MSC Orchestra Cruise Review - February 2015
MSC Orchestra - Ian Warren – 10-02-2015
We had only cruised with MSC Cruises once before, which was in the Mediterranean in November 2009. It was also on the MSC Orchestra, out of the port of Genoa, and I have to say that it wasn’t our favourite cruise experience. However, since then a number of improvements have been made to what is offered onboard MSC ships, and I have received good feedback from customers over the last couple of years. We wanted to cruise out of Dubai this winter, and MSC Cruises was one of just two options available, so I thought that it was time to give them another opportunity to impress me.
This video shows the ship itself, and you can look at my photos of MSC Orchestra on Facebook, and there are links to the excursions videos and photos within the review below.
We flew overnight with Emirates on a Boeing 777-300, landing in Dubai just after 8am. There had been a one hour delay leaving Birmingham, due to the late arrival of the aircraft. This was our first experience of Emirates and, to be honest, it didn’t live up to expectations. After we had been in the air for over 2 hours, all we had been served was a hot towel and a menu. Sometime later we eventually got served a meal, but it seemed that you had to ask for a drink, as they weren’t offered. Before landing there should have been, according to the menu, a hot drink and sweet treat served. However we weren’t offered them, and we never saw anyone else with them.
Cruise Day One – Dubai
We made our way through the airport relatively easily, and immediately saw the MSC signs for the shuttle coach, and were soon on our way to the dock. When we went into the terminal there was a long queue for check-in, but after perhaps 40 minutes we had our cruise cards and were able to board the ship. As our cases had been taken from the coach it was easy to just walk on, and we made our way to the cafeteria which was serving a late breakfast buffet. We then made our way to the poolside bar for a refreshing cocktail. We had purchased the Allegrissimo All Inclusive drinks package in advance, which turned out to be great value, but more details about that later in the review.
Cabins weren’t accessible until midday so we decided to wait until we had lunch, and then went and unpacked. Contrary to what many people think, travel agents aren’t always upgraded by cruise lines, and we got the inside cabin which we booked, but it was fine. It was roomy, had plenty of storage, and the beds were comfortable. Having not slept well on the plane, we decided to have a couple of hours sleep to catch up. There were a number of afternoon excursions available for Dubai though, for those with the energy to go on them.
We were on first sitting dinner and then took a wander around the onboard shops, before having another drink. Then it was time for the show in the main theatre, which tonight was ‘Grease’. It was really enjoyable and it was good to see so many involved, with a total of 22 singers and dancers on stage for much of the time. The only downside, which is the same as on most multi-national cruises, is that the Cruise Director has to make all the announcements in so many languages. Tonight it was English, Italian, French, Spanish and German.
Due to flights arriving throughout the day from around the world, the lifeboat drill didn’t take place until 11.15pm, just before a midnight departure. It wasn’t the best organised lifeboat drill I have attended, and was again in a number of languages, but I fully accept the reason they need to be held so it wasn’t a problem. Then it was time for a last drink on deck, before going to bed for some welcome sleep.
Cruise Day Two – Abu Dhabi
We were doing a half day city tour of Abu Dhabi, so set the alarm for 7am. After a relaxing breakfast we went to the meeting point for 8.30am, and then off to the coach. Our first stop was a photo opportunity of the Emirates Palace Hotel, where we were told that rooms cost around $1,000 per night. After driving around and being told a bit about the history of Abu Dhabi, we went to the beautiful Sheikh Zayed Mosque, which is one of the largest mosques in the world.
It is worth noting that they are very strict on the dress code for entering the mosque, especially for woman. They must have sleeves which come to the wrists, and trousers or a dress which comes down to the ankles. Even then, very tight trousers or leggings are not allowed, so several of our group had to borrow a blab Abaya, similar to the ones worn by the locals. They also have to wear a headscarf to cover their hair. Men were okay with short sleeved shirts, but trousers must be worn, not shorts. Everyone had to leave their shoes outside the mosque though, and go in either barefoot or in their socks. It was worth it though to see inside, which was very impressive, and you walked on the largest handmade carpet in the world. There were also a number of massive chandeliers, all covered in Swarovski crystals. The heaviest weighed 12 tons, and the next two each weighed 10 tons.
The Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi
We then continued our drive onto Yas Island, and drove past Ferrari World, a very large theme park, and the F1 circuit, home to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix each November.
As our drive continued we were shown many sites where new construction is ongoing, and will be finished over the coming years, including Louvre and Guggenheim museums. Our final stop was at the Manaret Al Saadyat, which is a visitor centre where you can learn a bit about the history of Abu Dhabi, as well as seeing large models of all the new projects under construction. We then headed for the docks, and after a look around the gift shops in the terminal, we were back onboard ship. As it was 1pm it was time for a nice lunch, and some chilled wine. Click on the following links to watch my video or look at my photos of the excursion.
We spent much of the afternoon on the pool deck, where we cooled down with some nice cocktails, and watched everyone enjoying the swimming pools and Jacuzzis. I typed up this review to date, and finally got to read the paper I had bought at Birmingham airport.
After an enjoyable dinner we wandered around the various bars and lounges, before having a drink in the Savannah Bar. They were playing music from the 60’s, 70’s & 80’s, which was the theme for the evening. We then went to see the show in the theatre, which was called ‘Gold’. It was a mixture of singing, acrobatics, a trapeze artist and an excellent Diablo act. We then headed back to the cabin, but there was still a lot of activity going on around the ship.
Cruise Day Three – At Sea
As this was a sea day, we had a lay in and then went to breakfast in the cafeteria. It seems that many others had decided to do the same, and it was a bit of a free for all. You find somewhere to sit, and then queue for the different food and drink stations, only to find that you had forgotten to look for cutlery. Some ships have a system where the cutlery and napkin wraps are in a rack on each table, rather than in just a couple of places, which I feel works much better.
We then spent a relaxing morning reading books and magazines on the pool deck, watching all the activity going on around us. Being the only sea day it was busy, with seemingly every table and every sunbed taken, with a number of people saying that they couldn’t find anywhere to sit or sunbathe on deck. There were sports activities and dance lessons, as well as a ‘Grand Bazaar’, where stock was brought up from the various shops and sold from tables by the pool.
After a more relaxed lunch in the main dining room, we were back on the pool deck for the afternoon, with a book to read, and some more cocktails to sample.
Everyone Enjoying a Day at Sea The Covent Garden Theatre
Today is the formal night with the Gala Cocktails, and an opportunity to meet the Captain for a photo if you want, and at 11pm some of the ship’s officers were in the Shaker Bar for anyone who wanted a dance. After dinner we went to the theatre for the Captain’s welcome but, to be honest, this was so that we had seats for the show. The main show this evening was ‘Gotham’, and the cast were dressed as Batman, Joker, Penguin, and there were a few dressed as Cat Woman as well. It was another mix of singing, acrobatics and trapeze work, and was pretty good. We finished the evening with a wander around the various public rooms for a couple of drinks. We looked in the casino but, as on other evenings, it wasn’t very busy, although it no doubt got busier later on, by which time we were asleep.
Cruise Day Four – Khor Al Fakkan
Today was Khor Al Fakkan in the UAE, and it was the hottest day so far. We had decided not to go on a trip, so I went around the ship taking photos for my Facebook album, and video footage for my video on YouTube, and then spent some time relaxing on the pool deck and reading. After lunch we took a walk along to the small duty free shop in the port, and I made use of the cheap Wi-Fi in the Seaman’s Club, to catch up on emails for the first time in 4 days. Back onboard it was back to the pool deck, to catch up on this review, and relax with a book again.
Khor Al Fakkan The Savannah Bar
The theme this evening was ‘White’ so many people wore at least one item of white clothing. After another enjoyable dinner we had a relaxing drink in the Savannah Bar before going to the theatre. We saw the end of the bingo in the bar, and it is a slow game as all numbers need to be called in English, Italian, French, German and Spanish. The theatre show was called ‘Mon Amour’, and it included some ‘Can-Can’ dancing, singing, juggling and acrobatics. Obviously with such a multi-national group of passengers you won’t get comedians etc, as you need to be able to enjoy everything without understanding what is being said. We then had an early night.
Cruise Day Five – Muscat
Today we were in Muscat, Oman, and we had booked the Mystical Muscat excursion, so we were on the coach at 8.45pm ready to set off. Our first stop was the Grand Mosque which, although very nice, wasn’t as large or impressive as the one we had visited in Abu Dhabi. However, the gardens in which it was set were really attractive and well kept. At the end of the visit the volunteers at the mosque were giving out free water and Omani coffee, as well as a number of publications (published in several languages) giving information about Islam, and the history of their religion.
The Indoor Market in Muscat The Sultan’s Palace in Muscat
From the mosque we drove back into the centre of the city, and had 40 minutes to look around the largest indoor market in Oman. There were many small shops, the majority of which seemed to be selling more or less the same clothing and souvenirs, with the smell of burning incense in the air. Although everyone wanted you to stop at their store, there was no hassle whatsoever, and they accepted a polite ‘no thank you’ without exception. This seemed to work as we noticed many people stopping to look, and haggling for a good price. If the vendors in Egypt tried this more laid back approach, I am sure that they would all sell more.
Our next stop was a museum and visitor centre, giving an insight into the history of Oman, an old Omani home, and the clothing worn over time. From there it was a stop for photos at the Sultan’s official palace, and then back to the ship. Click on the following links to watch my video or look at my photos of the excursion.
After a very welcome lunch it was back up to the sundeck, for Ellena to have a drink and a nap, while I had a drink and transferred photos to the laptop, just in case I lost my camera. We then relaxed until it was time for dinner.
Having had a late lunch, we weren’t too hungry at dinner time, but did have an enjoyable meal. Then it was a wander around the ship, a drink on deck, and then back to the cabin to read and have an early night, leaving everyone else to enjoy the various entertainment venues into the night. The evening show tonight was ‘Sogno Italiano’, or The Best Italian songs.
Cruise Day Six – Khasab
Our excursion today was a 3.5 hour trip on a Dhow which took us into the fjord-like waters of Musandam, also known as the ‘Norway of Arabia’. We made a stop once we were in the Fjords, and watched some pods of dolphins swimming nearby, before moving further inland. The crew were telling us about the few tiny villages on the shores, where fisherman live during the summer, and then go back to Khasab in the winter. We had a stop near Telegraph Island for nearly an hour, so that anyone who wanted to could swim or snorkel. Throughout the trip they offered complimentary water, cola, fizzy orange, local tea and coffee, as well as dates, apples, oranges and bananas. On the way back we went into the shallow water to see some small members of the shark family swimming around, and then a bit later we saw another couple of pods of dolphins swimming close to us. Click on the following links to watch my video or look at my photos of the excursion.
The Dhow Trip from Khasab Dolphins in the Waters of Musandam
Once back to shore we walked around the quay to the ship and went onboard for a late lunch. We spent another relaxing afternoon on deck, before going to the theatre at 4pm to hear the disembarkation arrangements for Saturday in Dubai.
After dinner we went to a show called ‘Samurai’ which was the final one for the cruise, and was a general variety show, and ended with many members of the crew from all the different departments coming onto the stage.
Cruise Day Seven – Dubai
We had booked a full day excursion, which was to last for over 9 hours, so we were off the ship before 9am. The first stop was at the Dubai Mall, which is the largest in the world, where we had time to look around. We also popped outside one of the entrances, and had good views of the Burj Khalifa, which is the tallest building in the world. The Mall had an amazing choice of shops, but you would need a lot more time (and money) to do it justice. Our next stop was at the Atlantis Hotel on the Palm Jumeirah, and we were taken inside to see the Lost Chambers Aquarium. From there we drove to the Burj Al Arab, reputed to be the only 7-star hotel in the world. The only way for non-residents to get in is to book a meal, so our excursion included lunch. Unfortunately the meal didn’t live up to everyone’s expectations. People had generally expected a waiter served lunch, but we were just shown to a table and told to help ourselves from a buffet. While the food was okay, it was nothing special, and the general state of the cutlery and plates etc was quite poor, so I am guessing that this room is kept for tourist lunches, and not for the guests staying at the hotel.
Atlantis the Palm in Dubai The Spice Market in Dubai
After lunch we made a brief stop at a beach nearby, as it gave us the opportunity to take some photos of the Burj Al Arab. We then went to the Al Hahidi Fort, and the Dubai Museum, and then there was a brief stop in the Al Bastakiya district of Dubai. Here you could see the old houses with wind towers, designed to cool buildings long before the days of air conditioning. Our next stop was to take a trip on a local abra boat across the creek, and from there we walked to the aromatic spice market. We then walked the short distance to the gold souk, and there was free time to look around, and buy some gold if you wanted to. The coach then took us back to the docks, and we were back onboard just after 6.30pm. A very long day, but it was a great way to see many of the most famous parts of Dubai in one go. Click on the following links to watch my video or look at my photos of the excursion.
We then had a drink, followed by dinner at the self-service buffet, before heading to our cabin to do the packing. We were in bed soon after 10pm, after putting our cases outside the cabin door, as we were to be getting the bus to the airport at 4am.
Cruise Day Eight – Homeward Bound
After a breakfast in the buffet area (which opened at 2am today) we went to our meeting point and were off the ship just after 4am, and onto the coach for the airport. Even at that early time there was a queue at check-in, but we called through to our gate on time. We were then on the plane and they were about to close the doors ahead of time, when it was announced that unfortunately someone was feeling unwell. They were then taken off the plane, and we sat there while they searched for their luggage, before taking off 90 minutes late.
I have to say that the service on this flight was far better than it was on the outbound flight, and went some way to restoring my views on what I had thought Emirates would be like.
Then just when we thought nothing else could go wrong, it took well over an hour for the luggage to get from the plane to the carousel in Birmingham airport. However, we were really pleased when we finally walked out through customs as our grandkids were there to surprise us holding ‘Welcome Home Grandma & Grandad’ posters.
We had a very enjoyable cruise, and it is a great way to see this area of the world. You get to see the places you want to, while being able to return to the ship where you food is already paid for, and even your drinks if you have bought a package.
I can honestly say that it was a far better experience than our first time onboard back in 2009. During that time MSC have made a number of improvements to services they offer onboard, which explains the good feedback I have received from customers. The quality both of the food, and the service provided onboard has been excellent.
There are a few points I would mention though.
Restaurants – while the Musica Class of ships are beautiful, the main restaurants seem to be a bit too small for the number of passengers. This leads to many of the tables being very close together, making it difficult to get in and out if people are already seated. It is also quite a regular occurrence to be bumped by waiters and other passengers trying to walk past, and the waiters often have to serve across you as they can’t get to the other passengers. Although I haven’t been on the larger Fantasia class ships, I have been told that the problem is the same in their restaurants.
Toiletries – in your shower room you will find a liquid soap dispenser on the sink, and shower gel and shampoo dispensers in the shower. However, they are not the nicest smelling toiletries we have ever used, so you might well prefer to take your own personal favourites with you.
Multi-lingual – after a while it can become a bit tiresome having to listen to every announcement onboard in 5 languages. The excursions are usually grouped into single languages, although our full day excursion in Dubai was guided in both English and German.
Smoking – being an Italian company the smoking policy is more relaxed than UK and American cruise lines. Smoking is allowed in a number of places around the ship, including at tables on one side of the Sun Deck, both sides of the Casino, and in a separate smoking lounge called ‘La Cubana’, although smoking is not allowed in cabins or on balconies.
We booked the Allegrissimo drinks package in advance, and for this particular cruise it cost us £22.00 per person per night. If we had waited and booked it onboard it would have cost us €29.90 (€26.00 + 15% service charge) per person per night. So not only is it generally cheaper to book it in advance, it means that you can take advantage of it from the moment you step onboard. Another major plus point is that you have budgeted and paid for it in advance, meaning that your onboard bill at the end of the cruise can be considerably less than usual. Click on the following link for more information on what the Allegrissimo Drinks Package includes.
As with the drinks packages, it can make good sense to book your excursions in advance. Not only do you ensure that you are on the ones you want, as some can sell out before you board the ship, you have also budgeted and paid for them before the cruise. Having prepaid for our drinks and excursions, our final onboard account was by far the smallest amount we have ever had on a cruise.
Launched in 2007 as one of four ships in the Musica Class, and weighing in at 92,409 gross tons, the MSC Orchestra carries 2,550 passengers, based on double occupancy. She has a total of 1,275 cabins, including 17 which are adapted for passengers with disabilities or reduced mobility. Cabin grades include inside, outside, balcony and Aurea Suites, and they are situated on 8 of the 13 public decks, which are serviced by 13 lifts. When booking your cruise you decide which of their four Experiences you want, Bella, Fantastica, Aurea and Yacht Club, and you can click on the following link for details of the MSC Experiences. Please note that the lifts are situated forward, mid ship and aft, but can be quite confusing. This is because not all lifts go to all decks, and sometimes you get out and find that you can only access the restaurant.
Restaurants – the main restaurants are L’Ibiscus and Villa Borghese and you will be allocated one of these. There is also La Piazzetta self-service buffet, which is open 20 hours a day, and the 4 Seasons, which is an Oriental restaurant with a supplement to pay
Bars – there are many bars around the ship, including a couple on deck, which all vary in size and ambiance, to cater for different tastes
Children – there is a good choice of entertainment for them, and the clubs are as follows: –
- ‘Mini Club’ Sailors for 3 to 6 years
- ‘Junior Club’ Pirates for 7 to 11 years
- ‘Young Club’ Y-Team for 12 to 14 years
- ‘Teens Club’ MSC Generation from 16 to 17 years
Spa & Sports – the MSC Aurea Spa is a beauty farm, beauty parlour and fitness centre. As well as a solarium and swimming pools, there is also a sports centre with basketball, tennis court and volleyball, and a mini golf course and shuffleboard
There was also a massive screen out on deck, suitable for showing films and sporting events etc. However, it was disappointing to note that it wasn’t in use at all throughout the cruise.
MSC Cruises – General Information
Part of the Mediterranean Shipping Company, which is the 2nd largest container carrier in the world, MSC Cruises operates a fleet of 12 ships with an average age of 5 years, with more new ships being built and launched over the next few years.
Fantasia Class – MSC Preziosa, MSC Divina, MSC Splendida and MSC Fantasia
Musica Class – MSC Magnifica, MSC Poesia, MSC Orchestra and MSC Musica
Lirica Class – MSC Opera, MSC Lirica, MSC Sinfonia and MSC Armonia
The Lirica Class ships are in the process of being lengthened, with additional cabins and public rooms being added. Click on the following link to watch a short video of MSC Armonia being ‘stretched’.
The MSC onboard experience is inspired by the Mediterranean way of life, with a big emphasis on the food and wine. The majority of their cabins have a balcony, which enables you to make the most of the weather in many of the destinations visited, which include: –
- Eastern & Western Mediterranean
- Canary Islands
- Norwegian Fjords
- The Baltic
- South America
- South Africa
- Dubai, Emirates & Oman
- Grand Voyages