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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.