There were 8 of us going on the Mediterranean cruise, so we were looking for something that was more budget friendly and we chose MSC as it was slightly cheaper than the other cruise lines we have taken in the past. This was our first time going with MSC and I was a bit apprehensive after reading some of the reviews given here on how MSC sucked and how it was the worst cruise they've taken - and I thought perhaps we should've taken Princess or Norwegian or Holland America instead.
However, besides a couple of issues I had, we were pleasantly surprised that it wasn't bad as others have described. Perhaps we were just lucky and that we had very low expectations going in, but MSC are better at some things and not as good as other cruise lines, which is probably true with all cruise lines anyway.
First of all, most of the critique about MSC Orchestra is about the food. Someone said they were not picky eaters and would eat just about anything and yet still found the food terrible. Well, whoever said the food was terrible in MSC Orchestra are actually picky eaters, or just not into a variety of cuisine. Perhaps they just ate the pasta and the pizza all the time and found them terrible - which I do agree, to my surprise, is really not MSC's best offering especially for an Italian ship. The pizza were average, even pizza I've had from the USA are better, which is probably blasphemous for me to say. But it's the same 3 types of pizza every single day so it got boring. The pastas were also okay, they offer a variety with different sauces but again, it's always the same ones every time. They also had a grill section which offered hamburgers, hotdogs and french fries but the real issue with their buffet is that they have the same food every day - EXCEPT for the Daily Specials and Ethnic Cuisine which is located at the back section of the buffet dining room - which many people miss or by the time they get there, their plates are already full of pizza and pastas. The daily specials/ethnic cuisine section offered dishes from Asia or Eastern Europe or South American and it's different each day. My only comment is that they should hire a real Asian chef if they want to serve Asian dishes - they're not bad, but you can tell the difference if an Asian dish was prepared by a Westerner. What I don't like in their buffet dining is that they don't offer lemonade or ice tea for lunch or dinner, unlike other cruise lines, you have a choice of drink besides water. You have to pay for other beverage which isn't right.
The one difference in Main Dining with MSC from other cruise ships I've been on is that you get a table reserved for you and your party for the entire duration of the cruise. Which is great because you can just go directly to the same table every night without waiting for the maître d' to seat you and you don't have to wait for the rest of your group to get started. We got a nice 8-seat table next to a port hole so it was a nice location but I can imagine if you got a bad table next to the galley or something, however you can request to be moved if possible. Again, what surprised me with their main dining is that you have to pay for the water. I suppose being an American, I'm not used to this. In the USA, water is free and expected to be served at any restaurant. At €2.75 per liter, we consumed 5 or more bottles each time and it would have gotten quite expensive if we didn't have the complimentary mineral water package that came with our reservation, so while we didn't pay a single cent for our water, I would've been quite pissed off if I had to shell out an extra €100+ just for water in the dining room. That said, the variety of dishes offered was better than average and as I've said, they should hire an Asian chef if they want to serve oriental fare, and also should stay away from pork dishes, every time they serve pork - it was overcooked and bland, but other than that, I enjoyed majority of the dishes I had. They could also offer a lot more choices for dessert but it's not that big of a deal having only 3-4 choices every night, at least it's different. I was a bit disappointed they only had either vanilla or cookies & cream gelato, I had hoped to have a different flavor of gelato every night.
The biggest thing we enjoyed in our cruise was their Entertainment live shows each night. The performers were phenomenal and the variety of shows they put out was awesome - they had jugglers, acrobats, aerial silk artists, opera singers, flamenco and salsa dancers in addition to the usual singers and house dancers every cruise line have, and they include almost everyone on each show so it never got boring. In other cruises we had in the past, they would have something like a 70's disco show and it's a whole hour of singing and dancing 70s disco songs which got boring halfway through the show. Not on this cruise, even if they had the Tribute to 80s Musicals night, they still have performances from the non-singing/dancing artists which made the show more exciting and entertaining.
As for the Ports and shore excursions - we had a great time in all of them. They were on time and organized with the separate meeting places and the tour stickers - unlike other cruises where everyone gets off the ship and it's chaos at the port looking for your tour guide. However, I have one huge issue with them - our Marseille excursion in France was cancelled due to a strike. So I had to rebook another excursion and go somewhere else. What annoyed me greatly is that I pre-paid for all our excursions and go the 20% discount, and I thought re-booking another excursion, which is not my fault, we would simply get a replacement. But no... what happened was they refunded my excursion at €44pp and I had to pay full price of €55pp for the replacement tour, and the excursions office would not honor the 20% discount I had in my previous tour. Also, some tour buses are multi-lingual and while I can understand why they had to do that, it did make the tours much longer (and a bit boring) because the tour guides had to say everything twice in different languages.
The cabins were ok, it's not the best since it's an old ship, but they were clean. The bathroom was slightly larger than those we've had at Princess and Royal Caribbean but smaller than Norwegian, at least my knees weren't bumping the sink when I sat down.
The service was good, especially those from Asia which were always polite and smiling and couple of times they gave us free drinks which was very much appreciated.
As mentioned earlier, MSC Orchestra is one of the older ships in the fleet so obviously they' don't have the modern amenities as the newer ones. I did get 4 cruise passes to their Thermal Area which was a couple of steam rooms, a couple of sauna rooms, 3 whirlpool baths but only 6 lounge chairs, which wasn't enough on a busy day, but at least it got us away from the crowds at the pool in Deck 13, and at certain times of the day, we were the only ones there. The gym was also average but it didn't bother us that much because there was only one of us who went there lol.
Anyway, for those who read some of the negative reviews about MSC Orchestra, I can only say maybe they did have a terrible time cruising with MSC, and although we've had our issues with some of the way MSC handled things, I would still say we had a fun and memorable experience cruising the Mediterranean with MSC.
We had the Marseille City Tour but was cancelled due to a strike. Had no choice but to book another tour and we got Aix-en-Provence, which was a small quaint town north of Marseille.
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