MSC Divina - April 7 to 12 2014 - Miami/Cozumel - On the Blue, Inc. - Cruise to the Edge
My wife and I have attended very few music festivals and have been on even fewer cruises -- zero!!! -- thus our anticipation for 2014's Cruise to the Edge on the MSC Divina was off the charts. However, as far as we were concerned -- anything goes -- we were completely laid back and our expectations were minimal. In the end we were very happy with the facilities, dining options and crew of the MSC Divina; we were well accommodated by the staff of the charter tour hosts -- On The Blue -- from reservations to embarkation to our on-board needs; and we were thrilled by all the amazing performances, events, and chance encounters with musicians over the five-day trip.
I was compelled to write this review after seeing some negative postings here: one by a generally miserable 2014 attendee and one about the 2013 cruise by a family who booked an MSC cruise and was caught unaware of the chartered music event. The latter became a non-issue in 2014 when On the Blue opted to host three complete charters back-to-back: Monsters of Rock, Moody Cruise and Cruise to the Edge (CTTE). All passengers were on-board for one reason, and the ship was fully dedicated to the purpose of sharing music. As to the former issue, I'm happy to see that someone who takes such pleasure in misery was able to find/make enough fault to fulfil his own destiny.
From the start, our experience was memorable. The tour company, On the Blue (OTB) was always pleasant on the telephone, and quickly helped with all my questions about reservations, the web site, invoices and payment processing. We did not need to interact with MSC directly, other than setting up excursions, printing boarding documents and perusing on-board beverage packages via the web site.
Our experience was enhanced by upgrading to VIP status. The additional cost was a no-brainer: reserved seating at headline performances, upgraded room with balcony, and advanced boarding. OTB/CTTE's information packet was comprehensive and their concert schedule was sent to us with sufficient time for us to plan out an agenda. We had zero anxiety arriving at the port. We were quickly guided through the embarkation procedures and welcomed by the staff.
To insure that attendees could see each artist at least once, all acts were scheduled at least twice over the duration of the cruise. Main stage shows were split into Pink and Blue groups to make sure that everyone had a seat at one performance of each headline act in the intimate theater. After extensively reviewing the event schedule, we discovered that despite the careful planning, some overlaps would prevent us from seeing two secondary artists we were interested in. We politely mentioned this when picking up our credentials, and the tour staff quickly accommodated us by switching some of our shows from pink to blue. (As the hater complained in his review, I was one of those attendees intentionally given reserved seats in both blue and pink shows.) Although we could have abused this privilege and doubled up on our favorites, we used out passes as intended and saw each headliner (Hackett, UK, Marillion, Yes,) one time. We saw some of the awesome secondary acts twice each on the smaller stages and overall we managed to see at least 15 of about 25 acts on the boat. As forewarned on the web site and all the printed materials, weather was sometimes an issue, so we had to stay flexible and accommodate a few schedule changes.
The ship was kept very clean in spite of many selfish attendees not cleaning up their own trash around the stages. Our room was kept spotless and well-attended by our steward. Unfortunately, the boat ran out of maps and hadn't gotten their delivery before departure, but we quickly managed to find our way around with the help of the maps near each elevator and stairwell. We took an hour upon arrival to tour the boat and find all the restaurants, bars, stages, and pools. Being a rock music cruise, formal dress was never required. Instead we had fun theme nights, like "black out", "pirate" and "rock and roll capes". Our favorite photos were taken on the "rock cape" theme-night. The staff photographers were pleasant and offered us some great opportunities to create mementoes of our trip.
We ate most of our meals at the buffet, where there was plenty of variety over the five days. Our favorite foods were the traditional pizza margarita, the carved meats, fresh pastas, and the fresh-sliced charcuterie and prosciutto. (Yeah, it was a pretty typical buffet, but all we needed.) There were plenty of pastries and finger-foods to eat on the run, and there was never a waiting line for meals. Sit-down dinner and breakfast service at the Black Crab or Villa Rossa was also included, so we had some of our most memorable meals there. We had selected an early seating time, but with the ship not full and so many things to do, we never had to wait for a table. No one ever asked about seating times. It was always a blast to dine with strangers who shared our love of music and always had great stories to share. We met folks from around the US, Europe and South America. The touring keyboardist from Three Friends ate with us one evening.
We kept bumping into Tony Levin who, like us, was on his first cruise. Eddie Jobson and John Wetton managed to be everywhere at once. We had a great conversation with Simon Collins in a hallway (while coincidentally his famous father was singing on the overhead speakers.) We chatted briefly with Steve and Jo Hackett in Cozumel. Everyone we spoke with seemed to be having a great time.
Technical glitches and weather affected many of the performances, but never dampened the performers' mood or enthusiasm. Renaissance's Annie Haslam still took full advantage of her five-octave range, and was able to laugh about the rocking stage one stormy night and then come back to battle the wind with a smile the next night on the outdoor stage. We staggered up the stairs and down the halls like drunken sailors during the roughest of weather, but managed to get by with virtually no motion sickness. Tangerine Dream braved the windy pool stage and made electronic magic. One member of PFM stumbled (or was wind-blown) off a riser, but never missed a beat. Steve Hackett's band provided the highlight of my trip with a perfect rendition of Supper's Ready (and all the musical excess and self-indulgence it represents.)
Our itinerary was slightly disrupted by stormy weather, which caused us to divert from Isla de Roatan (Honduras) and spend an extra day in Cozumel. This was not a bad thing, as the seas were rough and any excursions would have been spoiled by bad weather. In Cozumel we learned the art of dickering and got some pretty jewelry for family. We ferried across to Playa Del Carmen and snorkelled a cenote. I'm grateful for the busy entertainment schedule on the ship, as I would normally prefer to fly to my destination. In this case, the concerts were more important than the ports of call and I wouldn't have cared if we simply anchored up outside Miami for the duration of the trip.
I'm hoping that OTB pairs up with MSC again in 2015 for another Cruise to the Edge. We'll absolutely be on board for the next one. We had a great time and have absolutely no complaints about the experience. This is absolutely the best way to enjoy a rock festival. Everyone was friendly, and superstars let their guard down and became regular folks like the rest of us. The sparkling Divina was the perfect setting for it.