Sailed on the Orchestra from 9th-28th April 2011, first time with MSC, we have previously experienced cruises aboard Princess, Royal Caribbean, and Fred Olsen lines. I read lots of reviews both prior/after booking both good/bad and we travelled with open minds, here is our review of our MSC experience :
Flight to San Paulo was with Swiss Air, out of Heathrow to Zurich then short wait for onward flight to Brazil. First problem of the vacation was that MSC had block booked seats which had pre-allocated names, however the majority of people were not sitting next to their family/friends !!! This caused chaos aboard, I was also informed from other travellers that joined the cruise at a later date that the same thing happened to them, poor organization from MSC. The flights, leg room and entertainment aboard the flights and service from Swiss Air staff was very good.
Collecting luggage and getting through customs at San Paulo was a nightmare and after 14 hours of flights a further 3 hr delay was very frustrating, not MSC problem though.
However organization of transfer from airport to ship was not very good, this was not helped by two travellers going missing at the airport (found out later that they made there own way to the ship) and this caused a further 1 hr delay.
Having finally arrived at the ship port of Santos, checking in was a free for all with a further 2 hrs delay, when we finally stepped on the ship the time in transit from checking in at Heathrow was 24 hrs !!!!
Our cabin was a balcony (8159), nicely decorated with quality fixture/fittings, similar in size to previous cruises, no complaints.
Ship was well laid out, very stylishly decorated with no signs of wear, very clean.
We were appointed a table in the Villa Borghese restaurant on 2nd sitting, for the first four days of the cruise this was 10pm to suit the Brazilians customers that were onboard on a 4 day mini cruise, after this the sitting time was adjusted to 9pm.
For most of the cruise we eat in the Restaurant rather than the buffet within the cafeteria.
Breakfast was fine, few communication problems with waiting staff whom many speak minimal English, if you prefer orange juice rather than orange squash ask for "sugar free orange" also HP sauce is available which was a nice bonus.
Lunch was generally good, very busy on sea days, check out the special pasta of the day being cooked at the restaurant entrance which is not illustrated on the menu.
Dinner was generally good, portions were on the smaller size but lots of courses so not a problem.
Whilst food was fine, didn't quite have the wow factor enjoyed on previous Princess cruises, especially the deserts.
Buffet only used a few times, similar to previous cruises, lots of people, trying to find table, lots of noise...................no thanks, but can see the appeal of families with children who may be more fussy on what they are eating.
The Theatre is top class, excellent lighting/seating, however shows were generally for us disappointing with the exception of the Moonwalker and Rock and Roll shows.
Shows were only on for approx 30 mins, and same performers appeared every night, female singer was very good, dancers good.
The general standard of the bands in the lounge bars was poor, ok as background music for the over 70s maybe, by far the worst evening entertainment of cruises that we have experienced to date.
Disco Bar, was very stylish but its location and opening time together with non promotion from MSC conspired to make this very under used, so much potential, real shame.
Daytime entertainment, didn't really participate so unable to comment, however the "Equator Crossing Ceremony" was very entertaining.
These were generally well received with formal dress code being observed, cocktails/bubbly was free flowing without cutting corners and gala night dining of a good quality.
Did not use the Spa but used the Gym on a few occasions, quite small and busy but good views and equipment.
Overall the staff were very helpful and polite, no complaints.
We like to arrange our own thing, but did a tour at Recife/Olinda which was a disaster (received partial refund), however others that we spoke too enjoyed good excursion experiences at Rio, and reported reasonable costs in Brazil but expensive in Europe.
We had a coach booked at Southampton and needed a early disembarkation, this was arranged without any problem.
There were lots of complaints on-board in respect to :
Buffet not open 24 hrs
No free water available in the dining rooms
No free tea/coffee available outside restricted hours/meals
No kettles available in cabin
Multi language announcements
$9 per day gratuity per person added to bill
however I was prepared for the above and was taken into consideration PRIOR to reservation.
The overall experience was very good, we met lots of new friends, drink prices very reasonable in comparison with other lines we have used, we managed all ports advertised on time with no problems with tender arrangements.
Lots of missed opportunity with no sail away party's at any of the ports, which was very well done with Princess.
The large on board deck screen not used, another missed opportunity.
We found that the foundation for a top quality cruising experience was in place with the facilities/quality of the ship, but somehow on so many occasions that there were so many missed opportunities from MSC to fulfil the potential available onboard, if MSC are to be more widely accepted as a major cruise line they need to listen to their customers to understand what features are important.
Would I travel with MSC again ?............Sure if the itinerary/price suited our budget, this cruise was enjoyable and represented tremendous value for money, but without the wow factor of Princess, you pay your money and take your choice !
Would rate out of 5 the following :
Value for Money 5
Overall Experience 4