MSC Splendida – Our Final Summing Up

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 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 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.

Here is a link to my Flickr album for this cruise


MSC Splendida Postcard #5 – Southampton & Disembarking

Our last night onboard was without a doubt the best out of the 3 for us, after meeting up at the usual rendezvous point 9 of us set off at 7:15 to go and dine in the Yacht Club Restaurant. It was also White Evening onboard and it was great to see everyone making the effort. What improved the dining experience even more was we were all sat round one table. It had all the ingredients for a perfect meal with excellent company, plenty of drinks and super food.  My suggested blogging topic for this cruise was Speciality Dining and we dinned in Tex Mex on the first evening which was OK but I have to say I was rather disappointed with the experience. Even the main dining room on night two seemed lacking

Last night however was a completely different ball game and it proved to me that MSC can deliver a great dining experience, unfortunately you have to be in the Yacht Club to savour it. We were lucky enough to be granted a meal in their restaurant courtesy of our hosts and MSC which was a super experience.

For a start the menu is not only more refined but a little more extensive than the one in the main dining room. I was able to choose from the special dishes of the day along with some of the always available fare. Below is our menu for the evening.

I started with the shrimp cocktail followed by the Classic French Onion Soup. Having had the Risotto the previous night in the main dinning room I decided to have the Penne pasta.

For my main I opted for the Bandera De Carne Mixta which was a meat dish consisting of a selection of items from the Tex Mex Restaurant. Totally delicious and perhaps the route I should have gone on the first night.

And then I rounded the meal off with what else but a good old Tiramisu which was also really delicious.

Following the meal the group all met up in the Aft Lounge for a last spot of imbibing and general socialising before finally ending the night in the Sports Bar where we listened to a couple of our hosts belt out a few karaoke numbers. All in all it was a really great evening and I yes, have suffered today!!!

This morning we all met up at 8:00 for disembarking in the La Prua Piano Bar to await priority disembarking which really didn’t go at all as planned. After waiting for around 20 plus minutes in the lounge we then joined a queue which practically went the length of the ship.  Eventually getting our card swiped to check if we settled our account and then showing our passport to the immigration officer. It was just a case then of having the cruise card swiped for the last time as we left the ship. The whole process taking 1 hour and 10 minutes and it did for one brief moment look as we were going round for a second run.

Once off we headed for the taxi rank to take us back to the airport and our car sharing the ride with two of our new found friends. This has been a fantastic experience and thank you and MSC for allowing us the privilege of these 3 nights on MSC Splendida.



MSC Splendida Postcard #4 – Le Harve, France

A few of the group met up at 7:00 in the Purple Jazz Lounge prior to giving the show a go last night. At the start of which we were introduced to all the key officers along with the Captain which seemed to take forever as our cruise director did it in every conceivable language known to mankind.

This was followed by a show called Coney Island and I came away wondering if I had been on some sort of hallucinogenic trip. I was totally mystified as to what it was all about as there wasn’t any sort of a story to follow. Very, very peculiar indeed.

Granted they have to accommodate multiple languages but I think someone who was totally deaf would have struggled to keep up with what was going on in front of us. Lots of singing and prancing around in coloured costumes with four carousel horses as props interspersed with some acrobatics which were actually very good. A lady going through a routine on a dangling hoop and four guys with a long pole which was used to propell one of them into the air while he somersaulted then landed back on it. That bit was impressive but the rest,well I have no idea what was supposed to be going on and try explaining the need for a bearded lady in amongst it all!!!
Dinner last night was in the main dining room and we all ate together, everyone being spread around on 5 or 6 tables in groups of 6 or 8.  The food was OK but nothing to get too excited about, on a positive note our table mates were excellent company.  Before we knew it the meal had finished and I was astounded to see the time was gone 11:30.
This morning we arrived at Le Harve shortly before 7:00 and were alongside by our allotted time of 8:00. Also in port with us is Aida Prima which is their newest ship and has the most unusual front end that resembles a battleship more than a cruise ship.

A quick plate of pastries in the Bora Bora Caffetteria with a couple of coffees and we were good to go. Our destination being Honfleur which is about a 20 minute drive by road over the Normandy Bridge. We shared a taxi with some fellow bloggers to reduce the price.

I have read plenty of Hornfleur and it didn’t disappoint, it really is a picturesque little place and we thoroughly enjoyed our 6 hours there.

First port of call was the visitor centre for a map and then it was just a case of plotting or route round to see the places that interested us.

We visited St. Leonard Church first then wandered round Vieux Bassin taking in the views before heading off to St. Catherine church which is the oldest wooden church in France with a separate bell tower.

We wandered up to the Boudin Museum but found it closed so then went in search of some lunch which consisted of Moules Marinières, fries and a beer.

To walk of lunch we walked out to the banks of the Seine for a view looking back of the Normandy Bridge. The Azamara Quest deciding to do a photo bomb!

At four we met up with our travel companions for the return journey back to the ship.
A memorable day for us and a place I can recommend visiting if you have never been before.
Last night onboard and it’s a themed evening which is white night. It will be interesting to see how many participate.
No disembarkation details yet so no idea what time we have to be off tomorrow……….

MSC Splendida Postcard #3 – A Sea Day

The groups first proper get together took place in the Purple Jazz Lounge at 7:00 last night and although I didn’t get to actually speak to everyone I can certainly now recognise them. It was a nice little social event organised by our hosts and the drinks were very plentiful and well received. Also present were two of MCS UK’s marketing team who mingled and chatted with us all and curious to know how we were getting on with everything.

At 8:30 we split into two groups for dinner, one half going to the Yacht  Club Restaurant and the others which included ourselves going to the Tex Mex Restaurant. Both being arranged by our hosts and on the third night we will swap over so we all get to sample both dining venues.

So, the Tex Mex Restaurant is on deck 7 and as you would imagine is a Mexican style menu. It comes with a small cover charge of depending on how many courses you want. For example the starter course which they call the El Sombrero selection which is a choice of six taco based dishes and costs €4. The second course is called Santa Fe with a choice of 4 dishes. This course is priced at €8 but there is also the option to have a steak instead with prices ranging from €14 – €22. The dessert is then another level of payment with just three options for €4.

I opted for Quesadillas to start which with its light salsa sauce was very nice.

I followed this with a Chilli Con Carne which I had hoped would have been better. One of our table mates had Fajitas which looked to me to be the better option.

I finished off with a Blueberry Cheesecake with Chocolate Sauce which was very nice and light. Although our group consisted of around 20 people we had to dine in groups of four because they were unable to group the tables together as there were bolted to the floor. A shame as it would have been nice to have a bigger group but it was nice to get to know our table mates Pippa, Kernow and her husband a little better. Super company and fun to dine with. I know a few of the others stayed up much later into the evening but after our early start we retired for the evening.

Up at 7:00 this morning and took breakfast in the buffet which was relatively quiet as it’s a sea day, the reason for our early rise was because our hosts had arranged a behind the scenes tour of the theatre, the Yatch Club area and also the galley area. It was really interesting to see areas normally off limits to the general public.

The highlight of the tour for me was viewing the galley area and seeing the places where everything is stored, prepared and cooked. Really fascinating and made all the more fun by having to dress up in protective clothing to make sure we didn’t contaminate any thing.

The afternoon was ours to do as we pleased and tonight is Gala evening so we will be getting dressed up. The plan is also to do a show in the theatre before dinner.

MSC Splendida Postcard #2 – Hamburg & Embarkation

An early morning alarm call at 4:00 started our day. From there it was just a case of getting up and checking out before making the short walk to the terminal. By 5:20 we had cleared security and were sitting in Giraffe, our favoured breakfast venue.

The flight was uneventful and we arrived 5 minutes ahead of schedule. While we were waiting in the baggage reclaim area, members of our party started to become known to us and then with our hosts issuing out special lanyards with our names on we were all pretty much aware of who was who by the time we had left the baggage reclaim area.

Transport was laid on to take us to the port which took just over 50 minutes. When we arrived we were given priority boarding which had us on board in less than 20 minutes. Obligatory photos taken with no seemingly way of escaping it either.

A few minor observations at this point, no health questionnaire and no hand sanitiser when first boarding. Very strange not to be offered the latter this day and age.

We were told cabins would not be available until 2:30 but found ours ready so dropped the bags off and went off to explore the ship.

The cabin is really nice and seems to have all the required elements you could need. One question that is puzzling me, why a wall mounted bottle opener in the bathroom???
The ship is very bright and spacious and I think once we get our bearings it will be easier to navigate. There are lots of public areas and plenty of places to sit. The buffet was as you would expect very busy on day one and on first impressions having lots of varied things to eat. However none of the items are labeled with allergen information,  Nicole is on a gluten free diet and not having these details displayed or readily available made her selections limited/difficult.  Everyone kept sending us down to deck 5 to the Splendida bar which is listed as a gluten free bar. There is a bar tariff there which lists safe drink items and there are 4 packets of gluten free snacks available but don’t come as part of the package. On a positive note the bar manager noticed our interest and came forward to offer help and assistance with our choice.

We spent the afternoon just wandering and exploring the ship while waiting for our cases to arrive.

Muster is at 5:15 and all aboard at 6:30 and we have our first proper get together of everyone at 7:30 with drinks at the bar at the back of the ship (the name escapes me at the moment but I know where it is!)  After that we all go to dinner at 8:30 splitting into two groups to sample different venues.

The Wi-Fi is proving to be a little testing at the moment with virtually no coverage in the cabin so I need to visit the public areas to make any posts.

We have had a good day and a met up with a great crowd. This cruise is going to be fun.

MSC Splendida Postcard #1 – The journey to Heathrow

I thought a few quick lines about our journey to the airport would make an excellent start so here goes with a quick diary of our day.

Because our start and finish points are not the same, the official start point being Heathrow Airport and finish being the  port of Southampton a little planning was required before hand.  After a bit of research we decided to drive the car to Southampton Airport, park there and then catch the train from Southampton Airport Parkway to Heathrow. The parking cost £30 for the four days and the train was £76 for the pair of us. Fortunately I have a company car so any motoring expenses have already been taken care of.

The last leg of the journey involved a coach trip from Woking to Heathrow which today was over 35 minutes late due to traffic on the M25, luckily for us it didn’t rain while we waited as there wasn’t really anywhere to shelter.  After eventually reaching Heathrow it was just a short walk to our overnight accommodation which was the Sofitel Hotel right next to Terminal 5 and connected by its own walkway directly from the terminal building. I managed to book this using some Avios points so it ended up costing us nothing.

Our room for the evening is really cosy and looks out onto a small courtyard. We haven’t stayed here before but from first impressions I think we will again if flying early from T5. It’s really clean, the bed is really comfortable and also very quiet considering you are right next to the runway.

After a quick drink we decided to go off and do a quick circuit of the hotel and then around the departures hall before going back to the hotel for a bite to eat. There are some really nice sculptures in the hotel and there are more  to be found in the T5 Fine Art Gallery.
We dined early in one of the two hotel restaurants which is called Vivre. Tasty food and good service made the dining experience really pleasurable and then it was back to the room for an early night to prepare for an early start tomorrow.

MSC Splendida Cruise Preamble

Its not often you get something for nothing but occasionally you get lucky and this is just happens to be one of those occasions. Let me explain a little to put you in the picture, I have been a member of Forum since 27th October 2009 and have been a regular visitor over the years making the odd post every now and again. I do confess to having been more active earlier in my membership and this actually resulted in being invited to the Celebrity Eclipse naming ceremony by the forum in 2010. Unfortunately I had to turn it down because of all things I was on a cruise. The forum owners have continued over the years to invite their members to various ship visits and given away free cruises in return for them giving something back to the forum such as writing blogs and reviews.
In May I noticed a forum topic entitled Competition for 14 free balcony cabins! Exclusively for our Forum members and was immediately curious to see what it was all about. In short the forum were offering the chance for 14 members to take a 3 night cruise on the MSC Splendida in return for writing a blog for the forum. Flights to Hamburg and transfers to the ship were all included and the only expenses being the cost of getting to Heathrow Airport and from Southampton back home along with any onboard spend which included gratuities, on the plus side the internet would be provided by Yours truly saw this as a chance not to missed and I duly sent off an e-mail to see if I could be one of the lucky ones. You could almost call it a busman’s holiday for me.

Well on the 26 May I received an e-mail from Rachael at informing me I been selected which was a great surprise and totally unexpected.

So knowing I would be sailing MSC again I decided to take up the option to upgrade us in the MSC loyalty scheme as they are currently offering a status match programme whereby if you are already in possession of a privilege card from a mainstream leisure travel programme, you will be able to join the MSC Voyagers Club, receiving a matching status card from either our Classic, Silver, Gold and Black tiers.
Because of our Elite status on Celebrity I have successfully upgraded to MSC Black Voyager Club, it was simply a case of filling an online form along with an attachment in the form of a screen shot from my Captains Club page as proof. It’s got to be worth 5 minutes to get a few little extra perks if you have a higher status elsewhere.

We were also given the option to fly out the day before to provide a little time in Hamburg before the cruise but we made the decision to go on the day due to having to make use of public transport to get us to Heathrow; I really can’t take any more days off this year!!!.

Sunday, September 4, 2016 Hamburg, Germany 06:30 PM
Monday, September 5, 2016 At Sea
Tuesday, September 6, 2016 Le Havre, France 08:00 AM 10:00 PM
Wednesday, September 7, 2016 Southampton, England 08:00 AM

When we first logged on to the MSC website with our booking number it advised us that we had a guaranteed cabin so we had to wait a few weeks to find out which cabin we had been allocated. When details were finally released we found ourselves in cabin 13024 which is an Aurea experience balcony cabin, under normal conditions it is linked to a dedicated spa package but for us we will just be getting the Fantastica experience which doesn’t include the spa perks. As you will see from the illustration below the cabin is situated directly below the spa and is at the front of the ship. Its not a location we would chosen for ourselves so we are curious to see how much difference it makes for us being at the front of the ship.

There is a whole host of things lined up for the lucky 14 and their travel companions over the 3 nights and were surprised 2 weeks out to discover we had all been treated to the Allegrissimo all inclusive drinks package. This gives us unlimited alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, including a wide range of drinks and cocktails from the bar list, a dedicated selection of wines by the glass, draught beer, an extensive selection of sodas, fruit juices and classic hot beverages (coffee espresso, cappuccino…) as well as takeaway ice cream in a cone or cup. Very nice indeed and very welcome!

So now its just a case of getting to Hamburg and then onboard to make the most of this wonderful opportunity.