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We just returned from a week-long trip aboard the MSC Orchestra to Norway and Sweden. Aside from one other family we met on board, we believe we were the only Americans aboard this sailing. This was our second experience with MSC -- the first being Christmas 2013 aboard the Divina to the Caribbean -- and needless to say our first experience with them on a European sailing. The boards here on CruiseCritic had me very concerned about what to expect, and I'm happy to report that we had a fantastic cruise. I anticipate this review being long, primarily as there are so relatively few reviews of the Orchestra, particularly on her limited runs to Norway/Sweden. We booked through a Stateside travel agent and no problems. As is well known, the MSC website is awful and it was not at all helpful in the months leading up to the cruise. As was my observation with our earlier Divina sailing, MSC really needs to get the website fixed, if only to provide guests with detailed information about their sailing. We found it impossible to get information on evening dress codes (how many gala nights, etc.), and booking excursions was a pain and a half. We normally book excursions through private companies, but most of the places we visited lacked a plethora of choices or it simply was not possible (as in Geiranger/Hellysylt). We ended up booking excursions through MSC for three of our five ports, and it worked out fine. You add them to your "shopping cart" and they do not confirm them until you're on board. In our case, our tour for our first stop -- Kristiansand -- was cancelled the night before arrival, but we were able to rebook on a different tour. I also pre-booked the 14-voucher softdrink package on-line, which I think is cheaper than buying on board. I'm still not sure. Our cruise was originally slated to depart from Copenhagen but it changed literally a couple days before we booked, and was moved to Kiel, Germany. The MSC website offers no information at all about transfer options, though it turns out they were available -- at least we saw them when we were there, but there was nothing on-line and our travel agent was told by MSC USA that they were not available. They did offer a bus shuttle from the Kiel train station, and when we returned, we saw buses labeled for MSC transfers to Hamburg Airport – all information that would have been helpful in the beginning. As we didn’t know any of these things, we were left on our own to get from Copenhagen down to Kiel. Going by train would have involved at least two transfers and I was concerned about timing, so we ended up renting a car at Copenhagen Airport and driving down. Two one-way car rentals were prohibitively expensive, so we ended up renting for the week and just leaving the car in the parking garage during the trip. In hindsight, we could have done the train and likely saved money, but information simply was not there. Kiel has no airport, by the way. I pre-booked parking through the Port of Kiel website, and the parking garage was convenient -- the Altstadt garage, about 500 meters from the Ostseekai, from where the ship departs. Kiel as three separate cruise/ferry docks, and once again MSC did not provide the dock information -- I had to find it elsewhere. Without knowing which dock, choosing parking is difficult. We picked up our car from Copenhagen Airport and made the drive down in about 3 and 1/2 hours, over the bridge (there is the option of going by ferry, which is technically shorter milewise but you're at the mercy of the ferry schedule). Once in town, we followed the signs to the dock, which included specific signs for the Orchestra as we got closer. We were allowed to pull into the area right along the ship and drop our bags. There was no line and the porters were very efficient, and spoke English. We then drove to the parking garage, left the car, and had a quick bite in the old town. It was a short walk back to the pier. I was apprehensive as to what to expect, as I'd read horror stories about MSC departures in Europe, particularly from Italy, but we were pleasantly surprised. A short line and document check got us into the terminal. We walked the short gauntlet of MSC crew offering information on the beverage packages, excursions, spa and kids club, and then got directly in line. This was the first time we saw these offerings made in the dock area, rather than on the ship, and I have to say it was nice as it gave people an option of when/if they wanted the info. Check-in was very efficient, with all the key cards pre-printed and waiting. They had to have had at least 20 check-in kiosks going, and the line went very quickly. A quick x-ray screening and final passport check had us on the ship in less than 10 minutes from the time we got in line outside the terminal. The ship is very similar to the Divina, albeit smaller. It basically felt as if one section was missing, but it had an immediate familiarity to it. We went up to the buffet on 13 and, while crowded, it was the easiest time we had all week in finding a table. The quality of the departure lunch was excellent, with an outstanding selection. First impressions were very good. We'd already read ahead and knew the drink situation. There are coffee and water stations in the buffet, but they are all self-serve. Waiters abounded and it did not look difficult to get their attention and order any other kind of (pay) drinks. At breakfast, they have self-serve stations with orange, grapefruit, pineapple, and Ace (multifruit) juices. Our cabin was not to be ready until 4:00pm, but we went down around 2:00pm and found it ready. Having flown overnight from the States the night before, and then driving down from Copenhagen, we were all tired and just rested in the room for a couple of hours. Our bags were deposited outside the door before 4:00pm. The obligatory lifeboat drill was conducted in one of the lounges and, despite being repeated in five languages, was quick and efficient. We had an aft-facing balcony cabin for three on deck 9. We'd been toward the rear on Divina and liked it, and were again very pleased with our selection on this ship. Unlike Divina, there are aft-facing balconies that can accommodate more than two people. The cabin was much larger than I'd expected; slightly larger than on Divina. Again, available information is scarce, but having peeked into many other balconies during the trip, it appears that the aft-facing cabins are slightly larger. We had two beds pushed together to form a king and then an extra-long sofa, which had a trundle bed pulled out at night for our teenage daughter. As on the Divina, it offered a real mattress vice sofa-bed "cushion." Both the trundle and main beds were VERY comfortable. Our cabin had a connecting door, but we never experienced noise from the other side. There was a desk and large empty area in the corner, which gave the cabin a very open feel. The balcony itself was slightly larger than those on the port or starboard sides, and slightly cantilevered. They even put a third chair out there, along with a small table, as we were a triple. I should also mention that the sailing was completely full. The television and minibar were installed on a corner cabinet, alongside the closet, which is a very efficient use of the space. This SHOULD have been done on Divina. While small, the flat-screen TV did work well and there were on-demand features available, including portfolio reviews. The bathroom was large and a mirror image of those on the Divina EXCEPT for the glass shower doors. I know they were added to Divina when she first arrived in the States, and I'm hoping they’re installed on Orchestra in the future. The glass doors worked really well and did wonders to help the lighting in the shower. There was plenty of storage in the bathroom -- on a multi-level corner shelf, as well as in the undersink cabinets -- for all three of us. All in all, I give the cabin an excellent rating. In addition, being in the rear, we never once heard noise from the hallway as there was no cross-traffic. As on the Divina, too, there are outside staircases on each of the rear corners of the ship, connecting deck 7 (verandah), all the way up to 14. We used these a lot to get quickly up or down. This “real estate” could easily accommodate a few more cabins, but bravo to MSC for leaving them open. We had first seating in the L’Ibiscus main dining room (there are two), which was at 6:00pm. Second Seating is at 8:30pm. I was curious how they would handle seating, as it was already clear that native-English speakers were a distinct minority on this sailing. We feared being at a table of Italian speakers or such (only because we don’t speak Italian), but were pleasantly surprised when we were shown to our own table for three. We were in the back corner, in a very private area and were pleased. As it turned out, the table next to us was a large family of Taiwanese-Americans from New York, but otherwise we were the only Americans on the ship. Our server explained to us a couple of days in that they try to "cluster" nationalities in the dining room, and we had been assigned the "very small American corner." Our waiter was from Romania and the assistant waiter from Ukraine. They both spoke English, in addition to Russian and enough German and Italian to serve those nationalities as well. We were very happy with the service, and the food – while not outstanding – was solid and equally on PAR with what we had on the Divina. I would equate it with Princess, put it above Norwegian, and below Holland America. The menu book was provided in six or seven languages and must not change too much week-to-week, as it is pre-printed and bound on glossy paper. Six courses were offered (appetizer, salad, soup, pasta/risotto, main dish, and dessert) though we never ordered that many. I had risotto as one course on most every night and each time it was EXCELLENT. I highly recommend it, especially the version with sparkling wine and shrimp – OUTSTANDING! From reading ahead, I was aware that MSC does not serve water as a matter course during sit-down meals. For Americans (maybe Canadians, too…I’m not sure) MSC provides a voucher book upon check-in (free of charge) for one bottle of day of either still or sparking water (about a 1.5 liter bottle). That worked out well, and we ordered wine/beer when we wanted. It was all very efficient, and worked more smoothly than on the Divina. I should have mentioned, too, that they come around offering fresh bread several times during the meal. There was a nightly show in the main theater, with two sittings – one at 7:15pm and one at 9:15pm. The later showing was for those of us with the first dinner seating. It was, however, in my opinion too late and could have easily have been moved up. Because of the hour, we missed a few shows simply because we were too tired to stay up. The shows we did attend were good, though not great. On each occasion, the theater was not close to full. As on Divina, they are short shows – 30-45 minutes – and concentrate on song, dance, and acrobats, given the number of languages spoken by the passengers. The cruise director opened each show with an introduction/welcome delivered in English, German, Italian, Spanish, and French. In fact, all of the announcements were done in all five languages, but we never found it intrusive. In addition, perhaps because of all the languages, the number of announcements throughout the whole cruise was kept to an absolute minimum, which was nice. I didn’t need to be reminded of each session of bingo. We never did, btw, hear anything from the captain. We were invited to a “reception” with him, as members of the MSC Club, but we missed it. We met our cabin steward that first night, before dinner. He was extremely unobtrusive and did a great job with our cabin. He spoke English, though I don’t know how many other languages he knew. We asked for extra pillows and blankets that first night, we he quickly got and which we retained through the cruise. At breakfast the following morning – our first full day of the cruise – the only downside of the cruise became apparent. The buffet dining room is simply too small for all of the people on board. For sailings in the Med or Caribbean it might have worked, because people could sit at one of the very many outdoor tables, but as it was cold on our trip, everyone was inside and there simply isn’t enough room. It became a constant “battle” to find a table at both breakfast and lunch. The crowds were confounded by the fact that the buffet areas are not set up to be uni-directional. In other words, on most other ships, there is a clear area to enter and exit – not so on the Orchestra. Each buffet area is completely open, so people are coming from both sides, and a great number simply stepped in whenever they pleased – more on cultural differences later. This all led to chaos, so while the food was good at both of these meals, the crowds were a major detractor. I understand the Orchestra is undergoing some minor upgrades later this year – I highly recommend that MSC look into installing some kind of guide system, as one-way traffic could really help in the buffet area. In addition, they should (and have the room) to install two additional coffee/water/juice stations in the aft of the cafeteria. Divina has some here. There are not enough stations as it is now, and both corners of the rear of the buffet area have room to easily accommodate two more stations, which would also help alleviate crowding. I was not sure exactly how this cruise might differ from others we have taken and, aside from the passenger profile, it was very similar to others. There were all the “standard” offerings during the day, including trivia, bingo, “sale bonanzas,” dance contests, etc. The entertainment did an excellent job handling all the different languages. We played trivia three or four times, and used a combination of video clips and pre-printed forms to help accommodate the languages and it worked quite well. In fact, all in all, the entertainment staff was really good. This was a port intensive cruise, which is what we really wanted. First stop was Kristiansand on Sunday afternoon. Monday was a day at sea; Tuesday was Geirange/Hellysylt, Wednesday was Flaam, Thursday was Stavenger, and Friday was Goetenborg in Sweden. I’ll do separate reviews of the ports, but suffice it to say that at each port of call, the disembarkation/embarkation procedures were fantastic. Really top notch, with no long lines and very efficient operations. It was interesting, however, that announcements were never made when we arrived in port. We kept waiting for someone to announce that we were free to leave the ship and where to go, but those calls never came. That said, at every port they had mid and fore exits open, and it was very easy to take an elevator down to level 4 and walk right off the ship. We never showed or carried our passports from the minute we got on and off in Kiel. As on the Divina, MSC has dedicated security personnel to man all this, and they are very efficient. We never waiting in a long line and it always moved. A note, too, on the stop in Goteborg. The ship has to dock outside the city, as it cannot pass under the main bridge leading into town. It is about a 15-minute ride into town. They run a shuttle every 15-30 minutes into town, which is “free” if you book an excursion. If you don’t, you have to pay. That is understandable, but we didn’t know about the docking place or shuttle until it appeared in the daily schedule the night before, which I understand led to a lot of people rushing down to the excursion desk to buy the transfer package. The only thing to see at the port itself is the Volvo Museum, so it is well worth the cost of the transfer to get into town. We were fortunate on the tender situation in that we never had to use them. Again the MSC website does not provide definitive information, but I know some of these ports can require a tender, based on the number of ships in port. Whether by luck or design, we always had the dock while other ships had to tender. This was the case in Geiranger, Hellysylt, and Flaam. MSC really does need to provide more information on the unique situation in Geiranger and Hellysylt ahead of time, as were still confused despite all the reading we did on CruiseCritic. For those who don’t know, these are two separate ports, on opposite ends of a fjord. The plan had been to stop in Hellsylt and tender people off who had booked excursions through MSC, which would conclude the day in Geiranger. After disembarking those passengers, the ship would continue down the fjord to Geirganger and dock (or use tenders), and spend the day there. Those people getting off earlier would conclude their tour and embark back on board and enjoy the sail out of Geiranger. We only became aware of a change when our daily program arrived around 9:30pm the day before arrival, which stated that we’d be docking in Geiranger first. I called down to the excursion desk, who confirmed that our order of stops had changed. This was unfortunate, as the cruise between Hellsylt and Geiranger is especially picturesque, and we’d been counting on enjoying it at the end of the day. As it was, we passed through the fjord early in the morning and we missed part of it. Nonetheless, we arrived at Geiranger ahead of both Costa and Holland America ships, which meant we got the lone dock, which was nice. Our tour departed here and then we met the ship late in the afternoon in Hellysylt. There, too, the ship was able to dock and we didn’t have to use the tenders. As best we could tell, the Costa ship ended up going in our originally intended order (Hellysylt first), but that meant they had to tender at Geiranger, so we still got the better end of the deal. We were one of three ships again in Flaam, and we again got the lone dock slip, which was very nice and very convenient. The nightly dress code, as I mentioned earlier, was a surprise to us until we got on board. No advance info was available. There were two “gala” (read “formal”) nights – Monday (sea day) and Thursday (Stavanger). The other nights were color themed – white, green, etc. – and the final night was “costume.” All that said, aside from gala nights, dinner attire varied from casual to professional. I’m sure if it had been warmer, we might have seen shorts in the dining room, but none of that bothers me. We’re all on vacation. On the gala nights, most people did dress up, and the obligatory photographers were set up – as usual – around the ship. We ate one meal in the ship’s lone specialty restaurant – Shangai. Unlike on other lines, the pricing is ala carte. The menu is a combination of Chinese, Thai, and Japanese food. It was all quite good, but the plates are small and the cost added up quickly. Also of note is that drink vouchers are not honored in the specialty restaurant – only in the main dining rooms and buffet. The ship is in excellent shape. As I wrote earlier, I believe she is due for some minor upgrades before she moves to replace the Lirica in the UAE this winter. Aside from renovating the bathrooms, I’m not sure what else they’d do. Everything looked in a great order and maintenance was obvious throughout the ship. Other general comments. As noted, very few North Americans on the ship. Most native English speakers were from Australia; there was a large tour group booked on a 40-day stint bringing them throughout Scandinavia and the Baltic, down around Western Europe, and ending up in Venice. Unless you speak Italian, German, Spanish, or Russian, do not expect to make a lot of new friends just walking around the ship. That said, we met very nice people on each of our excursions. As with the Divina, the cultural differences were sometimes annoying – the primary culprit being lack of “queueing skills.” Very little waiting at elevators to allow people off before getting on and a lot of “rude” people in the buffet. Just accept the cultural differences, be prepared to be a little “aggressive,” and you will do fine. It was really not a problem, but just something to keep in mind before heading out. The smoking policy remains good, but not as stringent as in the North American market. Smoking was allowed on one side of the verandah and pool decks, the casino, and a couple of lounges, including the cigar room. People were “cheating,” as you did see people smoking on their balconies – I never saw anyone enforcing the rules, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. You could smell smoke at times, but it was no worse than on other cruise lines. The Divina had the best smoking policy I’ve ever seen, and they’ll still my benchmark for comparisons. Disembarkation was equally as efficient as embarkation. We elected to do “self-assist” and walk off with our own luggage. As with the Divina, I do not know how MSC assigns departure times for other people. We had a request form left in our room mid-cruise, which we filled out and asked for self-assist. On the final night, we received our luggage tags and there were detailed instruction in the daily program. The ship is scheduled to dock at 10:00am, whereas we reached the dock around 9:00. Everyone is to be out of their rooms by 9:00am. We were the first group to leave and were told to assemble in one of the lounges with our bags by 9:30am. At pretty much exactly 9:30, the announcement was made that group “White 1” could depart. We followed a rep to the exit and we were off in less than five minutes. There was no passport or Customs control once off the ship. We simply walked through the terminal and back to the parking garage. We were on the road back to Copenhagen by 9:45am. It all could not have gone more smoothly. We had an excellent cruise and I have to say that Norway is spectacular. The scenery is simply breathtaking. We were very happy with MSC and the Orchestra. As long as you go in knowing that you will be a minority on board and accept that there will be cultural differences, in my opinion, you can’t go wrong with this cruise. We had a great trip.

MSC Orchestra to Norway, Sweden -- An American Perspective

MSC Orchestra Cruise Review by NellieVA

Trip Details
We just returned from a week-long trip aboard the MSC Orchestra to Norway and Sweden. Aside from one other family we met on board, we believe we were the only Americans aboard this sailing. This was our second experience with MSC -- the first being Christmas 2013 aboard the Divina to the Caribbean -- and needless to say our first experience with them on a European sailing. The boards here on CruiseCritic had me very concerned about what to expect, and I'm happy to report that we had a fantastic cruise. I anticipate this review being long, primarily as there are so relatively few reviews of the Orchestra, particularly on her limited runs to Norway/Sweden.
We booked through a Stateside travel agent and no problems. As is well known, the MSC website is awful and it was not at all helpful in the months leading up to the cruise. As was my observation with our earlier Divina sailing, MSC really needs to get the website fixed, if only to provide guests with detailed information about their sailing. We found it impossible to get information on evening dress codes (how many gala nights, etc.), and booking excursions was a pain and a half. We normally book excursions through private companies, but most of the places we visited lacked a plethora of choices or it simply was not possible (as in Geiranger/Hellysylt). We ended up booking excursions through MSC for three of our five ports, and it worked out fine. You add them to your "shopping cart" and they do not confirm them until you're on board. In our case, our tour for our first stop -- Kristiansand -- was cancelled the night before arrival, but we were able to rebook on a different tour. I also pre-booked the 14-voucher softdrink package on-line, which I think is cheaper than buying on board. I'm still not sure.
Our cruise was originally slated to depart from Copenhagen but it changed literally a couple days before we booked, and was moved to Kiel, Germany. The MSC website offers no information at all about transfer options, though it turns out they were available -- at least we saw them when we were there, but there was nothing on-line and our travel agent was told by MSC USA that they were not available. They did offer a bus shuttle from the Kiel train station, and when we returned, we saw buses labeled for MSC transfers to Hamburg Airport – all information that would have been helpful in the beginning. As we didn’t know any of these things, we were left on our own to get from Copenhagen down to Kiel. Going by train would have involved at least two transfers and I was concerned about timing, so we ended up renting a car at Copenhagen Airport and driving down. Two one-way car rentals were prohibitively expensive, so we ended up renting for the week and just leaving the car in the parking garage during the trip. In hindsight, we could have done the train and likely saved money, but information simply was not there. Kiel has no airport, by the way. I pre-booked parking through the Port of Kiel website, and the parking garage was convenient -- the Altstadt garage, about 500 meters from the Ostseekai, from where the ship departs. Kiel as three separate cruise/ferry docks, and once again MSC did not provide the dock information -- I had to find it elsewhere. Without knowing which dock, choosing parking is difficult.
We picked up our car from Copenhagen Airport and made the drive down in about 3 and 1/2 hours, over the bridge (there is the option of going by ferry, which is technically shorter milewise but you're at the mercy of the ferry schedule). Once in town, we followed the signs to the dock, which included specific signs for the Orchestra as we got closer. We were allowed to pull into the area right along the ship and drop our bags. There was no line and the porters were very efficient, and spoke English. We then drove to the parking garage, left the car, and had a quick bite in the old town. It was a short walk back to the pier. I was apprehensive as to what to expect, as I'd read horror stories about MSC departures in Europe, particularly from Italy, but we were pleasantly surprised. A short line and document check got us into the terminal. We walked the short gauntlet of MSC crew offering information on the beverage packages, excursions, spa and kids club, and then got directly in line. This was the first time we saw these offerings made in the dock area, rather than on the ship, and I have to say it was nice as it gave people an option of when/if they wanted the info.
Check-in was very efficient, with all the key cards pre-printed and waiting. They had to have had at least 20 check-in kiosks going, and the line went very quickly. A quick x-ray screening and final passport check had us on the ship in less than 10 minutes from the time we got in line outside the terminal.
The ship is very similar to the Divina, albeit smaller. It basically felt as if one section was missing, but it had an immediate familiarity to it. We went up to the buffet on 13 and, while crowded, it was the easiest time we had all week in finding a table. The quality of the departure lunch was excellent, with an outstanding selection. First impressions were very good. We'd already read ahead and knew the drink situation. There are coffee and water stations in the buffet, but they are all self-serve. Waiters abounded and it did not look difficult to get their attention and order any other kind of (pay) drinks. At breakfast, they have self-serve stations with orange, grapefruit, pineapple, and Ace (multifruit) juices.
Our cabin was not to be ready until 4:00pm, but we went down around 2:00pm and found it ready. Having flown overnight from the States the night before, and then driving down from Copenhagen, we were all tired and just rested in the room for a couple of hours. Our bags were deposited outside the door before 4:00pm. The obligatory lifeboat drill was conducted in one of the lounges and, despite being repeated in five languages, was quick and efficient.
We had an aft-facing balcony cabin for three on deck 9. We'd been toward the rear on Divina and liked it, and were again very pleased with our selection on this ship. Unlike Divina, there are aft-facing balconies that can accommodate more than two people. The cabin was much larger than I'd expected; slightly larger than on Divina. Again, available information is scarce, but having peeked into many other balconies during the trip, it appears that the aft-facing cabins are slightly larger. We had two beds pushed together to form a king and then an extra-long sofa, which had a trundle bed pulled out at night for our teenage daughter. As on the Divina, it offered a real mattress vice sofa-bed "cushion." Both the trundle and main beds were VERY comfortable. Our cabin had a connecting door, but we never experienced noise from the other side. There was a desk and large empty area in the corner, which gave the cabin a very open feel. The balcony itself was slightly larger than those on the port or starboard sides, and slightly cantilevered. They even put a third chair out there, along with a small table, as we were a triple. I should also mention that the sailing was completely full.
The television and minibar were installed on a corner cabinet, alongside the closet, which is a very efficient use of the space. This SHOULD have been done on Divina. While small, the flat-screen TV did work well and there were on-demand features available, including portfolio reviews. The bathroom was large and a mirror image of those on the Divina EXCEPT for the glass shower doors. I know they were added to Divina when she first arrived in the States, and I'm hoping they’re installed on Orchestra in the future. The glass doors worked really well and did wonders to help the lighting in the shower. There was plenty of storage in the bathroom -- on a multi-level corner shelf, as well as in the undersink cabinets -- for all three of us. All in all, I give the cabin an excellent rating. In addition, being in the rear, we never once heard noise from the hallway as there was no cross-traffic. As on the Divina, too, there are outside staircases on each of the rear corners of the ship, connecting deck 7 (verandah), all the way up to 14. We used these a lot to get quickly up or down. This “real estate” could easily accommodate a few more cabins, but bravo to MSC for leaving them open.
We had first seating in the L’Ibiscus main dining room (there are two), which was at 6:00pm. Second Seating is at 8:30pm. I was curious how they would handle seating, as it was already clear that native-English speakers were a distinct minority on this sailing. We feared being at a table of Italian speakers or such (only because we don’t speak Italian), but were pleasantly surprised when we were shown to our own table for three. We were in the back corner, in a very private area and were pleased. As it turned out, the table next to us was a large family of Taiwanese-Americans from New York, but otherwise we were the only Americans on the ship. Our server explained to us a couple of days in that they try to "cluster" nationalities in the dining room, and we had been assigned the "very small American corner."
Our waiter was from Romania and the assistant waiter from Ukraine. They both spoke English, in addition to Russian and enough German and Italian to serve those nationalities as well. We were very happy with the service, and the food – while not outstanding – was solid and equally on PAR with what we had on the Divina. I would equate it with Princess, put it above Norwegian, and below Holland America. The menu book was provided in six or seven languages and must not change too much week-to-week, as it is pre-printed and bound on glossy paper. Six courses were offered (appetizer, salad, soup, pasta/risotto, main dish, and dessert) though we never ordered that many. I had risotto as one course on most every night and each time it was EXCELLENT. I highly recommend it, especially the version with sparkling wine and shrimp – OUTSTANDING! From reading ahead, I was aware that MSC does not serve water as a matter course during sit-down meals. For Americans (maybe Canadians, too…I’m not sure) MSC provides a voucher book upon check-in (free of charge) for one bottle of day of either still or sparking water (about a 1.5 liter bottle). That worked out well, and we ordered wine/beer when we wanted. It was all very efficient, and worked more smoothly than on the Divina. I should have mentioned, too, that they come around offering fresh bread several times during the meal.
There was a nightly show in the main theater, with two sittings – one at 7:15pm and one at 9:15pm. The later showing was for those of us with the first dinner seating. It was, however, in my opinion too late and could have easily have been moved up. Because of the hour, we missed a few shows simply because we were too tired to stay up. The shows we did attend were good, though not great. On each occasion, the theater was not close to full. As on Divina, they are short shows – 30-45 minutes – and concentrate on song, dance, and acrobats, given the number of languages spoken by the passengers. The cruise director opened each show with an introduction/welcome delivered in English, German, Italian, Spanish, and French. In fact, all of the announcements were done in all five languages, but we never found it intrusive. In addition, perhaps because of all the languages, the number of announcements throughout the whole cruise was kept to an absolute minimum, which was nice. I didn’t need to be reminded of each session of bingo. We never did, btw, hear anything from the captain. We were invited to a “reception” with him, as members of the MSC Club, but we missed it.
We met our cabin steward that first night, before dinner. He was extremely unobtrusive and did a great job with our cabin. He spoke English, though I don’t know how many other languages he knew. We asked for extra pillows and blankets that first night, we he quickly got and which we retained through the cruise.
At breakfast the following morning – our first full day of the cruise – the only downside of the cruise became apparent. The buffet dining room is simply too small for all of the people on board. For sailings in the Med or Caribbean it might have worked, because people could sit at one of the very many outdoor tables, but as it was cold on our trip, everyone was inside and there simply isn’t enough room. It became a constant “battle” to find a table at both breakfast and lunch. The crowds were confounded by the fact that the buffet areas are not set up to be uni-directional. In other words, on most other ships, there is a clear area to enter and exit – not so on the Orchestra. Each buffet area is completely open, so people are coming from both sides, and a great number simply stepped in whenever they pleased – more on cultural differences later. This all led to chaos, so while the food was good at both of these meals, the crowds were a major detractor. I understand the Orchestra is undergoing some minor upgrades later this year – I highly recommend that MSC look into installing some kind of guide system, as one-way traffic could really help in the buffet area. In addition, they should (and have the room) to install two additional coffee/water/juice stations in the aft of the cafeteria. Divina has some here. There are not enough stations as it is now, and both corners of the rear of the buffet area have room to easily accommodate two more stations, which would also help alleviate crowding.
I was not sure exactly how this cruise might differ from others we have taken and, aside from the passenger profile, it was very similar to others. There were all the “standard” offerings during the day, including trivia, bingo, “sale bonanzas,” dance contests, etc. The entertainment did an excellent job handling all the different languages. We played trivia three or four times, and used a combination of video clips and pre-printed forms to help accommodate the languages and it worked quite well. In fact, all in all, the entertainment staff was really good.
This was a port intensive cruise, which is what we really wanted. First stop was Kristiansand on Sunday afternoon. Monday was a day at sea; Tuesday was Geirange/Hellysylt, Wednesday was Flaam, Thursday was Stavenger, and Friday was Goetenborg in Sweden. I’ll do separate reviews of the ports, but suffice it to say that at each port of call, the disembarkation/embarkation procedures were fantastic. Really top notch, with no long lines and very efficient operations. It was interesting, however, that announcements were never made when we arrived in port. We kept waiting for someone to announce that we were free to leave the ship and where to go, but those calls never came. That said, at every port they had mid and fore exits open, and it was very easy to take an elevator down to level 4 and walk right off the ship. We never showed or carried our passports from the minute we got on and off in Kiel. As on the Divina, MSC has dedicated security personnel to man all this, and they are very efficient. We never waiting in a long line and it always moved. A note, too, on the stop in Goteborg. The ship has to dock outside the city, as it cannot pass under the main bridge leading into town. It is about a 15-minute ride into town. They run a shuttle every 15-30 minutes into town, which is “free” if you book an excursion. If you don’t, you have to pay. That is understandable, but we didn’t know about the docking place or shuttle until it appeared in the daily schedule the night before, which I understand led to a lot of people rushing down to the excursion desk to buy the transfer package. The only thing to see at the port itself is the Volvo Museum, so it is well worth the cost of the transfer to get into town.
We were fortunate on the tender situation in that we never had to use them. Again the MSC website does not provide definitive information, but I know some of these ports can require a tender, based on the number of ships in port. Whether by luck or design, we always had the dock while other ships had to tender. This was the case in Geiranger, Hellysylt, and Flaam. MSC really does need to provide more information on the unique situation in Geiranger and Hellysylt ahead of time, as were still confused despite all the reading we did on CruiseCritic. For those who don’t know, these are two separate ports, on opposite ends of a fjord. The plan had been to stop in Hellsylt and tender people off who had booked excursions through MSC, which would conclude the day in Geiranger. After disembarking those passengers, the ship would continue down the fjord to Geirganger and dock (or use tenders), and spend the day there. Those people getting off earlier would conclude their tour and embark back on board and enjoy the sail out of Geiranger. We only became aware of a change when our daily program arrived around 9:30pm the day before arrival, which stated that we’d be docking in Geiranger first. I called down to the excursion desk, who confirmed that our order of stops had changed. This was unfortunate, as the cruise between Hellsylt and Geiranger is especially picturesque, and we’d been counting on enjoying it at the end of the day. As it was, we passed through the fjord early in the morning and we missed part of it. Nonetheless, we arrived at Geiranger ahead of both Costa and Holland America ships, which meant we got the lone dock, which was nice. Our tour departed here and then we met the ship late in the afternoon in Hellysylt. There, too, the ship was able to dock and we didn’t have to use the tenders. As best we could tell, the Costa ship ended up going in our originally intended order (Hellysylt first), but that meant they had to tender at Geiranger, so we still got the better end of the deal. We were one of three ships again in Flaam, and we again got the lone dock slip, which was very nice and very convenient.
The nightly dress code, as I mentioned earlier, was a surprise to us until we got on board. No advance info was available. There were two “gala” (read “formal”) nights – Monday (sea day) and Thursday (Stavanger). The other nights were color themed – white, green, etc. – and the final night was “costume.” All that said, aside from gala nights, dinner attire varied from casual to professional. I’m sure if it had been warmer, we might have seen shorts in the dining room, but none of that bothers me. We’re all on vacation. On the gala nights, most people did dress up, and the obligatory photographers were set up – as usual – around the ship.
We ate one meal in the ship’s lone specialty restaurant – Shangai. Unlike on other lines, the pricing is ala carte. The menu is a combination of Chinese, Thai, and Japanese food. It was all quite good, but the plates are small and the cost added up quickly. Also of note is that drink vouchers are not honored in the specialty restaurant – only in the main dining rooms and buffet.
The ship is in excellent shape. As I wrote earlier, I believe she is due for some minor upgrades before she moves to replace the Lirica in the UAE this winter. Aside from renovating the bathrooms, I’m not sure what else they’d do. Everything looked in a great order and maintenance was obvious throughout the ship.
Other general comments. As noted, very few North Americans on the ship. Most native English speakers were from Australia; there was a large tour group booked on a 40-day stint bringing them throughout Scandinavia and the Baltic, down around Western Europe, and ending up in Venice. Unless you speak Italian, German, Spanish, or Russian, do not expect to make a lot of new friends just walking around the ship. That said, we met very nice people on each of our excursions. As with the Divina, the cultural differences were sometimes annoying – the primary culprit being lack of “queueing skills.” Very little waiting at elevators to allow people off before getting on and a lot of “rude” people in the buffet. Just accept the cultural differences, be prepared to be a little “aggressive,” and you will do fine. It was really not a problem, but just something to keep in mind before heading out. The smoking policy remains good, but not as stringent as in the North American market. Smoking was allowed on one side of the verandah and pool decks, the casino, and a couple of lounges, including the cigar room. People were “cheating,” as you did see people smoking on their balconies – I never saw anyone enforcing the rules, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. You could smell smoke at times, but it was no worse than on other cruise lines. The Divina had the best smoking policy I’ve ever seen, and they’ll still my benchmark for comparisons.
Disembarkation was equally as efficient as embarkation. We elected to do “self-assist” and walk off with our own luggage. As with the Divina, I do not know how MSC assigns departure times for other people. We had a request form left in our room mid-cruise, which we filled out and asked for self-assist. On the final night, we received our luggage tags and there were detailed instruction in the daily program. The ship is scheduled to dock at 10:00am, whereas we reached the dock around 9:00. Everyone is to be out of their rooms by 9:00am. We were the first group to leave and were told to assemble in one of the lounges with our bags by 9:30am. At pretty much exactly 9:30, the announcement was made that group “White 1” could depart. We followed a rep to the exit and we were off in less than five minutes. There was no passport or Customs control once off the ship. We simply walked through the terminal and back to the parking garage. We were on the road back to Copenhagen by 9:45am. It all could not have gone more smoothly.
We had an excellent cruise and I have to say that Norway is spectacular. The scenery is simply breathtaking. We were very happy with MSC and the Orchestra. As long as you go in knowing that you will be a minority on board and accept that there will be cultural differences, in my opinion, you can’t go wrong with this cruise. We had a great trip.
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Cabin Review

Cabin 9225
We had an aft-facing balcony cabin for three on deck 9. We'd been toward the rear on Divina and liked it, and were again very pleased with our selection on this ship. Unlike Divina, there are aft-facing balconies that can accommodate more than two people. The cabin was much larger than I'd expected; slightly larger than on Divina. Again, available information is scarce, but having peeked into many other balconies during the trip, it appears that the aft-facing cabins are slightly larger. We had two beds pushed together to form a king and then an extra-long sofa, which had a trundle bed pulled out at night for our teenage daughter. As on the Divina, it offered a real mattress vice sofa-bed "cushion." Both the trundle and main beds were VERY comfortable. Our cabin had a connecting door, but we never experienced noise from the other side. There was a desk and large empty area in the corner, which gave the cabin a very open feel. The balcony itself was slightly larger than those on the port or starboard sides, and slightly cantilevered. They even put a third chair out there, along with a small table, as we were a triple.The television and minibar were installed on a corner cabinet, alongside the closet, which is a very efficient use of the space. This SHOULD have been done on Divina. While small, the flat-screen TV did work well and there were on-demand features available, including portfolio reviews. The bathroom was large and a mirror image of those on the Divina EXCEPT for the glass shower doors. I know they were added to Divina when she first arrived in the States, and I'm hoping they’re installed on Orchestra in the future. The glass doors worked really well and did wonders to help the lighting in the shower. There was plenty of storage in the bathroom -- on a multi-level corner shelf, as well as in the undersink cabinets -- for all three of us. All in all, I give the cabin an excellent rating. In addition, being in the rear, we never once heard noise from the hallway as there was no cross-traffic. As on the Divina, too, there are outside staircases on each of the rear corners of the ship, connecting deck 7 (verandah), all the way up to 14. We used these a lot to get quickly up or down. This “real estate” could easily accommodate a few more cabins, but bravo to MSC for leaving them open.
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