Trying something new can be a good thing, especially when it means breaking free from your predictable vacation plans. Maybe you choose the same cruise line, same cruise ship, and maybe even the same cabin when you choose to cruise. Have you considered jumping ship, so to speak? Would you try a new cruise line if you had an opportunity to do so?
MSC Cruises may be new to the American market, but isn’t a new cruise line. Created in the 1960’s as Lauro Lines, it was later purchased in 1995 by Mediterranean Shipping Company and the name was later changed to MSC Cruises. Although it has headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, the company founder, Gianluigi Aponte is Italian and MSC Cruises is undeniably Italian in feel. MSC Cruises is the fourth largest cruise line in the world after Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Line. They have regularly had one new ship enter service since 2001 with the exception of 2005 and 2011 although they did have two ships in 2008 (MSC Poesia and MSC Fantasia). Their latest ship, the MSC Preziosa, was originally ordered by Libyan state-owned company General National Maritime Transport Corporation (GNMTC). Hannibal Gaddafi, son of the then Libyan leader, even requested a 120-ton shark tank designed for the ship. After the Libyan civil war commenced, STX France looked for a buyer and MSC Cruises purchased that ship and named it MSC Preziosa, which is identical to MSC Divina.
MSC Divina entered service in May of 2012 and the godmother of the ship is the beautiful Italian actress, Sophia Loren. MSC Divina is the largest ship in the MSC fleet and can accommodate nearly 4,345 passengers and over 1,300 crew members. Until November 2013, she alternated between Western and Eastern Mediterranean itineraries, but will now reside in the Caribbean while MSC Preziosa will now pick up some of those Eastern Med itineraries. With seasonal cruises out of Florida for the past decade, this is the first time MSC Cruises has positioned a ship year round out of Florida and we should all be pretty excited about that.
After checking in, we were able to board the ship via deck 5. You are immediately at the center of it all and Divina Reception with two reception desks where you can check on your account and if you take a few steps down the hall, you’ll also find the CyberCafé with the fastest connection speeds I have experienced on any cruise ship.
There is absolutely no way that you can miss the double staircase that spans decks 5, 6, and 7 and yes, those are Swarovski crystals in the stairs themselves!
The design of the ship is a combination of dark colors in some areas to light and bright in others. Somehow it all works despite my initial concern about how dark some areas feel. There is plenty of seating in all public areas and bars and all of the seating is cushy and comfortable.
Most cruises have a muster drill in the afternoon and then depart around 5 pm, but not MSC Divina. We had a sail time of 7 pm and I have to admit that I quite enjoyed the later departure time. Unlike other cruise lines, guests are expected to wear their life vests to their muster station, which is located inside the ship. We were in one of the main dining rooms and of course, I had to take a picture.
When the muster drill finished, we were then able to leave and enjoy the rest of our afternoon and the sailaway party out of Miami. The later departure time allowed us to explore the ship, grab a drink and lunch, and enjoy the gorgeous view of Miami from all around the ship.
The cabins were available after about 1:30 pm and bags were delivered throughout the day. This was the first time ever that my bag didn’t find it’s way to my cabin almost immediately. Before you think it, no I didn’t have any contraband like an iron or alcohol in my bag. We were assigned early seating, which I thought was 7 pm, but was actually 6 pm and while I was running around looking for my bag, the time for dinner came and went and our only choice at that point was the buffet. Buffets are fine for the quick bite, but I generally tend to want to avoid them because of the repetitive nature of the food offerings. I’ll cover food specifically in an entire post dedicated to dining later.
Looking for something to do before the ABBA show in the Pantheon Theater, we headed to Piazza del Doge on deck 6. This Italian square and piano bar is nothing like I have ever encountered on any other ship and reminded me of the ceilings inside the Venetian casino in Las Vegas although you have to remember I have yet to visit the Sistine Chapel from which it was inspired. You could sit at one of the tables at the center for table service of coffee, drinks, pastries, or gelato while listening to the live band. For our cruise it was 70’s dance music, but I imagine it changes depending on the cruise and available performers. On the outer edge of this area are shops including an onboard Effy shop — dangerous if you love pretty, sparkly things!
Seeing the time, we headed over to the Pantheon Theatre, which covers decks 6 and 7 and seats just over 1,600 guests. Not being a huge ABBA fan as the music predates me, I assume that they were quite good as the theater was packed for the ABBACADABRA: A tribute to ABBA, performing the music of “Mamma Mia.” They threw glow sticks into the audience and had audience participation at every turn. Other entertainment in the Pantheon Theatre during our cruise included “The Witches of Paris” (a Parisian variety show), “Starwalker” (a tribute to Michael Jackson), and “Wonderland“(a wonderful world of imagination with acrobatics, strength, and stunts).
Here is another picture of the Pantheon Theatre during the day from a different perspective. Seats are comfortably spaced and cushioned for comfort. Rows are wide enough to maneuver easily through as well.
There are a total of 18 bars and lounges onboard the MSC Divina and range from your expected pool bar to the Golden Jazz Bar, La Cantina di Bacco wine bar, the Sports Bar, and Galaxy bar and disco. No matter where you turned on this ship, there was something fun to do and it wasn’t just for the kids. The kids may have the Aqua Park, but the adults need their fun as well. Golden Jazz Bar was full every night for their dueling pianos performance. By full I mean packed with no seat available whatsoever. That should say something about how popular this place was!
If you wanted to sit comfortably and listen to some live music while grabbing a drink in a less populated area, you might want to relax in La Luna Piano Bar on deck 7. With plenty of comfortable seating and table or bar service, many people make their way here before or after dinner. There was a lovely couple, Duo Ameritalian, performing “Unforgettable” and taking requests as well. On deck 5 is the Divina Bar, which advertises itself as “gluten free” as well.
The Sports Bar not only has video games, but it also has bowling lanes. One night there was a huge football game and as you can see, there are plenty of TV’s all around for people to watch so this was the place to be.
One area of the ship that was always packed at night was Casino Veneziano on deck six. This was the place to be every night as every seat at the table games and at the slot machines were always filled. However, I will also say that this was one of the smallest ship casinos I have been to and the machines were primarily penny machines. There was a definite exuberant feeling inside the casino and players at the tables seemed to be winning although I can’t say I was one of them.
At the one end of the casino is the casino bar where we would sit and chat with others and enjoy a drink or two made by Mario, the bartender with an amazing personality. This brings me to what I loved about MSC Cruises the most: The crew! It doesn’t matter what fancy new things you add to a ship or what the itinerary is if the crew is sullen and unprofessional. Every crew member I interacted with throughout my cruise, with the exception of maybe one or two people, was absolutely professional and memorable. For example, Sean from the Engagement Staff was a former teacher who now worked on the ship and was enthusiastic and true to his title, engaging. Mario the bartender called the casino bar “his bar” and took pride in what he did, which then translated to an amazing experience for his guests. Angus, the bar server, had a great sense of humor that entertained us while we loved Anna, another bar server, and her exuberance with just about anything.
Who could forget Mari? Little Mari from South Africa, also on the Engagement Staff, was a delight and a genuine bright light on our short cruise. With regard to the Engagement Staff, these are crew members who make sure everyone is having a good time and circulate throughout the ship to ensure this is happening. I don’t think that without hiring crew that had the capability to provide exemplary service to its customers that the end result would be the same. I have been on a number of cruises and I can honestly say that this was one of, if not the best cruise because of the service.
Another example of this is when I smelled cigarette smoke all night while in my cabin. This isn’t the first time on a cruise where people ignore the signs and when you contact Guest Services, you generally know nothing will happen. After calling Guest Services on the ship, in less than 5 minutes someone was at our door to assist us. I was shocked at the immediacy of the response to our request and yet, I shouldn’t be surprised. The training every staff member receives clearly has them focused on providing top notch service to all guests no matter what.
One of my other favorite things about MSC Divina was the abundance of space on the ship and despite it being at 100% occupancy, it never felt crowded. Usually modern cruise ships under design their public spaces and offer one or maybe two pools for a large ship, something that has always completely confused me. On MSC Divina there are multiple pools and an abundance of areas to lay out and enjoy the sun from the Aqua Park, the Garden Infinity Pool located aft on the ship, the covered pool in the Le Sirene Pool Area, or if you’re lucky enough to be sailing in the MSC Yacht Club, the One Pool area with a pool and two hot tubs. In total there are 5 pools and 12 hot tubs on the ship.