This was my 48th cruise and my first time on MSC. We chose this itinerary because the dates aligned when we could sail as well as the itinerary. After reading the past reviews, I had low expectations for the MSC Magnifica, but the cruise turned out rather well and we had a great time.
The itinerary included several bucket list destinations and was also my first time sailing on a Europe ocean cruise.
The MSC website is rather strange, but we had pre-booked two excursions, bought the internet package and some soda and water packages. We had read that MSC does not permit you to bring your own water or sodas on board. This was not the case and we were able to buy them at a few of the ports and brought them on board without any issues. We do not drink alcohol, so that was not an issue for us.
MSC allows you to book cabin locations according to certain packages, starting with the “Bella”package, which is just the cruise and no additional drink or spa perks. We were fine without the added perk expenses and our cabin location was very good - port side, forward. I was very happy with the cruise price, much lower than on other cruise lines and I think we got a good value for what we paid.
Embarkation in Southampton was very quick and easy. We arrived around noon via train and taxi from the station. There were only about 15 people in front of us to check in. We bypassed the welcome photo. We had a bit of a queue to actually step aboard the ship as all new passengers must get their photo taken, even though we had uploaded them on the website. This was the first cruise I’ve taken with multiple embarkation points. The true starting point of the cruise was Hamburg two days previous. At a few points, we felt like we’d joined a party late - like the goodbye show was offered two days before we disembarked. Once on board, new guests are made to go through one of the lounges so they offer us their extras like drink, spa, excursions, etc. We just kept walking and didn’t buy anything.
Unlike other cruises I’ve been on, MSC requires guests to activate their cruise cards, found in their open cabin, using several electronic activation devices located in the atrium. This is usually done at check in, so it was a little odd. The device also takes a €250 pre authorization to the credit card, which was useless for us as the pre authorization only lasts a few days, and not the 11 days of our cruise.
Inside our cabin, we found our key cards as well as the daily program, similarly found on all other lines. The daily program also came with onboard promotions, which we disregarded.
We had forward port side cabin 9029 on Panarea Deck. We had feared the cabin would be too small, but it was fine. The only thing missing was a sofa, instead small one person seat we got. Cabins in the center of the ship had two person sofas. Storage was fine. There was lots of hanging space in the closet and the drawers were fine for us. There was a small stocked mini bar, which we used to refrigerate our sodas. The day we boarded, we requested ice from our cabin steward, which never arrived, but it wasn’t really needed. There was a small safe, large enough to fit out items. Since MSC is trying to cater to a more British clientele, they provided a kettle for tea and coffee in the cabin. There were two US and two European outlets behind the desk, but I was able to unplug the awkward bedside lamp and used that plug (European) to power my iPhone and iPad. The cabin requires a key card (or other similar sized card) to be inserted at the entrance to power the lights and outlets. We learned that if a card is inserted, a small light is visible to the cabin steward indicating that there is someone in the cabin and will not enter to service the room. Our Honduran cabin steward was very friendly and kept our cabin spotless. We had requested face towels, but only got them a few of the days. Hand towels and bath towels were provided twice daily. The balcony was a decent size with two comfortable chairs and a small table. There was a painfully small flat screen TV. There were a few BBC channels, CNN as well as French, Spanish, Italian, German, Russian and Turkish channels. The information channel (31) presented the main staff and crew, followed by wind, temperature and speed information followed by a brief glimpse of the ships location on a map. Channel 32 was of the front facing bridge camera. Channel 34 was usually the Morning Show with the British cruise director and the British representative. This was fun, it ended in Hamburg. MSC videos were also presented featuring the new Meraviglia. There was also an interactive option, which we used to view our on board charges.
We visited the spa and exercise room, but decided not to spend the money on the sauna package. There was also a beauty salon, which occasionally offered haircuts for €19.
We had requested and received late dining (8:30PM) and were fortunate to snag a table for two. Most other tables were larger. Our friendly server was excellent and was happy to entertain all our special requests. The assistant server was also very friendly. We had mostly excellent meals. Only a few items were too salty or not as tender as we were used to. One item of worry in the planning was water. It seems MSC does not offer tap water, but as we had booked from the US, we were provided with a liter of bottled water every night. They did ask for our key card every night, which was returned with a receipt for €0. They also provided ice upon my request. We had also read that they did not provide coffee or tea, but they did. We tried to have breakfast in the dining room once, but it was so busy, we left. We never tried lunch in the dining room.
All of our breakfasts and lunches were in the Sahara Buffet on deck 13. We usually had the same exact breakfast every day, which was fine by us. I did miss having eggs Benedict, but they were not served. The buffet was a bit chaotic as it usually is, but some of it was due to bad placement. We’d sometimes go around the different areas looking for plates, utensils, food, condiments and drinks. Breakfast jam for example was provided in sets of three large pumps. If you wanted orange marmalade for example, you had to search the different pumps around the stations. Also at breakfast time, we only saw the coffee and juice trolley a few days. At lunch, there were often queues for French fries as they were brought out hot. Several varieties of delicious pizza were always available from lunch time until late at night.
In the indoor pool area, gelato, Nutella crepes and novelty type ice cream was available for purchase at the bar.
There was a small Oriental restaurant available for a small fee. We tried a sushi sample here and it was good.
Our ports were fantastic, except for one. In Le Havre, we took the ship's excursion to famed Mont Saint Michel. It was a three hour bus ride and well worth it. In La Coruña, we took the ship's excursion to historic Santiago de Compostela, again well worth the one hour drive. As English speakers were the minority by far on both excursions, we were combined with German and then Italian speaking groups. Bilbao amazed us. We toured on our own, taking a taxi (€26) into the center of the city. We stayed on board in Le Verdon Sur Mer - basically a container port and none of the excursions to Bordeaux interested us. Amsterdam was a fabulous city, which we toured on our own and met up with friends. The ship docked right in town within easy walking distance to many attractions. Hamburg we also visited on our own. The ship docks right next to a ferry stop, which took us closer into the beautiful city. MSC offered shuttle service into a few ports for a fee, but we didn’t use them. On the embarkation port days, we were advised to take our passports with us when going on tours, but they were never requested when going back on board.
Most shows were held in the very nice Royal Theater at the forward part of the ship. They’ve tried to produce shows that would be understood by all nationalities, although most of the songs were eventually in English. The shows were introduced by the British cruise director in English and then excruciatingly translated into German, French, Italian and Spanish by his assistant. We always sat in the lower level of the theater as the balcony sight-lines were blocked by railings or glass partitions. Sample shows we saw on our sailing were Elisir, West side story, Sophisticats, etc
There was also a large show lounge in the aft on deck 7, where we saw the tribute duo “Jersey Beyond” from England.
There were a few shops on board offering the usual cruise items. We purchased a few items from the logo shop.
Activities were listed in the daily program. We didn’t participate much, but what we did do was fun.
As there were multiple embarkation points, there were also multiple safety drills for guests and crew- done in multiple languages.
The casino was smoky, so we didn’t play, but it looked like most others. There was a small library, with small selections in multiple languages. There were signs for an Art Gallery, but we didn’t see any art for sale. There was an internet lounge with computers for guests to use, but we never saw anyone using them as most people now own smart phones. I expect this area will be used as something else during a future refurbishment. Next to the computer lounges, was the rebooking desk. We saw quite a number of people using this - we did not. Nearby was the photo area as found in most cruise lines. We did not use their service, but understood that photo prices started at €20.
We had pre purchased the premium Internet package, which was slow, but worked for what we needed. We could connect four devices at the same time. We only used a little over half the data we were allotted.
There were several bars and lounges, each offering different music styles in the evenings and different activities during the day. The disco on deck 14 was mostly used by kids. The two small pin bowling alleys and the several kids clubs were part of this lounge. There was also a small game room and 4D cinema, which we never tried. There was a self leveling billiards table in one of the lounges, which we saw used frequently. all these were extra charges.
Smoking was permitted in one area by the outdoor pool and on one side of the promenade deck (7). There was also a cigar lounge.
On our Northern Europe sailing, I’d guess to say that there was a large contingency of German, Italians, and British. There were many other nationalities represented in smaller quantities. There were quite a number of young adults and children on board too.
The ship offered a Behind the scenes tour for €49, which we took. The three hour tour took us backstage at the theater, the ship's laundry facility, the provisions refrigerated areas, the kitchen and a few other places. We were not shown the Bridge as “there was no room for guests”.
We found the ship clean throughout. There was always someone cleaning something. Bathrooms were well maintained. There were hand sanitizers throughout the ship - especially at restaurant entrances.
Due to the classic ship design, there were several “secret” balconies to be able to view the sea and ports from including the forward facing balconies on decks 9, 10 and 11 as well as a very cool one on deck 12 aft.
There were four elevator banks as opposed to the usual three found on others. The lifts were usually very efficient and clean.
We did not try the pools, but found the hot tubs to be quite small. Deck 16 forward had premium loungers somewhat shielded from the wind, but for an extra daily fee. The regular sun loungers had only two positions and also had an attached sun visor.
The ship's decor was a little dated. Although it was launched in 2009, it seemed more like an 80s or 90s style. This included the bulky cabin furniture. Maybe they can update this in a future refurbishment.
Lastly, the Promenade deck (7) was one of my favorites to watch the sea go by. Sadly, there are no lounge chairs here to sit and relax. The promenade does not go around completely as the show lounge is on this deck aft.
Would I sail on MSC or the Magnifica again? Definitely. If the price and route were good for me.