May 18, 2008
This cruise was a mixture of the ridiculous and the sublime. First, the sublime: the balcony cabin (category 10) was beautiful, comfortable and roomy. The balcony was big enough to sit and enjoy the views, and the shower was big enough for my 6'2" 250 lb. husband (something rare on cruise ships). Beware, however, of the 'obstructed view' cabins. The obstruction is a lifeboat occupying the entire balcony, blocking not only the view, but the light, too. You're better off going down a category, and saving the money.
The ship is wonderfully decorated in an elegant art deco style and has several areas for activities -- including a lounge dedicated to smokers. There is an adequately equipped gym and a large theater which provides excellent entertainment.
That was the good stuff. Everything else ranged from merely annoying to outright awful.
The food -- of which there is plenty (there are 5 different times one can 'dine) is laden with MSG. If one is allergic to MSG (as I am), one is limited to a nightly dinner of pasta pomodoro (even the salads and the pizza are off limits). The daily programs state that passengers should notify the Maitre d'Hotel about dietary limitations, but their solution is to tell you what you cannot eat (which is most of what is on offer in my case). The menus are wonderfully diverse, but the execution is hit or miss: mostly miss. The poultry and the fish were always dry and stringy, the meat (beef, lamb, pork, etc.) is like shoe leather, and the vegetables were sometimes mush and sometimes very good. The desserts were mostly very good.
The staff (when they can be located) are dictatorial, argumentative, and rude, except for the few servers from Thailand and Cambodia. The posted schedules are rarely accurate (except for meal times and the entertainment), and passengers are frequently huddled in masses awaiting their quide/leader/whatever to appear.
The internet café is extremely expensive, and the computers are almost always down (yet that's the only way to confirm flights, for example). The beauty shop offerings are about twice as expensive as the same services on land. I also learned -- to my horror -- that the beauty shop staff aren't even well trained. My once shoulder length hair is now 2" all over my head. When they did a touch-up, they used extremely strong peroxide and overlapped -- once I got home, my hair started coming out in handfuls right at the overlap. I now get frequent concerned questions about how my chemo is coming.
The excursions are highly overpriced and always late. The staff also lies about the rules of the various countries. For example, they told us that the only way to see St. Petersburg was to go on their planned excursions because Russia would not let us off the ship. This is a complete lie: the Russian government allows all passengers to visit Russia for the day as long as they a) spend the night on the ship and b) have a copy of the front page of their passport -- no visa required (in fact, you can't get a visa for one day -- I tried).
MSC offers a 'children cruise for free' gimmick, but even that is not worth this cruise from Hell!
My husband and I have been to Italy several times, and love it -- we were hoping that 'cruising Italian style' would be an extension of the pleasure we had on land. We couldn't be more disappointed.