We were encouraged to cruise by many of our cruising friends. They raved about 24 hour buffets, loaded with seafood and fresh produce. They raved about friendly and helpful staff, and idyllic days around the pool. So, that is what we expected when we booked MSC Orchestra for an 8 day mediterranean cruise in September.
The first disappointment came at the embarkation, nobody had a clue. We were sent upstairs, then downstairs, then finally after about 4 hours, up the escalator to board the ship. When our luggage arrived it was soaking wet right through!
At this point I want to point out that our cabin crew (mostly of Asian extraction) were wonderful! They did their utmost to make our holiday special.
We found the food at the buffet very ordinary (hospital cafeteria comes to mind) I don't think we saw any seafood, apart from the baked white fillets of fish. Even so, a choice of buffet for evening meal was denied us, as the buffet closed at 3pm (for the day). That meant the ONLY free option for the evening meal was to be at your assigned seating in the dining room. The food was disappointing there too, even though served by formally attired waiters. Once, we ordered lobster soup (by this time we found it all hilarious) and we renamed it "sweat of lobster soup", it may have required DNA evidence to prove the presence of lobster. In general if that food was served in any Italian cafe in any city in the world, there would be loud complaints. I regularly eat at Italian restaurants, and it bears no resemblance to what the Orchestra kitchen serves.
Most of the other passengers were Italian, and unfortunately most of them were smokers. Many of them also ignored the designated smoking areas too, making it uncomfortable for non smokers. There were areas set aside just for smokers (the shaker lounge and the casino) but no such kindness was extended to non smokers. We always had to share a room with smokers on one side. Even our own balcony was contaminated by smokers on either side. (Smoking is strictly banned on balconies, due to fire risk). The management were not interested in enforcing the rule, as they didn't want to upset the smoking passengers, too bad for the rest of us.
Finally disembarking was as chaotic, but at least it meant we could get off the ship (that was at least 2 hours late, and some people missed connecting flights). We haven't given up on cruising but we will definitely look more closely at reviews etc. in future before booking. And certainly MSC cruises will not be on our agenda!!