Like many onboard, we booked this cruise because of the ridiculously low price for a 5 day trip.
1. We flew into the area and stayed at the Ramada by the cruise port the night before embarkation, a pretty good option since they have a great indoor pool and they are close to the port. Shuttle was $10 pp, so we decided to take a Lyft to the ship for $14 instead.
2. Embarkation was a nightmare and the worst part of the cruise. Not the ship's fault, but security was letting 20 people at a time in the building for check-in and the line outside (in the heat and sun) was 1 1/2 hours long. The bottleneck was the escalator to the check-in area and security held up the line forever for no good reason. Once we made it to the MSC controlled space, we were through in less than 10 minutes. They were very apologetic, but there was nothing different they could have done.
3. Since we were late boarding, our cabin was ready and that was a blessing in that we could drop off our bags and head to the buffet for something to eat. By now, it's 3:30pm, and the drill is at 4:15, so grab a plate and fill it before food service was shut down. Not really a problem, but then we had to hurry back to the cabin to get our life jackets (not expecting that) and make our way to our station. Drill was typical but included donning the jackets which took a little longer. Still not a big deal.
4. Cabin. We booked 12259, outside starboard side. It was spacious enough, with the usual balcony including 2 chairs and a small table. More than sufficient for our needs, and an enjoyable place to spend sea days and some port time. We could have used a few more shelves, but for 5 days it was perfect for our needs. The shower is a little strange. It's like a plexiglass clamshell, with both sides opening out for pretty easy entry, but the one door opened onto the toilet and could present a real problem for someone with balance or mobility issues. I doubt it would shatter, but you could slam that door into the toilet and cause some damage to the shower, and to the occupant. There was shampoo and body wash (biodegradable) in the shower, and both were pleasant to use. The bed was relatively hard, but that's my preference, and the king configuration had no sign of the usual crack between the mattresses! All in all, one of the more comfortable I have occupied. We had a pull-out sofa in the room, which was nice for sitting in the morning and evening, although we didn't use the bed itself. There is a refrigerator that is a decent size. We were able to put in a few things without removing the pricey items inside. Our cabin was about as far aft as you could go, and that was convenient to the dining room, but a 1,000 foot walk to the theater. The exercise was well received! Our cabin steward, Be, yes that's his name, was one of the best we have ever had. I never saw him without a smile and a laugh, and he kept the cabin pristine. We had a few conversations and a discussion about his home on Madagascar. He really added to our enjoyment on the trip.
5. Dining. We were assigned to early seating at the Black Crab. Dinner was at 6pm, and didn't really interfere with our port times, since it was dark by then. We had a table for 6 and were blessed with great table mates. Dinner was generally exceptional, with at least one miss. The grouper, tornedos of beef, parmesan were all restaurant quality and really enjoyable. There were some strange sides (whole roasted okra?) but in general as good as we found on the other major lines. I did have a bad meal one evening, but they swapped it out for the NY strip and that was fine. We generally ate in the dining room for lunch if it was open, and the food was some of the best on the cruise. We had the buffet on embarkation day and on both port days, and it was a typical shipboard buffet. The pizza was excellent, and there was ethnic (Indian) food at one station. Generally the pasta was good, but the food was better in the dining room. I also ate breakfast in the dining room most morning while the queen slept in, and it was very good. I heard people commenting about the zoo in the buffet, so it was nice to sit in a quiet environment with fresh, hot food and converse with other early risers. Quality was very good.
6. Specialty restaurant. We ate one meal (complimentary) in the steak house. It was very much like a high-end ala carte steakhouse experience on land. We both had the filet, which was well prepared and delicious, but the meal included only 1 side and a dessert. A salad would have been nice, but we didn't feel it was worth the price. However, the dessert made up for it! We both had the chocolate molten cake and it was very close to the best thing I have ever eaten in my life! Moist chocolate cake with a volcano of dark fudge erupting from the center alongside a large scoop of vanilla bean ice cream! In retrospect, we should have made reservations again just for the dessert! The fixed board meal is $47 per person and includes the side and dessert. No additional tips required, but drinks and other sides are not included and are a little expensive. We did get a bottle of Pelligrino to start the meal however. I think this is on a par with other cruise lines, but we still have a problem spending $100 when the food in the dining room is this good.
7. Entertainment. There was a production show every night of the cruise. This was a total surprise, but we didn't really miss the usual assortment of magicians, jugglers and comedians. The quality of the shows was 5 stars. Sometimes there was very little story in them, but the dancing, singing, costumes and general choreography were amazing! There were a lot of acrobatics in the shows, and some were Cirque quality. The energy level was off the charts and they were able to bring in audience participation at every show. We never missed one, and thoroughly enjoyed each and every performance and performer. On Italian night we were treated to the lead singers and they added an amazing tenor and contra-soprano that brought the house down. On our previous sailings with MSC, the entertainment was generally excellent, but this was a whole new level of quality and represented the best of our 75+ cruises.
8. The Divina. We were concerned that this was an 8 year old ship, but we shouldn't have been. She is beautiful and well laid out. The public spaces are extraordinary, and the pool areas really beautiful. Never a problem finding a deck chair or a bartender. They show movies on the deck and the screen is huge and bright and the sound system is stadium quality. The dining areas are beautiful and well-appointed, although a little tight getting around tables at meal time. I would never have guessed her age, and the level of maintenance was better than most cruises we have experienced. Casino, shopping and public areas were well designed and maintained, giving a level of luxury to the ship. We would not hesitate to sail on her again, and are now considering booking on one of the new mega-ships.
9. The crew. Our cruise director, whose name escapes me for some reason, was very professional and qualified. I called her the German Amazon - she was tall and liked to pile her hair up! I have no idea how many languages she spoke, but they were all accentless as far as I could tell. Every staff member we met was courteous and friendly, and as usual the dining room staff was exceptional. I've already mentioned our cabin steward, but I was greeted warmly by every other steward I passed in the hall. The captain was extremely approachable and we had a number of one-on-one conversations with him. His English was excellent, and he also speaks 6 languages - 5 fluently. He is from Sorrento, and we had a nice conversation about a little town an hour from there where we both had vacationed! Talk about a small world. Although the crew was the usual foreign mix and the officers were from all over, English was spoken by everyone and communication was never a problem. I would also rate the crew at 5 stars.
10. Ports. We only had 2 stops, Costa Maya and Ocean Cay. Costa Maya is a typical cruise built port with the ubiquitous shops, restaurants and bars. There are nice beaches here, but it's not really Mexico, but a cruise-themed version of it. Not our favorite port, but certainly not the worst either. Ocean Cay. We were the third MSC ship to dock at Ocean Cay, and there is still quite a bit of construction going on, although it did not impact our enjoyment of the island. There are a number of beaches, including a private one for Yacht Club passengers, and a family beach that seemed to attract the kiddos. We found a nice quiet area for ourselves, and had pre-rented an umbrella for $10 that was plenty big for the 2 of us. They had spaced "food trucks" around the island that served burgers, hot dogs and pasta salad. There were 3 I believe and all had the same menu. There was also a large buffet area in the center of the island with plenty of seating. The food was typical buffet, but cooked on the ship and brought ashore, so it did affect the quality and temperature of the offerings. The worst food of the cruise, but you could have walked back on to the ship for food at any time, so a small issue. Lots of bars, same prices as the ship and drink packages worked here also. The beach was white sand and beautiful. The water was crystal clear and Caribbean Blue, and 4 feet deep from the shore to the sand bar - at which point it dropped to 12 feet. That allowed for a lot of different water activities, and people were taking advantage of it. Most of the beaches surrounded a lagoon, and there was snorkeling off the ocean side with some small coral reefs available. We really enjoyed the stop here and MSC had done a great job of creating their own tropical paradise.
11. Passengers. I don't have an actual count, but I would guess the mix of passengers to be about 50% Americans, with a large mix of South American / Hispanic and a smaller number of Europeans. You definitely heard a lot of Spanish, but MSC is popular with a European crowd and the number of people who flew in for a 5 day cruise was amazing! I assume they spent time in Florida also, but we met a number of folks who were there just for the Divina. There were approximately 100 pre-school aged children on the ship. Most were in the camps and we never really saw much of them. They would arrive for the shows and watch politely and then march out together afterward. One evening we had a pre-show of the kids singing for about 15 minutes, and it was delightful! The camp counselors were in costume almost every time we saw them and the kids seemed to be having a great time.
12. Weather. We had really good weather most of the trip. There was some rain in Costa Maya, but generally lots of sun and warm temps - highs in the upper 70's and low 80's. Generally the seas were mild, although 2 of our dinner mates complained of movement. We never really felt anything, except walking down the corridor on occasion, and none of the shows were impacted.
13. Disembarkation. Here we go again. We were actually called for disembarkation at the exact time indicated on the colored luggage tags. Luggage had to be out by 2AM, and was gone by the time we went to breakfast at7. We left for the gangway on schedule, got off the ship, then entered the terminal under the control of the port again. A nightmare. Again, they were letting 20 people at a time go down to the customs/baggage area and the line in the corridor was 2 hours long. No reason for this. For some reason an officer took pity on us (we were at the end of the line) and escorted us to the elevator and straight down to baggage! I don't know why, but I would have married her if I wasn't already spoken for! We expected a crowd in baggage, but there was hardly anyone there! I have no idea why they limited the lines to the escalator. Anticipating and easy trip through the Global Entry kiosks, we were dismayed to find there were none. There were also 5 border agents processing 4,000 passports at the end of the queue. This is the worst process by a port we have ever encountered. It would give me serious pause about every sailing out of Miami again.
14. Cruise Critic Meet and Mingle. Since this is a CC review, I feel it incumbent on me to describe the M&M. We have been to a lot of them, and usually they are ok, but a little disorganized with a smattering of crew (usually the cruise director and some staff) and a few snacks and beverages in a too-small venue. We still go, but about 1/2 of them have been disappointing. MSC is trying to build business and sees CC as a major part of this strategy. We were placed into one of the largest lounges on the ship, there was a CC cake baked especially for the occasion, and every single staff officer was there - including the captain! Hors d'oeuvres were excellent and a variety of drinks prepared at the bar were available. Introductions were made and then the captain made an attempt to engage with every person in the room. More than that, he was very interested in our opinion of the ship, our previous sailings with both MSC and other lines, and actually took notes of our comments. I have to say it was the best M&M I have ever attended, and I strongly suggest all of my fellow CC members do so also!