Friday, August 08, 2014

MSC Splendida: Detailed 48 Minute HD Video + Western Med Cruise Review

I am writing this review in relation to a cruise taken on the MSC Splendida from the 7th to the 14th of July, 2014. The cruise itinerary was Naples - Messina - La Goulette - Barcelona - Marseilles - Genoa - Naples, with a day at sea between La Goulette and Barcelona. I was part of a party of four, myself, my wife and my parents, we had two deck 11 cabins with balconies 11184 and 11186.

I have produced a detailed video of the ship, and shorter videos from each of the ports of call. The video of MSC Splendida is here: 

I will firstly go through the itinerary and then discuss specific aspects of the ship and cruise experience. We took an early flight from Liverpool airport to Naples, and a taxi to the port. This went very smoothly, and we were the first people to arrive and check in, so there were no queues. The downside to being so early was that we arrived 2 hours before the ship arrived in port and 4 hours before we could board (it was supposed to be 3 1/2). We were given a token with number 1 on it, which was our boarding order, "great" I said, "theoretically we should be first on board".

We were sat in a large holding area, it wasn't uncomfortable, but some softer chairs wouldn't have gone amiss for such a long wait. There was a small shop open and we bought very inexpensive drinks and snacks to while away the time. Over the next few hours the holding area filled up, mostly with Italians, and eventually the ship arrived. MSC staff began to mingle and try and sell the Allegrissimo drinks package (we already had it), and massages which we weren't interested in.

The MSC staff seemed to take a frustratingly long time setting up for boarding, I believe there was an issue with the computers. The Italian passengers seemed unable to cope with the delay and whined and jostled for position to see what was going on. Finally it was time to go forward, even though we had the number 1 token, we were still about 20th in line as many others had a number 1 also, and they didn't seem to understand the concept of queuing, this was unfortunately going to become a theme throughout the week. We had previously been on two other Italian cruises (one MSC and one Costa) and the lack of manners displayed by many passengers was annoying in the past, but on this cruise it turned out to be infuriating.

Once we had got our cruise cards, we walked to the ship where we were forced to pose for a photo behind a ships wheel with a picture of a generic MSC ship on the backdrop behind. This was also something that annoyed me, the waste of photo paper and ink cartridges on thousands of unpurchased photographs. This is a topic that I will go further into later on in this review.

We finally boarded the ship via the security screening control and made our way to our cabins, where my suitcase awaited, with a large 'Security Checked' sticker on it. The other cases took around 15 minutes to arrive. I am presuming that the sticker on my case meant that it had been opened, as I had a collapsible walking stick in there with a large handle, which on an x-Ray machine may have looked like an ice pick.

The cabins were good, and the bed large and comfortable, although we would have preferred a light quilt to blankets. There was plenty of storage space, and with the addition of a strip plug that I had brought, there were sufficient plug sockets. The balcony was a good size and the rattan style balcony furniture comfortable. The bathroom whilst compact, was bright, clean and completely adequate. 

After unpacking we made our way to deck 15 where we sat in the sun with a drink until the departure from Naples, which was on time.

The departure was very scenic, I made a film of it here: 

On the first evening we ate in the deck 14 buffet restaurant, which was very busy but just about doable. The food was good, especially the pizza and pasta - what else would you expect from an Italian cruise ship?

We then had to attend the emergency safety briefing at 16:45, we got there dead on time to find that it had started 5 minutes early so we did not see the life belt demonstration. We followed out a group who like ourselves were allocated 'G' as their muster station. The party were lead by one of the dancers who seemed pretty clueless and offered very little in the way of information. We never had our cards scanned, and were not shown the lifeboats, at the point of us finding our muster station another group heading to muster station 'I' merged with our group, and at this point, the whole exercise broke down into pointless futility. We just sat down and ordered four glasses of wine while everyone else either looked confused or posed for pictures in their life vests. The next day we received a letter telling us off for not attending the drill! I rang reception and told them exactly what happened to be told "OK no problem, don't worry about it". This was our second experience of an MSC safety briefing being a pointless box-ticking exercise, which seemed like it was for insurance purposes only. 

We docked at Messina on time the next day, some passengers disembarked and some new ones came aboard, this happened at most ports. We toured Messina on foot, just walking around for a couple of hours. We saw some of the main sites including Chiesa del Carmine where we were lucky enough to find the bell tower open to the public (it isn't usually) and the Cathedral (Duomo). MSC do not provide very good information for passengers about the ports of call, instead they push their own excursions, which were expensive, and in all honesty, it was nice to get away from the other cruise passengers! My first ever cruise was on the Thomson Celebration, and despite it's comparative decrepidness, Thomson always provided very detailed handouts about public transport in the ports of call as well as street maps. I wish that the Italian cruise companies would do the same (Costa are also poor at doing this).

Here is a video of Messina -

Here is a video of the departure from Messina -

The next day we called at La Goullette in Tunisia, which is a small pointless destination unless you intend to travel outside of the port area using some form of transport. My parents opted to stay on board the ship, so my wife and I took a taxi to Carthage (7km each way for 20 Euro return). We haggled the taxi driver down from 40 Euro before setting off.

The Carthage museum was a bit boring, I was disappointed with the lack of excavation areas to walk around, it cost 5 euro each in, the cathedral next door was 3 Euro each in, and that was very impressive. We headed back to the ship afterwards, having spent 90 minutes there, which was ample. I think that we probably missed the most that Carthage had to offer, and we should have explored in greater depth. I’m sure I’ll return to La Goulette on a future cruise, so if I do I’ll explore further - I’ll also use the little train which goes right passed the port instead of getting a taxi, but will need to take some Tunisian currency for it.

Here is a video of the port at La Goulette:

Here is a video of the taxi ride from La Goulette to Carthage:

Here is a video of Carthage Museum & Cathedral: 

Here is a video of the departure from La Goulette: 

Here is a time-lapse video of the departure from La Goulette: 

The next day was at sea, unfortunately an area of low pressure meant cloudy skies and stormy seas, the ship didn't exactly lurch around, but it moved enough to make quite a few passengers seasick. The restaurant was unusually quiet that night.

Barcelona the next day saw the ship completely deserted, it was lovely to take advantage of the empty sunbathing areas and pool. We had been to Barca twice before, so stayed on the ship until midday enjoying the completely empty sunbathing area and swimming pools, then took a 15 Euro taxi (between 4 of us) to the castle for the impressive views from Montjuïc. At the port, the bus from the shop to the bottom of the Ramblas cost 8.90 Euro each return, which was a bit of a rip off. Our taxis were much better value and to anyone else doing this cruise I would certainly suggest considering the taxi option over the buses, particularly if there are four of you. It's a pity that MSC and Costa dock so far away at the port. I noticed a Thomson ship much closer to the city, literally beneath the cable car.

Here is a time lapse video of the approach into port at Barcelona: 

Here is a video of the Port of Barcelona: 

Here is a video of Montjuic Castle and views over Barcelona: 

Here is a video of the ride down Montjuic in a cable car: 

Here is a time lapse video of the ferry Grandi Navi Veloci leaving port at Barcelona: 

Here is a video of the departure from Barcelona Port: 

Here is a time lapse video of the departure from Barcelona Port: 

Marseille was another expensive transfer bus from the port to the city centre (16.90 Euro each). The crew who disembarked walked along the port and then took service buses and trains, and if I came here again I would investigate these options prior to arrival. I even heard a rumour of a free bus (after I’d got back on ship). Marseille is a city of stark contrasts, from the very touristic old port to run down back streets just off the main tourist drag. I loved it, but my parents felt a bit intimidated in some of the areas (a few groups of youths hanging around smoking pot). We didn’t visit what must be the main sight (Notre Dame de la Garde), not intentionally but we walked around so much in the city that we were all tired out, particularly in the oppressive heat. We did visit Paroisse St Vincent which was definitely worth seeing. We returned to the bus back to the port after a long weary walk to just miss one - sod’s law. We had to stand in the sun for 20 minutes until the next one came - keep in mind to bring a hat. As usual some people just pushed in the queue instead of joining it at the back.

Here is a video of the Port of Marseille: 

Here is a video of Marseille: 

Here is a video of the departure from the Port of Marseille: 

Here is a time lapse video of the departure from the Port of Marseille: 

Our penultimate day was at Genova (Genoa), the birthplace of Christopher Columbus, a major base for MSC and Costa, and a large impressive port surrounded by buildings on terraced hillsides. We got off the ship and made our way through the extensive terminal to the bus stop for the City Sightseeing tour. I believe we paid 15 Euro each for a hop-off hop-on tour of the city (the ticket lasted 24 hours). There was a nearby Metro station, and I wanted to use it, but in the end we went for the easier option in terms of city exploration to the main sites (it was a VERY hot day). We saw Piazza de Ferrari which is worth a ten minute photo stop, Scalinata delle Tre Caravelle - again worth some photos and the Victoria Arch. We walked to the main railway station (Brignole), which is an impressive building, but unfortunately my Dad took poorly with the heat, so we had to get the bus back to the port (there was a City Sightseeing stop at Brignole).

Here is a video of the Port of Genoa: 

Here is a video of the City Sightseeing tour of Genoa: 

Here is a video of Genoa city centre: 

Here is a video of the departure from Genoa: 

Here is a time lapse video of the departure from Genoa: 

Napoli was our disembarkation port, we arrived around midday, after having to leave our cabins for 9am. Rather than leaving the ship under procession with the other foot passengers, we stayed on board, had lunch and got our final day money’s worth out of the drinks package. We left the ship around 3pm. The streets of Napoli are an eye opener, anarchy seems to rule, there is little regard for traffic signals on pedestrian crossings, and horns sound constantly. It’s a bit like watching a flock of starlings flying in the sky, it looks chaotic, but you rarely see a collision. We stayed on the lovely and quiet Via Partenope (traffic free) in the Royal Continental hotel for a night as our flight back to Liverpool wasn’t until the next day. I would certainly recommend that hotel if you are cruising from Napoli and need to do a stay over to accommodate your flights. It is close to the port, although the one-way system means that it is a 15-20 Euro taxi ride away.

Here is a video of the Port of Napoli: 

Here is a video of Via Partenope at Napoli: 

Here is a video of the Royal Continental Hotel at Napoli: 

With regards to the cruise experience, I would like to make the following positive points:
  1. The cruise ship is fantastic, really high spec and modern.
  2. The cabins were large and comfortable with a great bed, and the balcony was a MUST, there was lots of storage space and the towels were replenished more than once per day.
  3. The food in the La Reggia restaurant was incredible, I thoroughly enjoyed every single dish, it is the best food I have ever had on a cruise ship - which is in stark contrast to the food on the MSC Divina two years ago, which was poor.
  4. The ports of call were mostly really good and interesting, La Goulette was nothing special in itself, but was in close proximity to Carthage. We had sufficient time in port each day to see what we wanted to see, and disembarking / embarking was easy at each port.
  5. The number of multi-lingual announcements played into the cabins has reduced from my last MSC experience, there are more in the communal areas of the ship and corridors but not as many in cabins.
  6. There were plenty of sun beds, even on busy days it was possible to find one. The sun beds also have a pull-over shade to keep the sun off your face should you wish. Many people who were reading seemed to use this.
  7. You don’t need to take a pool towel, they are provided at the pool when you show your card.
  8. The pool at the back of deck 14 was often empty when the ship was in port, particularly in the morning - a nice retreat for a bit of peace.
  9. There are lots of different bars to try.
  10. There was draught Newcastle Brown Ale in one of the bars - this is something of a rarity anywhere - even Newcastle!
  11. The Allegrissimo drinks package at around £20.00 per day is DEFINITELY worth it. It includes most cocktails, most standard brand spirits, all draught drinks, many liquors (including my favourite Drambuie), wine, coffee, soft drinks, ice cream…I could go on. I wouldn’t consider cruising with MSC and not having this excellent package.
  12. The cocktails on board MSC cruise ships are absolutely superb - definitely a MUST, even the non-alcoholic kids cocktails such as the ‘Dirty Banana’ are lovely and refreshing in the daytime, particularly after returning to the ship from the baking Summer heat in the ports of call.
  13. The highlight of the week’s entertainment (most of which I wasn’t enamoured with) was the ‘Parisien’ show - I do like a good Can Can, and they certainly could could - here’s a clip of it: 

With regards to the cruise experience, I would like to make the following criticisms:
  1. Being press-ganged into having photographs taken that we were NEVER going to purchase, this first happens at pre-boarding against a cheesie backdrop and during every evening meal, it  was just plain annoying, this is also such an environmentally unfriendly practice (waste power, paper and ink cartridges). I have hated this practice on every cruise I have ever been on. I’ve decided to write to my MEP over this practice, as I believe that in the 21st century that there must be a more environmentally friendly technological solution to this extremely wasteful practice. If the cruise companies won’t do it voluntarily, then maybe it’s time for changes in legislation. MSC wrote in plenty of places about their environmental policy, but this doesn’t seem to extend to photographs.
  2. My fellow passengers were largely not a pleasure to cruise with. There was too much pushing and shoving, barging in queues, and far too many kids. The behaviour of many left a lot to be desired. Every Brit / Irish / American / South African and Australian I spoke to on the cruise had pretty much the same opinion. This is a real downside to cruising in the Med with MSC. I do wonder if Northern European cruises have better mannered passengers. This ship holds 4,000 passengers and was just about full. On top of this, MSC offer kids (0-17) for free. There were simply too many kids on board, too many families and not enough peace. The moral of the story, don’t cruise in the Med with MSC from June to August if you want peace and quiet. The noise wasn’t always the kids - it was often the loud mouthed parents shrieking at them.
  3. Some passengers simply ignored the rule about not smoking in non-smoking cabins and on balconies, my Dad even saw somebody light up in a corridor! Disgusting anti-social behaviour that MSC need to police more closely.
  4. There were not enough lifts on the ship, and again lift etiquette from passengers was non-existent, it was literally a free-for-all, and at times a scrum, not even the disabled in wheelchairs were given any sympathy. 
  5. The deck 14 buffet restaurant was very busy after 7:30am, during mid to late afternoon it was like playing rugby to get to the food, again horrible ill-mannered impatient passengers. Lunch times and evening meals were times of great frustration. Many of the Spanish and Italian passengers made their own mini buffets in the middle of their tables, the food from which was rarely finished and would then be wasted. Some people used the huge oversized plates to the extreme, again loading up with far more than can be physically eaten, I watched one lady put EIGHT peaches on her plate and then sit down with her husband, they ate four and left four, which were then cleared away to go to waste. The amount of food waste was both eye-watering and depressing. What was worse was that many people were encouraging small children to load up large plates with far more food than they could eat - this was just extremely sad. I would like MSC to stop using the huge oversized plates in Europe (I can’t comment outside of Europe as I’ve never cruised beyond the Med). Unfortunately too many people are not educated enough to use them responsibly. In future I’m going to try and avoid the buffet restaurants, as they were quite a negative aspect of the cruise. I am also writing to my MEP about the food waste, as I believe cruise operators need to take a greater responsibility for this.
  6. The entertainment is not aimed at a British or American market, it is aimed at the Italian and Spanish markets. Personally speaking I found it a bit dull, out-dated and at times VERY cheesie - even one of the main singers was called Frankie Carbonara! The musicians in most bars played over backing tracks that sounded like they were from 1970s TV shows. Whilst the entertainment was fine for most of the passengers, it was repetitive and pretty boring to me a 40 something Brit. There was no stand-up comedy, and no variety. Even the main stage shows were just singing and dancing with the odd acrobat thrown in. The main stage shows also only lasted 30 minutes, and never began on time, usually 10-15 minutes late.
  7. Sometimes the bar service was slow, and we would wait 10 minutes plus to be served. This wasn’t always because it was too busy (although sometimes it was). Some of the bars were understaffed, and on more than one occasion staff members were stood talking, seemingly oblivious to the fact that customers were waiting. I’m only mentioning this, as it is the first time that I have experienced this on a cruise ship.

Despite all of my criticisms, I DEFINITELY DID ENJOY THE CRUISE, and I would definitely still cruise with MSC in future. But I felt that I should present an honest and balanced review of my experience taking into account both positives and negatives. The Allegrissimo drinks package makes an MSC Cruise a great deal more affordable than many other cruise lines. The ships are modern with plenty of different bars, and the large open deck on top is great. The cabin was really comfortable, and some of my happiest times were just sat quietly on the balcony looking over the sea, which I found quite hypnotic and very relaxing. Would I take another Mediterranean cruise with MSC during the Summer months? Probably not, I would rather go before or after the high season when hopefully the ship may be a little quieter… but I’ll never say never!

If you liked this review, and the videos linked from it, there are many more like it on my YouTube channel, which you can find at  - please Subscribe to the channel by pressing the red ‘Subscribe’ button, I’m also on Twitter @mosstraveltv and on Facebook here: .

I have previously been on cruises with and reviewed:

We booked the cruise through Tony at Sky Blue Cruising (part of the co-op travel group) and I would certainly book through him again as he was extremely helpful, his number is 01183753802. Tony organised us a night at the Liverpool Airport Holiday Inn Express, return flights with EasyJet, the 7 night cruise, and a night in Naples at the Royal Continental Hotel. 

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