Tuesday, May 19, 2015

MSC Orchestra, Baltic Cruise

In July 2014, we headed off on our first cruise together! I've gone on a 3-day cruise before to the Bahamas, with Royal Caribbean. But Drew's never been on a cruise before and we figured we should do something fun for our anniversary! It was the first anniversary we were able to spend together. Our first anniversary Drew was deployed, our 2nd Drew was in the hospital, but this time we were going to do something fun!

We took a 7-day Baltic Cruise, leaving out of Kiel, Germany heading to Copenhagen, Denmark | Gydania, Poland, | Helsinki, Finland | and St. Petersburg, Russia One of the major things on our bucket list was to go to Russia while we were here. With all the restrictions getting into Russia, we figured the smartest and cheapest way to get there would be to go on a cruise!

Our 7-day Baltic Cruise was with MSC. I booked our cruise through Mitch at Military Cruise Deals. We got a good deal, and a military discount. Everyone raves about him and he is great about responding to emails, but after I put down the deposit I never heard from him again. I’m more hands on and had no problem doing everything on my own. He was very quick to respond to my emails. He came highly recommended on a lot of the travel sites, make sure to shop around. I didn't, but luckily it worked out for the better.
Sidles' July 2014 MSC Orchestra

We started the cruise Saturday, July 5 leaving out for Kiel, we drove up the night before and spent the night in Kiel at Hotel Wiking, I booked it through booking.com. It was a nice hotel. The bathroom was tiny, we were on the top floor, and on a busy street so if we wanted to keep the window open all we would hear was traffic :/, but it had free parking, and WiFi and free breakfast. and parked at a parking garage across the street from the Port: Parkhaus Altstadt  (76 Euros for 8 days) You don't have to book in advance, but I wanted to have things paid for before we left. The parking garage was about a 7 minute walk from the port.
We had an Ocean view room, only I didn't read the fine print, and it was an obstructed view! We could barley see out of our window because the life boats were in the way!

Getting On Board the Ship: It was an easy experience. We dropped our checked luggage off and walked right in. We were able to get on board by 11:30a. Our check-in time wasn’t until 1400, but they let us on board early. Any purchases bought on the ship are done through your cruise card. You have the option to give them a credit/debit card to have on file, or pay with Cash. They suggest if you are using a credit/debit card, use a credit card since they put a hold on your account.

Dinning: We had 1st seating dinner, which varied from 1800 and 1830 on a couple nights with late port calls. Our waiter and assistant waiter were amazing. The first night I wasn't feeling well, and they got out food out to us quickly. I've heard horror stories about other people’s dining experience, but ours was great. The trick is to actually order all the different categories on the menu, Appetizers, Salad, Soup, Pasta, & the Main Dish. They won’t just bring you out your Main dish when everyone else is eating their appetizers. Every night dinner lasted about 1.5 hours. They also offer you as much bread as you want for those of you who are starving and can’t wait. MSC is an Italian based cruise line, so of course they have Little Italy night, and a Baked Alaskan night too!

Buffet: The Buffet was a NIGHTMARE. Trying to find seats were the absolute worst. Best thing we found was to find a seat first then take turns getting food. We got our food first a couple days and literally had to stalk families as they got up from the table. We ate the buffet breakfast, which was just fine at best, we tried to go later, but I guess everyone else had the same idea. I guess going earlier would have been a good idea too, but we were on vacation. Who really wants to wake up early on their vacation?

 Drink Packages: MSC has a drink package, We bought the Allegrissimo Package, which included unlimited cocktails, water, ice cream, soft drinks, and certain beer and a choice of wine. It was 23 euros a day per person, and if one person in your room gets it then the both of you have to get it.. But in the long run we saved money by buying it. By getting just 4 cocktails a day we already broke even. As American’s, we get 7 free water bottles (Still or Sparkling), but I’m a big water drinker, so 1 water a day was not enough. I always grabbed a bottle of water before heading off the ship. But not everyone just drinks water. A GLASS of wine was 5 Euros a piece. A beer could range anywhere from 6-7 Euros a piece. So yes if you are going to drink, get this drink package it is definitely worth it.

Housekeeping: They were amazing! Very friendly people, who were on their game. Fresh towels, bed was always made. When asked for extra pillows, they were brought to our room before we even got there.
 Entertainment: There were shows every night. 2 shows, one for the 2nd Dinner seating and one for the 1st dinner seating. Since we were on the 1st dinner seating our show wasn’t until 2115. There were acrobats, singers, and dancers. It was a great show, and something to do if you don’t want to go to the bars or casino.
Excursions: We only did an excursion through the ship in St. Petersburg, Russia. But that was only so we were able to get a Visa to get off of this ship. I looked at booking through Alla tours and SPB tours but the prices they were charging were ridiculous, they company said it was because MSC cruises don't use them, so we would be paying for a private tour, looking back maybe we should have paid more, not because our Excursion wasn't great, but after our experience in Tangier with a private guide I can see why people pay the extra amount! But we figured since we were paying for the cruise, and the excursions through the cruise line was half the cost and longer we would just go with the cruise line.
At the other ports, we just got off the ship and went with a Hop on Hop off Bus that took us around the city. I would suggest keeping your receipts because other ports do a special. We also bought the Rick Steves Northern Port Book. If you are interested in booking excursions through the ship. I would definitely suggest checking out the MSC website and booking your excursion early. There were lots of people who booked their excursion while on the ship. But every time we walked by the excursion office it was packed, and really no one wants to waste time waiting in line.

Getting off the ship: Here is where I have a complaint. We ported back in Kiel, at 0900. We didn't get off the ship until 1200! We were one of the last groups off the ship. They gave us color tags and gave us times when we could get off the ship. It sounds great in theory. But in actuality it was mass chaos.

Overall, it was an amazing 7-days. We spent 2 days at sea which was perfect so we were able to explore the ship. I had an amazing time on board the MSC Orchestra. Maybe we just got lucky, but I am not one of those people who easily go with the flow. So I went on this cruise with little to no expectations of it being great. But I have to say, it was a great time and I would definitely recommend an MSC cruise to anyone.