MSC Divina Day 5 – Port Fun!

The end of day 5 saw us ready for the upcoming sea day, giving us a chance to sleep in and recover from the past two days. Back to back port days can be exhausting, especially when you have a couple of pretty active excursions planned in each port. Before I get to that, another nice thing about being in Yacht Club is the butler escort off of the ship when you’re in port. Last time we sailed this itinerary, getting off in St Thomas was really, really slow, even though we waited a half hour or so after debark started. This time, I have no idea how long the line was in either port, we just got off. You meet a butler at the concierge area on 15, and he escorts you down to 4, out a side door right next to the gangway, stops one of the lines so his group can (more or less) cut in, and you then have your card scanned and get off the boat. If you’re on an MSC excursion, he’ll escort you over to that meeting point as well. All in all, less than 5 minutes start to finish. Very nice benefit! Here’s our butler, Jacques, after escorting us off the ship in San Juan:


For both of our first two stops, we (and by “we”, I mean Jen) booked independent excursions with an outside company, Island Marketing. We’d never used them before, but the reviews were good, and the excursions were things that sounded like a lot of fun. They didn’t disappoint, either. So what did we do at each stop?

St Thomas: After arriving in port and walking around the shops a bit, we grabbed a cab and headed for Oasis Marina Cove. We were booked on a snorkeling excursion with Captain Nautica, and had to meet there at 11:15am. Turns out, the rest of the people in our group (off the Norwegian Spirit) didn’t arrive until after 12, so we were there a bit early. No biggie. After everyone was there, we were given a bit of a talk on what was going to happen, along with a safety briefing. This wasn’t just a “hop on our boat and we’ll take you to a cove” excursion, we actually got to drive our own Zodiac over to Christmas Cove for snorkeling. It was a bumpy but really fun ride over and back in the little boat. I think it took around 25min or so to get there, and about the same to get back. Somehow I managed to keep Jen and Bayley in the boat, a tough task with all of the waves we were jumping in that thing :).

The snorkeling wasn’t bad. Not a lot of fish, but plenty of sea turtles, and even a couple of small stingrays! One of the guides was swimming around checking on people, and even grabbed my GoPro and swam down next to one of the turtles to get some video. One of the shots below (right next to the turtle) is a screengrab from that clip.

All in all, it was a really fun day in St Thomas. The guides were awesome, and it really wasn’t a crowded trip. There were 16 people, including us, on the excursion, and the cove had hardly any other tourists in it, so it wasn’t like Buck Island where you have a whole lot of excursions crowding you. I think we’d all recommend Captain Nautica to others coming here!


San Juan: Again, Jen booked us through Island Marketing, this time on a rainforest hike in El Yunque. The rainforest excursions are a popular thing on the cruise ships, but most of them only take you to a couple of stops, and maybe a small walk, and usually you’re in a larger bus with a bunch of people. Not us. We were in a van with a family of 4, also off of our boat (their first cruise!). We did have a longer ride to the park than expected, but only because a tree was blocking the main road, and our driver had to find a back way in. No problem, he got us in, giving us a history of the island along the way.

Once there, we stopped at a local food stand to get a pre-hike snack, which consisted of some local, really delicious food. I had a pizza turnover, Jen had a beef taco, and Bayley had a chicken taco. All really, really good. After eating, we then headed to Yokahu observation tower so we could walk up to the top and check out the view of the surrounding area. I haven’t pulled any of the pictures of that off the GoPro yet, but when I do, I’ll be posting them on our Instagram feed. The top of the tower provided some awesome views of the mountains and coast. Incidentally, the MSC tour of the rainforest was there at the same time as us. One thing we learned with their tours, they send one of the ship’s photographers along to take pictures of the guests, a nice touch we haven’t seen from any other line we sailed.

Our walk up the tower over, our guide took us over to the trailhead. We had a 1.5mi hike ahead of us, and he estimated it’d take us about 1h 15m, maybe a little longer. He gave us instructions for hiking down to a waterfall, then back up another trail, and told us he’d meet us at the top of that other trail at 1:15pm. His times were pretty close to accurate, too. It was obviously quite wet on the hike, but we were ready for that. We walked down the first trail to the waterfall, stopping along the way to enjoy the river and other scenery. When we got to the waterfall we didn’t go in the water, as it had rained pretty hard the night before and the water was moving at a good clip, but we did walk out on the rocks on the left hand side for some pictures. After a short stop there, we walked up the other trail. This portion got pretty steep in some areas, so if you do a trip like this, just know that hiking down means you eventually have to hike back up, and be prepared for it. We got back up fine, but there were a few other people (not in our group) who really looked like they didn’t want to be there anymore.

Once the hike was over, we headed back to the little food stand we’d stopped at before, this time to enjoy more of a lunch (the previous stop was unplanned, but the little boys in our group were hungry. Fine with us, that place was delicious!)


We’ve really been having a lot of fun on this trip on the ship, too. We attended the Flower Glory party on the evening of the second sea day and somehow managed to get caught up in a bunch of the video from it since we were out on the dance floor for most of it, but did miss the white party the night before San Juan. Just too tired to make it to 11pm. Last night we caught the Italian party, which was a blast too. The entertainment team really goes the extra mile to make sure everyone’s having fun. In one of the shots here, Carlos has loaned me some of his gear at the Flower Glory party 🙂


One more note – As previously mentioned, our Maitre’ D has been great. Another example, we decided to eat dinner the past couple of nights with a two other people we know onboard, also in Yacht Club, and without warning the first night, he set us up pretty quickly in Le Muse. He always has a smile on his face and is constantly walking the restaurant checking on his guests. We couldn’t be happier with the service in Le Muse!

That’s about it for now, but we have the final sea day on tap, along with a stop in Nassau. We’re not doing anything in port this time, just getting off so Bayley can get her hair braided, then spending the rest of the day on the boat. Figured we’d rather have another “sea day” than do anything here.

Oh, and if you’re not following us on Instagram / Twitter / Facebook, you’re missing out, I just posted a comparison of our YC1 balcony to the one next to us. Yes, it’s YC1 as well, but about half the size! (for reference, a deck plan of our deck). Follow us to see more from Yacht Club!

MSC Divina: Day 4 Recap

Today was all about getting off the boat and having some fun in St Thomas. After two days at sea, we were ready for a change. We booked an excursion on our own for this stop, one that Jen and I did last month on the Escape, the BOSS Underwater Excursion. We had a blast last time, and couldn’t wait to do it again, this time with Bayley. Note that normally they require cruise ship passengers to book through the line they’re coming in on, but MSC doesn’t contract with this company, so we were free to book it on our own.

Being that we arrived in port after their first trip of the day left, we booked the noon trip. Arriving in St Thomas at 9am, that gave us a couple of hours to walk around the port area. After doing a bit of shopping, we decided to grab some lunch at Shipwreck Tavern, just outside the port area, and we were glad we did. Everyone was extremely friendly, and the food was pretty good. The girls had burgers, and I had a Philly cheesesteak to go along with my rum punch. Definitely a good stop, we’d eat there again.

Just before noon, we headed back through port security to meet up with the excursion contact right outside of our ship. Just like last time, she escorted us to the end of the dock, where we hopped on the boat and headed out to Buck Island. One quick note here, there were only 13 of us on this trip (the three of us, and 10 from the Norwegian Spirit). Last month, the same boat had 49 people. The number of people wasn’t a problem at all last month, but having a smaller number was really cool, as we got twice the amount of time in the underwater scooters because of it. Apparently there were 34 people from the Carnival Valor that were supposed to be on the trip, but their ship was an hour or so late to port, and the BOSS folks couldn’t wait. Sorry guys, but we had fun without you :).

If you’ve never seen an excursion like this before, check out the video I put together from last month’s trip:

Honestly, this is one of the best excursions I’ve done to date, and would highly recommend that anyone coming in to St Thomas check it out. Well worth it, and I can’t say enough about the crew, they’re awesome!


We got back to the dock around 3:30 and decided to head up to the infinity pool at the back of the ship to hang out for a bit. Turns out, the infinity pool isn’t so infinity in port, as the water level is lowered to cover only the regular pool area. Kinda lame, as was the fact that they only had the water slide open from 10am-1pm today. Huh? When we were in port here last month, the Escape’s Aqua Racer was open the whole time, allowing us to give it a go after we got back from our excursion. Oh well.

After getting cleaned up, we headed to dinner. It was another good dinner in the MDR tonight both from a food and service aspect, so we seem to finally be on a roll here! I started with the chilled pineapple pina colada soup, followed by one of the entrees as my second course, the Surimi mac and cheese. Both were good, but it was my main course I was really looking forward to, the prime rib. Mmmmm. This was also the first night that any of us had a steak-based dish where they asked how we wanted it cooked. I ordered mine medium, and was not disappointed. I finished the meal off with the sugar free bread pudding with vanilla ice cream, which was also delicious.

IMG_4016 IMG_4017 IMG_4018 IMG_4019

We got through dinner by 7pm, so we decided to hit the early show instead of waiting for our normal seating. Tonight’s show was Treasure Island, complete with pirates, acrobatics, hand balancers, and even an illusion thrown in for good measure (and some other cool stuff I’m sure I’m leaving out). Definitely an awesome show, and one that you shouldn’t miss when sailing the Divina.

After the show and another round of bingo, we headed up to the F1 simulator so that Bayley and I could give it a go. That thing is definitely harder than it looks, but it’s an absolute blast! I was trying to be fully technical with it, focusing on shift points, corner apex, etc, and just kept missing corners and spinning. Bayley drove around the track in 7th gear one lap and easily beat my best time. Grrr…. It’s really fun though 🙂

Not much else for tonight. With an 8am arrival in San Juan on tap, we all wanted to get some sleep, so we didn’t make it to the White Party. There are a couple of annoyances I wanted to call out though:

  1. We’ve walked through the buffet during normal dinner hours a couple of times now, and each time it’s been pretty much only pizza and a few dessert items. Now don’t get me wrong, I could eat the pizza every night if we skipped the MDR, but the lack of overall selection is a bit odd to me. We’ve skipped MDR dinners on other lines before for various reasons, and never had an issue with lack of buffet selection.
  2. If you book on deck 5, mid-ship, just note that you’re likely going to have a lot of extra foot traffic from people heading to the lobby. There’s no way to get to the lobby if you come down the aft elevators other than to walk down the corridors in front of passenger cabins.

Nothing major, just things to be aware of. All in all it’s been a great trip so far, and we’re glad that we have the chance to finally try out MSC!

We don’t have anything planned for San Juan, we’re just going to get off the boat and see where the day takes us. From here in St Thomas, good night!

Norwegian Escape – First Impressions

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks, kicked off by a cruise on the Norwegian Escape that sailed on 11/19, the first full 7 day sailing since the ship arrived in the US. While I plan to go in to more detail in future posts, I wanted to get one out on our overall impressions of Norwegian’s newest ship. First, a little history.

I’ve mentioned before that we haven’t cruised NCL in quite a while due to issues we had on our first sailing with them, on the NCL Jewel in March of 2006. The MDR food on that sailing was horrible, but that paled in comparison to an injury our daughter suffered to one of her hands due to negligence on the part of one of NCL’s tour operators. NCL’s response to the incident was pretty bad as well, and that played a big part in our decision to stay away from them as long as we have.

Fast forward to this year,  and our company’s national conference aboard their newest ship, giving us the chance to see how much has changed with the line. It was just my wife and I, and we both went in with open minds. So what did we think? In a word: Redemption. We had a blast, and saw that many things have changed for the better. As mentioned, I plan to go into more detail on certain areas in later posts, but here’s the overall pros and cons list:


  • It’s a beautiful ship, not gaudy like others.
  • Our room, a standard balcony, was excellent. Having the bed next to the balcony door was great, there was plenty of storage space for the two of us, and there were more outlets (including USB ports in each of the bed-side lights) than most ships we’ve sailed. The bathroom layout was great too, with a ton of shelf space.
  • The food was much better than last time. We only ate at the included restaurants on 4 occasions on this sailing, with all being good. The only place we had food we really didn’t like was in the Supper Club during the “For The Record: The Brat Pack” show.
  • The specialty restaurants we ate at were outstanding. I’ll go in to more detail later, but the list of ones we ate at: Cagney’s, Teppanyaki, Food Republic, Moderno, and La Cucina. Some of the best specialty restaurants we’ve eaten at on any ship.
  • The “For The Record: The Brat Pack” show was one of the best shows we’ve seen on a ship. Again, the food in here was pretty bad in our opinion (as was the service), but the show more than made up for it.
  • We never felt like there were 4,000+ people on the ship, even when debarking in each port. Getting off in port went a lot smoother than other sailings on smaller ships.
  • The staff was outstanding. It can’t be easy dealing with over 700 travel agents, and they all did a great job all week.
  • The photo setup is cool. Whenever you get your picture taken, they scan your card, and your pictures are put into a specific folder for you in the photo area, so no searching through dozens of other pictures to hunt yours down.
  • The only slide we had the chance to ride (due to the others being closed during times we were free), but the AquaRacer is a blast, especially with the tandem tubes. There’s a shot taken from the clear section of it while Jen and I were riding tandem in my pictures below. Here’s the full video of that same run:


  • The smell of smoke around the casino is flat out bad. We noticed it as soon as we got on while walking around the Atrium, as the smell is already embedded in everything in the casino, and the ship only had two sailings prior to ours. The problem here is that it’s in a central area, being open to the Atrium like other ships in it’s class, so you have to put up with it any time you walk through there. They need better ventilation here.
  • The movement of the ship, even in calm seas, is more than we remember on any past cruise. It was rocking back and forth pretty much the whole cruise, and at one point even started getting to me, and I’ve never gotten motion sick in my life. Someone mentioned that NCL was using smaller keel technology, not sure if that’s true, but whatever the issue is, it’s very noticeable based on a number of people I heard complaining about it both on the ship and after the cruise. It also caused a constant creaking sound in our room as the ship rocked.
  • Lack of bar staff. There was almost always a wait at the bars when we went up to get our soda cups refilled. In most cases, there was only one person behind the bar, which during the day on sea days was problematic when there were 10+ people waiting for drinks of some kind.
  • Margaritaville’s setup is bad. Good food, and the same key lime pie from the main restaurants, but the wait was ridicu-bad. On sea days, it wasn’t uncommon to find a 2+ hour wait around meal times (we got in after a 40min wait on a port day), all while half the tables sat empty. We heard after the cruise that the kitchen in there was too small to keep up with the demand when full. Again, no idea if that’s true, but regardless, they had to deal with it. They’ve since changed it from a free option to charging for items a-la-carte.  It actually started with the 11/28 sailing, which IMO is wrong. Announce and give people warning it’s coming, but to blindly do it right as people are about to get on just feels wrong.
  • I’ll say it again, the food and service in the Supper Club for the Brat Pack show were both bad, start to finish. Both can be fixed, so hopefully Norwegian listens to the feedback from us and other guests.
  • I’m not a fan of their “Freestyle” setup. I get the point, it allows guests to only pay for the food and shows they want, but it means having to plan part of your schedule ahead of time. We felt like we needed to make reservations for specialty restaurants and shows before we cruised, which doesn’t really feel “freestyle” to us. We also don’t like the lack of assigned MDR seating from one aspect: getting to know your servers. It’s always fun getting to know them, and in many cases they learn your habits and will have things ready for you that they know you’ll want.
  • The outside setup on the ship is odd. There isn’t much space on the upper decks to hang out on sea days due to a good chunk of the space being taken up by clubs. The open area around the main pool is tiny compared to other ships we’ve been on, and my own pet peeve, the only place to watch the wake coming off the back of the ship (outside of aft cabins) is deck 8, which has no chairs to sit and enjoy it on. Spice H2O takes up the other good spot, with a  huge video display taking up the center of the back of the deck.
  • The main theater’s design is just, well, bland. It’s really the only area of the ship where my earlier “it’s beautiful” comment doesn’t apply. Additionally, whoever designed the cup holders needs to be reassigned. They aren’t big enough to hold NCL’s own soda package cups, unless you put one of their plastic water cups in there first and then put your soda cup in that (picture below).
  • The announcements from, well, anyone, were pretty difficult to hear and understand, when we actually got any. Example: when waiting to get off in ports, we never got any updates as to when they expected to be able to allow us off, or even where to go, so people were just sort of wandering around until we finally got the announcement that the gangway was open. On other lines, our CDs have been good with ensuring guests are kept up to date with any delays, where to go after debark starts, etc.
  • Show scheduling was an issue all week. Our early show the night we boarded (The Brat Pack) was cancelled due to cast illness, with them re-booking us for the later show, which was also cancelled. We ended up seeing it the next night, but ours wasn’t the only show with this issue. Million Dollar Quartet also had cast illness (heard later it was Jerry Lee Lewis) that resulted in them cancelling the last 3 nights of shows. They did fly in Tenors of Rock for the final night, which we caught, but whatever was going on with the other cast members must have been bad (hope they’re okay), we’ve never seen show cancellations like this.

Yea, there were a few negatives above, but all in all it was a great week that gave us a much better experience this time around, and we’d definitely sail them again as a result. I’m not going to comment on the cruise director, her staff, or any of the on-board activities they run, as we never had time to enjoy any of it. On sea days, we were in sessions for our conference and missed out on all of that.

I’ll be posting reviews of the specialty restaurants and our excursions separately, but in the meantime, enjoy some shots of the ship! Oh, and that last picture calls out one more highlight from the cruise: Guy Harvey was on board for this sailing!

IMG_1468_SmallIMG_1083 IMG_1080 IMG_1067 IMG_1065  IMG_1010 IMG_0942 IMG_0931 IMG_0925 IMG_0844 IMG_0804 IMG_1016IMG_0792 IMG_0773 IMG_0752 IMG_0740 IMG_0692 IMG_0690 IMG_0689 IMG_0688 IMG_0687 IMG_0686 IMG_0683 IMG_0682   IMG_0658IMG_0554IMG_0665IMG_0637 IMG_0623 IMG_0597 IMG_0594 IMG_0570 IMG_0561  IMG_0548 HUDT8551


%d bloggers like this: