This is our 3rd cruise with MSC so it can be assumed that we like there ships,their itineraries and their value for money, MSC Divina fulfilled all, albeit with a few minor niggles, but nothing sufficient to detract from the overall experience of the cruise and the holiday.
As with our last cruise with MSC this one was booked as a cruise only with air travel to and from Genoa being organised independently through British Airways finding that BA's 23kg luggage allowance provided sufficient allowance for what had been packed to see us through an 11 day cruise with a number of gala dinners anticipated with some room to spare.
On arrival in Genoa it was easy to get a taxi to the port from the front of the terminal, with the charges regulated we found it cost less than 30 Euros and whilst taking a different route to that made by the local bus service to the Genoa stations it seems to be the route taken by taxis to and from the airport using a dual carriageway toll road from the airport almost directly to the port .
Embarkation was as usual slightly chaotic, having been directed down a separate queue we were quickly re-directed to the back of the main single queue, despite MSC offering preferential boarding to its club members I've yet to see this actually being offered, in fact it was explained that this facility was for black card holders only, which is entirely contradictory to their stated club benefits.
However, despite this annoyance boarding was relatively quick and easy.
On boarding it was no surprise that the ship looked very familiar being very similar in look and style to Splendida, our familiarity proved useful as on this occasion we were not shown to our cabin but left to find our own way, which for us proved easy.
An inside cabin on Deck 12 to the stern of the ship was no different to that occupied on Splendida and was satisfactory for all our requirements. Although fairly simply furnished it was sufficient for our needs, we did need to obtain an extension from housekeeping for a CPAP machine to be plugged in but this wasn't difficult to arrange. As usual with MSC the cabin was nicely kept, beds made up and turned down, towels replaced and made to look respectable every day despite our clutter. Newcomers to MSC should be aware that it doesn't offer much in the way of English speaking TV channels, Euronews being the nearest, unless your a fan of BBC Entertainment and cbeebies the bbc channel for young children!
The cabin was quiet and not subject to any unusual noise or motion or smells, there was a bit of movement when in the Atlantic but other than for the use of the bow thrusters etc when maneuvering into or out port there was no significant disturbance from or awareness of the engines or propellers.
I was most impressed when we met the Cabin Steward in the gangway who introduced himself and despite not seeing us come out of the cabin knew which cabin we were in, throughout the cruise Handry was brilliant and was always around with a cheery hello and good morning and shared a laugh with us every day, he's an asset MSC.
It was noted that MSC appear to have changed their policy on the safety drill, as it took place prior to leaving Genoa, this seemed to go much quicker than on previous drills and was compulsory with your attendance being recorded, as usual what was slightly annoying was that not all passengers took it as seriously as they should, particularly with the still fairly recent Costa accident.
A review of the cruise;
The first port of call was Barcelona with a 12 noon arrival. A shuttle bus service was offered by MSC at a reasonable cost but we chose to join the queue for taxis which was fairly orderly and went fairly quickly. We took a taxi to the cable car station for around 10 - 15 Euros and took the cable car 1 way over to the harbour, it is well worth the cost of 10 Euros for a one way trip. A walk round the harbour and through town to La Ramblas where I incurred the wrath of a street performer by photographing him from a distance without paying, what a pity that Barcelona's famous street performers are not as welcoming as others as that we saw during this trip, this gold painted cowboy whistled continually to get my attention and payment. Elsewhere street performers don't demand or expect payment, Barcelona take note, this expectation will detract from the attraction.
As seems usual with MSC the stop in Barcelona was limited to some 4 hours or so, what a pity for such a great city with so much to see and enjoy given the time.
2 days at sea followed, the first in the Med the second going out into the Atlantic to Madeira. Overall the Med was fairly benign, the Atlantic was calm but with a slight swell which led to some noticeable movement, nothing that I found uncomfortable in any way, more interesting! As usual when steaming along at a rate of knots there was a fair and cool wind which restricted the full use of the outdoor pools and sun decks but there were plenty of activities and locations on board to satisfy most people. Our first day at sea brought the first of our gala dinners.
New Years Eve saw the second of the gala dinners, two on consecutive days, followed by our arrival in the bay of Funchal for the midnight fireworks which in a word are stunning, not only are fireworks fired from barges in the bay but also from the surrounding hills, London take note - others have pulled off your much heralded (millennium eve)'river of fire' successfully where yours didn't come off as we all expected!
Having docked in Funchal we had a full day there with departure at 6pm, and on walking into town we found that a night club was not only still disgorging young celebrants but was still going strong, no fuddy duddys here then! We ignored all the taxi drivers who assured us that everywhere was closed and that there island tours where the only option, Funchal was open for business though.
Funchal is a gorgeous city, the centre is compact, clean, welcoming, pretty and provided a pleasant place to enjoy a coffee and a brass band playing outside the cathedral. We walked to the cable car in town and took it to Monte, well worth visiting for the view and its church. Given the time available we didn't visit any of the gardens, the only disappointment was that the toboggans from Monte down the hill were not open and so another visit will be required.
The following morning saw our arrival in a slightly damp and overcast Tenerife, up until then the weather had ranged from glorious and very warm sunshine in ports to cloudy and cool at sea, this was the first stop and first day that we needed protection from rain. As usual we explored independently and found that Tenerife was not particularly to our liking, although Santa Cruz is a obviously a shopping centre it is for that reason that it didn't float our boat. Apart from a local market which is not a tourist destination but a collection of fish, meat and fruit and veg shops and a pleasant square or two there was nothing much on offer but shops and shopping so we took a tram ride out of town to La Trinidad. This seemed as busy as Santa Cruz but it also offered a more pleasant old town with an artisan craft market, on a drizzly day it wasn't great walking round the old town but it may be nicer on a sunnier day.
What I found interesting was the artisan market discovered in a square on our way back to port, well worth looking at for gifts or mementoes of a trip.
Departure from Tenerife brought another gala dinner, our 3rd in 4 days, all at our table thought this was something of overkill by MSC and so was not strictly adhered to, it was also noticeable that on occasion for the gala dinners in particular there were noticeable absences from the tables surrounding us.
The following morning we arrived in Casablanca and again we decided to stick with our independent exploring rather than take an organised tour or a taxi tour. If you alight in Casablanca be aware that you disembark in a working port and may have to avoid forklifts and loading trucks as we did, you should also bear in mind that to exist the port on foot involves a considerable walk.
Casablanca was it was a case of set off and hope for the best. We walked into town and our first experience was a somewhat eye opening walk through the maze of alleyways and shops that made up the Medina (the Bazar Aya). Although some of what we saw in Casblanca was not what we were used to we didn't feel unsafe even wandering off the main tourist routes in order to get ourselves to the Mosque, in fact one of the surprises was coming across an entire market stopped and at prayer in the middle of the market and the road and then disappearing in all directions in a sea of people when prayers were concluded, amazing.
We walked a considerable distance to find the Grande Mosque of Hassan II built jutting into the waves of the Atlantic, but the walk was worthwhile with a guided tour of the interior being offered with all nationalities being catered for by multi linguistic guides, if you make one visit in Casablanca make it the Grand Mosque; Rick's Bar which we walked past on our return journey to the port proved a disappointment and not worth making a special effort to see.
The following afternoon saw our arrival in Malaga for an afternoon stop, this is much like Barcelona in that the amount of time in port was disappointing, Malaga was a great surprise being a beautiful city with lots of character and interest and nothing like the Benidorm sort of tourist resort imagined.
A very warm afternoon saw us explore Malaga and in particular the inside of the Cathedral which is well worth the entry, the interior is beautiful. We found the city centre to be compact and very pleasant to walk round enjoying a buzzing atmosphere, we will be back in Malaga to explore the city and the region further as there is much more to see there. At the time of our visit the centre was full of shoppers enjoying the sales and the bars and restaurants and unfortunately we had to leave before the procession of the kings later that afternoon, what we did find though was the market set up all along the seafront.
Departure from Malaga brought the final of our four gala dinners and the highlight of the flaming baked Alaska delivered as usual with music and panache.
A slight annoyance at Malaga was the advertisement of a shuttle bus, what wasn't advertised was the availability of both a local service bus and a hop on hop off tourist bus within a few minutes walk of the terminal, MSC could be more helpful in providing information on all options available to passengers, particularly those not availing themselves of organised excursions. It was whilst 'queuing' - in the loosest possible sense of the word - for the shuttle bus that tempers flared among some passengers, one Italian getting himself very irate and looking close to fisticuffs, the young girls responsible the queue would be no match for irate impatient passengers if trouble broke out, MSC need to manage this situation more and ensure that queues for buses, taxis, etc are managed more and do not provide an excuse for impatient passengers to cause trouble, they should also stop their own staff from jumping the queue, on this cruise MSC staff were found to be the most adept at jumping queues to board buses.
The final port of call was Civitavecchia were we spent the day wondering around town. We found it to be pleasant enough with some nice shops and a market where we bought a cheap Italian extension cable for future cruises so that was worthwhile in itself. What doesn't appear to be worth while is the tourist train which we didn't take on being told that there wasn't much to see.
Our final port of call was Genoa where we found that MSC's disembarkation procedures appear to have changed to the benefit of passengers who no longer have to sit in the theatre awaiting their disembarkation, we were able to enjoy breakfast, coffee and a leisurely wander around the decks before going to our meeting point. Disembarkation itself was easy with the only point of note being the need to be aware that queuing for a taxi is not always easy with our other nationalities having different ideas as to an orderly and patient queue!
Other aspects of the cruise;
the itinerary was good, although given the coolness of the season we found that 3 sea days were bordering on too many days at sea. The ports of call rated as follows;
Barcelona - great city, needs more time and a dedicated visit
Funchal - very nice town, cable car a highlight, New Year fireworks were awesome
Tenerife - a disappointment to us and on this showing not likely to be revisited
Casablanca - an experience, one that may be repeated
Malaga - great ambiance, much enjoyed, needs more time and a dedicated visit
Civitavecchia - nothing special - you're better off taking the train to Rome
Genoa - not to every one's taste, but worth a look if in town ahead of a cruise
The weather in the main was sunny, dry and very warm, the only days that were not were the days at sea which were breezy and cool, although sunny on occasion, and Tenerife which was cool overcast and drizzly, all in all great weather.
The food and restaurants -
One area that did not disappoint was the food. Yes the buffet was mostly busy at lunch but we always found a table, the food offered was varied and plentiful and there was plenty of choice, although on occasion it could have been hotter, some may have a problem with melamine plates for lunch but given their service of 3000 plus it cannot really be argued with. The food offered for main dining in the Villa Rosa restaurant was varied and plentiful with 7 courses always offered from the main menu and a number of alternatives always available if none in the main menu were to your liking. I found the food to be always of good quality and always served hot, I had no problems with the food or with the waiting staff, my one issue with MSC is the use of photographers at meal times, they are intrusive and in our case extremely rude. Some people have an issue with MSC not providing free water or tea and coffee, we might expect it but it shouldn't be the major issue some make of it, if you take the trouble to visit the buffet at anytime day or night you'll find free water, tea and coffee always available, there is no requirement to pay for water or beverages on board.
The major disappointment was the evening theatre shows which we found did not match the standards seen in other MSC ships. The entertainment team seemed non existent where as on other cruises they were in evidence in the theatre providing some pre show fun and entertainment. The shows themselves were the usual 40 minute offerings by MSC, one was a surprising 20 minutes long, hardly worth the effort of either MSC putting it on or us in making our way to the theatre!
Of the shows seen the Parisian and Italian themed shows were enjoyable, the pianist I found over-rated and over-used given his headlining in two shows, the singers were good but the opera singer who had the audience on their feet in Barcelona was not to my personal liking. The Michael Jackson tribute was the best staged, although lip synched. The dancing was superb and the staging excellent. We expected more from the shows and they could have been more variety offered, they disappointed overall which is a shame as we expected more from MSC on Divina.
We found the staff on board to be generally good with some exceptions being both outstandingly good and bad.
The outstandingly good was Philatron a waitress who greeted us by our first names after a gap of two years since meeting her and speaking to her of an evening on Splendida, that's amazing. Also outstandingly good was the previously mentioned Cabin Steward Handry and Sery our waiter in Villa Rosa.
The outstandingly bad was the photographer who whilst taking photos of our table at a gala dinner refused to take a photo of myself and my partner and I whilst taking pictures of all eight other diners at a table of nine, given that we were dressed for a gala dinner and that we wanted a photograph it surprised us that we were ignored and treated both with some ignorance and extremely rudely by what one can only hope is a rogue member of staff who has no place dealing with members of the public, MSC will be made aware of this in a formal complaint to MSC in the UK, MSC in Italy.
The other area that could be improved was the ability of staff to provide information on ports and places of interest and the means of transport available to independent travellers, whilst set up to sell their own excursions it would be nice to have additional information available and not to be sold tickets for a shuttle bus when alternatives were available and were not advertised. Some ports of call with shuttle buses provided could also do with better crowd management to avoid the likelihood of arguments, the use of young ladies to manage the disembarking crowd trying to board shuttle buses in Malaga was not altogether successful when I seriously thought that fists would fly.
MSC Divina didn't disappoint on most fronts, a very stylish ship, too large for some perhaps but never seeming too busy apart from on gala evenings when the communal areas mid-ships were awash with those either making their way from the first sitting ot to the second sitting. The mix of passengers on board was as usually for MSC ships, being an Italian line it is no surprise that Italians, Germans, French and Spanish were in the majority, closely followed by Eastern Europeans and a noticeably increased contingent of Brits with a fair number of Americans also on board.
The on board shopping is for those with money although the duty free shop offered cigarettes at well below prices seen elsewhere both onshore and in duty free shops at ports. There are numerous bars and lounges with lots of various types of music and entertainment on offer at most times of the day and evening, the one thing it was hard to find on occasion was a quiet spot, MSC seemed to let out the library to groups some afternoons which was irritating if you wanted somewhere quiet to read.
To sum up, a good cruise, an enjoyable holiday, great ports of call, most of which were new to us, the food was good and the service was as expected and surpassed. This cruise brought similar benefits to that of our previous cruise on Musica in that we were sat with friendly and amusing diners who we went on to share many evenings with on board. As with on the Musica previously we hope to maintain a friendship with new friends made on board.
We would cruise on Divina again and as 3 time cruisers with MSC we would will most certainly be cruising with them again soon.
We happen to be comfortable with MSC, a fact that some reviewers see as being blind allegiance to a particular line, as can be seen from my review this cruise was not without its issues but none so bad as to spoil a holiday or to prevent us from choosing MSC for another cruise. We approach our cruises with an open mind and a realisation that we get what we pay for, MSC offer style, comfort, service, good Italian food, and great itineraries on superb ships at a very reasonable price and we find that hard to be beaten by other lines.
So that is my review of a cruise on MSC Divina, if you consider it blind allegiance that is fine by me but please do not criticise me on forums for making a different choice to you, after all you make your choice!