Cruising With Kids on the MSC Orchestra // Review
We took an MSC Cruise with our three boys (5, 3 and 1), the grandparents and my sister in December of 2017 for Christmas around the Mediterranean. The itinerary looked perfect as did the price. We found that all the annoyances we read about MSC cruise lines were true. We found ways to overcome some of them, but at the end of the day were resigned to make the best of others.
Overall when we viewed the cruise as a mode of transportation it was completely sufficient, however I advise you to look elsewhere if you want something more than this. We have cruised with Carnival, Princess, Costa and Cunard previously and found this to be our worst experience. But I stress, we looked at this cruise as a floating hotel. In that respect, it was fine.
MSC’s customer service prior to the cruise was abysmal. Americans will understand when I say this: MSC customer service is worse than Comcast or Time Warner. We booked through our beloved travel agent who typically helps us out with vacations where the whole family is going and there are lots of moving pieces. He warned us that MSC was often an issue and this turned out to be true.
We had booked rooms near each other (paying extra to do so), only to have the ships switched and our rooms subsequently moved without our knowledge. We were spread across three different decks, including separating some of the kids from their parents. We called every number we could find without resolve. We were told they couldn’t help us and it would have to go to the inventory department. This was seriously annoying. In the end we think an e-mail to their media department fixed things. I e-mailed from my blog account and had my friend The Travel Mad Mum, who was on a promotional tour with MSC in the Caribbean advocate on my behalf. A few days after this we received new confirmations to my blog e-mail address.
I would count this as a one-off except that our dinner reservations had also been modified to the later seating. We contacted customer service who told us to deal with it on the ship and if they had openings we would be moved. They told the travel agent it couldn’t be fixed. They told us that only the travel agent could fix it. Annoyed I sent another e-mail to the media department and when we arrived on board everything was fixed.
Individuals we spoke to were always empathetic but lacked the power to do anything about problems. We filed a BBB complaint against MSC’s Fort Lauderdale office over the rooms on different levels but MSC never replied to the BBB complaint and we were told that they typically do not.
On Board Experience
The Orchestra is part of the musical class of ships, which are some of MSC’s oldest and smallest. This does mean that you can get into smaller ports and also that there are less people to contend with at each port.
The beds and towels exceeded my expectations. The beds were comfortable and everyone slept well. We were able to modify the rooms into configurations that made sense for our family and had everyone sleeping well. The towels were soft and plenty big. Separate pool towels were even provided in the room.
The ship shows its age in terms of layout. If you have been on newer ships you will be annoyed by the amount of time you have to spend walking the corridors instead of having easy passage though public areas.
There is not enough indoor seating for a winter cruise so things often feel crowded. We often found the only place to sit with the kids was in the buffet between meals.
The ship’s main spaces were decorated for Christmas including a real life-sized gingerbread house. This did add to the festive atmosphere and we appreciated the small touches that made it feel like Christmas.
The outdoor spaces of the pool were lovely and uncrowded, due to the weather. We often found ourselves walking from one end of the ship to the other outside to avoid the crowded corridors.
There was a lovely kids playground that all three of our kids liked. We would take turns taking them up there to run around.
We also utilized the hot tubs for swimming a few times. The pools are only for use by potty trained kids so our older two could come swim with us. The pool was much too cold but the hot tubs were warm enough to use as a small swimming pool.
There is a large tv screen out on deck as well but it only ever played the MSC ads for the spa doctor. I would have loved for the map, or pictures of ports of call to be played or even that it just be turned off. It was such a waste to play the same advertisement on a giant tv for 11 days straight.
Once we got onboard the staff was wonderful. They couldn’t anticipate our needs the way we’ve seen done on higher end lines, but they were happy to help when asked. They were kind to the children and went out of their way to connect with them. We had the chance to meet and chat with many of the staff members. We know they spend months working away from their families and we were so thankful that they were as kind as can be to our family.
Everything is For Sale
This is my largest pet peeve. I hate feeling like everything is for sale. Everywhere you look on board they are selling something. When you are eating dinner they are coming through with carts of particular drinks trying to sell them. Every ounce of extra public space is lined with “shopping.” We came back from dinner each night to find an invitation to some sort of shopping experience the next day. Of course, this is part of the whole package. If you want a lower cost cruise, the cruise line needs to make its profit somewhere.
I also just can’t get over how wasteful it is to print all those photos they take! When can we move to digital photos?? This would be so much more environmentally friendly. We got one free photo from Captain’s Night, a perk we were extended as MSC matched our Marriott Gold Status.
The rooms on the Orchestra are slightly smaller than what we had on previous cruises. MSC just won “best ship of the year” for a new ship on a route in the Caribbean, so I know they have better ships.
The room is dated. One of the electrical outlets had a face plate that was completely busted exposing the wires. The minibar door wouldn’t lock so the kids kept getting into it and the buttons of the phone were broken so I couldn’t easily make outbound calls. Jeff’s room’s safe was broken, but they were able to replace it. Our room steward did his best to help us overcome these issues and I can’t blame him for the upkeep of the ship.
The rooms are already so small that I really can’t stand when space is wasted. Our room had a mini-bar, which I requested be emptied since it couldn’t be locked. The room also had bottles of water for sale and other sale items placed around it. I find this so tacky. I requested these be removed as well.
We were able to build some killer forts for the kids to play in. The staff was happy to give us extra linen for this endeavor.
The communication on the ship is poor. Information is not presented easily all in one place.
The daily program is confusing. We’ve seen this daily program be executed much better on other cruise lines. We were always getting tons of paper in our stateroom and yet never seemed to know what was going on.
On Board Activities
Our itinerary was heavy on ports of call so we didn’t need to rely much on the onboard entertainment The two sea days we had though lacked what I’ve come to expect for onboard entertainment.
Things were never fully explained. We showed up to “craft time” and were told it was full because they only had 10 seats. Then later when we toted the kids to napkin folding we were told it was an adult only activity.
We were pleasantly surprised by the Christmas program where the kids each received a gift from Santa. Our Little Little got a Chicco phone while our Big Little got a Lego set. Our Middle Little slept through the program as he wasn’t feeling well but they still sent a gift home with our Big for him.
The kids program was good. The three and five year old loved going although the space dedicated to the playroom was small. I assume since MSC is billing themselves as a family cruise line the newer boats have better, larger facilities. There were quite a few kids on the ship so our boys didn’t get to know the staff in the same way they did on previous cruises. MSC also runs the kids program even when you are in port. We did not utilize the program when we were off the ship.
The baby playroom was full of new Chicco Toys. We met many other families utilizing this room when it was open. The hours for this unsupervised playroom were posted daily on the door. They were hard to predict and often made no sense. We wish these hours had been printed in the daily program so we could better plan our day.
The food was good. It was nothing special but everything tasted fine, although it bordered on bland in most cases.
Breakfast and Lunch were a mess no matter where we ate. The buffet was always crowded! The Breakfast and Lunch seatings in the restaurant also had a buffet which was confusing and service was lacking. They do group seating, so we always felt like we were inconveniencing those we were seated with since our kids can be a mess at meals.
If you book through a US travel agent you get the water package as part of your plan. Otherwise you will need to purchase water with each meal. This is very European and something we have come to expect around Europe. We however booked through a US agent and were able to get water at meals.
We also pre purchased the wine at meals plan so that we could have wine at meals without worrying about the cost. There are so many pre-purchased drink options and you can purchase them at any time throughout your cruise. These packages are coded onto your card so that after you get a drink you get a receipt for the water and wine but everything is zeroed out.
Since we had the water package for meals we would simply request a sparkling water from the buffet bars during lunch and take these back to our room for us to enjoy at other times. (This system makes zero sense!)
In the main dining room there is a rotating Children’s Menu that catered to the Little Little as well as our older kids. We were also able to order off the main menu for them often mixing and matching from all available options to make a good choice.
On Ship Lounges & Bars
As part of our package we got a ton of drink tickets. More than we were able to use due to slow service and lack of seating.
The bars on board are mostly located in hallways and main passageways. Seating was limited, particularly for large groups. We found ourselves sending someone to grab seats as soon as we got back on board from our outing. The lounges have more seating but were often loud or unstaffed.
The lounges had changing hours which were printed in the newsletter each day. It was hard to know when we were walking around the ship what was open unless we had the program with us. We were on board for 12 days and never quite figured it out.
Service was slow. I think honestly that they were understaffed. We would order and wait forever for our drinks. Several nights we had to take our drink with us into the dining room because we waited nearly 45 min to get a drink.
We loved the itinerary MSC offered and got a great deal. As a floating hotel we got exactly what was required and left feeling like we had a nice trip. The ship was clean and comfortable. If you set your expectations there you are sure to have a great trip and really enjoy your ports of call. If you are expecting more amenities or a nicer experience you are better off booking with a different cruise line.