The elegant MSC Divina is the newest and largest (4,000+ passengers) of the 12-ship fleet of the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC.) The MSC Company founded in 1970 is the second largest global cargo shipping company. The MSC cruise line, however, is still not familiar to most Americans. Originally called Fantasia, the ship was renamed Divina to honor Sophia Loren, the Godmother of the fleet. When the cruise line first began cruises in America, I attended a luncheon aboard the MSC Lirica that included a tour of the ship. The cleanliness and elegance of that ship so impressed me that I decided then to definitely cruise on an MSC ship in the future.
We planned our cruise on the MSC Divina a year ago when we booked it while onboard our 2013 MSC Poesia cruise. The 7-night roundtrip cruise from Miami, Florida, February 1-8, 2014 visited St. Maarten, San Juan, Puerto Rico and Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas. Our party of six traveled with a larger group of almost 800 Irishmen for tenor Andy Cooney’s Cruise of Irish Stars 2014. There was a real feeling of camaraderie among all of us. Many have cruised annually with this group - some for 8-10 years. It was fun meeting Jaime, sisters Eileen and Claire all from Ormond Beach and Francesca from the Villages in FL.
The drive from home on the day of sailing took around 3 ½ hours. After dropping off our vehicle at a convenient off-site parking garage, we took the complementary shuttle van to the terminal. We arrived at 12:30 and boarded the ship within mere minutes. We quickly headed up to the sumptuous buffet on Deck 14 for a light lunch. After 42 cruises, this was one of the smoothest embarkations ever. Our disembarkation went just as smoothly and swiftly. We utilized the Self-Assist Program of carrying off our own luggage.
The Compulsory Emergency Drill was a little chaotic at our Muster Station; so many passengers crowded in the area, all carrying life jackets and trying to put them on at the same time. The straps were a little confusing for many passengers but we all helped one another. The crew did their best to conduct the drill, checking attendance by scanning room key cards. The predominant language on board is English, by the way. There are
few announcements so be sure to read your Daily Program for specific information about events and procedures.
Although I have read many complaints about MSC, mostly when they first entered the American market, I found little to fault the company on this cruise. What impressed me the most was the sheer beauty of the MSC Divina. The deco throughout the ship is inviting and elegant. Little touches that you do not first notice catch your attention later. The public rooms are tastefully decorated in a modern Italian style. As I boarded the ship on Deck 5, I was drawn to the dazzling two deck Swarovski crystal staircases. They were a favorite spot for passengers to take photos. I especially loved the décor in the stunning Pantheon Theater with its gorgeous silver curtain. There are no obstructive views. The stadium-style seating affords every seat an excellent view of the stage. Since there were so many other live entertainment performances going on at the same time as the production shows, including our own Irish live entertainment, we were always able to get good seats even when we arrived just before Showtime. No food or drinks are served in the theater. In general, drinks are not pushed.
All seventeen lounges and bar areas are beautiful and we would often stop to listen to live music either before or after the Production Shows. My favorite lounge was the Silver Lounge, Deck 6 because of its convenient location and beauty. Many passengers including us enjoyed the beautiful and timeless classical music played by The Elegant Trio & Igor nightly from 5 PM until late in the reception area on Decks 5 and 6. I truly felt that I was back in Europe listening to their music. Since the clientele on board is international, so is the live music around the ship. Many passengers enjoyed dancing to live music. The varied dance lessons (Grease Lightning, Country, Cumbia, Bachata, Triburon and Latin - Mambo, Merengue, Samba) offered in the lounges and Aqua Park were very popular and the steps easy to learn. The Irish passengers especially participated in the Riverdance class.
Our quiet balcony cabin # 9125 also had the same attention to detail, as did the public areas. It had a very sophisticated décor. The lovely cabin was well- appointed with: a king-size bed, end tables with drawers, sofa with a small cocktail table, tall framed mirror, desk (with mirror) and ample closet space for our belonging. Gray wall-to-wall carpeting, a safe, framed art and a small fridge completed the furnishings. Our balcony furnished with a table and two chairs afforded beautiful views of the water. I really looked forward to returning to our serene and comfortable cabin each evening.
The compact bathroom had a small shower stall with clear, unique folding doors that made the room seem larger when opened. I appreciated the retractable clothesline inside the stall and the two robes. Dispensers (for environmental reasons) held liquid soap at the sink and shampoo and shower gel in the shower. The shower cap and sewing kit were nice amenities, although I did miss the usual small bottles of hand lotion and hair conditioner. There was a regular clean supply of white fluffy bath and hand towels including face cloths.
Yani did a wonderful job of unobtrusively cleaning and refreshing our stateroom when we vacated it. I never did get to meet her - although my husband did. Yani also fulfilled our additional requests faithfully. The ship has a small secret amber light hidden above stateroom doors that alerts the steward whether you are inside or outside the cabin. To turn on lights, you must place your stateroom card in a slot. I always knew where my card was so I liked this feature. It also is cost saving for MSC, which is very environmentally oriented. This system allows your steward to enter your cabin without disturbing you. What a neat idea!
The stateroom corridors were light & cheery with spaced wallpaper panels of Italian scenes. At one point our passageway widened and we could look right down through broad curved glass walls onto the huge chandelier and the reception area below. It is most unusual for ship stateroom corridors to have an open feeling. Just off to the side was a lovely sculpture where we often arranged to meet before getting on the elevators.
The same unobtrusive service found in our stateroom we also experienced in the lovely Villa Rosa Main Dining Room. I had requested a table by a window for our party and we received it. Our servers, Putera from Indonesia and Rudy from Bali did a professional job of attending to our requests, often anticipating them. Our wine bottle was always on our table when we arrived. The servers replenished our beverages and breadbasket without prompting. The congenial Assistant Maitre‘d Tommy stopped by our table nightly to check on our dining experience. Fiorentina from Romania was very prompt and carefully assisted passengers receiving Special Request Meals in our section. She also helped the wait staff when she saw a need.
I enjoyed all the Italian dishes and loved the “flaming” Baked Alaska that the wait staff presented with a flourish. We enjoyed the food and service so much in the main dining room (MDR) that we often ate breakfast or lunch there or in the Black Crab Restaurant (another MDR.) I especially enjoyed the delicious French toast. The buffet on Deck 14 had a great selection of fresh produce, casseroles, Italian dishes, cheese, breads, meats & cold cuts. We all enjoyed the pizzas. Deserts were plentiful at lunchtime & I enjoyed their chocolate mousse more than once. We, therefore, never felt the desire to visit a specialty restaurant. Many passengers frequented the soft serve ice cream machines as did I, which were conveniently located on two sides of the Aqua Park available 2:00-5:00 pm.
Besides the elegance and European style service on the ship, what impressed me greatly was the quality of the nightly shows. One of the reasons I enjoy cruising is to see the extravagant theater shows and MSC did not disappoint. Every night there was a different production show. My favorites are Witches of Paris (French Variety,) Simply Italian (Best Loved Italian Songs,) Frank (Sinatra) Forever and The Tribute (Arias.) If you like Michael Jackson’s music, you will enjoy Star Walker. Children seemed mesmerized by Pirates and Wonderland (Alice in Wonderland.) The costumes were all magnificent and the quality of the singing and dancing was wonderful. Attending a different variety show each night was a delight for me. Often performers came down the aisles into the audience. I did not really miss hearing a live orchestra because there was so much live music elsewhere on the ship. Since the passengers are international, it probably is a good move to make the shows mainly singing and dancing sprinkled with acrobats and other stunt performers. There were no comedian performances for this reason, I think. Sometimes in the theater prior to the production shows, the energetic animation (entertainment) staff performed impromptu comedy antics that surprised unsuspecting passengers to their amusement and the rest of audience. The fun helped the wait time seem shorter.
Aside from port and shopping lectures, educational presentations were almost nil. Again, I feel the multitude of languages spoken by passengers may be a factor. There were plenty of parties and other activities. I attended the culinary demonstration conveniently presented poolside but wished that they had the recipes printed. The Flower Glory Party in the Black and White Lounge featured popular music of the 60s-80s. The MSC Factor Talent Contest was entertaining. Be sure to pack white clothing to wear to the White Party held under the Caribbean Stars on Deck 14. The Celebrate Chinese Wealth Day in the Galaxy Disco and MSC’s Little Italy parties were other fun events. The single women on the cruise enjoyed dancing with the MSC Divina officers. I enjoyed the fashion show in the reception area. All the clothing was for sale in the shops onboard. I do not remember seeing a fashion show on my other cruises. The open-air Aqua Park screen showed Pavarotti: The Event Live, Pacific Rim and Captain Phillips. If you are into fitness, there is a schedule of events going on throughout the day - morning walks, stretching, Aqua Cycling, Aerobics, Zumba, etc. Jewelry Making, Art & crafts, Scrabble, sport tournaments, napkin folding, Veteran’s Meet, bridge games, Italian lessons, bingo and trivia rounded out other offerings. On Super Bowl Sunday, football fans watched The Seahawks VS. The Broncos in the packed Sports Bar.
Some extra cost events were fun, too. The men in our group enjoyed the Formula 1 4D Simulator. Find out if you have what it takes to be a racecar driver. One unique event was the Winemaker Experience where you join winemaker Greg and custom blend you own bottle of wine. Another unusual event was the opportunity to try five different “solid” cocktails in one glass.
The young energetic animation team did a great job with organizing and participating in poolside games and other activities. I answered a math trivia question and won a colorful MSC mouse pad. My husband & brother-in-law each won one also in a ring toss game. The lively music poolside played by our Irish group of entertainers was fantastic and quite popular with even those not traveling with our group. Dancers crowded the limited space in front of the stage area to do Ceili dancing. For me, the water in the five pools was a little too cool so I did not stay in the water a long time. I did enjoy the whirlpools because the temperature was not too hot for me. Kids loved the waterslide. Shallow areas in the Aqua Park were great for toddlers and young children. There are 150 fountains in the Aqua Park.
In St Maarten, we shopped in the village of stores right at the pier. In San Juan, we rode the complementary trolley near the terminal out to Castillo San Felipe del Morro, “El Morro.” Later we walked back to the ship stopping along the way in several shops in Old San Juan. In Great Stirrup Cay, our MSC shore excursion was an eco-boat tour. We learned interesting facts about the history of the Bahamas, its local ecology and marine life. We were all encouraged to touch, hold and photograph many marine species. What surprised me was the necessity of signing a waiver for the eco tour. Later, we visited the vendor tents at the beach, relaxed on beach lounges and swam in the clear Caribbean water. The only issue that I had with our day at the beach was the exceptionally long buffet lines that we encountered unprotected from the hot sun. The wait took away a good portion of our beach time. Perhaps a box lunch handed out as we departed the ship might be an option to the long lines for the buffet.
One unusual thing that I noticed while on board was that there was a # 13 deck and # 13 lifeboat. However, there was no # 17 lifeboat. Cruise Director Andre explained that in Italy # 17 is considered unlucky; #13 is not. I especially recommend MSC to young families since children under 11 sail free when staying with the parents in their cabin. There were many families on this cruise because of this policy. In fact, there was a wide range of ages onboard from many foreign countries. I spoke with passengers from Australia, Canada, France, Germany and Japan. What an opportunity to get to know people from different cultures!
I have a few thoughts for MSC. Perhaps the ship could stock non-fat milk. We were always served 2 % at best which they assured us was skimmed milk. Other times they served whole milk and called it skimmed. I prefer choosing my own time to dine and this option is not currently available on MSC. Since we were with a large group with specific entertainment schedules, we all had to choose Early Dining anyway, so this was not an issue on this particular MSC cruise for me. Be aware that the dining room doors close fifteen minutes after the start of the dining seating. Another issue was the early 7 AM time for vacating our stateroom on disembarkation day. This surprised me since our staterooms were not ready until 2 PM on Embarkation Day, which is late for most cruise lines. You may find some onboard difference if you sail MSC in Europe. Many passengers found navigating the ship to be a little confusing because the two MDRs used the same main kitchen. This means passengers sometimes had to go up or down a deck to get from one end of the ship to the other. Many new ships, in fact, have this similar arrangement.
What it all comes down to is will I book another cruise on MSC? The answer is a definite yes. The food and service were good, the shows were wonderful and the ship was simply beautiful. Best of all, the pricing is very competitive with the major cruise lines and an excellent value. Special online sales offer even greater savings. I am already a member of the complementary MSC Club for returning guests. There are several benefits to becoming a member including a complementary cocktail party and various discounts. Be sure to join after your initial cruise. Arrivederci, MSC!