How does a Mediterranean cruise line pay tribute to Italian film legend Sophia Loren? By building a truly beautiful cruise ship, with nods to La Dolce Vita. Launched in 2012, MSC Divina stands out for the sheer attractiveness of its public areas. The atrium's two-story staircases glitter with thousands of Swarovski crystals -- a photo standing on the stairs is the ship's most popular selfie, we're told -- and similar glam touches are displayed throughout the vessel.
Although its parent company has worldwide recognition with international cruisers, MSC still faces the challenge of name recognition in the United States where Divina is based. To that end, the line has courted Americans with several smart, wallet-friendly promotions specifically geared to Divina (and other Florida ships that the line has coming, such as Seaside). The first is a continuous offer to allow children under 11 to sail for free. And the second is a status match program where the line will honor passengers' status from their competitors. We met many people onboard new to MSC who had booked, based upon the offers -- and were happy with what they found.
When Divina had its first Miami stint, passengers noted that the line needed to adjust its service to American standards. MSC responded with a comprehensive crew retraining program, and that's evident in the ship's current iteration. The international crew we met were as friendly as we've seen anywhere else, and for the most part, our expectations were met, save a few staffing issues in some bars. The ship brings its entertainment staff -- and Italian officers -- out to dance with passengers at evening events.
One area where MSC has found success is with its ship-within-a-ship concept, the Yacht Club. With its own pool, restaurant and lounge -- as well as butler service and a host of other perks -- the Yacht Club is a true haven (and a spacious one, at that) where you feel far from the hustle and bustle. Not only that, but since you see the same small group of people day in and day out, the Yacht Club allows you to pretend there aren't 4,345 other passengers onboard.
Where Divina still needs work, however, is with the food in the main dining room. Pasta dishes arrived mushy, entrees were under-seasoned. We found this remedied elsewhere on the ship: in the buffet, options were tasty and plentiful (and the pasta was al dente). The specialty restaurants falling under the Eataly umbrella were outstanding; the pizza here is a must and tasted straight from Naples. We could have eaten it every day.
Another high point is the evening programming. Although Divina doesn't have Broadway shows, passengers applauded loudly for the twice nightly reviews full of music and acrobatics. Don't miss the Michael Jackson show, Starwalker. We also found the evenings packed with fun activities such as name that tune trivia, movies on the Lido deck (complete with popcorn) and enthusiastic theme parties (you haven't seen a White Party until you've seen hundreds of Brazilians participating in an exuberant line dance). Entertainment staff were everywhere, cheerfully encouraging participation. Discos and live music go late into the night, er, morning, and the tables near the pool are packed until late, Italian-style. You have to work hard to not have a good time.
Will all Americans embrace Divina's international vibe? No. MSC does not have the party hearty atmosphere of Carnival, nor the action-packed thrills of Royal Caribbean. But we met many North American passengers who enjoyed the diversity that Divina offers, at a reasonable price. With so many Italian touches, the ship almost offers two vacations in one -- and that's a bargain no matter what your nationality.