MSC are one of the first cruise lines to start operating their ships again following the situation with Covid-19. Whilst they appear to be getting it right and the experience was excellent they could be leading to a total disaster.
All passengers are provided with their allocated embarkation time and its important that you are respectful of this not only for yourself but other guests. Check in is pretty much what you would expect and as there were very few guests embarking the process was much quicker and far less people around. We were in group 1 and there were around 70 - 100 in our group. We were then called upstairs one party at a time for the Covid swab test. A very simple and not too painful process. After this we then directed to the main check in area for photos etc, after which groups were allocated in sections of the main terminal to wait for the results of the test. Your not given the results but the groups are then called to board the ship.
All guest are required to attend a mandatory daily temperature check, they really have this process spot on as they have crew with the temperature check guns at the entrance to the buffet and restaurants so there is no daily queuing or a requirement to be somewhere for the check. The show you your temperature on the phone app as you enter. They also stated they would do this upon leaving and entering the ship however this became a little lapse in some ports and it wasn't taken.
Your only allowed off the ship if you are booked on a shore excursion and ours had 3 included in the package. Normally when i cruise i wouldn't take an organised tour as i like to do my own thing but it was well managed and we got to see places, especially in Rome that we wouldn't normally see. The only downside was that as we had requested the German speaking tour there wasn't many German speaking guests on board so the tours were in several languages which became difficult to listen to after some time. The packed lunch we were provided with in Rome was terrible also with just a ham role, an apple, water, cheese and nuts.
Its mandatory to wear a face covering when moving around the ship but you are allowed to remove the mask when in a bar, restaurant, on a sun chair or of course in the pool. New masks are proved in your cabin everyday. This is where it all could start to become a disaster. There isn't really any enforcement of the rules or consistency in their approach. There are announcements on the PA and some staff do challenge guests, we all forget on occasions to wear your mask but it was obvious some guests didn't care and just didn't wear them or told the correct way to wear a mask IE cover your nose and mouth. In the casino at the roulette table there were some quite vocal guests and they were not told to put their masks on.
The biggest area for concern is the younger age groups, we walked passed the teenage club to get to the back of the ship and there were large groups of teenagers not wearing masks then later in the evening they would be dancing and hugging together on the deck at the disco without masks and of course going back to join their parents later. It will only take one teenager to be positive and i can imagine there will be suddenly a lot of cases onboard. I would have liked to have seen some sort of enforcement or a 3 strikes and your out or made to watch a safety video or explain your behaviour as this could be a problem.
Its not too bad, there are a few one way systems in place and clear floor markings and signage however i'm afraid some guests do not know how to socially distance and often stood a little too close especially a group that were behind us on one of the open tour buses.
After the final port in Malta guests are required to take a further covid test however, this is a total waste of time and effort. Its a single nose swab which wasn't administered very well and when we disembarked the ship nobody asked for the paperwork, there wasn't even any passport control.
Food and Service
There were around 1000 guests on a ship that has the capacity to hold almost 6000 so of course the speed of service was excellent especially at the bars, they learned our names quickly and knew what we were drinking by day 2. I could not imagine it at full capacity, it would be hell.
As with MSC the food is average, there isn't a single meal that was memorable or made you go wow. The buffet is all served however the food was all a bit 'samey', there were no fresh or steamed vegetables at lunchtime, the breakfast selection was minimal and the evening restaurant menu wasn't very inspiring. They have also introduced a new QR code system for scanning the menu rather than handing out menus which meant using your mobile at the dining table which is a personal hate of mine.
I couldn't quite work out some of the rules, pricing and availability of drinks and food. It wasn't clear if we could get breakfast delivered to the room for free and there was no information about the charges for our drinks package and what was included. We stuck to beer and wine or gin and tonic because there was no clear information about cocktails and drinks such as Baileys were not included yet you could get a gin.
The most stupid rule they have is in the speciality restaurants, we went to the 'Butchers Cut' Steak House one evening, and although we had a drinks package they could not serve drinks from the drinks package to you so during the meal we had to keep getting up to go to a nearby bar to get wine and go back to the restaurant. They also do that typical thing whereby if your in the champagne bar you cannot get a beer. So if one of you in the party want wine and the other a beer then its best to avoid. This was something Royal Caribbean used to do which i hated.
MSC is known for its laughable entertainment, im not sure who their head of entertainment is but they need their ears cleaning or had any stage presence. The artists are all a bit drab, the band performing on the deck had two girl singers and i neither really did anything. In fact one evening the band were performing live and they'd used the Micheal Jackson vocal as their singer.. strange. One think i like about Norwegian Cruise Line is that they have a visible Cruise Director leading the entertainment team and they all have a role to play. With MSC they go for crew with no real responsibility other than dressing up and going out trying to get people up and dancing.
On the whole a nice cruise and possibly the only cruise at the minute so there are limited options. I would hate to see anything go wrong but if they don't start enforcing their Covid-19 protocols it will be a disaster waiting to happen. Other cruise lines should watch this space carefully.
The cabin was good, we booked an inside and we were upgraded to a balcony, the room steward was excellent and we tipped him however halfway through the cruise we had some noisy Italian guests join us next door. People need to be more respectful when in the cabin areas and not let children run up and down the corridors screaming, especially at 2am.