We tried something new and we are so happy we did!!
We are a family of 4. Mom, dad, son who is 5, and daughter who is 14. Parents have been on 5 prior cruises, 4 of which were on Disney and 1 on Norwegian. The children have sailed 4 times on Disney. We enjoy great service, entertainment, and food of course.
Pre-Cruise we were looking for a hotel close to Miami Airport, as we were getting in after 8pm and just wanted a place to rest our heads before cruising the next day. The hubs had a corporate rate with Sofitel that was in our budget so we stayed there. Free shuttle from MIA though it runs about every 30 minutes. Our plane was already delayed and it was late so we took a cab instead of waiting. Check in was easy. Room was clean and spacious enough. Beds were comfy – room overlooked the airport. We ordered room service breakfast the next day, a continental breakfast and an egg dish. There was enough food that we were able to share between the 4 of us, thankfully, as the food was not cheap. Bell Services showed up quickly to fetch our bags and lead us to our cab to the port. Overall for the price we had a fine stay.
We chose Divina rather last minute – MSC advertised a sale for their Easter sailing on Divina, and we decided we wanted a spring break vacation. We had never sailed an Eastern Caribbean route so this was perfect for us. Divina is large – holds 3500 at double - and over 4,000 pax when fully occupied – in addition to 1300+ crew. Even though our sailing was quite full at over 4,100 people we never felt crowded. Divina – at first glance – did not seem to have as many family friendly activities as we were used to sailing Disney. Disney, however, was selling at over $9,000 for a family of 4 in a balcony when I looked. No thanks Mickey! We LOVE you, but I can never justify that expense. I did worry that there wouldn’t be anything to entertain the children compared to Disney. I figured we would just use the cruise as family bonding and decompressing time and hang out by the pool if nothing else. The reviews worried me a bit as well, as Divina had mixed reviews in general since sailing out of Miami.
The ship itself was beautiful – truly amazing and sparkling clean. There were always people cleaning – every single area of the ship. There were so many different public areas that I never felt that one was too crowded – though I did hear one night that they stopped letting people in for karaoke as it got too crowded. The pools rarely felt too crowded for me, though it was next to impossible to find a lounger on a sea day if you wanted one. I never had a need for one – as I was in the pool or beside the pool with the family. Having three different pool areas really diffuses the crowd. It was also nice that the forward pool, Le Serene, had a retractable roof – as we did skirt around some iffy weather on day 1. The ship boasts 4 elevator banks. It was never too difficult to get an elevator if we needed one, though I prefer the stairs.
There was always plenty to do and it was easy to find if you were looking for something to do on board. Divina had the normal cruise type activities such as bingo, casino, trivia, dance lessons, and so forth. There were also wine making, blending, and tasting courses offered throughout the cruise. I did go to the gym, but just once. It was always very crowded and most machines had a wait. It was a good sized gym, with a few classes offered each day - some free some for fee, but there were apparently many people on this cruise concerned with fitness. The kids played bowling a few times – it was fun but pricey for a short game at $7. My daughter did the 4D simulator with her club and enjoyed it. We participated in a few kid centric activities with our littlest guy – which I will detail later.
Service - SPECTACULAR!
Divina’s staff really shined in areas of service and personal touches/attention. We saw and spoke to our room steward several times a day. He would ask how our day was, ask where the kids were if they were not with us, give high fives to my son. I could go on and on. Our room was always cleaned twice daily and quickly. We never had to worry if we were staying out long enough for him to get the job done, as it would be done soon after we left the room. We had towel animals several times throughout the cruise – usually pulling in something funny like my sunglasses or the “swords” (drink stirrers) that my son had to play with.
Walking around the ship every single crew member said good day or gave a smile. Staff in the buffet and lounges usually went further and would engage us in pleasantries about our day and time on the ship. There were a few lounge staffers that took a liking to my little guy – and he to them as well – engaging him in conversations and giving him attention that made him feel special. My son talks about how he misses his “friends” still.
In the buffet, tables were cleared quickly – even as you were sitting still – if you were finished your meal your plate would be removed and the table wiped. I saw many crew helping fellow passengers get drinks and/or carrying food and drink to their tables.
Overall the level of service provided by the crew and the atmosphere they created for us far exceeded my expectations.
We had a B2 (previous cat 9) balcony cabin on deck 10 forward. The furnishings included a king bed (by cruise standards I suppose as it was smaller than our king at home) and a double pull out bed. We had a single bathroom with 1 sink, shower, and toilet. The sink had a great amount cabinet space underneath and also had three shelves on the wall above the sink/vanity. It had the best storage of any cruise bathroom I have ever been in.
Storage otherwise was lacking slightly for our family of four but in the end we did just fine with it. There were two small closets for hanging and a middle closet that had 6 or 7 small drawers. The one hanging closet also had two shelves in it – so really it was only good for hanging shirts or tiny tiny dresses. There are also two small drawers in each night table and plenty of under bed storage.
Our balcony was a good size with two chairs and a footstool. We had a nice view of the bridge too.
When we arrived in our room our mini-bar door was broken (the hinge was unscrewed) we told our steward just so that we would not be charged for something we did not break. A few days into the cruise a maintenance man came to fix it.
The bed was very firm and the pillows even more so. I never woke up sore and was able to fall asleep just fine so it didn't cause issue – just an observation. My daughter said she loved the pillows – she prefers them that way.
We only ate in the main dining room twice for dinner as we made this cruise very laid back schedule wise. We also ate in the MDR once for lunch and once for breakfast. The rest of the time we ate in the Buffet, Eataly, and the Sports Bar
MDR: During dinner we had first seating which is 6pm. There is no my time dining so if you don’t want to go to your assigned seating you can do the buffet, sports bar (extra $), pizza shop (extra $) or one of three extra charge restaurants. We were assigned to the Black Crab. Decor was nice, classic. The food was mostly good with some excellent dishes. Service was very Mediterranean – dinners would take anywhere from an hour and three quarters or longer. We were seated at a table with another family who had children the same age as ours (well planned MSC!) The menu did not seem to have as many choices as I have experienced on Disney. Most nights you had a choice of 4 main dishes, in addition to a few choices of appetizer and pasta.
The lunch menu was about the same size, variety wise, as the dinner menu. Service took about an hour which was fine. We requested to sit alone at lunch and they obliged. The lunch menu does have an express option. You can choose a few courses from the express menu, and let your server know that you want the express lunch. They promise to have you out in 30 minutes.
Breakfast in the MDR was great. They have plenty of variety to choose from such as made to order omelets, different pancakes and waffles, plus the normal breakfast fare. We were in and out in less than 30 minutes.
Buffet: We wanted to be less rigidly scheduled so we had dinner at the buffet quite a few times – dinner in the buffet has a good variety of food but less variety then they have at lunch. Still, it was very easy to find something to fit any taste and plenty of seating available. Coffee/Hot or Iced Tea/Water was available all day.
During lunch is when the buffet really shined. Every station was open – Ethnic, Mediterranean, Daily Specials, Soups, Sandwiches, Grill, Salad/Veggies, Fruit, Dessert, Pizza, Breads … way too difficult to choose.
Breakfast is normal breakfast fare of meats, cheeses, breads, pancakes, sides – though there is no made to order eggs. I did not see eggs benedict either but I wasn't really looking for it so they may have had it. They do have different types of egg in the buffet but not freshly made to your ordering. The food was all very good though.
Extra Fee Eats (that we tried!):
Sports Bar: We ordered a burger and a sampler platter at the sports bar one night. We felt the burger was good – but the only difference between it and the buffet burger is that the sports bar burger was made just for you right then. The sampler had fried shrimp, mozzarella sticks, chicken nuggets, wings, and onion rings. It was all very good, and not bad for the price either.
La Piazza del Doge: Here they have pastries and desserts as well as 16 flavors of gelato. Prices are extremely reasonable – I don’t believe I saw anything over $4.50. The gelato was VERY good – a definite must try, as was the Nutella milkshake. I never had a chance to order a pastry but they all looked really good.
Eataly: Oh boy! At the last minute we decided we wanted to try a specialty restaurant for dinner. By last minute I mean it was after 5pm and we wanted to eat at 6:30. We thought to try Italia, but the menu that night was full of seafood. I do not particularly care for seafood so 5+ courses of it would not be worth it for me. We decided on Eataly. The menu is a la carte but the prices seemed pretty reasonable. With wine our bill was still under $75. We were only one of two tables there that night. It was the second gala night and lobster was on the MDR menu so that could be why. The decor is very modern – acrylic seats and wooden table tops. The menu was steak, pasta, salads, sides. We both started with some tasty salads and decided to skip the pasta course. For the main dish, I ordered the filet and the husband ordered the strip. My husband’s strip steak was cooked medium and he requested a medium rare. It was still tasty – but could have been better. It wasn’t a very thick cut either – which could have led to why it was hard to cook it to medium rare. My steak was cooked to a perfect medium as requested and was unbelievable. It easily rivaled any steak I have had on land or sea. We both also had a baked potato which comes with herb butter and sour cream. No dessert for us though – we were way too full from licking our plates clean. Well worth the money – and while service was not rushed at all – we were done in just about an hour.
This is where I worried most about this cruise ahead of sailing. My children love the Disney clubs and activities. On this cruise, however, both kids wanted to be with their peers more than on any other Disney cruise we have taken.
At first glance, the room for the under 12 set looks like a preschool room. It was a good sized room with kid sized furnishings. There is also an outdoor playground with a Smurfs theme. When it is not being used by the children in the club it is open to anyone who wants to play. This room is for two age groups, The minis – 3-5, and the juniors 6-12. The staff and planned activities are what made the club special. My 5 year old would have spent all day every day in the club if we let him. He had fun playing games, making crafts, and sometimes even going to the evening shows with his friends in the club. The club also offers two dinner options – you can either leave your child with the club and they will go to dinner together in their own section of the buffet. Or, if you wish your child to eat with you but not sit through an almost 2 hour dinner you can request that they pick your child up from your table after about 45 mins – 1 hour. The staff was very good about keeping the children safe and happy while in the shows or at dinner.
At certain times there were activities planned by the club staff for the whole family to attend/bring your child to. They mostly took place in the Black and White lounge. There was a talent show, a few dance parties, and pizza making. The kids had a blast and we enjoyed having specific activities geared toward families.
The teen and preteen clubs share a room and most activities. The room has video games and some other table games to keep the kids occupied. They spent time each day at the sport arena playing soccer too. One night they had the main pool “reserved” for the preteen and teen club to use and watch a movie. Some nights they organized dinners at the buffet or going to see the production show as a group. Our daughter enjoyed her time in the club.
There was entertain options abound on this ship. We go to bed fairly early since we have kids so we did not get to see too much of it. We did see one production show. The performers were very good at what they did acrobatically. It was reminiscent of circus acts for me. Other nights there were opera singers, a Michael Jackson tribute, and a Pirates themed show. Our kids went to some of the shows with their clubs and enjoyed them.
There was music and dancing each night in various lounges, Violin players every night in the atrium, dueling pianos in the jazz lounge, karaoke, basketball games in the sports bar and a singer/musician at the garden outdoor bar … really there is something for everyone but there are also quiet spaces if that is what you prefer.
Port & shore excursions
One of the reasons we booked this cruise was because we had never been to the ports, so having a good time in port was important to us.
St Maarten: We booked an independent excursion through Bernard’s Tours after doing our research on the Cruise Critic boards. Our tour included stops at Oyster Pond, Orient Beach, Marigot, Maho Beach and also small stops along the way for photo opportunities. It was a good way to learn about the island and to see a good deal of it in a short time. The bus was air conditioned, clean, and the driver provided both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
Oyster Pond was fun, there was a man there who had different sea creatures for the kids to hold and learn about.
We stayed at Orient Beach for almost 2 hours. We were taken to La Playa – you could rent chairs for $5 each and it came with a free rum punch or fruit punch. If you wanted chairs in the first row they were $10 each with the same free drink per chair. They have food there as well, a pretty good sized menu, but we were not ready for food. The beach was beautiful – not too many vendors – and the water pristine. The restrooms were clean. They have free wifi but you need to be close to the bar for it to work. We enjoyed our short stay here.
Marigot was a short stop – enough time to get a quick glance at the shops and something to eat if you were hungry. At the suggestion of many on the boards we went to Sarafina’s to get French pastries. The prices were reasonable and the food was good.
Maho Beach is the reason we booked this tour. My kids wanted to go so badly, while I did not want to spend all day on a tiny crowded beach. We got to Maho around 1:30pm and the beach was jam packed, the beach bar/restaurant was jam packed and it was HOT! The street runs right up against the beach so you need to be careful with your kids. We were there long enough to see a few small and one large plane land – and then began our journey back to Philipsburg. I was not particularly a fan of Maho but it was neat to see. I wouldn't spend a full day here, but would suggest to see it if you can as part of a tour.
Tortola/British Virgin Island
We figured going here we had to see the Baths since we had never been. We booked the ship’s tour because we did not have a long day in port. The group the ship hired out to do the tour was Romasco Tour Group. The price was not cheap but it included transport to the island via a speedy catamaran and then the van ride to the top of the Baths. There was also a drink of punch provided on transport back – which was either alcoholic or non, dependent on your preference.
The Baths are definitely a wonder if you have never seen them before. You can walk down a path – about 10 minutes – which takes you right to the Bath’s beach – beautiful clear water with awesome rock formations. The other option takes a bit longer 25-30 minutes and you must be able to walk/climb to do this. This path takes you through caves to Devils’ Bay Beach. It is fun trying to figure out if you are going the right way as you climb up and down through the caves, and even some pools. At the exit of the caves you are presented with a beautiful, quiet, less crowded beach. The view is gorgeous, being surrounded by rock formations and caves. The kids had fun too.
Tortola and Virgin Gorda were so beautiful that this area is one of the first places we have ever wished to come back and stay longer.
Great Stirrup Cay
We realized with research that there is very little shade on this island – and renting a clam shell doesn't do much but put you in a sea of other clam shells, essentially ruining any view of the beach you may have had. We approached the excursion desk to ask if perhaps there were any cabanas left for rent, as they were all sold out when we booked the cruise. They had some small and large cabanas available to book – the small fits 4 people and is $200 while the large fit 6 people and was $250. We rented the small – so that we would have shade and a place of our own to relax if we chose. I think having the cabana was a big part of why we enjoyed the island so much. You have to tender on GSC, and if you rent a cabana you get priority tender included with that. That means you do not have to go to the theater to get your tender ticket and then wait in long lines to get off of the ship. There was a very long tender line when we walked down to the deck – but we flashed our cabana ticket and were whisked passed most of the line so that we could get on the next available tender boat. I don’t think I would have been happy with the tendering process otherwise, I heard others complaining that it took long.
Once on GSC we were shown to our Cabana – Cabana 11 – which was further than the main beach – and further than the food pavilion even. Because of this, the beach our cabana looked over was quiet and less traveled. Cabana 11 was right next to the Lighthouse Bar and also a bathroom was down a short path on the other side – perfect location. The cabana had a table with 4 chairs, 4 loungers, a beverage cooler, a storage cabinet, an outdoor shower, and even towels. We were also provided floats/mats for all 4 of us. The beverage cooler was filled with both still and sparkling water and we were given a bowl and fruit and chips with salsa. The beach was right in front of us – a small hill to walk down to get to water. There were fish, hermit crabs, urchins, and other sea life that we came across. The water was clear and warm. We really enjoyed relaxing on our mats in the water.
When it was time for lunch my daughter and I went to get plates for everyone. It took a while, there were three repeating stations to get your food at but the flow was a little confusing as it was hard to exit from two of the stations. All in all it took almost 30 minutes for us to get our food which was a bit too long. The food was good , though – normal BBQ fare - burgers, hot dogs, salads, and desserts.
There was a line to get on the tender to go back, but it moved quickly and we were off in about 10-15 minutes total.
Disembarkation was a bit of a mess. They had to stop calling numbers at one point due to a delay at customs. We were called to leave the ship about an hour later than scheduled – though once we were called we basically were right off of the ship. Getting through the port and customs was another story. The flow for Disembarkation at Miami never really seemed logical to me in the past – very long lines, very long wait to get through customs. This was more of the same. If I say it took an hour I may be being generous! Luckily we quickly hailed a cab and the crazy ride to the airport was no more than 15 minutes.
I would rank this cruise at the top of my list, right up there with my family’s favorite cruise on the Disney Dream. We could not have been more surprised and pleased with every aspect of the cruise. My kids give the cruise an enthusiastic two-thumbs up and cannot wait to sail Divina or MSC again. I would definitely recommend the ship and itinerary to anyone.