First off, I'll say I will not be travelling with MSC again. My wife and I have been giving all of the cruise lines a shot and we chose the March 19, 2016 sailing of the MSC Divina to check out what MSC had to offer. We’d hoped that ... Read More
First off, I'll say I will not be travelling with MSC again. My wife and I have been giving all of the cruise lines a shot and we chose the March 19, 2016 sailing of the MSC Divina to check out what MSC had to offer. We’d hoped that it would be a good value, and that MSC had corrected some of the mistakes noted by other travelers since launching in the North American market. New to cruising in 2010, we have traveled on the Carnival Dream, Norwegian Epic, RCL Adventures of the Seas, and the Ruby Princess; such is an indication of our cruising experience.
On our sailing, ship information provided by MSC indicated the following stats: 4319 guests, 1294 crew, in 1259 cabins. As the number may indicate, the ship often felt over-crowded. MSC’s own information states design capacity at 2518 (all rooms booked at double capacity). The buffet was very much a free-for-all and loungers on sea days were difficult, if not impossible, to find.
Embarkation - we embarked without too much difficulty or delay, possibly because we still had to register our credit card at one of the terminals on board and had to locate the Casino bar in order to pick-up our prepaid drink vouchers. This, in a way, felt like a forced introduction to the ship’s layout. While we were on board by 3pm, 1 piece of luggage arrived to our room at 4:30 pm, with the 2nd piece only arriving at 6:30 pm, after we had already proceeded to and returned from dinner in the buffet.
Muster - We were assigned muster point E. We showed up for the drill and, after having our cruise cards scanned, there was very little direction from staff. We basically listened to instructions over the speaker on how to don life jackets and then practiced doing the same, with the instructions repeated multiples times in all the offered languages.
Ocho Rios - Upon embarkation we found a notice in our cabin stating that due to weather conditions our advertised first port on day 3 was being moved from Falmouth to Ocho Rios. This resulted in our having to purchase internet on board so we could inform the third party tour provider we had arranged for Falmouth. We then reserved through MSC the Chukka Beach Break.
For excursions, guests are asked to meet in the Pantheon Theatre to receive stickers indicating their tour and to disembark when announced. The handing out of stickers was poorly executed, with no one greeting you when you arrive at the theatre. Once in the theatre, you had to guess as to which of the three lines has the correct sticker for your tour. Only three staff were on hand when we arrived, with the person in charge making announcements while trying to distribute stickers at the same time. The situation was just general mass confusion for all involved and not the best way to corral a few hundred people.
We very much enjoyed our Chukka visit itself, an intimate private beach with calm waters and soft sand and, luckily, our best sunny weather day of the trip. With maybe 80 people all day, the beach offered free chairs, with large umbrellas available for $5. Other guests chose to move their chairs back to plentiful tree cover. A pay bar and basic lunch was offered. For $10, a jerk chicken leg with spicy curly fries and jamaican ketchup were the entree of the day. Decent bathrooms and outdoor showers were available. A security guard was on site, not that I could tell that he was needed.
When returning to the ship, we stopped at the obligatory shopping destination just before the pier. Based on a previous trip we realized it was a quick walk to ship right from there and didn’t concern ourselves with getting back on the bus at a scheduled time, letting the driver know. It also allowed us to visit the shops directly next to the pier on our way back.
Grand Cayman - While our port was not changed, our tender location was. Again due to weather, we tendered not directly to downtown Grand Cayman, but set anchor in Spotts Bay. From Spotts Bay, MSC provided a free 20 mins. shuttle to downtown Grand Cayman. The shuttle service was a little disorganized due to its last minute nature. We tendered and arrived on land about 20 mins. before the shuttle service began, with MSC choosing a location for those waiting and setting up shelter from the rain only after people had already arrived and had been searching for where to go for 10 mins. Stickers were also handed out only then, which ensured you were able to return on a shuttle back to the ship. Handing these out on the ship or tender might have been a better solution.There was again general mass confusion, as Norwegian was also in tendering to that location at the same time, and you always had to state your ship’s name before anyone would give you any information.
Due to a bit of rain settling into overcast skies, we only did some shopping downtown, putting off our visit to Seven Mile Beach for another visit. We enjoyed a tasty lunch and stiff drink at Paradise Restaurant, but were a bit surprised at the bill, having missed that prices were listed in Cayman dollars, then converted to US on the bill.
Cozumel – We had reserved a spot at Nachi Cocom for the day based on online recommendations and we were not disappointed. After about a 20 mins., $16 each way taxi ride from the port, we were warmly greeted at Nachi Cocom with a glass of champagne. It was a slow day, with maybe 60 other guests the entire time we were there. We were offered cocktails, pop, and water all day and a lunch of traditional Mexican entrees was offered and served to us right on the beach. Manuel, our server, could not have been more attentive. We also appreciated the free wifi.
Back on the boat at the end of the day, we watched as the ferries for tours travelling to Playa del Carmen returned well after the ship was scheduled to leave port for the day, showing up at 6:15 pm when the Divina was scheduled to leave Cozumel at 6 pm. We left port at 6:30 pm that day.
Nassau – We chose to spend the day at the British Colonial Hilton, within a short walk of the cruise pier in Nassau. For $65 per person, we in return received a $40 per person food and beverage credit and full access to the property’s beach area. Located within the same bay at the pier, we spent much of our time just watching later cruise ships come into port and turnaround, backing into their slips. Again, service was attentive and lunches offered were tasty and came in huge portions.
Pool decks – I really do not believe the MSC Divina is designed for 4300+ guests. Deck attendants start putting out loungers at 7 am each day. A primary location for chairs is deck 15, which also happens to be the walking/jogging track. Once chairs are out, there is often less than 1m left for the jogging path, so be warned. Pools and hot tubs were always crowded. Also, parents would let their children snorkel in the hot tubs – why?
On sea days, all premium chairs are taken by 8 am. The towel game is also played, with the 30 mins. unused chair rule never enforced. On our last sea day we occupied chairs from 7:30 am to noon, witnessing 4 chairs next to us reserved but occupied only occasionally by 1 person for the entire period we were there.
The waterslide is very basic, doing a 360 loop clockwise and a 720 loop counter clockwise. Also, the waterslide is only open from 10am-1pm and 2pm-5pm and there were often long lineups. I also noticed one day when the maintenance crew chose to shut down the waterslide during open hours to touch-up paint on the staircase – poor scheduling.
Loungers – I had the time so on a port day I walked all public pool areas and counted all the loungers. This did not include Top 18 or the Haven pool areas. Approx. 855 loungers were put out and another 400 were still stacked, where I’m sure all are used on sea days. You can see why a chair can be hard to find on a sea day. Even if more chairs were available, I don’t know where the Divina has any more available deck space.
Towel Service – Orange beach towels are found in your room and you are allocated 1 per day, changed each evening. There is no station available for exchanging towels used during the day for fresh towels.
Dining – We only ever ate in the main dining room at out scheduled 5:30 pm seating once, as I will explain. Through our travel agent we had requested a table for 2, and we understood that would only be accommodated subject to availability. What we did not realize is that it is next to impossible for this request to be met on the MSC Divina. Based on MSC deck plans, in the 3 main dining rooms there are a total of 20 tables for two available, and with 2 seating times, a total of 40 couples out of 1259 cabins will be given this options – very long odds given there are also a couple of levels of service offered over the Fantastica class we were booked on.
Saddled with the fact that we would have to accept traditional dining, we sat at our assigned table and soon realized the MDRs would not suit us this cruise. We were sat at a table for 8 and came to realize the other three couples at our table spoke only French, where we spoke only English, resulting in an awkward lack of conversation, an issue we have taken up with our travel operator and MSC.
We also were not impressed with our waiter’s inability to find a way to adequately communicate with the French speaking couples at our table – the one French speaking girl at the table with very basic English skills was required to act as interpreter for the other guests at the table.
We also encountered the situation with our table attendant where we were offered still or sparkling water and when I asked for tap water he said he did not know what tap water was – very irritating.
We also overheard the waiter at the next table relay to his diners how he was just finishing up a course of antibiotics for a bug he had picked up in one of the ports. Should the waiter have been working and was this appropriate dining room conversation?
So we resigned ourselves to the buffet for much of the cruise. While we enjoyed the taste of the food, we came to feel that options were limited. There are no premium items on the buffet e.g. cocktail shrimp. Items like steak and lobster were available at a surcharge, not that I saw anyone partake. While they serve more than pizza, hamburgers, and hot dogs, it’s my opinion MSC is quite happy with how much fast food they are putting out there. In the evening, they also close off the rear of the buffet for the kids club, restricting access to some of the better dining rooms views to the kids. At 6:30 pm you could hear the chanting and marching of the kids as they proceeded back to their dining area.
Galaxy Brunch – we didn’t enjoy a very uninspired and poorly executed brunch at the Galaxy restaurant. The menu was straight out a classical French cooking school textbook, with no care put into its preparation. We were offered courses of raw oyster, tuna tartare, smoked salmon and tuna, foie gras and prosciutto, and beef carpaccio. Our entrée was eggs benedict, with the hollandaise tasting of direct shots of lemon juice, all served on a stale English muffin. It didn’t help that a rude family of 16 quickly got bored of a formally served meal and basically roamed the restaurant as they saw fit, using the view from the restaurant to ogle sunbathers down below.
We chose not to eat at either Eataly restaurant, commenting that neither is very romantic in any way. Think plastic seating in a dining room that reminded me of being in an Ikea cafeteria.
Entertainment – The show was themed differently each night but usually incorporated the same mix of dancers, singers, and acrobats. There were always seats to be had at the early show but this also meant people would stroll in at and after the advertised show time. Some guests were also quite rude, feeling it appropriate to talk throughout the show. Lastly, late arriving guests would end of sitting in the aisles, creating a hazard.
F1 Simulator – For $9, you were given 5 mins. to complete as many laps as possible. The simulator is fun but difficult. We often saw drivers who had spun out spend much of their time just getting straightened out and going again, eating up 1 to 2 minutes of their drive time. You also had to understand and be comfortable with paddle shifting. At about 1:20+ per lap, you had time to complete about 3 laps.
Water – A water package is not offered for pre-purchase by MSC so we decided to purchase the 1L bottle of still water in our cabin. Although we would have been willing to purchase a bottle each day, our first bottle was only replaced on day 3, with the checklist/bill used to indicate you had made a minibar purchase never being replaced. MSC also does not have water available for purchase as your disembark on port days. They also discourage the use of water bottles in the buffet by placing a plastic stand until the tap, making larger bottle more difficult to fill. They cite the sharing of water bottle as a possibly leading to the spread of illness.
Disembarkation - we were actually able to disembark early, ahead of the scheduled time assigned to the colour of luggage tags we received. Once on land, we had to locate the luggage carousel marked with the same colour as our tags. We were then able to get through Customs quickly and then promptly onto our shuttle to Fort Lauderdale Airport.
Summary – Basically, I was hoping for an experience similar to my previous cruises and my expectations were not met. MSC is trying to pack every last person onto their ships and get the impressions that I should see it as my failure for not recognizing that. I really do hope for future guests, and in respect of other cruise lines that they are a community of, that MSC takes the time to address the feedback I am sure they receive. Read Less