Whether new ship or old, MSC Cruises emphasizes a strongly Italian-influenced ambience, is privately owned and, as such, the designs of its vessels are unique to the line. MSC Opera carrying 1,756 passengers, debuted in June 2004. In Europe, from the Mediterranean to the Baltic, the ships attract a very strong European crowd. (U.K.- and Ireland-based cruise travelers are becoming increasingly well-represented.) Regardless, passengers should be prepared for announcements to be read in Italian, French, Spanish, German and English.
Keeping things simple, there are only four cabin categories: insides, outsides, balconies and mini-suites. The inside cabins, outsides and those with verandahs are all the same size — in a word, small (at 140 square ft.). The clever use of mirrors and ingeniously designed storage areas mitigate the petite size of the accommodations, as do the cheerful spreads, bedskirts, pillows and bolsters used in the rooms.The shower-only bathrooms are small but quite functional, with great water pressure and plenty of hot water. Shampoo, shower gel, soap, a sewing kit and a shower cap are included amenities. All staterooms have mini-fridges (stocked; check the prices before you munch), remote-control satellite television, nice closet areas with plenty of hangers (mini-suites have walk-in closets) and several drawers.One important note: The standard balcony cabins, located on Decks 9 and 10, aren’t necessarily kid-friendly because the verandahs are enclosed only by widely spaced metal bars. Make sure you ask the staff for a custom-made netting which can be stretched across.
Life onboard, particularly when it comes to mealtime, follows a more traditional cruise schedule . Opera’s La Carvela and L’Aprodo are its two main dining rooms, featuring traditional seating (set time, set tablemates) at dinner. Menus at dinner offer six courses, with appetizer, soup, salad, a risotto and pasta du jour, main entree and dessert. The selections are so varied it was hard to choose. Le Vele is the ship’s buffet restaurant and it offers lido-style fare. Il Patio, located outside of Le Vele, offers al fresco snacking most of the day. On one side is the pizzeria, making fresh oven-baked pizza of at least two varieties plus cheese on any given afternoon (no requests, you get what’s on the menu for that day). The other side is a fast-food area, which serves in the morning as a made-to-order omelet and pancake station, and in the afternoons cooks up grilled burgers and hot dogs (with condiments). Smoking is not allowed in any of the restaurants.
The ships offer a standout range of evening entertainment offerings, from smoochy dance music to classical concerts, Cirque du Soleil-esque aerobatic shows to jazz. One of the benefits of minimizing atrium space and eliminating two-level dining rooms is that usable space seems to expand. MSC Opera has what seems like an inordinate amount of public area to enjoy, made to feel intimate (even though some of the rooms span the width of the ship and are quite large) by low ceilings and the use of banquettes, cafe tables and chairs. During the day there is a wonderful deck to use behind the disco, perched over the stern’s wake and quiet with covered tables and plenty of chairs. The spa may suffer the unimaginative name of The Health Center but it is lovely, specializing in Balinese treatments offered by Balinese therapists. Treatments are a bit pricier than the norm ($149 for a 60-minute massage) but there are discounts and specials offered throughout the week, especially on port days.On the port side there is a large relaxation room, again with floor-to-ceiling windows, wicker chaises — and peace and quiet. There are steam and sauna rooms for both men and women, generously sized and free of charge. A small workout room is located at the bow. Classes in “yogalates” and Latin Dance are offered for a small fee.The pool deck has two pools and two hot tubs.
Opera is relatively family-friendly, especially during school holiday times. Its kids’ facility is called Buffalo Bill and children are grouped in three categories (3 – 8, 9 – 12, and 13-plus). Activities include themed parties, pool and sport games, arts and crafts, treasure hunts, mini disco and water games.
There are two formal nights on a seven-night cruise; otherwise, dress during the day is casual and, at night, is country club casual.
MSC cruises are typically priced at very value-oriented levels (i.e. pretty cheap cruise fares) and generally compete with the likes of Costa Cruises and Thomson cruises. Ideal as a first starter to cruising especially out of the UK port of Southampton.