I am a fairly experienced cruiser, and have been on several lines, including HAL, RCI, Carnival. NCL..most of the big ships, and a few smaller ones too. I'm a senior, who enjoys traveling solo.
I drove from Tampa to the Port Everglades area, and parked at the Continental Airport Parking lot. I was a little apprehensive about leaving my keys, but the transaction went fine. The free shuttle to the port immediately took me to the port. The only downside was that they had to leave me, and my luggage about 100' from the door. Luckily, my luggage could be stacked, and has wheels, so not a big issue. I gave the porter $2, and my luggage, and walked into the port building.
Embarkation: I got to the pier about 11:30. Embarkation was fairly quick. It took about 20 minutes from the front door to the Ship. It was very organized. The agents, and crew, were all smiling, and welcoming. A good way to start.
The Ship: The Orchestra is a beautiful vessel. Everything was clean, and sparkling, Brass shining everywhere. I was ushered into an elevator, that was all mirrors, and brass, and taken to the 13th deck for the lunch buffet. It wasn't crowded yet. There are no trays to carry your food on....just big oval plates. It was the typical buffet, nothing to crow, or complain, about yet. I found a table, and went to get a drink. If the food had been hot, it was cool by the time I sat down to eat. After eating, I wandered down to deck 8, to find my cabin. The hallways were spotless, again everything was gleaming.
The Cabin: 8189, balcony. The last cabin on the port side, before the aft cabins. Beside the full wall to the rear was a small deck, and staircase up, and down, that wasn't visited too often by passengers. OK, I've been in bigger. Cabins. It was very clean. I like the idea of putting your key-card in the electronic holder on the wall inside the cabin door, to let your attendant know if you're "home". It also helps to know where you left your key. The balcony....not too big..but typical for a newer ship. The glass panels below the rail were pretty dirty/salt sprayed. I thought they would be cleaned during the cruise.....I was wrong. By the end of the cruise there was food, or maybe a big bird "present", along most of the outside glass. The railing was in dire need of sanding, and re-finishing. The balcony deck was also pretty nasty. I spend a lot of time on my balcony, and the plastic wicker chairs have a fairly low back....not overly comfy. There was some rumble from the pods, but that was to be expected, given the location. I quickly got used to it, and slept very well. The only time it was really noisy, and super vibratory was when the side thrusters were being used.. The bed, and bedding was great, the comforter was starting to show some age. The towels were super big, and thick, but a couple of them did have some tears. Plenty of wash cloths. Just got shampoo, and bar soap. The shower is super small, and the curtain did insist on being intimate. The shower had really good volume, and pressure...plenty hot at all times. No foreign odors in the bath. The mini bar stayed at about 65 F, which was enough to keep the diet soda I brought on board [14 cans, no problem bringing them on board at all] fairly cool. I'm not sure if the storage space is enough for 2 people...I barely had room for my stuff. My cabin steward, Dani, was very efficient. There was one day the cabin didn't get made up till after 1:00 p.m., maybe it was his day off? I left my key out of the slot, and sat on the balcony. Someone did make up the room while I was out there. In the evening it was cleaned without fail while I was at dinner. The only thing was that there was no next day activities "daily", until later in the evening, which wasn't his fault.
Food: Hmmm. It appears all the lines are really cutting back on the quality. I was seated at 1st seating Ibiscus dining room, I had 7 table mates at table 752. There was a beef, chicken, fish, alternative meat, and vegetarian entree choice each evening. I enjoyed all the soups. The salad was somewhat wilted, the two times I ordered it. The entrees were always hot, and for the most part ok, not really good, just ok. They had the bread already on a plate, and was usually a roll, small pencil size crunchy bread stick, and a thin slice of the bread of the day. I supposed you could ask for more, but it was never freely offered. There was little to no shrimp...shrimp cocktail only one evening. Unfortunately, I don't remember the waiter's/busboy's names. They were very cordial, and always smiling. It usually took 2 hrs for dinner...once it was 1:45. Water was regularly refilled without prompting. I can't complain about the service at all.....it just took awhile. There were a few back-to-back passengers at the table. They did try to guide us in the food choices. On the first nite I was warned about the "Lobster"......with a BIG thumbs down! [ I had already read that on Cruise Critic] When the head waiter made his visit that nite, I asked if they had a problem with the lobster. He became somewhat offensive, and asked where I had heard that. I told him Cruise Critic. He said that it was fine, and they didn't know what they were talking about. Well they did KNOW ! On "Lobster nite", once again I was warned not to get the lobster, by one who knew, but being a lobster lover , I did. I don't know how to describe what I got. It was a split lengthwise crayfish(?), Caribbean lobster. I was unable to free it from the shell, so I had to pick at it with my fork. The only pieces I could get were shredded, little pieces. One table mate refused /couldn't eat it, and sent it back, another asked the waiter to remove it from it's half shell. When she got her plate back it looked like a couple of spoonfuls of shredded tuna fish. They didn't give you drawn butter, but drizzled it over the crustacean for you. I labored with mine as long as possible, but it was not worth it. The waiter asked if I desired another....I replied it was too much like work, and I was retired, no thanks! Later in the week the tablemate who had refused to eat the "lobster" talked to the Maitre'D who informed her that the lobster was fine, and the problem was with the supplier in Miami. Hmmm, Carnival, et al, seem to do ok with the Miami supplier. STAY AWAY from the lobster, or request the night before maybe, to have it prepared differently!!! There was a lot of veal served, and lamb, which I enjoyed. The serving size was small, but you could always ask for more, without a problem. The desserts left a bit to be desired. I love chocolate....not too much to be found. I usually had ice cream with chocolate sauce. The buffet lunches, and breakfasts were typical, however, again cold by the time you got your food, found a table, and then got a coffee/drink. On sea days...good luck finding a spot to sit and eat. The rolls/breads were very good. They had hot doughnuts sometimes...yummy, but needed a sprinkle of sugar. The pizza in the evening buffet was pretty good, right out of the oven. Again buffet desserts were lacking. I guess they don't like chocolate. I would have liked to have seen Italian pastries, like canoli, or such. I didn't stay up late enough for the "midnight snacks", but heard I was better off sleeping. There was a Gala Buffet one night out on deck, but mostly cold cuts, from what I heard. Room service was good, as far as service. The first night I filled out the door hanger, and it was there on time. I decided the next morning to call when I got up, and order a pot of coffee. It was there within 10 minutes. I traveled alone, but when I asked for service for 1, it wasn't enough coffee, so I ordered for two, and got a big pot. The coffee was strong...the way I like it. I usually tipped $2. The room service menu is VERY limited. I found it in the beginning of the cabin info book. I've heard it said that you're never hungry on a cruise.....well there were times I would have liked a slice of pizza, or an ice cream, but there's nothing available after 9pm. If you miss the breakfast buffet that closed promptly at 10:30, there's nothing till noon. The gelato stand is at the bar midship deck 13. It was good, but $2 for a cone, and not always available.
The Crew: Some people complained that the crew was rude. I found that the Italian officers were very aloof, and passed me by, more often than not, without a smile, or "hello", even after I initiated a "Bon giorno" . Some of the crew in the buffet area would just walk in front of you, whether or not they were carrying, or pushing anything...... in my opinion a no-no. The help should always yield to the guests/customers!
The Guests: Some of the rudest I have encountered on a ship! I don't know what happened to common courtesy, it was lacking on this cruise for the most part. The pool lounges were always "taken" by towels, or other inanimate object. The showroom seats were always "saved". One lady was saving 20 seats till 10 minutes before showtime, then just walked out. Of course there were notices that there was no reserving seats in both places. There were signs on the Balcony doors stating smoking was forbidden on the balconies, and strongly discouraged in the cabins. I know my balcony neighbor understood English, since they yelled at their kids a few times, but yet had no qualms about smoking. Yes, I'm one of "those " that can't physically tolerate smoke, and have a reaction to it. I had to use a rescue inhaler the first time I encountered my ignorant neighbor. After that when somebody opened their balcony door, I had to be on alert for the smoker, and leave my balcony, so they could opt to feed their death wish, and have no disregard for the rules. Good example for their kids. I didn't mind if the kids yelled, or cried, which was very seldom, but that's what kid's do. The other balcony notice stated to keep the door closed, but another smoker down the hall decided to smoke in their cabin, but share the stench with the entire hallway since they had the balcony door open, and the smoke would get blown, forcefully, under the door. I didn't complain to the cabin stewards....they were aware of it, and were spraying the hallway often. People would cut in line, or just wedge themselves into where they wanted to be. I suppose that's everywhere though. I wish I could get away with carrying a paint gun, and mark all the morons out there...although I'm sure I'd run out of paint quickly!
Entertainment: Mostly EXCELLENT ! The shows were varied. Singing, dancing, acrobats, juggler, magician, etc. No comedians...I missed that. The "Entertainers" groups of cruise directors assistant "kids" roaming the 13th deck, and other places on the ship, were funny, usually at the guests expense, but funny, none the less. The tenor was really exceptional. The blonde woman soprano was too loud, and I noticed some people wincing, like I was, at the high notes. She needs more microphone placement control. I would rather have had a "live" band, but I guess they have to cut costs where they can. The piano virtuoso was very good, and the Moonlight quartet, especially the lead violinist were superb. All in all the entertainment was 1st class, and upscale. There were many well deserved, standing ovations. I do wish they didn't shine the lights into the audience though, it was very distracting. All the lounge musicians were very good as well. The showroom was nice, with stadium seating, and comfortable seats.
Disembarkation: Fairly organized using the color-coded system. I really didn't like having to be out of the cabin by 7AM YES SEVEN A.M. I left my carry-on in the room while I went up to have breakfast. Of course seats were at a premium. For whatever the reason, the food was even more cold by the time I got to sit down. I settled for a cup of coffee (by the way the cups are super small, so you may want to bring your own insulated cup, I know I'm glad I did). I went to the cabin, got my carry-on, and proceeded to the show room....my designated waiting area. When my color was called I proceeded to debark. There were MSC people to point you in the right direction. I found my luggage, and went through customs, fairly quickly. The big bottle neck was outside, where people blocked the way to get by. I called Continental Airport Parking, and they were there within ten minutes,to pick me up where they dropped me off. My vehicle was waiting for me when I got back to the lot....everything intact!
Epilogue: All in all, considering the price paid, I was satisfied with the cruise. I expected a few cut corners. Again, I was mostly put off by the passengers, not MSC. I did notice that sometimes the help would just walk by a spill, or dishes in the halls, but I've seen that on other ships too. There were a lot of kids on this cruise (Kids cruise free!), but they were behaved, and not too intrusive. I would cruise MSC again, if the price was right.