In April 2018 I took my family on the MSC Magnifica cruise around Northern Europe. It was an experience I won’t forget in a hurry. It was my fifth cruise, but for my two adult children it was their first time cruising, so I had hoped they would be able to see why I love cruising so much… that wasn’t to be the case…
This is a long review, so if you don’t fancy reading everything just scroll to the headings that interest you to find out more. For me the most important parts of this review are the points discussed in relation to special/medical needs incident in the sections on booking/web check-in and the incident on the first evening.
Why I chose this cruise
I chose this cruise as I wanted to be able to take my two (grown-up) children for their first cruise, and it was a bargain price which meant I could actually afford four adult fares for two cabins, without breaking the bank or taking out a loan, ha-ha. I very quickly I realised that you get what you pay for. A pretty poor experience overall, and had it been my first cruise it would certainly have put me off cruising again! Thankfully, I have far better experiences to compare with, having previously travelled once each with Princess and Norwegian and twice with Royal Caribbean. So, it won’t put me off cruising again, but I would not book MSC in future unless I was convinced they had made radical improvements.
The itinerary: Rating 3 stars – average – good selection of ports.
Southampton, Le Havre, Zeebrugge, overnight in Amsterdam, Hamburg, return to Southampton. However, this cruise realistically began and ended in Hamburg, Southampton was the first stop on the itinerary for those who boarded in Hamburg, as evidenced by the ‘Welcome Aboard Party’ held on our finally stop in Hamburg for those starting the new itinerary… We chose this itinerary as, having previously done two Mediterranean and two Norway cruises, I wanted something different, and thought this sounded an interesting selection of destinations.
Booking/web check-in Rating 1 star – terrible.
Before travel we already experienced problems (and it is hard to say how much of these were down to MSC themselves and how much due to our agents – Vision Cruise). The web check-in was fine, for my cabin, but I was unable to access for the other as I kept being told I needed another booking number, which I did not have as I had only been given one, eventually it was MSC that managed to get me access to check-in my children for their cabin. The MSC website also has a habit of glitching badly if your computer stores cookies so I had to clear the cache frequently to use my account. As my son had Epilepsy and Autism we had completed a special needs request form to request our cabins be close to each other, this was sent to both the agents and MSC. I never actually got a response to this request and after initially seeing we had been allocated cabins on decks 8 and 12 I contacted both MSC and my agents, the agents said the cabins were booked on a guarantee basis so could not be chosen, when reminded I had filled in a special needs form their response was ‘oh did you, you’ll have to wait and see what MSC say’ whilst MSC stated (as it says on the website) that it is for the agents to manage this is you booked with one, when told this the agents said it was down to MSC so I was going round in circles. About 3 weeks before we sailed both cabins were listed on the web account as deck 8 but opposite ends and sides of the ship, by two weeks before sailing the cabins were back to deck 8 (starboard, aft) and 12 (port, fore), so still opposite ends of the ship 4 decks apart, not great when you have special needs. The only good thing was we had been upgraded from inside cabins to an outside partial view (lifeboats blocking windows so outside view pointless really) and a balcony. I would have been happier to keep inside cabins that were next to each other as the distance was a problem once on board as other issues arose. I was also starting to panic about getting our embarkation tickets as two weeks before we had not received them, and after speaking to our agents the tickets for my cabin were sent out, but again they were asking for another booking number for the other cabin, and did not answer my question about if it would be a problem that the tickets they had sent me were not for the same cabin number as was showing on our account on the MSC website. The other tickets finally came a few days later, but I never got an answer or replacement tickets for the ones that were wrong.
Port Parking: Rating 5 stars – excellent (but no relation to MSC)
We had booked port parking at the same time as booking our cruise. The parking was a little way from the docks (10-15 minutes drive) but the parking agency, Air Lynx, seemed efficient, we received a call from them about 5 minutes from arriving, checking if we were on our way. Once we arrived we were unloaded into their shuttle minibus and taken straight to the docks.
Embarkation in Southampton: Rating 4 stars – very good
Very good, quick straight on board. Thankfully, the luggage porters were able to give me new luggage tags for the ones we had the wrong cabin number for, and at the check-in desk they also said it wasn’t a problem that the tickets were wrong, and we should just go to the cabin number we knew it should be on board, and if there were any issues then go to guest services. However, our tickets had stated that our embarkation time was 17:45 which I found very late, there was no way I was leaving it that late to arrive, so we actually arrived earlier (around 16:15 and it seems everyone else must have too as there were no other passengers waiting to board. I think we could probably have arrived even earlier without having any problems with the time not matching our tickets.
Once on board – initial thoughts. Rating 2 stars – Poor.
Once on board a series of signs directed new boarders to the Tiger Bar, where you are pounced on instantly by people selling drinks packages, not really the welcome you would like. We don’t really drink alcohol, and there was no way any of the ‘all inclusive’ packages for that would suit us, they seemed very expensive unless you are an alcoholic. We did end up buying water (14 bottles), speciality coffee (I think it was 14 drinks again), and soft drinks (14 drinks) packages, which were in the form of vouchers you can use as you please during the cruise, for a total cost of 178.25 euros including the 15% service charge, it worked out as just a small saving (1-2 drinks per package) on what you would pay buying them individually, it did feel like a high pressure sales tactic to be accosted this way as you got on board, and it clearly worked as I bought! We then went straight to our cabins, which were open and ready, this was good as often with earlier embarkation there has been a delay in getting to the cabins for me on cruises. However, it later became clear that this was due to the cruise having already started the day before, and there were also people embarking at disembarking at most ports from what I could gather, something I haven’t experienced before. Our cruise cards and a daily planner were waiting for us in the cabins, which were actually the cabins we were expecting them to be at least. In my son’s cabin there was a letter that acknowledged the fact he had additional needs, it stated someone would be in touch to support during the evacuation drill, but this didn’t happen, and I was unable to support my son during this myself as again, due to our cabins being so far apart our emergency meeting points were separate (D and G) at opposite ends of the ship for the drill. In a real emergency situation there is now way I would have allowed us to be separated in this way, so I don’t know what would have happened! Thankfully we didn’t have to find out… The drill itself consisted of sitting in a bar whilst being shown how to put on your life jacket was explained in around 6 different European languages and that was about it. I’m not convinced I would actually know what to do in an emergency situation based on this drill.
Cabins – Rating 3 stars average
On deck 8 we had an outside cabin for my son and daughter to share. On arrival this was setup with a double bed, despite having asked for twin beds (they did fix this quickly once we went to guest services, at least). This cabin was an outside partial view, with lifeboats outside the window, to be honest I don’t know why they bothered with the window, it seemed pointless as the view was fully obscured by the lifeboat. The cabin was clean, tidy and compact, nothing to get excited about but nothing to complain about either. On deck 12 we had a balcony cabin, again at first glance, clean tidy and compact. Later, we noticed that the sheet on the bed had stains that had not come out in the wash, and there was a rip in the quilt that had been concealed under the sheet. I was glad I hadn’t bought my usual big ball gown for the Gala/Elegant nights as there wouldn’t have been enough room for me to put it on in either of these cabins, so they were a bit smaller than others I have had. The cupboards and drawers did not have handles and most of the drawers were stiff to open. The showers were okay, pressure a bit low but I think that’s par for the course really, it just makes washing your shampoo out of thick hair a bit harder. As always power points were limited (and being European on this ship) and due to the shape and size of travel adapters you could only use one power point at a time as the two points available are very close together, so you can’t plug in two adapters at the same time. They were also too close to the desk making larger items such as camera battery chargers, impossible to plug in at all (we bought a European extension lead in a supermarket in Le Havre to enable us to use the power points more effectively). Having a kettle, with tea and coffee was a good addition that is growing in popularity on ships, milk rather than cream would be better here and just 2 milk cartons is not enough, we would have to pick up extras at the buffet to bring back to the room, but anything used did get replenished when the room attendant came by. The room attendant was not as attentive as we have experienced before, we did not see him more than once or twice, I don’t even recall his name. And no folded towel animals!? Every cruise I have been on these have been a feature I have grown to look forward to seeing, it was disappointing that there were none, and then they did a demonstration on the final sea day so it’s clear that these do happen on MSC too, so not sure why we didn’t see any?
Cruise Card/onboard payments – rating 3 stars average
Your cruise card is your onboard ID and payment system. It is in your cabin upon your arrival and requires activation within around 24 hours (up to 23:00 the day after embarking). On previous cruises I have provided my credit card details before going, or at the cruise terminal so this was a bit different. Whichever way you choose to pay when you activate can be changed until the day before disembarkation, the options are credit card, debit card and cash. You need to take the card to one of the activation point machines located near guest services. Before doing this, I spoke to guest services as I was worried that it authorises 250 euros straight away, and I would be linking my card to all 4 people, I didn’t want a 1000-euro charge, thankfully they said it would only be the 250 euros for all of us and I could link all payments to the one card, but as with so many things on this cruise the original information was not clear so if you didn’t go and ask you wouldn’t know how things really worked, they could save themselves a lot of unnecessary trip to guest services if information was clearer at the outset, you shouldn’t have to go and ask for it to be explained. You can check your account at any time at guest services or on the interactive TV in your cabin. This proved useful as I found that our onboard credit was not being used against my card and charges for a donation to UNICEF had been put against my card, both of which was able to resolve quickly at guest services. Having the cruise card for onboard spending is the same on all cruises I have done, and it is good, but also you can easily run up a big bill if you don’t pay attention to what you are doing (just like a credit card really). At the end of your cruise a bill is delivered to your room for you to verify the amounts charged (or go to guest services to resolve any discrepancies) before you leave.
The ship – rating 3 stars average
The ship itself was nice looking, inside and out. No spectacular staircases or highlight spots like some cruise ships. It did feel a bit claustrophobic at times as there isn’t much open space, it’s very closed in on all decks except for the uppermost open decks 13-16 (with 14-16 not really being full decks as such, rather bits of deck on top of deck 13). Signage could be better, even though it was smaller than most of the other ships I have been on I found it much harder to find my way around. I don’t recall seeing a single trash can (bin), and the toilets were difficult to locate. It turned out (I discovered on talking to crew later in the week) that the reason bins and toilets are not well signposted is that the wife of the owner of the cruise line considers these things to be private and advertising them ‘trashy’, that isn’t a helpful explanation and ignores that fact that being able to locate a toilet quickly is an accessibility issue for disabled passengers, who may need to be able to locate one in a hurry, not to mention that if you are seasick you might also need to do this! When you did manage to find a toilet other than in your cabin they had this automated flush feature, not that might sound handy, however it seemed to malfunction on a frequent basis. Often the toilet would flush as you sat on it, providing an unpleasant suction sensation you would rather not experience whilst being sat on a toilet! Then it would not flush when you had finished so you had to locate the tiny button to flush it manually. The frequency with which toilets seemed to be closed for cleaning seemed high and unnecessary as I went in and found the cleaner in one cubicle but all the others could be used, it might be better just to put a ‘cleaning in progress’ sign up to make people aware someone is in there, but not close off completely as you can often walk half a ship before you can find another toilet, and then find it is also closed for cleaning! MSC seems to have favoured quantity over quality, cramming as many people in as possible with low fares to entice you onboard, smaller cabins and less space overall. Information and communication are generally lacking in every aspect of the cruise and often misleading in my opinion, you will see more on this in other sections.
First Evening/Medical – Rating 1 star terrible if it was possible to give zero stars I would!
After the drill, we popped back to our cabins to return the life jackets, and our luggage was already there, another bonus point for MSC having waited many hours for luggage on some of my previous cruises. We then decided to head up to the buffet for something to eat as it was coming up to 6pm and we hadn’t eaten since leaving home at noon. Before we got into the buffet my son starting acting oddly and I knew a seizure was coming, he was already having a complex partial seizure and we were trying to get him to sit down before it developed into a grand mal seizure (it is always difficult to get him to sit down as he is virtually unresponsive in a complex partial seizure, and will just be asking for the nearest toilet) staff began to panic, and people started crowding round and I tried to explain he was about to have a seizure and let us deal with it, but if they were worried then send a first aider. Myself and my daughter caught my son and lowered him to the floor when he went into the main seizure phase. Then what I presumed was a first aider arrived along with a huge crowd of people in uniform. People were speaking to me in German and other languages I didn’t understand, I said that we speak English and I know what I’m doing. Someone was filling a syringe with something and I had to shout at them not to try to stick a needle in my now sleeping post-seizure, severely needle-phobic son! A doctor had now joined the collection of people and was saying he needed to give him something to calm him down, again I said no they couldn’t do that, his seizure had finished he just needed to rest now. I wanted everyone to just back off and leave us alone, but now the doctor was there he insisted on getting a stretcher to take my son down to the medical centre to check him over. The ability of anyone in attendance to speak good enough English to manage a medical situation was inadequate to say the least, they did not understand what I was telling them, and I did not understand them. Once done in the medical centre they again wanted to poke my son with needles which he did not need and kept touching him despite me saying they needed to stop as he doesn’t like being touched, it was only once I said he was autistic that they seemed to understand that word and backed off a little. Whilst he was still coming around the doctor was pestering me for his cruise card, so I had to dig through his pockets to find it. As my son woke up we just wanted to get him back to his cabin, so he could rest and recover fully, but when we tried to leave we were told we had to wait for the doctor to check him over. One of the doctors’ aides returned with his cruise card and a bill for 140 euros, before we were eventually granted a wheelchair to take him back to his cabin. Later, I went to guest services to enquire why I had been billed 140 euros, and to contest this as in my mind nothing had been done that constituted being paid for. I was informed that it would be investigated but that there are fee’s for using medical services, to which I responded we had not wanted, needed or received anything I felt warranted this bill. The bill itself was not clear about what exactly we were being charged for, merely stating ‘Epileptic crisis Examination out of the Medical Center’. I was told I should claim it back on my travel insurance (later in the week I received a call upholding this opinion. Once home I enquired with my insurance but given to value of the excess to be paid it ended up not worth claiming as I wouldn’t get much back, so I am out-of-pocket 140 euros for nothing. EHIC cards also do not cover cruises so I can’t claim it back that way either).
Dining for the whole week – rating 1 star – terrible
We don’t usually bother with the main restaurants as we don’t like taking several hours to eat a meal and having specific times to eat. For us the buffet restaurant option gives the flexibility to eat what we want, when we want. So, I can’t comment on the main dining rooms, and I never buy speciality dining meals at an additional cost, I don’t see why you would want to pay for food onboard when there is all you can eat available for 20 hours a day? Oh wait, quality I guess might come in to play here as you will see… I did hear one passenger mention that being gluten-free they were disappointed that, due to having to wait so long for their food in the main dining room, they ended up eating separately from their family, and I think if you had any specific dietary requirements you would need to eat in the main dining room as these were certainly not catered for in the buffet. Once my son was feeling up to it we went back to our original plan of getting something to eat in the Sahara Buffet restaurant by now it was around 8pm. We felt the selection on offer wasn’t great in comparison to other ships I have been on, lots of bread, and cold meats/salad but limited choices in cooked foods. Pizza and fries were available pretty much consistently throughout the week and as they were often the only edible option we were sick of them by the end of the week, although for an Italian ship the pizzas were nothing like an Italian pizza, more like a frozen one I might get back home. Having several fussy eaters in our group we thought we might have better luck on other nights and that it was maybe just this first evening where the buffet options seemed to be catering to a more European palate, specifically German, and there were also a lot of Indian/Asian cuisines (possibly due to the chefs and galley staff being more from that part of the World). Unfortunately, as the week progressed there was no improvement in the food and being a bit fussy (e.g. two of us not liking seafoods) was clearly not to blame. What we did eat seemed to also be bland and of a lower quality than what I am used to. The only vegetables most of the time were raw/cold. The cooked breakfasts were the only meal of the day worth eating but even those seemed heavily greasy. The mugs for hot drinks were always filthy, dishwasher residue white smears on the outside of the blue mugs, and rims you needed to wipe before using, I presume this was a problem of the dishwasher machine? The selection of desserts was just a bad, we didn’t have any most of the time. It was laughable that they promoted the ‘Traditional British Sunday dinner’ when all they had was beef and Yorkshire pudding, no roast potatoes, and no suitable vegetables, and if you don’t eat beef, there was no alternative like chicken or pork, I ended up with Yorkshire pudding, with greasy, slimy, green beans and a preformed, plastic turkey burger (from the grill), and no gravy. MSC really need to have better look at English meals if the want to cater more for the British market as they claim. I was very hungry for some decent food, especially cooked vegetables when we got home!
On board entertainment – first night: rating 2 stars – poor
Obviously, the events of the early evening meant we hadn’t really had chance to look at the daily program yet. When we did we were disappointed to see that for the first night aboard there was no sail-away party on deck, or in any of the lounges/bars. The only entertainments available were two dance classes, a Bee Gees & Abba tribute and cocktail demo (at the same time in different locations), a gap of around one and a half hours or so with nothing on and then at 10.30pm trivia. In the theatre a Mime show with ‘poetry, comedy and talent’ was repeated at 19:00 and 21:15 for the different dining times in the main restaurants. But except for the latest theatre show and trivia we had missed everything else, except for some very generic (think karaoke level skill but supposedly professional) singers in the bars, giving us nothing to do on our first night, except try to explore the ship then go to our cabins as we were pretty exhausted. Please see further comments on onboard activities/entertainment for the rest of the week below.
Rather than give a minute by minute report on the rest of our week I’ll turn now to the different facilities and activities etc.
Onboard Activities (inclusive) – rating 3 stars average
For included on board activities, besides the pools, there was shuffleboard, two foosball (table football) tables, two table tennis tables, and the sport deck (deck 16) – a netted sports court for tennis/basketball. The sports deck was very high, windy and cold so we didn’t go out there after an initial visit to find it. The table football and table tennis were always occupied, so even when we collected a ball from the Virtual World centre (where all sporting/game equipment was available to loan) we ended up taking it back not having had a turn, they shouldn’t loan out more balls than they have tables for. With such a limited selection of activities it’s no wonder they were so busy when people were onboard, I imagine if you want a chance to use them you need to stay onboard when docked, but then why are you on a cruise to different ports if you aren’t going to explore/visit them?
Other Activities (chargeable) – rating 2 stars – poor
So, they have a 4D Cinema, this is not what you might expect, I was thinking IMAX, I was wrong. I was looking forward to watching a movie onboard, as they don’t have the free movies under the stars I have enjoyed on each of my previous cruises I thought this would be a nice alternative, I was wrong. What they have is a set of simulator chairs and a projection screen where they show simulation experience shows (think pretend roller-coaster) behind a curtain in the ‘Virtual World’ on deck 14 and it costs 7 euros per person to watch/ride/experience this, needless to say I didn’t bother spending cinema ticket prices for a simulation. There are no movies on board at all unless you also want to pay 7 euros to watch one on the 19-inch TV in your cabin (which, by the way, has virtually no English language channels). Virtual World was the ‘entertainment hub’ where you could loan games and sporting equipment and swipe your cruise card to play at additional charge air hockey, a motorbike racing game, or two arcade games (a crane toy grab and one of those where you push something in a hole to try to win). Then there’s Mini-Bowling, I made the mistake of swiping my cruise card on this two-lane rip off machine! 6 euros down the drain, as before you have chance to even think about adding other players a 20 second timer pops up for you to start playing, you then get 5 rounds of two balls, each with just 20 seconds to react and boom, game over! No instructions, no warning this is going to happen, how they call this bowling I don’t know, and I learnt the hard way why no-one else was using this game, hidden away in the nightclub that doubles as a teen place right next to the children’s club room, because it is a con, that’s why. On deck 7 in the Sports bar there is a self-righting Billiards/Pool table, now this we did use a few times. At 6 euros for an hour it was probably the best value, paid for, item on board. As we enjoy playing pool this activity was popular with us and kept us occupied for an hour here and there, especially on sea days as there wasn’t much else to do. Even if the self-righting mechanism kicked in at some strange times, wobbling the table unnecessarily causing you to have to wait for it to stop jiggling so you could take a shot.
Onboard entertainment – Rating 2 stars poor
The daily planner received in your cabin each night for the next day details all the entertainment that will be available for the upcoming day, this is the same on every ship I’ve been on, even if they call it different things. As mentioned, when we boarded the first planner had very little entertainment listed, we which put down to it being embarkation day… until we saw the next one… Again, we didn’t think it too much of an issue that there did was not much on during the day as it would be a port day, but the evening looked rather lacking considering we would all be back on board then. Unfortunately, this was actually the standard for the whole week. Virtually nothing on during the day, so if you were only ashore for part of the day (morning/afternoon only excursions for example) there was not much to occupy you when back on board (and of course as is always the case a lot of other things, such as shops and the casino, onboard are also closed whilst in port due to Maritime law etc). If you wanted a dance lesson, you were in luck, these seemed to be the main feature of the daily entertainment program, with several different sessions each day. There seemed to be a few kids and family activities each day (for those with younger children), the occasional game, and trivia, and that was pretty much it on port days, with the odd additional item in the evenings, the nightly theatre show and a late-night disco. Trivia was our favourite activity, and probably the only thing that was of regular interest to us out of the limited choice available, we attended as many trivia sessions as we could (and even won a couple of t-shirts – when they mega quiz buffs weren’t playing who always won, ha-ha). Even Trivia though had a confusing element, being called different things on different days, and a feature comment one day in the programme about joining the ‘biggest trivia event at sea’ but it didn’t say where, when or how to join in. There was a single craft activity (papercraft) on each of the sea days, but there could have easily been many more of these type of activities – scrap-booking, knit+natter, crochet the list of ideas goes on and on, being a crafter myself! There could also have been activities put on (unhosted) that just gave like-minded people a time and place to meet up – reading group/book club meetup in the library, puzzle/crossword group, chess club – literally anything goes. I saw a single item in the programme about Masterchef at Sea, but no further information was included so unless you went to guest services to ask for more information you couldn’t join in. There were also very long gaps between activities, such that in many cases there would be two or three things happening at one time, then nothing for a couple of hours or more. The majority of entertainment also seemed to only take place in the Tiger Bar, despite there being numerous other locations around the ship (bars/clubs/pool deck etc the ship has 17 Bars & lounges in total) that could also have hosted activities. Heck, even the theatre could have been utilised to show movies seeing as there was no-where else you could watch them on this ship… As for the theatre, the shows seemed to be mostly musical/dance themed items, that I guess were chosen to avoid too much of an issue of the many different languages of the passengers. We only went to one theatre show (Sophisticats) and it was of a below average standard (to me, being someone who attends several theatre performances each year back home). There was also a British Vocalist/Humourist, Paul Fredericks – who was an average voiced singer and humourless – who walked off the stage when an announcement interrupted his performance, very professional (unless that was meant to be a joke!? But it wasn’t funny…) (BTW, never heard of him before, he is not what I would consider a well-known British performer). A noticeable missing item was Karaoke, and when this did appear on the bill it was at 11pm for 45 minutes on the Saturday night – I later found out this was due to a new Karaoke machine having been delivered whilst docked at Hamburg on the Saturday, so maybe it will feature more in future…
Spa – rating 3 stars average
I’ll be honest this rating is based purely on the pricing as because it was so expensive in comparison to other cruises I have been on I did not use it, despite wanting a massage. A couple’s massage was 230 euros and the only offers came in your daily planner at 9pm or later and if you tried to book the following day you were told it was only valid for the previous day. The offers that did come up were not great and as such I didn’t get to find out if the facilities or treatments themselves were any good. It’s a shame as I really could have done with at least one hot stones massage! I’m also a bit of an Elemis snob when it comes to my spas and they don’t use Elemis on MSC Magnifica…
Fitness centre – rating 3 stars average
Again we didn’t actually use the very small fitness centre, any classes were at an additional cost, but I couldn’t see how a class would be possible as the space was so small, unless there were only 2 people attending, or there was a hidden room I didn’t see!?
Pools – rating 3 stars average
The undercover pool and hot tubs seemed popular and were often busy. I don’t recall seeing the outdoor pool used, when it was open, most of the time it closed as you got back on board after a port stop and seemed to be having work done on the hot tubs must of the week. It felt too cold to use the pools really, so we didn’t bother. They looked small and I could imagine if it was warmer they would have been heaving with people.
WIFI – rating 3 stars average
Another rating based on costs. You would think by now cruise ships would be starting to bring their prices down for this facility, it’s not really a luxury nowadays but is still priced as one.
Art Gallery – unrateable
Okay, so apparently there is an Art Gallery (as with every ship I have been on), there are signs for this on deck 7, couldn’t find it anywhere!? Is it hidden behind a wall? If so where is the door? It’s a mystery we didn’t solve…
Casino – rating 3 stars average
Smaller than other ships but the same sort of set-up, poker tables, slot machines, electronic roulette and a handful of coin-drop machines. We had a couple of games of roulette, which as anyone who has played knows is a game of pure chance so nothing much to say about that. The coin-drop machines used MSC tokens of no currency or face-value, you inserted euro notes in a slot and were granted a number of tokens to play with (20 tokens for 5 euros, giving them a value of 25 cents each). Unless you are an avid gambler, who really knows what they are doing, Casino’s (a staple of all ships) are just a big waste of money, the only reason we played at all was to try to fill a little of the dead time, I guess that it what they hope for…
Library – rating 2 stars poor
I’ve yet to find a cruise ship that has a library that I would actually consider to be a decent library. My own library at home has more books than all 5 cruise ships I have been on so far! There are sections for each of the languages most likely to be travelling, so in this case many European languages. Each has a handful of shelves. The English language section didn’t have anything of interest at all, good job I bought some books with me (I never travel without a few books). There were a handful of trays with puzzle sheets in different languages, the English one was a crossword. I’m not sure if there were meant to be new one’s daily (on other ships there have been daily puzzle sheets) but on at least one of the days we nipped in to pick one up and there were no English language sheets at all. I’d love to see more happening, even un-hosted, in ship libraries, they would be great meeting points!
Photography – rating 2 stars poor
I’ve always enjoyed getting professional photos on my cruises and was looking forward to doing the same again on this one. I knew I couldn’t get my kids to run from one photographer to another all night on the formal night, as I would normally do in my Cinderella ballgown, so opted for just visiting two. We chose a plain black background and the staircase. I had already enquired about packages and felt uncomfortable with the lack of transparency in pricing and packages (being used to plenty of detailed information about the range of deals you can get on print and digital images, discounts for more purchases etc). I was told to choose what I liked then I would be told how much it was as it was all done by barcodes…? So, we spent ages going through the photos, easily discarding a large amount as they were blurry, or eyes closed. We narrowed it down to two piles, four must have photos and a larger number of extras that would depend on the deals available. Upon showing these to a member of the photography team, I was told it would be 30 euros per large (12×8) photo and 20 euros for the 8×6 size, discounts only begin at 10 photos, which would be 10% discount. This didn’t seem like a great deal, 10 photos would be a minimum cost of 200 euros, I’ve had deals for less than $200USD where you get EVERY photo taken on board (one time this was almost 200 photos!) so I decided as it was so expensive we would just have the four. I explained that we didn’t want the four favourites in the 12×8 size they had printed them in as it was too big, we would prefer the 8×6 size, to which I was told I couldn’t choose what size I wanted (another never-before-experienced shocker). I couldn’t understand why it was not possible for them to just print the size I wanted and was told the files are locked when I asked, ‘do you not have the original image?’. It all seemed rather strange, and I just said to forget it, what a rip off. Later, after having complained about this, I was told that it is something to do with the system (outdated system by the sound of it) that if they amended my photos to the smaller size it would ‘ruin’ all the others as they would also be changed (errm, you’ve already printed them, don’t offer people the chance to choose what ‘they’ want, and don’t offer additional prints or digital versions so what difference would it make changing it now???), but I was offered the chance to have the files on CD for 10 euros per picture which I accepted despite still feeling it was far too much really. When I got home I found these images were not the originals, but as printed, so two of the four were black and white, so in the end I was still not happy with the result and had to then go and print them myself. MSC really need to look at updating their system so people can have the photos they want, in the size they want, colour, black and white, print or digital and a better range of offers, 10% off 200/300 Euros is the only offer, and it really isn’t much of a ‘deal’ (they also do not offer the CD option, I only got that because I had complained). Not really sure why they felt it was acceptable to print blurry images and attempt to sell these either!?
Shopping/Public rooms/Bars – rating 3 stars average
Signage on board was poor (as mentioned before in relation to toilets) small, vague maps of your current deck hidden away on walls, bar names identified by seat colour in many cases from what I could tell, and god help you if you happened to get in the wrong lift and end up at the rear of a closed restaurant, trying to navigate to which floor you could then actually get round to the stuff you were looking for was bonkers. I normally only take a few hours to get oriented with where everything is on a ship, but I still wasn’t sure which way to go for anything, other than the most frequently visited areas, by the time we got off this one! The public areas on the whole are very difficult to navigate. On-board shopping is always a bit of a gamble on cruise ships. Depending on the exchange rate you can either be getting a bargain or totally wasting your money. MSC is no exception to this rule. It’s handful of shops include a few of high-end watch, jewellery, fashion and bag shops, a mini-mart and their signature logo store. No duty-free on this ship, not really sure why, location or onboard currency being the Euro I guess? Not much to say about the shopping as we didn’t really buy much, prices were a bit high in comparison to when the US dollar is the onboard currency on a ship. The main atrium where the shops and other public rooms are mainly found is the most open part on the inner ship with a waterfall feature and staircases connecting decks 5-7. Guest services, future cruises, the excursions desk and internet cafe are amongst the public rooms. Bar service is slow, you can often wait 20-30 minutes for a drink even if it’s not that busy. In most bars there are staff floating round who might eventually come to your table, or you can go up to the bar yourself, neither gives a quicker service than the other, many bars seem to have a number of floaters but only 1-2 people actually behind the bar making/preparing the drinks. There is no self-service launderette, but you can use the bag in your room to send things down to be washed, ironed etc, the prices seemed about average for individual items, however you should buy a package before boarding if you want more as the price difference is quite a lot, the deal to buy a laundry package beforehand was really good. Of course, you might not need any laundry doing or are happy to wait till you get home, but if you do be aware of when you want your items for as it requires being sent off before 10pm the day before you want to receive it after 5pm…
Staff/Crew – rating 3 stars average (entertainment team 4 stars – good)
The entertainment team are a credit to the ship, they make everyone feel welcome, encourage participation and are a lot of fun, they also try to remember names. Elsewhere the staff are fine, but not as interactive as some places, only one bar member was actually up for a bit of conversation and we hardly saw our room attendant (and never got any towel animals). In some cases, there were those that seemed a bit rude or ignorant, but it might have just been another indicator of the language and cultural differences (although I’ve not experienced this on other ships that are just as diverse).
Cruise critic and Crew Coffee & Chat meetings – rating 3-4 stars average to good
There were two opportunities on board to voice your opinions/give feedback about the ship and your experiences, one for Cruise Critic members (with cake) and a crew coffee and chat meeting. These seemed to only be attended by a handful of British passengers who didn’t interact with each other much. Several senior crew members attended each meeting and I had the opportunity to mention most of the things that I have included in this review. The response in relation to the medical issue was not great, but at least the people I spoke to were aware of the situation so that shows there is communication between the staff. Most of the rest of my feedback was well received, even if nothing ever comes of it. The entertainment director seemed the most enthusiastic about taking on board our suggestions in relation to entertainments, such as the karaoke and virtual world (cinema). Most other British passengers I spoke to either at these meetings or elsewhere on the ship had the same concerns as myself in relation to the toilets, food, and lack of entertainment on board in particular. I think these meetings are helpful for passengers to feel listened to in their concerns and ideas for helping MSC improve to meet the needs and expectations of it’s guests and good because I have not seen them on other cruises I have been on (although they may have been there but I didn’t feel the need to attend being much more satisfied with my experiences) It remains to be seen if anything actually comes of it…
Who is this cruise suitable for?
Obviously, there are many different types of individuals, couples, and groups who travel on cruises, as a youngish couple this was the first time we had travelled that wasn’t just the two of us and I would certainly say it is much easier when we don’t have the kids, even if they are grown up themselves. A few group types require a bit of a mention as to the suitability of this MSC Magnifica cruise for them, as far as I am able to comment:
For families with children/under 18’s – rating 3 stars average
Not having younger children I can’t say much, but there did seem to be adequate activity for the younger children in clubs, I’m not so sure teenagers would feel as well catered for on here as they would on ships with more adventurous activities such as rock climbing walls and bigger video game arcades. The ship did seem family friendly and there were always a few family activities on the lean activity programme. I think families with younger children might enjoy this more than we did.
For solo travellers – rating 2 stars – poor
I didn’t see anything for solo travellers mentioned on the daily programme, and I heard someone mention they had struggled with the pricing and packages when booking as a solo traveller. Having been a solo cruiser in the past, I would say Norwegian Cruise line were far more geared up for solo travellers, with solo cabins, special prices and a host of activities/meet-ups specific on the programmer for solo travellers.
LGBT – Rating 2 stars – poor
My youngest identifies as non-binary and was pleased to see an LGBT meetup on the programme, not once but twice during the week. Unfortunately, this was short-lived as it appeared either no-one else turned up or anyone else attending was as clueless as they were as to if they were in the right place, if anyone else was there for that meet-up or were just sitting in the bar having a drink. The bar in which the meet-up was scheduled to take place was split over both sides of the ship and although the programme indicated left/right for those unfamiliar with what would be the left/right of the ship it was not easy to work out if you were in the right place, a better location would be one of the bars with a clearly identifiable meeting point. At one of the crew meetings we asked why these meet-ups were un-hosted and suggested that maybe something could be done to identify the meetup point. It was explained that there had been complaints about being too ‘obvious’ in the past but they liked our suggestion of just putting a small rainbow as a discrete indicator of the meeting point and it is un-hosted as although there are crew who identify as LGBT they didn’t necessarily want this identified to passengers, which is understandable, but at the same time shows how much improvement is still required in the general public in relation to diversity and equality. Hopefully other LGBT passengers find they have a better experience and feel more welcome to be who they are in future.
For those with Disabilities/special needs – rating 2-3 stars poor to average (depending on disability I guess)
As already mentioned we faced a few issues having a member of our family with autism and epilepsy on this ship. At times the constant flow of announcements in 6 or more languages is overwhelming even for those of us without sensory issues, I feel this persistent flow just after we boarded may have been a contributory factor in my son’s seizure as it could have been a sensory overload for him. In addition, I noticed accessibility issues for disabled passengers with things such as the toilets being difficult to locate, and the corridors being too narrow to get a wheelchair down when the room stewards/cleaners were about (when they were not then it was just about wide enough for wheelchairs, but there seemed to be obstacles more often than there were not). Being aware just how much the medical charges would be for things would be very helpful, apparently these are listed in the medical centre itself, but we didn’t see them there. And of course, we had completed a special needs form to request close cabins which we did not get any response to at all. There was a note in my son’s room when we arrived but other than that we did not get any other acknowledgment or support for him on board.
For smokers – Rating 3 stars average
As with all ships now, no smoking on balconies and cabins (it doesn’t stop everyone, but I can’t say I’d want to be in a cabin that smells like an ashtray!). For now, at least, there is still smoking on one side of deck 13 and one side of the casino (only when it is operational), these areas are quite well marked (unlike a lot of other things) so if you do want to smoke you can easily find where you can do so, or if you want to avoid it you can clearly see and smell where to avoid!
Disembarkation – Rating 1 star – terrible
I know it might not have been the ships fault that we docked late (although it might have been for all I know, we seemed to be in the port at around the expected time but didn’t dock for ages, so who knows what was going on) but what a shambles! Information about disembarkation was left in the cabins the night before giving luggage labels and a time for attending your meeting point – no option for self-disembarkation, but on asking at guest services I was told we could do this. Our meeting point was the theatre at 9am but we had to be out of our cabins by 8am, (and the clocks needed changing back to UK time which wasn’t mentioned in the information, and we forgot that they had changed when we left!). We kept our luggage to take off ourselves as we didn’t want to get stuck in the terminal waiting to pick up our luggage, and I’m so glad we did this as when we eventually got into the terminal most of the luggage had not been unloaded. In the morning we got up early, went for breakfast in the buffet, then collected our luggage vacating our cabins by 8am. We went straight to the theatre to wait despite it being an hour before our allotted time, expecting to be able to get off at 9am, what else can you do when everything is closed on the ship due to docking and you have all your luggage (which they did have an option for leaving in the ‘Poker lounge’ but then you would just be stuck waiting to get it out of there instead of the terminal). Unfortunately, getting off at 9am wasn’t to be as we hadn’t fully docked yet. In fact, it was around 10 am before we could join the ship long queue of people waiting to get off. You see, by the time we had docked (now very late) and the ship had been given the all clear to allow disembarkation all the other groups were also waiting as their allotted time had come and gone. During the waiting there was a series of short comedy clips playing on the theatre screen, of which we saw the same clips at least 4 times during the wait. Other than that there was nothing to keep people entertained, announcements were infrequent (but repeated in multiple languages as always, and only provided minimal information that we were waiting to be cleared – stating the obvious) and only one member of staff in the theatre to guide people, so you can imagine it was just a free-for-all once they finally said we could get off, no-one paid any attention to being told it was ‘pink’ group to follow the staff member to the exit, everyone just started heading there (those who hadn’t already gone straight for the exits rather than join the rest of us in the theatre. It was such a relief to get off the ship after 2 hours of being stuck, we were lucky as we just had to get on a shuttle back to our port parking, but others missed connections as result of the chaos. Worst disembarkation I have ever experienced, and as Southampton wasn’t even the main stop on this cruise it was definitely the largest number of people getting off, we hadn’t seen hundreds waiting the morning before at the start/end point of Hamburg.
Ports/Excursions – Rating 2 stars – poor
Most of the ports were heavily industrialised and you needed to head away from them to find the local town or anything of interest, but this is not uncommon around Europe, so isn’t a problem in itself, but if you are looking for picturesque ports you might want to consider Norway instead, or other destinations where you won’t be docked in freight ports. The distance to the local town varied greatly for each port, Le Havre just a 10 minute short walk, Bruges 30 minutes away by coach/shuttle, Amsterdam 30 minute walk, Hamburg 20 minutes coach/shuttle. To be honest I’m not a fan of cruise excursions, they often cost far too much for what in many cases is just a coach ride to a location, but sometimes a necessary evil as it can be hard to work out how to get to some places yourself unless you have been before, or it isn’t far. As such I organised my own excursions/activities for each port and highly recommend others do the same. I have written about those separately in reviews on TripAdvisor (I will list the links at the end for these). The options available for each port were limited, over-priced and, in some cases, so far from the port it seemed crazy that people would consider it an ‘excursion’ at all, for example in Le Havre you could get on a coach for around 3-4 hours to go to Paris, with the same length journey back to the ship, you would be lucky if you got 3 hours in Paris itself for your 6 hours plus sat on a coach – no thank you, there are far better and cheaper ways to visit Paris. It’s a shame the focus of excursions is generally to take you away from the port in which you have docked, Le Havre has a rich history of its own that could easily be explored with a guide, walking tour, or as we did a Segway tour (booked privately at a fraction of the cost a ship excursion might charge for such a thing) but there were no options for this. We had to book a ship ‘excursion’ to get to Bruges from the ship, I pre-paid for this before we travelled, and it cost far too much for a 30-minute coach ride to Bruges, and back to the ship. Don’t get me wrong, it was nice to have the guide on the coach talking a little bit about Bruges, but it wasn’t worth £41GBP per person. In Amsterdam it was walking distance to the town, or you could get a taxi. It was a shame the local bus and train stop right outside the port terminal, but you couldn’t pay with cash so they were not really any use. In Hamburg there was a shuttle bus to the town centre which was 15.90 Euros per person, cheaper but no better value for money and the return was chaos as the shuttle only ran every 45 minutes. We got to the pick-up point to find that it was already full and had to wait for the next one, and by the time that arrived there was already enough people to fill two coaches so half of them would have to wait for the next one again. I suggest looking up local tours, activities, museums etc before you go, buy your tickets online direct or via TripAdvisor and print your self a map of the dock/port area so you can plan out how to get to your chosen activity from the ship once docked, in most cases cruise excursions are an unnecessary additional cost.
Here are the links to my reviews on TripAdvisor for the activities I pre-booked and places we visited:
Have you cruised with MSC Magnifica, what did you think?
Did you have a better/worse experience than we did?
Which cruise line do you prefer?