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 onboard the 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.