Fodor’s Expert Review
Best For People Who Want
A true bargain on a very clean, classy ship with interesting food choices, and friendly service.Read More
It is important to note that the experience on MSC Cruises varies a great deal between Europe, where the guest contingent is populated by Europeans, and in the Caribbean, where Americans make up the majority. See the MSC Cruises Overview for more details.
Interesting entertainment by European performers and genuine Italian food and wine set MSC ships apart from other ships in this price range. And while the announcements are always in five languages, when the ship is in the Caribbean they make English first. The majority of the crew is comfortable conversing in English as well as their mother tongue.
Passengers are greeted upon arrival and escorted to their cabins by white-gloved housekeeping staff. This service typifies the friendly but elegant atmosphere of the entire cruise. MSC’s goal is to maintain a charmingly European atmosphere onboard the ship at all times regardless of whether they are sailing in Europe or the Caribbean. The focus during the Caribbean season is to incorporate American tastes into an onboard ambience that still remains charmingly European. Italian officers and a mix of Italian, Indian, Balinese and other international crew keep the European feel alive.
Splendida is a large, mainstream cruise ship meant to cater to the middle-class pan-European market. The focus is on swimming pools and sun tanning, with excellent cuisine and entertainment options at night. There are tons of children’s activities onboard and a wide variety of dining options. There is plenty of shopping, dancing, sports and music activities day and night.
In Europe, these ships are mostly populated by Europeans speaking their native tongues, so Americans are well advised that this is not necessarily a typical cruise experience. English-speaking (only) guests in Europe will be relegated to the role of people watchers, more so than participants, solely because of the language barrier. If that concept doesn’t bother you, you will find Splendida a beautiful, state-of-the-art cruise ship. But if you are looking for guest interaction like meeting new people you should probably seek out a ship marketed to the American audience or wait until she comes to the Caribbean.
Here is one important item we want to mention at the top of the review. In Europe, MSC Cruises ships are extremely casual. Despite the instructions in the daily program, where dress codes such as “formal” and “informal” are fully defined in the programs, the vast majority of passengers dress as casually as they want day and night. Even on the most formal nights only 30% of the men even bother to put on a suit and a necktie. More is described below under “attire.”
Splendida is a large cruise ship, almost on par with the Voyager-class for Royal Caribbean and bigger than anything in the Carnival, Costa, Princess or Celebrity fleets. However, considering her size she is not the most generous ship when it comes to public rooms. Her best asset is her abundant deck space which gets filled to capacity with excellent deck chairs that each have a built-in sun screen for the face. Internal public space is somewhat limited and can get crowded.
The pools are brimming with people, especially kids, on sunny days. The water slide will have a line snaking down two decks, and the water fountain effects in the L’Equitore indoor pool will keep children entertained for hours.
Indoors, Splendida features a variety of public rooms, each with its own theme. There is no Royal Promenade or soaring atrium on the ship, surprising for a ship of this size, but rather each room transitions into the next and creates a constantly changing tableaux of options. Such a ship design, without a main thoroughfare, always creates bottlenecks, especially when the only way out of the dining room and is through the photographer’s picture display area. Still, the ship has true class, there is nothing faux or Disney-like about her decor. There is beautiful artwork everywhere and rich warm colors in the fabrics and finishings.
The best thing about MSC ships is their diversity of cuisine since they must appeal to the tastes of all of primary Europe.
You will find pasta, paella, and German-style potato salad.
It is considered common knowledge that MSC Cruises experienced growing pains, especially in terms of onboard service, but if my recent cruise is any example we can say these rough spots have been completely eliminates. Especially impressive is the ability of the crewmembers to communicate with passengers in any given language. Operationally, the ship must provide service to every guest in his or her native language. Failing that, English is always the fallback language for every crewmember and passenger. This is quite an advantage for American passengers who will not have any difficulties communicating with most people on board. But do not expect to hear English spoken unless you happen to ask somebody a question.
Stateroom housekeeping services are always top-notch and problems are addressed in a timely manner. The Reception and Shore Excursion desks are adequately staffed, and there is rarely a line to ask a question or book a tour.
In the Caribbean, a daily gratuity of $12 per passenger is automatically added to the onboard account. If you’re under 18 and sharing with two adults, it’s only $6.00 per day. The amount can be adjusted at the Reception desk.
A gratuity for bar staff is already included in the price of drinks. Spa and casino staff may be tipped in cash at the discretion of the passenger. In the Caribbean, they have come to expect a tip from the North American clientele. In Europe, tradition dictates that tips be presented to service personnel on the last night of the cruise. The cruise line suggests $3.50 to $5.00 per person per day for the Waiter and Stateroom attendant and $1.00 – $2.00 per day for the Maitre D’. Children under 12 pay half those amounts. Again, the gratuity for bar service personnel is included in the price of the drink.
Although this item is at the bottom of the page it is extremely important. Europeans cruisers are extremely casual in their dress. Even though the prescribed dress code on the ship for most nights on our seven night cruise was informal, which was defined as jacket and tie for a man, in fact, most people were wearing blue jeans and open toed shoes. There were T-shirts and untucked dress shirts with no necktie. Even on the most formal nights only 30% of men were even wearing suits and not a tuxedo was seen on the entire ship.
In fact, on almost any given night if one did not feel like changing out of their casual day clothes one could walk any place on the ship and not feel out of place. Of course, some of the ladies seemed to enjoy dressing up a little more than the men.
Bottom-line, if you enjoy extremely casual ships then you can’t do any better than MSC cruises in Europe.
A large and diverse pan-European cruise ship catering to the local European population. A large exclusive suite area.
Should Be Avoided By People Who Prefer
All English speaking fellow passengers, no extra onboard charges, people who enjoy passenger interaction, a no-kids environment.
The Splendida offers ten different bars and lounges, each of them unique, and most situated on decks five, six and seven. There is a small atrium only three decks tall with the reception desk, shore excursions and other passenger services on the ground floor.
Deck five foreword features the beautiful Strand Theater, one of the most functionally perfect production showrooms I have ever seen at sea. The floor is perfectly designed without a single pole to block the view and raked over two decks so viewing from every row is perfect. The sound is acoustically balanced with special design treatments. Avoid the balcony seats on deck seven if possible, however. Glass railings block the view and the sound system, vastly diminishing the experience.
Shows that stress nonverbal entertainment such as jugglers, acrobats or musical productions featuring classic pop songs combined with Italian opera make it possible to entertain passengers from up to five different native languages. Although the sets and costumes could be better, the vocal performances are outstanding. Also on deck five is the bottom floor of L’Reggia restaurant, one of the two main dining rooms onboard.
Deck six contains one of the most beautiful public rooms on any ship, La Piazzeta. This small courtyard resembles a village square in Tuscany. There are ceramic tile benches surrounding a beautiful flowing fountain. A person can sit here and relax with a cafe mocha and gelato. You will also find the cigar lounge and the main bar in the atrium called L’Aperitivo nearby. The Royal Palms casino offers blackjack, poker, plenty of slot machines and of course roulette. You will not find craps tables which are an American pastime.
On deck seven, you will find the wine bar L’Enoteca for tasting vino by the glass along with food pairings from Italy, Spain and Germany. Also on deck seven you will find live music in the La Prua piano bar and the Purple Jazz Bar, featuring a fine jazz quartet. The Aft Lounge is another showroom in the stern with seating for hundreds of people and a large stage facility. The Sports Bar has the two-lane miniature bowling alley. Five frames of 10-pin bowling cost three Euro, but the ball is bocce-sized, the lane is about 2/3 the regulation length and the pins are smaller.
There is a variety of restaurants, including two excellent alternative dining venues, and a number of smaller bars hidden in nooks. One nice option is that espresso coffee drinks can be ordered from any bar on the ship.
There is plenty of shopping onboard, including fashion boutiques for men and women, jewelry stores, a liquor and tobacco store and a beautiful candy store with hundreds of different European brands of chocolate. There is a perfume store and a swim shop near the swimming pool. Of course, MSC logo items are available from shirts to shorts, sweatshirts and sandals. The ship has Internet access in every state room by a wired ethernet and there is also stem to stern WiFi access.
MSC Cruises brags about its Italian cuisine by saying they feature a different region of Italy in their dining room menus every single night. While the menus do feature articles on a different region of Italy nightly, the notion that the cuisine is actually different on a nightly basis is not quite so obvious. Still, the Italian cuisine onboard is good to excellent as predicted, especially the cuts of red meat, pasta and risotto dishes. A different risotto dish is offered every night infused with anything from mango to portobello mushrooms.
One thing we noticed that came to us as a very pleasant surprise is that the food in all of the dining areas was always served hot, even the buffet area. This is especially nice for breakfast where one can scoop up freshly fried eggs over easy, or omelets still piping hot.
In Europe no beverages except coffee and juice with breakfast are served free of charge. You will be charged for iced tea which comes in a can for lunch and dinner and water for every meal is served from a bottle, large 2.50 Euro or small for .60 Euro. When the ship moves to the Caribbean, however, ice tea is offered with every meal free of charge, as well as ice water.
Hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken breasts and pizza are available in the poolside grill areas from 12:00 to 3:30 pm and then again from 5:30 to 9:00 p.m. The freshly made pizza in the Bora Bora buffet is hot and delicious, but it is Napolitano style with a thick crust and just a touch of tomato sauce. There are generally at least five and as many as seven varieties of the pizza available at all times.
There are two gelato stations on the ship, one in the Piazzata and the other by the pool. A small cup is 1.5 Euro and a large serving is 2.5 Euro. There are also delicious cakes, cheese cakes and special cookies available for a small price. You won’t find mouthwatering desserts served in the buffet or after dinner in the dining room, except in the alternative restaurants, where there is a charge. In general, if you want to go to dessert heaven anywhere on the ship have an you will have to pay the price of admission.
A variety of club sandwiches, chicken Caesar salads, cheese and fruit platters, ice cream and dessert of the day are offered on the 24 hour room service menu. The food is good, and delivered within 20 minutes, however there is a fee charged for each of these items when the ship is in Europe. Room service becomes gratis once any MSC Cruises ship is in the Caribbean.
There are two dinner seatings in each of the two dining rooms, but the times vary depending on the ship’s location. In the Caribbean, early seating begins at 6:00 and late seating is 8:15 p.m. In Europe, early seating begins at 7:30 p.m. and late seating begins at 10 o’clock. This is in keeping with the lifestyle of the Spanish, especially, and the Italians. Obviously, Americans will find this time to be far too late.
The two main seating restaurants are Villa Verde and La Reggia. Villa Verde is placed in the stern of the ship on decks five and six with commanding views through two-deck tall picture windows. Finding the restaurant entrance is a bit tricky, since it is at the bottom of a dead-end staircase, which means one must approach from deck six and walk down.
The alternative restaurants are where the cuisine really shines. L’Olivio is the Italian specialty restaurant where the entire menu is a la carte. Appetizers began at 3 to 7 Euro, including cioppino soup or tuna carpacchio. The lamb chops served on a bed of mango risotto are out of this world, and the Mediterranean lobster with a tail as long as the plate is wide is a joy to behold. The other alternative restaurant, Santa Fe Cafe, features food from the American southwest, including tacos, pork anchioto and fajitas. Once again, everything is à la carte. Expect to pay anywhere from five to 20 Euro in these restaurants, depending on how many courses you order.
The Bora Bora buffet is surprisingly good. One reason for this is the vast selection of foods required to satisfy the palates of so many different European cultures. Breakfast is a perfect example, one will find flaky croissants, fresh omelettes, juicy German sausages and English bacon. I have never experienced a buffet area where they managed to keep the food so warm, which is a significant but often under-appreciated accomplishment on any cruise ship.
Musicians perform in the various lounges every evening and all of the entertainers on board are from Europe. The idea of MSC Cruises is to always present a European culture onboard the ship no matter where it is sailing – even in the Caribbean. Cuisine and decor are the areas where the European identity which they consider to be their trademark remain consistent.
The main show lounge, the Strand Theater, offers two shows every evening for early and late dinner seatings. The times will vary depending on dining times. The production show cast on our cruise numbered 14, including two professional singer duos. This is an unusual configuration since on most cruise ships one of the duos of singers would have been substituted for an male/female adagio dance team. While the vocalists were excellent in both pop and operatic traditions, the costumes and choreography of the chorus were run-of-the-mill, at best, as well as the staging.
More pleasing were the special entertainers brought on board, such as the Italian hand puppet master who created shadow puppets using nothing but his hands and performed staged vignettes to well known popular recordings.
There are all kinds of sports activities on board. The Europeans apparently love to laze in the sun. Outdoor activities include deck tennis, basketball, water slides, hot tubs, an outdoor movie screen, daytime aerobics and entertainment by the pool. There were also virtual golf and racquet ball. Demonstrations for Italian cooking and language lessons; trivia, mini-golf, ping-pong, shuffleboard tournaments; dance lessons and arts and crafts were offered on sea days.
MSC cruises offers a variety of theme cruises every year, ranging from doo-wop singing to sports (baseball or golf) and comedy. In general, these cruises feature entertainment, interactive get-togethers and shore excursions in keeping with the theme. American passengers should only book on theme cruises based in the Caribbean and specifically targeted to an English-speaking audience.
There are a total of 1637 cabins, 82% of them are outside cabins and 1256 with private balconies. There are 107 suites on board and 99 of them are in the Yacht Club category. The Yacht Club is a very special “ship within a ship” concept only offered on the Fantasia and Splendida cruise ships.
Yacht Club cabins come with access to a special concierge lounge, a private club located above the bridge and containing a bar and buffet area where food and drink are available on an unlimited, cost-free basis. The room has several waiters and private booths with tremendous views where guests can luxuriate in comfort and eat or drink to their heart’s content. There is also a private sundeck with a pool and hot tubs just for Yacht Club, only accessible by private elevator.
A special concierge is on duty 24 hours a day in the Yacht Club. He is there to interface with your butler and to make sure all of your needs are met in a timely manner. Inside your state room, Yacht Club members receive unlimited room service with no service charges, access to a minibar containing beer, wine, spirits and snacks with no service charges, unlimited laundry service handled by your butler and room service delivery of Yacht Club menu items during meal times. In addition to free drinks in the Yacht Club, Yacht Club patrons are also is seated in a special area within the Villa Verde dining room where a special level of service is provided, including complimentary wine or any kind of beverage with dinner.
The Yacht Club suites are among the most beautiful at sea featuring separate living rooms from bedrooms with commanding views and a drop dead gorgeous color scheme.
The gym, carefully hidden behind the spa area, has a limited number of treadmills and Nordic machines as well as state-of-the-art progressive resistance apparatus. For a ship meant to accommodate 4000 passengers the number of individual aerobic machines is limited. One gets the impression that Europeans are not nearly as concerned with daily exercise as Americans.
The spa itself features 15 massage rooms and three thalassotherapy cabins. The massage team specializes in Balinese treatment options. Cruise charges in Europe are in Euro and will appear to be rather expensive for Americans. In the Caribbean, these prices will be translated to dollars and set at a more reasonable level.
In Europe these ships appeal to the part of the European market that still does not speak English – so in Europe expect to hear a lot of Italian, French, Spanish, German and everything else.
The second in MSC Cruises Fantasia-class of ships, MSC Splendida was christened in 2009. She is equipped with the most up-to-date technological advances—such as the water-processing systems—to guarantee protection of the environment as well as energy savings.
MSC Cruises’ newest ships are also their largest and include the MSC Yachts Club—luxury suites with their own private library, lounge, swimming pool, restaurant, and sundeck. The spa’s well-being center has a thermal cave and therapy pool for relaxation. The children’s play area includes a swimming pool with waterslide. To test your driving skills, there are Formula 1 simulators. Unusual for a cruise ship, there is also a squash court. The extensive use of various colored marbles adds a luxurious quality to the traditionally styled public lounges and a hint of Italian style as well as art deco and art nouveau touches.
MSC Cruises has always been sensitive to environmental issues, and Fantasia-class ships are on the cutting edge ecologically. They are equipped with the most innovative technological systems to guarantee savings in energy and protection of the environment, such as the water-processing systems. MSC Divina has more cabins and a higher double-occupancy rate and a stunning infinity pool at the back of the ship.
More widely known as one of the world’s largest cargo shipping companies, MSC has operated cruises with an eclectic fleet since the late 1980s. When the line introduced two graceful, medium-size ships in 2003 and 2004, it ushered in an era of new shipbuilding that has seen the fleet grow faster than any other European cruise line. This line is growing into a major player in both Europe and the Caribbean.
MSC blankets the Mediterranean nearly year-round with a dizzying selection of cruise itineraries that allow a lot of time in ports of call and include few if any sea days. In summer months, several ships sail off to northern Europe to ply the Baltic. Itineraries planned for repositioning sailings visit some intriguing, off-the-beaten-track ports of call that other cruise lines bypass.
No glitz, no clutter—just elegant simplicity—is the standard of MSC’s seaworthy interior decor. Extensive use of marble, brass, and wood reflects the best of Italian styling and design; clean lines and bold colors set their modern sophisticated tone.
MSC adopts some activities that appeal to American passengers without abandoning those preferred by Europeans; however, regardless of the itinerary, be prepared for an Italian-influenced experience. Also expect to hear announcements in several languages.
- 13 passenger decks
- 3 specialty restaurants
- 1 dining room
- ice cream parlor
- 3 pools (1 indoor)
- children’s pool
- Fitness classes
- hot tubs
- steam room
- 13 bars
- dance club
- show room
- video game room
- Children’s programs
- Laundry service
- Internet terminal
- No-smoking cabins