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Cruise Ship Information

MS MSC Sinfonia is a cruise ship owned and operated by the Italy-based MSC Cruises. She was built in 2002 by Chantiers de l'Atlantique in Saint-Nazaire, France for the now-defunct Festival Cruises as MS European Stars. She was the last newbuilding ever to be built for Festival Cruises.

Atmosphere on board

Just a few years ago, MSC Cruises was a virtual nobody in the cruise industry -- a second-tier operator with a small fleet of well-kept but rather old ships bought from other operators. Then, in 2000, huge container ship operator Mediterranean Shipping Company, the line's parent, decided it was time to expand their presence in the cruise market. The result was an order for a pair of brand-new 58,000-ton ships, the very first new-builds in the company's history. Three years later, in 2003, the company took delivery of their first-born, MSC Lirica, setting off an epic expansion that would catapult MSC to the number four spot worldwide -- and number two in Europe -- in a matter of years.

As luck would have it, just after MSC Lirica was delivered, Festival Cruises -- one of MSC's biggest competitors in Europe -- fell into bankruptcy and was liquidated. This left two nearly new ships, European Vision and European Stars, in the hands of Festival creditors eager to offload them. Fortunately for MSC, the two Festival ships had been built off almost exactly the same plans as MSC Lirica. European Vision became MSC Armonia, and European Stars became MSC Sinfonia. By the time MSC Lirica's sister MSC Opera was delivered in 2004, MSC had four new ships and had more than doubled the size of their fleet.

While they were a big step for MSC, which has gone on to build larger ships since then, MSC Sinfonia and its sisters are relatively small by today's standards (at least for new, mass-market ships). Sinfonia does have fewer balconies and suites than most other ships its age, and lacks a few other amenities like an alternative restaurant for dinner. Nonetheless, this ship will appeal to lovers of smallish, classy ships who appreciate the clean, stylish European design of its interiors and its more intimate size in comparison to the latest mega-ships from the major North American lines as well as MSC's chief competitor, Costa.

While it is important to remember that this is a product very much geared to a continental European audience and English-speakers will be in the minority, MSC Sinfonia offers good value for the cruise fares charged and a truly Italian-style cruise experience in stylish surroundings that will be appreciated by North American and British passengers looking for a something a bit different from the mainstream English-speaking cruise.

One note: MSC's prices for onboard charges are calculated in euros; we've offered charges in euros and converted to dollars; at press time, the conversion rate was approximately $1.35 euros to the $1. Check XE.com for the latest rate.

Family with Kids/Teens

Sinfonia 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.

Past Passenger Programs

One of the benefits of minimizing atrium space and eliminating two-level dining rooms is that usable space seems to expand. MSC Sinfonia 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.

There is a flashy disco on Deck 12 aft which gets going at around midnight and, like the Energizer bunny, keeps going, and going, and going...

The casino gets quite lively at night, but is very short on slot machines. There is plenty of space to add more, and considering the four-deep lines waiting for an available machine, the ship could substantially increase its revenue by accommodating the gamblers just itching to donate to the bottom line.

There are a series of shops surrounding the "plaza" on Deck 5; alas, the shopping experience on Sinfonia is a non-starter with scant variety of merchandise that's whoppingly overpriced (even the duty-free items are about 25 percent higher than on other ships or even in stores in port).

The Internet Center is modern, convenient and well-located and uses an ingenious system for access: Just insert your room key card into a little box and you are online. Unfortunately, it is horrendously expensive and incredibly slow (check e-mail while in port).

Fitness And Spa

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.

There is a small mini-golf area at the very top of the ship and recreational activities, such as line dancing, at poolside.

Food & Dining

Sinfonia's La Carvela and L'Aprodo are its two main dining rooms, featuring traditional seating (set time, set tablemates) at dinner. After some initial burps and hiccups in the restaurants, the servers seem to have settled into a consistent routine, with very little waiting time, attentive service and an appreciation for the way North Americans dine. The menus definitely have an Italian flair and what's ironic is that the only menu items not particularly appealing were geared specifically to North American tastes (better to stick with the Italian specialties, even if they are not what you have come to expect from your local pizzeria or trattoria, such as gnocchi).

Breakfast is served (traditionally) in both dining rooms; the start and end times are staggered by half an hour (one opens earlier and closes earlier); the schedule is in the daily itinerary.

Menus at dinner offer six courses, with appetizer, soup, salad, a risotto and pasta du jour, main entree and dessert. The selections were so varied it was hard to choose, and note that the pasta and risotto selections, meant to be part of the meal, were served in portions too huge to be considered a "side order."

On occasion, Mario, the cheerful Maitre d'Hotel, will be cooking a specialty near the entrance of the dining rooms -- something that is not on the menu. I was lucky enough one evening to be presented with a small plate of his sauteed grape tomatoes and escarole, made with croutons, garlic, olive oil, fresh parmesan and basil, and I was in garlic heaven for days afterwards.

Le Vele is the ship's buffet restaurant and it offers lido-style fare. Breakfast items feature the usual (scrambled eggs, bacon, hash-browns and breads). At lunch, there are two food lines (and a separate dessert and fruit station). Several salads, an array of cold cuts, hot and cold items, pastas, a carving station, a variety of fresh fruit, and some mushy, institutional desserts are available at lunchtime.

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).

There is some sort of gala buffet every night of the cruise at or around midnight (with the exception of the first and last night, when servers wander the lounges with elaborate hors d'oeuvres on trays). Especially don't miss the Magnifique Buffet. It's an extravaganza with a definite European twist. Here is a reggae band crafted from fruit! And the Leaning Tower of Pisa created from Parma ham! A tower of climbing lobsters! And a scaled replica of the Sinfonia made of various Italian cheeses! It's worth going even if you can't manage another bite; consider it the equivalent of another entertainment offering.

Room service options are scant, with Caesar salads (with or without chicken) and a sandwich being the only daytime offerings, plus fruit "drinks," coffee, tea and cheesecake. Breakfast is limited to hot drinks, cold milk and juice, rolls and croissants, and yogurt.

Smoking is not allowed in any of the restaurants.

Entertainment

It's in its entertainment offerings -- day and night -- that MSC Sinfonia really shines. The fun comes in two flavors. First are the professional production shows, individual performers and incredible musicians. Then there is the wacky world of the ship's Animation Team, a troupe of young, hip, funny, charming and possibly certifiable "camp counselors."

During the day, activities include language lessons (Italian, of course, or Japanese), tango classes, craft creations, contests, games, and live music playing everywhere -- even during the daytime! You'll hear tunes at the pool, at the al fresco dining spots, during tea, in the main lounges on Deck 5 ... all performed by a sundry group of musicians including bands, trios and pianists.

The nightly production shows are jazzy, colorful and exuberant, whether it's a "Night in Paris," a "Grand Gala" or guest talent show (there is no live music in the theater -- it's recorded, but it doesn't distract from the show). Magicians interact with the audience and singers serenade.

The Animation Team practically shames the guests into participating, acting as cheerleaders for enjoyment and inclusion. They may have to shout their instructions in five languages, but all the guests "get it." Bingo is a hoot, with the announcer repeating the numbers in all the languages represented. "Number eight! Numero ocho! Acht! Huit! Otto!" The Mr. and Mrs. Sinfonia contests are so funny that it's hard to remain upright because you're laughing so hard.

A 24-hour Virtual Reality arcade is located on Deck 12 near the Byblos Disco.

Fellow Passengers

In the Caribbean, Sinfonia's demographic is predominantly North American, with about 30 percent of passengers hailing from Europe. Expect the reverse in Europe. The cultural differences are fascinating and fun. You never know what response your "good morning" will get ... it might be a Texas "Howdy!" or a "Guten tag" or "Buenos Dias," "Buon Giorno" or "Bonjour." That's one of the things that make this ship special.

Tipping

 

Our recommendation

All in all the ship was very clean and tidy but the food was not very good, not to the standard we are used to on cruise ships. The entertainment seemed to be based around couple off dozen people wanting to get up and take dancing lessons day and night and again the theatre shows were very poor based on a few girls and boyss dancing on stage Not very well I might add. To say that MSC have just spent so much money on this ship it was not very well stabilised compared to other ship,s. The staff were very nice across the ship but I think that €8.30 per person per day gratuities is a bit too high I know we could have taken this off our bill and give our own tips out but we then thought it would not be fair on behind the scenes staff so paid it. For the price we paid it was a nice break but don't think we will book another MSC cruise