ABOUT US: We are 55 and 60
years old, and have traveled extensively. We took the westbound
Transatlantic crossing of the MSC Opera, starting in Genoa, Italy
and ending in Ft. Lauderdale. This was our 7th cruise together.
ABOUT THE SHIP: If you have a
specific idea of what cruising should be like, with a thousand
detailed requirements, you will not enjoy this ship. It does not offer
the same experience as Carnival, Royal Caribbean or Norwegian and
probably never will. If, on the other hand, you find the interplay of
cultures fascinating, and find differences stimulating instead of just
“wrong,” you’ll have a wonderful time.
MSC is an Italian company. They are
the second largest cargo line in the world and are relatively new to
the cruise market so there are some good values to be had.
At least half of the passengers on
our ocean crossing were Europeans and the blessedly few PA
announcements were in five languages: English, German, Italian, French
and Spanish. Service personnel must function in most of these
languages. Some do this better than others, but all seemed pleasant
The MSC Opera is new and is a sleek
greyhound. It was designed for the luxury trade before the decision
was made to pursue the budget end of the market. The interiors are
quietly elegant in dark blues, smoky plums, corals and creams. There's
no art in particular but the lighting fixtures are well designed like
big sculptures. The ship lacks glass-sided elevators, high atriums and
Vegas-style metallic glitz, but makes up for it by being really
comfortable, human-scaled like a good European hotel. Lots of small
places to settle in. Lots of glass and views of the sea.
We had an inside cabin. It was not
the largest we’ve been in, but the mirror layout was the best we’ve
seen, giving more light and sense of space than we expected. The
bathroom equally well-planned, generously sized with an excellent
shower. Water heat and pressure were both good.
The smaller of the two restaurants,
L'approdo, is a jewel box of red and pink. The larger restaurant, La
Caravella, is very sophisticated in green, cream and yellow, with lots
of columns and divisions so it seems more intimate than its size would
There is a cafeteria on the top deck
with indoor and outdoor seating. The top deck also has two pools and
is very lively. There is often an excitable host screaming in 4 or 5
languages, running incomprehensible games and contests with
enthusiastic passengers, Euro-pop blaring on the speakers. If you want
quiet, there are lounge chairs on the Boat Deck most days and also at
the stern of many of the cabin decks.
ABOUT THE FOOD:
Extraordinarily good. Northern Italian. We were on for 17 days and
they didn't miss on a pasta or risotto once. Good pizza, superb
homemade ice cream, excellent bread, good soup. We found the meat
entrees a little lacking but others singled them out as exceptional.
You could always get a grilled sirloin or chicken if you didn't like
the chef's entrees. The cakes were of the baba au rhum variety. Very
airy and not much chocolate, but plenty of variety. Lots of salads and
fresh fruit, plus fresh fruit in the rooms.
The waiters are Italian and joke a
little heavily at first and not always successfully in an attempt to
charm you. On the whole they are very good. When I expressed a
preference for ice tea and breadsticks rather than rolls, I found them
waiting every night. Luigi was an excellent waiter, Mario and Carlo
excellent maitre’ds (and Sylvie was a superb cabin steward too.)
MSC has a policy that you don't have
to tip if you don't want to. This is churlish, the staff deserves it,
they work hard. We followed the policy we have always followed. We
ignored management’s guidelines and tipped what we wanted to and
felt was appropriate.
THE BEST THING ABOUT THE SHIP:
The intimacy and sheer livability of the ship are the main virtues for
us, but one of the most civilized things is that they allow you to get
duty free liquor and open it and consume it in your room. They don't
seal it for the voyage so you'll order more from the bars like many
THE WORST THING ABOUT THE SHIP:
There are two really bad things about the ship:
1) SMOKING: Many Europeans smoke.
Like chimneys. And seemingly they aren't even aware it might hurt
others. They are behind us on banning smoking. Fortunately they were
not allowed to smoke inside the restaurants, but the outdoor patio
area was rendered unusable for non smokers. This was a big
disappointment to us, but didn't ruin the cruise. We don't go to the
lounges at night (we like to get up for the dawn) but we understand
there were fights in the lounges about people who ignored the
non-smoking area designations. And there's nothing like being in a
jammed corridor trying to exit the ship in a port and having someone
Some Americans complained to the
offenders but many of the smokers didn't speak English, so it was
futile. We never saw staff do anything to enforce the no-smoking
areas. I am asthmatic and suffer from smoke, but I was able to get
away from it OK. Judge for yourself whether it makes a difference to
2) MANAGEMENT: Charming but utterly
chaotic. Generally inefficient and sometimes maddeningly so and in odd
ways. The loading of the ship in Genoa, for example, was the most
efficient I have ever seen. You checked in, reserved your dining
table, and booked your shore excursions in one very smooth line. But
once on board, both the purser’s and excursion desks were uninformed
For example, we tried to book a
transfer from the dock to Ft. Lauderdale airport. Reception said Shore
Excursions handled that, Shore Excursions said Reception handled that,
they bounced us back and forth, called each other and yelled into the
phone. We eventually did get to the airport and make our flight, but a
little more coordination would have worked wonders with the
Similarly the 24 hour internet
service broke down periodically because the satellite gave them
problems. Nobody had any idea when it would be fixed. There is a
technician on board but service remained unreliable.
Our two valiant American hostesses,
Amanda and Vanessa, bravely took a barrage of passenger criticism,
justified and otherwise, and relayed the complaints to management.
Often the response from the bridge was an automatic “no,” but then
the problem would be mysteriously solved 24 hours later.
THE PEOPLE ON BOARD: The
Americans on board this repositioning cruise were largely retired
people, many from Florida. They are very experienced budget cruisers.
They have taken every line and they have very set expectations about
what they like and want from a cruise. When they don't get what they
are used to from Carnival, Royal Caribbean, etc., they don't perceive
this European ship as different, they perceive it as WRONG! This makes
some of them very hostile.
For example, there are only small
cups of ice water on a hot day. Not spigots of iced tea or fruit juice
like on other ships. There is iced tea but only in the dining rooms.
Not in the cafeteria or on the outdoor patio. This one thing made a
lot of people hostile. (Until management gets around to this one,
bring a tall insulated mug and make your own).
We were told there is little music
for ballroom dancing at night. Only disco (I guess their Mediterranean
cruises have more young people. Europeans have longer vacations than
us and the American passengers skewed older).
There are movies on the TV but they
are dubbed in many languages. And the English-language originals are
often not on at convenient times, nor are the schedules reliable. “Welcome
to Mooseport” loses something when dubbed in German (I'm not
And some passengers just don't like
it when they are so many people on board that they can't talk to, and
they grow impatient when instructions have to be translated. Also,
some cultures are trained to get on line, while others just crowd in,
which makes for conflict. If management would put rope lines like a
bank in front of the reception counter, that might defuse a lot of bad
We read some hostile reviews of this
ship and its sister ship, the Lirica before we booked this, but we
must say we enjoyed the experience thoroughly and found it a
phenomenal value. You just have to know what you are getting in to.
SHOPS: Very tasteful and very
expensive, which made no sense at all. The shops were one part of the
ship not recalibrated for budget cruising. The stock was entirely for
the European market, the wrong weight clothing and not even in
American sizes. They didn’t sell bottles of aspirin or Tylenol, but
did sell several kinds of expensive anti-cellulite cream. Considering
the average age and needs of the Caribbean cruisers this is pretty
odd. Also, one lone bottle of SPF sunblock shared shelf space with
plentiful supplies of old-fashioned tanning butter.
If they sold some insulated mugs with
the ship’s logo, they’d clean up and stop the no-iced-tea
hostility, but they are not yet that sensible. The $350 dollar
sweaters didn’t sell even at 50% off. When the temperature outside
went to 90 degrees, people wanted tee shirts. They only had a few,
they were expensive and for sale only in the liquor store! A simple
$29 item in the jewelry shop would have sold out. But they didn’t
have anything at all in that category.
SHORE EXCURSIONS: The stops on
our crossing were: Barcelona, Casablanca, Funchal, Barbados, Antigua,
Tortola, St. Maarten, and Nassau. Generally well run. Remember to
bring Euros for Barcelona and Funchal (not all the Americans on board
did). The ship charges 3 percent to change money. This includes 3
percent to cash travelers checks which is a bum deal. They're supposed
to be cash.
The full day excursion to Marrakesh
from Casablanca which includes a 4 hour bus trip both ways is
exhausting but sooo worth it! Don’t miss this one. In Madeira, we
found riding a wicker basket down a mountain in Funchal is terrifying
without much thrill. They don't tell you you're riding down a HIGHWAY
with trucks coming at you and you're being steered by 2 guys with
string. Phooey! Take a cab to the top of the cable car instead. Also,
Tortola is the most beautiful place I ever saw in the Caribbean.
A NOTE ON LUGGAGE: Our luggage
was lost between Paris and Genoa. The idea of a 17 day cruise with no
luggage was really frightening for us. It was found and delivered to
our hotel at midnight the night before we departed. We met people
whose luggage was lost connecting from Rome, Frankfurt and London.
Some bags caught up with the ship before we left, some joined us at
our first stop in Barcelona, some never caught up at all. Since the
art of transferring baggage seems to have been lost, travel insurance
is a good idea, at least giving you some money for replacement
clothing. And pack your carry-on bags carefully in case your big
suitcase(s) go AWOL.
HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: MSC has
hired management from American cruise lines to explain American cruise
culture to them, so improvement should be swift. They are really
trying hard. But I don’t expect they’ll ever be “plain vanilla.”
If you like, by all means give them a try, but only if you understand
going in it’s going to be different, and that’s not a bad thing.