This is a rather long review, with topics in the order that came to mind: Dress Standards, Yacht Club Comments, Pantheon Theatre, Shore Visits, General Comments, and finally the Americanization of the shipboard experience. Let me know if you have any questions!
A lot has been discussed about how the dress standards have—or will—change as a result of the move from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean. As a male who loves to be casual (most of the time) this was of particular interest to me, and I thought I would detail my observations.
During the day, anything goes. Some of the things I observed:
1. Shorts and tank tops in the main dining room, and anywhere else;
2. An Italian man in the buffet at 5:30 p.m. shirtless. He was not a pretty sight, and definitely not the norm. But, no one stopped him.
3. Men and women going to and from the pool—including elevators—in swimming suit with no shirt and no shoes;
4. Men and women at pool bars in swimming suits only.
1. Only about 10% of the men wore tuxedos (and most of us were 60 plus);
2. About 70% of the men wore suits, with no particular focus on being dark suits. Really, any color was accepted. Interestingly, about half of them put their jackets on the back of their chairs when eating, which tells me they don’t go out in suits very often!
3. The last 20% wore long pants with collared shirts. I saw one man wearing dark blue jeans, but most wore cotton pants that were not jeans.
4. With one exception, the women were dressed equally or better than their male companions. The exception was a man in a suit with a female companion wearing pants and tennis shoes.
5. I should mention that these are the people I saw inside the dining rooms, not just people walking around the ship.
On the daily schedule, the icon for “casual” is a tank top, so I think the ship is communicating that casual means as casual as you want. However, the cruise director used the term “smart casual” although it was not used in the program.
1. About 80% of men wore long pants with collared shirts.
2. About 10% wore jackets.
3. About 5% wore shirts without collars.
4. About 5% wore dress shorts with collared shirts. For those unsure of the meaning of “dress shorts”, they are typically defined as “non-denim shorts made of cotton or wool, intended to be worn with a belt”. Don’t ask me to quote a citation for this definition, but for the purpose of this review, it is the definition I am using.
MSC Yacht Club Experience
I am staying in the Yacht Club, and most likely will again in the future. But, it is not what I expected. Frankly, it is not elegant. I think of the Four Seasons hotels as elegant; also, for example, the international first class lounges of major airlines with cross-Atlantic services. Some experiences:
Opportunities for Improvement
1. Check in was quite chaotic. After arriving at the Yacht Club tent, we were quickly taken to the Yacht Club reception area for check in. The gentleman acting as head butler had such bad breath that I had to stay at least 15 feet away—this was a new experience. When waiting passengers were addressed as a group, we were not “ladies and gentlemen”, we were “guys”, as in “This way guys! I’m taking you to your cabins.”
2. The MSC advertises one butler for every four cabins. That sounds really impressive; but they don’t mention that the butler has other jobs as well. Our butler also worked as a server in the Top Sail Lounge and in the One Bar. Frankly, I am not very demanding, so this did not impact me but butlers were not always available for immediate access.
3. My cabin was OK, but not what I consider a suite; nor particularly elegant. The wall to wall shower mirror had a large crack from the top left to the bottom right. I suspect that someone grabbed onto the soap holder and cracked the mirror. Although I mentioned it to the concierge, it was not repaired. The TV was surprisingly small, with a screen that I estimate to be 19 inches. There were oOnly three 110V outlets in the entire cabin (two at the desk and one in the bathroom).The hair dryer is bolted to the inside of the desk drawer. (OK, my partner says it is a dressing table that can be used as a desk; to me, it’s a desk that can be used as a dressing table.)
4. Here is a weird thing. When we arrived, a bottle of sparkling wine was on ice in the cabin. We decided to save it for the first Gala night. But the next morning, it had been removed. "Use it or Lose it!” I guess!
5. There is no separate shower. The shower is in the bathtub, which is not jetted. My only real objection is that the base of the bath tub is very narrow. When the ship is rocking, it can be very difficult to stand up. For anyone who has difficulty with walking or balance, I strongly recommend getting a handicap room so the shower floor is flat.
6. I wish room service had a larger menu. Breakfast, for example, does offer hot meals. Also, the pizza is only offered at certain times of the day.
7. Cabin service is prompt and efficient, but again, not elegant. Dirty glasses are sometimes not removed when the cabin is cleaned. Although chocolate covered strawberries were provided in the cabin one evening, there were never any other little treats such as those found in suites of other lines such as NCL. However, the fresh fruit bowl is always kept full. And in all fairness, the treats available in the Top Sail Lounge were plentiful and delicious, with a great variety; better than the treats I have had delivered to my suite on other lines.
8. The closet is technically a walk-in closet as advertised, but I don’t think it offers extra space; it is just the lay out. Also, although the hangers are wood, they attach to the rail using the same security hooks found at Motel 6.
The Good about Yacht Club
1. Within the Yacht Club, life is simply uncomplicated. The bar, pool and pool bar are never extremely busy.
2. All the employees are friendly. They are quick to smile and always want to be helpful. They make life more enjoyable.
3. “Well” drinks are free within the Yacht Club. For the rest of the ship, they are $5.75, and carefully portion controlled. “Call” drinks are $6.75, which is the same price as for the rest of the ship. All bottled wines and other alcoholic beverages are priced at the same price as in the rest of the ship. Too bad they don’t offer discounts on these in the Yacht Club; I think people would be more willing to pay, for example, $2.00 for a Bombay Safire; but when Tanqueray is free, they are less likely to pay $6.75.
4. Having said that, I think the prices are very reasonable. Of course living in South Beach, the rest of the world seems reasonable!
5. The ice bucket in the cabin is kept full, which I think is very cool.
6. Everything in the minibar is free. There is not much in it, to be honest. But it is restocked twice per day, and you can ask for more of any particular item (such as Diet Coke, bar nuts, or vodka) if you want more than provided.
7. Room service is free and available 24 hours per day.
8. As mentioned before, there are tasty treats in the Top Sail Lounge and pool bar. The variety and quality are amazing, in my opinion. It is hard to not over eat.
9. While full service breakfast is offered at Le Muse, the Top Sail Lounge offers a continental breakfast, with a variety of baked goods, cereal, fruit, cold cuts, etc. No eggs, and nothing that is hot. But, we found it quite satisfying.
10. For ship-organized tours, Yacht Club guests were given a time to meet at the YC Concierge Desk. One of the butlers then escorted the group directly to the tour bus where they were joined by other ship guests. It saved time and made things very easy. Return was on our own, but we never had a line while waiting to board. On one excursion (Panama) the seats in the front of the bus were reserved for Yacht Club, but I did not see that again.
11. This is a little thing, but I really like the shower faucets. From off to full-on is one quarter turn.
12. You get your choice of about 100 different daily newspapers each morning, printed on the ship. They don’t arrive until 9:30 or 10:00, but I do enjoy this. For some reason, most of the papers are not available on weekends. For example, the New York Times and the L.A. Times are available during the week, but not on Sunday. Also, some days, the ship is not able to get a reliable enough connection to download the papers, so you don’t get one.
13. Having complained about embarkation, I have to compliment the final departure process. We chose the option of carrying our own bags, and were scheduled to depart the ship at 7:45 a.m. We were not ready when they called for us—we were having continental breakfast in the Top Sail Lounge. When we finished, I let our butler know that we were ready. (He was working in the Lounge.) A couple of minutes later, he came and got us. He helped us with the bags and escorted us through the casino to the exit of the ship, with absolutely no waiting. From leaving the Top Sail Lounge to arriving home was less than one hour. (Yes, that was bragging since we live in South Beach!)
14. Another interesting thing about the Yacht Club. After a few days, you know most of the people staying there. This is the most I have ever learned (and enjoyed) about fellow cruise guests. You can be as private or as social as you want!
Le Muse, the Yacht Club Formal Dining Room
1. We really enjoyed Le Muse, but you must be prepared for a two hour dining experience on average. Each dinner is five courses: antipasto, soup, pasta, main course and dessert. For each course, you have at least two choices, including a low calorie option.
2. Our server was awesome, and we kept coming back and always had him. Ju Marco (misspelled, no doubt) was simply outstanding. Great energy and a wonderful smile. But, he did have eight tables. If he was no so well organized, service would have suffered. Nevertheless, the pace is very Italian. Just relax and enjoy it.
3. No course is served before the prior course is fully cleared. Also, new silverware is provided for each course.
4. House wine is good, and is included at no cost. At dinner, the sommelier will try to sell you a bottle of wine, but I was happy with the house wine. If you do order a bottle, he will “vacu-vin” the bottle for overnight storage, and serve you the rest when you return. (Vacu-vin is a brand name, so that might not be the process he uses. He protects the remaining wine from oxygen contact, thus preventing its speedy deterioration.) I also thought prices for bottled wine were very reasonable.
5. In Le Muse, a different house wine is featured each night. On steak night, for example, the wine of choice was Pinot Noir, which made no sense. Before the steak was served, I asked if I could change to Cabernet Sauvignon. No problem. And two other tables immediately did the same.
6. I would love to see the sommelier provide wine pairing for each course. Or at the minimum, recommend a specific wine well paired with each of the two featured entrees at dinner.
7. Don’t expect American cuisine here. The lasagna, for example, was excellent, but not filled with overwhelming amounts of ground beef, cheese, and tomato sauce in the American style.
8. Funny story from the next table: a couple sat down and was quickly greeted by their waiter. When the lady ordered water, he said “Sparkling or flat?” She said: “water”. He said, “Yes, but sparkling or flat?” In a very irritated voice, she said “I just want water!” Although humorous, this is an excellent example of the limited international exposure of many American travelers (and limited American exposure of many international cruise ship employees). The cultural and service differences on each side of the pond can definitely be a source of servers trying to do a great job, and guests interpreting their actions as a lack of interest in doing a great job.
9. At least one day, I recommend lunch in Le Muse, with the hamburger. It is delicious!
Entertainment in the Pantheon Theatre
This is a tribute to Michael Jackson, and is a “must see” if you like any of Michael Jackson’s music. Some songs were sung live, while others were lip synch performances of Jackson. But, it was simply non-stop fun.
Wonderland, The Witches of Paris, and Pirates
These were three different shows, but all shared some common themes.
• Extravagant costumes
• Four or five great performances by the same people: an Asian trio of female contortionists; two white muscular and attractive shirtless male acrobats; five funny (and fun)male black acrobats, another white muscular and attractive shirtless performer who performs on a ring; two great singers who sang either together or separately. They were all awesome, and many of the performances were almost identical to those found at Cirque du Solei shows.
• Then it was all packaged in the theme of the night, with varying degrees of success.
Sut Moss, Comedian
Great performer. Great comedy.
All the Other Shows
Didn’t see them, so I can’t offer an opinion!
I can’t tell you what excursions are better choices at each destination, but I can briefly describe our adventures and level of satisfaction.
1. Jamaica. We took the “Dolphin Swim and Dunn’s River Falls” tour. A+!! The dolphin interaction was much more than that provided at Sea World, for example. Each participant had the chance to interact with the dolphin in a variety of ways, including having the dolphin pull you a short distance while holding onto his or her dorsal fins. It was obvious that the dolphins were well taken care of. The River was beautiful. The climb was a bit hokey, but still fun. Both attractions took a lot of pictures that were available for a price. Both attractions have photographers taking a lot of pictures that will be offered for sale to you at the end of the tour. I thought they were crazy expensive—and bought them anyway! How often can you get a picture of you climbing river rapids or being kissed by a dolphin?
One word of caution: the “dolphin swim” has you in the water with the dolphin; the “dolphin encounter” lets you touch the dolphin from a pier, but you don’t get in the water. Also, the water is deep, although everyone is required to wear a life vest.
2. Aruba. We just explored downtown on our own. I give it a “B+”. They call themselves “The Happy Island”, and from our brief experience, that is a good description. Everyone was friendly. We had a delicious lunch. There are a couple of attractive beaches within walking distance of the port; that can be fun. We also stopped at a very busy electronics shop and I asked the sales person for the price of an Apple accessory. He asked if I needed it immediately, or if it could wait. He then explained that it would be cheaper in the U.S., so if I could wait, I might want to. Amazing! Oh, and be sure to take pictures of the amazing lizards! The shopping options are similar to that found on Michigan Ave. in Chicago, Fifth Ave. in New York, or any other major shopping destination. All the upscale brands including Luis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren, etc. If you love to shop, this is a pretty good place to do it, but not much that I thought was unique.
3. Curacao. Here, we also just explored downtown on our own. I give it an “A-“. A lot of the same shopping found in Aruba, but I thought the architecture was more attractive and interesting. Also, there were more shops to explore, as well as a large number of restaurants and bars. If I was doing it again, I would shop on my own in either Aruba or Curacao, but not both. Do something more adventurous at the other stop, such as snorkeling or taking a ride on a glass bottom boat.
4. Panama. We took the “Panama Canal Cruise” that went through 3 locks of the Panama Canal. I give it an “A”, for your first visit. This is a sort of “bucket list” item. I recommend that you bring something to read, because the trip gets boring. At the Canal, the tour bus delivers the group to a ferry, and then picks them up four hours and 40 miles later. The first lock is interesting, and there is a photographer to record the moment for you. The first hour on the ferry is interesting; the next 3 hours are just a pleasant ride down a river. You do ride by Manual Noriega’s water front home, where he is expected to spend the rest of his life. (Yes, it is a prison, and I don’t think he has a water view!)
One reason we chose this tour is because of the “commemorative certificate of doing the Panama Canal Transit and contributing on the expansion of it!” I thought it was some sort of official certificate issued either by Panama or the Panama Canal. No. It is a mass produced certificate produced by the tour company and signed by the tour guide. Not even personalized; it says “This certifies that you….” While I’m glad we too the tour, we just threw the certificates away.
5. Cozumel. We took the tour that includes a combination of a visit to Mayan ruins and a beach. I give this trip a “D”. If it was separate trips, I would have given the Mayan ruins an “A” and the beach a “B”. The tour tried to do too much in too little time; as a result, there was no quality experience at all. Interestingly, the tour guides repeatedly told us that the schedule was determined by the ship and it was not their fault. Check out the schedule:
a. 10:00. MSC Divin docks in Cozumel.
b. 10:00 to 11:15. Fifteen busloads of tourists get off the ship and board the single nearby ferry that will take us to the mainland. This was a real mess. The tour company chartered the ferry, and put all mainland bound tours on it. Although there were several destination tours on the mainland, all tours had to begin and end at about the same time, in order to use the chartered ferry in both directions.
c. 12:00. Arrive at the mainland, after a very rough 45 minute ride, with lots of people getting sick. The ferry company was prepared, and passed out plastic bags at the beginning of the trip. Many angry travelers did not realize that this ferry experience was part of the trip.
d. 12:00 to 12:20. Debark the ferry, find your tour guide, and follow him or her to your bus.
e. 12:20 to 1:00. Ride the bus to the ruins. The busses were very comfortable and the ride to the ruins was about 45 minutes.
f. 1:00 to 2:15. Very interesting escorted tour of the ruins of about one hour, with 15 minutes for independent exploration, restroom break and shopping. Beware: the restrooms in the shopping area charge U.S. $0.50 for use. I strongly recommend getting a tour that allows at least 2.5 hours at the ruins, to fully explore the rich history, and have a little time to relax in the shopping/dining area.
g. 2:15 to 2: 40. Sit on the bus waiting for the travelers who did not respect the rest of us enough to be on time. Frankly, I think the bus should have rolled at 2:16 and left them on their own.
h. 3:00 to 3:30. Enjoy a wonderful afternoon at the beach, first with a relaxing, boring Mexican buffet of average quality, followed by rest and relaxation on lounge chairs and swimming in the ocean. (Sarcasm.) This was ridiculous on two levels. First, having lunch at 3 p.m. was crazy. And second, there was time only to eat lunch. In my opinion, this was a rip off. This was a waste of time. If they could not provide two or three hours at the beach, they should have omitted it from the itinerary.
i. 3:35. Leave the beach for the ride back to the ferry.
j. 4:45. Arrive back at the ferry.
k. 4:45 to 5:15. Leave the bus, tip the tour guide, tip the driver, and follow the leader back to the ferry. Board the ferry.
l. 5:30. Deadline for all passengers to be back on the Divina.
m. 5:50. Ferry arrives back in Cozumel
n. 5:50 to 6:15. Passengers get off the ferry and board the Divina.
o. There was no time for shopping or exploring on your own. A lot of people wanted to buy souvenirs and were unable to do so.
p. In all fairness however, we were not concerned that the ship would leave without us, since there were hundreds of passengers on the ship and it was an MSC sponsored tour. But, it just didn’t work. I should mention that the tour guides knew the itinerary was impossible from the beginning, and repeatedly told us that MSC dictated the schedule and they had no influence on it.
General Comments on the Ship
1. Buffet. We ate there once. As a former casino executive, it reminded me of the buffets in our casinos targeted to low income guests. The food was plentiful, and enjoyable. Little innovation, but satisfying. Lots of variety. But, many guests act like they have not eaten in a while and are not sure when they will be able to eat again. I was about to reach for the last slice of pepperoni pizza when another guest reached from behind and took it.
2. Coffee. Outstanding. If you like Starbucks, you will love the ship’s coffee. You get your choice of coffee, decaffeinated coffee or instant coffee. (Actually, I don’t understand the purpose of the third option.) And of course, they have espresso, cappuccino, and other traditional Italian coffee beverages. All are excellent.
3. The Jazz Bar features “dueling pianos”, which is now pretty common in the U.S. For some reason, the ship is promoting them heavily, to the neglect of other quality entertainment. Compared to the dueling piano performers I have seen in major U.S. cities, these guys are a little below average. OK and fun, but not worth fighting to see. See them, but be sure to see the entertainment in the other venues as well.
4. Fitness Center. Equipment was in excellent condition. The aerobic machines appeared new, and worked well; however, they each had a television receiver which was not connected to the ship’s television network! I do wish they had more equipment. A lot of inexperienced visitors did not know gym etiquette and would sit on a machine between sets and talk for 20 minutes while others were waiting to use machines. After the second day, I started asking people if we could share; after shocked looks at the request, most people were good about it.
5. The Spa’s locker room, steam rooms and saunas are available at no charge to all passengers. However, the locker room is extremely small. Also, although men’s and women’s sauna and steam are separate, you cannot get to them from the locker room; you have to go through a public hallway.
6. Casino. Hey, I’m a former gaming executive! So I’m not going to donate my money to the industry.
The Americanization of the MSC Divina Experience
Reading other reviews of the Divina in the Caribbean, I think they are quickly making adjustments to appeal to the U.S. audience.
1. Sweet-N-Low, Splenda, diet jelly and Diet Coke are available everywhere on the ship.
2. The steam room and sauna in the Spa are available at no charge. I understand that in Europe, there was a charge for access.
3. Drinking water is available everywhere.
4. After every meal, we were offered coffee, so that issue has been resolved. An earlier review indicated the request for after dinner coffee was met with confusion and a suggestion to go to a bar, which is typical in Italy.
I think these are all trivial, but I will mention them anyway. I also recognize that some of these are items that MSC does not want to Americanize, in their effort to keep the Med feel of the ship.
1. In the Top Sail Lounge, for the Continental Breakfast, sliced bread is an available option but there is no way to toast it. Also, when having breakfast at Le Muse, I ordered an English muffin. I got the muffin, but it was not toasted.
2. Diet Coke and Coke Light are treated as interchangeable. I think it is simply based on where the last supply purchase was made. But, the tastes can be very different.
3. Fruit juices offered in the mini-bar were: Morning Blend and Pineapple-Coconut. None of the traditional juices Americans expect.
4. Sparkling and flat water are treated as equally reasonable and common options for water. While it is very cool, it can confuse those guests with less experience in European dining. I think it is up to the employees to learn how to handle this, and they should not assume the guest knows it already.