November 14, 2007
The following is an excerpt of a letter I wrote to American Express about our cruise experience on the MSC Orchestra:
Our recent trip on the MSC Orchestra was less than satisfactory and my husband and I urge you not to market MSC cruises to Americans as it is clear the cruise line caters to its European passengers. Furthermore, it simply is not up to the standards we have experienced cruising 8 times before with Holland America, Princess, Celebrity or even Norwegian Cruise Lines.
Although we had a balcony stateroom, the balcony was unusable due to cigarette smoke. We could not even open the door without being inundated with smoke. When I called Reception to inform them that our neighbors on both sides were smoking on the balcony, I was told "That cannot be." Given the health concerns connected with cigarette smoking, I am surprised that MSC does not have an entire "No Smoking" deck to avoid such incidents, never mind being able to enforce the prohibition on balcony smoking.
The interior of our cabin was lovely in terms of decoration, but incredibly noisy due to the scraping of chairs at all hours. We were beneath the restaurant (I belive it is called the 4 Seasons). Incredibly, the reastaurant floor is covered with laminate flooring rather than carpet, and this unfortunate choice of flooring magnifies the sound.
The ship linens were also an issue. On the morning after we left Egypt, we awoke to find that the newly changed sheets on the bed contained a large amount of dried nasal discharge (presumably from a prior passenger). I cannot tell you how revolting it was to think that we'd slept on those sheets all night. I don't wish to get too graphic, but please understand that the affected area was larger than the size of a quarter (or a 1 euro piece) and should have been noticeable to whoever folded the linens. The blanket was stained with a substance that appeared to be dried blood, but I confess I did not wish to examine it closer to be sure. We called for the cabin steward and he immediately changed the linens, but for the remainder of the trip, I felt compelled to examine the sheets every night before climbing into bed. I have never before had such an experience either on a ship or in a hotel, and do not wish to ever repeat it.
The dining room linens, including the napkins, consistently contained human hair, leading us to wonder whether the table linens were being laundered with the bed linens.
Less egregious issues included the following:
There were no washcloths in the cabin or on our deck. Fellow passengers, Harold and Hope, on Deck 15, provided us with washcloths.
Although bathrobes are listed as part of the cabin ammenities, we were not provided with them until we asked for them, after learning from other passengers that bathrobes were in fact available.
The activites, especially those for English-speaking passengers, were extremely limited in comparison with other cruise lines. When we asked for a deck of cards, we were told that we'd have to purchase them!
The games involving passengers were the sort of thing we'd expect to see on Carnival cruise lines. People being made fun of by the entertainment staff or being asked to perform childish games that involved (in the case of Mr Orchestra) male passengers singing and dancing shirtless.
Unlike every other ship on which we have sailed, the steam and sauna are not gratis. The fee was 15 euros per hour, an amount even the European passengers complained about.
The cruise line failed to provide weather advisements at each port, nor did they give a list of shops recommended or guaranteed to have fair-priced goods. It would have been helpful to know the basics; e.g., the distance from the ship to the nearest town, shop or restaurant; the price of cabfare form the pier to town, or the accessibility of public transportation. Again, every other cruise line we have traveled with provides this service.
The cafeteria staff do not offer to assist elderly or infirm passengers to find a table, carry their plate to a table, obtain water, tea or coffee for them. Again, every other cruise line we have been on has provided this service. Fortunately we are able-bodied, but I would not consider booking this line for my parents.
Incredibly, the juice machines that work at breakfast were "out of order" for the remainder of the day. It soon became obvious that the ship was simply turning the machines off so as not to provide juice throughout the day.
The buffet lines in the cafeteria were chaotic as plates and silverware are placed at either end and in the middle of the buffet, leading passengers to enter from all directions. This too was an unpleasant first for us.
There were no Do Not Disturb signs available in the cabin. And in order to use the cabin lights, the passenger's cruise card must be in the slot inside the cabin. That inserted card also illuminates a light outside to let the steward know that the cabin is occupied. Unfortunately, a steward delivering ice in the afternoon knocked insistently for nearly ten minutes while I scrambled to get out of the shower and dress to open the door.
When my husband felt dizzy on one occasion after forgetting to take his blood pressure medication, I called the medical staff to ask if they could check his blood pressure. They replied that they could, but for a 5 euro fee -- again, this is a first for us as every other ship would have done a single reading as a courtesy.
Quite simply, it appears that MSC "nickels and dimes" its passengers at every opportunity. When I tried to mail postcards from the ship, I was quoted an exorbitant price that I later learned was twice the postage charged at the port. Is MSC in such dire straits that it needs to inflate postage?
MSC Orchestra was obviously catering to the majority German passenger population. As my husband and I speak fluent Spanish, we were astonished to realize on several occasions that information conveyed in other languages was simply not imparted to the English-speaking minority. I do not know if the announcements were abbreviated because of time constraints, or the language limitations of the crew, but we were certainly glad to have the benefit of speaking another language.
In summary, we would not recommend MSC as we neither felt welcome nor did we find that the ship, regardless of its lovely decor, met the service standards to which we are accustomed and enjoy from Princess, Holland and Celebrity.