Log In | Customer Support   
Home Book Travel Destinations Hotels Cruises Air Travel Community Search:  

Search CruisePage

Book a Cruise
 - CruiseServer
 - Search Caribbean
 - Search Alaska
 - Search Europe
 - 888.700.TRIP

Book Online
Cruising Area:

Departure Date:
Cruise Length:

Price Range:

Cruise Line:

 >  Cruise Talk
 >  Rail Talk
 >  Air Talk
 >  Destination Talk
 >  Hotel Talk

Buy Stuff

 - Ship Reviews
 - Dream Cruise
 - Ship of the Month
 - Reader Reviews
 - Submit a Review
 - Millennium Cruise

 - Photo Gallery
 - Join Cruise Club
 - Cruise News
 - Cruise News Archive
 - Cruise Views
 - Cruise Jobs
 - Special Needs
 - Maritime Q & A
 - Sea Stories

 - New Ship Guide
 - Former Ships
 - Port Information
 - Inspection Scores
 - Shipyards
 - Ship Cams
 - Freighter Travel
 - Man Overboard List
 - Potpourri

 - Shirts & Hats
 - Books
 - Videos
 - Reservations
 - Vacation Specials
 - Web Deals

Contact Us
 - Reservations
 - Mail
 - Feedback
 - Suggest-a-Site
 - About Us

   Cruise Travel - Reader Reviews

Welcome to Your Favorites, where you have the opportunity to share your travel experiences with fellow Internet Travelers around the world.

Mediterranean Shipping Cruises

MV Sinfonia

Your Rating:Four Star
Reviewed by: Tom Burke
# previous cruises: 1
Date of Trip: May 22, 2005
Itinerary: Mediterranean

This was our first cruise, and we chose MSC for a combination of the itinerary, the price, and the newness of the ship. We weren't disappointed. There were some unexpected things, but nothing that put us off. I've given it four stars, but actually three-and-a-half would be fairer.

Embarkation at Genoa was easy and unhurried, although the whole day was rather long - we left home (Sheffield, UK) at about 6:45 am for a 9:30 flight from Manchester to Milan Malpensa, followed by a two-hour coach transfer to Genoa where we arrived by about 3:30 pm. We were in our cabin before 4 pm. The transfers all worked well.

Money: we spent about £525 on board, including £200+ for excursions and about £50 for photos. The rest was drinks, coffee, etc. We also gave £150 or so in tips. Then we spent about £200 ashore - some lunches, drinks, taxis, and other transport.

Public Areas
They all seemed fine to me! From what I've read about bigger ships I think the reception area and atrium in Sinfonia is quite restrained - just two decks. But that's fine by me. Reception and Excursions were the main ones, plus there was an accounts office that was open for just a couple of hours most days. They were all attractive and efficient, manned by staff who were able to switch languages with ease. I didn't encounter any significant queueing at any of the desks.

The bars were attractively furnished - good solid comfortable chairs and seats - mainly in shades of burgundy and green. Mostly we used the Cafe Grecco and the Buddha Bar on deck 6 (one deck above Reception), and the Sinfonia Lounge (deck 7, forward). There were also the Manhattan Bar and Shelagh's Irish Pub (!), both on deck 5, but we didn't use these much. The Manhattan Bar was the largest bar area on the ship with a small stage and a dance floor, but thanks to the very 'family' nature of the cruise there was often some organised activity going on here, eg, kids' dancing to an italian version of 'Agadoo' (by the sound of it). Not our thing, but we were always able to find another bar so it wasn't a problem.

Some other reviewers have commented about smoking being a issue. We didn't find it so. There is smoking on board, but there's a clear rule - smoking to Port, non-smoking to Starboard (I think that was the way round), and this was carried into the bars - one side would have ashtrays on the tables, the other would have 'no smoking' signs on them. We never saw an ashtray being moved into a no-smoking area, nor did we see smokers in the non-smoking areas, nor did we see staff smoking.

Food and Service
We ate at first sitting in the Il Galleone restaurant, which is the larger of the two restaurants. This is where we ran into the only real problem we encountered. There were very very few english-speakers on this cruise - we only once or twice heard english being spoken in passing - and we were sat with non-english diners. On the first night we were sat with an elderly couple from Switzerland who were german-speaking. Well, we don't have any german and only the gentleman had a bit of english so that was a rather stilted affair. We requested a change of table, and for the next 4 nights were sat with four Swedish people, two of whom spoke excellent english, so we had some conversation on those nights. They disembarked at Barcelona and for the last two nights we had a big 6-seat table to ourselves.

As regards the food, we certainly enjoyed the dinners which were always very good, and occasionally excellent. The portions were not too large which was as well because there were lots of courses - appetizer; soup; pasta; main course; dessert. There was always a good choice - typically, a choice of four main courses and three of each of the others - plus there were the old favourites: steak, roast chicken, etc, if there was nothing else you fancied. There was always a vegetarian choice, and this seemed good. I had a veggie main course one night - a vegetarian crepe in a light cheese sauce - and it was excellent. I think the main italian flavour in the menu came though in the choice of appetizers, soups and (of course) the pasta dish - the main courses were less 'italianate'. So from the point of view of the food itself, the dinners were very successful, and we always got up from the table feeling both happy and not too full.

Lunches and breakfasts were considerably less successful. You can take lunch and breakfast in the restaurant, and I think if you did so then the food was OK, but if you were on a morning excursion then you didn't have time for breakfast in the restaurant. In this case the recourse was the self-service options, either in the Terrazza snackery, or out on the deck. These breakfasts were pretty stodgy - runny scrambled eggs, greasy bacon, and hash browns, potatoes and mushrooms which were cold. Not very good at all. Lunch was probably not quite so poor, but still not good unless you went into the restaurant. Again, however, if you were on a morning excursion you might find that when you returned that only the self-service choices that were open. In fact for the last two days we took lunch ashore.

One last thing - we found that our italian waiter (Lorenzo) didn't have much english, so he wasn't able to explain anything to us. For example, we might ask 'what's 'consomme marmitte'?', and he would reply 'is a soup....'. Well, yes, we already knew that because it was listed 'under 'soup' on the menu.... As it happens we are pretty familiar with italian cuisine so we didn't have many questions, but if you aren't then this might be an issue. Our second waiter was Balinese and spoke excellent english, but he had to play second fiddle to Lorenzo so didn't push himself forward. And it was Lorenzo that took all the orders.

That apart, we had no complaints about the service but then again we aren't especially experienced in formal dining. For example, the difference between 'silver service' and anything else is lost on us. But we got what we ordered, it was served with a smile, and we were at the table just long enough - typically, from 7 pm to 8:40 or so. We didn't feel rushed.

One (more!) last thing. There were lots of Balinese staff, mainly in the bars. These people spoke excellent english, and came across as much sharper and brighter than most of the italian staff. We spent a lot of time with some of them in the Sinfonia lounge, which was mainly empty when we were in it (typically, 9:30 pm to about 11 pm). I recognise that they could have been conning us, but I don't think so, and their stories were NOT accompanied but requests for 'help'. But two of those we had conversations with - a man and a woman - separately said that they had got spouses and children in Bali. In the case of the young woman, her son was 8 and was living with her husband and mother at her mother's house. She herself had completed high school and a year or so of college but hadn't been able to finish because she couldn't afford it. She was working, away from home, because 'she had a plan' - the money she was earning was to ensure that her son got an education. I remember her saying that she was working with her hands, but she wanted her son to be able to work with his mind. I was impressed by her, as indeed I was by many of the others.

We were in a standard inside cabin, #9010, right at the bow on deck 9. On Sinfonia almost all the cabins are the same size, they are either inside or outside. If they are the latter then you get a window, of course. (There are also some balcony cabins that are bigger.) We were perfectly happy with our inside cabin. Yes, a window would have been nice, but it would have cost us an extra #500, and it would not have been worth anything like that to us. We spent very little time in the cabin, apart from sleeping; we were either eating, drinking or ashore! I think on this kind of cruise - a port every day, and on most days the ship is in port all day - the cabin is just somewhere to sleep, dress, etc, and the standard cabin is fine.

Wardrobe space is excellent. We took two outfits for every day - daytime and evening - and had no problem fitting everything into the wardrobe. My wife was able to hang her long gown without a problem, and there was plenty of room for my shirts, dinner suit, and jacket. We were able to put one of our suitcases in the wardrobe - it fitted under the shirts at my end - but we had to leave the other one out. There was also good drawer space for underwear, t-shirts, etc. Finally there was a big cupboard with a safe built into it. This was very useful, and we felt much more comfortable with having that present - we left money, passports, iPods, etc, in there most of the time.

The bathroom had a wash-basin, toilet and small shower. The loo was of the vacuum type, and never presented a problem. Neither did the washbasin, but the shower was very small - when you turned round you could expect intimate contact with the shower curtain! But it was certainly effective, with easy-to-use controls and plenty hot enough. There was also a hair dryer in there, and my wife didn't find that so good - it was too fierce, and of course it was in the bathroom which is not the best place to try to dry hair. I think she would have preferred to have brought a hair dryer of her own if she'd known.

This isn't something we pay a lot of attention to. There is a theatre which seemed good and comfortable. We visited it for the Captain's Cocktail Party, and we went to one show, a magician/illusionist. It was OK - exactly the sort of show that works in an international setting - but he did have to repeat his patter three or four times over.

Most of the bars had resident singers or bands, and these were less good. I remember one evening in the Buddha Bar listening to a keyboard player/singer. I think he was good musician but he couldn't sing. There was also a female singer with him, who was doing about ne number in three. For the other two number she looked totally bored - head on her hand, staring glassy-eyed into the distance. Had i been looking for scintillating entertainment i would have been disappointed.

There was also a lot of activity by the pool. There were a lot of families and kids on this cruise - see below - and there were constant activities for them, mainly of the games and dancing variety. The presenters and artistes for these certainly seemed to be working very hard, and putting lots of energy into it, and these was a constant stream of activity. Certainly the kids were loving it. it's not for us, but for families with young kids - say, 7 to 12 or so - I imagine it was excellent.

There was a port every day, as follows: Naples (1 pm or so to 7 pm); Palermo (8 am to 6 pm or so); Tunis (7 am to 2 pm or thereabouts); Palma (2 pm to 1 am the following morning); Barcelona (8 am or so to 6:45 or so); and Marseilles (8 am to 7 pm or so). There were multiple excursions every say, some all day, some just half-day.

We went on three excursions: Cefalu, a small sea-side town in Sicily (from Palermo); History & Culture from Tunis (basically, a visit to the ruins around Carthage); and Cassis, another small sea-side town but this time near Marseilles). We did our own thing at Naples, Palma and Barcelona, and in the afternoon at Marseilles.

One thing about all the excursions - we had underestimated the travelling time. A four-hour excursion would leave a bare 2 hours (or less) at the destination.

Cefalu (from Palermo): a beautiful little town. Sadly our visit here was curtailed even more than expected as a result of the strangest industrial action I've ever encountered. The (horse-drawn) carriage drivers in Palermo had got into a dispute with the port authorities and the cruise lines. They wanted to come onto the dock-side, the companies wouldn't allow them. We saw some serious arguments between groups of drivers and the authorities (armed policemen...), and then the action started: the drivers blocked each carriage way on the busiest road junction in Palermo, by edging the carriages into the rods. It took us an hour to get past the dock gate. This meant that we had just over an hour in Cefalu, which was disappointing.

Carthage: This was a two-part excursion: about 2 hours being shown round the ruins and a museum followed by a visit to a picturesque village, Sidi Bou Said. We had an english-speaking guide, Mr Habib, who was extremely knowledgeable about his country and its history, and the history part of this excursion was excellent. The visit to Sidi Bou Said was less successful. First, it was very crowded - not only were there a number of coaches from Sinfonia (at least a dozen) but there were at least as many from Costa Fortuna, also in port that day. Second, it became obvious that the name of the game was to persuade the rich europeans to part with some of their cash - there were hundreds of traders, selling everything from carpets to trinkets. And they were insistent. I don't mind a bit of hassle, I can deal with it, but for the first time I was conscious of myself as a 'rich' person - like all the other tourists I had paid unimaginable sums of money to be there and I was festooned with the latest generation of western techno-toys. I was very struck by the difference between me and the tunisians. But no, I didn't buy anything, there was nothing there I wanted. Should I have bought something anyway, to help them? I don't know the answer.

Cassis (Marseilles): This was an excellent trip. An interesting drive along a mountain road to get there, followed by all the activities you want to do in a pretty harbour town in the south of france. Admire the harbour: check. Have a coffee in a pretty harbour-side cafe: check. Walk out to the end of the pier: check. Paddle in the med: check. Walk around some old streets admiring the shops: check. This was excellent.

The rest of the time we did our own thing. Here are my conclusions: Naples and Palermo lived up to their reputations of being chaotic and mad. The traffic in both towns was unbelievable. In Naples we went to San Martino, a museum with gardens right at the top of the town with amazing views back over the harbour. This was hard work - very few signs, and no english spoken by anyone. We got there in the end, and it was worth it, but as I say it was tough going.

Tunis: see above. I got a strong feeling that doing your own thing was not encouraged here. Other than the excursions, the only way into town (the harbour is about 12 kilometers from town) is by hiring a taxi.

Palma: the civilized quality of the spanish towns became evident immediately we went ashore. We took a taxi up to Castell Belver (above the town) and we were taken there by a direct route, in a taxi with the meter running! Very friendly, very helpful.

Barcelona: again, very civilized. We visited Sagrada Familia in the morning which is stunning. We made a bad mistake in Barcelona: someone had told us that the open-top buses were a good idea so we went on one. Actually, it was a lot of hassle getting on and off them, and in the afternoon we stayed on one for a long trip and simply fried in the heat. By the time we got off we couldn't think straight, we were so hot. So we just went back to La Rambla and had a beer. We went on the Barcelona metro a couple of times and that was very successful: easy-to-use ticket machines with instructions in english. We would have done better to buy a metro day-ticket.

Marseilles: after returning from the Cassis excursion we got on the shuttle bus into the Veille Port for lunch (we couldn't face the ship lunches any more!). Again, this was easy and excellent: lunch in an street cafe/bistro near the Hotel de Ville, walk around the old harbour, walk around a couple of old streets, find another cafe, have a beer... civilized people, the French.

Just a couple more comments about excursions. Our Swedish table companions had some not-so-good experiences at Naples. Two of them went to Pompeii and the other two to Capri. The Pompeii excursion went exactly as stated, but it was a rush. Again, it was very busy - 50 coaches (!) from Sinfonia and Costa Fortuna, so they were just running after the guides all the time, they didn't really get any feel for what they were seeing. The Capri trip ran over time and out table companions had no time to repair before dinner - just a quick wash and change, no time to shower.

Who Goes
There were far more families on board than I had expected. Mainly Italian families, but also German and Spanish. There were very, very few english people on board - perhaps a couple of dozen out of almost 2000. The majority were Italian followed by Germans, then Spaniards and French.

Interestingly, other nationalities can embark at places other than Genoa. Our swedish table companions did the cruise from Barcelona, and I saw a french brochure that shows embarkation at either Marseilles or Genoa. And there Italians coming on board at Naples and Palermo as well as Genoa. I also heard that in some markets it's possible to book for less than a week.

So it was much more family-based than I had expected. I would say the typical age was late-twenties to late thirties, with a couple of young kids. I don't know how typical this is: someone suggested that they had heard that southern germany had a school holiday that week, and Munich to Genoa is drivable in not too many hours, of course.

Check out these great deals from CruisePage.com

Royal Caribbean - Bahamas Getaway from $129 per person
Description: Experience the beautiful ports of Nassau and Royal Caribbean's private island - CocoCay on a 3-night Weekend Getaway to the Bahamas. Absorb everything island life has to offer as you snorkel with the stingrays, parasail above the serene blue waters and walk the endless white sand beaches. From Miami.
Carnival - 4-Day Bahamas  from $229 per person
Description: Enjoy a wonderful 3 Day cruise to the fun-loving playground of Nassau, Bahamas. Discover Nassau, the capital city as well as the cultural, commercial and financial heart of the Bahamas. Meet the Atlantic Southern Stingrays, the guardians of Blackbeard's treasure.
NCL - Bermuda - 7 Day from $499 per person
Description: What a charming little chain of islands. Walk on pink sand beaches. Swim and snorkel in turquoise seas. Take in the historical sights. They're stoically British and very quaint. Or explore the coral reefs. You can get to them by boat or propelled by fins. You pick. Freestyle Cruising doesn't tell you where to go or what to do. Sure, you can plan ahead, or decide once onboard. After all, it's your vacation. There are no deadlines or must do's.
Holland America - Eastern Caribbean from From $599 per person
Description: White sand, black sand, talcum soft or shell strewn, the beaches of the Eastern Caribbean invite you to swim, snorkel or simply relax. For shoppers, there's duty-free St. Thomas, the Straw Market in Nassau, French perfume and Dutch chocolates on St. Maarten. For history buffs, the fascinating fusion of Caribbean, Latin and European cultures. For everyone, a day spent on HAL's award winning private island Half Moon Cay.
Celebrity - 7-Night Western Mediterranean  from $549 per person
Description: For centuries people have traveled to Europe to see magnificent ruins, art treasures and natural wonders. And the best way to do so is by cruise ship. Think of it - you pack and unpack only once. No wasted time searching for hotels and negotiating train stations. Instead, you arrive at romantic ports of call relaxed, refreshed and ready to take on the world.
Holland America - Alaska from From $499 per person
Description: Sail between Vancouver and Seward, departing Sundays on the ms Statendam or ms Volendam and enjoy towering mountains, actively calving glaciers and pristine wildlife habitat. Glacier Bay and College Fjord offer two completely different glacier-viewing experiences.