Must Save Cash Cruise
With the credit crunch impacting the family finances it was time to rethink the family cruise. For a family of four, cruising in the school summer holidays was becoming prohibitively expensive. Having sailed Celebrity, RCI and Princess in the recent past, it was with some reservations that we booked our first MSC cruise.
The prime and only reason for booking MSC was cost, and therefore we took MSC up on their promotional offer of full fare for the first adult, only £1 for the second adult and kids travelling free. We chose the brand new ship MSC Magnifica and paid a total of just over £1,200 for a weeks med cruise for family of four in late July, which to us seemed like the bargain we were looking for.
So what was it like?
Embarkation: A lot of waiting around and the MSC Express check-in didn't make a jot of difference. We were provided with free juice and water whilst we waited – in all, it took about 2 hours from the time we arrived at the terminal until we actually got on the ship.
Ship: The ship was only a few months old when we travelled, (July 2010) so it was extremely well presented. The style was of a contemporary design with the use of rich warm colours of orange, brown, green and gold used throughout the ship. The layout of the ship has a number of pinchpoints especially on the upper outer decks, the atrium/shop area and just outside the main restaurants. In fact, do expect a lot of congestion on the ship at peak times. This is not a ship to get away from it all.
Cabin: With four of us sharing an inside cabin it was a squeeze, but it was clean, modern and comfortable.
Service: This was the weakest part the cruise. The service in the main restaurant was poor. We were often kept waiting for our drinks and had to pour the wine/ water ourselves, basically the staff were looking after too many tables with just one waiter to serve with another providing partial support. This was the biggest difference compared to other cruise lines where we have had up to three very attentive waiting staff serve our table.
The waiting staff in the Sahara buffet restaurant were equally lethargic and did not clear tables quickly and stood around in groups yawning watching their guests struggling to balance plates of food and cups of drink. I think MSC must be working their staff quite hard as we saw our main restaurant waiter at the midnight buffet, breakfast next morning and at lunch – great for cost control but not for providing excellent service.
The cabin staff were however excellent and we were amazed at the speed they cleaned up behind us. My daughter was pleased with the animals they made out of towels - a nice touch.
Food: The food was generally good. The main restaurant was fine if nothing exceptional. The buffet restaurant was good if lacking in depth. However, eggs were not cooked to order, there was no omelette station or freshly made waffles. This is not a ship to offer many (paid for) alternative dining venues (a small oriental restaurant, the back section of the buffet and a pizzeria (the front section of the buffet restaurant) was all that was available. The majority of customers took their evening meal in one of two sittings: 7.30pm or 9.45pm (which did lead to major congestion at change over time).
Drinks: We took advantage of the drink packages available on board (wine, water, spirits) which worked out at good value - they provided you with a book of paper vouchers which you exchanged for a drink of your choice. Slightly old fashioned but it worked nonetheless.
Fellow guests: MSC is an Italian line so the vast majority of guests were Italian. The next largest contingent were the Turks followed by the Germans, Scandinavians, Spanish, French and mere handful of Brits. Travelling with MSC was like being on a United Nations group outing. All announcements are made in at least four different languages. English was the working language of the ship so we had no trouble communicating the basics with the staff. However having to listen to umpteen messages in four different languages became tiresome after a time – especially when guests can embark/ disembark at Bari and Istanbul and the associated announcements that entails. With so many different nationalities aboard certainly creates a different atmosphere to that of an American or British line.
Entertainment: Poolside entertainment was enthusiastically provided by the mainly Italian 'animators' most afternoons. The evening shows were mainly colourful dance shows, mime and magic acts or singing or novelty acts - basically anything that didn't require the performer to speak! The shows were entertaining enough to pass half an hour, once you had endured the cruise director's evening message four times over in four languages!
Itinerary: We liked the itinerary, the highlights being Venice, Istanbul and Dubrovnik. Unfortunately, some of the stops are very short (Dubrovnik was just 4 hours). The ship organised excursions are very expensive (especially for a family of four) eg a tour of Istanbul was priced at Euro 145 per adult, Euro 102, a total cost of Euro 494/ £420, or a third of the price of the cruise itself!! We caught a taxi at Istanbul port for £12 (each way) and saw most of what we wanted to see. We would suggest that you do you homework and try and arrange your own tours – the money you'd save could be used to treat yourself to another cruise!
Our verdict: This was an excellent value for money cruise - a fraction of what we could have paid on an equivalent American/ British line. For the price we paid for a family of four we got a very good cruise experience, which came close to but did not surpass those we had had on other lines. We are now looking for our next 'bargain' on the MSC Splendida!
We would recommend this cruise to a family looking for a cost conscious foreign holiday.
We would not recommend this cruise to a couple (the cost difference to that of a premium line is not great enough to offset the lack of service), somebody looking to celebrate a significant event, such as a birthday or a once in a lifetime trip as again the experience could be bettered elsewhere or those not willing to embrace a full continental experience!