Firstly this is a long winded and somewhat disjointed review and our personal experience. It is honest and straight to the point and I appologise if I offend anyone but I think it is important for people to be aware of some of the practices of this company and its major lack of customer service.
Firstly I will start by saying that we are very laid back and down to earth folks as most Australians are. We are very easy to please and have very simple tastes. Not much fazes us and live by the typical Aussie motto of "no worries mate"
After months of researching and reading we took a gamble and decided to book a back to back cruise over Xmas and New Year on the Divina. We travelled from Sydney Australia via Hong Kong, New York and then Buffalo for this cruise. It was part of a 6 week vacation
In total there were 9 of us travelling on each cruise which was made up of 2 adults, 2 seniors, 5 teens and an infant.
Our initial dealings with MSC in Australia were not great to say the least. We had many problems with ordering and prepaying our drinks package. Everything from being told that the drinks packages don't exist, different pricing and an adult being given a child all inclusive and a child being given an adult all inclusive. The MSC staff in Australia seem to severely lack product knowledge.
We also had problems with our cabins on the second cruise. Originally all 3 cabins were booked together but somehow this was changed to 2 together and one on the opposite side of the ship halfway down. When this was brought to the attention of MSC we were told that the original cabin we booked had since been sold so we had to then settle for a cabin above on deck 12.
After over a month MSC assured us that the drinks packages were sorted. We paid our final balance and received invoices from MSC showing the cruise and the all inclusive packages had been paid. Phew what a relief......boy oh boy were we wrong. More to follow.
On the Xmas cruise we had a total of 4 cabins. 3 balcony cabins on deck 12 along with an internal cabin a few doors down.
We arrived at port sometime around 1pm and were pleasantly surprised to find the embarkation process very simple and efficient. It was at this point we chose to pay our onboard accounts in cash. The reason for this was some of the horror stories that we had read and also our low confidence with MSC due to all the earlier problems.
First impressions of the ship when boarding were AMAZING. It is true that the ship is elegant and beautiful. As per usual we headed up to the buffet to grab a bite to eat while our cabins were being readied. Initial impressions of buffet were ok....standard fare. When then encountered the first of many problems when ordering a drink and being told our cards were coded incorrectly. We were told that we would have to have new cards issued. You could imagine my joy when I potentially had to rally up everyone's card and visit guest relations to get new cards. After a stressful morning of getting 6 kids up, ready, packed and on to the ship all I wanted was a drink. Not too much to ask.
A short time later we were told that our cabins were ready. I thought the balcony cabins were nice. A little smaller than what we expected however they were nice. The bathrooms were great and the shower with opening out door is a great idea (although I thought at first they opened in an had a fun time trying to get in and then shut the door. It would have been an amusing sight).
A short time later our room steward introduced himself and we found him to be very pleasant. He remained this was for the entirety of the cruise and was very helpful and obliging.
Sailaway was pushed back by almost 2 and a half hours due to the late arrival of incoming overseas passengers booked through MSC. No big deal as it did not effect us although I am not sure why MSC would schedule passngers arrival from overseas on the same day of sailing. Too many things can go wrong and it leaves only a very small window.
When we finally left port it was very subdued. No sailaway party like other cruise lines and you would hardly even know we had left. We did not even hear the traditional 3 blasts of the horn. It was a little disappointing as sailaway is the most exciting part of a cruise which you have been counting down and so looking forward too. Other cruise lines sailed passed us and the atmosphere was much more lively.
As the night went on we encountered our second and what turned out to be our major problem. Yet again it involved the drinks package. When ordering drinks we were told our cards did not work so yet again off to Guest Services. It was here that we were informed that our drink packages were not pre paid but prebooked and we needed to increase our cash deposit. I then proceeded to show the staff member a copy of the invoice from MSC on my phone showing everything was paid. The staff member then said on the system it was showing each of us had 2 packages, one pre paid and one prebooked. I was then asked if I could print off the invoice so they could attach it to an email to head office in Italy. I was then told if I wanted to use the internet I would be charged a fee??? This was a screw up by MSC and they wanted me to pay to print out proof we had paid.
To cut a long story short we were informed that they had to contact head office in Italy to sort out the problem but they would not have an answer for two days. The staff member could see through their system that we had prepaid but to get the other package deleted it had to come from head office. We were assured that in the meantime we could use our packages. Well this was wrong, wrong, wrong. Over the next 2 days we had our cards rejected on at least 5 or 6 occasions causing both embarrassment and a great amount off stress. In the end I spoke with a senior officer Luca who could not seem to understand the issue. Finally I handed over another $900 in cash just so we could order drinks for something that we had prepaid months ago.
On Monday we were told that head office had replied and that yes our package was all prepaid and that the second prebooked package could be removed. I would have though common sense would prevail from the start and that if someone had a prepaid package and a prebooked package then a simple deletion of the later would occur. No not with MSC. There is no common sense.
Anyhow we were assured all was good and that the problem was also sorted out for the following cruise over New Year.
Back to the cruise........
Having 5 teens and an infant we did not use the MDR often as it did not fit with schedules and dining options. On the first occasion I found the food to be very nice, The service was fast and friendly. The only hold up was between the main meal and dessert where there seemed to be a rather lengthy gap. Total dining time was around 1 and a half hours which I though was good. The one piece of advice is that if you do not order each of the serves, eg starter, pasta, main and entree then be prepared to wait. If for example you only ordered a main then you would have to wait until everyone else had been served their dishes and caught up before you would be served your main. The only other minor complaint was the bar service. If you wanted a wine or soda it was not a problem but if you wanted a mixed drink then it had to be brought in from another bar so you had to wait a while. No real biggy. Just some food for thought.
I have read in previous posts that bartenders will not take your orders if you o to the bar and that you had to find a server. I never found this to be a problem and all the bar tenders were happy to take your order and make your drink. The drinks whilst never looking like the pictures were always made strong but there was great inconsistency from bar to bar as to how the drinks were made and how they looked.
The buffet was ALWAYS crowded. The fact that the ship was fully booked on both cruises did not help. The overall layout of the buffet is very strange. It seems to repeat itself all the way along several times so you don't realise that there is an ethnic section right at the very back. The food at lunchtime was quite varied ranging from burgers and hotdogs (which we ok) to pastas and stir fry's. Breakfast consisted of the usual fare of bacon, sausages, hash browns etc and was also ok but after a few days became a bit much. The fruit on the buffet was very dry and tasteless. Of a night the buffet seems to be very limited. The saving grace was the pizza. Whilst I would not rave about it (I still think Princess has the best pizza I have eaten) it was of a high standard and very tasty.
The options late night were even more limited. Basically pizza and make your own sandwiches which were very basic. From 2 am there was nothing except room service and the room service menu was very very limited, Basically all it consisted of was sandwiches and a fruit platter.
We never tried the specialty restaurants so I cannot comment on these.
The gelato was VERY nice. Very creamy with lots of flavour. The shakes and smoothies were also nice but again no consitency when being made and would look and taste different each day which was a problem with a toddler who one minute liked it and then not so much the next.
The sports bar was a real let down. We love coming to America and indulging in unhealthy bar foods. The wings in the sports bar were not even close to buffalo wings, the mozzerella stix bland and tastless as were the jalapeno poppers. The one benefit of this was it saved us $$$ as we never hit it like we though we would.
The patisserie was also a let down. To look at it looked fantastic but the pastries seemed to lack freshness. It was always hit and miss as you never seemed to get what you ordered. On one occasion I asked for an english breakfast tea and a chocolate indulgence sundae was delivered to my table. Close but no cigar.
The kids seemed to enjoy the kids club but there was not much structured for the teens. They always seemed to be hanging out outside the nightclub with no real activities. The other thing I noticed was several intoxicated teens. Perhaps MSC may want to pay closer attention to this in the future as it could end up being a huge liability.
The security on the ship were probably the most unfriendly of all staff. MSC contracts out an Israeli firm who provides security. All the officers seem to be ex Israeli military with zero personality. Yes there job is the safety of the ship but a simple smile when you reboard the ship never goes astray. Being a law enforcement officer myself I can still do my job and be friendly. Just a little thing but something I think can be worked on.
First port of call was Jamaica. We chose to stay on the ship and wandered around the cruise compound. We did venture outside without the kids for a short time and I am glad we did. It is a very seedy and slummy scene once you set foot outside the gates. With 30 seconds I was offered drugs but once I made my friend aware that I was a Federal Agent he lost interest. Funny that.
The other ports we called in on were Cozumel, Grand Caymans and GSK. I found no real problems disembarking or tendering from the ship. GSK was probably our favourite spot. Very relaxing and beautiful. We followed the advice we had read on here and that was to get on the tram to the lagoon as soon as you arrive. This was great advice as the crowds were far less and you could get all of your food and drink without a wait.
The one issue I had with some of the ports was the atmosphere when returning to board. Each time we went back to the dock and another ship was alongside (NCL, Carnival and Disney on the New Year cruise) we noticed a distinct lack of atmosphere on the Divina. Both NCL and Disney had music playing, staff dancing, friendly security, drinks and wet towels for their passengers. I thought this was a real nice touch and made you not only think about trying these line in the future but also wish you were boarding. These are such little things that MSC should take note of if they want to get a larger slice of the market.
As it was Xmas the ship was beautifully decorated. There were two trees in the atrium and decorations all throughout the ship. On Xmas Eve there were carols in the atrium but we missed this as it was not advertised nor did we hear any announcements. It was a shame as there seemed a lack of Xmas spirit bar the decorations. Later that evening a midnight buffet was served. It looked amazing and the staff did a wonderful job baking breads in various Xmas themes, carving fruit and sculpting ice. Whilst it lacked any real substance to eat it sure looked really nice.
Xmas day itself was a let down. They had a santa on board and who was iving out a small gift to all children......only if you were aged 3 to 11. I thought it would have been nice for all children to receive a gift especially the toddlers under 3. This was a big fail by MSC in my books.
The staff we encounted were so lovely. They seem to be very over worked and run off their feet. There were a few miserable souls but hey if you worked me like a dog and I was away from my family for so long then I would feel the same. For the most part the staff from room stewards to waitstaff and bar staff and servers were great. The only staff that were not great were the front office staff who were RUDE and ignorant. I will talk more about this later.
The mix of passengers would probably have been 10% American and 90% non American made up of Italians, Germans and South Americans. The Americans were great. Always polite and lovely to talk to and very couteous. The others on the other hand were to put it nicely PIGS. Basic manners must not be taught in some countries, For example when a elevator door opens you allow people to get out before rudely pushing your way in. Smoke in designated areas. Don't push in at buffets. Don't reserve deck chairs at 7am with a book and return 4 hours later. And for heavens sake put some clothes on when you come inside.
I found the entertainment staff to be lacking ideas and personality. Granted I did not want to see belly flop contests or other redneck entertainment but seriously.....napkin folding ?? The CD Andre was not funny or appealing at all. I would have much preferred to see an American with personality. We only made a few shows such as the Michael Jackson tribute and Pirates but both of these were VERY good.
Getting off the ship was chaotic. Apparently a passenger refused to leave the ship which held up all the b2b passengers. We waited in the Black and White lounge for several hours and only disembarked to walk off and back on again after 12pm. Nobody at MSC seemed to know what was going on and it was a total shamble.
All in all we enjoyed our Xmas cruise with the exception of the drink package saga which was to rear its ugly head yet again. The ship was stunning, staff for the most part lovely and ports enjoyable. It was also at this time that we farewelled my father and welcome my brother on the second cruise.
When we reembarked it was time to change cabins from one end of the ship to the other. The room stewards kindly and efficiently took care of all the bags and the whole process was hassle free.
My brother joined us later that day after a very long check in process. Much different to the first cruise.
Sailaway was pretty much on time and off we headed. Soon after we noticed that a life jacket was not provided for the little guy (we did not have to attend the drill as we were b2b passengers). On the first cruise it was placed on the bed with a note. We called guest services on 3 occassions and were told someone would get back to us.....nobody ever did. Finally we were told that one would not be available until the next day. WOW.....I am sure that this is against coast guard regulations. What would have happened if there was an incident overnight ??
Later that evening the drinks package reared its ugly head once again. This time it was my brothers card and he was unable to order drinks. We were assured the previous week that it had all been sorted. Yet again another trip to Guest Services. This time we were met with the rudest person I have ever encountered. How I kept my patience and did not fully lose it is beyond me. Yet again we were told that they would have to email Italy and when we tried to voice our concern we were met with " you dont understand" and "you are not listening". Again we were told that the card would be unlocked so we could order drinks and yet again this only worked for a few hours before the same problem arose. The same situation occurred where more money had to be handed over just so we could use something we paid for months prior. There was no empathy or understanding shown from Guest Relations.....just total rudeness.
This problem remained until the second last day of the cruise when we got a call saying the problem was fixed. We were also asked if we still wanted to speak with Mandy the Guest Service Manager to discuss our concerns which we had raised earlier in the week. Naturally we said yes and were told she would be available to see us at 330pm later that day. We then cut our time short at GSK to make sure we could get on the tender and make our way back in time. Upon our return we attended Guest Services as arranged only to be told Mandy was not there and she was working the gangway. We where then told we would be called upon here return. By 6pm we had heard nothing so I called front desk. I was then told she could not be reached as her phone was not working and was assured we would be called. I then had to wait in my cabin for her phone call when it was the last night of the cruise and I should have been enjoying time with my children. Sure enough the phone call never came so I went back to the front desk. I was then told that Mandy had finished for the night. Naturally I was so angry and asked to speak with the Hotel Manager to make a complaint. I was informed that to do so it would have to be done through Mandy. This had become a total joke. It was the worst customer service I had ever encountered. The rudeness was beyond a joke and to think we had spent over $21000 for our 2 weeks on the ship. We could not use our cards for several days on the ship and I spent hours and hours and Guest Services trying to sort out a problem that was made by MSC.
I know this review has been a total session but it is a totally honest account of what happened. We traveled all the way from Australia for this cruise and it was meant to be a family reunion for my children with my dad (their grandpa) and my brother (their uncle) who live in Buffalo and who they only get to see every few years. It turned out to be a total nightmare full of stress. Xmas is not meant to be this way and when you spend so much money you expect a little more. I don't think we were asking for much. All we wanted was what we already paid for and MSC's disregard, lack of compassion and total lack of customer service really tarnished our Xmas. It is such a shame as they have so much potential and lovely hard working staff. The problem is that nobody can nor wants to make a decision and everything has to be done through head office. God forbid an emergency as I certainly do not have the confidence to think it would be handled well.
For the reasons of the above I would certainly not recommend this company.
Small for our needs. Better suited for a couple and not family. Overall it was nice