We have just returned from a double cruise promotion in the Mediterranean and Black Sea -- 11 nights on the MSC Opera 21 October, two nights' stay in Mestre (Venice) and 11 nights on the MSC Orchestra 3 November.
Whilst the food quality and temperature issues are the same for both vessels, these comments refer to our experience in the MSC Orchestra.
This was our 4th cruise with MSC and having cruised with ten major cruise lines and four short river cruises (China, Vietnam and Egypt) I feel that I am quite qualified to make these comments, based on past cruising experience.
Talking to other Australians and New Zealanders (English speaking people) the general impression was that as a group we were left lacking and the question was raised quite a few times:
Why bother to market MSC Cruises in Australia and New Zealand when we felt ignored compared to the Italians and Germans on board?
For the price we paid it was a good deal, but for MSC to successfully compete in Australia and New Zealand, more consideration needs to be given so that English speaking passengers feel equal.
Overall we enjoyed the cruises, the transfers were smooth and the Hotel Tritone in Mestre, Venice excellent and well located.
Ship overall: spotlessly clean, staff were continually cleaning the brass on the handrails and outside deck.
The layout was good, with plenty of lounges to relax in, and the areas for smokers did not interfere with non-smokers.
Passageways and staircases vacuumed at least twice a day, spills in buffet area cleaned up promptly.
Cabin: We were on Deck 8 and had upgraded to a balcony cabin -- we would have preferred an "ocean-view" cabin as it offered a lot more storage space, however there are only 8 cabins on Deck 8 that are not "obstructed" by the life boats -- some are so bad that the view is just of the (red painted) side of the lifeboat.
Lighting was excellent, with good overhead downlights as well as bedside lights. There were four powerpoints -- two 220w with European/Asian two pin (round) plugs and two US 110w for two (flat) pin plugs.
The shower had more room than that on the MSC Opera; liquid soap and shampoo were supplied but no body lotion.
The beds were very comfortable, extra pillows supplied on request.
The three drawers in the bedside cabinet were very shallow - only deep enough to take a medium sized paperback novel.
Our cabin attendant Ayu Ari was the best that I have come across when cruising -- nothing was too much trouble and if she could supply/fix what we wanted it was attended to immediately.
Food: Hot food never hot -- breakfast cooked eggs often placed on cold ceramic dishes with the hot plate underneath not turned on. Grilled tomatoes, bacon, baked beans luke warm to cold.
Twice I bought this to the buffet supervisor's notice, but nothing was ever changed. I was told that serving so many people it was impossible to keep food hot!!!
The food served in the buffet -- with the exception of the soup (hot) and desserts (cold) would not pass Australian food standards.
MSC states that they "have achieved ISO 9001 (Creation of an efficient, effective operation, increasing customer satisfaction) and ISO 22000 (hazard analysis) certification for the quality and food safety of our catering".
Breakfast usually available until 11.30am, lunch until 3pm, dinner from 7pm.
No afternoon teas catered for -- only pizza available 3pm -- 7pm.
Tea and coffee (free) always available in the buffet, however if you wanted tea or coffee by the pool, you either had to pay for it, or get dressed and get it from the buffet area -- no outside tea/coffee/water stations.
Dinner times -- First seating 6.45pm and second seating 9pm.
We ate dinner in L'Ibiscus Dining Room on deck 6. The room was so crowded it was hard to move through to our table. Heavy high backed chairs in a light mustard yellow did not give an elegant dining atmosphere.
Quality of the food fluctuated greatly, mostly not hot -- except for soup. Green vegetables were lacking, but supplied on request.
One night in the dining room I had mussels in a marinara sauce -- supposedly a hot entree, but the mussels were straight from the refrigerator and cold.
After this the Matre 'D, Gusti (Indonesia) always checked to see if we were satisfied with the temperature and quality of our food.
Drinking water not supplied in the dining room -- it had to be purchased in not so eco friendly P.E.T. bottles. Wine was available by bottle, glass or in 500ml carafe (for E7.00).
The menu for this cruise was exactly the same as we had on the 11 night cruise on the MSC Opera.
Extra cost dining. We only used the Asia fusion "Shanghai" Restaurant -- the food was an excellent mix of Japanese, Chinese, Indonesian and Thai, and very well priced. The Italian specialty restaurant was set price E24.00
TV and Communication: English channels on TV not available at all for 8 days -- all German programs were clearly coming through.
Movies available in cabin -- at a price -- E5.00!!!!
In the "Daily Program" the English description for the "Nautical Information" was atrocious -- obviously there are no native English speakers in the Administration section and no grammatical concept checks were done.
Itinerary excellent - a change had to be made due to a 48 hour strike in Greece and we were unable to go to Herakilon, Crete or Piraeus, Athens.
Santorini (Greece) and Izmir (Turkey) were substituted and a great many people took the opportunity to visit the fantastic Greek ruins at Ephasus.
Shore Excursions: No shore or port talks given.
No port maps available on board (common on other cruise lines).
No information other than briefly described on printed excursion tour listing that accompanied the booking sheet.
No pricing of tours available on internet prior to boarding.
Entertainment and Information: No native English speakers at Reception.
No ship navigation chart displayed in public area.
Entertainment - very limited choices due to multi language problems.
"Puzzles of paper" (their terms) Sudoko, general quiz, crosswords etc. not available.
The Library had no reference books -- not even an Atlas and no "book swap" section. However, the range and variety available was quite good due to people leaving their own books behind.
The concerts were at 7.30pm for those at Second seating dinner and 9.30pm for those at First seating dinner. From what I heard all were very short -- the one we saw started late and only went for 20 minutes. The quality and length of time certainly did not compare with those of other shipping lines.
Internet: The "internet cafe" was always unsupervised. For those with their own computers etc., there was WiFi hotspots on decks 5, 6 and 7; or broadband via cable in the cabin. I was unable to log-on to the internet with user name and password given at the desk (both on the Oopera and on the Orchestra) and had to use my husband's details. To use cable in balcony cabin required an extension lead (fortunately we had one!) as the power point was diagonally as far away from the cable connect as was possible and still be in the main cabin area.
I was unable to log out of cable connection, and therefore lost 57 minutes of 100 minutes paid for. I received a printout from the IT Department showing the lost time. I was offered 2 hours free in the Internet Cafe, but as I had all the information I wanted to send on my Netbook, this was of no value. Question -- why give 2 hours instead of 57 minutes -- it didn't make any sense to me.
I wrote a letter of complaint, but had to do it on small "telephone" note paper as there was no A4 paper available. I was not the only person who lost time -- I have spoken to others who had similar problems with the WiFi Hotspots, with complaints unresolved. As a repeat cruiser with Princess Cruises I receive 250 minutes of free internet time.
MSC Club and Future Cruises: The representative was not really interested in the fact that our MSC Club points were not credited correctly. She did not listen to what I was saying. After I sent an e-mail to Head Office, this was adjusted within 24 hours. She was also the Future Cruise Representative (we were unlucky again). No information on future cruises available in English -- only German and Italian.
Would I sail with MSC again? Maybe, but perhaps not on the MSC Orchestra.