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MSC Orchestra Western Caribbean Mar 21, 2009
A little background. MSC (Mediterranean Shipping Company) is a privately held Italian line. It is the 2nd largest container ship company in the world. About 10 years ago they decided to get into the passenger cruise business, and the first ships began sailing in the Caribbean in 2005. MSC is cranking out new builds at least once a year and will continue for several more. They have been leaving two ships in the Caribbean year round and rotating some back to Europe for the summers. Orchestra was new in 2008 and arrived in Florida January 2, 2009. They have spent the first two months modifying procedures and service to accommodate North American tastes, which are quite different from European/Mediterranean preferences and customs.
We enjoyed the week very much. Embarkation at 1pm was a breeze. The cabin a balcony on deck 12, 12170, had great storage, and the service was excellent. I had no complaints with any staff, including the purser's desk. We thought the beverages were significantly lower priced than on other lines. For instance, many good Italian wines are available for under $25 a bottle. They would be over $30 on other lines, AND the gratuity is already included and not tacked on. A $18 bottle of wine is just that....$18. A glass of Proseco sparkling wine is $6 and would be $8 plus 15% on other lines. I've been charged $11 for a martini on other lines.
We like to dance and on most ships, if you can find dance music, we are often one of few couples dancing. On this ship there is dance music in every lounge ranging from Latin to "evergreen" old favorites and with this international crowd there were many people dancing, and the floor often full of couples.
There are indeed many international passengers, especially Italian, German, and some French and Spanish speaking. Hence, the lengthy multi-lingual announcements, but they aren't broadcast in the cabins. Tendering had up to 43 numbers, they used their own tenders, and despite the 5 language announcements, they were through the numbers in 75 minutes. They used two tender locations.
The ship has a light, airy feel due to the use of glass window walls in the buffet areas, and wide passageways.
Internet service is very slow, but you use your key card and it is charged at a 40 cents a minute rate, with a minimum of 10 minutes. There are plenty of stations.
I have had some difficulty with my own teenager on Celebrity and Royal Caribbean as they had with teenagers on Orchestra. While most lines are working to improve the program for 14-17 year olds, none have solved the way to occupy those 18-20 year olds, and 18 year olds can drink on this cruise line.
The shows in the evening included two reviews, a Celtic show, a international award winning illusionist, an opera/dance production, and a classical pianist. They were excellent. Some of the singing is in Italian and also in English.
One minor complaint I had was that the buffet food was not hot, barely warm. But the specialty Italian pizza from 5-9pm was a hit with me, and my wife really appreciated the ample salad selections on the buffet. And there were two buffet lines that offered eggs to order in the morning. Lunch items tended to be European in styling, except of course the grill area with burgers and hot dogs.
Breakfast in the dining room was pleasant, included daily eggs benedict offering, and service was fine. In fact, service in the dining room in the evening was fine. They ensured we had plenty of water in pitchers on the table and we were not pressured to purchase mineral water. There were generally 3-4 entrees and a pasta item. Entrees during the week included steaks (mine was cooked perfectly each time), veal, a seafood entree every night, 1 lobster night, and a vegen entree daily. Always available was steak, salmon, ceasar salad. The desserts included creme brulee, a tremendous Baked Alaska that was still frozen...not soupy, and cherries jubilee.
Ports visited included a Sunday visit Key West from 7 to 2pm berthed at the Naval Station. Unfortunately, most restaurants and bars don't open till noon.
Next was Cozumel where we were fortunate to be berthed at Punta Langusta, right in town. We chose to take a taxi to the Chankanaab National Park to see how it had recovered since the hurricane havoc of 2005. It is fine and improved with more water entry points for snorkeling, and an expanded Dolphonarium. Admission was $22 per person. Taxis were $10 each way and the price is regulated.
The next port was Grand Cayman and there were 5 ships in port. We just visited the Capt Marvin's tour office, a well known excursion provider there, noted that local bus/vans leave for 7 mile beach and West End every 15 minutes for $2.50 US per person, and a newer waterfront bar and restaurant called Hammerheads where we could observe snorklers, kyakers, and the ships, followed by lunch at Senor Frog's. Had to skip snorkeling at Eden Rock like I normally do because of a sinus problem after snorkeling the day before.
Cayo Levantando, their "private island" is beautiful, but the ship's key card is not used and there is not free buffet. Food is available from vendors, some of which are "ship approved". We were not advised of that and unless passengers brought cash or credit cards ashore, they wouldn't be able to purchase anything. We did eat at a vendor's all you can eat buffet for $12 per person, and when we said we didn't have cash, they took a credit card..
They started debarking announcement about 8:10am and did have everyone off the ship at debarkation by about 9:30. We found our luggage quickly, but the backup was at the customs/immigration desks, not something under the control of MSC, and a bit slower in processing people due to the many international passports and different languages. The only way to speed the processing, other than more customs/immigration agents, is for MSC to slow down the egress from the ship. And by the way, there were 17 ships reported to be sailing from FLL and MIA and the FLL airport was packed. It too 90 minutes to check baggage and clear security.
In summary, if you are well traveled, or have been to Europe before, you can enjoy this ship with the Italian/European flavor. We had breakfast with two US couples that have sailed several times on MSC and lov it. If you want all English language, American food, etc, it is not the right line for you. We have been on 47 cruises, have never had a bad cruise, and we enjoyed our time on Orchestra a lot.