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Sail Date: February 2009
We escaped Minnesota winter on the MSC Orchestra to the Caribbean 2/14/09.We had read reports of horrible times on the Orchestra and we were a little afraid. As it turned out, we had a marvelous time. It was our first cruise with DJ 15 ... Read More
We escaped Minnesota winter on the MSC Orchestra to the Caribbean 2/14/09.We had read reports of horrible times on the Orchestra and we were a little afraid. As it turned out, we had a marvelous time. It was our first cruise with DJ 15 and Brittany, 12. We left the frozen North the night before and stayed in Minneapolis. Well, we got all our stuff in the motel room and headed out for dinner at McCormick & Schmicks. As the waiter handed us our menues, to our surprise, it said "Happy Birthday D.J. Happy Valentines Day! Bon Voyage!" What a nice way to start out a vacation. DJ had fried shrimp and Brittany got them to make Shrimp Scampi just for her! We even had a fantastic dessert! Six hours till the airport. Time to hit the hay and catch a few winks before we trot off to the airport. We flew out a day early. We instantly became the hero grandparents. DJ and Brittany got their first plane ride from Minneapolis to Memphis, en route to Fort Lauderdale. The Flight attendant Ruth saw to it that they got pilot wings and a wonderful certificate marking their first time leaving the ground in something heavier than air. It was a DC-9 50. The flight was uneventful, thankfully. We checked in and spent the night at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66. This glitzy 22-acre hotel complex at the edge of Port Everglades got its start as a gas station; now it's a 388-room recognizable landmark, with a 17-story tower and lanai rooms that rim the pool. It's a lush environment, with Spa 66 and privileges at the Grande Oaks Golf Club. There are six restaurants, a "three-pool oasis" and a 40-person hydrotherapy pool. We had a lanai room with two queen beds and a settee. It is amazing sitting at Pelican Landing, watching the birds, sailboats and yachts sail by. We even saw one yacht that was so big that it had a helicopter on board! Brittany couldn't finish her meal...a 12 inch hotdog! Valentine's Day we got upWhat a day! We got up and packed and went to the breakfast buffet at the Hyatt. Brittany loved the breakfast potatoes. The orange juice tasted like real oranges! Maybe because we are in Florida? After we finished breakfast we had our bags delivered to the door and then took a taxi van to Port Everglades. $11/head and tip. The kids really liked the Hyatt. We had a Lanai Room, two queen beds and a chaise loveseat, poolside, by the four outdoor pools. Embarkation moved right through. The line to get into the port was long, as there weDJ said his first impression of the ship was it was huge! While we unpacked, DJ and Cliff explored the ship and got the lay of the land. Our cabin is a queen with two pull down bunks over the bed. It is cozy but sufficient.There are seven ships in port. The princess line had a world cruise leaving today. After the lifeboat drill, it was time for the 5:30 sitting of dinner in L'Ibiscus at table 517, a round table for four. For dinner Brittany had steak and baked potato. The boys had Chicken (Pollo ala Cacciatore), and Peg had gnocchi. The polenta appetizer was delicious. Our waiter is Nomi from Indonesia. Giovanni is the Main Steward. There was cheesecake, a special Valentine's dessert and Brit had Chocolate ice cream. Peg loved the apricot soup. We cruised the ship after dinner but the pools were closed. We went to the Midnight in Paris floor show including the cancan and some very scantily clad young women. DJ was interested but Brit told him to close his eyes! We went to a meet and greet and met some couples from CruiseCritic.Com. I brought a gift to trade including a book of How to Talk Minnesotan and told about Devin and the Ball of Twine. The kids played Uno on the computer for a while and journaled and we hit the hay. It was a BIG day! Tonight is our first formal night. Our day started with croissants and coffee in the room followed by a real breakfast in the Villa Borghese dining room. Brittany packed away scrambled eggs, corned beef hash, pancakes, milk, sausage, along with a roll and toast and hash browns. The girl loves breakfast. Actually she loves food. Pesak, from Indonesia, was our waiter. He was very congenial. It was much less crowded than the buffet and it was nice to order from the menu. Brittany is off to the pool. I am having trouble connecting to the internet. We may have to wait until Florida to post. I am making this as a word document to send later. Brittany took a great picture at the formal dinner of Grandpa and Grandma. Grandma liked so much that she put it on her computer desktop! DJ took fantastic pictures with his new camera of the cruise ship. I will have to burn a disk for him. After breakfast Brittany went swimming for three and a half hours in the salt water pool. We were waiting for her to become a prune. She said salt water burns your throat. Grandma said, you're not supposed to drink it. Grandpa said, "Get over it." While grandma played with the internet to get it connected for the post to the blog, the boys tanned, soaked up the rays, and enjoyed the "scenery." Lunch was in the Buffet. The food was fantastico! As we sat on the 13th deck at a window table, we had a wide variety of fine foods. Italian never tasted so good! All of the sun, water, and food required the traditional Italian siesta. After we ate we taught the kids to play Hearts. They are quick learners. We will play again tomorrow to reinforce it. Before we knew it, it was time to dress for dinner. DJ learned that if you don't unpack your dress shirt, you can lie on it to press the wrinkles out of it. Come to think of it, we did the same thing with Grandpa's shirt. Getting four people dressed in a room smaller than my kitchen is fun. We invented a towel cave/dressing room under a bunk for the young lady. DJ learned to shower like they do aboard ship. Wet down. Water off. Soap up. Water on. Rinse off. All within three minutes. The shower was so small that when he smiled, his teeth touched the wall, Grandpa said. We were on time for our seating. Grandma and Brittany looked lovely in the dresses, Grandpa said. Brittany said, "Cuz we're that awesome." Brittany has a delightful sense of humor. We had a seven course meal: We had escargot(which they enjoyed). We are waiting to tell them tomorrow what escargot is! Second course was Lobster soup. Sald was spinach or Cesar, and Brittany opted for a second course of chilled strawberry soup instead of salad. She was hoarding her soup after the first mouthful. We had foccacia with olive oil. The pasta course was a crepe Florentine or risotto and we all shared both. Brittany had Prime Rib for her entrEe with asparagas. DJ and Grandma Shrimp with saffron rice. Grandpa had veal picatta. We all traded tastes. We were rather full and skipped the cheese course. Dessert was tiramisu and after trying it, Brittany had the chocolate mousse withy toasted hazelnuts. Grandma ate most of the nuts. Grandpa said it was the best tiramisu he has ever had in his life. We went to the circus floor show which had fantastic acrobats and juggler and magician. One of the Paraguayan musicians was flirting with Brittany so we took his picture. Later Grandma and Brittany went to the Mr. Orchestra contest. Think 70 year old men doing Full Monty...it wasn't exactly full, but it was funny. Think Chippendales in the old folks home. LOL. Monday, 2.16.09, Cayo Levantado, Dominican Republic We will tender into the beach for a bit. There are some 1,000 miles of excellent, pearl-white beaches. Back in 1824, a sailing vessel called the Turtle Dove, carrying several hundred escaped American slaves, was blown ashore in Samaná. The survivors settled and prospered, and today their descendants number several thousand. The churches here are Protestant; the worshippers live in villages called Bethesda, Northeast, and Philadelphia; and the language spoken is an odd 19th-century form of English mixed with Spanish. Sportfishing at Samaná is considered to be among the best in the world. In addition, about 3,000 humpback whales winter off the coast of Samaná from December to March. Major whale-watching expeditions are being organized and should boost the region's economy without scaring away the world's largest mammals. The Dominican Republic is busy year-round. During the usually quiet summer season, Europeans flock to the lovely beaches, keeping rates high from mid-June through August. However, in late spring (after Easter until early June) and early fall (September to October) you can get good deals. Unlike many islands, where rain showers are usually a temporary passing thing, the rains in the D.R. can linger when they do come, especially from June through November. The largest event in the country is the annual Jazz Festival in October, which draws enthusiasts from all over the world. Carnival celebrations are held in Santiago and La Vega. The Festival del Merengue is held in Santo Domingo in late July and early August. DJ took some fantastic pictures.. We had breakfast with a couple from Tennesee, and another couple from Houston. They were going strong at 83. After breakfast in the Villa Borghese, we got our tender tickets. We tendered into Cayo Levantado. It was a gorgeous day. After our original dunking, we sunned and the "fish" played in the water. We perused the craft stalls but the prices were too high. When we got back, it said it was 100.4 degrees on the board. We tendered back for a late lunch and met our North Carolina Cruise Critic friends Lynn and Bob Mack. DJ tried the Caribbean fish sticks, and Britt had a turkey burger. I tried the pasta dish as did Cliff. We played cards until tea time and Cliff napped. Before we knew it we were weighing anchor and it was dinner time. Britt was so full by now that she only ate two bites of apple from her waldorf salad. After mushroom failutte, DJ had gumbo and I had gazpacho. D J and Cliff had the Fettuccini Alfredo and split an eggplant Parmesano. They like us so much they brought us a dish of pasta fazzoli which was not even on the menu so we could try it. DJ had double dessert, and later Brittany went to the Plumcake Party and cartoons. We also told the kids they had snails yesterday, and enjoyed them. Britt thought she wanted to throw up, but had to admit, she did enjoy them. D J was glad he tried them, and so was Britt. After dinner, we are pretty sure, that Brittany has been taking card shark lessons, as she came from behind and whipped out butts at Golf (the card game). Cliff got to try a real expresso tonight...and ...might not sleep for a week. We had trouble with the internet, so we couldn't post today. They boys will try the Americas Cup 12 meter yacht in St. Marten tomorrow while we girls check out the shops. They cancelled the tour to Orient Beach we were going to try. Better luck next time, Britt. The kids are having a ball, as are the grandparents. Actually we are supposed to tell you they are having a horrible time, won't eat, and are crying to go home....and my nose is growing, Pinocchio. It is a real pleasure to travel with them and they are good travel companions...unless you are playing cards with Brittany ;-) Brittany says, "Ha! Ha! Bill Gates! Who needs internet." Phillipsburg, Sint. Maarten,Tuesday D J and Grandma snuck out of the cabin and went to breakfast in the Villa Borghese dining room and left the sleepyheads behind. Grandpa caught up with us as we had Eggs Benedict and visited with John and Julie from England. Britt was a little under the weather with travelers discomfort, but Grandma fixed her up with yoghurt and dry Rice Krispies and convinced her to eat a tablespoonful of black tea leaves dry...followed with water to keep it down. It is a cure Grandma learned in Turkey, and it did the trick. (Horribly, Britt said.) Grandpa and D J were off on their own adventure watching the approach to St. Maarten, passed the remains of the Fort, and the second fort, and watched the docking and the way the crew was able to back this 94,000 ton ship into a spot makes one wonder why a person can't parallel park a car. Meanwhile, Britt and Grandma snoozed like ladies of leisure. The kids got to try Baba Ganoush and pita chips. Brit and Peg split a cheeseburger with fried onions made just for us. D J had a tuna sandwich and Grandpa loved the fish and chips. Soon the boys were off to sail on the Canadian Racing Yacht KC2, an Americas Cup yacht, against the Stars and Stripes, the American Racing Yacht. I understand their yacht won, because Grandpa was the timekeeper, and DJ was back up wincher. They thought he was on steroids he did such a good job. They threatened to test him! No one got any sun today, either, and my nose is growing again...Grandpa's head looks like a shiny beet after the aloe was applied (Thank you, Colleen!) Brittany and Grandma hit the shopping strip and got our diamond bracelet charms at Diamonds Internationals. After we wore out our wallets we went to the beach and Brittany found a million seaweeds, a nice tan, and more shells. Then Grandma and Brittany went looking for a taxi. We found Iva who took us to Orient Beach so Brittany could see nude men, opps! The idea was to see the beautiful beaches on the French side, but she got to see some other beauties. As we pulled up to the beach in the taxi to let Britt dip her toes in the water, Britt turned to Grandma and said, "There are nude men here Grandma!" Sure enough, in all his glory, there was a very tanned gentleman walking the beach. Iva said, "oh, they aren't supposed to come down here that far." Then we saw the second man. They didn't have any tan lines, and Britt saw a woman with her Bikini top off. Ewwwww! I missed that one. He was definitely tan all over, with no Coppertone lines like Brittany had by the end of the day. We road back to the ship and met up with the boys at the Duty Free store. For dinner they tried frog legs. Britt had Bolognese sauce on pasta and Pasquali fetched chocolate milk for her...and smacked Dj when he drank one of her three cartons of milk. I think he is taken with her. She came back and Gameboy-ed as she was still not up to a seven course meal and was feeling guilty after slamming Grandpa in Golf yesterday, coming from behind. As Grandpa was about to taste his fruit soup, it was swiped from out of in front of him by Pasquali...who then supplied a fantastic dish of pasta because he thought the soup was not that good. You should have seen the look on Grandpa's face! For dinner we had lamb! It was fantastic. D J really liked it. For dessert they had white chocolate mousse. D J loved the little red champagne type grapes. They are much sweeter than the green grapes here. All the produce on St. Maarten is shipped in from the Dominican Republic. After dinner, Grandma finally got the computer to post the pictures. It has been very slow. To put it mildly. I think I may not send any more pictures until the airport. When Grandma was doing this, Grandpa tried to regain his honor from the trouncing he got from Britt yesterday. They said it really wasn't a trouncing, it was a sneak attack. Today was a trouncing by D J. Last night Grandma had a reaction to the fermentation of the Pasta Fazolli and as we were trying to go to sleep, the gas attack caused us all so many giggles that we were afraid we would wake the neighbors. Britt supplied her own hot air contribution. In fact, Grandpa had the Pasta Fazolli, too. Poor innocent D J. The worst was when Britt asked Grandma if she could use her breathing machine. I told her it only trapped the gas and we giggled some more. As Grandma Gawne would say, we always get around to it! Antigua, St. Johns, tomorrow! 2.18.09 St. Johns, Antigua Today started out very early for us cruisers. We woke up at seven in the morning as we landed in St. Johns, Antigua! We went to breakfast that early in order to ensure that we would get enough time to enjoy St. Johns. There, DJ had a big plate of red grapes that were gone by the time he brought them back to the room with him! He really does love those grapes. Anyway, Grandpa and DJ took off for St. Johns as Grandma and Britt sat and enjoyed breakfast. The guys went up to the old Cathedral in St. Johns in order to investigate. There were tombstones older than Grandma there! After that, the boys walked the town, examining all the unfinished sidewalks and streets and discussing where Grandma was going to take Britt today. (First a Chippendale show, then a nude beach, what could be next?) They then decided to give DJ's wallet a good workout. They bought a souvenir for his dad, his stepmom, his mom and his stepdad. Now he just needs to get something for himself. (Grapes, perhaps?) In another store, they met up with Grandma and Britt, met an old man drumming and singing for money, taped Grandpa dancing with the singer of a band outside our ship, and boarded our ship. For the next two hours, Grandpa and Britt napped while Grandma and DJ sneakily went off to lunch. They both had wonderful carbonara. It was so good DJ went back with Grandpa and Britt when they got up for another helping! Grandma said, "It's the best I've ever had." After that, Grandma napped while DJ and Brittany, feeling so full to the bursting point, raced up to the 13th floor via stairs, ran around the deck a few times and ran back downstairs to see who got there first. Naturally, DJ, being older and wiser, won the race. The kids then sat down to a game of golf, where Brittany cheated yet DJ still won! After that, if you'll believe it, it was time to sit down for dinner! Our waiter, who knows what Grandpa likes and dislikes, ordered for Grandpa tonight, as well as for Grandma and DJ. Brittany had the clear beef soup and salmon fillet. The other three had tomatoes and cheese for an appetizer Insalata Caprese, which the grandparents liked but DJ wasn't a fan of, a pretty good salad with avocado, and some wonderful veal cordon bleu. For dessert, we all had a simple ice cream sundae. ..and D J rounded it off with another plate of grapes. Grandpa is severely sunburned on his head. His shins are not much better. Those darn kids, Grandma said, will they never learn? We played Hearts until grandpa was winning and everyone wanted to play golf instead. Brittany cheated again. She dealt and got 4 kings. Hmmm. Only two were in the deal so maybe she only looked like a cheater, but...Grandma took Britt to the local grocery store to fondle the potatoes...just kidding it was the plantains and the chicken feet and turkey necks. Needless to say, we didn't buy anything to eat in THAT store. Our drink bottles have been a big asset on the trip, and DJ has found the best place to fill them. Tomorrow is a Sea day and formal night. The men will suffer through the ties again for us. Britt can wear her pretty dress. In town Britt and Grandma got their new charms for their bracelets. Dj has a new trick. He laughs until cranapple juice spurts out his nose. It is one of his finer table skills. Just kidding. Both children have excellent table skills and we have been very proud to have them with us. Many people have commented how well behaved our children are...and it is fun to say, "No. They are our GRAND children." Tonight Britt and Grandma suffered tremendously through some very bad karaoke to fetch sandwiches for the men. We just put our breakfast order in for room service for the morning. The clocks go back tonight so we get an extra hour of sleep...which we sorely need. Having fun is very tiring. Time to go...they want room service before bed.... 2.19.09, At Sea We're a rockin' 'n' a rollin' at sea. It started last night and has calmed some but sure hasn't cut down on our eating. We've seen a lot of Indians, Grandpa said. I said that I didn't see any. He said, "Yes, A-patch-ee." He was referring to the Dramamine patches that people were wearing behind their ears. We had no such trouble and let the sea rock us to sleep...several times today, actually. We awakened for first breakfast of coffee and rolls delivered to our cabin and proceeded to second breakfast in the dining room. DJ told us we should eat breakfast like kings, lunch like princes, and dinner like paupers. He was okay until he got to dinner. Today was a catch up on sleep day and see how sunburned DJ could get. Actually it was not planned but he did get his first sunburn on his shoulders and back of his neck. Thank God (and Colleen) for the Aloe gel. Grandpa is happy we have it too because his forehead is still fried. Grandma checked out the spa today. The hot tubs up there were not crowded, and the Turkish steam room was both beautiful and toasty. After lunch some of us napped. Britt and DJ went to the pool. We dressed for second formal night and had a formal picture taken. The men were handsome in their ties and suits, and Brittany was gorgeous in her green sundress and white shawl. Dinner was shrimp cocktail, manicotti, risotto, duck a la orange and lobster. The dinner show included Flaming Baked Alaska by our waiters. Tonight's theater show in the Covent Garden Theater was Celtic Spirit. The dancing and music were wonderful. As we walked in, four of the entertainers followed Grandma and mimicked her. Everyone had a good laugh. As if it wasn't bad enough with nude beaches and Chippendales, tonight they watched a pole dance. Granted it was a maypole, but DJ reminded us it was a pole dance. Britt got her Game Boy back. DJ finally got a plate of red grapes after three tries today, but Romi took good care of him at dinner. Brittany ate the broccoli, we think, because her bed is vibrating. The coffee has been excellent and the eggs Benedict have been wonderful. Brittany is fascinated with the confetti and streamers they shot into the crowd during the show tonight. As she said, it takes little to entertain her. No one was awake long enough to take pictures today LOL. Tomorrow, Nassau! Oh, my! We almost forgot about the midnight buffet. We'll have to report on that tomorrow...if we ever get repacked. 2.20.09, Nassau, Bahamas Grand Buffet last night was busy and might have been more enjoyable if we weren't already stuffed to the gills from six days of eating. We brought our plates back to our cabin and could not even finish them. We got up this morning and began the horrible task of packing after another fantastic breakfast with John and Julie from Williamsburg, and Lynn and Bob Mack from North Carolina. I don't know how we accumulated so much in one week, other than inches around our waists, but we managed to stuff most of it back into the bags...including using the vacuum hose to suck the air out of our space saver bags. Grandpa has lost the most weight of all, but perhaps that is because he has decided to measure it in metric. After the great packing morning of '09, as DJ put it, we were back off for more food. We finally arrived in Nassau and had to wait to disembark and were lucky we didn't get trampled by the impatient crowd. The Nassau port is at security level one so we needed passports and picture I.D.'s. We kept Grandpa out of the sun and DJ, too. In fact, Grandpa bought a hat at the Straw Market. We missed our People to People guide but visited the Tourism Office. Then DJ, Brittany, and Peg went on a horse-drawn carriage tour of Nassau. The horse was named Bahama Mama and our driver was Freddy. He even took our picture at the end of our tour. We saw Key lime trees and avocado trees. Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the ship for dinner. Tonight's attire was informal. We had a wonderful lamb dinner, and boy did Brittany clean her plate...and started on Grandma's...but she did ask politely. It would have been a quiet meal, except for DJ's screaming when he got a mouthful of what he thought was innocent enough, but turned out to be a pile of wasabi for his sushi California roll. (He thought the roll was nasty, too.) You should have see his face and eyes when the wasabi hit. He made the mistake of drinking water, rather than milk. He learned something new about quenching fire in his mouth. Milk works better than water! The big surprise tonight was when the waiters sang Happy Birthday to DJ and brought out a fantastic Italian whipped cream cake to make his special day. It was a pleasant day. We followed up with the final packing and it was bags out by 930pm. We were even early! We had a ball. Our wait staff were wonderful. The Italian food was great. The price was hard to beat with kid's only paying port charges. It is a different experience on MSC, more European, but definitely lovely and both we and the children were treated well. Only being in Nassau a short time was our only real disappointment. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2009
We arrived at the Port about 10:45 AM on the 10th. We were sent upstairs with the number 6 boarding number. We waited maybe 15 minutes before boarding the ship. We were shown the way to our cabin(we were not escorted there by someone ... Read More
We arrived at the Port about 10:45 AM on the 10th. We were sent upstairs with the number 6 boarding number. We waited maybe 15 minutes before boarding the ship. We were shown the way to our cabin(we were not escorted there by someone wearing white gloves like we were on the Lirica 2 years before). The trip to the cabin was all the way thru the ship,which we enjoyed as it is a beautiful ship and it help those of us like me that are directionally challenged and can get lost in a paper bag as my husband always says. Our cabin was on the 15th deck #15024. The room was cleaned and ready for us to enter. Shortly after we entered our Steward knocked on the door and asked if we needed ice or anything and we said that ice would be nice. Which he kept full everyday of the cruise. We then proceeded to the Buffet for lunch. There was no line at the buffet so we got right in and out. The food was very good and there was a large selection of cold cuts and 3 different cheeses with many hot items. The salad bar was scarce to our standards but I am a big salad and veggie eater so I noticed that more. My husband liked the hot foods that were there more. Dinner was at 5:45 and we were in the Villa Borghese for dinner. The food was excellent but the service was very slow. We had 2 table mates that were totally horrible tho. Everytime the gentlemen would speak he would yell at the top of his lungs and was very rude (downright mean) to his wife and very disrespectful to women in general. So much so that the 3 tables around us kept looking over and shooting him a dirty look. We stayed at that table 2 nights and on the second night my husband talked to the head Maitre'd and we were given a different table, #583, with Buda and his backup as our waitstaff. The service from then on was absolutely excellent at night. We did eat breakfast and lunch in the dining room most of the time but service was pretty much hit and miss on those meals, but the food was absolutely excellent at all times. The night they offered Filet Mignon I was very surprised. I ordered it very rare and they asked if I wanted it tar-tar and I said no only cooked for a couple of min. on each side. It came to me perfect. Mind you we had other people at our table with well done steaks and all of the food came at the same time and all was hot and perfectly cooked.. The filet didn't even need to be chewed it MELTED in your mouth it was so good. Their cheesecakes are as the saying goes "To die for" they are so decadent and delicious. Our dealings with the reception center and the accounting center were simple questions and were answered with a smile and very courteous. The only problem we had with getting off the ship was the day we were tendered into Cozumel. We had tender ticket #1 and we were at breakfast when they called #1 so we missed our tender time. We thought we would just go off with the rest of the people when we could so we got stuck in a long line but were off the ship within 20 min. There was a lot of complaining by several people and 1 man in particular who had 4 kids with him. He was ramming people with his stroller and trying to get everyone out of his way and yelling the whole time. But in all honesty when we say him in Cozumel he was acting the same way, so maybe that is just how he is. The disembarkment at Grand Cayman was very easy as there was no line and we went right off the ship. Our favorite port was Cayo Laventado as the beach was absolutely beautiful and very easy access from the dock to the beach. We didn't use any of the excursions offered by the ship as we like to explore on our own a lot. The 3 night shows that we attended were fabulous. The pianist was absolutely the best i have ever seen. We are not smokers so we did notice that in the public areas there was no smoke smell except in the casino and a couple of areas on the pool deck. Our disembarkment from the ship was a breeze, we had Lilac #2 tags and we waited in the Amber lounge till they called us. We pretty much just walked right off, got our luggage and went thru customs. From the time they called our tag color to the time we were at the curb waiting on the car rental bus was about 15 min. Our longest wait was for the car rental bus. When it comes to our cruise we totally enjoyed it and would recommend it highly to others and already have and yes we will cruise with MSC again. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2009
We were aboard the Orchestra for the 1/24 - 1/31 sailing of the Western Caribbean, which included the ports: Key West, Cozumel, Cayo Levantado and Grand Cayman. Embarkation We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale a day early and stayed at the ... Read More
We were aboard the Orchestra for the 1/24 - 1/31 sailing of the Western Caribbean, which included the ports: Key West, Cozumel, Cayo Levantado and Grand Cayman. Embarkation We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale a day early and stayed at the Candlewood Suites, located just minutes from the port. Nice accommodations, but don't bother waiting for the "first come, first served" shuttle to take you to port. A $10 taxi ride was well worth it, as several folks waited for over an hour for the shuttle. We arrived at the port at around noon. Our boarding pass said 4 PM, but after reading reviews on CC we decided to go earlier. We were quickly processed and on the ship and enjoying a delicious lunch buffet in less then 30 minutes. We were told our cabin would be ready by 1 PM. Cabin My husband and I traveled with our two 15-year-old teenagers, and our cabin consisted of two twin beds made into a king, a pullout couch and an upper berth. The cabin was smaller than other cabins we've had in our past 7 cruises, but the available space was well appointed and well lit. The cabin contained a mini bar with space available to place our own beverages. There was a small flat screen TV. The bathroom had plenty of shelving for all of our toiletries. MSC furnishes small hotel-sized shampoo and body wash. One very odd thing: There were no washcloths. A request to our cabin steward quickly remedied that and we had washcloths the rest of the cruise. We learned from the Europeans on the cruise that washcloths are not typical in Europe. There were 4 large, soft & thirsty hand towels and bath towels. Our balcony was larger than we thought it might be and contained two high quality chairs and a table, not the cheap plastic variety we've had on previous cruises. A unique feature was the slot just inside the cabin door where you place your card that turns on the cabin lights upon entry. Placing your card in the slot also turns on a small light above your cabin door on the outside that alerts your steward to the fact you are in the room, thus no "surprise visits" from him. Our cabin contained two terrycloth robes. We had a bowl of fresh fruit replenished daily. The room contained a safe for storing valuables. About ice: Americans love it, and the Europeans do not have the same affection for it. Our cabin steward, at our request did replenish our ice twice a day, but you may have to ask for this. The Ship On our initial exploration of the Orchestra we were struck by the classic beauty of the dEcor and the cleanliness of the ship. Crew is always cleaning and polishing. We've sailed with RCCL, Carnival, Celebrity and HAL and this is the cleanest ship we've sailed. It's easy to find your way around on the Orchestra. On the public decks, rather than long straight hallways, Orchestra's passageways take gentle turns inviting a casual stroll rather than the straight beeline "gotta-get-to-the-other-end" feeling on other ships. The Savannah Lounge is African dEcor at it's classiest, while in contrast the disco is brushed stainless steel and contemporary colors reflecting the reverberating beat of the music that tended to be way too loud for us old folks, but totally enjoyed by our teens. We went to the Casino several nights and did well. If you're playing slots, drink service is non-existent, I was there several nights and was never served at my slot machine. Also, I noticed it took quite awhile for casino employees to come around and pay off on machines or assist players. With this in mind, I made sure I always had the change I needed from the cashier cage before playing. My husband played table games and there was wait staff available there. The crew smiled often and greeted us constantly. With patience and smiles the few language issues we had were easily overcome. While the purser's office was helpful and friendly most of the time, they can still use a little work on customer relations and language. The pool area was very crowded on "At Sea" days. The chair hogs are out early staking out their place and then not necessarily returning for hours. There are plenty of chairs available on other decks. Kids I can't say how the kids' programs were, except for one night while checking on my teens in the disco after midnight, I walked by the kids' club room and saw the staff sitting on the floor with crepe paper, glue and scissors, apparently creating some activity for the kids the next day. The room itself held a life-sized tree that invited climbing and there were all kids of toys. This room connected to a play area on deck that would put any local playground here on dry land to shame. It sure looked like the young kids were having a great time with this staff when we saw them through the day. A "Teen Card" was available for our kids. Parents can load money onto the card for their teens onboard purchases, for $30 you get $35 in credit or pay $50 for $60 in credit. More money can be loaded on the cards in these increments. These also become the kids' room key, replacing the cards they were issued upon sailing. Entertainment The entertainment team on this ship was excellent. The activities they provided throughout the day and late into the night were popular and well attended by passengers, so we learned, get to the lounges early to get a good seat. Expect latecomers to stand in front of you. From various dance lessons, to karaoke, to themed parties, these were enthusiastic and entertaining people. Where much of the crew were distantly polite, the entertainment staff co-mingled constantly with passengers. They were also excellent in overseeing activities for our teens. They kept the disco rocking until the wee hours. When we'd go check on our kids they'd be rockin' with the crew. As my daughter put it, "this is the most wonderful, magical experience" of her life. Thank Paulo, Claudio and friends! The nightly shows in the Covent Garden Theatre were, by far, the best entertainment we've seen anywhere, ever. From opera, to magic, to Celtic, to show tunes—fabulous! Dining We were originally scheduled for early seating and requested late seating. This was much to the relief of the Maitre d'. Seatings are 5:30 & 8:30 PM. Most folks like the earlier time. We don't like to be rushed to get to dinner. Our dining room was the L'Ibiscus. The service provided by our waiter and his assistant was excellent. We were pleased that the duration of our dinners was just over an hour to 1-1/2 hours. Most diners stuck to the dress code. While our teen daughter loves to dress up, our son wore nice jeans a dress shirt for a couple of nights, conforming to the dress code the remaining nights. We didn't see shorts in the dining room. Overall, the food was adequate. MSC is Italian, but this is not our typical "American-Italian" food. For instance, the fresh made pasta: We typically overcook it. The Italians truly prepare it al dente, a bit undercooked by our standards. Once I adapted to it, it was delicious. The Eggplant Parmigiana was simply sliced, layered, covered with sauce, a little cheese and baked. So be prepared for "authentic" Italian, not what we are really used to. There were a couple of dishes that I was served that I did not eat, but could reorder if I wanted to. Although I tried it a couple of nights, I personally do not like the gummy mess that is called Risotto, however, I saw others consume it with delight. The taste of food is subjective, so I won't dwell on it. One formal night lobster was served. Make sure to order two of these, as MSC slices the lobster lengthwise, cleverly only serving half a tail. There was a pasta entrEe served every night. At any time, if nothing on the evening's menu tempted your palate, spaghetti, steak, and burgers were always available. Food was presented beautifully and tastefully on the plate. On our final formal night the waiters paraded with flaming Baked Alaska—the only waiter parade, thanks MSC—and then served it with Champagne for all. A wonderful finish! The breakfast buffet was very good. Food was always fresh, hot and plentiful. Eggs to order were available; although sometimes the line could be long. A friendly, singing waiter was standing by to pour your coffee at the drink station. Tables were cleared and cleaned quickly and we had no problem finding a seat. Hint: Walk towards the aft end of the ship. Lunch buffet was always delicious, with a variety of dishes, from American to Greek to Italian. The build-your-own salad bar was very basic and could offer a few more toppings. All of the breads served by MSC are fresh and delicious and the best bread we've ever eaten. Be sure to sample them all. We didn't try any of the alternative dining options but overheard positive comments about them. There is an ice cream bar in the pool area with the delicious Italian ice cream, Gelato. There is a charge, but it was nominal. A large freshly made waffle for the waffle cone was $1.50 with other ice cream treats available just as reasonably priced. Nightly, around 11:30, snacks are served by waiters in the lounges. Among the nightly themes were: Fried Fantasies, Club Sandwiches and Sweet & Savory Croissants. One night there was a Mexican Fiesta on the Pool deck with a variety of Mexican dishes. At midnight on our 6th night was the Magnific Buffet. Beautifully prepared food on the pool deck with all the typical presentation and picture taking before passengers were invited to dig in. There were two lines formed that took a half hour or longer to get to the food. Coffee, tea and hot tea, are always available, 24 hours a day, in the dining room where the buffet is located. There is a charge for room service the rest of the day, but coffee and continental breakfast is free. Alcohol Drinks are reasonably priced on the MSC. Unlike other cruise lines, gratuities are included in the price of the drink. Drink specials are available daily. A great value is purchasing the wine card that is offered. Excursions We did not book any excursions through MSC. Our first stop, Key West, we enjoyed walking around the downtown area of this quaint and tropical little city. In Cozumel, we shopped. In Grand Cayman, we went to Stingray City. This is the third time we have booked with Captain Marvin and cannot recommend them enough. Cruise out to Stingray City and also snorkel on a side trip with Captain Marvin. They take out smaller groups of people, can give you individual attention and show you a great time for a lot less money than their competitors. The trip to Cayo Levantado was a highlight for us. Cayo is actually in Samana, Dominican Republic. MSC leases this small island. A piece of Heaven on Earth, Cayo Levantado is idyllic. The white sand beach surrounds most of the island. The interior is lush and tropical. There are beach chairs available for lounging, a game of beach volleyball was constantly going. While there are plenty of bars offering tropical drinks and the El Presidente beer of the Dominican, take a short walk into the foliage to the Banana Bar. They offer the best Pina Coladas we've ever had and they are served in a pineapple. They are $5, which is $2 less than the same drink on the beach. When my husband gave them a $20 bill, they had no change and handed it back to him, telling him to come back and pay later—and go back we did! The owner of the little bar saw my daughter taking pictures of foliage and he guided her to avocado, banana, mango and pineapple plants. There are also locals along the walk to the beach selling tourist fare. We ate before we left the ship, but there was food available on the island. We heard it was expensive. Cayo Levantado was a treasure that shouldn't be missed. The only problem we experienced with excursions was leaving the ship, which tendered in both Grand Cayman and Cayo Levantado. The ship's lifeboats are used as tenders. The process at both ports was incredibly slow. We later learned that wind was the problem in both cases, allowing tendering from only one side of the ship. As the tender lists against the side of the ship, boarding the tender is a tedious and lengthy process. People were getting anxious and some were getting angry. It would have been a good idea for the crew to announce that wind was the problem and apologize for the delay, generally people would be more likely to be understanding. On the day we disembarked we were to be out of our room by 7 AM, went up to breakfast and to our waiting area. We were one of the final numbers to leave the ship and were off by 10 AM. Overview We booked our cruise in June of last year. We were attracted to MSC for the new cruise line experience and because our kids could sail free. After the nightmarish crossing of the Orchestra, the negative reviews came pouring in and we grew very concerned. We monitored Cruise Critic closely. We decided to approach the cruise with guarded optimism. I was fortunate to meet a high-ranking staff member who was willing to take the time to sit down and talk to me. I told her I was going to be writing a review for Cruise Critic and she was anxious to discuss some areas of concern. Yes, they DO read Cruise Critic and do seriously consider our posts and comments. This is a powerful forum. European Style Prior to coming to the states, Orchestra sailed in Europe. While employees were "trained" about our culture before coming over, they have quite a bit to learn and are working constantly to improve in this market. Europeans expect staff to be quiet and unobtrusive. The staff will stay out of your way, so that you can enjoy your "holiday". MSC is European style cruising and will stay that way. The language barrier The crew of the orchestra consists of people from 44 countries. English is a language that most of them know the least. They are more fluent in Italian, French, German and Spanish, but are constantly taking lessons to improve their English. Cultural differences in the crew vary considerably. While one culture may be dramatic, such as the Italians, while others do not make eye contact, or are considered cold. Our family was exposed to more varying cultures among crew and passengers than on any other cruise we've taken. We had French passengers in the cabins on either side of us and all through the ship passengers were speaking in many languages. Ships announcements are made in 5 languages. Food Americans eat a lot and often. Orchestra has adapted to this. With the exception of from 1AM to 6:30AM, food is now served all day long somewhere throughout the ship and for free, except for 4:30 - 5 PM when food is not available as the ship prepares for evening meals. Iced tea has been added and of course along with it, our beloved ice is readily available. Orchestra realizes Americans like to eat faster, not languish at our meals with a bottle of wine as the Italians do, so chefs are changing the way they prepare meals to maintain appearance and temperature of food. In fact, MSC's executive chef, as well as their Executive Housekeeper were sailing on our cruise to address problem areas. Service We asked the staff member why the waiters are not hawking drinks like they do on other cruise lines. This goes back to their not "bothering" us. We explained that Americans expect wait staff to come around offering drinks, it's done in bars in the U.S. and passengers expect it. We like to be "waited on". We mentioned that we had heard many complaints about bar service and found it lacking ourselves. The staff member told us that MSC was very aware of the problems and are working diligently to make corrections. Bottom Line: First I'd like to say, if you have a problem, try to handle it politely with the crew. We never encountered a crew member who didn't honestly try to help us. If we had a problem, corrections were made quickly. They were eager to please. If you are looking to strike up personal friendships with the crew, with a few exceptions, you will not find it on MSC, it's not their style, so don't expect the crew to be wanting to exchange email addresses with you. If you want a fantastic culinary experience, you won't find it here. MSC will feed you adequately, but it's still better than me having to cook and clean up. If you are looking for the Celebrity or HAL level of service, then plan on spending the money and cruising with them. If you are looking for a great time, a beautiful gleaming ship, a cultural experience, a good time for your kids, and a fantastic value for your money, then you are sailing on the right ship. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2009
With kids sail free, I thought the ship would be full of kids, but not any more than the other cruises we have been on. Embarkation and Disembarkation were both very smooth. That out of the way, we had a great time!! The dining room ... Read More
With kids sail free, I thought the ship would be full of kids, but not any more than the other cruises we have been on. Embarkation and Disembarkation were both very smooth. That out of the way, we had a great time!! The dining room food was wonderful, our waiter was very sweet, he wasn't entertaining like on other cruises we have been on, but I am not there for a show, the waiters work hard enough without being expected to entertain you. I loved just about everything in the dining room. The cold soups are very good, I followed others advise and had fish several times. Delicious!! Even the kids (12 & 15), tried some new things and really liked them. The buffet was fine, they had a good breakfast, but he lunch had lots of things that didn't sound good to me. Lots of fish based rice or vegetable salads. They did have a fabulous pesto lasagna one day. There were always hamburgers and hotdogs on one side and other the other, pizza, don't have to pay extra for it anymore unless you go in the evening and sit in the back buffet. TIPS: Breakfast and Lunch, both buffets are open and have the same items, so go straight back to the second one, no line and there will be tables available at the end of the ship! Also, bring a water bottle with you, fill it each morning and put lemons from the coffee stand in it. You will have refreshing water to drink when you are off the ship! There is a talent show on board the last day, so if you have a talent, bring what you need for the show. Sheet music, instrument, outfit, whatever. If you are into buying souvenirs, Key West and Cozumel, had the best prices. Grand Cayman is too commercialized. Key West, we took the Conch Train tour, it was fun seeing the whole island and you can go back to places, or get off and on all day. Cozumel, we rented a jeep and drove around the big circle. That was great, we could stop where we wanted. Played in the ocean and went to the Myan Ruins in the middle of the island. It was a great day. Grand Cayman, with choppy waters, it too forever to get everyone off the boat. If you aren't doing an excursion, before breakfast run down to the Excursion Office and get a Tender number, otherwise you will have to wait 2 or 3 hours to get off the boat. We only had time to take a taxi to the Turtle Farm then shop a little in town. Cayo Levantado, we just went to the beach. Gorgeous beaches! The vendors there have all the same stuff and wanted way too much. I did buy some Rum, the black bottle rum is really good! All in all, we had a great time, I don't know that I would cruise with them again, but it was nice to have the European experience. I love the way the announcers can say their introductions to a show or game in English, Italian, French and Spanish without a pause in between. I also appreciate that they don't try to constantly sell you things like on the other lines. MSC has some improving to do, but they definitely are trying. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2009
Both embarkation and debarkation were handled very fast and efficiently. This was our 10th cruise and our MSC experience was the best. The ship is beautiful and our balcony cabin was well decorated, modern and very clean. We had fresh ... Read More
Both embarkation and debarkation were handled very fast and efficiently. This was our 10th cruise and our MSC experience was the best. The ship is beautiful and our balcony cabin was well decorated, modern and very clean. We had fresh fruit and ice daily. The staff were well trained, very pleasant and eager to please. I rarely saw our cabin steward but the room was always cleaned and towels replaced twice daily. We were on 2nd sitting for dinner and enjoyed a leisurely dining experience. Usually we went to the dining room for breakfast and lunch. The food was very good with the exception of the lobster and shrimp being dry. We did use the buffet once for lunch and breakfast. Food was fine and there was a lineup. We went to 2 shows..the opera and the River dance and were impressed with the quality..best I've ever seen on a ship. Cayo Levantado was a lovely beach. There was a bar and the drinks were reasonably priced. We didn't do any of the trips and at the other 3 stops just walked off the pier and looked at some of the shops. Nassau was very cold and I stayed onboard. There were many whiners and complainers on this ship,who loved to vocalize. They should have stayed home. My only complaint was the 1300 on the superbowl cruise. They tended to take over. The 2nd day at sea they took over the pool area and were jumping in and our of the pool with glass beer bottles in there hands. Had I known this was a super bowl cruise I would have chosen another date. There were 4 people in our party and we are looking at going on the Orchestra for a Baltic cruise. We all felt the ship offered great value for our money and were very pleased with the services and staff on the Orchestra. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2009
Hi there, Just back from our best cruise ever on MSC ORCHESTRA! Let me explain something first. This was our 13th cruise and we did Celebrity first on century and while that was good(and nothing better than our RCI cruises) MSC blew us ... Read More
Hi there, Just back from our best cruise ever on MSC ORCHESTRA! Let me explain something first. This was our 13th cruise and we did Celebrity first on century and while that was good(and nothing better than our RCI cruises) MSC blew us away. Yes there were 1300 people from the super bowl cruise group who complained over every little thing. I would comment at first and then I just would not even discuss it with them. They were looking for CCL with drinking all over the ship and free ice cream all the time. It was not their fault but their agent who booked this cruise. I did my research. I wanted something different, and boy was it ever. REFINED, ELEGANT, GORGEOUS, WONDERFUL....are adjectives that come to mind. From the moment we got on the ship( and fast it was, within 15 minutes and we got there at 12)we were greeted with italian hello and a smile every step we took. The ship is beyond beautiful with marble and granite and statues all over. The people were friendly and gracious, but what we witnessed from the American group was beyond embarrassing to be an American. We were not part of the group and I must tell you that some were very nice and loved the ship too, but for the most part they were loud and drunk all the time. They had some issues with tendering at Cayo Levantado and there was a man from the group cursing like he was in a bar to the guest services people. They do not understand English well, but they understood hostility and anger. They would just shrug at his level of screaming. This was such a refined group of staff members, with their European ways. Every issue that they could resolve they tried, no matter the language barrier, they made it an effort to understand us when we spoke calmly. They were happy and gracious to help. No one is there to be yelled at. I can cite instances where this group trashed this ship. It was shameful to say the least. On superbowl sunday they were given the theater to watch the game and allowed to eat and drink in there. THERE IS NO DRINKING SERVED OR ALLOWED IN to the theater during any other time. The show for that night was postponed until 30 min after the game ended. We got in after midnight to see the show and the cruise director was on the stage with tears in his eyes. I went over and said to him that the place is a disaster and how sad, and he said to me"look what they did to my theater". It was a mess. Pigs would be cleaner. They also overran the pool areas with the amount of beer bottles and cans left all over. They never put it on the tables but all over the pool area. And then one day they took over the entire pool with jumping in with bottles of beer in a pool. Then the men would grab the women in the group and jump in with them too. They were doing swan dives, belly flops, cannon balls and never realizing they were interrupting other people from enjoying that pool. They were so drunk at all times one woman asked me where the elevator was when we were standing within 2 feet of it. They would go into the bathroom and sing and be drinking beer and spilling it all over the floors. They complained about the lack of bar service: IT IS EUROPEAN style. There was a cocktail waitress always walking around but not in your face like all the other lines. This is a reason why I booked this ship. They said the casino was not big enough....it was gorgeous and looked big enough to me, but they also did not do the research. Europeans do not spend all day in a casino, hence the need not to make it bigger. This group on the whole complained about everything. Like no free ice cream. No one I guess ever went on a RCI voyager class or Freedom class within that group since they charge 4.95 and up for Ben and Jerrys ice cream. On this ship they had free ice cream during lunch and dinner and gelato for 1.50 in a cup or 2 in a freshly made waffle cone. And the portions were generous. They complained about this too. They complained that the food was not good...they only went to the buffet which to us was fine. It was not a feeding frenzy like on american ships. There was salad, pasta and other things too. Each dinner consisted of a 7 course meal: Appetizer, soup, salad( different each night...and hadchunks of avocado one night), pasta dish, entree, dessert and cheeses. Plenty of fresh fruit. OH my, the fresh fruit in the dining room included FRESH PAPAYA ....never before have I had such a fruit on a cruise. And the melons and pineapple were the freshest. They served simple looking stuff but boy was it ever mouth watering good. For example, one day they had chicken wings. I tried it and boy was i ever glad I did. Went back for more. The sauce used on it was the best I ever had on a ship. The food was fine to me. I went to the dining room most days and the food for lunch was fantastic. Their chilled soups put RCI and X to shame. The lunch menu was a mini dinner and the lamb skewers that they had was the best I ever ate. The eggplant was great, as were the crepes. The vegetables all week were great, and the pasta dishes were great.If you wanted more vegetables they brought out a full plate of it. At 11:30 in all the lounges they served something different to snack on( delightful : crepe night was freshly made there and then grand marnier and other liquors poured on it and flamebe'd, and topped with gelato. A delight to say the least. The shows were FINE ART not the junk we all see all the time. The dancers were gorgeous and fit. The costumes were ever changing and a feast for the eyes. The music and every show was breathtaking. They got better and better. People left crying from the emotion of the performances of the opera night. The ship had lounges with top notch singers in places. The entertainment staff intermingled with guests and the men danced with older women and the women entertainment people danced with the men. This was a joy to see how the worked at giving everyone a wonderful time. ( But where were the complainers? Not here, they were at the bars). I can go on and on about everything they had to offer. Drink prices were the lowest ever. $5.50 including tax and tip. And the drinks were huge. Beer packages were great. Mixed drink packages were great. Wine prices were very low that next time we will do a wine package. During the day this entertainment group did games and dance lessons around the pool area. At night they did shows and games after the performance shows were over. WE had entertainment every moment of the day on this ship, like never before. The crew did not stop until 2 am each night. They were fantastic. I loved this cruise so much we are booking POESIA in Nov of 2009, for the wonderful 10 nite cruise. If you go with an open mind and embrace the differences then you will have a great time. If you want them to comply to CCL or RCI or Princess then you will not have a good time. Why would they want to change...they are fantastic with a wonderful product...all that we wanted when we booked something out of the Americanized cruise ship choices. I learned to be gracious and you get more back. I learned a smile gives you back more than I gave, I learned that it is not the american way or no way. I embraced the differences and loved it. The crew , the fine art shows(every night!!) and the waiter and assistant waiter, and cabin steward, and dining captains were fantastic to us. A wonderful week that I wished would continue. The ship itself is a beauty to behold. Never have I seen such beauty, with wood, marble, mirrors and decor. The staff would meet us at dinner and kiss my hand. I left with a smile and a kiss on each cheek.... I was welcomed each night by smiles and warmth. The ship is very easy to navigate. SO many people never found the spa area too. A breathtaking joy of the senses. First, you get a locker and then a balinese woman leads you to the hot tubs. Are are three of them in a gorgeous room with live plants and lounge chairs. The view is spectacular from those hot tubs. The window there allows you to see outside and the views of the ocean while being in the hot tub are wonderful. Then there are coed steam rooms which are just beautiful with the tile and mosaic patterns. Each has a a different aromatherapy scent. There are also 2 saunas which were delightful to use. The staff in the spa was helpful and very sweet. They have a great vitamin energy drink package that can be found in the bar in the spa. Lovely drinks with protein and healthy choices. I can go on and on, and talking about this cruise just brings smiles to my face. If you want more info on this cruise or any info on Poesia that I got, pls feel free to email me at: Picard2117@cox.net __________________ Read Less
Sail Date: January 2009
Unfortunately, my wife and I had to cut our back to back cruise of 1/10 thru 1/24/2009 short due to a death in the family and fly home from Fort Lauderdale this past Saturday. At our insistence, our daughter and son-in-law continued ... Read More
Unfortunately, my wife and I had to cut our back to back cruise of 1/10 thru 1/24/2009 short due to a death in the family and fly home from Fort Lauderdale this past Saturday. At our insistence, our daughter and son-in-law continued onboard for the second week. But let me set the record straight by our experience on this our 34th cruise - having sailed previously with Royal Caribbean (Diamond Plus Members); Celebrity; Holland America; Carnival and NCL. I many respects, we found MSC Orchestra comparable to Royal Caribbean and Celebrity and most certainly hands above Holland America; Carnival and NCL. To begin with, embarkation was flawless - took less than 15 minutes. Debarkation equally as efficient. This ship is FABULOUS, perfect size unlike the vehemoth floating cities RCL is introducing. Our cabin was luxurious, balconied on Deck 15 facing forward overlooking the bow of the ship - cabin steward and assistants more than accommodating and efficient - morning room make up completed within 30 minutes of our leaving for breakfast. Food was typical cruise food - one expecting gourmet should try the ilk of Crystal and PAY for it! Don't know why there is any criticism of lines for the casual dining at the buffet in La Piazzetta - there were NO lines (certainly not out to the pool) - there are six identical stations within that venue which allowed for easy access to the typical variety of breakfast fare - the same is exactly true for lunch. We had breakfast in the dining room only once but found the convenience and atmosphere of the La Piazzetta more appealing for breakfast and lunch (especially at the outdoor dining tables aft). We had late seating in the Villa Borghese Restaurant which proved to be a pleasant experience each evening - our waiter and assistant were most accommodating with impeccable service and special requests were executed flawlessly, notably nightly plates of a variety of cheeses awaiting us each evening. Again, the dinner menus were typical of RCL and Celebrity with some interesting and DELICIOUS departures such as succulent Rack of VEAL; absolutely delicious leg of lamb - not to mention the awesome lobster tail, of which we had 3 servings - and more if we wished. The formal entertainment, in the most gorgeous theater at sea that we have ever seen, was all European, mostly Italian, were all quite unique and not the typical revue type shows. Other evening entertainment, in addition to beautiful dance music in the abundant lounges, lead by the young and very friendly Italian Cruise Staff, was HILARIOUS and the FUNNIEST and MOST UNIQUE programs I have ever witnessed on any of our previous cruises. One in particular was a "beauty" contest for Mr.Orchestra which had the standing room only audience in an absolute frenzy of gut splitting laughter. Earlier negative comments on CruiseCritic.com referred to the "stare". Well, I looked for the stare and could not find it. Remember the adage "you only get what you pay for" - in the case of MSC ORCHESTRA it is not true - YOU GET MUCH MORE! DonDonTheCruiserMon Read Less
Sail Date: December 2008
Me & my partner made this cruise in December 08, weatherwise not the ideal time for the Western Mediterranean (ports: Genova, Barcelona, Casablanca, Madeira, Tenerife, Malaga, Civitavecchia-Rome). We enjoyed little sunshine these 11 ... Read More
Me & my partner made this cruise in December 08, weatherwise not the ideal time for the Western Mediterranean (ports: Genova, Barcelona, Casablanca, Madeira, Tenerife, Malaga, Civitavecchia-Rome). We enjoyed little sunshine these 11 days, but temperatures were higher than expected, typically around 17 degrees Celsius. As we had a balcony cabin, we thoroughly enjoyed sitting outdoors into the night. The ship is very new, there is staff cleaning all the time, everything was in excellent condition. The pleasant surprise was the food, which was better than expected. The choice at the "Villa Borghese" restaurant was good, food quality very good, and hot dishes were served hot. A bottle of wine would cost 19 Euro and up, but they also served house wine at 9 Euro per half litre. A bottle of mineral water was EUR 2.80. Cocktails at the bar were typically EUR 6.90, a small beer EUR 2.90 and a large one 4.90. The food on the buffet on deck 13 was also quite good, but the buffet was completely overrun on sea days, for both breakfast and lunch. We had a hard time finding a table, or even 2 empty seats on a table with fellow passengers. Bringing alcohol on board was not a problem. We had some bottles of wine in our suitcases, which arrived safely. Also bringing liquors in our hand baggage was not an issue. Only in Madeira they made some reluctant attempts to take alcohol away from the passengers and store it for them. The cruise line's official policy of course does not allow the consumption of private alcoholic drinks on board, they want to sell their own stuff at a much higher price. The shows were generally not bad, but a bit repetitive. The first night there was no show at all, the last night was a "best of" show of the whole cruise. 3 nights they performed a classical concert. It seems to me that here they clearly try to reduce spendings. As MSC charges very high rates for tours, we did our own excursions. We would like to share some hints for the visited ports: In Barcelona, the Cruise Line sold transfers to the entry of the port for EUR 7.90. However, there is an official bus operated by the port (called Blue Bus) which offers the same service for EUR 3 round trip, or EUR 2 one-way (should you wish to return by taxi). The port bus takes you to the Columbus Statue which is at the beginning of the Ramblas avenue. There you can switch to the local subway system. A day pass on the subway costs little over EUR 5. In Casablanca, it is quite a walk from the ship to the entrance of the port, maybe 10 or 15 minutes. You can take one of the taxis that offer their services. Once you reach the port entrance, you are right downtown and can explore the city center on foot. Rick's Cafe is a 10 minutes walk away, and the great Hassan II Mosque another 10 minutes from there. In Funchal we ordered a rental car, which was delivered to the dock of the ship. We did a tour of Funchal, Monte, Pico de Arieiro and Cabo Girão on our own, which was really nice. The port of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is also next to the city center. The port offered a complimentary shuttle bus to the entrance of the port, but even for walking it is not far, easy to do. In Malaga MSC offered a transfer service to downtown for 5 Euro. We decided to walk, and it was less than a mile, a good walk to digest the rich food of the cruise... In Civitavecchia, there was a complimentary port shuttle to the entrance of the port. From there it is 300 m to walk to the Railway Station. Buy a day pass at the counter for 9 Euro, it includes round trip transport to Rome, as well as the whole public transport system of Rome. On the ship, they sold the same services for EUR 43!!! It is a 1h15 train ride to Roma-Termini, but you can also leave the train at Roma-S. Pietro, which cuts 20 minutes travel time. The station is 5 minutes from the Vatican, which is probably on your "to visit" list anyway. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2008
EMBARKATION: Embarkation was fairly quick for us. If you pre-register your passport information online and have your printout available at check-in, you will be able to go to the express check-in line. The earlier that you get to the ... Read More
EMBARKATION: Embarkation was fairly quick for us. If you pre-register your passport information online and have your printout available at check-in, you will be able to go to the express check-in line. The earlier that you get to the port, the earlier you get on board. MSC issues numbered tickets once you have gone to the terminal registration counter where you provide your credit card and receive your room cards. On our particular cruise, we arrived early enough (around 1100) that we were numbers 160-165. These numbers are called in sequential order when it's time to board. We were then ushered to the waiting room where several tables had been set up to purchase drink or spa packages prior to boarding. Now, by the time that we boarded there were nearly 2,000 people (mostly Italian & German) pushing and shoving to the front of the lines. Having lived in Europe for five years, this wasn't new to me. However, for those Americans that will be boarding in Genoa, be forewarned. Most Europeans do not share our views on personal space nor do they believe in waiting patiently in lines. It is, simply, a survival-of-the-fittest mentality here. The MSC crew and Port Authorities did a terrific job of managing the mob scene and in the blink of an eye, our numbers were being called to board. THE ROOMS: We had a balcony cabin on the 12th deck. It was quite adequate for our family of four (2 adults & 2 children, ages 5 & 10). There were not any free movies offered nor much in the way of English television shows. They offer a single news channel, a few international channels and a pay-per-view movie channel that is definitely overpriced. We had brought our portable DVD player(and movies)from home which we connected to the TV in the room. FYI, the TV's have easy access RCA plugs to connect your DVD player to but the power outlet is located a good 7 feet away from the TV. I suggest bringing a small extension cord for this purpose. The bed was extremely comfortable and the room attendants did a WONDERFUL job of keeping everything clean & tidy. Our towels, toiletries & fruit were replaced practically every time that we left the room. The attendants even folded our clothes for us and left them on our bed. The sofa bed and murphy bed were turned down every night during dinner and every extra request that we made for ice or extra pillows was met immediately. THE KIDS CLUB: More than half of the kids in our group (ages 5-13) truly enjoyed the kids club. It is a free service even on port days and the kids participate in many different activities. They took the children to the shows in the theatre every night and had a different themed party (ie..pizza, hot dog, Disney, Carnivale, etc...)every night. The older kids participated in scavenger hunts, arts & crafts and dance lessons while the younger kids colored, played on the play ground & occasionally watched movies. The only downside was that most of the Kids Club Attendants did not speak English and the children that participated in the club were diverse in age and language spoken. THE FOOD: Now having never cruised before, we really have nothing to compare MSC food to. The buffet was standard, not spectacular but not offensive. They had something for just about every nationality. I would suggest that, when possible, eat at Villa Borghese(on deck 5, I believe) for breakfast and lunch rather than try to find a table in the crowded cafeteria. Villa Borghese and L'Ibiscus are no-charge and the food quality always proved much better than the buffet. Drinks are NOT free on MSC. Be prepared to spend 2 Euro a bottle for water or single can of soda. Although, they state that you cannot bring your own water or soda on board, we had no problems bringing back either water or soda from the grocery stores in Barcelona or Malaga. Dinner was outstanding, in my opinion. We had first seating and the same waiter for our entire 12 day cruise. There were very few dishes that got the "thumbs down" from our table. Our waiter, Utama, was always quick to change out any dish that we didn't like. With the several options available every night, if we chose wrong the first time, we always ended up full and happy at the end of the evening. The afternoon tea in La Piazzetta from 1600 to 1700 was perfect on port days when we would arrive back on board exhausted and starving. THE ENTERTAINMENT: The entertainment team onboard was highly energetic and a lot of fun. Most, if not all, of them were Italian. They were all multi-lingual and it was really awe-inspiring to see them switch languages during Bingo or Trivia. The nightly shows that we went to were good and the theatre itself is spectacular. PORT CALLS & DISEMBARKATION: Access on and off of the ship during port visits was ALWAYS quick and painless. I found the process to be very well organized and amazingly fast. This was very important as MSC tends to have very short port times compared to most other cruise lines. We simply loved that we could order our shore excursions or room service on our TV with the remote control. Once we decided on a shore excursion, we simply clicked to order and our tickets would be waiting on our bed after dinner the night before that port visit. Disembarking back in Genoa was SO fast. Our disembarkation color was called at 0845 and by 0910 our entire group of 20 had their luggage and their persons on board our chartered bus and we were headed for the freeway. IN SUMMARY: MSC is a GREAT value for families. Kids under 17 always sail for free which is a tremendous savings. I can say that we paid 50 percent less for our 12-day cruise on the MSC Orchestra then we have for our next 13-day cruise on NCL and that is with NCL's 15 percent military discount! MSC is not perfect but every vacation is what you make of it. We had an amazing time on the Orchestra and will definitely sail with MSC again in the future. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2008
My cruise was from Genoa, Italy to Barcelona, Spain to Casablanca, Morocco to Grand Canary, Canary Islands to Funchal, Madeira to Malaga, Spain to Civitavecchia, Italy and back to Genoa. On our cruise, we were accompanied by four other ... Read More
My cruise was from Genoa, Italy to Barcelona, Spain to Casablanca, Morocco to Grand Canary, Canary Islands to Funchal, Madeira to Malaga, Spain to Civitavecchia, Italy and back to Genoa. On our cruise, we were accompanied by four other couples with children. This is the first time any of us have gone on a cruise. We are all active duty military and departed by bus from a base in Naples, It. The drive up to Genoa took 7.5 hours. Prior to our departure, we all filled out and printed our preboarding passes on line through the MSC website. The bus pulled up right in front of the terminal and the stewards were pulling our luggage out of the bottom of the bus before we could even get off. After ensuring our luggage was handled we proceeded into the terminal. There was a little bit of a line as we moved through the security/passport stand and up to registration. Registration could have been much smoother, as a few of the families got shuffled into the pre-registered line and a few went into the regular lines. Those of us that went into the regular lines actually made it through much faster. After registering, we moved forward to a section of the terminal set up for passengers to start purchasing packages. Boarding started at 1300, and we were onboard by 1400. There was some small buffet items available for those who were hungry. Our cabins were ready and we got rid of our carry on luggage and went to explore the ship. Our regular luggage started arriving about an hour after we got into the cabin and filtered in for about two hours. We were on the 12th floor with outside balcony amidship. The balcony had 2 chairs and a small table, and was comfortable for about 3 people but one of the other families traveling with us was right next door and we were able to open the balconies to create an even larger space. The rooms seemed adequately sized for our family (two adults/two children - 13 and 5). There was just enough storage space for all the clothes and the suitcases and shoes went under the bed. Our room steward did a great job of keeping the room clean and tidy. Entertainment: The entertainment team worked hard to provide decent entertainment to all onboard. I was impressed with the fact that most spoke 4-5 languages proficiently. The singers were marginal at best, but they did seem to know their limitations and played to their strength. The shows in the large theater seemed a little cheesy, but I do not know how nice they are elsewhere. Customer Service: Our group had what I believe was pretty good service. In general, we went to a lot of the same places on the ship (cigar bar, savanah bar, etc..) and we got the same servers who would come seek us out and did a great job of taking care of us. Food and Service: We generally had breakfast and lunch in the buffet dining room. The menu was generally the same everyday (specifically breakfast) but wasn't bad. Dinner was at our assigned seats and was better than what I had expected. Our waiter was always prompt and did an outstanding job keeping up with our mix and match tables (two tables with adults and children bouncing between the two). Most of the food was prepared and presented nicely, with only a few exceptions. The pasta was not as good as I would have expected from an Italian Cruise line, but still not bad. There are plenty of complaints about what and how much is being served onboard MSC. That said, I never found that I was hungry. You can order from every section of the menu (App. / Soup / Salad / First Course-pasta or risotto / Second Course-meat or fish with sides / crackers and cheese / dessert). We did eat at the Chinese restaurant one night, and the food was very good, but you do have to pay for that. children: All of our families had children and other than a few instances, they seemed to have a great time. Kid Club opens at 0800 and closes for 2 hours at lunch and 2 hours at dinner. Final pick up time is 2300. The kids seemed to have fun, coloring and doing arts and crafts, as well as age appropriate scavenger hunts. They also went to some of the shows in the theater. There was a different theme each night (pizza party, PJ Disco party, etc etc..) and the kids would generally run up there as soon as they were done eating their dinner. Of note: when the ship is going to be in port for longer periods (9-12 hours) and there are tours that go all day, Kids club will open and stay open all day long so you can go see something without having to take the kids along. VERY USEFUL. Overall, I was very satisfied with this cruise. So much so that we are already planning our next one. To note: Cruises here in Europe are going to have Europeans onboard (newsflash I know). Italians/Germans/Spanish are very pushy and will appear rude if you are not prepared for it. If you are able to work through that, the cost of what you get with MSC is outstanding. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2008
Just returned from a fantastic cruise. Check-in was a breeze and friendly. I was a bit apprehensive after booking this cruise mainly because of the number of passengers and the reviews that have been posted and also that the cruise was ... Read More
Just returned from a fantastic cruise. Check-in was a breeze and friendly. I was a bit apprehensive after booking this cruise mainly because of the number of passengers and the reviews that have been posted and also that the cruise was fully booked. However all I can say is it was far better than expected. Cabin was fabulous; hairdryer, soaps shampoo, dressing gown, flat screen TV where you could check your account and also do shopping if you wanted. The only thing I would've liked is some English speaking TV programs, but you don't spend that much time in your cabin anyway so it wasn't a big problem. Food was great, we did buffet for breakfast which was really fresh and plenty to eat. Only thing was when you lined up for your coffee or tea the older ladies on the cruise pushed in (there was no organization eg a line). We had no trouble getting a table on deck or inside to have our breakfast. Lunch was the same, buffet. We had every intention to use the dining room, however never got around to it because the food at the buffet was exceptional. Dinner we dined in the dining room each evening. One night we missed our sitting because we got back from on shore too late, but they accommodated us in the next sitting. We booked one shore excursion in Tunis, however it was cancelled due to Ramadan, so the four of us hired a taxi and we saw the sights anyway. Once the excursion was cancelled it was immediately taken off our account. I did take a few evening clothes which I did not wear as most nights were casual - I only dressed up for the Captain's cocktail party. I would recommend MSC Orchestra and I would definitely travel on this ship again and hopefully it is in the near future. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2008
This was booked with a budget in mind - and we got a balcony for the same price as an outside cabin! The flights were good and the transfer from the airport very good - although as Genoa is one of the smallest airports I have been to in a ... Read More
This was booked with a budget in mind - and we got a balcony for the same price as an outside cabin! The flights were good and the transfer from the airport very good - although as Genoa is one of the smallest airports I have been to in a long time I don't think it would be difficult to have a smooth transfer. Genoa was not a great looking place but as we were only passing through we were not overly worried. Our room was clean and a standard size - with a small balcony - but it had a table and chairs and we sat out with our friends from the next room. This is a new ship (one year old)but the standard of cleanliness is superb. Dining options were harsh - early sitting was 7pm and late was 9:30 - very continental - so the show after meant a late night - not great if you want to get off every day and this ship had port days every day. We found that if you missed your evening meal there was no buffet option - but you could pay for pizza or kebabs? There was also no coffee or water unless the buffet was open - and then there was only coffee at breakfast - you had to pay any other time - again I was informed that they had removed the after dinner coffee to enable the restaurant to reset for meals. I could not even get my herbal tea - and a cocktail from the bar completely threw them - they would bring wine and beer and you had to pay for water on the table at dinner. Found the level of noise high - very talkative people - the entertainment was very holiday camp style and all introductions were done in about 4-5 different languages, so we always knew what to expect. The food in general I found good - and as it is Italian it was a six course evening meal rather than the usual five (pasta/risotto course). The pasta and desserts were superb!Fresh italian ice cream daily! There were a few sticky moments with waiting staff not understanding us as there second language was Italian (for asian crew) but pointing at the menu is always a good option. Excellent service in the bar - but then we seemed to be the only people drinking - lots of people around but no drinking taking place. Bar prices were higher than US ships - gratuities were about the same. Onboard shops/spa and casino run by different company than used on US ships - so different type of merchandise, clothing and jewelry. They still had the usual inch of gold and venetian glass/swarovski stuff. Excursions were expensive - but then we do not have a good exchange rate! They did not seem to offer lots of alternatives - which can be good - as some ships seem to offer trips just for the sake of it (well a shopping excursion anyway) We did one trip - to Pompeii and we had a 25 minute wait (shop excuse) before we went in and the same joy when we came out - This was only a 4 hour trip - I would have preferred longer in Pompeii and headphones and a map - we were the only group going around with a guide talking to a large group. Read Less
Sail Date: June 2008
After reading the posted reviews on the Orchestra, I am compelled to post one of my own. I always find it amazing that people have unrealistic expectations about travel. Rule of Thumb, Do Your Homework. The higher the price, the more the ... Read More
After reading the posted reviews on the Orchestra, I am compelled to post one of my own. I always find it amazing that people have unrealistic expectations about travel. Rule of Thumb, Do Your Homework. The higher the price, the more the amenities, better the food, more professional level of service. For the 3300.00 USD I paid for 2 adults and 2 children for free, I will gladly give up 17 dining options for dinner and over and above children's programs, and nightly entertainment. This trip cost almost 1/2 of what other cruise lines were charging for a Mediterranean cruise, and it delivered in high marks in most cases. Known fact, European ships have smaller staterooms in all categories, Europeans have different social habits than Americans do. I've been on 7 cruises and after you realize that Europeans don't pay attention to waiting in line, you'll get over it. If I took the same cruise on Royal Caribbean or Carnival, we could not have gone. The children's program was good, not nearly what a Carnival ship would have, but, THE KIDS LOVED IT and we were able to go on a fabulous 7 city Mediterranean and North African cruise. The food was southern italian, happens to be our family's typical food at home, so, that was great. If you want more options (HOW MUCH CAN U EAT ANYWAY) than a U.S. line is where you should be. But, even when we paid up for the optional restaurants, we still came nowhere near what that same trip would be on the U.S. lines. It's not for everyone, Caveat Emptor always. The embarkations for the excursions were smooth as silk, the help pleasant, ship was SPOTLESS. I will say that the a/c in the room could have been cooler.Our only complaint. It was our second non-U.S. cruise, and I would definitely take one again. Especially at those prices. The entertainment was cheesy to ok. But, let's figure out what three meals a day, hotel resort daily fees, entertainment, all come to. In NYC-NJ where I live, I could not even think of spending 571.00 a day, it would be much more. So, for my money, a state of the art brand new ship, good food, international flair, living for 7 days with other cultures and seeing a boatload of new and exciting ports of call for 571.00 per day for 4 people, was an amazing bargain. For those who don't need to have 25 choices for dinner, (does anyone eat like that at home?) MSC is an amazing choice. BTW, most nights had a great Midnight buffet. Read Less
Sail Date: March 2008
We wanted a 2-week vacation in Europe, particularly the Eastern Mediterranean, but with airfares so high, and the dollar falling against the Euro, we thought we couldn't afford it -- until our online travel agent told us about the MSC ... Read More
We wanted a 2-week vacation in Europe, particularly the Eastern Mediterranean, but with airfares so high, and the dollar falling against the Euro, we thought we couldn't afford it -- until our online travel agent told us about the MSC Orchestra. We booked an 11 night Eastern Mediterranean cruise, March 3-14, 2008, for what we would have spent just on average hotel rooms for a week in Europe. What follows is my review of the ship as well as our excursions and sightseeing at the ports of call. The entire 14-day trip, including airfare from Washington DC and all sightseeing, meals and drinks ashore, wine on board, and taxis to and from the Genoa airport, cost us less than $2,500 per person. I challenge anyone to fly to Europe and stay for a week for what we spent for a luxurious two week vacation. The Ship: The pictures on the MSC website don't do the ship justice. Last year we cruised the Holland America Noordam, which was built in the same shipyards. The ships are almost identical, like boutique hotels, very modern and stylish decor with lots of marble and granite -- first rate. We booked the least expensive inside cabin, which turned out to be very attractive. Inside cabins measure 150 square feet, outside cabins are 183 square feet, while balcony cabins range in size from 164 square feet to 191 square feet. Suites are 269 square feet. I recommend a suite for a family of three or four, or even for just a couple if you are crossing the ocean (which the Orchestra does on repositioning cruises) and spending more time in the cabin than we spent on this cruise (which had port calls eight of the ten days). Food: Dinners exceeded expectations, given the comments posted by others on Cruise Critic. There was a wide variety of traditional Italian food, each night featuring one region. Presentation and quality compared favorably with trattorias in Italy. The cuisine is typical rustic Italian. The pasta and risotto courses are huge; the meat and fish courses not so large. Typical fish fillet or meat serving is about 6 ounces. Desserts are not the huge portions served in chain restaurants in the US but you can order two if you want, as I did the night I couldn't choose between the panna cotta and the coffee gelato (both of which were excellent). There is more than enough to eat, sized appropriately so that you can enjoy 6 or more courses if you want. If you don't like European food, or your idea of Italian cuisine is Olive Garden, you should pick a different cruise line. If you enjoy slow paced typical European dining, you should be very happy with the Orchestra. One night I had a puff pastry appetizer, pesto pasta, 3 nice lamb chops as a main course, Opera cake for dessert. As good as any food I've had on any ship. Breakfast in the dining room was identical to Holland America, except the smoked salmon portion on the Orchestra was immense. Buffet breakfast included all the usual breakfast items plus mushrooms, broiled tomatoes, and beans to suit European and British appetites. We did not experience pushing/shoving at the buffet, and we always found a table. There is no charge for food in the dining room or the buffets at breakfast, lunch, or midnight. The Shanghai (Chinese) restaurant charges approximately 3.5 euro for soup, and 6 to 8 euro for main dishes. The Four Seasons restaurant also charges extra. The night we looked at the menu, the charge was 18 euro per person for the entire dinner. There were some upscale choices on that menu but we didn't eat there or at the Shanghai so I can't say whether it's worth the extra charge. There is also a charge for gelato (ice cream) other than in the dining room. On the first "sea day" we sampled the 4:00 p.m. tea, which consisted of small sandwiches and pastries. The Orchestra does not serve dinner on a buffet, which may disappoint passengers who lack the patience for a two-hour seated dinner or who want to dine at different times each night. However, you can get pizza or kebabs for about 7 euro until 10 p.m. Room service menu: soup of the day 2.25 euro. Club sandwich 3.1 euro. Smoked salmon sandwich 3.2 euro. Mozzarella, tomatoes + basil, 3.1 euro. Mediterranean salad with tuna and hard boiled eggs 3 euro. Mixed cheese platter 2.8 euro. Fresh fruit platter 2.6 euro. Dessert of the day 3.1 euro. Entertainment: The evening shows are mostly revues with energetic dancers, acrobats/tumblers, jugglers, contortionists, gymnasts, magician, etc. Very high energy. Lots of fun and only 45 minutes so you have plenty of time for dancing or just listening to music after. There were classical music shows and some midnight topless shows that we did not attend. There is also a staff of about eight "animation" activity leaders for the daytime activities such as a minigolf tournament, yoga, stretching/relaxation exercises, aerobics, Italian lessons, trivia contests, bingo, Latin dancing lessons, and talks by the sommelier on Italian wines. The magician demonstrated "micro magic" in two one-hour sessions where you could see his moves close up and still be tricked. The animation team also dance with passengers at night. Every evening, there are six or seven musical groups on board playing live music all over the ship. Internet and phone: The ship has an internet cafe. You put your room card in the slot and you are charged 4 euro for the first 10 minutes, then .40 euro per minute. No discount packages. If you have a laptop or wifi enabled PDA you can buy 30 minutes of wifi for 12 euro, 60 minutes for 24 euro, 120 minutes for 40 euro or 250 minutes for 80 euro. You go to the registration desk, give them your room card, and they give you an envelope with instructions and your logon id and password. The ship has various wifi hotspots. If you want wifi in your cabin, apparently you can get a network cable. I don't know the price of that. The wifi was fast enough for email, but when I used it for Skype VOIP calls, a lot of words got dropped. Still, it's a relatively cheap way to check your home or office voice mail, or to check on the family at home. The information booklet in the cabin said that satellite phone calls from the cabin are 3.99 euro per minute. Someone calling you from the states might have to pay a high per minute rate to reach the ship; best to ask the long distance carrier in advance. I saw some people using their cell phones. MSC doesn't charge for that, but your cell phone company may charge you for roaming at sea. Mine quoted $5.00 per minute. Tennis: There is one tennis court that appears to be full size. Miniature golf: There is a typical miniature golf course. Spa: The spa on the ship is run by a Balinese company and has sauna and steam rooms, which I think are shared by men and women. Various massages and treatments are available at fairly high prices. There also are thermal baths, which may be individual. There are fees (15 euro per hour, with occasional discounts) for those spa facilities. There are hot tubs on the pool deck that are free. Gym: The gym is adequate. There are treadmills, ellipticals, stair climbers, and one circuit of weight machines. Limit of 25 minutes on the cardio machines. Stretching classes were free, some other classes for a fee. No water fountain. Fabulous panoramic view in the front of the ship. The gym got fairly hot with the sun shining on all of the glass. Service on Board: Embarkation -- out taxi knew where to drop us off so that a porter took our bar code labelled suitcases and we didn't have to carry them. Check in was well organized and took an hour. We were shown right to our cabin. Our bags showed up 10 minutes later. Noise issues: Overall we found our cabin to be very quiet. We did hear children running in the hallway, but we didn't hear any voices. Several times we did hear loud music/bass on the other side of our cabin wall. The third time, we called the desk. Within 5 minutes a ship officer came to our cabin to hear the music, and within about 2 minutes after that it was quiet. Our table mates had a similar problem with noise from neighbors, which the staff resolved promptly. Disembarkation: Mid-cruise, a form is put in your cabin for you to complete, indicating your travel plans at the end of the cruise. Near the end of the cruise, the assistant cruise directors conducted language-specific briefings on disembarkation. On the last night of the cruise, they put color coded labels in your cabin for you to put on your luggage. You need to leave your large suitcases outside your cabin door by midnight, keeping your hand luggage. Early in the morning, the ship delivers two copies of your final bill for onboard charges (including excursions, wine, bar drinks, the standard 6-euro per day per passenger tip/gratuity for the waiters, cabin stewards, et al.). If you are satisfied with the bill, you sign one copy and bring it to the registration/information desk or the accounting desk, keeping the copy. If there is an error or you want to delete the standard tip and give tips directly, you go to the accounting desk. On the morning of disembarkation, all passengers have to vacate their cabins by 7:30 a.m. Breakfast is available and the lounges are open. The daily program indicates which lounge you should wait in, based on the color of your baggage tags. After the ship docks and is cleared by the authorities, you claim your passports at the accounting desk (around 9:15 in our case, although no announcement was made). You disembark when they call your color code, with first priority to those with early flights. We had an early flight out of Genoa, so we were in the first group off the ship, around 9:30. All passengers, even those with prepaid transfers to an airport, must claim their own suitcases in the terminal. Luggage carts are provided. Taxi to the Genoa airport is about 32 euro. MSC has a nice private lounge at the Genoa airport. The cafeteria there is also very good and reasonably priced. Clientele: On our cruise, there were about 2500 passengers, only 300 of whom were English speaking (American, Canadian and Australian). Most of the passengers were German. A fair number were Italian. Announcements are made in five languages. Breakfast and lunch in the dining room are open seating. The maitre d' will try to seat you with people who speak your language. Most Europeans speak some English so it's interesting to sit with them. You really feel like you are in Europe when you are sailing the Mediterranean on MSC. Ports of Call: Genoa: We spent the night before the cruise at the Hotel Bellevue in Genoa, which is right across from the main Genoa train station with hourly bus service to/from the airport (Volabus #100). We had a lot of luggage so we took a taxi. The meter read 18 euro but the driver said there were extra charges for airport pickup, second passenger, baggage, entering the old port area, etc., and he insisted on 30 euro. The hotel was only $105 for the night, including breakfast, which was Continental plus yogurt, thin sliced ham and processed cheese. The room was large, about 15' x 15', with a nice bathroom. We had a corner room with huge windows overlooking the harbor. Given the price and location, I highly recommend the hotel. With the windows closed, the trains didn't bother us. Sightseeing -- Monday morning we did some sightseeing in Genoa. In retrospect we should have allowed an additional day in Genoa, either before or after the cruise. Still, we had time to visit the Staglione cemetery, which is not to be missed. We bought bus tickets from a tabac (tobacco shop) for 1.2 euro. The #42 bus left from the front of the Principe train station and took 25 minutes to get to the cemetery. Don't bother with a taxi; the roads are too narrow for any taxi to pass the bus! The cemetery is fabulous, sculpture, monuments, landscaping. On our return, we got off the bus near the middle of town, a five minute walk to the Genoa aquarium, which costs 18 euro per person but was well worth it. The hummingbird forest was not worth another 2 euros per person. Then we walked through the old port city, caught a taxi, picked up our suitcases which were being held at the desk, and headed to the cruise terminal. As described above, embarkation was smooth. Katakolon (Olympia): Katakolon is a small tourist town that is used as an access point for Olympia. Rather than taking a bus tour, we took the train to and from Olympia. The train is only a couple of euro roundtrip. Our ship docked on schedule at 9:00, which was too late for the 8:36 train. We took the 10:13 train which ended in Pirog. We walked through that town until the 11:26 train to Olympia, which turned out to be the same train that leaves Katakolon at 11:06 and gets to Olympia at 11:52 a.m. After walking 10 minutes to the archeological site, we gave ourselves a walking tour for about an hour and a half, then walked back to the train depot for the 1:46 p.m. train that arrived in Katakolon at 2:32 p.m. The next return train, which leaves Olympia at 3:42 p.m., does not get back to Katakolon until 4:30 p.m., would have missed our ship. So we settled for the short visit to Olympia. Fee for the archeological site or the museum is 6 euro; combined ticket for both is 9 euro. There also are taxis in Katakolon but if you take the train you get some contact with the locals, like the old woman we saw waiting at the Pirog train station with the three kids (baby goats) that she had bought in town. We enjoyed a late lunch (pork, not goat) at a seaside cafe in Katakolon. Piraeus/Athens: Having made some friends on the cruise, six of us decided to visit the Acropolis on our own. From the ship terminal, we walked about 45 minutes, mostly along the harbor road, to the metro/train station. That is the end of the line for the #1 train, which costs 1.4 euro roundtrip to Monastirakiou (the 7th stop). The train took about 20 minutes, then it was about a 20 minute pleasant walk to the Acropolis, which you can see from the train station. Admission to the Acropolis was free the day we visited in honor or memory of a government official or his wife, so we don't know the usual admission price. We paid an official guide 85 euro for a private tour (about 75 minutes) that combined history, sociology and politics. Then we walked through the parking lot and up the adjacent hill, about a 10 minute climb via the stairs (it would take about 20 minutes if you take the sloping pathway). The view looking over to the Acropolis was fantastic. We reversed our course and got back to the ship around 3:00. The Orchestra obligingly served buffet lunch until 3:30 including lamb stew and pork stew with prunes, both of which were excellent. Rhodes: We walked through the Medieval old city (including interesting side streets that are free of souvenir shops), and we toured the Palace of the Knights (6 euro). We then enjoyed lunch on the square (9.5 euro for a Greek sampler platter that two of us shared; drinks 4 to 6 euro). Alexandria (Cairo, etc.) Egypt: We assembled in one of the ship's lounges at 8:00 a.m to get our identifying stickers for our 12 hour bus tour to Sakkara, Memphis and Giza. By 8:30 we were on a new, air conditioned bus with a tiny bathroom (toilet and sink), with an excellent English speaking guide, driver, and armed guard. Our bus and about 40 others drove in a convoy with police/security escort on the desert road, a fairly uninteresting 3 hour drive to the outskirts of Cairo. The buses then went different directions depending on the tour. There were tours of the Egyptian museum and Giza; Egyptian museum and Roman amphitheater; Cairo and Giza with lunch on a cruise boat on the Nile. Each of these tours was between 106 and 118 euro. As you will see as you read below, the price is a good value and it would be difficult, if not impossible, to sightsee in Cairo safely on your own, and be sure of returning in time for the ship to sail). Our bus continued to Sakkara, arriving about 12:20 p.m. We had a 40 minute visit to the ancient stepped pyramid (the oldest pyramid in Egypt), followed by a 20 minute drive to Memphis. There we had a 20 minute stop to visit the alabaster sphinx and a large statue of Ramses II. At both of these stops, peddlers swarmed the tourists trying to sell souvenirs and inviting picture taking (one of them taking your picture with one of them and a statute, etc.). The scam is they then expect money, especially to give you back your own camera. This happened to us in Memphis and it was the Tourist Police themselves who tried to shake us down. At Sakkara one of our group ignored the guide's advice to stay away from the camel drivers. Once they were on the camel there was a disagreement about the price to get down. Anyone sightseeing in Egypt should avoid eye contact, much less conversation, with anyone selling or offering anything, including people offering to have their pictures taken for free (it's just not true). After our stop in Memphis, we went to lunch at a hotel in Giza. Although the buffet was included in the tour, we had heard from friends who had traveled to Egypt that North Americans often get sick from Egyptian food, so we ate only what we had brought from home (pasta/tuna salad in poptop cans, nutrition bars, cheese/peanut butter crackers). We also brought our own bottled water because we had been warned that Egyptian bottled water can be contaminated. After the 45-minute lunch stop, we left the hotel around 3:15 and drove to Giza for a quick tour of the pyramids and sphinx (very impressive). Those attractions close at 4:30. Then we went to a papyrus "factory" to see how the plant is turned into paper, followed by 15 minutes to browse the artwork (ink and paints on papyrus rolls). We bought a small one for $11, which they rolled into an attractive carrying tube. Then we had 20 minutes at a gift shop where the prices were supposed to be non-negotiable, but we got 15% off two gold charms. We think our guide got a percentage of what we bought at both places. Back on the bus we fought our way through Cairo traffic, which includes foolhardy pedestrians, beasts of burden, and reckless drivers. Back on the desert road, we arrived at the ship at 8:30 p.m. The ship obligingly had an open seating for dinner for all who had been on tours. Our overall reaction to the day in Egypt was that the sights were worth the 12-hour bus trip but we would not want to return to Egypt. Limmasol, Cyprus: The ship docks in the new port which is about three miles from the old port/town center. The ship offered a bus shuttle for 5 euro per person, but four of us shared a cab for a (negotiated in advance) rate of 10 euro. Then we walked the streets. It was Greek Orthodox festival (the day before Greek Orthodox Lent) so the Castle and the cathedral, etc. were closed, but we enjoyed the small zoo and then we stood on the parade route for the town parade which was great fun. Marmaris: The ship offered a shuttle to and from the town for 5 euro (roundtrip). However, you can walk to the town center in about 20 minutes on a well marked path through the yacht club. From the town center, it's a five minute uphill walk to the castle which has fabulous views. I sent Cruise Critic a photo of the MSC Orchestra that I took from, and framed by, the castle battlements. Warning: If you aren't on a prepaid excursion, you have to pay 2 Turkish Lira (about 1.10 euro or about $1.70) for admission to the castle, and unlike the shops, the castle does not accept euros or dollars. The change bureaus won't change euro coins. So you may want to buy a half liter bottle of water from a shop, pay with a 2-euro coin, and accept 2 Turkish Lira as your change. Marmaris' seaside promenade is about a 45 minute roundtrip walk from the town center. So if you walked from the ship to the end of the promenade and back to the ship, with a visit to the castle, it would take about two hours. You might want to stop for Turkish coffee, lunch or dinner at one of the dozens of waterfront restaurants or cafes in town. Because the port call is a full 12 hours, you may want to take one the tours like the trip to the hillside cave tombs in Dalyon, as you still will have plenty of time to explore Marmaris. Caution: Whatever the official exchange rate, the restaurants and shops are likely to give you much less for your euro or dollar. They also declined to accept my credit card, probably so they could profit from the exchange on currency. But if you change money into Turkish Lira at a bank or money exchange, you can't exchange what you have left over back to euros or dollars. Heraklion (Crete): We walked from the port to the street, turned right and walked about 20 minutes, past the first major intersection. In the next block on the left is the main bus station. In the back of the bus station we found the ticket kiosk for the bus to the Palace of Knossos (the highlight of Heraklion). Bus tickets cost 2.30 euro roundtrip. The bus leaves every 10 minutes and takes about 25 minutes. When you get off, look across the street to your left and you will see a sign pointing to the palace entrance. Admission is 6 euro. There are excellent information signs in English throughout the palace, so we did not hire a guide (which would have cost 120 euro). We spent about 90 minutes at the palace. There also is a museum which we did not visit. Returning to the town, we followed a walking tour from a guidebook. We visited the cathedral and two churches. We walked around the 1628 Morosini fountain on Plateia Venizelou. We got lunch at an excellent taverna, and we liked the local wine so well that we bought two bottles to share with our table mates at dinner on the ship. MSC allows small quantities of wine or beer to be brought aboard. In the dining room they charge a corkage fee of 2.50 euro per passenger who drinks the wine that you bring onboard. After lunch we continued our walking tour and picked up pastries at a pastry shop. Apparently Heraklion is well known for its pastries and the sidewalk cafes that serve them with Greek coffee. On our way back to the ship, we passed by the Venetian Loggia and the 16th century Venetian fortress at the end of the old harbor's jetty. We didn't have time to see if we could tour inside. Naples: The Orchestra arrives in Naples at 8:00 a.m., and "all aboard" is 2:30 p.m., so you have to choose among touring Naples, Sorrento, Capri, or Pompei [their spelling]. We chose the ship's 4 hour excursion to Pompei, which cost about 45 euro. We decided to take the tour rather than public transportation because of the time constraint, as well as the reassurance that the ship would not leave without us if we were on one of "their" tours. The drive from the Naples port is about 30 minutes, followed by a 30 minute visit to a coral/shell cameo "factory" (shop) that is also the bathroom stop. Then our excellent guide gave us a two hour tour of Pompei. I can't possibly describe Pompei in this post except to say that it should not be missed and I plan to return when I have more time. Now let me tell you about a passenger who got left behind. At the end of the tour, the guide showed us the meeting place and gave us 15 minutes to buy souvenirs before walking to the bus, which had been moved to a parking lot. At the appointed time, our group walked with the guide to the bus. One woman ("Mary") was missing. Her traveling companion on the cruise ("Sheila") had not brought this to the attention of the tour guide either at the meeting point, nor during our walk to the bus. The guide and Sheila returned to the meeting point and looked for Mary for about ten minutes. Then they returned to the bus and we drove back to the ship. Enroute, the guide called the drivers of the other buses conducting Pompei tours from the ship, but Mary was not on their buses. The guide left word with the Pompei ticket office to have Mary take a taxi back to the ship. Mary, it turns out, had heard our guide gathering our group, but didn't see him. Rather than calling out to him, or to Sheila, Mary stayed behind and was with another group from our ship, but she did not ride with them. After waiting the better part of an hour, Mary took a (56 euro) taxi to the ship. Mary's and Sheila's point of view is that the guide should have continued looking for Mary even though she was not at the meeting point. Sheila took no responsibility for having left the meeting point without Mary, and without telling the guide until we got to the bus. Mary took no responsibility for leaving the meeting point when she heard but did not see the guide. The ship took no responsibility for anything related to the tour, and would have left without Sheila. Who was at fault? You be the judge. Conclusion: If you have stayed in First Class hotels in Europe, and you have been satisfied with neighborhood trattorias in Italy, you should be very happy with an MSC cruise, and particularly with the MSC Orchestra. Questions?  Contact carron2@msn.com  Read Less
Sail Date: February 2008
WESTERN MEDITERRANEAN SEA WITH MSC ORCHESTRA First of all I must agree with many grievances read in other reviews: Italians can be very difficult to stand. I know it, I'm with them everyday ... I'm Italian, from North of ... Read More
WESTERN MEDITERRANEAN SEA WITH MSC ORCHESTRA First of all I must agree with many grievances read in other reviews: Italians can be very difficult to stand. I know it, I'm with them everyday ... I'm Italian, from North of Italy. Apart from the fact that Germans too (and Americans too, and many others too) seem to share the same complaints about pushing & towel-marking chairs & "besetz-ing" tables, I try to be different - and I try to avoid these risk occasions. That's why I cruise on Italian ships in Winter. Then, I can't help to note that some low-rating reviews don't actually concern the ship, or the crew, but other passengers. I don't think that people at MSC deserve this, and neither do other Cruise Lines people. A member also criticized the effort to speak in six languages, pointing on the advantage given to the first listeners (of course, Italian guests) ... oh, please. On my cruise announcements were just a few and never spoken in the same order; and sincerely I don't remember any happening that needed to be the first in line. However, this is my review. Along with our sons (14- and 16-years old) we have cruised from 2008 February, 21 until march, 3 the Western Mediterranean Sea with MSC ORCHESTRA (Genoa, Barcelona, Casablanca, Tenerife, Madeira, Malaga, Rome, Genoa). This was our second cruise with MSC, and everything seems confirm our opinion: although the international MSC's motto is "Beautiful, Passionate, Italian" should be added "efficient and well organized". We reached Genoa with our car and had a little tour of the town. A couple of hours before check-in ended we entered a MSC reserved place in the port, where a crew of genoese porters welcomed us. They took just a while to carry away all our baggage and drive our car to a guarded garage (12 days, 120 euros, payment in advance). Soon we entered the Sea Station and started check-in operations: ninety per cent of passengers were already onboard, and so did we in a few minutes. As we passed the MSC security controls, we've been escorted in our stateroom by a steward and invited to take part to the welcome-on-board-cocktail. The cabin is not that wide but even the last and slightest detail has been planned to make it so roomy: there's everything you need and many solutions are really smart. The bathroom is a concentrate of functionality, the furniture is carefully executed and made of pleasantly matched materials and colors. It's fully supplied with towels, beach towels and cushions, as well as with telephone, hairdryer, interactive LCD television set, laptop connection and wi-fi sensor, minibar and electronic safe ... and a fresh fruit tray on the table. The stateroom attendant and his assistant tidy it up twice a day. Every public space on the ship - beginning from corridors and stairs - have been projected and executed with a special regard and attention to functionality and aesthetic quality. Elevators themselves - spacious, fast and silent - are beautiful, fully mirror-finished including the doors which seem to be mirror-coated until you realize they're made of incredibly polished metal. There are aboard many places (mainly on deck 5, 6 and 7) where to meet, talk, read, listen to the music and dance, and there are obviously many restaurants and bars too. You can have breakfast and lunch wherever you like to; we had a great time choosing at deck 13 "Four Seasons Restaurant" or "La Piazzetta Cafeteria", which has tables outside nearby the swimming pools, because of the astonishing view from their panoramic glass wall. At evening, instead, we had at "L'Ibiscus" restaurant a reserved table which Vasileva - a Bulgarian thoughtful waitress - and her friendly assistant were assigned to. Each restaurant has a large choice of excellent food and especially at the buffet ones there's such a wide assortment that any demand can be satisfied both at breakfast and at lunch. At dinner is provided a complete wine list and, apart from all other courses, an every evening different Italian regional menu. As you ask, waiters help you a glass of free iced water (and when you have got two thirsty boys in your family this means less water bottles billed on your credit card ... ). The service is always quick and careful and the buffet restaurant tables are all the time kept cleared off and clean. Sometimes even too quickly. Entertainment is provided by a team of cool young people and many bands and musical ensembles. "LOS PARAGUAYOS", a mariachi band from South America (three guitars and a accordion; the same name of the band we met on MSC MUSICA in 2007 but different players), and "ANGELS QUARTET" (a female set of two violins, cello, piano) from East Europe, are really good and interesting and play "unplugged" here and there near bars and halls. The bands playing at the "SHAKER LOUNGE" and/or "SAVANNAH LOUNGE" are successful too, although they use computerized instrumentation; and so are the single artists performing in the bars. The said lounges are places with as well a stunning stylish decoration as a special attention to acoustic, so that music never seems too loud. About every night are booked variety shows at the "COVENT GARDEN" theater, an hall unbelievably nice equipped with leading audio- and light- systems and surely better than many dry land theaters. Inside the theater is strictly forbidden eating or carrying food and drinks, as well as smoking. As MSC MUSICA was actually completely smoke-free (apart from the cigar room, of course), MSC ORCHESTRA is slightly different: they allow smoking in the Casino and in some parts of the lounges and of the sundeck (usually you can find "Here smokers are welcome" displayed on the left side). Everyday many publishing (program of the day, description and history of the ports of call) are available in Italian, French, English, Spanish, German and Japanese; communication during the shows and the games, and some of the ship's speaker announcements are not provided in Japanese (for oriental guests there was however a Japanese hostess at the reception desk). The guests were German and Austrian (probably the largest group), French, Italian, Spanish and Japanese. There was also a lot of Americans (a Worldventures group); I met people from Texas, Arizona and Nevada. The ones I talked to said they were positively impressed, that there was "an european flair: not better, not worse but ... different" from their previous cruises and that they should surely re-book a MSC cruise. Most of them had a pre-cruise Europe or Italy trip. The crew is English-speaking, as well as two or three more languages. Everyone at MSC ORCHESTRA is always really gentle, careful and efficient. All day- and all night- long there are people cleaning, painting and polishing and doing routine maintenance. The gym - at deck 13 - is equipped with TECHNOGYM machines; it's located at the bow and its glass wall allows to train with a terrific view. On board you can connect to the internet and e-mail, it's not too expensive but it's rather slow. During the cruise a group of Italian actors - and a huge crew ... - were shooting a new episode of a commercial series for an Italian coffee brand from Naples. It was really funny, we took a lot of unusual pictures. In the ports of Tenerife, Madeira and Malaga we were in a row with another nice Italian ship, "COSTA SERENA": another occasion for special photographs. We took about 900 pictures with our digital cameras; but we had been shot too, alone or in group (formal dinner, excursions ashore, entertainment) by the "PHOTO GALLERY" crew. At their store you can get also three custom DVD (the ship, the ports of call, the-cruise-you're-taking-part-of: this last one is of course available just the last day). It's far better to buy the pictures you like during the cruise, as soon as them are displayed on the panels: the last day it's pretty hard to find out your photos trying to choose them among thousands of pictures all filed together in boxes ... Excursions are supplied by external operators: buses and guides are both good. During the excursion you're not under pressure and you've got some free time. We've often taken a ride on a taxi for a personal tour, and we were always satisfied. In Casablanca we took it in the afternoon after having joined the official excursion in the morning, and as we were back onboard we felt ashamed because we paid the driver only twenty euros (that's what we dealt after a long discussion). We're still thinking how to send him another € 20,00. Sadly, twelve days go by so fast and Sunday night we had to line up outside the stateroom door our luggage, marked with an MSC green ribbon. Monday at 7 a.m. we came out of our cabin and went to the upper deck to have breakfast and then we waited for our color to be called. As MSC ORCHESTRA entered the port of Genoa we saw another MSC ship (MSC RHAPSODY) docked near the Sea Station, with a lot of people working on her (technicians, sailors, electricians and so on). How she's small compared to the ORCHESTRA ... We crossed for the last time the gates, we said hello to the security crew and we smoothly got out of the ship. A little later we collected the bags and the car and, as "our" MSC ORCHESTRA got smaller and smaller down in the port of Genoa, we went back to the dry land home. As we say in Italy, "there's no two without three": so we're looking forward to our next winter MSC cruise ... onboard the third sister, the new MSC POESIA who's leaving Dover in April for her first trip. In between we wouldn't mind a cruise in the Caribbean with an American ship ... Read Less
Sail Date: December 2007
We (DD age 12 & I) returned from the 11 night New Years Cruise on the MSC Orchestra and as it was a great trip and a great ship I decided to write a review. We booked the cruise with an European internet agent and reserved flights on ... Read More
We (DD age 12 & I) returned from the 11 night New Years Cruise on the MSC Orchestra and as it was a great trip and a great ship I decided to write a review. We booked the cruise with an European internet agent and reserved flights on our own. Unfortunately as we reserved the flights without their assistance they did not want to assist us with transfers from Milan to the ship, they & MSC said this was not available. With the info from previous CC travels we were well informed on how to make our way and had no problem doing so. When we arrived in Milan there was a MSC Rep collecting other passengers and luckily as they still had free places on the bus they were more then willing to take us with (price 28 Euros per head, compared with 21 Euros on the bus to Genoa + taxi fare from the station to the port). The bus took about 2 ½ hours and got us straight to the terminal with no hassles of luggage as this was taken care of. Embarkation was quick and easy even though at first it looked like there was quite a line it went rapidly and by the time we got upstairs, picked up cruise cards, took security pictures and gave credit card details we were able to proceed straight onto the ship. We were escorted to our cabin (Deck 11, Aft balcony - # 11247) - the cabin was a bit smaller then we were used to but clean and had all the necessities required. As we were settling in, the cabin steward came by and introduced himself and asked for any special wishes (we requested extra pillows, towels for the balcony chairs, ice to be refilled twice daily and two copies of the daily programme in English - to keep one for the scrapbook). He was great at keeping to the request & kept the cabin spotless throughout the entire cruise. We went upstairs to the buffet as this was the only thing open at this time to get a snack for lunch. The selection was OK but we noted that the selection or variety rarely changed for the duration of the cruise thus we simply ate in the restaurants when we could. The other reason was that the crowds were incredible, OK it was a New Years cruise & the ship was at full capacity but I came on vacation to relax and not be shoved or sit in an overcrowded loud cafeteria style setting. The breakfast selection in both the restaurant and the buffet was the same daily - I admit I miss the eggs Benedict which is one of the luxuries I enjoy on cruises and unfortunately I was told that it sometime is available for lunch. Thus for breakfasts, as my DD tends to want to sleep in as late as she can, I ordered the hot drinks and yogurt through room service and went to the buffet and took a selection of stuff to eat breakfast either in bed or on the balcony (only twice as it was not as warm as we hoped). The food in the restaurants for both lunch and dinners was good, a nice choice of starters, soups, pasta/rice and then main course and deserts with different sorbet and ice cream flavors daily. Time wise it of course took longer but it was a nice opportunity to meet new people and to sit and relax. We had fun having a chocolate fondue at the chocolate bar for a change of taste...even though it was fresh fruit that we dipped in chocolate over a flame it was ever so sinful & it was an amazing way to enjoy the afternoon. As this was an 11 day cruise they had 4 formal/gala nights. The first following a welcome reception by the captain; the second New Years eve and the fourth third again after farewell drink with the captain. There was also a special captain get-together for those celebrating anniversaries, passengers on their honeymoon or repeat cruisers which was also a gala evening. The last gala night they did serve lobster and had the traditional baked Alaska being brought in by the waiters and introductions of the main chiefs and Maitre'd. The Gala buffet during the last gala evening was simply amazing, they put on an incredible spread of very artistic decorations and food arrangements - it's really a shame that some passengers could not respect the 15 minutes viewing time to allow for taking pictures and had to push to get food and destroy the marvellous work the crew put together. I'm always amazed that European cruises are not as formal as American based ships - but to each his own. The ship itself is gorgeous, shinnying with lots of brass and being only a few months old they do a very good job keeping it spotless and very new looking both inside and out. The public areas are spacious with nice touches and variety throughout the ship. For our taste there were not enough organized activities on board, even on the 3 days at sea, when we expected more to be organized - we had to keep ourselves busy and find things to do. The things that were organized were lead by a young and very dynamic team & they did their utmost to keep things fun and active. The shows were good but if you sailed previously with MSC ships many were repeats of both theme/content and costumes - so no exciting surprises for past cruisers. We were very happy with the service all around. The cabin steward was great and even took the extra effort to run to open the door when I was carrying breakfast to the room, he kept us well equipped with ice and our entire extra wishes. The hosts on board both the German (Ulrike) and the English (Maurice) were both fantastic and down to earth with always a smile and good advice; both spoke perfect English and were available if/when questions arose. Restaurant staff was polite and service oriented, for example, our dinner waiter was quick at knowing our likes and was there with ice water before we even had to ask for it and my DD's favorite soft drink was waiting for her. In the lounges and bars it was pleasant to note that we were not constantly asked if we wanted another drink, it didn't feel like if you are not drinking you are not welcome; and when you wanted a drink, the service was prompt. We did not take any of the ship organized excursions as we like to organize our own thing and most of the ports of call were repeats for us we knew what we wanted to do. We met some lovely people on board and truly hope that some turn into e-mail friendships and perhaps even future cruising mates. Disembarkation was a bit of a drag as we don't have EU passports. Even though by the color of our luggage tags we could have been off the ship at 8.30 am as the immigration formalities took longer all those with American, Canadian, non-EU passports waited around the reception until the passports were finally brought in. When they finally came everyone jumped to the reception & it was a herd trying to get their documents to get off the ship. We finally managed to get off after 10.00. Less time to spend in Milan, but just enough to grab one last good Italian Pizza. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: September 2007
We returned yesterday from a wonderful 7 day cruise on the MSC Orchestra. This was my 8th cruise- I have been on Holland America, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Costa- this was the first time on MSC. We flew Iberia air from ... Read More
We returned yesterday from a wonderful 7 day cruise on the MSC Orchestra. This was my 8th cruise- I have been on Holland America, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Costa- this was the first time on MSC. We flew Iberia air from Washington to Venice with a stopover in Madrid. Iberia air allows you to stop in Madrid for a $25 charge and then continue the flight to Venice a few days later- we spent a day and a night in Madrid then flew on to Venice. We booked the MSC airport shuttle service ($18 from airport to ship)- when we got off the flight in Venice, we gathered our luggage and saw the MSC representative outside of the security area. This was the easiest way to get to the ship but be advised that no one explains anything once you get to the ship port. It turns out that when you get off the airport shuttle bus at the ship port, you have to get an electronic tag for your luggage from one of the MSC reps. Then they take away your luggage and you don't need to handle it again until it arrives in your cabin. Check in went smoothly- the lines were short since we were there early (around 10 am). We were assigned a boarding number and told that boarding would begin around 12:30 noon- it actually began at 12:00 noon. We waited outside the ship until 12:00 watching the busy water taxis next to the ship. There is a duty free shop inside the registration area where you can buy wine and bring it right on board into your cabin. They also sell hard liquor at the shop and I think you are also allowed to bring that into your cabin but we only bought wine. Buy your wine at this shop- we bought Italian wines for around $8 per bottle. We were told it was okay to empty out the mini bar on the ship- the steward just placed all the items on the top of the fridge and then we were able to load the fridge in the room with our own wine. You can sign up for the ship's excursions in the registration area. We booked an outside balcony room. It was a decent size and the bathroom was larger than expected. There were 2 plastic wicker type chairs and a small table on the balcony. There are outlets for both American appliances as well as European appliances in the room so adaptors are not needed. We asked for extra towels the first day and from then on the steward always put extra towels in our room. Our steward also brought us fresh wine glasses and left them in the room each day. As others have mentioned, there were no towel animals or chocolates on the beds each night but for the money saved on MSC, we did not need these little touches. The meals were better than expected. We only ate breakfast once in the dining room- it is the same menu as the buffet. The breakfast buffet did not vary much - each day there were french toast, fried eggs, scrambled eggs, bacon , sausage, baked tomatoes, hash browns, fresh fruit, excellent yogurt and lots of cereals and a variety of breads including focaccia, muffins, pastries and toast. Lunch was good with plenty of variety each day. We liked the pizza , there were also hot dogs, hamburgers and many types of hot main dishes, salads etc... We had the late dinner seating at 9:15. Our wait staff was very efficient and friendly. The dinners were better than expected with many entrees to pick each night.There is always a pasta and a risotto- the pumpkin risotto was wonderful! They also had a lobster night- although the lobster was a bit over cooked, it was a good size and tasted great! Lobster night was one of the formal nights and they did a parade of baked alaska the same night. We ate one night in the Chinese restaurant and thought it was excellent- two of our friends went back to the Chinese restaurant for a second night. The Chinese restaurant is very reasonable- all kinds of dim sum for 1 euro apiece or entrees for around $9. I did not expect to like the food on the ship based on past reviews , but it was much better than expected (I recently cruised on Holland America and was surprised that I liked the food on MSC almost as much as the food on Holland America) We thought there was a lack of activities on the ship. On other cruises there have been kitchen tours, food/cooking demonstrations, movie nights etc.. but MSC did not offer any of these. They did offer various exercise classes and some craft classes. We went to a few of the shows- really enjoyed all the acrobats and the magician. We did not make all the shows since we had such a late dining time and the late shows did not start until 11:15-11:30. Some people mentioned that there is a man in charge of the pool area who yells if you move a pool chair, we did not find that on our cruise. No one seemed to care where you put your chairs. You can not get towels at the pool, you have to use the pool towel that is put in your room. There were several days when we did not get a pool towel and we had to search for our steward to find it. We signed up for the ship's tour to the Sassi in Bari but the English speaking tour was cancelled since they did not have enough sign up- they did run an Italian and Spanish tour to the Sassi but we passed on that and walked around Bari on our own. We took a cab to the city center and then walked the town and walked back along the water to the ship (we easily could have walked to the town center from the ship) We enjoyed watching the fishermen catching fresh squid on our way back to the ship.We felt that Bari was a port that we would skip in the future. MSC stops there since it takes on new passengers and lets off other passengers in Bari. We did a private tour in Katakolon- our taxi driver took us to Olympia to see the ruins and then we stopped to shop a bit in the town of Olympia. After Olympia, we went and toured a winery near the ship and then stopped at the shops in Katakolon. We used katakolontaxi@gmail.com and would recommend him again- although he could not give us a tour at the Olympic site since he is not licensed to give tours, he was very flexible with where we wanted to go and stopped whenever we wanted to see something. We paid 180 euro for the 4 hour tour-this did not include admission to the Olympic site. We also had a private tour in Izmir. We toured Izmir and the Virgin Mary's house- we used www.kusadasi-taxi.com- paid $300 for the 5 of us- this included admission to the sites. We toured Istanbul on own- hired a taxi driver for a 45 minute tour around the city and then he dropped us off at the Blue Mosque. Everything is walking distance- the mosque, Hagia Sofia, Topkapi palace, the grand bazaar and the Spice market. We also were able to walk back to the ship. We did not do a tour in Dubrovnik. The ship offers a transfer to and from Dubrovnik for 8 euro (I think), since we were a group of 5, we took a private taxi for 10 euro each way -this was better than waiting in line for the ship's shuttle in to town. There are plenty of taxis waiting when you get off the ship to take you into town. Our biggest complaint about this cruise was the rudeness of the European passengers. There were very few Americans aboard and as others mentioned, the Europeans are very pushy, cut in line, bump into you and don't say "excuse me" and the men have no chivalry! Our other complaint is that you can not get drinking water after 4 pm unless you buy bottled water on the ship. All other cruise lines offer free water in the buffet area most of the night. We also felt the stops in the ports were too brief. Overall it was a great cruise with perfect weather. We would all cruise MSC again! Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: June 2007
I have just come back from the MSC Orchestra departing 23th June and arriving back in Venice on 30th June! It was the most unbelievable experience you could ever imagine! It was my parents 50th birthdays and we had the whole family of 32 ... Read More
I have just come back from the MSC Orchestra departing 23th June and arriving back in Venice on 30th June! It was the most unbelievable experience you could ever imagine! It was my parents 50th birthdays and we had the whole family of 32 people. The service is unforgettable, as it is extremely organized and very fast. The staff are exceptionally friendly and do there upmost best! . The entertainment is amazing especially the R32 Disco! It is lively and has 67 plasma screens 35 of which you are dancing on! They have also huge carnivals on the top open deck with live music and amazing buffets with huge statues made out of different types of fruit, vegetables and bread etc. There is a miniclub for all the children and the ship is great and outstanding fun for all ages. The ship is very classy for all the adults as it has stunning wine bars, a casino, and modern and traditional lounges! It is a mega-huge ship you may think 90,000 gross tons is not that large! But just wait till you enter! as the reception hall even has its own waterfall within it! The restaurants are really well designed. The food is to a good presentational skill and a good tasting standard. As i am a male teenager myself, the Italian girls were stunning especially the girl that was sitting opposite me for dinner every night on table 655 in the restaurant hibiscus, and the stunning one in room 11178!, as i was in room 11172! The outside cabin with balcony are very well designed but however do not contain to much space but then again you can always upgrade to the ships 18 suites. The Price is magnificent for what you get out of the tour! The embarkation trips and excursions are very well organized with refreshments etc. I spent most of my time in the R32 disco until 3 am. Sometimes even 5:30 am. It was a fantastic experience with the whole family from Denmark. The ship is well organized to the upmost best and keeps its grand reputation. A definite cruise to try! You will want to go back time and time again! I have been on many cruises with my parents including Disney and Royal Caribbean, but this makes what i call a 'Difference'. And that difference is worth every penny and should definitely be an one experience within your life time! Long live MSC ORCHESTRA SIIIIIIIIIIIIII!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: June 2007
We just returned from a one-week cruise on the Orchestra. Let me start by saying we had a FANTASTIC time and were very impressed. Background - This was the 7th cruise for my husband and me and the 4th cruise that our 12yr old son has ... Read More
We just returned from a one-week cruise on the Orchestra. Let me start by saying we had a FANTASTIC time and were very impressed. Background - This was the 7th cruise for my husband and me and the 4th cruise that our 12yr old son has been on. We were also on the Costa Fortuna last year. Although, we have considerable cruising experience; we have intentionally never been on a cruise with any of the top companies (aka Carnival, RC, Norwegian, etc) nor do we intend to. Let me clarify; we take one to two major vacations each year and expect value for our money. We have never stayed at a "Sandals" resort because we know that by doing so we would set the bar too high and would expect that level for all further trips. Instead, we select a 4+ or 5 star hotel when booking Caribbean vacations. The price we pay is considerably less than we would pay at Sandals (or similar). We can, thus, afford several holidays for the price of one superior one. I feel this is the same with cruising. We paid $1,400 each Cdn including airfare for our MSC cruise. My travel agent was quoting us over $3,500 each for a similar cruise on Royal Caribbean. In my opinion, I would not get $2,100 extra value so we booked MSC. The WOW - The Orchestra is a beautiful ship and especially impressive because of its "newness". The staff were ALL friendly and helpful. All crew members could speak English (this was better than we found last year on Costa). The crew did everything they could to make your holiday enjoyable (our cabin stewart figured out after the first night that we wanted ice in our cabin at 4pm and it was there without asking from that point onward). The food was outstanding - lots of variety and none of use was served a single dish that we didn't enjoy. I HATE buffets but the breakfast and lunch buffets were very well done and served great choices. The Chinese restaurant (extra charge) was fantastic. The pools were warm and well designed (bigger than we have seen on previous cruises). The shows were excellent. Even our 12 year old wanted to go to every show. We have normally gone to the first one or two shows and then decided not to bother and to catch up on our lost sleep. Not so on the Orchestra - our son would go 1/2 hr early to make sure we got the "best" seats. Also, the shows were short (45 minutes) which suited us well. We had the "cheapest" inside cabin (again, I don't spend extra $$$ on cabins but prefer to use the savings on excursions). The cabin was well set up and the beds were very comfortable. The embarkation was smooth. We have never had such an easy time getting on and off a ship each day to explore. The Ports: Venice - we looked around on our own when we arrived. Took the free shuttle from the port to Venice as you have a few hours before sailing time. We added an extra night on to the end of our trip to spend in Venice so this "preview" was very worthwhile. Bari - You MUST take the Sassi excursion. This was one of the highlights of our vacation. It was the most interesting and beautiful site. As it is quite a distance (1.25 hrs) it isn't something you could arrange on your own as you have only 4.5 hrs in port. Our guide was excellent and I would love to return some day to see more. Katakolon - We did the Olympia excursion and enjoyed it. If you are interested in history; this is certainly a good trip. Shopping in Olympia at the end of the tour was also great. Our guide was good but a little "long-winded". Izmir - We didn't do a tour here. We got a taxi to take us to the Bazaar and had a blast. The locals are helpful and very friendly. We had shop keepers serve us tea and a merchant go off to exchange one 20 Euro bill for two $10's. Bought a huge bag of saffron for 2 Euro. This was a fantastic cultural experience for our 12 year old. Istanbul - Again we ventured off on our own after doing a lot of research on the internet before our vacation. We felt the tour was too expensive and thought we could manage well on our own. We took a taxi to the Hagia Sophia (10 Euro) and walked to the other sites from there. Hagia was amazing as was the Blue Mosque. Sea day - fine but we are not big on sea-days. The decks on the ship were quite crowded but it was nice to relax for a few hours. Dubrovnik - WOW, what a place. The ship offered a shuttle (8 Euro) to the main part of town where we walked the ancient wall). Fantastic views and very interesting. If you do your research ahead of time and know what to look for; a tour here isn't really required. Be sure to take comfortable shoes as there are a lot of stairs to climb but a must-see town. Venice - we booked an additional night in Venice and stayed at the Hotel Gabrielle Sandwirth right on the canal. This worked out very well as we had a chance to really explore Venice and, other than the hotel charge, didn't cost extra. As I sit here preparing this review, I feel readers will be looking for negative aspects as all of the above are positives. This is extremely hard to do as we were very happy with the Orchestra. The only thing I can come up with is a warning about the other passengers on-board. On our trip there were only 300 English speaking guests. Most of the others were Italian with a few French and German speaking passengers. We learned last year that the Italians have a much different perspective on personal space and line-ups than we do in North America. So, be prepared for butting in line and pushing; it isn't meant in an offensive way at all. This is just how the culture (seems) to work. You will likely not hear an "excuse me" or a "thank you" but will learn quickly that you just have to lightly push back or hold your place in line. We saw the same thing last year on our Costa cruise and just accepted that this is how things are and as the saying goes, "when in Rome, do as the Romans do" I hope this provides a general overview of our trip and experience with MSC. We could not have been happier with our cruise and would recommend the Orchestra to friends and family. We would not hesitate to take another MSC cruise in the future. We heard other passengers complain because they "didn't get a chocolate on their pillow each night which they got on their last RC cruise" and that "you don't have to book a dinner time on the Norwegian ships and can eat at any restaurant free". Remember, you likely saved thousands of dollars so take your own chocolates for your pillow and enjoy a great meal where you get to know your waiter and see him for dinner each night. Bon voyage!!!! Read Less
MSC Orchestra Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.0 0.0
Dining 4.0 0.0
Entertainment 3.0 0.0
Public Rooms 4.0 0.0
Fitness Recreation 4.0 0.0
Family 3.0 0.0
Shore Excursion 4.0 0.0
Enrichment 2.0 0.0
Service 3.0 0.0
Value For Money 4.0 0.0
Rates 4.0 0.0

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