For us and our experience, The MSC Divina was Ah-mazing! Albeit less than half the cost of any other Cruise Line sailing at the same time, and the passenger mix was 39% American and the rest European/South American. A big change for Jerome and myself.
Virtually No Children were aboard, as we sailed in a Week (May 3rd-10th, 2014) when all kids are in school, having just missed the dreaded "Spring Break" Season. I am always mindful of our sail dates, as now with their new promotion MSC Divina just started, all kids sail free, 17 and under. Which was just extended from 11 and under.
The Food was awesome! We waltzed thru the buffets each morning, found nine individual stations of crispy bacon (and I made a point of sincerely looking over and over, every day for any sign of raw bacon, at each station, so I could complain. But I saw none, ever. Sadly the bacon is all crispy, crispy, crispy and is placed upon bread to soak up the grease and the pans are changed rapidly to maintain crispness). The eggs were always fresh, fresh fruit was abundant and there were so many International Breakfast choices, plus a hand carved meat station each and every morning, afternoon and evening.
Yes, at the initial buffet entrance, it was crowded as folks did not wander further enough aft and insisted on congregating up front. But just by walking to the rear of the ship, passing the ginormous buffets, on each side of the ship, was the best option for awesome seating and no lines for food. The buffets were abundant and the food repeated in several stations on our way aft, except for the Mediterranean Stations and the Deli Station. The view from the aft was amazing! And those tables were always available. The best tables in the house and no takers. There were 12 Coffee and Beverage Stations and Two Specialty Coffee and Liquor Bars in the Buffet Area. The free coffee was excellent. There was a selection of free specialty waters rotated in different stations (Strawberry, Kiwi, Mango-Orange, Mango-Pineapple, or Pineapple), Lemonade and Iced Tea with plenty of Lemons available each and every day. It was fun finding the different waters. I was impressed and cannot complain about one thing in the buffet.
The MDR food was very good. I had a great cut of Prime Rib one night that was fantastic, I had the lobster tail another night and it was just okay. Overall the food was actually, comparable to most I have eaten on any ship. I ordered the NY Strip off the alternate menu and it was superb. The pasta dishes were always al' dente and the variety of sauces presented each day were veritably Italian in flavor. But, we never had a bad meal, we never had a bad experience and always felt that we were catered too. Minor, inconsequential challenges, that happen every day whether on a ship or not, that would send some screaming "Travesty!", do not ever affect my overall opinion of our vacation. I call them Life Experiences.
My favorite "Travesty" by the way, was watching a lady get irritated when she asked for "Lemon" for her "Wat-a" to one waiter and then, impatient as she was, less than thirty seconds later asked another waiter for the same thing, then had the where-with-all to ask a third waiter passing by. Then, almost immediately, the first waiter returned and brought her a mountain of lemons in a dish, and then the second waiter did the same, and about a minute after that the third followed suit. She thought that it was a "Travesty" that it took too long. Palease!
It has been years, many years since I was on a ship and the main dining room offered The Baked Alaska Parade. It was fun, and reminiscent of ocean liners Dining Parades of days gone by, and the dessert itself was just as spectacular as I remember as a child. I keep sitting at my dining room table here at home waiting for the parade to start, but alas, it's not happening.
The Daily Buffet featured a 4:30 PM Deli "Make Your Own Sandwich" Bar and it was an incredible site to see each afternoon. It was posted in the daily's but I guess folks weren't hungry, not very many showed up, even on sea days. We had late dining seating (8:45PM), so I managed to build myself a Dagwood Sandwich almost every day.....and all the meats and cheeses are hand sliced right in front of you on the gigantic, the size of a Fiat, slicing machines. The breads available each and every day, are all exceptional fresh baked creations.
The Eataly Steakhouse Specialty Restaurant was exactly like the one in New York City. Except in New York City, there is a 6 month wait for a reservation or a three hour wait for a table if you did not have one. The Steakhouse is not marketed enough on board the MSC Divina, or more folks would try it and equally enjoy it. We pre-ordered the $24 per person package, but my recommendation would be to fore go that and to just stick with the Ala Carte menu available, and by the way, the prices are on the menu. The MSC Divina, with Eataly in particular, has not fully grasped the Specialty Dining concept as other Cruise Lines have. Most folks will not pay ala carte pricing for dinner, when the Main Dining Room is included with the cruise fare. The pricing should just be an up charge and that's all, similar to what is offered on other cruise lines in their respective steakhouses. The Eataly pre-order $24 Up charge includes an appetizer and either pasta or entree, but there is no Steak Entree available (except for a medallion offering which is sliced steak and not a STEAK). Steak is separate and the prices range from an additional $24 NY Sirloin to $60 for a T-Bone for Two. The Filet Mignon is $30. So I was, needless to say, a bit perplexed and confused with this offering. Though the food was awesome, it was not fully explained. It is also very odd at first, sitting on plexy plastic chairs, but that's The Eataly Restaurant Chain's schtick in New York and Italy. I promise though, that after the first glass of Prosecco and your first bite of your incredible Filet Mignon, you will forget all about the plastic chairs. Our Service was outstanding and truly exceptional.
Need I say more about the awesome pizza? Not the buffet pizza, but the hand crafted Italian Pizza. Oh goodness, gracious me! The Pizza is phenomenal. Crispy crust, fresh toppings, fresh from the oven and can be delivered to your room. Just ask. The daily offerings of twenty different fresh baked foccia breads is also an incredible hidden treat. Nothing like an afternoon snack, foccia and olive oils to dip, with a wonderful Cappuccino and Bailey's, that is a yummy yum yum.
Room Service menu was really cool. I had Smoked Salmon, a Caprese Tomato Salad and a Prosciutto Antipasto Platter almost every day. It got to the point that when I would call Room Service, the gentleman operator would address me by name and say, "Same thing today?"
On the last night of the cruise, we enjoyed the Seven Course Gastronomic Galaxy Experience Specialty Restaurant Dinner. We dined graciously in the Window Walled, Deck 17 Galaxy Restaurant, overlooking the gorgeous ship's pool and a truly romantic sunset. The room reminds me of the old, what were they called....(Crown and Anchor Clubs?) perched high above the sea. That dinner experience, complete with 7 awesome Mediterranean specialty chef prepared dishes, and an even more incredible 7 glasses of specially selected wines paired with each course, rounded out a very special cruise experience that should not be missed and is definitely worth the $50 per person cover price. Our service in Galaxy was top notch, which was also always the case throughout our experience on The MSC Divina.
Main Dining Room Service. In the Main Dining Room, It's called "European" Dining. My American take is better known as "Country Club" Dining. We ate in The Villa Rosa Dining Room, which is the smaller of the two Main Dining restaurants, at a table for two. It was like celebrating my birthday in a wonderful restaurant every night. What it is not like, is eating in an American Corporate Restaurant with me having to "Shovel Down My Throat all the food at once in 45 minutes time". It's not "get 'em in and get em' out" service. (This is what I have heard my fellow Americans dislike about The MSC Divina. Many say that they are not used to "Dining" and are used to shoveling food, hurry, hurry, hurry, and going thru the motions, gobble, gobble, gobble, rush, rush, rush) To me, it was like being in Italy, or in a European Cafe and lingering for hours enjoying each others company, every single night. Sipping wine, champagne, San Pelegrino. Savoring our food. Savoring each other. After 25 years of being together, we forgot how to hold a conversation at dinner and enjoyed each others company once again. We got to do this for seven amazing nights. It was not slow service. It was Romantic, Country Club, International, Italian Service. Our Service Team excelled at taking care of us, taking care not to rush us, and for that matter everyone around us felt the same, as we could tell by their international sign language of their smiles and laughter, as they were all Europeans. We were the only Americans in our cluster.
And Yes, there were a few languages challenges, but I turn those into learning opportunities instead of complaints.
Like when Jerome ordered at lunch, everyday, "Anisette" with his espresso. The servers, no matter which one, would bring him "Hennessy" No matter how many times you repeated Anisette, Hennessy would be brought. Instead of getting horribly upset and it becoming a "Travesty!", we chose to figure out what the challenge was. It was not until I looked in the menu and Anisette was listed as Sambuca. The servers knew Sambuca. They did not know Anisette. Anisette sounded like Hennessy. I gathered them all around and we had "English Booze Class" It was so funny. "Anisette?" "Sambuca". I would show them. "Hennessy?" "Not Anisette". It was fun. But really, okay, whose mistake is that? Mine or the server? When I have a language barrier, no matter with whom, I turn it into a learning experience for both of us. And that goes for whether it occurs on my shores, in the USA, or not.
I forgot, I am not in the USA anymore. I am on a European Ship not an American ship like that I am used to. I chose the Divina to have a European Experience, not an American experience. MSC is a European Cruise Line, and they should not waiver from their principals of product, and that, in my opinion, is part of my adventure.
If Dinner is like celebrating an occasion every night, then we had an equally gorgeous Lunch in the Villa Rosa Restaurant every day. Yes, I said every day, even on Embarkation Day and as well as in all Ports of Call, was The Villa Rosa open for Lunch. I have not had lunch daily in The MDR in years. Try it, it's wonderfully fun, especially with afternoon cocktails.
The Entertainment? Spectacular! No, make that Mesmerizing! Exactly like enjoying Cirque du Soliel every night. Yes, what we had read is all true. Plus there are 14 bars that have nightly entertainment too. All at the same time. A walk through the ship brings you to different venues and a variety of nightly Live Bands, Live Groups, Live Comedy, Live Shows, Live Soloists, Live Opera, Live Violin Concertos, Live Italian Duos, Live, Live, Live. It's Entertainment Overdrive. We were not bored with the entertainment offerings. As a matter of fact, we could not fit them all into the cruise, so we have to go back on The Divina just to enjoy the enormous entertainment offerings.
The Ship? The most incredible, attention to detail, Italian Design, ultimate classic cruise ship ever, and yes, the Swarovski Crystal Staircases are breath taking! Super clean, superior accommodations, and so many public areas, bars, clubs, lounges and so much open deck space. But for some, sadly no complete around the ship Promenade. There is a Promenade Deck, but the view to the ocean is obstructed by the Life Boats. After five minutes on the open decks high above the sea, I frankly never missed the "Promenade" after that.
The Pools. There are over a dozen water features throughout the ship. There are three main pools, but we found many, many water features in the private areas as well, one of which is Top 18. Top 18 is an adult only deck, located above the Galaxy Restaurant with special chaise loungers and a private water feature with towel service, fresh fruit service, bar and beverage service and solitude. Definitely worth the price of $10 per day for peace and solstice if there are a lot of kids on board. Nice breeze consistently flowing thru the darkened glass privacy slats. There is an identical sun deck opposite the Top 18 that surrounds the smoke stack that also has a water feature that is just as private, seek and you shall find.
The Infinity Pool is a fun place to hang out, right by the Garden Bar. It's always crowded and we met lots and lots of folks there, and had some of the best times of the cruise. It was like a party there every day. The bar tenders and servers really got to know us and we were one of the "421" club so the bar is always open for us.
The "421" Club. We purchased the Premium Allegrissimo Drink Package which includes everything imaginable. It includes all liquor and more. It includes everything in the mini bar in your stateroom, as much as you would like to consume and as fast as the Room Steward can replace it. It includes fresh squeezed Orange Juice. It includes Gelato and Pastries. It includes all specialty coffees. It includes most anything that you desire to drink or eat that comes with a charge. All for $399 per person pre-ordered (not pre-paid) prior to sailing. If you wait to purchase it on board, as it is only available the day of sailing, it is going to be 15% higher plus 8% sales tax, bringing the package to almost $500. Now, one other thing. Jerome drank Johnny Walker Blue on the rocks, at $22.00 a shot, and had three a day. It is included. Every drink of the day, every $6.00 bottle of San Peligrino at dinner is included. Every glass of champagne, every wine on the wine list is included. Every can of soda is included. We added up all our receipts we signed for, and they all were itemized but zero'd out, and they totaled over $1,400.00. Would we have consumed that much if we were paying for it? Probably not. But this is the kicker. We enjoyed the cruise so much more and had the freedom to have everything we wanted without thinking or worrying about the cost. It was included. It was a totally new feeling to just be able to order what ever we wanted and that made us try and experience so many more things than what we would have normally done. Gratuity is included with the package, but we always tip a dollar or two more in cash. One other thing. All persons in the cabin over 21 must purchase the package. We have now coined it...."The All-You-Can-Drink-Kiss-Imo" package.
The Crew.....absolutely gorgeous! Mama Mia! I think that every employee is first chosen for "Beauty" and "Looks", then they fill in the blanks with talent. Every single Officer and crew member is either very pretty or very handsome. Everywhere we went, we found that their uniforms are pressed and worn proudly. I was impressed by the constant smiles and "Hello's", and I am one who offers the "Hello" first, by the way. I don't wait to be greeted first, as I don't like to treat crew members as if they are invisible.
Our Room Steward Dan S brought us wash cloths the first day (yes, we asked), and kept us stocked up throughout the cruise. Again, it's an American thing. American's like wash cloths. I brought my eBags travel Ice Bucket with me and Dan S kept it filled each day for me, twice a day. Dan S also kept that mini bar filled to capacity for us and always made sure I had enough Absolut Vodka in the fridge for my Martini's on the Balcony. Again, with the Premium Allegrissimo Package, I could have as much as I wanted and Dan S made sure of that! He and is assistant were an exceptional team and truly one of the best duo's in all our experience.
We found the crew to be professional, courteous, and happy. I asked our wonderful room steward Dan S how he liked the Divina, and he told me he was on his 4th contract with MSC and loved the Divina the most. One of the main reasons he loves it is because how the crew is treated in their living arrangements. The crew cabins are duals with one bathroom, not quads with one bathroom. It is more like a luxury resort job for the him and he enjoys his job very much, and consequently is very happy. I spoke with dozens of crew members, bar servers, bar tenders, and all told me how happy their lives were because of how accommodating MSC was. All of them told me that they were on their 3rd, 4th or even 10th contract with MSC. All came from other cruise companies and all said that they make more money and are treated better on MSC than any other cruise company. One of the biggest interesting facts on the MSC Divina was finding out how many married couples and co-inhabiting couples were crew members on The Divina and how much MSC went out of their way to accommodate them in quarters together. Happy Crew means Happy Passengers means Happy Company means Happy Profits.
Not to say there were not challenges with both passengers and crew members and I did personally witness a few incidents, which are to become part of our "Adventures". Happily, these situations were dealt with swiftly and completely, professionally and proficiently. I looked for an "Unhappy Camper" of a crew member, and could not find one. Where were all these miserable crew members I read about? I for one, often mistook rude or unhappiness for not understanding or being able to communicate properly, thus not unhappy, just frightened of us Americans. On one occasion, there were a couple of crew members not having that good of a day, but the supervisor immediately took care of it and all was well with the world again.
I ordered a newspaper to be printed and delivered every day to my cabin. As soon as we boarded, I went to guest relations and ordered my paper from a selection of about 200 world wide papers. We live in South Central Florida, so I chose The Miami Herald. It cost's $3.00 per day, and it's sensational. I highly recommend the paper, and it was delivered everyday before 9AM, consequently, just before my "Coffee Kicked In", so it made the experience that much more enjoyable. They have this really cool technical computer that prints out the papers and binds them. Just order it and see how much fun it is. The paper is a heavier grade so it can be read up on deck with your coffee in the breeze. Funny, when I brought it up on deck, or in the restaurant with me, everyone wanted to know where to get one. Now you know.
Yes, MSC would like to increase their market share with Americans, but in my opinion, much of it should be on their terms and not ours. Why be like everyone else? The Divina offers a much different, more relaxed, less stressful cruise vacation than what I usually have experienced with the "Other Guys". I felt as though as soon as I boarded on The MSC Divina, I just left Miami and was immediately whisked into a European country, even before we left the dock. I enjoyed the experience immensely.
Yes, The MSC Divina and for that matter all of the MSC Ships are not for everyone, and they should not be. They are carving out a niche in the American market, and they have found Jerome and myself. I like them. I appreciated our vacation and came to understand the remarkable differences. But truly, it reminded me of all the challenging European jaunts I have experienced though out my life, how much fun the adventures were, and we have never been more impressed with the whole package known as The MSC Divina.
Our Experience was Celebrity Style, at below Carnival pricing. Value personified with a huge amount of substance. The style is incredibly European Elegant, not American Splash, and a whole lot of relaxation. Truly a great experience for Jerome and myself. We will be returning to The MSC Divina! Read Less