Ok, we just came back from the MSC Orchestra Caribbean cruise and I must say it was fantastic! What a great time and what a great ship! All those who have complained about the food, service, friendliness, etc. of the ship, I am not sure if you were sailing on the same boat as the rest of us. I would tend to agree with a few of the other critics here that the rudest people I encountered were the guests (all nationalities I must say). For some reason people seem to think the crew are their personal servants, yelling at them for utensils at the buffet line when they are clearly directly in front of them, yelling at the staff cleaning tables to get the manager because they were not being served self serve drinks and most appalling hearing one guest actually tell a staff member to go back to China because he couldn't meet the guests ridiculous demands. Though these were only a few minor observances, unfortunately you get these stupid people no matter where you go.
Let's get to the good stuff! This was our 12th cruise and 1st with MSC. I always sail with my wife and two boys (now 8 years and 17 years). Though the kids clubs are a bit less involved than other cruises our kids don't use them anyway, so I can't really comment on that. Other than the teens took over the Disco each night which seemed to be one of the nicest clubs on the boat with a great bar you couldn't access. It was to be adults only after 9pm, however this was never enforced. We also decided to take a group of 28 other friends with us this time around; the majority were first time cruisers. What a great ship and itinerary to break them into cruising! They all have been raving about how much fun this was and how beautiful the ship was.
SHIP: Clean, clean, clean. MSC Orchestra really has a beautiful setup, a bit different than other ships we have sailed with. The floor plan winds you around each deck allowing you to meander in a relaxing stroll through the shop, lounge and dinning areas. One major difference on this ship was that there are no main atrium elevators mid-ship. They have a beautiful 4 deck waterfall in which nightly music was played by live acoustic bands on a small stage within the waterfall pond. Unfortunately the ship never had the waterfall working.
One unique thing, though it may sound strange, is that the restrooms all had a 'For Children Only' stall. It was a little larger with a smaller sink within the stall for the kids. I found this to be very unique and a nice touch for those traveling with family.
SMOKING: As for smoking MSC has tried to cut down on the smoking areas within the ship. It was most noticeable in the Shaker Lounge, Casino and of course the Cigar Bar (which if you like cigars this was a fun and unique addition to the ship. Say hello the Beni for me!). Up on the pool decks the smokers seems to stay near the window seats and the pool areas were relatively smoke free. It would be nice to see a few less areas indoors that allow smoking, hopefully in time.
FOOD: Having been on 12 cruises now I have not found one cruise to be fantastic when it comes to mass dinning food. I would say that MSC was comparable to food I have had on Disney, Carnival or Royal Caribbean. One thing to keep in mind if you want your steak done medium, order it medium rare. Medium seems to be Well Done on this ship.
With any ship a few featured plates stand out as very good. The lamb was excellent! Leg of lamb as well as the lamb chops were my favorite. If you really want a bit more elegant and made to order dinning the Shanghais Chinese restaurant was wonderful! Prices were by dish and at a price point similar to a standard restaurant of an average of $8.00 per dish. The food was very flavorful and one of the best reserved dinning on a cruise ship I have experienced.
The buffets were laid out nicely with lunch service being served on both sides of the ships restaurant. One side of the ship with more hot dishes such as carved roast beef (was awesome!), carved pork, ham and veal, fish dishes, Italian specialties, pasta, etc. The other side more traditional American fair such as burgers and dogs, fries, etc. The burgers were by far the best cruise ship burgers I have had. The salad bar was also one of the largest I have seen on a ship, very nice. All the food was well presented and labeled nicely as to what was in each dish and the country of its origin. There are two main buffet stations, one forward of the restaurant and the other towards the back, both serving the same food. The crowds were all at the front buffet and many guests did not seem to realize that if they walked a little further no one was in the back of the restaurant. We did this each morning and at lunch and never had to wait in a line of more than 5 people for food.
Pizza bar was great and the pizza was very tasty. The Gelato Bar was molto bene! The coffee gelato especially. Being from New England we like our coffee milk, coffee ice cream, coffee shakes and this coffee gelato was great!
CABINS: No complaints. We had an outside window and it was comparable to other ships, other than Disney that has the largest I have ever seen. The porthole style window was large enough for me to sit in (5'11", 210 lbs), very nice!
SERVICE: In general I can say everyone was a pleasure to speak to and all were very helpful. No one was ever rude. At times some crew members may take a minute to register what you are saying, but this is a typical language barrier thing and as long as you understand that cruise ships are full of a wide variety of nationalities it all works out fine. I too was impressed with the multilingual experience of the crew.
Our waiter and assistant waiter were phenomenal! They were a bit stiff on the first night (think they were nervous), but once we got to talking with them they really opened up and we had a great time joking and learning about each others cultures. Dinning each night was a typical 2-hours, but never longer than this.
Room Steward was great. Very courteous and always had a smile. He was great with our kids and always made sure we had fresh ice and towels. Anytime we left the room he was in cleaning. He must have cleaned our room 5 times a day!!
POOL: We did spend a great deal of time at the pools and hot tubes as a group. Yes, chairs were hard to come by, but again, having been on 12 cruises this is the same on any ship, especially with the days at sea. Everyone goes to the people and you always have discourteous people who block off chairs for the day. This is unfortunate, but you need to make the best of difficult situations. We just put our towels at the benches pool side and jumped in and sat in the great wading areas around the pool. It was truly very nice, relaxing and helped keep you cool during the hot days. I did not notice the pools themselves to be crowed to the point you couldn't go in for a dip and I did not find anyone in the pool areas to be discourteous, rude or unsafe as one critic stated. Yes, people were sitting around the pool with drinks and beer, but everyone we saw and talked to were polite, being cautious and enjoying themselves. I did not see anyone who was drunk or disorderly at the pool. There was none of the rowdy party crowd you see on other cruise lines either; i.e. Carnival. Even the kids seemed to be well mannered for the most part.
As for the one person who stated more management of the pool areas should have been done, I am not sure I agree and if it was so bad why did this person not tell the staff when she was on the ship?
ENTERTAINMENT: The shows each night were terrific! Some of the best entertainment I have seen on a cruise. Very talented entertainers and well choreographed shows. For those complaining about 'thongs' and your poor children's eyes, get them out of the closet, take the blinders off and get them cultured! This was nothing different than if you went to a Rockets at Radio City Music Hall in NYC or any other Broadway or Vegas style show. Their was more skin on the pool deck that in the nightly entertainment.
As for deck side entertainment this was much less than other cruises, but was there if you wanted something to do. Typical trivia contests, putting contests, Bingo, etc. Otherwise this was more a relax and kick your feet up cruise. First ship I have seen with a full tennis court. It was funny to eat breakfast in the back of the ship and occasionally see a tennis ball fall down to the back dinning deck.
PORTS of CALL: Great stops and great weather! The only complaint is I wish we had more time in places like Nassau, Antigua, and St. Martin etc. Only 5-hours (4 for getting on and off the ship) is not much time .maybe MSC can cut one stop out to give more time to the other ports of call? We had a great time in each port and only one stop in the D.R. was tendered and this went extremely smooth. Very well managed by the crew, two thumbs up!!
Shopping in Nassau is always a good time and the Straw Market proved to be the best stop as always. 3 designer bags for $30 - $35 each was fun to barter for for the lady's and the people are so friendly. If you have never experienced the Nassau Straw Market you need to check it out.
EMBARKATION and DEBARKATION: Both were very quick, easy and run smoothly. MSC does need to put a little money into their cruise terminal as it is currently run through a warehouse, but it was done very well. We were on and off the ship very quickly and this was one of the easiest of any cruise line we have done. Taxis are not that easy to get from the terminal when leaving. I would suggest arranging transportation before you get on the boat for when you return, either through your hotel, a bus transfer through MSC or a call ahead taxi or car service.
OVERALL: A great experience and we would sail MSC again. This is certainly a different kind of cruising with a more relaxed European feel. Be prepared to do nothing and enjoy every minute of it!! Great job MSC and with a few more tweaks I think you will be able to carve a unique niche in the U.S. cruise market!!
P.S. MSC = Folded towel animals and a chocolate on the pillow are little cruise extras that can help you go that extra mile! hint, hint