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MSC Splendida

Until the debut of MSC Meraviglia in June 2017, the 3,959-passenger Splendida was one of the biggest in the fleet. In common with its siblings, MSC Fantasia, Divina and Preziosa, it offers fun-filled, informal cruising in dazzling surroundings that include Swarovski crystal-studded staircases that cost 3,500 euros per step.

Aside from the peaceful haven of the 71-suite Yacht Club -- a separate "ship-within-a-ship" where passengers pay premium fares for an exclusive experience -- the atmosphere on Splendida is lively and exuberant, which also means pretty noisy at times. This is due to the fact that many passengers are from Italy and naturally more outgoing than Brits and North Americans. That said, Splendida has a really inclusive feel, with a very friendly atmosphere. Reflecting the typical Mediterranean lifestyle, most young children onboard stay up late and will be out and about with their parents -- attracting none of the stern glares they might get on more traditional ships.

Basic cruise prices cover the cabin and meals, although there are upgraded packages such as the Aurea Experience that includes priority boarding, anytime dining, drinks, access to the private sun deck and thermal suite and cabin perks such as a bathrobe and slippers. For those who want to cruise without piling on the pounds, Splendida recently debuted the new Wellness Package, which includes a personalised fitness programme, daily gym class, and dietary advice. Passengers can also book -- in advance or onboard -- a range of drink deals that range from water, beer and coffee packages to wine with meals or an all-inclusive package covering all drinks onboard that is priced at 26 euros per day for adults and 12 euros for children, and has to be booked for the whole cruise.

Splendida has 14 public decks connected by 25 lifts, with a wide range of bars and public areas and it never feels overly crowded (aside from in the main buffet at certain times of the day). There are some gorgeous public spaces, such as La Piazetta, which resembles a quaint Italian square, and the central hub of the soaring atrium, with its sweeping, glittering staircases, crystal-studded piano, water feature and glass-sided lift. Although passenger flow around the vessel is generally very good, some of the layout is rather confusing; particularly the entrances to the two main dining rooms where a section of the two decks on each side are closed to passenger access. Also, when you're orientating yourself with the ship the penny eventually drops that there is no Deck 17 (this is considered an unlucky number in Italy).

Splendida places an emphasis on being an "eco-ship", with various energy saving, water recycling and waste management systems in place. MSC was the first company to receive the 7 Golden Pearls environmental award for its Fantasia-class ships from the international Bureau Veritas testing and certification organisation.

Although English is the main on board language, the entertainment has to be geared to appeal to multinational audiences, which means it is mostly visual with dancers, bilingual singers and acrobats rather than comedians and specialist acts dependant on communication with the audience. For the same reason, there is no cinema or movies under the stars. Information on ports of call can be found on the in-cabin TVs and daily newsletters, and there are no port talks or lectures.

MSC sails throughout the year in the Mediterranean and offers seasonal itineraries in northern Europe, the Caribbean, Cuba, South America, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates.

Although the ship's surroundings and decor are sparkly and glamorous, Splendida is very laid-back and relaxed. Daywear is casual and the daily programme sets out the three evening dress codes which are (supposedly) applicable in the restaurants from 6 p.m. For gala nights -- usually two on every seven-night cruise -- the recommendation is a dressy outfit, such as a formal gown or cocktail dress for ladies, and black tie or a dark suit and tie for men. Informal nights mean a dress or trousers for women and jacket and trousers (no jeans) for men. For casual nights more or less anything goes, such as jeans, T-shirts and sportswear, aside from shorts, swimwear and -- rather curious that it has to be spelt out to passengers -- bare feet in restaurants. That said, many passengers seemed to do their own thing, no matter what is recommended in the evening, and there was no sign of crew members trying to enforce the code. Of the women that did dress up on formal nights, the tendency was for cocktail dresses and nobody wore long ball gowns. There is also an optional theme night on most cruises, such as a white party or 70s and 80s night, where passengers can don anything suitable they might have to hand.

Theatre

The Strand Theatre is an impressive split-level venue located at the front of the ship on Deck 6 and 7.  The theatre can seat 1,200 passengers in the lower auditorium and 400 upstairs, with all seats providing an unobstructed view of the stage (the first in the MSC fleet to feature LED screens). Due to the broad mix of international passengers, the shows are mostly variations of song and dance routines, with singers often embracing several languages during each song, along with acrobats and magicians. The shows might not be that varied, but they are all slick and colourful, in particular a Spanish-themed performance featuring guest flamenco artistes and the vibrant Nature show with some exciting acrobatics. 

Shows generally last 45 minutes and are performed twice a day, usually at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., to accommodate passengers on both dinner sittings.

There is no bar service in the theatre, but passengers are welcome to take drinks through and the closest bar is La Prua piano bar located next to the entrance to the theatre on Deck 7. This upper level of the theatre also has a raised area at the back of the auditorium with eight tables, each with four seats, that can be swivelled to face the stage. This is a good spot for people who want to enjoy a drink while they watch the show.

The theatre is also used for bingo, children's shows and as the meeting point for excursions.

Daily Fun

On week-long roundtrip Mediterranean sailings from Rome (Civitavecchia), there are no sea days, and MSC Splendida calls at a different port each day, often arriving in the morning which provides plenty of time to explore. A variety of trips are on offer, ranging from traditional city sightseeing tours to bike excursions and special family-themed excursions. Parents going on trips can also leave children aged three to 11 in the Mini Club.

For those staying onboard there is plenty to keep them occupied, with a host of free daily activities listed in the Daily Planner left in cabins every night. Starting with an al-fresco morning stretching class in the Aqua Park at 9:30 a.m., typical daily events include dance lessons (usually several per day), trivia quizzes, napkin folding and cookery demonstrations, arts and crafts such as making paper flowers, meetings for card players, pool parties and various sporting challenges including ping pong, table soccer, mini-golf and squash tournaments.

There are games arcades on Deck 6 and 18, and the Virtual World area on the topmost deck also houses the most thrilling attractions onboard -- an F1 simulator and 4D cinema which are both open from 10 a.m. to noon and 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily, and are available at an extra charge. The bright red full-size racing car facing a video screen mimics the excitement of driving on a track and a choice of six 4D films, including some especially for younger children, are available in the adjoining cinema. There are two small bowling alleys in the Sports Bar on Deck 7.

At Night

The non-stop fun continues after sunset with activities including more dance lessons, bingo, karaoke, talent contests, big-screen sports coverage and themed parties, such as a white night and glow party. On one of the gala nights there is also the chance for ladies to indulge "An Officer and a Gentleman" fantasies by dancing with some of Splendida's senior officers. There is excellent live music throughout the ship, with venues including the atrium and various bars. Talented performers include a pianist, guitarist, acoustic duos, singers and a band. The large Royal Palm Casino, minimum age 18, is located forward on Deck 6 with slots available from 5:30 p.m. and tables from 6:30 p.m. One side of the casino is a smoking area. The Club 33 Disco is situated on Deck 16.

MSC Splendida Bars and Lounges

There is a total of 19 bars and lounges onboard, with 13 inside (including the Top Sail lounge that is only available for passengers staying in the Yacht Club) and the remainder outside (including one for the Yacht Club). An extensive drinks menu of cocktails (around 6.75 euros), non-alcoholic mocktails and kids' cocktails (4.50 euros), wines (from 5 euros a glass), mixed drinks such as gin and tonic (6.50 euros), beer (from 2.95 euros) and soft drinks (from 2.50 euros) and coffee (from 1.45 euros) is available in each bar and prices are the same throughout the ship, with the exception of the special mixologist cocktails in La Prua and premium wines in L'Enoteca.

Splendida Bar (Deck 5): Serving early morning coffee through to post-dinner drinks, this bar is situated at the side of the atrium and well located to watch evening musicians, including the pianist tickling the ivories on the crystal-studded piano. Open from 6 a.m. until 1 a.m.

L'Aperitivo (Deck 6): Overlooking the atrium, this bar is in a busy location and is another great place to listen to live music and indulge in a spot of people watching. Open from 5 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.

La Piazetta (Deck 6): It's hard to believe you're on a ship in this delightful midship setting that resembles an Italian square, with its ornate tiles and chairs and tables surrounding a central fountain. Serving coffee and drinks, it is open from 6 a.m. until 2 a.m.

The Cigar Lounge (Deck 6): This smoking lounge serves drinks from 5 p.m. until 12:30 a.m. and is open throughout the day for passengers who want to smoke indoors. Cigarettes and cigars are sold on the ship.

Royal Palm Casino (Deck 6): The ship's second indoor location where smoking is allowed, the bar is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 8 p.m. until late.

L'Enoteca (Deck 7): This atmospheric area with its barrel-shaped chairs and wine racks embedded in the walls serves premium wines. It is also used for tutored wine tastings where six samples, served with snacks, cost 12.90 euros. The bar is open from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.

L'Espresso Coffee Bar (Deck 7): If you need a caffeine hit then this is the place to go. The cafe serves all manner of coffees from espresso and cappuccino to frozen coffee, chocolate flavoured coffee and coffees with a nip of alcohol. Open from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m.

The Aft Lounge (Deck 7): This lively lounge bar is situated right at the back of the ship and has a stage and dance floor. It is also used for events such as theme parties, cocktail receptions for repeat passengers and talent nights. Open from 5:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.

The Purple Jazz Bar (Deck 7): This is another of the ship's most popular bars, particularly for couples who want to dance to live music in the evening. It is also used for dance classes, trivia sessions and karaoke. Open from 5:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.

La Prua Piano Bar (Deck 7): This sophisticated and intimate bar next to the upper auditorium of the Strand Theatre features live music and in addition to the main drinks menu the bar staff also mix up special molecular cocktails priced from 7.50. Open from 5:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Sports Bar (Deck 7): Used to screen sports and football games -- with the ambience very vocal during the latter -- the bar is open from 4 p.m. to midnight.

L'Equatore (Deck 14): Serving the covered pool area, the bar is open for coffee from 8 a.m. and serves drinks until 9 p.m.

Tartaruga Bar (Deck 14): This bar serves the Aqua Park and gets particularly busy during pool parties. Open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (weather permitting).

Aurea Spa Bar (Deck 14): This peaceful lounge is part of the spa complex and serves protein shakes, smoothies and healthy drinks linked to the colour coded Wellness Package, such as yellow for healthy skin, purple for deep cleansing and green for relaxation. Open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Movida Bar (Deck 15): This quiet bar serves the Playa del Sol pool at the back of ship and is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (weather permitting).

Top Sail Lounge (Deck 15): This bar is situated in the exclusive lounge for Yacht Club passengers and starts serving coffee at breakfast time and remains open until late in the evening. Note: Standard passengers who want to experience the high life in the Yacht Club can pay 80 euros per day for access to the amenities of the Top Sail Lounge and pool deck (excludes L'Olivio restaurant).

Club 33 Disco (Deck 16): The bar in the nightclub is open from 11 p.m.

The One Bar (Deck 18): Situated on the Yacht Club's private outside deck, the bar is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (weather permitting).

Top 18 Bar (Deck 18): For passengers who pay to get into the Top 18 sun deck, the bar is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (weather permitting).

MSC Splendida Outside Recreation

Pools

The main pools are on Deck 14, where the covered L'Equatore pool leads to the Aqua Park -- the main outdoor hub. The covered pool, which has three hot tubs, is the quieter of the two. It is surrounded by tables and chairs, with loungers on the mezzanine deck overlooking the pool. On sunny days the Aqua Park is the main gathering spot and is a very lively area with piped music playing throughout the day and night, along with live music events such as themed pool parties, including a fun Snow Party complete with a snow cannon. The main pool, which is 5ft 10in deep, is surrounded by decking, smaller splash pools, spraying fountains, water jets and two whirlpools. (Two more whirlpools are situated immediately above on Deck 15). The area nearest to the pool is surrounded by plenty of loungers, and tables and chairs are situated under a covered area at both sides of the ship. There is a smoking area in the Aqua Park.

A children's pool, for youngsters who are out of nappies, is located on Deck 15. Adults in search of peace and quiet can head to Playa del Sol, a lovely area overlooking the stern of the ship on Deck 15 that few passengers seem to discover. The mosaic-tiled pool area, which has a hot tub is surrounded by loungers, tables and chairs.

Yacht Club passengers have their own private pool and hot tub situated in a prime spot at the front of the ship on the uppermost Deck 18.

The L'Equatore pool is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and the Aqua Park, and other outdoor pools, are open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Whirlpools are open from 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Recreation

The Tobago waterslide, with a minimum age of eight for users, is located on Deck 15 and is generally open twice a day from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. There is a shuffleboard area on Deck 16 plus a squash court and area for outdoor games.

Sun Decks

Far away from the lounging areas around the pools is the quiet for fee sanctuary Top 18, which, as the name implies, is situated at the top of the ship on Deck 18. This private sun spot, with a bar, showers and complimentary fruit skewers, has loungers (including novel ones shaped liked leaves) that cost 10 euros per day, 5 euros for the afternoon or 40 euros for the cruise. There are also gorgeous cocoon-like rattan day beds, which offer shade and accommodate two people, which are priced at 30 euros for a day, 15 euros for the afternoon or 100 euros for the cruise.

MSC Splendida Services

Two large 24-hour reception and guest services' desks are located midship on Deck 5. Nearby is a business centre, which can also be used for private meetings and small receptions. Next to the business centre is the Cyberlibrary, open 24 hours, and with four terminals available for passengers. It also contains a library with books, mostly novels, in various languages and a quiet reading area.

There is Wi-Fi throughout the ship, with good connectivity throughout our cruise. Unlike the majority of cruise lines which charge by the minute MSC offers three different packages based on individual requirements, which is much better than seeing precious minutes tick away when service is slow or patchy. The Streamer Package costs 22.90 euros per day 69.90 euros per seven-day cruise, and provides full internet access for up to four devices, including audio and video streaming, with maximum bandwidth priority and a limit of 340 MB per day or 1.5 GB per cruise. The Surfer Package, suitable for browsing web, e-mails and social networks, costs 11.90 euros per day or 34.90 euros per seven-day cruise for up to two devices with a limit of 170 MB per day or 800 MB per cruise. The Social Package, for keeping in touch via social networks and chat apps, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, costs 4.90 euros per day or 19.90 euros per seven-day cruise for one device. The amount of data used is shown at every log in and Wi-Fi extensions are available onboard at a reduced price. Passengers who book prior to cruising receive 20 per cent more data allowance.

The shore excursion office is located midship on Deck 6, along with a selection of shops including a mini-mall selling everyday essentials and boutiques.

The large walk-through photo library is located above on Deck 7, along with an art gallery and another shopping arcade including perfumery and shop selling MSC logowear and branded souvenirs.

There is no guest launderette, but a very efficient next day or express (same day) dry cleaning and laundry service is available, along with an ironing only service. Dry cleaning ranges from 2.30 euros per item of underwear to 13.80 euros for a man's suit, and laundry ranges from 1.73 euros per item of underwear to 9.09 euros for a dress. A special laundry service is also available for baby clothing (see MSC Splendida for Families).

Spa

The large, tranquil Aurea Spa complex, open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., is located forward on Deck 14 and has a total of 15 treatment rooms that include two for couples and three for Thalassotherapy treatments. Unlike spas on many of the large ships, which are managed by external spa chains, the Aurea is run by MSC and specialises in Balinese spa treatments which offer something a little bit different from the norm. For example, a Balinese Holistic Massage combines stretching followed by Shiatsu techniques using pressure points and then a full body massage with oils. Some treatments are also linked to the colour coded Wellness Package, such as an anti-cellulite treatment for deep cleansing, herbal massage for the skin and lymphatic drainage therapy for purity.

In common with most cruise ship spas, treatments are pricey. A 45 or 85-minute holistic massage is priced at 110 euros or 169 euros respectively and Balinese massages for 30, 45 or 55 minutes are priced at 70, 99 and 126 euros respectively. As always, there are typically deals and discounts available early in the cruise and on shore days. The spa uses its own Aurea products and others such as the Italian brand Collistar. Thankfully there is none of the intensive sales pitch that often comes at the end of an onboard treatment, and the therapist simply pointed out that products were available. Again, look out for discounts on selected items.

The spa, which has changing rooms and showers for men and women, also has a small thermal area, comprising a unisex sauna, steam room and a relaxation room overlooking the sea with rattan loungers and cushioned chairs. It is available for an extra fee, with day passes costing 29 euros per person, 39 euros for two, or 99 euros per person for the duration of the cruise. The thermal suite operates during the same opening times at the spa, and for passengers who prefer to go 'au naturel', access without a swimming costume is allowed from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. daily (although the use of a towel is recommended).

The "spa doctor" offers a range of treatments such as acupuncture, Botox and other cosmetic therapies, such as an anti-cellulite toning session for 90 euros and acupuncture for 78 euros.

Next to the spa reception is the Aurea Spa Bar, open to anyone, which can be used as a relaxation area before and after treatments.

The Jean Louis David salon, part of a well-known hairdressing chain in mainland Europe, is located at the entrance to the spa complex. It offers cutting and styling services for men and women, again using a variety of different products rather than one particular brand. Services include a cut and style for 27 euros, 40 euros for a colour and 25 euros for a men's cut and finish. Beauty services include manicures for 49 euros and a full make up for 30 euros.

Fitness

The spacious fitness centre, adjoining the spa on Deck 14, stretches across the width of the ship and overlooks the bow. The panoramic views are impaired by sloping shaded screens on the outside deck, nevertheless, it's still a great spot to work out. Open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., the gym is very well laid out with Technogym equipment that includes 10 treadmills along with bikes, cross-trainers and other aerobic apparatus. Dedicated gym enthusiasts might find the 25-minute time limiter on the aerobic machines slightly frustrating. It is designed to stop people from having to wait to use equipment at peak times, however, the gym never seemed overly busy and there were always spare machines. To carry on using the equipment at quiet times users simply have to restart the machine after it stops automatically when the time is up. There is also a wide selection of weight resistance equipment, free weights, a stretching area that is also used for classes and an area in the main gym for spinning classes on 10 stationary bikes. Some fitness classes, such as yoga sessions and spinning, carry a fee which is typically 10 euros, and specialist equipment such as the Power Plate costs from 15 euros for a 20-minute session. One-to-one sessions are also available, such as personal training, which cost 35 euros for one hour. In 2017 Splendida debuted a new Wellness Programme, bookable in advance as part of the cruise fare, which includes a full "body MOT" and personalised daily fitness programme downloaded on a memory stick which participating passengers then plug into aerobic machines to record progress. In front of the gym is a small enclosed deck area which is a nice place to cool off or do some stretching.

Outside, there's a squash and general sports court on Deck 16, and a jogging track on Deck 15 that circles above the pool area on Deck 14. 

Free Dining

Two main dining rooms and two buffet restaurants are the pulse points of the free dining scene on MSC Splendida. At breakfast, lunch and dinner, there's a Heinz 57 varieties' choice of cuisine. All free dining spaces can get pretty busy, but waiters are efficient, friendly, and organised.  

La Reggia (Deck 5 and 6): The largest of the two main dining rooms, La Reggia is spread over two decks and can be accessed on both levels in addition to having an internal staircase. It seats 626 on the lower level on Deck 5 and 529 on Deck 6. Despite what many passengers seem to think, both of the main dining rooms serve exactly the same food, albeit in a different ambience. Passengers will be allocated to one or other restaurant at the beginning of the cruise. There are a few tables for two, but the majority are larger tables for up to nine. Passengers will be allocated a dinner table for the whole cruise, where they will be seated as far as possible, with people who speak the same language. At breakfast and lunch waiters fill up tables as passengers arrive, so you will probably end up with a table of different nationalities.

La Reggia is open for breakfast from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. (times can vary slightly depending on the time of arrival in port) and lunch from noon to 2 p.m. In the evening it operates a traditional cruise ship dinner set up with two sittings at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. For passengers who have booked the Aurea Package, which includes open dining, they can eat at any time between 7 p.m. and 10:15 p.m. A children's menu is available at every meal. 

Looks-wise, it is a handsome gold-coloured room, set off by the glittering staircase in the middle, but tables are fairly tightly packed. During the two dinner sittings, it is busy (more so at the first), but the friendly waiters do a sterling job of getting food orders out quickly and will always accommodate anyone who might want, for example, a couple of starters or an additional dessert. It is much quieter during breakfast and lunch.

Breakfast features a buffet, with a wide selection of hot and cold dishes, fruit, yoghurt and pastries, plus an a la carte menu with items such as eggs Benedict, omelettes, pancakes and French toast served at the table. Tea and coffee is also served at the table and waiters walk around with trays of pastries. Freshly squeezed orange juice is available at an additional charge of 3.90 euros. 

Lunch follows a similar format, with a salad bar and range of hot and cold items available from the buffet, including soup and a daily carvery item. A la carte items served to the table might include vegetable curry, chicken thighs in a devilled sauce or a Cuban sandwich.

In the evening passengers can expect some themed menus, such as a Mediterranean night featuring a variety of cuisine from Italy and beyond. This could include Spanish tapas, Greek spinach and feta cheese pie or bouillabaisse fish soup to start, followed by moussaka, paella, or Moroccan-style couscous. To follow there will be items such as Turkish baklava or chocolate profiteroles. On other nights appetisers might include beef consomme, asparagus soup or tomato, mozzarella and aubergine rolls, followed by mushroom risotto, squid ink pasta or beef with green peppercorn sauce. Typical desserts are dark chocolate mousse, lemon sponge cake plus a no added sugar option such as poached pear in honey cinnamon syrup. At every dinner there is always fresh fruit and a cheese plate. At dinner, there are also two main courses available for a fee, which are T-bone steak with a glass of red wine for 18 euros or Canadian lobster tails with a glass of Prosecco for 21 euros.

It's worth a mention that the bread served with all meals is freshly baked onboard and absolutely delicious.

Villa Verde (Deck 6): Decorated in an opulent blue and green colour scheme, the ship's second main dining room seats 766 and is situated aft, accessed by stairs from Deck 7 (which can be confusing at the start of the cruise). It occupies a better location than La Reggia, with panoramic views of the sea from large picture windows, which gives it a more open feel.

It is not open for breakfast and operates the same lunch and dinner times as La Reggia, and serves the same menu.

La Piazetta (Deck 6): Open for pastries, sandwiches, ice cream and other light bites from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Sports Bar (Deck 7): Hamburgers and hot dogs are available from 4 p.m. to midnight.

Bora Bora (Deck 14): The main buffet, offering casual dining, is open 24/7 for self-service coffee, tea, water and ice, and moves from breakfast through lunch and dinner -- with other items in between -- without a break. Breakfast is served from 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., lunch from 11:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. and dinner from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. The pizzeria is open from noon to midnight and fruit and salad is available from noon to 10 p.m.

The buffet is conveniently located next to the Aqua Park, making it easy for passengers to pop in and out whenever they're feeling peckish. Seating is mainly at tables, although there are also a number of counters with bar-style stools. It's a huge space -- taking up around a third of Deck 14 -- and the size, and choice of food, can seem overwhelming the first time you visit, particularly on busy embarkation day and at the peak breakfast period when there can be queues out of the door and you may have trouble finding a table. It is also fairly noisy and hectic at busy times. Many people unwittingly end up sitting in the neighbouring Pago Pago buffet as the two areas blend into each other and seem like one vast area, particularly during breakfast and lunch.

The breakfast buffet includes the usual favourites, with all manner of eggs, along with sausages, bacon, cereals, fruit, yoghurt and cold cuts. At lunch and dinner every food station is geared to a particular type of food or cuisine, such as fresh fruit, salads, cooked items, Mediterranean cuisine, burgers, a children's corner and so forth. The choice is huge. One area is devoted to healthy foods linked to the new Wellness Package, although of course, anyone can have them. A standout feature from lunchtime onwards is the pizzeria, where chefs continually cook a range of thin-crust pizzas in a traditional pizza oven. There are meat and veggie options, along with a daily wholemeal pizza. Also showcasing the line's Italian heritage is the excellent pasta station.

Although they have to rush around when Bora Bora is packed during the main mealtimes, members of the buffet staff are very friendly and efficient and do a great job of keeping on top of drinks orders and clearing and cleaning tables.

Pago Pago (Deck 14): Running on from Bora Bora, the smaller Pago Pago buffet occupies a position at the aft of the ship and is the place to go to try and avoid the crowds. Open at the same times as Bora Bora, it also offers complimentary 24-hour tea, coffee water and ice along with a smaller selection of hot and cold food than the neighbouring space. There is really a free-flow of movement between the two eateries as passengers wander around looking for what takes their fancy, and many diners sit in Pago Pago if they can't find anywhere to sit in Bora Bora. Heed the advice of the waiters and head right to the back of the ship and you will invariably find empty tables.

L'Olivio (Deck 15): This beautiful a la carte restaurant occupies a prime position overlooking the Playa Del Sol swimming pool and aft of the ship. It is reserved solely for Yacht Club passengers, and included in the price of their fare. Opening times can vary depending on shore excursions but are generally 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. for breakfast, 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch and 7 p.m. to 10:15 p.m. for dinner.

The elegant room has the feel of a pavilion, with green and gold chairs, arched trellises beside the windows and draped curtains. There are plenty of tables for two, or diners can choose to sit together at larger tables. All the meals are waiter-served and there is no buffet. Breakfast consists of freshly squeezed juice, healthy options such as yoghurt, cereals and fruit, cold cuts, and a range of hot items including grilled herrings, waffles, eggs Benedict, omelettes and all the main constituents of a full English breakfast. There is also an express breakfast, for passengers who might be heading out on a shore excursion, where fried eggs, grilled sausages, grilled ham, mushrooms and hash browns, fruit juice and toast are brought to the table together.

For lunch, typical starters include salmon tartare, mozzarella and tomato salad or mussel and potato soup, followed by wholemeal pasta with fresh tuna, grilled sea bass, pork fillet in a mustard crust, and a vegetarian dish. Always available items include Caesar salad, pasta with tomato sauce or a burger. Desserts might be carrot cake or almond cream and blueberry tart, and there is always a cheese plate, fresh fruit, and ice cream.

At dinner passengers are served a glass of Prosecco while they peruse the menu. The food is exceptional -- beautifully presented with very attentive service -- and will include starters such as smoked goose breast or tomato tartare, followed by risotto with monkfish and seafood, braised lamb shank in herb sauce or a vegan legume casserole. Typical desserts include apple crumble, and there is always a cheese plate and ice cream. A choice of quality wines by the glass is included with lunch and dinner, or wine lovers can choose to buy a bottle from the wine menu.

Top Sail Lounge (Deck 15): Overlooking the front of the ship, this area is also reserved for Yacht Club passengers and situated in the same area as the cabins. It is open 24 hours for sweet and savoury snacks, set on a small, central buffet table. At breakfast time a range of cold dishes are available, such as cereals, fruit, yoghurt, pastries, smoked salmon and rollmops. Sandwiches are added to the lunchtime selection, along with hors d'oeuvres in the evening. The highlight of the day is full afternoon tea, served by the butlers at 4 p.m., when tables are spread with white clothes and cakes stands of delicate cucumber sandwiches, scones and sweet treats are brought to the tables. To complete the daily institution, passengers can choose from a selection of loose leaf teas which are freshly brewed for each table.

Fee Dining

Fee dining is limited on MSC Splendida and amounts to one quirky Mexican eatery and a couple of ice cream and sweet snack bars.

Santa Fe Tex Mex (Deck 7); a la carte: The ship's only speciality restaurant is the bright and colourful Mexican restaurant. Decorated with giant cacti, a horse-drawn cart, retro Mexican photos and tables, resting on giant horseshoes, it's a fun lunch and dinner venue for all ages rather than somewhere for a romantic meal. Staff are very cheerful and efficient, and happy to make recommendations to guide you through the menu (as well as helping the uninitiated fold the perfect burrito).  Tasty appetisers, all priced at 5 euros, include tacos, nachos, quesadillas, and burritos, with mains such as fajitas, chilli con carne, or a larger plate of assorted starters costing 8 euros. Steaks include rib-eye for 18 euros or tenderloin for 22 euros. Desserts, all 4 euros, are mango cream, orange flan or chocolate tart.

Not surprisingly, the restaurant serves the best margaritas on the ship, with eight options ranging from a classic margarita to mango, strawberry or coconut flavoured ones. They all cost 6.75 euros, and the drinks menu also includes other Mexican favourites such as tequila sunrise, for 6.70 euros, plus Sol and Dos Equis beers for 4.70 euros. There are also other international beers and wines starting from 22 euros a bottle. The restaurant is open from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. to midnight.

Bar del Riccio (Deck 14); a la carte: Situated at the side of the Aqua Park, this gelateria is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. and serves delicious Italian ice cream, home-made onboard, and priced from €2.

Nutella bar and HappyPuppy stand (Deck 14); a la carte: Also in the Aqua Park is a Nutella crepe bar and adjacent slushy iced drinks stand. Crepes cost 3.30 euros and a drink with a souvenir cup is 4.50 euros, 2.80 euros for refills.

Room Service: Continental breakfast from room service is delivered free to cabins on request and is available from 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. Snacks are available 24 hours a day and there is a charge of 3 euros for one dish and 5 euros for two, plus an additional fee of 4.90 euros for a fruit basket. The menu includes soup, salads, wraps, sandwiches, a cheese plate and desserts. In-cabin pizza delivery is also available at the times set out in the daily programme, which is usually 8 p.m. to midnight. They cost from 5 euros for a pizza marinara to 9 euros for the MSC classic pizza topped with mozzarella cheese, ham, rocket and parmesan. Drinks are available from the mini-bar in every cabin, including still and sparkling water for 1.55 euros, fruit juice and fizzy drinks at 2.80 euros, beer for 4.70 euros and miniature bottles of spirits for 5.70 euros. The mini-bar is also stocked with snacks including peanuts and mixed nuts, priced at 2.70 euros each. Larger bottles of water are also available in the cabin for 2.50 euros.

There are 1,637 cabins in seven categories (Interior, Oceanview, Balcony, Family, Suites, Family and Executive Suites and Royal Suites) spread over nine decks, and 80 per cent have private balconies. Within the various categories, there are additional options, such as Ocean View cabins with two additional beds that pull down from the ceiling and are accessed by ladders, which are ideal for families. There are also 41 wheelchair-accessible cabins with large bathrooms equipped with grab handles and other facilities for passengers with mobility issues.

Decorin cabins throughout the main ship is mostly a muted blue and cream, or orange and cream combination, which is easy on the eye. Staterooms in the "ship-within-a-ship" Yacht Club feature rich brass and lavish wood-effect finishes. The Yacht Club also has the largest cabins on Splendida, and all cabins benefit from 24-hour butler service.

All cabins have double beds which can be converted into twins, two bedside tables with reading lights and a master light switch. Two pillows, one soft and the other slightly harder are provided for each passenger and further options are available from the cabin steward on request. Other standard amenities in all cabins include a mini-bar, telephone, wall-mounted flat-screen TV (with programmes in different languages, films and onboard information), hair dryer (fixed inside the dressing table/desk drawer), safe with room for a laptop, and space for suitcases beneath the bed. The voltage is 110V and 220V with European two-pin sockets, so travellers from outside mainland Europe will need to bring adapters. Cabin lighting is good and there is ample storage, with drawers and shelves in the dressing table/desk unit and in the bedside tables. Full-length wardrobes provide a mix of fixed and removable coat hangers with drawers and open shelving units opposite.

Bathrooms have a good amount of shelving for storage, plus cupboards beneath the basin. There are fixed non-branded bottles of shower gel and shampoo -- no conditioner or lotion is provided -- in showers that have clingy curtains. There are two soap dishes in the shower to stow your own toiletries, plus a retractable washing line.

It should be noted that, as with all large ships, there are variations in cabin design and outlook. For example, some cabins have views restricted by lifeboats, some balconies are shaded by the overhanging deck above, and others have metal balcony walls, rather than a clear wall, which means views are obscured when you're sitting down. So check carefully when booking.

Interior: There are 294 Interior Cabins which range in size from 139 square feet to 258 square feet, with the largest cabins adapted for wheelchair users. The cabins have a large mirror behind the bed and on one wall, which creates an illusion of space, and in addition to the dressing table/desk and stool, have a separate round table and an easy chair.

Oceanview: The 93 Ocean View Cabins measure 129 to 312 square feet and have a porthole, which is situated over the bed head. They have a table and two chairs and some have pull down beds to accommodate up to four people.

Balcony: There are 1,143 Balcony Cabins that range in size from 182 to 452 square feet. At the foot of the bed is a very large floor-to-ceiling mirror that's almost the width of the bed. There is a sofa, large enough for three, opposite the dressing table/desk unit and an oval table. Balcony furnishings comprise two rattan chairs and a table, which is large enough for a room service meal. Some of these cabins are interconnecting and, whilst they are great for families and groups of friends, it should be noted that having a door in the wall decreases the soundproofing considerably so it's not so good if you are next door to complete strangers. Light sleepers might want to take ear plugs.

Suite: There are 36 standard Suites, some with a balcony and some with a panoramic sealed window, that range in size from 266 to 505 square feet. They have a separate living area, with a sofa, two chairs and a table, and a bathroom with a bathtub.

Special: The ship's remaining suites are located within the Yacht Club on Decks 15 and16 and all have butler service. Each of the suites is fitted with Myform Memory mattresses and comes with a pillow menu, Egyptian cotton bathrobes, bedding from the luxury Italian company Mascioni and marble bathrooms, all with a shower and bathtub. There is a complimentary mini-bar and goodnight treats from the Italian chocolatier Venchi.

The 66 Deluxe Suites feature one room, measure 279 to 419 square feet, and all have balconies. Extra amenities include a coffee maker and bathroom with a bathtub. There are three Executive and Family Suites, which can sleep up to four and range in size from 484 to 570 square metres and have panoramic sealed windows in the bedroom and lounge area.

The largest suites on the ship are the pair of two-room Royal Suites, situated in a prime forward position on either side of Deck 16. They each measure 559 square feet with a 172-square-foot wrap around balcony with a hot tub, dining table and loungers. The balcony can be accessed from both the bedroom and bathroom, and other in-room perks include a coffee machine.

Deck 5 - Canaletto
Deck 6 - Modigliani
Deck 7 - Tiziano
Deck 8 - Giotto
Deck 9 - Tintoretto
Deck 10 - Botticelli
Deck 11 - Caravaggio
Deck 12 - De Chirico
Deck 13 - Piero Della Francesca
Deck 14 - Raffaello
Deck 15 - Leonardo Da Vinci
Deck 16 - Michelangelo
Deck 18 - Sun
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