Booked in August 2008 after seeing the MSC Orchestra Transatlantic/Repositioning Balcony Cruise advertised in Saturdays' Daily Mail. Their advertisement stated that a transatlantic flight and one night's accommodation in Miami/Fort Lauderdale was included. The latter turned out to be misleading and we paid over £80.00 extra for "3 star accommodation", which turned out to be the awful River Park Hotel & Suites in Miami, although well located for the free transit system and Bayside etc. However, as a result we did upgrade us from deck 8 to deck 12 (the highest for standard balcony accommodation) as compensation, when I complained about their misleading advertisement.
Remembering that we had booked this cruise 9 months before travelling and with just 2 weeks to go there was no sign of our tickets so I called, who after putting me on hold for about 5 minutes stated that they were calling for our tickets from MSC's head office in Italy that day, which should take a couple of days to reach them, and they would then be sent out to us first class post. We were still without tickets 1 week from departure, so I rang again, and also rang the MSC Club member's hotline number, as we were already members, having travelled with them twice before on the "Opera". The outcome was we travelled with e-mailed/inkjet printed documents, which caused some issues with the transfer coach operators in the US, and we never received the "before you cruise" booklet we were supposed to have. All in all this was very stressful, and subsequently I have written to express my dissatisfaction, particularly when we saw what the official MSC travel pack should have looked like, which all other UK passengers had received.
I have say that after this disappointing start the MSC Orchestra and the transatlantic cruise visiting New York (2 days/overnight), The Azores, Portugal, Spain and finally back to Dover was absolutely superb. The Orchestra is a beautiful ship and as reported is kept spotless, at all times. I don't understand some of the earlier critisms, as we found hot (tea, coffee, decaff and infusions) and cold drinks (iced water & fruit juices) available free of charge for most of the day and even at the midnight buffet. Yes, the bottled water in the cabin is expensive at $4.50 per bottle, and compared to "our local" back home, so were the alcoholic drinks/cocktails, but given the presentation of them and the fact that in the La Cantinella wine bar you always received a plate of "Palma Ham" and cheese and elsewhere generous dishes of both crisps and Japanese rice crackers in beautiful surroundings and served by immaculately dressed & extremely courteous bar staff. It truly is a 5 star ship and in our case represented very good value for money.
My wife and I found the food of a very high standard, in both the deck 13 buffet restaurant and in the mornings and also the evenings when we had our very own table for 2 in the second sitting of the Villa Borghese Ristorante on deck 5. We had an Indonesian head waiter from Bali, who was excellent, except when we arrived a few minutes late and a nearby table of 8 Germans caused total chaos by confusing him with their desire to order copious bottles of wine each evening!!
The theatre on the Orchestra is very large and a truly beautiful facility, with excellent sound and lighting, which puts many London theatres to shame. As with the MSC Opera we found the shows to be of a very high standard, the costumes beautiful, and the performers actually received a standing ovation for final show of our cruise.
Unfortunately, the Orchestra's animation team did not impress us at all and we found them flat and somewhat embarrassing to watch, whereas there were some real characters on the Opera, who regularly had us in stitches, so much so that we used to make a point of finding out which bar they were in each evening. On this cruise we made a point of avoiding them if we could.
The excursions were expensive, and the tour we took was billed as lasting 4 hours only lasted 3 hours and we did feel cheated at $53.00 each. This was the cheapest excursion on offer, some being double that, but it enabled us to get our bearings and spend the remaining day and a half finding our own way using the "subway", Staten Island Ferry, World trade Centre/Ground Zero, Central Park, "Top of the Rock", etc. As their main focus and intention is to sell you as many excursions as possible, what is annoying is that they do not provide port information or maps until the evening before or to tell you there was a local tram for Euro 1.60 (100yds from the port entrance) when due the distance from the port to the city centre of Lisbon (Portugal) they were doing us a favour by arranging a shuttle bus for Euro 12.00 each. Furthermore, on occasions we were not told in advance that there would be free shuttle bus provided from the ship to the city/town centre in the hope that you would book an excursion rather than doing your own thing.
I do not agree with the MSC policy of adding a daily amount to your account to cover tipping. For a 17 day cruise this would have added $232.00 to our joint account, but what is really annoying is that many passengers are unaware of it, as it hidden in the booking small print, but we already knew as we had experienced it on the Opera previously. All you need to do is contact the Accounts desk at any time during the cruise and ask for an "opt-out form" to allow you to either personally tip those that had served you, or adjust the amount deducted to suit you.
Finally, despite the somewhat negative as well as positive comments above we are still rating the MSC orchestra Cruise Very Good to Excellent, and would have no hesitation travelling with the company again next year or indeed recommending the MSC Italian cruising experience to friends.