My wife and I are looking to get away with out the children for a Med. cruise before memorial day. Trying to save money, at first were interested in the Costa cruises, but were not happy w/ the reviews of the heavy european smoking and poor food.
I had not heard of MSC before despite being on over 25 cruises (have ran the gambit: Princess, Holland american, Carnival, Royal Carribean, Windstar) and was curious to find out about it...especially w/ the cheap rates (about 850/person for 1 week)
We are using the ship as a means to get around the various ports, though we want to be able to eat decently, and enjoy ourselves while on the ship.
We are looking now at the Montery, which has a great itenerary, but was built in the 50's though refurbished in 2004, and want to know if anyone has been on it and can say how it compares to other cruises and maybe other MSC ships.
Of all the ships you've mentioned, I recommend the Lirica. I took Opera (sister ship) on a Mediterranean cruise and thought it was good value for the money. Yes, Europeans smoke, but the cruise line has limits (mainly the dining room), but you'll have to deal with that on every European ship.
The cabins are very tiny, but I thought the food was good enough. The staff is so-so, but adequate. The best part was being with the Europeans who were having a ball on the ship! From toddler to grandparents, everyone danced and turned out for events. So much livelier. And, I'm in Europe.
The attitude is to adapt to a European cruising experience. Not everyone speaks perfect English. There are differences from the ships Americans are used to. But I would take one of these ships again, even though it was far from the high levels we're used to. It was more outgoing and fun.