luggage. Since this was an 11-night cruise, we were sailing on a Thursday and returning on a Monday, so the airport was not crowded with cruise passengers. Just two other ships were leaving from Port Everglades that day and we would be the last to depart. We got to the port about 11:45 a.m., left our bags with the porters and got a number for boarding. The check-in lines opened at noon and we were among the first to be processed. The person checking us in was doing it for the first time, but it went very smoothly and we were on board in about 15 minutes. We were greeted by a staff member to lead us to our cabin and were settling in quickly. A welcome-aboard lunch was being served, but it was delayed by a surprise inspection. (A footnote: The Lirica has scored 100 on all inspections; it is probably the cleanest ship we have ever sailed.)

The Layout We decided to acquaint ourselves with the layout. We had a great map of the ship and started at the top. There are 13 decks, so we worked our way down. Deck 13 is for sunning forward, and aft is a miniature golf course. Deck 12 is an additional sunning deck and also is the walking/running track -- with eight times around to a mile (by my calculations). Deck 11 has the buffet restaurant all the way aft, with a grill on the port side and a pizzeria on the starboard side. Directly in front of that is a bar and shaded seating area, and forward of that are two beautiful salt water pools with space for sitting all around. The lounge chairs had shades on them. Forward was a place to get ice cream (extra charge) and then the gym, saunas, massage, etc., were all the way forward. Decks 10, 9, 8 and part of 7 were passenger decks. Decks 6 and 5 are public decks with lounges, restaurants and shops as well as reception etc. With the exception of Caya Levantado, we disembarked in each port from Deck 5 forward.

Itinerary The itinerary for this cruise was: two days at sea, San Juan, St. Maarten, Grenada, Barbados, Antigua, Tortola, Caya Levantado (private island), day at sea and back to Port Everglades. We spent a good amount of time in each port; the only one we could have done without was Grenada. Caya Levantado is absolutely beautiful -- a small island off the coast of the Dominican Republic -- and the seas were gently rolling. The day was beautiful -- a great beach day. Since we have been to all these islands, we were familiar with them. In the past we explored each of them and found places we like to return to. We like to shop and enjoyed each port thoroughly. We always walk into the town; it's great exercise and usually an easy walk. Our weather was exceptional each day except the day we were in Grenada, where it rained and we didn't care; we were only off the ship for about 15 minutes anyway. A number of excursions were offered in each port but we haven't done those for many years so I can't comment on them.

There were three formal nights; the others were a combination of informal and casual. The captain had a welcome aboard party for the first formal night and another party on the last formal night. Not everyone adhered to the dress code, but the majority of passengers did. There were very few children on this cruise; I can't comment on the facilities for them.

Dining We checked in at the dining room immediately after settling into our cabin. We had requested late seating, which we got, and we wanted to request a table for two. The maitre d' was very gracious in granting our request. We were later told that early seating was full but late seating was not. Our waiter was Windia and his assistant was Agus, both from Indonesia. Our table supervisor was Salvatore. The supervisors and the maitre d' and his assistants were very visible all the time, and service in the dining room was excellent. It was also leisurely since it was late seating, and that suited us very well.

There were certain menu items you could order each night; there was always a choice of appetizers, soups, a pasta of the day, choices of main courses and desserts. The portions were very nice -- not huge -- but if you wanted more than one thing or something not on the menu, all you had to do was ask. We rated the food overall as good. My husband had one meal that he had to send back (a pot roast -- the meat was not acceptable) but other than that, we had no problems. We tried things we had never had, and we enjoyed MSC's version of dishes we were familiar with.

We ate only two meals in the buffet (the welcome aboard lunch and one breakfast); all other meals we ate in the dining rooms. We were assigned LaBussola dining room for dinner, so we ate breakfast and lunch in the Ippocampo dining room. Both rooms are beautiful, and the service was excellent in both. The wait staff was comprised of Indonesians, Italians, Romanians, and some other nationalities. The maitre d' and his assistants and most of the table supervisors were Italian. First seating for dinner was at 5:45 p.m. and second seating was at 8 p.m. Breakfast in the dining room was served from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., lunch from noon to 2 p.m. On deck the hours were a little longer, and there was afternoon tea from 4 to 5 p.m. each day.

Continental breakfast was offered via cabin service, and there was a small room service menu available 24 hours a day. Our overall assessment is that the food is good: Breakfast was great, lunch very good, and dinner was very good. We found the pasta dishes to be somewhat bland, but the beef was always prepared to our order and very tender; the lobster was excellent, as were the soups. Desserts were good (some great); the baked alaska was some of the best I ever had.

The Staff We found the crew and officers to be exceptionally friendly. They always had a smile in greeting you. The entertainment team was exceptional too. We didn't attend all the shows so we can't comment on most of them. The entertainment team had something going on each night on Deck 6, and they were lots of fun. They were out by the pool during the day. There were food demonstrations, Italian language classes, dance music for every taste, some Bingo, an art auction (not well attended), a small display of Inch of Gold (very unobtrusively). The shops on Deck 5 were nice, very low key. Drinks were not "hawked" on deck or in the lounges. If you wanted something, all you had to do was ask, but you were not approached time and again.

Announcements were kept to a minimum -- you were expected to read your daily program to find out what was going on, and when. It was very relaxing.

Miscellaneous Some additional items -- there was a $12 per person tip amount added to your bill each day. You could remove it if you chose to and tip each person yourself. We did the automatic tipping and it seemed most people did this. I did see a number of people giving extra money to their cabin stewardess or steward and some to the waiters. Tips are automatically figured into drinks on deck and in the bars. Wine packages can be purchased and glasses of wine were reasonably priced. On board Internet costs $6 for the first 10 minutes and 60 cents a minute after that. If you travel with a laptop, you can buy prepaid packages, and the ship also has three laptops equipped with Wi-Fi that you can rent. The library was on the honor system -- you could walk in, take a book and return it when finished -- and there were books in multiple languages.

Please feel free to contact me at melnbobkaz@wowway.com if you have additional questions. We would sail MSC again in a heartbeat. The feel of the ship, the ambience -- all of it was just great. And taking a cruise longer than seven days was so nice. Embarkation and debarkation were a breeze. I tried to learn some basic Italian prior to cruising, and that was always received well. All in all, it was a perfect vacation for us.

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Panama Canal
Publication Date: February 4, 2006

As seasoned cruisers, 25 plus cruises on 8 or 9 lines, we decided to try an out of the ordinary,nonpredictible,adventure with a cruise line touted as a different approach than previously sailed with lines. What an experience! I can best sum up this 11 day port hoping in the carribean as "The Cruise from Hell"!

The food was terrible, surpassed only by the snobish service staff at all levels. Obvious distain for American guests was evident everywhere. I declined the auto-gratuity encouraged by the ship & tipped well only my cabin stewardness who provided the TLC that we were accustomed to on previous voyages. I would certainly never consider ever cruising with this line again even with a full "comp" If bargain cruising is a factor in choosing a water filled vacation buy or rent a truck tube & float down the Rio Grande for 11 days. You`ll have more fun & the soggy ham sandwiches will be gormet delights in comparison to the slop served by rude waiters on the "Lirica".

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Eastern Caribbean
Publication Date: January 28, 2006

Our cruise on the MSC Opera from 1/28/06 to 2/4/06 was a truly wonderful experience. We researched MSC prior to our trip due to the unfamiliarity of the ship line. We read both positive and negative reviews. Yet, as we reviewed the negative reviews meticulously, we began to ask ourselves if the writer's comments were likely to affect our enjoyment of the cruise. We determined they would not. Also, from the tone of the reviews, we suspected the writer was overly particular or critical. We booked the cruise and we are so glad we did.

In every aspect we found the crew to be attentive to detail, customer-service oriented, friendly, and devoted to excellence. Our inside cabin was spacious with an exorbitant amount of storage/closet space. Our bed was quite comfortable. It was fixed as a queen; we thought it would feel like two twins with the slice in the middle but somehow it felt like a queen bed. Dining was in six course meals at lunch and dinner. Salmon, steak, and other American dishes were always available as alternatives; although we always made selections from the daily menu. The cold soups

were delicious-a must-try. Our waiter, Desi, was by our side to remove one course after the other immediately upon completion. We established a bond with him and it was sad to say good-bye at the end of the week. The entire crew works so hard to please. The high level of attention to cleanliness is readily apparent. We saw the common walls and stairwells being steam-cleaned on a daily basis. Signs were posted at the public restrooms to use hand towels to open the doors upon exit. Activities such as pool games, bridge tournaments, dance and language lessons, and crafts were available throughout the day. The evening shows were exceptional-Las Vegas quality. Don't miss them. Each show is unique and creative with superb choreography offering a variety of talent throughout the week. Every passenger we spoke to echoed the same thoughts.

The ports of call were also a reason for our selection of MSC. Although arriving in the evening in San Juan, it still allowed us to enjoy the flavor of Old San Juan, which is where the Opera docks. The cobblestone streets, the Spanish colonial architecture and historical city walls immersed you in the local culture. Even though El Morro, a massive fortress, is closed, the nighttime view from outside is still worthwhile.

St. Martin is beautiful. We rented a car and toured the 37 square mile island. We reserved a car from Best Deal Car Rental in advance for $60 but realized upon arrival we didn't need to. The car rental company booths are to the right, just behind the bus parking lot, off the dock. It is just a few minutes walk from the pier dock. Anyways, the car rental companies are very negotiable and fight for your business. You can easily negotiate $40 for the day. Make sure you drop your car off at the rental office rather than the separate car lot. We were told to drop the car off at the separate car lot; there is no office there. Bring your car back to the rental office, get your final papers and head back to the ship. We went to Dawn Beach, beside Oyster Pond, among other places. It was an attractive small beach. All of the beaches were small with the exception of Orient Beach. If we had to do it again, we definitely would have skipped Dawn Beach. Orient Beach was gorgeous. Plenty of water sports with gentle waters on the longest beach we saw in St. Martin- 2 miles long- and especially white sand. The colorful buildings there were also a sight to see-very picturesque. One note is that Orient Beach is recognized as a swimsuit optional beach. I thought we would be able to walk along the French Cul-de-Sac, as I had read prior to our trip, but discovered it required a short motor boat ride over, so we skipped it. We circled the western edge of the island without stops due to our concern about time. Traffic was congested in some of the towns. Mullet Bay looked beautiful. The terrain on the eastern side of the island is low lying hills where the western side is low land surrounding a lagoon. St. Martin is truly a charming island.

The place to go in La Romana is Altos de Chavon. It is a must-see, regardless of your age. It is a re-creation of a 16th century Mediterranean village on the grounds of Casa de Campo resort. There are art galleries, boutiques, restaurants, and souvenir shops surrounding a cobbled square. There are cobblestone streets lined with lanterns, wrought-iron balconies, wooden shutters, courtyards, and gardens. It is on a bluff overlooking the Rio Chavon. You can go to Altos de Chavon and Casa de Campo's luxurious yacht marina for a round trip cost of $6 pp from a shuttle at the ship's dock. The Kandela show is shown at the amphitheater at Altos de Chavon. It is colorful and entertaining in a beautiful setting.

Taxis are available at the ship's dock. The local transportation service at the dock pairs people up in the taxi according to your destination making it very easy to get a reduced rate per person. The taxi driver waits for you an hour or two or however long you wish and drives you back. We went to Bayahibe Beach for 2 hours. It took ½ hr by car. Six passengers-total cost is $52($8.66 pp plus tip) The beach was quite small; yet we still enjoyed the time there. A resident was in a motor boat offering ½ hr snorkeling in an area just offshore. We would have gone except our time at the beach was almost up. Others we met did go and negotiated $6 pp; they said the fish were colorful and that they had a great time. We were going to go to Dominicus Beach but discovered it is a private beach.

Cayo Levantado is the Caribbean at its finest. Be sure to pick up your ticket for the tender early in the morning of your arrival there because you'll want to be in one of the first tenders over to enjoy every single second. It is gorgeous. The bluest, clearest water of any we've ever seen with the most pure white sand on the palm-tree-lined beach. Although we did not go on any excursions there, we learned from talking to other passengers who had gone on the whale watching excursion and jeep safari that they thoroughly enjoyed it. Marco, the cruise director, said MSC has had a high satisfaction rate on all of their excursions on Cayo Levantado.

I hope this information is helpful. We are sure to cruise on MSC again due to their commitment to excellence, high customer service level, exceptional entertainment, and focus on maintaining a clean ship.

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Eastern Caribbean
Publication Date: January 28, 2006

Our cruise on the MSC Opera from 1/28/06 to 2/4/06 was a truly wonderful experience. We researched MSC prior to our trip due to the unfamiliarity of the ship line. We read both positive and negative reviews. Yet, as we reviewed the negative reviews meticulously, we began to ask ourselves if the writer's comments were likely to affect our enjoyment of the cruise. We determined they would not. Also, from the tone of the reviews, we suspected the writer was overly particular or critical. We booked the cruise and we are so glad we did.

In every aspect we found the crew to be attentive to detail, customer-service oriented, friendly, and devoted to excellence. Our inside cabin was spacious with an exorbitant amount of storage/closet space. Our bed was quite comfortable. It was fixed as a queen; we thought it would feel like two twins with the slice in the middle but somehow it felt like a queen bed. Dining was in six course meals at lunch and dinner. Salmon, steak, and other American dishes were always available as alternatives; although we always made selections from the daily menu. The cold soups

were delicious-a must-try. Our waiter, Desi, was by our side to remove one course after the other immediately upon completion. We established a bond with him and it was sad to say good-bye at the end of the week. The entire crew works so hard to please. The high level of attention to cleanliness is readily apparent. We saw the common walls and stairwells being steam-cleaned on a daily basis. Signs were posted at the public restrooms to use hand towels to open the doors upon exit. Activities such as pool games, bridge tournaments, dance and language lessons, and crafts were available throughout the day. The evening shows were exceptional-Las Vegas quality. Don't miss them. Each show is unique and creative with superb choreography offering a variety of talent throughout the week. Every passenger we spoke to echoed the same thoughts.

The ports of call were also a reason for our selection of MSC. Although arriving in the evening in San Juan, it still allowed us to enjoy the flavor of Old San Juan, which is where the Opera docks. The cobblestone streets, the Spanish colonial architecture and historical city walls immersed you in the local culture. Even though El Morro, a massive fortress, is closed, the nighttime view from outside is still worthwhile.

St. Martin is beautiful. We rented a car and toured the 37 square mile island. We reserved a car from Best Deal Car Rental in advance for $60 but realized upon arrival we didn't need to. The car rental company booths are to the right, just behind the bus parking lot, off the dock. It is just a few minutes walk from the pier dock. Anyways, the car rental companies are very negotiable and fight for your business. You can easily negotiate $40 for the day. Make sure you drop your car off at the rental office rather than the separate car lot. We were told to drop the car off at the separate car lot; there is no office there. Bring your car back to the rental office, get your final papers and head back to the ship. We went to Dawn Beach, beside Oyster Pond, among other places. It was an attractive small beach. All of the beaches were small with the exception of Orient Beach. If we had to do it again, we definitely would have skipped Dawn Beach. Orient Beach was gorgeous. Plenty of water sports with gentle waters on the longest beach we saw in St. Martin- 2 miles long- and especially white sand. The colorful buildings there were also a sight to see-very picturesque. One note is that Orient Beach is recognized as a swimsuit optional beach. I thought we would be able to walk along the French Cul-de-Sac, as I had read prior to our trip, but discovered it required a short motor boat ride over, so we skipped it. We circled the western edge of the island without stops due to our concern about time. Traffic was congested in some of the towns. Mullet Bay looked beautiful. The terrain on the eastern side of the island is low lying hills where the western side is low land surrounding a lagoon. St. Martin is truly a charming island.

The place to go in La Romana is Altos de Chavon. It is a must-see, regardless of your age. It is a re-creation of a 16th century Mediterranean village on the grounds of Casa de Campo resort. There are art galleries, boutiques, restaurants, and souvenir shops surrounding a cobbled square. There are cobblestone streets lined with lanterns, wrought-iron balconies, wooden shutters, courtyards, and gardens. It is on a bluff overlooking the Rio Chavon. You can go to Altos de Chavon and Casa de Campo's luxurious yacht marina for a round trip cost of $6 pp from a shuttle at the ship's dock. The Kandela show is shown at the amphitheater at Altos de Chavon. It is colorful and entertaining in a beautiful setting.

Taxis are available at the ship's dock. The local transportation service at the dock pairs people up in the taxi according to your destination making it very easy to get a reduced rate per person. The taxi driver waits for you an hour or two or however long you wish and drives you back. We went to Bayahibe Beach for 2 hours. It took ½ hr by car. Six passengers-total cost is $52($8.66 pp plus tip) The beach was quite small; yet we still enjoyed the time there. A resident was in a motor boat offering ½ hr snorkeling in an area just offshore. We would have gone except our time at the beach was almost up. Others we met did go and negotiated $6 pp; they said the fish were colorful and that they had a great time. We were going to go to Dominicus Beach but discovered it is a private beach.

Cayo Levantado is the Caribbean at its finest. Be sure to pick up your ticket for the tender early in the morning of your arrival there because you'll want to be in one of the first tenders over to enjoy every single second. It is gorgeous. The bluest, clearest water of any we've ever seen with the most pure white sand on the palm-tree-lined beach. Although we did not go on any excursions there, we learned from talking to other passengers who had gone on the whale watching excursion and jeep safari that they thoroughly enjoyed it. Marco, the cruise director, said MSC has had a high satisfaction rate on all of their excursions on Cayo Levantado.

I hope this information is helpful. We are sure to cruise on MSC again due to their commitment to excellence, high customer service level, exceptional entertainment, and focus on maintaining a clean ship.

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Eastern Caribbean
Publication Date: January 28, 2006

Meeting Opera We got a pleasant surprise when we arrived at the Port Everglades pier: We were allowed to check in immediately and then sit in a large, comfortable waiting area. Juice and water were available to drink, and this was our first chance to see the excursions information. The cruise staffers were also trying to sell wine packages. Most of the group met up here and the wait to board seemed very short.

On the ship, a white-gloved cabin attendant took my carry-on and escorted us to the elevator where we were told how to find our cabin.

We had an inside cabin. Worthy of note is the fact that there's a large mirror above the bed instead of the usual curtain (in an attempt to simulate a window). There was another mirror over the desk, and a full length one on another wall. The cabin had two closets, and to make our clothing fit, all I had to do was remove a few of the large hangers. There were six drawers and some shelves behind another door, as well as shelves in the bedside tables.

The desk had a lap

drawer with enclosed shelf space on either side. Outlets were both 110 and 220, no adapter necessary (I had needed one on Melody). There were two shelves over the bathroom sink and storage below it, plus two shelves in the shower. The lighting was much better than I experienced on Melody -- enough to read in bed. The bathroom had a wall mounted hair dryer and a shower with a moveable, removable hand-held head and a temperature control. The shower drained well and even though we had rough seas at times, the water never sloshed over into the rest of the bathroom. Most of the content on the TV was news. There were several movies running continuously, one in each language. I couldn't find a way to get subtitles on the non-English ones.

Nadia, our cabin attendant, stopped by to introduce herself and to see if we had any special needs. She seemed to be a nice young woman, but that was the only conversation I had with her all week.

By then I was getting hungry and we went in search of lunch.

'Opera Time' Our first clue about "Opera time" came with our cruise documents. Initially we had been told that dinner seatings were 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., but the documents said 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. I think 7 p.m. is ideal, and on most cruises I'd settled for late seating rather than dining too early. When we saw the times in the documents, several of us changed from late to early seating.

However, after boarding we found out that the times were indeed 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.

The next evidence of "Opera time" was on boarding day. The daily program stated when the buffet would open, and lots of passengers were there, but it didn't open until a half hour later. We kept being told it would open "soon," or many of us would have gone away and come back. (To be fair, there were inspectors doing their thing and that may have been the cause of the delay.)

The last annoyance along those lines had to do with luggage.

Two of us shared a cab, so our luggage was handed over at the same time to the same person. My cabin mate's single bag arrived promptly, but my two were very delayed. As long as I see active signs of luggage being delivered I don't concern myself too much. I was actually well prepared, with enough clothing, etc., for a full day in my carry-on.

When I no longer saw any new bags in the hall, and the door to the crew access was closed, I called the desk. A nice lady asked how many bags and the size and color. She assured me that they were still distributing luggage. She called back later to make sure I had them (and I did).

These were the only examples of such things and were quite minor and were I not trying to be thorough I probably would have forgotten them by now.

Opera Nights The dining experience is a large part of why I cruise, and a small table doesn't afford me the level of conversation and exchange as a larger one. Most of my meals at home are eaten in front of the computer, so I relish listening to live people and interacting with them. A large table distributes the conversational burden.

Portions for some dinner courses were larger than necessary. Pasta servings were enough for three or four people unless one intended them as an entree. Risottos likewise were in portions much too large for most people. Even the night I intended my ravioli to be an entree I didn't finish it.

The menu required a careful eye since there was an "International Menu" on the left with some items that weren't listed elsewhere. One changes I liked was that MSC now had cold soups a few times. I tried and liked a couple of them.

Cappuccino and espresso are bar drinks and not available at all in the dining room.

The wine list looked pretty extensive, ranging from inexpensive wine by the carafe to others at $100 per bottle. There is no sommelier. I didn't see any bar service in the dining room.

Entertainment A variety of music is available in six venues starting just before dinner and ending in the disco "whenever." (Speaking of the disco, it's the largest one I've seen on a ship. It's located on Deck 12, aft, with lots of windows. It's a beautiful place to be during the day and there's even some deck space outside.)

Teatro Dell'Opera is a real theater; the shows were well attended and very much worth seeing. I would categorize most as "variety" shows, with dance, music, magic and acrobatic acts. All were a delight. The Animation team did pre-show "things" some nights, and they were very funny, but I'm not going to give anything away. They also entertained in a couple of the lounges, putting on shows and dancing with the passengers.

Buon Giorno Opera Several early risers greeted the dawn each day. You could tell it was early -- there wasn't any hot milk next to the coffee and we had to help ourselves to what was there, but there was a selection of teas available. I was a bit surprised that cocoa was not among the offerings.

Breakfast began at 6:30 a.m. in the cafeteria and grills, 7 a.m. in the dining room. I looked at the dining room menu and decided that I would stick with the buffet.

My personal choice was fresh fruit, a piece of whatever frittata they offered, cheese, smoked whatever and (usually) a chocolate croissant. The idea for me is to eat something other than what I would have at home.

The buffet included scrambled and hard cooked eggs; sausage; bacon; hot and cold cereals (including muesli), various breads; fresh, dried and canned fruit; juices; yogurt and other less easily identifiable foods. Outside they had an omelet station and pancakes. I never got close enough to be sure of the exact offerings, but what I saw people eating looked pretty good.

(The food in the buffet was labeled only in English. The dining room menu was in whatever language seemed to fit.)

The Animation team did games and crafts in the mornings, along with some group exercises, and there were fitness classes held in the gym (for a fe

e).

The cabin attendants put out Do Not Disturb signs on the cabin doors, flipping them up in such a way that they would drop into a normal position when the cabin was vacated. I guess this was nicer than putting a piece of paper in the door, but the signs did sometimes fall onto the floor. If someone put a Do Not Disturb sign out themselves, they ran the risk that it would be taken when the room was made up.

Baseball Greats on an Italian Ship?

It does sound just a bit odd, but the cruise did originate in the U.S.

Stan Bahnsen has been organizing and facilitating these baseball groups. He was joined on Opera by Greg Luzinski, Pete Mackanin, Graig Nettles, Frank Howard and Gary Peters. They each had their wives and other family members with them. I had a chance to speak with each and invariably they were quite charming. There were several activities aboard that involved them such as clinics, video presentations, Q&A sessions, trivia and of course autographs. I am not particularly a baseball fan, but I'm the mother of one, so I made sure I got everyone's signature and some photos with the players. I would suggest that anyone who goes on one of these bring along a couple of baseballs as they were $25 in the gift shop.

Where Does this Cruise Start? Apparently that depends on where one lives. For us it originated in Port Everglades, but for others it started in San Juan.

Shopping Opera The ship had more shops with more choices than I had seen on Melody. They now have some MSC Crociere goods in the boutique, although nothing with any specific ship's name. They don't have magnets and they don't have made-in-China items with the names of the various ports on it. They do have expensive Italian clothing that didn't seem to be selling, and some reasonably priced items like polo shirts for $13 and baseball caps for $4.80.

There is a Duty Free shop that seemed to do a brisk business in liquor and cigarettes. The prices seemed good, and alcohol could be purchased and taken back to one's cabin (although everything in writing said otherwise).

There is also a pretty upscale jewelry store which sold 18K gold and diamond jewelry along with some less expensive items.

Finally they had a perfume and cosmetics shop that was usually pretty quiet.

You Call This Art? I don't usually go to art auctions, but I did on this cruise because the subject comes up so often. They said frames were included, with upgrades (for a fee of course) available. Shipping was $35. Most things were available in large numbers, but some were supposedly originals. There was a viewing, and only those pieces that someone had expressed an interest in were presented. There was almost no real bidding; prints were sold at the price that was presented. The only bidding was on the originals. I enjoyed my glass of champagne and didn't buy anything nor did I go to any other of their presentations.

Oops As I've mentioned, I cruised with MSC before and knew that there was going to be a repeat cruisers' party. Since I had passed the info on my status along when I booked, I had expected an invitation -- which never came. When I asked about it, I found that I wasn't the only one who didn't automatically get invited; several people had only been invited because they spoke up in time. I guess I missed out on a glass of champagne.

Singles There was a meeting for Singles at 11 a.m. on the second day. This was attended mostly by women. Champagne was served and it was just an opportunity to meet and chat. I'm not sure why men don't seem to go to these things, as I know that there were several single men aboard who didn't attend.

Formal Nights As is typical on a seven-night cruise, there were two of these.

The first was the Captain's Welcome Aboard Party, which took place in two venues. The Captain and Staff were in the Caruso Lounge. If one didn't like that party, they could go to the Sotto Vento Pub.

Photos This is one of the things I wish they hadn't changed. Opera is handling photos the way other lines do: They print them and try to sell them. Of course since most are thrown away, the ones that are sold command inflated prices. (On Melody, only a few were printed and passengers selected what they wanted from a computer. Because that kept their costs down, prices were lower.) But the photographers seemed to be less intrusive. For example, they didn't stop people on the gangway to take pictures; they were taken on the pier and it was very easy to avoid them.

Library The ship's library was good, but with limited hours -- one or two hours in the morning, two in the afternoon.

Towels and Chairs Opera has the same type of chairs that impressed me on Melody. There were more than enough for the number of passengers aboard. Beach towels were available on deck. One was supposed to give the pool attendant their cabin number and sign for them.

Arrivederci Opera

Disembarkation was handled very well.

Colored luggage tags were distributed the night before we left, and we were assigned a place to wait between vacating our cabins and leaving the ship. Because they had some control, there wasn't the crowding I'd experienced other times and everyone was assured a comfortable seat.

When my color was called, I walked off the ship, quickly found my luggage exactly where it was supposed to be and headed out. Every 15 or 20 feet a smiling person was stationed to keep us headed in the right direction. I got onto a 12-passenger van almost immediately and was at the airport in a matter of minutes -- a full 10 hours before my flight was scheduled.

My Final Thoughts

I'm a fan of MSC Crociere. That's what got me to book the first time and I have no regrets. It was good to see ships are still being built that I find esthetically pleasing. Good to see people again that I hadn't seen in a long time, good to see others that I hadn't met before.

Another thing they seemed to do well was handle large groups. While we certainly knew that a polka group was aboard, and there were 400 of them, their activities were kept separate from the rest of the passengers.

I went ashore at Cayo Levantado. Since I haven't been to any other lines' private islands, I don't have anything to compare it with... but I can tell you that it was beautiful, with soft, clean sand and a long, curving beach. There was ample shade, plenty of chairs, live music and a bar.

An ice cream bar is open in the afternoon, with fancy ice cream-based drinks for $6.50 and sundaes topped with cookies for $3.50. But there was ice cream and sherbet in the dining room at lunch and dinner every day.

We saw several versions of the tipping policy prior to sailing. They applied $12 per person per day to our accounts. I noticed that several in our group had it taken off and tipped directly.

If/when I decide to cruise again, MSC would be a likely line for me. It supplies a combination of things that fit me reasonably well.

see photos here
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Western Caribbean
Publication Date: January 21, 2006

I just finished reading two reviews about the same cruise but taken one week later. I had to reread them twice I wasn't sure it was the same cruise until I recognized the ports. My experience with this cruise line was quite different and I think readers need to have some balance in making a decision to take this cruise.

Three negative areas were : the food, the staff and the rooms. Three positive areas were: the ship and the entertainment and the ports.

The food was terrible - tasteless, unimaginitive and poorly presented. It was the first cruise I have ever been on that I didn't look forward to dinner. I wandered the menu trying to find something enjoyable and nothing was appetizing. I wasn't the only person on the ship to voice this concern. One lady said she had lost weight.

The staff was uneven. We had late seating. My room steward would phone the room to see if we were in the room even though we had a do not disturb sign on the door and then hang up if we answered. One night he knocked even though we

had a do not disturb sign and asked if it was alright not to make the room as it was almost 8 pm. The casino tables were closed form 6:30 to 8:30 pm so that the whole staff could have dinner. This was a first for me on a cruise ship. Our waiter was very good and helpful and kind.

The room Category six was so small that on one side you had to climb over the bed to go to the bathroom. There were no drawers in the room. The bathroom was hall closet size and I smiled thinking that some people on the ship would be squeezed.

The ship was very nice - modern sleek, lots of cozy places. The deck chairs were amazing. The ports were some of the best I have been too. The entertainment was clever -sort of Cirque du Soleil.

One clue for people thinking of taking this cruise is to ask why it is so heavily discounted.

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Western Caribbean
Publication Date: December 27, 2005

MSC Cruises MSC Lirica by J ALVAREZ Western Caribbean December 27, 2005 Run, don't walk from this cruise line!  While the looks of the ship are very nice, they offer little else.  The food quality was poor and tasteless.  Our wait staff was excellent and always offered to replace something we did not like. There is nothing to do on the ship as far as activities and we found most of the staff not interested in our questions.  The entertainment was average at best and never once was the theater filled.  The officers were not friendly or helpful.

Children on the ship were allowed to roam free and often unattended.  My brother in law had to complain several times about them running through the halls in the early hours of the morning.  The reception did not seem to care nor responded to any complaints.  We saw children using the slot machines. The shops were boring and overpriced. The embarkation and debarkation were both excellent.  Housekeeping was the best on any ship I have been on.

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MSC Sinfonia
Publication Date: December 22, 2005

Summary: On first glances, this is a typical cruise ship - but scratch the surface and you'll find poor service, terrible food and a lack of attention to detail. Not recommended for first time or seasoned cruisers!

Ship exterior: An attractive ship, with sleek lines and a nice profile. My only question remains over the basketball/football court which appears to have been tagged on to the stern of the ship as an afterthought. Looks like a jail cell which could fall overboard in heavy seas and not a pretty sight when returning from day trips. Equally unpleasant when seated in the lounge directly beneath the courts.

Beware that the ships rolls every which way in high seas - however Reception hand out complementary seasick tablets to passengers (but this isn't publicly announced).

Ship interior: The public spaces are simple, clean and uncluttered. The 'less is more' approach has worked well and does not make the passenger feel overwhelmed (or hysterical) from facing excessive, often ridiculous, artworks and mirrors on a daily basis such as on other cruise ships. Christmas decorations were understated, but New Year decorations were childish paper cut outs.

A 114.8 ft-long mid-section was

added to increase the ships length before it came into service for MSC - this was noticeable. Some lifts only went as high as Deck 9, leaving you to either walk the additional two decks to the upper decks or to walk the length of the ship to find a lift that would take you up the remaining two decks. Corridors would unexpectedly come to a dead-end, meaning you'd need to walk up the stairs and along, then back down the other side. This was a problem frequently incurred while attempting to get to the restaurants on decks 5 and 6. Very frustrating.

The balcony cabins (referred to as 'suites'), are spacious and well laid out. There was plenty of cupboard space, a good wardrobe, and room under beds for stowing luggage. Balcony cabins benefited from a bathtub with overhead shower. Basic toiletries were provided, but bring your own facecloths. All cabins have hairdryers and safes - although we only found this on the last day as they are so well hidden!

The beds, in typical Italian style, are rock hard. We used every blanket possible to line our mattress, along with the extra bedding off the sofa bed, and yet we still suffered from aching backs each morning. We were also woken by the pool attendants at 6.30am each day as they noisily arranged the deck chairs above our heads (a problem for those with a cabin on Sibelius Deck).

Facilities: The ship provides all the usual facilities - the San Carlo Theatre for shows (beware the seats at the back right/left - you won't see a thing), and the vast but incredibly empty Casino San Remo. Unsurprisingly there's a Cigar Room for the heavy European smokers and numerous bars, one of which is made out to be an Irish Pub, but I couldn't spot the Irish quirks that make a pub 'Irish'. The Library holds a few battered hand-me-down books, a limited number of which were in English. There is also an ice cream parlour but don't get too excited as it wasn't open once on our cruise (although perhaps we missed the one and only opening time?!).

The pool area is pretty standard, with deck chairs all around and a few spa pools in the middle of the pool complex. The deck games you'd expect to find here were a huge disappointment. There was one rusty old table tennis table for which you had to collect ping pong balls from the Capri Bar - or was that Cafe del Mare - or was that Reception? The crew always treated me as if I'd demanded the earth whenever I attempted to track down the elusive ping pong ball. In the end, we gave up. Obtaining mini golf clubs/balls was no easier but we finally managed to secure them after leaving a eu10 deposit at Reception. Shame we couldn't have a scorecard and pencil - perhaps that costs another eu10?

All in all, be prepared to entertain yourselves as the ship is certainly unwilling to do it.

Embarkation: Our MSC arranged flight was delayed, meaning we arrived at about the time the ship was meant to be departing. Hence, we experienced absolutely no queues (and next to no crew). The ship eventually left port a good three to four hours late.

Passengers: Fellow passengers on our cruise were mainly families (quite often with young children) from the European nations. There were also a smattering of older passengers from Britain and the US. Inevitably, the ship is tailored towards the Europeans, so an open mind is absolutely necessary. Announcements are made in numerous languages - but only when deemed necessary, the entertainment is bland, and smoking really is permitted everywhere (the token 'no smoking' sections were laughable). Also beware that your fellow European passengers on a whole will not waste time queuing or holding open doors.

Crew/Service staff: To put it simply, the service experienced was absolutely disgusting and it started the second we got on board. We were escorted to our cabin by a disgruntled crew member, who proceeded to moan about the passengers to another crew member while in the lift with us. She then took off at a rate of knots in what appeared to be a vain attempt to lose us in the corridors. While this 'escort' service is a lovely touch, I would have preferred to have found my own way to our cabin.

Service staff in the bars were stressed and incredibly slow. Expect to wait at least 20 minutes before attracting the attention of a waiter to take your order. A word of warning - check your receipt to ensure you're getting what you paid for. My husband ordered a large ginger beer only to be given a small bottle at the higher price. Their excuse? They ran out of large bottles. Upon pointing out the overcharge they grudgingly agreed to give us another small bottle for free.

The captain made typical appearances at the cocktail parties, and seemed fairly jovial. However, he let himself down by not informing passengers as to why, on a sea day, the ship had changed course and was anchored off shore of some unknown island in the Mediterranean while a helicopter took over ten attempts to land on the pool deck (all outside areas being out of bounds in the meantime).

Cabin attendant: Our cabin attendant briefly made an appearance and mumbled her name, never to be seen again. We'd heard rumours that other passengers were receiving ice in their rooms but our bucket remained empty for the entire cruise. Soap was also a rare commodity and we were only given a new bar once our current one had become a see-through scrap of nothingness. Fresh fruit was also placed in our cabin on arrival, but closer inspection showed it had seen better days. Despite the mould growing on the fruit, our attendant would not remove it until I threw the entire lot in the bin. It seems she took offence to this action, and refused to provide new fruit until half way through our cruise - despite being told that fruit would be provided daily in cabins.

Restaurant staff & cuisine: We thought we'd seen the worst of it, but then we went to dinner in the Il Covo restaurant. Our waiter was surly and rude, and only seemed to speak/understand English when the mood took him. I was frequently handed a shabby menu in German (no fancy menus for this ship - only a horrible thing printed on cardboard) and was served the wrong dish on numerous occasions. Meals were cold, over cooked, tasteless and uninspired. The pasta dish, from which I expected great things, was doused in salt to make up for lack of flavour, and the steak offered every night was tough and never served with vegetables or sauce. Desserts were no better, being insipid and dull. In fact, the only creative aspect of the cuisine was the fancy name given to an ordinary sponge cake each evening. Coffee was never once offered, and it was a struggle to get water at the best of times. Needless to say, the Maitre d' only made one appearance and on the last evening only schmoozed with the Europeans who had racked up extensive alcohol bills.

Unfortunately the buffet grill is not open for dinner; hence you are forced to eat every evening meal in the main restaurant. The Christmas menu was the same as every other night, and by New Years Eve we were so disheartened that we bought our own food ashore and ate it in our cabin. We knew we hadn't missed anything special though, as the same meals turn up in the grill the next day for lunch.

One good aspect of MSC is that you are allowed to bring onboard your own food and alcohol. I recommend you make the most of this lenient policy otherwise you'll be facing weight loss by the end of your cruise - an absolute sin on any cruise ship!

Excursions: After spending a day at sea before our first port of call, we decided not to partake in any optional excursion offered by MSC. It was the best decision we ever made and actually ended up saving eu400 by finding our own way round the main sights. We never experienced any queues disembarking.

Disembarkation: Appeared to be organised but in reality was a complete shambles. It was the only time we arrived in port early, with the first group of passengers being disembarked before the arrival time advertised in the brochure. From what we could tell, announcements were made in multiple languages for all groups being disembarked except for our own. Ours was conveniently read out in Italian, which I do not speak, but in no other language. We subsequently missed our transfer to the airport, and subsequently faced a barrage of verbal abuse from the five reception members who insisted they had made the announcement in English. Numerous other English speaking passengers also missed this mystery announcement. We were hustled off the ship at a rate of knots and then told, once in the arrivals hall at the port, that the next shuttle would be here in an hour. Staring at the excited faces of the embarking passengers, I only felt joy at being off the ship and had an overwhelming desire to tell them all to run for the hills.

Other points: The lifeboat drill was incredibly laid back. Many passengers stayed in their cabins and no roll call was taken. Keep an eye on your valuables. This is the first ship I have come across where multiple thefts have occurred (digital cameras, leather jackets etc) - and the crew just aren't interested. If you want a questionnaire, then you may have to request one at Reception. None were provided in our cabin despite being told they would be. TV channels cater for all nationalities, so there is only one English Channel (BBC World) and the odd, incredibly old, movie (which may or may not be in English). If you are travelling with or are disabled, it may pay to check your transfers to/from the ship are for all your party. We heard of one instance where a taxi was arranged for one disabled person plus four adults, but when it eventually arrived it could only take one disabled person and three adults. The remaining party member had to pay for his own taxi to take himself and their luggage to the airport. Flights arranged through MSC are not at the best of times (early mornings and late evenings) and are often indirect. No tours are offered to those with late evening flights - but you are transported to the airport 6-8 hours before your flight just in case!
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