I need to start out this review with the disclaimer: I organized a group of 19 college students to go on the Orchestra for Spring Break. However, I've been on 15+ cruises on all of the major lines. I wasn't looking for an absolutely wild Spring Break, rather, we wanted a more relaxing time. After religiously checking the boards and reviews, I am happy to report that we had a great time onboard the Orchestra. Yes, there were things that could be improved, but these minor problems did not interfere with an otherwise very enjoyable vacation.
The Ship The cleanliness of this ship was unbelievable. There was always someone polishing the copious amounts of brass or vacuuming the floors. It really was spotless from head to toe. After having been on much larger (RCCL Voyager Class, Grand Princess, and Carnival), the ship did seem a little bit smaller—but not a lot. I thought the layout was very nice—I guess the one word that came to mind was "classy." Yes there was no Grand Promenade or funky coloring, but the ship was just very classy. The various bars, lounges, and shops flowed together and the theater was gorgeous. The pool deck was also very nicely done. However, there was a real problem with how it was set up in regards to the amount of seating. On all of the other ships that I've been on the deck overlooking the pools will normally have a row of chairs, jogging track, and then another row of chairs. However, the Orchestra only had one row of chairs and a tiny walkway—it really made finding a seat a struggle. However, the chairs have a section that flips up that you can use to shade your face form the sun—very nice.
Food/Drinks With the exception of the first meal, I thought that the dinners were nicely done. Contrary to what I had read on CruiseCritic.com, I thought the beef was cooked very well. The pasta dishes and appetizers were good as well. The lobster was so-so as was the Cajun mahi-mahi. Desserts on the whole were good with the cheesecake being not very good and the chocolate parfait being outstanding. We ate every night at the formal dining room. Pizza was available for free from 5-10pm and was very good—they always had cheese and pepperoni with a couple of specialty pizzas and many different toppings. Breakfast and lunch buffets were decent. There was no omelette station and the scrambled eggs were no good. However, the baked breads/croissants were delicious and you could ask the cooks to make you fried eggs to order. Lunch buffet was probably the worst meal of the cruise (and it was still OK). Out of four stations, only one served burgers/hot dogs which were delicious. I would have to say the hamburgers were the best that I've had on any cruise! However, aside from this and a pasta station, there weren't a whole lot of options that appealed to me. There was a great salad bar, but there were also many pre-made salads that no one seemed to be touching. Throughout the day gelato was available for $2 for a cone that was AWESOME. At 11:30 snacks were served in the lounges and room service was available for free which was quick and easy, but very limited.
Drinks were great and were very reasonably priced and included all taxes and fees. You could get a bucket of 4 beers for $12 (Corona, Heineken, Peroni, etc) and 17 oz of house wine at dinner for $8. Cocktails were normally $6.90 but the special of the day was $5.50. The drinking age for beer and wine was also 18. MSC was also extremely easy on the alcohol policy—we bought alcohol in Cozumel and simply brought it back onboad and straight to our cabins.
Ports I felt like in many of the stops we spent little time. I think this was especially apparent in Key West (9-2), Grand Cayman (where you had to a lot extra time to tender), and in Cayo Levantado (around 2ish). However, we all had a great time in each port and the Orchestra always managed to have the best docking position (except Key West). Cayo Levantado was a big disappointment for me. It was advertised as their private island, which it was to some extent, but did not compare to other private islands. It seemed as if everything was extra—you had to pay for chairs and food which was disappointing. Also, the beach was incredibly small for all of the Orchestra and some passengers from a Princess ship. It was beautiful, but just not what I expected/wanted a cruise line private island to be like.
Cabin 2 weeks before departure we were upgraded from a Category 1 inside guarantee to a Category 7 balcony which was great! The room was wonderful—yes it was smaller but it's a cruise ship. The room was nicely furnished with plenty of hangers and storage space. The bed was very comfortable and it was decorated beautifully.
Staff After having read horror stories of poor interactions with MSC crew, I was curious. However, I found all of the staff to be incredibly friendly. Our waiter, Ruslan was fantastic. He made dinner fun every night and would joke around with us. Our room steward was also great and went out of his way to make sure that everything was taken care of. Bartenders, other wait staff, and buffet staff were great, as well. The Entertainment staff did try hard, although some of their games were quite "interesting." Also, the 2nd seating shows were showed at 7pm—too early for us and we only saw one show—the magician. However, it was a great show and one of the best that I've seen.
In Sum We had a great cruise aboard the Orchestra. The other passengers were predominantly older and there were about 500 Italians (or so we were told) aboard and this was definitely not a "Spring Break" cruise but that's fine. It was a very relaxing vacation with good food, good staff, and a gorgeous ship. I would definitely recommend MSC to another cruiser as long as they understood that some things are definitely done in a more "European" way than other Americanized cruise lines. All in all, we had a great and different experience onboard the Orchestra!