We just returned from the 2/21 Western Caribbean ORCHESTRA cruise. We had a great time!
This is my review and my opinion. We are a married couple 38 and 41 years old. We have been on 40 cruises. We have been on every cruise major cruise line with the majority being Celebrity. The majority of the cruises have been to the Caribbean and Europe. I am also a travel agent and the main reason we tried MSC is to be more knowledgeable on the brand. We love Europe and Italy and their culture.
Here is what is important to us: Warm weather, good pool area, good drinks, good entertainment, good service, a clean ship with modern amenities. We enjoy good food but we feel getting a tan and enjoying the outside deck is more important than gorging at a buffet, we could all use to lose a few pounds. We also like to disconnect from the real world, no emails, no blackberry, and no phone. We don't sweat the small stuff and we don't let little things or other's attitude ruin the fun of our cruise. We are also NON-smokers and cigarette smoke bothers me.
To be honest, I failed above and I let the prior reviews get to me and was insecure about our upcoming vacation. I was VERY nervous. We enjoy talking to the staff and getting to know them. While onboard I brought up the bad reviews and the management knew exactly what I was talking about. They said they printed out all of the emails and made copies for the staff to read. The first 4 cruises were "misses", they understand that and it was EXTREMELY unfortunate. It was a domino effect of many problems. I am happy to say that we had no issues and had a great cruise. My review may be long but I wanted to answer as many questions up front as possible.
Here is the review of ship and day to day account of our cruise.....
Weather - SUNNY and 80 Degrees each day. 2/21 - Embarkation We arrived at FLL airport at 11 am. We had nothing to do so we went to the ship hoping to get on prior to the 4pm boarding time. We arrived at the Terminal 4 at 11:45 and were on board and in our room by 12:30pm.
2/22 - Key West We arrived at 7 am and left at 2 pm. We had been to Key West 5 times so we decided to sleep in and hang by the pool. It was great; we had the ship all to ourselves.
2/23- Cozumel We arrived at 9 am in DOWNTOWN. The pier is VERY long but they now have "rickshaw" (sp?) for $3 they will take you from the gangway to the pier exit. We have been to Cozumel 12 times so we slept in then went to town for an authentic lunch at PANCHOS BACKYARD
2/24 - Grand Cayman We arrived at 10 am. We had to get tender tickets at 8:30. We were ticket number 2 and were on land by 10:15. We wanted a lazy day at 7 Mile Beach so we found a shuttle for $5 person to the Royal Palms Beach. Great Beach! Clean and cute beachside cafe. AWESOME Grilled Mahi Mahi Sandwiches and believe it or not, the best pepperoni pizza in the Caribbean. We came back to the ship at 3 pm.
2/25 - At sea
2/26 - Cayo Levantado We arrived at 8 am and they changed departure to 2 pm. We don't know why but we didn't care either. We had to get up at 6:30 am to get tender tickets. We were ashore at 8:30 and a tropical storm came and washed the island away. We sat at a bar and drank Pina Coladas and by 11 am the storm was gone and it was a perfect beach day. Everything is extra at Cayo. Beach Chairs are $3, Drinks are $5 - Lobster Lunch is $20. The Scenery is gorgeous but you share the beach with NCL and PRINCESS and it was very crowded.
2/27 - At sea
2/28 - Disembarkation We decided to try self assist exit. WOW! That is fast! We were off the ship by 7 am and in cab for a 9 am flight. So convenient! They DO NOT HELP WITH LUGGAGE so be prepared to carry your own bags.
Room - Category 7 - AFT BALCONY CABIN - FLAUTO DECK The room is VERY small. In Europe the hotel rooms are even smaller so we knew what to expect. The room was very tastefully decorated, modern and clean. We had 4 pillows on our bed and we always had wash cloths and towels. It was an AFT balcony. YES the back of the ship VIBRATES! WOW! Once again, I am on a ship and I did not design it, I chose to travel this way and I wasn't going to complain about it. If you are a light sleeper, try to change your cabin prior as our ship was 100% full. The TV has 3 English channels, TNT, CNN and a pay movie station. That's it. I didn't come on the ship to watch TV so I could care less. Yes, we could access our onboard account and it was always correct. Another nice feature is that you can book your Shore Excursions via the television as well. But, I would recommend that you book them prior to the cruise because the good ones sell out very quickly.
Yes, there was Room Service; the menu is in the Blue Guestbook in desk drawer. The Room Service extension is 2871 and someone always answered and our food was delivered in 10 minutes or less and for free. Limited menu. When you walk into the room on the wall is slot for your key, it works the electricity and air-conditioning in the room. It also activates a light for your steward to know if you are in the room. It is wonderful, our steward was a mystery to us, she was so cute when we met her on the first day and we saw her on the last day. She was great and elusive. They also delivered a fresh fruit basket each day.
We were off to explore the rest of the ship. WOW! It is gorgeous, by far the most beautifully decorated ship. It was also SPOTLESS. It was the cleanest ship we have ever been on. They take pride in their ship and it shows. We are still talking about how clean it was. Yes, there are hand sanitizers everywhere. One side of the ship is smoking but we were shocked by how little we noticed. We even laughed about always sitting in the smoking section and not noticing the smoke, great ventilation.
Public Rooms: All of the bars are huge and have plenty of seating. Each day we found a new bar to explore and people watch. The Savannah Bar was our favorite with great flow and lighting. The disco is so futuristic but it was never used until 12 am each night. The disco hosts the teen group prior to midnight.
Spa: The Body and Mind Spa is huge! We did use the gym daily and you did not have to make a reservation. You do have to sign a waiver to use the equipment. The spa prices are VERY expensive with limited specials. A 60 minute massage is $140. The indoor Jacuzzis are peaceful and quiet and the steam is like a Turkish bath. The staff is from BALI.
The Pool. The pool area is gorgeous but tight. It is more appropriate for a ship of 2000. At sea days it can be VERY crowed and cramped but at 10 am, we always found 2 chairs in a prime location. I love the sun chairs, each has a mini-awning to block the sun from your head if needed. For a very special place to relax and break from the crowds, find the disco and go out the back door there is a secluded deck that nobody goes to and you sleep and relax like never before under the warm sun.
The Dining Room We were assigned to a table for 2, late seating (8pm) in Villa Borgese. It was very loud, but in Europe, dining is a social hour. Every table was laughing and having a good time. L'Ibiscus is a much more gorgeous dining room. Most of the tables are booths and very tight.
The Atrium is beautiful and stands 3 floors. It has a gorgeous lighted wall, spiral staircases and center stage for rotating entertainment.The shops are great with great selection of goods. Their prices were pretty competitive and very reasonable. There are 7 shops. The internet cafe has 16 computers and I never saw anyone use it. It was $5 per 10 minutes.
The Gelato Bar - it was like a cute sidewalk cafe in Italy. They had special menus and the quality of gelato was fabulous. It was only $2. Some people think this should be included, but I disagree. This is homemade gelato, not frozen powdered soft serve. It is hand crafted with unusual flavors. Worth every penny of the $2!
The Buffet area - The area is beautiful with gorgeous floor to ceiling glass windows the views of the ocean are breathtaking. The sunsets are unreal from this area. It is VERY confusing in design. There 6 different buffets / Salad Bars and each have different food. 4 buffets are very European and the food selections resemble a sidewalk deli in Italy or Croatia. The other buffets are more American with standard American fare. Keep walking around, I bet you find things you can eat. For good seating, go ALL the way in the back, as far as you can go, there was always a table for us.
The Entertainment / Theater - The MSC Orchestra has by far the BEST shows at sea. Each night was dazzling and sometimes sexy. Don't miss...A Night in Paris, Circusland, and Singing under the Moon. The costumes, sound and lighting were incredible. The Theater is gorgeous too. We also LOVED the " EXCELLENT ENTERTAINMENT" TEAM. They always scream that! There were 8 of them and they were in charge of all the daily activities. They were always funny, always on time and always a riot. They are very funny so make sure you see them in action by the pool or in the lounges. We miss them already. We love them hiding in the trees or behind lamps and scaring passengers as they walk by. I laughed so hard I was crying!
The ship had great energy and each bar had different entertainment. Each bar had a different vibe. There was ALWAYS something going on.
Service - We read stories that the staff was rude or "stared". We found them very unobtrusive. We found them always happy and willing to do whatever. They don't push drinks in your face, they don't stand around and do nothing. They are always cleaning or organizing. The staff is 60% Indonesian and 30% Bulgarian and 10% Italian. The Indonesians are cute and sweet. They always asked how we were and if we were having a good day. I find Bulgarians to be very formal. They don't speak unless spoken to and very robotic. I think it is a cultural thing, but when I smiled and asked how they were doing they were very nice and shocked that I cared. I loved the Italian staff and their style. They are very professional, and look good doing it. Most staff can speak more than one language. I never encountered any staff member that did not know what I was talking about. MSC does not do things in excess. If you don't see something or need something, ASK. They always got what we needed with pleasure.
The Food - We were never hungry! It appears people that complained are ones that don't like try new things or are stuck in their ways. We saw one passenger complaining they had no chicken fingers. Embarrassing! MSC is Italian so order what they are known for..Pastas, Rissottos. We were always satisfied. For Example...you don't order a Hot Dog in a Sushi restaurant.
Breakfast - Food was always hot, we loved the sliced ham. Breakfast in the dining room was super fast and always hot. Hours 7 am - 11 am. Lunch - Great salad bar with fresh items, Great hamburgers, skip the pizza (advice for later) 12 pm - 3 pm
Iced Tea - It was fabulous and FREE. It was available from 7 am - 9 pm. The glasses are also huge at 10 oz. LOVED IT! Yes, they had Sweet n' Low, Equal and Splenda.
PIZZERIA - 5 pm to 9pm each night - this is not the same pizza at lunch time. There is an older Italian male making pizza pies from scratch and singing opera music. We loved it so much we skipped dinner in the restaurant 2 nights. What other ship can you eat amazing pizza from scratch with views of Cuba out the window while the chef is singing opera music. It was awesome and there was NO CHARGE
Dinner - Service was a little slow. Our food was always hot and salads were always crisp but our poor waiter had 6 tables. Dinners took 90 -120 minutes. We enjoyed each others company and were not in a rush to go anywhere so we could care less.
The Wine Bar - this bar is beautiful and they serve you Italian antipasto appetizers while sipping wine.
Coffee - the coffee was great in all bars, cappuccinos and espressos were fabulous as well.
Shanghai - We ate here 2 times. The food was amazing. Service was very formal and the vibe of the room is very quiet. We did Stir Fry dishes one night and we did Dim Sum with 8 different items another day. Our bill was $35 for both of us, both times.
In the end, we were sad to leave the Orchestra. We had a great time! We feel that the passengers that complain should direct it to their Travel Agent and not MSC. Travel Agents should educate their customers on the product. MSC should not change. Some passengers who book online with no agent advice and have no clue what type of ship they are going on and do no research. We already have a Carnival, and a Princess and Celebrity, etc. I appreciated almost every aspect of our cruise and I enjoyed the customer base. The passengers were 50 % Italian, 20 % French, 10% German, 10% Spanish and 10% American. We enjoyed meeting people from around the world, seeing their fashion style, hearing their languages and embracing their culture if it was only for a week but would have loved it forever.
UGGH..my hand is asleep. Did I miss anything? LOL!