Let me start with my conclusion. If you understand that Baltic Cruises on MSC will be largely Europeans and are comfortable with that, you can enjoy an excellent trip and a good value.
We embarked at the port of Copenhagen. One of the unusual aspects of this cruise is that the Orchestra takes on passengers (and discharges them) at several ports, not just one. The number getting on in Copenhagen was smaller than at Kiel. The port at Copenhagen has no facilities so all paperwork is handled either in a tent alongside the ship or on board.
We were in our cabin (12041, balcony cabin, port) within ten minutes of arrival. The only down side was that when our luggage had not arrived at our cabin 6 hours later we had to make numerous trips to the main desk and finally, by chance, I actually saw one of our pieces of luggage sitting in locked area behind the main desk! It had no cabin identification on it so it was not surprising it had not been delivered. After more haggling and my wife's insistence, a staff member led her to the luggage area and my wife was able to identify the missing luggage within seconds. So, make sure you see the crew place the tag on the bag if you do not do it yourself. Leave nothing to chance. No doubt always good advise when traveling
Our cabin was typical. Small (166 sq feet) and comfortable. The ship is quite new and has both 110 and 220 volt electricity available. You will not need a converter.
The balcony is quite small and, in the Baltic, a bit too cold most of the time to be really useful but the sunlight is a pleasure.
The Orchestra features large open decks. Its fine when the weather is good, but be prepared for the usual stress of finding deck chairs. If the weather is poor, passengers tend to congregate (i.e., sit) in the buffet area. It's the only indoor area of the ship with clear, open views.
Below the ship is tastefully decorated and features an assortment of lounges, two main restaurants and two specialty (i.e., extra cost) restaurants. The theater, forward, is quite comfortable, and unlike American based ships, they don't push drinks at all.
We prefer the dining room to the buffet. It's the same food, but you can enjoy the services of a wait staff and always find a seat.
If you don't know about MSC's drinking water system by now its time to learn. In Europe, MSC does NOT serve any free beverage in the dining room at lunch or dinner. That is correct. Nothing. You want water you buy a bottle. Water is available at the buffet on the upper deck. Coffee and juices are served at breakfast but beware, the orange juice is more like kool aid then juice. If you want real orange juice you should be prepared to pay for it.
As of spring 2011, MSC made an exception to this policy. Americans and Canadians receive vouchers for 7 bottles of water at no charge.
We found all the meals to be satisfactory and nicely presented. The pasta and the baked goods were the best choices. Service can be a bit slow at time but the wait staff is determined to please and tipping is automatically added to your bill. My waiter bought me a beer on the last night! That's a first.
On sea days the basic entertainment is the endless, mindless games played pool-side. If you enjoy this type of thing, you will be fine. Otherwise bring a book or an ipad.
In the evening, we found the main shows to be excellent. Since so many languages are in use and every announcement is in five or six languages, the shows are primarily dance, and musically themed. We found each night to be like a performance of the Cirque de Sole.
The main reason MSC calls here is to board or discharge German passengers. We arrived on a Sunday and thankfully there was a flea market within a short walk from the pier. The main attraction in Kiel is the eastern end of the very busy Kiel Canal and the submarine monument and museum. Both were easily visible from the ship as we left port. We did not participate in any ship excursions.
We spent the day on the Hop On- Hop Off boat that calls at the pier and arrives in downtown about 15 minutes later. Tickets were available as soon as we got off the ship.
Tallinn's old city is a charm. We opted to walk on our own and arrived within twenty minutes.
In Russia, we opted for the ship's excursion to the Peterhoff Castle and the Hermitage. If you do not use the ship's excursion a visa is required and frankly, you are better off with the ship in this port. The lines at both places in August were enormous and without the benefits of a guide, you probably would not even get into the museums.
Each country on the cruise has its own currency. We opted to stick with Euros and had no real problems since credit cards are widely accepted. At the tourist shopping in Russia they take anything!
If you need the company of other Americans you will not be happy on MSC. We were only a handful, but soon we became "The American couple," and fielded questions on "Obamacare" and the stock market. The Danes, the Dutch, the Germans all spoke English and we enjoyed this aspect of the cruise.
Since the Copenhagen group was smaller then the Kiel group, we were off the ship in less than an hour. We stayed in Copenhagen overnight so had only to grab a cab and head back to our hotel.