Cruise Ship Review
MSC Splendida - Ship Review provided by Cruise Critic
For starters, English-speaking passengers are in the minority on Splendida, as they are on all MSC ships in Europe. So don't count on a lot of interaction with fellow passengers, many of whom may not speak English. Your menu, your daily newsletter and written messages all will be in English. Your tablemates at an assigned dinner seating will speak English. The crew will speak English when talking to you. But other communications on the ship -- from loud speaker announcements to the life boat drill -- will be in five languages, including but not leading with English.
On Splendida, you also may feel nickel and dimed when asked to pay for water and coffee, room service, ice cream and hanging around the spa. However, Europeans are used to paying for these items. (In North America, MSC ships change some pricing policies so Yanks are more comfortable.)
All employees I met aboard the ship were friendly and attempted to fulfill my requests. Their style was European, in that little effort was made to anticipate a need or to notice if something might be awry. So don't expect to be coddled or for the staff to notice that you have a problem; you'll need to be more proactive, but the staff will respond.
MSC has built a modern cruise fleet, and Splendida reflects the evolution toward prettier and more innovative ships. The ship is well designed, with fine materials, quality artwork, and good fabrics in grand public areas and in the cabins, 80 percent of which have private balconies. The ship serves middle-class Europeans, and is well priced to compete with other mass-marketed, mainstream ships in Europe.
Passengers who prefer a more exclusive atmosphere can book a cabin in Splendida's Yacht Club, which offers many of the services associated with concierge floors in luxury hotels. While the Yacht Club is pricey for a mainstream ship -- with fares two to three times higher than the standard cabins -- it got high marks from passengers on my cruise, and Cruise Critic members online have praised the Yacht Club experience. Noteworthy amenities include butler service, a private sun deck with pool and whirlpools, and an exclusive lounge offering concierge services, and light meals and free drinks throughout the day.
DiningWhile Splendida offers a variety of options for eating, most passengers tended to crowd the lido cafeteria, Bora Bora, at breakfast and lunch, while the main dining rooms had plenty of empty tables. At dinner, the five specialty restaurant options were not busy, sometimes empty in the early evenings, while the two main dining rooms were packed with passengers at early seating (starting at 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. depending on the ship's itinerary) and late seating (starting at 8:45 to 9:30 p.m.).
Of the two handsome main dining rooms, La Reggia and Villa Verde, the two-level La Reggia seems far more crowded with tightly packed tables, while Villa Verde, with panoramic views of the sea from big picture windows, has a more open feel. Both dining rooms have a grand look when set for dinner.
I was assigned a round table of nine at early seating in La Reggia, and I shared an "intimate" table with four women from Scotland and two couples from England. The backs of our chairs rubbed against the backs of chairs belonging to our neighbors when any of us moved in or out of our places. Our table was surrounded by large families, with children who often were noisy though not ill-behaved. When I peeked into the dining room later on in the evening, the second seating at La Reggia was quieter than the first seating.
Meals in the main dining rooms are included in the cruise fare. Passengers may choose from as many as six courses -- salad, soup, appetizers, pasta, entree and dessert. Each night, the menu includes specialties, as well as a pasta and risotto, from a different region of Italy. I recommend trying them all. An evening menu might include entree choices of stewed fish, smoked ham, escalope of turkey and eggplant Parmesan. Always available were spaghetti, chicken breast, escalope of beef and salmon.
Table service at dinner was friendly and efficient. Waiters did a good job of keeping track of the different wine package selections at my table, and they were helpful when I requested Champagne glasses so that I could share with the table a bottle that had been sent to my cabin. At the beginning of the cruise, passengers may buy a wine package that includes five to seven bottles. The wine is delivered to your table in the main dining rooms (though for some reason not to the alternative restaurants). The wine packages cost 129 Euros.
My experience during open seating at breakfast and lunch in the Villa Verde dining room was quite different from the crowded conditions at dinner. Both restaurants serve a full breakfast, but I preferred Villa Verde, on the stern on Deck 6 (reachable only by the back stairs from Deck 7), because the venue is more airy and spacious. It also offers great views of the ocean. The service was good and the food substantially better, with more choices than in the cafeteria upstairs, which in peak hours has all the ambiance of a crowded shopping mall food court.
Eating in the cafeteria was a quandary. The ship has two buffet style restaurants -- Bora Bora and Pago Pago -- that blend into each other and seem like one during breakfast and lunch. At night, Bora Bora becomes a pizzeria and kebab restaurant, which charges a few Euros for each item of food. Pago Pago was closed at night.
The breakfast and lunch buffets at Bora Bora and Pago Pago offer different food choices, which can be confusing. At breakfast, for instance, Pago Pago did not serve hot food, offering choices such as fruit and bakery goods for a Continental breakfast. Hot dishes were available in Bora Bora. The result was that the tables in Bora Bora were packed full of people, while the tables in Pago Pago were nearly empty. When I ate buffet-style, I chose my meal in Bora Bora, and then zipped across the South Pacific, so to speak, to consume my food in Pago Pago, which has a nice picture window view off the stern, as well as a bar with draft beers.
I was disappointed in the buffets -- cafeteria-quality food mostly for breakfast and lunch (which I am told is more typical for MSC ships in Europe than in North America, where the buffets offer a higher quality and more variety). Breakfast, for instance, was the same pans of fully scrambled eggs, lightly cooked bacon and bland link sausages every morning. At lunch, the most tender meat was in the hamburger, which came with fries.
But here is where I made a mistake in the early days of my one-week cruise out of Genoa. I was choosing my food like an American in Chicago, with high expectations for such items as roast beef, which I would never order in Europe unless I was in the fanciest of restaurants. When I changed my eating habits -- focusing on Mediterranean favorites like pastas, risottos, hams, veal, cheeses, breads, soups, eggplant, fish, calamari and basil Pesto sauce -- my lunches and dinners went from ordinary to excellent. The daily pasta special in the lunch buffet line at Bora Bora was worth the walk from Pago Pago.
Beyond the nightly pizza and kebabs in Bora Bora, Splendida houses four other alternatives, which, in European style, are priced a la carte. Passengers are charged per item, though the total seldom would amount to more than the $20-$35 fees typically charged in alternative restaurants on many North American ships.
L'Olivio, typically open four days each week, serves lunch (noon to 2:30 p.m.) and dinner (6:30 to 11 p.m.). It is fine dining with Italian and Mediterranean food served in an intimate space with white walls and arched doorways. Meals include such regional fare as swordfish carpaccio with capers, scallops cooked au gratin and codfish with vegetables in olive oil. My three-course meal, charged a la carte, with a glass of red wine, came to 28 Euros.
L'Enoteca is an excellent wine and tapas bar, perfect for early evening sipping and snacking while listening to piano music, or making a light dinner of wines by the glass or bottle and a selection of meat, vegetable and cheese tapas. It's open on select afternoons (noon to 3 p.m.) and every evening (5:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.). I ordered a cheese plate for 8 Euros and a glass of Italian white for 5 Euros.
The Sports Bar (with a miniature two-lane bowling alley) is open noon to 2 a.m. It's a nice stop for a lunch of chicken wings and a beer, a total of about 6.5 Euros. Sante Fe, billed as Tex-Mex, is open occasionally at lunch (noon to 2:30 p.m.) and always for dinner (6:30 to 11 p.m.). My dinner of Caesar salad, fajitas and a beer was good but pricey at about 20 Euros.
Two gelato stations, one in the impressive interior courtyard called Piazzetta, the other by the pool, serve a variety of flavors for about 2 Euros. The poolside gelateria is in a smoking area, so be warned if you're bothered by second-hand smoke.
North Americans should be prepared to pay extra for food and beverages outside of the dining room, and for water anytime, except for the tap water available in the cafeteria. MSC adds bottled water to the cruise package for North Americans, so passengers get a bottle of water daily in the dining room, which they can take back to their cabins. Europeans typically drink mineral water and are accustomed to paying for it.
On cruises in Europe, room service carries a charge. Items from the simple menu, available 24 hours a day, are about 3 Euros each and are more for snacking than for meals. Options include sandwiches, salads, and a cheese and fruit tray.
Public RoomsThis is a big and bold ship, with lots of marble and quality fabrics throughout. It's so big that the mid-ship stairwells reminded me of a major city freeway, with several fast lanes in the middle, and a separate set of slow lanes on either side. I never made it to the middle of the stairwell freeway, which often was full of groups of people moving lickety-split between the primary cabin decks (8 -13) and either the eating, drinking and entertainment on Decks 5 -7 or the sunning, swimming and casual buffets on Decks 14 -18. I preferred to skip the frenetic space of the central stairwell and walk more slowly up and down in the double set of stairs on my side of the ship.
With 3,274 (double occupancy) to 3,900 people (max occupancy, lots of kids) milling around, the ship sometimes feels overcrowded, especially at breakfast and lunch in the cafeteria, on the open pool deck during sunny days, in the covered pool area on cool days, and around the entrances to the main dining rooms the moment doors open for dinner seatings.
The most popular gathering area is La Piazzetta, an interior courtyard with ceramic tile benches and a flowing fountain on Deck 6. Nearby shops include men's and women's fashion boutiques, and stores for jewelry, logo clothing, and a full range of candy, liquor and tobacco. The ship is wired for Internet, and the Cyberlibrary on Deck 5, with computers for passenger use, is staffed for help at midday and late afternoon.
CabinsOf Splendida's 1,637 cabins, 80 percent have private balconies. There are also 43 cabins that accommodate passengers with special needs. Interior cabins spread throughout the ship measure 172 square feet. Outside cabins with a window -- on Decks 5, 8 and 13 -- vary from 185 to 218 square feet.
Balcony cabins are roomy at 194 square feet, with a balcony at 42 square feet. Mine was designed in a series of tasteful reds, from bedcover and trim to drapes, couch and pillows. At the foot of the bed was a wall-to-ceiling mirror nearly as wide as the bed. I had a small desk with a square backless seat, a small refrigerator and small TV mounted near the outside wall. Balcony furnishings included two chairs and a small table. The closet was plenty for hanging clothes for two, with two shelves and six drawers. There were lights on either side of the bed, but they could not be directed toward anyone reading in bed.
The bathroom was equipped with a shower -- sufficient for a person of average size -- with shower gel and shampoo in a dispenser. The room had three shelves, as well as room beneath the basin for storage.
Suites come in five categories. Balcony suites, at 292 square feet, are about one-and-a-half times the size of standard balcony cabins, with a balcony of 61 square feet. Standard suites range from 236-285 square feet, with balconies of 42-61 square feet. Deluxe suites, which have no balcony, are 223-316 square feet. The largest suites, Executive and Royal, range from 356-571 square feet. All but two have balconies, of 61 - 172 square feet.
The largest of the suites are included in the Yacht Club, which has 71 accommodations on the ship's highest decks. (Once there were 99, but MSC has eliminated cabins on lower decks from the group.) Yacht Club cabins are set apart, with their own special check-in; a butler; free laundry; a private swimming pool, whirlpools and sunning deck; a concierge lounge open and staffed 24 hours with light meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as snacks and free water, wine, beer and coffees. Yacht Club passengers may eat lunch and dinner in L'Olivo alternative restaurant at no charge.
EntertainmentWith passengers speaking five different languages, most entertainment does not focus on words. Shows are mostly musical productions, with occasional performances by perhaps an acrobat, juggler or mime.
One night in the Strand Theatre, the two-deck main show lounge, was dedicated to a show called "Sam," billed as being about the U.S.A. It was a show about historical moments in American history as they were seen in stage presentations, such as singing cowboys and Indians. The Europeans I asked thought the show was okay but ordinary. I found it silly, like watching a television show from the 1950's.
More than a dozen bars and lounges onboard include venues for piano music, jazz and Latin dancing. Because so many of the passengers eat in the main dining rooms, at either the early or late seatings, the public areas are not overly crowded during the evening. Each day, Splendida offers live music in the wine bar (L'Enoteca), the courtyard (Piazzetta), the piano bar (La Prua), the Purple Jazz Bar and the Aft Lounge, as well as dance lessons and late night disco music with a D.J. Most evenings, Decks 6 and 7 were hopping, especially as the late-seating crowd finished dinner about 11 p.m. Bars were open until 1 a.m. and the Club 33 Disco Bar even later.
You may entertain yourself in the games arcade, or head for the Formula 1 racecar simulator and four-dimensional cinema. The simulator was under repair, so I chose the 4D Cinema, where the feature attraction was falling through a mine shaft. For 7.90 Euros, I was strapped into a bright yellow seat, handed a pair of 3D glasses, and turned toward a screen for a simulated ride on a rail car that went careening through a gold mine shaft.
"How long will it be?" I asked the attendant. "About 8 minutes," she said. "Any more, you are going crazy." I did not go crazy, but was ready for the end after bouts with broken tracks, flying, bats, falling timbers, water and close calls with cavern walls. I was entertained. By the way, the fourth dimension is your moving seat, which is not nearly as rough as any roller coaster.
Daytime activities led by the cruise staff ranged from mambo and salsa dance lessons in the Aft Lounge to games in the Club 33 Disco and a late afternoon stretch class, all at no charge. While I found some of the games confusing because of all the different languages (I had no trouble with bingo), the participants were welcoming. If you want to learn the mambo with strangers who will never see you again, this is the place.
Shore excursions at various Mediterranean ports were mostly group tours, at about 50 Euros or more. They were well run with tour guides who spoke the languages assigned. When I was required to return to my cabin for my passport in Tunis, I missed my tour bus, but the tour operator onshore provided a car and driver to take me to the tour's first stop so I could rejoin my group. I was impressed.
Fitness and RecreationThe vast Aurea Spa complex includes a gym, sauna, steam room, thalassotherapy rooms, a Turkish bath and 15 massage rooms where the staff specializes in Balinese treatments. A Balinese massage will begin with scraping of dead skin from limbs and back, and continue with muscle massaging as deep as you would like, in the usual places, with plenty of warm oil.
At Aurea's entrance is a spa bar, offering juices and healthy snacks for a fee, though it was empty most of the day on my cruise. I sat in the bar, waiting for my massage, as the quiet rooms, as well as changing rooms inside the spa, were available only at an hourly charge.
As on many ships, passengers may want to shower in their cabins and walk to the spa in their robes, as they will be led directly from the reception area to their massage treatment. Also, you may want to carry a written list of medications that you take, as massage therapists often ask about this.
Spa prices in Europe, in euros, seemed higher than prices in North America, but ads in the daily newsletter, placed in your cabin, provided significant savings. For instance, a body scrub, with 30-minute foot and body massage, along with an hour in the spa thermal area, typically cost 152 euros, but the special price one day was 99 euros.
As with most spas at sea, be prepared for a sales pitch about health and beauty supplies by the spa staff.
The gym is well equipped with treadmills, exercise bikes and weight machines. Outside, there's a court for basketball and tennis, and a jogging track on Deck 15 that circles above the pool area on Deck 14.
The pool decks, 14 and 15, feature a magrodome (a retractable glass roof) over one pool, a big hit on Splendida just as it was on sister ship MSC Fantasia. It was added so passengers could swim during winter season in the Mediterranean, when the weather often is too chilly for such activity outside. Outdoors on Deck 14 is the Aqua Park, with spraying fountains and water jets. A second pool, the Playa del Sol, is on Deck 15. If you like to soak in a hot tub you are in luck. The main and aft swimming pool areas each have two whirlpools, and the forward pool area with the retractable roof has three more.
FamilyMSC sells lots of cruises to families -- children who are the third and fourth passengers in the cabin sail for free -- and even in November there were groups of children all over the ship. MSC offers programs for young children, divided into age groups of younger than 3, ages 3-6, ages 6-12 and ages 13-18. However, they are not as equipped with such amenities as science labs and sports facilities as programs typically on North American ships. The young children have their own supervised pool (Piscina Bambini) and the teens their own waterslide, the Tobaga, on Deck 15.
Fellow PassengersMost of the passengers aboard Splendida are from Europe. It's a popular ship for families on vacation from France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, the United Kingdom and especially Italy. You'll meet some singles, but a majority seem to be families or couples.
While meeting people from other parts of the world is one of the great joys of travel, some of the cultural differences have been known to be irritating to North Americans. They often have trouble getting used to the unwillingness by some Europeans to get in line, who push their way to the front instead of waiting their turn. Also, the more prevalent cigarette-smoking can be bothersome to people used to restrictions on indoor smoking in restaurants and other indoor establishments. On MSC's Europe cruises, cigarette smoke seems to linger near doorways and in other public areas, despite rules about passengers smoking only in designated areas, usually on the starboard (right) side of the ship.
Dress CodeThe MSC Splendida daily newsletter explains the three evening dress code options. On Gala nights, men are encouraged to wear a tuxedo, dinner jacket or lounge suit, with evening or cocktail dress for ladies. Informal nights mean jacket and tie for gentlemen, cocktail dress for ladies, and no jeans. On casual evenings, men can be comfortable in sports shirts, trousers or jeans, and women don skirts, slacks, sweaters or blouses.
On a one-week cruise, two nights were designated as formal Gala nights, and some passengers dressed up, though many did not. Many passengers dressed casually, no matter what was recommended for the evening. For some men, formal night meant untucked shirts and no tie, while the women tended to dress a little nicer.
GratuityA gratuity charge of 7 Euros per person, per day, is added automatically to your bill. In addition, a service charge of 15 percent is added to restaurant and bar bills. The currency onboard is the Euro.
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