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19 MSC Cruises MSC Orchestra Cruise Reviews for Family Cruises to Caribbean - Eastern

we went for a cruise with msc orchestra to the French Antiles. We had a great time. The staff was verry friendly, they spoke french/ englisch/ spanisch/italian,.... The cabins were clean the beds confortable and the housekeeper was ... Read More
we went for a cruise with msc orchestra to the French Antiles. We had a great time. The staff was verry friendly, they spoke french/ englisch/ spanisch/italian,.... The cabins were clean the beds confortable and the housekeeper was verry helpfull with all we asked. The food was mostly average to good. we didn't expect more than we got. The shows where verry professional en entertaining. I don't understand what other revieuwers are nagging about! We took the alegrissio pack and I kept the receipts, we did more than a great deal! You can order drinks without thinking of the price Read Less
Sail Date March 2016
First let me say that as a family having cruised many times on Royal Caribbean we may have set our expectations too high for this particular cruiseline. We had read numerous reviews prior to departing and decided not to cancel and go with ... Read More
First let me say that as a family having cruised many times on Royal Caribbean we may have set our expectations too high for this particular cruiseline. We had read numerous reviews prior to departing and decided not to cancel and go with an open mind. I'm still not convinced that was a great idea. There were four in our party, my wife and I, and our sixteen year old daughter and thirteen year old son. We arrived the day before and stayed at the Hyatt Pier 66, which is nicely located one mile from the port and has beautiful grounds and marina. I highly recommend this hotel. The staff was courteous and the rooms nicely appointed and clean. The night before the cruise we had a room in the tower, where from our balcony when we awoke the next morning we could see the Orchestra at the pier. The night the cruise ended we stayed in a lanai room directly on the waterway with two beautiful yachts docked right outside our window. The water taxi stops right at the hotel pier and brings you to some great spots in Ft. Lauderdale and also affords a spectacular view of the homes and yachts along the waterway. We arrived at the cruise terminal at about 11:45 and were greeted by long lines. I had completed the express check-in on the MSC website a few weeks prior with all of our passport information, etc. and as the instruction said printed the form to be presented at the express check-in window. There is no express check-in window and after waiting in line for an hour we finally made it to the check-in desk and the guy didn't even look at the express check-in form. The process once we were at the desk was quick and we were on board by 1:15. Not as speedy as expected but not too bad. When we stepped onto the ship there were crew members standing there but they were talking amongst themselves and not paying any attention to passengers boarding. No welcome or directions were given, so we assumed our stateroom was ready and went directly there. It was ready. For four people it was a little tight, but manageable, as we don't spend a large amount of time in the room. There were two twins made into one queen a pullout love seat and a bunk that pulled out of the wall. The room was clean with the exception of the slider to the balcony had finger prints all over it and obviously hadn't been cleaned. Bathroom was small with a tiny shower with a curtain that stuck to you when you showered. After checking out the cabin we headed up to the pool deck (13) for the buffet. This was extremely unorganized and usually total chaos with people entering the line at any point they felt like, rather than going to the end and waiting their turn. This is obviously not so much the fault of the cruiseline as of the rude people who have no regard for others in line. The food choices were somewhat limited compared to those on other cruises and for the most part was either bland or tasted awful. They did have roast lamb one day that was great, but the accompanying side-dishes were horrendous. The standard burgers and dogs were only offered on one side of the buffet and usually had the longest line. They do have a salad bar and we usually stuck with that for lunch. It would be nice if they added onions to the salad bar. Seating was usually easy to get if you go all the way back to what is know as the Four Seasons Dining Room. The pool area was crowded but seats are always available. We liked sitting on the lounges on the deck above the pool and watching the activities or reading and relaxing. Beverage service was always available and the servers were extremely polite and not constantly pushing drinks. Small finger sandwiches and pastries were available around four o'clock and pizza was available at five o'clock. Not being a huge pizza fan I thought it was horrible but my wife who loves pizza said it was "ok". We had the second seating in the Ibiscus Dining Room and had requested a private table of which there were plenty. We were seated at a table for eight and after speaking with a Maitre d' with an attitude, it was quite evident he couldn't care less what our request was and had no intentions of honoring our request. It turned out fine as we were seated with a very nice group and had a lot of laughs. On the first night I ordered Caesar salad and Chicken Marsala for dinner. The salad had perhaps five or six pieces of lettuce and hardly any dressing. When my entrEe was served, I told the waiter I didn't order an appetizer and he informed me that appetizer size drumstick and the accompanying bite size piece of thigh (?) was in fact my dinner! First time I lost weight on a cruise! We also like to enjoy a martini before dinner and discuss the day's events and plan tomorrow's events with the kids, while we review the menu selections. We were told that the dining room staff does not serve cocktails, but that they would get a cocktail server, who showed up as we were finishing dinner. Cocktail service did improve as the week went on, as I tipped one of the servers the second night. He was very attentive going forward. As for the food for the rest of the week...horrible. Absolutely the worst tasting and smallest portions of any cruise we have been on. I have seen better presentation and tasted better food in a hospital. What was advertised as rack of lamb turned out to be two paper thin lamb chops. What was advertised as filet mignon was a not even recognizable piece of rubber boot. Escargot served in a dried up baked potato with no snails, just mushrooms and a brown sauce. The language barrier was also a major stumbling block, as our waiter was from Indonesia and spoke very limited English except when taking our order he would point with his pen and say "what you want" and when changing silverware or serving food he would give everything to me to pass down the table to the intended recipient. Not exactly fine dining!! Entertainment in the lounges was terrible. What was built up to be this fantastic Beatles Review turned out to be the ship's cruise director and four other staff singing (or attempting to) Beatles' songs. They should stick to their day jobs! Karaoke and talent show were ok. Usually any show with the cruise activity staff in it was corny and sometimes almost homo erotic. We only attended the Magic show in the theatre, so I can't really comment on this venue. Poolside activities were minimal and rather foolish. The ports were great. We booked only one excursion through the ship in Antigua and it was excellent. The rest of the ports we did our own thing with shopping and dining, etc. A few points of concern that I noticed: Pool rules not enforced. There was a large family that basically took over one of the pools and had an infant in a diaper in the pool with them. That did it for me using the pool for the rest of the week. One afternoon while we were sitting having a gelato we were inundated with young children perhaps age five or six who we assume were part of the day care, running wild around the pool deck on a scavenger hunt. These kids were not under the direction or watch of any staff and were let to run all over the pool deck and upper decks above the pool. Not only were these kids at risk of being hurt, etc., I would bet that the parents had no clue their children were running around unattended. The teens group also had very little supervision and age limits not enforced. It is beyond me why a twenty-four year old guy was allowed to hang at the teen club. Trouble just waiting to happen. Thankfully our two were not interested in hanging there and made friends that also chose not to hang there. In summary, I think MSC has a long way to go before it could even come close to comparing with cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean. While I recognize that MSC is a European company and promote themselves as such, I saw many disgruntled Europeans on the cruise as well. I feel badly for the staff, as I truly believe that given the proper training and a quality product to deliver they could do so. I observed simple frustrations of passengers being elevated to levels of anger because of either a language barrier, or in some cases a "who cares" attitude. I was also dismayed at the way the wait-staff and bar staff was treated by management and in some cases patrons. The bar manager in the Savannah Lounge treated the staff like they were slaves and looked down his nose at everyone including patrons. This guy truly needs to get over himself. Additionally, there were a number of elderly passengers that were extremely rude and degrading to staff with an attitude of superiority and entitlement. It is beyond me why people feel they have the right to be nasty to other people. A little kindness can go a long way in trying to resolve a situation. In a conversation we had with a member of the staff, when asked how much longer he would be serving on this ship, he responded "hopefully not long, nobody likes working here." Mr. Sasso, it shows. While one might argue that because of the kids sail free incentive we "got what we paid for", to the contrary, we paid about the same price for the owner's suite on the Royal Caribbean Empress two years ago and have unbelievable memories that will last a lifetime and we were fed and treated like royalty. Shop around, there are some great deals to be found. Read Less
Sail Date April 2009
We were four of a group of 13. Port was a nightmare when we arrived and staff ranged from bothered to outright rude. This includes talking about passengers behind their backs like they were idiots. Nothing about boarding was well marked, ... Read More
We were four of a group of 13. Port was a nightmare when we arrived and staff ranged from bothered to outright rude. This includes talking about passengers behind their backs like they were idiots. Nothing about boarding was well marked, efficient, or pleasant. Even when I beamed a smile and thanked them and wished them a wonderful day. Our dining group got split into different times and dining rooms.We boarded. Staff talked among themselves...no welcome or anything. At the end of the cruise we found out the individuals can not accept cash tips, and can result in termination. When we inquired about it we found. All tips go into a pool and are divided equally. So a waiter who does excellent, like ours, will not see the tip as you'd give it. They can accept gifts. Which my account for lack of attention of some, explain, Not excuse.We went to rooms. They were ready. Small but do-able. Shower was tiny and curtain even stick to my size "0" DD. Room attendant was not great. No fruit. daily letters always late.Saw about dinner reservations. They told me who ever booked it only booked for 9. Funny...I made the booking for the group and handled everything. Ended up with a table for 9 and a table for 4, Late seating in the Ibiscus. Waiter and Assistant waiter were AWESOME! Found little to no language barrier. Food in dinning room lacked flavor. Cocktail staff were SLOW! Buffet food was good. Juices were VERY watered down. Lines awful and sorry to say my fellow americans were rude, wasteful, gluttons. my roomy is a gym junkie and spent 2 hours a day there. Clean. Location pleasant. Equipment was current, easy to use and adequate enough to get through her usual weekly rituals.Kids program was a soar spot with me. Loved getting to spend time with kids and enjoyed ourselves in spite of the lack of a kids program. The time block they called a Jr. program was when there were really no adult activities to speak of. As a parent I was looking forward to a little child free time with other adults. That did not happen. It is also a BIG mistake for MSC. If the kids are safe and entertained...parents will spend $$ on Spa treatments, go to activities in lounges and drink more, hit casino and any number of other areas where the line makes $.I found entertainment staff on pool deck amusing. Shows in theater...Not what I expected. I've seen better shows on other lines. Found the magic act lacking, and chair dance number between sets vulgar. NOT KID FRIENDLY. Everything in theater was classical or Circe de sole-ish. Fine for a night or two. Would have like more entertainment options. As kids sail free a rating or description of shows would have helped. Or make the shows kid friendly. Even a few pranks by staff on pool deck had me cringing when the kids were there. Seating my the pool was always available. Although at least  2 days I found it too windy to stay there long.Ports we did our own thing so can not comment on excursions.Disembarking was as bad if not worse then embarking. Had to get luggage and drag it with you lines started as 2 split into 6. people pushing, cutting each other off, running your toes over, etc. only to get to 1 agent handling 2 lines. Overall we had a great time because we kept an open mind, great attitude, a fun group and an awesome dining staff. Read Less
Sail Date April 2009
Let me begin by telling all the people that are worried about the negative comments............you have absolutely nothing to worry about. Just got back from a great family vacation aboard the beautiful Orchestra and had a wonderful ... Read More
Let me begin by telling all the people that are worried about the negative comments............you have absolutely nothing to worry about. Just got back from a great family vacation aboard the beautiful Orchestra and had a wonderful time and have nothing to complaint about.........maybe a couple of suggestions but nothing more. Embarkation ...not a problem they must have 20 or so people checking you did a web check in, I am not kidding you it takes like 5 to 10 minutes to go in. As soon as you board there are different booths with info on excursion, clubs, etc A delicious buffet awaits for you on deck 13 great food. I cannot understand when people say that the food is nasty. we all thought the food was great and plenty I mean plenty there is breakfast in the buffet or dinning room whatever you prefer from 7 - 9:30 am. Lunch in the buffet or restaurant from 12:00 to 3:30 they have a pasta of the day everyday, they serve chicken, turkey, beef, pork, fish, veggies, rice (different kinds everyday)salad bar, trust me lots and lots of food, the rolls are yummy, they serve pineapple and iced tea for free all time along with coffee and tea (like 20 different kinds) I also had conversations with other passengers and I would say 98% of the people I talked to were very happy with everything about the cruise. Entertainment team is wonderful language barrier???? how about being able to speak 5 languages fluently and back to back they are amazingly entertainers and I have a lot of respect for what they do to try and please all the different nationalities aboard, never a dull moment with them. Rude staff??? never encounter that on the contrary every body is very nice and always say hi to you and smile. Language barrier???? everyone speaks the language and are very very nice people we had great conversations with many of them and they all understand English perfectly well. Shows in the theater are great like everybody says on their reviews I don't think people are complaining there. One of the things we can say we didn't like was the fact that everything happens early on the day or very late at night I am referring to like the daily activities, it seems like nothing happens in the afternoon. The other thing I didn't like was the teenager's club, well there isn't really one as there are zero activities for them other than the 11 pm meeting on the disco everynight to which my 16 year old daughter did not go at all, actually me and her hang out together at the disco a couple of time, the point is she rather hang out with me than with the kids and I find that kind of odd at 16 they really need to have more activities, games, tournaments or something like that. The islands were all beautiful, we did the waterfalls in Samana and worth every penny we paid for it, we booked thru the cruise and this is the only way to do it. It is gorgeous. We did ATV's in St Maarten and they took us thru the town and the beach and went all the way to Orient Beach which was our favorite waters. Antigua too short but we still manage to go to Dickenson's Bay for $6.00 round trip PP and you pay when they pick you up. Bahamas is very pretty, waters were rough but still enjoyable we went to Cabbage Beach right next to Atlantis by water taxi for $6.oo PP round trip but it's better if you take a land taxi for 8.00 PP round trip because it leaves you right on the beach and we had a long walk to get to beach. The best shopping place is St Maarten they have basically the same stuff everywhere and there it's the cheapest. I bought rum, coffee, vanilla, honey and cigars in Dominican Republic. Disembarkation was okay it just depends on the color ticket you get but we were the last color and still were out by 9 or 9:30 not too bad at all. We will definitely sail MSC again. Feel free to ask if you need info, prices, etc. Read Less
Sail Date April 2009
The food was okay, at best. The port stays were abysmal, and not as long as noted in the itinerary...in Nassau we only had about 3 1/2 hours. The staff were often rude, with some bright exceptions. Lack of concern or support in receiving ... Read More
The food was okay, at best. The port stays were abysmal, and not as long as noted in the itinerary...in Nassau we only had about 3 1/2 hours. The staff were often rude, with some bright exceptions. Lack of concern or support in receiving and solving issues. This is true both on the ship and at the MSC Cruises head office. Lots of rules that never actually did anything...like the disembarkation number for the shuttle boat, they never actually checked it and when our group got inadvertently split up we were told the number didn't matter, we could get on any boat to port we wanted. The shows were pretty good, except for the sound system that ruined the Opera night. The ship is very, very clean. We travelled with some great friends who made it easy to laugh at all the crazy things we were subjected to. Our trip was booked in a fairly large group, although we only knew 3 other families in the group. Several members of our group purchased a "forfeit" drink deal that our agent had worked out when booking the cruise. We arrived at the port around 3:00, were on the ship quickly and settled in to have a cocktail while we were waiting to leave port. We noticed that the bartender was rude...but our excitement over came that. The bartender noted the sticker indicating our drink deal on our card, but asked us to sign a room charge slip any way. When questioned he said that it would all be taken care of later. Several drinks later we started to hear rumors that there was a problem with the drink package. We resolved to go to the information desk the next morning to find out what the issue was. At the desk, we were told that there was a problem with some people paying for the package. We had the credit slip to confirm our payment and were told not to worry. But all day we kept hearing more and more rumbling. As it turns out, the department that deals with drinks on the boat determined that a bad deal had been made and they were not going to honor the original agreement. After several visits to the desk, we were told that they would honor the deal on a limited basis and that we would be expected to pay for day one's drinks. The deal cost $398CAD, fairly substantial, so we were not very happy with this. We asked several times to speak to the head purser and were told at first no, but when they figured we would not go away we were told they would call with an appointment. That call never came. The food was mediocre at best. I have read comments that rave about the food, suggesting that those who don't like it are too used to Olive Garden Italian food. I can tell you that is not the case. The food is mediocre, generally not hot, definitely not Italian cuisine. Often, the pizza was the best option, though it was frequently burnt. Also, many of the "salad" dishes on the lunch buffet looked like they were actually made up of left overs from previous meals. Our dinner waiter was lovely and very attentive. Several times he went to herculean efforts to provide us with food that was actually cooked properly, but to no avail. Steaks were never delivered as ordered. Vegetables were often cooked to mush. Desserts...well, lets just say that the only bright spot is the gelato served on deck that you have to pay for. On the 2nd gala night he attempted to bring us a lobster that was not overcooked and tasteless...brought 3 plates of lobster over in an attempt to get the least overcooked. His attempt failed and I ended up eating the last one because I felt sorry for him. The port stays were very frustrating. None were long enough to truly enjoy where you were or do any exploring. Best bet: Antigua, pay one of the taxi drivers to take you to a secluded beach. They will take you to a beautiful beach where they have an arrangement with a friend and it will likely have a drink/meal hut with very friendly service and a clean stretch of Caribbean post card beach. Many staff members were cold bordering on rude, and some where outright rude. And, if they think that they can make jokes and disparaging remarks about guests on the ship without being understood, they should think twice...many of us speak more than just English! Some of the staff did get real attentive about 2 days before the cruise was finished. One staff member actually said to my husband "don't pay for a Chevette and expect a Ferrari" ! Now really, what does that say about how (at least some) of the staff feels about the ship and the guests on it? We did not pay for a Chevette, we paid for what we thought was a reasonable deal for a new ship trying to gain a reputation. Some reputation. In the library, we asked what the hours were. The response: it changes...okay, but what hours can we come back...the response: when it is open. Doh! The kids programs, while well talked about and frequently noted in the daily events paper, seemed non-existent. Every time we took the kids (11-14) to partake in any of the events noted, there was no one to be found running any thing. The teen get together turned out to be a bunch of teens sitting around some tables in a brightly lit disco. Also, it was near impossible to get onto any of the sports areas, primarily due to lack of equipment. A couple of the kids went down to get pingpong balls for the two tables and they were told it was too late in the day and that there was only one ball any way. I thought our cabin person was outstanding. Until, that is, I found out that other cabins in our group received fresh fruit every day, cotton house coats and a complimentary bottle of wine. We received none of this. Additionally, we were in such a hurry to leave the ship, my husband left his suit in the closet. We would have expected the cabin staff to have turned it in. Over 3 weeks later, having tried for the first two just to get a response from MSC Cruises head office, we were finally advised that they had no suit in their lost and found. In case you think the suit issue is limited to our experience, another in our group whose cabin was at the other end of the ship with a different cabin crew also left their suit on board and they have run into the same issues. The line up at the accounting desk started the day before the ship returned to Fort Lauderdale (actually, the complaint line started way before that!). There were a lot of frustrated and angry people in that line. It was taking about and hour to an hour and a half to review receipts etcetera. Even so, we were glad we spent that time the night before. Some members of our group were doing it the morning of and the scene was even uglier. The icing on the cake was the shuttle bus back to our parking. We were talking about the "adventure" and having a general relieved giggle at what we had just experienced. After about 10 minutes of this, the shuttle driver hollered out "Just got off the Orchestra did you?" We asked how he knew that and he said that he has done that drive for a long time, and for the past 3 months or so, every person he picks up at the end of a cruise who is complaining is coming from the Orchestra. He said he feels bad when he is taking people to the ship because it was too late for him to give the advice to choose another line...in his words..."any other line". I can honestly say, in over 25 years of travelling, sometimes in luxury sometimes not, I have never had a bad vacation. Until now. Luckily the company and some bright spots made up for this ships clear shortcomings. Read Less
Sail Date March 2009
I am going to give you both the good and bad the bad on the boat. We traveled with a 5 year old and had a suite / balcony. GOOD - Our suite was great, clean and large (we had the largest rooms on the boat. We tipped our room steward at ... Read More
I am going to give you both the good and bad the bad on the boat. We traveled with a 5 year old and had a suite / balcony. GOOD - Our suite was great, clean and large (we had the largest rooms on the boat. We tipped our room steward at the beginning of the trip and always had fresh towels, fruit and ice in our room. It was also cleaned 3-4 times a day. Some of the shows were good - the opening show was fantastic The soft-serve ice cream (but you have to pay $2 for it). The head server and the our maitre d'(sorry about the spelling)Villa Borghese. After we complained they were very attentive and did the best they could to ease the pain of waiting for food. The chinese food - got to try it. It was great! My son seemed to enjoy the kids club and it seemed clean! The BAD - Every announcement is made in 3-5 languages (Italian, English, French and sometimes Spanish) and are very fast Some of the shows including the magic act were 2nd rate. The food was not good (pasta and lamb were okay) steaks were tough and thin kinda like at the Sizzler or Golden Coral. The lobster was the worst thing served, maybe the sushi, but the lobster was terrible. They cut the lobster from head to tail in half and then bake it. you cant get it out of the shell and that should have been a warning to me. Dinner takes for ever to eat. Plan on a minimum of 2 hours with a table of 8-9. 3 hours the first night. Luggage delivery is slow the first night. Unfortunately for one women we met luggage delivery was nonexistent. Her luggage went on a 10 day cruise on a different boat without her (lucky luggage). According to her, the ship and its management did nothing to help her an even charged her $80 for two shirt out of their on-board store. She spent $500 of her own money buying underwear, tennis shoes, pants, a slip to sleep in, and other necessities. The boat and the chief bursar did nothing. Shame on them! She was also in her mid-to late 60's. I received a survey in my room in reference to service. No pen to write with though. Seems each employee is issued one pen and they must never let anyone take it from them. I had to go to two places and finally asked for a supervisor before someone would give me their $0.05 MSC supplied pen. You would have thought i was asking for blood! If you buy alcohol / spirits on board be prepared to pick them up yourself from the shop the last day of the cruise. its a mad house down there too! The lines at the accounting desk went on and on especially the last day of the cruise. Everyone was complaining of errors. I did not have errors but i did lower my tip amount which upset them. The first night at dinner I complained about the slow service (40 minutes to get a piece of cheese cake without syrup. I was told by the head (over all of them) maitre d that slow service is not a complaint. I told him that if I the customer felt it was a complaint, then it was a complaint. Very few excursions in some ports. If you travel with kids know that the shows start at 7 and the kids club general does not open till 7:15. Its also at the other end of the boat so you miss 10-15 minutes of the show. They will also feed your child pizza about 7 times during the cruise. I hope this helped. In general the staff is rude and does not speak very much english. They can tell you how to get to the bathroom though. Read Less
Sail Date March 2009
Everyday we were on this ship the crew and services provided pushed us to know we would rather cruise on any other cruise line. English: The language barrier was very problematic. Crew members yell on the phone when they don't ... Read More
Everyday we were on this ship the crew and services provided pushed us to know we would rather cruise on any other cruise line. English: The language barrier was very problematic. Crew members yell on the phone when they don't understand you. Dining room staff act like they understand what you are ordering, only to not bring what you requested at all or bring something else. We had several issues we needed to figure out with the crew, but eventually we just gave up asking questions because we couldn't get anywhere in the conversation. Food: My family lost weight on this cruise! The food was the worst I've ever tasted - my 13 year old said that school lunch is better. Costa Cruise Line had a real Italian dining experience. Celebrity's Century had amazing food also. If eating is one of the pleasures you are looking for on a cruise vacation DO NOT cruise on this ship. The pizzeria closes at 9:00 pm. Room service is your only option until breakfast and only has two horrible cold sandwiches, salad, soup, fruit, dessert of the day and coffee available (not even milk is available). You can only order breakfast room service items at breakfast time. The buffets had many choices, but they were not appetizing. Also, on one day the crew handled chicken, hamburgers and hotdogs without gloves while they were preparing the food on the grill. There is no omelet bar for breakfast. Eat in the dining room if you do go! Ports: Book excursions! We did not book any excursions and that was a mistake. The ports were ghetto. Cayo Levantado has a good beach - but nothing else. Antigua had even less - the streets were dirty, shopping VERY limited and expensive, port buildings were deserted and locals pressure for taxi rides. St. Maarten & Nassau were okay, but we were only in Nassau for 4 hours. Recreation: The fitness area has good equipment - crowded at various times. The tennis and basketball courts are one and the same so finding it available was nearly impossible. Table tennis - unbelievable the ship only had one ball and three tables. We gave up trying to play. Teens: Disco was very dangerous. The 13-18 year olds are allowed to socialize with adults and crew members. Alcohol was flowing and several youth were drunk. Other cruise lines have structured teen activities and protection from inappropriate behavior. Cabin: We had an immediate issue with our cabin. We agree that the ship is for the most part very clean, but smoking in cabins is discouraged, but allowed. Our cabin had such an smell that we refused to stay in it. (We traveled with an infant.) After complaining to 5 different people and saying that we would rather get off the ship than stay in the room for 7 days and pay good money for it, they moved us to another cabin. As far as cabin stewards, ours was okay, but my teenage girls (18 & 13) had a steward who entered the room several times while they were sleeping and after they had said they did not need anything - also they went through their clothes items re-folded and moved them. Embarkation: The quickest I've ever seen! Disembarkation: We requested an earlier time and they honored our request...it only took about 20 minutes. (I have been on 6 cruises - Costa, Celebrity, Carnival & MSC - this is the first review I've ever written and I only write it as a warning for anyone reading this (like I did) to try and protect you from the disappointment and feeling of money not well spent that my family has now.) Read Less
Sail Date March 2009
Last month my wife Carol and I sailed aboard the MSC Orchestra to the ports of Key West, Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Cayo Levantado, a lovely beach island located in beautiful Samana Bay in the Dominican Republic. Our primary reason for ... Read More
Last month my wife Carol and I sailed aboard the MSC Orchestra to the ports of Key West, Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Cayo Levantado, a lovely beach island located in beautiful Samana Bay in the Dominican Republic. Our primary reason for doing so, other than the need for a relaxing week at sea, was to see how the product that MSC Cruises is currently offering compares to that of the more well-known cruise lines which have been sailing in the Caribbean for many years. In order to gather as much information as possible I took notes throughout the cruise, we collected all daily programs and other related literature, and with two trained pairs of eyes observing as much as possible, we attempted to see and experience as much as we could. We spoke to many of our fellow passengers to get their positive and negative opinions of their cruising experience. In addition, we had numerous extremely beneficial conversations with members of the onboard staff to gain even more insight into what the cruise line has been trying to accomplish, what problems have been encountered, and how it has been going about its tasks until this time. Our general conclusion, after a week at sea which overall was truly quite an enjoyable experience, is that MSC definitely has the potential to be an excellent cruise line. We determined that while a number of aspects of the cruise were truly exceptional there is much improvement needed in certain critical areas in order to reach the overall level of their competitors. After spending a week onboard, experiencing virtually every aspect of an MSC cruise, and returning home armed with a great deal of in-depth knowledge, we would certainly sail with them again and you will probably have a fine time as well if you choose to do so. In order to increase the probability of your having a good experience you need to know what to expect onboard, MSC's strengths and weaknesses, and, most importantly, how to work around certain potentially problematical areas that you may encounter. As described below, I will be reviewing and analyzing, in as objective a manner as possible, numerous aspects of our experience on the MSC Orchestra. Throughout this review high marks and accolades will be given without hesitation when they are deserved, and where shortcomings exist or when criticism is warranted it will be presented in an equally objective manner. Hopefully this rather lengthy review (would you expect otherwise), will accomplish its goal and I am always available to answer any questions that you might have and provide you with additional information about the Orchestra or MSC cruises in general. EMBARKATION This was the first area where the information provided by the representatives at MSC's offices and in their cruise documents was contradicted by what actually occurred at the cruise terminal. For starters, the MSC Orchestra sails from Ft. Lauderdale at 7 P.M. which is considerably later than most of the other ships that leave from Port Everglades. Their office staff told me that boarding would begin at 4 P.M. one time and at 2 P.M. during another call. In either case, one could have concluded that the late boarding might be intentionally done by the cruise line in order to avoid having to serve the traditional lunch buffet that is offered on every other ship. This assumption, however, would turn out to be completely false. I later discovered that all disembarking passengers are usually off the ship by 10:15 A.M. or so, and that subject to unforeseen delays boarding generally begins between 11:00 and 11:30 A.M. Obviously, this is an area where the major discrepancy between MSC's verbal information, their printed cruise documents, and what actually occurs at the cruise terminal needs to be eliminated. Since we live only about a 30 minute drive from Port Everglades we arrived at the port around Noon and were onboard before 12:30 P.M. Once inside the terminal the boarding process was as quick and seamless as we have experienced with any other cruise line. The check-in counter was manned by 35 individuals and it was no more than 15 minutes from the time that we entered the terminal until we actually boarded the ship. CRUISE IDENTIFICATION CARDS When you check in at the terminal each passenger is given their cruise card which, typically, is used for identification purposes when you leave or board the ship, serves as your stateroom key, and is used as a credit card for purchases that will be billed to your onboard account. These cards also show your assigned dining room and table number. Most disturbingly, however, MSC's cards also show your stateroom number. This is, in my opinion, a major error and one which, should a card be misplaced and subsequently found by another passenger or crew member, may result in a severe breach of security. Obviously, finding a card with an actual stateroom number would enable someone with nefarious intentions to enter a person's cabin and then damage or steal valuable personal possessions. I have sent this recommendation to MSC's home office and hopefully they will soon change the printing of their I.D. cards so that the stateroom numbers are eliminated. OUR STATEROOM We had a Superior Balcony stateroom located on Deck 10 which measured 191 square feet in size plus a 48 sq. ft. balcony. As far as the other accommodations on the Orchestra the Inside and Ocean View Cabins are 150 sq. ft., Standard Balconies measure 164 sq. ft. plus a 48 sq. ft. balcony, and the Balcony Suites are 278 sq. ft. plus a 48 sq. ft. balcony which is about the size of a mini-suite on a Princess or Royal Caribbean ship. There are, however, no larger Owner's or Penthouse Suites on the ship. The Orchestra was launched in 2007, weighs in at 92,400 tons, carries 2550 passengers at double occupancy but has a maximum passenger capacity of 3,103 when all of the triples and quads are included. The ship has a crew of 987 and this 3:1 passenger-to-crew ratio, as I will discuss at numerous times later in this review, is simply not adequate to provide the level of service that a passenger should expect on a large, ultra-modern cruise ship. MSC continues to promote family cruising quite vigorously by only charging the government taxes for all children age 17 or under who travel as the 3rd or 4th passengers in your stateroom. On our cruise, for example, kids sailed for the entire week for only $ 97.40 apiece!!! Upon close examination of our accommodations we were most pleasantly surprised. The cabin was impeccably clean upon our arrival, it was beautifully decorated with a primarily navy blue patterned carpet and bedspread and the furniture and cabinetry was done in a medium brown veneer dEcor. There was a huge floor-to-ceiling mirror across from the bed, a two-cushion couch which could be converted to a bed for a third passenger, a small cocktail table, two nightstands with reading lamps and drawers, and a desk/vanity table across from the couch with a large mirror. The cabin had ample closet and drawer space, an in-closet safe with a handy shelf, and a flat screen television set that sits on top of a cabinet which holds a fully-stocked mini-bar. The balcony, which was small but certainly adequate, included two faux-wicker arm chairs and a square wicker table. The pure white bathroom has the typical shelf space and a good-size cabinet under the sink for additional storage. The shower is small but definitely similar in size to that which is found on many other ships. It includes an excellent hand-held showerhead and a three-inch high barrier on the floor which completely prevents any unwanted flooding. The shower and the sink had exceptionally strong water pressure and virtually instantaneous hot water which never varied throughout the cruise. The towels and wash cloths were of excellent quality, large and soft, and whenever they were left on the floor or in the sink they were promptly replaced by our cabin steward. As far as bathroom amenities MSC only provides a few small bottles of shampoo for their passengers. Unfortunately no hair conditioner is provided nor is there a typical basket of hand and body lotions or a shower cap such as you find on most other cruise lines. The addition of these items, whose cost is certainly quite nominal, would certainly make a good impression on MSC's passengers and they should definitely be considered by the cruise line. One excellent feature of the cabin, which naturally was noticed by Carol, was that the cabin lighting was bright, perfectly positioned, easily adjustable, and significantly better overall than one finds on other ships. There have, however, been numerous inaccurate postings on the Internet about the operation of the lights in the cabins so here is some clarification. When you enter your stateroom there is a slot in a box on the wall across from the closets for you to insert your I.D.Card/Room Key. When you do so all of the lights in the cabin will go on simultaneously and you can then turn those in any area on or off using the wall switches. Inserting your card also activates a signal light which is located outside of your cabin. This light tells your cabin steward that you are inside your cabin so he will not enter to do any of his housekeeping chores. When you leave your stateroom you remove your I.D. card and take it with you. Doing this turns off all of the lights in the cabin within a few minutes, which is an excellent energy saving feature, and it also turns off the signal light in the corridor. This tells your cabin steward that you have vacated the cabin and that he is now free to clean or deliver any cruise related literature without disturbing you. As far as the air conditioning in the cabin it is controlled by a separate thermostat, has no relationship to the operation of the lights, and it operates continually whether or not you are in your stateroom. CABIN STEWARD & ROOM SERVICE Our cabin steward was extremely friendly and proficient at his job and any special requests that we made of him were taken care of promptly. A number of times we found him working a few cabins down the hall and when we asked him to take care of something in our cabin he often stopped what he was doing to handle our request and then went back to work in the other stateroom. Because of the clever corridor light signal system the cabin stewards on our deck were able to take care of their housekeeping chores as soon as passengers left their staterooms. Whenever we went for breakfast, for example, our stateroom was cleaned in its entirety upon our return. Obviously, we can only judge MSC's housekeeping system by our experience with one cabin steward, but our observations of the other stewards who were assigned to the cabins in our corridor left the impression that their system is well designed and works extremely well. MSC's nightly turndown service, while certainly efficient in every regard, was a bit disappointing in that it did not include the traditional pillow chocolate or any towel animals. Perhaps the cabin stewards make the towel animals in those cabins where children are staying but the cruise line really has no excuse for cutting corners by eliminating the chocolates. We ordered coffee and some pastry items every night before retiring for delivery the following morning. You do this in the usual manner by completing a form and hanging on the door knob outside your cabin before you retire for the evening. This form enables you to select a delivery time, starting at 7:30 A.M. and then in 15 minutes intervals thereafter. I would always circle 7:30 A.M. to have our order delivered as early as possible, and without fail our food was delivered between 7:20 and 7:30 A.M. every morning of our cruise. MSC's Room Service menu, which along with the breakfast order forms is found inside a blue ship guidebook in the cabin, is an area where a great deal of improvement is needed. The options are extremely limited and definitely need to be expanded to match those offered by other cruise lines. The one time that we did order from room service the item which was requested, a fruit and cheese platter, was extremely skimpy and included only three small slices of cheese, two packages of crackers, and a meager five grapes. The staff also forgot to send napkins and there was no knife included to spread the cheese on the crackers. OVERVIEW OF THE SHIP Without a doubt the MSC Orchestra is a beautifully decorated ship where every public area exudes a sense of style, class, and the ambiance of a modern, upscale resort hotel. The interior design of the ship's public rooms and staterooms was done by the Giuseppe De Jorio Company in Genoa, Italy, and the fabrics used for the chairs, couches, draperies, and window treatments are designed and manufactured in Milan. Truly outstanding in every way, the color schemes flow perfectly through the interior public areas and within each individually themed lounge. The ship is also extraordinarily clean and during recent surprise inspections it, along with other ships in the MSC fleet, scored a perfect 100 which is truly outstanding in the cruise industry. Between the constant polishing of the brass railings, the rapid clearing of dining tables at the buffet restaurant and by the pool, the vacuuming of hallways and public areas, and the placement of dozens of hand sanitizer dispensers, the appearance and cleanliness of the Orchestra is obviously a top priority. The ship has four elevator banks where the visual feeling of the landings is expanded tremendously by using lots of mirrors and brass to offset the beautiful marble trim and flooring, perfectly coordinated carpeting, and attractively patterned brown veneer walls. The colors are restful and this style of decorating is used in many areas of the ship to provide an open and expansive appearance. Forest green, accented by brass and wood, is a common color scheme in many of the public lounges. The three-story atrium, which features a faux waterfall as the artistic focus, is decorated with lots of glass along with gleaming brass accents and railings. The floors, columns and curving staircases are made of light colored marble of various patterns and textures. The center of the main level of the atrium features a piano and bandstand where the classical string quartet or the folkloric trio from Ecuador performs, and the comfortable wood accented furniture is offset by forest green fabrics. There are a number of boutiques on the second level of the atrium. These include the mandatory logo and sundries shop, some upscale clothing retailers, and numerous watch and jewelry shops including an actual branch of Colombian Emeralds. The main information desk is located on the first level of the atrium along with a number of large casual sitting areas and bars. The shore excursion desk, where the port and excursion literature is printed in five languages, is located on the second level of the atrium. This area is supplemented by a number of video screens which constantly play movies about the ship, its route and current location, the ports of call, and the numerous shore excursion options. Curiously, there was no future cruise consultant on the ship to assist passengers in booking future cruises nor were there any brochures or any other promotional literature on display. When you leave the atrium and head towards the front of the ship you will find a number of bars and entertainment lounges, a small card room and library, the casino, a specialty Chinese restaurant and, of course, the main show lounge at the very front of the ship. Heading towards the rear of the ship from the atrium one enters the two dining rooms on the lower levels, while from the third level of the atrium you will find the photo gallery, the wine bar, the sports bar, the cigar room, and another large show lounge at the rear of the ship. The public decks of the ship are numbered from 5 up to 15 and the areas noted above are found on Decks 5, 6, and 7. The pool, buffet restaurant, spa and fitness center, and another specialty restaurant are located on Deck 13. Deck 14 includes the children's pool, game and playroom center, a jogging and sunning deck, and the discotheque in the rear of the ship. Deck 15 offers a miniature golf course, shuffleboard, and deck quoits. GRATUITIES MSC charges $ 12 per person, per day for gratuities and this amount will be placed on your shipboard account towards the latter part of your cruise. The daily gratuity charge covers the services of your cabin steward, waiter, busboy, and, apparently, every other member of their onboard staff. Most interestingly, however, MSC does not add the traditional 15% gratuity to any of their bar drinks, sodas, wines sold by the bottle or by the glass, or to the price of their specialty coffees or home-made gelato at the pool deck. When you order a bottle of wine or a drink the receipt does not even include a space to add your own gratuity even if you wanted to. Obviously, not having to pay the extra 15% gratuity will certainly be quite a money saver over the course of an entire cruise. From what we were told, Europeans would stage a general revolt if a gratuity was automatically added to the price of anything that they ate or drank. Because of this, MSC has kept the policy of no automatic gratuity in place on all of their Caribbean cruises and the prices of their bar drinks and wines are extremely nominal. INTERNET CENTER The Internet Center is located adjacent to the third level of the atrium. This is an ultra-modern area with 18 terminals located at individual desks or on circular counters surrounded by bar stool-like seats. This area is decorated in silver and grey brushed aluminum and is accented with purple carpeting and ultra-modernistic light purple lighting. To open your Internet account you simply insert your room key into a box located next to the monitor or on the front of the desk of your desired terminal. As always, the speed of your Internet connection will vary depending upon the positioning of the communication satellites. The first time that I used this facility the connection was painfully slow, yet when I switched to one of the desks the following day the connection was quite satisfactory and it remained that way for the remainder of the cruise. The Internet service is priced at 50 cents per minute however this rate is only applicable to the first 10 minutes that you log on to use the service. After that the price is reduced to 40 cents per minute for all of the additional minutes that you use. A record of your usage briefly appears on your monitor after you log off and all of the daily charges were accurately reflected on our shipboard account. MAIN ENTERTAINMENT VENUES The Covent Garden Lounge is the main theater onboard where the nightly shows are presented. It features a creative variable color lighting design on the walls and ceiling, an excellent sound system, and some unique visual effects which are employed during many of the production shows. The seats, while no where as oppressively tight as those found in many Broadway theatres, have seat cushions which are not especially comfortable and leg room could certainly be a bit more generous. The best visibility is found in the orchestra which slopes upward quite adequately from the stage to the rear exits. Visibility in the balcony is very problematical in many areas with your view potentially blocked by railings, Plexiglas barriers, a few support poles, and a number of entry staircases. The Savannah Bar is one of the largest combination bar, live music, and entertainment venues that I have ever seen on a cruise ship. Beautifully decorated in a jungle motif it is definitely the hot spot on the ship for live music, dancing and dance lessons, and numerous unique and very entertaining contests. The bar is huge and the cocktail waitress service is excellent. The room is always packed after dinner and you will definitely want to spend part of every evening in this lounge. Most of the music in this location is provided by the Ocean Band which is an exceptionally good four-piece band for all types of dancing. This band also backs up the extremely popular daily dance lessons as well as the contests and musical games that are hosted by members of the ship's entertainment staff. The Amber Piano Bar is located adjacent to the Savannah Bar. It is a lovely venue where music for dancing or your listening pleasure is provided by a duo or a solo piano player. Live music generally begins around five o'clock in the late afternoon and continues until one o'clock in the early morning. This room and the Savannah Bar are also used for activities such as Trivia contests, Italian lessons, the weekly art auction, and the not to be missed Mister and Miss Orchestra contests. The Shaker Lounge, located in the rear of the ship, is another large entertainment area where live music is provided in the evenings and where onboard events such as Karaoke, dance lessons, and the ship's passenger talent show take place. The lower level of the atrium is where classical musical entertainment is provided by the ship's superb string quartet or one can enjoy the guitar playing and traditional Latin and South American folk music presented by Los Paraguayos. Finally, the R32 Disco provides late night music and dancing. This ultra-modern room is decorated in a combination of metallic finishes offset by orange lighting and a lit dance floor. CASINO The Palm Beach Casino is smaller than one would expect on a ship that can carry 3,000 passengers at full capacity. While it includes slot machines and all of the usual gaming tables we were informed that Europeans, in general, do not gamble to the extent that Americans like to do while on a cruise and thus the casinos on MSC's ships are smaller. In addition, the casino only opens in the late afternoon or early evening and there were reports of a shortage of trained dealers. We spoke to one fellow passenger who told us that when a significant number of guests wanted to arrange a high-stakes poker game they were told that the ship only had one qualified poker dealer. Besides offering longer hours of operation this is an area that MSC obviously needs to improve in order to bring their gaming facilities up to the level of their competitors if they are going to continue to sail in the Caribbean. BUFFET RESTAURANT Our first exposure to the cuisine onboard the Orchestra was at the buffet where we had lunch shortly after boarding. The buffet is divided into two sections and virtually the same food selection is available on either side of the ship. Entering from the pool deck the first section is called La Piazzetta Cafeteria and further back you enter the 4 Seasons section. Both areas are beautifully decorated with a dark green and beige color scheme offset by brass, marble and mirrors. The tables, chairs, and booths are well spaced and comfortable. Whether you have breakfast or lunch at the buffet there are multiple serving stations on both sides of the ship. Breakfast features the traditional offerings including four types of eggs, the traditional full English breakfast items, pancakes, waffles, cheeses, yogurts, and fruits including baked apples. There is also home made oatmeal available along with the thoughtful addition of packets of brown sugar. The baked goods at the buffet are exceptionally high quality and that statement applies to all of the home baked breads, pastries, and Italian dessert items onboard the ship. Breakfast features items such as bagels, croissants, brioche, plum cake, Danish, and numerous types of artisan breads. The condiments are logically arranged at every serving station and the staff provides table clearing service that is extremely prompt and attentive. The machines that serve coffee (strong and much better than is available on most cruise ships), tea (a complete selection of Twinings is available), and juices are located at the ends of both sections of the buffet. As you would expect the section of the buffet closest to the pool tends to get quite crowded at times while the section further towards the rear of the ship, which includes some outdoor seating, is usually an easier spot to quickly get a table. The walking area of the buffet could be more spacious and at times the combination of the lines at the serving stations and the people walking by made things a bit crowded. We were informed that on their newer ships, such as the Poesia which will replace the Orchestra in the Caribbean later this year, a redesign of the buffet will allow for significantly more walking space. Lunch at the buffet features a salad bar which, while certainly adequate, could be enhanced by the addition of a wider selection of items. A large variety of hot foods are prepared and the menu changes on a daily basis. The specialty regional Italian dishes, including a fresh pasta station and even home-made Paella on one day, were among the best and most reliable offerings. For those seeking the standard offerings burgers, hot dogs, and fries are always available. Pizza is prepared daily and in the evenings between 5 and 9 P.M. when it is the only food available other than room service. DINING ROOM OVERVIEW The ship has two dining rooms. The Villa Borghese Ristorante is located on Deck 5 and L'Ibiscus Ristorante is located on Deck 6. Both venues are staffed primarily by Indonesian waiters and busboys while the maitre d's and their assistants are Italian. Be prepared for the fact that due to a lack of experience or their very recent exposure to the English-speaking traveler, the communication skills of many of the waiters and busboys definitely need improvement. Pointing to the item that you want on the menu and making sure that they have written your order correctly will go a long way to insuring that your meal will be delivered just as it was ordered. Dining on MSC is a bit different than on the more well-known cruise lines. For starters, the seatings for dinner on their Caribbean cruises are at 5:30 and 8 P.M. Primarily because MSC does not have an adequate number of waiters and busboys in their dining rooms your dinner will take approximately two hours from start to finish. Based on our observations MSC is assigning far too many tables to each waiter and thus any delays in service or the taking of your orders is really the fault of the cruise line rather than their overworked staff. Because of the above described shortage of personnel MSC has made a couple of adjustments in their dining rooms. For starters, when you get to your table you will see that your bread plate is already set up with a fresh baked roll, a bread stick, and a slice of one of their delicious fresh-baked artisan breads. A serving tray with lots of butter and one with coffee creamers is already on the table, obviously as a time saving measure. Most unusually there is also a pitcher of ice water on every table. Your waiter or busboy will pour the first glass of water for you after you have been seated but afterwards the pitcher is left on the table so that you can serve yourself. Actually, not having to summon your waiter when you need your water glass filled is a very nice convenience especially since these fellows are trying to handle far more tables than they should. The appearance of the tables could also be improved significantly by eliminating the tacky vase of artificial flowers on each table and replacing it with fresh flowers. Salt and pepper shakers are also found on each table, quite obviously because neither your waiter nor busboy will have the time to grind some fresh pepper on any of your dishes. I can handle this situation easily, of course, but for goodness sake don't cut corners by giving me a shaker of plain ground pepper when many of your dishes are crying out for a generous application of freshly ground pepper. MSC also has an extremely large and very reasonably priced wine list. There are plenty of domestic wines and an extraordinarily wide selection of Italian wines which are listed and described by their geographical region. Unfortunately, MSC has also made the decision not to have trained sommeliers in the dining rooms to assist passengers in making their wine selections. Obviously, this would be extremely helpful where the many Italian wines are concerned since you would have to be a true wine expert to know enough about the vineyards or vintages to make an educated choice. Considering that many of the Italian vintages are priced at less than $ 20 per bottle (when was the last time that you saw a $ 15 bottle of really good wine on a cruise ship?), and that there are many unique after-dinner wines and liqueurs to choose from, not having at least four sommeliers in each dining room is costing MSC a tremendous amount of potential income. From what we heard from our assistant maitre d' the only real wine expert on the ship is assigned to the Wine Bar while guests in the dining room are left on their own when it comes to selecting wines either by the glass or the bottle. For passengers desiring a cocktail with their dinner there are numerous waitresses who continually circulate in the dining rooms to take your order. Finally, because of the way that the waiters are scurrying around, if you order a bottle of wine be prepared to pour any additional glasses for yourself since waiting for your waiter or busboy to notice that you need a refill will simply be an exercise in frustration. DINING ROOMS - THE CUISINE Overall the food aboard the Orchestra ranges from fair to very good and there is certainly the need for improvement in a number of areas. Appetizers are generally very good although it would be nice to have a few additional selections to choose from during dinner. The salads are fine although they could be enhanced quite easily if the chef demonstrated some additional creativity with the ingredients and the presentation. Soups, whether hot or chilled, are only fair to good and could stand some significant improvement. Entrees are basically good with some dishes excelling while others fall far short of expectations. Desserts, especially those with genuine Italian roots, are very good to excellent with a good balance of flavors, textures, and sweetness. Between the breads, baked goods, and desserts it is obvious that the Pastry Chef onboard the Orchestra is blessed with far more creativity and a higher skill level than is the Executive Chef. Naturally the Executive Chef is from Italy and thus you will be well advised to favor dishes from that country rather than venture into other cuisines which, obviously, are not the strength of the kitchen. The various beef dishes are adequate, although as one can experience on many major cruise lines the quality of the cuts is not as high as one would like. Fish is prepared properly and numerous varieties are offered during the week. One disappointing feature of virtually all of the entrees is the complete lack of creativity in the design and presentation of the side dishes that accompany the main course. Potatoes and vegetables, whether boiled, blanched, or roasted, are very simply prepared without any attempt whatsoever at demonstrating the kitchen's ability to wow their passengers. The presentation of the entrEe is also as plain and simple as one might find at one's kitchen table at home with the meat or fish just lying on the plate with the potato and vegetable on the side. Visually these dishes are unexciting and in many cases even a simple sprinkling of chopped parsley would go a long way towards enhancing the appearance of the main course. MSC appears to be under the misimpression that the American palate is far less sophisticated than it actually is. With their U.S. offices located in Ft. Lauderdale, a city with dozens of superb, cutting-edge restaurants, it is hard to believe that the menu planners at the cruise line do not understand how adventurous and knowledgeable Americans are when it comes to food. After having spent thirty-five years as an executive in the cruise industry, the President of MSC cannot possibly offer any excuse for not being aware of the variety, quality, and presentation of food that is currently being served on all of the other major cruise lines. As devotees of the Food Channel the American traveler wants to see and taste new dishes that invigorate their palates when we go on a cruise. MSC's half-hearted efforts in many regards, or else their complete misunderstanding of what passengers are looking for when they sail, often results in a significant under application of herbs and spices on many main courses. In some cases these essential ingredients are neglected to the point that flavors that should jump out at you and excite your palate are missing altogether. As an example, an order of Mahi Mahi, described as being coated with Cajun spices, turned out to be a plain piece of fish with scant evidence that it had come anywhere near to the required spices. The timidity of the chef, or whomever selects the recipes and determines the method of preparation, is very disappointing. Interestingly, however, when it comes to Italian dishes such as their excellent pasta preparations, the sauces are fresh and very well seasoned and are certainly the strongest selections at any lunch or dinner. There are two specialty restaurants onboard the Orchestra which carry a nominal surcharge and require advance reservations. We did not have the opportunity to dine at either of these venues but I can provide you with a brief description of each one. The Shanghai Chinese Restaurant, which is open for lunch and dinner, is decorated beautifully with an authentic red and black lacquer theme and offers numerous dishes from a range of regions in the country. The 4 Seasons Restaurant, which is open only for dinner, is actually the back half of the buffet which in the evening is transformed into an upscale dining venue. Based on conversations that we had with some passengers who had dined there it appears that the quality and presentation of the food in this locale is significantly higher than that which we experienced in the main dining room. Where the 4 Seasons is concerned, MSC does very little to promote the existence of this dining venue and one night the restaurant was actually closed due to a complete lack of customers. MSC also offers late night buffets on the pool deck or special snacks which are distributed in the lounges around 11 or 11:30 P.M. These late-night snacks, which overall were really excellent, can range from club sandwiches to flaming crepes to zesty hot from the oven snacks such as the delectable chocolate-filled mini-croissants. The more expansive buffets on the pool deck included Italian night along with the Magnifico buffet towards the end of the cruise. Despite the numerous shortcomings noted above, if you pick and choose carefully you can have a good dining experience onboard the Orchestra. The overall quality of the food at the buffet will probably satisfy most passengers, and you can enjoy a pretty satisfying meal in the dining room in the evening if you understand the chef's strengths and weaknesses and make your choices accordingly. ONBOARD ENTERTAINMENT Combining a good variety of live music for your dancing and listening pleasure, an exceptionally talented and active entertainment staff, and truly unique production shows, MSC's onboard entertainment is as good if not better than that which is found on virtually any other cruise line. Offering what can be described as International entertainment, the nightly production shows are quite different from the typical offerings on most cruise lines. Instead of the ad nauseam singing and dancing to Broadway tunes which tends to keep more people away from the theatres than draws them in, MSC has put together an extremely interesting and varied top-notch entertainment program. The shows are scheduled before dinner for passengers with the Late Seating and after dinner for those in the Early Seating. As I mentioned seats in the orchestra of the theater are the most desirable and arriving at least 30 minutes before show time is definitely recommended. With hundreds of non-English speaking Europeans flying to Florida to sail with MSC, there wasn't any comedian onboard since interpreting his performance into three or four languages would be futile. Instead, the nightly shows focus on themes such as the circus (highlighted by an incredible performance by a troupe of acrobatic gymnasts from Africa), plus a magic and illusion show which is an amazing full-stage production. Music is the focus on a number of evenings including a classical piano concert where the star is supported by the string quartet, the trio from Paraguay, and a troupe of operatic singers. On another evening the focus is opera where many world-famous operatic songs are performed by an excellent tenor and a soprano while being backed up by the ship's truly superb dancers and the string quartet. A highlight of the cruise was the Celtic Spirit show where incredible music and dancing is enhanced by magic and acrobatics. The final show of the cruise was a wonderful musical journey featuring all of the week's stars and supporting performers ending with a truly wonderful finale. Every performance was awarded well deserved standing ovations by the audience and overall our evenings in the main theatre were enormously entertaining and enjoyable. The ships entertainment staff is composed of ten individuals who apparently work from early in the morning until very late at night. They host the daily morning walk, aerobics, stretching, tournaments and dance lessons on the Pool Deck, and in the evening they conduct the various games, dance lessons, and unique often hysterical contests in the lounges. The group on the Orchestra is full of life and their ability to speak at least four languages only adds to the enjoyment of their zany antics in the lounges and in the main theatre before the evening shows. They are an exceptional group who obviously love working together and they truly work their butts off to make the cruise as enjoyable as possible for passengers who come from all over the world to sail with them. THE POOL DECK If you are like most cruisers you will probably spend a great deal of time on the Pool Deck when you sail in the Caribbean. On the Orchestra this area is extraordinarily large and includes a number of features that are truly unique. For starters, on the end of the deck closest to the buffet restaurant the outer sections of both sides of the deck are furnished with large wicker tables and chairs. These areas are protected from the sun by the sunning and jogging deck above and are perfect for your lunch or just relaxing and people-watching with friends. The center of the deck features the pools, along with two elevated sun decks with recliners and the Jacuzzis. There are plenty of recliners available and one much appreciated feature of them is a moveable sun visor that is attached to the end closest to where you place your head. Towels are distributed at one end of the deck and there are plenty of very unobtrusive and pleasant drink waitresses who continually walk the deck taking orders and emptying ash trays. Since many people bring their lunch out to the tables there are busboys with rolling carts who promptly clear the tables. Many of these fellows were from Italy and it was not unusual to see them stop and chat with travelers from their homeland and even burst into song with the mothers, fathers, and grandparents who were traveling together. The far end of the pool deck includes another pool and a large expansive area with more recliners. There is also a large multi-function wood floor which the entertainment staff uses for the morning programs, dance lessons, and other related activities during the day. Additional pool chairs and smaller bars are located on other higher decks of the ship and while walking space can be a bit tight at times, and the recliners are positioned a bit too close to one another, it is a very lively deck that was always busy during our cruise. The main feature of the pool deck is the El Sombrero Pool Bar. Situated mid-ship, this is where you can get a tropical drink or a bucket of beer, or order a latte, cappuccino or an espresso. With movies under the stars being shown on most nights, this bar remains open quite late into the evening. The highlight of this bar is the gelato station where you can chill out during the day with as many as sixteen different flavors of genuine, homemade, Italian Gelato. Served with the traditional tiny spoon, this is the perfect snack before retiring for the evening and if you are a big fan of superb gelato you will find yourself drawn to this location many times during the day. Truly a stroke of locational genius, the mouth-watering gelato is available in a small cup for $ 1.50 or in a large cup or large cone for only $ 2.00. Once again, whether you order a drink, coffee, or gelato the price that you see is what you pay with no 15% automatic gratuity ever added. SHIPBOARD DEMOGRAPHICS & RELATED ACTIVITIES MSC's Caribbean cruises are scheduled only in the winter, and between December 20th of this year and April of 2010 the Orchestra will be replaced by the Poesia, their newest and largest ship. If our voyage was a typical one there will be many Europeans onboard who have traveled to Florida for their winter vacation and naturally are sailing with MSC as they do back home. On our cruise, for example, there was a group of 400 Italians traveling together along with many passengers from Spain, Portugal, Germany, France, and a large contingent of French Canadians. Because of the international composition of the passengers and the fact that many of them did not speak a single word of English all of MSC's entertainment staff and onboard hosts are required to speak a minimum of four languages. Announcements, while thankfully kept to an absolute minimum during our cruise, were done in four or five languages. This practice also applies to the evening dance lessons and contests which are conducted in the lounges, as well as the tender announcements which were necessary when the ship anchored off Grand Cayman and their private island. It is interesting to hear so many languages spoken during a week at sea, and MSC does offer Italian lessons, but admittedly it did get a bit tiring towards the end of the cruise. MSC continues to appeal to families traveling with young children by only charging the nominal government taxes for kids under the age of 17. Obviously, if you can sail for a week and only pay less than $ 100 apiece for your children MSC may have a tremendous amount of appeal to you. This was certainly in evidence during our voyage when there were hundreds of children of all ages and lots of newborns and infants being carried or pushed around in strollers. MSC appeared to have an exceptional children's program and wonderful onboard facilities. Always very security and safety conscious, MSC requires all children to wear a yellow I.D. wrist band at all times that shows their names and the cabin numbers of their parents. Programs are separated by ages (3 to 6, 7 to 12 and 13 to 18), and there is a large and extremely well-trained staff who do a marvelous job with the kids. The smallest ones seemed to get a great deal of attention and their parade on the pool deck after their face-painting class was one that put a smile on everyone's face as the wee ones made their way by. MSC'S BEACH ISLAND MSC's beach island is named Cayo Levantado, and this small, tropical getaway is located in the middle of La Samana Bay just off the coast of the Dominican Republic. Naturally it is necessary to tender ashore and I can report that the early morning distribution of the tender tickets, the calling of the tender numbers, and the entire back-and-forth transportation process ran extremely smoothly throughout the day. We did discover, however, that MSC does not actually own or lease the island as is typical of the major cruise lines that have their private getaways in the Bahamas. In fact, the island is owned and operated by the government of the Dominican Republic and because of this you will have to pay for your food and drink on the island as opposed to the complimentary lunch time barbeque buffets that are provided by other cruise lines. As with the other ports of call a number of shore excursions are offered at the island. You can go whale watching in Samana Bay, on a 4 x 4 jeep safari, or you can actually swim with sea lions. Parasailing and a catamaran sail and snorkel are offered or you can head to the mainland for an excursion to the waterfall, caves and tropical mangroves. SUMMARY & CONCLUSIONS Based on my experience on the Orchestra I believe that at the present time MSC is a good cruise line with the potential to evolve into a very good to excellent one. If I had to rate our cruise from one star to five I would probably give it 3 or 3 ½ stars. There were a lot of positive aspects during our week at sea and this ship does excel in a number of areas. On the other hand there are a number of areas, ranging from the minor to the most critical, where a bit of tweaking or a significant amount of improvement is needed. Reviews of this ship on the Internet are extremely varied and one can certainly become quite confused when one passenger gives their cruise one star and another person awards the identical cruise five stars. Having carefully observed everything onboard for an entire week in an extremely detailed, diligent, and professional manner, I can say without hesitation that many of the statements and negative comments that are posted on the Internet are either totally inaccurate or presented in an extremely subjective manner. To lapse into a bit of pure subjectivity for a moment, if you read between the lines of many reviews, and back that up with the actual observation of passenger behavior on the ship, it becomes evident in short order that ones attitude towards the personnel on a cruise ship will set the tone for the type of response that you will get and the level of service that you will receive. The fact that language barriers exist onboard an MSC ship, or that a staff member is being exposed to a totally new language and unfamiliar culture for the first time, is neither a flaw nor a fault of the individual. It is, on the other hand, a situation, or a circumstance that exists on this European based cruise line and is one which can be handled without any difficulty if the "Ugly American" attitude is left at home where it belongs. As with any voyage on any cruise line if you go onboard believing that the ship's personnel are basically dirt underneath your fingernails then you will not be satisfied no matter what the staff does for you. On the other hand, if you demonstrate some basic respect for people who come from other countries, work extraordinary long hours, are away from their families for many months at a time, and understand that under circumstances like these that a smile is a universal greeting that is immediately understood by anyone, then you can have an extremely pleasant time. I cannot defend MSC for not doing their homework and adequately or completely preparing for their entry into the Caribbean cruising market, yet at the same time I believe that they are headed in the right direction and that hopefully over time they will make the necessary changes to their overall product. My objective in writing this review has been to provide you with as much objective, in-depth information so that you can make an educated decision as to whether a cruise on a MSC ship is something for you. As a moderately priced cruise line where a cruise with the kids is an extremely economical way to travel, you can definitely have a very enjoyable time on an MSC ship. The strengths of the ship and the cruise line are readily apparent and based on the information in this review you should be well aware of the shortcomings and how you can make adjustments to overcome any potential problems. Read Less
Sail Date March 2009
Embarkation: Arrived at 1230pretty easy. I wouldn't go much earlier than this because of the mess of people getting off the boats. Buffet and pool area is open. You can also go to your roombut there is no luggage for awhile. ... Read More
Embarkation: Arrived at 1230pretty easy. I wouldn't go much earlier than this because of the mess of people getting off the boats. Buffet and pool area is open. You can also go to your roombut there is no luggage for awhile. Especially if you have kids-have them wear their suits, get chairs and drinks and hang out by the pool upon embarking. Grab a table and eat out there as well. Sail away party is worth watching! At Sea Days: If you have kids, you are probably stuck by the pool. If you can, go to upper levelsplenty of quiet places to lay in the sun. Pool area is pretty noisy of course. Our group liked to grab a few chairs, as well as a table nearby so we could have food, shade and sun. No need to get up early...just be patient and chairs open up. Kids loved the pools, couldn't keep them out of them. We had planned on the Kids Club for our 6, 8,9 and 10 year olds. However, it was not a good experience none of them wanted to return. They did meet a couple of friends and met up with those kids at various times. Despite the reviews, I had planned on making Kids Club work-my kids and there cousins are not "difficult," but the 7-12 program was really lacking. Plus, I noticed that these kids that were in Kids Club were often running around the ship unsupervised asking strangers questions to fill out a game sheet. Sooo- what's the point?? We quickly got over the Kids Club disappointment and our kids swam, played tennis, ping-pong, mini-golf, arcade and relaxed. At night, our kids gathered in one room and either watched a movie or played the xbox that we brought. I think that the 3-6 year old program was better for the preschool kids. Not sure about the adult activities, as we were not interested in most of it-but it seemed like there was stuff to do if you wanted to do it. We did participate a little bit in the "Baseball Greats" stuff. Cayo: Loved this beach! Got the girls hair braided, rented sea kayak (only $15 for 2 hours!) and found a quiet spot just below the grassy area. My husband and 13 year old parasailed and loved it. Shop here-it is better than the other ports in my opinion. Chairs are free and a worker will get them for you if you ask. St. Maartin: Clean port. We just walked around and shopped. Then we got some chairs and an umbrella and played on the beach. Water taxi is $6 round tripor you can walk. This beach has TONS of sea shells. Antigua: We did the Pirate Ship excursion. Very fun! Open bar (free), rope swing, plank, snorkel, dancing, beach time and swimming. We had just enough time for this excursion and then had to be back on the boat. This port time was really short. Nassau: You must have an excursion at this port! We snorkeled. Nassau is dirty, crowded and NOT the place just to walk around. Snorkeling was OK, the water was real choppy. Dining and Shows: We had 2nd seating with a show before dinner. All the shows were very good of course everyone will prefer some over others. Good variety-don't miss the orchestra night. Dinner does take a couple of hours. We didn't minddinner was more of an event for us. The kids were finealthough they skipped a couple of times but they generally preferred to be in the dining room. We had fun with the head waiter- Sergiohe is entertaining and very good. We also purchased the wine package. Food was generally very good. Order italian as much as possible. Ordering American food on this cruise is a bit like getting a hamburger at a mexican food place-it can be good, but you take your chances.... Embrace European dining you can have cheese for breakfast and dessert! Buffets were fine. Pizza was really good it is served from 5pm-9pm. Other: Spa is really nice! Steam rooms, workout room and sauna are free and should be taken advantage of. Alcohol is reasonably priced. Order wine package in dining room and take wine back to your room. You can get beer buckets for $10 or $12. Teen Disco is iffy. My 13 year old went, but we supervised a few times or only let her stay for an hour or so. If your teen is likely to "test boundaries," they will get in trouble here. Magnifico Buffet on Thursday night is amazing! If I would have know, I would have had this be my dinner. Each night there were midnight offerings of some sort. Shaker Lounge is where most of the night life is-as well as the casino. Service is good-but not pushy! This is a laid back cruise. If you need something, you will need to ask. The staff is not intending on being a constant source of entertainment. There are only morning and evening announcements. Read your daily and spend your cruise how you prefer.....I found it to be different than Carnival both are good-just different from one another. Read Less
Sail Date March 2009
This was our second cruise (previous with NCL) and even though we are not cruise veterans we consider ourselves world travelers. As educators and musicians we take off for the summer and go to South America and Europe for extended stays. ... Read More
This was our second cruise (previous with NCL) and even though we are not cruise veterans we consider ourselves world travelers. As educators and musicians we take off for the summer and go to South America and Europe for extended stays. We love to go to fine restaurants and to nice resorts. We also like the great value for the money a vacation on a cruise represent. As such we were extremely pleased with our sailing on the MSC Orchestra Eastern Caribbean sailing on March 28, 2009. We have been in some of the best restaurants in New York, Paris, São Paulo, Belgrade, Rio de Janeiro, etc. As a rule, we have never spent less than $ 200 on a meal for two people, no matter the exchange rate or the particular economic situation of the country being visited. Would we expect to have the same quality of food on a cruise as we had in places such as the Taillevant, Jean Georges, or DOM restaurants just to name a few? Absolutely not; especially when we consider that we paid less than $ 2000 for 7 nights balcony for two adults and two kids on the MSC Orchestra. We say that because the food issue seems to be a contentious one in all cruise lines. Granted, food preferences are subjective and while we would say we had some better meals at NCL than at MSC, the reverse is also true. In fact, we found the food to be the equivalent of the one served in a five star hotel during a gala event. What we liked about the MSC Orchestra food was the fact that it was low in sodium and not very spicy. We also liked the fact that it tasted fresh and well prepared. We never went hungry and even gained some weight. Actually, after reading so many negative reviews about the food on this cruise, we were pleasantly surprised. On to other issues: embarkation was so expedite that we were on the boat 10 minutes after arriving on the ship. Cabin and ship: The whole place was extremely clean. I felt the cabin's dEcor to be a bit bland (too neutral), but the lounges and theatre were extremely well decorated and tasteful. Pool: The pool deck is divided into two areas, so one does not have the illusion of an expansive deck as in other ships. However, the deck is cleverly divided so that all entertainment activities by the pool are undertaken in one side of the deck so passengers who do not want to participate in them can just relax by the other pool. With that said, the entertainment team aboard the Orchestra was the best we have ever encountered and we looked forward to seeing them every morning. They were mostly Italians and had a histrionic sense of humor. They spoke many languages and were nice to the older folks and took them to dance in the evening. Service: Very friendly and caring. Although we place no importance to this, we met our cabin steward upon arrival. We had fresh fruit on a bowl the first evening but that was never replenished. Did that bothered us? Absolutely not. There was always plenty of fruit in the buffet and we ate more of their delicious desserts than we did of fruits. Turn down was done efficiently and whenever we left the room someone came and cleaned it up in a second. Service in the restaurant was also very good and we had all our dinners in the main dining room. Dress code was not enforced but on formal nights but many men wore tuxes and women nice dresses. Ice water was provided free of charge and the wine package is a real good deal. Unfortunately, the premium Italian wine package is no longer available and only California wines are packaged. We complained to the sommelier and he told us MSC was trying to cater to the American clientele in the Caribbean. That is really unfortunate and we hope they return to offer Italian wines in their packages in the future. They also had beer and cocktail packages; all very well priced. Espresso and macchiato were consistently good and properly served. If one likes to drink coffee by the liter and with a lot of sweet additions to it, this is not the place. Shows: They was lot of talent onboard. Unfortunately there was no actual orchestra onboard but the singers did not lip-sang. All the shows were tastefully done and geared to a wide range of audience interest. The light classical piano quartet that played on the main lobby was especially good and relaxing. Ambiance: Very relaxed and family friendly. We particularly liked the fact that there were no waiters passing by with ready-made cocktails to sell by the pools. That was a major difference from the NCL cruise and there was no "wild party" atmosphere on the Orchestra. Kids clubs: My daughters liked the company of other kids so they enjoyed being at the kids clubs. We found though the mini was much better handled than the junior and our older daughter would surely have liked to have more activities such as arts and crafts. We complained about this on the comment card and as we have read the same comment on posts here we are confident this situation will improve. Ports: Unlike other posts who complained about late arrivals, according to our booking documents, we arrived early in most ports, sometimes by one hour. We did not take any shore excursions since we only wanted beach breaks (we see enough historical monuments in South America and Europe every year) and we just took cabs upon arrival. We have to say that there was always somebody from MSC on the pool deck prior to our arrival at the ports to inform you about the best beaches, how to get to them, what to avoid, etc. Fellow cruisers: Mostly Americans, some Canadians and Europeans. Most of them very polite, although there was a fair share of complainers. What we liked about this cruise is that there were lots of kids and seniors but not too many rowdy teens. Overall impression: We loved the overall ambiance, value, and international flavor of MSC Orchestra. We have already made reservations for the Poesia in March 2010! Sure, we found that the MSC brand is not for everybody. Here are some tips about whom should avoid it (Without passing any judgment): -Travelers who enjoy the endless party atmosphere of lines such as Carnival, RCL, and NCL. -Travelers who need 24 hour food and unlimited soda packages. -Travelers who like to be greeted by workers every time they are crossed by one; who like little chocolates under the pillows placed by the stewards; who only like one kind of cuisine. -Travelers with kids who need over the top activities onboard such as ice skating and rock wall climbing. Other than that, most people would enjoy the great value offered by MSC. Read Less
Sail Date March 2009
I was very anxious to take an "Italian" cruise since I love Italy. This was not what I expected. I have been on 4 other cruise lines, so I believe that I know what I like. MSC has a great price for families - kids under 17 are ... Read More
I was very anxious to take an "Italian" cruise since I love Italy. This was not what I expected. I have been on 4 other cruise lines, so I believe that I know what I like. MSC has a great price for families - kids under 17 are free - so I was checking out the line to see if it would be good for a family reunion next year. I am not sure we will be taking a cruise on MSC after all. The good: beautiful ship; good entertainment; excellent cabin staff; and there were enough deck chairs for everyone during a day at sea. The ship was supposed to have been full so this is a good thing to be able to accommodate everyone for sunning. The bad: shore excursions were very poorly handled, especially if ship is not docked; no information is ever given to passengers to explain the long delays; the staff, especially the Italian staff, are rude and brusque with passengers; food is only fair and not always available before/after shore excursions. We paid for an advertised 4 hour excursion but were only off of the ship for 2 1/2 hours. The other 1 1/2 hours was spent waiting to leave the ship. I complained, for the first time ever on a cruise, and tried to find out what had gone so terribly wrong with our shore excursion. First I was lied to by the shore excursion person, which really infuriated me. I then took my complaint to the manager, who was very pleasant, but since I have read of these problems in other messages on this board I am pretty sure that nothing will be done to re-train his personnel. I will say that the information desk personnel are very good. They tried to make up for the rudeness of the shore excursion staff. If MSC wants the American market in the Caribbean, they will have to be able to meet the standards of the American market. I never felt this frustrated dealing with people in Italy during my trips there. I believe the training of the staff should be improved in some departments. The bottom line is that if you are willing to put up with a lot of mediocrity, love the price, and/or have children this might be your cruise. I would have to be really persuaded, and possibly bribed, to try MSC again. Read Less
Sail Date February 2009
We had a great time on our B2B; much better than I anticipated after reading all the reviews. The ship, as it's been widely reported, is absolutely beautiful. Except for one incidence in the the Cantinella Wine Bar, the service ... Read More
We had a great time on our B2B; much better than I anticipated after reading all the reviews. The ship, as it's been widely reported, is absolutely beautiful. Except for one incidence in the the Cantinella Wine Bar, the service we experienced was excellent.We never experienced any attitude or MSC stare from anyone. In fact, I thought that most of the staff went above and beyond to make sure we were happy. We were in an Aft balcony cabin (#9225) and while there was definitely vibration, we slept great (although the mattress was hard IMO) and LOVED the cabin. Our cabin steward, Franck, and his assistant were fantastic. They brought our kids cookies every night and really went above and beyond to take care of us. We tipped them $20 at the beginning of each week and a little extra at the end. Room service was the fastest I have ever encountered on any ship. It always arrived within 5 minutes. With that said, the menu was extremely limited. No hot breakfasts are available and during the later part of the day or evening, you can only get a chicken club sandwich, tuna sandwich, grilled chicken caesar (yuck! way too much dressing), fruit platter or cheese platter. If you order an iced tea, they will bring you a can and you will have to pay for it. Once we asked for a pitcher of water and they said No. When the room service attendant came, we asked her and she happily brought one. Overall, we liked the food. Not all of it, but that's to be expected. We had late dining both weeks, although we requested early, and decided to try the late one night and then change it if need be. In the end, we preferred the 8PM dining as this allowed us time to relax after the beach/pool. We were at table 465 and had Wirawan as our waiter, Nyoman as our busboy, and Gaetano as our captain; all did an amazing job in accommodating our ever changing table. We were a large group that had different tables initially and each night (it seemed!) we would mix up the group and amount of people joining us. They never seemed to mind and always added or subtracted chairs as needed with a smile. We loved the Italian specialty dishes, especially the nightly pasta specials that were brought to our table by Gaetano. Each night, one of the captains would make a special pasta such as carbonara, penne ala vodka, pasta fagioli, etc and bring a few plates for us all to share. We also loved the desserts. The fish, on the other hand, was overcooked and dry. We ate all but two breakfasts and all of our lunches at the buffet as that was much more convenient for us with the kids. I can't complain about the lines, as I generally ate later so I really didn't encounter any. I thought the buffet food was far better than the NCL Dawn and I loved the salad bar at lunch as well as all the fresh fruit that was available. Also, each day at the buffet there was someone making a pasta dish and the buffet always included a specialty item such as grilled fennel sausage, pesto lasagna, cannelonni stuffed with veal. Yummy!! The eggs benedict and pain au chocolate are a must try in the dining room at breakfast. Pizza at the pizzeria (in the evening) was the best ever and free. Make sure you get it while it's hot and feel free to ask the pizza chef to make a personal pie for you. He'll be happy to do it. We had dinner one night at Shanghai and loved it. Try the moo shu pork; I'm generally not a big fan but it was superb. We also enjoyed the chicken/pork fried rice. Dinner for 4, with a bottle of wine, cost about $135 and we had quite a bit of food. We never made it to 4 Seasons but friends went the first week and said it was fantastic. It was closed the second week because the ship was crowded it was used for the overflow from the dining room, or so I was told. The shows were good although I'm generally not the type to go to every show. The first week, the shows were at 10PM or 10:30, which we all liked, as we went after dinner. The next week, the shows were at 7PM or 7:30PM. I think this was due to the fact that the group of the Irish Stars had use of the theatre during the first week. They were a fantastic group and we loved all of the Irish music at the pool each day as well as having the opportunity to spend time with Ronan Tynan. What an incredible person he is. Week 2 was entirely different than week 1. The ship was VERY crowded and the pool area was overrun with kids, including my 2! We missed the music at the pool although there was an Italian band one day. The kids LOVED the kids club the first week and refused to go the second week as there was just too many kids for them. I think they did a great job Week 1; they took the kids to dinner twice and to several shows. They had a carnival parade where they handmade the costumes and also played lots of games throughout the week, giving the kids the opportunity to win prizes. I spend alot of time at the casino the first week and didn't step foot into it the second! I love to play Texas Hold Em and they offer a 5/10 No Limit game. The house takes 5%, unlimited rake!! The dealers are nice but not very experienced. They hold a tournament each sea day at 4:30, $100 buy-in, 20% rake!!! Blackjack and traditional poker tables opened at 4:20 every day and craps and hold-em opened at 10:20 (sometimes 9:40) each night. I'm afraid I've rambled on a bit too long so I'll stop here and say once again, that we very much enjoyed our time on the Orchestra. I was pleasantly surprised and would consider sailing on MSC again. Any questions, ask away! Read Less
Sail Date February 2009
We are a family of four on a tight budget, looking for a good value for vacation during President's Week... well we found it. We paid $1425.00 for two adults and two children in an inside cabin, and it was worth so much more. My ... Read More
We are a family of four on a tight budget, looking for a good value for vacation during President's Week... well we found it. We paid $1425.00 for two adults and two children in an inside cabin, and it was worth so much more. My husband and I have enjoyed cruising as couple and then we went on a couple of cruises when my oldest was a baby, but this is the first time that the four of us have been on a cruise together. We had a great time. Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale has horrible traffic issues, we were stuck in a lot of traffic upon arriving to board the Orchestra. Checking in did not present any hassle, and in no time we were on board at the buffet. The ship is immaculate. We were very impressed by the cleanliness and the good hygiene. There are Purell hand sanitizer dispensers all over the ship, which we were thrilled about, as we encourage our children to wash their hands often. The Orchestra is a beautiful, elegant ship. We loved the Italian flair that the Orchestra offered us. Announcements are made first in English, followed by Italian, French, and Spanish. It was such a great experience for my children to hear the different languages, it was kind of like bringing them on a European vacation without ever leaving the US. The activities offered on board were good, ranging from aerobics, ping pong, minigolf, darts, tennis, basketball, and I'm sure a lot more that we didn't participate in. There were also dance lessons, wine lectures, bingo, Italian lessons, and ongoing activities by the pool. We went to an art auction, which was a great experience for my children. We wound up purchasing a Cinderella cell for my daughter. I never went to the Body & Mind Spa, the prices were too high for me. There is an Internet Cafe which costs 5.00 for 10 minutes, but the connection was temporarily slow when I was there. The daily program was chock full of information, sometimes it even got confusing. I like the way NCL organizes the program, by the time. MSC organizes the program to sort of resemble a newspaper with advertisements. It's easy to miss stuff. For example, we didn't realize one evening that it was a formal night, and I missed one of the port talks that I wanted to attend. After a few days, I got used to it. We booked two excursions, and one wound up being cancelled because of lack of participation. The first was Whale Watching in Cayo Levantado. This was absolutely spectacular. Humpback whales come into this bay for a few weeks in February to give birth. My son, who is 9, was thrilled and loved every minute of the experience. He counted a total of 17 whales. My daughter who is 5 got bored after an hour. But if you are prone to sea sickness, this tour night not be for you. You are out in the bay bouncing around in a small boat for about 2 1/2 hours. For me, the first hour was fine, and then I was miserable. The second excursion, which I booked for husband and son was the "Antigua Eco Hike," which consisted of a six-hour hike through the rainforest. They love doing stuff like that together, but nobody else signed up for that, and it got cancelled. By the time they were notified, it was too late to choose a different tour and were disappointed. The stateroom was tiny as expected, but impeccable. Florence and Bruce, (on deck 10) our cabin stewards, were phenomenal. Returning to a tidy, clean smelling cabin everytime was such a pleasure. As a family of four with young children, we really appreciated all their hard work. Dining was a lot of fun. Our waiter, Gede, in the Villa Borghese dining room was great. He taught our children tricks with drinking glasses and how to make funny things out of cloth napkins. On the last night our children made him a thank you card. His assistant Eko, was also so nice with the kids. The food ranged from good to excellent. All of their pasta dishes were absolutely delectable, having a real home cooked taste. There are some dishes that are always available, such as spaghetti bolognese, which was the best I've ever tasted, and the salmon, which was always very good. They even had pastina, which my kids love. The steak was okay. I ordered my steak medium, and it came out well done, and my husband ordered his rare, and he said his came out fine. My children only went to the children's club once, and it seemed fine. The point of this vacation was for us to spend family time together. Entertainment was the best that I have ever seen on a cruise ship. The magician was unbelievable, and kind of had a supernatural air about him. The dancers, singers, and musicians were all tops. Besides offering entertainment which appealed to the mainstream, I loved the way they tried to infuse Italian culture into the cruise, by also exposing passengers to opera and classical music. They gave passengers the opportunity to see some very high caliber performers. In one of the dance numbers, there was also the Venetian "Carnivale" theme. We loved that! Disembarkation was not too lengthy. The big problem was getting a taxi once you got off the ship. Port Everglades was a total zoo upon disembarking, the whole taxi situation is a disorganized nightmare. If you need to catch a flight back home and have little time to spare, you're better off arranging for some kind of shuttle. The big problem we had with this cruise was the smoking!! Smoking was very open and was not confined to areas which non smokers could avoid. There was smoking all around the pool area and in all the lounges, it really could not be avoided. My kids hated it, and this would be the only reason why I might not sail with MSC again. Other than that, it was a great experience. Read Less
Sail Date February 2009
After 25 cruises, I believe I am qualified to express my opinion(Not my husband's...because he is a Negative Person)... Yes, I had a great time. Although, advertised, as Baseball Greats..I did not sign up for this ... Read More
After 25 cruises, I believe I am qualified to express my opinion(Not my husband's...because he is a Negative Person)... Yes, I had a great time. Although, advertised, as Baseball Greats..I did not sign up for this reason..however, I enjoyed every lecture and movie and discussion with all the Baseball "OldTimers"..They call me "The Philly Girl""What a pleasant surprise" The shows, not were only OUTSTANDING,but the greatest shows I have ever seen, on any of my previous 24 cruises...Every evening, we all gave a standing ovation,,,Bravo, Bravo... (Even my husband gave a standing ovation, once in a while).. These productions were worth at least $90.00 to $100.00 at any live theatre, in Ft Lauderdale Fla, or Phila Pa. As far as sanitation was concerned, OUTSTANDING..One of the cleanest ships we ever experienced. 24 hours a day, workers were cleaning and polishing all brass railings, elevators, Purell Hand Sanitizer in every station where there was food.. As far as Casino was concerned, I feel there should have been more than 5 PENNY SLOT MACHINES..There were plenty of 25 cent and $ machines, however, with 3000 people on board there should have been more PENNY SLOT MACHINES.... The food was ample, not gourmet (We did NOT go to Gourmet Chinese Restaurant and did NOT go to Four Seasons Gourmet Restaurant),,,as seniors, we did not feel it was necessary,,, however, we ate mostly all our meals in dining room, never went hungry..We hardly ate at Buffet...very crowded, difficult to move around, long lines, and narrow areas, and of course, very noisy.. Embarkation was efficient and quick. Not more than 15 minutes, and we were in our cabin. Disembarkation, was just as efficient...No problems..You had to vacate cabin at 7AM, but they did serve breakfast in dining room and buffet... My suggestions for future cruises,,,MSC take note,,,very little activity during day..Yes, they had a few childish games at pool area, but not enough,,, Yes, the price was right, for this cruise, excellent weather(except for winds of 40 miles an hour, no fault of MSC) however,,the Islands were not of the most desirable, Nassau closed on Sunday,,Antigua, St John, arrived 5PM, stores all closed, and stayed til 11PM.why would anyone walk streets in darkness,,St MARTIN only a few hours, and the most disappointing Island of Dom Rep..Maybe next time, MSC will get a better time slots. Again, THIS CRUISE WAS A PLEASANT SURPRISE, would I go again on MSC , Caribbean, maybe yes, maybe no...Tobyhilda Read Less
Sail Date February 2009
This was our 6th family cruise, we booked 10 months before departure because it was such a good value. It was booked with an on-line agency. As the first reviews starting coming in I became a bit worried. As more reviews were posted I ... Read More
This was our 6th family cruise, we booked 10 months before departure because it was such a good value. It was booked with an on-line agency. As the first reviews starting coming in I became a bit worried. As more reviews were posted I actually felt sick at times about my decision. We had friends from a previous cruise who had booked too and they bailed. I became increasingly concerned but my husband would tell me to get off the computer and stop worrying. Good thing I listened to my husband! Embarkation: Arrived at the pier around 12h15pm and we were on the ship by 12h30. We decided to find where our cabin was located and just see if we could deposit our hand luggage and it was already cleaned and available. Cabin: We had an aft balcony on deck 9 (9221) a superior balcony decorated in blues (some of the cabins are reds) and I was very pleased with the layout. The size was about the same as standard balconies on other ships. The only thing I didn't like was there was a big mirror across from the foot of the bed so I seemed to see myself all the time even when trying to watch TV. Our steward, Franck was there when we arrived, greeted us with a big smile and perfect English and said, "Welcome to the Orchestra". He asked us to let him know if we needed anything at all and that he wanted to make sure we had a great vacation. The pit in my stomach finally lifted and I realized it was all going to be o.k. We enjoyed the view of the wake but did experience serious vibrations when the thrusters were engaged for docking. This was too much to sleep through when there was early docking. We had a queen bed and my daughter (16) slept on a single sofa bed, both were very comfortable. Had there been a 4th in the cabin the other bed was a single trundle bed that came out from under the sofa. Good to know if you have 2 kids, they will not be sharing a double sofa bed but really two singles, side by side. The only other concern and it has been previously mentioned is the shower curtain that sticks to you due to a design flaw with the exhaust fan being in the shower stall. Easily solved with some beach rocks and duct tape (never leave home without it) to weigh it down. There was a fruit basket in our cabin that was refilled throughout the trip. Dining: We had requested first seating originally but when we saw they had changed it to 5h30 asked our T.A. to change it for us. She confirmed this had been done. We arrived to find we still had first seating. We went to see the Maitre'd who is available from 12h30-3h00 and he quickly accommodated our request for second seating, table for 2, by a window, on the 6th floor dining room. Our waiter was very efficient if maybe a little less cheerful than some we have had. However, he grew on us and his outstanding assistant "Mario" more than made up for it with his jokes and Italian songs. We enjoyed all our meals and never had anything bad except for the lobster. We particularly enjoyed the pasta and some of the less usual items like cauliflower pie. We had breakfast and lunch in the dining room as we had one lunch at the buffet and found it too big and very hectic. Some of the concerns we had read about need to be addressed, our food was always served hot (except sometimes toast in the morning), water was always poured for us and then a pitcher was placed on the table. Our waiter had no problems understanding when each course should be served in relation to the others at the table. The deserts were more limited than other cruise lines but other than that we found the food comparable. Coffee was always offered (but declined) after meals. Entertainment: As has been previously mentioned the shows, costumes, lighting and overall talent of the entertainment staff is wonderful. We really enjoyed going to the show at 7 and then diner at 8pm. We also were thrilled with the other musicians throughout the ship. Drinks: The wine package at 7 bottles for $105.00 or 10 for $150.00 is the best bargain in cruising. Purchased from our waiter we were given a book of tickets. Other than the first page of 'Connoisseur' wines we were able to select from the regular menu. We had also pre-ordered the beer package with 14 beer for $38.00 again we had a book of tickets and we could order any bottled beer including the imported ones. Activities: We did not take part in any so cannot comment. Casino: Small but fine. This was the only place on the ship we were ever bothered by smoke. Disembarkation: We went to the reception area to deposit our signed account slip and leave the comment card around 7h50. Our color had not been called we asked when it would be and they said if we wanted to leave now we could so we walked off the ship. Extremely easy! Things we really loved about MSC: The lounge chairs with a sun visor - perfect for reading. The Gelato at the pool bar - $2 for a big waffle cone, try a mix of coffee and chocolate YUM! Better than free soft serve any day. The fact there was fewer announcements. Drink waiters who were always available when needed but never bothersome. The level of cleanliness on the ship - best we have seen yet. The mix of people on board - great for people watching. Things we liked less: The teen club met at 11pm at the disco- far too late for my teen after a busy day and very intimidating for a 16 year old girl to go to a disco at that hour by herself. I would have much preferred a teen centre as on other ships. She chose not to go at all and stuck with us the whole time. Very disappointing. The port times were a disaster. Originally, Nassau was 8am till 2pm, it was changed to 7am till 1pm, well that means all aboard at 12h30. Not much time for anything. Antigua, scheduled 1pm till 9pm, changed to 2h30 - 11pm, actually arrived just after 4pm and by the time docking was complete and we were off the ship it was 5pm. Sunset was at 6h20. Again, very disappointing. St. Martin we left at 2pm so with all aboard at 1h30 and just to be safe we had to leave the beach at 12h30. There were no movies shown on the big screen- just a bunch of MSC advertising. I have read this was corrected the week after us. The Gym was not big enough for the number of passengers on the ship. It was less than half the size of any of the other ships we have been on with only 2 bicycles, Also, there was no water fountain or cooler in the Gym. Secrets: best quiet spot with chairs is aft on deck 15 just past the mini-putt and up a few stairs - less wind and a nice outdoor shower if you get too hot. Inside cabins on deck 12 aft (12209 and12212) are a great deal if you want an easy door to a quiet deck with lounge chairs. Almost as good as having your own balcony. Overall: We would consider an MSC cruise again but only if the port times were much longer. With the kids free promotion this was our cheapest cruise yet and with the bar packages they offer it was our cheapest bar bill yet. The only other disappointment was the number of people who went into this trip with bad attitudes and spent their whole time nit picking and complaining about all the things they didn't like about the cruise. We became very reluctant to strike up any conversations as so many people started ranting. Don't expect champagne when traveling on a beer budget! If you want an American cruise line, take Carnival, if you would like to try something a bit different and are open to change then MSC just might be for you. If you are already booked, go with a good attitude, relish the differences and you'll have a ball, If you are considering booking, think long and hard - are you ready for something a bit different? Read Less
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 February 2009
Our one week family cruise (there were 12 of us) was a very nice family holiday. The time spent with family was terrific, but I would not take another MSC cruise. Embarking - this was a breeze and actually much easier than any previous ... Read More
Our one week family cruise (there were 12 of us) was a very nice family holiday. The time spent with family was terrific, but I would not take another MSC cruise. Embarking - this was a breeze and actually much easier than any previous cruises I have been on. Cabin - we were in cabin 9048. It was a great location. The nearest elevator was perfect for getting to and from the dining room and various lounges. Elevator service is very slow, and we chose to take the stairs in many instances. Balcony cabin was much smaller than on Celebrity. Food - This is an area where MSC must try to improve on. There was no consistency in quality. Our meals were more than edible, but the food wasn't as good as we have experienced on Celebrity. The presentation of meals is very poor (they just dump it on the plate), so if this is a deal breaker for you, you will be disappointed. Some of the soups were wonderful, while others were terrible. The steak in the dining room was not good. Pasta is very nice. It should be remembered that you get what you pay for and the price point on this ship is lower than most. One of the gals in our group summed it up well when she said, "I didn't think you were supposed to go to bed hungry on a cruise". The grand buffet was the poorest we have seen on a cruise. A huge line up (like there normally is), only to get to the front to see some fruit and cheese. There were no hot dishes on the grand buffet, so if you are looking for your standard beef wellington fix, you will not get it here. The main buffet, while plentiful, was far too busy. When we met as a group at the buffet we referred to it as the "free for all". Note that the bread on this ship is very good. Service - Most of the crew was pleasant. There are always a few bad apples. The service in the dining room was poor and painfully slow. We had a table for 8 and a table for 4. There were several occasions when someone at our table (8 people) did not receive their main meal until the rest of our table had finished theirs. It's my opinion that they are understaffed in the dining room and that a lot of coaching is needed. Wine service in the dining room was inconsistent. One night very good; the next night very poor. Bar service in the lounges is very slow. Spa services - I had a 1 hour massage and it was good. A manicure and pedicure was far too expensive, so I passed. Photo shop - without a doubt this was the most disorganized system I have seen on any cruise ship. Drinks are very affordable. The wine package ($105 for 7 bottles) was fantastic. They need to make a more concerted effort to advise what services are available. 3/4 into the cruise I found out about the cocktail package, but this was from another passenger. There was nothing printed to advise of such a package or I would have purchased it. Ports of call - You know when you book a cruise what the timing is at your port of call. MSC does not, in my opinion, have the pick of the litter when it comes to port times. Disembarking - this was a very smooth process. Overall opinion - we got what we paid for and would never travel MSC again. Read Less
Sail Date January 2009
This was my first time on MSC and we had read good reviews about one of their newest ships. Some things were disappointing. A review told of the three story waterfall in the atrium, but it was dry while we were on board. Our stateroom with ... Read More
This was my first time on MSC and we had read good reviews about one of their newest ships. Some things were disappointing. A review told of the three story waterfall in the atrium, but it was dry while we were on board. Our stateroom with balcony was fine and our steward did a good job, We did find the traffic pattern in the room a bit cramped and the fact that all the lights in the cabin operate on one switch was surprising (except for over the desk and out on the balcony). We soon discovered that you had to leave you door key card in a special slot if you wanted to keep them on. No instructions provided. Dining room experience was also good for us, but others had problems. The wait staff was as attentive as possible considering the waiter had 5 tables nd about 24 people to tend to at each seating. I always found something on the menu I liked, but the lobster tail was minuscule and dry, no drawn butter came with it, but was served after I had finished. We tried the buffet for breakfast and it was fine and plentiful. The lunch buffet was virtually always the same, the food barely warm and very limited on dessert choices. Ice cream was available on the pool deck at extra cost. Coke, etc also available at extra cost. We had read reviews stating that coffee with meals was only available at extra cost, but this was not found to be true. On board activities were few and seem to be mostly concentrated on the pool deck creating more congestion and noise for the sun worshipers and readers. The common areas are well appointed but I found the bench seats uncomfortable as compared to the individual chairs. Same was true in the dining rooms. The auditorium/theatre was spacious, a bit overdone decoratively, with comfortable seats. The balcony was good except for the railings between rows. An average height person view line to the stage was somewhat impeded by the rail and if it had been about 6 inches lower would have functioned well and not obscured peoples view. The most actively used elevators were frustrating as they would frequently go right bye you without stopping and two of them were broken (surprising for a new ship). On our second week of cruising on a back to back, the menus and entertainment was identical to the first week (not unexpected), but there was a baseball theme for the week which I enjoyed. Five former major league players were on board to meet and greet, share stories and sign autographs. Andre Dawson, Rick Burleson, Cookie Rojas, Stan Bahnsen and Gary Peters were featured. This was the best activity the cruise featured in my opinion. They do the same thing once every month during the winter if anyone is interested. All during the cruise we experienced a strange vibration throughout the ship, more pronounced on the upper level for some reason. Another passenger said he was told that it was caused by the diesel generators they use on board, but most of us who had cruised before had never felt this on any other ship. Prior to my cruise I had attempted to book an excursion by using the method described in my MSC literature. They said to go to their web site in the USA and we could see what was offered and book. I attempted to do so for about two weeks and was constantly kicked off the Internet as the site was trying to load. I called them in FL and asked them about excursions and was again referred to the Internet. I explained that I had been trying to do that but the site kept kicking me off. I was told "Oh yes, we've been having trouble with that". Why keep referring people to it? I then asked if they could e-mail them to me. I was told no, I was told that once I had the number of the tour and the date, I could book it. I had to go through my travel agent to get the information, which I did. After receiving the material, I pick out what I wanted and again called the MSC office, I was told I could not book and had to go through my travel agent. I again went to my travel agent and she attempted to book it, but was unable to do so. When we got on board, we again attempted to book it but were refused because we wanted to do it on our second week and they were only booking for this week. We had also been informed in December that we would receive a refund of our fuel surcharge in the form of an shipboard credit. Our travel agent had also given us a $50 shipboard credit each when we paid our final payment (in October). When we inquired at the accounting dept. where was our fuel supplement credit, they claimed it was the $50 already on our account. As we should have received a total of about $168 and knew the credit on our account was from our travel agent, I was not pleased. I showed them the letter I had from the President of MSC, USA and was told that "it meant nothing, he has no authority". I went to the accounting manager the next day and showed him all my documents and restated my case and the time frame of everything. He said I should receive the credit, but they would have to get authorization from the home office. It took ten days. I would have to say that there seemed to be no attitude that the customer is always right nor that they were in the customer satisfaction business. While many spoke some English, at least enough so I understood what they were telling me, I got the sense that they did not fully comprehend what I was saying (and did not care) Typical communication problem was the lady who asked for lox and bagels and received a bowl full of bagels (lots of bagels). 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 January 2009
MSC Orchestra Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.0 4.0
Dining 4.0 3.0
Entertainment 3.0 3.4
Public Rooms 4.0 4.0
Fitness Recreation 4.0 3.3
Family 3.0 3.3
Shore Excursion 4.0 3.1
Enrichment 2.0 2.8
Service 3.0 3.4
Value For Money 4.0 3.3
Rates 4.0 3.9

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