We flew in two days early and thoroughly enjoyed Barcelona. We stayed at Castro Exclusive Residences. The apartment was modern and clean. It was pretty big for Europe and nicely decorated. It had three bedrooms, a pull-out couch, two baths, and a full kitchen. It was located less than two blocks from La Sagrada Familia.
While in Barca, we toured Sagrada Familia, Rambla, Gothic Quarter, Cathedral of Barcelona, Boqueria Market, and Park Guell. We enjoyed each of these places immensely and loved Barcelona overall. Our impression is that the city is beautiful, clean, and friendly. We used the HOHO bus (Barcelona City Tour) for transportation down to Placa de Cataluyna and thoroughly enjoyed the tour. We used taxis and a prearranged transfer (airport to apt) to get around. I know there is a lot of talk about pick pockets in Barcelona. There were two occasions when a suspicious looking person approached us. Both times, we made eye contact and they turned away. Maybe we were being paranoid, but on one occasion, the man was definitely checking out my husband's camera. Be aware, but do not let this prevent you for visiting such a lovely city.
We boarded the MSC Splendida on Sunday, April 1 around 2:00 pm. The embarkation process was quick and painless. Our impression of the ship was that it is was very beautiful and clean. Our staterooms were good and comparable to what we have seen on other cruises. My inlaws balcony stateroom was very nice.
Before booking this cruise, I read many negative reviews about the food. Our opinion was that the food was fair to good. There really wasn't anything that just blew me away and the girls were disappointed to not have lobster for any of our meals. We ate all but one dinner in the main dining room and all lunches and breakfasts in the buffet. We found plenty of options on the buffet for lunch and dinner. We were a little disappointed in the main dining room, but we still left dinner each evening stuffed, so no one went hungry! With regard to meals in the Bora Bora/Pago Pago buffet, it was a little crowded at times especially near the main buffets. However, we always headed to the very back and usually did not have much trouble finding a table (for seven). I'm not sure why MSC hasn't opened up the rear buffets for hot food. If the food locations were a little more spread out, the crowds would be much better.
Another big topic of discussion related to MSC is water. We all drank water and only water for dinner each night. We received three coupon books for free water (one coupon book per stateroom). I believe each book had 7 or 8 coupons in it. We saved the coupons to use at dinner each night. The water is served cold in a one liter plastic bottle. We did not ask for and were not offered ice. Each evening our group went through at least three liters of water. This did not exactly solve the water problem for us. We all rationed ourselves to not drink very much, so that we wouldn't run out of coupons. We also didn't want to open a bottle and only drink a portion because we didn't want to carry a half bottle around the ship after dinner. On the last night, we had six coupons left and we were so excited that we were able to have as much water as we wanted. It seems silly, but you don't realize how much water you drink during a meal, until you have to limit yourself.
The service was inconsistent. In the main dining room, our waiter's first words to us were "Tell me!" as he pointed to the menu. My daughter asked a question about an entrée and he told her to "just pick one". Shortly after this, he and had some angry words for the assistant waiter that we could overhear. As the week went on, it got a little better. We tried to make conversation with him and he warmed up a bit. I think part of the problem was that he didn’t speak English very well. We were in a section of the restaurant that was not with other English speakers. He was waiting on people from Italy and Germany in addition to us dumb Americans. He was from Spanish-speaking Honduras. I am guessing he did not speak Italian, German and English. I am not sure why we were seated where we were, but it would seem like the MSC would match up waiters and cruisers who spoke the same language. We had one need to speak with the guest relations desk when we were required mid-cruise to deliver our passports to them for the duration of the cruise. As my husband asked questions about why this was necessary and when we would get the passports back, he felt the people at guest relations were short with him and rude. (I had previously read about the poor service from guest relations, but had not relayed this to my hubby.) It turns out the information they gave him (about getting back the passports) was not consistent (or correct) with what my mother-in-law was told when she asked the same questions.
On the good side, our cabin steward did a fabulous job. He was always smiling and offering to help. At one point, the sound on our television went out. He went around to several other cabins to see if it was wide spread and them called someone to report the problem. As we walked down the halls, every cabin steward that we would pass would say hello (in English to our surprise).
There didn't seem to be as many activities going on as we have experienced on other cruises and there was not a dedicated teen club. The Disco was reserved for teen activities for a couple hours each evening. During the day, there were no set activities for teens. The planned evening activities in the Disco included ice breaking activities. My daughters felt the activities were not really appropriate for their age group. One night, the kids were paired up into boy/girl couples and had to eat an apple. The couple who ate the largest portion of the apple down to the core won a prize. That being said, the girls did meet a lot of other teens and got to try to communicate with kids from all over the world. They got buy with their limited Spanish and the other kids English. They have a new appreciation for foreign language skills and said they feel dumb to only be fluent in English. My youngest daughter did not participate in the kids program, so I cannot comment on anything other than the teen group.
I thought the shows in the theater were actually quite good. I was expecting shows heavy on opera, but there were none. The shows involved a little singing, but mostly dancing, juggling, acrobatics. There were also some unusual acts that included a man making animals with his hands on a screen from a projected light and a woman who did sand art projected on the screen. This may sound odd, but they were enjoyable and unique. I had read that the shows were "pornographic" and I was a little concerned. The costumes the dancers wore were skimpy and Las Vegas like. However, I wouldn't really call that pornographic and I didn't find it offensive.
The big positive to this cruise was the ports of call. We went to La Goulette (Tunisia), Valletta (Malta), Messina(Sicily), Rome, and Genoa. We arranged private tour guides for all of the stops except Genoa which we did on our own and Tunisia, where we took the ship tour. In Tunisia, we did a tour that took us to the ancient Roman bath ruins, Carthage ruins, and Sidi Bou Said. Our group consisted of English and German speakers. The tour guide was very informative. We spent about 45 minutes at the Roman baths, and about the same at the Carthage ruins. In Sidi Bou Said, we were dropped off several blocks away and had to walk quite a way up a hill to get to the town. When we finally arrived, the guide told us to meet back in one hour. We toured around the town a little, but there wasn't much to do or see and one hour seemed excessive after rushing through the other sites. I assume they wanted us to spend some money with the merchants. I was practically attacked by one merchant when I asked the price of a necklace. He followed me down the street and would not leave me alone. He dropped his price from 300 euros to 50. He finally gave up when my 15 year old daughter put her hand on his chest and told him to stop. The girls were also approached by women who grabbed their hands to draw on them. If you allowed them to do this, afterwards they would say "Four euros". We found our way back to the meeting spot about 30 min early and just waited for everyone else.
In Malta, we had a wonderful guide take us to St. John's Co-Cathedral, Mdina, Upper Barrakka Gardens, Hypogeum, Tarxiem Temples and the Blue Grotto. It was a busy, but amazing day.
In Sicily, we did the Godfather Tour and once again had an absolutely amazing day. We toured the Greek theater in Taormina and found it to be awesome.
In Rome, we used a guide service and a Vatican museum guide. We toured the Vatican museums, St. Peter's, the Coliseum, the Pantheon, and finally the Trevi Fountain. It was an amazing and an incredible day.
Genoa was just ok. It is not the cleanest city and all the buildings were covered with a thick layer of soot. We did a tour bus (with one hop off point). We toured the home of Christopher Columbus and walked around, but came back to the ship early because we just didn't find much to do. If I were to do it again, we make our way to Portofino.
Getting on and off the ship for our excursions was quick and easy at all ports except Genoa. In Genoa, when we got back to the ship, there was only one walkway open for people continuing on the cruise. There was another gangway open but it was for people embarking from Genoa. We stood in line for about an hour and it was disappointing since we were all tired and just wanted to sit down. I saw some people leave the line, make their way through the terminal and go across the gangway for embarking passengers.
When we got back to Barcelona, we were told to meet in the Aft Lounge at 12:45 to begin disembarking procedures. However, we were also told that we could not get our passports until 1:30. We made the mistake of going to the Aft Lounge at 12:45. It was crowded and there was no place to sit. There were no announcements explaining the process or what time we would be disembarking. At 1:30 my husband and mother in law retrieved our passports, but we waited another 30 min or so before the first group of passengers were allowed to leave. An MSC staff member came in with a sign for a certain luggage color and said "follow me". That was pretty much all the instruction that was given.
Back in Barcelona, we made our way via taxi to Hotel Balmes. We had two rooms. One was nice, and was not all that nice. We spent the evening touring Casa Battlo which was awesome and having dinner at Tapa Tapa. It was a nice relaxing final day of our vacation.
Overall, it was a very nice vacation. There are a number of negative comments in the summary above, but we got a good price and had a great vacation. I thought the ship was very nice and we especially enjoyed the indoor pool area for sitting around and reading of playing cards. It felt like you were outside when it was too cool to be outside.
If anyone has any questions, I'll will be happy to try my best to answer.