On Friday afternoon we (family of four, two kids, 7 and 5) left home to drive from Germany through Switzerland to Milan. As this was the first day of fall break in our state and as there was a lot construction, we didn't make it to Milan before midnight. Stayed at the IdeaHotel Milan San Siro, which is easily reachable from the interstate and can be recommended for a quick stop.
Originally, we had wanted to spend Saturday in Cinque Terre, but since it was rainy and foggy, we decided to go straight to our hotel near Livorno, the Regina del Mare Resort. By the time we had checked in and claimed our duplex apartment, the weather improved and we were able to quickly hit the resort beach before driving to Pisa.
On Sunday morning, when we woke up, we had a nice view over the beach of the Orchestra. After having breakfast along the way, we arrived at the port about two hours before our check-in time. We claimed our pre-reserved parking space next to the cruise terminal with no problems and proceeded into the terminal, where we received a little card for priority boarding (a perk of checking in via the Web and of arriving early) and a booklet with our tickets, additional information and pre-printed luggage tags. Our luggage was taken and we were told that our check-in would be 30 minutes before the official check-in time.
After the start of check-in, we were on the ship in 15 minutes, where we were greeted by a steward, who took us to a station where we claimed our pre-ordered drink packages and then to a station where the kids got their bracelets with their cabin and muster station number as well as a copy of the kids program. He then took us to our cabin and explained how to turn on the light, etc.
Our cabin was a little larger than what we had on the Opera. It was equipped with a porthole, the double bed, two additional beds that were folded out of the wall at night, a little seating area with a table, a desk, a mini bar and a large closet with a safe.
The room was very clean, but our steward was not as reliable as the ones we had on the Opera. The room was cleaned twice a day and towels were also replace twice daily, on this cruise not necessarily during meal times. Often times the room was not finished yet when we got back from breakfast or dinner.
Dinner in the MDR was tasty and offered enough variety. There were seven courses on the menu each night, with two or three options for each of them. The seafood and homemade ice creams were especially good, but also the beef fillet was great this time. Our two Brazilian waiters, Philipe and Camila were fantastic, with just the right balance of warmth and professionalism.
The buffet was sometimes crowded, but we always found seating in the back of the restaurant. Breakfast had lots of choices, lunch was was certainly ok, but not spectacular. We liked some of the choices of the ethnic corner.
We had pre-booked a draft beer package and a water package, which we thought were good value. With dinner, we usually ordered a carafe of the house wine and thought it was quite good.
The ship was well laid-out with a modern, clean design. It was well maintained and constantly cleaned. The Orchestra is wider than the Opera, which gave her a more spacious feel. At times it was crowded on the pool deck, but it was always possible to find a quieter space on some of the upper sun decks.
Language / Service / Fellow Passengers
90 % of the passengers were Italian, which means that the service was geared towards Italians. Some of the crew members had problems communicating in English, especially at the reception and in the kids club. They all were trying to help, but sometimes it was necessary to explain to them in very basic words what we wanted. Some were more fluent in German than in English, so we spoke German with some of them.
We thought the fellow passengers were fun and had a lot of style. Of course the Italian concept of queuing is more dynamic. People will bypass someone who doesn't have the cruise card ready at the exit or will go past people who are waiting at a station at the buffet that they are not interested in. In general, this kept the lines much shorter than what we had experienced on the Opera after taking on passengers in Southampton. Nevertheless, we missed the more international passenger mix we had found on the Opera in summer.
The activities of the entertainment team on this particular cruise were very much geared towards the Italian passengers, so we did not participate in any of them. As this was a very port intensive cruise without any sea days, it was not much of a loss. We thought the shows were very entertaining, especially the acrobatic acts. The cruise director talked three minutes in Italian, before summarizing what she had said in 30 seconds in English and 15 seconds in other languages.
We did not participate in any of the organized excursions but instead planned our own activities for each of the ports. We hit Livorno, Villefranche, Valencia, Ibiza, La Goulette, Catania, Naples and Livorno. Our favorite ports were Ibiza, where we walked along the port into town where we spent a nice morning looking at old town as well as at some of the modern and stylish shopping streets as well as Naples, where we took the train to Herculaneum and then walked through Naples and had a very good pizza for lunch.
There was an outbreak of bacterial meningitis affecting four crew members (no one else--to our knowledge--ever fell ill), of which we were informed by e-mail the day after we disembarked. The initial communication was sent out just 30 minutes before the German MSC office closed for the day and neither contained any of the specifics our doctor needed nor a phone number where we could still reach someone after 6 p.m. CET. We had to turn to this board to collect the necessary details. MSC USA was available on the forum to answer questions that people had, so this at least was good.
This was an enjoyable and relaxing cruise on a stylish and sparkling clean ship. The food and service in the MDR were really good. An unfortunate aspect were the language issues of the kids club and reception employees. We'll definitely cruise with MSC again, but may pick a route with a more international passenger mix.
I'll post a link to this review on the MSC board. Please let us know there in case you have any questions or feed-back.