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1fifthavenue

MSC Sinfonia review

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Now the dust has settled from new year I've got round to writing the review of our Christmas cruise that you can find on my blog timthorpetravel.com

 

Earlier in 2018 a deal on the MSC Magnifica caught our eye, for 5 nights over the Christmas period, however when looking further we also found a longer cruise on the MSC Sinfonia. 10 nights, departing Barcelona on the 19th December worked out not all that much more money, so we decided to go for the longer cruise particularly as we’re currently having building work done so Christmas at home was not a possibility.

Our travel agent packaged the cruise with a 2 night pre-cruise hotel stay, flights and the All Inclusive Deluxe drinks package and we were good to go! As this was such a long cruise I won’t go through a day by day account, and will just pick out some of the highlights.

Barcelona is a city we’ve visited many times as we’ve completed numerous Mediterranean  cruises, and on the Western Med itinerary it’s as certain as taxes and death. We enjoyed our time spent at the Barcelona House hotel – it’s location is very central, just off La Rambla and the Placa Reial with it’s bustling restaurants and grand architecture.

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Ship Profile

MSC Sinfonia is the second oldest in the current MSC fleet (MSC Armonia is slightly older) and was originally built for Festival Cruises. At just over 58000 tonnes and a passenger capacity of 2163 she is small compared to the mega ships we see being launched in recent years. As a comparison, the current world’s biggest cruise ship, Symphony of the Seas weighs in at 228000GT and can hold 6680 passengers.

All of the Lirica class cruise ships (Sinfonia, Armonia, Opera and Lirica) went through the ‘Renaissance Programme’ in 2015 which added extra cabins and altered public spaces. The previous lounge above the theatre was removed and cabins added, with a new lounge in the new mid-section and an extended dining room, plus children’s spray park.

We sailed on MSC Lirica before the stretch, and MSC Armonia after the stretch, and it is somewhat difficult to tell that this has been done as the design flows well and the new public spaces are in keeping with the original design.

On embarkation morning we took a steady walk down La Rambla and caught the cruise bus at €3 each which took us straight to the terminal where MSC Sinfonia was docked – we were the only ship in port which made things very easy. The usual check-in procedures commenced, and we were the first passengers to be onboard at about 12.45pm – one of the benefits of the MSC Voyagers Club black card is priority boarding.

Cabin

Our forward facing cabin on deck 9, cabin 9001 was spacious and a different layout to other ocean view cabins we have had. There was plenty of storage space for the duration of our cruise, and our cabin steward was friendly and efficient.

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The configuration of the cabin worked really well. There’s no escaping the ship is showing her age in places but is kept very well. The shower was small in comparison to Meraviglia and Seaview with a shower curtain rather than enclosure; the bathroom is looking dated however cleanliness is the most important thing in my view. I should also add that the hairdryer was one of the old fashioned on the wall with a hose type and not much use for anyone with thick, long or afro type hair!

The window over the bow offered excellent views when sailing in to ports, and one of the highlights has to be the sail in to Valletta’s Grand Harbour.

Our itinerary for the cruise was port-intensive, with only one sea day. That’s actually pretty perfect for a ship of this size, however one draw back is that the bow thrusters to help steer the ship in to it’s berth made the room shake. The noise woke us up every morning – not great as we’re usually late to bed. Our table mates had cabins midships and didn’t even know we were docking, so it goes to show why location can be everything!

 

Dining

Excuse the length of this paragraph, but food is a major part of the cruise holiday experience, so naturally it will be longer!

On our first day, we headed to the main dining room, Il Galeone on deck 5 for lunch. On the older MSC ships we have noticed that the main dining room offers a hybrid buffet and a la carte service at breakfast and lunch. Presumably this is to take off some of the pressure from the main buffet on deck 11 which was not extended during the Renaissance project.

You are shown to a table by a host, and then asked whether you would like to order from the menu or to use the buffet. Drinks service is via the waiter. The buffet options are generally the same as those on deck 11 with the exception of burgers / pizza which is not available, so for cruisers who enjoy buffets I’d recommend using this option as it avoids any hassle trying to find a table.

This concept does have some drawbacks though. The a la carte menu selections seem to be much smaller with often only one option per course. This is somewhat surprising, however soups, salads etc are available from the buffet section, as well as a daily carvery selection with fresh vegetables.

We found that the lunch service could be very slow and actually quite chaotic, and in our ten days only went for lunch three times, one of which was Chirstmas Day. Don’t get me wrong we didn’t go hungry (is it possible to?) but compared to the MSC ships we have sailed on we found this worse. On our third and final trip to the restaurant we were sat for ten minutes before a waiter asked if he could help us. We hadn’t even had a menu at that point!

That being said, the Christmas Day lunch service, where the buffet in the MDR had been removed and it was pure table service went much better. We were seated with a couple from the UK and a lady and her friend from Hungary, who by chance we had met on our previous Christmas cruise on the MSC Fantasia! It’s a small world hey!

For our evening meals we were allocated table 504 in what would have been the corner of Il Galeone restaurant prior to the stretch. Our table for 6 on the first sitting at 6:30pm consisted of ourselves, two gentlemen from the East of England and a couple from Brisbane, Australia. We’ve not shared a dining table for two years and were somewhat apprehensive that we might not all get on.

All I can say is we hit it off like a house on fire and have made good friends! Thank you to our four companions for all of the laughs over the cruise. Dinner service took around two and a quarter hours each night so it was a massive relief that we all got on so well!

Our waiter Maharta was very friendly and knew his job, however we wonder if he perhaps had too many tables to look after and this is what caused service to be slower than you would expect. His assistant, Jonathan was also scarce meaning that drinks service in the restaurant could be slow. Maharta was fantastic in asking each night what wine we would prefer the next evening so as to have it ready for us and try and speed things up a little.

The food at dinner over the week was of a very good standard. Portions as ever could be a little on the small side but well presented. We’d highly recommend anyone with an appetite orders two appetizers, or an appetizer and salad as well as their main course, or extra vegetables.

The food highlights of the cruise for me have got to be Ramon Freixa’s Duck Royale which we first discovered on our honeymoon, the pan-seared duck breast with currant and chilli sauce, the veal shank on Med night and the Indian butter chicken on Christmas night was the perfect antidote to all of the rich food!

In addition to the main dining room and buffet, the Lirica class ships also serve food in the pub located on deck 5 forward. Shelagh’s House is an ‘Irish Pub’ with a range of beers including Guinness and Murphy’s. The food on offer includes club sandwiches and a roast beef platter. This makes a great lunch option if you’re too late back from an excursion or sight seeing, or if you just fancy a light bite.

Example Menus:

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Service

I’m not sure if ‘service’ is the right heading to use but I just wanted to touch on how we found the onboard experience. We know we have been spoilt with cruises in the Yacht Club, and we knew that the experience would be somewhat different with fewer crew to assist more passengers in bars etc. In all honesty, the service and customer experience from that perspective was absolutely fine.

I’ve read numerous reports of cruisers who say they wouldn’t go with MSC unless they could go in the Yacht Club. There was absolutely nothing wrong in terms of wait times or attentiveness.

During the cruise we were really lucky to meet with Juli who we had met on another cruise on MSC Fantasia, as well as Vickee, Ketut and others from MSC Magnifica and also Melissa who was on her first contract.

As many of you will know, MSC announced a change to the drinks packages last year, and now these are in play with the simultaneous running of the old drinks packages it has caused confusion, and this is completely understandable. We’ve now completed twenty cruises and therefore know what we are entitled to based on our drinks package code. Unfortunately this period of confusion lead to a number of occasions where the bar man advised the waiting staff the drinks we had ordered were not on our package, when we knew full well they were.

[caption id="attachment_362" align="aligncenter" width="472"]49065961_479046695954156_8076275431319273472_n Onboard drinks packages[/caption]

Entertainment

The shows on the Sinfonia were very good, with some excellent performances. One advantage to fixed dining and a smaller ship with more limited facilities is that you find yourself going to more of the shows than on the big ships with lots to see and do.

Highlights have to be ‘Paris after Dark’ a dance show based on the city of love – amazing tango and popular routines, and of course a Can-Can dance. The opera gala was also excellent, with a live pianist and violinist to accompany the singers and their renditions of favourite opera songs such as Nessundorma and O Mio Bambino. The staff show is also not to be missed as regular crew members take over the entertainment with dancing, singing and music.

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The main party bar, The Manhattan Bar, is the place where you would find the Animation team causing havoc with a multitude of party games in between music from a live band playing dance music and typical pop party hits.

We also really enjoyed pre and post-dinner cocktails in the Buddah Bar, which is the ship's mixology bar offering a range of standard and crafted cocktails.

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As it could be cold during the day, the activities that would usually take place around the pool such as dance classes and stretching were also held in this bar.

 

Overall Opinion

The cruise was a solid 4 stars out of 5. The issues that we experienced did take off some of the shine, but the overall friendliness of the crew, the fun we had in the evenings made up for those shortcomings.

There’s no escaping the fact the ship is smaller and therefore activities and options are limited, but you can only be in one place at one time.

We have another cruise booked on the MSC Opera, which is in the same class. We’ll have then completed a cruise on each of these ships, and we both feel that after that we wouldn’t book another Lirica class unless the price and itinerary were very attractive.

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A I have written a slightly smaller review of our sailing on the Sinfonia, early December, I found your review quite interesting. Since you seem to be a huge fan of MSC your perspective might be very different from some who have never sailed MSC and were looking to, like other Americans.  While you found the crew friendly, I did NOT see that at all. In fact it was my biggest complaint for the entre cruise, the stoicness of the crew. We had a waiter for our 10 day cruise who ever smiled ONCE, never took the time to know our names. I did comment on the effectiveness of the service as we usually were in and out for dinner in about 90 minutes. When passing any crew member in a public place or in a walkway, they NEVER said anything unless I initiated the prossess. Almost the exact opposite of what one would find on any American cruise ship. To each his own as far as if that might be a deal breaker. 

 

As I also reported, the shows were decent enough, but we just aren't huge opera fans, so they weren't that awe inspiring to us. We did attend and did like the voices of the leads, but after that, it just may not appeal to that many Americans. We also found the cruise director a bit long in the tooth. Since everything he had to say was in 5 different languages, it did take a while. The performances were good, but we were surprised most of the songs and singing  were in English. Some might have been better in their native language. We did like the Flamenco show very much, others were hit an miss. Again, a I said previously, the showgirls were stunning, and were very good.

 

Our cruise, also 10 days with only one sea day, so we basically never ate lunch as we were off the ship on all port days so I really cannot comment on that. As I said in another post, they try to show you to a table for breakfast, but if you want to go where you might want to go, they do not object. As for portion size, we found them small. My wife ordered fish and chips one evening and she got 2 fish sticks with some packaged French fries. Not what I would call a gourmet meal. I do agree about ordering that extra appetizer. As Americans, who never sailed MSC in Europe, we were surprised there was no coffee or tea offered with dessert. If you want that, you pay extra. Again, maybe since you cruised MSC many times, you expected that, we didn't. 

We did thoroughly enjoy the Gelato every day and some of the entertainment staff were very funny when they did visual antics. 

 

As many Americans don't adjust to MSC as well as others, I would not rule out sailing MSC again, as I would be more prepared for what to expect.

thanks for your review. 

 

Cheers

Len

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Hi Len, 

Sorry you didn't appear to have such a good cruise. 

 

I have to say we've never experienced miserable staff, but we do find that a smile goes a long way, and if you smile the world smiles with you. Of course we've experienced people on an off day. I guess by human nature we are all different and it's unfortunate your waiter wasn't up to scratch.

 

We really enjoy the opera and often go on land, and we thought the opera on the ship was up to a very good standard. Completely understand it's not everyone's cup of tea, but there was plenty of variety in the shows I thought with songs from the musicals, dance, classical and opera. I don't know what else could be offered to add to it?

 

I'm with you that the product probably wouldn't suit a number of Americans, and to be honest we have found that American cruising isn't for us, hence sticking to MSC as we know what we're going to get 🙂

Tim

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Tim

 

 I didn't want it to sound as if our cruise was a failure, it wasn't. If so, I would plainly state I would never cruise MSC again. There were just things that we weren't expecting and if we ever venture there again, we will be more prepared. Thanks for your insight. It does show that there are two sides to every cruise, and two ways of looking at every day things. 

 

Chees

Len

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I thought I read somewhere that the pub had food to order

i was wondering if you could confirm this and if so what was the choices 

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4 hours ago, Bases5 said:

I thought I read somewhere that the pub had food to order

i was wondering if you could confirm this and if so what was the choices 

Yes you can get:

club sandwich

bbq chicken wrap

croissant with ham and mushrooms (maxi croissant)

roast beef platter

apple pie

chocolate brownie

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45 minutes ago, 1fifthavenue said:

Yes you can get:

club sandwich

bbq chicken wrap

croissant with ham and mushrooms (maxi croissant)

roast beef platter

apple pie

chocolate brownie

Very nice indeed. 

Was it complimentary?

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I have a few more questions if you find the time.

Thanks in advance.

How are the wait times for the elevators?

Do they have U.S. plugs in the rooms. 

Does the room have blow dryers?

Do the back decks have chairs to use?

Formal nights. Is a nice dress plus a jacket and tie ok. 

Did you notice any long lines at any certain area or certain times?

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On ‎1‎/‎13‎/‎2019 at 10:21 AM, 1fifthavenue said:

yes it is free 🙂

I have a few more questions if you find the time.

Thanks in advance.

How are the wait times for the elevators?

Do they have U.S. plugs in the rooms. 

Does the room have blow dryers?

Do the back decks have chairs to use?

Formal nights. Is a nice dress plus a jacket and tie ok. 

Did you notice any long lines at any certain area or certain times?

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19 minutes ago, Bases5 said:

I have a few more questions if you find the time.

Thanks in advance.

How are the wait times for the elevators?

Fine, although some of the buttons didn't work, I can't remember which, but make sure you press both to call them (there's a button beside each one)

Do they have U.S. plugs in the rooms. 

Yes, there are two above the desk, they're very close together which means UK plugs on an adapter can't sit side by side, not sure how this impacts US plugs

Does the room have blow dryers?

Yes, but they're the horrible hose type, and even as a guy they were rubbish - take your own!

Do the back decks have chairs to use?

Not that I remember but as we were all the way forward we didn't really look

Formal nights. Is a nice dress plus a jacket and tie ok. 

Absolutely, we wear lounge / business type suits usually not tuxedo

Did you notice any long lines at any certain area or certain times?

Not really, just guest relations on embarkation day and the night before big changeovers - getting back on at port could be a bit slow as there's limited space for security checks which are obviously so important. Think the longest we waited was 15-20 minutes

hey Base, have added some notes in to your questions 🙂

Tim

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On ‎1‎/‎22‎/‎2019 at 4:06 PM, Bases5 said:

I have a few more questions if you find the time.

Thanks in advance.

How are the wait times for the elevators?

We found the elevators small, but very speedy. In that we pressed the button and it seemed as if they were there in no time. 

On ‎1‎/‎22‎/‎2019 at 4:06 PM, Bases5 said:

Do they have U.S. plugs in the rooms.

As was said, there are 2 110 plugs in the main room and one in the bathroom.  

Does the room have blow dryers?


Again, as has been answered, yes there is one, but I would also recommend you bring your own, at least a travel one. 

Do the back decks have chairs to use?

Yes, there are lounges on all the back decks. We used them just about every day. Sometimes they are tied up, but we untied them and no one said anything. 

Formal nights. Is a nice dress plus a jacket and tie ok. 

This was one of our questions before we cruised. As we never dress up anymore, was that OK on MSC. While we found more passengers dressed up than on American cruises, we, and our tablemates, never dressed up. We always went casual and never felt out of place. 

Did you notice any long lines at any certain area or certain times?

Not really. We did feel the ship wasn't that crowded until we got to Genoa, our next to the last port. Over 1000 people boarded then and the next couple of days, the ship did seem much more crowded, like hard to find seats in ther music venues. 

Cheers

Len

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I was wondering how they handle multiple embarkation ports, 

  Do they have different gangways for new passengers vs the ones just going ashore?

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18 hours ago, Bases5 said:

I was wondering how they handle multiple embarkation ports, 

  Do they have different gangways for new passengers vs the ones just going ashore?

No. By the time passengers going ashore have gone, they open embarkation about 2 hrs after arrival. Shouldn't really be any congestion.

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