Planning a Mediterranean cruise is exciting. In fact, going on a Mediterranean cruise is regularly described as a “once in a lifetime” travel experience. Even if you’ve cruised before, this region offers so many different experiences from its popular Caribbean counterparts. The port cities and activities are different, the cultures are different, the food is different… even the required packing is different. If you’re wondering what to expect, this is the post for you! We are giving you the run down of everything we experienced on our first Mediterranean cruise which was also our first time sailing on MSC Cruise Lines.
We generally pick cruises based on itineraries, available dates, and pricing. Knowing we wanted to go on a Mediterranean cruise led us to our first experience on MSC Cruise Lines. Our selection allowed us to cruise on one of the company’s newer ships, the Meraviglia! We had an entirely different experience than ever before. Not only was the global region we were cruising different, but we also experienced a different ethnic population of passengers, along with different port offerings too. Like most things, this new experience offered both good and bad.
The Amenities and Entertainment
This ship was beautiful! While our Alaskan cruise on Celebrity Cruise Lines was also incredibly nice, this was the prettiest ship we have been on. We are lucky that it was a relatively new ship to the line. Everything the ship offered was beautiful and in pristine condition. Of particular interest is the famous Swarovski crystal staircases in the main lobby. Photos don’t do these justice!
Much like Celebrity, everything here seemed a bit higher class. While we don’t mind going on Carnival cruises, they are just different calibers. The interiors, décor, and design elements on the Meraviglia were much more luxurious. The quality is superior. Even the shows provided better entertainment and are put on by more highly skilled entertainers. Guests even have the opportunity to see a scaled-back Cirque du Soliel show while on board at an affordable price. They also have a ton of pretty amazing activities on the ship. There is a huge waterpark, as well as things like bowling, Formula-1 racing, and a flight simulator.
A few years ago, we started booking interior rooms on our cruises. We realize that we are hardly ever in our room other than sleeping and getting ready, so it is an easy way to cut expenses. Our interior room on this ship was huge and so well appointed! Whoever did the layout of these spaces did an amazing job. We’ve seriously been in hotel rooms that are smaller. There was more storage space than we could actually use and the bathroom was also very nice.
The Port Cities
The ports offered an entirely new experience as opposed to ports in the Caribbean. These were great opportunities to take in a variety of cultures and history as well as amazing architecture and food. The excursions also center around these ideas. So, if you’re looking to spend your day jet-skiing on a tropical island, a Mediterranean cruise may not be the best choice for you. I’m not saying they don’t have these options, I’m just saying they aren’t prevalent. Ports in the Caribbean are definitely more about fun in the sun!
We visited the following ports during our cruise:
- Civitavecchia, Italy (embarkation and debarkation port)
- Palermo, Sicily (Italy)
- Cagliari, Sardinia (Italy)
- Palma, Mallorca (Spain)
- Valenica, Spain
- Marseille, France
- Genoa, Italy
Transportation and Shuttles
Most of the ports on our itinerary required additional transportation to and from the ship. The historic city centers are several miles away. There were four we could walk to, but some of these walks were still a few miles. The others are at such a distance, it was necessary to take some form of transportation. For a couple, this can add about 100 euros or more to the cost of your trip. And, of course, they don’t tell you this in advance. So, when you’re planning your budget, be sure to factor this in.
Food, Drinks, and Service
We really didn’t care for the food on the ship. Initially, we were very excited about the Mediterranean cuisine offerings. However, we found that most of the food on the menus are not things we eat. Neither of us eat any sort of fish or seafood. And, for personal reasons I do not eat lamb or veal. We ate most meals in the buffet instead of the formal restaurant. The service of restaurant staff and room stewards was less friendly than we have experienced on other cruise lines. We also felt very unwelcomed by the fitness center attendant. Overall, the staff on this ship was not as friendly as staff on other lines.
Our cruise package came with coupons for 12 onboard alcoholic or specialty coffee drinks each. Employees throughout the ship would accept or refuse these coupons in very different manners. This made it a little frustrating and difficult to know when you could or could not use them for a drink. We did not use them all regardless. We generally do most of our eating/drinking in port so we can experience the local fare. But still, all this was interesting to experience.
Fellow MSC Guests
As mentioned earlier, the other passengers on this cruise were from a different cultural background than we have experienced on our other North American cruises. While we knew this would be the case, it was an eye-opening experience. We were pushed around and yelled at more than I care to admit. Really, I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced such poor treatment by fellow passengers on any of my other eight cruises.
It was also very interesting that people embarked and disembarked every day. On our embarkation day, we were pleasantly surprised to find very short lines and a very quick process!
While some may argue this, cruises are not a very sustainable form of travel. We try to cruise in the most sustainable ways possible to lessen our impacts. As I’m working on incorporating more sustainable insights into my posts, I wanted to share a few observations on this aspect:
- While the MSC website indicated they use digital systems for all those photos they take, disappointingly this is not the case. They too have wall after wall of printed 8x10s.
- They provide some really nice in-shower pumps of shampoo and body wash in the staterooms. Reduce plastic waste by leaving yours at home.
- There was a ton of food waste in the buffets. I can’t even begin to describe the stacks and stacks of plates with half-eaten food. There might have been more food waste here than on US based cruises.
Overall, we really enjoyed our first Mediterranean cruise. It is a completely different experience from a typical tropical destination cruise. I really enjoyed the vast cultural differences and history in each port city. The MSC Meraviglia itself is a beautiful ship and I’m so glad we were able to experience it. Cruising the Mediterranean is something many people dream about, including us. Embarking on this adventure was well worth it!