Despite having ships stationed in five continents, Italy-based MSC Cruises is almost always thought of as “very Euro.” (We’ll explain in a minute.) So it may have come as a surprise to some that the line will be basing its splashy 3,502-passenger MSC Divina year-round in Miami. The one-year-old ship will begin offering Caribbean cruises in November, marking the first time MSC has positioned a ship full time in America. Divina will compete with the biggest, newest offerings from Carnival, Royal Caribbean and NCL.
“The brand is starting to gain momentum here in North America,” president Rick Sasso told me. The snowball has taken awhile to form. For the past nine years, MSC has homeported ships in the U.S., but only on a seasonal basis. Divina, too, was initially slated to sail from Florida seasonally, but due to the positive response it received, MSC decided to drop the ship’s anchor in one place.
In my opinion, MSC gets an unfair shake. It offers a solid product at modest prices, which often attract budget-minded cruisers who expect a more “Carnival” vibe. When they don’t get it, they’re disappointed. That’s why, when you read Cruise Critic’s MSC member reviews, you’ll get a ton of mixed signals.
But, if you’re looking for affordable elegance and a different type of atmosphere, you might find that it’s just the line for you — and with a 4-D cinema, a Formula 1 simulator and the line’s exclusive ship-within-a-ship MSC Yacht Club concept (which includes private decks and butler service), Divina more than holds it own with Yanks used to competitors’ amenity-laden new-builds.
I took my first MSC cruise two years ago on MSC Poesia, and I loved it, but I also knew the “European” style I was getting myself into: smaller portion sizes in the dining room and meals that move at a much slower pace; service that’s professional but much more hands-off than what’s found on more U.S.-centric ships; a cosmopolitan passenger base that necessitates announcements in five languages and stellar nonverbal entertainment that includes magicians, dancers and acrobats; and a marked lack of garish neon and hairy chest competitions. (Check out another post, 6 Signs You’re Sailing on a European Ship, for more.)
“But wait,” you say. “I LIKE bigger portion sizes. And what’s wrong with hairy chests, anyway?” Nothing at all. That’s why Sasso says the line has taken steps to tweak everything from menu descriptions to entertainment, taking American tastes into consideration — not just on Divina, but across the fleet.
“We get high marks for our entertainment because we hire the best, but we also want to make sure it’s more to the style of our North American guests,” Sasso told me when I called him this afternoon. Specifics on how these changes will take shape should materialize closer to Divina’s Miami debut. (By the way, kudos to Sasso for answering his own phone, a small but impressive gesture that’s indicative of the company’s commitment to personal touches.)
Have you taken an MSC cruise? What did you think, and why? Talk it out in the comments below.
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