In the past ten years or so, the Europeans have finally embraced cruising and the best proof of this is MSC Splendida, the latest and largest in a long line of
new buildings for MSC Cruises.
Built by STX Europe at St. Nazaire, France, the 138,000 ton giant calls Barcelona, Spain home on all-European, all-year cruises in the Mediterranean.
Catering almost exclusively to Europeans, MSC Splendida is all you would expect from a floating Mediterranean resort. In true MSC fashion, Sophia Loren was asked to perform the
role of god mother and it was on July 12, 2009 that the ship was officially named in a star-studded ceremony in Barcelona.
Every weekend in summer, the Port of Barcelona looks like the new
Miami. Rows of gleaming white cruise ships gobble up thousands of passengers for a weeklong
roundtrip in the Western Mediterranean. The youngest (and largest) girl
visiting the Spanish port is the brand new MSC Splendida. Delivered
on time by her French builders in July, 2009,
this ship is another proof of the expertise of European shipbuilding. With a cheerful "buon giorno" we are welcomed on board for a two-night stay
which will culminate in a sensational quayside naming ceremony.
On Sunday evening, in the light of the setting sun, MSC Cruises show they
know how to throw a party. After many speeches from all sorts of important people,
there is a standing ovation as Italian movie star Sophia Loren, godmother for all
new built MSC ships, takes to the stage. At age 74, she is as
glamorous as ever. After Sophia,
it's time for world famous tenor José Carreras to mesmerize the crowd with
his fabulous voice. Just before Midnight, the bottle breaks on
MSC Splendida's hull and a gigantic firework display lights up the skies
Once again, MSC Cruises turned to
Italian Studio de Jorio for
MSC Splendida's interior design. The result is nothing short of stunning and
the unique use of colors and materials make the interiors of this
(and any other MSC) ship instantly recognizable.
MSC Splendida is another fine example of Italian design and the well thought out use of space make
this ship feel less gigantic than it actually is. Most guests will enter the ship in the Splendida Atrium, the social, 5 deck high heart of the ship. Focal point
here are the two see-through sweeping staircases
covered in Swarovski stones - making guests stop for photos from day 1.
MSC Splendida boasts 14 passenger decks, with
1,637 cabins. A whopping 80% of all staterooms have private balconies.
All staterooms are very tastefully decorated in deep reds, greens and yellows, giving them an intimate but still modern,
fresh feeling. The bathrooms are plain
white but well laid out with a good shower. The balconies are on the small side though. On
MSC Splendida and older sister MSC Fantasia the cruise line is premiering
a concierge class level called Yacht Club. Up on decks 15 and 16 you will find
99 larger staterooms and a private lounge and restaurant. Butler service is
available in all Yacht Club staterooms.
On deck 7 aft, the appropriately named "Aft Lounge" serves as
MSC Splendida's secondary show lounge and ballroom.
The decor is whimsical, with faux stone walls and trendy lounge sets. Further forward is the innovative Photo Gallery and
the Santa Fe Restaurant, one of
specialty restaurants serving Tex Mex favorites. Reservations are recommended here and there is a cover fee. In L'Enoteca Wine Bar you can enjoy wines and tapas in a very welcoming
setting. Everything here breathes "wine" so even the chairs are made out of wine casks!
The hugely popular L'Espresso Coffee Bar
is located on the third level of the atrium. Try a cappuccino or espresso
here! Further forward are two smaller public rooms. On port side you'll find the Sports Bar featuring MSC's first ever bowling alley. With its almost sparse decor, the Sports Bar
greatly offsets the rich, bold Purple Jazz Bar on starboard side. This is arguably one of the most attractive night spots on board, home to a resident jazz band. Should you look for
something more sedate, the La Prua Piano Bar is only steps away. This room has a distinct nautical flavor with its teak floor and portholes.
Nightly entertainment is featured in the enormous Strand Theatre, spanning three decks. Sightlines are excellent and seating
is nothing short of superb - this is a proper showroom that would not look out of place in any mid-sized town. Directly aft of the
theater on deck 6 is the Royal Palm
Casino, which is quite large for a ship catering exclusively to Europeans. You will also find a separate Poker Room on starboard side.
The design team has worked hard to
make La Piazzetta look like a genuine Italian village square. Somehow or other, the room doesn't work for me. Blame it on the blaring music or the overkill in shiny surfaces! Still
La Piazzetta proved quite popular during my time on board, probably because of the delicious Italian ice creams,
cakes and coffees that are served here. For me, L'Aperitivo which overlooks
the atrium, proved a much better venue. By using very dark colors, the brightly lit atrium attracts all the attention here and
Studio de Jorio should be commended for
creating a warm and intimate atmosphere in what basically is an atrium bar.
MSC Cruises are in
the process of upgrading their food offerings and during our stay on board
I noticed that the quality of the food has already improved. Breakfast, lunch and dinner (in two fixed seatings) are served in two
main restaurants. The corn colored La Reggia
is the largest of the two, spanning two decks. The beautiful Villa Verde Restaurant aft on deck 6 is arguably more elegant. But the most exclusive dining experience can be
found in the L'Olivio Restaurant, reserved for guests of the vessel's Yacht Club suites. Open most of the day is
MSC Splendida's huge casual eatery on deck 14 aft. The Pago Pago Cafetaria
and Bora Bora Cafetaria are sporting the same interesting South Pacific look, with
lots of dark wood paneling. MSC Cruises have learned from the awkward design of
the buffet restaurants on their Musica class ships and have now chosen for a free flow concept on their Fantasia class ships. The ingenious
(and very attractive!) design of the room on MSC Splendida
make the buffet restaurant a winner!
MSC Cruises have
always made their pool deck feel like the ones found at land
based resorts and the Aqua Park on MSC Splendida is no
different. Its terraced pools, fountains and Jacuzzis provide
fun in the sun for the whole family. More peace and quiet can be
found in the delightful L'Equatore Pool which can be covered by
a glass roof in inclement weather. When open, the roof is
completely invisible - a great feature. Last but not least, the
Playa del Sol pool aft is reserved for adults, so you won't find
any kids running around here. Overlooking the Aqua Park is the
Club 33 Disco, done in a bright orange bubble gum style. And
what would a modern cruise ship be without a spa? For passengers
looking for complete wellness, the MSC Aurea Spa is huge and
features treatment rooms, a gym, hairdresser and all the usual
MSC Splendida is a stunning ship. Or
better, a stunning resort catering to European vacationers of all
ages that would otherwise head for the Spanish costa's or the Turkish
beaches. While not overly luxurious, this ship will dazzle first time
cruisers and aims at pleasing a huge audience from all over Europe. MSC
Splendida's interiors are modern, fresh and easygoing, just like the
overall MSC Cruises experience.