We chose this cruise after browsing the MSC Cruises website for a itinerary that was a little out of the ordinary. We found this itinerary very interesting because of the stops in Iceland and Greenland. We are former non-adventurous ... Read More
We chose this cruise after browsing the MSC Cruises website for a itinerary that was a little out of the ordinary. We found this itinerary very interesting because of the stops in Iceland and Greenland. We are former non-adventurous travelers/backpackers (enjoying street food and restaurants, friends' places or motels and hostels, and public transportation or rental cars and, of course, planes for longer distances) converting to the convenience of cruise travel.
CHECK IN: We had the Aurea experience and we were assigned a time when to arrive for the check in around 4pm which gave us time to buy things in town, later i'll explain why. The embarkation was very easy, we arrived to the terminal by taxi, dropped the luggage at a designated place and walked to the main entrance where the security and check in was. We were offered a cup of fruit juice. The process was very quick. We did not know the luggage had to be dropped at a separate entrance from the main one, but our taxi driver knew, so that helped. We were given a time when to check in. After the check in they took our souvenirs pictures that were later available at the photography point. As soon as we boarded they took our pictures for the passengers database and they told us that the cruise cards would be in our cabin which they were. Our friendly cabin steward Leonel came to introduce himself to us after 30 minutes. Our hand luggage arrived one at the time in the next couple of hours. We boarded without our big suitcases because they were lost at the airport and we took this three weeks cruise without them. We waited for all our hand luggage to arrive to count what exactly we had with us. We had a baby with us so all the baby stuff was in our hand luggage, leaving not much space for our clothes. We shopped briefly at a couple of stores for basic clothes and toiletries before boarding. We had travel insurance and after we came back we placed a refund request to get reimbursed. This seems a common issue occurring at the Hamburg airport.
THE EMBARKATION TERMINAL: The terminal in Altona itself is quite a big space, but everything was marked and easy to follow. The luggage drop point was not intuitively placed, but, as I mentioned, our taxi driver knew where to go. Employees spoke multiple languages. All seemed done quite efficiently to us.
THE CABIN: We got the balcony cabin with the Aurea experience which included alcohol and non-alcohol drinks under 6 Euro, a couple of massages per cabin that my wife enjoyed very much, a few cabin amenities, and the choice of dinner time. Cabin space was good and we could move comfortably around. We had a travel crib with us that we moved on the bed so my wife could sleep next to our baby and attend her by night in case, while I slept on the extended sofa bed. The bathroom was on the small side and the shower curtain would occasionally stick to parts of my body during the shower if the hooks were not properly set apart. 3 or 4 inches wide on each side would have been better, but i understans space is at premium on a ship. There was shampoo and shower gel as detergents in the shower cabin and hand soap similar to the shampoo in the sink. We washed several clothing items and baby bottles in the small bathroom sink (especially baby items) and hang them to drip and partially dry on the clothes line inside the shower and then to dry either on top of the mirror frame or on the AC vent in the middle of the room. The Aurea experience included a bathrobe each, slippers, a room scent diffuser and 2 complimentary bottles of water. The small cabin fridge had several snacks and drinks that we did not use because the aurea package included them at the bar upstairs. On top of the fridge there was a TV set which was quite small and offered some channels in several languages probably based on the most common nationalities of the passengers including English, French, Italian, German, Portuguese, Russian and Chinese and a few channels about ship safety, excursions, and destinations plus finally a general welcome channel with time and date. We did not find movies in demand included in the offering, but we did not really watch much TV. There were 2 mirrors, one small in front of the sofa over the desk, and one big in front of the bed. The desk had 3 drawers on each side and one central which we used to keep baby stuff. Over the desk there were 2x110V and 2x220 electric outlets. I suggest to bring a cord extender if you need to charge multiple devices, use a CPAP or just need extra outlets on the other side of the bed. There was one small square ottoman and a small table which we moved under the desk. On each nightstand there was a lamp. The main light switch would turn on all the lights in the cabin. The card slot was on the right near the front door. The main closet provided enough storage for us especially since we did not have many clothes anyways and no big luggage , which could have been stored under the bed. The two door wardrobe offered space for clothes to hang and the third had 6 drawers and 2 shelves including one for a combination safe. The life jackets were on top of the wardrobe. The bed was a double twin bed that could be separated on request. We kept it together and we used to for our travel crib. Beds were quite hard for my taste as I prefer softer beds. There were 2 pillows each. The sofa was a sleeper one with room for 2 children or one adult. It also had 3 sofa pillows. Overall the decor was very simple and well made. All seemed very easy to clean and maintain by the crew. Room was quiet and we could hear the sound of waves through the window doors, occasionally people walking outside, but on strong wind days the wind would pass under the main cabin door making some noise which was annoying. Maybe the door seal needed to be replaced. Our cabin was on deck 12 under the spa so there were not many people walking because the nearest elevator was used to reach the spa, the gym and partially the pool, while to access other public areas one had to get to the the elevator on the opposite side, as the middle one would not reach the upper floor because of the pool area (or else they would have had to create an elevator exit in the middle of the pool!) It was also near the curved shape of the ship so we were a little more sheltered from wind and weather than those who had the cabin mid-ship. Our cabin steward Leonel was very friendly and always greeted us with a smile. We liked the balance between days at sea and days at ports and we actually spent some time in our cabin to relax during sea days.
FOOD: We are not picky passengers, at least, I think. We found the cruise food quite good and varied. Quality was not gourmet/fine dining, but was very enjoyable. Some items were always available like pizza and french fries and some others appeared on rotation and some once including some ethnic ones like Indian tikka masala or Sardinian malloreddus pasta. I could not often find beef dishes in the buffet, but there were other choices of meats like chicken and pork and some unusual wild board (cooked in red sauce) or others more ordinary like hot docs and burgers. Some dishes featured cuts of meats that I feel not all passengers will like, or bacon cooked British style, not crispy American style, or pasta too overcooked to please Italians. My breakfast was very protein-rich with eggs and bacon and potatoes and roasted tomatoes which I loved. We are not vegans or vegetarians, but there were many options if we were. My wife got "food bored" a couple of times, but I was always able to find something just walking a little further. The buffet area is big and tables are sometimes full at peal times, but we always found a table for us. Sometimes restaurant employees would take us to a free table, which was a nice personal touch. Near each entrance there are tables reserved for people on wheelchairs. When we ordered drinks, or more often mineral water at the table, service was quite quick. One of our favorite waitress was Elizabeth Jirwa who would also stop a bit to entertain our baby. We tried the Shanghai restaurant on board (not included in the cruise fare) which offered a sampler dinner composed of salad, dumplings, sushi combo, sashimi, pad thai and fried banana dessert. The sashimi and the dumplings were really good. The other restaurants seemed to serve similar food that was served at the buffet, but with table service. A few times waiters would go around the tables serving risotto from a half Parmesan wheel of cheese which was really fun.
THE AUREA EXPERIENCE: We were pleased with the level of comfort of our cabin. I wished the beds were softer, but the rest was of a very good value. We liked that we could conveniently order many things without surcharge because they were included in the cruise fare. We are not big drinkers and a glass of wine a day, not even every day, was just fine with us. We drank 2 or 3 bottles of water a day per person depending on the daily activities and gym use and prepared our baby food with it. We also like the fruit juices and a few energy drinks at the bar, and tea/herbal teas that were available in the buffet. The cabin was on desk 12 which offered nice views and the position was on a quiet area of the ship directly under the Aurea spa. I brought earplugs with me but I did not have to use them. My wife enjoyed the two free massages included and purchased a third one and a facial treatment. We purchased a couple of products at the Aurea shop which seemed discounted compared to normal prices. The had very good brands like Occitaine, Aveda and a few luxury brands as well.
ITINERARY AND EXCURSIONS: As I said, we liked the combination of days at sea and days at port which offered a good balance between relax in cabin and a few sleep-in and days ashore visiting new places. The stops in Invergordon (fun visit to the Loch Ness and the castle nearby, but not much else), Seydisfjordur (nothing to see there, we spent time at a local bar under the sun like most of other passengers) were those we liked less. We liked the other ones more. Greenland is not like the polished Alaska with all the buildings freshly painted, but something more rustic and authentic with many chances of taking great pictures and meeting friendly locals, really a frontier country. Iceland was beautiful, modern and wild at the same time with all the old geothermal fields and recently built cities. While I was writing this review, I just found out that next year this cruise will be repeated without Invergordon (we did not see the monster of Loch Ness anyways, haha) and with an extra day in Reykjavik which we would have loved, because one day was not enough in our opinion. The excursions were well organized, but were expensive and we heard the same comments from other passengers. We did some on our own just using public transportation to reach a single place, and did others that involved several spots or a day tour by booking them on board. By the time we made up our mind, some were sold out, so my suggestion is to check and book a bit in advance, or while you decide, ask how many spots are left. We simply found out that in the smaller ports like Ilulissat, they don't have the capacity to accommodate many tourists at the same time for the same excursions, so availability was really limited not just by booking through the cruise line, but also through local tour operators. The geothermal tour in Akureyri and Reykjavik, the Ilulissat tour of the icebergs, the Italian Chapel in the Orkneys were our favorites.
ENTERTAINMENT AND ACTIVITIES: The main theater shows were fine, they were entertaining, based mostly on singing and dancing and made for an international crowd. We liked more the live bands in the bars and in particular the blues rock guitar player was amazing, but I can't remember or find his name in my notes. We liked both passengers and crew members talents nights which showcased some fun acts. Many evenings we were too tired to go out with our baby and we stayed in the cabin. My wife really enjoyed doing Origami classes held by Angela and I took a few dance classes which were fun. We never felt bored on board. I also went a few times to the gym to do steady bike and lift weights. The gym in deck 13 and faces the front of the ship which offers great views, so it's also a good photography spot.
SUMMARY AND SOME PERSONAL NOTES: Before booking this cruise, I spend quite a lot of time reading review of this ship MSC Orchestra, about the cruise like, the Aurea experience, ports and experience on board in general. I encountered several one star reviews which almost made me not book this cruise with MSC. Most of them described rude crew members or handling of problems and described issues with food, shows, lack of English language on board and bad customer service in general. We eventually booked it because of the interesting itinerary in Iceland and Greenland where we have never been, and probably we won't have the chance to visit again. We did not have previous cruise experience with MSC and we did only one other cruise together with HAL. This said, during our 21 days on board, we were pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of the crew and staff on board. Our cabin steward Leonel was great and it was fun to practice some of my rusty Spanish with him, but he definitely spoke good English. He fixed an issue with the sink that would not hold the water when we pulled the stopper. We spent some time in the cabin, sometimes getting up late after 10 am, or waiting for our baby to wake up in the afternoon and we did not experience particular noises from other passengers or rude behaviors, running kids and noise from activities on board. A few times we heard the wind blow under the cabin door, which was annoying because it went on for quite some time. We wished the TV set was bigger and entertainment system was faster with a wider choice of channels and free movies, but we did not watch TV that much. We saw a couple of movies which were just fine. As announced by the daily program, we lost satellite coverage at the upper latitudes and no channels were available after a point during navigation. We spent quite some time going around the ship in the public areas and everything seemed well kept and in good order, including public bathrooms and light fixtures, clean floors and surfaces. We never saw long lines of people at the customer service desk, but only a few times in the buffet restaurant. We had to walk a bit to find a table at peak lunch and dinner times, like everyone got hungry at the same time including us, but we were always able to find one for the three of us. On several occasions one of the waiters personally helped us to find a table and a baby chair. We found a couple of times high chairs had problems with straps (maybe it was the same chair twice?), but when we asked the waiters they brought us another one. Announcements were in five languages, but done once or twice a day, and if done more, that was for exceptional things like bad weather forecast when they announced they closed the outdoor deck doors or to advertise a special event somewhere on the ship (themed parties, or crossing the polar circle), but never at inconvenient times. The urgent ones were played to all the speakers including those in the cabins, and one unfortunately woke up our baby, while the "fun" ones only to those in the public areas. We never encountered hordes of hungry passengers emptying the food trays or running children in the cafeteria. We saw and heard a few times children running in the long cabin corridor. We purchased a few items on board, but we did not experience the pushy or salesy attitude of anyone on board. We saw a few shows and they were enjoyable, not memorable, but, again, enjoyable. I know that the newer ships have the Cirque du Soleil on board, but this one is not one of the last generation and did not. Nonetheless we found them worth our time, especially the live music acts in the bars, the guitar player in one of the bars and the classical music trio. We like the white attire themed party where passengers and crew are invited to dress all in white. My wife loved the origami lessons. I went several times to the gym and except for one of the 6 or 7 treadmill that had problems and was switched off, the rest of the equipment was in good working condition. My wife went several times to the spa since basic access was included in our cruise ticket and enjoyed the steam room and the Jacuzzi pool. She went once to the hairdresser and had one facial treatment done and she was happy with the results in both cases. We booked a few land tours with the MSC excursions desk which we found quite pricey compared to an equivalent self organized tour with local transportation or a tour purchased on land through local tour operators or at a local tourist welcome center, but nonetheless well done. The buses picked up and dropped us back on time and we had enough time to visit at each stop.
I understand that there is a lot of competition in this cruise market and that reviews play a big role when making a choice and putting one's money towards a holiday, that every experience is different and each trip is different and each one of us has different expectation, but will all what we experienced on board my wife and I can hardly agree with some of the one star reviews.except those experienced theft and few others who complained about bad service or communications issues in English. We found this cruise experience between life on board and excursions, food entertainment, itinerary and ports visited of very good value. Read Less