On January 2, 2009 the MSC Orchestra made her first mini-cruise in the western hemisphere. I can only say, from my standpoint that this cruise was the biggest disaster that I have ever participated in. Yes, there were some challenges for the company and the crew, but the disaster continued far beyond the first day.
Day 1 - The ship was late getting into port. Then customs did not release the ship for disembarkation for over 3 hours. This was followed by the computers going down in the terminal which prevented the processing of the oncoming passengers. This caused a long line of people waiting to board the ship. As people had to wait for hours with no explanation or any kind of refreshment or ability to use the bathroom things started to get problematic. Any kind of explanation would have helped. Even families with small children had to stand in the line outside. Fortunately it was a fairly mild day. (Not in the 90s as it can be in Ft. Lauderdale.)
After finally getting aboard, those with early seating for dinner had to immediately go to the restaurant for dinner. Since it was more than 15 minutes after the start of seating there was discussion as to whether we could be seated. Fortunately we were allowed to be seated for dinner. Dinner was wonderful. When we went back to our stateroom, my girlfriend and I discovered that our bed had been turned down. Instead of two twin beds we had one kingsize bed. I had to track down our room steward to get the beds separated. The first reaction was that it was "too late". After discussion with his boss, the beds got separated.
Due to the very late departure, the mandatory boat drill was postponed until 0830 the next morning.
Day 2 - 0745 Big wake up call so every one could be dressed and ready for the mandatory safety (boat) drill. All restaurant services (restaurants) are shut down for the boat drill and then only the buffet, and only one side of the buffet were reopened. Almost the entire compliment of passengers are now trying to get breakfast from the buffet. Many of the passengers, including my girlfriend and I went into Nassau for breakfast. On top of everything else, there was no coffee except at the coffee bar, and that was only espresso or cappuccino. You also had to buy the espresso. When complaints were made and questions asked crew members appeared not to care.
Much of the time the crew seemed not to care about the problems. When a waiter was asked for iced tea at dinner on the first night the answer was we don't have it and are too busy. State rooms did not have enough towels or wash cloths. When stewards were asked for extras it took more than 5 hours to get them. Used towel and face cloths were not removed during room cleaning. Again, complaints appeared to be met with indifference. Explanations, food, coffee, attentive service, willingness do try to make things better all would have gone a long way towards making this cruise experience much better.
Day 3 - Back in Ft. Lauderdale. disembarkation. Chaos all over again. Everyone wanted to do self check out. No matter how much luggage or how many kids. The reason everyone gave? "I want to get off this ship as fast as possible." I have never before heard as many negative comments about a ship or cruise line in all my years of cruising. When crew members were asked why there was no orderly line, The same answer, "I'm too busy now," was given.
Two bright spots in the short cruise were the ship itself, (It is beautiful) and the food. Almost everything I had was wonderful. The only exception was the poorly cooked bacon and pancakes with ice cold syrup for breakfast on Sunday morning before departure. This could simply be poor understanding of American tastes. I don't believe that the food and the ship itself, are enough for me to every sail with this company again.
MSC appears to be trying to become a player in the American market. Unfortunately, this is a market that already has many other cruise lines with established records of service. If MSC wants to make it in this market there will need to be a big change in the level of service, and understanding.