The 2,150-passenger MSC Opera is one of four medium-sized Lirica-class ships, dating from 2004 (the others are Armonia, Lirica and Sinfonia).
MSC Cruises spent more than $200 million on Opera and the rest of the Mistral class during a two-year refurbishment program in 2014–2015 that saw a nearly 80-foot-long section sandwiched into the middle of each ship. The "stretching" procedure added nearly 200 more cabins -- 94 of which have balconies. During the refurbishment, the line also took the chance to update the spa and childcare facilities, as well as to add an interactive water feature called the Spray Park to the top deck.
The result is a ship that looks and feels contemporary, despite its advanced years. MSC has really thought about what ship would fit best for this Cuba itinerary, and has gone to great lengths to give it a Cuban feel in terms of entertainment and cuisine, as well as some well thought out shore excursions.
Opera does have its limitations, however, not least the crush at peak hours at the buffet and the lack of dining options.
The ship has been homeporting in Havana, Cuba from the winter 2015-16 season, and stays two nights and two and a half days in the Cuban capital, which means you can get a real feel for the city, enjoying its nightspots and -- if you're feeling adventurous -- venturing out to discover other parts of Cuba during the day.
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Opera also stops in Montego Bay, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and Cozumel, Mexico. Opera was joined by sister ship MSC Armonia in winter 2016.
Opera's demographic is predominantly European, mainly Italian, French and Spanish with a handful of Brits. The line does not operate the "People to People" program, which allows U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba, so there are no Americans onboard. The cultural differences are fascinating and fun; one thing they all have in common is they are there for a good time and the partying goes on till late. You also never know what response your "good morning" will get ... it might be a "Guten tag" or "Buenos Dias," "Buon Giorno" or "Bonjour." That's one of the things that make this ship special, and also means announcements in at least five different languages; sometimes more.
Ages range from families with young kids to seniors with walkers.
There are two formal nights on a seven-night cruise; otherwise, dress during the day is casual and, at night, is country club casual.