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Yacht Club was amazing, but overall the cruise was nothing special.
Publication Date: February 8, 2016

MSC Divina

11/28 – 12/05/15

Western Caribbean

This was our 49th cruise and our 12th different cruise line, so it’s only natural we compare it against all the other cruise lines and ships we’ve been on. Because of this, I won’t spent much time talking about the ports we visited and I won’t do like I usually do with my reviews, which is to elaborate on each day of our itinerary in detail. Instead, I will only discuss our experiences with MSC and this particular ship.

First, I think it’s important to explain a little about MSC. The initials stand for Mediterranean Shipping Company and they are among the largest shipping companies in the world. Many years ago, they decided to get involved in the cruise industry and began to build passenger ships. It’s a very large company located in Italy and their cruises are very popular among Europeans, especially Italians and, as such, their staff consists of mainly Europeans. MSC did not really attract the American cruisers in Europe because of the different type of experience they provided. (After all, we Americans are a fickle bunch.) But even after all that, MSC decided it

was time to give the American market a chance to try their product from American soil. They brought the Divina here about two years ago sailing out of Miami. At first, it was not well received at all. Their style, service, menu, and other attributes were not what most Americans expected or even desired in a cruise. Reviews about most things associated with this different style of cruising were not very complimentary, to say the least. American passengers who were only use to the type of cruises being provided in the U.S. were complaining about pretty much everything because they were not use to the European product and their way of doing things. The Italian wait staff did not combine with the type of service that Americans were accustomed. The food leaned heavily towards European tastes, especially Italian, and was considered strange by American standards.

After a few months, the Divina departed American soil and returned to Europe for the Summer. However, they returned in the Fall for another attempt to attract new customers and, with some changes, begin to improve in the areas that most Americans wanted. Along with this, MSC begin to offer some very good pricing and things began to get better, according to the reviews. After spending the next Summer in Europe, the Divina came back and MSC announced it was making a big commitment and keeping her here year round.

During this particular cruise, we spoke to a few senior staff and were informed MSC was making an even bigger commitment to stay in the U.S. market. In 2017, they would be removing the Divina from Miami and bringing two brand new ships in its place for full-time sailings; one in Ft. Lauderdale and one in Miami. We were also told that changes would be forthcoming to further entice Americans, including the hiring of more staff from the Philippines, which most American have become accustomed to on many of the major cruise lines sailing from the U.S. Needless to say, it’ll be very interesting to see how all this plays out over the next few years and see how MSC will fare with the American cruising public.

Okay, back to our specific cruise.

We prepaid for parking at the Safe Cruise parking lot at 650 NW 8th Street in Miami. At $6.99 per day (times 8 days), the price is much better than paying $20 a day to park at the pier. We arrived about 1:15pm and within 10 minutes, we were on the shuttle to the pier. After letting off passengers for the Carnival Glory and the Carnival Victory, we arrived at our terminal around 1:40pm. We were given a yellow smiley face sticker to wear when we came back so they would recognize us and told where to meet the shuttle near the terminal for pick-up.

Unlike most cruise lines, MSC has four tiers of pricing structures; Bella (good deal), Fantastica (better deal plus free $200 value), Aurea (best deal plus free $600 value), and MSC Yacht Club (elite VIP club level with all-inclusive amenities). The first two are available for inside, oceanview, and balcony cabins, the Aurea is available for balcony and suites, and the Yacht Club is only available to deluxe suites. I won’t go into all the specific details about each of these tiers and what they include, as this information is available on the MSC website. When booking, one should discuss all the prices and amenities with their agent to determine what’s best for them based on their specific needs, lifestyle, and budget.

For this cruise, we decided to treat ourselves and purchased a Deluxe Suite in the Yacht Club (YC). Among the benefits of booking this type of stateroom is they have a special check-in area curbside where we brought our suitcases. These were tagged and immediately taken to our suite. The two of us were personally escorted into the terminal, where we bypassed the lines and went directly and quickly through security. We were taken to a special private area to do our check-in where there were no lines and the process went very quick and easy. We sat in a very comfortable waiting area where we completed the paperwork while sipping on very good champagne along with hors d'oeuvres. Following this very pleasant experience, we were then escorted to the ship, over to the private elevators for Yacht Club guests only, and taken up to the VIP Concierge desk. We were introduced to our butler, who introduced his assistant and the Matre’d for Le Muse, which is the private dining room for YC guests. He asked about our dining time and any special needs or requests we had. Following this, our butler escorted us to our suite. He was suppose to have everything unpacked and put away for us before we arrived in the suite, but we got there before the luggage did.

We’ve stayed in suites on other ships, including junior or mini-suites, which on some ships are about 50% larger than a regular balcony stateroom. We’ve also stayed in grand or full-size suites, which are about double the size of regular balcony staterooms. The first thing we noticed is that the “Deluxe” suite on the Divina is basically the same width as a regular balcony cabin, but is only slightly longer. The two nice features included is a small walk-in closet and a bathroom with a bathtub. Overall, the cabin was very nice, albeit a bit small for what I would normally refer to as a %u2018suite’ given it was just a little larger than a regular balcony cabin.

Another amenity with the YC is that all our beverages are included in the price. In our cabin, we had very nice bottle of champagne on ice waiting for us, along with a refrigerator full of complimentary beer, liquor, sodas, water (both spring water and sparkling water), and some snacks. A bowl of fresh fruit was on the table and replenished every day throughout our cruise.

The suite was nicely appointed with a very comfortable king-size bed and high quality Egyptian cotton sheets. They also offered us a menu of pillows from which to choose, making our sleeping experience very comfortable.

There was also a king-size sleeper sofa for those booking the suite for three or four people. This was larger than what we have found in most staterooms and it also made for a nice seating area.

While the suite itself was very nice, we couldn’t help but notice that the carpet was in desperate need of cleaning, as there were several very dirty areas. Quite frankly, we found this unacceptable and were surprised this was not attended to prior to us coming onboard, especially given the Yacht Club is marketed to a more discerning upscale clientele.

The one thing we would have really liked to see is a larger flat screen TV. The one in our suite was only about 20” and stuck in the corner of the cabin. It is relatively small when trying to view it from the bed, which is a good 12’ to 15’ away. Plus, it would really be nice to have a DVD player along with it because it’s rather expensive to see a movie (about $8) and there are not many channels from which to choose for those who enjoy watching TV before going to bed. We much prefer cabins with the TV located in the middle of the wall instead of in the corner as this makes it nicer when watching it in bed.

As I mentioned, the bathroom had a tub and while some would say this is a nice feature, most people I know, including us, would much prefer to have just a bigger shower, since it’s easier to get in and out, especially for seniors. The tub is rather tall and makes it a little difficult to step over the edge, especially during rough seas. Plus, because of the design of the tub, the area inside it is rather limited for standing. We did find it interesting that the entire wall inside the tub area was a huge mirror and the other side had a half-wall that was glass – there was no shower curtain or door. The towels were very thick and of excellent quality, and the bathroom toiletries were very good quality products.

The water pressure was much more than any ship we’ve been on and the hot water was instantly hot – no long waiting such as we’ve experienced on many cruises.

The overall YC area was really nice. We had a wonderful VIP concierge and butler that were available 24 hours a day for whatever we needed. There was also a delightful lounge that was very comfortable. It had a fully stocked bar with complimentary cocktails, draft beer, wine, and was open from 7:00am to 2:00am. We tried many great mixed drinks during our cruise. They also had a fantastic snack bar that was full of awesome food they changed out about once an hour. We met many great people from all over the world in this lounge. We learned that this particular sailing had about 85% foreigners, while the next cruise had about 85% Americans onboard. We met one really nice couple that we got together with on a regular basis. Funny thing was, we had absolutely nothing in common. They were a young couple from Paris, newly married, on their honeymoon, on their first cruise, their first trip to the U.S., and didn’t speak a lot of English. We are an older couple from Washington, DC, married for 43 years, on our 49th cruise, have visited Paris on 3 occasions, and don’t speak any French. We were completely the opposite, yet we got along great and had a wonderful time. Of the many subjects we covered, one of the things we eventually talked about was James Bond – seemed we all had that in common. While on this particular matter, the waiter happened to walk up and asked what we would like to drink. Given the subject at the time, I guess it was only natural that I ask for something I had never had, but always wanted to try, “Vodka martini. Shaken, not stirred.” Not only did it get a chuckle from the other three, but they all decided to follow my lead. Turns out, it’s not half bad.

Next to the concierge desk, there was a private elevator that went to Deck 18, which is where the private pool, bar, and grill for YC guests was open all day. While the pool was relatively small, it was never crowded. There were two hot tubs and more than enough lounge chairs for everyone. This private area never had many people and as with everything else in the YC, it was all complimentary and very comfortable.

The private dining room, Le Muse, is for YC guests and is located in the back of the ship on Deck 15. It was open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and was never crowded. The staff was absolutely wonderful. The menu was more limited than in the main dining room, but while it had some similar items, everything was prepared in the private kitchen by the chef for Le Muse only. Any special requests were immediately handled and even when someone wanted something that was not on the menu, they always accommodated their guests. Wine, champagne, and cocktails were complimentary during all meals at Le Muse.

There are a couple of specialty restaurants onboard the ship and usually the menu in Le Muse listed one item from one of the specialty restaurants each night. This provided us the opportunity to enjoy the specialty restaurants without having to go to them or pay for them. And speaking of the specialty restaurants, YC guests can order complimentary pizzas from the Eataly restaurant from 9:00pm to midnight to be delivered to their stateroom. For all other guests, there is a charge for this. We ordered a couple of pizzas one night for dinner and they were very good, albeit they did get the order wrong; we ordered Italian sausage and pepperoni, and they delivered them without the sausage. No big deal because even without the sausage, it was definitely much better than the pizza offered in the buffet area.

Another nice feature of the YC was that we were provided with an escort down to the disembarkation point when being tendered into port. This was really convenient because we did not have to get a number like everyone else and wait our turn. Instead, we were taken right to the tender and were immediately boarded to go into port.

Since we had just recently moved from Washington, DC to Cape Coral, Florida, many of our nice clothes we normally wear on a cruise had been packed away in boxes, leaving them very wrinkled. We didn’t take the time to have them pressed before we left, so we were glad to see the Divina had a deal on laundry for $30 for up to 20 pieces during the cruise. We did have to pay an express fee for a few items because we needed them for the 2nd night’s formal attire. We later sent a couple of bags with items for other nights and appreciated the service and the price.

Speaking of formal attire, I dressed in a sport coat, tie, and shirt for both of the two formal nights, yet I was among only about 30% of the guys that were actually wearing a tie. There were many gentlemen wearing a shirt with no tie, jacket with no tie, or golf shirt. Needless to say as with many of the cruise lines now days, formal is less than what was expected a few years ago.

I always want to keep in touch with my clients, so I was appreciative that the WiFi service was not as expensive as what I have found on most cruise lines. Personally, I would have thought this would be complimentary for YC guests given the high cost for the suites. It was $49.95 for 130 minutes, which comes out to be about $.38 per minute. (By contrast, the NCL Getaway charged me $75 for 110 minutes - $.68 per minute.)

We were really glad we did the Yacht Club because otherwise we would have had to endure the very crowded pool areas and especially the buffet everyday instead of enjoying the peace, quiet, and uncrowded private areas offered the Yacht Club guests. The regular buffet area was definitely not something we wanted to do on a regular basis. While the food was mediocre, in abundance with lots of choices, and okay for the normal palette, the layout of the buffet area was not good. There were places where only one person could walk through at a time, making it congested and frustrating when trying to maneuver from section to section, especially when carrying food. They do offer a make-your-own sandwich station from 11:30pm to 2:00am, which is nice for the late owls.

One thing I enjoy in the morning is a nice breakfast. I like to have two eggs over easy, along with some bacon and hash browns. I could get this in Le Muse or the main dining room, but I found it very unusual there was no omelet station in the buffet area where we could get eggs cooked to order. We could get previously made fried eggs, which were laying in a pan under a heat lamp, most were cooked medium hard, or omelets that were laying in another pan, most looking dried out after sitting under a heat lamp for a long time. However, there was nothing cooked to order. I have never seen that on any other ship we’ve ever been on and found it very strange. Hopefully, this is one thing MSC will change with their new more %u2018Americanized’ ships in the future.

Speaking of food, overall the food offered to Yacht Club guests in the snack bar on Deck 18 was only so-so and very limited, so we often ate breakfast and lunch in Le Muse and a few times in the buffet. While breakfast and lunch was usually good in Le Muse, dinner was much better. We ate dinner almost every night in Le Muse and it was mostly very good to excellent. The Italian espresso coffee in the YC areas was excellent! It was definitely much better than the coffee we got in the regular parts of the ship. Room service was always very quick and good. Plus, being in the YC area, we could have complimentary cocktails brought to our suite at any time. We only ate in the main dining room twice for lunch and once for breakfast. We found the food in there to be about the same as Carnival, NCL, and Royal Caribbean, so we can only assume dinner was equally comparable. Based on what we heard from many other cruisers on the ship who have a lot of cruises on many different cruise lines, their sentiments about the food in the main dining room was very similar to ours.

There were many wonderful areas of the ship for those wanting to dance, listen to music, or enjoy a quiet place to read a good book. There was also plenty of very good entertainment onboard. In the Yacht Club lounge, we were treated to some very nice piano music during cocktail hour. And while we normally don’t go to the shows in the main lounge because they are all pretty much the same and not very entertaining, most of the performances on this ship were excellent. A couple of them were just the usual singing and dancing, but several of the performances were themed, such as The Mask show and the Michael Jackson tribute show, and the performers were some of the best we’ve seen on a cruise. They have a nice Sports Bar with several TV’s around, but when we went in there on Sunday to see what football games were being shown, they only had one playing even though there were at least 6 games happening at the time. We found that to be very disappointing, especially given that the one game they were showing was also the only game showing on the TV in our suite. They do have a two-lane bowling alley, but one lane was broken during the entire cruise and the other one was only working sporadically, irritating those who were trying to play. We went back to our stateroom to watch the game, but now here’s the really strange thing; for that game, as well as the game on Thursday night, we could hear the crowd noise, the noise on the field, and the referee, but there was no announcers in the sound portion during the entire game. We enjoyed watching the game without all the usual talking by the announcers, but it was definitely strange to say the least, especially given that the sound for the game was fine in the sports bar.

The Divina is a beautiful ship with many great features. However, because of the design of the ship, there are some areas that get clogged when going to or coming from dinner or shows; some of this is caused by doorways that are just too narrow for a major artery. So while the ship is beautiful, I had to question some of the rather strange design features given the number of passengers.

While there are a few things for kids to do, from basketball, soccer, video games, etc, the ship is very similar to many Carnival and NCL ships (other than the new ones) in that they do not have an abundance of amenities such as on the larger RCCL ships or the newer NCL ships. Again, I hope this will be an improvement made on the newer ships if they want to attract more families.

Overall, I would rate the MSC experience in the U.S. to be very comparable to NCL in many ways and to Carnival in some ways. While the ship itself is beautiful, the layout could be better. Size-wise, we couldn’t help but compare the Divina, which is 139,000 gross tons to the RCCL Voyager-class ships, which is similar at 137,000 gross tons. We found it very interesting that even though the Voyager-class ships are the same size, they have lot more open public areas, the flow is much better, and they have many more amenities than the Divina.

As a couple, if we wanted to do an inexpensive cruise, we would definitely consider the MSC Divina. But we would be ready for an average cruise at a good price. However, while we definitely recommend the Yacht Club and would love to do it again on one of the newer ships in a couple of years, one would have to ask themselves if it is worth the additional price for that upgrade. A deluxe suite in the Yacht Club, which is only slightly bigger than a regular balcony cabin, costs about 2-1/2 times more than the regular balcony stateroom. The additional amenities and features are wonderful, but it would be difficult to justify the higher price when compared to balcony cabins and suites on other cruise lines. If money is not the issue, then the Yacht Club is a great way to be pampered and have a more upscale experience on a beautiful ship.

Many cruise lines realize that providing amenities for families is a great marketing tool and most of the mainstream lines have included many of these features in their newer ships. The Divina is lacking is this area, so if you’re looking for activities to keep the kids busy, this one may not be for you. But if you’re looking for a nice inexpensive cruise on a beautiful ship, then this certainly may strike your fancy.

You’re welcome to contact us if you have any questions or need additional information. And when you’re ready to book your cruise (or land vacation), we’re here when you need us.

Pete & Nancy Peterson

Cruise & Land Specialists

Cruise Planners, Inc.

www.storybookcruises.com

dreams@storybookcruises.com

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Great get-a-way---but you won't feel spoiled
Publication Date: February 5, 2016

This ship is fine for your average get-a-way although I can see how some people thought the ship looked "old" - I noticed it mostly in the pool tiles and the walls of the deck corridors which just looked like you could wash them all day and they would still never look really clean again. This was especially true on the employee service doors that get used so much. Our room was great and had good water pressure. The service in the staterooms was very good. Our housekeeper, Anna did a delightful job.

On the down side, the service has dropped tremendously since my last Carnival cruise about 12 years ago when I went on the Fantasy for my very first cruise. There seemed to be so many more employees then! I think this might be a trend in several cruise lines that they just have less employees doing more work. But I remember coming up to the buffet at the back the ship and having waiters! At the buffet! And we had the same two great waiters at night! We got to know them so well. And the other

crew had time to talk to you about where they were from--it was wonderful --but certainly did not happen on this trip.

In the dinning room you could tell how hard the wait staff was trying to pay attention to everyone, but they were just too rushed by the number of people they had to service. (The wait staff did perform a little number for us each night which was fun, but did not need to be so long. ) Did the lack of special attentiont spoil our trip? No, we still had a nice time...but did we feel spoiled like on my first Carnival cruise - No.

I enjoy so many things about cruising but it seems to be becoming increasingly difficult on several cruise lines to just get a deck chair and there are lines for everything!!! The line at the Pizza bar was always long - but then again the pizza was always very good. A nice thing about the Victory is that very little cost extra. None of the activities except fitness classes had a charge, the Serenity area, while hard find a chair and too close to noise of the pool games, had no extra charge. Mini golf, which was great fun - no charge. The activities were great. I would have enjoyed more crafts, but it was just a 4 night cruise--I'm sure they would have had more on a 7 night cruise. The nice thing about Carnival is that I can get away at a price that fits my budget and have lots of entertainment and a good tiime -- but someday I hope to afford a cruise line where I can feel more pampered ;)

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January 2016 Cruise
Publication Date: January 31, 2016

We cruise every January on this ship out of Jacksonville. I can't believe people giving bad reviews. These guys work so hard to please. Everything always go perfect. They make sure we have everything we need and constantly let us know to they will help us with anything; Room are wonderful, clean, food is great. Shows so good. Something always going on. Can't wait until next year.

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