MSC Divina Cruise Review by goldi272
- Sail Date: June 2016
- Destination: Eastern Caribbean
- Cabin Type: Aurea Suite
Preface: I booked this cruise as a birthday gift for my husband, as he's always wanted to visit St. Maarten, and I wanted the peace of mind that we wouldn't have a huge bar tab to pay at the end. What drew me to MSC was the kids sail free promotion since we have an 8 yr old. I'll admit at first that I was hesitant to book MSC only because I had read negative reviews here; common complaints were "horrible food" and "rude staff"; however, thankfully I have a very knowledgeable travel agent who had sailed on the Divina twice, so he gave me some very useful tips beforehand. He did say that MSC is a European cruise line that is looking to compete in the American cruise market, hence repositioning the Divina to Miami.
Admittedly when comparing the different fares (aka, "experiences", Bella, Fantastica, Aurea & Yacht Club), my head was spinning. I was only used to a "pay as you go" experience on board (Carnival). With MSC, the cabin you book matches the "experience" (aka "amenities") you get. For example, the Bella experience is as "bare bones" as it gets (aside from cabin & dining room, all "extras" are truly extra). Fantastica experience included priority dining room seating over Bella guests & had cabins positioned at more appealing areas of the ship (higher decks, mid-ship, etc.). There was also a drink voucher program included but anything after that was extra.
In my opinion, the Aurea experience was the way to go. We had a truly unlimited drink package included (drinks $8 or less, sodas, juices, coffees, wine, beer, liquor, and even gelato was included!), choice of massage for each adult in the spa, priority boarding and disembarkation, "my choice dining" (dine when we wanted in a dedicated area of the dining room), free specialty dinner for 2 (upcharge w/other 2 experiences), unlimited access to "Top 18 Solarium deck" (adults only sundeck w/hot tubs, normally $30 per day for Bella/Fantastica guests), bath slippers & bath robe, plus our travel agent got us a $400 on board credit for the week that we could spend anywhere on the ship except the casino.
Yacht Club was the elite "concierge" level of service that offers butler service plus other perks (free mini bar, private pool/sundeck & private lounge/restaurant). YC was about $2k more than Aurea & only offered $600 OBC, so didn't make sense to pay an extra $2k for a mere $200 & a butler. Anyway, my travel agent helped me make sense of what was initially a very confusing price structure. I think MSC's efforts to cater to many types of cruisers by bundling benefits need more fine tuning & better communication to prospective passengers. Had I tried to book this on my own from MSC's website, I would have been lost and potentially reluctant to book with them again. Best advice I can give to anyone who has not sailed MSC before: find a good travel agent & let them give you the scoop. Anyway, here was my take on my recent experience:
Embarkation: Fairly quick but crowded. The Divina holds roughly 4,000 passengers, so the terminal was packed. Many were standing/sitting on the floor as the MSC terminal was fairly small compared to Carnival's. Lines to check in were very quick; got our cards & waited to board, roughly 30 mins. Aurea guests boarded "first" (Yacht Club guests had expedited/butler-escorted boarding), so we were on the ship fairly quickly. Credit cards/payment methods were registered after you boarded at self-serve kiosks, which I thought was a little strange, but it was ok since we were one of the first to board, as lines were minimal.
The ship: 2 words: GORGEOUS and CLEAN! The Swarovski crystal staircase was a sight to behold, piano music & very appealing décor. Glamorous & elegant. Around every corner was a crew member cleaning glass, wiping handrails or windows, or polishing the floor. Public areas were a little confusing to locate at first, took us a day or 2 to figure out where things were. Caffe Italia is the "coffee bar" on deck 7; absolutely quaint place to grab an espresso or cappuccino (with or without Bailey's!). Many bars throughout the ship. always a convenient area to grab a drink. Important note: on port days, MSC bars are open (Carnival closes their bars on port days); this was really a big deal for me that I could go to any bar & get what I wanted when I wanted, even at port. Candy shop was great, as was the Logo Shop & Pool Shop. The theatre was massive & beautiful. Pool areas were very nice (albeit crowded on sea days). Love the indoor pool w/retractable roof. Plenty of hot tubs, very spacious. I also loved Piazza Del Doge (gelato/coffee area) with nearby shops & there was even a cigar lounge; a very classy touch in my opinion, well ventilated & contained smoker's area. Outdoor pool areas were crowded but the staff didn't miss a beat with swabbing the decks to keep areas dry & safe. Gelato was also available on the pool deck; wait staff always asking passengers if they could fetch drinks for them, which I truly appreciated. On sea days, the shops would set up tables to sell things like tote bags, summer apparel, jewelry, etc. People may perceive this as a desperate attempt to sell things, but I consider this more of a convenience factor to make things more accessible to those who preferred to stay in the sun vs. going indoors.
Our cabin: we got the best deal & had a 2-room suite at the front of the ship (only 6 of these suites exist outside Yacht Club). Separate living room & bedroom, awesome space, huge walk-in closet & plenty of storage! We also had a bathtub vs. standup shower; loved it! Only drawback was the balcony, as it was partially wrap-around but the wind was so strong it was difficult to sit outside & truly enjoy. Didn't matter to us because we had the best views anyway! For 7 nights, we wanted more room. The bed, in my opinion, was quite plush; I slept like a baby every night. Our cabin steward was Bonbong & he was a God-send to us. One important tip we share w/other cruisers: not only do we prepay the gratuities, but when you first meet your cabin steward, slip him a $20 bill. Believe me, you'll be glad you did. Cash is king & since most ships are registered in Panama, the crew is paid in Panama wages, which is close to nothing. The crew rely on their tips, so cash is truly appreciated. After leaving St. Maarten & before getting to Puerto Rico, my daughter got very nauseous during the night & despite the horrible mess in our suite, Bonbong never hesitated to help us with anything we needed (stripped linens, extra cleaning, sent out laundry for us, etc). Knowing he cared so much for my daughter's well-being meant so much to me. My 2-room corner suite was my oasis at sea! Who would ever book a basic balcony with so much room?
Dining: Ok, here's where things got a little unpredictable, hence my 4 out of 5 rating. The cuisine on board was very different from what Americans are accustomed to. Did I enjoy everything I ate? No, of course not. Some dishes in the dining room fell short of expectation. Others exceeded expectation. Unlike what other reviews stated "food was nasty", etc., that's simply not true at all. Believe it or not, the buffet was well stocked and always had a variety. Fresh fruit, salad, carving stations, many options. For those who complained about "nasty food", those are the ones who are never happy with anything & who should just stop cruising altogether. Their ignorance & picky preferences just baffles me. I met a lady at the toaster area one morning who went borderline ballistic, ranting about the "horrible service" because she walked around for "30 minutes looking for prune juice" (can you say "yeah right"?). First of all, if looking for prune juice is your biggest complaint, then you REALLY have a problem. Secondly, who on earth drinks prune juice anyway? (makes you wonder what other problems she had)!
In all honesty, the biggest dining disappointment to me was Eataly Steakhouse. I was gobsmacked that even though my Aurea package included dinner for 2 at any specialty restaurant on board, little did I know that Eataly would be the poorest quality of all. Steaks in Eataly were overcooked, no flavor, very disappointing. However, the filet I had in the Black Crab dining room was PERFECT! Crazy! Ok, so Eataly missed the mark but it wasn't so horrible that I was going to let it ruin my vacation. On the other hand, the pizza at La Cantina di Bacco was REALLY good; definitely worth the extra $. Room service menu was very limited, so save yourself the disappointment & go to the buffet if in doubt; there's something for everyone. Yes, many hot dogs & burgers are served, but this is MSC's effort to cater to what they think Americans like. You can't blame them for trying, right? But seriously, there are plenty of things to choose from to eat; previous reviewers really didn't give MSC a fair shake; the food was "hit or miss", but it wasn't as bad as other reviewers claim.
Service: This is where I completely disagree with other reviewers of this ship. Based on my experience, the service on board was 100% professional, 100% courteous, and 100% spot on. Yes, there was the occasional language barrier or thick accents that were difficult to understand, but every single crew member who walked past me acknowledged me with a smile and a "hello" of some sort. I am going to be blatantly direct here, and not to be stereotypical, but the biggest source of the "rudeness" I found on board were the European passengers. Pushing into elevators before others could get off, pushing in front of others at buffet lines, despicable, self serving, shameful behavior. Nevertheless, the crew really did maintain & keep up with the masses, I don't care what anyone else alleges here. Bartenders were wonderful, even the staff in the buffet areas were wiping tables, clearing plates & even offering beverages after we sat down. I'm sorry, but it doesn't get any better than that. Those who complained about horrible service, I seriously don't believe they've worked a day in their life in the service industry. Perhaps they should give it a go & see if they can do any better. Bottom line: the staff works VERY hard and they work VERY long hours (over 14 hrs/day) to give passengers a great cruise experience. Be courteous and be a decent human being: maybe staff will be more inclined to serve you. If you act certifiable, no one wants to deal with you, period. Some people just need to have a long meeting w/themselves & consider that maybe being rude & ungrateful is the real problem, not the staff.
Entertainment/Activities: To start, the shows (and opera) were wonderful. The only cruise line that offers an authentic Italian opera; very nice & a good way to absorb different customs & culture. The tribute to Michael Jackson was truly awesome; dancers were unbelievable. Aside from theatre shows, I can file this under the "they're trying" category. Some areas lacked structure (i.e., Kids club); my daughter was frequently bored but she enjoyed the pools, waterslide, 4D cinema & bowling alley in the Sports Pub. The lack of kids' club activities didn't ruin her vacation, but I do think that a more structured kids' program would be "delighter" here. They offered bingo, karaoke, trivia & other activities, daily program publication has other interesting things listed (cornhole, fruit carving, etc.); again, hit or miss, but surely folks can find plenty of ways to relax & enjoy their on board experience.
Ports (Nassau/St Maarten/San Juan PR): Stayed on board in Nassau, had a massage & pedicure in the spa, WONDERFUL! St. Maarten: went to Maho Beach & watched airplanes land; phenomenal experience! Quick cab ride from port was about $30. San Juan was nice, lots to do, great shopping. We decided not to book an official excursion only because we like the flexibility of not being on a schedule.
Disembarkation: Very smooth, met in theatre at 7:30 am, off the ship by 8:15 am (had luggage picked up the night before). Grabbed taxi to Miami airport ($27 flat rate plus tip). No issues whatsoever.
In summary, my overall experience on MSC really did exceed my expectations in many ways & I left the ship shaking my head baffled by so many negative reviews of this ship? I spoke with many other passengers who agreed that the crew was wonderful & their overall experience was "different but very nice". Yes, we also came across the complainers (aka the prune juice lady, or the fat guy who complained about small portions, OMG, really? You can always get more food, good grief!), but I firmly believe that there are just some people out there who will never be happy with anything. To the complainers, get a grip & stop magnifying your issues as if your crazy experiences pushed you to the verge of collapse. It's your chintzy, picky ways that self-inflict the displeasure you feel. Again, if you keep an open mind, you will enjoy yourself on MSC Divina. Most importantly, my husband enjoyed his birthday vacation & for me, makes it all worth it. Based on my experience, I would definitely consider booking with MSC again.
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