In reading the following please keep in mind that some of what I report is subjective, simply my opinion. If I say something tastes good, that doesn't mean that you would find the item equally tasty. If I report that something is entertaining, you may or may not agree. That said, here's my opinion of our cruise on the MSC Orchestra and her crew.
Embarkation: A breeze. We parked in the garage across from the ship and we were aboard 15 minutes after we entered the terminal. Once aboard we went up to the "Welcome Aboard" buffet on deck 13. No surprises here. The offerings were about what we have experienced on other cruises.
Public rooms: Since we got aboard early, I was able to roam about the ship's public rooms while they were almost empty. They were very attractive and inviting. The ship's theater was large and well designed. The dining rooms were on the small side (by modern standards), but very comfortable.
Cabin: Our smallish cabin had a balcony and was on deck 12. It was directly beneath the buffet area, which really proved to be a problem. The floor in the dining area above us was not carpeted and so, starting as soon as the buffet opened each morning, we were awoken to the constant sound of chairs being moved across the floor of the deck above our cabin. Needless to say, sleep was impossible. If anyone books this ship, I strongly suggest staying away from a cabin on deck 12.
Entertainment: Very European and well, very entertaining. The entertainers were talented and energetic. I never had seen a shipboard show receive a standing ovation, but I saw it twice on this cruise.
The lounge entertainment was also very good. There was a good variety of dance music played throughout most of the evening. Here's the exception to that statement - for some reason, the live entertainment in each of the lounges was not available from 9 - 9:30 PM. This meant that those who enjoy dancing had to take a break during this 1/2 hour slot. To me, it would make more sense to stagger the breaks that the lounge entertainers take so that there is always live entertainment throughout the evening. Not a major problem, but just one of the many items that could use tweaking on this ship.
Events: The time of Captain's cocktail reception, a tradition on cruise ships, was also an oddity. On every other cruise that we have taken this reception was held before dinner. Complementary drinks and canapEs are usually served. It's a very nice affair where you get to dress up and have your picture taken with the Captain of the ship.
Interestingly, on the Orchestra, the event is held AFTER dinner. Serving finger food and whiskey sours after dinner certainly cuts down on consumption, but the timing felt out of whack.
Baseball program: This cruise had several former major league baseball players aboard. They were: Stan Bahnson, Cookie Rojas, Rick Burlingson, Gary Peters, and Andre Dawson. Each day these players would present a program of one sort or another - question and answers, autograph sessions, storytelling by the players, etc. These sessions were highlights of the cruise. The players were very approachable. They were more than willing to informally chat with anyone who approached them. MSC is to be congratulated for this excellent program.
Food: Sadly, disappointing. Being of 100% Italian heritage, I had high expectations for the food, but overall, the food was not good. A key exception - the evening pizzeria (8 to 11PM) was outstanding. Don't confuse this pizza with that which is served on the daily buffet. This is vastly superior. I've made one of my life's missions one to find the world's best pizza. This pizza rates in the top 3 or 4 of any that I have had anywhere. Yes, you have to pay for it ($4 for a personal-sized pie), but I found it outstanding. The gentleman who runs this operation is from Naples (can't remember his name), and he is truly one of the nicest men that you will meet anywhere. Just watch him interact with the passengers - especially the children. He loves his job, and his pizza reflects his passion.
Once you get past the pizzeria, the food is, unfortunately, not up to par. I'm not trying to compare the meals to a top-flight restaurant, but to meals I've had on similarly priced cruise ships.
The buffets on deck 13 was inconsistent. The daily pasta station was generally good, as were some of the other offerings. Other items, however were cold and tasteless. Breakfast items such as pancakes and waffles in particular were cold. Here's a question for MSC: How do you run out of bananas on the 4th day of a 7 day cruise? Again, not major, but another item that needs attention.
The meals in the dining room were the poorest of the 10 ships that I have been on. Meats were tough and/or fatty. Presentation was non-existent. I know, no one eats the sprig of parsley on the plate, but when a plate of plain risotto is served on a white plate with nothing else on the plate, it doesn't have much color to it.
The first night's meal stands out as particularly bad. Both my wife and I selected the dish with spinach, mushrooms, and ricotta cheese. What came out of the kitchen looked like two green charcoal briquettes. They were almost inedible.
The lobster dinner was also disappointing. We each received 1/2 a lobster tail (yes, we could have requested more). The lobster was dry and tough. not tasty at all. How this dish even made it onto the menu is a puzzlement.
The midnight "Grand Buffet" contained many fancy fruit carvings and was attractively arranged. The buffet consisted mostly of salads, cold cuts, fruit and desserts. It was a good opportunity to take some food photos.
Service: Again, inconsistent. The service in the dining room was fine. In fact, it was better than fine. Our waiter and busboy (both named Budi) were pleasant, attentive and accommodating. Every request was taken care of. Drinks were quickly refilled. They rate top marks.
Our cabin steward was pretty good. It took three days at sea for us to convince him that we needed the daily program in English, not Italian. We also had to request wash cloths several times. Except for those small slip-ups, however, he was fine.
Excursions and the Excursion Desk Staff: I'm going to concentrate on one particular excursion, the Whale Watching excursion on Cayo Levantado. We looked forward to this excursion since we booked the cruise last spring. On the day of the excursion, the weather was clear, but very windy. As we waited in the lounge for the excursion to depart, one of the staff announce that the waters would be "a bit choppy", and she advised people to take sea sickness pills. She said to go to the main information desk to pick up these pills. As she was making this announcement for the third time, several people who had gone in search of these pills spoke up and told her that the main desk said that they would not give out sea sickness pills. Several minutes later an announcement was made to go to the pharmacy for the pills. Shortly after that, someone showed up with a supply of these pills for anyone who wanted them.
Our Whale Watching tour finally departed at 12:30 (more on that later). The winds were easily 35 - 50 knots. The trip quickly became a nightmare. I estimate the seas to have been at least 10 - 12 feet). I owned my own small boat for many years, and these were the roughest seas that I ever encountered in a small boat. If you didn't hold on for dear life you would be thrown out of your seat.
Despite the pills, most of the people quickly become sick. There were no whales to be seen, but that was immaterial to the many people who were sick. The one crew member who spoke some English told me that he had never been sent out on this trip is such rough seas.
Before I continue I'd like to say that I make it a point to address anyone I deal with courteously. These people who work on cruise ships have a tough job, and they deserve to be treated courteously.
The next day I went to the Excursion desk on the ship to explain to them how dangerous our trip had been. The girl to whom I spoke just gave me a blank stare. I don't know if she didn't understand me, or if she just didn't care. When she made no effort to take a written report, I nicely asked her to take my name and cabin number, and to please have someone in charge contact me. She did write it down, but as she did so she said something in Italian to the girl next to her, and they both broke out laughing. I've never been treated like this by anyone on any cruise ship. I'm still waiting to be contacted by someone in charge about the dangerous conditions on that whale excursions.
Here's another Orchestra oddity. As I mentioned earlier, our tour left at 12:30. On all of the other cruises that I have been on, the excursions were normally scheduled to depart early in the morning. Not on the Orchestra. Although we arrive in Cay Levantado at 0730, the first excursion was not schedule to depart until after 10 AM. That means that if you book an excursion, it bars you from doing anything else in that port. Our excursion was for 2 1/2 hours, and our ship was scheduled to depart Cayo Levantado at 3:30 PM. If our tour left at 0800 we would have been back by 11 AM, plenty of time to go over to the small private island and beach. Leaving on our excursion at 12:30, however, made this impossible.
Disembarkation: Uneventful. I did find it strange that no accommodations were made for those who had early flights out of Ft. Lauderdale or Miami. Normally there is an announcement made a day or two before the end of the cruise allowing anyone who had an early flight scheduled to request priority disembarkation. Not so on the Orchestra.
Summation: Although there were some positives on this cruise (the baseball program, the entertainers, the pizza and pizza guy), there were too many negatives. The cruise business is very competitive, and if the MSC Orchestra is to become a successful entrant in the American cruise market, many things have to be tweaked or completely rethought. I personally will not consider another MSC cruise, nor will I recommend them to others.