Where to start! We are normally independent travellers, so decided to book directly with MSC. This was a reasonable experience and the person dealing with our telephone booking did select a good room for us, which was appreciated. On the Forums, some bookers seem to not have received a room allocation at time of confirmation. We were given a balcony cabin 12134. That's deck 12 on Aurora, mid ships and not too from from lifts. Our party consisted of myself with my two daughters aged 21 and 19, so we shared a double bed and the sofa bed was turned into a large single bed each evening during turndown. Received the cheque book type confirmation a few days before - this was couriered to us by DHL from Naples. However, it was incorrect and I had to phone to point out the mistake about one of our airport to port transfers that had been included, and so it was emailed out within 24 hours on a A4 sheet. Our flights from UK to Italy were included as part of the package, as the prices were excellent - we couldn't have done anything better ourselves. I checked! However, the flights to Venice from London did not arrive in time (no matter which airline you used) so we had to fly from LGW to Verona (there were 35 other Divina passengers on this BA flight too). I was expecting some assistance at the Gatwick check in from MSC but it was just do-it-yourself. As this was part of a group booking, I found it a bit irritating that we couldn't do online check in.
Arrived at Verona with the usual scrum that you may expect. Looked for the MSC rep - there were lots of other travel companies there too - and she duly appeared about 10mins late. A comfortable air conditioned coach awaited us outside the terminal building. Criticism at this point - we had only eaten the BA breakfast, and there was no suggestion that we may like to get something to sustain us at this time. Little did we realise that we would not eat until dinner that evening on the ship! Fortunately, the first sitting at 19:00. Coach transfer (this was the bit we were missing in the original travel details) was smooth and took us right into the port, to the terminal building adjacent to the Divina. Here's where the good experience ended! Embarkation check in was the worst I have ever endured. Queue outside the building, passport check and deposit luggage with the appropriate tags. Enter building and given a number - 23 in our case. Waited in another holding area with seating, toilets and that's it. No food, no drink and lots of pushing and frustrated bemused people. It seemed like several hours, but think it was (only!) 90 mins. Every 30mins another number was called to join yet another queue. I had completed the web check in form beforehand, in the hope that this would fast track us, but don't think this saved any time at all. Pointless! When we did finally join the queue to actually check in, the photographer tried to take our photos around a ship's wheel. What a joke - sad, tired and frustrated subjects. Sorry, didn't buy that particular photo!
Balcony room on 12th deck. 2/3 of our cases already waiting outside our room, the last case delivered within one hour. Room was great. As this was our first cruise, didn't know what to expect, but thought it very acceptable and well planned. Bathroom had a clever glass folding modern screen, good shower head with reasonable jet. Single sink but lots of storage and glass shelves. Shower contained cylinders of shampoo and soap but not conditioner. Also a soap pump at the sink. Plentiful toilet roll (that says more about me than I probably realise) and tissues. Exceptionally clean. We took more hangars for the wardrobes, and a four way extension cable plus continental adaptors. There are two sockets in the room, with a hairdryer built into a drawer. Stored our cases under the bed otherwise these would have been annoying. TV had various standard channels - Bloomberg and CNN were the only English channels. Also had ship navigation channels which was really interesting if you are sad like me! Balcony had two chairs and a small table. Sofa was made into a bed during turndown but daytime was room for two. Huge mirrors made the room look larger. Air con/heating was good. Your cruise card (like hotel room credit card key) opened the room and slotted in for power for the room. Cleaning was good. Got caught out one day when a clever machine came along the side of the ship to clean the balconies and windows! Fresh bath and hand towels twice a day. Two pillows per person. Two bathrobes not three. Altogether very pleasant.
If you like tasteless 1950s style food, then you will love the food in the Calumet or Manitou buffets. Worst food that I have ever eaten on a holiday. Everyone descending at roughly the same time filling large plastic dinner plates with tasteless creations. Different stations served different themes but still puzzles me how you can create food that either tastes all the same or of nothing at all. The only food I found acceptable was the melon. Only slightly better food in the serviced restaurants - Villa Rossa or The Black Crab. However, the waiting staff, mostly from Honduras, although smiling and trying to be helpful, struggled with any English or Italian. Forget about asking questions about food or drink.
The more you pay as extras on the ship, the better the food. We ate at the pizzeria La Cantina di Bacco - great pizzas and vastly better than the ones served in the buffet. Sacramento Tex Mex - mixture of burgers and nanchos. Nothing to write home about. The final evening I decided to push the boat out (sorry!) and dine in Galaxy. Professional service, tasty food well presented, great wines. Totally deserted!
Also had very nice cakes and good coffee at Caffe Italia inside the Piazza del Doge.
Ice cream at the Pool Bar was nice.
Gala dinners - there were two. Some people made an effort - cocktail dresses appeared. Other people did not bother too much.
Beverage stations in the buffet areas had 24hr tea, coffee and iced water. I am a bit of a coffee snob - which coffee beans were used for this brown liquid????
Why was decor in the buffet Indigenous American tribes??? Plastic ornaments? Mmm!
What a ridiculous system! We pre-purchased the Cheers package but even with an explanation from the Reception on the ship, still not sure what we were entitled to where. On the way back to the airport after leaving the Divina, we discovered that some people had books of tickets that they gave to waiters so that they knew how much and what kinds of drinks they had available. For some reason, we didn't receive this or were made aware of its existence. So confused and would have ordered more bottles of water if we had known. As it was, we were told not to leave them lying around the room, as the mini bar staff would try to charge us (which they did!). It seems that you can only use the vouchers for the Cheers package in the buffet and the all inclusive restaurants. Any where else, you get charged. Plus the service charge!!! Beware the bottles of water they place in your rooms are not free.
Pantheon Theatre is well equipped and comfortable. Shows were different themes each night (will someone please explain why we had a show entitled 'Pharoah' one evening. We weren't anywhere near Egypt!) Same weak singers, reasonable dancers and acrobats each evening doing slightly different things. The Michael Jackson show was the best. Lighting effects and costumes good. The Euro Cup final was screened in the theatre, and this was the most enjoyable entertainment. Not because I am a football fan but because there was such a great atmosphere. Strong and noisy Spanish contingent had a great time, Italians slunk out towards the end. Franco the cruise director (are we supposed to know him?) was an expert in five different languages. Didn't participate in the Giant Bingo or any pool games.
After a lot of investigation we went on KAT01 Olympia and Shopping from Katakolon and IZM02 Ephesus from Izmir. Both trips were value for money. Great English speaking guides, comfortable air conditioned coaches, careful drivers. Olympia was a bit of a disappointment as expected more excavation. Olympia shopping consisted of a few souvenir shops and cafes. Ephesus guide, Sarah, was particularly interesting. Trip included a surprise stop at a pottery but there was no pressure to buy. There was also a toilet stop at which the local vendors suddenly appeared. Both guides talked about their culture, history, people, language, religion, agriculture, politics. All kinds of topics that made the trip interesting as well as guiding us around the main points of interest at the sites.
For Bari, Istanbul and Dubrovnik we did our own thing. Used local transport.
After disembarking, we wanted a quick trip to Venice before our flight. We spent some time working out luggage storage (railway station or airport), transfers by boat etc. In the end, we took advantage of an MSC trip that was announced the night before which was the perfect answer. Disembarkation quickly and early, dedicated ferry to near St Mark's Square straight from the Divina. Three hours to wander and back on the ferry to the port. Collect luggage (miraculously still there) and coach to the airport in time to check in at 17:30. Couldn't have done it any cheaper and certainly not as easily.
Lovely facilities with small pools (nice temperatures) and jacuzzis. Pity that MSC didn't enforce their own rules about kids not allowed in adult only pools. Lots of kids running around all over the place. Crowded jacuzzis also full of kids. Usual lounger rage from some adults. I guess this was because the Divina was full?
Lifebelts are located in the wardrobes. You need a degree in origami to work out how they fit. You are assigned an assembly station and shown what to do - in five different languages. This was done before we cast off from Venice. Be careful to select an adult size. I must have looked like an idiot not realising that I was wearing a child's life vest!
To sum up
Fabulous ship that has some spectacular interior design - ornate, luxurious and extravagant. Swarovski crystal staircases, lots of glass, use of gold and red. Themed bars. Very clean. Hand gel at all the restaurants. Access from port to town were very good for all the stops. Such smooth sailing but perhaps we were lucky with the weather. However, food and embarkation procedures let this cruise down big time.
First and probably last cruise unless someone can convince me that it's not all like this?