After cruising with MSC out of Miami twice in a three months, one thing stands out, and that’s the fact some people don’t seem to be doing their research before booking on the Divina, or their travel agents aren’t doing it for them :). Understanding the differences between the various lines is important, regardless of who you end up booking with. Proper expectations play a key role in one’s happiness with something as expensive as a vacation, so why would you book a cruise based simply on the best fare, and not at least partially on others’ experiences? I recognize that you can’t trust all reviews, but if you read enough of them, you can identify positive and negative patterns and learn to filter out the noise.
In MSC’s case, their first couple of seasons in the US really didn’t seem to go well, at least from the perspective of American passengers. I can’t really speak to that, as we didn’t get to experience the Divina before she returned in 2015, but we’ve heard and read that it was still set up in a far more European manner than it sounded like people here wanted or were expecting. I get that a line starting operation in another country should be familiar with their market and adjust accordingly, and by not doing so they turned some people off. Personally, I think it would have been interesting to give that a try. I’ve read a few posts and reviews about those first couple of seasons, but one of the fairest I’ve seen comes from someone I’ve referenced before, Scott Sanfilipo, who sailed before and after their adjustments, and recapped his 2014 experience right before sailing again in 2015 in this blog entry. It’s definitely worth a read before continuing here.
Some of the things he talked about from the 2014 season have changed, and some haven’t. Just know that even now, this is a different product than the contemporary US-based lines. This isn’t Carnival, Norwegian or Royal, it’s MSC and they have their own identity. I can’t emphasize this enough: When booking any cruise, don’t just look at the cost, know what you’re comfortable with, what you want, and what each line offers. When looking at the Divina, I think the main question potential passengers have to answer honestly is:
Are you comfortable in a melting pot?
The ship appeals to Europeans as well as Americans, and in talking to a family from Sweden on our Christmas sailing, it was easy to understand why. For them it came down to an affordable way to get a feel for Caribbean cruising. On some Divina sailings kids sail free, so they didn’t have to pay for either of their boys. I’m sure there are plenty of other reasons too, but along that same “melting pot” theme, there are things you need to be aware of and comfortable with:
- You’ll be surrounded by people speaking in other languages, more so than any other U.S.-based cruise we’ve been on. It’s not something that concerns me (and most of the time I don’t even notice), but on both of our sailings we overheard people randomly complaining about it when talking to each other about how their cruise was going.
- Ship announcements happen in something like 5 languages. This happens during anything from Bingo to the muster drill. Frankly, this got to be a pet peeve of mine. Not that it happens, but how often I’d hear a fellow American complaining about it as it was happening.
The other big complaint in this area we heard more than once was that the crew and passengers were noticeably rude. We didn’t get that vibe at all. There are both rude and friendly people in all cultures, and frankly we didn’t see any more line cutting or rude attitudes out of passengers on the Divina than we’ve seen out of our fellow Americans on other sailings.
Some of the other big differences (good and bad) between MSC and the standard U.S. based lines that we noticed on our two sailings:
- No sail-away party. Actually, we didn’t notice this because we normally aren’t up on deck for it on any sailing, but we did hear it from a couple of people who were disappointed by it.
- No music constantly playing by the pool on the Divina. True, outside of music possibly playing when the entertainment staff is out there putting on events, I don’t recall constant blaring music by the pool all of the time. The one time I really appreciated this was on the last sailing. We were docked next to one of Carnival’s ships in Nassau, which was blasting canned music the entire time they were docked to an empty pool deck, while the Divina’s was quiet and peaceful.
There’s still work to be done in the Divina’s MDR. At Christmas, they really had too many tables crammed too close together and not enough staff to handle the load. Our waiters were all friendly, but really couldn’t keep up with the number of tables they had. Even though we weren’t in the MDR on the last sailing, we heard similar complaints from those who were.8/2017 Update: As mentioned in a recent post, the MDR experience on our August 2017 sailing was vastly improved, so to us, it looks like MSC has taken customer feedback and made positive change here!
- You get a more international selection of food in the MDR and Le Muse than you tend to on U.S.-based lines. Some meals were better than others, but it’s an interesting change of pace. One item I can’t rave about enough is the pizza. From a food aspect, I’d go back for that alone.
- The included shows were better than our previous 5 sailings (3x Carnival, 1x Celebrity, 1x NCL). I’m looking forward to comparing it to the entertainment on the Oasis of the Seas later this month, as it’s been far too long since we’ve been on Royal Caribbean for me to objectively compare the two.
- I’ve gone on a lot after both sailings about the Divina’s entertainment staff, and for good reason. They’re friendly, fun, and they know how to engage the passengers. We had plenty to do during sea days on both sailings. It was really nice to attend trivia without the same canned questions other lines use over and over, too. They’ve stuck in our memory far more than the entertainment staff on previous ships.
I think that about covers it. Really, it comes down to comfort level with a very diverse mix of passengers. I admit that before we sailed in December we were nervous after reading a lot of the reviews, but after both sailings, we’re quite happy we went. The differences made for some fun times, and we’ve enjoyed mixing things up and getting out of the comfort zone we’d built sailing on the contemporary lines. We look forward to the Seaside’s arrival next year and definitely plan to sail her.
For now, hopefully you’re more educated on what to expect from the Divina if you choose to sail with MSC! If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll respond as time permits!