My wife and I, both in our early 50’s, have only sailed NCL for the past 12 years with a couple now defunct lines in the 1990’s. Initially MSC caught my attention by offering a status match to their top tier and very competitive ... Read More
My wife and I, both in our early 50’s, have only sailed NCL for the past 12 years with a couple now defunct lines in the 1990’s. Initially MSC caught my attention by offering a status match to their top tier and very competitive prices. I initially booked the Seaside 21 day transatlantic in the Yacht Club, but lack of information and concerns about Meraviglia’s recent maiden voyage/inaugural season voyages made me cancel this cruise as a first try with the company. On Divina I saw no reason to book Aurea class as the Thermal Spa, Top 18 sun deck and any time dining, which is basically just a choice of dining times with the option of a private table, did not seem worth the price. I figured our Black status would work well for embarkation, tenders and disembarkation. I’m sure we would have enjoyed Yacht Club but at around $3700 I wanted to see how we would enjoy a standard cabin. We mainly sail in suites on NCL but we decided to try a Fantastica balcony cabin for this cruise, at less than $1300 total it was hard to pass up. Part of that low rate was due to the sailing being in hurricane season and this season’s weather lived up to its reputation. The cruise before ours was cancelled as the prior cruise could not return to Miami on time due to hurricane Irma. Hurricane Jose and Maria were still out to the East so we were re-routed to a Western Caribbean variation. We had beautiful weather and calm seas the entire cruise. I will go ahead now and state that I did not find the Divina a ship that I would preferentially book again. Overall MSC has a steep learning curve for new cruisers, but once acclimated to how things work we found it an exceptional value for the money. I look forward to booking the Seaside in the future, as I think it will address many of the issues we disliked about Divina.
We flew into Fort Lauderdale two days early as conditions in South Florida were a bit unstable after Irma passed through. Uber fare was significantly higher this time, $47 compared to $28 last December, and we stayed at the Gates Doubletree in Miami Beach. The surge of people without power and utility workers caused them to not have the room I reserved, but they did upgrade me to a very nice suite after a small complaint. Unfortunately the beach was a mess of sea grass and trash. I was just happy the hotel had power and we had a place to stay. Most restaurants and stores were open at nearby South Beach.
Uber to the port of Miami was $14 and we arrived about 10:30am, check in on my documents stated 11am. I think embarkation was exceptionally fast because the ship had been in port for three days prior. I was surprised to see they had Aurea class check in next to the Yacht Club tent outside. We breezed through security which had a couple machines with no lines at all. Upstairs the check in area only had about 25 people in the main line. We were the only ones in the priority line and went right to an agent. Boarding had already started and the cabins were ready, definitely not the norm. First thing on board we went to the Casino bar to get our drink vouchers, we had 12 each with Fantastica experience and I purchased 18 more online for $89. This was our first experience with what became a frequent problem, they had no idea what I was talking about. A small part of it was a language barrier, but after asking several people in the casino bar who had never heard of the vouchers being handed out there, one finally knew it had recently changed so that they were now in our cabin. Okay, only ten minutes wasted time. We quickly registered a credit card at a nearby kiosk and headed to the cabin.
I will make one note here about MSC and booking cabin choices, it’s a mess. I am quite picky about cabin choice and did much research beforehand, but still got less than I originally thought I was getting when booking. MSC’s website has been constantly changing, not always for the better. Finding information about cabin types and actual cabin sizes is very complicated, I had to read many threads here on Cruise Critic to have a basic understanding of what differences can occur within the same category. MSC controls inventory based on what offer is available, cabins come, go and come back frequently. I missed the two hour window the MSC website posted the reduced rate I eventually booked, so I had to use a late night travel agent to get that rate. When picking from a limited selection of cabins I used the MSC website deck plans as a reference. Cabin 9078 is shown as a regular balcony with cove balconies beginning two cabins forward, also there is no lifeboat below it. In reality all balconies on the deck nine forward hump are cove balconies and the ship has one more lifeboat than in the plans, partially under our cabin. It was not a big enough of a deal to warrant trying to change through the TA. Others on our roll call were unknowingly booked into the tiny two person Fantastica balconies on deck 13, that was more of a TA failure but I cannot understand why MSC lists those few on 13 as Fantastica when all others are Bella. They must have many unhappy cruisers clogging customer service every cruise, as evidenced by the difficulty our roll call members had with changing cabins on our less than full sailing. The immediate response from customer service was a ‘No!’ with a lot of hoops to jump and officers to talk with before getting any action, all for an open cabin in the same category.
I found our cabin to be quite adequate in size and since I prefer to stand on the balcony I found the extra wide railing perfect for holding beverages. The bathroom was small, but the inward folding shower doors helped tremendously. Inside the shower was a bit tight as I am 6’4” and 210lbs, but it was fairly easily done. The bed was firm, I found it comfortable. There were pillows that ranged from very soft to a slightly chunky medium, we had no firm pillows but that was okay. The TV was small and off in the corner, they had TBS, a few movie channels (some in Spanish) and a basic CNN news channel. The interactive account aspect of our TV was not working, they were aware of it at customer service. It was not addressed during our cruise. Closet space was a bit tight for two bringing some formal wear, but after removing the bath robes and getting extra hangers we were fine. The safe was a bit erratic but eventually would reboot and work. Drawer and shelf space was tight so we used our suitcases as drawers under the bed. The carpet was worn but not worn out. At first I thought we were getting great cabin service due to being Black status and involved with Cruise Critic, but others with the same status on our roll call stated they never saw their cabin steward the entire trip and had very basic service. Ours was fantastic, even with a bit of a language barrier. He met us immediately and told us not to leave a card in the slot when we were not in the cabin as he could not enter if we did. Air conditioning and outlets continued to work without a card in the slot. He serviced the cabin about three times a day, and changed the sheets twice. He kept the cabin immaculate. We always got fresh towels, even when we hung them on the door hooks. The only problem we had was getting the mini bar restocked. I left a note, which didn’t work. Later I asked and he said I needed to fill out a form and sign it. I did, but still no replacement beverages. We just restocked the drinks ourselves from various bars for the same cost. I was impressed enough to write a note to the Head of Housekeeping commending his work, plus a tip for him at the end of the cruise.
Dining was another area MSC needs to rethink, not necessarily the food quality but the seating. One of the main reasons we sailed NCL for so many years was the Freestyle dining choice of times, tables, and restaurants. We asked for first seating, which we got, and I was happy to be assigned Villa Rossa at the aft end as we planned to eat at the Black Crab for breakfast and lunch when available. What was strange is that we were seated at a table for six and no one else ever showed up. The table next to us had four people crammed onto a table made for two or three. They complained to several staff only to be told they could not move. There were several tables nearby that remained empty the entire meal. It actually made it awkward for us. Our service was good, bread and water were fairly easy to get throughout the meal. Most of the food items were of good quality and usually came out hot. One exception was fried items, which would occasionally be cold. After the Cruise Critic Meet & Greet we joined up with two other couples who had a less than stellar first meal with poor service. We moved to second seating at the Black Crab and had a very good table and service the remainder of the cruise. Meeting with the restaurant manager and discussing issues can have some benefits.
Specialty dining is a weak point on Divina that will be addressed on the newer ships. We ate at Eataly Steakhouse and Galaxy with our Black card status. Ristorante Italia was not covered, it is part of Eataly Steakhouse but has a more seafood oriented menu. MDR food was more than adequate to make missing this venue a non-issue, it remained totally empty most nights. Eataly lacked ambiance, but had very good food, in my opinion better than Galaxy. Galaxy offered better service and views, but food choices were limited. Both places overcooked the meats, medium rare came out with the tiniest bit of pink barely visible. I will order rare in the future. Once was plenty for each of these venues. I did not try Eataly specialty pizza, the choices were deluxe but after eating so much good pizza at the buffet it felt unnecessary.
It was evident the ship was not full when we went to the buffet, particularly after reading reviews of the chaos up there. At breakfast and lunch (it’s the only lunch venue open on port days) it could be a bit hectic, I never went near the place around dinner time. Seats were always available as you went aft. I only booked one early excursion that required eating breakfast in the buffet, all other times I ate breakfast in the Black Crab and found it much more enjoyable. It was a great way to meet new people as they fill the tables as passengers arrive. One Spanish only couple easily moved from our English only table to another table with Spanish speakers. Most restaurant menu items could be found at the buffet which had quite a bit more variety. I was happy with the limited choice to be seated and served a meal. Pizza in the buffet was very good and at peak times people were waiting, often taking the whole pie back to their group. Drink stations at the buffet were poorly designed and flow was inefficient with people having to squeeze past one another. I only saw a line at the omelet station, which is now inside the buffet rather than on the pool deck.
Overall the Divina is in good condition for her age. There are workers constantly polishing and cleaning the public areas. The seating outside the MDR is in need of replacement but all other common areas seem to be in good shape. Public restrooms must be a nightmare for the cleaning crew, particularly the men’s restroom with lack of urinals. Only on disembarkation day was there a problem where overuse caused a flood in the deck seven public men’s room. Often if you needed to sit down it was better to go to your cabin. At off peak times the crew got them back in order quickly. There are no trash cans in public areas and workers were usually quick to remove glasses and dishes from vacated tables. I learned to just hand trash to a service staff member. Bar service could be erratic, at peak times it was best to go to the bar. Frequently staff had no idea what I was ordering, I only drank Sam Adams beer, Jameson or Elijah Craig, neat. Live music in the lounges was often overpowering and prevented any conversation, we would search out venues between sets. Silver Bar/Lounge and Divina Bar were usually quieter. The Atruim was mostly bearable but often had too much activity around to enjoy. In fact I will say that all the lounges except Black & White have an issue with too much foot traffic running through them.
I rarely use public pools or hot tubs on a ship. On Divina this was the case. The forward Le Sirene coverable pool was used mainly by parents with small children, I saw too many training diapers for me to go near it. It was stifling when the roof was closed and hot when open as there is very little breeze. For some reason the water level was kept very low and the splash areas were most often totally dry. This was also the case at all the pools and we had very calm seas. The main Aqua Park pool was usualy more crowded with older children and adults. We had terrific weather so it was very popular on sea days, no chairs or tables available on the main level after 7:30am. On less crowded days there were ample loungers in the shade, seating in the sun was still a premium. The aft adult Garden Pool was always busy, the Port side is unusable unless you smoke. Chair hogging was rampant. All had towels on them, but 10% are ever occupied. We went late in the afternoon on a sea day and found two loungers and watched for about two hours before moving to more desirable ones, a lady came running over telling us that her friends just went to the rest room. After calling her on that she reluctantly said “Just take them”, which we did. The two of them had nine loungers reserved, the rest of the family arrived another two hours later removed the towels and they all left. I know it’s a problem on all cruise lines, hopefully MSC will look more at addressing it on their ships.
The dailies offered a good range of activities; dance classes, trivia, language lessons, sports events and of course thinly veiled attempts to sell you things. I never found time to actually join any of them. As described in many reviews the shows changed every night, but mostly the same performers. So far I am not a show loving person on any line, but my wife is so we attended all of them. I will say most were enjoyable, pick up a drink or two before entering the theater. We booked one MSC excursion for snorkeling in Nassau as I had no inclination to walk into the city or visit any beaches there. The price was actually cheaper than booking the same excursion independently. Ship excursions at our other ports were fairly expensive and limited.
Now for a bit of things I didn’t like:
Divina has many oddities in its layout. The kids club and arcade take prime real estate on deck 15 & 16. Why is there a kids arcade linked to the casino? Le Muse is a far walk from the Yacht Club. Why do people in forward cabins get the aft restaurant seating? Half of the adult pool is covered with smoke. The guest services area is too small and makes for overcrowding and unhappy conditions. Getting an elevator to mid deck 16 is a pain. Why no craps table? The walking track is useless. The aft stairwells were rarely used and seemed a waste of valuable cabin area. The suite sizes are comparatively small, the very few true suites (separate bedroom and living area) with balconies book up very early and thus are very difficult to get. The outdoor seating on deck 14 just forward of the buffet is useless as there is no air circulation and it becomes unbearably hot. The thermal spa is lacking in comparison to other ships of its size.
I found a very high percentage of new crew that had no idea how the ship operated and could not help answer any question. I was told this was because the ship was not able to do its weekly replacements and we had two weeks of new crew on our sailing. English was a total barrier to some crew others understood but were like deer caught in headlights. All were friendly and tried to find someone who could help. The Sports bar was the only exception. We tried to get food there on embarkation day at around 12:30pm. At first we were told it would open later, when we returned after 2pm we were ignored, the place was empty. This soured us on the venue and we never returned.
MSC provides very little information to guests new to the line. Information was lacking or erroneous as to where drink vouchers were handed out, how to log onto the internet, when the Cruise Critic M&G and various other events like Black and welcome back parties would be held, and what/when Black status perks would be delivered. A simple letter for us newbies would have saved Customer Service countless hours. On two occasions the notice arrived the night before an event where I had already made other conflicting plans.
MSC needs to promote hand washing and/or sanitizing stations. Machines were off to the side and slow to dispense, 90% of people didn’t even notice them, the ship is a Noro virus outbreak waiting to happen. I did like the signs in the public restrooms asking to use a towel for the door handle.
Things I liked:
Overall the ship was kept clean, crew were constantly cleaning and polishing. An NCL ship of this age would be well past time for a refurbishment.
The main dining room food and service were above that at NCL, with the exception if you get newly training staff. Sure there were glitches, one in our party didn’t get one of their two ordered appetizers, and occasionally a menu item was not a good choice. I couldn’t understand some people’s expectation for gourmet cuisine and service when they paid discount mass market fares.
Overall staff friendliness was great. Communication can be an issue, but most all tried to be helpful and found a way to get what you needed.
The status match, even to the highest tier, made the cruise more enjoyable.
This may be because the ship was probably not full, but for a ship with this passenger capacity it rarely felt overcrowded. This may also have been due to being off season for many children
Advertisements were not blasted over the PA system for every event trying to sell you something, a problem that has increased on NCL. The long daily multi language announcements were easy enough to ignore.
Since we had a hotel after the cruise we decided to forego the Black priority early disembarkation and were allowed to stay in the cabin until 10:45am. I could see crowds were light and we left the ship at 10:15am. There were no lines at customs, they looked at our passports and sent us away. Uber was easy to get and we headed to the Hampton Inn in Fort Lauderdale for a day at the beach. It was a recently renovated building downtown (I feared a beachfront hotel might have some lingering problems) and an easy ride in a free shuttle to restaurants, Las Olas beach and FLL airport.
Was MSC the perfect cruise line, no. Was MSC an excellent value for the money, yes. I realized this first cruise with the line might have been somewhat better due to others cancelling. The itinerary was nothing what I had wanted, but MSC put together what they could in a bad situation. I came close to booking Seaside while on board for the $200Yacht Club bonus, but in the end passed as I will wait to see what happens to future itineraries. I would book Divina again if the price and itinerary are enticing, the ship alone is not enough for me. Seaside would be a much better choice and itinerary might not matter as much as the ship will be a big part of the attraction. Word from officers on board was New York and even West coast itineraries are in the near future. I would also be interested if they brought over their older, smaller ships with more unique itineraries. As MSC hones its product to the US market other cruise lines better keep watch. I have no second thoughts about leaving NCL behind if the upcoming ships and itineraries live up to expectations. Read Less