My husband and I sailed on the MSC ship, Fantasia, for a one-week cruise to the Mediterranean September 7-14, 2019. Here are our experiences:
Our experience with the Food/Buffet/Dining Room:
Our initial reaction to the buffet was that it lacked the WOW factor we had come to expect with other cruise lines in terms of food quality, quantity, and presentation. No ice sculptures, no food carvings, no beautifully decorated cakes or other food items, no sumptuous variety each day, no helpful, friendly, smiling wait staff, etc. Later, we realized that our initial experience with the buffet was “the norm.”
The buffet the entire week lacked variety, not to mention a lack of cleanliness and good customer service. The food was ok, but not delicious. My husband actually lost 4 pounds on the cruise and I stayed the exact same. When does that happen?!
Meat at the buffet was consistently overcooked and there was not much variety in the food items, regardless of the meal. The meat at the special carving station was often very fatty. And one of the carvers cleaned his knife on the food counter each time he was at the carving station! The food staff didn’t bother draining the grease from the bacon and sausage links at breakfast - instead, they just sat in 1/2 inch of grease each morning.
The food offerings at the buffet were much the same for every meal, both lunch and dinner. The bread, fruit, pizza, hamburgers, hotdogs, french fries, and salad were IDENTICAL every day. Only about 8 new dishes arrived each day throughout the entire buffet, but even then, several dishes were the same as the prior day with one minor exception. For instance, one night a pasta dish had a tomato sauce and the next night the same pasta dish had a white cream sauce.
The buffet was late in opening several nights while people streamed in and were greeted with cellophane still covering the food racks and no food in sight. One night I asked a staff member about the opening time and he said it opened at 7:00. I showed him on the cruise planner where it said 6:45 and that was why people were showing frustration that it wasn’t already open. He replied that it opened at different times every night. I asked him if the cruise planner was wrong. He replied, “OK, maybe it’s 6:45 then” but just shrugged his shoulders and walked away. A few minutes later, one of the dining room supervisors came through, noticed that nothing was open, and started shouting loudly at the staff behind the food counter - “Where’s the food? You’re late!” The buffet opened at 7:05 instead of 6:45 that night. Incidentally, the buffet dinner was NOT scheduled to open at different times each day - it was ALWAYS scheduled to open at 6:45.
The desserts were very dry and lacking in variety. They tasted like they were purchased and then brought on the ship rather than made-from-scratch on site like the previous cruise lines do that we’ve used. I didn’t eat dessert the entire cruise as a result of the dryness and pre-fab taste.
MSC’s site said they offered complimentary tea during lunch and dinner in the dining room, but they didn’t. It wasn’t even available for purchase. You either drank water in both the buffet and dining room or you had to purchase alcohol or a soft drink.
Drinking glasses were extremely short and small. They were the same height as a coffee cup/mug. Thus, it took more trips to refill them, OR you had to fill multiple glasses in the beginning so you didn’t have to return for refills.
One ice machine in the buffet was broken the entire week. We had to walk around to the other side each time to get ice.
On other cruise lines we’ve been on, an ice cream station was available all day to ALL passengers. On MSC, the ice cream station was only for customers who paid a premium to become Yacht Club members. “Regular” passengers had to purchase ice cream if they wanted it.
The pizza bar offered a small variety of very thin, rubbery, meatless pizza. Only one version had meat, and it contained about 8 total slices of pepperoni. So, each slice of pizza had ONE slice of pepperoni on it. The SAME pizza was offered ALL week with no variety.
Each time we selected a plate or coffee cup in the buffet, we had to go through several items to find a clean one. Even the “clean” plates had a smudgy film on them indicating hot water had not been used to clean them. This smudgy film could also be felt, not just seen. Many mugs were not only dirty, but they actually had substantial food particles in them as though they hadn’t been through the dishwasher at all or it wasn’t working properly. One morning, I went through 4 extremely dirty mugs before finding a 5th one that was clean. I showed a wait staff the 4 dirty ones. No explanation and no apology. Another time, we sat next to a table in which multiple glasses of wine were purchased. The passengers were aghast at the cloudiness of the wine glasses and talked about how unclean they looked. My husband saw the head food officer one day and spoke with him about the dirtiness of the dishes. The next day the plates looked/felt very clean for the first time! We still had to go through several mugs before finding a clean one, but at least the plates seemed clean after 3 days of dirty ones.
One buffet wait staff who was carrying a tray of silverware wrapped in cloth napkins, accidentally dropped a set on the floor. He bent down, picked it up, placed it back on the pile on the tray, and delivered it to the food station for people to use!
I unwrapped my silverware napkin at one meal to find fresh food stains all over it. It was completely dirty and unsightly. They had wrapped up silverware in a USED napkin. Picture attached.
One hand sanitizing machine at one buffet entrance was out of order the entire week. Both machines were positioned touching the wall (and therefore easy to overlook), rather than out in the open where people could see and use them. Obviously, no one could use the broken one all week. And hardly anyone used the working one that was next to the wall because it was out of the way. Not a good idea for cleanliness standards when you sometimes hear about hundreds of passengers on some cruise ships getting sick because of unsanitary standards.
At the buffet, salt and pepper shakers weren’t available on each table. In fact, salt AND pepper were only on about 25% of the tables in the room. We consistently had to borrow them from other tables.
We met one wait staff in the buffet who was friendly. When we commented on the lack of cleanliness and hygiene we had experienced, he told us that he was Marriott-trained and that the lack of standards on this ship bothered him immensely. This was his first tour with MSC and he said he wasn’t returning to this cruise line once his current tour was up with this ship. He just couldn’t handle the lower standards he was forced to accept. He said the non-British Europeans rarely complained because they were used to those standards, but the British and other native English speaking passengers DID complain because they were used to much higher food/service/cleanliness standards. But he said not much is done if/when there are complaints because there aren’t enough native English speakers to make a difference. He stated that many English speakers preferred the dining room to the buffet because of cleanliness issues.
However, in the dining room, we saw a waiter take unused silverware from 2 tables (after the passengers had left their tables) and load them back into the silverware receptacle for another use!
One morning at breakfast in the dining room, I watched a waitress bite and chew her fingernails the ENTIRE time I ate! She wasn’t very busy because apparently her main job was busing the tables. Occasionally however, she took drink orders and brought people their drinks. I don’t know if she washed her hands in the back before filling those drink orders each time, but I know she did NOT wash them before pouring coffee and hot water for several people - because the coffee and hot water pots were at her station which was within my view. She went directly from gnawing her nails to pouring coffee and handling the coffee cups! I finally told a man in a white staff jacket about it (who said he was a manager) and he asked for my room number. We never heard anything about the complaint.
This is merely a personal preference rather than a complaint: Coke products were not available for sale on board - only Pepsi products.
Our experience with the Excursions:
We were EXTREMELY disappointed that the two complimentary city tour excursions that were offered with our cruise did not materialize once we boarded. They were listed on the website as “included excursions” but the excursion staff on board said they had never heard of free excursions. For some reason, they couldn’t pull up their own website for our particular cruise dates in order for us to show them where it said they were complimentary. We initially chose not to pay for internet access because the customer service desk on the ship said texting was NOT included with the $90 price. We thought that was strange but believed the staff person who told us that. Since we didn’t pay for internet access, we couldn’t pull up the site ourselves to prove our case. We didn’t find out until 4 days into the cruise (halfway point) that texting WAS included in the price! We ended up paying FULL PRICE for internet access for only 4 days so we could text. (No discount or pro-rated amount!) We were then able to pull up MSC’s website, but since our cruise was already underway, the site didn’t even list our cruise. Therefore, we had absolutely no proof that the site stated clearly that those two particular excursions were free. We were VERY upset by this bait and switch tactic and ended up PAYING for one of the excursions that was supposed to be free. EXTREMELY frustrating and disappointing. But how do you prove it once that part of the site is taken down?
We were verbally told by the excursion staff TWICE that one of the excursions we paid for was canceled because of “weather,” but then the cancellation letter we received in our room the night prior said it was cancelled because of lack of participation. Which reason was true?
Some of the staff in the Excursions Department were quite rude. One lady told my husband that they were closed when he arrived to ask a quick question. He said he just had a quick question that couldn’t wait until they reopened. She repeated insistently, rudely, and loudly that they were closed. Another time, we heard the same Excursion lady tell a passenger, “Can’t you see I’m talking?” when the passenger asked her a question. My husband later spoke to some British ladies who had a similar experience. They had asked the same lady in Excursions for a pen to fill out a form and were told they were closed and to come back at 5:00.
One of the excursions we paid for was a trip into Marseille, France. The air conditioning on the bus either wasn’t working or the driver just didn’t turn it on. It was MUCH too hot to ride on a bus with 50 people without air conditioning and windows that didn’t open. It was stifling until we reached our destination. Same experience on the return trip.
Two excursion buses we were on had signs prominently posted on them that they had WiFi. We were looking forward to free texting on the bus (that was before we paid $90 for the last 4 days!). However, one bus did NOT have it at all. The other one did, but because their certificate had expired, they officially didn’t have it either.
Our experience with Customer Service/WOW Factor:
A luggage handler on the dock prior to boarding asked for a tip to put our luggage on the ship.
There was no WOW factor when we entered the ship or walked into the main atrium. The stairs were glittery and the back wall of the elevator facing the atrium was glass, but that was all. The furniture looked tired, bland, and uninviting. Nothing like the WOW experiences we’ve had before with other cruise lines/ships.
The staff were very functional, but not friendly. Many of the ship staff seemed bothered to help guests. They were happy to ask if you wanted to buy any drinks. And they were good about quickly cleaning the tables. But they never smiled, chatted, or seemed welcoming or engaging like they are on other cruise lines. On a scale of 1 to 10, we have rated “hospitality/friendliness” on previous cruise lines as a 10. It was a 3 or 4 on MSC.
We met a couple from Istanbul on the ship and chatted with them at length. They were also quite disappointed with this cruise line, having sailed on others. They commented on the poor customer service, the lack of WOW factor, the worn pool towels, the carpet in their room that needed to be replaced, and the unfriendliness of the staff. They agreed that this ship would rate about a 4 overall on a scale of 1 to 10.
We met a couple from Canada who had sailed on about 25 cruises. They also agreed with our assessment and commented that the standards on this ship were extremely relaxed. We were all happy with the price we paid, but agreed that the standards were not what other cruise lines offered for a similar price.
Another couple we met had paid a premium price to be Yacht Club members. They were very happy with their food, service, amenities, etc. (which were different than what “regular” passengers experienced). When we compared prices though, they realized they had paid OVER DOUBLE what we did for that better experience. We told them we had experienced great food, service, amenities, etc on other cruise lines WITHOUT having to pay OVER DOUBLE for it!
The cruise planner mentioned a 4-D cinema. Since we thought we’d like to watch a movie, we asked where the cinema was. No one knew. And they didn’t know which movie was playing, or when. We asked a total of 6 staff members at/around the Customer Service desk. We finally went to Deck 16 to find out ourselves, and it turned out that the “cinema” was a motorcycle arcade game in the children’s play area! There was NO cinema and NO movie.
Even the large screen on the pool deck didn’t offer movies each night as other cruise lines often do. It just offered endless commercials to purchase things on the ship and showed food staff cooking.
The ship itinerary was confusing. It didn’t have everything listed on one page like we’ve had in the past. Instead, they used multiple pages to tell what was going on all day on the ship. Not only was it confusing to read and sort out, but I prefer to carry just one piece of paper with me rather than multiple sheets.
There weren’t as many opportunities for entertainment on board as we’ve enjoyed on previous ships.
They used military time for everything, so you had to convert each activity/meal to know what time it was actually scheduled.
The suit jackets on many of the staff were ill-fitting and looked like they hadn’t seen a cleaners in a very long time. Therefore, many of them didn’t look professional.
There was an inordinate amount of advertising for the Butcher Cut (an onboard steak restaurant at extra cost). It was advertised GALORE - via intercom, room TV, theater screens at the show each night, theater verbal announcements, waiters coming to your table and standing outside the dining room with placards, etc. Too much!
We were surprised that we were charged $70 per person ($140 total) mid-cruise for tips. Our entire table in the dining room, consisting of 8 people, talked about this and were all frustrated about it. None of us had noticed any mention of automatic pre-tipping in our paperwork or on the website. None of us minded tipping when we experienced good service, but to automatically include it WITHOUT telling us and BEFORE the service was rendered and when we mainly experienced BAD service was unacceptable. We all chose to have them remove this expense and told them we would rather tip individually instead. My husband was told on two separate occasions by different Customer Service staff that both tip amounts would be removed from our bill AFTER we disembarked. That sounded strange, but we accepted it as truth. Unfortunately, that expense is STILL on our credit card bill 2 weeks later and we’re contesting it.
See above as it pertains to the Excursion staff.
Our experience with our Room:
When we first arrived in our room, we noticed there was a slot in the bathroom counter for facial tissue but none was present. When we mentioned this to our steward, he said the stewards were told to stop putting facial tissue in the bathrooms. We looked at him incredulously. He finally told us he’d find a way to get us some. He did, but that excuse sounded very strange.
Just as an example of the missing WOW factor, the stewards didn’t put chocolates on your pillow or create cute animals out of towels and washcloths every night like other cruise lines do. (Petty in comparison, but this is a detailed list.)
When we positioned the handle for the shower water on the coldest temperature possible, the water went from scalding hot so bad that we couldn’t stand it . . . to freezing cold. And back again. Over and over. Shower temperature on other cruise lines has fluctuated as well, but not to this extreme.
The carpet was very tired looking. So were the pool towels.
On about 5 occasions, our room key did not work. We tried both of them over and over and over again before one would finally open the door.
The balcony was wonderful and made up for some of our negative experiences! Thank you to our travel agent for accomplishing this!
Bottom line, if you’ve NEVER been on a cruise before, this was a halfway decent cruise for the money if you can handle the lower standards for cleanliness and customer service. If you HAVE been on a cruise though, you will probably NOT enjoy this one because you’ve undoubtedly experienced HIGH standards of excellence with cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean and Princess. Stick with them!