Back in July 2012 we took a 7 day cruise on MSC Musica, we chose that particular cruise because of the length, date and itinerary but most importantly the price. As we were taking our two teenage boys away during the summer holidays we found it to be the best deal for us. Well to cut a long story short it wasn’t the best cruise we have ever had and consequently MSC went off the radar for us.
I have always been aware of a few people who swear by MSC and this has always left me wondering whether our cruise with them was a one off and that we had just been unlucky? Was it the ship, the cruise line or time of year or even location that made it not the cruise we had hoped?
So when the possibility of a free cruise materialised I had to at least chance my arm in the hope of being selected so we could find out if we had just been unlucky first time round.
MSC Splendida as a ship more than lives up to the name, she is tastefully decorated throughout without being too gaudy or brash like some other Italian ships we have sailed on. On first boarding we were struck by the large public spaces including the stair landings and there seemed to be large mirrors just about everywhere (even at the end of the bed!)
She really is a beautiful ship and we felt positive vibes as we wandered round for the first time.
One of our grumbles from 2012 was the lack of bar staff and I recall having to stand 3 deep at the pool bar while trying to make the most of our Allegrissimo drinks package. There just wasn’t the level of staff available to provide the service we are used to. I have always assumed the price we had paid reflected the end product and we got exactly what we had paid for. So with the previous experience in mind we approached this fresh MSC encounter with the hope that it would be much improved.
Being as most of the items have already been covered in the blog I will try and talk about a few of the items which I didn’t get time to mention and in particular Nicole’s dietary requirements.
Our initial impressions were favourable and on our first afternoon onboard, we were sat out by the pool and were served by a very attentive barman who took the time to show me the wines in the drinks package, so far so good.
Soon after and feeling hungry we decided to try a spot of lunch in the buffet (Bora Bora Cafeteria) and this is where we experienced a frustration. Nicole requires a gluten free diet so were concerned to see none of the food had been labelled as to whether they contained allergens. We had been on Celebrity Eclipse three weeks before where all allergens are highlighted on the food labels so we were disappointed to see MSC had not done the same. Then when we approached the staff behind the counters we were either met with a blank expression or directed to a gluten free bar on deck 5, (more about that later). If you don’t have to worry about such things then you will never notice it but the impact of this is that the options available can become very limited. We did highlight this with Steve Harris the MSC Marketing Manager later in the evening.
From a personal point, I found the buffet food on offer to be more than adequate and made short work of several slices of the pizza on offer with up to six different options available on my visit.
After a couple of drinks we did some more exploring and then when Nicole went off to see if our cases had arrived I decided to start writing my blog and have beer in the process. Again I was served straight away and I quite merrily sipped and typed the day’s events. My glass was soon empty and I was approached by a waitress asking if I wanted another. Who was I to refuse? So with no Nicole (cases must be there and she’s unpacking) I decided another would actually be really nice.
Twenty minutes later Nicole arrives back all pleased with herself as the cases had arrived and had been all unpacked. “You not having another?” she asked “Yes” I replied “but my waitress seems to have got lost with my card and drink”. Another ten minutes elapsed and the muster was looming so I went in search of my card. At this point I wasn’t too worried about the drink I just wanted my card back. I eventually tracked her down and she still had my card on the tray with no drink! She did apologise and said that she was the only member of bar staff serving in the area which I considered quite a disappointing response especially as it wasn’t that busy!
I am happy to say this was never repeated during the cruise and it was just an isolated incident but it did give me some cause for concern at the time.
The muster was much better organised this time and I was pleased to see they actually logged us in this time as back in 2012 there was no head count or check list. For the muster everyone had to collect their life jacket from the cabin and carry it down to their station. Our station became very busy with many having to stand; I dread to think how this would work in the event of a real emergency. Surprisingly there were a number of passengers that didn’t bother turning up, the downside for them was that they were asked to attend another muster later that day. It took quite a while for everyone to disperse so we took the opportunity to have a look at the theatre which on Splendida is big and holds 1604 people and is very impressive.
After the muster we enjoyed pre dinner drinks in the Purple Jazz Lounge with all the other bloggers and their guests along with all the cruise.co.uk staff. Drinks were plentiful and very well received especially the Vodka Martinis which I took a particular shine to.
First night we ate in the Tex Mex restaurant and this wasn’t at all what I had been anticipating. We were advised to make the Maître D aware of Nicole’s dietary requirements and she was initially shown the same menu. After questioning this, another menu was produced which was gluten free. The downside was it wasn’t Mexican in the slightest. So while we all ate tacos, chilli’s and fajitas which were very tasty, Nicole had Tomato and Mozzarella to start, then a tomato pasta followed by Veal and potatoes (no vegetables) and then a polenta cake to finish which was very dry. The waiter was very attentive and noticed she wasn’t eating the polenta cake so after removing it he proceeded to replace it with a huge helping of gluten free ice cream. A very nice gluten free meal but not really a ‘Tex Mex’ experience!!
Breakfast the next day was taken in the buffet as we had a behind the scenes tour at 8:30 and without wanting to get up too early it was the quicker option. Nicole playing it safe with a few known gluten free items. I however tucked into the pastries which were excellent. The Allegrissimo drinks package came into its own with the many quality coffee’s available.
The backstage tour gave us the opportunity to see the many areas used for the stage productions and learnt that all the performers are responsible for doing their own make-up and hair which is no mean feat particularly when the ship is in rough seas! The galley tour was also very interesting we learnt that there is an ingredient list available in the kitchen should any passenger have a question about ingredients in a particular dish so wonder why this information is not provided on the menu as it is already available. We were even told there is a special area of the galley which caters for gluten free dishes. During the tour we were blown away by the passion that the backstage staff have for their jobs. The master baker had nothing but praise for his staff and made it known that they were the ones that deserved the praise for the beautifully presented food all passengers and staff are served. The laundry staff working very hard in a very challenging environment but still appeared happy and smiling. We feel all the backstage staff should be rewarded not just the front line staff we see each day. We get VERY annoyed when we hear passengers talking about removing the gratuities from their bills and just want to tip the ones that have served them directly. So the MSC policy of no additional tipping is a real positive with us!!!
With the tour over we were given a presentation by our MSC hosts about future ships and plans for the cruise line. Very ambitious plans indeed and not exactly the way we would like to see things going but they do seem to be trying to reach out to a wider audience some nice looking innovative cabins. MSC Seaside sounds very interesting and possibly the type of cruising that is for us as we enjoy having a strong connection with the sea while cruising.
Big ships and lots of them and they will be real completion for RCI and NCL if their prices are right. MSC really want to rule the seas!
The afternoon was ours to do as we wished and with the sun shining we spent a while outside before I came in to do a spot of blogging with a nice chilled beer at my side. There was lot of commotion coming from the atrium where we discovered a Russian couple getting married. Congratulations Alexy and Elana!!!
Later we investigated the Splendida bar which has the tag of being a gluten free bar, yes that’s right a gluten free bar where you can get gluten free drinks and four varieties of snacks for a small fee. We were sent down here as we were informed you could get the gluten free ice cream there but not according to the two staff behind the bar who were in disagreement to start with but then both conceding there wasn’t any available. On a positive note the location of this bar does provide a nice view of the lower part of the atrium which is great for people watching whilst drinking beer and lovely coffee care of the Allegrissimo package.
That evening a large portion of the group including ourselves went to the show in the theatre which was called Coney Island. Just as well that I took a glass of wine in with me as no drinks were being served there. It’s obviously not something MSC does, well not on this ship anyway. The show was not really our cup of tea but we stayed the course to show respect to the performers.
The evening meal was taken in the MDR by everyone and while I thought the food OK but perhaps a little bland, Nicole on the other hand got the better deal. Salad to start, a tasty risotto then Fillet Mignon with spinach and chips! She ate well tonight including a lovely gluten free roll. Like our previous cruise on MSC we found the dining tables really close together which I am sure hampered the waiters a little. The decor however is best seen when empty as it’s a lovely looking venue.
Day three was a port day and we went to Honfleur where we treated ourselves to Moules and frites for lunch. Nicole not having had a large breakfast was hungry and really enjoyed the treat.
Our last evening aboard we dined in the Yacht Club dining room WOW… MSC really pulled out the stops not just for me but Nicole too. It just a shame that dining here comes with a price tag of a more expensive cabin. Nicole was again given her own menu and enjoyed her selection immensely Citrus salad, basil risotto, a lovely piece of Perch with lots of vegetables and the grand finale a huge slice of moist gluten free cake which she said could have been split into three and lasted all three nights.
I believe that with a slightly higher ratio of crew to passenger MSC might work for us, but then the overall cruise price would probably end up being more to balance the additional staff. MSC currently offer cruises at a very affordable prices and this does seem to make them very popular. We would prefer to pay the little extra and know that we are getting the product we want. Yes you can get a better product with MSC but a cabin at the pointy end isn’t a location where we want to be. Our cabin on this cruise was forward but it seemed miles away from everything and we seemed to have missed seeing some of the spaces towards the aft. For example we never did find the F1 simulator. The positive about being near the front was to be able to hear the bow waves crashing underneath you with the balcony door open while at sea and we had an excellent view into the flying bridge.
So to round it all off I will just finish by saying we still feel MSC isn’t for us as a couple but if we were travelling in a group it would be a serious consideration and we would never say no to a cruise which took us to an itinerary we wanted for a decent price.
We don’t necessarily agree with the direction MSC are heading with some of their big new ships and noted that one of the designs we were shown had a very similar layout to RCI with a central avenue. Maybe MSC can make it work better? Who knows and maybe after we have read some positive reviews from others it might tempt us to investigate and we do have a weakness for new ships so I won’t totally write them off just yet.
Finally, a big thanks to the cruise.co.uk for the giving us the chance to try MSC again, in particular the staff onboard with us(Rachael, Jane, Nick, Katie, Mindy, Millie, Pete, Lee, Sarah, Jo & Connie) for being such amazing hosts and making the whole experience a real treat. Thanks too to Steve & Victoria for their input and tireless work to try and ensure that we always got looked after properly.
Lastly thanks to all the other bloggers and their guests for being such excellent company. Sadly we didn’t get round to speaking to everyone as the schedule was at times a little hectic. We all look for different things from a cruise and maybe this was why some of our paths didn’t cross. So all I can say for definite is that I’ll see you all on the forum real soon.