This review is presented in two parts: first, my own ‘Personal’ review (what happened to me) which is followed by a somewhat more objective view of the MSC Divina based on an Western Caribbean cruise as ... Read More
This review is presented in two parts: first, my own ‘Personal’ review (what happened to me) which is followed by a somewhat more objective view of the MSC Divina based on an Western Caribbean cruise as a friend and I experienced in early December, 2014.
The Ft. Lauderdale airport is not known for their efficiency and user services. Our Southwest flight on one of their newest 737-800’s was pleasant and just over 2 hours, non-stop from Providence RI. Baggage claim was the first sign that our troubles were starting. Signs and announcements claimed that Providence baggage was arriving on carousel 6. That changed to carousel 8 and then back again to 6. In the end, my traveling companion and I stood at each carousel. Our luggage arrived on carousel 7. I smiled and popped a valium. There was a cruise line rep gathering up passengers for the transfer to the Miami Cruiseport- 99% for the NCL ‘Getaway’ and us. The only reason I knew this is because as she passed by me, I noticed that she was also holding an MSC sign on the back of the NCL sign. She was less than pleased when I approached her and asked where we should go.
We had purchased the transfer from our travel advisor. It was booked with MSC and added to our master bill ($40 each I think- the return was $20 each on a private van service). A 48 passenger motorcoach with 46 NCL passengers on their Getaway and 2 to the MSC Divina loaded slowly. MSC passengers were ‘tag alongs’. We waited for all the Getaway folks to board the coach first and then we took our place in the last row. The transfer was a merciful 40 minutes long.
Now, the baggage drop, US Customs and escalators have become familiar and almost ‘old hat’ to us by now. We waited in separate lines to check in at what felt like a “mile long” check-in desk with dozens of MSC reps. I just about fell to the floor when my check-in clerk said, “Excuse me sir, are you sure you have the right ship? I don’t have you on any of our lists.” WHAT? I produced photocopies of my confirmation sent to us directly online from MSC with the oversight of our travel professional and that was the only thing that seemed to work. “We are sorry sir, but this information was not transmitted to us” he said more than once. I was not quite sure if he was accepting blame or throwing it back to my agent. Please know that I have been dealing with one, extremely professional and picky person who makes sure that all bases are covered when she makes my reservations. I trust her and her company and feel that whoever ‘dropped the ball’ was NOT her.
My ‘clerk’ went to see his “boss” and returned after about 15 minutes and said, “Excuse me sir, but we still have that cabin available and we would be happy to accept you as a last-minute shore side reservation. Did that mean that my travel pro was then cut out of her commission?
I simply said, “Put us in that cabin . . . now”. He accepted my charge card and issued an MSC room-charge card. It was about 1:30pm and I had thought that we could gain access to our cabin quickly. No. Cabins would not be ready until 3 pm. The buffet or sitting in any common area was the option. We went to the crowded buffet with our carry-on bags and waited for the call to access our Deck 10 room.
Our room steward had cleaned the room but not separated the beds, so to ease his work- we stripped the linens, separated the beds and had it ready for him to make up more easily. They are all greatly over-worked and what we did was easy and he thanked us. He produced his room manifest for me to look at and sure enough- our cabin and names were NOT listed. I guess “the information had not been transmitted” to housekeeping either.
Now came the most interesting challenge- dining. Our room ID – charge card did NOT indicate dining time or place:
So, we boldly went to the 6 PM early seating in the Main Dining Room (The Black Crab) and requested to be seated at a table for 2 or 6. The maitr’d said “I am sorry sir, you are not on my list. We do not have any space at all. Our dining room is full and there are no empty seats.” I guess “. . . the information had not been transmitted” to Food & Beverage either. I was starting to feel like I didn’t exist. He suggested that we go to the buffet on the top deck. Like whipped puppies, we found an elevator and pressed 14. The buffet was hardly the way to open our glamorous cruise on the Divina. I don’t remember what the food was, and that should tell you how impressed I was.
There was a savior. At the Reception (Front) Desk, where I was headed to blow up or commit a crime, I met a big burly man who knew how to snap out orders and get things done. I approached him with our story of woe. Pavel Gazzo, the Guest Relations Manager knew what to do! He checked my photocopy of what MSC had sent and started snapping out orders to various staff members. Things started to happen. As promised when booking, a packet of drink tickets magically appeared.
The complimentary ‘no gratuities’ actually worked, and the sparkling wine and deluxe fruit basket of seasonal foods appeared on the second day of the cruise as I was changing to go to dinner. Voila:
One banana and Granny Smith apples must have been “in season” in the Caribbean last December. That’s a kiwi fruit under the plastic. Have you ever peeled and eaten a kiwi fruit? The wine went to a Trivia game winner and we split the banana. The cruise was getting better.
There is no more to write about. This review should give the average reader an idea of my first and last cruise with MSC.
Caribbean cruises aboard the MSC Divina (3,500 passengers) are enjoyable one-week getaways that come with a collection of offerings very different from those of other major lines serving Southern ports. To be clear, Mediterrean Shipping Company’s twelve passenger vessels serve Mediterrean and other European ports.
Only one of their ships is assigned to the North American market, sailing out of Miami, mostly on 7-day itineraries. The company is obviously trying to establish a presence in a place they feel is underserved for their style of service.
The point here is that MSC is attempting to make inroads to the American/Canadian markets and this cruise passenger maintains they are failing. From the outside, the ship looks beautiful. In fact, most of the cabins and public spaces are magnificent. It is a ship to be envied . . . but there are interior details to be considered.
Negotiating in any direction is a challenge because there is little if any signage. Odd numbered cabins are on the port (left) side, and even on the starboard (right). It ends there. There are no front-back, forward-aft signs whatsoever. Deck numbers are hidden, even in the elevator lobbies.
The Divina does maintain current industry standards; the theater is forward on lower decks, the main dining rooms are in the stern with one dining room (Villa Rossa) that can barely be found. It’s on Deck 6, but you have to go to Deck 7 and walk down one flight of stairs to get there. It takes practice and patience and makes me wonder what asylum did they put the designer of this misplaced room in such a difficult location . . .
The “casino” is just outside the theater, of course. On a 2 year old ship, it looks tired and worn. Game tables are covered in a depressing dark forest green- not bright and lively green felt. Most of the 135 slot machines have aging front screens and games that 72-year old ladies who live in land casinos can’t understand. If they (the machines) look prematurely yellow and foggy . . . they are.
After having cruised 23 times, I can remember that almost every passageway had “art”, some good, mostly bad . . . but I could remember the way to my stateroom by knowing that the ‘skyscraper’ came after the ‘wolf’ or the ‘Art Moderne nymph’ was just before the ‘manhole cover’. The Divina has almost no art on the walls- probably because the passageways (all of them) are too narrow. In fact, almost all walking areas are too narrow- especially those on the top deck buffet where hundreds of passengers walk at every meal.
The 20 step Swarovski crystal double staircases in the atrium is a feature of the ship. They are eye-popping and worthy of a photo or two. I strongly recommend that you think twice before attempting them. Whatever you do, don’t look down and hold the handrail. Sooner or later, someone will tell you that each step cost $60,000 which means that one step is worth more than the median U.S. income, and collectively, could buy you a new Lear jet. Impressed?
Today, food is one of the most important reasons people take cruises. The Divina offers a multitude of restaurants, both included in the price and some carrying extra charges. The difficulty is there seems to be nothing in print or online that lists which restaurants charge what. Maybe, it’s a secret. I avoided all of them and made myself happy in the main dining room, interestingly called “The Black Crab” . . . hardly a name one would expect on a ship from Italy. The Divina was built in France- it’s French ships that are built in Italy- go figure.
The food is generally good (not great) with some exceptions. Menus offer a nice selection of appetizers, soups, entrees, and desserts. Seafood is special with excellent prawns (big shrimp) as a main course. Roast beef offered on two nights was a toss-up- the first was passable, the second- impossible to cut through the grizzle. Maine lobster tail was already cracked with meat bursting from the shell. Expect the traditional Baked Alaska Parade and an Italian theme night.
There was one appetizer that actually brought chuckles and giggles throughout the dining room from those who ordered it. It was described in print as:
Seafood Seared Scallops on a creamy risotto with Prosecco wine and smoked Provola cheese
When served, there was ONE (yes- one) half-inch overcooked scallop in the middle of a sea of mushy white rice. I guess there was wine and cheese in it, but my palate has not been to any culinary institute, so I couldn’t tell. I ate the scallop and passed on the mush. Please notice the “s” on the first line- ScallopS.
The top-deck buffet has two names and I still don’t know why. There are NO ship buffets arranged in any way that makes sense. The Divina is the most confusing of all. First, it’s not arranged in a straight line. It has food stations out and indented with some semi-circular. Offerings change daily, and don’t assume that all breakfast items are the same or in the same locations. There are no cooked-to-order foods. My personal favorite, smoked salmon, was not available other than by special request. There was a selection of juices, but no tomato, another favorite that was missing. I’m told that the variety of pizzas was impressive (I am not a fan) and the burgers were good. Who goes on a cruise for burgers and pizza?
Worthy of note are the fresh cut cold cuts for make-your-own sandwiches and fresh breads. On the minus side- there are no spoons to stir coffee- just wooden swizzles and never enough cream, or half & half to lighten any of the Divina’s strong coffee. There are not salt and pepper shakers anywhere on the deck- just annoying tiny packets, as are all condiments. Serving plates were large, oval and scratched Melamine (or Melamac), a throwback to the 1960’s. They were tacky.
There are more bars and lounges (18) on the Divina than on most ships her size- pool bars, sports bars, elegant bars, disco bars, etc. Alcoholic drinks were uniformly priced at $7.25 (Dec 2014) and included all the standards, as well as some inventive libations with names that never hinted at their contents. Rum, vodka and tequila all merged their way into “Deep Blue Lagoons” or “Deck X Smashers”. Be sure to check the drink packages for significant savings and remember to bring you room key-charge card wherever you go.
Employees of any cruise line fall into two categories. Basically, those who work for a salary (entertainers, upper cruise staff, technical staff, the Captain and engineers, etc.), and those who depend largely on tips and gratuities (room stewards, dining room staff, casino dealers, etc.). Aboard the Divina, room attendants go out of their way to stay out of your way and clean the room carefully, at least once a day, usually more. Ice (tiny buckets) and fresh towels in the morning and at night. Our steward, Garfield Williams (Jamaica) had 15 rooms on Deck 10 to ‘make nice’ every day. In a 14 plus hour day, he had a total of one hour break time, and sometimes, not even that. Would you like that job?
Those employees who never receive tips showed me why. Front desk (Reception) ‘clerks’ (best word to describe them) are efficient and professional. So much so, they often come across as Field Commanders for some general staff. They do their jobs, but, on the Divina, without a sense of humor, a smile or an attitude that “the customer is always right”. The same is true for the bartenders and photo staff when they are not hunting you down to pause on the jewel staircase or the fake ship’s wheel on the dock.
Most people on the service side of the industry, frequently attend ‘smile schools’. They rarely work unless it’s a Disney related enterprise. The bottom line is that MSC scores low in service, not counting their dining room and housekeeping departments.
I had heard from a number of people, and had read online, that the shows were magnificent and I shouldn’t miss a single one. Wrong. The Pantheon Theater is impressive and the shows are generally good, with some better than others. The problem is ‘sameness’. The show names and costumes change, but the productions are only slightly different. It’s the same two singers and violin player. The same dancers doing the same moves and in a one-week cruise, there was one piece of “magic”. One.
I heard the song “Volare” at least twice- maybe three times during the cruise. The dancers are A+ and perform the same choreography the same way in different elaborate costumes almost every night. The stage set is the same- a number of steps with LED lighting that change colors (wow!) and sometimes move a bit to accommodate an elevator lift in the center. In one show, a trio of Oriental ladies do some impressive acrobatics and the two hand-balance muscle men cannot help but impress. The Michael Jackson Revue is OK. It is not great- and that’s from a person who has published reviews of stage performances’.
There are important pieces of entertainment that I missed. There are no comedians, no novelty acts, no mix of live musicians no patriotic shows, no magicians, no feature dancers, no Broadway or Hollywood themes . . . well, by now, you get the idea. I never even went to the last show. There is no live orchestra, and the sound equipment barely makes it on a level that my profession can detect. This was confirmed to me by a sound technician who admitted that MSC had cut corners on the microphones and other important sound equipment. Lighting programming (everything is digital of course) violates one of the primary rules of stagecraft. Powerful moving Gobo beam lighting circles the audience, shining in the faces of almost everyone. While interesting, these lights have proven to be a health hazard, triggering seizures to those who cannot handle the repetitive bright flashing. This is something that should be addressed immediately.
If you were hoping for a cocktail or other drink to go along with the show, forget it. There is no bar service in the theater. “Guests may not reserve seats for others before show time” is another ridiculous policy in print that simply does not work on the Divina or any cruise ship. There simply is no ships staff on duty in the theater that I saw during any of the evening shows. Saving seats on this ship is as common as any ship in the Caribbean. Again, the take-away here is that show time on the MSC Divina is grossly overrated. It is barely adequate to other like-sized ships. In the winter of 2014, the ship’s Cruise Director is a nice lady who is linguistically challenged. She mispronounces many words and speaks so fast that many guests have difficulty understanding her. Maybe I’m being too critical and her talents are right for the Divinia or a stadium.
Other entertainment in smaller lounges and venues are good, but always compete with silly art auctions-at-sea. Who goes on a Caribbean cruise to buy a really ugly painting? Bingo and a number of inside lounge ‘games’ are scheduled and I will admit to enjoying Kevin’s Trivia Quiz sessions.
Ports of call
My cruise visited the ports of Falmouth, Jamaica; Grand Cayman, Cozumel and NCL’s (yes NCL) “private island”- Great Stirrup Cay. Any review of these ports would make this a book, so I will reserve port comments to another posting.
“A Ship Within a Ship” (the Yacht Club aboard the MSC Divina)
When one flies First Class, there are benefits and perks that those in Economy never see. Usually, there is a list of amenities that include special treatment from start to finish. MSC Cruises offers their version of First Class with “A Ship Wit hin a Ship”. It’s a special section of deluxe cabins, with a private elevator, concierge, pool, restaurant, etc. The balance of the passengers on any sailing receives a much different and lesser offering.
It is fair to say that passengers in the Yacht Club are in a First Class setting that in almost all cases separates them in fact as well as cruise experience.