Just got back from a 10 day, Mediterranean cruise on the MSC Divina (9-26-15 sailing). I’ll do a very short review for those with a short attention span and a much more detailed review for those who would like an in-depth review.
Background: I’ve been doing cruises for about 15 years, having sailed on Celebrity, Norwegian, MSC, Carnival, RCCL, Princess, and Croisieres de France. I’m also an Amazon top reviewer and work for a major Wall Street firm in San Diego. My girlfriend and I are in our early 50s.
Don’t believe all of the negative one and two star reviews of MSC. This ship was beautiful, spotless and the food was good. Also, don’t get fixated on all of those photos of hot dogs and hamburgers. There is a huge and varied selection of food to choose from. While MSC doesn’t do everything perfect, there are a lot of things they do very well. I would not hesitate to sail on MSC again and in fact, they’d be one of my cruise lines of choice.
Pre-Cruise: We spent 2 days in Rome on the Spanish Steps. We stayed at the Piazza di Spagna View, which is in a wonderful location. The room was inexpensive and literally overlooked the steps. It was also clean and comfortable. However, staff was often not on site (they’re there mornings only) and it did lack some amenities that some might be used to. Rome is a fabulous city, so do not miss it. We ate so well. Excellent and reasonable restaurants everywhere. Fantastic people watching. Something over 1,000 years old almost every time we turned the corner. We did private transportation (used Viator) from airport to hotel, from hotel to ship and from ship back to the airport. It worked well, but we did have one hitch.
Embarkation: 5 minutes, are you kidding me? Seriously, on the ship in just 5 minutes. Baggage showed up in 20 minutes. Did you know that MSC stands for Mediterranean Shipping Company and that they are a huge global shipper? When we were in Europe, we saw the MSC logo on trains and shipping crates everywhere. I think that they know a lot about moving things and I believe this carries forward into their cruise business. Best and fastest embarkation ever!
Video: I’ve uploaded a video review to YouTube entitled MSC Divina Balcony Review 13118. If you’d like to search for it, it shouldn’t be too hard to find.
The Cabin: As mentioned, we stayed in 13118 which is a mid-ship balcony cabin on the 13th deck, which is the “Fantastica Experience”. I had booked the lowest level balcony guarantee and this was our room assignment, which I was very happy with. The room was immaculate, spacious and comfortable. Do be aware that some of the balcony rooms are much smaller than others, so be sure to look at the deck plan. For example compare our room to let’s say 13130. Our room is far bigger, even though the location is similar and pricing could be similar or identical.
You have to insert your cruise card (or similar) into a slot to keep the lights on. I inserted a paper card but the cabin steward informed me it’s best to use the cruise card. That’s because, when your card is in the slot, there’s a small light to the upper, left part of the door that tells him it’s occupied. When he sees that light off, he knows it’s okay to clean the room.
There’s much discussion about the overhang from the superstructure, especially with respect to the 13th deck. Some rooms have a small overhang, some have a very large overhang, while others have no overhang. We had the small overhang and I viewed this as a positive. It kept the room shady on sunny days and when we had blowing rain, I think it was also a plus.
So in short, the room was excellent, probably my best experience to date.
The Food: I was almost scared off by prior reviews of MSC food. Others have posted photo after photo of hot dogs and hamburgers, suggesting that the food is lousy and of limited variety. That’s not even slightly true. Yes, there are always hot dogs, burgers and pizza. The pizza and burgers are excellent, but I didn’t try the dogs. *BUT* bear in mind that during meal hours, the buffet is super well stocked with a massive variety of foods, most of which are very good or excellent. Here’s a tip. If you don’t see what you want…keep on walking. The buffet area is very, very large and often there were many items in farther away areas of the buffet that you wouldn’t see if you didn’t do a lap, or at least a half-lap, around said area. So dismiss the hot dog and burger comments, as it’s just not true. Sure, you might see that in-between meals, but otherwise you’ll find a ton of offerings.
In the main dining room, food was mostly very good. I can’t quite go excellent, but solid in general. However, there is definite room for improvement. The fish is always overcooked and mostly has a somewhat fishy taste. Disappointing, but the solution is to avoid the fish. I’d call upon MSC to improve their seafood quality and preparation. As mentioned, it was always tough and overcooked. The beef, lamb and chicken are very good. Prime Rib was cooked quite nicely. Most of the appetizers and desserts were solid as well.
While most on the ship speak very good English, our waiter did not and as a result several orders were fouled up. He was a nice guy, but initially I asked for another table. Both the Maître D and assistant Maître D told me “not possible”. We also asked for their My Time Dining and I was told “not possible”. Frankly, I thought that the Maître Ds were snotty and unaccommodating and they ought to shape up or ship out.
We also bought the Allegrissimo drink package and I have a tip for you. When trying to book this, some links wanted $35 USD per day while others wanted 26€ per day. Obviously, 26€ is cheaper, so find that option. If you book this in advance, you avoid the 15% (I think) service charge. There are plenty of good drink options and limited wine options, but we found a merlot that we mostly enjoyed with dinner. Also, Allegrissimo gets you coffee drinks, such as cappuccinos, and unlimited Gelato, which is fantastic!
The Ship: Beautiful. Almost stunning really. Super clean and super well-maintained! It wasn’t hard to get around. Best ship I’ve ever been on. The folks at MSC deserve applause for the thought and detail that they put into Divina. It almost pains me to read all of the negative reviews directed towards such a beautiful ship. And again, as noted the food and service were also quite good, with several minor exceptions. I also liked the fact that announcements are to the point and kept to a minimum.
The Passengers: Varied. Many Europeans. Cruisers of all ages, not too old and not too young. Plenty of English Speakers too. We rarely had a problem with communication, although as noted, some of the waiters could have spoken better English.
Entertainment: Really, really good. Saw a number of shows in the theater and was highly impressed. I liked Billy Bones, which received a standing ovation. Michael Jackson show was also very good, but far less acrobatic and physical than Billy Bones. Most of the musicians on Divina are excellent. There was a heavy-set pianist who sometimes played with an Italian opera singer and they were amazing! We’d sit in that beautiful lobby with a brandy snifter of Grand Marnier (included in Allegrissimo) and it was a great way to wind down in the evening.
Disembarkation: I’m guessing it went fine for most. We had a problem though. We had an 11:55 am flight and wished to get off the ship early. The front desk told me not to put my bags outside of the room, but instead simply carry them down and exit the ship as soon as it arrived. We did that and in short, they would not allow us to exit the ship for another 45 minutes. If you are doing a cruise out of Rome, booking a flight departure around noon or after you are probably fine. 1 pm, 2 pm even better. 11 am, you’ll probably miss it. 11:30 am, possibly doable, with some luck and reasonable traffic, but generally try for around noon or later.
Internet Access: If you’re like me, you’ll want constant online access. While on the ship, I bought MSC’s Wi-Fi package. They had a 50% off deal that I thought was quite fair. Not sure if you’ll get the same offer, but here were the prices, again at 50% off. All prices are in Euro. 1hr 8.45€. 1.4hr 12.45€. 5hr 27.45€. 8hr 34.95€. 24hr 84.95€. I chose 8 hours and it suited my needs. Don’t forget to login and logoff, as the clock keeps running if you forget.
While on land, you may know that roaming data can be crazy expensive if you are overseas and you can run up a massive bill if you aren’t careful. Here’s what I did. Understand that I have an iPhone 6 and this might or might not work for you.
1. I bought a Keepgo SIM card with 1 GB or data. This ran me $70. I removed my normal SIM card before leaving and replaced it with Keepgo. This gave me 3G speeds (it’s fine) in every stop and it works in almost every country in the world. There might be cheaper options by purchasing SIM cards in each country, but I didn’t want to monkey with that. This works great everywhere I have ever visited. I’d suggest you test it before you leave, as there might be configuration issues, but they are usually simple to resolve. The Keepgo app should be downloaded and used.
But just one problem. It’s a data only card, which means you can’t use your phone as a phone in the usual way. Not really a problem, in my view.
2. Use Skype, which is not only super cheap anyway, but possibly free. As of this writing, Skype offers an Unlimited World Plan. It’s inexpensive to begin with, but the first month is free. So, I did the free trial, called anywhere in the world for free during the trip and then cancelled the trial upon my return. If you don’t cancel, you’ll be billed for the next month. I was charged nothing.
But what if people wish to call you?
3. If you wish to receive incoming calls with the above setup, you’ll need to buy a Skype Number. It’s around $18 for 3 months and you can choose a local number that anyone call you on. So if you’re in Rome, your phone will ring when someone calls you on a hometown number. Works great. Again, if you don’t cancel, it will renew. Some might not need this, as you can still communicate via e-mail or possibly text. But I wanted to have a way for work or family to call me easily if something really important came up.
Let me begin by saying that everything is billed in Euro. While you’ll have a credit card on file with the ship, you will want to have some Euro cash in your pocket. We brought about 300€ each for the 10 day cruise and I ended up with about 70€ left over. Obviously, you may need more or less than we did. Also, many European credit cards have the new security chip, so better if you have one of those. My Capital One card did not. I asked for a chip card and was told they wouldn’t be mailing those for months. They also said that I could not specifically request a chip card ahead of schedule. I then asked, “If I simply ask for a 2nd duplicate card, will it have the chip on it”. The answer was yes, and indeed it did. Also, use a card for purchases where possible without any currency mark-up. Capital One is a good example. Discover card also waives the foreign currency transaction fee, but is not widely accepted in Europe, so you can probably leave it home. There are other cards that waive that fee, so check it out before you travel.
La Spezia, Italy: We did the Cinque Terre, which is stunning. It’s also close to the cruise port, by train. I recommend that you get off the ship, grab a taxi, and take it to the central train station. Should run around 15€, which is a bit pricey, but it will get you there fast. I’d not recommend walking or messing with a bus. At the train station, you’ll see a lot of people, a lot of stuff in Italian that you don’t understand, several automated machines with short lines, and a longer line leading to a couple of ticket windows. Get in the longer line and buy the 5 Terre ticket for Cinque Terre for 12€ each. You must have cash (no credit card accepted). This will allow you unlimited train passage between the 5 towns, which is super convenient. You must validate the ticket at the platform once only. You should see a number of machines that you can put the ticket into the slot to validate. You also have to write your full name in pen on the ticket. The ticket agents do speak some limited English to help you a bit.
But then, you’ll see a bunch of train schedules, in Italian, and they may seem confusing. Don’t worry, it’s not that hard. Just look for a specific city that you’ll visit, make sure to find the right platform, and get on board. Look for departures (treni in partenza) and not arrivals (treni in arrivo). You’ll figure it out.
If you have internet access, I recommend that you view their schedules online. Go to ViaggiaTreno d o t it and click on the small Italian flag in the upper right corner, then select English. Next, click on Train – Station. Once you enter the first few letters of the town you want to visit, it will populate. Why not try it now? Type in Monterosso and you’ll see the departures and planned platform. Double-check the info with the schedules at the station, especially the platform. You can do this without going online, but it’s in Italian at the station. Still, not too tough to figure out and a breeze once you’ve got the hang of it.
I’d suggest that you visit Monterosso first (it’s the farthest from La Spezia and probably the nicest) and then work your way back. We hit all 5 towns, going from Monterosso to Vernazza to Corniglia to Manarola and finally onto Riomaggiore before finally heading back to La Spezia and then taking a taxi back to the ship. If you wish to do all 5 towns (we did), get off the ship early and you will return late but you will have time. You could also hit a few towns only, but again I liked Monterosso the best. I had an amazing sea bass lunch with fantastic local white wine at Il Castello.
Cannes, France: This was a bit disappointing. We did the MSC tour to Nice and Eze. They were filming in Nice and traffic was at a standstill due to this. We sat on the bus for about an hour. Nice seemed quite nice, but we had maybe 25 minutes to see it. Then, 2 passengers were lost and we had to wait 45 minutes for them. Eze was interesting but mostly nothing but shops. The perfume factory gave me a headache. However, I do think Nice is worthwhile and if you don’t hit traffic, you might have better luck. We spoke with one couple who had a private driver. They hit Nice, Eze and Monaco and had a great time with no problems.
Palma de Mallorca, Spain: This is a surprisingly nice and large island and I think the population is 800,000. We did the Dragon’s Caves aka Cuevas de Drach via MSC. Really beautiful caves with a large lake at the bottom. You walk through them and then you are seated in the dark while dimly lit boats row up and play classical music. Pretty cool. Then, those same boats take you back to the exit. Next, the bus took us to the Majorca Factory Shop, which mostly sells nice pearl jewelry. While I could care less about pearl jewelry, there’s a café that sells Sangria, Espresso, Licor de Mallorca for only 1€ and great sandwiches for 3€. Get in line early. The Sangria is excellent and we bought 4 at such a low price. I also enjoyed the sandwich a lot, which is made fresh and toasted.
The only bummer is that all that bus traveling gives you limited time in the actual central Palma city area. We had some time and it’s nice and impressive. While I would have preferred more time to see the massive church (it was closed) and to check out central Palma, I did think the tour was worthwhile. I also thought MSC’s tours in general were well-priced, mostly around 40€ per person.
Barcelona, Spain: Gorgeous city. We did the “Highlights of Barcelona, Montserrat and Wine Tasting” tour, which was long at 7.5 hours. The tour started with a visit to Vilarnau Winery that makes Cava, which is basically Spanish Champagne. It wasn’t great and wasn’t bad. Included was a tasting of their Cava. Next we climbed the mountain of Monserrat to an elevation of about 4,000 feet to visit the Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey, which I believe was built around 1400. The Abbey and its surroundings were utterly spectacular. It’s like something you’d see in a video or magazine, but never dreamed you’d visit. I loved this stop and highly recommend it. The only downside is that the tour concludes with a drive through Barcelona, so you never really experience Las Ramblas and such. You’ll have to decide if that’s acceptable. But I will say that I enjoyed this tour, although I thought the winery thing was just okay.
Valetta, Malta: An old city that you can walk about in. We walked to a giant Elevator and it took us up over the massive wall that lines the city for I think 2€ (coming down is free). The city is very walkable and quaint. Don’t miss St. John’s Co-Cathedral, although they do nail you for 6€ to get in. Worth it, in my view. Outside of the cathedral are several cafes where you can have lunch, a snack or a drink and that’s exactly what we did after walking most of the central area. You probably don’t need a tour to see Malta.
Corfu, Greece: I’m half Greek, so it was kind of special in a way to visit the home of many of my ancestors. We did the MSC Paleokastritsa and Wine Tasting tour. You start off by visiting the Koum Quat Mavromatis (Mavormatis means “Black Eyes” in Greek) Factory that offers free tastings of their liquors, mostly Kumquat, Limoncello and Ouzo. They also offer many candies, jams and such. Oh man, this place is great! Load up on purchases here. The prices are excellent and the quality is outstanding. I bought a ton of stuff for 60€. Everything is good and you can taste some of it to confirm. We then visited the beautiful Paleokastritsa beach, but time was quite limited. We had a couple of glasses of Ouzo in a restaurant on the sand. Next we visited a town very high in the hills and had Greek wine (it’s okay) and a nice plate of meat and cheese (excellent). There are also gift shops with cheap prices. The drive is lovely and I was surprised that Corfu has over 4,500,000 olive trees on that island. There are literally olive trees almost everywhere you look!
Messina, Sicily: This stop was disappointing. The city is beautiful as you pull up, but on Sunday it’s pretty much closed and seems a bit run down. There was nothing to do but visit the nice ancient cathedral built in 1198 and climb the bell tower for a small fee. Pay the extra 1€ after climbing the tower to visit the cathedral’s museum, which has some beautiful items displayed. But the town was dead as can be. We took the MSC tour to Mt. Etna. It’s a long ride out there and doesn’t go to the top, stopping at a secondary crater, which was boring. Nice drive though. Dress for cold weather, as you’re 7,000 feet up and it’s very windy and cold!
Naples, Italy: We took the MSC tour to Sorrento and I loved Sorrento! The drive is stunning, especially when you are high on the cliffs above the town. Sorrento itself is lovely and charming. This is a super short stop, so do the MSC tour. You’ll get off the ship fast. Limited time in Sorrento, but I suggest you visit it nonetheless. We stuck with the tour guide part of the time and then visited the Fauno Bar and Restaurant in the main town square for an Antipasti plate and excellent local wine. The plate ran us 12€ and I’m not sure about the wine’s price, but you got a small bottle of the “house red” that held 250 ml, or about 1/3 of a standard bottle of wine. My total cost was 35€ for wine, antipasti and 2 cappuccinos. Great people watching spot and good food. Don’t overlook the little bowl of huge local olives which are different yet terrific. So yes, please do visit Sorrento!
Conclusion: We loved MSC, we loved the Divina and we loved this itinerary. We also thought that late summer/early fall was an excellent time to travel, as the temperatures were very nice. As you may understand, this is not a lie on the beach and bake in the sun kind of cruise. You are visiting historic parts of Europe. We visited so many wonderful places, had so many great experiences and memories, and it was so convenient by doing this by cruise ship. Sure, time is limited in many ports, but life is full of trade-offs and good luck doing all of this any other way.
And finally, don’t let the negative reviews scare you away from MSC. Yes, there are areas they could improve upon, but there is so much that they do right. I certainly do recommend MSC, the Divina and this European itinerary. We had a fabulous time! Read Less