MSC Divina Cruise Review by resstation: MSC Divina Yacht Club - March 15-22, 2014
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MSC Divina Yacht Club - March 15-22, 2014
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Get yourself some coffee, tea or a drink of some kind and settle in. This is going to be long. Really, really long.
The beginning of this review is very detailed because I actually wrote it on the first day after embarkation. The rest of the days I took a note or two here and there about what I wanted to cover.
To everyone who is "worried", "apprehensive", "confused" about whether to book a cruise on the Divina, snap out of it. It is not a tightrope walk over an alligator pit. It is a cruise vacation. You WILL have fun. They take no prisoners. They torture no one, no matter what type of cabin you book. The reason we took this cruise is that I saw an advertisement somewhere, months after I had booked a cruise in a suite on the Celebrity Silhouette, and realized that it would be $1500 cheaper to sail Yacht Club on the same dates More (we had the free drink package and internet package on the Silhouette). Who doesn't want to save $1500?? In this case we would also get a two room suite, but would forgo a balcony. No problem for us. We can sit outside virtually every day of the year here in Florida. We cancelled Celebrity and booked MSC. Here we go...
EMBARKATION – FIRST IMPRESSIONS
We arrived at the port at approximately 2pm. It appeared to be peak time for arrivals, but we found a parking spot in the garage easily enough. The YC tent was easily found, however, as we were walking down the sidewalk with our bags several porters stopped us and said they HAD to take our bags. When we told them we were in YC and we are going to check in there, we were questioned each time "What's your room number? Oh that number is not YC. I have to take your bags...". It actually bordered on being confrontational. We just kept politely declining and walked to the YC tent.
We were greeted immediately by a very friendly butler. He asked for our suite number (12002 -YC2) and said we should have our check in document and passports out as we will be asked for them 3 times prior to boarding. He then asked how many bags we were going to check in, called over a porter, told us we could "take care of the porter now" and wait a moment for another butler to come escort us onto the ship. We tipped the porter and waited about 2 minutes for the butler to arrive. He reminded us to keep our documents out for the 3 check points.
We were escorted through a separate door to a security checkpoint. There was no line and it was only our family of 3 and another couple. Security checked our passports carefully and we went up a separate escalator to the area where are carry ons are checked and we walked through the metal detector. There was a bit of line for the other passengers boarding, but it looked to be clearing quickly.
We were then greeted by another butler who took us from that area to the YC waiting lounge. There were 3 check in desks in the lounge where they looked at our documents/passports and took credit card information. We were given our key cards after our pictures were taken. This took approximately 5 minutes. Then we were asked to wait for the next available butler to take us onto the ship. There were refreshments (water, juices, pastries...) in the room while we waited for another few minutes.
In approximately 10 minutes we were told to follow yet another butler. We arrived at the private entrance (I did not notice what floor) and we presented our key cards and passports for the final time. You would think the person taking our pictures for the key cards in the lounge would check to make sure they were correct before handing them to us, but at this checkpoint we were told our son's picture was not taken properly and we should get another one taken as soon as possible at the concierge reception desk onboard. The picture on the card was of the ceiling of the YC lounge. Our butler took us directly to the YC reception area. On the way, he showed us how to use our key cards for the priority elevator. This was terrific as we would never wait more than a minute or two! Too bad it is only on one bank of elevators. I could get used to that. Once in the reception area, we were given glasses of sparkling wine and our 14yr old son a glass of juice in a champagne flute. Nice touch.
We have cruised many times before and this time was the first time I felt like the ceilings were very low. I don't know if it was that we were taken down hallways first and not into the atrium as is typical on other ships. After a day or so, it did not bother me at all - but my first impression was that the ceilings may have been lower than other ships I've been on. Also, all the butler changes were a little daunting. Not sure they needed quite so many changeovers.
After waiting in the YC reception area on board for a few minutes they called my son over to take another picture for his key card and "our" butler arrived to introduce himself and take us down to our suite on deck 12. From the layout of the decks that I saw online, it did not seem like it was as far as it actually was. I'm not talking in actual distance but in the steps taken to getting to the reception area/Topsail Lounge/One Pool area from our suite. From our cabin on the 12th floor, we would walk down the hall to the port or starboard side, walk to the first elevator bank, have our key out to call the priority elevator, go to the 15th floor, use the key again to open the glass doors to the hallways of the 15th floor YC area (my son called them Star Trek doors), walk all the way back again and turn right to find either the elevator to go up to the One Pool or go a little further to walk into the reception area/Topsail Lounge. Next time, I'm choosing a cabin in the YC area on the 15th floor. I would also choose the 15th floor because, as we found out from our butler repeating it several times during our initial tour, we were the ONLY cabin he was assigned to on a floor other than 15. We took that to mean that we would not be seeing him as much and we were right. Not only did we not see him at all during the cruise, except when we walked up to the YC area and he was busy servicing his other suites, we also did not get our newspaper delivered several times during the week (the other suites next to us had their newspapers hanging on their cabin doorknob each morning) and no one picked up our breakfast card that was hanging on the door the one night we wanted to pre-order for an early excursion. No apologies. They just asked what we wanted and brought it up later than we had planned.
The room was just as we thought it would be. It was a two room suite with a living area/pullout couch on one side and a King bed/vanity/walk in closet on the other side. Two solid sliding doors, one on each side could be closed to give privacy to each room. We had the TV on in both rooms at night and with the doors closed, we could not hear the other tv. The cabin is located directly below the ship's bridge so the view is tremendous. Although there is no balcony, there are floor to ceiling windows in each of the rooms - a wall of windows. It was beautiful to look out at the water each day and especially when going into a port. It was also the most quiet cabin I have ever stayed in on a ship. We never once heard a door close, a sound from either cabin on each side, nothing. It was VERY relaxing and quiet. Also, we never saw anyone walk in front of the windows of our cabin. On the day in port in St. Thomas, I saw some water hoses being pulled on the ledge in front of our windows, but no people.
There are two temperature controls, one on each side that worked well. I noticed that they may be on a motion sensor because at night when everything was still it got a little warm. If I got up during the night because my bladder isn't what it used to be, I would feel it turn on again.
The room had a mini fridge, ice bucket, plenty of drinking glasses, still and sparkling water and a fruit bowl that was replenished each day. The mini fridge was stocked twice a day and included "airline size" liquor bottles (4), several full sized beers, several cans of soda, mixers, juices, cocktail nuts, Pringles chips and chocolate covered peanuts. They forgot to stock the fridge and bring ice on two occasions, but a quick call to the concierge and someone came right down to fill it up.
There were two large closets in the room, one on each side. On the living room side, there was an ample, 2 door wall closet and another smaller closet area that had a safe and several drawers. Plenty of space. The bedroom had a walk in closet, large mirror, a safe, drawers and shelves. Again, you won't be running out of space. I would suggest, though, that you bring your clothes packed on hangers (I always do this). I use the flocked/velvety thin hangers and fold the clothes over in my suitcase. When I get to where I'm going I simply pick up the hangers and hang - easy. In this case, it was even more helpful because the hangers provided were the large, bulky, wooden suit hangers. Not many fit in the closet and they had those ridiculous "can't steal the hangers" clips that were just a pain to use. There were 2 waffle weave robes, 2 pairs of slippers, a shoe bag, shoe horn and shoe brush in the closet as well.
Now let's talk about the bathroom. Wow, the bathroom. I don't know what genius designed it but it would have gotten an F- in any design class. You can reference my pictures to understand exactly what I'm talking about. What happens is, your butler will not tell you about this design flaw at all. As a matter of fact, when you are getting the cabin "tour", they point out everything in the cabin EXCEPT that if you take a shower the way it is when you arrive, you will have a flooded (and I mean FLOODED) bathroom soon after turning the shower on. There is a jetted tub, a glass surround to the halfway point and about a 2 inch space between the tub and surround. When you turn the water on, the water that hits your body from the, also poorly designed, shower head bounces off of your body into the space between the tub and the surround and then quickly makes it's way directly onto the bathroom floor. If you are, sadly, the first person taking a shower in this cabin as my husband was, you will not be expecting this, nor will you notice it until there is about an inch of water covering the entire bathroom floor (which, when he yells to get your attention and you open the door, spills out into the hallway of your cabin). Get the picture? We called immediately and the butler came down saying he would take care of it. From that first shower on, the butler had 5 expertly rolled up pool towels on all sides of the tub that he would replace twice a day. Clearly, they all know this happens. They are obviously prepared for "the first shower call" but they choose not to let you know about it (this will become a theme when I tell you about the limes further down in my review).
SHIP DESIGN -
For new cruisers, I don't imagine it will be a problem. For those who are used to other ships, oh boy. It is impossible to get from one end of the ship to another on many floors, especially THE MAIN FLOOR, deck 6. SOME elevators go to every floor, others don't go all the way up. You will have to figure this out (which took me about 3 or 4 days and I still didn't have it 100% by the time we left.) All the elevator banks look the same so a quick glance at the map by the elevator can clear it up. If you end up on deck 6 from the furthestmost elevator banks on each end of the ship, you will find that you are stuck without a place to go. You will have to walk up to deck 7, walk to the next set of stairs/elevators and go down to 6. I think the bathroom designer was assigned to deck design too. There’s been talk of no promenade. That didn’t affect me at all, nor did I miss it – but if that is what you are looking for, it’s not on this ship.
There are many areas on the ship with different themes. They are laid out one after another. There are no big expansive rooms other than the theater and the atrium. It just felt like walking down a hallway with rooms on each side. On the main floor they also had portable tables with junk (I mean, items) for sale on each side. Every day the same things - clothes, jewelry, watches. Don't people have internet now? Why would I buy any of this stuff when confined to a ship at sea? I can buy virtually any item in the world, compare prices and have it delivered right to my home from the comfort of my home. The ONLY deal I found were the items in the Eataly marketplace. They sell the risotto, pasta, olive oil and other culinary items used in Le Muse and Eataly. I did a little internet research and found that these items are only available in the Eataly restaurants in NY and Chicago and in Italy. The US restaurants don’t deliver. To get them from Italy, the cost of shipping is not cheap. Needless to say, we bought quite a few packages. For those who are flying, not driving, home – let me tell you, these packages of pasta are HEAVY. You may not want to put them in your suitcases. This is no Ronzoni supermarket pasta.
The internet was fine. I did not find it to be slow at all. Of course, it is not like we get at home, but perfectly acceptable. They charge by the second, not the minute. There is an internet code on your sea card and you sign up directly from your device, very easy. To limit the amount of internet used, simply log on, download all your emails, log off, read and reply to your emails, log back on and send. Log off when the sending is complete. Doing this I used approximately 10 minutes of internet a day, if that, and only while at sea. On port days I used my cell phone as it is free in US ports.
If the website “Awkward Family Photos” could only get the pictures from this ship! The photography was horrible. Just because someone has a good expensive camera, it does not make them a photographer. I don’t know what they were thinking but every time I walked by the photography studio and looked at the displayed photos I was embarrassed for them. The pictures taken at the start of the cruise, with the ship backdrop, were all normal cruise pictures. The “special portraits” that were taken around the ship were poorly lit – either too much light, too little light - and the subjects did not look good at all. They were so weirdly posed. They really need some better photographers. That being said, I did like that photographers were plentiful all over the ship, every day. When we were on RCCL last year, they posted the photography times in the daily newsletter and people would line up waiting to have their picture taken. Not so here. There were plenty of opportunities and no lines. Now if they had the RCCL photographers on this ship, it would be fantastic! Perhaps there were no lines because people had already walked through the portrait studio.
St. Thomas was our first port stop after a few days at sea. There are some beautiful large yachts in the harbor, no doubt owned by some of the jewelry store owners on the island! I am not exaggerating when I say that most of the shops in town are jewelry stores. I can understand getting a little piece of jewelry to commemorate a cruise, but this can’t be the case here. There are literally hundreds of jewelry stores. I’m baffled. Wouldn’t you want to have a relationship with your local independent jeweler if you were going to buy something expensive? Did you know you can negotiate with your local jeweler too? I will never understand the cruise ship trinket and jewelry frenzy. Oh well. To each his own.
A taxi to the main area of town is $4 per person. The main area is NOT at the port. There are several shops at the port, but you really should go downtown to walk around. There are many taxi drivers asking passengers if they need a ride to town. You won’t have a problem finding one. I don’t recommend walking. It is about 2 miles, but I still would not recommend walking.
My son and husband went on the Kayak, Hike and Snorkel Tour. They said the kayak portion was extremely strenuous (and they are very fit) because they were paddling against the water flow. The hiking and snorkeling was great. Don’t bring much that you can’t keep with you in the water. They have one big box they lock everyone’s things in, all together. Also, close toed water shoes would be ideal.
FORMAL NIGHTS –
We had two “gala” formal nights on this cruise. Formal attire was “suggested” but we saw everything under the sun. There is no pressure at all. Some people wanted to dress to the nines, others in jeans. No one felt out of place at all. I saw very few tuxedos and long gowns. For those who did decide to dress formally, it was suit/tie, cocktail dress mostly.
SAN JUAN –
Great port. A lot to see and do right from the port. Shopping is within walking distance and taxis were plentiful. Be aware that if you get off the ship in the morning you will NOT be able to board again until after 1pm. That would have been a good thing to mention in the daily newsletter. It was not. It was a very warm day and a huge crowd waiting to get back on the ship. The crew did have some water and orange juice stations set up and they were handing them out to everyone. Still, nice thing to have known. I would have left the ship a little later.
If you are walking around Old San Juan and want to take a little break, DO NOT MISS THIS PLACE - Casa Cortes ChocoBar 210 Calle De San Francisco. It is a little cafe that serves food and drinks that ALL INCLUDE CHOCOLATE. Even the savory foods. Check it out on Google. You will not be disappointed here. I got a chocolate martini and the most unique grilled cheese with dark chocolate sandwich. It was delicious! Even salads had chocolate. What a quirky terrific place. Good service, clean too.
My husband and son went on the Canopy Zip Line Tour. They enjoyed it very much. They said the rain forest was beautiful and the tour was not strenuous at all. Another bonus, no bugs.
I will cut and paste what I have already written about the coffee here: Oh dear, the coffee. Evidently it was just me, because my husband handled their coffee just fine (having several lattes each day). One cup of their coffee for me was akin to a 2 week colon cleanse (sorry to be so graphic). There are giant, fancy coffee and espresso makers ALL over the ship - in YC and at every single bar. There is even a coffee bar with amazing coffee drinks on deck 7 (extra cost). The cups are tiny. The only place you can find plain old American watered down coffee is in the buffet, complete with large mugs.
In the YC, rest assured that if you ask your concierge for something (coffee pot every morning, made a certain way) you will get it, eventually. It may be wrong the first time, they may forget one day, but they are very accommodating and will try to do what they can to make you happy.
GREAT STIRRUP CAY-
My favorite stop of all. The weather was absolutely picture perfect. The water color looked like a fake blue because it was so amazing. The island is reached by tender. Unfortunately, because of this, if the weather is poor, the tenders do not operate and you will miss this stop. The two prior cruises had to miss it due to terrible weather according to one of the crew. That would be such a shame. The tenders each fit up to 495 people. No need to rush for the first one. There are tenders coming and going continuously, all day long.
We booked a cabana about 7 months prior to the cruise. There are only 23 total cabanas. The first 11 are up on a hill overlooking the beach and are larger – table, loungers, chairs for up to 6 people. The rest are further down the beach, on beach level and are a little smaller. They were for up to 4 people. I did not see a difference in prices when I booked. I think it is first come, first served. I highly recommend the cabana! If you know others going on this cruise, split the cost – there is plenty of room in the large ones. I believe we paid $220 for the day. They sell out VERY fast. Book online as soon as possible.
The cabanas are permanent 3 walled structures with two windows at the back. They have a small cabinet for your things, a table and chairs, loungers, towels, a small refrigerator with water (still and sparkling), 4 water floats and fresh fruit and chips/salsa were waiting for us on arrival. To the side of our cabana, there was a hammock. We had cabana #1 and our hammock was, as I said, to the side of it (no neighbor on that side). All the other cabanas had their hammocks behind them. Also in the back is an outdoor shower. This was great for cooling off after laying in the sun. The beach water was way too cold for my Florida sensibilities but there were plenty of people swimming.
For those who do not rent cabanas and don’t mind a longer walk…do not stop at the main beach when you get off the tender. Keep walking well past the cabanas on the hill to where you see the smaller cabanas on beach level. At that beach and even the beach further down, you will find ample space that is not so cramped. The main beach is a zoo. If you go to the furthest beach, you will still have a bar and restrooms. The restrooms are located on a short trail behind cabana 12. The only thing you would have to walk to would be to get your lunch and to enjoy any of the activities planned (beach volleyball, Frisbee, soccer, etc). Even with that walk, I think you would enjoy the space available to you at the furthest beach.
The lunch is free and plentiful. The line looks SO long, but it really does go quickly. There were hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, cole slaw, couscous salad, carrot/raisin salad and jerk chicken (that was not at all spicy). Drinks are extra, even for YC guests. You do not need cash unless you plan on buying some trinkets/tshirts/hair braiding from the locals who have set up shop near the tenders. Your sea card is used to pay for drinks.
MAIN POOL –
You couldn’t pay me enough to get me to swim in the main pool. Let’s just say my parents owned a motel when I was growing up and my job as a teenager was to keep the pool clean. We didn’t have a fraction of the bathing load of the pool on the ship. Enough said. It is a nice open space, many loungers – all taken first thing in the morning. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a line the length of the pool deck the first day of people waiting TO CHECK OUT TOWELS. Where on earth do they think everyone is going to go with these bright orange towels? They were warned that they would be charged if not returned. Yikes. That’s not right.
Bingo was also played primarily at the main pool for the first few days. I never played because I couldn’t find a place to sit if I wanted to and it was too hot. The people who just wanted to relax by the pool had to listen to Bingo numbers being called out. Because of the large international guest count, Bingo is one coverall game. That’s it. Just one. $10 for one card, $20 for three. OH, and this is the kicker. When you buy your card, they do not have a scanner. Someone HAND WRITES each person’s name, cabin number, amount on a receipt that you have to sign. It is a slow process. The last few nights they had the Bingo in the theater.
YACHT CLUB POOL & BAR –
Virtually empty at all times, even though all the YC cabins were sold out. Peaceful, serene, spotless, with plenty of towels (that did not need to be checked out). The bartender was always available to take your order. There were servers walking around checking on us all the time. There was a small buffet area with a great breakfast in the morning (eggs, bacon, sausage, fruit, yogurt, toast, bagels, salmon…). I never went for lunch or snacks, but they were always available as well. Nice to just sit and watch the water. The hot tubs were great. Terrific area.
The main buffet had 12 stations with at least 5-9 dishes at each station. I can’t imagine someone not finding SOMETHING they would like. I only went for lunch on a couple of the days. I did not go for dinner at all. Late night there was always pizza, salad etc available. Go to the very back of the buffet for a table. It is a beautiful, all windows view of water at the aft of the ship. Plenty of tables were available at lunch time. Yes, it does get busy, but I never had a problem finding what I wanted. There are stations on both sides. Each side had the same thing. The buffet is seemingly endless. It takes up a lot of space! The Mediterranean Corner at the very back had something interesting and different every day. ALL the food that was supposed to be hot, was hot when I put it on my plate. Those who complain about the cold food need to sit down and eat the first layer on their plates before piling it up like a middle school volcano science project. The food won’t get cold that way. You are welcome to go back and forth to the buffet as often as you wish. If the only thing you will eat are hamburgers/fries and omelets made to order, pick another cruise line. They have hamburgers and fries already set out (my son said they were fine but nothing to write home about). There is no made to order omelets. Really, no big deal. There are carving stations with beautiful meats, salads, entrees, dozens of items!
Very nice area with great treatment rooms and a long spa menu that has more than what is shown online. I did not utilize the spa, but my husband went to the sauna and steam room (free for YC). He said they were great.
Le MUSE (YC restaurant)-
We enjoyed every dish we ordered at Le Muse. It did get a little old after several days, but that’s a “first world problem” isn’t it? The menu always has one soup and two choices of appetizer, pasta/risotto and entrée. Two choices aren’t much. There are a number of items on the “alternative menu” which are the same every night – French Onion Soup, a salmon dish, a steak and…one other thing that I have since forgotten. The desserts were always out of this world. The tiramisu was the best I’ve ever had. The blueberry cheesecake was incredible and the baked Alaska was remarkable. The desserts were the standouts, to be sure.
We never got the feeling that the server wanted to know anything but what we wanted for dinner. That was OK with us, but it was vastly different than any cruise we have ever done. The servers in Le Muse were “all business”.
We ate at Eataly one night for dinner. It was empty. Completely empty – at 6:30p. After dinner, we realized why. It really was just “ok” and why pay for steaks when you can have them for free in any of the dining rooms? We just wanted a change and we didn’t want pizza or to sit in a busy restaurant or buffet. The sliced steak was delicious. The T-bones were OK. Meh, on the whole dinner there, but it did serve its purpose.
We have always enjoyed a good casino. This one was larger than some of the ships we’ve been on. Table games started at $5 a hand with “happy hour” some nights with minimums of only $3 a hand. The usual suspects – black jack, poker, craps, roulette, slots. The slots were virtually all penny slots. Big turn off for me. On the second sea day ALL the slots were out of order for the entire day and night. People were not happy and neither was the casino. They were losing a bundle. It was said to be a firmware problem and had to be fixed when we got to St. Thomas. Once we left St. Thomas, they were working again. We had no problem getting drinks from the many servers walking around. The bartenders were always available as well. No service problems at all in the casino. Wish I would have won, but no luck this time.
We went to the show "Wanderlust" the first night. It was as everyone had said, spectacular. The costumes, the talented contortionists, the lighting...all fantastic. I read somewhere that "ALL" the seats in the theater are great. Not so, get there early and choose seats near the center. You don't have to be close to the stage, but they put giant columns and scenery on the sides of the stage so those sitting on the sides of the theater cannot see everything happening. The only other show we saw was the Michael Jackson tribute. It was awful. Oh wow. Painfully awful. Lip syncing, high school choreography awful.
Most of the drinks in the YC are free. There are few “premium” and “ultra premium” selections, but the mainstream drinks that are always typically ordered, wines and mixed drinks are all free. The YC and the rest of the ship have different drink menus. The YC bartender has not been cross trained and although he has a menu from the “downstairs” bars, he doesn’t know how to mix them. It’s really a “face palm” situation, but if you can walk him through a recipe, he’ll be happy to make it for you. In a week, I never really found a drink that I really enjoyed that much. They all tasted a little “off”. The recipes weren’t quite right (I like “girlie” drinks). On the other hand, my husband’s vodka and soda was always good. Hard to mess that one up.
In the “why didn’t you just tell me” category: There were no limes on the ship. Limes are expensive so MSC and evidently RCCL as well, did not get their supply of limes. I can understand, but what I can not understand is when I order a mojito, please don’t bring me one that has substituted lemons for the limes. JUST TELL ME you have no limes and I’ll choose another drink. They actually brought over the mojito with a straight face, never mentioned the lack of limes and served it to me like it was supposed to be made that way. Bizarre. This happened throughout the ship. I guess they think if they don’t mention something, it can’t be a problem.
OVERALL SERVICE –
I really need to end this review or I could go on and on with the tiniest details. Overall the service teams in both the YC and the rest of the ship DID THEIR BEST. They all had a smile, a hello, a “how can I help you” attitude. I did not encounter any grumpy employees at all. They really did their best. Unfortunately, management has done them a great disservice in not training them for the best customer service. Everything was just a bit lacking, but still adequate.
All in all, I would sail MSC again – only in the Yacht Club. We had a great time because we didn’t let the little things add up. We were on vacation, after all. Not one cruise line is perfect. What was stellar to me may be underwhelming to you. This was a review of OUR experience and OUR opinions about it. Take from it what you will.
HAPPY CRUISING FOLKS!
Remember – There’s a hat for every head. And most importantly…Your opinion of me is none of my business. Less
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