MSC Cruises Magnifica – Bruges, Amsterdam, Hamburg

MSC MagnificaMy wife and I have just returned from our first MSC cruise and wanted to put pen to paper to advise fellow Silver Travel Advisor members of our experiences. Like many members we are very experienced cruisers and have travelled on several lines but as MSC was a new product to us it may be the case that others have not travelled with them either.

I had in fact been on two visits to the ship earlier this year so had the advantage of knowing my way around in advance. I had also done some research on MSC so was aware that British passengers would be in a minority onboard and that the product has historically been aimed at the European market, being an Italian company themselves, of course. However, during my visits prior to the cruise I had long chats with Craig Jeffs, the MSC National Account Manager in this country, and they really are trying to break into the UK market in a big way.

So what were our thoughts in a nutshell – “a beautiful ship and we had an absolutely excellent cruise” sums up our thoughts but obviously with some detailed observations. I thought it would be easier to break the review down into various sections:

MSC MagnificaThe ship
We absolutely loved the ship. From my point of view I knew that before the cruise but had not waxed too lyrically to my wife so that she could form her own opinion without knowing my thoughts in detail. It is a large ship and has approximately 3,200 passengers but it never felt overcrowded even on one of the two sea days when the weather was less favourable meaning everyone was inside.

The main public rooms are spacious and the whole ship is tastefully decorated – it is neither staid nor too glitzy. There are plenty of bars and other rooms everywhere throughout the ship and large areas of open deck for sunbathing. When the weather was sunny we never had any problem getting a sunbed or indeed finding anywhere to sit at any time.

Being only four years old the ship is still in really good condition with no obvious evidence of wear and tear. She is going into dry dock soon but I understand that is more for the usual mechanical checks and updates rather than major work being carried out inside the ship.

Just a quick word about the lifts – there were four banks of them as opposed to the three sometimes found on ships of this size. They worked well and it was rarely necessary to wait more than a minimal amount of time for one to arrive.

Peter SmithThe food
We found the food extremely good in both the main restaurant and the buffet. As far as the main dining room is concerned our request for a table for two on late sitting had been met and we had a lovely table where we enjoyed our evening meals. The starters and soups were of excellent quality and whilst some of the main courses were rather small our excellent waiter remedied this by bringing larger portions when requested. There were very few vegetables with the main courses, a common theme these days sadly for those that like them. Coffee was not served after dinner which seemed unusual to us.

As far as the buffet was concerned we were pleasantly surprised both at the quality of food and the availability of tables. We ate most breakfasts there finding the main dining room somewhat chaotic at that time with its open seating.

It is, of course, very difficult for cruise lines to meet the needs of thousands of passengers at a buffet but we felt MSC had done a really good job with the signage and location of the food. Despite the number of people and the fact that it was inevitably very busy we always found a seat with no trouble.

MSC MagnificaThe service
Throughout the ship the service was excellent – our lovely cabin steward Eric looked after us very well as did the waiters. In the bars the crew were all excellent – we have always found that cruise ship’s crew respond well to passengers showing a genuine interest in them and that was certainly the case here.

The cabin
We were very pleased with the facilities in our cabin and its location – a standard balcony cabin on deck 9 (cabin 9129), very conveniently located between two sets of lifts. There was sufficient hanging space for a cruise of conventional length and an unusually large number of drawers. The bathroom was similar to those in standard balcony cabins on other large ships and was more than adequate for our needs.

We are balcony lovers and ours was perfectly fine with two chairs and a table, all we needed.

The entertainment
Like everything in this review these comments are subjective but for us the entertainment was a mixture of superb and very poor so let me explain! Of necessity with so many different nationalities the shows were mainly visual. The one we saw was rather poor and we heard from fellow Brits that others with contortionists and “animal” actors were similarly not to their tastes.

MSC MagnificaDuring the days at sea the onboard entertainment was not really very good and there was not much of interest to do which would be a pain on a cruise with many sea days if the weather was poor. There were no port lectures, presumably due to the number of languages that would be required.

And now the good news! The live music throughout the ship was superb. On the first night we strolled through the atrium intending to go on to the main lounges but stayed to listen to a brilliant pianist Iryna who then alternated with Trio Stravinsky – three young ladies playing piano, violin and cello. They and the pianist were all so brilliant that we spent every evening there and it made a perfect hour or so before dinner plus indeed afterwards.

Their choice of music was a perfect mixture of classical, show music and well known standards. On two gala nights an excellent Tenor Miguel Pino and Soprano Silvia Barletta did short sets as well.

It was for us the best pre dinner entertainment we have had on any cruise. There was also very good music in the bars including the excellent Duo Canalas who were happy to play requests.

Peter SmithThe dress code
This was a slightly disappointing aspect of the cruise as dressing up or even dressing smartly for dinner was clearly not what many passengers wanted to do. There were plenty of dinner jackets/suits on the first formal night but on the second one (after most of the passengers had changed at the end of their cruise in Hamburg, see below) there were very few who complied with the stated dress code. Indeed on several nights the dress code might as well have been called “scruffs”!! Call me old fashioned but dressing up for dinner – at least smartly if not with a dinner suit/suit/tie – should be part of cruising. That is, of course, no longer the case which we did not know from other cruises in the past few years but this one did plumb new depths of awful evening attire!

The ports
As with most people it is the itinerary that is the key criteria for us when booking a cruise and we loved the ports we visited. We were indeed fortunate that on the four days in port we did not have a single drop of rain.

Zaanse Schans, NetherlandsFrom Zeebrugge we did the ship’s “Bruges on your own” tour to ensure we had no problems getting back on time – it is a fairly easy trip by train/taxi but we took the simple option which worked really well for us. Bruges is a lovely city and definitely one for a weekend break at some time in the future.

Next for us was Amsterdam where our “Windmills and Countryside” tour was the highlight of the cruise visiting the gorgeous windmill village of Zaanse Schans. We climbed a windmill and had a thoroughly great time – the tour also included a cheese factory which was far more than the usual obligatory stop somewhere on a tour just to buy things. A lovely location in the middle of the Dutch countryside with sheep, goats and other animals roaming around the fields outside the factory.

The third port was Hamburg with a “Highlights” tour with a brilliant guide who had an untypical zany sense of humour. An excellent tour seeing the lovely lake in the centre of Hamburg and various historical sites. The tour did end on somewhat of a downer with 75 minutes in the centre of Hamburg which, being a Sunday, was completely shut. I know it is impossible sometimes for cruise lines to avoid visiting ports at weekends but it was not the best of planning in all honesty for these four consecutive cruises to each visit Hamburg on a Sunday. Mind you, two thirds of the ship were finishing their cruise that day (see below) so I guess it did not matter to them!

HonfleurThe final port was Le Havre where we got a taxi to the impossibly pretty fishing harbour village of Honfleur. We did not take the ship’s “On your own” tour there as we did not sail until 2300 so there were no concerns about returning on time.

The 8 mile journey over the spectacular Normandy Bridge was pleasant and Honfleur itself is just so pretty. We had driven through it on a previous cruise when visiting the Normandy beaches (surprisingly not offered as a tour on this cruise) and we had a lovely few hours there strolling round the harbour and cobbled streets, with plenty of harbour side cafes and shops.

General comments
It may be thought from all my comments above that the cruise was a “normal” one that regular cruisers with lines such as P&O, Princess, Holland America etc would have experienced. There were some key differences, however, which made this an entirely different product.

MSC MagnificaOn our cruise British passengers were very much in the minority with just under 500 embarking at Southampton. Although the cruise was shown in the MSC brochure as a round trip from Southampton (and indeed it was for the Brits) most of the passengers had embarked a few days previously at Hamburg and disembarked midway through “our” cruise when we visited that port. In fact 2,200 people were on the “Hamburg to Hamburg” cruise and were replaced there by a new group of the same number.

At our three other ports many other people were also starting and finishing their cruise and I do know that some of our fellow British passengers found this a little tiresome. The reason is that on many of the days there were large movements of luggage and also people embarking with large quantities of hand luggage – rather like a conventional first day of a cruise but repeated several times on ours. The embarkation point on board was right in the middle of the public walkway through the atrium meaning congestion and no access to the toilets that were located there and I can understand the observations that were made in that respect.

It may be the case that this embarking at every port was simply because the ship was on four consecutive Northern Europe cruises with the same itinerary therefore allowing the “round trip” element from different ports.

MSC MagnificaAs far as so many nationalities being together was concerned everyone seemed to get on well and there was a pleasant atmosphere throughout the cruise. Everyone was very well behaved including at the buffet which, as above, was not really a bunfight although it was busy.

There were many children onboard – very few, if any, from the UK as it was term time here but I think it was a holiday period in German schools where most of them came from. We did not experience any real problems with the children at all and even limited research would show that MSC are very much a family cruise line so plenty of children can always be expected.

Announcements
With so many nationalities on board it was, of course, necessary for announcements to be in different languages at boat drill etc. However, there were relatively few announcements during the cruise so it was not a major issue as far as we were concerned.

Summary
An excellent cruise! Would we cruise again on this ship or another in the MSC fleet? Definitely, although, as always from our point of view, it would depend on the itinerary. It is necessary to accept that the product itself is largely aimed at the majority European passengers and I do not see that MSC can change that as they are never going to be a cruise line aiming purely at the British cruising market.

It is most definitely not a P&O Cruises type British experience but I feel anyone going on board who is aware in advance of the differences in style would enjoy cruising with MSC. We had a great time!

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Peter Smith

Travel writer & experienced cruiser

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