Number of Cruises: 10
Cruise Line: MSC Cruises
Ship: MSC Sinfonia
Sailing Date: March 22nd, 2006
Itinerary: Western Mediterranean
First, I'll begin with the positives about our cruise on the MSC Sinfonia. The ship was immaculate, if not a particularly attractive ship in the classic sense. The cabin was well appointed with more than enough space for all we brought, including formal attire and a small telescope, tripod and camera gear for the eclipse, which was the reason we booked this cruise. Our cabin had two single beds which could be made into a king plus two bunks folded up on the walls. There was a minibar, television, make-up dresser and safe. A fruit bowl was filled on our arrival.
Additionally, the itinerary was intriguing and very rewarding. We sailed from Genoa, Italy, visiting many ruins of the ancient world from Egypt to Greek to Roman ruins. Malta was a wonderful stop but way too short to even sample what this island country has to offer. Other ports of call included Naples (for Pompeii); Syracuse (Sicily) with a charming old town and ancient Greek ruins; Alexandria, Egypt (for pyramids at Giza & Sakkara plus Memphis); Tobruk (for the 2006 Total Solar Eclipse which was fantastic); Tripoli, Libya, where we visited the fabulous Roman ruins at Leptis Magna; Valetta, Malta; Salerno for the well-preserved Doric temples of the ancient Greek/Roman city of Poseidiana/Paestum; and back to Genoa. Weather was cool in Genoa becoming more pleasant and warm as we ventured southward.
For first timers or less experienced cruisers, this ship may have been adequate or better but for experienced cruisers this ship was a big disappointment. It seemed that they were unprepared for the number of English-speaking passengers. Previous reviews by such individuals seemed to indicate that there were only a very few English speakers cruising with MSC. The majority of crew did not speak much English making it difficult to communicate our desires or even have an amiable conversation. For example, our cabin steward was from Madacasgar and seemed more fluent in French. In the dining room we had requested a table for two and were located was in a back corner with servers who hailed from Bali. When we ordered off the menu printed in English our waiter often could not understand what we said unless we pointed to the menu.
Service was probably the worst we have experienced for dining but perhaps we were assigned servers with less experience or training. We had to repeatedly ask for water, or even get it ourselves and our primary waiter never seemed to learn that my husband wanted coffee after his meal (The bus boy actually learned that by the end of our cruise and brought it himself.). Other passengers were satisfied with the service they received in the dining room so our experience may not be representative of the entire dining staff. However, no maitre'd ever spoke with us. Often the servers would shout and argue among themselves which was very annoying.
Dining itself was also a disappointment. Being on an Italian ship for the first time, we were looking forward to the cuisine which turned out to mediocre at best. Meat was tough, fish was "fishy," soups were bland and most dishes were uninspired. For dinner there were no options except the main dining room at one's assigned table. The breakfast buffet was run-of-the-mill but there was an ample amount of food. The best lunches were had at the Caffee del Mare grill where we ate delicious hamburgers and french fries (pizza was edible but nothing special). We actually ate one of the best pizzas ever while ashore in Valetta, Malta.
The pooling of tips which is common on most ships today may account for some of the decline in service. We were royally spoiled on Royal Caribbean's Splendour of the Seas during a Baltic Sea cruise in 1996. On that cruise the cabin stewardess, Anna, and our waiter, Attila, provided superb service, plus they were both outgoing and fun. At that time, passengers paid there tips directly to the staff who had served them. Passenger capacity of this ship is over 2000 passengers,
There was much disorganization aboard the MSC Sinfonia from embarkation, shore excursions, collecting passports, and disembarkation. Rarely did anything begin on time (except for meals) and we had to wait for everything. The crew had not anticipated dealing with such a large contingent of English speakers, most of whom were American. The Travel Quest/Sky and Telescope group for the eclipse accounted for more than 70% of the passengers who numbered between 1500 and 2000. In the past we have cruised on large vessels with much better organization than this one run by Italians.
Embarkation was long and tedious, taking about 2 hours to actually arrive at our cabin. The crew member who escorted us to our cabin simply left us there, showing us nothing in the cabin including the location of our life jackets. Most announcements could not be heard inside the cabins–one had to open the door to listen. And the one and only (mandatory) life boat drill was a joke. Not all passengers even attended and no roll was taken. Instead it was used as an photo opportunity by the ever-present paparazzi who intruded on us during dinner, followed us on shore excursions and frightened young children with their clown and pirate costumes. The ship's photographers were truly shameless in their pursuit of money.
It seemed that we had to pay for everything. On the Marco Polo (Orient Lines), ice cream was served daily for free. On the MSC Sinfonia the Gelateria was never open but occasionally ice cream out of a cart was served on the pool deck–at a cost. On arrival there were two bottles of water in the cabin but again, they were not gratis. As we left the ship for our excursions, water at a cost was offered. Most cruises we have taken provided water bottles for free.
Activities were very limited for individuals with our interests. Fortunately, there were regular astronomy-related lectures which were informative, interesting, and quite entertaining. The lecturers had a good sense of humor which the crew seemed to lack. There were a number of planned activities and events for children, however, and this ship may be more enjoyed by families.
My husband and I particularly enjoy ballroom dancing and we were looking forward to an opportunity to dance on the MSC Sinfonia. However, the quality of music was lacking and one of the best bands on the ship refused to play if only one or two couples were in the Sinfonia lounge. The program would list the times they were to play in the daily program, we would appear, and the group would sit in their corner chatting for 45 minutes or more of that scheduled time. The best dancing music was available in the Buddha Bar provided by one Gianni Dale and his piano. Unfortunately, there was no dance floor in this bar but we danced on the carpet anyway, often joined by one or two other couples.
Bottom-line: Fabulous itinerary with a chance to visit Libya and see our 5th Total Solar Eclipse. However, we will never cruise with MSC again and would not recommend their ships to any experienced or English-speaking passengers.