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MSC ORCHESTRA - Just off - some comments (March 14th to March 26th, 2018 - 12 night)

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Hi Everyone,

 

We just completed our first MSC cruise on the MSC Orchestra which embarked in Civitavecchia (Rome) on March 14th, 2018 and ended also in Rome on March 26th, 2018 after 12 nights at sea. We originally had 9 ports but one was cancelled.

 

The ports were:

Livorno (Florence), Italy

Genoa, Italy

Marseille, France

Barcelona, Spain

Valletta, Malta

Olympia, Greece (cancelled - we arrived near the port but it was cancelled either due to weather conditions or low attendance on excursions making it not viable for MSC depending on which staff member you asked)

Heraklion, Corfu, Greece

Crete, Greece

Athens, Greece

 

I'll first comment on the food (I know it's subjective and I know MSC is supposedly "Italian style cruising" with a Mediterranean influenced menu. My comments are my own based on our experience. My better half found the food dreadful. Portion size was NEVER an issue for us.

 

We're vegetarians. Short and simple the food is the worst we have had in eleven cruises on various lines.

 

No flavour. No spices. No herbs. No sauces.

 

Vegetarians beware: little to no sources of protein in the menus or in the buffet other than overcooked hard boiled eggs, tiny ill-prepared Tofu and the occasional bean dish. Frankly I don't know who the chef was but they should not be guiding MSC's "Master Chef at Sea" programme which makes me laugh just thinking they offer that. I know many will comment that in the Mediterranean they use olive oil / balsamic vinegar but this cruise line is supposedly "Italian style cruising" and I don't care where you live in the world most forms of pasta has some type of sauce and most beans/chickpeas are not served from the can on their own. The best dishes we had were in the buffet on the "Ethnic" station and that was simply because they added some curried vegetables occasionally.

 

We gave up on the dining room early in the cruise because both the service and the food was terrible and we were not enjoying that experience so we dined in the buffet for the rest of the cruise for most meals. Yes I spoke with the powers that be (my comments on MSC's customer service will come later.) We supplemented our meals in the ports. Not kidding: Air Canada offered the best vegetarian meal we had between the MSC cruise and our two international sector flights - a simple Black Bean Masala but it had flavour and we both enjoyed that dish the most which doesn't say much after 12 nights at sea on MSC.

 

The fruit and salad bars on MSC had ample ingredients to choose from and seemed popular with all guests. These stations were a saving-grace for us but they also had some of the most unusual salad toppings I've ever encountered but again lots of choice. Make your own salad and you will be fine in that regard. Pre-made salads in the buffet and dining room were normally accompanied by 3/4 cup of water in the bowl and watered-down dressing so we made our own.

 

Hard-boiled eggs - not sure how you can screw that up but MSC is brilliant at it - overcooked (about 99% of the ones I ate to get some protein had a green-edge yolk) or under-cooked with a soft center but all listed as "hard-boiled" and in the same pan. They don't put the eggs in cool water afterwards so be prepared for a lengthy battle in picking the shell off in many pieces. They had scrambled eggs and other egg styles which were either very runny, like chewing on rubber or dry enough to make you need to drink water to get it down.

 

The signs on the buffet items were often incorrectly identified for example one might say "Vegetarian" but the item included chicken, pork or fish. Other items not marked vegetarian were often vegetarian.

 

The desserts: most were repeated over and over throughout the cruise (i.e. same desserts at lunch as there will be at dinner and day after day). Most items were bland squares, tarts and puff pastry. I love pastry but MSC is pretty basic. I wondered if most of the food is just loaded on the ship frozen and heated and put out for the passengers.

 

I've added some photos at this link which include some dining room and some buffet photos (hope you access it properly, I'm not a tech wizard):

https://photos.google.com/share/AF1QipMWAx51cUCxMQfJKn4bgcd9AKlByuGr6S8SqKzkKFT3Mh6Nm_7-ykMI0Jd1y72G8Q?key=MDhQSm9EcHBlcXdhUW1RSm1QOUd6X3RtdUhIbFlR

 

 

Buffet was always crowded and we had to wait to be seated in the buffet at least half of our visits there. If you opt to eat outside by the pool or in your stateroom you don't have to wait. Most of the passengers seemed to be eating in the buffet for all three meals.

 

Summary: If you're a "foodie" and food quality is high on your priorities I'd suggest you skip over MSC in selecting a cruise.

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Your experience re food mirrors our experience on Orchestra at Christmas last. We're not vegetarians, so our choices weren't as limited as yours would have been, but we still had the very same issues that you had in regards to the poor quality of food and offerings.

 

I had hoped that ours was either an aberration, or that the fact that I was ill for some of the cruise had influenced my judgement (though DH felt the same way about the food - and the service! on this cruise). It was our 18th MSC cruise and the worst we've had. I felt I never wanted to cruise MSC again when we disembarked!

 

It seems to me that there's some serious problems with the management of this ship.

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Posted (edited)

Our stateroom...

 

Deck 11 - Flauto

Fantastica category but we were on the "Bella" experience.

Stateroom #11147, midship, starboard, with balcony

 

Photos (sorry forgot to get a photo of the bathroom)

https://photos.app.goo.gl/hOtZYJjlzWOwuweh2

 

Good location. No noise from below, on either side or above. Only 2 decks up to the buffet and pool deck. Sometimes people were smoking on their decks (not permitted) but we were lucky in that it wasn't any of our closest neighbours.

 

Note that one of the outdoor loud speakers is directly above the door to the balcony next to the outside light. This wasn't an issue for us unless they were giving announcements in all the languages and you were sitting on the balcony. I captured a portion of the supposedly one-time safety-drill message which was on day four of our cruise (Barcelona) but I haven't figured out how to upload that here.

 

I may be incorrect in this but on other lines there normally are two crew looking after your stateroom, a steward and assistant. On the MSC Orchestra we only ever saw our steward cleaning and vacuuming the stateroom.

 

Cleanliness: the stateroom really needed a good "wipe-round" as some of the surfaces were sticky, stained or had residue on them. However with the multiple embarkation ports I doubt the stewards really get any time to properly clean any stateroom.

 

Bathroom: tiles in the shower were cracked and the hand-held shower was leaking a considerable amount of water but that was repaired without us asking about half-way through the cruise. The bathrooms are pretty basic like most are "at sea". They offered only shampoo and liquid body wash. No bars of soap, lotion or conditioner. Facecloths only upon request (asked first day and replenished every day afterwards without asking.)

 

Bedding: good but you can see that the strips of decorative fabric on the bed that would normally be a folded up duvet or blanket are showing their age and needs to be replaced.

 

Closet - all fine here. About six drawers and the room safe in the first cabinet next to a wide wardrobe style cabinet. About 10 hangers when we arrived but as we did laundry we got them to put it on a hanger rather than being folded so we could fold them ourselves and use the extra hangers for the closet ;)

 

We had enough storage space, a small love-seat (convertible into a single bed, again fabric stained and showing age) and desk with cube seat. We had the beds separated which made the gap between the sofa and the bed nearest the balcony doors about 4 inches apart so you had to maneuver a bit and I stubbed my toes more than once.

 

Balcony was good too although I found the balcony furniture very cheap and the stool particularly uncomfortable to lay your calves/feet on unless you adjust it the right way so the bars are not digging into you. Depending on your stateroom location your balcony furniture might be a different style as some had metal while others had the synthetic bamboo style. The stateroom dividers on the decks didn't latch firmly so they would be making noise if the ship was rocking or the wind was strong but we never heard the noise from inside the stateroom. One of the LED lights in the ceiling started flashing about half way through the cruise and it was noticed by the steward during his rounds and by us because it felt like a disco in the stateroom when the lights were on. It was replaced the next morning. Balcony window doors were mostly clean but the glass rail was dirty throughout (I give them allowance for this because sea-spray as I call it makes it really difficult to keep clean constantly but on other lines we've been on the glass panels were spotless).

 

Cabin steward: language was an issue for us. I wouldn't exactly call him polite but his grasp of the English language needs improvement. He could be quite confrontational which I found odd. For example: We had purchased the Laundry 40 package (40 items per stateroom to be washed during the cruise). We did this because I like to try to travel without unnecessary luggage due to airline baggage restrictions. MSC does not stick to the "picked up by 10:00 a.m., returned by 5:00 p.m. the next day policy" for it's laundry but all of our items were returned the next day albeit normally after 5:00 p.m. On about the fourth day we sent some of the laundry out using the provided paper bags and laundry forms, we had sent one or two items already but this time we were sending about 6-8 items. My better-half had prepared a bag of laundry to give to the steward. The steward started confronting him about the volume of laundry we were sending and he had to firmly inform the steward about how we had pre-purchased the laundry 40 package which was our choice and offered by MSC. The steward seemed annoyed by this as if it was a chore for him and required additional work from him. On day 5 we ran out of the laundry forms in the stateroom (steward did not replenish them automatically perhaps out of spite) so in that evening I called Guest Relations to ask for more of the laundry forms to be delivered to the cabin (will do was the answer). About 20 minutes later a different steward arrives at the cabin with breakfast order forms. Not sure how you confuse "laundry" with "breakfast" but they did. I had to explain to him that we wanted laundry forms not breakfast forms and off he went to come back with laundry forms. Clearly Guest Relations did not relay the right information the first time which we found was frequently the issue during the cruise or the stewards have poor listening skills. The next morning to my surprise our steward confronts me about that request I made the night before to Guest Relations. He (in broken English) said that by asking for the breakfast forms (I corrected him and told it was laundry forms the whole time which required several attempts to get him to understand this) he would loose "chips" which I took from trying to decipher his remarks as being some sort of performance control system that he gets monitored by. I was really taken back by how rude he was about this. I asked for laundry forms which he did not replenish automatically and now I was being spoken to in a very rude manner that I should have come to him first (which I couldn't because he was not available.)

 

Because of other service issues onboard we removed the "hotel service charges" (gratuities) from our account on day 4 or 5 but opted to pay only our cabin steward a gratuity direct paid to him in cash for looking after us for 12 nights. Frankly I might have stiffed him because his service needed a LOT of improvement but my better-half felt it was the right thing to do so I gave in.

Edited by RoyalVisit

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Thank you for your comment Bea. I had read some comments about the food on the Orchestra before we left so I was prepared for lackluster but lackluster would have been a generous term to apply to what we received.

 

Your experience re food mirrors our experience on Orchestra at Christmas last. We're not vegetarians, so our choices weren't as limited as yours would have been, but we still had the very same issues that you had in regards to the poor quality of food and offerings.

 

I had hoped that ours was either an aberration, or that the fact that I was ill for some of the cruise had influenced my judgement (though DH felt the same way about the food - and the service! on this cruise). It was our 18th MSC cruise and the worst we've had. I felt I never wanted to cruise MSC again when we disembarked!

 

It seems to me that there's some serious problems with the management of this ship.

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Thank you for your comment Bea. I had read some comments about the food on the Orchestra before we left so I was prepared for lackluster but lackluster would have been a generous term to apply to what we received.

 

We are sailing Orchestra late Aug 18 and we talked friends into coming with us for their first cruise, I sure hope they get things sorted out on that ship. We are not fussy people but c'mon MSC at least make the food average on this ship

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Thank you for the review! The bad food seems to be a trend! I'm hoping the pizza is at least still good! We are not vegetarian, but I do recall the pizza and pasta stations in the lunch buffet being good last time we were on MSC.

 

The room steward sounds awful! The last reviewer also commented on poor service in regards to their room, so this also seems to be a trend.

 

I would love to hear about you ports/excursions! We leave soon and sail in April on the Orchestra. We have similar ports, minus the Greek ports you visited.

 

I didn't know you could take the tips/gratuity off your bill. How do you do that?

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I didn't know you could take the tips/gratuity off your bill. How do you do that?

 

You have to go to Guest Services and advise that you want them removed. I believe you have to proffer a reason. Personally, I've never done it (I'm the one who was critical about our room steward in my Orchestra report). Here's the actual wording from the MSC brochure:

 

"(However), should you wish to adjust or cancel any of the daily hotel service charges in the unlikely event that you did not receive a satisfactory service, you may do so on board."

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I hope for all your sake MSC does fix the issues onboard.

 

We are sailing Orchestra late Aug 18 and we talked friends into coming with us for their first cruise, I sure hope they get things sorted out on that ship. We are not fussy people but c'mon MSC at least make the food average on this ship

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Lots more to come, hope to add to this later today.

 

The pizza...well if you can call it that. It is Mediterranean style but we found them lacking any flavour. They had the same four types for 98% of the time...a very plain margherita, a Hawaiian with pineapple and ham, a cheese and I think the other was pepperoni? sometimes they added more vegetables to the margherita like peppers or aubergines. I was hoping they would be delicious but they really had no spices or herbs. They are not North American style that's for sure but we were expecting something like what we purchased onshore in Rome at Gourme' which is near the Trevi fountain. Massive difference between the quality at Gourme' at the pizza onboard the ship.

 

I will definitely be commenting on the ports and our MSC excursions (the best part of the cruise in my opinion was the ports). We spoke with other couples from New York, Florida, Australia and elsewhere onboard and both the poor food and service issues were a common theme.

 

When I went to Guest Relations about the service in the dining room I was very clear that they were to remove the "hotel service charges" from our account immediately. She never questioned my instructions. I will go into this later in a separate post to make it easier to follow.

 

Thank you for the review! The bad food seems to be a trend! I'm hoping the pizza is at least still good! We are not vegetarian, but I do recall the pizza and pasta stations in the lunch buffet being good last time we were on MSC.

 

The room steward sounds awful! The last reviewer also commented on poor service in regards to their room, so this also seems to be a trend.

 

I would love to hear about you ports/excursions! We leave soon and sail in April on the Orchestra. We have similar ports, minus the Greek ports you visited.

 

I didn't know you could take the tips/gratuity off your bill. How do you do that?

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Guest Relations Wine Debacle

 

Our online TA booking included a complimentary bottle of wine and $100US onboard credit ($50 pp which was converted onboard to about 39 Euros pp). Both were listed in our cruise documents provided by MSC along with our complimentary bottles of water in the dining room, our laundry 40 package, our social media package, excursions etc.

 

On embarkation day there was no sign of the bottle of wine or any card in the room to indicate where to call if we wanted it. So I left it until the evening to see if it might arrive without us asking. Maybe our expectations that a card would be in the room with instructions or the bottle would be in the stateroom or mini-fridge already was too much to expect. There was no card for the onboard credit and no mention of it until I asked for a statement of our account a few days into the cruise.

 

The bottle was not placed in our cabin automatically on embarkation day so I called Guest Relations that same evening and had to explain to them more than once that I didn't want to purchase a bottle, I wanted the complimentary bottle included with our reservation. I cannot express how frustrating it is to be basically accused for asking for freebies. The representative spent a lot of time locating the item as listed on our account, finally located it and then asked if we wanted red or white wine so we picked white and she said it would arrive within 20 minutes. I thought that was a challenge and looked forward to the wine BUT it never arrived so I thought I'll leave it to tomorrow and see if it shows up but it didn't.

 

So the next evening I call Guest Relations for the second time, explain the situation again and they seemed surprised the bottle had not arrived - as if I was lying to them - again, the confrontational attitude of the MSC staff was really a consistency throughout the cruise and this was not the European/North American interaction, their English language conversation was perfectly fine most of the time. The representative asked again if we wanted red or white and said it would be there in 20 minutes. Success! the wine arrived but the story doesn't end here.

 

This is a link to what arrived:

https://photos.app.goo.gl/I7iR9iPliZ5kRU9Z2

 

All good we thought.

 

So my husband goes to open the bottle and it has a cork but they didn't provide a corkscrew and the bottle was not already opened. So I call Guest Relations a third time to ask them either to send up a corkscrew or someone to open it for us....answer was "they didn't open it or give you a corkscrew?", I said "no", she gasped in frustration said it would be taken care of within 20 minutes. A polite guy arrived within about 10 minutes to open the bottle and Bob's your uncle. I don't drink alcohol due to allergic reactions but my husband enjoyed the wine.

 

It shouldn't have taken 3 calls to obtain a bottle of wine that was a complimentary inclusion on our booking. I'm convinced that had I not inquired about it we would never have received it but had I ordered a bottle of wine I would have received it promptly well I hope.

 

This was just one of several interactions with Guest Relations that left us both perplexed and frustrated.

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The wine really should have been in your cabin at embarkation - or, at the very least, been delivered that afternoon. (I can understand that they may not now have items such as wine, etc, in the cabin in case of theft now that the cabin doors are left open with your cruisecards on the bed for your arrival).

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Thanks for detailing your experience on Orchestra. I summed my Orchestra cruise up by saying I would cruise MSC again, in Aurea or above, if it was a very good price, food issues aside. However the more likely outcome is that I will try the YC in the hopes of improved food, and/or a larger ship with more specialty restaurants (more to the cost but worth it for a better culinary experience).

 

To be honest out of all the recent Orchestra reviews, I found that I 'liked' the food the most, or at least I wasn't as critical as others have been of it - but be under no illusion by the end of the cruise I was starting to get bothered by it.

 

Bea - I found the food mostly on par with what we had on Preziosa a few years ago, as far as I can remember. Maybe a notch or two below but not wildly different. It's interesting that in your vast MSC cruise experience Orchestra comes bottom (I presume!) for the food. I presume MSC will internally 'rank' their ships based on how many bad reviews they get, how many people remove the service charge etc. - I would love to see if their assessment matches that of those who have cruised on her! :D

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I thought so too - even a card with instructions would have been appreciated and useful. I get that MSC has their own procedures and policies but their customer service approach is really backward.

 

The wine really should have been in your cabin at embarkation - or, at the very least, been delivered that afternoon. (I can understand that they may not now have items such as wine, etc, in the cabin in case of theft now that the cabin doors are left open with your cruisecards on the bed for your arrival).

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Bea - I found the food mostly on par with what we had on Preziosa a few years ago, as far as I can remember. Maybe a notch or two below but not wildly different. It's interesting that in your vast MSC cruise experience Orchestra comes bottom (I presume!) for the food.

 

You presume right, CJ.

 

I had the very same experience as RV regarding "hard-boiled" eggs. I cannot eat an egg with a runny yolk - it must be set! We had 2 wonderful waiters at breakfast who tried to get me a hard-boiled egg. I insisted they give up after they'd brought me 6 of them - none were hard-boiled. In some cases, not even the white had set - yuck!

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Posted (edited)

Port #1: LIVORNO (FLORENCE) Moving on to the Ports...had they been awful the cruise would have been a right-off but they were great....we only used MSC excursions during this cruise. Why? because we felt the prices were reasonable if prepaid in USD on the MSC USA website rather than in Euros onboard and they offered a good selection of excursions to choose from. I prefer the easy route when I travel and the excursions mostly satisfied our wishes.

 

Livorno, Italy (Florence and Pisa): We had originally booked the MSC Excursion entitled "Florence and Pisa with a Smart Device" but after consulting with some friends who had been we decided it would feel too rushed to try to do both areas in one day so we changed the excursion to MSC's "Florence on Your Own" which was the right choice as we enjoyed exploring Florence by ourselves and didn't feel rushed.

 

I had pre-purchased Accademia Galleria tickets as well so we got to see the real Statue of David without wasting time standing in long lines. We just picked up our tickets at a small office directly opposite the entrance to the Accademia Galleria and went right in past security. I felt bad for the people in the long line outside as the rain started to come down about that time. It was well worth the approximate $25 Canadian pp cost as my new friend "Dave" was just amazing to see in person and there are many other magnificent works to see at the gallery.

 

For March, I was really surprised how busy Florence was versus in high season (can't imagine the crowds) but buying tickets for the attractions in advance was really worth it for us to make the most out of our time. We had to meet in the Savannah Bar for 8:15 a.m. and we were on the road shortly after. After the roughly hour commute to Florence with a guide onboard giving us advice we were set free on our own. We had Gelato at Corona's Cafe too at our expense of course. We really enjoyed visiting Florence. The Duomo line up was incredibly long so we skipped going inside but visiting a lot of churches isn't really our thing so no big loss for us.

 

Happy to answer questions about Florence...

Edited by RoyalVisit

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Port #2 - Marseille, France

 

We had done some reading about Marseille before we left and many of the comments suggested there was not a lot that would interest us there so we decided to seek out an excursion that took us outside Marseille. We decided on MSC's "MRS19 Charming Arles" excursion which was about 5 - 6 hours in length including the one hour drive to get there. We met in the Savannah Bar for 9:15 a.m. and shortly after we boarded the coach. The coaches on all our excursions were great. They didn't have wi-fi as some expected but they were comfortable and clean. We had a fantastic guide named Pascal and driver Christian. She was the perfect guide - she makes history relevant and interesting instead of dishing out historical timelines without any folklore or stories to bring the place alive. She made us laugh and she knew her Vincent Van Gogh! who had lived in Arles and painted some of his famous paintings there while staying in an asylum which we had the chance to visit. We were in Arles on Saturday so we also got the extra bonus of partaking in their Saturday market which was just fantastic - all kinds of products from pastries to vegetables to homemade products and wines...brilliant!

 

Pascal showed us around the town on a walking tour and then gave us free time to explore. We decided to actually go into the Roman amphitheater that we stopped outside of as part of the walking tour. Pascal spoke about it at length but the excursion does not include the entrance fee. It cost 9 Euros pp to see but as we don't have anything close to this in Nova Scotia, Canada I was more than happy to explore and we basically had the place to ourselves on a beautiful sunny day for about an hour or so! The views of Arles and the countryside from the terrace (go to the right as you enter the amphitheater and climb the old stone stairs to the top (Pascal told us about it and she was SO right - worth the short climb!.)

 

Arles was one of the places we enjoyed visiting the most. If we return to Marseille I would either gladly visit Arles again or try the other Aix-En-Provence area which was popular too. If you get to go on a Saturday make sure you make time to explore their outdoor market which is right in the middle of the town and the coach stops nearby to pick you up there at the end of the excursion before the return to Marseille.

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Port #3 - Barcelona, Spain

 

In Barcelona we decided to take the BCN21 Highlights of Barcelona, Monsterrat & Wine Tasting tour offered by MSC and it did NOT disappoint! Warning here though: it's about a 7-8 hour tour and if the monastery at Monsterrat is busy you could be stuck sitting on the coach as you wait for traffic to enter or exit the monastery area. Our guide told us on his last tour there the group had to wait 3 hours on the hills before they could enter the Monastery area where they then only had 20 minutes to visit before they had to return to the ship. So although we thoroughly enjoyed our visit (we had about 2 hours at the monastery) I advise caution if you're not a patient person ;)

 

Our guide spoke in English and Italian I believe. Some of the excursions we did were on multiple languages which can be a bit tiresome but most only had 2, English and French or English and Spanish etc. The guide on this tour was informed but a tad boring. Thankfully our stops more than made up for his failures.

 

Because it was Sunday the guide and driver did the nonstop coach tour of Barcelona first because we would be able to see more of the city as traffic wasn't an issue. We passed some of the most famous buildings in Barcelona including the 1992 Olympic Games area and buildings by Gaudi but we didn't get that close to the famous Gaudi' Sagrada Familia cathedral but we could see it at the end of the street. If you're looking for a Gaudi themed tour this isn't the best one for you.

 

Our first stop was at the Vilarnau Vineyard in Barcelona for the wine tasting. We had a tour of the modern facility set in the hills surrounded by grapevines and almond blossoms etc. We sampled one chilled white champagne (cava) and some nuts....it was a great start to our day long tour.

 

Our second stop was the Monsterrat Monastery which is something to behold. It is set up far at the top of a mountain. The views were spectacular. The guide spoke about the monastery outside and then we had time to explore the inside. We opted not to wait in line to touch the famous "Black Madonna" which according to legend means that if you touch it you will get married that same year. The line for that was quite long and you can actually see people touching it from the pews in the cathedral anyway because the Madonna is set high above the pulpit and you can see the people one by one as they touch her hand.

 

I don't want to go into too much detail here about Monsterrat itself because I don't want to ruin the experience but you can Google it if you want more detail. We didn't get to hear their famous boys choir. We ate lunch at one of the cafeterias (they have several types of restaurants including sit down down) which was delicious (we had a hardy vegetarian lentil soup and baguettes) and did some shopping in the gift shop. They also had about 5 or 6 market stalls set up near the entrance.

 

We really lucked out in having a beautiful sunny day at Monsterrat because the views were really amazing. The weather can be tricky (often cloudy which would dampen the experience and it actually snowed there just 2 days after we visited) so be warned but honestly I would do it over again in a heartbeat!

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Thank you so much for this! Can you tell me how much free time you had in Florence? And do you remember where you met the bus in Florence?

 

Also thank you to those that posted about the tips on board!

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You're very welcome! lots more to come...

 

I believe we arrived in Florence about 10:30 a.m. - 11:00 am if memory serves me correctly. Our guide Julia walked us to the Dante statue at the Basilica of Santa Croce and then we were instructed to meet her there at the Dante statue for 3:30 p.m. I think to walk back together to the coach which was parked by the Torre della zecca by the arno (river). Then we were back on the ship around 4:30-4:45 p.m for our 5:30 p.m. all onboard / 6 pm departure. I may have the times off but we had at least four or five hours in Florence to explore which was plenty for us because of the walking involved on uneven cobblestones, getting lunch and there is so many things to see! Florence was very busy as well so you can't zoom around without avoiding people in every direction.

 

Thank you so much for this! Can you tell me how much free time you had in Florence? And do you remember where you met the bus in Florence?

 

Also thank you to those that posted about the tips on board!

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Port #4 Valletta, Malta - truly my favourite of all the ports, so charming!

 

Day 4 was our first 'At Sea' day and since there was basically nothing interesting in the daily activities we mostly lounged about and walked the promenade which although is not a complete 360 degree walk you can walk about maybe 280 degrees from the rear of the starboard side through the enclosed bow area and back down to the rear of the port side.

 

Back to Valletta....which was Day 5.

 

This was our only port where we did not purchase any type of transport or excursion. MSC offers a selection but I had read about Valletta in advance and felt it was both safe (no concerns whatsoever) and there would be more than enough for us to see on our own in Valletta instead of venturing outside the city.

 

We both loved this port. It really has a special feeling and it's a beautiful island with an enclosed harbour. The ship docked right alongside the cafes and shops. We did a circle walk of the city starting with the uphill walk (or elevator for a small fee but even that is a bit of a walk from the ship) into town then around the outer perimeter of the city passing by the military museum where the cannons are shot for Noon, the various forts, Second World War memorial with the giant bell and unknown soldier that faces the harbour entrance, venturing up to Hastings Gardens and then into the town center to eat lunch, shop, pass by St John's Cathedral in the square and other locations before returning to the ship. We spent most of the day on the island and visited many of the places featured on the "Movie trail" which is a sign and map that shows you where famous films have been shot in Valletta such as the latest version of Murder on the Orient Express, Assassin's Creed and many others. The map is right at the bottom of the hill you walk up but we didn't see the locations identified with numbers while we explored but we we visited many of the shot locations and revisited the map on our return to the ship to see how many we saw firsthand.

 

My advice - if you're an able walker you can see lots on foot without an excursion and you can take your time (we are fast walkers but we took our time to look around as there was so much to see and we never got lost...but if you have mobility issues I would suggest an excursion because the city is built on hills with narrow sidewalks and uneven sidewalk-staircases as I call them (the stairs/sidewalk to the Hasting Gardens was quite something and my tush really got a workout on that staircase). Either way it's definitely worth getting off the ship as Valletta is beautiful (any place would be worth getting off the MSC Orchestra in my opinion as it was the dullest of ships) and I would be more than willing to live there!

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Thank you for your insight John. One point - we selected Bella because it suited our needs. I don't drink alcohol, we don't use the Spa on any ship and the other inclusions for Fantastica and Aurea would be wasted as we wouldn't use them. The only perk that would have been nice was the anytime dining but not worth the additional cost in my opinion.

 

Thanks for detailing your experience on Orchestra. I summed my Orchestra cruise up by saying I would cruise MSC again, in Aurea or above, if it was a very good price, food issues aside. However the more likely outcome is that I will try the YC in the hopes of improved food, and/or a larger ship with more specialty restaurants (more to the cost but worth it for a better culinary experience).

 

To be honest out of all the recent Orchestra reviews, I found that I 'liked' the food the most, or at least I wasn't as critical as others have been of it - but be under no illusion by the end of the cruise I was starting to get bothered by it.

 

Bea - I found the food mostly on par with what we had on Preziosa a few years ago, as far as I can remember. Maybe a notch or two below but not wildly different. It's interesting that in your vast MSC cruise experience Orchestra comes bottom (I presume!) for the food. I presume MSC will internally 'rank' their ships based on how many bad reviews they get, how many people remove the service charge etc. - I would love to see if their assessment matches that of those who have cruised on her! :D

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STOP THE PRESS! I skipped our second port! Genoa, Italy!

 

I realize now how I did that - my brain was pushing me to move on to Marseille as Genoa wasn't my favourite port, actually it was probably the least interesting.

 

In Genoa we did the MSC excursion GOA16T called "Genoa and the Palazzo del Principe". Here's my firm advice - don't do this MSC excursion. You will be disappointed mainly because the Palazzo del Principe is a run-down "palace" within a few steps of the port entrance and it is surrounded by highways and other buildings. The palace should not be open to visitors in it's current shabby state. They do not allow you to take photos unless you pay an additional 4 Euros and then their staff basically followed our groups every step to ensure those who did not pay the 4 Euros were not attempting to take photos. I have never seen more unprofessional visitor services staff. They made you feel uncomfortable and one of the gentleman in our group who was not taking photos but was chastised by the staff actually told the staff member he was "sick" and "something was wrong with him". Our guide even told us she didn't feel the 4 Euros was worth it because the only thing really to see is tapestries on the walls. We only got to see the small garden area which other than the fountain of Neptune was not much of a garden and inside we saw about 3 or 4 rooms out of the entire palace. The family of the prince who owned the palace still reside there and they are not providing a positive visitor experience. Our well informed tour guide tried to keep us interested with a lengthy (way too much detail) historical lecture but it really bored us and I'm a history sponge so what does that tell you? the guide was dull and didn't seem to know how to make history interesting. It was a shame because she knew her history but looking at our group of English speaking, Italian and Japanese tourists, we couldn't have looked less interested in what she was telling us.

 

After walking to the palace from the port entrance for the short tour there we then got on the coach for a tour of Genoa by coach until we were dropped off in the city at the waterfront by the Aquarium (PS if your doing the aquarium tour don't expect much because the aquarium is really small and not impressive). On the coach tour we went through the city streets and saw places of interest. Once at the Aquarium for a pit stop for bathroom and snacks (at your expense of course) we had two choices: walk with the guide over to see the cathedral from the outside and some of the other incredibly narrow historical streets (we actually enjoyed this portion of the tour the most, the streets were crowded but it felt loosely like you were in the Harry Potter films on the cobbled streets at the shop where he buys his wand) or you could sit on the waterfront until the rest of us returned. Finally we boarded a small tour ferry vessel for our very quick return to the ship. I can only assume the return to the ship by this small ferry was faster than the coach weaving itself back to the ship on one directional streets.

 

Again - please don't waste your money on this excursion. Worst excursion of all the ones we purchased. Have I made myself clear enough? ;);)

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Thank you SO much for these great details! Will definitely avoid the Genoa excursion :). I'm finding it hard to figure out what to do in that port. Maybe we will just wander around a bit and take it easy. We only have one sea day scheduled so that will be a nice break.

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I'm glad you find the info useful. Getting good value and a positive experience is what I look for. I don't expect miracles but I do expect at least to be entertained for the hours I spend on an excursion.

 

Genoa also has hills which you with see as you exit the port area so I'm not sure how easy it is to explore on your own from the port, you might need a taxi or shuttle to the town centre. Our guide also warned us about pick pockets there too.

 

Thank you SO much for these great details! Will definitely avoid the Genoa excursion :). I'm finding it hard to figure out what to do in that port. Maybe we will just wander around a bit and take it easy. We only have one sea day scheduled so that will be a nice break.

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I enjoyed reading your review as it reminded me of the horrific cruise I took on the Seaside in Jan. Food was terrible,service was terrible, and guest services was a joke. The only thing you were not lucky enough to experience was the constant sewer smell being pumped into the room thru the AC. It's a shame because the ship is beautiful and we were excited to be able to cruise on it but were terribly let down. I could go on and on about the problems we had but you live and learn. This so called "European style" of cruising is not for me!

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