I’m relatively new to cruising so my week’s cruise in the Mediterranean with MSC Cruises was a very enjoyable way of learning what cruising’s all about and how to get the most from this kind of holiday. I’ve realised that, just as there is a style of hotel or resort to suit each person’s taste and budget, every cruise line and cruise ship brings a different flavour, so it’s important to research carefully before you book your cruise. We had a wonderful week with MSC Cruises and if you’re thinking of booking or have already booked on MSC Splendida, here’s what you need to know to get the most from your cruise;
About MSC Splendida – big is beautiful
First the vital statistics. There’s no getting away from the fact that MSC Splendida is a big ship, with over 1600 staterooms and room for 3247 guests – or more if you happen to be travelling in the holiday season when there will be plenty of children to swell the numbers on board. She’s a relatively new ship too, built in 2009 and one of the four “Fantasia” class of ship in the MSC fleet which incorporate the most modern designs.
We found that MSC Splendida was a beautiful and glamourous ship and everything on board was extremely well maintained. A big ship has pros and cons – it means that there’s lots of choice of things to do and many different bars and restaurants to spread out, but you do need to be aware that the most popular areas such as the pool decks will become very busy especially on sea days.
I hope you enjoy the video below – my tour of MSC Splendida with MSC Cruises
Who are the other guests on an MSC Mediterranean Cruise?
One of the key differences with MSC Cruises is that this is very much an Italian run cruise line, attracting a large proportion of European guests on the Mediterranean routes. Since passengers can board at different ports such as Barcelona, Marseille and Genoa, the majority of guests on our cruise were from Italy, Spain and France, with a few from China and Japan and a minority of English and Irish. This was never a problem from a language point of view since all announcements were made in 5 languages, including English and we were left in admiration at the multilingual skills of the crew.
The European flavour also extends to the way things are done on board, for instance the dress code is less formal, charging for bottled water seems strange for the British but is acceptable for European guests, and the service is friendly and efficient but less effusive than you might find on a North American ship.
The broad mix of European nationalities also meant that the entertainment could not rely on the language – so no comedy acts but more song and dance shows with a broad appeal. If you want a very British ship this may not be the cruise for you but if you are travelling as a family group or with friends then the cosmopolitan mix of guests will probably suit you.
MSC Cruises is also doing a great job in attracting a younger audience to the cruise market and on our cruise there were plenty of families, couples and groups of friends from 30+. This cruise certainly dispelled any preconception that cruises are only for the retired and the age range was similar to that you might find in a large resort hotel.
Dining options on MSC Splendida
There were two formal dining restaurants on board MSC Splendida, where you can eat breakfast, lunch and dinner as part of your inclusive cruise package. We were assigned to the Villa Verde restaurant on Deck 6 which was at the back of the ship, giving some nice sea views which we enjoyed at breakfast and we shared a table at dinner with a Norwegian and German couples who luckily spoke some English. The La Reggia restaurant was a two-level restaurant on deck 5 and 6 in the middle of the ship and we ate there for lunch on the sea day. The menus were the same in both restaurants and were excellent quality 3 or 4 course menus serving a mixture of European and Mediterranean dishes, with a few different choices of appetisers, soups, pasta, meat or fish dishes and deserts. Most guests were assigned a set dining time of 7pm or 9.30pm although in La Reggia there was also a flexible dining time option which you needed to opt for before your cruise.
For informal buffet-style dining, there were the adjoining Pago Pago and Bora Bora buffet restaurants on Deck 14 which merged into the pool area, with some seating outside. At main meal times there buffet restaurants were very busy and so we preferred to eat in the formal restaurants most of the time, although we would often dip into the buffet for a snack or a cake on our return from a shore excursion. The variety of food in the buffet restaurants depended on the time of day with a wide selection at meal times and at other times plenty of fresh pizza, sandwiches, fruit and cakes on offer.
We also took the opportunity to eat in the Santa Fe Tex-Mex Speciality Restaurant on Deck 7 which served exceptional steaks as well as other Tex-Mex specialities and brilliant Margaritas. There was an additional charge, depending on what you chose, just like a normal restaurant, rather than a fixed cover charge as I’ve found in other speciality cruise restaurants. Interestingly the restaurant seemed to be not very busy which could be that the guests were not looking to pay extra for dining on this cruise.
Overall the food on board MSC Splendida had a very Mediterranean feel with plenty of pizza and pasta and was high quality in taste and presentation. However, the speciality dining options were more limited than some other cruise lines so I would say that if you are looking for a gourmet experience on board, with a focus on trendy or more unusual food experiences, this may not be the ship for you.
Our Balcony Stateroom
We loved our balcony stateroom on deck 13 (room 140) which had a modern, Italian feel in the decor and a coffee and gold colour scheme. There was a seating area with sofa which could become a third bed and desk next to the windows, a fridge with mini bar and a flat screen TV. The bathroom had plenty of space with a moulded vanity unit and mirror above and a powerful shower with a curtain and some shampoo and soap in large refillable containers. Our balcony had room for 2 lounger chairs and the small table by the sofa could be used for drinks. The stateroom was a lovely place to relax before dinner or on the sea day when other areas of the ship were quite crowded, and we sometimes would pop up to deck 15 to get a coffee or cake and enjoy it in our room.
What additional charges will I need to budget for?
As with all cruise lines there are some things that are included in the price of your cruise on MSC Splendida and other things that you will need to budget for. My impression is that MSC Cruises pitch their cruises at a competitive entry price but that you may then need to budget for extras that some other cruise lines would include in the price, such as bottled water and bus transfers. Here’s what you need to budget for;
- As on most cruise lines gratuities are something extra you need to budget for and are not really optional. On MSC a service charge of 7 euros per person per day is added automatically to your bill, so there is no need to tip individual members of staff unless you have received exceptional service. An additional 15% service charge is also added to speciality restaurant, bar and spa charges.
- If you wish to take excursions, the prices are published on the MSC website and range from around €50 for a city tour to €80 for a longer all day tour.
- If you decide not to take the ship’s excursion but to explore on your own you may need to pay for the coach transfer to and from the port which may be some distance away. The price for the MSC bus service was typically €8-15 per person return. Another option is to take a taxi (likely to be a similar price to the cruise bus) or take public transport which requires some advance research.
- On MSC many people purchase a drinks package in advance which is likely to save you a lot of money, even if you are a moderate drinker and gives you the peace of mind of knowing that your drinks are at a flat rate. For our 7 day cruise on MSC Splendida the Cheers Adult drinks package was €115.50 per person allowing table wines, beer and soft drinks at lunch and dinner as well as soft drinks and coffee from the bar while the Alegrissimo package for €161 per person allowed the same type of drinks including drinks from the bar on a 24 hour basis.
- If you wish to try out the speciality restaurants on board (the main one on MSC Splendida being the Tex Mex Santa Fe restaurant) there will be an additional charge depending on what you choose from the menu – from memory a steak meal was around €20 supplement.
- If you enjoy spa, hair, nail or beauty treatments as part of your cruise obviously you would need to budget for these and there are plenty of different packages and special offers that you can check out when on board.
- Wifi is another extra and tends to be both expensive and slow (since it has to come via satellite) so it’s probably better to forget about catching up on your e-mails and use the time to relax.
So if you are a moderate drinker and take a couple of excursions during the cruise, you should budget €250-300 per person on top of the price of the cruise, more if you want to enjoy spa treatments, speciality dining and a wider range of drinks.
What’s there to do on board?
In my experience so far, you’ll never be short of things to do on a cruise, but will leave wishing there were more than 24 hours in a day to take advantage of everything on offer. For us one of the attractions of this cruise was being able to visit a different destination on each day of the cruise, which left us with limited time to try out all the entertainments on board. We did however very much enjoy the evening show each night, with two separate performances designed to fit in before or after your dinner sitting. The shows were mainly song and dance routines that would appeal to a wide audience with some juggling, balancing or acrobatic elements incorporated. Over the course of the cruise the evening shows transported us with different themes to Paris, Ancient Greece, Italy, the land of the Aztecs, as well as a Luciano Pavarotti tribute show one evening.
Of course one of the most popular parts of the ship is the pool deck and MSC Splendida had much to offer with an outdoor Aqua Park including jacuzzis and fountains as well as the pool. The second indoor L’Equatore pool area was ideal for younger children and families and had a retractable roof but was covered during our cruise. At the back of the ship was the smaller Playa del Sol Zen area, although the “Zen'” could be a bit misleading as this area was just as busy as the others. The Aqua Park was full of families and groups enjoying themselves with music, karaoke and dance classes taking place at one end, so great if you like a buzz of activities but not if you are looking for peace and quiet on your cruise. You would need to lay out your orange towel early to be sure of a sunbed in any of the pool areas although you could retreat to the Top 18 solarium area for an additional charge.
During the day and into the evening there was a wide range of entertainment including dance lessons, bingo, quiz events, sports tournaments, culinary demonstrations and Karaoke. We did attend a destination talk on our first day but this was mainly to provide information on the excursions on offer and one thing I did miss was any insights about the ports of call that we were about to visit. We found that the activities on board MSC Splendida were mainly about entertainment rather than education or culture, perhaps due to the issues of operating in multiple languages. So if you are a culture vulture or are looking for education from your cruise, you may have to create your own, but if you like plenty of lighthearted entertainment, there’s lots on offer.
Fitness and spa on MSC Splendida
Because we were so busy on this cruise visiting all the interesting ports of call, we didn’t make much use of the fitness facilities on board. However, Guy did use the gym a couple of times and on our sea day I had the treat of a lovely facial and Balinese massage. The spa has a large seating area with healthy snacks and drinks to order at the bar and a shop area selling sportswear and beauty products. I had a lovely relaxing facial and on a separate occasion indulged in a Balinese massage with scented aromas and soft music leaving me with my skin soft and glowing and in a soporific mood. It’s worth checking for special offers and packages if you are someone who enjoys a relaxing spa experience as part of your cruise.
What do I need to wear on board MSC Splendida?
Cruise ship dress codes can vary widely between different cruise lines and ships and also depend on the route and itinerary. Most people will pack comfortable clothes and shoes for sightseeing on shore excursions, something casual for relaxing around the pool on sea days and a few smart outfits to dressing up in the evening. However, the thing that concerns most guests who are new to cruising is what they need to pack for formal nights on board.
I was also unsure whether I should be packing my long evening gowns and whether Guy needed his dinner jacket/tuxedo as would be the norm on some more traditional and British cruise lines. However a bit of advance research told me that most guests on an MSC Cruises around the Mediterranean adopt a more European style of dress, since there are so many Italians, Spanish and French on board.
On our cruise noticed that there were not so many ladies on gala evenings were wearing long dresses, but they tended to adopt a more ‘cocktail’ style of glamour and that the men were wearing a wide range of different jackets but very few went for the “black tie” or tuxedo. In the end my sparkly Eileen Fisher sequin top and my versatile black Joseph Ribkoff evening cover-up were perfect for the two gala evenings on board and on other evenings I dressed as you would when going to any nice restaurant, while Guy wore a blazer and open neck shirt.
Did I say there were two gala evenings on our week’s cruise? This was because the Mediterranean route we sailed on MSC Splendida calls at many different ports on a circular route and so guests are able to start their cruise at different points such as Barcelona, Marseille and Genoa. Two different gala evenings gave everyone the opportunity to experience a formal night wherever they boarded. On other nights there were different party themes that included “Carnival Party”, “Flower Glory – a trip to the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s” and “White party” but I never saw anyone but the crew dress to these themes, since most guests would not know about them before they came on board.
On the sea day, dress around the ship was much more informal, such as you’d wear around the pool or for a day at the beach. You can read more about what I packed for my Mediterranean cruise in my article – What to wear on your Mediterranean Cruise – my 6 top tips
Who is this cruise suited for?
As I said at the beginning, there’s a cruise for every taste, so who is a Mediterranean cruise on MSC Splendida best for? In my opinion
You will enjoy this cruise and ship if…
- You enjoy visiting a lot of different destinations in one cruise
- You are looking for a lively atmosphere, lots of entertainment and plenty to do on board
- You enjoy a cosmopolitan European atmosphere on board
- You want a cruise with a youthful feel which is ideal for families with young children, groups of friends, multi-generational groups and those from their 30s upwards.
But this may not be the cruise for you if…
- You are looking for peace and quiet on your cruise
- You want a cruise that offers a gourmet experience or wide range of speciality dining options
- You enjoy a lot of cultural and educational activities
- You want to mix with passengers from an older age range
- You are looking to mix with mainly British or North American passengers on a ship that is mainly English speaking
Other articles in my Mediterranean Cruise series
Join me on a week’s Mediterranean cruise with MSC cruises
All aboard at Barcelona – Day 1 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Bonjour Marseille – Day 2 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Palazzo and Gelato in Genoa – Day 3 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Naples and an excursion to Pompeii – Day 4 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Messina and an excursion to Taormina – Day 5 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Tunis and Carthage – Day 6 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
A day at sea and back to Barcelona – Day 7 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
What to wear on your Mediterranean cruise – my 6 top tips
Thanks to MSC cruises who hosted Guy and Heather’s Mediterranean cruise. Heather and Guy travelled on MSC Splendida from Barcelona on a 1 week cruise calling at Genoa, Marseille, Naples, Messina, Tunis. Prices for a similar cruise start at around £700 per person. For more information, visit the MSC Cruises website or follow them on Twitter @MSC_Cruises_UK or on the MSC Facebook page.