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My first cruise with MSC: everything you need to know

If there's something that I like to do when I travel, it's to combine trips to my favorite places and, at the same time, discover new experiences. Today I come to tell you about my first time on board MSC, specifically on the MSC Magnifica on a 3-night mini cruise. It was a short trip but enough to get to know what the company offers, life on board, and all the details of traveling with MSC.

Our itinerary consisted of departing from Barcelona and arriving in Genoa (Italy) after a full day of sailing, and then returning to Barcelona by mid-afternoon on the last day. I see this type of cruise as very suitable for people who are looking to disconnect for a couple of days without the intention of exploring many destinations, and also for a quite affordable price (especially almost off-season, as was my case). I'll tell you about my evaluation at the end.

A high-end experience

The experience starts with the booking process. Something that surprised me and at the same time made me decide to try MSC was what they call Status Match. This is especially interesting if you are a frequent cruiser. Each cruise line usually has a loyalty club where, as you travel, you accumulate points and move up to different levels, accessing various types of privileges such as spa access, specialty dinners, or onboard credit, among others. This makes you more loyal to your favorite company, but MSC offers something very interesting: they match your level with the other cruise lines. So, without any tricks, they will match your level. The only condition to maintain it is to take at least one MSC cruise every three years.

In my case, after several trips with Costa, I am at the Gold level. Well, after proving it, MSC matched me to the Diamond level, the highest level in the company. All the club privileges without spending a single night on their ships. Wow.

Thanks to this, I had access to several privileges that I will tell you about below. The most important thing if you want to do this is to contact MSC before making your reservation to find out how it works. Obviously, depending on the level you have in another company, they will assign you a new one. And by the way, they also take into account loyalty clubs of hotel chains.

Embarking and first impressions

The boarding process was quite relaxed. I arrived at the port of Barcelona early in the morning and was one of the first to enter. One of the privileges offered as a diamond member was priority boarding, which was a bit disorganized at first but quick and efficient after the security check. Boarding the ship was very easy and, what surprised me the most, was that the suitcases arrived at the cabin before me. I had never seen that before! I'm not sure if it was also due to the diamond status, but being able to enjoy the cabin and organize everything from the first minute seemed like a very good way to start the cruise.

However, something that I missed was a warm welcome as it happens in other companies such as Costa. It was not a problem for me since I know the procedures, but after talking to several guests, there was a certain feeling of misinformation. At least in my experience, there was no one at the entrance speaking Spanish welcoming or informing about informative meetings, simulation processes, or basic information such as the location of the buffet to eat something after boarding. These are details that I have seen in some companies and not in others. However, I think it is essential for those who embark on a cruise for the first time and are somewhat lost when boarding. Still, there are always crew members to approach so don't be afraid to clear up your doubts with any of them.

The cabin I chose was an exterior with an obstructed view, which was the best-priced option and I found it curious to try. The space was very nice. As I expected, its design was not exactly modern but it was comfortable. The porthole offered views of a lifeboat and some scenery in the distance. Obviously, in this type of cabin, the windows have more the function of obtaining natural light than enjoying great views. However, I did get a scare when a maintenance employee passed by the lifeboats and I didn't expect it. At least it has an easy solution: draw the curtains.

The ship: MSC Magnifica

I am one of those who consider that the ship is part of the destination, especially in this case where we only made a stop in Genoa and returned to Barcelona. Even so, I must say that I did not choose the cruise for the ship (as I have done other times) but rather because it seemed like a good opportunity in general.

I'm not going to lie, I didn't have high expectations for the ship. After being on huge and new ships recently like the Costa Toscana or Wonder of the Seas, I was more focused on enjoying the days than being delighted by a big ship. The MSC Magnifica launched in 2009 and was refurbished a couple of years ago. However, I must say that as soon as I boarded, the ship pleasantly surprised me. It didn't feel old at all (perhaps because of its recent refurbishment) and it seemed much bigger on the inside than what I perceived from the outside, with all spaces being in perfect condition.

The decorative style has that excessive, extravagant, and even somewhat kitschy touch that was so fashionable in ships a few years ago (and that I love), far from the minimalism that has been trending more recently and that you will surely find on newer ships in the fleet (and that I also adore).

My favorite spaces on board were the aft lounge (L'Ametista Lounge), with beautiful views of the wake of the ship and where they held animation activities, musical performances, and other events; the central lounges (Tiger Bar and Topazio Bar), a similar concept but in the center of the ship; and, of course, the promenade deck next to the lifeboats, which is always one of my favorite places to admire the sea up close.

Gastronomy and drink packages

Let's talk about one of the topics that cannot be missed: the food and drink on the ship. Let's start with the buffet. It is located on the upper decks of the ship, with views on both sides and a terrace at the stern (wonderful to take your food outside if the weather is nice). They offer service practically all day long. I visited it for lunch on the first day (I usually avoid buffets but it was the only option open by schedule and I wanted to try it). The food is quite varied. I don't remember there being many options of each type but there was a bit of everything: various types of pasta, salads, cheeses and cold cuts, fish, meat, vegetarian options and a detail that I like: a world cuisine corner. The first day there was Asian food. In the afternoons, there were sweets and salty options like pizza slices. It's not the pizza you expect to have in Italy freshly made in a stone oven with top-quality ingredients, but it tastes good and comforts you if you have a craving before dinner. The food, in general, is okay. It doesn't surprise you but it meets what you expect from a standard buffet and I ate well.

For the other meals, I opted for the à la carte restaurant, both for lunch and dinner. I always prefer it because of the more elaborate dishes and table service. My impressions are somewhat similar to those of the buffet. Everything was generally correct but no dish surprised me in particular. I remember a pesto pasta that hardly had any basil, or a paella that didn't remind me at all of the flavors of Spain. Others, however, such as a seafood bisque or the mushroom risotto, seemed very good to me. At least there is variety and that is appreciated.

Let's talk about the specialty restaurants. As is common on older ships, the practice of offering paid meals was not as common, and there is only one Asian corner. In my case, it was included in my Diamond privileges, so I tried it. I wouldn't say the food is bad, but it still falls into the category of not being surprising, which is what you expect from this type of restaurant. I would recommend visiting it if it's given to you for free by the club. Otherwise, it's totally dispensable, and it's better to opt for the main restaurant dinner, which is the best onboard. However, I'm sure that the specialty restaurants on newer ships are at a much higher level. When I have the opportunity to try them, I'll tell you my impressions.

In general, I would say that food is not MSC's strong point, or at least it wasn't on this cruise. Almost all the cruise lines I've tried are, in my opinion, above MSC in terms of food. However, the price of the cruise was quite reasonable. Something I did miss was feeling Italy more present. Although the company is currently not Italian, its origins are, and I expected to see more of this, but that's something completely personal.

Regarding the drink package, the standard one is known as the "Easy" package. It includes all kinds of drinks such as soft drinks, water (even bottled), cocktails, beers, or wines. Some drinks such as Bailey's are not included and require a higher package or to be paid separately. I quite liked the cocktails, and I also positively value the wide variety of non-alcoholic drinks they have and how well they were prepared (without too much ice).

Life on board

Let's talk about the atmosphere on the ship, entertainment, and other aspects of life on board. I don't know the occupancy rate during my cruise, but the ship didn't feel crowded at all. Still, there were some areas for improvement such as the speed of service during dinner or the stability of the Wi-Fi, which, despite having paid for an internet package, didn't work for half the cruise. I want to believe that it was something specific since it worked normally on the last day, but I found it excessively expensive for the quality it had in general.

During the day and night, there were some entertainment options such as animation games, shows in the theater, and night parties in the disco. I didn't find anything particularly noteworthy. I see the ship more as a place to relax than to look for constant entertainment and fun. For that, there are other cruise lines like Royal Caribbean that are excellent. The parties were quite contained, nothing like the big celebrations of more modern ships, also because the spaces are smaller.

The ship also has live music in several lounges, places like the casino (as always, open during navigation), and something that I found curious and liked, which is a version of MasterChef at sea. It consists of a test of culinary questions and a subsequent competition among the best for presenting the best sandwich. As a fan of cooking and MasterChef, I found it original and entertaining, and also, the winning couple received a prize.

Final thoughts

In summary, I consider the cruise a good option to disconnect for a few days, without the intention of seeking fun everywhere or anything that surprises you excessively. It is good for its price to spend a few days, visit ports that you would like to see, and be able to relax in a calm atmosphere with its more lively moments without becoming overwhelming.

Its strengths, in my opinion, were the ship (it was in good condition despite being over 10 years old), the price (at least for me it was very cheap), the drinks (very well prepared), the buffet (nothing surprising but very decent), and the service in restaurants for breakfast and lunch (more efficient than dinner service, as there are fewer people).

On the other hand, I think the food in general could be much better (especially during dinners, where you expect a higher level), and the information for guests could be more present (there were many lost people).

As for me, I'm looking forward to sailing with MSC again and trying out some of their newer ships for a longer period of time to continue evaluating the experience. The overall balance is positive despite the areas for improvement, especially considering what I paid for the cruise: 90€ per night with drinks and gratuities included in an outside cabin.

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