MSC Divina: Definitely Good
Europe - Eastern Mediterranean
My husband & I have cruised with MSC 2 times: the MSC Fantasia & the Divina. We enjoyed both vacations very much. The cruise line does an extremely good job of maintaining and cleaning their ships and presenting fresh food in the major eating areas. The downside is that some of the passengers are just downright rude, e.g. bump into you and not say excuse me, try to hoard and reserve deck chairs when no one's in them; talking in loud voices unnecessarily, allowing their children to accompany them into adults-only areas and misbehave.
The staff in general have not been properly trained in customer service. Given the international nature of the passengers, they may think they do not need to learn or attempt to speak English, but this is the international language, and one they may rely upon to communicate effectively with most passengers. The majority of the staff do smile or go out of their way to provide outstanding service; rather, service was perfunctory, except for our More
cabin steward and our server in the formal dining area who were outstanding.
We stayed at the Courtyard Marriott in Tessera, which is near the Marco Polo Airport in Venice. The city of Venice is accessible by city bus, but takes between 30 to 50 minutes to get there via bus and then water taxi (valporetti), depending on the traffic. We went stayed 3 nights and went into Venice 2 times, so we purchased a city pass for both. The hotel provided our transfer to the Venice Cruise Terminal and breakfast as part of a special package rate. Recommended local restaurant: Al Quadrante: a pizza place that serves other Italian dishes, and it's GREAT! The pizza was not oily and the crust was out of this world. My pasta dish was also delicious.
We did not partake in the onboard activities, except for frequenting the casino, which was our major form of evening entertainment. Given the fact we were there every night of the cruise, one would have thought that the casino/bar staff and servers would recognize us and personalize their service; however, this did not happen. These are the little touches that one misses on MSC, whereas when one has experienced outstanding customer service, the experience is much more positive. A 7 euro gratuity is automatically charged each day, so there is no individual tipping.
The food in the main Dining Room: The Black Crab was hit or miss. The pasta & soups & desserts were the best; the meats were not good: gizzly & flavorless. Be sure to order 4-5 courses so that you have enough to eat compared to American standards.
On our first cruise we did not attend a single show; this time, on the Divina, our daughter & son-in-law went to one of the shows and raved about it, so we attend the remaining ones. Caberet quality with lipsynching and live singing. Some outstanding indivdual performances, but overall, just OK. However, we're glad we went (full houses all nights).
Disembarkation went smoothly; however, we purchased the transfer from the boat to the Airport and we had to wait in the heat for over an hour for the MSC bus to arrive. We decided that we should have paid a bit more and left via taxi because it cut our duty-free shopping time short. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
It was Sunday, so no much was open in Bari. We walked around the city, and were told by the Tourist Information booth personnel that one should NOT swim in the city itself (too polluted); rather, one would have to travel by taxi to a beach about a half hour away. So, no swimming for us.
We took some photos of the fishermen at the wharf, but the stink of rotting fish, e.g., squid & sea urchins was too pungent to linger there long. We walked back to the ship within an hour or so.
This is one time where you might have wanted to stay on the ship.
We loved, loved, loved Dubrovnik!! Friendly people & great food! It was very crowded, but everyone was in good spirits, and polite and cordial on the streets. The old city was exquisite, with cobblestone streets so clean you could eat off of them. You MUST take the cable car ride (walking distance outside the city walls) to enjoy a breathtaking, panaoramic view of the city and the coast... absolutely worth every penny. They only take local currency, so make sure you have some kuna. We sat and enjoyed a cold beverage and a chat with a lovely British couple at the top, and then went down to enjoy another cold beverage at Baza... a small, hidden restaurant in the city wall that allows swimming off the rocks. Our daughter & son-in-law plunged in while my husband and I enjoyed our Croatian beer and the beautiful views from our seats. We then had a delicious seafood lunch at a resaurant in town. We plan to return to Dubrovnik sometime soon to see more and just sit and relax. This city was our favorite stop on the trip.
The lines to enter were huge, but admission was free. But, the wait was worth it! The cavernous blue interior is a sight to behold. Ladies, be sure to have your shoulders/head covered, and know that you will all have to remove your shoes. Our tour guide didn't really give us any exciting information or preface to the site...
We actually enjoyed the Grand Bazaar a lot. We expected to be bothered by the shopkeepers calling out to us, but these interruptions were few and far between. In the stalls where we bought scarves, ceramics & food, the vendors were very friendly and helpful. The reason we didn't rate this stop above a 3 is because our tour guide took us to a "cultural demonstration" of rugmaking. There was NO demonstration; rather, there was a brief explanation of of the Turkish style of rugmaking and then about 30 rugs were rolled at our feet with the expectation that we would buy something after drinking the proffered tea. When we said thank you and goodbye without purchasing anything, we got cold stares, but no rude badgering to buy, thankfully. Our tour guide should have asked us whether we were interested in buying a carpet; we would have told her no. Luckily it was over in about 30 mins.
Topkapi Walking Tour
So much to see at Topkapi Palace. We really enjoyed seeing all the various parts of it, but again our tour guide was underwhelming in her explanations overall, so that may have colored our less than enthusiastic rating of this expansive place. However, we were glad to have seen it. Lots of interesting costumes, jewels, and weaponry.
The underground water system in Istanbul is FASCINATING and glorious to see. There are lit columns and Medusa's head (upside down), and this site should not be missed. We loved it!
Archaeological Site of Ephesus
Ephesus is ALL it's touted to be in the tour books and MORE!!! You feel as if you're in a living, breathing Roman city, and the extant architecture has been beautifully restored. We recommend ephesustours.biz as the tour company to use. Our private tour guide, Begum Gencer, was one of the best tour guides we've had anywhere... personable, intelligent, sensitive to our needs and interests, knowledgeable, and thoughtful. We were relieved not to be herded along with hundreds of others from the cruise ship. Begum knew all the ins and outs of the site and regaled us with anecdotes and history so that the time was simply just too short.
We did not tour the industrial city of Izmir. It's the least attractive port city arrival on the cruise.
Along with all of Ephesus, the Terrace Houses were one of the highlights of our trip! We had the place almost completely to ourselves, and got to see some unbelievable ongoing excavations and unearthed mosaics. Our tour guide was exceptional, as she told us about the physical layouts and life in Roman times. You MUST spend the small amount of extra admission to enter it. Why the thousands of tourists outside didn't do so is beyond me. We just felt in awe to have the place to ourselves with such a fascinating tour guide.
We did not tour the town ot Katakolon. Rather, the little town of Olympia was quite charming! The shopkeepers were very friendly, and the stores were beautifully merchandised with olives, ceramics, jewelry, and other souvenirs. We really enjoyed our short time shopping here and purchased many of the gifts we gave family and friends in Olympia.
The site of Olympia was a disappointment. The overall emotion I had was one of sadness that especially in this year of the Olympics in London that Greece was unable to attract enough benefactors to invest in excavations and reconstructions at the original Olympic site. We did not spend much time here, as there are few extant buildings... more rubble and pieces of things that tourists are expected to "visualize." So sad.
We REALLY liked Burano.... traveling there via the city water taxis. It took a few connections, but once we got out there, we loved the colorful buildings, the cute shops where we purchased several things, and the restaurant where we ate lunch El Gato Nero (The Black Cat). Our waiter was very friendly and efficient, the seafood was fresh and delectable, and the wine crisp and refreshing. Go there & enjoy an outstanding meal!!! Loved Burano.
Yes, OK. Overprices obscenely, but you GOTTA do it once. So, we did. Our boatman was somewhat entertaining, snapped a few photos of us, sang after I prompted him, but just so-so. Some people looked like they had a more animated pilot. An emergency boat sped by us in the Grand Canal, which had us rocking quite a bit, but we were fine.
We got roped into a "private" demo of glassmaking from the Courtyard Marriott, which was followed by a HARD sell by a salesman. The demo was only for about 15 minutes; the sell, felt like an eternity. However, we walked out purchasing nothing. The best part of this horrible experience was the private limo that picked us up from the hotel and the private boat ride over to Murano. So, if you are strong-willed like my husband, and can walk away from situations like this where you are in an enclosed space with a salesperson on your heels, then go for it! The glass was beautiful.
St. Mark's Square
You can book a fast track pass to enter the Basilica by skipping the line by purchasing it online in advance. That's what we did. The lines were outrageous, so it paid off for just a few euro each. Check the official Venice Tourism site to do this.
Overall, Venice was beautiful from all the vantage points we had... on water level with the gondola & valporetti; from the streets of Venice, which we walked extensively, getting away from the crowds on the waterfront; from the cruise ship, especially when we departed on Saturday at around 6 pm and all the bells in the city were ringing... what a memory! And finally, from the air when we landed and departed. Arriva Derci, Venice!