Our earlier post about the general chaos of this cruise talked about the lack of information surrounding disembarkation and its fluid timescales, so we won't revisit that.
In terms of the process, it did seem odd that the on-board account was closed with undue haste the preceding evening - I'm not sure how passengers are supposed to buy a decent coffee, or, more likely, a stiff drink as they despair of ever seeing land again.
I jest. Sort of.
All that being said, once disembarkation was underway, we were off that ship in a matter of minutes and kerbside shortly afterwards. I would advise having cash though - I didn't, so wasn't sure if I could just jump into a taxi and the Marseille Cruise Terminal seems to be some sort of Bermuda Triangle for Uber drivers.
Marketed to a multi-national crowd, MSC attracts a varied group of passengers.
While I'm sure that cruises departing from Southampton or Miami are more skewed towards locals, this sailing, in the Western Mediterranean was very popular with Southern Europeans. This may create some issues for Brits and Americans of a sensitive nature...
The Brits may come close to having a stroke over the lack of queuing etiquette. Now, I'm not saying that this was an issue for me, but seriously lady, "children don't wait" is not a valid reason to push to the front of the line at a cocktail bar.
For our American cousins, I will say only this... Be prepared for people wearing Speedos. People who are not Tom Daley or Michael Phelps...
MSC takes an, arguably laudable, multi-national approach towards cruising. Whereas Carnival Corporation has brands aimed at markets in the US, UK, Germany and Italy, MSC is trying to cover all bases. So, while the prevailing language among staff on MSC ships seems to be English, activities and entertainments are planned with a multilingual and multicultural audience in mind, this, clearly, precludes some of the activities and entertainments which are standard on other lines - there’s no place for Carnival’s famous Comedy Shows or the ubiquitous pub quiz in this environment.
On their newest ships, MSC have gone some way to addressing this by investing in non-verbal production shows, notably, from Cirque du Soleil on MSC Meraviglia. However, on Magnifica, this rather limits activities to dance routines in the large theatre, the casino and lounge singers.
There is a large spa aboard MSC Magnifica and, indeed, MSC make rather a fuss about it - there is an entire fare class which features inclusive spa amenities.
The large facility is decorated in a rather odd style that seems to conflate Indian and Balinese themes.
I booked a long deep tissue massage - you’ll be shocked to learn that I was underwhelmed. The therapist made no attempt to customise the routine or ask about particular areas of muscle tightness, she just went through a routine robotically.
As is becoming customary in this series on MSC Magnifica, I am going to open with some positivity…
MSC’s spritz game is first class. Their Aperol Spritz is properly excellent and the Ramazzotti Rosato Spritz was great, even if it never, not once, arrived with the advertised garnish of basil. I would have thought that, given the brief nature of the cocktail list, all the required ingredients would be on hand.
Now, back to the theme of the cruise - poorly trained staff with haunted eyes that scream “PLEASE SAVE ME”. Bar service is, in general, terrible. So terrible and so slow that I assume it’s a deliberate strategy to limit the consumption of guests on the unlimited beverage packages that were being pushed so hard.
In many cases, bars were so understaffed that barmen would bark “no cocktails” before you placed your order. However, in amongst this environment of normalised rudeness, there were two standout incidents.
On embarkation day, I headed to the carnival of sensory overload that is the Tiger Bar and order a Grey Goose martini; regular readers may have noticed that this is something of a benchmark drink - I order one on every cruise.
Unusually, I’m served pretty swiftly and the drink arrives in short order - all frosted glass and syrupy iciness. I’m delighted, until I take a sip. Something very odd has happened. The taste is bad, but I can’t quite put my finger on why. At first, I think it’s soap, or maybe rinse aid in the glass. Then I see, the barmaid has clearly picked up Grey Goose “Poire” by mistake.
First, rather than admit the error, shy tries to convince me that she gave me pear “as a surprise”. When I protest that I dislike it, she does agree to make up another. In doing so, she takes a frozen glass from the freezer and places in on the bar in front of me. This new glass is visibly filthy - something odd is stuck to it. Before she pours the new drink, I point out the, well, slart on the glass. “It’s just ice”, I’m told, so I pick off a piece of the mystery liquid and demonstrate that it is clearly not ice. We then move onto “it’s a spilled ingredient from a molecular cocktail” (heavens preserve us) - that may be so, but I still don’t want it in my drink. After a little more to and for, a fresh class is taken from the freezer and a perfectly drinkable martini decanted into it.
Oh, and after all this, I added a big tip to the bill - by this point I assumed that MSC were probably taking the extra vodka directly from her wages.
I have, however, saved the best for last…
During our unscheduled day in port, there didn’t seem to be many bars open. Indeed, it seemed that just the atrium and two pool bars were staffed, with a total of four barmen and women spread across the three locations. I’m sure this would have been quite sufficient on a normal port day with most of the passengers on land, but this wasn’t a normal port day, and the ship was crowded. There were waiters taking drink orders, but they were just backing up with the deep crowds at the bars.
So, I’m waiting at the Atrium bar, trying to place an order with a barmaid who looks to be on the verge of tears, when, at a nearby table, three gents who’d clearly been waiting a while for their drinks enquire with the waiter of any progress. “I’ve only got two hands”, he snaps back at them, before shouting to the barmaid “Please just pour three glasses of Chardonnay so that these people stop making funny faces at me.”
Reviewing food on MSC Magnifica is a job for the sternest of souls, I mean, even writing about it makes the heart sink, so let’s try to raise the mood with two thin rays of of hope. The pizza is excellent, and available almost around the clock. There is also excellent gelato by Venchi, who charge about £5 a scoop for the stuff in their South Kensington store.
However, man cannot live exclusively on pizza and gelato. No really, you can’t - not even for a few days, at least not unless you’re a teenager with the metabolism of a hummingbird and the constitution of an ox.
Away from the pizza station, the rest of the buffet is, well, problematic. Somehow, this Italian line, who are so good at pizza, manage to render pasta repulsive; gnocchi cooked to the point of disintegration and flavourless sauces.
Things in the main dining room aren’t much better. The first night included a salad featuring wilted and rotting spinach, an aubergine parmigiana that was composed of two thin slices of aubergine and a little cheese, tasteless risotto then a veal dish that was so odd as to defy description.
The second night in the dining room as themed as “Mediterranean Night”. Things actually started out hopefully - the gazpacho appetiser was OK. There then followed a main course of “mixed fish grill” which was unabashedly horrendous; overcooked to the point of inedibility - I could barely even cut the squid. A tablemate ordered moussaka and received a portion fit only for a doll’s tea party. Dessert was, without a word of a lie, a single piece of backlava - the sort of potion that a Lebanese restaurant would bring out with the bill.
By the third night, I’d lost the will to live, far less take notes about the food. Assume it was dreadful.
Brace yourselves! No, we're not crashing again, but I'm about to write about an aspect of this cruise that's not wholly negative.
My balcony cabin was spacious, comfortable, clean and decorated in a reasonably tasteful fashion.
The balcony seemed to be on the large side, although with chairs rather than a lounger.
If I was to pick fault, I'd say that the lack of any usable desk space was irritating.
One thing to note - MSC stocks your cabin according to which of its obscure fare classes you book in. For me, that meant no toiletries at all. Not so much as a miniature bottle of shower gel.
Looking at the deck plan of Magnifica, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was bursting at the seams with various bars and activity spaces - it almost looks too crowded.
This isn’t quite the case. The main issue is that the deck that looks to be full of different bars feels, in reality, like one continuous space. All that seems to change as you move from stern to bow is that the upholstery becomes ever less tasteful, with no effort at creating spaces that don’t feel like one giant corridor.
That being said, there are some interesting spaces on other decks. The sports bar (L’Olimpiade) is actually well done, with some genuinely interesting Olympic memorabilia. The card room and library are also surprisingly well appointed for a fun/family ship.
The spa is large and will be covered in a separate post. I tried to use the gym, but there was far too little air-conditioning for what is, essentially, a greenhouse - it was too hot to do anything.
On deck, there’s a reasonable pool, shuffleboard and plenty of space for deckchairs.
For evening entertainment, there is a large theatre for production shows, another large, cabaret-style, lounge and singers in some of the other bars. The singers were, without exception, bad. It wasn’t just that they couldn’t really sing, but they were utterly lacking in enthusiasm - a common theme on the ship.
There is a very large casino, which is also the main indoor smoking area on the ship. It’s not a pleasant place to spend much time. I did dabble in roulette one night, but the atmosphere was funereal and the croupiers experts in sucking the joy out of any situation.
Apologies, we're way behind on reviews; we can barely stand to open the content schedule spreadsheet, it's just a sea of judgmental red.
Sadly, other commitments took up all of our time, but that horror is over now, so brace yourselves for our reviews of MSC Magnifica, Cunard's Queen Elizabeth, Norwegian Jade and CMV's new(ish) Columbus.