My wife and I took a nineteen-day repositioning cruise from Miami to Brazil on the Divina. We had mixed views about the cruise. Overall, though, we thought MSC was not up to the standards of the other mainstream cruise lines, and we will not cruise with MSC again.
Warning: This is a long, detailed review. If you make it to the end, you deserve an award! But before I discuss the ship and the actual cruise, full disclosure requires that I mention four things that, from the very beginning, really colored our overall view of this MSC cruise.
First, MSC unilaterally changed the dates of our trip well after we booked it. This was crazy, of course. Everyone who had pre-booked like us had to change our travel plans on both ends. On top of that, MSC did not inform passengers with existing bookings right away -- instead, we found out about the change in dates through chatter on the web and a visit to the MSC website. Then, when I called MSC, it took a long time to get through to an actual person. So, basically, their precruise actions and communication were terrible.
Second, the MSC website was very poor. It was difficult, if not impossible, to book such things as excursions and drink packages through the site. And when we tried to book a post-cruise transfer to the airport, we found we couldn’t do that through the website but had to go through a travel agent. And it was difficult to understand the deckplans and cabin arrangements on the website, leading to . . . .
Third, we booked a suite, and we thought, of course, that it included a balcony. Our boarding ticket even said “Aurea suite with balcony.” Well, the cabin (9008) had a space outside that could have served as a balcony, but you could not access it from the room! Instead, we had a large, sealed window. In addition, the room, although comfortable, was not as large as you might think a suite ought to be. Not counting the short entryway (or the bathroom or the small walk-in closet off the entryway), the room was only 168 square feet (yes, I measured it!). In essence, then, our “suite” room was not much more than a good-sized ocean-view room. And, again, the info about the actual smallish size of the “suite” and the lack of a balcony was not something you could readily tell from the MSC website.
Finally, because of our destination most of the passengers on our ship were Brazilians, and I think the vast majority of them spoke little or no English. Because of that, some of the things (e.g., entertainment and food) might have been different from what was presented on a typical Divina Caribbean or Mediterranean cruise.
OK, now on with the review of the actual cruise!
Embarkation wasn’t too bad. We had to stand in line for clearing security for about 30 minutes for no apparent reason, but after that things moved along smartly. We did get a special check-in line for the “Aurea Ocean View room,” uh, I mean the “Aurea Suite.”
The ship itself is quite beautiful, as it should be at only two years old. It is also huge, the largest cruise ship we have been on. Interestingly, and despite the size of the ship, there are no large public spaces (other than the theatre), although there are lots of smaller, intimate spaces. Unfortunately, the ship also has no real promenade. There is some narrow outside deck space on the seventh floor on each side of the ship, but that space does not connect around the bow or the stern and so you could not walk all the way around the ship (which we like to do). There are also no chairs out on that deck space, which means that you cannot sit outside and watch the sea go past close-by, something my wife and I also like to do on sea days.
Our cabin steward was great. They always are, aren’t they?? Did a great job keeping things clean and tidied up. No towel animals though (not that I care about that). And he never introduced himself to us, which was also a cruising first.
The shows consisted in large part of operatic music and singing. When there was a bit of variation, we attended.
First show we attended was called “Wonderland.” It was a sort of Cirque De Soliel acrobatic show with an Alice in Wonderland theme. It was quite good, once it actually started. But for the first 20 minutes they introduced the officers, in different languages. And then then Captain gave an introductory speech, in 8 different languages! He even mocked himself, and the whole process, by adding a ninth language (Turkish). A few in the audience thought that was funny and entertaining, but we did not.
The second show we attended was a mime called Yarek. Appropriate, I guess, for such a polyglot customer base. Parts of it were good but, frankly, I had no idea what he was doing on other parts.
The third and fourth shows were production shows, one with a Pirate theme and another with a Michael Jackson theme. Both were very well done, some of the best entertainment we have ever seen on a cruise (again, once you get past the long, multilingual intro . . . . ).
Finally, we saw a variety show featuring a pianist/vocalist named Mike Pidone. Again, too much talking (introductions, etc.) in multiple languages. Boring! It would almost be better if they didn’t talk at all, and just launched into their programs . . . .
There was very little in the way of daylight entertainment on the ship, which bothered some of the other Americans aboard the ship. Just some bingo, a late afternoon trivia contest, and some dance classes. This did not bother us much since we were visiting and playing cards with our traveling friends.
Our meal service experience was quite mixed.
Breakfast buffet. A lot of items, but . . . I like an egg station, with made to order eggs and omelets. Sorry, not on the Divina. Well, how about some bagels? Again, not on the Divina. Maybe some cottage cheese to go with your fruit? Nope. I did manage to find some oatmeal, though.
Lunch time had some nice choices. They had thin crust pizza, various types each day. Well done. Various pastas were also well done (special kudos to the pasta with clams and also the paella). Not so good, however, was the Indian curry. Hamburgers were precooked and wrapped in tin foil.
The dinner food was OK, but nothing that really stood out. The dinner meal service, however, was strange and, frankly, poor. It began with the attempted upselling of our friends, who had bought a drinks package (which entitled them to glasses of wine), and who thus did not want bottles of wine. But the waiter was pushing bottled wine on them. The waiter also announced that “we won’t serve you coffee after dinner, its not as good as the specialty coffees.” Well, we like coffee at the end of dinner, so we put an end to that (dinner coffee, by the way, was OK). The waiter also asked to take our dessert orders at the beginning of the meal, instead of waiting to the end. We also put an end to that, and said we would order dessert after dinner.
During the dinner service, the waiters were constantly reaching across my wife to serve me, and vice versa. We never experienced that on other cruise ships. Then they were occasionally delivering the next dish before you had finished the current one. And when we ordered a bottle of wine, they were never there to refill our glasses, we had to do that ourselves.
OK, I know some of you are thinking, these are pretty ticky-tack meal service issues. And you are right! But the competitors of MSC don’t have these issues. So why would we go with MSC in the future if their competitors do it better??
And there were other service issues. One night our traveling companion (and table mate) ordered a glass of wine for himself and his wife and never got it. What ensued was hilarious. The next night, the waiter delivered two glasses of wine when only one was requested. Then the next night an unsolicited cup of fish soup. And the next night an unsolicited extra leg of lamb (already an enormous portion). It became a sort of an ongoing joke, what will the waiter bring tonight that some other table did not want?
In contrast to the meal service, the bar service was generally good. This is true despite MSC’s apparent policy of requiring all tips, including the automatic 15% added to each bar charge, to be shared across the crew. We frequently gave the bar staff an additional tip in cash. Also, we found that the Allegrissimo Classic all-inclusive drinks package, at $44 a day for US cruisers, was too pricey for what we drank. In contrast, the Allegrissimo Escape a la carte package (15 drink coupons for $82, including the auto tip) worked well for us.
A couple of miscellaneous notes to close.
The internet service went down for several sea days after we left the Caribbean headed south to Brazil. Then, when the internet service finally came back up, we had a lot of trouble getting to our email (probably because many people on the ship were trying to get on at the same time). Of course, this was annoying, and made more so because we had bought an internet package so we could stay in contact with friends and relatives and we were trying to ration our minutes across all the sea days. Then when the internet service finally came back, we burned almost all our minutes on an extremely s l o w . . . . c o n n e c t I o n…… Probably because everybody on the ship was trying to catch up on their email! Boo!
Mostly we did private tours in the various ports, always the way to go if you can arrange it. We did one ships tour, the Castaway Girl in St. Thomas, and that wasn’t too bad. One nice thing about MSC was getting off the ship in port . . . we never had to wait in line on the ship for that.
In sum, all cruises are enjoyable, and we generally enjoyed our MSC cruise. However, we thought that MSC does not provide a cruising experience up to the standards of the other mainstream cruise lines. So we won’t use MSC again.