MSC Orchestra
Eastern Caribbean on the MSC Orchestra 2009
William G. McArthur, April 18-25, 2009

    For the first time, my wife Cathy and I were spending the entire winter season in Naples, Florida. In the backs of our minds had always been the thought that we might be able to find a really good cruise deal at some point and just drive over to Ft. Lauderdale or Miami and get on the ship. Bill had hoped to run the Seven Mile Bridge Run in Marathon on April 25 and spent $34 on express mail envelopes and some time and energy in attempting to be one of the 1500 winners of the mail lottery for participation in the race. Unfortunately, due to mail slowness at our RV Resort, Bill didn't make the cut. Before we knew that, we had arranged for a room in Marathon on April 24 and a room in Key West for the nights of April 25 and 26. Once we knew that Bill wasn't in the race, we saw that we had a nice one week window for a cruise beginning on April 18. Bill did a thorough search on the Internet and saw one cruise with an itinerary that didn't include any ports that we had already visited. We had become hooked on balcony cabins on our previous cruise, so we entered a waiting game for the price to drop enough for us to sign on. Finally, we found a good deal and signed on after canceling our room in Marathon. Bill had to purchase some clothing for dinner and evening wear on shipboard and we needed a couple of items of luggage, but we managed to purchase all of the items for under $100.

Saturday, April 18
    Cathy and I got up at 6:10 AM and got breakfast as usual. We finished packing and then took a 3.7 mile walk. We got on the road to Fort Lauderdale at 9:55 AM. We arrived at USA Rental, our valet parking lot, at 11:40 AM. We checked-in with them and loaded our luggage on the shuttle to Port Everglades. Things went very smoothly at embarkation on the Orchestra and we were in our cabin at 1:00 PM. We went up to deck 13 to the buffet for lunch. Then, we explored the ship and saw that it was organized in a similar way to the other cruise ships that we'd been on. At 4:15 PM, we had a very curious boat drill that consisted of our sitting in a large lounge with our life jackets on, listening to inaudible announcements in five languages. We were back on our balcony to see our ship depart from Fort Lauderdale (pics: 1,2,3,4). The sea was running 4 to 7 feet, so the ship rocked a bit. We dressed casually and went to the 7:00 PM show, which was great. We headed to the Villa Borghese restaurant for our 8:00 PM seating. Our table mates were Bill and Diane from Michigan and two friends from Montreal, Benoit and Marc. We had a seventh empty seat. We had two servers from Bali, Murdha and Teddy. The food was good. We took a civilized hour and a half to eat and then went back to our cabin. I filled out a room service breakfast form and hung it on our door knob.

Sunday, April 19
    We left the balcony door open all night and were awakened off and on by the whistling wind and the rocking of the ship. We awoke around 6:15 AM. I worked on the computer while Cathy read some of the cruise material as we waited for our room service breakfast. When the meal was a half hour late, I realized that I forgot to write in our cabin number. We found a big crowd at the breakfast buffet on deck 13 when we finally made it there. We found a good breakfast selection, including good oatmeal. We decided to go to the Fitness Center, but it was really mobbed. We decided to try to walk on the jogging track on deck 14, but there were lounges and people scattered all over the track. We persisted and I was able to do a good bit of running. Cathy also ran intermittently. On the starboard side, heading toward the bow, the wind was pretty fierce. It was blowing around 30 knots and the ship was traveling at 20 knots. We found the lunch buffet to contain a good selection of salads and fruit, so that's what we ate. During the afternoon, we found a sheltered spot on the stern on deck 15 where we could lounge around in the sun. We entered as a team of 2 in a team trivia contest in the Amber Bar, but we didn't do very well. I had brought a bunch of archived Cross Synergy crossword puzzles with me on the laptop, so I was able to do a puzzle. We used our balcony extensively during the afternoon as well. After cleaning up, we dressed in our "formal wear" and headed to the Captain's Cocktail Party. We sat there for a while and Cathy enjoyed part of a glass of champagne. We went into the theater at 6:45 for the introductions of the Captain and senior officers. That was followed by a wonderful show with a circus theme. We enjoyed a multi-course meal which took us 2.5 hours to consume amidst lively conversation at our table. Because of the late hour, we retired at that point in the evening.

Monday, April 20
    I got up at 5:50 AM and headed for the jogging track. The first people I saw were a group of three 20-somethings still in their formal wear, waiting for the sunrise. I used my watch to try to walk for about a mile and then jog for 5K. As the morning advanced and the sun came up, I was joined by up to a dozen walkers and runners. I walked for a bit after the running. When I got back to the cabin, Cathy was still asleep. I did a crossword puzzle and then we headed up for breakfast, dressed in our workout clothes. The crowd was less for the breakfast buffet. We went to the Fitness Center for a weights workout. After taking a few photos (pics: 1,2,3), we headed back to the cabin for some cleaning up. We went back topside for a pretty good aerobics class at poolside at 9:30 AM. Afterward, we got our gear together and went down to deck 5 for a tender ticket. Then, we waited in a lounge on deck 6. We finally got on a tender and traveled to the very crowded beach of Cayo Levantado (Dominican Republic) (pics: 1,2,3), which is used as a "private" beach by cruise ships. The Norwegian Cruise Lines, Norwegian Dawn was also anchored off of the beach. I joined our table mates, Bill and Diane, for some good snorkeling (pics: 1,2,3,4). We enjoyed the beach and Bill and I especially enjoyed the scenery (pics: 1,2,3,4,5). We also saw a female Magnificent Frigate Bird fly over the beach. We headed back to the ship a bit after 2:00 PM. We hurriedly put our gear in the cabin and went up to deck 13 for a late lunch. I mistakenly got a pile of bleu cheese, thinking it was potato salad. Then, we found a good artichoke and hearts of palm salad to enjoy along with some fresh pineapple. After lunch, we went back to the cabin to relax on the balcony. I saw a whale and another whale spout shortly after we sailed away from the Dominican Republic. We went down to the Photo Shop to look at our pictures and found that the formal night photo was good, so we bought it for $12.95. I bought a cappuccino at the usual bar. We went to a piano, strings, and singing concert at the 7:00 PM show which we enjoyed. Our dinner at 8:00 PM was raucous and lengthy. We retired afterward.

Tuesday, April 21
    I had left the curtain open overnight. At 5:30 AM, I could see the lights of the island of Savannah. I got up at 6:00 AM and looked at the island's scenery and did some computer work, including a crossword puzzle. We ate breakfast at about 7:30 AM. After a quick trip back to the cabin, we went to the 9:30 AM aerobics class on the pool deck. Afterward, we did some walking on deck 14. The ship pulled in to the pier at St. Maarten, next to Vision of the Seas (pics: 1,2). We ate a fairly early lunch and then got off of the ship (pics: 1,2,3). We bought all day passes on the water taxi, thinking that we could go to various coastal spots on the island, but the water taxi was only a way for shoppers to get to the two ends of the touristy shopping street in Phillipsburg, the capital city of the Dutch half of the island. We took the taxi from the ship's pier to the closest end of the shopping thoroughfare and walked past the end of the shops. It was very hot walking on the streets of the city. We walked in the non-tourist part of town and found a supermarket to buy 4 bottles of water to bring back to our cabin. We also saw an old cemetery. We walked about 5 miles in a loop back to the ship. We got back around 3:00 PM when I enjoyed a cappuccino back on board. We rested in the cabin for a while and then headed up to the pool deck for Caribbean line dancing and an aerobics and yoga class. Neither event happened and there were no announcements of cancellation. When we got back to the cabin, I called the Reception desk to inquire and got the usual unhelpful conversation. The sun seemed to set in the vicinity of a rain squall. We got ready for the evening and went to the show, an evening of magic. It was a great performance. The ship left port just about 7:45 PM. We went to dinner where I presented Marc with a plastic cup full of bleu cheese that I had collected from the lunch buffet and refrigerated all afternoon. Our table was loud again, but there was a louder table in the dining room. After dinner, we went up to the pool deck for some country line dancing followed by a Wild West Show put on by the entertainment staff. It was very enjoyable in the balmy evening air. In the distance, we could see the lights of St. Barts as we passed a few miles from that island. The ship had only 88 nautical miles to go before morning, so it moved at a slow pace. We left the balcony door and curtains wide open during the night's passage.

Wednesday, April 22
    I got up before 6:00 AM and went topside for some walking and a 5K run. The sun had already come up when I got to the track. I watched the ship come into the dock next to the British ship Aurora of the P&O cruise lines. We joined a large throng for an early breakfast. The coffee line was especially long. We went to the fitness center after breakfast for a weights workout. Then we got ready and got off of the ship (pics: 1,2,3) for a walk around St. John on Antigua. We talked with a couple of Brits from the Aurora. They did an Atlantic crossing from Southhampton. We saw a striking cathedral (St. John's) on a hillside overlooking the harbor and decided to investigate (pics: 1,2,3,4). We walked into the church and found the the present building, from the 1840s, is the third on the spot. We saw a couple of beautiful plumeria trees (pics: 1,2) near the church grounds. We found St. John to be a dirty, run-down place in a beautiful setting. After a couple of miles of walking, we did some shopping for the grandkids. Then we got back on the ship and lay in the sun for an hour. We had lunch around 12 noon and watched the ship depart shortly after 1:00 PM. During the afternoon, we joined in on some sit-down volley ball, Caribbean line dancing, and aerobics. We saw a number of mysterious looking islands off in the distance as we traveled along an over 1,000 nautical mile route to Nassau. I went down for a cappuccino as Cathy showered. We sat in the first row downstairs for a magnificent performance by the two solo singers and the cast of dancers. Our table at dinner was typically animated and one of the last to leave the dining room around 10:15 PM. We retired early.

Thursday, April 23
    I got up before 6:00 AM and went topside for an hour's worth of speed walking. It was already warm and humid as I walked with some other hard core people. Cathy came up around 7:00 AM and we went for breakfast. After breakfast, Cathy walked. I went to the cabin to clean up and then joined Cathy for some more walking. We joined the aerobics class at 9:00 AM. Afterward, we did a short stretch class. We saw a couple of Gannets and some Boobies flying near the ship. The water was the deep blue that indicates deep seas. I started a crossword puzzle and then we sat in the sun on deck 14 for a half hour before going inside for lunch. Cathy went looking for a shady spot for people watching while I went to the cabin to finish the crossword and to work on photos. Later, we went back out on the deck for some sun. I walked around the stern on deck 14 and encountered a topless bather. I also noticed that the deckhands were wearing uniforms that reminded me of the Dharma Initiative. We watched some games in the swimming pool. Then we did an aerobics class out on the pool deck. The sun set behind a rain squall, providing an interesting spectacle. The show was spectacular. Dinner was formal again. Our group was especially rowdy. Marc wore himself out trying to finish off all of the rum that he and Benoit brought with them. We had a baked Alaska show and dessert. Marc retired early, so, after dinner, the rest of us brought a candle to the Shaker Bar and got it lit. We then snaked through the dark bar in a procession and went up a fire escape to surprise Marc with a song. He didn't respond with much enthusiasm.

Friday, April 24
    I slept in until 6:45 AM and then went topside for a half an hour's run. When Cathy came up, we went to breakfast. Afterward, we went to the gym for a weights workout. Later in the morning, we did an aerobics class and a stretching class. The wind was blowing even harder than it had for the earlier part of the week. We sat in a nice location for lunch and saw that we were approaching Nassau. We went up on the windy deck and watched as we got closer to Paradise Island and Nassau. A security boat had difficulty with the rough seas. When we entered the harbor, we could see two Carnival ships and a Disney ship already tied up. We had to wait for a while to get off of the ship. We took a small ferry to Paradise Island and were worried about it being overloaded and top heavy. We explored the Atlantis complex. Our daughter Alex and her family had stayed there a couple of years previously. We were impressed with the yachts, the architecture (pics: 1,2,3), the Chihuly glass in the casino (pics: 1,2), the aquarium, and the facilities. When we had explored the complex, we walked over the bridge to Nassau and back to the ship. When we got back, we did some packing. The last show was fabulous. We enjoyed the last dinner and said our goodbyes to our table. When we got back to our cabin, we finished packing and put four bags in the hall to be taken off of the ship in the early morning.

Saturday, April 25
    We arose at 5:30 AM as the ship was docking in Fort Lauderdale. We ate breakfast around 6:00 AM. We vacated our cabin at 7:00 AM and sat in the Savannah Bar until our luggage tag color was called at around 10:00 PM. There were not enough customs agents, so there was a bit of a hold up in trying to finish disembarkation. We called our parking service and got a pick up back to our car. We were on the road by 11:00 AM, heading for Key West.

    1. We really enjoyed the cruise. Our cabin was great and the shows were the best we've ever seen on a cruise. We liked the international tone of the ship and the cruise. The multitude of languages spoken enhanced the experience.

    2. Although we heard complaints about the food from other passengers, we thought the food was good. I especially liked the pasta dishes and the vegetarian offerings. The dinner salads were the only food that we found to be low quality. I don't eat seafood on cruise ships because I like it fresh.

    3. We extended a couple of streaks: we have never eaten pizza nor rode an elevator on cruise.

    4. This was the first cruise where we shared the dinner table with people we didn't know. We were pleasantly surprised to have so much fun and interesting conversation at our table.