"Beautiful, Passionate, Italian"
by Linda Coffman
— For more than a dozen years I've
written articles and guidebooks about
cruise ships and the
onboard experience. In all that time, I've never
had a thoroughly bad cruise, just some that have suited my taste more
than others. Before sailing, I was aware that MSC Cruises are
different than contemporary cruises, which cater to to American lifestyles,
and it's that difference—the
Italian difference—that makes an MSC cruise appealing to Americans who
aren't afraid to leave their comfort zone and get into the
Italian spirit. No matter where their ships sail, MSC Cruises are
most definitely, “Beautiful, Passionate, Italian”! My
husband Mel and I were up for the difference and the Mediterranean
ambiance, although our cruise aboard MSC Orchestra on March 7-14,
a Western Caribbean itinerary.
Every passenger approaches their cruise ship on embarkation day
with different expectations. We had one main
concern, “How long will it take to board?” That may
seem odd, but embarkation was problematic when MSC Orchestra
kicked off her Caribbean season this winter with a 2-night cruise.
As Richard Sasso, President and CEO of MSC Cruises explained it, the
day got off to a bad start when the ship arrived late in Fort
Lauderdale, got worse when passengers began arriving at 10am for a
4pm check-in, and the situation progressed to “perfect storm” status
when a computer glitch caused additional delays.
Since that inauspicious beginning, MSC Cruises is on track with
their usual schedule of handling 900 passengers an hour in Port
Everglades. To see what would happen by arriving at a peak time, we
entered the terminal at 11:30am and the entire check-in process took
20 minutes. We had crossed the MSC Orchestra gangway and
made our way to the buffet for lunch before noon.
Our first impression was that MSC Orchestra is an Italian
beauty with an abundance of gleaming marble and brass. In a way, you
could say the décor is a bit retro, but Mel’s description—“upscale
warmth”—sums it up.
At check-in we received the best news an embarking
passenger can hear. We'd been upgraded from our Superior Balcony
stateroom to a Suite. That was a first for us, but a very welcome
278 sq ft inside and a 48 sq ft balcony, MSC Orchestra’s Suite 15012
(pictured here) was our spacious and very comfortable home for the week. Cheerful artwork and deep burgundy fabrics set off
warm wood paneling and creamy wall coverings. A walk-in closet with
a bank of drawers, floor to ceiling shelves behind doors, and a
credenza provided plenty of storage. It took a while to discover,
but a large mirror mounted over the dressing table/desk concealed
even more deep shelves and a personal safe. In addition, a large
flat-screen television was mounted on the credenza, which also
housed the mini-bar refrigerator.
Although the bathroom wasn’t of suite proportion, it had a
tub/shower combination and cabinets beneath the vanity augmented two
wall mounted shelves for toiletries. For Mel, its most important
component was good water pressure and consistent temperature—no
blast of cold water when other passengers turned the water on in
While there are a dozen categories to choose from on MSC Orchestra,
staterooms are laid out in five basic configurations: Suites
described above; Superior Balcony and Balcony Staterooms at 191 and
164 sq ft respectively (with 48 sq ft balconies); and Oceanview and
Interior Staterooms, both at 150 sq ft. There are also a dozen 226
sq ft wheelchair accessible staterooms in a variety of categories.
One of the suites on deck 15 is designated the “Sophia Loren
Suite”—named for MSC Orchestra’s Godmother—and
bears her signature. In fact, each
new ship in MSC Cruises’ fleet has such a suite as Ms. Loren has
christened them all. She uses her suite to relax and entertain
guests when she is on board and, in the event she wishes to sail,
it’s all hers.
Just a hint in case you ever receive a surprise upgrade at
embarkation. Your luggage is obviously tagged with your original
cabin number and will, most likely be delivered there. At some
point, it will be re-routed to your new location, but that can take
some time. We decided to be proactive and when luggage began
appearing in passageways, we went to our original stateroom and our
two suitcases were there. We rolled them to our new accommodations
and got a jump start on unpacking.
Food is a pretty personal subject and
one that’s hotly debated amongst cruise passengers. This was good…
That wasn’t... It's all a matter of taste.
|Gala Buffet: As good
to eat as it looked
I like Italian food, especially
authentic Italian food.
Unfortunately, many Americans haven’t had the opportunity to visit
Italy and their exposure to “Italian” cuisine has been limited to
Pizza Hut and Olive Garden where pasta is drowned in heavy sauces
and garlic is the only identifiable spice—usually on crusty bread.
The Italian food on MSC Orchestra was much lighter—particularly the
spaghetti and other pasta dishes. Some people loved it and some
didn’t. Mel and I often ordered more than one pasta to share and we
particularly enjoyed a seafood risotto and cheese filled
Sorrento-style cannelloni. On "lobster night" I passed on the
crustacean in favor of a delightful veal entree.
We set out to dine in each of MSC Orchestra's restaurants and, as a
result, only had dinner in the dining room four times. We tried the
Shanghai Chinese restaurant, the 4 Seasons for steaks, and even the
casual buffet option for pizza.
Mel and I aren’t accustomed to eating Chinese food often, but the
generous portions in Shanghai were quite tasty—mine
hot and spicy and Mel's sweet and sour. For two of us, the a
la carte dinner was $34 for a shared appetizer sampler, two soups and two
main courses, and well worth it. What we do prefer for dinner is a good steak and
the 4 Seasons didn’t disappoint us a bit. The filets were perfectly
prepared and the entire meal was enjoyable in the aft-facing section
of the buffet restaurant seating area (cordoned off in the evening).
With a view over MSC Orchestra’s wake, the setting is divine and,
for $25 each, we really got our money’s worth.
Now, about that pizza. Richard Sasso claims it’s the best at sea and we aren’t about to argue.
Baked in special pizza ovens at a temperature of approximately 600°,
we always found piping hot pies available in the afternoon and
evening. Slices went so fast that they didn’t have time to cool
down. That says a lot.
Beneath the hot Caribbean sun, MSC Orchestra’s two ice cream options
were poolside favorites—soft serve cones ($2) at the Barracuda Bar
and a dozen flavors of gelato at the El Sombrero Bar available in
cups, cones, or sundaes ($1.50-$4). While several lounges are
designated “coffee bars,” specialty coffee drinks can be ordered
ship wide, even at a bar in the buffet.
In addition to restaurant meals, evening cheese and prosciutto
snacks were served in the wine-and-piano bar and MSC Cruises
continues the tradition of lavish midnight buffets. The poolside
buffet on Gala Night was truly a sight, with the kind of elaborate
ice and vegetable carvings I haven’t seen in a long time.
We all know that it’s impossible to please everyone and Mel and I
were happy to meet a fellow Georgian, Ken from Columbus who confided
that he’s an avowed “foodie” and shared our enthusiasm for dining
aboard MSC Orchestra. To not sample the Italian specialties would be
like heading for an American fast food chain while touring Rome.
Unfortunately, that's what some Americans do.
Entertainment, Activities, and a day in Cayo Levantado