EMBARKATION: Embarkation was fairly quick for us. If you pre-register your passport information online and have your printout available at check-in, you will be able to go to the express check-in line. The earlier that you get to the port, the earlier you get on board. MSC issues numbered tickets once you have gone to the terminal registration counter where you provide your credit card and receive your room cards. On our particular cruise, we arrived early enough (around 1100) that we were numbers 160-165. These numbers are called in sequential order when it's time to board. We were then ushered to the waiting room where several tables had been set up to purchase drink or spa packages prior to boarding. Now, by the time that we boarded there were nearly 2,000 people (mostly Italian & German) pushing and shoving to the front of the lines. Having lived in Europe for five years, this wasn't new to me. However, for those Americans that will be boarding in Genoa, be forewarned. Most Europeans do not share our views on personal space nor do they believe in waiting patiently in lines. It is, simply, a survival-of-the-fittest mentality here. The MSC crew and Port Authorities did a terrific job of managing the mob scene and in the blink of an eye, our numbers were being called to board.
THE ROOMS: We had a balcony cabin on the 12th deck. It was quite adequate for our family of four (2 adults & 2 children, ages 5 & 10). There were not any free movies offered nor much in the way of English television shows. They offer a single news channel, a few international channels and a pay-per-view movie channel that is definitely overpriced. We had brought our portable DVD player(and movies)from home which we connected to the TV in the room. FYI, the TV's have easy access RCA plugs to connect your DVD player to but the power outlet is located a good 7 feet away from the TV. I suggest bringing a small extension cord for this purpose. The bed was extremely comfortable and the room attendants did a WONDERFUL job of keeping everything clean & tidy. Our towels, toiletries & fruit were replaced practically every time that we left the room. The attendants even folded our clothes for us and left them on our bed. The sofa bed and murphy bed were turned down every night during dinner and every extra request that we made for ice or extra pillows was met immediately.
THE KIDS CLUB: More than half of the kids in our group (ages 5-13) truly enjoyed the kids club. It is a free service even on port days and the kids participate in many different activities. They took the children to the shows in the theatre every night and had a different themed party (ie..pizza, hot dog, Disney, Carnivale, etc...)every night. The older kids participated in scavenger hunts, arts & crafts and dance lessons while the younger kids colored, played on the play ground & occasionally watched movies. The only downside was that most of the Kids Club Attendants did not speak English and the children that participated in the club were diverse in age and language spoken.
THE FOOD: Now having never cruised before, we really have nothing to compare MSC food to. The buffet was standard, not spectacular but not offensive. They had something for just about every nationality. I would suggest that, when possible, eat at Villa Borghese(on deck 5, I believe) for breakfast and lunch rather than try to find a table in the crowded cafeteria. Villa Borghese and L'Ibiscus are no-charge and the food quality always proved much better than the buffet. Drinks are NOT free on MSC. Be prepared to spend 2 Euro a bottle for water or single can of soda. Although, they state that you cannot bring your own water or soda on board, we had no problems bringing back either water or soda from the grocery stores in Barcelona or Malaga. Dinner was outstanding, in my opinion. We had first seating and the same waiter for our entire 12 day cruise. There were very few dishes that got the "thumbs down" from our table. Our waiter, Utama, was always quick to change out any dish that we didn't like. With the several options available every night, if we chose wrong the first time, we always ended up full and happy at the end of the evening. The afternoon tea in La Piazzetta from 1600 to 1700 was perfect on port days when we would arrive back on board exhausted and starving.
THE ENTERTAINMENT: The entertainment team onboard was highly energetic and a lot of fun. Most, if not all, of them were Italian. They were all multi-lingual and it was really awe-inspiring to see them switch languages during Bingo or Trivia. The nightly shows that we went to were good and the theatre itself is spectacular.
PORT CALLS & DISEMBARKATION: Access on and off of the ship during port visits was ALWAYS quick and painless. I found the process to be very well organized and amazingly fast. This was very important as MSC tends to have very short port times compared to most other cruise lines. We simply loved that we could order our shore excursions or room service on our TV with the remote control. Once we decided on a shore excursion, we simply clicked to order and our tickets would be waiting on our bed after dinner the night before that port visit. Disembarking back in Genoa was SO fast. Our disembarkation color was called at 0845 and by 0910 our entire group of 20 had their luggage and their persons on board our chartered bus and we were headed for the freeway.
IN SUMMARY: MSC is a GREAT value for families. Kids under 17 always sail for free which is a tremendous savings. I can say that we paid 50 percent less for our 12-day cruise on the MSC Orchestra then we have for our next 13-day cruise on NCL and that is with NCL's 15 percent military discount! MSC is not perfect but every vacation is what you make of it. We had an amazing time on the Orchestra and will definitely sail with MSC again in the future.