While you do get to wake up in a different foreign port every day and enjoy whirlwind exploration that feeds your sense of adventure, there’s a lot more that you need to be aware of before you spend an arm and a leg on a holiday that’s a lot more rigid than expected, and doesn’t give you the freedom that comes with a typical holiday on land.
Despite all the other cruise companies around, we booked this cruise on the MSC Sinfonia in a hurry simply because the ports of call were all on our bucket list and the itinerary dates perfectly accommodated our tail-end trip to Milan Fashion Week. We arrived in Venice the day prior to the start of the cruise and then navigated across the choppy seas to Split, Santorini, Mykonos, Dubrovnik and Ancona.
As a User Experience Specialist, it wasn’t easy to turn a blind eye to the many disappointing experiences encountered at the Venice cruise terminal and throughout the 7 days on the ship. Personally, I think MSC’s marketing is rather deceiving while the on-board ship experience is just plain dismal. Simply put, there’s nothing special or glamorous about this water ‘resort’. During embarkation, we had to queue in the hot sun while administration crew battled with pieces of paper blowing in the breeze. Good grief! Sooo archaic… Why haven’t they moved this on-boarding process online? Inside the hot, stuffy terminal building, a lone ranger dished out quarter cups of water and passengers had to queue for a second time. I had a sense of humour failure then.
For the ridiculous price you’ll pay, you get a kind of ‘bed and breakfast’ deal; a cabin and meals when you’re not on shore (with no real value or WOW factor). At breakfast, crazy buffet queues ensured that I lost my appetite and well, the guests on-board were stiff, uncultured, inconsiderate and as sour as lemons. Other than that, cruise companies milk you! Also, the Sinfonia – an older MSC ship – still boasts curtains and linen from the 1990’s. Everything on-board costs and we had to buy a “package” for every extra; drinking water, Internet access (which was slow with poor range), photos and excursions.
Here’s some advice:
– Don’t book any MSC land excursions. You can buy tickets for transport from the ship to the port, but once you’re on land, walk it and wing it 🙂 Locals are helpful and there are plenty of information sources; maps, internet, etc.
– DO NOT drink coffee on the ship. It’s bitter as hell and you can’t get a decent caffe latte. Find a restaurant/cafe on land instead.
– The back of the ship is the best place from which to enjoy the sea view. While the rest of the travellers are toasting to a crustacean shade of pink on the top deck by the pool, I was loving the water’s spray and sound gushing from the back propellers. These rear decks offer peace, shade and very little wind.
– Entertainment on board is a bit of touch and go. Some stage shows are so bad, you’ll be filled with regret for wasting precious time listening to singers who are tone deaf. Other shows are more substantial with better quality acts but you’ll never know until you’re stuck in it.
– Love massages? If relaxing spa treatments are your weakness then try to delay making bookings for the first three days. Treatments get considerably cheaper as the cruise draws to a close. You’ll pay €99 for a 45-min Bali massage on day 1, but by day 4, you could score 40% off that 🙂
– And if you absolutely must experience a cruise, rather book with Royal Caribbean. Apparently they have a much higher on-board standard and offer better value for money 🙂 (So said other passengers…)
– If you’ve got any specific dietary requirements or food allergies, you’ll probably die at sea. None of the kitchens are halaal-friendly nor do they understand the meaning of “vegetarian”. You will have vegetarian options at dinner time though. Gluten-free breads or pizza bases are nowhere to be found either, and only one coffee bar offered soya milk as a dairy alternative. On the positive side, the dinner menu offers a selection of no-added-sugar desserts.
Oh well… Been there, done that. And never again. On the bright side, I did rub shoulders with superstar, Johnny Depp in Milano, and that really made the entire trip worthwhile 🙂