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 ...