MSC Cruises isn't a household name among Americans -- at least not yet. But with MSC Divina, the Mediterranean-based line has developed a 4,345-passenger vessel that's aimed primarily at North Americans, homeporting year-round in Miami and sailing popular itineraries in the Eastern and Western Caribbean. The line is bringing an even larger ship, 5,179-passenger MSC Seaside, to the United States in 2017.
Despite its mission to draw Americans, MSC Divina still has plenty of Continental touches that you won't find on other mainstream cruise lines. Among them: plenty of evening programming that leads to fun late-nights, a genuinely kid-friendly attitude onboard and Italian flourishes at the buffet. (Breakfast pizza? Don't knock it until you've tried it!)
Here are a few of our favorite things on MSC Divina. While you'll find some of these activities on other cruise lines, MSC seems to carry them out with an international twist that makes them feel unique.
Spinning not hard enough for you? Try putting the bike in a pool and see how much more difficult it is when the water acts as additional resistance. (We lasted 10 minutes.) Aqua Cycle classes cost $15 and are available on sea days. They take place in the ship's infinity-style Garden Pool, which means you'll get some curious onlookers. At least it's hard to sweat in the water.
The Italian-based gourmet food emporium has a trio of specialty restaurants on Divina -- and in our mind, these eateries are some of the best at sea. If you're looking for a special date night meal, it's hard to do better than the nouveau Italian cuisine at Ristorante Italia. Carnivores will prefer the Parma and prosciutto -- not to mention cuts of beef -- at Eataly Steakhouse. And if you've ever longed for the perfect taste of Naples, an Eataly pizza will transport you back to the ship's motherland. All items in all Eataly restaurants are a la carte.
Winery at Sea
Wine-blending might have come to some competitors' ships, but MSC was the first to offer the activity onboard. In the ship's Winery at Sea program, an experienced winemaker guides you through the process of creating your own red blend, using an eyedropper and varietals such as merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah and zinfandel. It's a lot of fun -- and the $45 fee includes a bottle with the name of your own vintage to either bring home or drink on the ship.
At least once per cruise, MSC Divina's entertainment staff offers an afternoon opera, featuring the line's classically trained sopranos, tenors and ballet dancers. On our sailing, the abridged version of "La Traviata" had passengers of all nationalities swooning in their seats -- and perhaps created new fans who had never heard Verdi before. If you love classical music -- or just want to try something different -- it's a must.
Jean-Philippe Maury Chocolates
The sweets counter in Divina's Piazza del Doge might first grab your attention for its gelato. But look more closely at the chocolates and sweets in the next case. The "sweet little sins" are created by famed French pastry chef Jean-Philippe Maury. On its new ships, MSC plans to have an entire patisserie, ice cream parlor and creperie with his name on it.
Other cruise lines offer special amenities for suite passengers, but MSC's Yacht Club, -- reserved exclusively for people willing to pay for larger cabins and extra perks -- takes the concept to another level. In the Yacht Club, suite passengers have their own lounge, pool, restaurant and dining area, and receive a host of other amenities.
Ok, other ships and cruise lines do have White Parties, where passengers don their palest attire for evening festivities. But with its international passenger base, MSC does it bigger and better than what you've seen before. Imagine line dancing to soca music with 500 Brazilians, and you have some idea of the energy on deck. Even if you know nothing of Latin music, you'll be hard-pressed to stand still.